8 September 2010, Vol. 13, No. 9
Table of Contents
Using RootsWeb
Genealogy Tip
Bottomless Mailbag:
Readers Write In
What’s New: Databases, Freepages, and Mailing Lists
Volunteer Opportunities
The Darkroom
You Found It
Subscriptions, Submissions,
Advertising, and Reprints
RootsWeb Resources
RootsWeb Helpdesk
Check here for frequently asked questions about RootsWeb.
RootsWeb Newsroom
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RootsWeb Review Archives
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Using RootsWeb

By Mary Harrell-Sesniak
“Genealogy is not just a pastime; it's a passion.”

Have You Really Proved Your Ancestry?

Researchers often feel they've proved ancestry because they located family in one or more online trees.

But tying into a database doesn't suffice as proof.  For that, you need to verify an author's sources and references – whether they are from original or derivative documents – and whether they can be treated as primary or secondary sources.

Original vs. Derivative Documents
The first term is easy, as original records must be original and not copies. Examples are birth, marriage and death certificates created by attending physicians or officiates, any hand-written or original typed document / letter and first time photographs, which are not scans or reprints.

Derivatives imply that documents came from (e. g., were derived from) other sources. This applies to, but is not limited to, abstracts, articles, scans, copies, transcriptions, family histories, card files and online databases.

Derivatives can establish viable evidence of ancestry, but only

  1. if citations are accessible for examination
  2. if they are not too many steps removed from the original -- such as a fact referring to a reference which was not verified (e. g., a copy of a copy of a copy)
Rule of thumb: 
Any document, database or citation which is one or more steps removed from the original, must be evaluated as to whether the intermediary author examined the original or a reliable reference referring to the original.

This doesn't mean we should discount all online data.  Just treat it as possible leads (not proof), and find source documents for verification.  After all, most of us would not be able to pursue so much of our ancestry, without these valuable clues.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources
Primary sources are those created close to the time of an event, assuming the originator had the proper expertise and authority to create it.  Some examples are:

  • birth, marriage and death certificates
  • maps
  • artifacts, such as military badges
  • commemorative plaques
  • certain ephemera (e. g., playbills, advertisements)

Secondary sources are all those created after an event, including:

  • delayed birth registrations
  • abstracts, summaries, etc.
  • tombstones
  • obituaries

Some documents have both primary and secondary elements, depending upon the information. For example, a passenger manifest is a primary document in regards to the details of the voyage, but a secondary source for birth dates, addresses, etc.  The same issue relates to birth dates on tombstones, which are always secondary.  And depending upon when the monument was erected (or replaced), a death date can be secondary.

Diaries, whereby events were recorded on a day by day basis, are considered primary, but an author's memory of the past is secondary.

And a dilemma exists in regard to Bible records, whereby the author and date of the entry is uncertain.  As a result, many lineage societies note whether a title page with publication date is available, and whether the handwriting and ink changes from item to item.

One might think that original documents are always primary sources – and that derivatives are always secondary.  But in reality, it is possible for either type to be primary or secondary.  For example,

  • A hand-written letter discussing family births is an original document, but the source is secondary, since it occurred after the original events. 
  • A film created of an original document (such as those made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) is a derivative treated as a primary source, since the copy is a reliable representation of the original.

Preponderance of the Evidence vs. the Genealogical Proof Standard
The final step in proving ancestry lies in the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).

Until recently, researchers cited evidence based upon the legal principle of preponderance of the evidence – meaning that if definitive proof documents could not be located, and if all evidence pointed in the right direction, then a lineage or relationship was accepted as true.

But there are numerous examples of why this might not be true.  In my own ancestry, there were three William Harrells, recorded on early census records in Wythe Co., Virginia.  A logical assumption might be that they were kin, given that they shared names and lived in the same vicinity.  But DNA studies imply that they share a more distant relationship, despite the preponderance of the evidence.

Although certification is not a requirement for proving ancestry, you may wish to review the five elements of the GPS, established by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG).  They recommend that a strong genealogical proof should include:

  • a reasonably exhaustive search;
  • complete and accurate source citations;
  • analysis and correlation of the collected information;
  • resolution of any conflicting evidence; and
  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.

As you search through records on RootsWeb, and other sites, keep in mind that you can’t be sure of the information until you have seen the evidence.  Happy sleuthing!

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Genealogy Tip

By Joan Young

GEDCOM Tags -- what they are and how to decipher them

If you have used genealogy software to create a family tree on your computer or you have created a tree online, you are probably aware that you can share your tree data with others who use a different software program because of a file called a GEDCOM (GEnealogical Data COMmunication).  You can read more about GEDCOMs here.

Genealogy software programs are databases and, as such, they arrange the information you input into fields. Each program does this using its own proprietary format. These formats are not compatible with one another. You wouldn't be able to share your trees with people who use other programs were it not for GEDCOMs.  Understanding how the insides of a GEDCOM work will help you understand why your file shows up in each program the way it does.

A GEDCOM is nothing more than a plain text file comprised of all the information you input into your genealogy file. You can open a GEDCOM in WordPad or any text editor. However, you may not be able to easily decipher the text when you attempt to read it in that manner.

Think of the file content as being like an outline, where the indented lines explain the line above them.  The numbers at the beginning of each line may be considered to be the number of indentations or tabs from the left of the page in a standard outline format.  Thus a line beginning with the number 2 would contain details about the first line beginning with number 1 immediately above it. 

A GEDCOM uses "tags" to represent the fields in a genealogy database. Genealogy software programs support GEDCOMs by transferring the data in your file into tags. When you share a GEDCOM with someone using a different genealogy program than the one you use, the program uses the GEDOM tags to assign the data to the proper fields used by the alternate program.  Some common tags are, SOUR for source, BIRT for birth, and PLAC for place.  You can find a list of standard GEDCOM tags here.

If you were to open a GEDCOM file in any text editor such as Windows WordPad you would see the four digit tags followed by the data assigned to each tag. GEDCOMs begin with "0 HEAD" and end with "0 TRLR" with the information or fields in between. 

The beginning of the GEDCOM:


The body of the GEDCOM contains entries as shown below in WordPad. (The text shows the source software and the file name and location on your computer followed by each entry):

1 FILE C:\FTW\Borton.GED
1 NAME Mary A. /Kiger/
2 DATE 19 MAY 1868
2 PLAC Salem County, NJ
2 SOUR birth certificate
2 DATE 28 APR 1949
2 PLAC Trenton, NJ
2 SOUR death certificate
2 CAUS arteriosclerosis
Each entry continues in a format like the one above and the GEDCOM ends with:


Understanding GEDCOM tags and how to read a raw GEDCOM helps you to know which fields you want to include a GEDCOM you plan to post online, or in the case of the RootsWeb's WorldConnect where you have the option not to display certain information you wish to keep private, which fields you wish to remove.

You may also want to refresh your memory about GEDCOMs by reviewing some past RootsWeb Review articles:
GEDCOMs and WorldConnect
WorldConnect Privacy Options

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A Thank You For Cindy

I would like to thank Cindy McCachern, researcher for the Cornwell family, for all the help she has given me over the last few months.  I started researching my family tree and luckily ran across Cindy on a RootsWeb message board.  My dad's mother's family name is Cornwell.  We never knew this side of the family, as Jane Cornwell, my Grandmother, died in 1932 when my dad was a toddler.  Her father, Newton Danny Cornwell, died later that year and the rest of the Cornwell family had passed away before them.  Cindy has been researching this family for decades, and as it turns out, her ancestor "Rabby" Cornwell and my ancestor Noah Cornwell were brothers back in the mid-1700's.  Cindy shared the findings she had gathered over the years, piecing together the Cornwell family puzzle back to the mid-1600's in Virginia.  What an incredible blessing.  I am very grateful, and now have a tale to tell at my dad's upcoming 80th birthday!  Thank you, Cindy!  And thank you RootsWeb for providing this wonderful base for connecting families!

Thanks to Ann Mitchell
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Bottomless Mailbag: Readers Write In
Initials in the US Military

Many years ago in the Army we were instructed to always use our "Payroll Name", which was first name, middle initial, last name eg; John C. Jones.  This worked quite well for 95% of the people, but occasionally someone had no middle name so his name would be written John (NMI) Jones. NMI stood for “no middle initial.”  Also one would have no middle name, but only a middle initial, and his name would be written John C. (only) Jones.  And rarely, someone like my friend "Jimmy", had no first name or middle name just initials, J. C. Jones.  So his name was written J (only) C (only) Jones.  Somehow some typist left out the parentheses and wrote his name Jonly Conly Jones.  He began to receive mail and other formal correspondence addressed to Jonly Conly Jones.  And you guessed it--in the barracks he became known as Jonly.  I wonder what his genealogy charts look like today.

Thanks to John Ross in Nevada

An Interesting Connection

My grandfather, Henry Medhurst, was born in Kent, UK, but when I found him on the 1901 census, he was living in Surrey and sharing his house with another family (not unusual for that time) – a couple called Charles and Jane Mayes (from Norfolk).  This couple were also the witnesses at my grandparents marriage, so they must have been pretty good friends.  However, by the 1911 census, they are living miles apart.  To the best of my knowledge, all contact was then lost between the families. 

In 1998 my daughter (born in Northampton) met Steven Mayes (born in Kent), who, by sheer coincidence, turned out to be a cousin to Charles (4 times removed) and they were married in 2000.  Now the good friends of my Grandparents, are related to MY grandchildren… weird or what!!!  I only made the connection a few months ago!

Thanks to Sue Prosser in Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire, UK
Misread Old Handwriting

Early in my genealogy research I was taking notes from an old Family Bible and came across the birth of what appeared to be a child named "Tepee".  I thought what an odd name!  I had not encountered anyone in the family with that name in other records.

It was not until I began to learn more about deciphering old hand writing, that I realized the name was not Tepee, but was really Jessee.  I had mistaken the J for a T and they had used the  "p" substitution for double s.

Thanks to Hunter Johnston in Memphis, Tennessee

Have a story, question, genealogy resource, or tip you’d like to share with RootsWeb Review readers? Send it to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the editor or of RootsWeb.com.

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Atlanta Family History Expo is coming to town! Don't miss it, Nov 12-13, Gwinnett Center, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth, Georgia. New techniques and technology empower you to trace your roots! Nation's finest genealogists and researchers share experience, information, advice in captivating classes to help you learn the tech to trace your roots. Great for beginners to sage professionals. Network with others who share your passion for family history research. Shop for and try new products designed to assist in discovering and honoring your family. Win fantastic door prizes too!
Visit www.fhexpos.com/expos to register right now or call 801-829-3295.


Ancestry.com and the New England Historic Genealogical Society are pleased to bring you Boston Family History Day 2010, Oct 16th, a day to discover and celebrate your family history. This exciting event can help you start or hone your genealogical skills with informative classes, expert consultations and more. Just $38 to attend this all-day event. Don't miss out on this wonderful day — space is limited and will sell out.


ANCESTOR SEEKERS researchers at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City will search this vast collection of records from the United States, Canada, Italy, Ireland, England, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and other European countries. Friendly service, affordable prices.

For a no-obligation research assessment visit AncestorSeekers.com.

Or join us 21 - 26 February 2011 for our 19th Salt Lake City Research Trip – the dream genealogy vacation! Click or call toll-free at 877-402-6846.

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What’s New: Databases, Freepages, and Mailing Lists
New User-contributed Databases at RootsWeb


Submit Your Genealogical Data to a RootsWeb Database.

New/Updated Freepages by Individuals


If you have a new or substantially revised freepage at RootsWeb and would like to see it mentioned here, send the URL, the title, and a BRIEF description, including major surnames, to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com.

If your genealogy- or history-related site is located somewhere other than RootsWeb, you can add the link to RootsWeb here.

Request a Free Web Site Account.

New/Updated Websites for Counties, States, and Historical Societies

AHGP = American History and Genealogy Project
CAR = Children of the American Revolution
DAC = Daughters of the American Colonists
DAR = Daughters of the American Revolution
FreeCEN = UK Census Online
SAR = Sons of the American Revolution


  • calaahgp — Los Angeles County (CA) AHGP
  • caresour — California Research Resources
  • cobenttp — Bent County (CO) Trails to the Past
  • comgc — Montrose (CO) Genealogy Center
  • cootertp — Otero County (CO) Trails to the Past
  • cotelltp — Teller County (CO) Trails to the Past
  • ilkanktp — Kankakee County (IL) Trails to the Past
  • illaketp — Lake County (IL) Trails to the Past
  • ilogletp — Ogle County (IL) Trails to the Past
  • mncrowtp — Crow Wing County (Minnesota) Trails to the Past
  • mnfilltp — Fillmore County (Minnesota) Trails to the Past
  • mosdac — Missouri State Society, DAC
  • nccurrtp — Currituck County (NC) Trails to the Past
  • necoltp — Colfax County (NE) Trails to the Past
  • nehalltp — Hall County (NE) Trails to the Past
  • nhgoshen — Goshen Township (Sullivan, NH) USGenWeb
  • okwascem — Washington County (OK) Cemeteries
  • orbaketp — Baker County (OR) Trails to the Past
  • ordcdar — Oregon Dunes Chapter DAR
  • orgrantp — Grant County (OR) Trails to the Past
  • oruntp — Union County (OR) Trails to the Past
  • tnjgs — Jonesborough (TN) Genealogical Society
  • txbcscar — Benjamin Clark Society (TX) CAR
  • txrrvsar  — Red River Valley Chapter (TX) SAR
  • usnatttp — Native American Tribes - Trails to the Past
  • usnptp — National Parks (US) Trails to the Past
  • vanotttp — Nottoway County (VA) Trails to the Past
  • wakingtp — King County (WA) Trails to the Past
  • wamrscar — Mount Rainier Society (WA) CAR
  • wicemetp — Wisconsin Cemeteries, Trails to the Past
  • wvcjadar — Captain James Allen Chapter (WV) DAR


  • bcnccdar — New Caledonia Chapter (BC, Canada) DAR
  • onwentwo — Wentworth County (Ontario, Canada) Canada GenWeb

Some of these Web pages might not be accessible yet. They are created by volunteers, so if one that interests you isn’t up yet, please check again in a few days or next week. These sites are accessible at www.rootsweb.com/~xxxxxx, where xxxxxx is the account/site name.

Note that the ~[tilde] before the Web account name is required.
For example, theTwickenham Town Chapter (AL) DAR web site is at

Request a Free Web Site Account.

New Mailing Lists

New Surname Mailing Lists 

New Regional Mailing Lists

  • CONNECTICUT-TTTP — This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their Connecticut ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

  • FLORIDA-TTTP — This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their Florida ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

  • GEORGIA-TTTP — This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their Georgia ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

  • ILLINOIS-TTTP — This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their Illinois ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

  • IRL-DEEDS — A mailing list to exchange information about the Registry of Deeds and between people involved in indexing the memorials of deeds held in the Registry of Deeds in Ireland. The Registry of Deeds is a major repository of genealogical information.

  • MAINE-TTTP — This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their Maine ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

  • MASSACHUSETTS-TTTP — This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their Massachusetts ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

  • NEW-HAMPSHIRE-TTTP — This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their New Hampshire ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

  • NORTH-CAROLINA-TTTP — This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their North Carolina ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

  • RHODE-ISLAND-TTTP — This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their Rhode Island ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

  • SC-AFRICAAMER — A mailing list for anyone with an interest in African American genealogy in South Carolina.

  • SOUTH-CAROLINA-TTTP — This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their South Carolina ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

  • TENNESSEE-TTTP — This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their Tennessee ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

  • VERMONT-TTTP — This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their Vermont ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

  • VIRGINIA-TTTP — This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their Virginia ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

  • WASHINGTON-DC-TTTP— This list will be used to exchange information for researchers looking for information on their Washington DC ancestors.  It is sponsored by the Trails to the Past project.

New Ethnic or Special Interest Mailing Lists

  • APG-GA-STUDY-GROUP — This list will be used to coordinate the genealogy study group organized by the Georgia chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists. Meeting once each quarter, the study group is open to all interested persons.
  • CHILD-MIGRANTS-UK — A mailing list for the discussion of the child migrants which the officials in the United Kingdom shipped to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and all other British Colonies. The unwanted children were sent to Canada between 1860's and 1940's.
  • FREEMASONRY-AFRICAAMER — This mailing list is for the discussion of the history and genealogical details about African-Americans/People of Color who joined Free Masonry lodges.
  • HUDSON-DNA — This mailing list is for the discussion and sharing of information regarding DNA projects for the HUDSON surname.
  • WHITE-DNA — This mailing list is for the discussion and sharing of information regarding DNA projects for the WHITE surname.
  • YEARSLEY-DNA — This mailing list is for the discussion and sharing of information regarding DNA projects for the YEARSLEY surname.

To find or subscribe to a mailing list, or to search archived posts to more than 30,000 RootsWeb-hosted genealogy mailing lists, go here.

Request a Mailing List.

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Volunteer Opportunities

Are you looking for an opportunity to give back to the genealogy community?
Check this section to learn more about some of our hosted projects and other projects you can participate in.

The Devon Wills Project is a co-operation between the Devon Family History Society, the Devon Record Office, the Plymouth & West Devon Record Office, and GENUKI/Devon that is transcribing and creating a free online finding-aid to Devon wills, administrations and inventories, covering (and distinguishing between) original documents, probate copies, transcripts and abstracts. Full details on the Project and what has already been transcribed, can be found here.

The World Archives Project is helping to keep the world’s stories alive. You can too by typing information from historical records into searchable online collections that are available to the public for free. Learn more.

New projects to Key:

London, England, Crisp’s Marriage Licences Index

New South Wales, Australia, Returns of the Colony (Blue Books), 1822-1857

For a complete list of projects to key, and search click here.

If you know of genealogically related volunteer opportunities please email Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com.

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The Darkroom

This is a circa 1898 photo of my great grandfather, James MacAvoy, who was known locally as an expert sign painter and a portrait and landscape artist. I have long suspected that he came to Jamesburg, New Jersey during the orphan train movement from New York City to live with the Delatush family in 1853, then finally settling in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He enlisted in the Civil War in December of 1861 and served with the 1st New Jersey Cavalry until he was discharged in July of 1865. He married Ann Hard Chevalier on October 14th, 1874 and they produced eleven children with eight of them living to adulthood. He died on September 25th, 1904 of Bright's disease and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in New Brunswick. 

Thanks to Bob MacAvoy in Clark, Florida

For a chance to see your ancestor’s photo in the RootsWeb Review, send it to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com. Make sure to include your name and a brief description of the photograph.

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You Found It
More Unique Names

I worked in the Department of Vital Records in Michigan in the 1970's and was fascinated by the names we came across:  Vanilla Pagoda Brown was one of my favorites.  Placenta was also memorable.  I wish my ancestors had used such creativity in naming instead of sticking with John and Mary.  It would have made finding them so much easier.

Thanks to Nancy Schleich
Turn, Turn, Turn

While researching my family tree, I found a FANNY WINDER.    With a name like that, you would want to get married as soon as possible

Thanks to Edward Brand
Early or Not

I was searching in cemeteries near Elberton, Georgia for relatives when I spotted a very unusual name. This was not one of my relatives but it was so cute. The name on the gravestone was Early Byrd.  It just tickled my funny bone and I have often wondered if he had arrived early.

Thanks to Mary Cordell

In Packard's History of LaPorte County, Indiana, one of the early settlers of that area was named Orange Lemon. My Tuley family was one of the pioneer families of LaPorte County.

Thanks to Chuck Smith

Found a funny name or humorous tidbit in old records, or an amusing entry in census, parish, church, or other records? Send these and other genealogy-related humor/humour items to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com.

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