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

August 29, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

What Was Her Name?

Q: I am looking for my grandfather's family. They are from Waveland, Indiana. Parents are John A. Ward (born in 1855) and Elmira F. Thomas (born in 1855 in Waveland, Indiana). Their children were Charles, Rene, Walter, Harrison and Amos. On one death certificate, it said Charles' mother was Almira. On Amos' marriage certificate it said his mother was Maryellen Thomas. Almira was suppose to have a twin. -- Linda

A: One of the problems with not being there as our ancestors were living their lives is that we must rely on the information found in records created by those that were. Like the accident seen by three witnesses, all of whom have a different version of the story, the records we find often tell different versions of a story as well.

Usually this forces us to examine the records we are using and their reliability. For instance, Charles' death certificate may be less reliable than the marriage certificate for Amos. Amos is the one who likely gave information on his parents when he and his intended were supplying the information found on the marriage application. In the case of Charles' death certificate though, you need to look at who the informant was. If it was his wife, it is possible that she knew her mother-in-law as Almira, when in fact her first name was Maryellen. Of course the informant could have been a child or someone at the hospital who did not know as much as he or she thought.

If you haven't done already you will want to look for this family in the census records. Were John and Elmire (MaryEllen) married by 1880? Were they both still living in 1900? Unfortunately the destruction of the 1890 census leaves us with a major gap when it comes to the census records.

If you haven't done so yet, see if you can find the marriage record for John and Elmira to see what her name is on the certificate. When searching for this be sure to look for all the names you have for her. If you cannot find a marriage record for them, see if you can find marriage and death records for the other children. What names do those supply?

You might also want to look for a death record on John. If he died before Elmira, you may find that she was the informant for his death record and you can get her name that way. She may also be listed as his spouse. Different death certificates ask for different information. You will also want to look for her death certificate as well. In addition to giving you her name, it may also supply you with the names of her parents.

It would probably be easier to find her in the 1860 census if you had her parents' names because the common surname of Thomas would result in your having to look through a lot of index entries in your search for her. Also, until you know what her first name really was it may be more difficult to identify her as a child.

Two other census records that might prove useful in your research include the 1880 and the 1900 census. It is likely that John and Elmira are listed in the 1880 census and may be more easily identifiable by the fact that some of the their children were living with them. There is a Soundex for the 1880 census for those households that had children living in them who were under the age of 10. There are also some other indexes that have been published in book and CD-ROM form for the 1880 census as well.

If John and Elmira were still living in 1900, then you will want to locate them in this census record as well. Compiling all the records you can find will aid you in determing what Elmira's real name was. Land records are another record to investigate. In most states, the wife would have had to sign also when her husband was selling land. While it is likely that she made her mark (a mark was often used instead of a signature when the person couldn't write), her name should also be listed.

Most of the records that you are likely to need will probably be available on microfilm through your local Family History Center, which offers you an avenue to accessing the records housed in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Finding a Hard Copy of a Passenger List

Q: How can I get a printable passenger list record? I'm looking for information on Jan Timmer born October 23, 1879. He came on ship called Haverford, leaving from Antwerp, Belguim approximately March 8 and arriving in New York on March 26, 1902. With him came Reinke Molenkamp born November 25, 1877 -- Janice

A: If you haven't done so already, you will want to search for Jan Timmer and Reinke Molenkamp in the online, digitized passenger lists available at Ellis Island Records. Here you can view the original passenger manifest pages for most ships that arrived in New York from 1892 to 1924. Once you are viewing the image, you can try saving the image to your computer and then open the image in a graphics program. You should be able to print the passenger list to paper through your graphics program.

Of course, when printing from your computer, the oversized passenger manifest pages will be shrunk down and this may make it impossible to read the information on the page. Another avenue might be to request a copy from the National Archives. You can visit the National Archives Web site and request the necessary form by visiting the Reading Room and clicking on the Genealogy link. There is a special form that must be filled out to request a photocopy of the page. You will see a similar link for purchasing a copy of the page at the Ellis Island site as well. You may want to see which one is less expensive.

You might also want to check with your local genealogy library to see if they have the film in question or can get it through interlibrary loan. This way you could make the photocopy of it yourself and save even more. Of course the clarity of the copy would depend on the size of paper your library has and the magnification of the lense in the film viewer/copier.

Usually if I am in need of something like this and cannot print it from my own computer, I will hire a professional genealogist in Salt Lake City to get the copy for me. The copiers at the Family History Library offer a variety of magnifications and I can usually get a clear copy, on paper ranging in size from 8x11 to 11x17. I prefer to get the passenger lists copied on the 11x17 paper. You might want to check out Lineages to see what they would charge you for a single copy. Going through them instead of the National Archives will be much quicker and may prove less expensive.

Name Changes During Immigration

Q: I was wondering if you could give me some advice on my great grandparents. Their names are John and Constance (Diguliante) Yerelavich and they were both in Lithuania around the 1890's. They were married in New Jersey (I have a marriage entry for the church, on Jan. 4, 1914) and they were listed in the 1920 census under the name of Jurelevicius for New Jersey. In the column that lists their year of immigration to U.S., it says 1910. I do know that he had boarders and a brother listed with him in the 1920 census. I also understand that their last names changed in route to the U.S. I don't know what last name he filed his papers under or where he filed them. Nor do I know which port he came into for Lithuania/Russia. Do you have any suggestions at all in this matter to help me succeed in this search. -- Dawn

A: First let's look at your understanding that your great grandparents' last names were changed as they came to the United States. Many people have been told that their ancestor's name changed as the family came through Ellis Island. This is a huge myth that refuses to die. In fact, name changes were not a result of the clerks at Ellis Island, or any other port in the United States. If a name was changed, it was often anglicized by the immigrant sometime later. Oftentimes, immigrants would make this change when they naturalized.

Since you have found the name in the census and also the marriage record, it appears that the name wasn't changed. What you may find, though, as you are searching for them on the passenger lists is that the spelling is different. Sometimes you'll find that difficulty locating someone on a passenger list is simply because a letter was dropped from the last name on the manifest.

The passenger lists for most of the Eastern seaports, and it is likely that your ancestors came through one of them, are Soundexed. The Soundex is a system that is supposed to group like sounding surnames together, so that slight misspellings do not prevent you from finding a person in the index. The problem with the Eastern European surnames is the additional consonants. It is the consonants that are coded using the Soundex system and the addition or omission of just one consonant early enough in the name can alter the Soundex code. For instance the surname Yerelavich is coded Y641. The other spelling you found Jurelevicius is coded J641. Sometimes, though, the code is different because of the letters in the surname. Selentksy is coded S453, whereas Seletsky (an alternate spelling I have seen for this surname) is coded S432. Researching this surname I must always look under both Soundex codes wherever the Soundex system is used.

You will have a similar situation only with the beginning letter of the Soundex code, which as you probably figured out is contingent on the first letter of the surname as it is written on the record.

If you haven't tried it yet, you will want to look at the passenger lists for the port of New York. This was a popular port during the time in question, and is where many Eastern European immigrants arrived. You can try searching the Ellis Island Records site for your immigrants. The problem, though, is that if you don't have the correct spelling it is harder to find the person on this site since there is no Soundex option, and instead you must go through a list of alternate spellings, one at a time.

You may find it easier to use the microfilmed Soundex for the ports of New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia in your search for this family. These microfilms are available through your local Family History Center, by ordering them from the Family History Library. You might also check your local genelaogical library or if you are close to a National Archives branch, they also have them.

Different Types of Trees

Q: Why are some trees drawn from the top down, others from the bottom up, and some from the left to the right? -- Geoff

A: The different trees that researchers share with one another are designed to offer different views of the lineage being traced.

Those drawn from the top down are usually descendant charts of some sort. Many time you will hear them referred to as a "box chart." The chart begins at the top with a couple who had children. Then each subsequent line below that initial couple represents a generation. So the first line of individuals below the primary couple are that couple's children. The next line of individuals would be the primary couple's grandchildren. This continues for the number of generations specified by the research for that report. You will find that not all of the individuals in each line after the primary couple are always continued on.

Those drawn from the bottom up are vertical ancestor charts. They also often use the box chart, but in this case a tree shows the ancestors of a given individual. The primary individual can be found at the bottom of the chart, usually in the center of that bottom line. Each generation going up from him or her shows the direct lineage, by generation, of that individual. Most of these charts can diplay four to eight generations depending on the size of the paper, the size of the boxes, and the amount of information shared.

Those that go from left to right are the standard pedigree chart or ancestral tree that genealogists have been using for years. The pedigree form is one of the most common forms used and shared. The primary individual is shown in the center left. Off this individual you will find lines, and sometimes boxes, showing the direct lineage of that primary individual.

These are just a few of the charts or trees that people are now using to display some of the research they have been working on. There are some more elaborate and involved. trees that encompass everyone in the family, and some modify the above trees to include siblings to give more information.

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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