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

May 25, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Finding Parents' Names

Q: O.K. - if I have a full name and date of birth - and a probable state - where can I go to find the parents' names and birth dates and places? -- JasCares

A: Depending on the state, vital records may be an invention of the Twentieth Century. Many states did not record births and deaths until the late 1800s or the early 1900s. Marriages, on the other hand, tended to be recorded for a much longer period of time.

While counties may have taken it upon themselves to begin recording births and deaths, state legislation requiring the recording of births and deaths often did not get passed until the first quarter of the Twentieth Century. Of the states, only fourteen of them required birth and death registration prior to 1880.

  • Delaware - 1860
  • Florida - 1865
  • Hawaii - 1850
  • Iowa - 1880
  • Massachusetts - 1841
  • Michigan - 1867
  • New Hampshire - 1840
  • New Jersey - 1878
  • New York - 1880
  • Rhode Island - 1853
  • Vermont - 1770
  • Virginia - 1853
  • Wisconsin - 1876
  • Washington, DC - 1871

Oftentimes the state will require that you supply them with some of the very information you are seeking, primarily the names of the parents of the child that was born. However, if you have a possible county where the birth took place, you will want to turn your attention to the county. Many of the county vital records have been microfilmed. If not the actual birth and death certificates, at least the indexes to those records. You will want to check the record availability for the locality you are working in at your local Family History Center.

Native American Blood Quantum

Q: I know that I have a lot of Indian in me, but I am not sure how much. What are the steps I would follow to find out how much I have? -- Melissa

A: The first step is to begin tracing your family tree. You need to establish your connection to a given tribe. This is done by researching from yourself backwards until you find your Native American connection. While devoted to a given tribe, an excellent book that might prove useful is Myra Vanderpool Gormley's Cherokee Connections.

Once you have located your Native American connection, you will need to first determine the blood quantum for your Native American ancestor. Very often they were not 100%. Many of the tribal records will be of help to you in this, especially census records as these often recorded the blood quantum for the individual along with their parents.

Once you have determined the starting percentage of Native American blood, you would then look at the generations between you and your Native American ancestor and begin to divide the percentage in half for each generation until you get to yourself. This method assumes that the direct lineage from the Native American ancestor did not marry another Native American.

So, if your Native American ancestor turned out to be your great grandmother, and you discover she was indeed a full-blooded Native American, you would begin your calculations at 100%. The next generation, your grandmother (for instance), would then be 50%. The next generation, your mother (for instance) would be 25%. And that would make you 12.5% Native American.

Of course this is a very simplified example. Seldom will you discover that your nearest Native American ancestor was indeed a full-blooded Native American.

The Brick Wall

Q: What would be the best resource you could recommend to find a link to ancestors from another state? I have no records to go on and I hit a brick wall. -- Gail

A: Generally when you hit a brick wall it means you have tried to leap from generation to generation. When we leap, we often rely on something like the census records. We locate a family in one census and discover the approximate date and place of birth. We then leap back to that state and time period in search of our ancestor as a child living in a household in the earlier census.

This does us a great disservice. It oftentimes makes our research that much more difficult. In the first place, we run the risk of linking the wrong family. It is entirely possible that there would be two families with the same last name living in the same area with a child of the same name and approximate birth date. So, it is important that we systematically go through all the records that our ancestor is likely to generate during his or her lifetime.

The adage in genealogy is to work from the known to the unknown. This means you begin to amass records and proof of what you already know. It is these records that will offer you the needed clues to the information you don't know. In your case it may give you the needed information to limit your research to a specific town or county in the state. These records may supply you with the names of other family members, making it easier to research the family in the new state.

While there is much on the Internet, and more arriving every day, it is also important to remember that you still need to work with original documents at courthouses or on microfilm through the Family History Library and its branch Family History Centers.

Am I Related?

Q: I am trying to find out how a Maj. T Jeff Brown in the Union Army is related to me. I have his sword which is engraved Present to Maj. T Jeff Brown for Co. C USCT. My grandfather was Clarence Earl Brown and his father was Clarence Brown who came from Smithton, Mo. I can't seem to find the missing link between my great grandfather and T. Jeff Brown. If you can give me any suggestions I would appreciate it. I've looked on the civilwardata.com site,and found a T Jeff Brown, but I can't seem to find out anything else. Your help would be very appreciated. -- Pam

A: Since you have established that Maj. T. Jeff Brown was indeed involved in the Civil War, you will want to research him a little more fully. One resource that you will want to investigate is the index to pension records. This resource is available on microfilm through the Family History Library. This index is alphabetical and will list all those who applied for a pension, often listing the names of wives and children if they applied for a widow's or orphan's pension.

You also have information from the civilwardata.com web site that will help you in locating records on T. Jeff Brown. You will want to send away for his service record and his pension record, if you find him located in the index to pensions. These records will help you in establishing his age, possible place of birth, where he signed up and when and where he was discharged.

While researching T. Jeff Brown, you will also want to continue your research of your Browns. You will need to locate both of them in the census and then branch out to other records for the counties where they appear. It will only be through this research that you will be able to see any possible connections between your ancestor and Maj. T. Jeff Brown.


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 rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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