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

February 21, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns


Q: My sister and I each have a child. That makes them first cousins. The first cousins each have a child. Are those cousins second cousins? Where does the term "first cousin once removed" apply? -- Skaneetz

A: This question comes up a lot. Most people can handle the first and second cousins, which you have described perfectly. However the term "removed" confuses many people, including genealogists.

The term "removed" indicates that one line of descent is shorter than the other. For instance, your child and your sister's grandchild are first cousins once removed. This tells us that one line of descent stopped before the other one did and is common when you begin to look at distant cousins. When you and a fellow genealogist begin tracing back and find a common ancestor in early New England or Virginia, for example, it is likely that one line of descent will have more generations than the other.

As long as each line of descent adds another generation, then you count cousins. For instance if both second cousins have children, these offspring are third cousins. The next generation would be fourth cousins. However, when you reach the end of one line of descent, the next child is counted as a removed. And you add one removed for each additional generation needed to get to the end of the other line of descent.

Finding a Birth Date

Q: How do you go about finding the right date for a birth? -- Mandy

A: The general rule in researching your ancestry is to work from the known to the unknown. As you amass documents on the dates that you do know, you will find clues that help you to isolate that which you do not know.

In the case of finding a birth date on an individual, you must exhaust all possible other documents. For instance, if the individual has died, then you will want to get a copy of the person's death certificate. It should list the person's date of birth if it was recorded in the 20th century. Earlier records may not supply you with the date of birth, but may give you the age of the individual in years, months and days. This is a common practice.

Many genealogy programs allow you to take that age at death and compute a date of birth. A similar approach is often found on tombstones, where the date of death is listed and the age is given.

Here are a couple of sites online that allow you to figure the date of birth based on the date of death and the full age.

If you have not been able to find the exact age at the time of death, then you may need to amass many records and see what ages you have. Using census records often relies in a variation on the age and thus a variation on the year of birth. This has more to do with the fact that the census taker didn't always talk to the individual in question than anything else.

In some instances, the exact date of birth may never be determined. In such instances, you will want to put the abbreviation "ca." before the year you have estimated for the year of birth and then cite your sources so that others can tell how you came to this year of birth.

Linking Individuals with Different Surnames

Q: I have just found a relation lets say, by the name of John Doe (he would be the father), but, his son went by the name of Bob Doerer. Will FTM accept this info as father and son, although the surnames are not the same? If not, how would I enter the names? -- Beverly

A: When it comes to name changes, we often make this much harder than it is. Genealogy programs actually don't care about any of the names we put in. They are looking for other things, internal links that you and I never see as we enter the information about our ancestors into the program in question.

In your example, you can type in the name of John Doe into the field for the Husband on the main Family Tree Maker screen. When you get down to where the children are, you begin to type in the name of Bob. Family Tree Maker helps you by filling in the surname as Doe, to match the father. However, you can use your Delete key to erase this and put in the surname of Doerer.

Of course, this brings up the question of whether or not you should change the surname? In a case such as yours the individuals in question used very different surnames. However, for most people the question is more of variant spellings. In the case of variant spellings, there are two schools of thought. One says to use the surname as you find it in the records. Another says to be consistent with you spelling in the database and then have a list of variants you need to keep a look out for as you are working in the various records. This is very much a judgment call.

If you are going to be doing a lot of searches in your database, you will want to probably keep the surname spellings consistent so that as you search of a given surname you are shown everyone in the database of that surname. However, you may not mind running multiple searches, in which case you could keep the surname as you find it in the records. Of course you get back before the early 1900s and you will discover that one person has his name sometimes spelled a different way on each record you find.

The most important thing to remember though is that the computer doesn't care how you spell the name. It isn't the spelling of the surname that makes the connection from one generation to the next, but in how you enter the individuals into the program and tell the program who is a father to whom.

Looking for Churches

Q: My great-grandfather, Richard H. Bogue, and his wife, Leonoria A. O'Halloren were married April, 1863. I think the town would be New York City, since her family came from there. Is there a way to research for churches in New York that were around in 1863? -- Kathleen

A: The first thing you need to know is the religious denomination of the family in question. In a city as large as New York City, it becomes essential to at least narrow down the search to a specific religion. However, you will also need to try to determine where in the city Leonoria's family was living as it is likely that the marriage took place in the church she attended.

City directories is one way to begin this search. There are microfilmed city directories for the city of New York that cover the time period in question. Hopefully you know the name of Leonoria's father as she is not likely to be listed, as young women seldom lived on their own at this time.

Once you have identified where she was living, then you will want to see what churches of the right denomination are nearby. It could be that there will be only one or two churches, making that part of the job easier, or it could be that you will find many. Regardless, you will then need to begin your research of those churches and where the records have been deposited.

If you are lucky, you will find that the church is still active and that they have all of their records. I am seldom this lucky though. You may find that the records have been transferred to an Archives. Hopefully they have not been destroyed.

This is not a research job that is likely to be accomplished in a single afternoon. As you can see you may find yourself researching more than just your ancestors.

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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