05 April 2011

New to Genealogy? Attend NERGC 2011!


Exploring New Paths to Your Roots


11th New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC)
comes to Springfield, MA, 6-10 April


Lucky New Englanders! This week is NERGC, The New England Regional Genealogical Conference! It is only held every two years, but is every bit as fine a conference as any of the national ones. It's within commuting distance for lots of New Englanders, and for a very low registration fee you'll get instruction and presentations by some of the best genealogists in the country. Read all about it and pre-register here: http://www.nergc.org/NERGC2011/index.html. Or, just show up and sample the lectures. Entrance to the Exhibit Hall is free, and you'll be able to see demonstrations of all of the major genealogy software vendors. You can visit the booths of local societies, buy books & charts, learn how to make your web searches more productive and win some great raffle prizes. I promise you, if you are even slightly interested in genealogy, you'll be like a kid in ye olde candy shoppe at NERGC!

Lots of people are curious about genealogy but don't know where to begin. Of course you start by looking at your own family information, whether written or passed down to you by word of mouth. But once you have gathered that you'll want to move on to the great wide world.

Nowadays most people usually get their feet wet on the internet. It can be completely overwhelming at first, and Ancestry.com doesn't help beginners much with their exhortation to "just start" researching without knowing what you are looking for! Yet in a way that is good advice. Just jumping in will show you how much is out there. And you'll learn simultaneously that you need some way to weed through all of that information. How do you know what is valid? You certainly don't want to accept everything you find, because one wrong connection guarantees that you'll be offtrack for the rest of that line. For instance, if you make a mistake on your great-grandmother, it means that everyone you find after her is incorrect! You can waste years of your life following bogus lines, so you want to make sure you establish solid links between parents and children.

If you're going to take up genealogy as a hobby you need to learn about the best ways to prove those links. A large genealogy conference like NERGC will give you plenty of opportunity to learn, with multiple simultaneous tracks. Here are just a few: Immigration and Migration, English and Irish Research, DNA & Technology, Records and Sources, New England Research, Treasures, and hands-on Workshops.

On Friday and Saturday there is an Ancestors Roadshow sponsored by the New England Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists where you can sign up for a free 20-minute consultation with a professional. You can ask the professional anything you wish, how to decipher some old handwriting, where to find certain records, how to break through a brick wall in your research. Anything!

What sort of a record trail did your ancestors leave? What can you expect to find for 19th Massachusetts, or 17th century Connecticut, for instance? What is considered reliable evidence? Or maybe you have broader questions, such as: How do you get into the Mayflower Society? How can you find your ancestors' homeland? Why does my family think I'm weird because I love old cemeteries? You'll find the answers to these questions and others you haven't even thought of yet in Springfield this week Thursday to Saturday.

This is a great time to take up genealogy! NBC's Who Do You Think You Are is in its second season and getting better with every episode. Universities, libraries, archives, governmental agencies and private individuals are frantically uploading original documentation. Googlebooks is making thousands and thousands of out of copyright books available (and searchable!). Even so, everything does not magically come into our homes. We still need to go to repositories and dig out original documents sometime. Find out what you have right at home, and what you need to hunt down at NERGC this week. I hope to see you there!

02 April 2011

He's not American. Is he Kenyan, English or Irish?


How can one man be eligible for citizenship in four countries? Birthright, permanent residence, having a grandparent born in another country, or changes in governmental jurisdiction over the place you were born can all qualify you for citizenship. But proving that you qualify and applying can sometimes be a long and confusing process.

My husband is an English citizen with a UK passport and permanent US Resident Alien status. I am American, and our children were all born in the US and are also American citizens. Because children of British citizens are eligible to apply for a British passport, one of our sons asked me to help him complete a UK passport application. A US citizen may obtain a foreign passport without putting his American citizenship into jeopardy. It is not against US law to do so, as long as taking on the foreign citizenship does not require you to renounce the United States in any way (and it rarely does). A UK passport will allow him to travel and work freely anywhere in the European Community (EC) without first having to obtain a visa. This will be a great asset to him when he wants to visit his English relatives for a long period, or even work abroad.

In Ireland, Italy and elsewhere, obtaining a foreign passport is a two-pronged process. First you must prove your right to citizenship in the foreign country (and register the birth), then you apply for the passport. In the case of the United Kingdom, however, it can all be rolled into one step. There are usually a few ways in which you can qualify for citizenship. Most of the foreign passports I have obtained for clients are done by proving that they had a grandparent born in the foreign land. As long as that grandparent was not naturalized in America before the applicant's father was born, the applicant is qualified "by descent."

When our eldest son was born, I tried to have his birth registered in England. If I had been successful he could have just applied for the passport today as any English citizen would. Although my husband is English, he wasn't born in England: he was born in Kenya! At the time of his birth in 1960, Kenya was a Protectorate of the UK, which is why he was granted UK citizenship. All children born in Kenya at that time are eligible for UK citizenship themselves, but not all are able to pass eligibility down to their children.  The only way he could pass down his UK citizenship status to our children was if he were a UK citizen "otherwise than by descent," and that pretty much means either a natural-born citizen or someone allowed to qualify as such because of some special exceptions written into the law. The UK did not accept the application to register our son's birth because my husband was not born on UK soil, and thus they concluded he was a citizen "by descent."

But we got lucky and qualified under one of the exceptions. My father-in-law was sent to Kenya by the UK government to work in schools there, so my husband's birth is treated as though he were born in the UK, therefore he actually can pass down his citizenship status. When I originally tried to register our son's birth, I had not known this, but we now have a letter issued by the UK government which states that at the time of my husband's birth his father was in Kenya working for the UK government, so all I need to do is send that letter plus the original birth certificate.

The next obstacle is that I don't have an original birth certificate: all I have is a photocopy. I wanted to see how difficult it is to obtain a Kenyan birth certificate so I went to the central website for civil registration in Kenya. It looked promising –– under the proper district I got a name and email address (info@births.go.ke) and sent a request off to them. Sadly, my email was returned as "unsendable" a few days later. I  also checked the catalog of the Family History Library in SLC, and not surprisingly, they had no civil registration or church records for Kenya. 

Yet I knew that the British have been diligent about registering overseas births for many years, and on the Kenyan Consulate's website I found a very clear explanation of how the whole process works. I was then able to order two copies of his birth certificate (Certificate of Overseas Birth) from the UK General Records Office (GRO). I'm fairly sure they will not look at all like the photocopy of the one issued in Kenya. Once those arrive I can attach them to the forms, send photos, son's birth certificate, my birth certificate, our marriage certificate, and a big fat check to the British Embassy in Washington DC, and he should be good to go!

The funny thing is, my husband is English, but could have applied to become a Kenyan since he was born there. He could become an American too, and may yet. And in addition, since he has a grandparent (three out of four, actually) born in Ireland, he could also apply for Irish citizenship! So he could have four passports if he wanted! He's a simple kind of guy, though, and I suspect he'll stick with just the one.


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