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

December 30, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Filling in the Missing Pieces

Q: I have run into a couple of knotty problems. No on else has been able to suggest anything, so I toss them to you. My great grandfather Peter VERHEULE born 5 April 1873, died 1 January 1917 had two wives. The first Petrenella DEBAT born 26 June 1865 died 23 April 1904. I am missing their Anniversary. Peter's second wife T. Christine Elenbaas CASTERLINE, I am missing everything BUT the anniversary 11 November 1908. The family is from Kent county area in Michigan. Also, how does someone born in 1900 that dies in 1964 not appear in the Social Security Death Index? Neither Martin VERHEULE nor his wife Linda appear. Mart was her second husband, the first's last name was LEONARD. -- Jim

A: You are fortunate in that you have a great deal of information on Peter VERHEULE. You have important dates of birth and death for Peter and for his first wife. And you have the marriage for Peter and his second wife.

Now you want to take this information and use it to locate the missing pieces. Let's start with the second wife. You have the date of marriage, but your message did not say whether or not you have the actual marriage record. If you don't, then you will certainly want to get it. Very often the marriage certificates have two pages. The one page is the certificate showing they have been married. The other page is the application to marry and includes valuable information about the bride and the groom, such as

  • Age
  • Where born
  • Name of parents (sometimes maiden name of mother)
  • Number of marriages

All of this information can help you in filling in the missing pieces for T. Christine Elenbaas CASTERLINE. Armed with that information you would be able to begin searching for records on her.

Even if you don't have access to the marriage application, it is possible that the 1910 and 1920 census records would be useful to you. They include columns for the age and the place of birth for the inhabitants of the household. They also include the place of birth for the parents of those in the household. Again, valuable clues to help you in determining the parents of T. Christine Elenbaas CASTERLINE, which may lead you to exactly when and where she was born.

In regards to the first wife and the lack of a marriage date, the census records can again be of assistance. The 1900 census includes a column asking the number of years the couple has been married. This will give you a starting point. Based on the date of birth of Peter, 1873, I suspect that they were married sometime around 1893. If that is true, then you will want to try searching the marriage records for the county in which they were residing in 1900. Many of these records you can access on microfilm through your local Family History Center.

And now on to the Social Security Death Index question. Many people have a misunderstanding as to who will appear in the SSDI. Many expect it to be an index to deaths for all of the United States from 1961 to the present. This is not true. Not everyone who has died in those years will appear in the SSDI. The only individuals who appear in the SSDI are those on whose behalf a death benefit check was cut. If that check (which I believe is currently around $255.00) was not cut by the Social Security Administration, then the individual will not appear in the SSDI. For those who died in the early 1960s, one possible explanation for this would be that they worked on the railroads. Railroad employees had their own pension plans, they even had their own social security numbers for a time. As such, they are often not found in the SSDI.

Looking for Presumption, Russia

Q: On an old family Bible it says that my great grandfather was born in Presumption, Russia. However no one has ever heard of this place. Is it possible that it had another name in 1839? Or is it possible that some later family member remembered this is what it sounded like? -- Mary

A: Your question offers a chance to talk about Bible records. These records very often are considered a primary document, when in fact they are not.

For those new to genealogy, a primary document is one that was created at the time of an event (or very soon after) by someone who was present at the event. Family bibles are often considered to be in this category because we assume that the family physically had the bible and was writing down the dates and names for the births and marriages as they took place. But how can you be sure?

Bibles are published books. As such they will have publishing information in the front of the book. It is important to look and see when the Bible was published. If, in your case, the Bible was published in 1830, then you would need to look at the information in it as likely being more accurate. However, if the book was not published until say 1880 or 1900, then you know that a descendant was probably the source of information for the birth date and place of your great grandfather. And if this is the case, then as you have suspected it is possible that they have not remembered the name of the location correctly.

Even if the Bible was contemporary, it is still possible that it was not filled out at that time. You will also need to look at possible translation issues. After all, you are looking for the English equivalent, Presumption, which may be a loose translation of the actual name of the town. Or, as you have mentioned the town may have been renamed.

When dealing with countries that have had border changes and governmental upsets, such as Russia, the names of the towns are likely to change, as are their final location. Germany is a perfect example of how towns that used to be considered German are now found in countries such as Poland. So, to deal with this issue, you will need to find a gazetteer published as close to the time of the event as possible. If you still cannot find the place, then you may need to do additional research in other records in order to corroborate or disagree with what you currently know.

Some of the records that might be most helpful to you would be naturalization records if your great grandfather immigrated to the United States and became a citizen. His death record might have additional clues, as might his obituary.

19th Century Adoptions

Q:I am having trouble finding my great grandfather's birth name. His name was John Harry Olson. He and his brother were raised by Fred and Mary Olson of Jordan Center Township, Green County, Wisconsin after their parents were killed in a buggy accident near their home in Green County. I know his birth date was October 19, 1882, in Jordan Center, and he was orphaned very young. I have hit a brick wall. Were adoptions formal back then, or did the neighbor just give these little boys his name? -- PJef110549

A: There were indeed adoptions back in the 1800s. Some of them were legal while others were less formal. Because of the story you have though, your first stop should be to look for a possible newspaper story about the buggy accident. This would certainly have been in the local paper. It may require that you read through a number of issues of the local paper in search of the event, however, there may be a way to narrow this search down.

If you have found your great grandfather in the 1900 census living with Fred and Mary OLSON, then you have an idea as to how many children she had and how many were still living at home. Also, the 1900 census will tell you how long Fred and Mary have been married. If it was over 20 years, then you know they were already married at the time of John's birth. If they weren't, then you know that the accident happened sometime after the time they got married.

Wisconsin also has some state census enumerations that may be of a little help. Unfortunately they are head of household schedules only, and then group everyone else by color and gender. There is a census available for 1885 and another for 1895 for Wisconsin.

To use these censuses effectively, you would need to first get familiar with the family structure of the Fred and Mary OLSON household. How many white males do you find in 1885? If you know, from the 1900 census, that the two were married around 1884 and they suddenly have 4 white males then you would know that the adopted children are there by that time.

Once you have narrowed your search down to a few years, you will then probably need to pay a personal visit to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (816 State Street, Madison, WI 53706-1488). You may be able to find out more about their holdings, which include both the state censuses and an amazing newspaper collection, by visiting their website.

Finally, you will want to see what court records are available for Green County. It is possible that you can locate something in the guardianship records. Unfortunately if you cannot determine the name of the biological parents from the newspapers, this search will be difficult at best. Most guardianship records are indexed by name of deceased and by name of the children. Very seldom do you find the appointed guardians listed in the index. However, it is a stone that should not be left unturned.

Can't Connect to Virginia

Q: I've been dabbling in my family history for a few years and recently found a lot of information on my mother's side of the family, but we are just at a stand still on my dad's side. Can you help? Here's what I know, my granddad was George Washington White and he was born in 1869 in Bolton, Mississippi (Hinds County). We know this for a fact. His dad was Joseph W. White, born in 1836 in Va., and died in 1913 in Oklahoma (Connerville). He (Joseph) was living in Oklahoma I.T. in the 1900 census. We have that information, but can't find out how to trace him. His wife was Sarah Griggs, but that's about all I know about Joseph. The 1900 Census says he was born in Virginia in 1836 and that may or may not be right. I know you should start with what you know so I know he was living in Bolton, Mississippi in 1869. Where do I go from here? -- Joe

A: Actually, while it is true that you work from the known to the unknown, another rule, so to speak, is to research a person's life backwards. What this means is to locate his death date and get that record before moving on to his birth date and birth record (if one exists). Therefore, your first step should be to locate a death record for Joseph W. WHITE. You may already have this, and your message just didn't mention it. You mention the year of death as being 1913.

Getting his death record may not be possible. Unfortunately, while statewide registration of births and deaths in Oklahoma was begun in October, 1908, it was not many years before all the counties complied with this. A large number of the counties though do have death records from 1908. You may also want to contact the county direct, rather than requesting through the state office. Sometimes you will find that such an approach results in a faster return of the much wanted certificate.

Moving back, you will want to locate the family in the 1870 census, most likely in Hinds County, Mississippi. You will then want to exhaust all possible records in Hinds County. You want to see who was living nearby in the census. You want to search the land records for the earliest land record on Joseph. You want to see if he married in Hinds County, and what records that generates. Possibly through these records you may be able to determine when he arrived in Mississippi and from where he came.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

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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