Finding Your Roots: When the Bug Bites

Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown December 15, 2008 11:02

Isabelle Drown

Beware the ‘genealogy bug’! You know you have been bitten and are suffering the effects when you drive 200 miles just to crawl through a cemetery in the pouring rain. Peering through rain-spattered glasses at grave markers, you gently brush away the collected debris from names carved into the cold stone … looking … hoping to find your great grandfather’s first name. In the car sit your spouse and children, questioning your sanity.

Why would you put yourself through that? To find that elusive ancestor, of course! And that’s when you know you’ve been bitten by that blessed bug and the only way to scratch the itch is to find that record.

Then, as you are about to give up, the name you are seeking peeks out from under years of grimy neglect.  Could this be great grandfather? You kneel down, oblivious to the mud, and with anticipation carefully brush away the dirt from the chiseled letters.

“It’s him!” you cry out. That moment of pure excitement is what keeps us genealogists going from one ancestor to the next.

Yes, you have been bitten by the ‘genealogy bug’!

My purpose in this column is to answer your research questions. Now, that sounds very arrogant because I don’t of anyone who can answer all genealogy questions, but together, we can help each other.

Here are some questions to start us off. But first, a quick note on the acronyms involved: FHL is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. FHC means the Sonora Family History Center, 19481 Hillsdale Dr.

Q. My mother, born in Mexico, and named Candalaria Montano, told me she was born in Topic, Nyrate, Mexico in 1910. I have no idea where to go or how to start. – Norma Swartz Machado, Sonora

Dear Norma,

I checked the location. It is spelled “Tepic” and is the capital of Nayarit. I will assume she was Catholic so I try the following to find her birth (nacimiento) record.

  • check the FHL film #2245653 for Tepic births in 1910 births.
  • Also, you can purchase 4 CDs of Mexican Vital Records for $7.50 from the LDS Church, but the Sonora Family History Center has these CDs on-site.

Q: Isabelle, I have traced my Hay family back to about 1813. Adam Hay and Margaret (Maggie) Bruce, married about 1837 in Aberdeenshire. Where do you think I should look next? – Robin Young, Soulsbyville

Dear Robin,

‘Scotlands People’ on the net reveals a marriage entry for Adam Hay and Margaret Bruce in the parishes of Turriff and then in Old Machar, Aberdeenshire. I would continue this search using Scotland Church Records at the FHC. Scotland is the only country, so far, to have alphabetized all church records for the whole country – a huge boon to researchers.

Q: My Keefe and Leonard families are longtime residents of Columbia and Sonora. I want to find pictures of the family. How do I go about it? – Malinda Leonard, Columbia

Dear Malinda,

I called Lisa Smithson, curator of the Tuolumne County Museum & History Center in Sonora. She suggests calling the center (532-4227) to arrange for museum volunteers to go through their collections, after which they’ll call you with the results.

Q: My mom’s family has always declared their background to be Polish. But my grandmother’s passport from the late 1890s is in German and Russian. Why is that? – Lorraine Schultz, Tuolumne

Dear Lorraine,

Many people of Polish origin stated what was politically correct at the time they emigrated. I did research for a family that wanted to learn more about their grandfather: He was born in the Ukraine, his sister was born in Poland and his brother was born in Austria – and they never moved from the same house. I located a site on the Net that will help you with the boundary changes. It begins in 1690 and explains which regions of Poland were called by another name at a specific time:

Another helpful site:


Roane Co., Tennessee Divorces, 1807-1900, compiled by Robert L. Bailey in 1994, is on the shelf in the Sonora FHC. It offers an intriguing look into lives of people during the 1800s. Details of the divorces are fully described, revealing many names. Who knows? Maybe your elusive ancestor is lurking in those pages.

Until my next column, good luck with your research.

Email Isabelle at, or write to her at Friends and Neighbors, 171 N. Washington St., Suite A, Sonora, CA 95370.

Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown December 15, 2008 11:02
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