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

April 11, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Married in Malaysia

Q: Can you please tell me where I can get a copy of a Malaysian marriage certificate? I have all the details of bride and groom, date and roughly where the wedding occurred. Any help that you can give me would be very much appreciated. -- Brian

A: Vital record registration legislation have been in place in Malaysia since the late 1800s. If the marriage in question took place after the mid-1800s, then you may be able to get a copy of the marriage record by contacting the National Registration Department at:

National Registration Department
Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara
Ministry of Home Affairs
Wisma Pendaftaran
Jalan Persiaran Barat
46551 Petaling Jaya
Selangor, Malaysia

Unlike birth and death records, marriages in Malaysia are treated almost on a case by case basis. This is because the records are contingent on the religion performing the marriage. This may explain why you have had trouble getting records to this point.

While the Family History Library does not have any vital records for Malaysia, the collection of records and resources available through the Library is impressive. If you haven't investigated records for the area where the marriage took place, you will want to do that as well.

Native American Research

Q: I just watched a program concerning the actor Alec Baldwin and a lady researching his family history. I am interested in contacting the lady who did the research. I thought the television show mentioned in the show. Are you aware of the research? I am interested in quickly tracing my family history and confirming whether I am part American Indian to help me with my business. Can you explain my choices in hiring and getting this research done quickly? -- Kay

A: The Baldwin family tree is available on along with a number of other celebrity family trees.

As for your own personal research, first let me say that seldom is genealogy done quickly. While the Internet has afforded many researchers the ability to compile a great deal of information without leaving home, most researchers spend years compiling their family history. Depending on where your Native American connection is, this could be a factor to keep in mind.

Family traditions, those family stories we have been told since we were children, often contain a grain of truth. The trick is to discover the truth from the story. When hiring a professional, in addition to sharing the story, you also need to share details of your birth and any information you know about your parents. You can considerably speed up the process by supplying copies of records in your possession and then working closely with the professional to answer any questions you may have. The more the professional knows about your history the quicker the research can go.

I suggest that you hire a professional researcher through one of two groups. The Association of Professional Genealogists and the Board for Certification of Genealogists each offer a roster of individuals. Through these rosters you can select a professional qualified in the area of research you need. In your case, you will want to hire someone who has made Native American research their area of expertise.

I would also encourage you to read up on what is involved in hiring a professional genealogist, by reading the information on hiring a professional made available by the Association of Professional Genealogists.

Once you have done this, you will be in a much better position to hire a professional and get the research that you need. Let me caution you, though, that there are no guarantees in genealogical research. Often, professional researchers trace a family tree and end up with results that are not what the client expected. It is important to keep in mind that you are hiring a professional researcher to trace your actual history, not prove family lore.

Prison Records in 1800's New York

Q: I just found your name in an article about prison records. Is there any hope of getting further information on an "insolvent debtor" imprisonment from about 1811 to 1813? I have found some postings in the Cazenovia, New York newspaper but cannot find the time of origin. A law, presumably one that repealed a British law, eventually led to the prisoner's release. -- C. L.

A: First a slight clarification. The colonial period traditionally ends when the American Revolution began. Since the time in question is about 40 years after the American Revolution, the British laws no longer apply. For much of the colonial time, New York was under the rule of someone other than England, the Dutch owned New York during that time.

By 1811, the United States of America existed and the Constitution had been ratified. Among the issues brought up by the state of New York during ratification was the idea that the individual states should be able to pass laws for the relief of insolvent debtors. In the end, when the Bill of Rights was compiled, the 10th bill delegated all powers not assigned to the federal government to the individual states. This is the case with insolvent debtors and bankruptcy. As a result, by 1811, insolvent debtor laws were passed by the individual states.

Your message did not indicate if you had proof that the individual in question was incarcerated. Generally, debtors were not incarcerated because that would have prevented them from paying off their debt. If the individual owned any property, however, that may have been seized. Regardless of how the trial and judgment came about, records should exist. I would suggest that you begin by searching the Family History Library Catalog for Madison county, of which Cazenovia belongs. They have court minutes beginning in 1808, that cover the period of time in question. Most of the volumes are indexed, so you should be able to locate your ancestor in them if indeed he was an insolvent debtor.

You might also want to see if you can get a copy of the Fall, 1971 issue of the Detroit Society for Genealogical Research Magazine. This issue has an article in it that discusses the question of abolishing imprisonment for debt, ca 1833. The article, while published in the Detroit periodical specifically mentions Tompkins, New York. While not Madison, it is New York, and might help you since debt issues would have been settled by the state.

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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