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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

May 24, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Researching in Massachusetts

Q: I am researching Josiah Haynes (born 1696 ) and Mr. Walker, a schoolteacher, both from Sudbury Massachusetts, so that it can be included in our third grade history curriculum unit. Do you have any suggestions of where I can find additional information? -- Jan

A: Massachusetts research abounds. There are a variety of records that you should avail yourself of in regard to Josiah Haynes and Mr. Walker.

The first step would be to see if there is a town history available for Sudbury. You may be able to pick out some colorful tidbits about the town at that time period from such a history.

Next I would suggest that you turn your attention to the town records. These are seldom indexed and will require that you read through each page. However, it is in the town records that you are likely to find information regarding when Mr. Walker was appointed as the town's teacher. You might also learn to what committees and other positions Josiah Haynes may have been appointed to.

If Sudbury is nearby, you may want to visit the town hall and see if they will allow you access to these records. You may get to read through the original town books or they may have them available on microfilm.

If you are not near to Sudbury, then you will want to visit your local Family History Center. Family History Centers are local branches of the Family History Library. They are found in local chapels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which is open to the public.

To view the microfilms will require two visits. The first visit to the Family History Center would be to order the appropriate microfilms. You would then be notified when the microfilms arrive. The second visit to the FHC would be to actually view the microfilms. Depending on how many volumes of town records you elect to read, this could require more than one visit.

Contacting a Missing Relative

Q: If you can help me, I was trying to find my father. Is there a page that I can use his social security number to find him? -- sbilotta

A: The only online databases available that use social security numbers is the Social Security Death Index. This index is searchable online. If you know his name and his social security number you can search using his name and then see if one of the individuals in the results list is him.

If you are certain that he is alive, then there is another option for you. While you cannot do this online, it is a way to get a message to him. Then if he chooses to contact you, it will be up to him.

The Social Security Administration offers a "letter forwarding " service. You can write a letter, address it to your father and place it in an unsealed, stamped envelope. Then place this with a letter of request, supplying your father's name and his social security number, into another envelope addressed to the Social Security Administration.

Once they have determined that the letter is not of a threatening nature or any other illegal item, they will forward the letter on to your father. As I said though, it will be up to him to decide if he wishes to respond.

No Paper Trail

Q: I would like to know how you can trace someone who leaves no "paper trail" at all? My third great grandfather is such an individual. I have been unable to find anything on him in regard to his birth, death, not even land records. It's like he and his wife just had my second great grandfather an disappeared. What can I do to find them? -- Donna

A: There are times when an ancestor appears to not exist in any records. Usually this requires that we re-examine how we are searching for our ancestor.

Depending on the time period and locality in question, it is entirely possible that a birth record or death record does not exist for either your third great grandfather or his wife. Vital records in most states and countries are relatively contemporary records.

Instead of looking for birth and death records, you may need to turn your attention to church records, assuming you have some idea of the religious affiliation the family had.

Cemetery records should be checked in place of death records. They may not give you the place of death, but at least it is a clue that your third great grandfather did in fact exist.

Instead of land records, see if there are tax lists for the county where your great grandfather lived. Often if a person didn't own land, they probably owned something of value, perhaps a horse, and such personal property was taxed.

You didn't mention searching for the family in census records. If you haven't done this, I encourage you to try this resource. It may help you in determining where in a given state the family may have gone to. That is often the explanation for why we cannot find them in the records where we have been searching.

If you still cannot find your ancestor, look at the information you have presently. If nothing else, you know where they were when your second great grandfather was born. Begin there. Look at a map and see what counties were nearby. See what counties were created from the county they lived in. Turn your attention to the records and resources for these counties.

Foreign Research

Q: I am researching my mother's and father's families. How do I find someone in Italy, Yugoslavia and Austria? Is there a way to contact someone in each country or do I have a link in the U.S.A.? -- Mary

A: Foreign research often seems overwhelming and undoable from the United States. However, there are many avenues that will aid you in this type of research. By far the biggest obstacle is getting the necessary information to make foreign research a positive experience. Many of the foreign countries have kept records on different governmental and ecclesiastical levels over the years. Depending on the country and the time period you may need to narrow your search down to a town or a parish, one of the smallest divisions.

In the countries you mentioned, there is also the language barrier. You will need to have some way of working with the foreign language. An English-Italian dictionary, for instance, will be your new best friend. Word lists, available through your local Family History Center or through the FamilySearch site, will also be useful.

You will need to educate yourself on the research avenues, pitfalls, and methods for each of the countries in question. This can be done through the Research Outlines available at the FamilySearch site. You will also want to post questions about your specific research on the GenForum Bulletin Boards for help from other researchers working in the same countries. Finally, you will want to search the available WorldGenWeb Project sites for your countries to see what may be available online.

Finally, much of your research will be through microfilmed records. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has gone worldwide, and continues to do this, microfilming records of use to genealogists. Understand that these records are in the native tongue of the country in question, thus the need for the word lists and dictionaries. However, at least you do not have to travel to the countries. To see what they may have for your individual localities, remember it may be shire, town or parish, you will want to search the Family History Library Catalog.

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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