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

November 29, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Family Crest

Q: I am getting married in a little over a year in a castle. My friends told me to look up this site to see if it tells you how to go about looking up your family crest. Both Jonathan and I want to fly flags with our family crests on them. Where would I look? -- Danielle

A: The art of heraldry, from which we get crests, was not designed for families at large, but individuals. The College of Arms in England records the arms that have been given to individuals from the beginning down to the present time. Arms are still registered to this day.

One misconception is that descendants of an armigerous ancestor, that is an ancestor who was bearing arms by legal authority, can also claim that coat of arms. While it may be that certain descendants are entitled to a coat of arms, the rules of heraldry require that the arms be altered to reflect the sons who are inheriting it. When the father dies, then the oldest son "drops his cadency" which reverts his arms back to the original of his father. Because of this, you will sometimes see a coat of arms being given from oldest son to oldest son. It is perhaps this bequeathing that has inadvertently helped fan the flames of all descendants being entitled to a coat of arms.

In addition to The College of Arms Web site, you may also want look into a compilation of books called "British and American Coats of Arms" (available online or on CD-ROM). Coats of arms are copyrighted, so it is sometimes difficult to find them on the Internet. One site that does have a number of them is The Association of Amateur Heralds.

Research in New York

Q: A great-great-grandfather, Edrick H Wheat was born in New York as stated on the 1860 and 1850 census. I also have the 1830 and 1840 census, all New York. His birth date is about 1805. His father lived in New York when Edrick and siblings were born. Edrick's children were all born in New York. I had New York State do a vital records search and they had no record of death. I have a sale transaction dated 1884 with his name on it and checked with them and they had no record. Any suggestions? -- Joan

A: New York is one of those states where vital records were not kept until the late 1800s or the early 1900s. For those searching for births or deaths in New York in the 1800s, alternative records must be sought out.

It appears that your research to date, beyond the census records, has been through the state of New York. While state records should certainly be checked, this is not the only jurisdiction that should be contacted. In the case of the sale transaction record, if it is a land record, then you will want to contact the county courthouse where the sale took place.

In fact, when it comes to many records in New York, you will want to turn your attention to the county records. While you may need to contact the county courthouse through mail, your first attention should be the holdings of the Family History Library. The Library has microfilmed vast holdings from courthouses and other repositories. Those microfilms can be ordered to your local Family History Center where you can view them.

Alternatives to death records would be either cemetery records or probate records. Even if your ancestor did not leave a will it is possible that his estate was settled through administration. This would be found in the probate records. New York's probate records are often arranged in packets. Each packet will include all records generated during the probate process. This may include a will, receipts for payments made, copies of newspaper announcements to reach heirs, a list of the heirs and where they were residing at the time.

Cemetery records may be another alternative. This may require you going through all available published and manuscript collections of cemetery records. These may be available on microfilm or, often, through interlibrary loan. This is done by searching the online catalogs of other libraries and then seeing if your library can get the volumes needed through a process where other libraries loan books to your library. You would need to look at them at the library, but at least you would have access to them.

Finally, New York has a unique system with their historians. Each town and each county is supposed to have a historian. These individuals often have information about specific individuals, residents of the given town or county. Contacting the town historians is done through the mail. The best way to find the contact information on these historians, you will want to visit the appropriate county of the USGenWeb Project for New York. You should find the address for the historians. Recently some have also made contacting them by e-mail an option. If this is possible for the town in question, you should find that information as well on the county USGenWeb page.

Waiting for Correspondence

Q: I would like to know what the appropriate length of time to wait for a mail request for documents is? I wrote 2 letters last month for marriage records and have not received a response. What is the next step if no response comes? -- Misty

A: Unfortunately there is no given expiration date on letters. A lot depends on who the letter was written to, and how concise the letter was. Also, you want to keep in mind if you included a check for fees. If the check has been cashed and there has been no response, that is a different matter. If you requested records and did not include appropriate costs and an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) then you may never hear back from them.

Usually it takes anywhere from four to twelve weeks to hear back from a county courthouse. Few courthouses can afford a person to handle genealogical requests, so those requests are dealt with when the clerks are not busy with other duties. In such instances, the checks are not cashed until the request is filled.

If your request was sent to a professional genealogist, and again the check has not been cashed, then you may want to either e-mail or phone the professional to make sure that they did indeed receive your request. While it does not happen too frequently, things do get lost in the mail — it is possible that the requests never arrived.

Finally if you are writing to a society or other repository, your request may be handled by a volunteer. This dramatically increases the response time as they are often way behind in such correspondence. Similar delays are seen when corresponding with individual genealogists as well. They often must work their genealogy in around their real life.

WFT Contributors

Q: How do you find out information on a family tree that is in World Family Tree? I have found at least 5 family trees, that are my relatives, and do not know how to find out who wrote them or how to contact them. -- Carolyn

A: There are two ways to access the lineages found in World Family Tree. The first is through the various CD-ROM volumes and the second is through an online subscription.

Regardless of how you accessed the tree, you can use the World Family Tree Contributor Contact Information Service to get ahold of the contributor. This service can supply you with the contact information on a contributor of any tree. To get this information, all you need to have is the volume number and the tree number. You will have to fill out a form with your contact information, including your e-mail address. The contact information for the contributor will be sent to you in e-mail.

In the World Family Tree Contributor Service, after you fill out your own contact information, you will be asked a question such as "Is the sky blue?" Such questions are designed to prevent automated systems from grabbing addresses for marketing purposes. After you submit the request, the contributor's information will be sent to you in e-mail within a short time.


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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