Your Quick Tips, 05 February 2007

Search Census by Place of Birth
When you hit a brick wall searching for immigrant ancestors, try searching census records by place of birth alone after entering the state and city where they lived. This is most effective where the population count among the immigrant community in the city is expected to be relatively low. All the misspelled surnames suddenly appear, and among these you may recognize your ancestor based on similar spellings, age, familiar given names, etc. I found a great-grandfather, Paul Arata, a native of Italy listed as Paulo Larate in the 1860 census for Philadelphia using this method. He was one of 302 listings, easily scanned in a few minutes. I would never have found him otherwise.

A word of caution–in the nineteenth century, despite the unification of Italy in 1861 and the unification of Germany in 1871, some immigrants reported their place of birth by former kingdoms, duchies, cities, etc. For example, in the 1880 census of Philadelphia, more than 26,000 people reported their place of birth as Germany, but 3,152 reported Bavaria; 4,459 reported Prussia; and 4,427 reported Baden. Since twenty-six independent German states unified to become the German Empire it is possible that any one of these could have been reported as a place of birth. Also, since enumerators were inconsistent in spelling or abbreviating the names of the reported countries, you will find Italians listed under “Italy,” “Ita,” and “It” as well as Genoa, Florence, Rome, etc. I recommend including all reasonable possibilities in your search argument. It is a powerful tool and brings surprising results.

Louis Arata

Family Calendar
I use our family pictures to make a personalized calendar. I mark the person’s name on the date of their birth and the top part of each month will be a picture of each individual for the month. I have used old pictures, which give everyone a good laugh, or current pictures. The back of the calendar usually has a theme. 2007’s theme was “generations.” I placed my parents, my siblings and myself, our kids and the great-grand children–four generations! I give a copy to any family member that is interested and once they get a copy they can’t wait for the next year’s calendar. They are also more willing to help in the gathering of pictures!

Sandra Walczak
Erie, PA

Job Applications and Security Clearance Papers
I enjoyed your article on addresses, and since I have been attempting to sort through the various envelopes and folders filled with old forms and papers from my military career, it dawned on me that there is a source that could be a goldmine of information. From the 1950s onward, paperwork filled out by people who have held high-level security clearances in the military, or while working for the federal government can be a good source of information.

This is especially true if the person made the military/federal service a career. The paperwork used to apply for a top secret clearance includes reams of forms that list the names, addresses, and birthplaces/dates of parents, siblings, mates, and children. It also requires a listing of the applicant’s residences since birth, names and addresses of friends to be used as character references, employment history and supervisor’s names, and clubs or organizations in which the applicant is a member.

Those requiring clearances throughout their careers are required to have the clearance renewed every five years, which requires another set of forms to be filled out, updating all of the data previously submitted. Most people made copies of these forms for their personal records because they were invaluable as references when the new forms had to be filled out. I don’t know if the submitted documents would be available through archives or FOIA, but if family members were nice enough to hang onto their copies, it could go a long way in fleshing out a parent or grandparent’s life. When you’re interviewing those family members, it couldn’t hurt to ask!

Jerry Geiger

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One thought on “Your Quick Tips, 05 February 2007

  1. An addendum to Louis’ tip above about searching by birth place:

    Don’t do this in the 1930 census if you are looking for a child living with parents. The birth place of children living with parents was apparently not indexed and therefore cannot be searched. The parents birthplace, and the birthplace of children not living with their parents, are indexed.

    For the other census records, 1850-1920, children are indexed with a birth place.

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