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

June 29, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Finding the Boat

Q: How do I find out which boat or vessel a relative may have arrived on? -- Im2dafy

A: In order to determine the boat your ancestor arrived on, it is first important to determine when he or she arrived. This is done by researching the ancestor just as you would to normally find out clues about your family history.

If there are living relatives who would remember when your relative arrived in the United States, then you will want to begin your search there. You don't want to ask them specifically when or what boat. However, if you ask them in general about when that relative arrived, they may remember something useful. For instance, if you ask them what year your relative arrived, the living relatives may say they don't remember. However, if you ask something about how old great grandfather was or some other relative who may have been in the United States at the time of the arrival of the relative, then you may be able to estimate the approximate date of arrival from that.

If your relative would have been in the United States by 1920, then you will certainly want to search the 1920 census. This is the most recently available federal census. Each state is soundexed, an index based on phonetics rather than on exact spelling. So all you need to know is the state where your ancestor would have been living in 1920. From the soundex, you can then locate your relative in the 1920 census pages themselves. And on the census pages there were questions asked of the individual that pertained to when they immigrated and if and when they were naturalized.

Naturalization records are excellent resources, as one of the papers, the Application, or Second Papers, often asked specific questions about when they arrived and the name of the ship on which they traveled. So, if your relative was naturalized, then you will want to research the naturalization papers. Information on this can be found in Finding Naturalization Records.

They Came From Scotland

Q: I am researching my wife's mother, who came over from Scotland when she was 6 years old. Her name is Nora Ferguson Liddell. I know she was born in Springfield, Scotland, County of Fife in 1900. I find no trace at Ellis Island of her coming in. Do you suppose that they just put the family name down and the number of children? Also I would like to contact her relations in Scotland. How do I get a list of the Liddells living there today? I know she had a brother and sister. -- Richard

A: If you haven't done so already, you will want to get a copy of your mother-in-law's birth certificate. This will give you information about her parents that might prove useful when contacting relatives in Scotland.

Many people assume that their ancestors that immigrated must have come through Ellis Island, the reality is that there were a number of other ports that immigrants were flocking through just as they were going through Ellis Island. Along the eastern seaboard, immigrants were coming through the ports of Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia, just to name a few. So, since you have been unable to locate your mother-in-law in the index to Ellis Island, you will want to turn your attention to some of these other eastern ports. Another possible alternative is that your mother-in-law actually went from Scotland to Canada and then crossed into the United States from Canada. This was a known route. The St. Albans, Vermont passenger lists may need to be checked.

Looking for living individuals can be done through the many different online phone book searches. There are some such sites for many foreign countries, including Scotland. One place to find such lists is to visit Cyndi's List. She has an entire subsection devoted to finding people's online addresses, mailing addresses and phone numbers.

A Possible Japanese Connection

Q: I am a 22 year old female interested in finding information about my father's father. Only problem is I am not quite sure how to go about this because I do not have any info to search. The only info I was told was that my father's father's side of the family originated in Japan. Then I was told my great grandfather immigrated here to the Hawaiian Isles. The last and only thing I also have is a picture of my great granddad and great grandma. -- L

A: There are temptations to immediately jump back to the last generation of which we know something. In your case, this sounds like your paternal grandparents. However, there may have been some very important steps that have been overlooked.

The researching of your family history is best accomplished by starting with yourself and working backward from there. By getting records on yourself, and your parents, you accomplish two things. First, you begin to learn how to get these records, an ongoing process as your family history pursuit continues. Second, you begin to see that even for those people you thought you knew everything about, there may still be some surprises.

This is why we get these records. They not only help to support claims we are making about when individuals were born, married or died, but they also give insight into the next generation back. Sometimes it is just the name of a parent. Other times it may include valuable information such as place of birth.

Ask your father, if still possible, what he remembers about his parents and grandparents. Ask him about going to school and family gatherings, especially around birthdays and holidays. Then take what he tells you and create a timeline. Begin to search pertinent records such as vital records to begin to gather the records that hold the clues. Ask your father for a copy of his birth certificate. Or if he is no longer living, look first at yours. It may hold a clue to where he was born. If you know already, write away for it. You can find addresses by visiting VitalCheck. Then armed with the information from his birth certificate, you will begin to work on his parents.

It is also always a good idea to get a book or two. You will want to get a good genealogy how-to book. You will also want to see what you can find on the Internet specific to Japanese-American research.

Unknown Birth Date

Q: I just started looking up my husband's genealogy last night. His great grandmother has no record of her birth. When she passed in 1995, she was believed by family to be around 105 years old. How can I take this search further? Please help me! -- Erin

A: You know when she died. So that is a start. If you don't already have a copy of her death certificate, you will want to write and request a copy. Depending on who the informant was, there may be information you did not know was known. At the very least it gives you some clues to begin working with.

If you haven't done so already, you will want to search the Social Security Death Index. If you find her in there, you will want to generate the Request Letter for the SS-5 form. This is a form she would have filled out herself. It will supply you with the names of her parents and place of birth. And from this you can begin to follow the trail to when she was born.

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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