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

December 02, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

From Scotland to Nova Scotia

Q: I am looking for information about Angus GILLIS, his wife Ann, three daughters (Ann, Janet, and Mary) and two sons (Donald and John) of Loch Arkaig, Scotland. They sailed from Fort William in Scotland to Pictou, Nova Scotia on The Dove of Aberdeen. I can find them in Nova Scotia, but I don't know how to find them in Scotland. -- John

A: While you did not include dates in your message, I suspect I have found an entry for your ancestor in Donald Whyte's A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to Canada Before Confederation , in volume 1:

p. 115

3254 GILLIS, Angus. From Morar, INV. To Pictou, NS, on the Dove, ex Fort William, Jun 1801. Labourer. PLD

If this is your ancestor, then you will be working in the early church records for Scotland. Prior to 1855, all birth, marriage and burial information is found in the church records. The Scottish Old Parochial Registers have been indexed. That is the good news.

The Scottish OPRs have been available on microfiche for a number of years now through your local Family History Center. However, the fiche version required that you know the shire before you could begin the search. While this is not a particular concern for you, for many people it was a deterrent. For about the last five years or so, this same index has also been available on CD-ROM through your local Family History Center as part of their FamilySearch(TM) system. It is not part of their online site yet.

You will want to search this database looking for Angus GILLIS. From the Scottish OPR Index, you can then turn your attention to the microfilmed church records. These church records might supply you with additional information on Angus, including the names of his parents, possibly where they were from, the occupation of his father and so forth.

You will also want to visit the GENUKI web site. This site can offer you additional information about researching your Scottish family.

Older Relatives Dead

Q: I am trying to trace my history. I only got as far as my grandparents since my father and grandparents are deceased. I don't know what I can do.. -- Robert

A: First, let me assure you that it is possible to research your lineage when you cannot talk to older relatives. It is a little more difficult, but it can be done. Whereas most people can first question the older relatives, you will find yourself immediately forced to research as though you were searching for family long gone for say a hundred years.

To do this, you will need to remember the genealogy adage -- work from the known to the unknown. You say that you have information on your father and on your grandparents. If you haven't done so yet, you will want to get their death certificates. While you may be wondering why you should get records on what you already know, you will find that this is the way to get information about what you do not know.

For instance, a death certificate will tell you more than just when they died and where. There is also information about how old the individual was at the time of death. Some will even ask for the birth date. If they don't though, you can always estimate the birth date based on the date of death and the age at time of death. Many death certificates also ask for information about place of birth for the deceased and the names of the parents (including the maiden name for the mother).

Armed with this information, you will find that you have much more to work with than you originally suspected. If your grandparents were born prior to 1920, then you can add the census records to your list of useful resources. You will also want to visit the Family Tree Maker How-To Articles page where you will find articles by many different experienced genealogists.

Unknown Marriage Year

Q: How does one go about locating a marriage license when you have a month and day, no year and no idea of what state? -- Susan

A: Finding a marriage year can be done in a number of ways depending on when it was likely to have taken place. Usually if you do not have the year, you need to look at the information you do know and then work from there.

For instance if you have the birth dates for the children, you can estimate a marriage year based on that. You could begin looking about three to five years prior to the birth of the oldest child on up to the year of birth of the child. This of course would only work if you know the place of birth for the oldest child. If this particular marriage would have taken place after 1840, then the census records may be of use to you in determining the likely residences of the family down through the years.

If the marriage took place prior to 1840 or was in another country, you may want to begin your search in the IGI through your local Family History Center or at the site. This source should be used only as an index of sorts. Once you have determined the likely place and time, you would then need to return to the original records for that locality to look for primary documents.

Looking for Cheairs

Q: I have been tying to research my family tree. My grandfather's name was Horace CHEAIRS and my grandmother was Doris GEORGE. I have been able to find some information, but most of it is not from their generation only from the early 1800s. Where can I find the records for them?. -- Melinda

A: It sounds like you have so far limited your searching to what you can find online. This is how many people begin their research, but it can be misleading as to what you can find and how to begin that search.

While the Internet is a very useful tool there are still many resources that you will need to access off-line. You will want to talk to the older living relatives for the CHEAIRS side of the family. You will want to find out what they remember. This is one of the first things to do because they will not be around forever and it is a shame when they pass away without having had a chance to share their stories.

You will want to ask them specific questions. Don't just ask them to tell you everything they know. Ask questions about when they were growing up. Ask them about holidays and the family traditions. Usually once you get them looking back they will share many useful facts with you that will help you with your research.

Finally, you will want to begin gathering records for everyone on your family tree. You want to get death records, marriage records, birth records. Then you will find yourself working in census records and probate records. A good book to help you learn what records will be useful and how to access them is Christine Rose and Kay Ingalls' The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy .

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

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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