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

September 12, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Making Sense of Inherited Research

Q: About a year ago my mother died and left boxes and notesbooks full of genealogy information. I now have 16,719 names in my Family Tree Maker program. Other then a few of the family members I know personally I don't have a clue who these people are. I am feeling overwhelmed and wonder how to begin unfolding all of this information. I wish there was a way that a software program could do all this for me! Thanks for any help you can give me. -- Barbara

A: You are not alone in wanting a program that automatically enters all the information in for the researcher. I know many others who would jump at such a program. We love the search, but many hate the entry phase. Of course few of us have the challenge that you see before you.

You mentioned that you had entered the information on a large number of these individuals into Family Tree Maker. That is a Herculean effort that you should be commended for. But, as you said, many of them are unrecognizable due in large part to the fact that you have haven't been involved in gathering the information so you have not had the benefit of getting to know these ancestors on a personal level.

The first thing to do is to figure out just what you have. This will not be done in a week, but I think that the process will help you familiarize yourself with the individuals and with the information you have. First you need to determine if your mother organized the information in the boxes in any way. Most genealogists have some system, though it may be unrecognizable to anyone else. If you have been able to determine a pattern to the information found in the boxes, you may want to see if continuing with that system works for you.

Most genealogists arrange the information they have based on the surname and then some variables after that. If she has arranged the information by surname, then you may want to begin with your mother's surname and begin to look through the information on that surname and see if you recognize more of the individuals than you thought you did.

You might want to look at the files and the books while having Family Tree Maker open. Have the individual in question up on the family view screen so that you associate that person with the information you are finding. Are there any personal stories or information that you can add to the Notes section on that individual? I find that adding stories about a person's past helps me get to know them.

If there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the boxes and books, then you may want to look at some of the books on organizing genealogy that have been written. Sharon DeBartolo Carmack's Organizing Your Family History Search and William Dollarhide's Managing a Genealogical Project are two books that offer different organizational systems. Personally, I create a folder for each couple on my pedigree chart and file the various records and pages I find pertaining to that family in each folder.

As you begin to go through the boxes, organizing the records make sure to take time to read them. By reading through what your mother has collected you will begin to feel a connection with the individuals in your database.

Finding Original Marriage Records

Q: I am just beginning my research. I have located the marriage listing for my ancestor John C. McCracken in the Missouri Marriages Before 1840 (Genealogical Records: Midwest Pioneers, 1600's-1800s). How do I obtain a copy of this document in order that I might further my research? -- Sandy

A: First, for those who may know what record you are referring to, the Missouri Marriages Before 1840 that you found in Genealogical Records: Midwest Pioneers 1600s-1800s is a source available through an online subscription to Genealogy Library or on CD-ROM.

I will say it took me a moment to figure out the layout of the page you were looking at. When I first looked up John C. McCracken in the Missouri Marriages Before 1840, I was viewing it in a small window of my browser, rather than full screen. As a result, I did not see the abbreviations that are hidden off to the right. If you were viewing it in a similar way, you may have missed the fact that John C. McCracken and Rebecca Brown, who were married 25 August 1837, were married in Clinton County, Missouri.

At the beginning of this book, which has a few roman numeraled pages before page 1, you will find a list of the abbreviations and the resources they represent. In the case of Clinton County, this was Marriage Book A, and covered the years 1822 to 1842.

Ordinarily the next step would be to see if the records are on microfilm and available from the Family History Library to your local Family History Center. While the Family History Library does have marriage records for Clinton County, Missouri, they do not begin until Marriage Book B. So, if you would like a copy of this record, you will need to contact the Clinton County Courthouse. I went to the Clinton County, Missouri page to see if you could order the record via the Internet. You couldn't and I discovered that the information they have posted about record availability at least where the marriage records are concerned is in error. The site lists marriage records beginning in 1883, however Everton's The Handybook for Genealogists, 9th edition, says that Clinton County has marriage records from 1833.

You will want to write to the County Courthouse at:

Clinton County Clerk
PO Box 245
Plattsburg, MO 64477-0245

The cost for the marriage record appears to be $3.00.

Installing Family Tree Maker on a Second Computer

Q: I would like to install Family Tree Maker on a second computer so that I have a backup just in case my computer crashes. I copied the program to CD-ROM but am having trouble installing it on my second computer because it says that it is read-only. Can you help me figure this out? -- Charlene

A: I have discovered that when I burn things to CD-ROM that they are often forced into a read-only file type. The good news is that this is pretty easy to change once I have it on the new computer where I want to work with the file.

  1. Press the Windows key and the E key at the same time, this will open My Computer.
  2. Double click on the C: drive in My Computer
  3. Double click the appropriate folder where the file has been copied from the CD-ROM to your hard drive until you can see the file name in My Computer
  4. Right click on the file in question, a menu will appear
  5. Select Properties - appears at the bottom of the menu
  6. In the window that appears, at the bottom you will see Attributes.
  7. Click the check mark next to Read Only, it will go away
  8. Click on the OK push button, the window will close.

You should then be able to open the file in Family Tree Maker.

Recording Parents Who Never Married

Q: On a family tree how do you record a child of parents that were never married. -- Judith

A: If I am recording the information on printed forms and filling them in by hand, I usually make a notation in the marriage section that the father and mother were never married.

When working with a genealogy software program, while the relationship usually still defaults to "Married," you can sometimes choose a different term such as "Partners." In such cases, the "Married" field is often reworded to "Met" or "Meeting Date" and "Meeting Place."

If the program in question does not have such an option, then I usually take advantage of the notes section on one of the principal individuals or the marriage event itself to include information as to the fact that the parents were never married.


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 rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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