27 July 2021

Which Genealogy Documents Are You Missing?

Working on your family tree gets more exciting each time you discover something new. Maybe you discovered your great grandfather's brother and followed his paper trail. Maybe you went off on interesting tangents and built out several branches. Once your new discoveries run their course, you may find your family tree is a lot bigger.

How do you get back on track? How can you make sure you collect every available document for everyone in your family tree?

For me, the answer is simple. My document tracker is a 4,870-line spreadsheet that shows each document I've added to my family tree. It lists people from my tree in alphabetical order—but only people for whom I have documents. (Download a document tracker file you can use for yourself.)

This inventory of which genealogy documents you have and which you need will help you make your family tree more complete. (Never finished, but more complete.)
This inventory of which genealogy documents you have and which you need will help you make your family tree more complete. (Never finished, but more complete.)

Most of my documents are very old Italian vital records. I do something special for those lines in the document tracker.

  • If I've added all available documents for a person to my tree (birth, marriage(s), and death), I color their line green. That tells me that person is complete.
  • In a completed person's "Need to find" column, I enter n/a for not applicable.
  • If I can't get one or more of a person's vital records because they aren't online, I color their line blue.
  • In an incomplete person's "Need to find" column, I enter what is missing, like this:
    • out of range: birth
    • out of range: marriage
    • out of range: death

Lately I've been working to make my collection of Italian vital records searchable. Since they are searchable, I should be able to complete all my Italians' "Need to find" columns.

This is such a fulfilling task! The documents are waiting for me to get them and add them to my family tree. So why wouldn't I chase them down?

I started at the top of my document tracker, but for now, I'm focusing only on those Italian documents. I'll skip over all the people with U.S. or other documents.

One at a time, I search my computer (using a free PC program called Everything) for a person. The document tracker tells me which documents I'm missing. Now I can definitively say if a person was born, married, or died "out of range" of the online documents. And if I find a missing document, I crop it in Photoshop and add it to both my family tree and my document tracker. I also create a source citation for each fact I learn from each document.

So many lines are now colored either green for complete or blue for out of range. Some day, if I gain access to church records, I may find many of the out of range documents. My document tracker will make it easy to see which church records I want.

This level of completeness makes me really happy. I always have a bunch of genealogy projects going on at the same time. One involves identifying all my relatives from one town, Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy. For that fast-paced project, I'm adding facts only, not documents or citations. Not yet.

Diego was born out of range of available genealogy documents, but I know I found all that's available.
Diego was born out of range of available genealogy documents, but I know I found all that's available.

Right now I want to work through my document tracker, filling in the blanks. Then I'll start adding documents and sources for my Santa Paolina people.

In my first two days of finding missing documents, I added 75 document images to my family tree. Unfortunately, there is a problem with Ancestry.com right now. No one can synchronize their Family Tree Maker file with Ancestry. I don't want to add tons of facts and documents until I get synchronized again. But I can collect and crop the images I need, and save them to add to my tree later.

If your family tree isn't too big, you can go person-by-person and see what you're missing. You may even want to create and fill in your document tracker at the same time.

My family tree has more than 30,500 people right now. I'm so glad I created my document tracker when I had less than 1,000 people. If your tree is too big to consider doing a person-by-person check, keep things close to you. Examine only your direct ancestors to see what's missing. Then branch out to the siblings of your direct ancestors.

Also, each time you view a person in your tree, for whatever reason, take note of what they're missing. As long as you're working on them, you may as well go all the way and search for everything you need.

Yes, those genealogy tangents are fun! But don't forget to double back and fill in the blanks for a more complete family tree.

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20 July 2021

How to Find Value in Your Distant DNA Matches

My DNA matches are very out of balance. My paternal-side matches outnumber my maternal-side matches by more than 2 to 1. To make up for the big difference, I need to squeeze out the value of these matches to benefit my family tree.

My tree contains about 15,000 people (I kid you not) from my mother's father's hometown of Baselice. That's a result of a years-long project where I documented thousands of vital records in a text file. Then I worked the people into my family tree. Thanks to Italy's Antenati website, I have access to the rest of the town's records through 1942.

On Saturday I published a text file and an Excel file with names and links to more than 8,600 Baselice vital records. I've done the same for a few of my other ancestral towns, including Santa Paolina, Avellino.

Having done all this work, I'm as ready as I'll ever be to fit Mom's DNA matches into my family tree.

A Familiar Name

As I scroll down my list of maternal-side DNA matches, I see one with a last name I think I know. It looks like an Americanization of the name Ricciardelli. This name comes from Santa Paolina. That's the hometown of one of my 2nd great grandmothers.

My DNA match's 3-person tree turns out to be all I need. (I didn't see that coming.) The tree consists of her, her father, and her grandfather, Michele Ricciardelli. A quick search for her father shows me that his parents, Michele and Vincenza, are already in my family tree. Michele Ricciardelli is my 3rd cousin 3 times removed. When I add Michele's son and granddaughter to my tree, I see that my match is my 5th cousin once removed.

That was unexpected! My DNA match's 3-person family tree was all I needed to easily connected her to my extended family.
That was unexpected! My DNA match's 3-person family tree was all I needed to easily connected her to my extended family.

I'll add a note to my DNA match list and choose another one to explore.

Another match has the name Ricciardelli in his family tree, too. He also has another name from the same town—Stanziale. I should be able to place this young man in my family tree.

As I view his tree, I see his 3rd great grandparents are in my family tree already. But their connection to me is not close at all. Each one has an in-law relationship to my 5th great uncle. I needed more facts.

I found my match's 2nd great grandparents' marriage documents and added the facts to my family tree. While I can't find a blood relationship with this DNA match, I can see a DNA connection. His 2nd great grandmother's sister married my 5th great uncle. The descendants of both sisters would share some DNA.

Since his tree has 2 generations of private, unnamed family, I won't add him to my family tree. But I made a detailed note on Ancestry DNA about how we may share DNA.

Another Familiar Name

I want to explore one more match whose grandmother Carmela was born in Santa Paolina. Carmela and her parents are not in my family tree. I'm sure I can find their connection by searching the documents.

The Santa Paolina documents, searchable on my computer, helped me place Carmela in my tree. But once again, there is no direct relationship. I'll go ahead and add as many facts as I can about this family. Maybe future research will show a closer relationship.

I've been building my own massive vital records database. Finding my DNA matches' relatives is a slam dunk.
I've been building my own massive vital records database. Finding my DNA matches' relatives is a slam dunk.

It looks as if my ancestors' neighbors and in-laws have descendants who have DNA-tested. And we share a small amount of DNA. Yes, I wish I had more and closer matches from my maternal side. But I can use my DNA matches to piece together extended families and see how far they've come.

Don't overlook the value of your 4th–6th cousin matches. They can extend your dead ends and open up new relationships.

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13 July 2021

How to Crunch Your DNA Numbers

I watched an excellent online course about data visualization. (Nerd!) In a nutshell, the presenter explained the pros and cons of different types of charts. Which one are easier to understand? Which answer your questions?

Naturally, I spent the whole time thinking how to use these ideas for genealogy.

My first thought was DNA results. Ethnically, my parents and I are all Italian. Their ancestors all came from a very small area of Italy. I've traced all their lines back to the late 1600s, and no one moved. Not until 1899 did we start to become American.

Our 3 DNA test results have changed over time as the database grew and algorithms improved. I would like to see how each of my parents influence my DNA, and how we all compare to one another.

An Excel spreadsheet is a very simple way to generate all kinds of charts. First I entered some basic information.

  • Mom, Dad, and I are the 3 rows in the spreadsheet.
  • We each have 3 DNA ethnicities, so these are the 3 columns in the spreadsheet:
    • Southern Italy
    • Greece & Albania
    • Northern Italy

For each of us, I entered our percentage of each of the 3 ethnicities.

These 4 charts show the same information. But which one best answers the question at hand?
These 4 charts show the same information. But which one best answers the question at hand?

To create a chart based on data, select all the data in your table, including the names of the rows (Mom, Dad, Me) and columns. (Click your mouse in the top left cell, A1, and drag your mouse to the bottom right cell.)

With the data selected, go to Excel's Insert menu. In the Charts section of the tool ribbon, click in the lower right corner to See All Charts. On the new window that opens, click the All Charts tab. Now you can click through lots of options to see a preview using your actual data.

When you select a type of chart, it will appear on your spreadsheet. You can click and drag that chart anywhere on the page. Once you click a chart, you can click the paintbrush icon to change the style of colors. And you can give it whatever title you choose.

Based on the online course I watched, I chose 4 types of charts with different qualities. Each one shows how my DNA compares with that of my parents.

1. In the Custom Combination chart (top left in the image above), my parents (green and blue bars) have similar DNA. The yellow line (representing me) shows that I have:

  • a touch more Southern Italian DNA than either of my parents
  • a good deal more Greek/Albanian DNA than either of my parents
  • a good deal less Northern Italian DNA than either of my parents

This is a good chart because it clearly shows what I wanted to know: how do I compare to Mom and Dad?

2. The 100% Stacked Column chart (top right in the image above), we see a different visualization. But there's bit less clarity. You can't see from this chart that I have more Southern Italian DNA than my parents. But you can see that I have a lot more Greece/Albania, and a ton less Northern Italy.

3. The Scatter Chart with Straight Lines and Markers (lower left in the image above), is clearer than chart 2. You can see that I have:

  • the most Southern Italy, but not by much
  • the most Greece/Albania, by a decent amount
  • the least Northern Italy, by a lot

Strangely, the ethnicities don't appear on this chart.

4. The Clustered Bar chart (lower right in the image above) . This is a better comparison of the 3 of us than charts 2 or 3. Why?

  • You can see how we "stack up" to one another in each of the 3 ethnicities.
  • The percentages are pretty easy to see.

Chart 1, the Custom Combination chart, is the best choice to answer my initial question. When I first created this chart, the bars were me and mom, and the line was dad. Then I realized that when you're choosing the type of chart to create, you can set who gets the line and who gets the bars.

Before I created these charts, I had to keep switching DNA results on Ancestry to get an idea how we 3 compared. It was a revelation to me that I wound up with more Southern Italy and Greek/Albanian DNA than my parents.

You can easily compare your DNA to that of one or many DNA matches. Which questions do you want to answer?
You can easily compare your DNA to that of one or many DNA matches. Which questions do you want to answer?

If you don't manage multiple DNA tests, don't worry. You can create charts comparing yourself to as many of your Ancestry DNA matches as you want. When I view my 1st cousin as my DNA match, I can click Ethnicity to see his percentages. How interesting! He has a lot more Northern Italy than I do, but he has no Greek/Albanian at all.

Imagine charting a group of your DNA matches' ethnicity percentages in a spreadsheet. What might you learn from charting the data? What do you want to learn?

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06 July 2021

Prepare to Walk Along Your Ancestors' Streets

I love having access to tens of thousands of vital records from my ancestral hometown. Some of the birth records from Colle Sannita, Italy, helped prepare me for my visit to the town in 2018. I was able to walk along the street where my great grandfather was born. In another town, I found the house where my great grandmother died.

European towns seem ancient to my American sensibilities. But they do change street names sometimes. Some streets in the old documents aren't on today's map. When I enter some addresses into Family Tree Maker, it can't find the street and puts the map pin almost anywhere. I hate that!

On my 1st trip to Grandpa's town, I thought I'd see my name on a doorway. Now, finally, I am prepared to walk in his footsteps.
On my 1st trip to Grandpa's town, I thought I'd see my name on a doorway. Now, finally, I am prepared to walk in his footsteps.

I needed to update the non-existent addresses in my family tree to current-day street names. I want to be able to go to the places my ancestors lived when I return to Italy. After thinking about this for a while, I realized I had the perfect resource.

In 2007 I posted a message on an Italian ancestry message board. The man who answered me was an historian from my Grandpa Iamarino's hometown. He told me that Iamarino was one of the earliest names from the town of Colle Sannita. He also said he was writing a book about the town.

Fast forward to today. I have his book about Grandpa's town sitting on my desk at all times. The heart of the book is a 1742 town census. I've managed to add many of the 560 households from that time to my family tree.

There's plenty more to the book. It's written in Italian, so I've added many Post-It Notes to the pages for future translation.

The other day I sent a message to the author. I asked him how I can find out the current names of old streets in the town. He told me I'd find the answers in his book. I opened my copy and found one of my Post-It Notes. "This tells where to find the old street names," I had written.

It was exactly what I needed. This passage mentions all the streets and neighborhoods listed in the 1742 census. Then it explains where to find those streets and neighborhoods today.

I've discovered so much about my Colle Sannita family through vital records and this book. Over and over, one neighborhood seemed to always hold relatives of mine. Its name was li Tufi. Sometimes Strada (street) li Tufi, sometimes Via (also street) Tufi. Each time I saw li Tufi I thought, "Oh, they're my people for sure."

But there is no mention of anything named Tufi on a modern map of Grandpa's hometown.

That's why this book, "Colle Sannita nel 1742," is the most important book I own. I learned that the former li Tufi is a neighborhood of three parallel streets near the center of town. They renamed the ancient streets for the first king of Italy:

  • Via Calata Vittorio Emanuele (calata means descent)
  • Via Vittorio Emanuele
  • Via Gradoni Vittorio Emanuele (gradoni means steps)

This is major news to me! It means I can walk these streets on my next visit. I expect to feel weak in the knees. (And not just because it's hilly.)

Leave yourself notes as you learn the current name of your ancestors' ancient roads.
Leave yourself notes as you learn the current name of your ancestors' ancient roads.

Next I needed to update the streets in Family Tree Maker so the program would place them on the map. I had to keep track of my changes to avoid future confusion.

I used the Plan tab in Family Tree Maker. I made a new, high-priority task for each street with a name change. (Choosing "high-priority" keeps the items at the top of the list.) I can check these items whenever I'm adding another birth or death record for an old street name.

The format of these task items is very simple:

  • old street name = new street name

For example, li Tufi = Via Vittorio Emanuele. (It's actually three streets, but I decided to split the difference.)

After pulling information from the book, I still had six old street names that are no longer in the town. While these six didn't exist in 1742, they did exist throughout the 1800s. I asked the author, and he told me what I needed.

To update street names in our ancestral towns we need a modern reference to the historical town. I encourage you to seek out any written history of your ancestral hometowns. Do not let a foreign language stop you. You can find the street names you need by eye. Then use Google Translator to understand what the book says.

With this type of update to your ancestral addresses, you may be able to someday walk where they walked.

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29 June 2021

Solve Genealogy Mysteries Step-by-Step

In a whirlwind of research, I solved the mysteries of my client's great grandparents. I want to share the process with you so it can help you in your genealogy research.

The puzzle I had to solve was this:

  • Where were Giuseppe Ruggiero and Giovannina Grasso born?
  • How is it possible that they married in Italy after they arrived in America?

What We Knew from Documents

My client found naturalization and death records on Ancestry.com. From these documents we learned:

  • Giuseppe was born on 3 Feb 1872 in Ricci, Italy.
  • His parents were Frank Ruggiero and Veneranda Lucarsio.
  • Giovannina was born on 24 Jun 1879 in Ricca, Italy.
  • They both arrived in the United States on 22 Jan 1895 aboard the Olympia.
  • They married in Ricci, Italy, on 14 Nov 1895.

Her family believes the couple was born in Riccia, Campobasso, Italy. And they've heard that Giovannina's parents were Luigi Grasso and Filomena Ponti.

Finding the Birth Records

To my surprise, no Ruggiero or Grasso babies were born in 1872 or 1879 in Riccia. I combed the surrounding years for any babies with the expected parents' names. In all, I found 13 babies.

Sorting through the birth records, I found only one Giuseppe Ruggiero. He was born on 3 Feb (as his naturalization papers say), but in 1868, not 1872.

I had a 12 Sep 1877 birth record for a Maria Giovanna Grasso. The name was fine since Giovannina was likely to be a nickname. But how could her birth day, month, and year all be so far from what the naturalization papers say? We'll never know the answer to that question.

Understand which information is on each type of genealogy document. Then follow the facts logically to solve your family tree puzzle.
Understand which information is on each type of genealogy document. Then follow the facts logically to solve your family tree puzzle.

Which Came First: Marriage or Immigration?

How was it possible that the couple arrived on 22 January 1895, but married in Italy later that year? I knew I needed to see that ship manifest for myself.

On Ancestry.com, you can search for a New York passenger list by date and ship name. I went to 1895, January, 22 to see if the Olympia arrived on that date. It did not. I checked each date a week before and after the 22nd. No Olympia!

Had they made a mistake? I searched 1896 instead. On the 24th of January, I found the Olympia. The first people on the first page of the manifest are Giuseppe and Giovannina, husband and wife. That solves that mystery! They married in Italy in 1895 and came to America in 1896.

Since the couple arrived in New York in 1896, their ship manifest does not state their hometown. If they had arrived in 1898, as my family did, we would have known right away they came from Riccia.

I noticed their ages in 1896 did not agree with the naturalization papers. These stated ages helped me positively identify their birth records.

Luckily, the town of Riccia has its 1895 marriage records available. I found Giuseppe and Maria Giovanna's marriage, confirming their ages and their parents' names.

How Can We Go Back a Generation?

On the 13 births records I found, the parents' ages bounced all over the place. They were unreliable. I could take a stab at finding Giuseppe and Giovannina's parents' births in the indexes. But some of the years have no index.

I had to search for their marriages. But how would I know when either couple married? Italian couples of this time often had their first child within two years of their marriage. I needed to identify each couple's first child.

I searched year by year until their were no more babies born to either couple. When the well ran dry, I knew I'd found each couple's first child.

Giovannina's parents, Luigi Grasso and Filomena Ponte, had their first child in 1861. I found their marriage in 1857. Now I knew Luigi and Filomena's birth dates and their parents' names. Since both their fathers were dead by 1857, I learned their death dates, and their parents' names. Luckily for me, the bride and groom's paternal grandfathers were also dead by 1857. The 1857 marriage records included both grandfathers' death records with their parents' names!

I was not as lucky with Giuseppe Ruggiero's parents. Their first child was born in 1855, but I did not find their marriage in the years before that.

Knowing where to look to solve your genealogy mysteries will move you down that road to the solution.
Knowing where to look to solve your genealogy mysteries will move you down that road to the solution.

Knowing the Marriage Rules

I've been up to my eyeballs in Italian vital records since 2006. I know that a bride and groom from different towns had to post their intention to marry in both towns.

These postings are the equivalent of today's "If anyone knows of any reason why these two should not be lawfully married, let them speak now or forever hold their peace."

I couldn't find a marriage record for "Frank Ruggiero and Veneranda Lucarsio" in Riccia. And I didn't see anyone else in Riccia named Lucarsi (the proper spelling). My conclusion: Veneranda was from another town. But where?

I started in 1854 in Riccia, a year before their first child was born. I searched the "matrimoni pubblicazioni". These are the two public notifications of a couple's intention to marry.

I found them! I learned Francesco's age and parents' names, and Veneranda's age and parents' names. The documents didn't say where Veneranda was born, but they said her deceased parents had lived in "S. Croce".

It looked like a scribble, and I overlooked the town name at first. Then I realized what I had in front of me.

Looking at Google Maps, I found three possible Santa Croce towns in the area. But two were in the next province. I stuck to Campobasso and searched the 1854 marriage records in Santa Croce di Magliano.

Success! The town is missing the birth and death records usually associated with a marriage. That was a quick dead end. But I did learn something useful. Veneranda, whose age changed randomly over the years, was born in Santa Croce di Magliano in 1830. And I found her birth record.

What Next?

There's definitely more we can find. We could search Riccia for Francesco Ruggiero's siblings' births, and parents' marriage. We could search Santa Croce for Veneranda's parents' deaths and her siblings' births.

For now, it's great to sort out the inconsistencies and uncertainties in this family tree.

This can happen to you, too. When you know what the records contain, you can use them to solve your own genealogy puzzles.

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22 June 2021

Don't Believe Everything Your Ancestors Told You

When someone asks me to research their family tree, I pick out the key facts from what they've told me, and go to the available documents.

As an Italian-American, I know our ancestors "Americanized" their names to fit in. And I know many of us heard our ancestors came from Naples. It's my job as an Italian ancestry researcher to see past the changed names and look beyond Naples.

It was common for our immigrant ancestors to never speak of the old country. If your elders didn't mention their hometown by name, you likely don't know where they were born.

Genealogy documents hold the clues you need. Your ancestor's immigration record may name their hometown. If not, you can search for naturalization records. Also check World War I and II draft registration cards. While one of these may tell you only the country of birth, the other may have the exact town name.

I can plot ALL my ancestors on a thin strip of a souvenir map from Italy. It took a bunch of documents to make this happen.
I can plot ALL my ancestors on a thin strip of a souvenir map from Italy. It took a bunch of documents to make this happen.

But Where, Exactly?

My Sarracino and Saviano ancestors are a perfect example of using documents. My grandmother and her sister told me their family came from two places: Pastene and Avellino. When I began to research, those two specific places became a problem.

Looking at Google Maps, I found Pastena, which is what I thought I heard. And there was a big Sarracino family from the town. After adding the wrong family to my tree, I learned they were not my family. And when I looked for Avellino on the map, I found it was both a city and a province. Imagine if you knew your family was from New York, but you didn't know if that meant the city or the state. Big difference!

It was the documents that set things straight. I found the 1899 ship manifest for my Sarracino and Saviano great grandparents. The hometown written on the manifest was Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. Checking the map again, I found a hamlet within Sant'Angelo a Cupolo called Pastene. Pastena/Pastene—a one-letter difference. The two places are in different provinces, which makes a world of difference. They store the vital records for each province separately. And they're filed separately online.

Having solved the Pastene mystery, I didn't know where Avellino came into play. If both my great grandparents were from Pastene, who came from Avellino?

Another genealogy document to the rescue! My great granduncle's World War II draft registration card had the answer. They misspelled the town, but the map made it clear. He was born in Tufo, a small town in the province of Avellino.

I followed the document trail in Tufo and found a surprise. My 2nd great grandmother Colomba wasn't from Tufo. She was from the neighboring town of Santa Paolina. She and her father's ancestors all came from Santa Paolina. One more document, a death record for Colomba's mother, held another surprise. My 3rd great grandmother was from Apice, a town in the Benevento province.

Think about that for a moment. The oral history said my family was from Pastena and Avellino. The documents showed me this part of my family actually came from:

  • Pastene (part of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in Benevento)
  • Santa Paolina in Avellino
  • Apice in Benevento.

You've got to follow the documents.

Grandma didn't lie. But your family's word-of-mouth history is a lot like a game of "telephone".
Grandma didn't lie. But your family's word-of-mouth history is a lot like a game of "telephone".

Two Proud Grandpas and One Strong Accent

Two of my ancestral hometowns were always a given. My two immigrant grandfathers were proud to say where they were born. I've known this all my life: one was from Baselice and the other was from Colle Sannita, both in Benevento.

There was only one more hometown I needed to identify. My Caruso great grandmother met my great grandfather in upstate New York. I didn't know where she was born. I connected with my Dad's first cousin June who grew up with her grandmother. She said my great grandmother was also proud of her hometown. With my great grandmother's Italian accent, the hometown sounded like Pisqualamazza.

First I checked the map. Pisqualamazza is not a town. Then I had an idea. I checked Ancestry.com for immigrants named Caruso. Yes, that's a common name. But I was searching for a hometown that looked something like Pisqualamazza.

It hit me like a thunderbolt. I found a Caruso from the town of Pescolamazza. I can totally understand how Pesco could sound like Pisqua. There was only one problem. Pescolamazza also isn't on the map.

A regular Google search for Pescolamazza explained it all. The name of the town evolved over the centuries:

  • Pesclum
  • Pesco
  • Piesco
  • Lo Pesco
  • Lo Pesco de la Macza
  • Pescolamazza
  • and in 1947: Pesco Sannita

At last I found my great grandmother's hometown: Pesco Sannita, also in Benevento.

You can't find your immigrant ancestor's birth record if you don't know their town. Use the documents you can find to pin down the town of birth. Identifying the towns and accessing their vital records is why my family tree has 30,000 people.

So, keep the oral history in mind, but follow the documents!

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Let Me Build Your Italian Family Tree

If you want to find all your Italian ancestors but you need help, let's talk! Find out more at Italian Ancestry Services.

15 June 2021

Tackling Several Genealogy Projects on the Fly

I have several genealogy projects I bounce between every day. But I'm always open to whatever comes my way. This week I helped 3 distant cousins with their family trees—for their benefit and mine.

Project 1: Italian Emigrants to Brazil

First there was a man from Brazil. He found my website that's devoted to my grandfather's hometown: Baselice, Benevento, Italy. He wrote to ask if I could help him discover more about his Italian heritage.

We started with his great grandfather Giuseppe. He was born in Baselice in 1887 to Antonio and Concetta. They left for Brazil the following year.

If I built this family for my Brazilian friend, I'd know why they disappeared from town.

I began by finding Giuseppe's birth record and seeing his parents' ages at the time. Then I found his father Antonio's 1860 birth record. Antonio's parents were already in my family tree. That meant that BOOM! I had 6 generations ready and waiting for my new friend.

The only problem was Giuseppe's mother, Concetta. The clerk wrote the wrong last name for her on his birth record. That made her a dead end. What could I do to discover her real name? The marriage records available for the town end around the year she was born.

To learn this missing name, I could check the birth record of every Concetta born in town at the right time. If I were lucky, the right record would mention who she married. But the birth records around 1860 rarely have a marriage notation in the column.

Luckily this couple had another child, and his birth record had Concetta's real last name. I found her birth record and discovered 5 generations of her ancestors waiting in my family tree.

Project 2: New-found Family Members

My ancestry is like strong espresso coffee. Very concentrated! Most of my people come from 5 neighboring towns. Because my family tree represents these towns so well, I get the same comment all the time. "Your tree keeps showing up in all my hints."

One woman who said that to me has been trying to discover her birth father through DNA matches. She kept matching people with names familiar to me. They were all from my other grandfather's town—Colle Sannita. (Find out how to Harvest Clues from Your DNA Matches.)

On Friday, she had a breakthrough. Instead of hard-to-place 3rd cousin matches, she finally got a very close cousin. Her new match is her birth father's nephew.

I soon found her birth father's uncle and ancestors were already in my family tree. The reason the uncle was there was pure serendipity. In 2018, I photographed lots of graves in Colle Sannita. When I got home, I searched the town's vital records to learn whose graves I had captured.

The birth father's uncle had married my 2nd cousin 4 times removed. Not only that, but her birth father's grandmother was my 4th cousin 3 times removed.

I built out the family with vital records from the town and U.S. census records. In the end, this friend (who is not on my DNA match list) is my 7th cousin.

Project 3: Tying Up Loose Ends

After working on those families, I found a 3-month-old email from a man I learned is my 6th cousin twice removed. He had given me a lead on one of his branches, and I knew I could expand that branch.

It was his grandfather's brother's wife I needed to explore. I found her birth record and discovered a connection. Her maternal grandmother was my 4th great grandmother.

So, the great uncle of my 6th cousin twice removed married my half-1st cousin 4 times removed. Only in genealogy, right?

Handle multiple projects without losing your place—or losing your mind.
Handle multiple projects without losing your place—or losing your mind.

What's the Trick?

The key to being able to shift gears and handle new projects is keeping notes. I have a text file that's always open on my computer. I keep notes on exactly where I am with my genealogy projects when I quit for the day. I made a note to add specific birth record images for my friend in Brazil. I made a note to add census records for my new 7th cousin. And I made a detailed note about where I left off with my own, very complex project.

I'm trying to add as many cousins as possible from one of my ancestral hometowns. Here's that note:

Working on children of Emanuele Ricciardelli and Giovanna Consolazio:

  • down to Samuele's son Ponziano Ricciardelli's son Ruggiero's children who married
  • but 1st look for kids of Marino Ricciardelli

I'd be so lost without that note. Set yourself up for success and pure luck. Keep notes so you can:

  • be ready to pounce on unexpected genealogy projects
  • jump back to your own project without missing a beat.
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08 June 2021

How to Find Your Exact Relationship to Any Cousin

I've recently identified hundreds of my cousins from Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy. I found them in the town's thousands of 1809–1945 vital records. Now I want to find some living cousins.

To find descendants of the town, I turned to my Ancestry DNA matches. I like the different options they have for filtering your matches. A handful of last names from Santa Paolina are closely tied to me. I can filter my DNA matches to show only those with a specific last name in their family tree—even if it's a private tree.

Finding a Likely Cousin

I picked one of my family names from the town at random: Ricciardelli. Then I filtered my DNA match list to show only those with Ricciardelli in their family tree. I chose a DNA match who's in the 4th–6th cousin range for me.

I should tell you that my closest relative from this town is my 2nd great grandmother. I would not expect to find any very close DNA cousins—other than the cousins I grew up with.

I took a look at this 4th–6th cousin's family tree and found only one Ricciardelli. But there were quite a few positive things about her:

  • This Ricciardelli woman was born in 1879, which is well in range of the available vital records.
  • My DNA match knows the woman's exact birth date, making her easy to positively identify.
  • My match listed the woman's hometown as Alvelena, Italy. That doesn't exist, but I'll bet this was how her family heard "Avellino" get passed down through the years.
  • The woman died in the U.S., which means I can find immigration and census records for her family.
By pure coincidence, a family I worked on last week belongs to today's DNA match.
By pure coincidence, a family I worked on last week belongs to today's DNA match.

Following a Path to My DNA Match

My recent deep dive into Santa Paolina records taught me a lot. I know which names are common and how to spell them. It was obvious my match had Americanized the woman's first name. And she misspelled her middle name a bit. So I went right after this Ricciardelli woman, using her correct name.

I launched a search program on my PC called Everything. I typed in Maria Diamante Ricciardelli. There were two of them, both born to the same parents. The 1877 baby was actually Diamante Maria, while the 1879 baby was Maria Diamante. Surprisingly, there is no death record for the first baby. Were they purposely trying to mess with future genealogists?

I checked to see if Maria Diamante Ricciardelli's parents were in my family tree. They were! Her father Emanuele is my 1st cousin 5 times removed. His father Samuele is my 4th great uncle, and his father (also Emanuele) is my 5th great grandfather. I can take Maria Diamante back 4 generations to my 6th great grandfather, Saverio Ricciardelli, born about 1741.

Figuring Out Our True Relationship

Maria Diamante Ricciardelli is my 2nd cousin 4 times removed. I saw that when I put her name into Family Tree Maker. She appears to be the great grandmother of my DNA match. So, what does that make us to one another?

Trying to figure this out was worse than trying to split a bill seven ways at a restaurant. Without a calculator. I needed a chart to make it clear how I'm related to a descendant of a person with a known relationship to me. I've published a relationship calculator before. It has its purpose, but it wasn't exactly what I needed now. It doesn't tell me how I'm related to the great grandchild of my 2nd cousin 4 times removed.

I made a new chart you can download called Cousin Connection. I've highlighted all the "full cousin" relationships in green (1st cousin, 2nd cousin, 3rd cousin, etc.). NOTE: If you are unable to download the file, please let me know. I can add it to a different location.

Use this chart to take the guesswork out of distant cousin relationships.
Use this chart to take the guesswork out of distant cousin relationships.

How to Use the Chart

Maria Diamante Ricciardelli is a descendant of my 5th great grandparents. So I'll start at Column G, the 5th Great Grandparent column. She is 3 generations below my 5th great grandparents, so I'll go down the column 3 cells. This cell (G4) places Maria as the great grandchild (look to the left at Column A) of my 5th great grandparents. It says she is my 2nd cousin 4 times removed. So far, so good.

To see how my DNA match is my cousin, I'll move down Column G 3 more cells. That's how many generations below Maria she is (child, grandchild, great grandchild). That puts us at cell G7. That tells me she is my 5th cousin once removed.

Based on our amount of shared DNA, Ancestry DNA said we were in the 4th–6th cousin range. Now I can see exactly what to call our relationship, and it does fall in that range. We are 5th cousins once removed.

After I add Maria's birth record to my family tree and follow up with U.S. documents and facts, I'll write to this DNA match.

Telling her our exact relationship is much better than saying, "Your great grandmother's grandparents are my 5th great grandparents." Don't you agree?

I hope this chart will be a useful tool for calculating your relationships to cousins, too.

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01 June 2021

Why My Family Tree is Exploding in Size

This will anger some genealogists, but here goes. I added 500 people to my family tree in a couple of days. It was fun and easy. Here's how it works.

Examining the Documents

I made the entire collection of an Italian town's vital records searchable on my computer. I had already downloaded the town's documents to my computer. I put them in 386 folders—one for each year's birth records, marriage records, and death records, from 1809 to 1945.

Then I viewed every single document image to see who it belonged to. Each file comes with a name like 007859450_00687.jpg. This number helps me recreate the exact URL where anyone can find it for themselves. I use that URL in the source citation. So I kept the numbers, but I added the name of the person(s) in the document.

Why settle for only my 2nd great grandparents' 1871 marriage record when TONS of cousins are waiting for me in this collection?
Why settle for only my 2nd great grandparents' 1871 marriage record when TONS of cousins are waiting for me in this collection?

A lot of people in the town have the same name. So it's extremely helpful to include the name of the person's father in the file name. In Italian, di means of, and it's how they state the name of a person's father. "Vitantonio Egidio di Pasquale" means that Pasquale is the father of Vitantonio Egidio. It's also a handy shorthand for my file names:

  • 007859450_00688 Angelarosa Lombardo di Felice and Pasquale Musto di Carmine.jpg
  • 007859450_00689 Maria Spinelli di Francesco and Saverio Spinelli di Vincenzo.jpg
  • 007859450_00690 Angelo Raffaele Carpenito di Saverio and Paolina deGuglielmo di Antonio.jpg

Finding What's Missing

With all the files renamed, I can search for anyone. I use a free Windows program called Everything. Let's say I want to find all the children born to a particular man. I simply type his last name "di" his first name in quotes—"deGuglielmo di Antonio"—into Everything.

The cousins pile up fast when all their names are at your fingertips.
The cousins pile up fast when all their names are at your fingertips.

Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy, is the hometown of my 2nd great grandmother and her paternal ancestors. Its population may have peaked at 2,487 in 1951. I want to identify as many Santa Paolina cousins as possible. This can help me connect to distant cousins around the world.

I've already found all my direct Santa Paolina ancestors. Now I'm going sideways. One generation at a time, I'm finding all the siblings of my direct ancestors. Who did they marry? Who were their spouses' ancestors? Who were their children, and who did their children marry? All the answers are in my renamed files.

Just the Facts

The only way I could add 500 cousins so quickly is by taking off the training wheels for a while. Normally I add vital records images to my family tree as I find them, along with a source citation. Right now, for this town, I'm adding only the names and facts and moving on.

There's no risk for me in skipping these important documents and sources. They're only a couple of clicks away. The vital records are easily searchable on my computer. I can find them again whenever I want. If a distant cousin finds my tree on Ancestry.com, I'll add the documents and sources for our mutual benefit.

I would not, and do not, do things this way with census records, ship manifests, or any record I find on Ancestry.com. I gather the document and create a source citation immediately. But the Italian vital records on my computer (and backed up in triplicate) are very easy to put my hands on again.

But right now, I'm owning my Santa Paolina heritage 100%. My grand aunt used to say the family was from Avellino. But she didn't know which town, or which ancestors. I'm so happy I discovered the answers. I'm running with it!

It's amazing to see how this process is working. I choose, let's say, a 3rd great uncle. I find out who he married and add her birth date and her parents' names. Then I find her parents' marriage so I can learn their parents' names. And I can look for their death records and learn their parents' names.

Coming back to that 3rd great uncle, I search for all the children he and his wife had. I search for his death, and his wife's. I search for the marriages and deaths of his children. I follow the children's children as far as the records will take me.

You can see how easy it would be to quickly add 500 people this way.

From what I've seen, the best way to connect to many DNA matches is to have their grandparents in your family tree. I will keep going, harvesting facts from Santa Paolina, and my other ancestral towns. And if anyone finds a hook into my tree? Well, they're going to be in for quite a shock.

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Let Me Build Your Italian Family Tree

If you want to find all your Italian ancestors but you need help, let's talk! Find out more at Italian Ancestry Services.