Friday, August 16, 2019

3 Ways to Find Double Ancestors in Your Family Tree

Double ancestors reduce your allotment of direct ancestors.

In 2007 an historian from my grandfather's town gave me an ancestry surprise. My paternal grandparents were 3rd cousins.

Sure, I knew my grandparents had the same last name. My grandmother was born in New York. But I knew her father came from my Italian-born grandfather's hometown. But even Grandpa didn't seem to know the exact relationship. Or else he never wanted to tell us.

Two of my 3rd great grandfathers were brothers. That means their parents, Francesco and Cristina, are my double 4th great grandparents. They, and all their direct ancestors, appear twice in my pedigree chart.

This is what's known in genealogy as pedigree collapse. My grandfather Pietro married his 3rd cousin Lucy. They shared a set of 2nd great grandparents. So, instead of having 64 4th great grandparents (as we're all allowed to have), I have 62.

The amount of ancestors you have doubles for each generation. So we're all allowed 128 5th great grandparents. But because of double ancestors, I have 124 5th great grandparents. Notice the number of double ancestors also doubles with each generation. I have 2 double 4th great grandparents, and 4 double 5th great grandparents. I have 8 double 6th great grandparents, and so on.

There may be double ancestors hiding in your family tree. Here are 3 ways to find them.

1. Check Your Family Tree Chart

Your family tree, online or on your desktop, may point out your double ancestors.
  • If you use Family Tree Maker, click the Publish tab and generate a Vertical Pedigree Chart for yourself. You may see some people in a dotted-line border. These are people who appear in your family tree twice because they're related to you in two important ways.
  • If you use MyHeritage.com, look for people in your family tree with a red circle and "x2". This means this person is in your tree 2 times. They're related to you in 2 ways.
  • As much as I dislike Geni.com, it also points out your double ancestors with a green "x2" in the lower left corner of a double ancestor.
  • If all else fails, create a pedigree chart (direct ancestors only) and look for repeated people.
Check your family tree for hints that you have double ancestors.
Check your family tree for hints that you have double ancestors.

2. Color-Code Your Ancestors

This is how I'm using the relatively new color-coding feature in Family Tree Maker. I gave each of my 4 grandparents a unique color: yellow, pink, green, blue. This lets me see at a glance which branch any direct ancestor belongs to.

I find this to be the best and easiest way to spot double ancestors. So far, I have double ancestors on my father's side of the family tree only. The Iamarino family is from a small town in Italy. They had a good number of cousins marry, as well as siblings marrying siblings.

My double ancestors show up in the Index panel with 2 overlapping color dots. In the tree view, each double ancestor's color bar is split to show half yellow and half pink. The colors show they are the direct ancestors of my grandfather (yellow) and my grandmother (pink).

Color dots in the index and color bars in the tree view tell me which branch, or branches, an ancestors belongs to.
Color dots in the index and color bars in the tree view tell me which branch, or branches, an ancestors belongs to.

3. Use Ahnentafel Numbers

Each of your direct ancestors has a very specific, unique number. The Ahnentafel numbering system follows a strict pattern. Run your Ahnentafel report from Family Tree Maker. Or do it manually (here's how). You may find that some of your ancestors qualify for 2 different Ahnentafel numbers.

I've created a color-coded ancestor spreadsheet with an Ahnentafel number in each cell. (Download one for yourself.) You can enter your ancestors into the chart and discover your dual-number ancestors.

On my ancestor spreadsheet, I'm giving double ancestors a blended color. Since Grandpa is yellow and Grandma is pink, I make their shared ancestors orange.

There's a strict method as to who gets which Ahnentafel number. They can help you find double ancestors.
There's a strict method as to who gets which Ahnentafel number. They can help you find double ancestors.

As they say in every sales pitch, "But wait! There's more."

These 3 techniques cannot show you your double cousins. My grandfather's paternal uncle married his maternal aunt. Their children are Grandpa's double 1st cousins.

This is the type of thing you'll find by accident, and it may confuse you at first.

My great grandfather was Francesco Iamarino. He had a brother Teofilo. Francesco married my great grandmother Libera Pilla. His brother Teofilo married Libera's sister Filomena. That created an extra joining of 2 families. The children of Teofilo and Filomena were my grandfather's maternal 1st cousins and paternal 1st cousins. Double cousins.

I've met relatives in Canada and in Italy who knew about the 2 brothers marrying 2 sisters. It was not unusual at all. Nearly everyone in my ancestral towns married someone who lived right nearby. If one merger of the Iamarino and Pilla families was a good thing, why not 2 mergers?

Going through vital records from Grandpa's town, I found another double wedding. On 20 December 1852, Damiano Marino and his sister Libera Marino married Rosa Zeolla and her brother Giovanni Pasquale Zeolla.

That was a very practical wedding. It's like the line in Hamlet: "Thrift, thrift, Horatio, the funeral bak'd-meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables." In other words, if you're gonna combine these 2 families, you may as well do it with 1 wedding feast.

Can you find any pedigree collapse in your family tree? Do you think the marrying cousins knew they were cousins?

Follow me wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

7 Genealogy Projects We All Need to Do

Have you ever given someone genealogy advice, and not followed it yourself?

This is my 297th blog article in 2½ years. I publish twice a week. To keep up with that schedule, I spend time each day working on my family tree. Then I write about whatever I've been doing.

If I'm working to connect with a DNA match, I write about that. If I'm developing a system for naming and tracking my files, I write about that. If I discover a useful website, I write about that.

But with all the writing, I rarely get a chance to complete the projects I recommend for you. This is a recap of some of my favorite recommendations that I wish I had time to complete. Which ones appeal the most to you?


We all need to take another look at our earliest genealogy work and make improvements. I still have some unofficial sources I want to replace with better sources and images. I have some facts that came from the family tree of a distant relative. That's not good enough. I need to find a reliable source.

I liked this idea enough to write about it again in Trade Up to Better Family History Sources.

Imagine the look on your future descendant's face when she finds your collection of family history books.
Imagine the look on your future descendant's face when she finds your collection of family history books.


One of my biggest desires as a genealogist is to find the best way to share what I've found with my relatives. This article describes how to create a family tree book you can share. Imagine presenting a book to everyone at a family reunion.

I covered this idea again in 5 Steps to Writing Your Ancestor's Life Story, and the very popular article, How to Create a 'Book of Life' for Your Relatives.


I've been really good about following this advice. But my older documents need my attention. If you add facts to the properties of your digital documents (like census sheets, ship manifest, etc.), you'll never wonder where they came from. And you'll be able to get right back to their source.

Annotate your image the moment you get it. You'll never forget where you found it.
Annotate your image the moment you get it. You'll never forget where you found it.


Yes, we need to replace unofficial sources with official ones. But we also need sources for the modern-day facts we just know. For example, I was baptized in a church in the Bronx, New York. The only source for that fact is my baptismal certificate. I could scan and add it to my family tree. I could add my birth certificate, too. But if you're adding documents for anyone who's living, make the images private. They're mainly there for you.


One of the genealogy goals I set for 2019 (and completed) helped me close the book on some families. "Closing the book" means finding all the documents you're missing for a family. For example, think of your great uncle. Do you have every census record for him? Do you have all his immigration and naturalization papers? His birth, marriage and death records? What about documents for his children?

When you have all the documents, you can "close the book" on that family.


When I wrote about the funeral cards I'd collected for some relatives, my cousin texted me photos of a ton more. Funeral cards serve as evidence for death dates. And sometimes they can say more—or have a photo. I still need to clean up the images my cousin sent me and place those funeral cards in my family tree.

A "Book of Life" isn't meant for celebrities only. Make them for your family.
A "Book of Life" isn't meant for celebrities only. Make them for your family.


I started dealing with my family photos, but I have a long way to go. They're stored in too many folders on my computer. That makes it hard to find the exact one I want. I've got to name and file them properly. Then I've got to double-check that I've scanned all the old photos my mother left with me when she moved. Finally, I have to make sure they get into my family tree.

These are only a few of the projects I've suggested. They all strive to make your family tree and mine better and better. Let's each pick one and get busy!

Follow me wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Make Your Digital Genealogy Documents Searchable

Who needs a search engine? Your computer is a search engine!

I'm constantly bouncing all around in my genealogy research. One day a person with my last name mentions their grandparents' birth dates. Another day a DNA match reaches out to me looking for our shared ancestors.

I need a quicker way to search for these connections.

One of my genealogy goals this year is to enter the details from thousands of Italian vital records into a spreadsheet. Then I can use Excel to search for a particular man's name and find the one who's married to the right woman. Or I can find all the babies born to a particular couple.

I've done a chunk of that work, but it's going to take years to complete.

Luckily, I found a faster method I can use in the meantime. Now that I've somehow become a "morning person", I'm using the evenings for an easier genealogy task. It's not exactly a no-brainer, but it is simple. And the benefits are really big.

This can apply to you, too, even if you don't have a huge collection of vital records on your computer.


Don't worry where you filed that document. Your computer knows where it is.
Don't worry where you filed that document. Your computer knows where it is.

Whenever you're not quite up to serious family tree research, but you have your hands free, you can do this, too.

Rename your digital genealogy files to include the name(s) of the primary person.

I'll bet you've done that with census sheets, ship manifests, and other documents.

But did you realize you can search for any and all of a particular person's files on your computer at once?

This will really help you when you need to:
  • answer a question from a new possible relative
  • find the marriage record for a new person you added to your family tree
  • figure out if the "Pasquale Iamarino" in this document is the same as the one in that document
I was especially happy to see how smart the search function can be. For instance, if I search for "Mary Murphy", but her full name is "Mary Jane Murphy", I'll still find her.

If I had any doubt about the value of renaming my files, one search washes all doubt away.
If I had any doubt about the value of renaming my files, one search washes all doubt away.

To save tons of time on future document searches, I've been renaming files like a madwoman.

At night, with the Yankee game on TV, I open my collection of Italian vital records. I've renamed every marriage record image from 1816–1860 to include the names of the bride and groom.

That means I can search at the town-folder level to find a marriage between any particular couple. A search for "Antonio Martuccio Maria Maddalena Paolucci" delivers their 1849 marriage record. Instantly!

The benefits are so important that I'm excited to rename more and more files. Plus, doing this makes me an expert on the names that come from each town. While renaming one file I thought to myself, "the groom must be from my other grandfather's town". And I was right.

Is your genealogy document collection named so it's searchable?

Follow me wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Untangling Our Twisted Family Relationships

Build your DNA match's family tree until you find the true relationship.

This article took a sharp turn from where it started. I thought I discovered an easy way to figure out your connection to a confusing DNA match.

And it is a good method. But then I realized the confusing DNA match I was looking at didn't have a direct line to me. It took a marriage to make the connection. Her 1st cousin 2x removed married my 4th cousin 3x removed.

And maybe that's where our shared DNA comes from.

Click Your Way to a Common Ancestor

Here's what I found. While it didn't work on this DNA match, it did reveal a blood relationship between my great aunt and her husband.

Originally I thought my DNA match was directly related to my great aunt's husband Donato. To see if Donato had a blood relationship to me (not just an in-law relationship), I went to Family Tree Maker. The software displays your relationship to the selected person clearly.
  1. I clicked Donato's parents one at a time to see their relationship to me.
  2. His mother Colomba is my 4th cousin 3x removed. A blood relative.
  3. I clicked Colomba's parents to see their relationship to me. Her mother Maria is my 3rd cousin 4x removed.
  4. I clicked Maria's parents to see the relationship description. Her father Vitangelo is my 2nd cousin 5x removed.
  5. I clicked Vitangelo's parents. His father Pietro is my 1st cousin 6x removed.
  6. Pietro's father Vitangelo is my 6th great uncle.
  7. Finally, Vitangelo's parents are my 6th great grandparents, Liberatore Pozzuto and Libera Zeolla.
My 6th great grandparents are both Donato's and my great aunt's 4th great grandparents. With a shared pair of 4th great grandparents, my aunt and uncle were 5th cousins.

Are unknown relationships hiding in plain sight in your family tree?
Are unknown relationships hiding in plain sight in your family tree?

Follow the Evidence

You're going to find that many of your DNA matches have posted a small, sparse family tree. (That's better than the matches with no tree.) Use their tree as a guideline only. Do the research yourself and try to prove what you see in their family tree.

This particular DNA match caught my attention recently. She was borrowing names and documents from my family tree and a distant relative's tree. I wanted to figure out who she is. Her tree on Ancestry.com seems to be facts she knows personally:
  • her parents' names and birth dates
  • her grandparents names and birth dates
  • as many siblings as she knows for her parents and grandparents
Her family names tell me we're related through my paternal grandfather's hometown. Ancestry says she's about a 3rd or 4th cousin to my father and a 4th to 6th cousin to me.

Believe Nothing Without Proof

I wrote down her parents', grandparents', and great grandparents' names. Only a few had birth years included.

Then I opened my collection of vital records from my grandpa's hometown. Her parents were born too recently for my document collection, so I searched for their parents.

Bit by bit I added verified names and dates to my tree. I attached birth and marriage records as evidence. No one had a direct connection to me yet. But something had to be there.

When I found the 1866 birth record of my DNA match's mother's father's mother, a funny thing happened. The parents happened to be a couple I'd added to my family tree the day before!

Coincidentally, Libera and Giovanni are the parents of my DNA match's great grandmother. Now my DNA match was firmly rooted in my family tree. But it's one of those wacky "1st cousin 2x removed of wife of uncle of husband of 1st great aunt of" me relationships.

I thought we were related through the marriage of my great aunt and uncle. That's why I examined Donato's direct ancestors and found he was his wife's 5th cousin.

If that DNA match is distant, you're gonna need a bigger tree.
If that DNA match is distant, you're gonna need a bigger tree.

Always Look for More

Oh, these small Italian hill towns. They're infuriating and amazing at the same time. Everyone is related in some way. Donato, who married my great aunt, is related to me in his own right.

Family Tree Maker's relationship tool says Giovannangela, my grandfather's sister, is all these things to her husband Donato:
  • wife
  • 1st cousin of his brother-in-law, Pietro Iamarino
  • sister-in-law of his 1st cousin 1x removed, Donato Paolucci
  • 5th cousin
Actually, Family Tree Maker isn't displaying the 5th cousin relationship. It's as if it's throwing up its hands and saying "whatever".

Now that I've figured out how to follow the blood relationship, I can revisit more DNA mysteries. But be warned! It's easy to get lost. You may find you can't wrap your head around it. It helps to take notes along the way.

Can you find your DNA match's connection by climbing their family tree?

Follow me wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Adding Family Branches from Another Hemisphere

We used to look for our name in local phone books. Now we simply go online.

I could happily spend every day piecing together my ancestors. For the rest of my life!

On any given day, there's nothing else I'd rather do. It's addictive in a way that's good for your brain. It's your own personal jigsaw puzzle.

Last weekend I started working through my collection of Italian vital records. I want to review each one and see if it fits into my family tree.

I went through every birth and death record from my grandfather's town of Colle Sannita for 1809 and 1810. Most of the people had a connection in my tree! A baby's parents were already there. A deceased person's relatives were already there. So I added the new facts and document images to my family tree.

It's a wildly time-consuming project, and I couldn't love it any more.

Sometimes, though, a bright, shiny object will appear and distract you.

Can you see yourself in the faces of people from your homeland?
Can you see yourself in the faces of people from your homeland?

The object that distracted me on Monday was a photograph of Filomena, born in Colle Sannita in 1896. I don't know how else to say it. I loved her instantly. She brought out all my childhood feelings of love for my grandparents and their siblings.

The woman who posted the photo of Filomena lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She said she was eager to learn about her beloved grandmother's family, but can't seem to get anywhere. She needed help.

Immediately, I opened up my collection of Italian vital records. I found Filomena's 1896 birth record. Unfortunately, her parents were not in my family tree. But I'm connected to at least 90% of the town. Surely I could find a connection.

Would you have helped this woman? Knowing there was a good chance she was your distant relative, and knowing that you had all the documents. Wouldn't you help?

I jumped at the chance. She and I began chatting on Facebook. I kept combing through the vital records.

Filomena's mother's last name was Cerrone. I have a 3rd great grandmother, plus her father and grandfather, named Cerrone. They were from Colle Sannita, but there weren't a lot of Cerrone families in the town.

When I couldn't find a birth record for Filomena's mother, I looked one town away in Circello. My 3rd great grandfather—the one who married my Cerrone 3rd great grandmother—was from Circello. It seemed like a good place to look.

Sure enough, I found the 1870 birth record for Filomena's mother in Circello. I kept digging into each side of her family, in Colle Sannita and Circello. I located siblings for the last person I found. I worked my way back to their parents' marriage. That gave me another generations' names.

I've added 48 of Filomena's ancestors to my family tree so far. The whole branch is still disconnected from me, which is shocking.

I'm building this extended family, detached, in my family tree. Hopefully the connection will come.
I'm building this extended family, detached, in my family tree. Hopefully the connection will come.

I must keep going! Filomena's Cerrone grandfather, for example, had 6 siblings. I must have marriage records on my computer for them. There's a very good chance a Cerrone sibling married someone already in my tree.

I'm eager to find the connection and open up an endless resource for my new friend in Argentina. Our ancestors traveled far from home. Their town's descendants share deep, common roots. And genealogists know how to honor those roots.

I'll leave you with a challenge today. Search Facebook for a group dedicated to your ancestor's hometown. You may find vintage photos, important connections, and distant cousins.

Will you find a fellow genealogist in the group? Together you can spread your shared roots further and further around the world.

I'm eager to get back to my pet project, but first, I need Filomena to be my relative!


Follow me wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Free Newspaper Site for Your Family Research

Search the news for a slice of history to round out your ancestor's story.

Newspapers haven't been very helpful to me in my family tree research. There are a few reasons for that:
  • My ancestors didn't settle in the USA until 1898.
  • They arrived as illiterate laborers.
  • They never made news.
But that doesn't mean there's no value in old newspapers for someone like me.

I get angry when my seat on an airplane is too cramped. My poor ancestors rode in the belly of one of these. ... Ancestry.com. New York Port, Ship Images, 1851-1891 [database online]. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com, Inc., 2004. Original data: Ship images obtained from and reproduced courtesy of Mystic Seaport.
I get angry when my seat on an airplane is too cramped. My poor ancestors rode in the belly of one of these.

The Library of Congress has a free collection of U.S. newspapers from 1789 to 1963. It's called Chronicling America. You may find your ancestors' social news, like engagements and weddings. You may learn that an ancestor was a criminal, or a lawyer.

Narrow your search by date, place, and newspaper, and look for clippings that belong in your family tree. Start at the Advanced Search screen and enter some information.

If you have any historic event in mind from 1789–1963, you should find a newspaper article about it.
If you have any historic event in mind from 1789–1963, you should find a newspaper article about it.

Here are the best things I've found so far.

Ship Arrivals

My first ancestors to arrive in America were my great grandmother's family in 1898. My great grandparents followed them in 1899. Since I have their ship manifests in my family tree, I know the exact dates of arrival and the ship names.

I thought the New York newspapers should have some mention of the ships arriving each day. And they do. It's only a couple of lines, but here's what I learned about my great grandparents' 1899 voyage:
  • The ship made 8 stops to pick up passengers and merchandise, before sailing to New York.
  • My great grandparents boarded in Naples on 3 July 1899, which was the 7th stop on the ship's journey.
  • There were 162 steerage passengers on the Karamania for this voyage.
  • They arrived in New York Harbor at 6:00 p.m. on 23 July 1899.
My great grandmother's parents and siblings arrived a year earlier. Here's what I learned from the New York Tribune listing of ship arrivals:
  • The ship made 6 stops to pick up passengers and merchandise before sailing to New York.
  • My family boarded in Naples on 21 May 1898, which was the 5th stop on the ship's journey.
  • There were 424 steerage passengers on the California for this voyage. That sounds packed!
  • They arrived in New York Harbor at 7:25 p.m. on 7 June 1898.
That date is new information for me. My family's ship manifest has a blank in the arrival date field. But Ancestry.com has indexed this manifest with an arrival date of 8 June 1898. The newspaper clipping tells me the ship actually arrived the night before.

My Grandfather's WWI Battle

I've written before about using newspapers to learn about my grandfather's capture and imprisonment in World War I.

The last time I visited Italy, I went to the archives for the province of Benevento. I wanted to see my maternal grandfather's military record at the archives. These one-page records are jam-packed with facts. I've seen these records available online if the soldier died in the service of his country. But my grandfather lived to be 96 years old.

So I walked into the archive building with the volume number and record number I needed to see. I had a couple of sentences prepared in Italian to get me started.

I took photographs of the page, so now I have every last detail. I learned the name of his big battle, the date of my grandfather's capture, and the location of his prison camp.

At home I used the Chronicling America website to find news about the battle. It was an epic failure for the Italian Army. My grandfather was lucky to survive a prison camp that starved so many fellow soldiers to death.

The newspaper articles take this deeply personal story and set it on the world stage.

News at the time of my family's arrival triggered a childhood memory for me.
News at the time of my family's arrival triggered a childhood memory for me.

Your Own History

I did a more general search of Chronicling America for "Bronx" in 1898 or 1899. That's when my family arrived there. The first thing to catch my eye was an article published 60 years before I was born.

The headline is THE "ZOO" NEARLY READY. It explains that the Bronx Zoo was almost ready to open for the first time. This reminded me of my own traumatic visit to the Bronx Zoo in May 1971.

At the New York State Library 10 years ago, I found a New York Times article about the Bronx Day events happening on that 12th of May 1971.

There's a brief reference to my grade school class getting terrorized by a gang of hoodlums:

"The day was marred…by a few ugly situations. At the zoo, where hundreds of unruly adolescents gathered, the police reported a 12-year-old girl had been beaten. Several buildings and the restaurant were closed to curtail serious vandalism.

"William G. Conway, director of the zoo, said: 'Too many youngsters were without supervision. If we were host again, we'd want more supervision.'"

This really underplays what happened. My classmates know the story. But I'm glad to have this article. Now I'll always remember the date of that doomed class trip, cut short due to beatings, threats, and robbery.

If your ancestors were not in charge, not in high-society, and not on trial, you may not find their names in the paper.

If that's the case, be broader and more general in your newspaper searches. You may find clippings you'll want to add to your family tree.

Follow me wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Why You Need to Set Genealogy Priorities

Knowing what you want from your genealogy research can keep you on track.

Imagine a world…where time stands still and you can research your family tree for as long as you please.

Yeah. That's not gonna happen.

Since your genealogy research time is limited, you need to make the most of it. If you stick to your top priorities, you can make the most progress.

Let your priorities keep you on the path you want to take.
Let your priorities keep you on the path you want to take.

Here's an example of what I mean. There's a celebrity whose ancestors came from my grandfather's hometown in Italy. I'd known about her link to the town for years.

But a new lead gave me the names of the celebrity's great grandparents: Francesco diPaola and Libera Antonia Marino. And the fact that they emigrated to the USA.

It turns out her great grandparents were in my family tree! Better yet, her great grandfather was the grandson of my 4th great grandparents. If things worked out, and she and I shared this set of 4th great grandparents, we'd be 5th cousins.

That's what I needed to prove. I had to find a line from this immigrant couple to the celebrity. I turned to Ancestry.com for U.S. records. I found Francesco diPaola's 1903 immigration record. He was still single when he came here.

I pressed on. I went first to the family's 1940 census. I figured the celebrity's grandparent was most likely to be there as a child.

Logically, since the celebrity's maiden name is not diPaola, she should be the granddaughter of one of the diPaola girls. There were 2 girls in the family on this 1940 census. I picked one. I searched for any record that might show she married a man with the same last name as the celebrity.

And I found it. The elder diPaola daughter's U.S. Social Security Application and Claims Index shows her maiden name, diPaola, and her married name. It matches the name of the celebrity. Based on that alone, I attached the celebrity's father to this diPaola daughter. (I found his name on Wikipedia.)

That made the celebrity my 5th cousin.

But I kept going. I wanted to find the other documents for the family. I discovered that Libera, the celebrity's great grandmother, came to America in 1899 to join her father. Her father Giorgio Marino was in the same U.S. town Francesco diPaola went to in 1903.

That means this Italian couple, born in the same town, reconnected and married in Pennsylvania. The Marino family then joined the diPaola family and moved from Pennsylvania to Michigan.

Then I found that an older daughter, not in the 1940 census, had also married a man with the celebrity's maiden name. Maybe she was the celebrity's grandmother!

An obituary would help me decide which sister is the celebrity's grandmother. So far I haven't found one. I'd like to get it right, of course. But either way, I do know the celebrity is my 5th cousin. That was the game I was playing.

More than once during this genealogy session I had to rein myself in. Did I really want to spend so much time following Francesco and Libera's many, many children? Not really.

That's when I thought about my priorities. Focusing on my priorities, I decided to leave the descendants alone for now. I'd found almost every possible U.S. record for them. But the couple's siblings in Italy were more important to me.

My Priority One is always the 19th-century Italians from my ancestral hometowns. I want to strengthen that part of my family tree and make it as complete as possible. I have 1,000s of vital records from my towns sitting on my computer. Nearly every person in those documents is connected to me. My passion is to piece them all together.

Yes, it would be great to find out where all the Italian emigrants wound up later in life. But that's not my priority.

In a rare case of peeking at someone else's tree, I got the leg-up I needed.
In a rare case of peeking at someone else's tree, I got the leg-up I needed.

So I returned to their ancestors. I knew the names of Francesco diPaola's parents, but I couldn't find their documents. A peek at someone else's family tree helped me narrow down their birth years. Eventually, I found them!

Now I'm looking through their family's facts. What am I missing? Where should I look for it? Can I add more generations?

My priorities set me back on the track that's most important to me.

What's your top priority? Is it to:
  • document your closest family members?
  • locate the living descendants of your ancestor's siblings?
  • find your earliest recorded ancestor?
  • figure out your connection to your DNA matches?
  • spread your tree out as wide as you can?
Whatever is most important to you, let it guide you. When research time is limited, let your top priority set you on the path toward that goal.

Diversions can be really fun. I've gone way out on distant limbs of my family tree just because I could. But in the end, I want my family tree to be a rock-solid, well-documented snapshot of my ancestral hometowns.

Now it's time to get back to it.


Follow me wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Where Did Your Last Name Come From?

Is there a hidden meaning behind the last names in your family tree?

You may know where your recent ancestors came from. You may even know where your much earlier ancestors came from. But do you know the origins of their last names?

You may call it a last name, a family name, or a surname. In Italian it's un cognome. In Spanish, un apellido.

Last names fall into a few different categories and can give you a clue about their background.

Are your last names tied to a particular place?
Are your last names tied to a particular place?

Do your ancestral last names fit into these categories?
  • Monogenetic—A name that began with one family in one place. My grandfather's last name, for example, has its roots almost exclusively in one town in Italy. How lucky for me!
  • Polygenetic—A name used at different times, in different places, by different families. My other grandfather's last name is ridiculously common and found in every part of Italy.
Those are general categories. Let's get more specific with these 4 types of last names:
  1. Place names—Hill, Dale, Ford, Rivers, as well as specific names of rivers, mountains, and towns
  2. Occupational names—Smith/Ferraro/Schmidt, Miller/Molinari/Mueller, Cooper/Bottaio, Weaver/Tessitore/Weber, Tailor/Sarti/Snyder, Shoemaker/Zapatero/Schumacher
  3. Patronymics—These are names with a beginning or ending that says who was your daddy.
    • German: -sohn, -sen (Larsen, son of Lars)
    • Irish: Mc-, Mac-, O'- (McDonald, son of Donald)
    • Italian: d'-, di-, de-, li-, lo- (diFranco, son of Franco)
    • Russian: -ev, -evsky, -ov, -ovich, -ovsky (one of my favorite authors is Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky; his middle name tells us his father was Mikhail)
    • Spanish: -ez, -es, -is, -iz (Gonzalez, son of Gonzalo)
  4. Personal appearance and characteristic names. These include words for short, curly-haired, red-haired, fat, big, strong, kind. Animal names also fall into this category, such as Wolf/Lupo, Fox/Volpe.
There are also foundling names. These are the names given to babies usually born out of wedlock and abandoned to the care of the church.
  • Spanish: ExpĆ³sito, Iglesia, Cruz, Blanco
  • Italian: Esposito, Proietti, Trovato, Casadio
Authorities might give a foundling baby boy the last name Esposito. But he will pass the name on to each of his children, and his sons will pass it on to their children. So don't assume each Esposito was a foundling.

Here's what it looks like when I apply these rules to some of my ancestors' last names.
  • Caruso: A word meaning close-cropped hair, but also a term for a boy or young man.
  • diPaola: A patronymic from the name Paolo (Paul), although in my family it's changed to Paola.
  • Franza: From Franciscus, or someone who lives in France. We've got no French DNA, though.
  • Iamarino: A patronymic from the name Giovanni Marino. The variation of Giammarino makes the Giovanni or Gianni clearer.
  • Leone: The word for lion, but meaning the son of Leonardo.
  • Petruccelli: A patronymic from the name Pietro (Peter).
  • Pilla: Possibly from the Roman family name Pompilius. That'd be cool.
  • Pisciotti: An occupational name from the word pesce, fish.
  • Sarracino: From the Saracens—a non-Arab people living in the Arabian desert when it was a Roman province. Later, Saracen meant Muslim or Arabs.
  • Saviano: From the Sabine people who lived in the Apennine Mountains of ancient Italy.
  • Tedesco: The word for German.
  • Valente: The word for talented.

The Saracens were an ancient people. Were my ancestors named for them?
The Saracens were an ancient people. Were my ancestors named for them?
Erhard Reuwich "Sarazenen", 1486, Public domain
I love that Saviano has ancient Italian roots. This is the last name of my 2nd great grandfather. He's my first ancestor to come to America. He made trips to New York and back in 1890, 1892, and 1895, then brought the rest of his family here in 1898.

In fact, my maternal grandmother's parents were a Sarracino (Saracen) and Saviano (Sabine). Their marriage may have been a union of two very ancient peoples. That could explain my mom's 100% Southern Italian DNA.

Learning their names and finding their hometowns is all I need to make me love genealogy. (See "Genealogy is the Joy of Names".)

How many last names do you descend from?
How many last names do you descend from?

Is there more history and meaning hidden in your ancestors' last names? Here are some resources from "Behind the Name" to help you understand the names in your family tree:
For a lot more types of names, visit the Behind the Names website.


Follow me wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn.

Friday, July 19, 2019

How a Genealogy Hunch Made a Best Friend a Cousin

Building out a friend's family tree expanded my own tree in new directions.

Because of my family's origins, building my family tree to 1,000s and 1,000s of people is a given. It's just a matter of time.

You see, all my pre-1900 ancestors came from an area of Italy that's just over HALF the size of Rhode Island. And they stayed in one place for at least 500 years—and probably many more. I was able to download 1,000s of vital records from my handful of hometowns, giving me tons of data. On my computer, waiting in those birth, marriage, and death records, are tons of relatives.

I have a deep emotional attachment to these towns and each person's beautiful Italian name. I love and want them all for my family tree.

Because of how long my townspeople stayed put, I decided to follow up on a genealogy hunch.

What are the odds that these 2 best friends would be relatives? Where they grew up, the odds were good.
What are the odds that these 2 best friends would be relatives? Where they grew up, the odds were good.
My parents grew up in the Bronx, New York, as children of Italian immigrants. My dad's best friend was his grade school classmate, Johnny. As they grew up, they played baseball together and shot a lot of pool together.

In 1954, my dad asked Johnny to be the Best Man at his wedding. Today, well into their 80s, dad and Johnny always call each other on their birthdays and catch up.

Here's where that hunch comes in. Johnny's last name is very common in my paternal grandfather's hometown.

So I thought…could Johnny be related to us?

Here are the steps I took to turn Best Man Johnny into Cousin Johnny.

Find Their Passage to America

I knew from Johnny's 1940 census that his mom was born in New York, but his dad came from Italy. And my dad knew he was from Grandpas' town of Colle Sannita. A quick search on Ancestry.com turned up Johnny's father Francesco's 1921 ship manifest and 1938 naturalization papers. Sadly, Francesco died one year after becoming a citizen.

Searching through Italian Records

Now it was time to trace Francesco-the-immigrant's family in my Italian document collection. Here's what I found:
  • Francesco's birth record, giving me his parents' names and ages
  • His parent's birth records, giving me their parents' names and ages
  • Francesco's 3 siblings and the spouse of one of them
  • His great grandparents, Serafino and Maria Raffaela, who turned into a gold mine. I found their 9 children and 5 of the children's weddings.
But as big as dad's friend Johnny's tree had grown, there was still no connection to us.

Looking Again at U.S. Records

When Johnny's father's tree didn't get me anywhere, I thought I'd investigate Johnny's mother. But I didn't even know her last name.

Luckily, the 1910 census and a single gravestone image told me everything I needed to know.

Johnny's mother had the same married name and maiden name! Her father came from our town of Colle Sannita, too.

Back to Italy We Go

I found the Italian birth record for Johnny's maternal grandfather. He was Raffaele, and his birth date helped me confirm the U.S. naturalization papers I found for him.

I only had to go back one more generation to make a big discovery. Our friend Johnny's maternal great grandfather and paternal great grandfather were brothers.

Think about that. Johnny's great grandfathers were brothers. That means his parents were 2nd cousins. This was getting really interesting!

You may have to climb several generations of a family tree to find the connection.
You may have to climb several generations of a family tree to find the connection.

Breakthrough Time

It was the 1853 marriage records for Johnny's maternal great grandparents that blew this whole search mission wide open.

You see, the truly wonderful thing about Italian marriage records is all the vital records they include. You get:
  • the bride and groom's birth records
  • the death record for any of their deceased parents
  • the death record for either of their deceased grandfathers, if their father is dead
The reason for this is you needed your father's permission to marry. And if your father was dead, you needed your grandfather's permission to marry. If both were dead, then OK, we'll accept your mom's approval.

When this couple married in 1853, the groom's father and grandfather were dead. (Yay!) Their death records were part of the marriage records.

Finding out your best friend is part of the family.
Finding out your best friend is part of the family.
And that was the key. The groom's grandfather, Innocenzo, died in 1846. His 1846 death record shows his parents' names: Ignazio and Maddalena. They were already relatives in my family tree!

I attached the parents to Innocenzo. At that moment, the 50 people in our friend Johnny's family tree changed from "No direct relationship found" to actual relatives.

I texted my dad. "Your best man Johnny is the 5th cousin of your Aunt Susie's husband." Aunt Susie was the younger sister of my father's father.

While this is an in-law relationship, there's more to it. Aunt Susie's husband's brother, still alive and well, is a DNA match to my dad and me. We're in the neighborhood of 4th to 6th cousins.

"Johnny just got promoted from Best Man to relative." That's what my dad texted to me.

Acting on this hunch took less than 2 days—from finding Johnny's 2nd great aunts and uncles, to making him my grandfather's in-law.

Behold the power of adding unrelated people to your family tree!



Follow me wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn.