Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My Genealogy Jigsaw Puzzle: DNA Matches and Vital Records

Like any big puzzle, it helps to start with the edges and find pieces that fit one another.

Last time, I told you about a DNA color-clustering method. It shows you visually how you're connected to your DNA matches. This method, and the online tree of a crucial DNA match, showed me where I need to focus. Right down to a specific last name.

You see, my parents share DNA. This was a surprise to them, and I'm eager to be able to show them exactly which set of ancestors they share.

I'm focusing on the last name Pozzuto in the town of Colle Sannita, Italy. There were a lot of people in town with that name. And they must have been distinct families, because a high number of men married women with the same name.

I began by looking at the parents of one key DNA match, both named Pozzuto. The tree is not well sourced, and much of the information comes from my 97-year-old DNA match herself.

I have 77 people in my tree with this last name, but that's not enough pieces for this puzzle.
I have 77 people in my tree with this last name, but that's not enough pieces for this puzzle.
I turned to the massive collection of Italian vital records that I have on my computer. When you've got all your ancestral town's documents on a local drive, research is fast and easy. (Find out how you can download a collection like mine.)

I've been trying to confirm the names and birth dates of the people on both sides of the Pozzuto-Pozzuto tree. I find a person's birth record, then try to find their father's birth record and their grandfather's birth record. The goal is to identify someone who is already in my tree with a blood relationship.

After adding several people to my tree this way, I realized something. I have a cousin in Italy who's about my age and is named Pozzuto. His mother's side of the family is related to my father's side of my family. So his being a Pozzuto is a coincidence.

But…I've always thought he looks like my cousin on my mother's side of my family. What if this cousin, related to my dad but with a resemblance to my mom, is the key?

I started digging into the little bit of information he'd given me about his father. I quickly found his father's parents' 1932 marriage documents. I learned my cousin's grandparents' names and kept going until I had some of his great grandparents' names.

But I couldn't tie this Pozzuto family to that of my DNA match. Time for a new strategy.

Last summer I read about a genealogist's massive effort to build out family trees for everyone in his DNA match list. I think the Pozzuto family is my key. Why not put together every Pozzuto family sitting in my collection of vital records?

That's how I built a tree of 15,000 people from my maternal grandfather's hometown. I took the information from each vital record and entered people into a Family Tree Maker file. I placed babies with their parents. I found the parents' marriage records and gave them their parents. After a while, all the families fit together.

These are some of the files I've identified with this name so far. Lots more work to do!
These are some of the files I've identified with this name so far. Lots more work to do!
I'm going to pick a year, like 1860, and find each Pozzuto baby born in the town. I'll put them in my tree and give them my "no relationship established" marker (find out why that's important). As I go from year to year, I'll find babies that are siblings to the babies I found earlier. I'll build each family.

This will take lots of hours, but I'll wind up grouping together Pozzuto families. Some of them will be people I have in my tree already. Eventually I will find a direct line to my DNA match.

Still, that's not the goal. I need to find someone in that gene pool who married someone with a last name from my mother's side of the family.

All my ancestors came from neighboring towns. The prospect of marrying someone from the next town is very real. I've seen it. I'm eager to find a girl from Colle Sannita who married a guy from either Baselice or Pastene (most likely).

It's exciting to have all those documents waiting for me to read them. The answers are there! I simply need to dig and dig until I find them.

Can you do this with your ancestors' towns and your DNA matches?


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Friday, November 16, 2018

The Leeds Method May Have Solved a Big Family Puzzle

This method makes cousin connections clearer than black and white.

Earlier this week I gave up hope of meeting one of my 2018 Genealogy Goals because it was too broad and may never happen.

That goal: To find out why my parents share DNA. There's a set of ancestors in my tree that ties my father's and my mother's families together.

But now I have a fighting chance of meeting that goal this year.

A friend pointed me to The Leeds Method created by Dana Leeds. To read all about it:
I jumped right in and used Dana Leeds' color clustering method with my DNA match list from Ancestry.com. In the first column I added my parents' names with a 0 in front of them. I added my one 1st cousin who took the test, with a 1 in front of his name. And I added 3rd cousins with a 3 and 4th cousins (the first page's worth) with a 4.

The numbers allowed me to sort the names by relationship and then alphabetically. In the end, I used this method on 104 people.

Assigning colors to your DNA matches reveals hidden treasures.
Assigning colors to your DNA matches reveals hidden treasures.
What you'll do is pick one of your matches and see which matches they share with you. In one column, give that person and all their shared matches a unique color. Find the next person in your list without a color and view their shared matches. This time, in a new column, give this person and their shared matches another unique color.

I was seeing a lot of blue (my dad) and green (my mom). But it wasn't until my 10th round of adding colors to shared matches that I saw something amazing.

Three people out of 104 had both green and blue. They were a match to both my mom and my dad.

This is a breakthrough!

Of those 3 people, only 1 has a tree online. I saw lots of familiar last names from my paternal grandfather's hometown. So I wrote to the person who owned the tree. She administers the DNA test for 1 of the 3 important matches.

She told me that the DNA test was for her paternal grandmother, and that I must be a match to her father, too. Yes, I am! Her father is also 1 of the 3 matches. From what she told me, the 2 most important last names tying us together are Zeolla and Pozzuto.

As I explored her tree, I saw that facts weren't sourced, but I have all the vital records from that town on my computer. So I can look up people's birth, marriage and death facts.

After a while, climbing up and across this tree, I found this one couple. Nicolangelo Zeolla and Giovannangela Pozzuto were the parents of someone in this tree. Nicolangelo and Giovannangela are my 4th great grandparents!

The Leeds Method helped me identify a potential shared branch for my parents.
The Leeds Method helped me identify a potential shared branch for my parents.
If I hadn't tried plotting the colors as suggested by The Leeds Method, I might never have found the right branch to research.

So where do I take this lead? I'm scouring the town's vital records for births and marriages of children in this family. I'll keep building out the individual families.

I hope I'm going to find a marriage of someone from this gene pool to someone with a last name from my mom's side of the family.

I'm more motivated than ever to find that cousin connection between my parents. And now, it really looks like a goal I can reach.


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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

It's Crunch Time for Your 2018 Genealogy Goals

Take another look at your family research goals for the year. What will you do differently with your 2019 goals?

I had the day off from work Monday. You know what that means, don't you?

Genealogy time!

I decided I would try to complete an item from my list of 2018 Genealogy Goals. That item was to "Fill in the 'Need to find' column on my document tracker." My document tracker is a spreadsheet noting each person with document images in my family tree.

There's a column for major items: birth, immigration, marriage, censuses, naturalization, death, and several more.

The last column is where I make note of which major documents are missing. If a person's census column contains 1910, 1920 and 1940, then the 1930 census belongs in the 'Need to find' column.

Since I was giving attention to all 1,686 lines in the spreadsheet, I thought it'd be a good time to get more detailed.

Your family tree probably has a lot of identical and similar names, too.
Your family tree probably has a lot of identical and similar names, too.
First, since so many people in my tree have the same name, I added their father's name in parentheses after their name: Lebrando, Alfred (son of Amedeo).

Second, I filled in everyone's birth year, followed by "cert." if I have an image of the birth certificate. I use the word certificate only for birth, marriage and death certificates. Everything else is a document.

Third, I put in other dates that I have reason to think are right, even though I have no document. Thinks about immigration. A census form will tell you someone's immigration year. But without the ship manifest, that's nothing more than a clue. When I do have the manifest, I enter "1909 (doc.)" for "document".

After a few hours (with plenty of interruptions), I completed this 2018 genealogy goal. For 2019, I'll set another reachable goal, like trying to find every missing census form in the 'Need to find' column.

The moment I finished this goal, I checked my list for what else I could do. I spent the rest of the day working on "Replace microfilm photos with digital document images". A few years ago, I had to view my Italian's ancestors' civil records on microfilm. Sometimes I photographed the microfilm viewer's surface as it projected a dark, blurry, awful image.

My next goal is to replace the poor-quality document images with good ones.
My next goal is to replace the poor-quality document images with good ones.
Now the same microfilm is available online in gorgeous, sharp, bright, high resolution. My goal is to replace the dark iPhone images (about 200 of them) with the great images I've already downloaded to my computer.

And when I add the improved images to my family tree, I make sure they're noted in my document tracker.

Soon it'll be time to make my 2019 Genealogy Goals official.

Here's what I've learned about annual goals over the course of this year.
  1. Your goals should include grunt work. Choose tasks you need to do to make your research better. But make sure you have a good chance of finishing during the year. Filling out my document tracker was grunt work. And I finished it.
  2. Your goals should include projects with a definite ending. Last week I wrote a nice biography of my grandfather. I want to write more of them for about 10 of my ancestors. That's got a definite end. I know I can do that. Keep your projects to a manageable size.
  3. Your bigger goals should be broken into chunks. One of my goals for 2018 was to log the info from those thousands of downloaded Italian records into a spreadsheet. That's too big a goal. So next year I'll break off a chunk I think I can finish. Like, "Log all the birth records from Colle Sannita" (my grandfather's hometown).
  4. Save things you may not be able to finish in a year for your Genealogy To-Do List. One of my goals this year was "Find my parents' connection". DNA tells me they're about 4th cousins. I've been trying to find their connection, but nothing so far. That's not a good item for the goal list. It's leaving me feeling disappointed.
Here are 2 things I'd like you to think about now.
  1. What goal can you possibly finish in the next 6 weeks?
  2. What grunt work, tasks or chunks of a bigger project should you put on your list of 2019 Genealogy Goals?


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Friday, November 9, 2018

5 Steps to Writing Your Ancestor's Life Story

You've got the raw materials. Now let's shape them into a remembrance of your ancestor.

Have you ever thought of writing about your family history? Do you have an ancestor who's interesting enough to write a whole book about, but you don't know where to start?

It's very possible you haven't started because the whole project seems too big.

Your tree on Ancestry.com has a LifeStory view.
Your tree on Ancestry.com has a
LifeStory view.
Let's end that problem here and now. Stop thinking of your ancestor's story as a book. Don't even think about it as a short story.

Break things down to 5 simple steps and watch the project take on a life of its own. To show you this simple process, I'll use my grandfather Adamo Leone as an example. Since he was a World War I veteran, this is good timing.

Step 1: Gather Basic Facts

I've gathered almost every major document possible for my grandfather. Only his naturalization papers are missing. I'll start this process by looking at this facts chronologically.

In my Family Tree Maker software I can view a timeline of every recorded fact. On Ancestry.com I can view his "LifeStory".

No matter how you view your collected facts, this is where you'll begin. Use whatever word processing software you prefer. Put your ancestor's name at the top and start a bulleted list using the simple format of Date: Event.

Family Tree Maker has a nice timeline view. Does your software?
Family Tree Maker has a nice
timeline view. Does your software?
Copy the main facts, in order, into your outline. Try to use complete sentences, but don't worry about making things perfect. If you're inspired to add a sentence or two to describe something about a fact, go right ahead.

Step 2: Add Historical Context

My grandfather fought in World War I and was a prisoner of war in Austria for a year. I've gathered facts about the battle where he and 300,000 other Italian soldiers were captured. Earlier this year I went to Italy and photographed his Italian military record. That document is packed with dates I can add to his timeline.

I'll add the name and date of his battle. I'll add the dates of his imprisonment. I'll add the time he spent recuperating before returning to New York.

I'll add some facts I've gathered about the places he worked or owned a shoe store.

In short, I'll try to paint a picture of what was going on in my grandfather's life and in the world.

Step 3: Add Documents and Photos

You don't want to make your file too big to share. So don't add every document you've collected to this file.

There's probably no one who cares as much about every single census record as you do. Be conservative as you add images to your ancestor's life story.

Place some photos and document images where they belong in the timeline.

When you break it down, writing your ancestor's story can be pretty easy.
When you break it down, writing your ancestor's story can be pretty easy.
Step 4: Personalize Facts with Basic Details

Now that you've got so many facts listed in chronological order, it won't be hard to make them more fun to read.

Go through all the facts one by one. Add words to make more complete sentences. Add details that you know from memory or from family stories.

For instance, when my grandfather had his own shoe repair store, he once made shoes for the famous actress Gloria Swanson. She was only 5’1” tall and had tiny feet. She wore a size 4 shoe. Sometimes he would make sample shoes for her. If there were any that she didn’t want, Adamo brought them home to his wife, Mary. No matter how tiny the sample shoes were, she would cram her feet in there and wear them proudly. Eventually he stopped bringing them home, maybe because he saw how much pain they caused his wife.

Step 5: Add Memories

Step outside of your list of dates. After all the facts, start writing some of your personal memories about your ancestor. If you're too young to remember them, ask your parents or older relatives for their memories.

When I think about my grandfather, I mostly think about when I was a little girl—even though I was 28 when he died.

I remember being in my grandfather’s house for every holiday. The house was actually an apartment building. He and my grandmother lived upstairs, and my great grandparents lived downstairs. As kids, we were running up and down those stairs all the time. My grandfather would take a chair and sit in the hall outside his apartment. All he ever said, in Italian, was something that sounded like "sorda sord". I understood it to mean "quiet down, stop running, behave". Now I think he was saying "sotto, sotto", short for sottovoce: whisper or quiet down.

Put each story in a separate paragraph. Once you're done, arrange those paragraphs in chronological order as best you can.

Now all you need is an ending. It may be a quote from the person or a quick summary of their life.

My grandfather was a quiet man who always had a smile on his face. He loved his family and his life in his adopted country. How I wish I could have him with me when I've gone to visit his hometown in Italy. But, of course, I do feel his presence when I'm there.

You can complete a life story for one ancestor in a single day. Where and how will you share them? Consider:
  • saving the file as a PDF so it's easy to share
  • adding the file to your family tree
  • printing the file to create a booklet to give to your interested relatives
  • publishing the contents on your blog or your Facebook page.
Several years ago I went to a seminar about writing your ancestor's story. I was focusing on my great grandfather. But I never wrote his story. I didn't know how to dive in.

But now I've created this story about my grandfather so easily. (Here's how it turned out.) There's nothing to stop me from doing the same for:
  • my great grandfather
  • my other grandfather
  • my parents
  • and anyone else for whom I've collected enough facts.
What's stopping you?


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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

What to Find on Your Ancestor's Naturalization Papers

What did your immigrant ancestor gain by becoming a citizen of their adopted country?

If they came from another country, your ancestor had to file their Declaration of Intent to become a U.S. citizen. They had to present it to the court in their jurisdiction. They had to renounce their allegiance to their former country and its head of state. After this declaration, your ancestor's citizenship was either granted or denied.

My grandfather, Pietro Iamarino, was born in Italy in October 1902. He came to America to find work in November 1920. He started working in Newton, Massachusetts, because his mother's brother lived there. Two months later Pietro moved to Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, and went to work for National Tube Company. The United States Steel Corporation (US Steel) had recently acquired this metal tube manufacturer. They most likely had lots of work to offer a healthy young man like Pietro.

Three years later, in February 1924, my grandfather must have decided he wasn't going back to Italy. He filed his Declaration of Intention in the Common Pleas Court in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, where he lived and worked.

Your ancestor's naturalization papers will hold a lot of facts you need.
Your ancestor's naturalization papers will hold a lot of facts you need.
Naturalization Documents Hold Lots of Genealogy Facts

Here's the information you can learn or confirm with your ancestor's Declaration of Intention:
  • Name
  • Physical description (color, complexion, height, weight, hair and eye color, distinctive marks)
  • Date of birth
  • Residence at the time
  • Immigration details (port of departure, name of ship, port of arrival, date of arrival)
  • Hometown
  • Name, place of birth and address of spouse
  • Current country of citizenship

The Process Continues

On 19 Oct. 1926—two and a half years after his declaration of intention—my grandfather's naturalization process was continuing. His Declaration of Intention and a Certificate of Arrival were filed. Two men who knew and worked with him signed a sworn statement that Pietro had been living in the U.S. continuously since he filed his declaration.

Four more months pass. It's now 24 February 1927: 6½ years since his arrival in the U.S. and 3 years since he filed his Declaration of Intention. Pietro takes the Oath of Allegiance. He renounces all allegiance to the King of Italy. He swears to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

This declaration of intention includes birth dates for the applicant's husband and children.
This declaration of intention includes birth dates for the applicant's husband and children.
Eight months later, U.S. citizen Pietro Iamarino leaves his job at National Tube Company and heads for Youngstown, Ohio. There he finds a job with the Carnegie Steel Company and a room in the home of his father's second cousin, Pasquale Iamarino.

Pasquale's young daughter Lucy Iamarino was born a U.S. citizen to two immigrant parents. Lucy and Pietro, third cousins who had never met before, married in October 1927. Because Pietro was a citizen, Lucy did not have to lose her citizenship.

"What's that?" you say. The U.S. government passed a law in March 1907 called the Expatriation Act. It said an American-born woman would lose her citizenship if she married a non-citizen. If her foreign-born husband later became a U.S. citizen, she would have to go through the naturalization process, too.

Can you imagine having to be naturalized when you've never been outside the United States?

Did this rule apply to men, too? If a male citizen married a foreign woman, did he lose his citizenship? Of course not. What do you think this is—fair? This law didn't go away entirely until the 1940s.

It is possible this law affected my other grandmother, Mary. She was born in New York City to recent immigrants. In fact, she was in utero for the voyage from Italy to America. In 1922 she married my grandfather Adamo, who was from Italy.

I know for sure he was still not naturalized as little as 2½ years before he married my grandmother. I haven't found his naturalization documents. The page seems to be missing from the record collection. So I don't yet know if my grandmother lost her citizenship.

What Was the Process for Our Ancestors?

The basic process of gaining U.S. citizenship today includes:
  • Entering the country and gaining legal permanent resident status.
  • Spending 5 continuous years living here at least 50% of the time.
  • Being at least 18 years old (children can derive citizenship from their parents).
  • Having a basic knowledge of English and of American history. The Immigration Act of 1917 added this requirement. Since my grandfather came here knowing no English, he must have spent his first couple of years here trying to learn the language.
  • Having shown good moral character.
  • Agreeing with the basic concept of the U.S. government system.
  • Swearing an oath of allegiance to the United States.

What Were the Benefits of Citizenship to Our Ancestors?

Our ancestors may have found it a lot easier to get work once they became a citizen. The main benefits of citizenship are the right to:
  • vote
  • hold public office
  • travel freely
  • own land
  • reunite your family.

I have one great grandfather who managed to own buildings soon after his arrival in New York City. Apart from him, I think none of these benefits were as important to my immigrant ancestors as merely belonging.

While they didn't lose their accents, they did adopt the American way of life. They were proud that their children were born as U.S. citizens. America was the land of opportunity, and that's really all they wanted. Opportunity.

What this long process like for your ancestors? How would you fare if you stepped off a ship in another country and had a couple of years to learn the language, the history and the legal processes? All while securing good employment and a place to live.

Our ancestors went through more than we'll ever know to give us all the things we take for granted. Like the right to vote. How will you honor them?


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Friday, November 2, 2018

How Did Immigration Laws Guide Your Ancestors?

Even if your ancestors didn't emigrate to the United States, U.S. immigration laws may have influenced their journey.

When my first ancestor left Italy and made the 3-week voyage to New York City in 1890, all he had to do to seek out a better life was:
  • Have somewhere and someone to go to
  • Not be Chinese
You read that right. In 1882 the U.S. government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, banning Chinese laborers from coming ashore for 10 years. The many Chinese workers already in the U.S. were not allowed to become citizens.

My many ancestors who came to America had no restrictions. They were not Chinese, they were healthy, and other relatives or friends had paved the way for them, helping them get jobs and a place to live.

Immigrants poured into Ellis Island by the boatload, all day, every day.
Immigrants poured into Ellis Island by the boatload, all day, every day.
Before my second ancestor came here, there was the 1891 Immigration Act. There were more and tougher restrictions. Immigrants had to:
  • Not have a contagious disease
  • Not be a polygamist
My people came right on in.

My two grandmothers were born in New York to recent Italian immigrants. But before my 2 grandfathers arrived, there was the Immigration Act of 1903. This was a big crackdown. For my grandfathers to come into New York, they had to:
  • Not be anarchists
  • Not be beggars
  • Not be pimps
Again, no problem for the average impoverished human looking for a better life.

The next big immigration reform was the 1917 Immigration Act. My grandfathers and other relatives had to:
  • Not be Asian, but the Philippines and Japan were OK
  • Be able to read any one language if you were over the age of 16
You may be noticing an anti-Asian pattern. My husband's grandparents all arrived from Japan with excellent timing. Only the Chinese ban was in place.

Some workers, like my great grandfather, came to earn money, went home, and did it again.
Some workers, like my great grandfather, came to earn money, went home, and did it again.
In 1921 the immigration laws began playing with quotas. They looked at the 1910 U.S. Federal Census to see how many foreign-born people were here, and where they were from. The quota for who could come to America was 3%. If there were 100,000 Romanians in America, 3% of 100,000 would be allowed in. If there were 200,000 Pakistanis in America, 3% of 200,000 would be allowed in. If there were 100 people from India, 3 Indians would be allowed in.

This had little or no effect on Europeans, though, because the Western Hemisphere was excluded from the nationality quota. Still, there was an immigration cap of 350,000 people.

But don't be Asian.

The Immigration Act of 1924 slashed the immigration cap to 165,000 people, dropping the nationality quota to 2%, but basing it on the 1890 census, not the 1910 census. Asians were still barred and were not eligible to become U.S. citizens.

Things stayed this tight with no changes until the Bracero Agreement in 1942. But that only effected you if you were a Mexican national coming here as a temporary agricultural worker. In 1943 the Magnuson Act open the door just a crack for the Chinese. They were allowed to naturalize and 105 new Chinese immigrants would be allowed in.

I'm not going to go much further because most of my readers are researching their grandparents. But in 1952 the Immigration and Nationality Act:
  • Stopped excluding races (Asians)
  • Changed the quotas to one-sixth of 1% of each nationality based on the 1920 census
  • Gave preference to skilled immigrants and family reunification
It was this 1952 immigration law that caused an entire branch of my family to go to Canada instead of America. They had family here, but the quotas were too small. They had to turn north. Now there's a big enclave of my fellow Colle Sannita descendants in Niagara Falls, Canada.

Do you have ancestors who came to America, but their brothers didn't? Maybe they went to Brazil, Canada, Australia or England? It's very possible the U.S. immigration laws and quotas played a big part in that decision.

For an interactive timeline of U.S. immigration laws, see the Pew Research Center website. And see a wonderful video about Ellis Island on History.com.


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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How to Understand Your Ancestors' Marriage and Remarriage Customs

Figuring out marriage customs can help you avoid making mistakes in your family tree.

Have you noticed that people today are getting married many years later than they used to? Years from now, genealogists will examine records and notice that shift.

Are you paying attention to the marriage facts and figures for your ancestors? 

Age at First Marriage

Get familiar with the customs in the towns you're researching. While paging through marriage documents looking for your ancestors, take a look at the ages of the other brides and grooms.

In my ancestors' towns, all tightly arranged in Southern Italy, I saw the commonalities:
  • first-time brides and grooms were usually very close in age to one another
  • first marriages before the age of 22 were less common
  • first marriages after the age of 28 were less common
Based on these facts, I decided to use 25 as my magic number. Twenty-five was the average age at which people in my towns were having their first baby. They'd get married at 24, and have their first baby at 25.

Don't know when they were born? A smart estimate will help your family tree.
Don't know when they were born? A smart estimate will help your family tree.
Why does that matter? If you don't know the ages of someone's parents in your family tree, you can assume they are "about 25 years" older than the oldest child you've found.

Adding "born about 1850" to the parents in your tree can help you understand who you're working with. It can stop you from even thinking about attaching them as the parents of someone born in 1920—even if they seem to have the right names.

Remarriage: How Soon and How Old/Young?

The people in my towns in 19th century rural Italy didn't stay single for long after their spouse died.

This is when you remember that most people didn't marry for love. So, 4 months after the death of their spouse, they're engaged to someone else. Can you imagine that today?

But it was a hard life. A man needed a woman to cook for him and raise his children. He would choose a younger woman (with more life to her?) and continue having children. A woman needed a man for support. She would choose a man with property or livestock or a good job. It was vital to their lives.

Before I figured this out, I was shocked to find that my 2nd great grandparents had a huge age difference. He was 46 when he married my 23-year-old 2nd great grandmother.

My first reaction was "ewww!" As I continued digging, I found his other children, his first marriage and his first wife's death. His new bride was born the same year as his eldest child. Were they childhood playmates? (Again, ewww!)

I found that my 2nd great grandmother's father died just 4 months after her marriage. Did they know he was dying? Did she need to marry to help support her mother?

Knowing what I know now, this big age difference wouldn't have shocked me. I would have assumed he was a widower and searched for his first wife.

My grandfather in America.
My grandfather in America.
I like to think of my grandfather as a perfect example.
  • He married in 1927 at the age of 25.
  • He was widowed at the age of 52.
  • He remarried at the age of 57.
  • They were too old for children, but they needed each other.
  • He was widowed again at the age of 84.
  • Marriage would have meant sharing his lifetime's fortune, but he did choose to live with a woman. (Despite not liking her cooking.)
If some of these norms hold true where your ancestors came from, be on the lookout for more marriages.

Families Intermarrying

My great grandfather and his brother married two sisters who lived close by. The two married couples lived across the street from one another for the rest of their lives. And when I say "across the street" I mean a few paces across the dirt path the mules followed.

I can imagine that the brothers' family (the Iamarino's) and the sisters' family (the Pilla's) each owned a parcel of land. Maybe their lands were literally across the mule path from one another.

But it gets better. Two more Pilla sisters—it was a big family—married two brothers from the Paolucci family. They all lived nearby. Maybe the Paolucci family had another parcel of adjacent land. It's a bunch of marriages of convenience working to twist my family tree into a wreath.

Marriages between families may have happened multiple times.
Marriages between families may have happened multiple times.
It's helpful to have an understanding of the marriage customs in the place you're researching.

Oh, and be sure to find out if divorce existed in your place of research. Legally, there was no such thing in Italy until 1970—following a mandatory 5-year separation! Because of that, I know that a 45-year-old woman in an 1880 Italian marriage document is probably a widow. And her husband may have died only months before.


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Friday, October 26, 2018

How to 'Attack' Your Ancestor's Small Town Vital Records

Everyone in your ancestor's small town may belong in your family tree.

Small towns may hold more genealogy gems for you than big cities. Let's use my 2nd great grandmother's little town of Santa Paolina as an example. The town has a very small number of houses, and a very small number of families.

Small towns are a blessing when researching your family.
Small towns are a blessing
when researching your family.
Learn the Names First

There may be only a small number of last names in your small town. Get to know them by looking at each year's vital records index files. Get familiar with the names so you know how to spell them. Later, when you're looking at records, you'll recognize even the most poorly written names.

Most of the names in Santa Paolina were brand new to me. But I learned them fast.

Choose Your Entry Point

You're looking at this town because at least one of your ancestor's was born, married or died there. Start with that ancestor's documents. All you can find.

As you enter the facts in your family tree, you can begin to branch out.

I first found my 2nd great grandmother by going straight for her 1871 marriage record. Now I had her year of birth and her parents' names. I found her birth record and her parents' birth records. I searched the years around her birth and found her siblings' names. I figured out her parents' marriage year and found those documents.

Now I had the names of some of my 4th great grandparents. With those names, I could search for the siblings of my 3rd great grandparents.

The family is blossoming out so quickly!

Some of the siblings I'm finding have their marriage date and spouse's name on their birth record. Now I can pick nearly anyone and build out their wing of the family.

Leave no stone unturned. Each document could be important to you.
Leave no stone unturned. Each document could be important to you.
Let Nothing Go to Waste

As I identify each relative's vital records, I change the original document's file name. Now I can see which documents I've processed and which may still hold goodies for me.

In a small town, you may have a very manageable number of documents for each year. Unless your only goal is to make yourself a long scroll of a family tree leading back to Charlemagne, harvest all those documents. They're all your people.

Think how many more DNA matches you can identify by spreading out your branches to take in that entire small town.


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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

How Many of These 5 Gifts Does Genealogy Research Give You?

Do people have a hard time understanding your interest in genealogy? They don't realize all the gifts it gives you.

We get into genealogy for different reasons and with different expectations. I met a man who thought after 3 clicks on an unsourced genealogy website that he was related to Adam and Eve. That's it. I win genealogy.

Others are eager to learn about where their ancestors came from. What was their family name before their grandfather changed it? Can they find living cousins they never knew before? Why did their ancestors leave their homeland?

Our motivations can change over time, too. I've learned from my research that all my ancestors came from a compact geographical area—my mom's side and my dad's side. Then DNA testing showed me my parents are not-too-distant cousins. That's an important motivation for me now.

My genealogy research gives me an appreciation for my lost culture.
My genealogy research gives me an appreciation for my lost culture.
Give the following genealogy research gifts some thought. Then, get ready to fire back some knowledge at the next person who says you're wasting time on your family tree.

1. My genealogy research gives me an appreciation for my lost culture.

As the grandchild of immigrants, I was raised in a much different culture than my ancestors. Most immigrants to America tried their best to assimilate and blend in. Their cultural influence diminishes with each new generation.

Your genealogy research teaches you about the names, places and customs of the old country. It makes you wish your ancestors were still here to tell you all about it.

2. My genealogy research inspires me to visit to my true homeland.

The first time I set foot in my grandfather's hometown in Italy, the earth moved. I felt a sense of belonging. I loved everything I saw. Every stone, garden and poppy. After that visit I spent time studying the language and preparing for my next visit. I've been there a few times, and going back is all I can think about.

3. My genealogy research urges me to learn more about history.

My maternal grandfather was a prisoner of war in Italy during World War I. As a prisoner, he had to eat rats to stay alive. But he never told us anything more.

I researched Italian army battles where prisoners were taken. I narrowed down my search to a particular battle where an astonishing number of prisoners were captured and sent to one of two camps. That was my theory of what happened to my grandfather.

During my last visit to Italy, I went to the archives to see my grandfather's military record. Imagine my tears when I saw for myself that he really was in the battle I had guessed. And they sent him to one of those two prison camps.

Who inspires your genealogy research?
We each have our own reasons for taking up this hobby.
4. My genealogy research has made me more analytical.

Newcomers to this hobby haven't yet seen how easily you can follow the wrong lead. How quickly you can put the wrong family into your family tree.

These mistakes can still happen to us after years of research. But with each mistake, we learn what to look for, and what to look out for. We become more analytical and keep an open mind.

Those skills will spill over into your everyday, non-genealogy life.

5. My genealogy research has made me more organized and efficient.

As a contractor, I've always worked for more than one company at a time. I like to take the skills I learn on one job and apply them to the other. I get better at my job and both companies benefit. Everybody wins.

Genealogy has become like another client to me. The tricks I learn with Excel spreadsheets on the job, I now apply to my genealogy work. I take the Photoshop skills I develop while enhancing document images and apply them to my paying clients. And my organization skills are always improving.

It seems clear to me these gifts are the reason you find so many helpful amateur genealogists on Facebook paying it forward. People are always ready to help you with a difficult search. Or to translate a birth record. Or to recommend where to go next in your search.

We're ready to help the next genealogist because we're grateful for all our gifts.

You think I'm wasting my time with family tree research? You clearly don't see what's going on here.


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Friday, October 19, 2018

3 Ways to Find Your Ancestors in a Huge Pile of Documents

You've downloaded thousands of vital records from your ancestor's birthplace. How do you find your people in all those files?

My genealogy research changed dramatically in 2017. I decided to put my U.S.-based research on hold. Why? Because a new door opened wide. Now I have access to my ancestors' birth, marriage and death records in the old country.

Finally! I'm able to take my great grandparents back many, many generations. So far, I've discovered the names of:
  • 4 of my 8th great grandparents
  • 7 of my 7th great grandparents
  • 34 of my 6th great grandparents
  • about half of my 128 5th great grandparents
And I will discover many more.

A brief explanation: FamilySearch.org ended their microfilm program. They used to send rolls of microfilm to your local Family History Center. You could visit these rolls during your center's limited hours and view them on antiquated machines.

But in 2017 they began digitizing everything.

Earlier, I spent 5 years viewing microfilmed vital records from my grandfather's hometown. I typed all the important facts into a laptop. Suddenly those thousands of records are available as high-resolution images online. Free! And so are records from the towns of all my ancestors. You can find them on FamilySearch and on an Italian website called Antenati (ancestors).

I started viewing images from my grandfather Iamarino's town and downloading them. One by one. It was going to take forever!

Then I learned about a simple program called GetLinks. This program runs on any type of computer. It's compatible with FamilySearch and Antenati. For a full explanation and a link to the program, see How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.

Now I have well-organized image files from all my ancestors' hometowns. They range in time from 1809 to as late as 1942. But they include rewritten documents of births and deaths from the 1700s. That's how I've found such early ancestors.

Simplify your search by organizing your downloads.
Simplify your search by organizing your downloads.

I'm limited to documents written as early as 1809 only because it's Italy. If your ancestors are from other countries, you may find much older records on FamilySearch.org.

So let's say you've downloaded thousands of images containing oh-so-many of your ancestors.
  • How do you find your people?
  • How can you efficiently pull out the people and facts you need? 
  • What's the best way to find your needles in those haystacks?
I'm approaching my 8 haystacks (individual Italian towns) in 3 different ways. You might choose one or two, or want to do them all.

1. Most time-consuming; best long-range pay-off

I'm typing the facts from each document into a spreadsheet. In the end, I'll have an easily searchable file. Want to locate every child born to a particular couple? No problem. Want to find out when a particular 4th great grandparent died? No problem.

But it is slow-going. I've completed about 6 years' worth of birth, marriage and death records for one town. I return to this project when I'm feeling burned out on a particular ancestor search and want a more robotic task to do.

There is another benefit to this method. Spending this much time with the documents has made me very familiar with the names in my ancestors' towns. I can recognize names despite the awful handwriting. And when a name is completely unfamiliar, I often discover that the person came from another town.

A well-organized spreadsheet is best for making records searchable.
A well-organized spreadsheet is best for making records searchable.

2. Takes a few extra seconds; pays you back again and again

Whenever I find a particular record, I like to edit the name of the image file to include the name on the document. If it's an image of a single birth record, I add the baby's name to the end of the file name. If the name is common, I also add the baby's father's name. (I use the Italian word "di" as a shorthand for "son of" or "daughter of".) If it's an image of 2 birth records or a marriage record, I'll add both names to the file name.

The benefit of renaming the files comes later. When you're making another search in the future, the renamed file can save you time. You can either spot the name you're looking for, or use the search box in that file folder. You can even use the search box at a higher folder level.

Imagine you're looking for my grandfather's name, Pietro Iamarino. You can search his entire town at once and let your computer find every file you've renamed to include "Pietro Iamarino".

When I began downloading the files, I renamed each file containing anyone named Iamarino. Now I can always find the Iamarino I want. Quickly.

Adding people's names to the file names makes the collection searchable.
Adding people's names to the file names makes the collection searchable.

3. Efficient, fast and fruitful; makes you want to come back

To my mind, this is the most important lesson. You'll be more efficient at finding what you need in this massive amount of files if you put blinders on.

Search with a tight focus. Ignore the people in the index with your last name. You'll get back to them. But at this moment, when you're searching for someone in particular, don't look at anyone else. Zero in on that one name and complete your search.

Use this focused approach and find your ancestors faster. The moment you find them, rename the file and get that person into your tree.

My many folders of vital records hold countless discoveries for me. But I've found that choosing one family unit and searching only for them is highly effective. Here's an example.

I've found the birth record of a particular 2nd great grandparent. I know their parents' names (my 3rd great grandparents), but I don't know when they married or their exact ages. I'll search the surrounding years for more babies born to this couple. Now I'm putting together their family. I'm also trying to identify which is the eldest child. Now I can search a year before the eldest child's birth for the couples' marriage. There I can find their ages, and possibly see a rewritten copy of their birth records.

With that set of marriage records and my 3rd great grandparents' birth records, I've now discovered the names of 2 sets of my 4th great grandparents. And if they weren't born too early, I may be able to find their birth records, too!

Having built out one family unit as far as I can, I'm even more eager to pick a new family to investigate. Sometimes I'll choose a family with a dead end, and work to find that missing piece of the puzzle.

Which method will work best for you? Or will you combine all 3 as I'm doing?


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