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

October 17, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Related to Walt Disney?

Q: My mother-in-law, now in her seventies, tells us that her only son's (David Scarrett) family was somehow related to Walt Disney. Apparently her husband's family told her this early in her marriage. It's a small piece of information and could of course turn out to be untrue anyway, but since David know almost nothing about his family history, we thought it might be interesting to find out more about Walt Disney's history. I checked out a book at the library about Walt Disney but it focused mostly on Walt and his brother's history as young men and their artistic, business and creative accomplishments in their adult lives. -- Janice

A: You will find that a family tree on Walt Disney has been compiled and published here at the Celebrity Trees section of This will give you something to work with in regard to the family history of Walt Disney. It is not complete, though does include one line back to colonial Massachusetts. It turns out that Walt is descended from one of those accused during the Salem Witchcraft trials of 1692.

Of course, finding a connection to Walt is a multifaceted project. You must research not only Walt Disney's lineage but David's paternal line as well. For each, you must apply cluster genealogy and research not only the direct lineage but the siblings in each generation as well.

To get started on David's paternal line, it will be necessary to get a copy of his father's death certificate. This should give you the names of David's paternal grandparents along with when and where David's father was born. You may also want to check the Social Security Death Index (if David's father died after 1961) to see if he is there. This would give you a date of death and his last residence. If you don't know where he died, you can check to see if his place of death is the same as his last residence.

You will then work back generation to generation, being sure to research all the siblings of the direct lineage, to see if you can find a connection to any of the lines in Walt Disney's lineage. You may find that he is indeed related. You may find that the relationship is through a marriage, for a sort of cousin-in-law relationship, or you may find that your research disputes the entire story. Of course you won't know any of this until you have done the research. And that research may require that you go back to the early 1600s. Often you'll find that the relationship is not in the generation of the famous individual, but instead may generations back.

Advice for a New Researcher

Q: I know very little about my family and am wondering how I can get started researching my family history. I know my maternal grandfather's and grandmother's names and birthdays. I know my paternal grandmother's and grandfather's names. This is the extent of what I know about my ancestors. Can you give me any suggestions? -- Patsy

A: You actually know more than some people do when they begin to research their family history. Most of the records that genealogists use are filed in a state or county repository of some kind, usually in the state or county in which the event took place. So to effectively find information, we need to know where the life events of our ancestors took place.

There is a major rule in genealogy that you will need to keep in mind. Genealogists work from the known to the unknown. They get records on the events that they know about and learn clues about new people and new life events that they didn't know about or didn't have enough information to research before.

Because you are new to genealogy you will want to read up on the subject. I suggest that you check your library for any of a number of good how-to books. Books stores often carry a variety of genealogy books in their reference section. A good, easy-to-read general genealogy book is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy. This will introduce you to a variety of terms and methods that you will find useful in researching your family history.

For you to get started right now, though, you need to get some more information. If your parents or any older relatives are alive, you'll want to talk to them to see what they remember about your grandparents. Do they know where they were born? In the case of your paternal grandparents does anyone know when they were married? If you can find someone who knows when and where your grandparents were married you can write for copies of their marriage certificates. Usually the certificates include the marriage application which may give you not only when and where they were born but also the names of the parents. With this information, you'll have another generation on your family tree.

Eventually the Internet will be useful to you. Right now the database that is most likely to give you some information is the Social Security Death Index. This includes a large percentage of the deaths of Americans from 1962 to the present. It will include the date of birth, date of death, last residence (not to be confused as the place of death), and the state in which the individual got their social security number. If you know when your paternal grandparents died, you might find them listed here and get the date of birth.

Of course, if your grandparents are still alive, don't wait, talk to them today. Find out what they remember about their parents. Ask them where they were born and when and where they were married. Then begin to get copies of these records. Your grandparents may have some of these records while you may need to write away for others.

This is an oversimplification of what you will be doing, giving you just the highlights. There is a reason that books have been written on this subject. There is a lot to learn, but if you begin with yourself and work backward, getting records for births, marriage, and deaths, you will begin to see how it works. It is like a big puzzle. Each document you find is a piece to that puzzle and it tells you where to look for the next piece to the puzzle.

Locating First Papers

Q: I've been stuck for 2 years on locating records on my great-grandfather (Hugh McDonald/MacDonald) who came from Scotland. According to the 1900 census record, he immigrated to this country in 1880 and was naturalized. I found a promising lead on a microfilm through the local LDS Family History Center (film 1846266-item 1) which is supposed to be an index to Naturalization records (v.2) from 1881-1899. All that it said, though, was "First Papers," the date 10/10/1889, and then the words "Book 20 Page 459." One would think that would cinch it, but since I am trying to get additional information through his Naturalization records (like point of arrival/departure, parents names, or birthplace, city where he lived in Scotland, etc.) I need to see the actual documents of both the First and Second papers. I've taken out 4 other films, the only ones that look like they might contain what I'm looking for (#1854500, #1854058, #1854497, #1854498), but haven't found anything. I'm really stuck and am wondering if you can point me in the right direction. Any advice will be greatly appreciated. -- Laura

A: A search of the microfilm numbers you supplied to me above revealed that the four films you looked at in search of the elusive Book 20 were the following

  • 1854500 - Petition and record, Box 10: 3551-3595 1891-1892 Box 11: 3596-4084 1891-1892
  • 1854058 - Index to petitions of naturalization, 1837-1906 K-Z (item 1); Petition and record, Box 1:2-30 1818-1833 Box 1: 1a-218a (old series) ca 1834-1856 (items 2-3)
  • 1854497 - Petition and record, Box 8: 2022-2060 1888 Box 9: 2061-2560 1888-1889
  • 1854498 - Petition and record, Box 9: 2561-2794 1889-1890 Box 10: 2795-3041 1890

These records were microfilmed at the State Archives in Lansing, Michigan and cover those records handled by the Superior Court as well as the Circuit Court. The pre-1887 Superior Court records were primarily naturalizations done in the city of Detroit. In 1887 the Superior Court was abolished and the court records were combined.

Now knowing where in the United States you were researching, I looked again at the Family History Library catalog entry and clicked on the subject link "Michigan, Wayne - Naturalization and citizenship" and discovered that there were three catalog entries for naturalization records for Wayne County, Michigan.

This let me know that it was possible that the records you were seeking were available in one of these other entries, I decided to do a search on the microfilm number for the index that you supplied and discovered that the index you originally looked at did not cover the four microfilms you mentioned. If you didn't look at the index though on microfilm #1854058, you may want to look again and see if it lists anything about the second papers. That microfilm is the actual index to the boxes you were looking at on the other three microfilms.

Microfilm #1846266, item 1 is the General Index to Naturalization Records, Volume 2 as you mentioned. However, this is the index to the naturalization records of the Circuit Court of Wayne County, Michigan that are actually housed in the Wayne County courthouse. There are a total of 89 microfilm reels.

I think you will find that Microfilm #979813 - Declarations of intention, V. 20-21 1888-1890, is the film that you are looking for. Given the date you included in your message and the page number for volume 20 that does fit. This particular set of microfilms, by the way, is primarily declarations of intentions and does not appear to have any of the second papers.

As to whether or not it will answer the questions you have about your ancestor, that remains to be seen. The naturalization records were not as thorough in the 1800s as it would eventually become in the 1900s. However, I have found that while they were not always as thorough, the amount of information that the papers requested varied from state to state and county to county.

In Search of a Cemetery

Q: I am researching my great-grandfather. He had his family of five in the U.S. after coming down from Canada in the 1850s or late 1840s. There was no social security at that time but I'm looking for marriage records and birth and death records. I have a certificate that tells me he, Joseph Phillip Grenier, was buried at St Benedicts Cemetery but the library in Springfield, Massachusetts says they have no record of a cemetery by that name. I'm wondering if the Catholic church may have some knowledge of this and if I should send for the addresses of all the Catholic Churches? What do you think? -- Beverly

A: If you haven't done so already, you'll want to visit your local Family History Center to get the microfilmed indexes to births and marriages for Joseph's children. The indexes and the certificates are available on microfilm. This may give you some indication as to where in Canada your great-grandfather came from. The indexes are broken up into five year periods, so it is likely you will need to order more than one microfilm of the indexes. After viewing the indexes, you will then need to order the microfilmed volumes of the actual birth and marriage records.

In regard to the cemetery, it is always possible that your great-grandfather was not buried in Springfield. While our ancestors were usually buried in the town in which they died, this was usually because it was also the town in which the person and family had lived for some time. In your case, your great-grandfather came down to Massachusetts from Canada. It is always possible that he was buried back in Canada with the rest of his family. So this is certainly a scenario to keep in the back of your mind as you continue to research this family.

While you may want to contact the Catholic churches in the area, you may want to do a little more investigating on your own before you do this. I have found that the more informed a request is, the better the chances of it being answered. Clerks are busy doing their day-to-day work and do not always have time to answer genealogical queries, unless they think it is something that can be done quickly.

Your message did not indicate when Joseph Phillip Grenier died. It is possible that the cemetery in question changed names or was destroyed. While the librarians are often quite knowledgeable, I have discovered that in the case of renamed or destroyed cemeteries, institutions etc. a librarian may not be aware of the original name or even that such a cemetery or institution ever existed.

If you haven't done so already, you will want to look at city directories for Springfield for the years before, of, and after the death of your great-grandfather. City directories mention the churches and cemeteries in addition to listing the entries of those living in the city. In fact there is a great deal of miscellaneous information that you can find in the city directory. See if you can find a St. Benedicts Cemetery listed.

Even if you can't find the cemetery, delving into the city directory will give you the names of the Catholic churches that were in existence at the time. These are the churches you would want to contact in your quest for information about where your great-grandfather was buried. While not available in this case, it is also a good idea to see what church records are available on microfilm from the Family History Library. A search of the library catalog, though, revealed that none of the Catholic church records for Springfield, Massachusetts are available on microfilm.

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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