10 July 2020

A Startling Family Tree Discovery

I was working on a distant branch of my family tree, and I wondered what was my exact relation to this person. I used the Relationship Calculator in Family Tree Maker for a visualization.

The tool creates a stepping-stone trail from you (or whomever you choose) to any person in your tree. I thought it'd be fun to see the Relationship Calculator for my grandparents, Pietro Iamarino and Lucy Iamarino. They didn't both have the unusual last name of Iamarino for no reason.

I learned a few years ago that my grandparents were 3rd cousins. The Relationship Calculator in Family Tree Maker lists 3 relationships for my grandparents:
  • Pietro is Lucy's husband
  • Pietro is Lucy's 3rd cousin (they share 2nd great grandparents)
  • Pietro is the nephew of the husband of the 1st cousins twice removed of Lucy
Of course I needed a visual aid to figure out that last relationship. Lucy Iamarino's grandfather had a 1st cousin named Libera Nigro. She married a relative in the Iamarino family. I recognized his name right away. He was the Uncle Joe my dad remembers from his early childhood.

Uncle Joe, or Giuseppantonio Iamarino, was the go-to relative in the Bronx, New York. When my grandfather's father came to America, he stayed with his brother Joe. When my grandmother's father came to America, he also stayed with Joe—his 2nd cousin!

I have a bit of unfinished research business with Uncle Joe. Years ago in the New York City Municipal Archives, I learned Uncle Joe had remarried in November 1928. I'd never found the death record for his 1st wife, Libera Nigro.

Now that indexed New York City vital records are online, I thought I'd search for Libera's death. Instead I found a death record for her daughter.

I have their daughter Giovannangela Iamarino's 1895 birth record from the Antenati website. And I have her 1903 ship manifest. It shows her coming to America with her mother (Libera Nigro) and brother to join her father (my Uncle Joe). Giovannangela, also called Jennie, is with her parents in the 1905, 1910 and 1915 censuses. I had no idea what became of her.

The shocking discovery of cousin Jennie's horrific death is tempered by the discovery of her husband: another cousin.
The shocking discovery of cousin Jennie's horrific death is tempered by the discovery of her husband: another cousin.

Until now. When I clicked that death record entry, I learned one key fact right away: Jennie had married a man named Piteo.

The index of her death record has several critical facts:
  • It confirms her birth date, so I'm certain she's the right person.
  • She was only 27 years old when she died on 18 February 1923.
  • She's buried in St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx along with the vast majority of my family.
It was the cause of death that threw me for a loop. The transcription is pretty bad (can't you at least spell kitchen?), but understandable. It says, "Difun Burns of Body (Accidental) Cloths Caughs Fin This And from Kithcen for Range."

Poor Jennie's clothes caught fire while she was cooking ("Cloths Caughs Fin," argh!). She died from burns to her body. Instantly, I pictured this scene in my mind. Was she lighting the stove with a match? Did the flames get too high? Did she use a mapina (dish towel) to beat the flames, but wind up spreading it to her own clothing? She must have been screaming. The entire apartment house must have heard her. Did anyone try to save her? Did she have a small child or children there with her?

But this story seemed familiar. I don't have contact with anyone who would have remembered Jennie. Did I really hear this before?

It was her son's U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index that led me further. It lists Jennie Iamarino as mother, Vincent Piteo as father. Their child, Serafino Vincent Piteo, lived to the age of 84 (I'm so glad!). He was born in January 1920 and died in 2004. He probably missed the 1920 census, but I found him with his dad in the 1930 census.

A random, unexpected path led me to a tragic discovery in my family tree.
A random, unexpected path led me to a tragic discovery in my family tree.

Now that I had the name of Jennie's husband, I wondered where he came from. I found his World War I draft registration card on Ancestry. As I scanned the card for his place of birth, I nearly cried again. He's from the same town as Jennie and every Iamarino: Colle Sannita.

I realized I had his 1892 birth record in my possession. (See Collect the Whole Set.) Vincent's (Vincenzo's) mother is my 3rd cousin 3 times removed.

While I'm haunted by what happened to poor Jennie, I'm eager to fit her son into my family tree. I can't wait to see how many different relationships he and I have.

How I got to this point, working the Piteo men into my family tree, was very roundabout. And I never found a death record for Jennie's mother. It just goes to show you. You never know what amazing stories you'll find while playing around with genealogy.

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07 July 2020

How to Sharpen Your DNA Detective Skills

How inspiring was "The Genetic Detective" TV series featuring CeCe Moore? It's fascinating to see her piece together an unknown person's family. In practically no time, she finds enough family tree evidence to identify the DNA donor.

While CeCe's detective work inspired me, it also confounded me. Why can't I get anywhere with the matches I find on GEDmatch?

Then I remembered…people upload their DNA to GEDmatch. That means they tested somewhere else. Maybe they're using the same name or handle on their original testing site. I found someone that way before. First I discovered him on GEDmatch, and then I realized he was my DNA match on Ancestry.

Over the long weekend I had fun identifying a couple of DNA matches who'd been a mystery for a long time. I solved each one by finding one familiar last name in their family tree. That last name was from one of my grandfather's hometowns in Italy. In the end, I pieced together their families to find a connection to myself.

I had another match I really wanted to crack. All I had was her photo and her handle, which I figured was some version of her name. She's one of those pesky DNA matches with a connection to both my parents.

Start with a Simple Search

A web search for her handle found her right away! There I saw the same photo of her and her full name. Returning to Ancestry.com, I discovered her last name might not be Italian. And, in fact, it was her married name. Thanks to New York City marriage indexes on Ancestry, I learned her maiden name, her birth date, and her place of birth.

Find Their Current Connections

I went to Facebook, as Cece Moore would do. Very little of my DNA match's page was public, but I made a big discovery. A photo of her and her mother had a comment from someone with a familiar last name. This person had a tree on Ancestry. I'd been looking at it a bit earlier.

Before long, I learned the names, birth dates, and birth places of this DNA match's parents and 2 older siblings. Then I learned the names of her father's parents. Finally, I could take this research back into Italian vital records.

That was the end of the Ancestry document trail. But I got what I needed. Her father's family comes from a town neighboring my ancestral hometowns. I needed to find her grandparents' birth records. Then I'd be able to build out their family trees until they connect to mine.

I had to marvel at what had happened so far. I went from knowing nothing about her to knowing very specific details. And it all happened in a few minutes.

Dig Into Their Ancestors' Past

With a kick-start from this match's relative's family tree, I found her great grandfather's birth record. The year before it, I found his parents' marriage records. And guess what? The 1857 bride was born in my grandfather's hometown. In fact, she and her whole family are in my family tree already.

I knew if I went back a generation or two, I'd find a connection to my family tree. And I did!
I knew if I went back a generation or two, I'd find a connection to my family tree. And I did!

I did it! I found this mystery DNA's connection to my mom's side of the family fast enough to please the likes of CeCe Moore. I may know more about her ancestry than my DNA match does.

I suppose some of you are freaking out about the lack of privacy. We all leave a digital footprint and a paper trail. As a genealogy fan, aren't you glad your ancestors left behind a paper trail for you to follow?

I have no intention of reaching out to this DNA match. Or to many of the very-distant matches I've identified. I only want to use their ancestral clues to beef up my family tree. How else would I have learned that a teenage girl from Baselice, whose father died before she was born, married a man in another town in 1857?

I'm no crime solver, but I'm pretty damned happy with my genealogy detective skills today. Isn't it time to revisit your unsolved DNA matches?

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03 July 2020

How to Create a Targeted Genealogy Research Plan

I've been all over the place with my genealogy research lately. That's fine. It's all fun and helps me make progress. But since I've got a long weekend, I want to do some carefully targeted research.

Here are my 4 steps for creating my targeted research plan. Think about how this applies to your research.

1. Choose Your Most Important Goal

If you've read a few of my articles, you probably know I'm trying to find out why my parents share some DNA. If there's a common ancestor, I want to know who it is. I'd like to figure this out while my parents are still able to have a laugh about it.

2. Look at the Research You've Done

I've built the daylights out of both their trees. Lately I've been working on one of Mom's under-developed branches. This branch's hometown is so small, it was common for the young ladies to marry men from another town. Did one of those grooms come from one of Dad's towns?

DNA Painter showed that Mom and another match (I know exactly who he is) overlap in 2 places on Dad's chromosomes. But I have no inkling of a relationship between Mom and this other match.

The Leeds Method gave me a way to examine Mom and Dad's shared DNA matches. But I didn't reach a conclusion.

Tools and methods only got me so far. Now I've got a theory, and I'll work to prove or disprove it.
Tools and methods only got me so far. Now I've got a theory, and I'll work to prove or disprove it.

I've looked at their shared matches on Ancestry DNA, and reached out to many matches with no real progress. Some offer no family tree. Those who do have a tree don't have a visible connection to me.

I made a spreadsheet (yes, another spreadsheet!) of my parents' 8 shared DNA matches. I included the number of centiMorgans (cMs) they shared with each and across how many segments. This helped me see which matches skewed more toward Mom, and which leaned more toward Dad. I made note of familiar last names in the available family trees.

3. Decide Where It's Best to Focus

Even though they're not the closest matches, I decided to focus on 3 matches with a family tree. A 4th match has a tree, and it's entirely incorporated into mine because of our relationship. But her tree is entirely on Dad's side of the family.

4. Spell Out Your Plan of Action

For the 3 matches with undeveloped family trees, I latched onto a familiar name.
  • Donato Zerrillo was born in 1896 in the same town as my Dad's father. He's in my tree with a lot of relatives. I can explore his branches further to see if any lead to Mom's family.
  • Salvatore Antonio Pozzuto was born in 1884, also in my Dad's father's town. I need to give his ancestors more attention, too. I'll see where his branches lead.
  • Giuseppe Leone was born in 1882 in the same town as my Mom's father. I've already got a working theory to try to prove. Giuseppe's father was Michele Leone. There were 2 Michele Leones in town born a year apart. One of them was my 2nd great uncle. If this DNA match is a descendant of my 2nd great uncle, that would make total sense. And get this: I already know his relationship to Dad. He and I share my 4th great grandfather Pietro diPaola. We have a half 4th cousin once removed relationship.
The 3rd option seems to be the most important to follow. I already have my paternal relationship nailed down. And I think I have a good lead on the maternal relationship.

If this theory is true, I'll have 1 DNA match closely connected to my 2 parents.
If this theory is true, I'll have 1 DNA match closely connected to my 2 parents.

My goal this weekend is to try to connect 1882 Giuseppe Leone to my 2nd great uncle Michele Leone.

If I tackle these, or if I try and strike out, I can get back to my aimless-but-fun family tree research.

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30 June 2020

How to Work Out Errors in Your Family Tree

The Ellis Island website was my gateway to genealogy. In my early days, I found ship manifests for my 2 grandfathers and other relatives. Then came my Ancestry.com membership, and my next gateway: census records.

What busted my family tree wide open was microfilm. I learned I could go to a Family History Center to view vital records from my Grandpa Leone's hometown. I began a 5-year process of viewing microfilm and typing every fact into a laptop. I have a text file with 29,864 lines of facts from his town's vital records, 1809–1860. I entered those facts into Family Tree Maker software to see how all the families fit together. (If you have an ancestor from Baselice, contact me!)

I'm related to 95% of the town. That research added 15,000 people to my family tree.

But I'm sure I made some errors. I couldn't look at each document again to correct any mistakes. Until 3 years ago. That's when a free website called Antenati published all those vital records and more. Now I have easy access to all the information I transcribed from microfilm in the dark.

Yesterday I ran Family Tree Analyzer to find some of those mistakes. It seems I have a family unit whose birth years don't line up. The 11 children (eleven!) have birth years from the 1760s to the 1780s. The problem is their mother, Antonia Cormano, was too young to have had the first 2 of her children.

And if her birth year is wrong, so are my estimated birth years for her parents and grandparents.

A routine error check lead me to several generations of one family with age issues.
A routine error check lead me to several generations of one family with age issues.

The whole mess hinges on the unknown birth year of her first child, Antonio Colucci. Antonio died before 1809 when civil records began. So I can't find his death record easily. I estimated his birth year as 1746—25 years before his eldest child was born. I need to re-examine the marriage records of his descendants to sort things out.

Side note: Italian marriage documents are awesome. They include the bride and groom's birth records. And if any of their parents are dead, you get their death records. If their fathers and grandfathers are dead, you get the grandfathers' death records!

I wanted to learn the true birth year of Antonia's first-born child, Antonio. To find such an early record, I needed to find a male descendant of his who married after he died. Antonio's grandson Michele Antonio Colucci married in 1854. His marriage records did indeed have a death record for his grandfather Antonio. It shows his birth year as 1759, very different from my estimated birth year of 1746. That would help solve my problem with the birth years of Antonia and her ancestors.

But, of course, there's a complication. If Antonio was born in 1759, then he's too young to have had his 2 children born in 1771 and 1775!

The ripple effect of one bad date is enormous! (Are any "Indiana Jones" fans thinking of Harrison Ford's "Bad dates" line right now?)

Maybe Antonio's death record had his age wrong. These mistakes happen all the time. There were no other well-timed marriages that would include the death record I want. But let's say the birth year of 1759 is about right. Biologically, he could have had a child in 1775. So maybe his daughter Angela's birth year of 1771 is wrong. With a child born in 1797, Angela could have been born a bit later.

Her 1832 death record says she was 61 years old, born in 1771. Early birth records from the town rarely include the parents' ages. My only hope of seeing Angela's age apart from on her death record is her daughter's 1811 birth record. Sadly, that record confirms Angela's husband's age, but doesn't mention her age at all.

It's hard to imagine his age could be off by much when he's only 27 years old.
It's hard to imagine his age could be off by much when he's only 27 years old.

Well, that was frustrating. All I can do with what I have is fudge Antonio's birth year a bit and work backwards from there.

The following changes are going to need asterisks:
  • I'll push Antonio's birth year back a bit and record it not as 1759, but as 1753. That'd make him an 18-year-old father. That's not common in this town, but it sometimes happened.
  • I'll leave his father with his documented birth year of 1735. That'd make him an 18-year-old father, too. Like father, like son.
  • Despite what her death record says, I'll change Antonia Cormano's birth year from 1742 to 1735. That'd make her an 18-year-old mother. It's like "Romeo and Juliet" if they'd lived.
  • Then I'll follow my usual protocol. For Antonia's parents and grandparents, I'll subtract 25 from the year their child was born. If I change Antonia's birth year to 1735, then her parents were born "Abt 1710", and their parents were born "Abt 1685".
I'm not happy with fudging 2 documented dates, but the pieces didn't fit. I plan to work through this entire extended family, adding documents and sources to Family Tree Maker. If I'm lucky, some overlooked document will turn up with a better clue.

Genealogy, like life, can be messy. Slap on that bandage and keep searching.

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26 June 2020

How to Add Context to DNA Matches

No. I still haven't figured out my parents' DNA connection. It's a journey, and along the way, I keep finding tools and methods to help make sense of DNA matches.

After giving up on DNA triangulation, I wanted an easier way to understand my DNA matches.

Here's what I did, and it's really helpful. I looked at my Ancestry DNA matches to find the closest relative I haven't yet identified. Let's call her TK. TK and I share 125 centiMorgans (cMs) across 12 segments. Ancestry DNA says we may be in the general range of 2nd cousins once removed.

I clicked on TK's name in my DNA match list. Then I clicked to see our shared matches. It's a fairly long list, and since the 1st shared match is my father, I know TK is on his side of the family.

I opened a blank spreadsheet. In column A, I put the names of our top shared DNA matches. (I included TK in the list.) In column B, I added the amount of centiMorgans (cMs) I share with each person.

It turns out I know who almost all our top shared DNA matches are. A bunch of them have the same last name, and our connection is my father's 1st cousin.

So, in column C, I entered my relationship to each person. The majority are descendants of my great grandfather Pasquale. Some are a bit more distant. They're descendants of Pasquale's sister, so we share my 2nd great grandparents.

Arranging our shared DNA matches in order added context to this unknown match.
Arranging our shared DNA matches in order added context to this unknown match.

The results were unmistakable:
  • The closest relative, my dad's 1st cousin JM, shares 441 cMs with me.
  • Her children, my 2nd cousins JM and DM, share an average of 230 cMs with me.
  • Their children, my 2nd cousins once removed MM and TM, share an average of 124 cMs with me.
  • 3 matches are my 3rd cousins LH, MW and JP, sharing a pair of 2nd great grandparents with me. One of them shares 153 cMs with me, but the other 2 share an average of 78 cMs with me.
You can see a pretty strong correlation between the cMs and the relationship.

I ended my list with a recently discovered DNA match, GP. We share only 40 cMs, but we have an unusual relationship. Each of her parents is my 6th cousin. I needed her in this set as a reference point.

In my list of 12 DNA matches, there are only 3 with an unknown relationship. Two of those are in my tree, but our relationship is very convoluted. Our blood connection is still missing.

I highlighted each of the 3 unidentified DNA matches, including TK, and saw a definite pattern. TK should be my 2nd cousin once removed through my great grandfather Pasquale. Her number (125) fits right between my known 2nd cousins once removed.

But that isn't our connection. Pasquale had 3 children, and I know the names of their children and grandchildren. None of the girls have a name starting with T.

But TK's 125 cMs also fall in line with my 3rd cousins. They're the ones descended from Pasquale's sister.

I happen to know one such cousin with the right first name, but she spells it differently. I've reached out to her and hope she can help me unravel TK. The good news is, she already knows me, and we're planning to have a conversation later.

My next DNA match with an unidentified connection, MM, fits right between 2 of my 3rd cousins. As I said, she's in my tree, but there are a lot of empty branches hiding our true DNA connection. I know my great grandfather had another sister, but I don't know who she married. Could MM be her great granddaughter?

My last unidentified DNA match from this set, SZ, has almost the same amount of shared cMs as my 6th cousin once removed. She and I probably have a more distant relationship. I know she was born before my parents, so I expect us to have a once or twice removed relationship. The big deal about SZ is that she's a match to my mom, too!

Now I have a spreadsheet that gives me a much better idea of my relationship to these 3 DNA matches. Seeing the relationships in order of shared cMs adds context. It makes the possible relationships much clearer.

What if we list even more of our closest DNA matches this way? How many others can we figure out when we give them some context?


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23 June 2020

Are Your Dead Ends Hiding DNA Matches?

Some dead ends are more important than others when a DNA connection is missing.

Despite some juicy leads, I still don't know why my parents share some DNA. They have a distant cousin relationship that I can't nail down. So let's try something else.

Recently I wrote about How to Diagram a Mystery DNA Match. It was a new technique that worked incredibly well on my first try. So why not try it on my parents?

I chose one parent's DNA test and found the other parent in the match list. I clicked to see all the possible relationships for 2 people who share 37 centimorgans. In my relationship calculator spreadsheet, I highlighted these possible relationships.

I know the names of all my father's 3rd great grandparents. I'm missing 8 of my mother's 3rd great grandparents due to a lack of records from their hometown. With so many ancestors known, I was able to rule out all the most likely relationships.

Mom's maternal side still has a lot of missing ancestors, some of which I may yet find.
Mom's maternal side still has a lot of missing ancestors, some of which I may yet find.

But my parents may have a half-cousin relationship. What if one of his 3rd or 4th great grandparents married one of her 3rd or 4th great grandparents? I know my Italian ancestors didn't stay widowed for long. They would remarry for help raising the children or for companionship.

I went through my parents' ancestors looking for those I knew had more than one marriage. I kept noticing all the missing ancestors and wondering about them.

I have to keep working on my under-explored towns:
  • Apice and Santa Paolina on Mom's side
  • Pesco Sannita and Circello on Dad's side
Each one of their towns is pretty close to the others.

Can I fill in more holes in my family tree? Will any new paths lead to my other parent's ancestral hometowns?

I thought it might help to check the Relationship Calculator in Family Tree Maker. It might tell me where to start searching.

I clicked on Dad and checked his relationship to Mom. Besides "husband", I found these relationships:
  1. Dad is the nephew of the wife of the 2nd cousin once removed of the wife of the 2nd cousin of Mom
  2. Dad is the nephew of the wife of the 4th cousin once removed of the brother-in-law of Mom
  3. Dad is the half 1st cousin 3 times removed of the wife of the 2nd cousin once removed of the brother-in-law of Mom
  4. Dad is the grand nephew of the wife of the half grand nephew of the wife of the nephew of the husband of the 2nd great aunt of Mom
  5. Dad is the nephew of the wife of the 1st great grand nephew of the wife of the 1st cousins of the husband of the half 1st great aunt of Mom
Well, that's clear, isn't it? I checked Family Tree Maker's relationship chart for each of the 5 relationships to make sense of it.

The Relationship Calculator in Family Tree Maker shows you hidden relationships.
The Relationship Calculator in Family Tree Maker shows you hidden relationships.

Here's what jumps out at me:
  • Relationship 1 hinges on a marriage between Mom's paternal hometown (Baselice) and Dad's paternal hometown (Colle Sannita). But that marriage happened only a few years before my parents were born.
  • Relationships 2 and 3 above end with the brother-in-law of Mom. That's my Uncle Kenny—my aunt's husband. Other DNA relationships point to a blood relationship between Uncle Kenny and me. I haven't figured it out, but here it is again.
  • Relationships 4 and 5 above also include marriages between the 2 towns. These marriages happened in the 1830s and 1850s.
I'm always on the lookout for marriages between my 2 grandfathers' towns. The marriage in relationship #4 includes the last name Pozzuto. All my roads seem to lead to Pozzuto. I found this out when I did some DNA mapping using the Leeds Method. My parents share DNA matches with a high percentage of Pozzuto, and a heapin' helpin' of Zeolla.

So, what does all that analysis tell me to do? Keep working on dead ends in specific areas of my family tree. I'll start by exploring those 2 inter-town marriages. I'll also work on some other towns, searching for Mom's missing ancestors.

I know that any new relationships I add along the way may connect me to more DNA matches.

Do you have DNA mysteries you can't solve? Spend time researching the common branches. Or concentrate on particular last names. Fill in as many blanks as possible.

It's a never-ending journey. But when you love genealogy, the journey is what makes it fun.

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19 June 2020

Recipe for a Father's Day Genealogy Project

It's time to turn your genealogy skills into a great gift.

You're the family tree nerd in your family, right? Then you're the best person to whip up a genealogy-based Father's Day gift. (If you can't give a gift to your dad, I'm sure there's a father in your family that you like a lot.)

Time's running out, so let's get to it.

Pull together every genealogy item you've found that includes your dad. These are your main ingredients:
  • Birth record
  • Census forms
  • Yearbook photos
  • Marriage documents
  • Photos throughout his life
  • Highlights of his accomplishments
Blend these ingredients together in a way that helps tell dad's life. I'm going to mix images from the list above into a Microsoft Word document. That way I can write detailed captions for each image. And I can write a few sentences between the images, telling the story of Dad's life.

Who could be better than a genealogist to make the perfect Father's Day gift?
Who could be better than a genealogist to make the perfect Father's Day gift?

With your ingredients gathered, whip up a timeline of Dad's major life moments. My dad's timeline would go like this. Think about how these types of events might relate to your dad.
  • Birth in Ohio (I can't get the document itself.)
  • Move from Ohio to New York (He's in the 1940 census in New York as a little boy from Ohio.)
  • Grade school graduation (I recently got photos of him with his diploma and his parents.)
  • High school graduation (Dad's Cardinal Hayes High School yearbooks are online.)
  • Move back to Ohio (I have photos of his family in Cleveland.)
  • Joining the U.S. Air Force (My dad was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, which is a big part of his identity.)
  • Marrying my mom (I've got images of the Bronx, New York, marriage license index in 1954.)
  • His bail-out as his jet plane started to break apart and crash (I have a copy of a newspaper article about his bailout.)
  • Vacations with his young family (My brother digitized our old family slides.)
  • His long succession of houses (Houses and moving are a big part of our family story.)
With your outline well-mixed:
  • Fold in dates and places
  • Knead each bullet point into a few sentences
  • Sprinkle in photos and document images to taste
I can't give my father a hard-copy of this collection in person. He lives too far away, and I thought of it too late! But if I build it in Word and save it as a PDF, I can email it to him.

Here's how a section of my dad's story is shaping up. It's not a lot of text because I think he'll enjoy the photos more.

Think through Dad's life and its milestones for a wonderful Father's Day gift.
Think through Dad's life and its milestones for a wonderful Father's Day gift.

Don't over-cook it. Don't stress out. Just start writing and finding images to use. The words will come to you.

It's a lot more satisfying than a generic Father's Day card, don't you think?

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16 June 2020

6 Ways to Find Your Ancestor's Hometown

The quest for the holy grail: your ancestor's place of birth.

You can't go back beyond your immigrant ancestor until you know where they were born. That town of birth is critical to finding documents.

I'm working on a couple who married in New York City in 1889. He was Giovanni Calleo. His naturalization papers have his exact birth date, but not his hometown. She was Cristina, and New York marriage indexes gave me her maiden name: Mastroianno. But nothing more.

I can't find Giovanni's immigration record. But he arrived in 1881. There's almost no chance his ship manifest will state his hometown. Her 1889 ship manifest has no details beyond her name and age. She arrived two weeks before her marriage. Two weeks! That makes me think they came from the same hometown. Family may have arranged the marriage and shipped her to the U.S.

Their hometown is everything. Your quest is to find your ancestor's hometown.
Their hometown is everything. Your quest is to find your ancestor's hometown.

To go any further back, I need to know where they came from. Here are 6 different avenues to explore.

1. Ship Manifests

My first traveling ancestor was my 2nd great grandfather. He made a few trips in the 1890s.

In 1898 he went back to Italy to bring over his wife and 2 of his children. That 1898 ship manifest has the details I needed.

My great aunt said the family came from Pastene. The 1898 ship manifest lists their town as "S. Angelo." I scoured a map for a while until I figured it out. Pastene is a frazione (a hamlet) of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. With that information, I was able to learn so much.

A well-timed ship manifest is a great way to find your ancestor's hometown.

2. Naturalization Papers

United States naturalization papers have 3 varieties. A person first filed their Declaration of Intention to become a citizen. This form may include your ancestor's:
  • place and date of birth
  • the exact date of their arrival
  • the name of the ship.
Next came the Petition for Naturalization. This may also include your ancestor's place and date of birth.

A thorough naturalization form can give you a ton of places, dates, names, and facts you need.
A thorough naturalization form can give you a ton of places, dates, names, and facts you need.

Finally there is the actual naturalization. I have this document for Giovanni Calleo, but it confirms only his birth date.

I can't find Giovanni Calleo's declaration and petition. It may take a page-by-page search in the New York City court closest to where he lived.

3. Death Certificate

A close relative provides the facts on a death certificate. But what if they don't know the full names, proper spelling, and places of birth for their ancestors?

If you find a death certificate, keep in mind they may have anglicized the names. What do you think the names might be in the original language? They may misspell the town of birth, if they include it.

4. Marriage Certificate

It's a bit of a rarity, but a marriage certificate may tell you where your immigrant ancestor was born. My ancestors' New York marriage certificates don't have a town; only a country. My grandparents' Ohio marriage license says she was born in Hornell, New York. But for Grandpa, it says only Italy.

A marriage certificate may be a long shot for finding an international place of birth. But it's a worthwhile search.

5. Find Others with the Name

Sometimes I'll search Ancestry for a last name only to see which towns the name generally comes from.

Searching for the name Mastroianno gives me a list of towns I can check. They include: Caiazzo, Caserta, Villa Santo Croce, Alvignano, Conflenti, Sezze, Benevento.

That's a lot to go on. Almost too much. Since Caiazzo came up a few times, I'll try there first.

I'll search the 1865 and 1869 birth records in these towns for Giovanni and Cristina.

6. Trace their Siblings

It's disappointing not to have found their hometowns yet. I have one ace left up my sleeve, and his name is Pasquale.

In the 1905 New York State census, Cristina's brother Pasquale Mastroianno is living with her. He's a 44-year-old married man who's been in the U.S. for 6 years. Did he plan to return to his wife and kids in Italy once he had enough money? Or was he going to bring them to America?

Pasquale's 1899 arrival should include his hometown. That'll be Cristina's hometown.

Here's what I found:
  • An 1861 Italian birth record from the town of Falerna. The baby's parents are much too old to have had Cristina 8 years later. I looked anyway, and there is no record for her in that town.
  • A 1900 ship manifest, hometown: Recale. While this is a good fit for Pasquale, I did not find Cristina born in Recale.
  • An 1893 ship manifest, hometown: Nocera. There are 4 towns whose name begins with Nocera. I'll have to search all 4.
  • An 1891 ship manifest, hometown: Palermo. He's heading to New York. It could be him.
  • An 1890 ship manifest, hometown: Nicastro. My list of possible hometowns is getting awfully long.
  • A 1902 ship manifest, hometown: Campochiaro. The 1905 census says he'd been in the U.S. for 6 years. This doesn't seem like a good fit.
  • A 1905 ship manifest that's the Pasquale from the 1861 Italian birth record. He was going to Pittsburgh.
Lots more ship manifests, city directories, and naturalization indexes didn't fit this Pasquale.

Usually one of the first 3 methods would give me what I need. But this family is a tough one. Since I know Giovanni's birth date and Cristina's birth year, my best hope is that long list of towns.

I'll search for them in the birth records for each town in the list.

That hometown is the holy grail. If I find their birth records, I'll have their parents' names. I can search for their parents' marriages, and so on.

Don't give up on your search. Try every path until one leads you where you want to go.


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12 June 2020

4 Ways to Handle Names in Your Family Tree

What's in a name? History, ancestry, culture…everything.

How do you record people's names in your family tree? Each time someone asks this question, I say it's a matter of personal preference. But, to be honest, some methods are better than others.

For a professional opinion, see Kimberly Powell's "8 Rules for Properly Recording Names in Genealogy" on ThoughtCo.

While I do not capitalize last names as Ms. Powell suggests, she does offer sound advice. I find the CAPITALIZATION to be distracting and unnecessary.

Here's my take on recording names in a family tree.

1. Maiden Names vs. Married Names

A woman's maiden name is the holy grail. You can't find her ancestors without learning her maiden name. That's why I always use a woman's maiden name. You may say, "But her married name makes it easy to see who she married." Actually, your family tree makes it easy to see who she married. And if she married 2 or more times, you're not accounting for at least one husband's last name.

This became a non-starter for me when I learned that Italian women keep their maiden name for life. The vast majority of women in my family tree lived their lives in Italy. I've told my husband that if I die first, he'd better damn well put my maiden name on my marker.

2. Given Names, Known As Names, and Nicknames

I prefer to record each person's name as it appears on their birth record, if available. A person may not "go by" their given name throughout their life. My great grandmother was born Marianna but often used her late sister's name Mariangela.

You can record multiple names for a person, but I make their given name the preferred name.
You can record multiple names for a person, but I make their given name the preferred name.

You can use a person's given name as their primary NAME fact. Add a 2nd NAME fact to record their preferred name. Add a 3rd NAME fact to record a nickname. Many of my parents' family members had nicknames like Baldy or Blondie. It's a great idea to capture those nicknames, too. You can always use a person's Notes section to explain how, where, and why people used a nickname.

No one knew my grandmother by her birth name of Maria Carmina. That's how I've recorded her in my family tree because it was a major discovery. I can record Mary as a 2nd NAME fact.

3. Spelling Changes

Speaking of Grandma, as soon as I began this wonderful hobby, I discovered a name change. At birth, Grandma and her 4 siblings had the family name Sarracino, with 2 Rs. That spelling is on all 5 marriage records. After that, the family went by Saracino with 1 R. My 2 Sarracino great uncles produced 2 Saracino kids. The male is legally a Saracino with 1 R. So is his son and his son's wife and children.

I recorded Grandma's generation as Sarracino, but her brothers' descendants as Saracino.

Things get confusing when a name is changed, but I honor the at-birth legal name.
Things get confusing when a name is changed, but I honor the at-birth legal name.

Things are trickier with a family that came from Italy. Their original surname was diPaola. In America, different parts of the family adopted different spellings. There's diPoalo, DePoalo, DePaul, DePaulo. It gets harder to see who's related and how.

While searching for my connection to a DNA match, I didn't know which spelling was hers. Her family tree gave me 1 married couple's names as help. But that worked, and I have placed her in my tree. She gets the same spelling variation as her father.

4. Unknown Names

I used to record "Unknown" wherever I had a missing first name or last name in my family tree. It surprised me when a cousin looked at a tree printout and said, "Oh, I'm sure they knew her name."

That left me open to suggestions for a better way to record someone with a missing name. Along came Ancestry's chief genealogist, Crista Cowan. She mentioned it in one of her "Barefoot Genealogist" lessons on YouTube. She uses a blank (_____), consisting of 5 underscore characters, to show that a name is missing.

A blank line is something anyone who's ever taken a test can understand.
A blank line is something anyone who's ever taken a test can understand.

I do all my work in Family Tree Maker. The people with _____ for a last name appear at the top of the alphabetical index. On Ancestry.com, they're at the end, after last names beginning with Z. The blanks show me I need to keep trying to find that missing name.

My family tree is all about origins and roots. (Isn't yours?) I cherish all the family names and all the given names. I pay homage to my roots by recording and displaying the original names. Their names are everything.


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09 June 2020

How to Diagram a Mystery DNA Match

This is what I'll do when a DNA match is too abstract to make sense.

One of Mom's DNA matches is driving me crazy. Mary and Mom share 250 centiMorgans. That's a lot for someone I can't identify. Ancestry DNA says there's a 67% chance they are:
  • 2nd cousins
  • 1st cousins twice removed
  • half 1st cousins once removed, or
  • half 2nd great aunt/niece.
Mary learned from her DNA test that her father was not her biological father. A mutual DNA match led to the name of her father. I recognized the last name from my ancestors' hometown.

It looks like Mary's biological father's grandmother is my blood relative. Her name was Maria Grazia Sarracino. Sarracino is my maternal grandmother's maiden name. Everyone named Sarracino in their little hamlet in Italy is family. But the town has very limited vital records available.

I looked at Mary and Mom's shared matches. Two people have the last name of Mary's birth father, 1 has the name Saracino, and 1 has a Sarracino grandmother.

I decided to research Maria Grazia Sarracino—the grandmother of Mary's birth father. Her daughter was Angela Coviello—Mary's biological grandmother. She was born in 1895 to Angelo Coviello and Maria Grazia Sarracino. Angela's birth record does not say Maria Grazia Sarracino's age. I searched for more of her children, hoping for more details.

It was obvious Maria Grazia was Angelo's 2nd wife. They kept having babies until he was at least 62 years old. And there were no children born before 1893. Maria Grazia probably married Angelo in 1892. The last child I found was born in 1904. The 1905–1909 records are missing, but Angelo was getting quite old. None of their children's birth records include Maria Grazia's age or the name of her father.

Maria Grazia Sarracino was most likely born between 1860 and 1875. But without the records, I can't look for her marriage to Angelo Coviello. I can't look for her death. And I didn't find her birth.

Would a diagram of all Mary and Mom's possible relationships help solve this DNA mystery?

This turned out to be incredibly helpful. I started with my Relationship Calculator spreadsheet. (Download the file for free. Can't open an Excel file? Here's the Google Sheets version.) The calculator tells you your exact relationship to a cousin.

You can also use this relationship calculator to narrow down your connection to a DNA match. Here's how I did it:
  • Duplicate the worksheet onto a new tab, leaving the original untouched.
  • Highlight the cells that match your estimated relationship to your DNA match. (Note: The estimated relationships come from AncestryDNA. If you're not a subscriber, enter the shared amount of centiMorgans in this tool: https://dnapainter.com/tools/sharedcmv4.)
    • I highlighted full relationships in yellow: 2nd cousin, and in 2 locations, 1st cousin 2 times removed.
    • I highlighted half relationships in orange: 1st cousin, 1st cousin 1 time removed (in 2 locations), and 2nd Great Grand niece/nephew (in 2 locations).
  • Delete or empty all the rows, columns, and cells you haven't highlighted.
  • Add names to make things clearer. If Mom is the child of the common ancestor, then the common ancestor is Grandma. Put the appropriate name in each highlighted cell.
  • Think through each relationship. You'll know that some are impossible, so you can cross them out.
  • The remaining cells are your strongest possibilities.

This simple diagram showed me the most likely relationship between Mom and Mary.
This simple diagram showed me the most likely relationship between Mom and Mary.

I started with the easiest one: both locations of 2nd Great Grand niece/nephew. For one to be true, Mary would have to be the 3rd great grandchild of my grandmother. Mary's older than me, and a stranger, so that's impossible.

For the other to be true, Mary would have to be the child of my mother's 3rd great grandfather who died in the early 1800s. Also impossible. I crossed out both cells.

Next I looked at Mom's Grandchild column. These cells all have my great grandfather Giovanni's name in them. I know all Giovanni's children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. So I know Mary can't be his grandchild, great grandchild, or 2nd great grandchild. I crossed out all 3 cells.

Then I skipped a column and looked at Mom's 2nd great grandfather, Antonio. He couldn't be Mary's grandfather because he lived too long ago. I crossed out his cell.

That left 2 possible relationships for Mom's great grandfather, Giuseppe. Could Mary be his grandchild or great grandchild? For Mary to be Mom's full 2nd cousin, she'd have to be Giuseppe's great grandchild. I can't rule this out, so I'll leave the cell alone.

That leaves me with 1 more cell: half 1st cousin 1 time removed, with a common ancestor of Giuseppe Sarracino. But Giuseppe can't be Mary's grandfather because of the enormous age difference. I crossed out this cell.

I've eliminated all but the full 2nd cousin relationship. How would this relationship work? I took a look at my 2nd great grandfather, Giuseppe Sarracino. Giuseppe Sarracino married my 2nd great grandmother in December 1864. I can name 5 of their sons, born between 1865 and 1879. But I can't guarantee there were no other children.

Giuseppe had a habit of not reporting his childrens' births. By law, Italian citizens had to report births and deaths promptly.

But my great grandfather's 1876 birth went unreported until 1898. I found it completely by chance. They didn't report my 2nd great uncle Angelo's 1865 birth until 1894. And I've never found my 2nd great uncle Domenico's approximately 1866 birth record.

There's a gap from 1869–1875 during which Giuseppe could have had a daughter named Maria Grazia.

I wish I could add Maria Grazia Sarracino as a child of my 3rd great grandparents with a dotted line. I may never be able to prove she belongs there. But thanks to DNA probabilities, at least I have good reason to believe she is my 2nd great aunt.

I'm eager to try this method on more mystery DNA matches. I'll add a new spreadsheet tab for each person I want to put to the test. If figuring out potential relationships leaves your head spinning, give this a try.


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