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

September 13, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Too Late for Ellis Island

Q: My Aunt Mary O'Shea came to New York from Ireland in 1930 at age 19, too late for Ellis Island. Where can I find her passenger record or immigration record? Where would she have landed? Thanks for your help.-- Jean

A: While it is true that the majority of immigrants stopped being processed through Ellis Island about 1924, this does not mean that immigrants were not still coming through the port of New York. Many confuse Ellis Island as the only way immigrants could enter through the port of New York. In reality, Ellis Island was not opened until 1 January 1892. Prior to its opening, immigrants were coming through New York as early as 1820.

While immigrants continued to flow through the port of New York after July 1924, only those who had to be detained for physical infirmities or hearings actually went to Ellis Island. The rest of the immigrants were processed on shipboard before they disembarked, much like they were from 1820 to 1855, when Castle Garden, the first immigrant station was opened on Manhattan.

The good news for your research is that the passenger lists go well beyond 1930 and the index does also. You can get the microfilmed index through your local Family History Center. Once you locate your aunt in the index, you can then order the appropriate passenger lists and find her listed on the manifests.

Cherokee Heritage

Q: I would like to research my birth father's Cherokee heritage. His family hails from the Oklahoma area. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. -- Jessica

A: As with any research, it is important to begin by amassing records that exist for the information you know about your birth father. You need to get his birth record, if it exists, and perhaps locate him in the 1920 census. These two records may supply you with details that will help you identify him in Native American records.

Because some of the records you will be using are unique to Native American research, it will be a good idea to get at least one book devoted to this specialized area of research. One written specifically on Cherokee research is Myra Vanderpool Gormley's Cherokee Connections. Originally published in 1995 and reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., in 1999, it is presently out of print. You can probably find this little book, it is 64 pages in length, and available at many libraries. You might also be able to find a used copy through or eBay.

How to Go Back

Q: We have my second great grandfather who was born in 1832. His name is Thomas D. Rapp. The census has him in Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. We have his children, but can't get his parents. What do we do? Thank you. -- Bill

A: When you begin researching beyond 1850, it becomes difficult to nail down a potential family in the census because only the names of the heads of households were recorded. Everyone else is listed under the appropriate gender and age range as tally marks. Perhaps it is because it is easy to find an ancestor in the census from 1850 on up that we jump from census year to census year without spending any time researching other records that are being generated as our ancestors lived their lives.

First, when working with your Rapp family, you will need to keep a look out for other Rapp families living in the area. Instead of concentrating only on the page of the census where your ancestor appears, look at the pages before and after to see if other Rapp families are listed. Get to know these other families, as they may turn out to be related to your ancestor.

Look in the land and probate records in any county where Thomas D. Rapp lived. Investigate any other individuals sharing the Rapp surname. Is Thomas mentioned in any of their records? If so, you should further investigate that particular family or individual to see if you can determine how he is related.

Go back and examine the records you have presently acquired. Spend some time rereading them to make sure you have not overlooked anything. Make sure you have all the records that exist. For instance, do you have a death record for Thomas? Have you located where he is buried? Have you a copy of his marriage record, including the marriage application (if it exists)? These are all records that might hold clues to the names of Thomas' parents.

Eventually it may come down to locating all Rapp families in a given county or state and systematically eliminating them by spending some of your time researching them.

Coat of Arms

Q: I am searching the Internet for a depiction of my family's name (crest/coat of arms). There seems to be a number of them to choose from. That is not what I want . I want to know which one is "ours." I then want to have it tattooed on my upper arm and I sure don't want to get the wrong one inked on me. If you can offer any advice or insight, anything at all, I would be grateful. I can tell you that our Webb family is of English descent, not Irish. -- Bill

A: There is a big misconception when it comes to coats of arms. Many people, both genealogists and non-genealogists, have it in their minds that a coat of arms is for the surname in question. This is far from the truth, especially when it comes to English coats of arms.

A coat of arms is not passed from generation to generation. Generally it follows the rules of the law of primogeniture does with land. The oldest son gets it.

In answer to your question, it is possible that none of the coats of arms you have discovered online can be claimed. You would need to research your family back to the early years when it is likely that the coat of arms was assigned. Then you would need to contact the College of Arms to see if you are entitled to it. If not, they may offer guidance in determining what you are entitled to claim.

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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