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

December 13, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns


Q: I live on Cape Cod. After doing my family tree I saw a need to have pictures of tombstones. I use a digital camera and they are saved in .jpeg format. Do you know anybody who may be interested in this information? -- Susan

A: One of the great things about doing genealogy as a hobby is that you have the opportunity to meet some very friendly and helpful people. Without the sharing that goes on among genealogists, a lot less research would have been accomplished. This has never been more true than it is today with the Internet. The Internet has become such a useful resource for genealogists largely due to the practice of sharing information.

One of the ways genealogists help each other is by doing lookups or other simple things for researcher who can't get to a location in person. This is essential with cemeteries since we would all love to have photographs of our ancestors' final resting places. Getting to far away cemeteries, however, is sometimes difficult. One way to share digital images of cemeteries such as you are offering is through the Virtual Cemetery.

The Virtual Cemetery allows you to share images of tombstones and then enter a transcription, so that fellow genealogists can run searches for their surnames and ancestors. Sharing your photographs is easy and all you have to do is complete a simple form. You have the option to fill in a lot of information about the individual and cemetery or just a little, but you must at least include the first and last name of the deceased individual, the image of the tombstone (limited to no more than 300KB in size), and the city and country where the cemetery is found. I know that researchers will appreciate your sharing the images you have taken of tombstones in Cape Cod with Virtual Cemetery.

Receiving GEDCOM Files

Q: I have made this mistake several times already. Someone sends me a GEDCOM file of their family. I open it and it replaces my FTM files. What I need is an "idiots" step-by-step guide to open these GEDCOM's safely. -- Howard

A: I have often cautioned individuals, regardless of the genealogy program they use, not to dump a GEDCOM file they receive into their family history database. In Family Tree Maker, importing a GEDCOM is a simple matter. Creating a new family file with someone's GEDCOM file is just like opening a family file.

Pull down the "File" menu and select "Open Family File". In the window that appears, change the file type to GEDCOM using the down arrow to the right of Family Tree Maker for Windows. Then, find and highlight the GEDCOM file you wish to use and click the "Open" button.

You will now be prompted to name the new family file. Give this family file a different name than your own family file. Now, Family Tree Maker will convert the GEDCOM file into a new family file that will open in Family Tree Maker. This does not mean that your original family file has been wiped out. The file has simply been closed. You can always open it later when you want to work on your family history. Genealogy Classes

Q: I was wondering whether you could tell me if you have to live in the U.S. to do the courses listed on -- Sarah

A:'s Genealogy Classes are an interactive, at-your-own-pace set of lessons. You access them online, read through the lesson and then (in some instances) answer questions or accomplish tasks described by the instructor. Because they are accessed online and you don't actually go to a virtual classroom (such as a chat room) to gather with others, you can work on the lessons regardless of where you are in the world.

I will say that the focus of many of the lessons, especially those in the "Tracing Immigrant Origins" series are devoted to using records found in the United States. That said, it is possible that you could take the ideas discussed and apply them to records in the country you are researching and get much the same results. I have found that, often, while the names of the records may differ and the repositories may be different, the information found in records in other countries is often the same. For instance, vital records in the United States are the equivalent to civil registrations in many other countries. Both refer to the recording, in a civil jurisdiction, of information on the birth, marriage or death of an individual. Much of the same information will be found on a birth record whether it is researched in the United States or England.

The research practices found in the beginning lessons as well as the Internet lessons, though, will apply completely regardless of where you live. The information found will be useful and is not limited to a given locality in any way.

Researching Online

Q: I am trying to find some information from my father's side of the family and I do not know what I am doing! I have no information but for my father's parents' names and death years. I do know what year my grandmother was born. I have been looking for a year on my computer and have found nothing. Could you please help me get started in the right place please? My father kept his side of the family a secret and I would like to finally know why, and where I came from. -- Linda

A: To get started researching your family tree, you'll find it helpful to have acquired a little education about the records you will need to use and where to find them. While many records are finding their way online, where you are in your research is likely to require that you first do some off-line research. Getting the knowledge you need, though, can be done both online and off.

There are some great lessons, available for free here on You can work through these lessons at your own pace. The Beginning Genealogy class will introduce you to many of the concepts you will need in tracing your family tree. You may also want to invest in one of the many how-to books that are currently available. Many are under $20.00 and easily available at bookstores everywhere. I wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy which incorporates both traditional research and online research.

If you haven't already done so, and your paternal grandparents (that is your father's parents) died after 1962, you may want to search for them through the Social Security Death Index. If you know where your grandparents died, you will want to write and request copies of their death certificates. This will supply you with information about their dates and places of birth and may also give you the names of their parents. In some instances you can order these certificates online using a credit card. This will get the death certificates to you more quickly than traditional mail. You can find out more about this at VitalChek.

Once you get a little further back in your research, you should find that you will be able to locate more information online.

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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