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Shaking Your Family Tree!

Father's Story May Hold Grain of Truth


Question: My father told the story about four Prevatte brothers who left England and came to America, landing at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.

He claimed that two brothers went to Lumberton, N.C., one to Waycross, Ga., and one to St. Augustine, Fla. He also said his grandfather did not like the e on Prevatte and paid the court $10 to drop it.

From what I've picked up over the years I believe the Prevatte family was French Huguenot. Can you point me in the right direction to research my family?

Answer: The name as you spell it does not appear in early New England records that I consulted, throwing some doubt on the family story of landing at Plymouth Rock. Possibly the name originally was Privett, Privette or Privott, in which case it is English, meaning one who came from Privett (copse of privet, an ornamental shrub) in Hampshire.

However, many family traditions claim their name's spelling was officially changed, when it fact it was done informally.

The best thing to do is begin your research in censuses, marriage, probate and land records in the states and counties where your ancestors lived and trace them backward, generation by generation, until you find the immigrant. You'll find your name has been spelled many ways in the records, but pay attention to how the name was spelled when signatures of your ancestors were required.

Start at your local library by reading any of the several good, basic how-to books on genealogy--"Shaking Your Family Tree" by Dr. Ralph Crandall is one of the best.

Q: My ancestor, Heinrich (John Henry) Anderson, emigrated from Baden-Baden, Germany, in 1870 when he was 14 to New York. According to the 1910 Hugo (Choctaw County), Okla., census, he became a naturalized citizen upon his arrival in New York. How can I obtain a copy of his naturalization papers?

A: The 1910 census asked the "year of immigration" and whether one was "naturalized or alien," so your ancestor may have arrived in New York in 1870 but was not likely naturalized that year as residency requirement was five years at that time.

If you can determine where your ancestor was living between 1870-1877, that would be the logical place where he filed a declaration. Aliens could go before any court of record and declare their intent to become a citizen after they had resided in the United States for at least three years.

The county courthouse in the vicinity of an immigrant's residence is the best place to begin. The LDS (Mormon) Family History Library in Salt Lake City has filmed many naturalization records--check its card catalogue in a branch library near you to learn if the records you need have been microfilmed.

For more tips on how to locate naturalization records, read the chapter on "Tracking Immigrant Origins" in "The Source," edited by Arlene Eakle and Johni Cerny.

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