Thursday, October 7, 2010
How I Used SS5 Forms to Crush a Brick Wall
SS5 forms (Applications for SSN’s) can indeed be a “goldmine” for genealogists. Nowhere was this truer for me than in my search for my father-in-law, Alvin Stackhouse Rogers’ maternal great-grandparents. I had always been told that his mother’s name was Susan Rogers. She died before I married into the family and with Alvin also deceased in 1993, none of his children could give me any further information. Sadly, there were no pictures, documents or distant relatives in the family to ask. When I started my research on my husband’s family, I tracked my father-in-law’s paternal side through Trenton, NJ and found his father, Dr. Alvin S. Rogers, Sr. there in the 1930 census. However, his wife’s name was listed as Luella R. Rogers, age 28, birthplace Pennsylvania. Okay, this was confusing – which was her real name, Susan or Luella? I was stumped…..
I decided to order Alvin’s SS-5 and when it arrived I found that he filled it out in November 1946, probably right after he left the Navy after his World War II service. He listed his mother’s maiden name as “Luella Ruth Johnson.” I knew that Al’s father died in 1937 when he was eleven and his mother was remarried to Gene Daly. She later toured as a musician with the big bands of the era so I surmised that perhaps she used Susan as a stage name.
I knew Susan/Luella had died in south Florida because that is where they had all moved after WWII. I checked the Florida Death Index and narrowed it down to the time period that my husband thought his grandmother died, about 1967 – 1970. I found a Susan L. Rogers who died in Miami Beach, Fl in 1969. There were no other names that remotely matched what I was looking for so I took a chance and ordered the death certificate. When it arrived, I looked at the informants name and “Bingo!” there was my father-in-law’s name, Alvin S. Rogers. Her father’s name was listed as David Johnson, but her mother’s name was listed as “unobtainable.” Her birthplace was listed as “Pennsylvania.”
So now I had a couple of new clues and went back to Ancestry.com and started looking in the censuses for a Luella Ruth Johnson in Pennsylvania who was born about 1902. Of course, as these things are apt to go, there were a number of Luellas, Ruths, Luella Ruths Johnsons, and David Johnsons but nothing matched or seemed right. I was back at my brick wall and feeling very frustrated.
I went back to her Death Certificate and while looking at it again, I realized it had a Social Security number! I immediately sent off the Social Security Administration form for the copy of Susan L. Rogers’ SS-5 Application. When it came in the mail and I opened it and saw the information, I almost did somersaults! The name on the application was Luella JOHNSTON, not Johnson. Her father was listed as David C. Johnston and joy of all joys, her mother was Mary Elizabeth Hildinger. I raced to my computer and within about five minutes I had located her parents in the 1910, 1920 and 1930 censuses.
This has since led me to a surplus of information on her mother’s family, the Hildingers. Her great-grandparents emigrated from Germany around 1830 with two young toddlers and settled on a farm in Pennsylvania, her uncle Charles Hildinger was famous in Trenton in the early 1900’s as a rags to riches pioneer in the moving picture industry- these are only a couple of the fascinating people I discovered. Additionally, I have found over one-hundred articles in the Trenton Times regarding the Hildinger family. Amazingly, my father-in-law never passed these stories on before he died and none of his children were aware of this rich history.
I know, without a doubt, if I had not ordered those two SS-5 applications, I would never have breached this brick wall and discovered my treasure chest of information.