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

May 23, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Figuring Birth from Census

Q: I have never been able to figure out the birth dates of someone when the census lists their age as Sept 10/12 or just 4/12. Can you help me? -- Chris

A: In most instances our ancestors are listed in whole years. The enumerator was told to ask the age of the individuals on a given day. That given day was the date of the official census and varies from census year to census year. In some instances the official date was 1 January, others it was 15 April and still others it was in June. To find out what the official date was for the census year you are working in, look at the top of the column where the enumerator recorded the names. This will tell you the official date.

It is a little tricky when working with earlier census records. Unfortunately for researchers, in some instances it took months to compile the census. The enumerator may have still been recording the names of individuals in October when the official census date was in June. This forces you, as the researcher to wonder if the ages of the individuals are indeed recorded for the official date or for the date the census taker arrived at the household in October. The only way to know this usually is to know the actual birth dates of some of the inhabitants of the household and then see if they are recorded correctly on the census page. In many instances it is a hit and miss attempt. You may find yourself off by a year.

For those under the age of one, there were two different methods of recording the child's age. One just had the enumerator recording the age of the child in months. A child listed as 4/12 would be four months old. Again, though, you have the problem of knowing when the four months begins. Was it four months before the official census date or was it four months before the enumerator arrived on the doorstep of the household. Again, the only way to know this is to keep both possible dates in mind as you are working with other records that might supply the full age or birth date of the individual.

This system is made much simpler in those years when the enumerator was also supposed to record the month of birth for a child born within the enumeration year. Your other example of Sept 10/12 means the child was born in the month of September and the child is now 10 months old. I suspect you found this one on one of the censuses where the official date was in June.

Knowing the month of birth, though, means you also know the year of birth. The official census date has never been in September. So you know that the child was born in September of the year before the census. When the child's age is given only in months, you must then keep both the official date and the date of enumeration in mind when figuring out the birth month of the child.

Canon vs. Civil Relationships

Q: I am trying to find out what the words canon and civil mean in my relationship calculator on Family Tree Make. Sometimes it will have civil 2 canon 1. Please advise me on what they mean. -- Linda

A: Canon and civil refer to degrees of relationship. The difference between the two is in how that degree is calculated.

Canon law looks at the maximum number of steps needed to find the common ancestors. Your first cousin would be 2 steps back to the common ancestor, a grandparent. Therefore the canon relationship would be 2.

Civil relationship looks at the total number of steps to get from you to the other individuals. Using the above first cousin, it would take you two steps to get from yourself to your grandparent. It would take another two steps to get from your grandparent down to your first cousin. The civil relationship would be four. In your Family Tree Maker report if you were the primary individual, your canon and civil relationship to a first cousin would show Civil IV and Canon 2.

In your example where Civil is II and Canon is 1, the relationship of the individual to the primary person is that of a sibling. The canon law took a maximum of one step back to the common ancestor of both individuals — the parent. The civil law counted the step from the primary individual to the parent as one step and then from the parent to the other person as another step, for a total of two.

GEDCOM to FTM Problem

Q: I am using Corel Family Tree which allows GEDCOM files. I imported the GEDCOM to Family Tree Maker but for some data the husband and wife are reversed. So, the husband line in Family Tree Maker lists the woman's name and the wife line lists the man's name. So, I dropped back from version 9.0 of Family Tree Maker to version 6 and imported my GEDCOM file again and had the same problem. Does this mean that I can't upgrade to Family Tree Maker version 9 without rekeying all my data? Any suggestions? -- Joe

A: My first suggestion is to go back to your database in Corel Family Tree and see what gender the individuals in question have. Corel Family Tree was designed with little input from genealogists. As a result it could do some things that most other genealogical software programs would at least mention with a warning. A perfect example was that in entering information into Corel's Family Tree, I started out with myself, my husband and our children, and my parents. I then went to add my brother. Somehow the method used added my brother as a new husband for me and then made him the father of my children. Big problem. However, it wasn't until I was trying to view a family group sheet with my husband that I noticed this irregularity.

The GEDCOM file that you are trying to import into Family Tree Maker includes codes created by Corel's Family Tree. Family Tree Maker, or any other genealogy program for that matter that is reading the GEDCOM file, goes from line to line in the GEDCOM file doing just what the GEDCOM says. In this instance, it is coming upon the name of the man and is being told he is a female, and is therefore placing him in the wife's field in Family Tree Maker. As a result the problem does not lie in Family Tree Maker version 9, or any version, but in the file that is being read. That file was created from the information found in Corel's Family Tree.

I suspect the problem is that in entering the names in Corel's Family Tree, perhaps through their graphical interface, you entered what you thought was a husband, only the program has made that person a wife. I think once you go through your Corel Family Tree file and verify that each person has the correct gender that you will find a newly created GEDCOM will go into Family Tree Maker without this problem.

Hiring a Genealogist

Q:I have a question and I wonder if you can help. I'm half Cherokee and would like to trace my ancestry back to the relative who's registered. I work a lot and don't have the time or patience to do the work. Who can I hire to do the work? -- Jeff

Actually there are two places where you can go to find professional researchers who can help you with this matter. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that there are many professional genealogists who specialize in the researching of Native American ancestry. Such research does bring with it some unique resources and research strategies.

You will want to visit the Board for Certification of Genealogists Web site. They have a special category for certification of those who research Native American lineages. A search of their database of certified individuals for this certification should show you individuals qualified to compile the research you desire.

Another group that identifies specialty researchers is the Association of Professional Genealogists. They also have a Web site where you can search for researchers by locality and other contributing factors.

Understand that in genealogical research there are no guarantees. If your research is motivated to find out if you qualify as a minority, it is possible that the research will not prove this. It is a good idea to keep in mind that you are paying for the research, not for a positive qualification. I mention this because there have been professionals in the past who have not been paid for research done in this area when the client did not like the outcome.

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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