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

October 07, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Jumping the Ocean

Q: How do I trace from New England and Virginia to England and France? I have names but do not know the path to take in order to jump the ocean. -- Candace

A: Whenever we discover an immigrant ancestor, it is so tempting to immediately jump the ocean and head for the home country. However, in most instances, we discover that we are thwarted due to a lack of information about the family in the old country.

Most of the time it is necessary for us to know more than a given country. In fact, we generally need to know the town or parish that the family came from. Most of the records that we will find ourselves using in the mother country are on one of those levels.

Depending on the time period in question, this may or may not be easy. If you are researching in the late 1800s and the 1900s, usually ships passenger lists and naturalization records will give you the needed information. When your immigrant came over in the 1700s, then you have problems. Prior to 1784, there wasn't another country so to speak, it was just the American colonies. As such naturalization and oaths of allegiance were not an issue for most of the colonies. Pennsylvania did have Oaths of Allegiance, however, the oath merely mentioned the country of prior allegiance. It didn't have anything about the town where the individual came from.

When working in New England though, there are many published volumes that might be of use in such research. Some of genealogy's most respected names have compiled volumes on the early Colonial New England families and have often times included information as to the shire or parish where the family came from.

Genealogical Publishing Company published a set of books on English Gleanings that had transcribed records that dealt specifically with the English records of those who moved to the American Colonies, many of them having gone to New England. Another valuable resource for tracing back early immigrants is P. William Filby's Immigration and Passenger Lists Index which has indexed entries found in published volumes. This work is now available on CD through Family Tree Maker, as CD # 354.

It is important to make sure that you have truly exhausted all the currently available records in New England on your ancestor. Make sure you have gathered all the town records, church records, probate records as well as read the family histories and town and county histories to see what clues these books hold for you. You may find the much needed parish name in these records.

Working Before Census Records

Q: My ancestor, Bryant FANNIN, was born circa 1698 in Amelia County, Virginia. He died 18 Feb 1765. How can I find out who his parents are and what country they came from? There are no census of that long ago, what other tools are available. -- Paul

A: In the United States, it is true that we do not have census records prior to 1790. However, there are other records that can help you to identify others of the same surname in a given area. And once you have done that you will begin to research these individuals to determine the names of the children in the families and other identifying information to form a case to support your claim of which individual is the likely father.

However, in order to do this, you must first be aware of the changes in counties that take place. This is especially true when working in the earliest times. As the populations grew, the counties divided. Amelia County is a perfect example of this.

Amelia County was formed in 1734 from Brunswick and Prince George Counties. Brunswick County was formed in 1720 from Prince George County. Prince George County was formed in 1702 from Charles City County. And Charles City County is one of the original counties.

As you can see, while Bryant FANNIN may have died in 1765 in Amelia County, he could not have been born there as the county did not exist. In fact we had to go back three additional counties to locate the county that was in existence at the time of his birth and encompassed the land that is now Amelia County.

What this means to your research is that the records you will need to concentrate on will not be located in Amelia County. You actually want to turn your attention to Charles City County for possible records.

It is unlikely that you will find a record that states flat out that the father of Bryant FANNIN is so-and-so. However, by extracting the names of other FANNINs in the county at that time you will begin to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Some of the records that you will need to use include tax lists, probate records, land records, order books and county and town histories. Church records will also be useful. Not all of these records will exist for the time period in question. In fact there are gaps in the records that are available for Charles City County. You must first see what records do exist and then begin to go through them in a systematic manner.

Once you have determined the name of the father, then you can begin to determine if the father was indeed the immigrant ancestor. And then you can turn your attention to some of the resources mentioned above, including the index by P. William Filby.

Researching in Ireland

Q: Can you give me any suggestions on where to find information on my Irish ancestry. All of my roads lead back there. A good many of my relatives were from County Cork. Can you tell me where I can write to or call for birth, marriage, and death certificates. I can't even seem to find much information on the Internet. For example, a listing of Catholic Churches in Cork Ireland. -- Barbara

A: If you are unfamiliar with researching in other countries, it is always a good idea to read up on the record availability and resources. Two excellent sources for that include Angus Baxter's Researching Your Irish Roots published by Genealogical Publishing Company and the Ireland Research Outline published by the Family History Library. The Ireland Research Outline is available in paper form, on their SourceGuide CD and online at the web site in the Custom Search section.

When working in Ireland, it is important to keep in mind that it has come under English rule for much of its history. As such some of the records may be found in one of the major English repositories, including the Public Records Office in Surrey. For Irish repositories, you will find that they have:

  • National archives and libraries
  • Public libraries
  • Religious archives
  • Heritage and genealogical centers
  • Other archives

Another important point to keep in mind when researching in Ireland is that it is at present two separate countries. However, the National Archives and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland both collect records for all of Ireland.

Your message mentioned Catholic records. The National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin 2 EIRE is the main repository for microfilmed Catholic parish registers. However, if your research is prior to 1820, then you may find researching these records to be a problem. While the Catholic parish registers in the cities were kept earlier, it wasn't until about 1820 that those in rural areas where kept. These registers contain primarily christening and marriage records.

Locating vital records, or civil registration, as it is known in Ireland and the other British Isles, are a late 19th century record. For Ireland, the civil registration did not begin until 1 Apr 1845 for the registering of non-Catholic marriages and 1 Jan 1864 for the registering of all births, marriages and deaths. In 1922, the records for Northern Ireland have been deposited in Belfast. Those for the Republic of Ireland can still be found in Dublin.

The civil registration records are found in the superintendent registrars' offices in the districts. However, copies of these records can also be found at the General Register Office:

General Register Office
Joyce House
8-11 Lombard Street East
Dublin 2

or for Northern Ireland after 1921

General Register Office
Oxford House
49/55 Chichester Street
Belfast BT1 4HL

Some of the civil registration records have been microfilmed and are available through your local Family History Center. This includes the indexes.

Online, the best place to begin your search for Irish information is at the GENUKI Web site. This site is devoted to genealogical research of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Finding a Family

Q: I am looking for information about my family, the THORNETT family, which comes from the United Kingdom, but lives mostly in the Washington, DC area and Australia. Do you know where I might find out first what this name means and second more linkages historically? I know my grandfather was born in 1898, but before that the names I get on the Internet are ones that I'm not sure are related to my family. -- Rob

A: There are dictionaries of surnames that have been published, and continue to be published. These very often include the first instance of a surname's use, including the year of record for that individual and where they were living. This is especially true of British surnames. It is likely that you will find such volumes in a local public library.

Researching your THORNETTs though may require some time spent in libraries rather than on the Internet. While it is true that more and more information is finding its way out onto the Internet, the realities for genealogists are that we must still search through original records, books and microfilms that have not yet been digitized and placed on the Internet.

If your grandfather was born in the United Kingdom, then it is likely that you can locate his birth entry in the index to civil registration. There is one for England and Wales and another for Scotland. These indexes have been microfilmed by the Family History Library and are available via loan to local Family History Centers. I would suggest that this be the first record you check. And once you have determined the name of your grandfather, and a possibly locality, it might be possible to turn your attention to the census records for England.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

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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