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

January 23, 2003
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Irish Research

Q: According to Scottish 1851 and 1861 census, my great-great-grandfather, Leslie Dickson, who we know was of Scottish nationality and the Presbyterian religion, was born in Ireland, I assume in the Northern Ireland area, circa 1826. His forename "Leslie" is somewhat rare. How does a person go about locating a birth/christening record or any record with his name? What costs are involved? -- Glenn

A: Irish research requires that you know more than just the country from which the person was born. In fact, it requires you know more than the county. There are no civil registrations for the time in question. As a result, you will have to work in the church records. In order to effectively work with the church records, in addition to knowing the religion, you must know the town or parish in which the child was born.

The first step would be to perhaps get a feel for the Dickson families in Ireland. This can be done by running searching in various compiled databases, include the International Genealogical Index from the Family History Library. This index will help you see what counties and towns have high concentrations of this surname. It is not fool proof, but it will give you somewhere to begin the search. If you cannot narrow down the place of origin any further, a search like this requires a casting of the net approach. Instead of pulling in the net, in this case, you will look at each grid that the net covers, one at a time, and determine if it bears further research and scrutiny.

In addition to researching individual towns and counties in Ireland, you also want to be sure you have exhausted all possible records for Leslie Dickson as he lived his life and died. If you haven't done so yet, get a copy of his death record. This should list the names of his parents and may give you a more accurate place of birth. I have seen in Scottish and English civil registration the whole gambit when it comes to Irish origins. I have seen people listed as having been born in Ireland, County Down, or Newry, Ireland, so don't assume that the record won't have anything to help you. The index to the Scottish civil registration is now available online through Scotlands People. There is a fee but they allow you to view many of the registrations as well. That way if you find him in the index, you can usually view the register page as well, which can then be printed out or saved for later use.

Costs will vary. There is no way to give you a set price, but I can supply some of the possible expenses you will incur. First, if you are looking at the International Genealogical Index either online or at your local Family History Center, this is free of charge. If you find a likely candidate then you would want to order the microfilm, if available. This will cost you approximately $4 for 30 days. To access the Scotland's People will cost you at least six pounds to get the initial 30 credits. They use credits for accessing the index hits and the scanned register pages. If you have to hire a professional research to do the footwork for you in Ireland, then the costs are far more expensive.

You will want to investigate the Irish sites found at GENUKI, a site devoted to the Genealogy of the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as the World GenWeb project. Both offer a lot of information free of charge. Don't overlook the important how-to articles and guidelines that both sites have. You will find if you take the time to read them, you will actually save time in the end. You will also want to read both the Scottish and Irish research outlines that are published by the Family History Library. These guidelines are also available on the FamilySearch Web site.

Federal and State Census Dates

Q: Where can I get the dates on which each state and federal census was taken so that I can better calculate people's ages and years of birth? -- Dirk

A: Each federal census includes the date that the census was taken as well as the date for which the enumerator was supposed to be calculating his questions. The date the census was taken could easily be five months after the official date of the census. In such instances, you have to ask yourself if the person's birth took place before the official date or the date the census taker arrived. You will find there is no constant on this and that the way in which the enumerator questioned the household can make a big difference as to who is enumerated and the age listed. The official date is included in the heading for the column in which the name was enumerated and was June first for most of the early ones. I have included a list here of each of the decennial federal censuses taken in the United States along with the official date.

  • 1790: 2 August
  • 1800: 4 August
  • 1810: 6 August
  • 1820: 7 August
  • 1830: 1 June
  • 1840: 1 June
  • 1850: 1 June
  • 1860: 1 June
  • 1870: 1 June
  • 1880: 1 June
  • 1890: 1 June (remember most of this was destroyed by fire)
  • 1900: 1 June
  • 1910: 15 April
  • 1920: 1 January
  • 1930: 1 April

When it comes to state records, it is important to remember first that not all states have recorded censuses at the state level. Of those that have, though, you will want to pay close attention to the heading information. I have seen the official date on the top of the page, with the space for recording the county and township being enumerated. Sometimes the state censuses also have a place to record the date the enumerator actually visited to the houses included on that page.

A good book for finding out which states took census enumerations and the years covered is Ann S. Lainhart's State Census. This book was published by Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc. and may be found in many public libraries with genealogical departments.

When figuring out the possible age of an ancestor or their potential date of birth, you can narrow it down to the previous twelve months. So if a person was listed in the 1860 census as 22 year old, that would mean that he was born between 1 June 1837 and 31 May 1838.

In Search of a Grave

Q: I am looking for the grave site for Revolutionary War soldier John McClung. He died in the county of Sumner in the state of Tennessee on 24 September 1844. I have checked all of the cemetery records I can find and there is no record. He was in a census in Sumner County a few years prior to his death and his wife was in one in Sumner County after his death. How can I find this grave site? Do I assume that he was buried in Sumner County, or even in Tennessee? -- Scarlet

A: Looking for a place of burial when there are no death records available usually requires perseverance and sometimes a little determination. You must also think of some creative ways in determining all the possible cemeteries and other burial sites that might exist for a given county or town.

There was not enough detail in your message to know what cemetery records you have searched. I am assuming, a bad practice I know, that when you mention checking "all of the cemetery records I can find" that you are referring to those that have been published or compiled in some fashion, either online or in a manuscript fashion. It is important to keep in mind that this may not be all the records that exist. If you are referring to just those records found on the Internet at various sites, you have just begun to scratch the surface.

If you haven't done so already, check the Family History Library Catalog for the county of Sumner as well as the individual towns. Often I have found that cemetery compilations are just for a given town and those are usually cataloged under the town or city rather than the county when it comes to the Family History Library Catalog. The easiest way to be sure you get a list of all of the towns for a given county that have library items, is to use the Related Places button or link. Once you are looking at the records for the county, use the Related Places option to get a list of all of the towns. Then begin to go through the list of towns by clicking on each one and viewing what cemetery records may be listed for that town.

The Daughters of the American Revolution have long been the most active in the recording of cemeteries over the years. You may want to contact them to see if there are some compiled cemetery records that are not available in the Family History Library. You can find out more about them by visiting their Web site.

Another way to make sure you have seen the records for all available cemeteries is to visit the Geographic Names Information Service's Web site. You can use their search form to give you a listing of all of the cemeteries of which they are aware of and have included in their database. Comparing this list with those records you have gone through will let you know if you have missed any or were previously unaware of them.

Finally, there is one more thing to consider. It is always possible that he was buried on the family farm. This was a frequent occurrence in rural areas. Many of these family grave sites have long surrendered to overgrowth and the present owners may not even be aware that there are individuals buried on their land. In other cases they may be aware, but may not be interested in folks visiting and, as such, have not shared the information with the world at large. To this, there is no easy answer. You may find some of them mentioned in the GNIS and you will certainly want to look at the burials of others in the family to see if you can determine where they were buried. If records indicate they were buried in a family plot on the farm, it is likely that John McClung was also.

More then One Wife

Q: I am having a hard time with most family tree software not understanding that my ancestors had more than one wife at a time. Even the online tree doesn't accommodate fully. I find that the ones that do allow for that do not show both of the wives at the same time. I wonder if you have had anyone else mention similar problems and do you have a software that you recommend? -- Shon

A: The tree that you can build online through the Web site is not designed to deal with many intricate family issues. Instead it is intended as a convenient way for someone just starting out to begin recording their family history and also share that information with others by making it available on the Internet.

All genealogy programs that are on the market at this point, including Family Tree Maker, allow for multiple spouses. With that said, all of these same programs will usually display only a single spouse at any given moment. They will, however, often indicate how many spouses that individual has in some way. For instance, in Family Tree Maker, if you look along the bottom bar of the Family Tree Maker window, at the right side you will see that it indicates the number of spouses and children that the highlighted individual has. This number lets you know that there are other spouses and by using the Spouses button in the Family View, you can select any of them to view at any given time, though one of them must be selected as a preferred spouse.

I have seen that other genealogy programs do this in a similar fashion, using a number to indicate the total number of spouses for the highlighted individual. I say highlighted individual because so many of the screens found in genealogy software programs include many different individuals who are usually related in one way or another.

I do not think you will find a genealogy program that will show you a screen that reveals the information about your ancestor as well as that of all of his spouses and the children for each marriage all at the same time. Some of the reports will at least indicate the names and perhaps the dates of marriage to the other spouses. There are a few reports, such as a descendant report, that will show you all of the spouses and the children of each spouse. Some of the narrative style reports, that are patterned after the Register or NGS Quarterly style will also list all the marriages, and the children for each marriage.

Genealogy software programs, as they presently exist, appear to be geared toward the researching of either a single individual or the researching of a family unit, and the developers of these software packages consider a family unit to be one husband, one wife, and the children of that union.

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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