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

November 04, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Fan Charts for Christmas

Q: I wanted to do a fan drawing of my husband's family tree for his parents' Christmas gift, however, I am clueless on how to start, where to start and what to ask when I get there. I have been online to many sites and I am really not interested in starting a whole family web page at this time. I really just want to go back about seven generations, get names and be able to graph them accordingly. -- Laura

A: This is not an uncommon request as our thoughts turn to Christmas and the gifts we wish to create for our family members. Unfortunately genealogy charts are not always something that can be created in just a couple of months. It will depend largely on what is already known in the family.

Genealogy, or family history, begins with yourself and works backwards. In this case, you would want to begin with your husband, so that you can get both of his parents on the same chart. Your husband would be Generation Number 1 on the fan chart.

There are a number of preprinted charts that can be used to fill in this information. You can find them through mail order services and on the Internet. Evertons and Heritage Quest are two companies that come immediately to mind that offer large wall-size forms to fill out.

To get started you will need to write down all that is currently known about your husband's parents ad grandparents. Then, armed with this information, it may be possible to locate additional family members in census records and online databases.

While you may not want to create a family history Web page, the research is still the same for finding the names for the fan chart. You must research these names looking for different types of records, including vital records, obituaries, census records, and others to help you go back generation to generation.

It may not be possible to get seven generations in the next two months. However, I am sure that your in-laws will be pleased with anything you can find out. For help in using the different types of records, you might want to check out The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy by Christine Rose and Kay Ingalls. It is a great book for those who are just beginning.

Scotland in 1850

Q: How do I find out about my great grandfather? All I know is that he was born in Scotland in 1850. When I sent to the Scotland Archives about him I was told that I need a location or district where he was born. If I knew these facts I could go directly to the district where he was born. How do I find out information that will locate his birth place and possibly anything about his parents? -- Kenrichdos

A: Prior to 1855, when civil registration was begun in Scotland, the only records of births, marriages and deaths were found in the churches. Civil registration was begun 1 January 1855, and there was a penalty if events were not registered. So, you have to find the parish in this case.

The reason the archives asked for the information they did is because of the abundance of individuals with the same name. For instance, I have a James JOHNSTON born in Kirkpatrick-Fleming, Dumfries, Scotland. I have located three possible individuals who could be him, and that is knowing right down to the parish. In your case, all you have is the country. That would be like asking Washington, DC for the birth of someone born in the United States. You don't have enough information yet.

However, because your great grandfather was born prior to 1855, it is possible that he can be found in a database available at your local Family History Center. Part of the FamilySearch CD-ROMS, the Scottish OPR Index is a valuable tool for anyone researching pre-1855 births or marriages in Scotland.

The Old Parochial Registers (OPR) are the parish registers that were kept by the Presbyterian churches (also known as the Church of Scotland). This index has existed for some time, but prior to the CD-ROM version it was necessary to at least know the shire from which your ancestor was from. The OPR index will contain the name of the child, the parents' names (at least the father's name), the date of the event and the place where the event took place. Armed with this information, you can then order microfilmed parish registers to see what else you can learn about that family.

If you have truly exhausted all the records your great grandfather was likely to generate after he left Scotland, then the OPR Index would be the next step in trying to locate him and determine where in Scotland he was born.

Parents and Naturalizations

Q: I am trying to find who the parents of my great grandfather were. Would this be listed on his naturalization papers? Are these kept at the national level or the state level for 1872? -- Jim

A: If you can locate the application for the declaration of intent, you will find information about your great grandfather's birth. It should list his place of birth and his date of birth. While it is likely to not have the names of his parents, it will have more than just his country of origin.

Prior to 1906, the naturalization process was handled at the county level. Finding the records means checking the repositories of all the different levels of government for the time in question. I have seen many pre-1906 naturalization records housed at the branches of the National Archives. Likewise many of the after-1906 naturalization records have been microfilmed and are available through the Family History Library and its branch Family History Centers.

The further back in years you go the less information tended to be required on the application forms that were used for the naturalization process. However, if you can find the place of birth, it may be possible to turn your attention to the records for that locality. Depending on the country it is likely that you will need to know the town, possibly the parish. Many of the parish registers for certain countries have been microfilmed and are available through the Family History Library.

Can It Be Downloaded?

Q: I am wondering if your site can find my family history using the Internet? I mean somewhere where I can type in info of my parents and all their history pops up about their families, with pictures of people, locations, names, family size and so on. -- Jerry

A: What you seek actually does not exist at this time. However, with that said, there are a number of databases that may be of use to you. I merely want to start here by saying that not everyone's ancestry is on the Internet.

I have been astounded by the growth on the Internet where family history and genealogy are concerned. Each week I see new sites that are of use. And with the databases of such sites as Genealogy Library and Ancestry, we are seeing the ongoing collection of data previously available only in printed format now available in searchable databases.

The Family History Library and its branch Family History Centers have vast databases on CD, with a few of them recently being shared on the Internet. Some of their databases include pedigree styled results, showing the ancestors of a given individual.

So, what is the catch? Not everyone has done their research and placed it in one of these databases or published it or submitted it to the Family History Library. And few of these databases will have the pictures you are seeking. I confess that for me the fun of doing genealogy is the search. I thrill as I am cranking a microfilm in pursuit of a missing ancestor. I don't think I would like it if all I had to do was press a button on the Internet and download it all. It could be that such a time is coming, but for now I think I like having the best of both worlds - an easy way to meet others who may be researching the same lineage as I am, and the fun of digging through the records in search for them.

Baptism or Confirmation?

Q: I am a little confused about the difference between baptismal records and confirmation records, especially in the old Catholic church records. Are they the same? What is the difference, if any, between the two types of records? -- Rick

A: Probably the biggest difference between the two records is the age of the individual when the event takes place. The Catholic church believes in baptizing a child as soon as it is born, or as soon as possible after birth. This is a doctrinal belief in regards to when it must occur. The confirmation takes place when the child is older, usually in their teens. The confirmation records can either be a list of individuals with the date they were confirmed, or they may be more thorough, including the age at time of confirmation and may include information about where the individual was baptized.

If you have access to both baptism and confirmation records, you should research both of them. Everyone thinks about the baptismal records, but seldom do people think to search the confirmation records. Different churches, besides the Catholics, had confirmations, including some Lutheran and Reformed denominations.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

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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