Research Hints

SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS Do you understand what the nine digits refer to in your social security number? When the 1935 Social Security Act was passed: see 42 USC §405(c)(2)as a means of identifying earnings, the area number XXX indicated location – state, territory, possession where the number was issues. Since 1972, it indicates the person’s state of residence as they listed it on the application. The middle two numbers are known as group numbers, XX, and used by the Social Security Administration to break the numbers into blocks for their procession operations. The third part XXXX, is the serial number, which are is the numerical series within each group, assigned first by odd numbers, then by even numbers. There have been many amendments/changes to Social Security law down through the years, however, little has changed regarding the number itself. For more information/explanations, see “Social Security History” at; also
Running into problems when researching a direct line is very common. When that happens, it is recommended the search be expanded to include siblings, aunts, uncles, in-laws, business partners, and any other people whose lives intertwine with the direct line at some point. In our profession, we call that collateral research and when that “brick wall” appears, it could be the only methodology that will work to locate the answers needed to find the door back to a direct line.
There are five, interdependent components to insure accurate research. They are: 1) thorough searches, 2) accurate, complete citations, 3) comparison and analysis of the sources and information, 4)conflicting evidence resolved in order to answer a research question, and 5) a written report supporting the results.* * Jones, Thomas W., Mastering Genealogical Proof. Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013.
While organizing your research, experienced researchers often gather documents and ephemeral materials as part of the process. In addition to the usual items: photographs, vitals, religious, and court records, etc., consider including some non-traditional items of family memorabilia. Become the family anthropologist, if you will, and preserve everything as a family archivist too. Some items to include are old bank statements, love letters, all kinds of letters, shopping receipts, registrations (vehicles, animals), old tax returns, maps, membership cards, lists of friends, baby books, lists of books you liked and disliked, funeral handouts, DNA results, vacation trips, and so forth.
For those persons not familiar with what is available as a census substitute for California, there was a project completed some years ago that was spearheaded by the California State Genealogical Alliance. The purpose was to extract data from the 1890 voter registration and compile them for each county to use as a supplement for the missing/destroyed 1890 federal census enumeration schedules. Most, if not all major libraries have copies of the three-volume set and in addition, each county has copies of their own Great Registers for that year. There are other years in California that have Great Registers and it is suggested when you check your particular county needs, that you investigate that resource as well. Source: Janice G. Cloud,, editor. The California 1890 Great Register of Voters Index. 3 Volumes. Compiler and Copyright: “The California State Genealogical Alliance.” Salt Lake City, Utah: Heritage Quest, 2001.
There are countries where couples will marry twice: first civilly, then have a religious ceremony. It is not uncommon for a couple to come to California, where I live and work, and just have been married civilly and now want to have a religious service. If they produce a legal, certified, original of their civil marriage, they will be able to have a religious ceremony. For the researcher, that will be the only record of the marriage here as there would be no need to them to take out another civil license which makes finding the church record very important. However, without valid, documentary proof of the civil marriage elsewhere, they would be required to follow our process and take out a marriage license which the clergy will sign once the ceremony is completed and send back to the county in which the license was obtained so it can be registered.
It is important to know more than names, dates and places of birth, marriage, and death, of your ancestors. Studying geography, history, anthropology, and political history can be assets in genealogical research.
Some families have generations in the same occupation. Following that paper trail could hold important clues!
As a researcher, do not forget the many records that are available at the federal level. There is far more than census, naturalizations, passenger lists, and land. Check out the NARA website for all the options available.