Marriage Records & Researching Witnesses – Audio Podcast Episode 277

Show Notes: Professional Genealogist J Mark Lowe joins Lisa Louise Cooke on the show to share a marriage research case study that highlights the importance of understanding Gretna Greens. Then Professional Genealogist and blogger Robyn Smith shares her 3 step process for researching witnesses found on records from her new Family Tree Magazine article Witness Testimony.  

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  • 01:29 Marriage Research Case Study with J Mark Lowe.
  • 27:15 Researching Witnesses with Robyn Smith

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Watch Lisa Louise Cooke’s video interview with J Mark Lowe on the Marriage Research Show Notes page.
Watch Lisa Louise Cooke’s video interview with Robyn Smith on the Researching Witnesses Show Notes page.

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Family History Episode 4 – Genealogy Conferences, the SS-5, Delayed Birth Records and Death Records

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy PodcastPublished October 29, 2013

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

by Lisa Louise Cooke

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 4: Attending Genealogy Conferences and Vital Records Requests

In our first segment, our guest is the longtime online news anchorman of genealogy, Dick Eastman, the author of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. He talks about the changing industry and the benefits of attending genealogy conferences.

Next, you’ll learn the ins and outs of using some “vital” sources for U.S. birth and death information: delayed birth records, Social Security applications (SS-5s) and death certificates.

Genealogy Conferences Conversation: A Few Updates

  • Dick and I talk about Footnote.com as a relatively small site. Has that ever changed! Footnote.com is now Fold3.com and it’s a go-to site for millions of online American military records.
  • Family History Expos still offers an exciting conference, especially for first-timers. But there are others as well: In the United States, there’s RootsTech, the National Genealogical Society and many state and regional conferences (like one near my home, the Southern California Genealogical Society’s annual Jamboree). Find a nice directory at Cyndi’s List. Many conferences are starting to offer live streaming sessions for people who can’t attend: check websites for details. In addition, Family Tree University offers regular virtual conferences—where sessions and chat are all online! If you live outside the U.S., look for conferences through your own national or regional genealogical societies. If you can get to London, don’t miss Who Do You Think You Are Live.
  • Dick now writes all of his Plus content himself. If you haven’t already checked out Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter, you should! Both his free and Plus newsletters are great insider sources on what’s new and great (or not-so-great) in the family history world.

The SS-5

You can order a copy of the application that your ancestor filled out when they applied for a Social Security Number: the SS-5. I have done this, and they really are neat, but they aren’t cheap. So let’s talk about the facts you’re going to find on them so you can determine if it is worth the expense.

The SS-5 has changed slightly over time, but may include the applicant’s name, full address, birth date and place and BOTH parents’ names (the mother’s maiden name is requested). If your ancestor applied prior to 1947 then you will also very likely find the name and address of the company they worked for listed, and possibly even their position title.

Here’s an example of a Social Security application form:

Osby Johnson SS5

In the 1970s, the Social Security Administration microfilmed all SS-5 application forms, created a computer database of selected information from the forms, and destroyed the originals. So it’s important to order a copy of the microfilmed original, rather than a printout or abstract from the Administration’s database. And luckily now you can request a Social Security Application SS5 Form online under the Freedom of Information Act.

It will help to have your relative’s Social Security Number (SSN) when you apply for a copy of their SS-5. First, it gives you greater confidence that their SS-5 exists. Second, it’s cheaper to order the SS-5 when you have their SSN. Third, the Social Security Death Index, in which you’ll find their SSN, usually has death data that makes your application for their SS-5 stronger. Privacy concerns have caused some genealogy websites to pull the SSDI, but you can still search it (in many instances for free) at the links provided in Episode 3.

Finally, here’s a little background on the Social Security Number itself. The nine-digit SSN is made up of three parts:

The first set of three digits is called the Area Number. This number was assigned geographically. Generally, numbers were assigned beginning in the Northeast and moving westward. So people whose cards were issued in the East Coast states have the lowest numbers and those on the West Coast have the highest numbers.

Prior to 1972, cards were issued in local Social Security offices around the country and the Area Number represented the state in which the card was issued. This wasn’t necessarily the state where the applicant lived, since you could apply for a card at any Social Security office.

Since 1972, when the SSA began assigning social security numbers and issuing cards centrally from Baltimore, Maryland, the area number assigned has been based on the ZIP code of the mailing address provided on the application for the card. And of course, the applicant’s mailing address doesn’t have to be the same as their place of residence. But in general the area number does give you a good lead as where to look for an ancestor.

The next two digits in the number are called the Group Number, and were used to track fraudulent numbers.

The last set of four digits is the Serial Number, and these were randomly assigned.

UPDATE: The website for ordering Social Security applications (SS-5s) has changed since the podcast first aired. For current ordering instructions, including online ordering, click here. The cost is still $27 to order a deceased relative’s SS-5 if you know the Social Security number and $29 if you don’t know it.

Delayed Birth Certificates

After 1937 folks who qualified to apply for social security had to have proof of their age. If they were born prior to official birth certificates being kept in their state, they applied for a delayed birth certificate.

Anytime someone needs a birth certificate for any reason, they have to contact the state—and often the county—in which the birth occurred. If a birth certificate exists, they can simply purchase a certified copy. But if there were no birth certificates issued at the time of the person’s birth, they could have a “delayed birth certificate” issued by that state or county.

In order to obtain a delayed certificate, they had to provide several pieces of evidence of their age. If these are considered satisfactory, the government would issue the certificate and it would be accepted as legal proof of birth by all U.S. government agencies.

Originally people turned to the census for proof of age. But eventually the Social Security Administration began to ask for birth certificates. For folks like my great grandmother who was born at a time and place where birth certificates were not issued, that meant they had to locate documents that could prove their age and allow them to obtain a delayed birth certificate. Delayed just meaning it was issued after the time of the birth.

Delayed birth certificates are not primary sources. (Remember we talked about Primary Sources in Episode 2. Since the delayed certificate was based on other documents, and not issued at the time of the event by an authority, such as the attending physician, then it is not a primary source. This means that while it’s great background information, it is more prone to error. In order to do the most accurate genealogical research you would want to try to find a primary source if possible. Chances are your ancestor used another primary source, such as an entry in the family bible, to obtain the delayed birth certificate.

The process for ordering a delayed birth certificate is likely going to be the same as ordering a regular birth certificate. You would start with the checking with the county courthouse, and then the Department of health for the state you’re looking in. Let them know that the birth record is a delayed birth certificate. Also the Family History Library card catalogue would be a place to look as many were microfilmed. Go to www.familysearch.org and search for delayed birth records by clicking on Search from the home page. Then click Catalog and do the keyword search just as the episode instructs, using “delayed birth” as your keyword. (Within that search, you can also add parameters for the place name.)

So the lesson here is that even though your ancestor may have been born at a time or in a location where births were not officially recorded by the state, they may very well have a delayed birth certificate on file.

Ordering Death Certificates

The Social Security Death Index is just one resource for getting death information. But in the end you’re going to want the primary source for your ancestor’s death, and that’s the death certificate. While many of your ancestor’s born in the 1800s may not have a birth certificate, there is a much better chance that they have a death certificate since they may have died in the 20th century. Each state in the U.S. began mandating death certificates at a different time, so you have to find out the laws in the state, and probably the county, since death certificates were filed at the county level.

As I said before, the death certificate is going to be able to provide you with a wealth of information. Of course you’ll find the name, date of death and place of death, and possibly their age at death and the cause and exact time of death, place of burial, funeral home, name of physician or medical examiner and any witnesses who were present. The certificate is a primary source for this information.

You may also find information such as their date and place of birth, current residence, occupation, parent’s names and birthplaces, spouse’s name, and marriage status. But because this information is provided by someone other than the ancestor themselves it is really hearsay, and the certificate is considered a secondary source for that information.

And lastly you may find a name in the box that says Informant. This is the person who reported the death to officials. Informants are often spouses, children, and sometimes, depending on the person’s circumstances, just a friend or neighbor. But the informant is almost always someone that you want to investigate further because they obviously were close to your ancestor.

Once you think you know the location where your ancestor died, and the approximate if not exact death date, you’re ready to order a certificate. If the person died in the last 50 years you’ll probably have really good luck at the county courthouse Department of Vital Records. The older the record, the more likely it may have been shipped off by the county records department to the state Department of Health. Look for helpful links to death records at Cyndi’s List Death Records.

Here are some tips that will ensure that you don’t get bogged down in bureaucratic red tape:

  1. Get the appropriate request form – this is usually available online.
  1. Print neatly and clearly – if they can’t read it, they will send it back to be redone.
  1. Provide as much information as you have.
  1. Provide a self addressed stamped envelope.
  1. Make one request per envelope.
  1. Include a photocopy of your driver’s license to prove your identity.
  1. Be sure to include your check for the exact amount required.
  1. Make a copy of the request form for your records and follow up.
  1. Lastly, keep in mind that county offices have limited personnel and are often swamped with paper work. So my best advice is that the more courteous and thorough you are the more success you’ll have.

Online Death Indexes

In the case of very old death certificates, as well as birth certificates, some state agencies have opted to hand them over to state Archives and Historical Societies, or at least make them available for digitizing.

And there you have it, lots of different avenues for tracking down your ancestor’s death records providing you with key information for climbing your family tree.

Find Your U.S. Ancestors in These New Genealogy Records Online

Learn more about U.S. ancestors in new genealogy records for Navy and Marine officers, WWI veterans, historical and genealogical journals, and new genealogy records for 12 U.S. states: Ala., Ark., Hawaii, Kan., La., Mass., Miss., Mont., N.Y., Texas, Utah, and Va. 

new genealogy records

Following are new genealogy records (and updated collections) for the U.S. and several U.S. states. In which may your ancestors appear?

U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Officer Registries. Ancestry.com subscribers may search a new database, “U.S., Navy and Marine Corps Registries, 1814-1992.” From the collection description: “This collection includes registers of officers of the US Navy and Marine Corps from between the years of 1814 and 1992. Within these records you can expect to find: name, rank, ship or station.” (Note: the above image shows the first group of female Marine officer candidates in 1943; click here to learn more and see this image’s citation.)

World War I Veteran’s History Project: Part II Launches. The Veterans History Project has launched “Over There,” the second in a three-part, online web series dedicated to United States veterans of the First World War. “Over There” highlights 10 digitized World War I collections found in the Veterans History Project archive. Click here to access Part II and other veterans’ collections featured in “Over There.” Part III will be available in fall of 2017. (Click here to read the full announcement from the Library of Congress.)

U.S. and Canada journals. PERSIPERSI, the Periodical Source Index, has been updated with historical and genealogical journal content covering Ontario, Canada as well as Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, & Rhode Island. Search PERSI at Findmypast.com to discover articles, transcribed records, and images of your ancestors and their communities, churches, schools and more in thousands of journals. Some journals are index-only and others have digitized articles: click here to learn more about PERSI.

Statewide: New genealogy records

  • Alaska: Ancestry.com has a new database of Alaska, Vital Records, 1818 -1963. It contains birth, marriage, and death records.
  • Arkansas: A new digital exhibit tells the story of the first African-American college west of the Mississippi River, located in Phillips County. Lives Transformed: The People of Southland College “includes photos and scanned images of letters, circulars, forms, the Southland newspaper and other ephemera, including invitations, the catalog of studies, a diploma, and a commencement program,” states a news report.
  • Hawaii: Over 300,000 indexed names have been added to a free FamilySearch.org collection of Hawaiian obituaries since 1980.
  • Kansas: New browsable image collections of Kansas state census records for 1865, 1875, 1885 and 1895 are now free to search at FamilySearch.org. The growing size of each collection by year–from 4,701 pages in 1865 to 116,842 pages in 1895–witnesses the tremendous growth of this prairie state after the Homestead Act of 1862 opened its land for cheap purchase and settlement. (Did you know? Kansas census records 1855-1940 at Ancestry.com are also available for free to Kansas residents.) Click here to learn more about state census records in the U.S.
  • Louisiana: Over 100,000 new images and thousands of indexed names have been added to FamilySearch’s free collection of Louisiana death records (1850-75, 1894-1960).
  • Massachusetts: More than half a million names are in 22 volumes of sacramental records (baptisms, confirmations, marriages, deaths) for the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Archdiocese of Boston, now online at AmericanAncestors.com.
  • Mississippi: Ancestry.com has updated its collection of Mississippi Naturalization Records, 1907-2008. This collection pertains to naturalizations finalized after 1906, when most were taken care of in federal courts.
  • Montana: Find a new collection of Montana County Marriages, 1865-1993 at Ancestry.com. Details for both the bride and groom may include name, age at marriage, and marriage date/place. (You may also access this collection for free at FamilySearch.org.)
  • New York: The Leon Levy BAM Digital Archive has added more than 70,000 playbills, posters, and ephemera from the history of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, dating to the Civil War era. (We found this in a New York Times report.)
  • Texas. Ancestry.com has updated its database, “Texas, Select County Marriage Records, 1837-2015.” The collection description states, “This collection consists of a mix of marriage licenses, returns, certificates, affidavits, and indexes. The documents that are available in this database vary depending on the county. All marriage records include the names of the bride and groom, as well as the date of the license and/or marriage. In many instances, additional details are available as well.” This collection continues to be updated: keep checking back!
  • Utah: There’s a new digital archive of photos, yearbooks, and other documents relating to the history of Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah. The school taught high school and college courses and was open 1877-1926. Learn more about it in a news report at HJnews.com.
  • Virginia: A decade’s worth of obituaries from the Evening Star (Winchester, 1899-1909) are now available at subscription site Findmypast.com.

Did you see the new Genealogy Gems Book Club announcement for this week? It’s a new memoir by a U.S. journalist who tracks down an old family story about her immigrant roots. You won’t want to miss this family history murder mystery! Click here to learn more about the book and watch a trailer for its PBS documentary.

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Newspapers and Obituaries for Genealogy – Episode 282 (Audio Podcast)

SHOW NOTES: In our first segment, Lisa Louise Cooke and her guest Jenny Ashcraft from Newspapers.com discuss how to use newspapers to fill in the missing stories in your ancestors’ lives. Jenny shares strategic tips on finding unique information many researchers miss. 

In the second segment of this episode, Shannon Combs-Bennett, the author of the article A Genealogist’s Guide to Finding and Using Historical Obituaries published in Family Tree Magazine, covers everything you need to know about obituaries including: 

  • the important backstory on obituaries,
  • what obituaries can tell you about your ancestors,
  • where you can find obituaries, both online and offline,
  • and strategies you can use when obituaries aren’t where you expected to find them.

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NEW Ukraine Genealogy Website Tops List of New Genealogy Records Online

Read all about a new free Ukraine genealogy website, Yorkshire parish records, English workhouse records, German vital records and digitized newspaper coverage of England, Ireland and Scotland.

A New Ukraine Genealogy Website! Vital records and family trees

A new, free Ukraine genealogy website has launched with free family-tree building capability and an enormous database of nearly 300 years of genealogical records from present-day Ukraine. “The database includes 2.56 million people and is expected to reach 4 to 5 million in 2019,” reports EuroMaidan Press. “The access to its contents is and will remain free of charge. The sources of data are manifold: birth registers, fiscal and parish censuses, lists of nobility, voters, the military, and victims of repressions, address directories, and other documents produced under the Tsardom of Muscovy, Russian and Habsburg Empires, Poland and the Soviet Union. A Roman-letter version of the data index is reportedly to be enabled in the coming months.”

To translate the site, bring it up in Google Chrome and right-click.

The family tree-building feature has already proven incredibly popular, reports the same article: “nearly 18 thousand trees have been created in the first couple of days following the official inauguration of the site.” Automated tree-matching hinting will apparently be added in July 2017.

If you have Ukrainian roots, you may also want to read this article about how to request KGB files on relatives.

British Newspaper Archive: New content and free webinar!

The following historical newspaper coverage has been added to the British Newspaper Archive. They add about 100,000 pages every week–learn more about what they do in the free webinar, below.

More Irish newspapers: Findmypast has added 20th-century coverage of Dublin in the form of about 155,000 news articles from The Catholic Standard. (Limit your search to this paper by using the filters along the left side of the webpage.) The coverage includes weekly news reports dating from 1933-1949 and 1951-1957.

England

1861 workhouse inmates. Ancestry.com subscribers can now search indexed images of a new collection, England and Wales, Long-Term Workhouse Inmates, 1861. “This collection comprises records and images from a volume listing every adult ‘pauper’ in each Workhouse in England and Wales, who had been resident there for five or more years in 1861,” states the collection description. The report was in response to a government mandate to record long-term residents of workhouses. “The report was printed on 30 July 1861 and listed 14,216 adults,” continues the collection description. “When compared with the total workhouse population of approximately 67,800 adult workhouse inmates (excluding vagrants) the percentage of long term inmates was just over 21%.”

Yorkshire parish records. Findmypast has published these new church record collections for Yorkshire:

  • Yorkshire Parish Registers and Bishop’s Transcripts. Over 11,000 browse-only volumes of baptisms, marriages, and deaths dating back to 1538.
  • Yorkshire baptisms. Over 600,000 records have been added for Sheffield and the East Riding to this database, which now has more than 5 million entries.
  • Yorkshire banns. Over 30,000 entries have been added for Sheffield and the East Riding.
  • Yorkshire marriages. Over 400,000 entries have been added for Sheffield and the East Riding. The database now has nearly 3 million records.
  • Yorkshire burials. Over half a million new burials have been added for Sheffield and the East Riding; this database now tops 4.7 million.

Germany: Church and civil records

Ancestry.com has a new browse-only collection of church records from 42 communities in Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia. According to a collection description, “The vast majority of the church records are from Protestant communities, but some Catholic and Jewish communities are also included. In one case, records from the ‘Kaufmannsgemeinde’ or merchants’ community are included.”

Also at Ancestry.com is a new collection of browse-only civil marriage records. Bischofswerda, Germany, Marriages, 1876-1922 includes government records of marriages from Bischofswerda and 11 other communities from the district of Bautzen; date ranges of records from each may vary.

Subscribe to the free weekly Genealogy Gems newsletter! You’ll stay up-to-date with the latest genealogy records online and genealogy news you want to know–like the recent announcement of the end of FamilySearch microfilm lending and RootsMagic’s new ability to sync with Ancestry.com.

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