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

June 14, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Identity Theft

Q: I have just started placing information into Family Tree Maker. When I called my sister about dates and names, she was very upset to hear I was using the computer. They had heard on Dateline, that people were stealing from people who use these programs to set up their family trees. They are fearful they would have their identity stolen if I went online to collect information. -- Linda

A: Identity theft is certainly an issue that we should all take seriously in today's world. It is a shame that we live in times where this has become such an issue. However, since it is an issue, we do need to keep it in the back of our mind when we are working on our family history.

There are two ways that you can use a genealogy program where your family tree is concerned. The first is the entering of family history into one of the many genealogy programs that exist. That is the entering of the names, dates, and places as you find them in your research. The other way is to create a family history page that is then displayed on the Internet.

Many people are concerned when they find their names on family history pages. I have been encouraging people for some time to display information on their deceased relatives only. I make it a point to limit any Web pages I create or any information I share, whether online or via more traditional methods, like postal mail, to that part of the lineage that is deceased. That way I feel a little better that I am not infringing on any living individuals.

One issue to keep in mind when working on your computer is the method in which you accessing the Internet. Many of us now access through a cable modem or DSL modem that keeps us connected to the Internet all the time. Such connections are susceptible to hackers. That means while we are surfing the Internet, a hacker may be trying to get into your computer. It isn't because he or she thinks you have valuable information, it is just to hack. It does however put your information at risk.

If you are accessing the Internet through either of these methods, you will want to read up on Internet security and firewalls. Firewalls protect you from people trying to get into your computer. You may want to check out a program called Black Ice.

Relationship Confusion

Q: Going through my Family tree I became confused my 10th great grandfather, 27 half cousin, 28 cousin 6 times removed and other such things. Is there a book on how such is figured? I also see for example looking at Richard I of Normandy he is my 27th great grandfather on through to 37th great grandfather. Can someone be related to the same person so many times? And if I was to find a new name for the Family tree, can the relationship change the above example to 26th or to the 28th great grandfather of Richard I? Meaning would the relationship be less or even nearer related? For me this is the most confusing part of Genealogy. -- Bruce

A: Relationships can get confusing when you get beyond first or second cousins or when you get back in generations beyond the first or second great grandparents.

In your example above, the 10th great grandfather is a 10th great grandfather. That means there are twelve generations from you to that person. After grandfather, each generation back gets a great. It becomes easier to attach the number than to repeat the word "great" over and over again.

When you see a cousin relationship such as your 28 cousin, 6 times removed, that tells you that the relationship is not even. Cousin relationships are based on the number of generations back to the common ancestor. You select the common ancestor and move down through your descent, then you do the same for the other person through his or her descent. The first generation past the common ancestor are siblings. The next generation is first cousins. The next is second cousins and so on.

However, there are times one line of descent goes on for more generations. When this happens, then you begin to count up removeds. Your example tells me that the descent is even for twenty nine generations, and then one line continues the descent for another six generations.

It is possible to descend from the same person more than once. For instance, Bing Crosby descends from Mayflower passenger William Brewster three different ways. This type of descent happens frequently when you get back to times when the choices for spouses were diminished, such as when those early immigrants came to the United States on the Mayflower or when a group migrates to a previously uninhabited area. They only have so many people to choose from, and often you find that siblings of one family marry siblings of another family, and then a couple of generations down the road, their offspring may intermarry.

There are a number of Web sites that deal with relationships, some of them include charts. You may want to check out some of the links that were included in the Ask Rhonda column for June 7, 2001, for a list to get you started.

Searching for Surnames

Q: I have the first name of my great grandfather but only a partial on his last name since it was spelled differently many times over the years. How can I search for him in your records? -- Nicole

A: It may be hard to believe, but many of us have a similar problem. It doesn't even have to be a particularly difficult name. Variant spellings of surnames is part and parcel of researching a family tree. I have one record in which the surname is spelled three different ways within that one record.

We live in a society that now puts great measure on spelling and literacy. This was not always the case. Many of our ancestors may not have been able to read or write. They may have only been able to sign their name, and nothing more. Census records for many years had columns to record this information.

As a result of this and the spelling limitations of clerks, and others who may have been recording the names of our ancestors, we begin to compile a list of variant spellings. When working in computer databases, it becomes necessary in many of them to search for each variant spelling individually.

If you haven't done so already, you will want to compile a list of different spellings for your great grandfather's surname. Then spend an evening plugging each one into the databases you are interested in searching.

Missing Birth Record

Q: I have sent twice for a copy of my mother's birth record, with all the correct information, but they say they can't find records of her birth. She was not born in a hospital and was born in 1919 in Parkin, Arkansas, Cross Co. I also can find no Death Records. -- Ludy

A: Arkansas, as a state, began to record birth and death records in 1914. Usually when a state begins to record such records, there is an adjustment period where they did not have 100 percent recording of certificates.

You mentioned that your mother was not born in a hospital. This means she may have been delivered by a midwife or simply delivered at home. It is possible that a birth record was never filled out on your mother. Or she may have had to apply for a delayed birth record, and that may have been misfiled or lost.

Your message did not mention if you wrote just to the state for a copy of the birth record. If you haven't done so, you may want to contact Cross County Courthouse directly. They have some birth records dating back to 1863. They are one of the few counties with these records. You can write them at:

Cross County Courthouse
705 E. Union Street
Wynne, AR 72396

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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