Monday, February 25, 2008

How to Start Your Cherokee Search -2-

Cemetery and Church records can be a big help. In some cases, cemetery records will show all the members of a family that are in that cemetery and their relationships to each other. Some tombstones will have inscriptions listing family relationship. From these records, dates and places of death will enable you to order death certificates or will assist you while scouring County records.

Beware of Census Records. Prior to 1850, these records only listed the name of the Head of the House with all other family members reduced to statistics. 1850 was the first year that each family members name and age was recorded. Spelling of names vary tremendously from one census to the next. In some cases, a John Bedford Phipps would be listed as John, Jim or James, or Bedford, using his middle name instead of his given name. Phipps could be spelled Phips, Fips, Fipps or Fitts. Since most people in the US were illiterate, they had no idea how to spell their name and it was up to the census taker to write it down the best way they could.

Around 1850, it became obvious to the census takers that most people had no idea what year they were born in or exactly how old they were. The census takers were instructed to put down how old they looked. When you find gross inconsistencies between one census and the next, be aware that when the census takers ‘came calling’ families were not very forthcoming with what they considered as ‘personal information’. In most cases, if a family was not at home, the census taker would collect the information from their next door neighbor. This was done under the assumption that neighbors were closely related or intimately familiar with each other.

If you can locate Social Security numbers for any deceased ancestor, write the info down on the Pedigree Chart or in an associated file. Please do not record social security numbers for living persons, as it can lead to identity theft if the file is lost or accidentally disposed of. When people apply for a Social Security Card, they have to fill out an application on a "Form-5" and list their parent’s names and their dates and places of birth. Any local social security office can process your request for an ancestors Form-5, or can give you’re the proper form and an address to contact.

If your ancestor’s family applied for any Death Benefits, burial assistance, financial support for minor children, support for an elderly spouse, etc, there will be a record of them in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), which is on-line. Just type SSDI into your search engine. If you find an ancestor on this list, the information on their death will enable you to order a copy of their SS Form-5 or and/or a copy of their death certificate from the state archives.

If Birth or Death Certificates need to be ordered, most on-line SSDI sites have listings of the Bureau of Vital Statistics offices for most states. Under recent provisions of the Patriot Act, only a blood relative can order copies of these documents. You typically need to include a photo copy of your drivers license with your request and specify how you are related to the person.

Death certificates are important as they will list the persons age and year of death, so it is easy to calculate their Year of Birth. Most importantly, this certificate will show the names of their parents, and usually the maiden name of their mother. Birth and Death Certificates were not kept by most states until they were mandated by federal law in 1920. If an ancestor was born before 1920, there will be no Birth Certificate at the State level, but there will probably be a Death Certificate.