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

December 21, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

County Names

Q: How do you handle the circumstance where the county name has changed? -- Janet

A: Down through the years as states grew in population, county boundaries changed. In fact you often need to do a little genealogy of the county to be sure that you are researching in the correct county for the time period you are working on.

Everton's The Handybook for Genealogists and Ancestry's Red Book both give you the year of creation for a county and include information about parent counties. A parent county is the one from which the land has been set aside for the new county. Sometimes this is a single county. In other instances it can be multiple counties that each set aside a piece of land to form a new county in the middle of the original counties.

With these boundary changes, it is possible for your ancestors to have remained in the same town for two hundred years and still have ended up in two, three or more counties. When recording genealogical information it is important to record it as the place was at the time of the event.

Another excellent book that is useful with boundary changes is William Thorndale's & William Dollarhide's Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920. This can be useful when a county is created from two different counties. By pinpointing the location of the town they were in, you can then refer to this location to determine what county they came from. Each map includes the counties as they were in that given year in black and underlayed in white are the counties as they appear now.

Lost at Sea

Q: My third great grandfather was lost at sea somewhere between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Baton Rouge, La. I have been told this was in Feb. of 1884, but city directories for Philadelphia do not list him for 1882 or 1883 either. I have been told Seamen papers for Philadelphia have survived at the National Archives. How do I send for them, it seems you have to know a form number in order to get information? -- Sandie

A: Seaman protection certificates were created by an act of 1796. This was a direct result of those American sailors that were on the "Lydia" and were taken on the high seas. There were five of them. This was apparently a problem in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Through impressment, Great Britain and other powers filled their naval ship crews.

Sailors who were impressed were generally taken against their will to serve on a ship. I have read of ship's sending a detail out to gather up the needed men to serve on a ship. And apparently those who ended up in any of those countries that filled their crews this way could sometimes end up in such a gang regardless of the fact that they were citizens of another country, such as the United States.

The National Archives organizes everything into Record Groups. In researching about impressed American Seaman, I discovered that Record Group 36 "Records of the Bureau of Customs," held many of the earlier records pertaining to Seaman Protection Certificates. Unfortunately, those for Philadelphia ended short of the time period you needed. They covered the years 1796 to 1861. And actually these were the original applications. The seaman carried the actual certificates on their person.

When this group of records did not reveal information for your particular time period, I turned my attention to Guide to the National Archives of the United States, which is actually a detailed listing of everything found in the National Archives. Record Group 41 "Records of the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation," includes records about steamboat inspection service and records relating to merchant vessels. This record group also contains seamen protection certificates from 1916 to 1940.

However, included in the "Records of the U.S. Shipping Commissioners, 1872-1938" are some records that might be of use to you. The commissioners took over the protection of seaman. The records have shipping articles. Also included in the records are official merchant marine logbooks that were filed with the commissioner at the end of the voyage. This may be the only proof of your great grandfather's service. The shipping articles include valuable information about each of the crew.

Hinshaw's American Quaker Genealogy

Q: How can I buy that CD of Hinshaw's American Quaker Genealogy collection? Thank you. -- Alan

A: One of the great aspects of this modern technology is the advent of resources on CD. These offer genealogists a two-fold advantage. First, they don't take up nearly as much space as the original published volumes. Second, they usually have a much better way of searching for our ancestors than the original books.

One of the newest releases from Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc. is a CD-ROM version of William Wade Hinshaw's Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. This CD-ROM is also available through as The Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy, 1740-1930.

Unlike some CDs that are available, this particular resource has scanned images of the actual volumes, rather than converted text through optical character recognition (OCR), so you do not need to worry about mistakes creeping in from misreading by OCR software. And the CD also has included an every-name index, making it much easier to search for individuals, rather than surnames.

There were six volumes when the Encyclopedia of American Genealogy was finally finished. Commonly referred to as "Hinshaw" in family history circles, this has long stood as the resource for researchers of Quaker ancestry. Volume I, sub-titled North Carolina, includes monthly meetings from both North and South Carolina as well as Tennessee. These were all part of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting. Volume II, sub-titled New Jersey and Pennsylvania included those monthly meetings that were part of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Volume III, sub-titled New York, includes four monthly meetings in and around New York City. Volume IV and Volume V, sub-titled Ohio, includes the records of 51 monthly meetings in Ohio (46), Pennsylvania (4) and Michigan (1). Volume VI, sub-titled Virginia which includes the records of 13 monthly meetings were part of the Virginia Yearly Meeting. The Virginia Yearly Meeting was disbanded and these monthly meetings were then attached to the Baltimore Yearly Meeting.

Crossing the Pond

Q: I was wondering if you have any information for those of us from immigrant families in the past century. How do we get information from other countries about our roots? -- Marie

A: Immigrant research must begin like all other research. It is important that you work from the known to the unknown. There are temptations to immediately jump over the ocean to the old country, but this usually results in disappointment and frustration. All possible records including vital records, census records, naturalization records, newspapers, probate records, and so on should be exhausted before jumping over the ocean.

When researching family in most countries, it becomes necessary to know the town of birth or residence for the family before anything more can be accomplished. This is true of such countries as Ireland, Germany and Italy.

If your family immigrated after 1906, then locating them in the passenger lists will supply you with the much needed place of birth, among other things. Also, for a majority of the ports, these passenger lists are indexed. Of course, in order to effectively identify your ancestor, you must have some knowledge of the year of arrival, the port of arrival and so forth.

Once you establish where your ancestor was born, the next step is to see what records for that town may have been microfilmed. A search of the Family History Library Catalog available online at and through your local Family History Center is the easiest way to accomplish this. Understand that these records will be in the native tongue of the country they are from. This may require your getting a translation dictionary.

Finally, if you need to order vital records, you can get the necessary forms and information from Thomas Kemp's International Vital Records Handbook. He has compiled the necessary forms from the various state offices and countries along with information on costs, and record availability.

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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