Big changes have come to — all content is now read-only, and member subscriptions and the Shop have been discontinued.
Learn more
New? Start Here
Genealogy How-To
 Getting Started
 Getting Organized
 Developing Your Research Skills
 Sharing Your Family's Story
 Reference Guide
 Biography Assistant
Free Genealogy Classes
 Beginning Genealogy
 Internet Genealogy
 Tracing Immigrant Origins

Family Finder
First Name:

Expert Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

May 29, 2003
See Previous Columns

Can't Find Father's Family

Q:I have emailed you in the past asking for advice on how to get started researching my father's family. A few more weeks have gone by and I have spent plenty of hours on the Internet. Still I come up empty handed. I have birth dates and death dates and still I find nothing. Is there a possibility that I am not going to find anything at all? Is there a possibility that the data hasn't been entered into any of your databases yet? -- Diane

A: Your first letter, in April, gave some more information. I will quote it here so that the readers know where you are in your research.

I have been attempting to research my father's family. Not much is known about them. I do have his father's full name and birth date and death date and am pretty sure he died in New York state. I can't get a hit on anything, not even the SSDI. What am I doing wrong? And, just curious, how does the information get into Does someone have to complete a tree in order to find information about a family?

First, an answer as to where gets its data. has many different databases; most of them are the result of the digitization of published volumes from many genealogical publishers. There is also the World Family Tree collection, which is the result of submissions by genealogists like you and me.

The potential for success in any genealogical research done on the Internet depends on a number of things, including:

  • knowledge of the tree to this point
  • number of generations already known

  • how many years back the research is
  • state or region or country of residence of the ancestors

While we would like to believe the Internet has something on everyone, in reality there are certain years and localities that are better covered or researched. There are certain types of records that are more readily available online and they are the result of interest by volunteers and what has previously been published. Compiled databases, such as World Family Tree, grow as individuals submit lineages to them. Those lineages are often three or more generations back before the current generation. Indexes to vital records that a state vital records office may make available online may cut off before 1930, like the census records which require a 72-year protection for the privacy of living individuals. There are many reasons why we may not be able to find a particular individual or family.

The Social Security Death Index is another misunderstood database. Researchers assume it is a database of all individuals who have died in the United States. In reality it is a database of those individuals who have died, primarily since 1962, for whom the Social Security Administration has been made aware of the death and for whom they may have generated a death benefit check. There are certain professions, such as those who worked for the railroads, who often do not show up in the SSDI.

You did not mention a name for your paternal grandfather, so I was not able to see what might be available or if the surname was a common one, which would affect the search options available to you. If your father is still alive though, the first thing to do would be to ask to see a copy of his father's birth certificate. In addition to giving you the name and age of your great-grandfather, it likely also mentions your great-grandparents' places of birth.

Part of the reason that you are not finding anything is that you do not yet have enough to go on for your grandfather. Depending on when your grandfather was born, there are probably census records that might prove useful. The problem with the online indexes to the census records is that most of them are limited to the name of the head of the household. If your grandfather would have been a child in the 1900 census, then running a search on your grandfather's name would come up empty. Searching on the surname in the state where he was born though might allow you to find his family. Of course if the surname is Smith or Johnson then such searchers are not an option because there are simply too many individuals in the index to go through.

If you know where your father was born, and he was born before 1930, then the 1930 census may be your first key to the search, but of course, the index to this census is not presently available on If he was born in a rural area, such as a farming community, then you might be able to locate him just by looking page by page. If he was born in a large city, then this is not an option either.

Some of the records that might give your research the kick start that it needs may not yet be available online, but once you have some more information on your grandfather you should be able to pick the family up in some of the online databases. By far the first thing you need to do is to establish places where he was born and where he died. Coupling that with where your father was born will aid you in knowing where to concentrate your research.

Confused by a Source Citation

Q: I have come across something that has me confused. When I click on my Genealogy Report I find the following: SOURCE: Family Group Records in my possession, EBR, submitted by Mureil Coleen Huggins/Wilson a paternal descendant of Vardaman BLEVINS. !gi: films #0537548; 0446320, ord042469. My questions are: 1. What are EBR and !gi? 2. How do I get this information? 3. Where is the film located? -- Gail

A: Your questions bring up the importance of following standards in source citations, such as those discussed in Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian published by Genealogical Publishing Company. This book offers samples of good source citations for many different records, including the basic ones, such as census and vital records, and the advanced resources, such as manuscript collections. Your example shows what happens when we do not follow standards: Later researchers do not understand where the information came from.

In answer to your first question, I am not sure what EBR stands for. It could be the initials of the individual in whose possession the family group records were. This is how I am reading the entry, and perhaps you know the person who created the file that you have since added to your database which resulted in this source citation.

I suspect that the !gi is actually supposed to be IGI, which is the acronym for the International Genealogical Index, an index compiled by the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This index is a list of deceased individuals for whom LDS temple ordinances have been done. Genealogists use the database as an index of sorts in finding clues to help them research their family members.

My supposition of this being the IGI is supported by the film numbers listed in your source citation. These are film numbers of the Family History Library, at least the first two are. When I put those numbers into the Family History Library Catalog, I saw that they were microfilms of Temple books in which the LDS ordinances were recorded. Getting these films would require that you visit your local Family History Center. Family History Centers are branches of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. These branches are found primarily in local LDS chapels and are open to individuals of all denominations who are interested in tracing their ancestry.

It is likely that these films will not give you any more information than you already have about the individuals in question, as they generally include just the name of the deceased individual, identifying information such as birth date and birth place, and information about the living individual who performed the ordinances for their ancestor. There are also columns to record the dates of the temple ordinances.

You did not mention where you got this information. It is possible that the GEDCOM file that you imported came from Ancestral File, another database compiled by the Family History Library. If this is the case, you may be able to find the address of the submitter by redoing the search in the Ancestral File and then looking at the submitter information. This should supply you with the name and address of the submitter or submitters of the information.

If you can't get the submitter information then you may need to try to recreate the research by looking for available records on microfilm that will help you support the information shared in that data. This may not be as easy as contacting the person, but it is still do-able.

Creating a GEDCOM of Partial Family File

Q: I use Family Tree Maker, version 9.0. I have all my data in one master family file (not separate family files) with about 14,000 entries. I am wondering how to generate GEDCOMs for just a portion of that master family file. I used to be able to do this with previous versions of Family Tree Maker, but I cannot find a way with version 9.0. All the instructions I can find (including on the website) export the whole master file into the GEDCOM.
-- Barry

A: It is possible to set off a certain section of your family file and save it as a GEDCOM file to share with others while using version 9.0 of Family Tree Maker. It is done using the tree reports, such as the Ancestor tree or the Indented Descendant report. You can also apply even more control using the Custom Report.

With one of these reports open, be sure to go through the report to verify that you have exactly the individuals you want. This is one of the reasons I like to use the Custom Report, because I can add and remove specific individuals. I make it a point to never share information on living individuals.

Once you have verified that the individuals are those that you want to share, the following steps should save a family file or GEDCOM file with just those individuals in the report.

  1. Click on the File menu.
  2. Select the Copy/Export Individuals in Outline Descendant Tree (the name of the tree will vary depending on which tree you are using)
  3. Select the appropriate File Type—Family Tree File or GEDCOM—in the File Type pull down menu
  4. Select the appropriate file folder in which to save the file
  5. Name the file
  6. Click the Save button

Depending on the file type you chose, there may be other things you need to do at this point. However, this should create either a Family File or a GEDCOM file of just those individuals you had in the tree that was open.

It is possible that when you tried to do this in the past that you did not look far enough down in the File menu that appears when you click on the File menu. You need to bypass the first Copy/Export Family File option as this is the choice for saving the entire family file and may be what is causing you to get the entire Family File instead of those you expect to get.

Which Is My Immigrant?

Q: Where do I go to find more information? There are two or three possible John Cummings who emigrated from Ireland, through Liverpool, to New York that fit the dates I have for my ancestor. For example, in the 1846–1865 Passenger and Immigration Lists there is a John Cummings, approximately correct age, date of arrival May 26, 1859 on Ships' Name: New World, Manifest # 3710. OR arrival July 17, 1848, Sardinia--mode of travel steerage (which makes sense). Where do I go next to check: Naturalization intent in Albany, NY Apr. 6, 1853, age 27; naturalized Oct. 7, 1856, living in Berne and in the 1860 Census (Not in Berne in 1855). -- Jane

A: It is unclear what you know about your John Cummings other than the fact that he emigrated from Ireland and you apparently know that he came through Liverpool on his way to New York. It appears that you do not as yet know exactly when he did this. It is also not clear if you know that your John Cummings submitted his declaration of intent on 6 April 1853 and was then naturalized 7 Oct 1856.

If you know that your John Cummings was naturalized in 1856, then you can rule out the arrival on the ship that arrived in 1859, at least as his first voyage to the United States. In fact, if he was naturalized in 1856, and then traveled after that as he re-entered the United States, he would be considered a citizen and there would be nothing in the passenger list about what country he used to consider his country of origin. If you are not sure if this is his naturalization date, then you need to look more closely at your John Cummings once here in the United States.

You mentioned the 1860 census, which would indicate that your John Cummings was born in Ireland, but unfortunately would not mention if he was naturalized. The first census to indicate if he was naturalized would be the 1900 census, and if he was age 27 in 1853, he may not have been alive in 1900. I am assuming that you mentioned this declaration of intent in which the John Cummings was age 27 in 1853 because that age fits with what you know about your John Cummings' age based on the 1860 census.

It sounds though like you do not have enough information about your John Cummings. Was he married before he came to the United States or did he marry once he was here? When did he die? Are you sure that the John Cummings you found in the 1860 census is your John Cummings? Have you looked for him in the 1850 census (assuming he arrived in 1848 as mentioned above) and have you found him in each census year after 1860 until his death? It is possible that an obituary might also supply you with the information you need on his exact arrival. If not exact arrival, it may indicate if he traveled alone or came with his family. If he was 27 in 1853, he was born about 1826, and would have been 22 when he arrived in 1848. Old enough to have been married and traveling with his wife.

You may also want to look for his tombstone and see if there is any information on it. I have seen some tombstones that have indicated when the individual came to the United States. It doesn't happen as often as we would like, but is something to check for each of your ancestors who immigrated. If you haven't yet answered the questions I mentioned above, then I would suggest that be your first step. You may not know enough yet to be able to identify your John Cummings from others emigrating from Ireland at the same time.

The passenger list will not indicate where your John Cummings was born in Ireland. You may find it on your ancestor's second papers, the paper filed between the Declaration of Intent and the one in which your ancestor is naturalized. Naturalization was a three step process. The declaration of intent was the first step and indicated the immigrant's intention to renounce allegiance to the ruler of his old country and swear allegiance to the United States. The second step was the application for naturalization, also known as the second papers. It is the application that potentially has the most information about your ancestor, including when he arrived in the United States and possibly the name the ship on which he arrived.

For naturalizations that occurred before 1906 you would need to look in the county courthouses in each of the counties in which your John Cummings lived during his naturalization process. Each paper could be filed in a separate courthouse. It is possible that these records that were in the courthouses at one time have been moved to preservation and may now be found in a regional branch of the National Archives, so don't discount the National Archives branch for New York in your search for his second papers.

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

Back to Top of Article

Home | Help | About Us | Terms of Service | PRIVACY
© 2011