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

July 27, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Invented Ancestor

Q: No one's ever heard of the family of my father. He must have been a product of a CIA parent or something. I have tried to contact people in Wisconsin to search the 1902 records held there, but nothing. I was able to trace my natural mother(Verita) and father(Frank) to find out who I was, easier than finding out who his parents were. I guess me and genealogy just don't mix. The last time I checked, even the LDS records in Salt Lake had no record of his birth. If you can give me any state addresses in Wisconsin, Michigan, or Minnesota so that I can write for a birth certificate, I would appreciate it. If you have that info, you might publish a list for all the states and provinces so that people would be able to write for themselves rather than bother you with dumb questions like mine. I'm not sure you can do anything else, as I have covered all of the things that people have told me to do. -- Jim

A: While the databases available through the Family History Library are impressive, they tend to concentrate on earlier ancestors than you are currently working on. In fact their strongest families are pre-1850. They also have some localities that are weaker than others.

One of the reasons we do not have a list of the addresses of the various state, county, and provincial repositories is that there are other sites that specialize in this information. Two such sites are: offers information and addresses for the state vital records office as well as county offices. In some instances there are links to web sites with information that is available online. offers methods for ordering vital records online.

Also, the Family History Library has many microfilmed records that might be of use to you. A search of the Family History Library Catalog through your local Family History Center may reveal vital records for the states you listed.

Finally, with a surname like PATTISON, you need to keep in mind that this may be a variant spelling. Perhaps your father's family were actually PATTERSON.

Sherman Family Crest

Q: I know that my latest ancestor came from England. His name was Henry Sherman, from Diss & Yaxley, England, born 1443; died 1492. Do you know the name of the college in England that has information on family crests? I believe that I can find out more this way also because I have a picture of my family crest from 1934. Also are there books published on family trees? -- Charles

A: You are talking about the College of Arms, the repository for all authorized heraldic crests in England.

One of the most important things you will discover about a coat of arms is that they are not granted to a family, as in a surname. They are granted to individuals. It is not unusual for many with the same surname to have completely different coats of arms. To have a right to a coat of arms, you must have either had it granted or be the legitimate male heir.

Another misconception is that a crest is the entire coat of arms. The crest is actually the object placed on the top of the helm.

There are many books available on family trees. People are constantly publishing lineages that they have discovered. And now with the Internet this is even more popular. Because of the abundance, it can sometimes be difficult to locate a specific individual. Caution should be used with any compiled family tree as the knowledge and expertise of the original researcher may have colored their conclusions. Libraries with genealogy sections often have books with family trees. And of course there are some highly recommended repositories such as the Family History Library, in Salt Lake City, the DAR Library in Washington, DC, and the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

Researching in Florida

Q: I am looking for my Grandpa and Grandma. They are both passed away now. My Grandma passed away in 1962. My Grandfather passed away between 1975 and 1984. I have been looking through the family genealogy but I am hitting a brick wall. My Grandfather's name was Henry Edgar Morrison. My Grandmother's maiden name was Frannie Stuart Green. She was born in Moss Bluff, Florida. My dad thinks my Grandfather was born in the same place, but he's not sure. If my Grandfather was not born in the same place it is somewhere in the same county. The county is Marion County, Florida. -- Vicki

A: The first step in your research should be to get a copy of your grandmother's death certificate. If she died in Florida, you can get this by writing to:

State of Florida
Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services
Vital Statistics
P.O. Box 210
Jacksonville, FL 32231-0042

This will give you your grandmother's age at the time of her death and probably her birth date and place. It might also supply you with the names of her parents. This allows you to then turn to other records, such as census records, to locate her as a child.

Similar steps should be taken on your grandfather, however, before you can contact the state vital records office, you need to narrow the time of death. Perhaps talking to other family members may help you in this respect.

Much of your research at this point is so current that you may not find information on the Internet that is helpful to you. However, if you can get back a generation or two more you will find that the Internet offers you much more.

Family in California

Q: My father was born on May 21, 1923 in Long Beach California. His mother, Emma (possibly Aimie) Sheppard Karlberg, had TB at the time of his birth. He was taken away from her at birth and she died shortly thereafter. (we aren't sure about the time of her death; anywhere from 3 months to 1 year after his birth) My grandfather remarried and gave my father very very little information about his natural mother. The information we do have is that she was born in Cordova Alaska, her father, William Sheppard was the Postmaster in Cordova around the turn of the century. -- Jo Linda

A: A search of the California Birth Index available online through RootsWeb does reveal that your father's mother had the maiden name of Shepard. This shows that your family information is at least partially accurate.

At the present time the California Death index that is available online does not begin until 1940. However, there is an index to earlier years. It is available at the Office of the State Register in Sacramento. It is also available on microfiche at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. While these films and fiche cannot be circulated to local Family History Centers, you could hire someone in Salt Lake to search the index if going to Sacramento is not an option for you.

If your information is correct, you should find an entry in the index for your grandmother and then you can order a copy of her death certificate. This is likely to include pertinent details as to her place of birth and the names of her parents.

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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