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

September 30, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rip Off or Value?

Q: Since I started tracing my ancestors I find that every site I try to get info from leads up to a point where they try to get you to pay for something. Has this always been that way? It looks to me that a lot of these sites come pretty close to being one big rip off. -- P.L.

A: Genealogy is not a free hobby. Just as there are expenses in hobbies such as stamp collecting, there are some expenses in genealogy as well. Off-line research expenses can be seen in such items as:

  • Costs for getting copies of records from courthouses and state repositories
  • Costs for making copies at local libraries
  • Costs for borrowing microfilm through rental outfits and local Family History Centers

Online there are sites where you will find subscription services, generally from genealogy businesses, such as Genealogy Library. These sites exist to make money while offering valuable records to the researcher. In fact, when compared to the cost of purchasing CDs, the yearly subscription to Genealogy Library is quite reasonable, averaging out to approximately $5.00 per month.

However, there are also many valuable sites that do make the information they have available free of charge. Both the USGenWeb Project and the WorldGenWeb Project offer sites on a locality basis where all the information found is free of charge.

There are also many sites with indexes to records that can be extremely useful that are free of charge. There are some for vital records, land records and miscellaneous records. The Kentucky State Vital Records offers indexes to its death, marriage and divorce records from about 1911 on up. The National Archives has digitized many interesting record types and now offers their NARA Archival Information Locator site with many digitized images and information where other documents can be found.

There are businesses online, but there are also many other sites that will be of assistance in your research without costing you additional money. However, even the subscription based sites can be considered valuable if they hold the keys to your family tree.

Vital Records in Colorado

Q: My grandfather was sent to Colorado for his health. He had consumption and died there. He was buried there in or about 1907. We don,t know where. Can you help? He was in a state hospital. -- csamples

A: The recording of vital records in Colorado at the state level did not begin until 1900 for deaths. However, since your grandfather died in 1907, this means that you can write to the state vital statistics office and request a copy of the death certificate. You can contact them at:

Vital Records Section
Colorado Department of Health
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South
Denver, CO 80222-1530
(303) 756-4464

Another avenue to learning about births, marriages and deaths prior to the beginning of state registration is through a small card catalog that indexes the early vital records as found in Colorado newspapers. The years covered by this index include 1860 to 1943. These records can be found at:

Colorado Historical Society
The Stephen H. Hart Library
Colorado Heritage Center
1300 Broadway
Denver, CO 80203

Emigrating to Canada

Q: I am researching my Grand mothers family with the surname name of GRACE. They are from Tullaherin, Dungarvan Co. Kilkenny Ireland. I have the birth certificates for My Grand mother, and all her siblings. One of them her brother David came to the US from Ireland about 1914, nobody is sure, except my mother said Her mom told her he came with his brother two years before she married which was in 1916. One brother stayed in the US and the other David GRACE left for Canada supposedly right after he arrived in the US. Do you have any Ideas on how to start looking for him with the information I have? -- Joe

A: Border crossings from the United States to Canada or from Canada to the United States are not uncommon. The recording of those who crossed overland from the United States to Canada was begun in 1908. Border crossing for the time period 1908 to 1918 have been microfilmed. These records are available at the National Archives of Canada.

The National Archives of Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0N3

Unfortunately at this time these microfilms are not available through the Family History Library or its Family History Centers. However, you can request via interlibrary loan through your public library up to three microfilms at any given time.

These records are not indexed by name. In order to locate your David GRACE, you would need to know when he crossed over into Canada and have an idea of what border entry point he went through. If your information about his being in Chicago is correct, this will help you in determining possible border entry points.

In order to request the microfilms, you must first know what films you want to use. To do this, you need to access the finding aid entitled Ships' Passenger Lists and Border Entry Lists in PAC, RG 76 (Records of the Immigration Branch): Microfilm Finding Aid (Ottawa: Federal Archives Division, Public Archives of Canada, 1986).

For the border ports, this resource lists the following information:

  • Microfilm reel numbers
  • Province/State
  • Port
  • Location
  • Outside Dates

If you should discover that your David GRACE arrived in Canada after 1918, then you will need to direct your request to

Records of Entry Unit
Canada Employment and Immigration Commission, 10th Floor
140 Place du Portage, Phase IV
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0J9

Researching in Spain and Argentina

Q: My father was born in Spain in 1890. My mother was born in Argentina first generation of Spanish parents. How do I go about researching these localities? -- Miguel

A: Like all aspects of genealogy, one of the first steps that is needed is to learn about the record availability for the locality you are researching. This holds true whether your ancestors went from Illinois back to New York or, as in your case, from the United States back to Spain and Argentina.

Vital records, or civil registration as many other countries refer to them by, begin at different times and may or may not be an option for you. If your parents are still living, you will want to be sure to ask them questions about what they know about the family. Names, dates and places will be very important, especially with the research you are now doing.

To start with, vital records for Argentina are kept at the state level. Each state maintains their own records. However, vital records registration began on 1 Aug 1886. To get vital records, you will want to write to the state where the individual was born. The fees will vary. You can contact them by writing:

Director of Civil Registration
Office of Civil Registration
(Capitol, Province), Argentina

In Spain, the civil registration is at the town level. Records for most towns begin in 1870. You can contact them by writing to:

Registro Civil
(Town), Spain

Also, be sure to check the Family History Library Catalog to see what records may have been microfilmed for the localities in Argentina and Spain where you are researching. They may also have a word list that is of use to you.

Most Common Surnames

Q: What is the most common last name currently and in what order? Is there a Web site available with this information? -- CSkyblue29

A: There has been much written about surnames, and there are many dictionaries that describe the origins of surnames and their meanings. Further information about this can be found in this week's Twigs and Trees with Rhonda.

However in answer to your question, the top five most popular surnames are:

  1. Smith
  2. Johnson
  3. Williams (on)
  4. Brown
  5. Jones

To see a list of the top twenty-five surnames, you can visit the Last Names (Surnames) Web site.


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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