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

December 06, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns


Q: I live on Cape Cod. After doing my family tree I saw a need to have pictures of tombstones. I use a digital camera and they are saved in a jpeg format. Do you know anybody who may be interested in this information? -- Susan

A: One of the great things about genealogy as a hobby is the friendly and helpful people you meet. Without the sharing that goes on among genealogists, a lot less research would have been accomplished. This is never more true today with the Internet. It is through the sharing that the Internet has become such a useful resource for genealogists.

One of the ways genealogists help each other is in doing lookups or other simple things when the researcher can't get there in person. This is essential with cemeteries. We would all love to have photographs of our ancestors final resting places. Getting there though is sometimes difficult. One way to share digitized images such as you are offering is through the Virtual Cemetery.

The Virtual Cemetery allows you to submit images of tombstones and then enter a transcription, so that fellow genealogists can run searches for their surnames and ancestors. Submitting is done through an easy-to-fill-in form. There are many fields for supplying as much information as you may know about the individual and the cemetery, but at the least you must include the first and last name of the deceased individual, the image of the tombstone (limited to no more than 300KB in size), and the city and country where the cemetery is found.

I know that researchers will appreciate your sharing the images you have taken of tombstones in Cape Cod.

Receiving GEDCOM Files

Q: I have made this mistake several times already. Someone sends me a GEDCOM file of their family. I open it and it replaces my FTM files. What I need is an "idiots" step by step guide to open these GEDCOM's safely. -- Howard

A: I have often cautioned individuals, regardless of the genealogy program they use, to not dump a GEDCOM file they receive into their family history database. In Family Tree Maker this is a simple matter.

When you wish to create a new family file with someone's GEDCOM file, you will actually act like you are opening a family file.

Pull down the File menu and select Open Family File. In the window that appears, change the Files of type to GEDCOM using the down arrow to the right of Family Tree Maker for Windows. You will see that GEDCOM is an option. Then find and highlight the GEDCOM file you wish to use. Click the Open push button.

You will now be prompted to name the new family file. Give this family file a different name from your own family file. This is when Family Tree Maker will create the new family file, which after the GEDCOM conversion is finished will open in Family Tree Maker as new family file. This does not mean that your original family file has been wiped out. The file has simply been closed. You can always open it later when you want to work on your family history. Genealogy Classes

Q: I was wondering whether you could tell me if you have to live in the US to do the courses listed on -- Sarah

A: Genealogy Classes is an interactive, move at your own pace set of lessons. You access them over the Internet, reading through the lesson and then in some instances answering questions or accomplishing tasks described by the instructor. Because it is accessed over the Internet and you do not actually go to a virtual classroom such as a chat room to gather with others, you can work on the lessons regardless of where you are in the world.

I will say that the focus of many of the lessons, especially those in the Tracing Immigrant Origins lessons is devoted to using records found in the United States. It is possible that you could take the premises discussed and apply them to records in the country you are researching from and get much the same results. I have found that while the names of the records differ, and the repositories may be different, the information found in the records is often the same. For instance, vital records in the United States is the equivalent to civil registration in many other countries. That is the recording, in a civil jurisdiction, the birth, marriage or death of an individual. Much the same information will be found on a birth record whether it is researched in the United States or England.

The research practices found in the beginning lessons as well as the Internet lessons though will apply completely regardless of where you live. The information found will be useful and is not limited to a given locality in any way.

Researching Online

Q: I am trying to find out some info from my father's side of the family and I do not know what I am doing! I have no info but for my father's parent's names and death year. I do know what year my grandmother was born. I have been looking for a year on this computer and have found nothing. Could you please help me to get started in the right place please? My father kept his side so much a secret and I would like to know now why and where I came from. -- Linda

A: Researching your family tree does require a little education in the records you will need to use and where to find them. While much is finding its way onto the Internet, where you are in your research is likely to require that you first do some offline research. Getting the knowledge you need though can be done both online and off.

There are some great lessons, available for free, at Genealogy Classes here on You can work through these lessons at your own pace. The Beginning Genealogy class will introduce you to many of the concepts you will need in tracing your family tree. You may also want to invest in one of the many how-to books that are currently available. Many are under $20.00 and easily available at bookstores everywhere. I wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy which incorporates both traditional research and online research.

If you haven't done so, and your paternal grandparents (that is your father's parents) died after 1962, you may want to search for them through the Social Security Death Index. You can search this on through the Family Finder form. Family Finder will search other things, but it will supply you with entries from the Social Security Death Index as well, which you can view for free.

If you know where your grandparents died, you will want to write and request copies of their death certificates. This will supply you with information about their dates and places of birth and may also give you the names of their parents. In some instances you can order these certificates online using a credit card. This will get the death certificates to you quicker than traditional mail. You can find out more about this at VitalChek.

Once you get a little further back in your research, you should find that you can find more online.

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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