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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

February 10, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Lost Family

Q: All of my grandparents are deceased so I can't ask them about our family and my mother won't tell me anything either. I have my grandfather's death certificate as well as my grandmother's on my Mom's side. I was told by an Uncle that we are Native American, Cherokee, and I want to find out for sure. If I am I want to find some more of my family since I now live in Kansas City and can travel to OK. My question is how do I start this quest? It took me several months to get a copy of the death certificates and then I couldn't find out what county either of them were born in. I spent one whole year off work and traveling in KY trying to find out anything I could but came up empty handed. -- Norman/Rae

A: If you have not done so already, you will want to get a good how-to book on genealogy. One that might be easily located is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy by Christine Rose and Kay Ingalls. This book will introduce you to a number of different record types.

In addition to vital records, which only go back so far, you will find yourself working in census records, probate records, church and cemetery records and others. Each record type will offer you different information and clues.

Your message did not include dates, however, if your grandparents were living prior to 1920, then you will want to begin your research with the 1920 census. Ideally you want to trace back to the 1900 census which had a separate page for Native Americans. However, you do not want to get caught up in the cycle of trying to force the information to fit the story you have been told.

Family stories, or family traditions, as they are referred to in genealogy, are a tool to getting to the real family history. However, while there is usually a grain of sand found in each one, you will need to sift through the inaccurate part of the story to find that one truth. Using some of the records mentioned above will help you to do this.

My Relations in Scotland

Q: My father's father (Andrew Thomson McQUISTON) immigrated with his wife to the US from Scotland. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland 17 June 1888. His father's name was John. His mother's name was Helen (YOUNG) Thomson. His parents were married 24 Aug 1883. My grandfather (Andrew Thomson) married an Englishwoman, Millicent Grace OWEN on 11 Jun 1921 at Parish Church at Yardley Parish, in the county of Worcestor. Millicent's parents were Alfred OWEN and Frances Maria LINEGAR. Alfred OWEN died 6 Jan 1936 at 92 years of age and is interred in the family grace in Yardley Cemetery. My father believes his father had at least a couple of siblings, possibly a brother and sister, but has no "hard evidence" or information as to their possible existence or whereabouts. I am traveling to Scotland and England this April and would really like to locate any of my relations in either country prior to going, if at all possible. -- Andy

A: Your letter did not mention whether or not you have taken advantage of the index to Scottish Civil Registration that is available on microfilm through the Family History Library. If you haven't, then I encourage you to make this your first stop. I would suggest that you search the ten years prior to the birth of your grandfather and ten years after the birth of your grandfather.

Once you have gone through those indexes gathering all those with the McQUISTON surname, you will then want to look for those who were in the Glasgow area and concentrate on them. The indexes are divided by male and female, so you will need to search for both in each index. The males are listed at the front of the volume and the females at the back of the volume. Each index entry will list the surname and given name of the child, the parish or district of birth, and then entry number in the birth book for the parish or district.

Some of the actual birth books have also been microfilmed, though whether or not the dates will be of use to you will depend on what you find in the indexes. However, it is nice to know that some of the records do exist on microfilm. If those that you need are not available on microfilm, then you may want to consider doing some of the research while you are in Scotland.

To learn more about Scottish research, you will want to see Kathleen B. Cory's Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry.

Another resource that might prove very useful to you is the 1891 Scottish census. This is available on microfilm through the Family History Library. The downside is that it is not indexed by surname. There is a street index for some of the larger cities. So, if you have your grandfather's birth certificate, there should be a place where the address is listed for the family at the time of the birth. Since you are in Glasgow, it might be that you could then use this index to pinpoint exactly where in the census you need to look. The census would supply you with a family unit, and would show you any other siblings who were born either before your grandfather or after (at least up to 1891).

WW 1 Help

Q: I am a 15-year-old genealogist with no transportation. My great-grandfather was Arthur Thomas GORRIE. He was born in 1900 (I think May 23). I just learned from my grandmother that he was in WWI, which was quite a startling fact; as I had never heard of this before. I have looked around online, but I can't find him anywhere in any references, military or not. Can you help me? -- Benjamin

A: First, congratulations on this recent bit of news. It is always interesting to receive additional information from our living relatives. And you are to be commended for beginning your research so early, as you have many more living relatives than most of us do when we began.

Ideally, what you need to work with is the World War I Draft Cards. These cards are actually an index of sorts that are organized first by state, then by county, then by registration board and finally alphabetically. If an area had more than 30,000 residents then it would have had more than one draft board.

Unfortunately, these cards are not available online. They are however available on microfilm and can be ordered through your local Family History Center. If you have easy access to a family history center, you may want to consider this. There is a small charge to rent the films (this is to cover the mailing costs).

You may be able to find someone willing to search these films for you by becoming involved in mailing lists. Very often people who have access to such records, when supplied with as complete information as possible, will do look ups for fellow researchers. It may be possible that this would be an avenue for you since you do not have travel means yourself.

Hit a Brick Wall

Q: I'm trying to find information on a George Boone COYLE. I don't know when he was born or when he died. He was my second great grandfather. I do know who his sons were. No one in my family knows anything about him or where he came from. We think we come from Ireland. -- Gail

A: Usually when you find yourself staring at an ancestor for whom you know nothing, it means you need to back up one generation and do some additional research. Brick walls tend to be man made, even those in family history.

Without dates, it is difficult to know, but I suspect that census records may be of benefit to your research. I would begin with the sons birth place and see if the family shows up. While census is available only up to 1920, I suspect you are far enough back with this research that this will not be a problem.

Once you find this family in the census, you will find clues to when and where the individuals in the family were born. This will lead you back further, possibly to different states, and hopefully eventually to Ireland, if indeed the family story turns out to be true.


Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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