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

February 07, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Where Did He Come From?

Q: My 4th great-grandfather apparently appeared out of nowhere. I have a family tree given to me by my grandmother saying he was born in Kentucky. Two researchers say he was born in Virginia but moved to Kentucky and have only identified his second wife, who he married after my 3rd great-grandfather was born. I have the words on his tombstone (I believe) and the words on his second wife's tombstone, an 1850 census taken when he was 60 years old which lists two children who I cannot, with certainty, identify as any of the children I have listed for him. Can you think of any reasons why there would be no record of his children's births, his first wife or who his parents were? I think I have looked everywhere. -- Jenise

A: The previous research that was given to you by your grandmother should be reevaluated. When I first began researching my family history, I also was given prior research from a family member. I set about recreating that research to see if I came up with the same familial links and the same conclusions as I worked in the records.

You mentioned that two other researchers differ in where your 4th great-grandfather was born. I would contact these two people and ask them where they found the information that led them to this conclusion. Asking researchers for their sources is what we have to do if they have not supplied us with source citations in the information they share. I would then go to the sources they cited and see if I draw the same conclusion.

Given that your 4th great-grandfather was 60 years old in 1850, this means that he was most likely having his children around 1810. Unfortunately you will find that few states have birth records for this time period. This probably explains why you cannot find birth records for his children.

If the previous research has supplied you with where in Virginia he came from, then I would turn my attention to the churches and cemeteries in that area to find the death of the first wife. If the previous research has not supplied you with that information, then your first step will be to try to determine where in Virginia he came from.

One research approach that you have not mentioned is land records. A search of the land records for the county in which you find him living in 1850 would be the first step. You should search these for every instance where your 4th great-grandfather bought and sold land. Often, when an ancestor moved into a county and bought his first piece of land, the record will allude to where he is coming from. This might help you in proving when and if he did come from Virginia.

Forcing the Correction of Incorrect Information

Q: I have been trying, in vain to get some errors in family trees that include me, and other family members corrected. There doesn't seem to be anyway to contact some of the people who posted the information. Others, including a 3rd cousin of mine seem to have no interest in having the correct data. Even my son has posted grossly incorrect information and has not changed it. Is there any way for me to make the necessary corrections. -- Owen

A: Unfortunately, the ease with which we can now publish information to the Internet has resulted in many family trees that are no longer accurate. It sounds like you have tried to contact those with contact information, requesting that they change the incorrect information.

Companies and Web sites that make such information available do not verify or authenticate that information in any way. Considering the millions of names posted either via narrative styled pages or through GEDCOM compiled databases, it is impossible for any company to verify the information. Instead, they usually put a caveat about the potential inaccuracies and genealogical lecturers turn blue as they continue to warn people not to just take the information and run with it.

While there is nothing you can do to force the individuals to correct the information, you can post your own page and perhaps allude to the inaccuracies of the family links found on other pages. There is nothing that says that you cannot create a family history page, and then as you come upon individuals you know are incorrect on other pages, allude to the exact page, including the link, and then point out why the information is incorrect and include the sources you used in proving the conclusions drawn on the other page are wrong.

As a professional genealogist, while I am thankful for the wonderful communication and the amount of information found online, I also know that I often have my work cut out for me in verifying that information that I have found. I never assume that the person is right.

Appointment of Guardian

Q: While researching some ancestors (at least I hope they are related), I came across Court Records for Fayette County, Pennsylvania for the appointment of a guardian in January, 1823 "upon the petition of Nicholas Durbin setting forth that he is a minor above the age of fourteen years and has no person to take care of his person or estate and therefore praying the court to admit him to make choice of a suitable person for that purpose the petitioner being admitted...Robert McBurney, who is affirmed of and appointed by the court guardian of the person and estate of the said Nicholas Durbin." There was another similar record for two other Durbin boys dated in 1824. Is it possible that despite the fact that one record occurred in 1823 and the other in 1824, that the three are brothers and had to attain the age of fourteen before selecting a guardian? Would they have actually gone to live with Robert McBurney Esq. or did his appointment only allow him to enter into contracts, etc. for the boys while they were underage? Why is it important that they are above the age of fourteen? What usually happened to children that were orphaned and had "no person to take care of his person or estate" before they were 14? -- Gloria

A: While it would be necessary to check the laws of the state, many states did allow a male child aged 14 or older to select his own guardian. In fact, when working with guardian records where the age is not so stated and yet you find that the male child is selecting his own guardian, then you can be assured that he is over the age of 14 (or whatever the legal limit was for the given state).

Those male children who were under the age of 14 and the female children would have had a guardian appointed for them, usually by the court. Such appointments would also be found in the guardianship records for the court.

In the case of your example, if you are not aware of when the father died, you may want to go back further in the court records and see if an earlier guardian was appointed for the children. Sometimes even if the mother was still alive a guardian was appointed.

While the guardian's job was to protect the child's money, oversee his general well-being, cover his expenses, etc., the child may or may not have gone to live with him. If the mother was still alive, then the child would be living at home. However, if the child was truly an orphan then it is likely that he went to live with the guardian.

In addition to searching for an earlier guardianship record, you will also want to search the records for the completion of the guardianship. Guardians were required to submit a final accounting of their duties when the child was no longer under their guardianship, either because the child reached the age of majority or another guardian was appointed.

What is a Great?

Q: I am new to genealogy research and see a lot of people using the terms second great-grandfather or mother and third great-grandfather. What do the terms mean? -- Nancy

A: Genealogy is done in generations. Your parents are the first generation back from you. The second generation back is that of your grandparents. At this point the term "great" is added to the word grandparent.

The generation after your grandparents are your great-grandparents. If someone says that their great-grandparents were born in Ireland, you know that they have traced their family tree, at least on one line, back three generations.

As you continue back from this point on, each new generation on a given line just adds another "great." So the fourth generation back is that of the second great-grandparents, the fifth is that of the third great-grandparents. It continues as far as the line can be traced. Some individuals have traced a line back 10 generations, or to their 8th great-grandparents.

The term "great" when used with grandparents indicates that the lineage is direct from you to that person. The number of greats used lets you know how many generations back the line has been traced.

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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