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

June 15, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Searching on the Internet

Q: I am 60 years old and a REAL beginner. Can you suggest web sites on which I might find useful info on someone born in Ga. in about 1820 or so. Hudson Nash is the name I need. I am starting to feel really dumb. A few website names would be very helpful. -- Linda

A: The Internet can be an overwhelming mass of links and web pages. Few people understand what will most effectively lead them to the place they need to be. Most of the time, the best place to begin is search engines. However, some search engines, the general ones like AltaVista and HotBot though, while having information for genealogists, do not cater to the genealogical community specifically.

One of the first places you should begin your search for genealogical information though is the Family Finder available through Searching through this allows you to instigate a search of different avenues, all with genealogical aspects. They include:

  • The Internet
  • Genealogy Library
  • GenForum Message Boards
  • Virtual Cemetery
  • Family Home Pages
  • Civil War Databases
  • Commercial Genealogy CDs

The list that displays will include a short intro of the information so that you can see at a glance if the individual in question might be a possible match. Most of the areas mentioned above are available free of charge.

Famous Family

Q: As a teenager I remember my grandmother saying that Buffalo Bill Cody and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. were distant relatives. How do I get started to check this out? -- Jeff

A: Most genealogists have heard family traditions, those stories carried down, of people that the family either descends from or is related to. All family traditions have a grain of truth. The trick is to find that grain.

When researching a possible famous family connection, it is a good idea to first concentrate on your own family tree. This will be necessary if you hope to make connections to anyone who is famous. It is necessary if you suspect you are descended from someone and it is even more necessary when you have heard you are related. Being related usually means that you have a cousinship of some sort. That means the connection often is many generations back.

While you are working on your own family heritage, you may also want to begin to search for information on the famous individual that family tradition says you are related to. A good way to start this is to see what biographies you can find. When dealing with actors and others in the entertainment business, you will often find that they have changed their name. A biography will let you know what their name was at birth, and often lists the name of their father and maiden name of their mother. Sometimes it will also include information about their grandparents.

And of course in today's technology, you can also search for the famous individuals on the Internet. You will be surprised to discover a number of different famous pedigrees residing out there on the Internet. You can then begin to compare the ancestry of the famous person with that of your own ancestry to see if there is a connection.

Burned Records

Q: I am just as of now trying to trace our family tree. All the information I have takes me back 3 generations in Texas, but any records were all destroyed due to fires or were misplaced and seem to be lost. Can you point me in a direction? -- Jose

A: While it is true that some counties have had records destroyed by fire, usually what this means is that you will just need to work a little harder. Often some of the records have been recreated, this is especially true of land records as the individuals who owned the land had to be able to prove they owned the land.

Depending on when the fires took place it may be possible that some of the records were transcribed or otherwise preserved by some group or another. However, to find this out may mean that you need to contact local genealogical and historical societies.

Another possible avenue might be the state archives. They may have newspapers or some other record that could be substituted for the burned and misplaced records. For instance, when someone died, there was usually an obituary. Many state archives have collected old newspapers and you may be able to find your needed information this way.

Finally, don't assume that just because you have been told there was a fire that all the records have been destroyed. Be sure to check the available records through the Family History Library Catalog which is available on CD at your local Family History Center. You can then order microfilms to your local center from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Deaf and Dumb

Q: I would like to know why did they place one column called "deaf and dumb" in the census in the 1800s? What about the blind or those with a disability? What percent in the USA did they put this Deaf and Dumb column on the census for each year? -- George

A: The first census that began to ask questions such as the one dealing with disabilities was the 1830 census. This was before the census began to record the names of each individual living in a given household. So under this column, it was just a tally number and the column in question actually included one column for those who were "deaf and dumb" and another column for those who were "blind."

By the 1850 census the census enumerator was told to list all those living in a given household. This information was found under column 13. The actual directions required that the enumerator "should ascertain if there be any person in the family deaf, dumb, idiotic, blind, insane, or pauper. If so, who? And insert the term "deaf and dumb," "blind," "insane," and "idiotic" opposite the name of such persons, as the fact may be."

This direction was taken directly from those instructions to marshals and assistant marshals who were recording information on the 1850 census. By the 1880 census they had added a listing for those who were crippled or maimed in some way and instead of writing down each of those items, they had individual columns of which they could just put a hash mark in for the individual in question.

These forms were preprinted in a book and the enumerator was required to ask such questions as they applied to anyone in the household. Whether or not the family admitted to such was totally up to the answers supplied by the individual questioned, which could have been someone living in the household or a neighbor if no one was home when the enumerator went through.

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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