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

July 11, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Sharing Information

Q: I would like to know what your thoughts are on sharing family information with others. My concern is with the info of family members that are still alive, an the new national crime of identity theft. Also, have you had to give your mothers maiden name at a business as their security measure that is supposed to protect you and your accounts. I do want to share the genealogy info with new found relatives, but I also want to protect those that I have collected info from. I have not seen any writings that addressed this issue. It is probably out there but I haven't run across it yet. Any ideas or suggestions would be appreciated. -- Iriley

A: While it is true that identity theft has become an important issue in our day to day lives, the sharing of genealogical information need not contribute to the problem. First, most businesses such as banks and credit cards are now giving options other than mother's maiden name for identity purposes.

Of course, genealogists can take an extra couple of minutes before sharing information to make sure that they are not sharing information on the living individuals in their databases. Most of us are sharing GEDCOM files or are posting information directly to the Internet either to a mailing list or bulletin board or through our own person family history Web page. Before we upload everything we have in our database we should stop and learn how to limit the people we include in any files we share.

While many of the programs now offer methods for privatizing or hiding information on those who are still living, it is sometimes not enough. For instance, it may hide the vital record details, but it does not hide the names, which does not solve the problem you are describing here. Instead, through the use of the relationship features or simply a list of individuals made available during many of the tasks in most of the programs, you should be able to select the individuals to include and limit them to those who are living.

When we are sharing our information on the Internet, seldom is it necessary to share information on those who are living. With the exception of my brother, there is no one else who needs to know my complete descent from a given ancestor. He is the only one that shares that line down to our parents. Everyone else is going to branch off before they get that far.

So, when I am sharing anything online I stop with the last generation of deceased individuals. Usually this is more than plenty when it comes to sharing with a fellow researcher or posting online to elicit comments. Never have I had someone ask me to go further down to myself. I point out that it is my third great grandfather or my whatever and that suffices.

Learn how your genealogy program works so that you can share information responsibly by not sharing information on any of your living relatives. It's not necessary, in most cases. And once you share those living individuals with someone else you have lost control of that information. It is like the old saying of shutting the barn door after the horses are out. By sharing your living relatives information, the horses are out and you cannot control them anymore.

Hiring a Professional

Q: I know that this is a question that may sound stupid to you, but, how would one go about finding a professional genealogist to research my family in Southeastern VA and Northeastern NC? I have tried to find one through the Family History magazine with no results. I am 75 years old and would like to find "whence I came" before it's too late. -- Carlton

A: First, there are no stupid questions. So many of us have asked questions along the path to genealogical research. Without others we would still be lost in our attempts to get started. Finding a professional genealogists is easy for some and more difficult for others.

While there are many professional genealogists around the country, I maintain that when hiring a professional you turn to those associated with one of two professional bodies.

The first is the Association of Professional Genealogists. This national organization was developed to bring all aspects of professionalism to the field of genealogy and also to aid professional genealogists by offering advice and information about how to effectively run a genealogy business. The Web site is the best place to begin your search for a professional. You already know where you want the researcher to live and specialize. You can search their member directory for someone who specializes in the areas of Virginia and North Carolina. It is likely that it might require hiring two different professionals.

The other group is the Board for Certification of Genealogists. While it is mostly professionals who have gone through this process, it is open to any genealogist willing to undergo the certification process. There are different types of certification, each devoted to a different aspect of genealogy. You can learn more about the BCG by visiting their Web site.

One of the reasons that I suggest going through these two groups when searching for a professional is for that chance that there is a disagreement between professional and client. As a result, should you have a problem with the professional you hired, there is somewhere you can go.

Entering Dit Names

Q: I am starting to enter my Canadian and French lineage into my Family Tree Maker program. My problem is most of them have dit names. For example Marie Anna Talbot dit Gervais. If I enter it like I typed it, Family Tree makes the last name Gervais when actually her last name is Talbot. From what I am told, dit names are to distinguish between people with the same name. Like a clan or where they are from. For an example, I have two Pierre Gurin's born to the same parents. One (the older) has his father's dit name (Saint Hilaire) and the younger does not. How should I enter this information? -- Sheree'

A: Family Tree Maker, like most genealogy programs assumes that the last word of the name is the surname. Dit names, such as you have, are just one of the instances where the surname is more than one word. In such instances, it becomes necessary to identify the surname to the genealogy program.

In the case of Family Tree Maker, this is done by surrounding the surname with back slashes. So when entering Marie Anna Talbot dit Gervais, you would enter it into the program as Marie Anna \Talbot dit Gervais\. By surrounding the surname in this fashion, the name will appear properly in indexes under the complete surname.

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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