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

July 15, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Too Many Churches

Q: My 3rd Great grandfather James TAPPER married Ellen IRWIN on the 13 of September 1838 in New York. Her obituary reads as follows "...came to New York, where, on September 13, 1838, she was united in marriage to James TAPPER, the Rev. Joseph H. Rice, Episcopal, performing the service in the quaint old parsonage on Broadway." I realize that obituaries aren't always reliable, but this is the only thing I have to go on to find a marriage record. New York marriage records don't go back that far, so I would have to find the church and hope they kept the records. I have looked up old maps of Manhattan, and there are many churches on Broadway. How do you suggest that I narrow my search or even begin from this point? -- Jill

A: While the actual vital records may not be available for 1838, when the marriage took place, you do have some clues to use in determining which church is most likely and there are some records that might prove useful to you.

To start with you have narrowed the number of churches down to a specific denomination. According to the obituary, the minister who married them was Episcopalian. So, you can begin by concentrating on those churches that are Episcopalian in faith. You mentioned locating many churches on Broadway through old maps. It is likely that the maps had the names of the churches, but perhaps not the denominations (unless they were a part of the name of the church).

To determine what churches were in existence in 1838 and to see what denominations they were, you will want to turn your attention to city directories. Very often the city directories will include alphabetical listings of businesses, churches, fraternal organizations, cemeteries and other buildings and groups located in the city.

City directories are one of the many records microfilmed by the Family History Library. And in fact, they do have them for New York City for the time period you need. I would suggest searching these city directories not only for the church, but also for James TAPPER.

If you haven't done so, you will want to pin down what TAPPER and IRWIN families were in that area. It is likely that they were married in a church near by, most likely it was a church near to where Ellen's family was living at the time.

You might also want to contact the Episcopal Diocese of New York to determine what churches would have been there in 1838. You can contact them at:

Episcopal Diocese of New York
1047 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, New York 10025

Hiring a Professional

Q: I would like to have my family tree done, where would I find someone to do this for me? -- Kevin

A: Finding a genealogist willing to research for a fee is the easy part. You can find many of them listed in such periodicals as Everton's Genealogical Helper. However, finding a reliable professional researcher is not as easy.

There are two associations that you will want to get familiar with:

The purpose of the Board for Certification of Genealogists is to certify professional genealogists in different aspects of research, including:

  • Records searcher
  • Genealogy
  • Lineage specialist
  • Lecturer

Because of the scrutiny that a professional researcher undergoes in the certification process, you can rest assured that they are a qualified researcher.

The Association for Professional Genealogists has a wonderful pamphlet devoted to hiring a professional. So You're Going to Hire a Professional Genealogist. This pamphlet looks at the important details to keep in mind when hiring a professional researcher.

  • Finding a professional
  • Evaluating the professional's qualifications
  • Research costs
  • Defining the researcher's work
  • Examining the results
  • Resolving differences
  • Concluding the research

In addition, the Association of Professional Genealogists offers an online directory of it membership. While not all of the memberships are currently accepting clients, you can peruse it to see who is available. At the present time it is alphabetical. However, they are working on ways to make the membership database searchable.

Who is Francis' Father?

Q: My great grandfather, Francis W. DICKERSON, from Somerset County, Maryland, appeared on the 1860 census as a 7-year-old boy living with Abel T. DICKERSON, whom I thought was his father. However, Abel T. DICKERSON died in 1866 and left a will that listed four children, none of whom was named Francis. There was a Mary Virginia DICKERSON who was to receive $1 twelve months after his decease. However, she was not listed with him in the household in the 1860 census. Where do I go now? -- Dorothy

A: Usually when we find a situation in the census such as you have described, we assume that the children listed are indeed the children of the head of the household. However, as you may have discovered, this is not always accurate. Up until the 1880 census, when relationships were recorded, we cannot know assuredly that the individuals listed together are related by blood or marriage.

Your question is interesting though. And may be answered to some degree by going back to the 1850 census to locate Abel DICKERSON. A search of the index for the 1850 census reveals that there is an Abel DICKERSON living in Somerset County in Tyaskin District on page 546. A look at this census may show Mary Virginia DICKERSON living in the household of Abel DICKERSON. Your note did not allude to how she was mentioned in the will. If she was listed as his daughter, you would be able to get her age from the 1850 census.

While we don't like to admit that our ancestors made mistakes, it is possible that Abel DICKERSON was Francis' maternal grandfather and that Mary Virginia DICKERSON had Francis out of wedlock. This might explain why she received so little at the time of Abel's death.

Another resource not to be overlooked in this case are guardianship records. Francis W. DICKERSON would have only been 13 at the time of the death of Abel. It is possible that a guardianship was arranged at that time. It is also possible that such records would allude to his actual parents and why they are not responsible for him. And don't limit your search of the guardianship records to 1866. You will want to search from 1853 up through 1873 for possible records.

Where is Cyprien CHARLES?

Q: I am researching my wife's grandfather who lived in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana during the 1800s and the early 1900s. We are trying to find out where he came from and who his parents were. His name is Cyprien CHARLES and he lived in Waxia, St. Landry, Louisiana. He is no where on the 1850 census, but we know for a fact that he was there during that time, as we have discovered that he married a Mary Ann CUMMINS on November 1851. Have looked at the 1860 census, without any success. In the year 1859 he married a Louisa RIDER, from the same Parish. And we know that he enlisted in the CSA from that Parish. Could it be that he changed his name? How does someone go about trying to find this out and where should we look? -- Ernie

A: It was not possible to glean from your letter whether you had searched line-by-line through the St. Landry Parish for 1850 or if you had searched for Cyprien CHARLES in the index to the 1850 census. If you only looked in the index, it is important to keep in mind that he may still have been living at home, and therefore would not have been listed in the index. The indexes that we rely on generally are limited to head of household and individuals of a different name found in the household. Therefore if Cyprien was living with his father at that time, he would not appear in the index. A search of the index to the 1850 census revealed one CHARLES family living in St. Landry Parish. Antoine CHARLES can be found on page 37 of the St. Landry Parish 1850 census. If you haven't searched this entry in the census, you may want to.

Of interest in searching the census index was the lack of CUMMINGS families in St. Landry Parish. It was unusual for a female to marry outside of where she was living. There were many CUMMINGS and CUMMINS families listed for Orleans Parish, specifically in New Orleans.

Also, your letter was not clear as to whether or not you had found the actual marriage records for Cyprien's two marriages or had simply located them in an index. If the latter, it would be a good idea to go to the actual marriage records. These have been microfilmed by the Family History Library for St. Landry Parish for the time period 1807-1916.

While it seems like Cyprien should be in the 1850 and 1860 census in St. Landry, the records you have are either before of after the census year. It is possible that he was somewhere else at that time, though this is unlikely.

Additional records to search would include probate and land records. Rather than concentrating on Cyprien CHARLES specifically in these records, you will want to extract entries for any CHARLES that you find. Then see what other names may appear in the records dealing with these individuals.

Just Getting Started

Q: What is the first step in finding information on a family and developing a family history? -- Jerry

A: The rule of thumb when beginning to research your family history is to start with yourself and work backwards. You will want to write down everything you know about yourself, your parents, and your grand parents. Then if your parents and/or grand parents are still alive, you will want to ask them what they remember and what they know.

It is a good idea to ask specific questions to any older relatives that you talk with. Don't just ask them to tell you everything they know. Generally they will respond with "I can't remember anything." Whereas if you ask them specifically about an event or an individual you are much more likely to get a response from them.

A good book to get you started with your genealogy is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy by Christine Rose and Kay Ingalls. You may also want to see this week's Twigs and Trees with Rhonda as we are looking specifically at getting started.

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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