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

December 07, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

History of a Ship

Q: My ancestor, Louis Christopher Dawe, sailed on the City of Bangor from Gravesend, England to South Australia. I am trying to track down the sailing history of this ship. She was built in 1862 in Brewer, Maine, owned by Stetson and Co., registered and operated out of Bangor, Maine. She was a 3 masted barque of 599 tons with two decks. Her official American number is 125060. Are you able to tell me where I could find some information on this vessel? It only made the one voyage to Australia, leaving Gravesend in December 1885 arriving in South Australia in May 1866. It then left South Australia in June 1866 sailing for Calleo in Peru. -- Janine

A: A part of family history that some researchers don't take the time to investigate is the actual history that touched the lives of those ancestors they spend so much time researching. What must his life been like? What was the ship like that he traveled on? While you may never find a written account from your ancestor, searching for nontraditional information will give you that glimpse.

You already appear to know a lot about the City of Bangor that took your ancestor, Louis Christopher Dawe, from England to Australia. In fact, you know more than most people do about the ships that brought their ancestors.

To find out more about the ship, you will want to try one of the maritime museums. Some of these have Web pages, but the major wealth of information is in their archival holdings. This will require contacting them to see what arrangements may be needed to visit and make a search.

  • The Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia — This museum has some information on sailing ships of the 19th century. Most of their information is on steamships, but should not be overlooked in your search.
  • Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Connecticut — This museum has one of the most extensive collections of resources on sailing ships.
  • Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts — Like The Mariners' Museum, the Peabody offers more on steamships, but should still be regarded as a possible resource.

Finally, while your particular ship did not appear in the book, there is a wonderful book that includes many pictures, photographs and paintings, of the ships that brought our ancestors to this country. The majority are the late 19th century and the 20th century, however there are some mid-1800 ships included. Ships of Our Ancestors by Michael J. Anuta makes those ship names tangible pieces in our research.

Understanding Census Questions

Q: Can you explain to me what the numbers in the Column "Age Ranges" are on the MA 1800 Census Index? No one seems to be able to decode the two strings of numbers in the "Age Ranges" column. -- Ron

A: It is not uncommon to see columns of numbers in indexes of the pre-1850 censuses. While the published indexes that are relied on generally only index the head of the household, when it comes to the pre-1850 census, leeway could be made as that was all that was in the household. Some indexing projects took to adding a string of numbers, usually separated in the middle with a space, after the name of the individual.

First, so that others understand what we are discussing, an entry may look like:

Robert Ayers 21010 11200

To decipher these numbers, it is necessary to understand the original form used by the enumerators during 1800 when they canvassed the country recording this information. The first set of numbers deals with the free white males in the household. The second set of numbers deals with the free white females.

Each of digits in the above number represents an age range. Notice that in each case, there are five numbers. These numbers correspond in order to the following five age ranges:

  • Under ten years of age
  • Of ten and under sixteen
  • Of sixteen and under twenty-six, including heads of families
  • Of twenty-six and under forty-five, including heads of families
  • Of forty-five and upwards, including heads of families

Using the example above, the household of Robert Ayers had 2 boys under 10, 1 boy age 10 to 16, and one male adult age 26 to 45. For the females there was 1 girl under the age 10, 1 girl age 10 to 16, and two women age 16 to 26.

African American Research

Q: I am an African-American and have been unable to successfully complete my research as my family name Rawls leads me to a European database. Could you assist me by sending some possible sites/links? -- Deantondarius

A: Your plea is not an uncommon one. Many researching African American ancestry feel that there is nothing to help them with their research. Fortunately this is not the case. However, to make your research more productive, there are some online resources that should be at the top of your list of places to check. Also, there are a couple of books you will want to look into, either to purchase or borrow from your local public library.

First, right here at, there are some wonderful articles that will help you, some include links to sites on the Internet for further information.

Next there are some Web sites that should spend some time exploring. Some of them have databases that you can search. And since they deal specifically with African American research, you will not have the same problem you have been experiencing.

Finally, while the Internet is bringing more and more online for researchers, there are still many records that have not been digitized. To ignore those simply because they are not available online, and thus easy to look at, is to defeat the purpose of your quest. For a look at some of the records that exist in published volumes and manuscript collections, you will want to get Curt Bryan Witcher's African American Genealogy, A Bibliography and Guide to Sources. Published this year by RoundTower Books of Fort Wayne, Indiana, you will learn about the wonderful records in the Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution to the Civil War.

If your research is not yet back that far, then you will want to read Finding a Place Called Home: A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity by Dee Parmer Woodtor. Through case studies you begin to see how to research your African American ancestry.

Passenger List Resources

Q: Is there a current source for ship passenger lists for Ireland to New York City in the period 1890 through 1912 and from Glasgow, Scotland to New York for l920 through 1921. -- Lorabill

A: Passenger lists for the time periods in question have been microfilmed. These records were microfilmed by the National Archives back in the 1940s. These microfilms have been purchased by many libraries across the country, including the Family History Library and those public libraries with large genealogy departments.

If your public library does not have them, they may offer an interlibrary loan option, or you can visit your local Family History Center and order the films from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. More important than if they exist though, is does an index exist?

At one point, in 1907, over 7 million immigrants came flooding through the gates of Ellis Island. That's a lot of people, and worse, a lot of pages to search through when you just know the country the immigrants were coming from.

The good news for you is that, with the exception of the years 1890 through 1896, the rest of the years for New York have been indexed. For those earlier years, it will be necessary to use other records to determine the exact date of arrival. Naturalization records are often the first choice in this work.

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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