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

April 27, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Patronymic Surnames

Q: Do you know what the "O'" stands for in my last name O'Quinn? -- Adrienne

A: The O' can be traced to the Irish patronymic surname system. Most researchers think of patronymics as being limited to Scandinavian countries. This is a fallacy. A number of other countries also have or had them. At some point generally the changing of the surname ceased, often when the immigrant ancestor migrated, especially when immigrating to the United States.

Some of the countries that have also used patronymics, include:

  • Jewish - the use of ben, as in David ben Joseph
  • Irish - O', Mc, and Mac
  • French - Fitz after the French word fils (son)
  • Welsh - ap

A Missing Child

Q: I am trying to locate any info about my great-grandfather's children. I know about three of them, but I am having a very hard time locating any information on a fourth child. I know that sometime between 1876 and 1879 there was a child born to my great-grandparents. A second daughter had been born in 1876 in Paterson, New Jersey. Then in 1879 another daughter was born in New York City, and sometime in between an unknown child was born. I have checked for a birth certificate on a child of either gender born in Paterson between those years. No luck there. I know that in 1880 in New York City they resided with three girls. On the last girl's certificate is the only lead I have about the unknown child, it shows that she was the fourth child born to my great-grandparents. -- Ken

A: You mention you have only this one clue for the possible unknown child. This of course is a valuable clue and should not be ignored. However, you will want to compare it to other records. The 1900 census was the first to ask two pertinent questions to this issue. They asked of married women how many children they gave birth to and the second question asked how many were living. If you haven't done so already, you will want to look in the later census records to see what information you can find about the number of children.

Unfortunately you are dealing with a particular time period when birth records are not as well recorded as we would like. So it is possible that for whatever reason the certificate no longer exists on that particular child. It could be that the family was moving and did not take the time to record the birth.

However, to be absolutely sure of this, you will need to determine exactly where your ancestor was during the interim years between the two births that you have established. This may be done using city directories and possibly land or mortgage records.

Since it appears that the child was not living by 1880, you will need to keep in mind that the child may have been a stillborn. Or the child may have died as an infant. It seems apparent that the child was dead by 1880. So, you will also want to look into possible cemetery records in the areas where your ancestors were living from 1877 to 1880.

A Birth in Glasgow

Q: All I know about my great-aunt is that she was born and died between 1929 and 1931 in Glasgow, Scotland. Her parents were Robert Clark and Jane Redhead. She died when she was six months old. Is there any way I can find out more about her? Like her name? -- Joanna

A: Civil registration in Scotland was begun in 1855. And fortunately for us, there is an index to their records. Divided by type of event, there is an index to births, an index to marriages and an index to deaths. They separate the males and females into separate volumes of the index.

The yearly indexes have been microfilmed and are available through the Family History Library via your local Family History Center. The earlier years are hand written and therefore take up more than one microfilm for a year's index. However, the later ones are typed and both the male and female indexes for a given year can be found on a single microfilm.

This index should be your first stop. Once you have the index entry you can then request a copy of the birth certificate in question from Scotland.

Did He Remarry?

Q: My grandfather left Scotland in 1928. I know his social security number and that it was issued in Pennsylvania. He died in Baltimore. How can I find out where he was buried or if he was ever remarried again? You see he left his family in Scotland and they would not move to America. -- Thomas

A: Well you have a good start on your information. You did not indicate if you had requested a copy of his death certificate. This would be the best place to discover his situation at the time of his death. In fact, if he did marry again and his spouse survived him, it would be likely that she would have been the informant.

The death certificate would also give you information on the place of burial. To request a copy of the death certificate, you will want contact the Maryland State Archives, 350 Rowe Boulevard, Annapolis, MD 21401. The archives has Baltimore city deaths from 1875 to 1982. They also have an index. They do restrict the death records for twenty years, so the most recent death record you could get would be about 1980 at this point. I suspect that is not a concern for your research though. The fee for the death record is going to be at least five dollars.


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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