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

September 28, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Researching in Georgia

Q: Oct. 20, 1881 James E. Gornto m. Fannie H. Lightfoot in Quitman, Brooks County, Georgia. I Have tried to research Fannie H. Lightfoot but to no avail. Please suggest procedure. No records on computer turn up anything -- Everett

A: As genealogists of the present, with all the marvels of modern technology, we sometimes assume that everything we need should be computerized. This is far from the truth. While it is true that new resources are coming online every day, the reality is that the genealogist of today must still turn their attention to the original records. The good news is that many of them are on microfilm, making them more easily accessible.

What you will need to do is determine what records may be available for that time period that are not on the computer and not accessible through the Internet. Some that come immediately to mind are marriage records, census records, and newspaper records.

A quick search of the Family History Library Catalog, which can be searched online reveals that there is a book that exists that contains abstracts of newspapers for the right time period. You may want to see if you can get access to a copy of Brooks County, Georgia, Newspaper Clippings, Volume 1, 1866-1889 by Tad Evans. This book was published by the author in 1995.

Further searching in the Family History Library Catalog reveals that the Family History Library has the marriage records for Brooks County available on microfilm. It is possible that these records will include both the marriage application as well as the marriage certificate. This might supply you with the names of her parents, her age, and her birthplace.

Finally you will want to turn your attention to the census records. While some 1850 and 1900 census records are available in a digitized format online, the majority have not yet been released. You can either wait, or you can resort to microfilm. You may want to try the 1880 soundex first. Don't be surprised though if you do not locate her family in the soundex, as that particular soundex was not complete. Directions to those extracting the entries were to extract only those families with a child aged ten or younger.

It may be necessary to do a line-by-line search of Brooks County in the 1880 census to locate Fannie in the census. This can be a benefit though as you often will find other Lightfoot families that may turn out to be related.

Ryals in Georgia

Q: Daniel C. Ryals was born 11/17/1816 in Emmanuel County, Georgia. He moved to Florida in the Mid 1800s. Research has been done on most of the Florida family, but no one seems to have any clue about his parents' names, or any other ancestors. Do you have any suggestions as to how I might find this information? The census records don't help, and his birth certificate doesn't seem to exist!! -- Jean

A: First let's discuss the lack of the birth certificate. Unfortunately many researchers discover this and are greatly dismayed. We forget that these records were not created for genealogists. They were created by different government authorities to fill a need they had in tracking information.

Marriage records were often kept from the time a county was created. While we are glad about this, we do not understand why this vital record was kept and the birth and death records weren't. The marriage record was the proof of the right of ownership when the spouse died. This was a necessary document at that time.

Traditionally states did not begin to keep birth and death records until they began to track patterns in types of death and the number of births a given area had in the previous twelve months. As a result, we discover that birth and death records are not created until the late 1800s or the early 1900s in many of the states we are working in.

You mentioned that the census records were of no help. Prior to 1850, the only individual listed, by name, in the census was the head of the household. This was usually the father of the family, but it could have been a grandfather or a widow as well.

It is unlikely that you will find a record that states flat out that Daniel is the parent of this person and that one. If you work in probate records, you may discover such a connection. More than likely though, you will probably need to build a case based on the variety of records available for the time period in question. For Georgia, this means supplementing the census records with tax, land lottery and military records.

None of these records will state unequivocally that Daniel was the son of John or whomever. What it will help you to do is to establish a likelihood based on the individuals who were in the area at the time.

For tax records, one of the best resources to check is An Index to Georgia Tax Digests published for the R. J. Taylor Foundation of Atlanta, Georgia in 1986 by The Reprint Company out of Spartanburg, South Carolina. This five-volume set indexes tax digests from 1789 to 1817.

Getting Back to Norway

Q: Can you please tell me where to start searching for my grandfather's parents. My grandfather was born in Oslo Norway 1879. He immigrated to the United States and married my grandmother in Duluth, Mn around 1900. His name was Ole F. Hanson. He is buried somewhere in Mn, but I can't even find his resting place. I want to go and search Norway but don't know where to start. -- Janice

A: Before you can jump to Norway, you must first exhaust some records here in the United States. Like many of the countries in Europe, the records for Norway are found at the parish level. In a city the size of Oslo, this requires you to get some additional information before you can begin to search in Norway.

This additional research is necessary due to the common name your grandfather had. Ole Hanson is very similar to John Smith here in the United States. As such, the more information you have the better you can pin down specific individuals. You will be able to weed out some of the individuals with the same name.

If you haven't done so already, you will want to get a copy of your grandfather's death certificate. Among other things, this will tell you where he was buried. I would then encourage you to visit that cemetery and see who else might be buried with him and nearby. You may discover family members.

Next, you will want to turn your attention to the 1920 census. This is the closest to when your grandfather married that has an index. While the 1910 census exists, there is no soundex for that year, making it difficult to search. By starting with the 1920 census, you will be looking for Ole when he was about 40 years old. Of course, having the name of his wife, and perhaps even a child or two, will make locating him easier.

The 1920 census will let you know where Ole is in the naturalization process. If he has been naturalized, then you will want to see if there are any available naturalization records. After 1906 these were deposited in the Immigration and Naturalization Services office in Washington, DC and it is here that most people begin their search.

However, before writing to them, see if the records you need are available on microfilm through the Family History Library. The naturalization records will help you in determining when he arrived in this country, and through what port. It is possible that you will get an exact date of birth and the place of birth. Bit by bit, the pieces will begin to fit together and soon you will have the needed information to take your research across the ocean to Norway.

Was the Name Changed?

Q: My grandparents came in the late 1900s and probably near the same time. However, searching for their arrivals at Ellis Island, etc. I cannot find their names. Since they spoke a foreign language, and the names were not spelled like they sound, would the names be recorded as they sound, copied from a paper they might have carried, or am I missing some other way of finding them? -- Joanne

A: The first thing to do is to locate your grandparents in the 1920 census. See if they were naturalized. The naturalization records of the twentieth century are full of useful information. Among other things, it will tell you when the individual arrived and through what port. It is possible that your grandparents arrived through some other port on the east coast. Then once you have determined the port and the ship, you will find it much easier to locate them in the passenger lists.

Your question brings up one of the myths that are often passed around about what took place at Ellis Island. Many people claim that their name was changed when their grandmother or great-grandfather were going through the processing at Ellis Island. This is unlikely. There were many other places where your ancestor's name were more likely to have been changed.

At the time your ancestors got on the boat in the old country, they were given a card that had to be displayed in Ellis Island. Most of them wore this card at the time they were disembarking. The information on the card, which included their name, had been filled out in the old country. As they were disembarking and the officials at Ellis Island were filling out the passenger lists, the names were not changed. The officials all spoke a myriad of languages and were working from the cards, so there could be very little room for error.

Since you have not been able to find them yet at Ellis Island, it is more likely that they arrived through a different port. If you are relying on the soundex films for the arrivals in New York, it is possible that you will need to alter the spelling a little bit. The soundex coding system does not work as well on many of the Eastern European surnames, primarily because of the use of so many consonants, which are coded as separate sounds when using the soundex system.

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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