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

May 10, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Genealogy Detective

Q: I would like to know if there is such a thing as a genealogy detective? I need to find the death records and other biographical info on my grandfather. This issue came up regarding an estate. -- Thomas

A: Genealogists are detectives in many ways. Whether a genealogist is a novice or a professional, he or she seeks the answers to questions. The biggest difference between a novice and a professional is that the professional often knows an easier path to a question's answer.

Sometimes when you need an answer quickly, it is necessary to hire a professional. Your question sounds like such a case.

There are two professional bodies to whom I refer researchers in need of a professional: The Association of Professional Genealogists and the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Each organization offers a roster of their members, including areas of expertise, and mediation should there be a problem between the client and the professional researcher. You will definitely want to read the "Hiring a Professional Researcher" found at the Association of Professional Genealogists' Web site.

What Place?

Q: I use Family Tree Maker for recording genealogy information. My question is about birth and death locations. How specific do we need to get for this information? My father died at his home in Tualatin, OR. However, my mother died in the hospital in Beaverton, OR (a suburb of Portland) but was residing in King City, OR at the time of her death in the hospital. In my line of work, consistency is the key, but I'd like to conform to the "norm" in what I am doing? -- Mary

A: Places are so important to genealogical research and yet few stop to think about the appropriate way to record a place name. There are actually two different aspects of the place name that need to be considered.

The first aspect of the place name is to establish where the event took place. That is the key. Your mother is a perfect example of this. While she was residing in King City, Oregon prior to her move to the hospital, the death event itself actually took place in Beaverton. If you write away for her death record you will find that the place of death is listed as Beaverton. Your father's place of death should be listed as Tualatin, Oregon.

Some genealogy programs go so far as to offer you a field to enter the actual physical location at the time of birth or death. This could be a hospital, the address of the home, and so forth.

The other important aspect when recording a place name is to make sure you have the place name correct for the time of the event. As you go back further in your research, you will discover that some county boundaries changed. Names of towns may also change as well. You will want to make a note to yourself if a town's name changed, but you should record the name of the town as it existed at the time of the event in question.

Sharing Your Data

Q: My sister has Family Tree Maker and so do I. She has sent me her file so I would not have to copy in all the relatives. I can not get this file open. Is this what you mean by a GEDCOM Files? Thanks. Do you have any advice for me? -- Carol

A: Regardless of the genealogical software in use, the key in sharing with a cousin or sibling is in determining how you will share. At this point, since you are loading her research into your program, you'll both be at the same research level. As your research progresses, however, it is likely that you and she will concentrate on different lines and you won't want to always have to type in the new information that she finds.

It sounds like your initial problem is something that you need to contact technical support about. Be sure to note the exact wording of any error message that you are getting as you try to open the file in question. It is this error message that will help diagnose the problem. You will also want to be sure to note the type of computer that was used to create the original file, the version of Family Tree Maker your sister is running, the type of computer you have and the version of Family Tree Maker you are running. If you are unsure of the version number you can find this information in Family Tree Maker by pulling down the Help menu and selecting the About option.

Once you have the file open and begin working on it, you and your sister will probably want to share through the use of GEDCOM. This way neither of you runs the risk of overwriting the file you currently have on your system. I would also encourage you to create a backup of your database before either one of you includes new information from the other. This way if you don't like what happened, or the file has a problem, you can still revert back to your most recent file and try again.

I also encourage you to load the GEDCOM file into a separate database so that you can look at the changes made by your sibling. This is easier to do when the new names have not intermixed with your existing file.

You will also want to read up in the online help on how to narrow the number of individuals to include in the GEDCOM file. There is no sense is sending the complete database back and forth. A simple file of the two or three new or updated families is easier to import and easier to merge once imported. Remember that as you GEDCOM in these individuals, because they are already in your database, that you will need to use the merge functions to combine the new individuals with their already existing entries in your database.

Railroad Passengers

Q: Do you know where records of passenger lists are held for the railroads? -- JDOUGROW

A: Passenger lists from ships differ from those of railroads. In most instances, passengers traveling on ship were going from one country to another. The lists that were generated were to track those leaving or entering a country.

While passengers on a railroad purchased tickets just like passengers on ships, the individuals were generally traveling from one town to another. They were already in the country and were not leaving.

You will find that railroad records in general are scattered. Most of the records that do exist have nothing to do with the passengers that road the trains, but those who worked for the railroad companies.

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

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