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

March 22, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

When to Publish Online

Q: How soon and/or when does an amateur genealogy buff such as I am, decide to publish his family tree on the Internet. I have about 278 names in my family tree of the descendants of Patrick Brannon, a northwest Pennsylvania settler (currently Crawford Co, Rome Twp) from Ireland dating from the mid 1700s. There are also a few side limbs through marriages. To the best of my knowledge these are persons not on other trees that are available to the public. It is not as complete in detail as I would like, but I have a lot of data that I cannot find elsewhere. I also feel comfortable with the accuracy (data from census records, family records, as well as photographs of cemetery stones). -- Duane

A: One of the benefits of the Internet is the ability to make changes whenever necessary. In the past people waited for years and years before publishing their family history. It was costly to organize and have printed in the standard journal styles we know as the Register and NGS Quarterly styles.

With genealogy software and the Internet we can now make our research available as we are working on it. This of course does have its own drawback. There is the possibility that we will inadvertently share false information. For some this is the main reason that they still refuse to publish their work for years and years.

There will always be uncertainties in our research. There are few documents as we go further back that state unequivocally that John is the son of John and Sarah (Stafford) Adams. As such it is up to us, as publishers, to let those reading our sites know when we have questions about the research or think something is suspect.

I encourage you to post your information on the Internet, provided you protect the information of your living relatives. Look through your information. Use the notes fields to make comments as to the questions or problems you have with any of the research you will be sharing, then make sure to include that information in the page that you create. This way anyone visiting your Web site will see immediately that you are continuing this research and you are aware of possible problems.

No One To Turn To

Q: I am wondering if you can help me get started. All my family has passed, except for a lost sister. I have found some information on my father , but nothing for my mother. However, I did find an aunt. Should I send for her Social Security application? It seems all the search places charge a fee, which is OK but I need direction. I have no family members to speak with, so I guess I am at a disadvantage. I would love to at least know the names of my family as far back as I can go. -- Joe

A: First let me assure you that even though do not have family members to turn to, it is still possible to research your family history. It may be a little more difficult, but it can be done. I have been able to research my paternal line without having had the benefits of talking with anyone on that side of the family.

Since your mother is deceased, then by all means order a copy of her SS-5 form, the Social Security Number application form. This form will supply you with information on her date of birth, the names of her parents, it will even include her signature on the card. I find things like that to be so important, as they are tangible reminders of these people who are no longer here in person.

If you haven't done so, you may also want to get a copy of her death certificate and also the marriage record for your parents. Be sure to look at your own birth certificate also. Look at it from a genealogy researcher's point of view rather than as the person on the certificate. See what information about your parents can be gleaned from that record.

If your parents were alive in 1920, and you know where they were born, you may want to also begin searching the 1920 census which is Soundexed, an index based on phonics rather than precise alphabetical spelling, this would allow you to search for the surname within a state, then look for a child of the right age. Not precise, but often a good starting point. Be sure to look through the entire listing for the Soundex code, don't stop with the first family you find that has a child of the right given name and age.

I suggest the census research angle as something you can do while you await the return of the SS-5 form which can take a few months to receive. Depending on how common the surnames in question are, you may be well on your way by the time you receive the SS-5 form.

Removed from What?

Q: What does 1st cousin 3 times removed mean? I understand the cousin bit but the "removed" stumps me?! -- Marsha

A: The number of the cousinship goes up one number for each generation further away from the common ancestor. From your grandfather you and your cousin are first cousins. Your children and your cousins children would be second cousins as they are one more generation away from the common ancestor.

In a perfect world, all descents would be even generations on both sides, but this is hardly a perfect world. As such, you often find that one cousin is only four generations from the common ancestor and the other is seven generations from the common ancestor. It is this difference that the "removed" addresses.

In the above example the difference in generations is three (seven minus four). Therefore the cousins would be third cousins, three times removed. While there are four generations from the common ancestor, the first generation is siblings, thus the cousins don't come in until the second generation. For a graphic example of how to figure similar relationships, please see Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered for January 13, 2000, the first question "How Are They Related?"

Finding a Professional

Q: I need help finding my family roots. I was hoping you could tell me how someone else can do this for me. I am lost. My family and I would love to trace our roots. -- Bluepinksky

A: While there are many individuals out there who offer their services as professional genealogists, I tend to recommend that new comers to the field of genealogy go with an individual who is a member of one of two organizations. These organizations offer mediation should a problem arise. With other researchers you are seldom able to do anything should you be unhappy with the results of the research.

The two organizations are first, the Association of Professional Genealogists. You will want to visit their site as they offer guidelines for hiring a professional researcher. The other organization is the Board for Certification of Genealogists a group that holds researchers up to an evaluation of their expertise and requires that they agree to sign a code of ethics. Again, I encourage you to visit their Web site. Each site offers a roster of their researchers. Some researchers will be found at both sites.

There are no guarantees with genealogy. The records may not exist. The researcher may not feel that the available information is accurate, or may mention information without stating with certainty that you are indeed descended from the individual. The further back the research goes, the fewer the records and state facts. This may lead the researcher to draw conclusions from the records that can be found.


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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