Friday, July 13, 2018

How to Find the Most Important Genealogy Documents Quickly

A portion of my newly downloaded vital record collection.
A tiny portion of my newly downloaded
vital record collection.
Seems like every day I read that a new genealogy document collection is coming online. Some are available through subscription services, but plenty is out there for free.

If you stay tuned in to social media, you can learn about these new collections early. That's how I discovered a document collection I needed badly was coming online this past week.

Finally, a branch of my family tree that's been a dead end was opening up. And I was ready.

Even before the vital records from the town of Santa Paolina, Italy, were fully published, I was downloading them to my computer. I now have all the available records from 1809–1945 to comb through offline. I stored the documents in 386 folders—separating births, marriages and deaths by year. I have no idea how many thousands of documents there are.

Imagine this is you. Imagine these documents hold the missing information about your great great grandmother Colomba.

Where do you begin?

A little background:
  • Colomba's 1920 New York City death record shows her last name was Consolazio and she was born around 1845, somewhere in Italy.
  • Her son's World War II draft registration card said he was born in Tufo, Italy.
  • Last year I looked at microfilmed records from Tufo. I found two sons for Colomba plus a few Consolazio babies who were her nieces and nephews. It was their records that told me the Consolazio siblings were from the next town—Santa Paolina.
I've been waiting impatiently for the Santa Paolina documents to show up online.

Here's how I'm surgically extracting the most important records first.

Find That First Birth Record

Hoping that her death record was correct about her age, I went straight to the 1845 births. I found Colomba! Though her name is a little different and her father's name isn't what I expected, I know it's her. On her birth record is a note of her marriage to my great great grandfather, Antonio Saviano.

This is unusually lucky, but her birth record say my great great grandparents married in Santa Paolina on 1 June 1871.

This 1845 Italian birth record includes the addition of her husband and marriage date.
This 1845 Italian birth record includes the addition of her husband and marriage date.
Go After the Marriage Record

Your ancestor's marriage record can provide tons of detail, including:
  • Bride and groom's birth dates
  • Death dates of their deceased parents
  • Death dates of their deceased grandfathers if their fathers are dead (this won't be true everywhere)
  • Names and death dates of any previous spouses
Santa Paolina's marriage records are a different format than I'm used to. But they gave me important facts I'd been missing: My great great grandfather Antonio's parents' names, occupation, and town of birth. It also confirmed his year of birth.

Start Collecting the Babies

Knowing my ancestors married in June 1871, I started looking for babies beginning in 1872.

I also know from earlier research that this couple had baby boys born in the town of Tufo in 1875 and 1877. So I needed to check the birth indexes only for 1872, 1873 and 1874.

I found one baby girl, Maria Grazia, born on 26 April 1872. She and the two boys born in Tufo are my great grandmother's siblings. So I knew this little girl must have died. We simply have no Maria Grazia in the family. I was sad to find she died 4 days later.

Death record for Maria Grazia Saviano.
Maria Grazia Saviano, the first-born child of my 2nd great grandparents, died at the age of 4 days.
These were Colomba's earliest babies. The rest of her children are well known to my family. They were born in another town called Pastene. And now I know that's where their father Antonio was born!

But we can't stop there. We need to find Colomba's grandparents, and maybe her great grandparents.

Hunt for the Parents

Colomba's birth record gave me names for her parents, but not their ages. Luckily Santa Paolina had a very small population. I subtracted 25 years from Colomba's birth year, bringing me to 1820. I began checking the birth indexes for 1820, 1819, 1818. I found my 3rd great grandmother, Rubina Maria Censullo! Now I have her parents' names—my 4th great grandparents.

Keep going. 1817, 1816. There he is! My 3rd great grandfather Semblicio Fiorentino Conzolazio. Now I have his parents' names—also my 4th great grandparents.

Getting close to the earliest records, I searched for Semblicio's parents' marriage. He was born in 1816, so I looked at 1815, 1814. Oh my gosh, I found it! His parents, Gaetano and another Colomba, were married on 29 December 1814.

The paragraph at the bottom includes the names of 4 of my 5th great grandparents.
The paragraph at the bottom includes the names of 4 of my 5th great grandparents.
Now I have each of their parents' names. That's 2 sets of my 5th great grandparents. I can't find Rubina Maria's parents' marriage because they were quite a bit older. I'd need church records to find them.

With one document collection, boom! 4th and 5th great grandparents.
With one document collection, boom! 3rd, 4th and 5th great grandparents.
That's a Great Start

Using targeted searches, I got the juiciest information out of this record collection in no time. But there's a ton more to find. I want to find the births of Colomba's siblings, their marriages and their babies. I need death records for the 3rd, 4th and 5th great grandparents.

I hope you'll try this methodical approach. First looking for very specific records, then expanding to the related records. Be logical and you'll go far. You can do this!


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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Who Was Your First Immigrant Ancestor?

Hard-working men, bound for America
Growing up, I knew my grandfathers had come to America from Italy as young men. When I started researching my family history, I found their immigration records on the Ellis Island website.

According to their ship manifests, each of my grandfathers were joining a relative who'd already made the voyage.

Have you found a ship manifest for any of your ancestors? Are you squeezing every bit of information out of that page or two?

If so, you know each passenger names someone they left at home, and someone who's waiting for them at their destination. The amount of detail depends on the year of immigration. If your ancestor came through Ellis Island, you'll find lots of information.
A ship manifest holds lots of details about your ancestor.
A ship manifest holds lots of details about your ancestor.

Where Were They From, Where Were They Going?

When my Grandpa Pietro Iamarino arrived in New York City on 29 November 1920, he was leaving his "Father Iamarino" in "Collo Samino, Ben." First of all, thank goodness I knew his father's name was Francesco or I'd be mighty disappointed. Second of all, "Collo Samino, Ben." is a typewritten misspelling of Colle Sannita, with "Ben." being short for the province of Benevento. Again, thank goodness I knew the town name already.

Grandpa arrived with $11 in his pocket to join his "Uncle Pilla Di Gennaro" at 22 West Street, Newton, Massachusetts. This lead was a dead end to me for quite a while. Over time, after I'd learned more about Grandpa's family, I realized something. The "Di Gennaro" part of that description meant that his uncle was the son of Gennaro Pilla—my grandfather's grandfather.

So Grandpa was joining his mother's brother, Antonio Pilla, in Massachusetts.

Follow the Leader

So what do you do next? You look for Antonio's ship manifest. Was he the first in the family to come to America, or was there someone before him?

Antonio Pilla, my second great uncle, left Italy for Philadelphia seven years earlier in 1913. The ship manifest says he left his father Gennaro in Colle Sannita, Italy. He was travelling with his brother-in-law. Both men were joining Antonio's brother Innocenzo Pilla in Lawsonham, Pennsylvania, to work in the mine or for the railroad.

Another link in the chain! Next I searched for my other second great uncle, Innocenzo Pilla. He sailed to Boston in 1909 with two of his brothers-in-law. One of them was my great grandfather, Francesco Iamarino.

The group was going to the Bronx, New York, to join my other second great uncle, Francesco's brother, Giuseppe Iamarino.

I can't seem to find Giuseppe's ship manifest, but he's in the 1905 New York State Census living in the Bronx. His seven-year-old son was born in Italy, so the family must have arrived between 1898 and 1905.

My uncle Giuseppe may have been the first in that branch to come to America. That led to his two brothers and one brother-in-law following him in 1909. And that lead to my uncle Antonio joining his brother Innocenzo in 1913. And that led to my grandfather Pietro joining his uncle Antonio in 1920.

A Migration Pattern

The memorial to fallen soldiers in my grandfather's hometown.
In May 2018 I visited the memorial
to fallen soldiers in my grandfather's
hometown of Colle Sannita, Italy.
And what's the best thing about this kind of chain migration for a genealogist? You get to discover more family members. Add dates and locations to their timelines. Find documents for relatives—even if they went back to the old country.

My great grandfather Francesco didn't stay in America. But I've found ship manifests for him in 1903, 1909, 1913, and 1929. He came to join his brother Giuseppe the first three times. He stayed and worked for the railroad for a while, then went home to his wife and daughters in Italy.

On his final trip in 1929 he visited his son Pietro, my grandfather, in Youngstown, Ohio. He may have worked for the railroad for a while. Or maybe he came to meet his son's wife and baby daughter.

It's All Part of Your Heritage

Follow the path of the relative or friend your ancestor joined when they immigrated. You may unwind a series of sea voyages and a bunch more relatives.

Thank goodness our ancestors had the strength to make such a difficult journey—sometimes over and over. You've got to admire what they did to survive. You've got to admire their courage.

Be proud of your ancestors. And keep honoring them by documenting their lives.


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Friday, July 6, 2018

6 Building Blocks of Genealogy Research, Part 2

On my genealogy trip to Italy.
One ecstatic genealogist at
the archives in all her ancestors'
province in Italy.
In my last article I discussed 3 of the 6 building blocks that form my genealogy philosophy. They can be the solid foundation to your strong family tree. Let's continue.

4. Keep at it Regularly

The best thing I ever did for my family tree research is start this blog. To publish twice a week, I have to be active. Researching, exploring new websites, and collaborating with others. And I do that nearly every day.

That strict schedule is resulting in tons of new discoveries. It seems like every couple of weeks I find a new set of 5th or 6th great grandparents!

Do whatever you can to keep a hand in your research each week. That continuity will help you focus and accomplish more.

5. Be as Organized as Possible

In my early days, I grabbed census documents, attached them to the head of household and moved on. After a while I had a mess on my hands! I couldn't retrace my steps to find that census sheet again. I didn't cite my source. And I still needed to add the image and the facts to everyone else in the household.

Now I've gotten into an efficient routine. I follow the same steps to make sure I record and document each image and fact thoroughly.

Adding information to an image on your computer.
Right-click and choose Properties.
Click the Details tab. Enter specifics
for your genealogy image.
For example, I'm working a lot with vital records from my Italian hometowns. When I find a birth record I need:
  • I crop and enhance it in Photoshop
  • I add a title and source citation to the image's properties before dragging it into my family tree. I have a format I follow that ends with the URL where I found the image.
  • I edit the date of the document in Family Tree Maker. I give it a category and make it the person's profile image if I don't have their photo.
  • Let's say it's a marriage document. I add the image to one spouse, then share it so it's attached to the other spouse, too.
  • I make note of the document in my Document Tracker. This spreadsheet shows me at a glance which documents I have (and don't have) for anyone in my family tree.
Because I made it a routine, I'm now frighteningly organized. No more doubling back to try to fix my messes.
Add important information to each image in your family tree file.
Add important information to each image in your family tree file. Above, the caption and description I added to the image file itself have carried over to Family Tree Maker. I simply edit the date and select the category.

6. Create an Inventory

This final building block applies to cuckoo-birds like me who've downloaded large document collections from FamilySearch or the Italian Antenati website.

I know it will take YEARS, but I'm filling several spreadsheet pages with the facts I transcribe from those thousands of Italian vital records. It seems daunting, but being able to easily search for a particular person in a span of years is awesome.

I've completely documented 6 years of birth records from my paternal grandfather's hometown and a smaller selection from the other towns. I want to own this complete collection, and I look forward to sharing it with my fellow descendants of these towns.

What if you inventoried the vital records, censuses, ship manifests and other images stored on your computer? How might that simplify your future searches?

When I started writing this blog, I began thinking of my genealogy research like a job (the best job ever!). I wanted to apply all the best practices of the genealogy industry to my research.

These 6 building blocks are making my family tree world class. How about you?

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

6 Building Blocks of Genealogy Research, Part 1

These are the building blocks of a strong family tree.
Six months ago I wrote about my general approach to genealogy research. Let's look at the specific building blocks that can make anyone a productive and efficient family tree researcher.

I don't want to short-change any of these concepts, so this article is in two parts. You'll find a link to part 2 at the bottom of this article.

1. Spell Out Your Goals

Did you make your list of genealogy goals for 2018? I made a list that I look at anytime I feel like I'm searching for documents without a specific goal.

Sometimes it's fun to go off on research tangents. But it's far more rewarding to focus on a goal and make real progress. Your goals might be to:
Come back to your goals again and again and whittle down the list.

2. Cast a Wide Net

I spent five years making trips to my local Family History Center. I ordered microfilm (it's available online now) from my maternal grandfather's hometown in Italy. I knew nothing beyond his parents' names, so I wanted to find out more.

I soon realized I couldn't tell who was related to me unless I pieced together all the families. So at the center I typed the data from each birth, marriage and death record. At home I entered it all into Family Tree Maker. In the end, I had a tree with 15,000 people. More than 10,000 of them had a connection to me.

Cast a wide net to capture all your ancestor's siblings and their children.
Cast a wide net to capture all your ancestor's siblings and their children.
If you don't want to go that far, at least gather all your ancestor's siblings. Say you find your 3rd great grandmother's birth record. Now you know your 4th great grandparents' names. Next you can search the surrounding years for babies born to the same couple.

Find those siblings and you can begin to identify your ancestor's close cousins. You're going to want those names when you're reviewing your DNA matches.

3. Take Advantage of Software


A small piece of my priceless vital record collection.
Here's a small piece of my priceless
vital record collection.
There are a lot of talented programmers out there creating free genealogy software. I finally gave up trying to write my own program when I found Family Tree Analyzer. This program takes the germ of an idea I was playing with and puts it on steroids. You can run reports, correct errors, and slice-and-dice your family tree in a bunch of ways.

And thank goodness I found GetLinks. Using GetLinks, I easily downloaded thousands and thousands of vital records from 7 of my ancestral hometowns in Italy.

Don't do things the hard way when other genealogy whizzes have created a solution for you.

Please continue to part 2 of this article. I get into the nuts and bolts of my genealogy philosophy with 3 more building blocks.

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Friday, June 29, 2018

My Family (Isn't) In the Newspapers

Nov. 7, 1917 New York Tribune headline
This Nov. 7, 1917 New York Tribune
headline is my grandfather's story.
I've tried using historic newspaper websites for my family tree research. I never seem to get anywhere.

My ancestors were not in the society pages. They weren't captains of industry. All I've ever found are some of my great grandfather's real estate transactions.

Today I tried a different approach. I learned more about my ancestors' lives by examining one important historical event.

I turned to the free, online resources of the Library of Congress. Their "Chronicling America" project gives you access to historic American newspapers from 1789 to 1963.

To get started, choose a state and a range of years. You can also try adding some keywords to your search.

How I Chose My Historic Event

Last month while visiting Italy I saw and photographed my grandfather's World War I military record. I know the name and dates of the major battle in which he was captured and imprisoned for a year.

He had been in New York before the war. He'd joined a few of his first cousins in Manhattan and was working as a shoemaker.

At the Italian archives in Benevento.
A dream come true! Visiting the Italian
archives to see my grandfather's records.
When his Italian Army regiment called him up for duty, he sailed back home. He was in the infantry in 1915. He was promoted to Corporal on January 1, 1917.

Then, like a few hundred thousand other Italian soldiers, my grandfather was captured in the Battle of Caporetto. The German Army imprisoned him in Mauthausen, Austria, for a full year.

Using the Library of Congress, I searched the New York Tribune newspaper for the dates of the Battle of Caporetto. I watched the story unfold on the front page of the paper day after day.

I read about the prisoners, the casualties and the devastating losses.

Did my grandfather's first cousins—the ones who stayed in New York City—read this too? Did they wonder if their cousin Adamo was part of this epic battle? Did they wonder if he'd been killed or captured?

Now It's Your Turn

Today we get our news so fast, it's hard to imagine waiting for the newspaper to tell you what's happening in the war overseas.

Here's how you can put these free, digitized newspapers to work for you. Choose an event from history that was a huge news story during your ancestor's lifetime. Something they would have heard about nearly every day.

Using the Library of Congress online archives
Get started search American newspapers from the Library of Congress.
Narrow your search to a single year. Click the checkbox to show only front pages. You'll see much more at a time, and the biggest stories will be on the front page. Search the images' captions for the most important date for this event. Then click that image.

You can view the newspaper page by page, zoom in and out, and save any page as an image or a PDF. If your story is really big news, click to go to the next issue.

By looking at several issues' front pages, I saw the story of my grandfather's World War I battle unfold day by day. This battle has great significance for my family history.

What were the big stories that changed your ancestors' lives?


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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

How to Tame Your Jumble of Genealogy Leads

As time passes, you'll find you have more genealogy leads than you can follow. More irons in the fire than you can tend to.

It's getting to be overwhelming, right?

Hold on a sec. Take a breath and think about why you're researching your family tree. If you expect to reach the finish line one day, take a look around you. Genealogy hobbyists work on their trees for the rest of their lives.

And we love that!

Don't let the amount of leads—or the amount of brick walls—stop you from loving this hobby. It's the searching, the leads, and the discoveries that give us the joy. Every step of the process IS the fun.

A well-organized email collection will help you follow genealogy leads.
A well-organized email collection
will help you follow genealogy leads.
Now that you've got your attitude adjusted, let's get busy managing all those leads.

If you've loaded your tree on any public genealogy website, and if you've got your DNA results out there, too. You're going to have people contacting you.

People are contacting me in two ways: messaging me on Ancestry.com and emailing me.

When I exchange messages on Ancestry, we typically move the conversation to email so we can share files.

My emailbox becomes my storehouse of genealogy leads. The key is to organize your email.

Manage Your Files Logically

I have email in my Microsoft Outlook file going back as far as the year 2000. If I might need something again, I put it in a folder.

I have a genealogy folder. Within that are folders for my ancestral hometowns: Baselice, Colle Sannita, Pastene. Within the town folders are folders for last names from the town. And within those folders are emails from people with a connection to that name.

If sorting by town of origin doesn't work for you, sorting by the family name may be better.

The important part is, if you've saved your email conversations, you can return to them when you're ready to do the research. You can search your email at your genealogy folder level and find that conversation from a few years ago.

Keep your genealogy leads organized.
Keep your genealogy leads organized. And keep on keeping them.
As of this moment, workers are uploading vital records from my "missing" ancestral hometown of Santa Paolina. Hurray!! I've already downloaded (find out how you can do this, too) and started processing the records from 1809–1865. I'm eagerly awaiting the post-1865 files.

Now that I'm able to document that one branch of my family I couldn't get to before, it's time to go back to my email folders. It's time to reconnect with my leads for that portion of my family tree. And because I'm so ridiculously organized, I can find those leads in a heartbeat.

If you're an office worker in the business world, you're used to organizing your email. You need to be able to find what you need when you need it.

But are you being that efficient with your genealogy email? Isn't it time to tame all those messages to make them usable?

P.S. If you've got leads with no email trail, either:
  • create a series of genealogy folders on your computer, each containing a simple text file with necessary information, or
  • create one text or Word document with all the notes.
It's easy to search for anything when you've got it typed out and on your computer.

Don't let those once-hot leads slip away from you!


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Friday, June 22, 2018

Paying it Forward with Genealogy

Why not share your photos on Find-a-Grave?
Why not share your photos on Find-a-Grave?
You may not have time to transcribe genealogy documents as a volunteer. And goodness knows there are a lot of opportunities to help out in that way.*

But what if the genealogy research you're doing for yourself can help people you don't even know? Wouldn't it thrill you if someone else shared research work that's invaluable to you?

Last month I took a deeply satisfying genealogy vacation to Italy. I visited each of my 4 ancestral towns in the province of Benevento. I visited each town's cemetery and took lots of photos. I concentrated on last names that meant something to me, but then I'd find 30 graves with that last name.

Now I'm going to share those photos on the Find-a-Grave website.

First I clicked the Cemetery tab on the website to browse for cemeteries in Italy. There were no listings for my 4 cemeteries, so I'm creating them.

To prepare for my vacation, I saved the longitude and latitude of each cemetery in Google Maps. Now I can use those numbers to precisely locate my 4 cemeteries on the Find-a-Grave map.

Upload your cemetery entrance photo
I took a photo of the cemetery entrance just so I could add it to Find-a-Grave.com.
Once I create the new cemetery, I can upload a photo of its entrance. You see, before my trip I read someone's tip to be sure to take a photo of the cemetery entrance. So I did.

Next, I can drag and drop all my photos from that cemetery at once. After dropping the photos, I simply go down the list adding the deceased's name as the caption.

If you know the person whose grave you're uploading, it's nice to add a memorial. A while back I added a photo of my great great grandmother's grave in the Bronx, New York. I also wrote a paragraph outlining what I knew about her. Today my research on her family has gone much further, so I updated my memorial.

A memorial for my great great grandmother.
I created, then updated, the memorial for my
great great grandmother.
I have so many photos to upload, and then I will detail each one with the dates I see on the grave. Someday, I hope relatives of the deceased will contact me. Maybe we'll be cousins!

What can you do to preserve your family history and, at the same time, pay it forward?

* Volunteer Opportunities:


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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Using First Names as Evidence of Family Relationships

If you don't have at least 10 people in your family tree with the exact same name, you may be new to genealogy.

Many cultures follow specific baby-naming conventions—but not always. For example:
  • name your first-born son after his paternal grandfather
  • name your first-born daughter after her paternal grandmother
  • name your second-born son after his maternal grandfather
  • name your second-born daughter after her maternal grandmother
My paternal grandparents followed this convention. They named my father and his sister after their paternal grandparents. My mother's family did not follow the rules. If they had, my grandmother and I would both be named Mary Louise.

For help with your ancestors' child-naming customs, follow these links:
If I've left out your ethnicity, try a Google search including the ethnicity and "naming customs" or "naming conventions".

Here's an example of an Italian couple who followed the rules, but put a slight twist on them.

Giorgio and Maria followed the naming rules closely, but not perfectly.
Giorgio and Maria followed the naming rules closely, but not perfectly.
Giorgio and Maria named their first son and daughter after Giorgio's parents, Onofrio and Lucia. They named their second daughter after Maria's mother, Concetta.

But their 2nd through 5th sons were not named after Maria's father, Francescantonio. Instead, 3 of those sons had the Antonio part of Francescantonio in their name:
  • Giovannantonio
  • Giuseppantonio
  • Antonio
You can use your ethnicity's naming customs to help you place a person in a particular family.

Let's say you have a man named Pietro Iamarino. (I have 11 of them in my family tree.) You don't have his birth or death record yet, so you can't confirm his parents' names. But 1 or 2 of his children's birth records call him Pietro, son of Giuseppe.

Now you know he belongs to a father named Giuseppe. But I have 10 Giuseppe Iamarino's in my family tree! Of course I need a Giuseppe who's about the right age to be Pietro's father, but what if I have a few of those? (I do.)

When I examined the facts about my right-aged Giuseppe Iamarinos, one man stood out.

This family makes sense, but I had to track down birth records to prove it.
This family makes sense, but I had to track down birth records to prove it.
Giuseppantonio Iamarino was born in 1819 and married in 1840. That fit with Pietro who was born around 1848. Plus, Pietro named his first son Giuseppantonio—not Giuseppe.

But that is not proof. It's an educated guess at this point. So I attached Pietro to Giuseppantonio, but I added a bookmark and a note to Pietro to remind myself that I needed to prove this relationship. The proof came later when I found Pietro's 1848 birth record.

Use caution when you're piecing together ancestors' families from hundreds of years ago. Naming conventions can offer strong clues—clues that lead to a theory. But the names themselves are not the proof you need.

Use these naming customs to form your theory. Then prove it.

Keep searching for that proof and avoid making a mess of same-named, misplaced people in your family tree.


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Friday, June 15, 2018

Genealogy is the Joy of Names

Yesterday I used a set of 1819 marriage records to make a big discovery. An acquaintance I assumed is my relation to me is in fact my 6th cousin.

He and I share a set of 5th great grandparents. I know their names, their approximate years of birth, and some of their children's names. But that's all.

A word cloud of my closest relatives.
A word cloud of my closest relatives and the frequency of names.
My ancestors all came from little hilltop towns in rural Southern Italy. I visited their towns last month and got a better feel for these places. My ancestors lived simple lives that were basically undocumented and unexceptional.

That means I'm not going to find a letter from my ancestor to the king. My ancestor wasn't the mayor of the town or instrumental in a revolution. My ancestor's name and exploits weren't in the newspaper.

Without the possibility of a direct line of ancestors leading to the King of England, why do I do it?

Why do I spend countless hours gathering the documents that tie me to such distant cousins?

For me, it's the sheer joy of names. I adore all the names I find in my vast collection of birth, marriage and death records. They're repeated over and over because of the Italian tradition of naming children after their grandparents.

Although each of my ancestors' towns are close to one another as the crow flies, each town has a core set of surnames. For example, my maiden name barely exists in my grandfather's hometown anymore. But people in the town recognized it and responded to me warmly.

It's some of my closest last names that enable me to assume someone is my relative. If their name is Pozzuto, for example, and their ancestors came from the town of Colle Sannita, we've got to be cousins. It's an exciting challenge to try to find that exact relationship.

Some purists may look down on me as nothing more than a "name collector". But I love collecting those names. I've learned a little bit about life in my ancestral hometowns in centuries past. I can't expect to find much more.

Here are two specific things I learned about my ancestors' lives in Italy:
My grandfather's one-page military record told me volumes.
My grandfather's one-page
military record told me volumes.
  1. My grandfather told us he was a prisoner of war with the Italian Army during World War I. He had to eat rats to survive. Last month I photographed his military record at the archives in his home province.

    Now I know:
    • when he was captured
    • the name of the battle
    • where he was imprisoned
    • how long he was imprisoned.
    That's a lot of detail in a few lines on a page.
  2. My great grandfather was rumored to be an Episcopal minister. An usual thing in a Roman Catholic country. It was only by visiting my cousins in Italy (his granddaughters) that I learned the story.

    This is not written anywhere. And even my cousins have never seen a photograph of their grandparents.

    My great grandfather Francesco and his brother-in-law were living and working in the Bronx, New York. It was one of Francesco's many trips to America to earn money. One day he passed by a church in the Bronx. He heard singing and loud voices, and he felt drawn to go inside.

    This was the type of church where people are so overwhelmed, so deeply moved by the presence of God, they begin speaking in tongues.

    Francesco brought his new faith back home to Colle Sannita and started his own church. His great grandchildren hold prayer services and follow Francesco's teachings to this day.
Those two stories won't get me on TV, but they're all I have so far.

Meanwhile, I'm more than happy to indulge my love of Italian names. I collect the siblings of my ancestors and their spouses and children. I love seeing the names get passed down. My 4th great grandfather was Francesco Iamarino. My great grandfather was Francesco Iamarino. My father is Frank Iamarino.

So call me a name collector. I am a name collector. These names "are" my ancestral hometowns, and I love them dearly.


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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Trust But Verify Your Relative's Family Tree

"Trust, but verify" is a translation of an old Russian proverb that reminds you to find the truth for yourself. It's particularly useful when applied to genealogy.

Here are some situations where "trust, but verify" should pop into your head:
  • A relative gives you their family tree with no sources.
  • A stranger's online family tree seems like it may connect to yours.
  • An elder tells you a bunch of family facts they remember from decades ago.
You may trust the relative or the elder, but you've got to verify their work.

How to Handle Unsourced Names and Dates

Use an image to alert you to unsourced facts in your family tree.
Use an image to alert you to
unsourced facts in your family tree.
You welcome the new information. You're excited to have it. But take steps to mark this new set of names and dates as unsourced. Some options for marking this content are:
  • Add a bookmark to each unsourced person in your family tree software.
  • Add a profile image to each unsourced person, such as this graphic that says "No sources".
  • Create a source citation using the name of the person who shared the information with you.
  • Attach no source at all. Personally, I've been very diligent about attaching sources. If I find people in my tree without a source attached, I know someone handed those people to me.
This step to identify unverified information can save future-you a big headache.

The moment you receive a batch of new information, add it to your genealogy to-do list. You need to put some research time into proving or disproving these unsourced facts.

Think how satisfying it'll be when you can replace an individual's "no sources" graphic with an image of their birth record.

How to Figure Out the Facts

Eleven years ago a man named John saw my For the Cousins website and emailed me. He's part of a large group of Italian immigrants and their children in Niagara Falls, Canada. They all came from my paternal grandfather's hometown in Italy.

Four months later, my aunt and I flew up to meet this Italian enclave at their annual dinner party. I brought a big family tree printout with me. As I met and talked with many of the people, they shared lots of names and relationships with me. Together we added branches to my tree.

Eleven years is a long time, but now I have all the available vital records from my grandfather's hometown on my computer. This past weekend, while looking at my family tree for a new section to explore, and I found the Canadian branch.

Adding birth records as a person's photo show the proof.
Add a person's birth record as their photo so you know you have the proof.
I began with John from Canada's grandparents. I found birth records, parents' names, wedding dates, and death dates. I attached each document I discovered to the person in John's family tree. Now I had trusted, verified sources.

Sometimes a birth record will include marriage names and dates.
This 1887 birth record includes
names and dates for 2 marriages.
Here are a few pointers when working with someone else's tree:
  • Expect some names to be slightly different. If your contact's tree comes from family sources, they may remember their "Uncle Antonio". But his birth record may show his given name was:
    • Michelantonio
    • Giovannantonio
    • Giuseppantonio or
    • Nicolantonio.
  • Check a person's parent's names in the tree to decide if you've found the right birth record. If both mother and father match, you've probably found either the right person's birth record or that of a sibling. Is the birth year what you expected?
  • Look for marriage data in the margin of birth records. This is more common on more modern birth records. It's less often found on very old records. Sometimes this annotation is exactly what you need to be sure you've found the right person.
The best surprise in this branch is that John from Canada is related to a set of my cousins through their father. I'm related to them through their mother.

But knowing this small town's high rate of intermarriage, I'm sure I'll find I'm related to John in half a dozen ways!

As I search for more connections, I'm gathering vital records and fortifying my family tree.


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