Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Our Ancestors Hoped for a Better Life

Italian birth record for Speranza Maria Esposito
Speranza Maria was born of an "unknown union"
on 13 May 1803.
It's hard to imagine how difficult life was for our ancestors hundreds of years ago. Mine lived in rural Southern Italy where there was no industry or luxury. Each town had a barber, a shoemaker, a shopkeeper. But most people were simple farmers.

Hundreds of people died each year—even in these small towns. Families struggled to survive.

With their life-and-death struggles in mind, it's easier to understand how people remarried within months of their spouse's death.

That was a hard thing for me to imagine at first. But as I documented more and more people from one such town, I saw the same pattern over and over. I found dozens of people who had married more than twice.

Let's take a look at Speranza Maria Esposito. Speranza was born in 1803 to genitori ignoti—parents unknown. The midwife delivered the baby and reported it to the mayor. They named her with the traditional last name for such babies: Esposito. Loosely translated it means without a spouse.

At age 21, Speranza married Mario Nicola Basile and had four children all of whom died in infancy. Their 14-year marriage must have been hard on them, burying four babies. Mario died before his 40th birthday.

As a young widow and with no family, what could Speranza do? This was not the time or place for independent women.

Less than two years after her husband Mario's death, Speranza married Pasquale Ferro. Pasquale was a 40-year-old recent widower with one surviving child, aged 10. Together they had one baby girl, Mariarosa, who also died in infancy. Three years later, Pasquale died, leaving behind a 14-year-old daughter from his previous marriage.

Speranza went another four years before marrying Filippo Colucci. He was a 43-year-old recent widower with a nearly-grown daughter and a teenage son. They married in May 1848. Speranza died in October 1848, childless. She'd married three times, widowed twice, and given birth five times.

Do you know what the name Speranza means? It means Hope. I'm sure Speranza hoped for a better life than the one she got.

Her last husband, Filippo, also married a third time, less than two years after Speranza died. He and his third wife Annamaria Pisciotti had three children. This was also Annamaria's third marriage. The children survived.

Speranza's three marriages
Speranza married three times. Each time she must have hoped for a better life.
It was a hard life. A man needed a woman and a woman needed a man to survive. To care for one another as best they could.

Seeing so many cases of multiple marriages helped me understand my grandfather's final days in New York City. When my grandmother died in 1954 my grandfather was 52 and in good health. He had a long life ahead of him.

He lived with my parents for a few years, but months before I was born, he married a spinster. Sadie was 56 years old and childless. When she died in 1986, Grandpa still had decent health and needed a woman to care for him. He chose to stay in his neighborhood and spend his time with a widow who cooked for him and made him happy.

In Grandpa's case, he had choices. He chose not to live with his daughter, who had opened up her home to him. He chose not to marry a third time. But a man still needed a woman, and a woman still needed a man to survive.

Be sure to consider the time and place when you make unexpected discoveries about your ancestors.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

Create a Digital Map of Your Family History

I've been in love with the aerial view in Google Maps for years. I've created different collections of map pins, like all known addresses for my grandfather. Everywhere I visited during my 2015 trip to France and Italy. The dozen or so places I've lived.

Now I'm creating an itinerary map for my next visit to my ancestors' hometowns in Italy. And I'll have it with me on my iPhone.

Create Your Portable Family History Map

First, you need a free Google account. Sign into that account and go to www.google.com/maps on your computer. You can look up virtually any address, town or place of business in the world and click to stick a pin in it.
Save any location to your personal map list
Click any spot or place-name to save it.

I have a reservation at Hotel Antiche Terme in the city of Benevento. I found it on the map and clicked it. (Apparently it has two names, which may be good to know when I get there.) Then I can click SAVE to keep this location.

Choose what you want to do with this place.
Choose what you want to do with this place.
Now I have a few options. I can simply make the location a favorite, put a flag or a star on it, or save it to a list. I've created a different list for each of my ancestral hometowns.

Here's my list so far for Benevento. It includes my cousin Vincenzo's wonderful pizzeria where I met him in 2005. It includes the State Archives of Benevento—the absolute godsend that has given me all the records from all my towns. I plan to go there to find my grandfather's military records. And it includes the hotel where I'll be staying.

In my ancestors' towns I've saved the locations of the cemeteries, the piazzas, the churches, and the homes of the cousins I'll visit. I'm going to buy an international plan for my iPhone while I'm in Italy (not expensive at all). With that plan, I'll be able to open the Google Maps app on my phone and access my saved locations.

One of my personal lists.
One of my personal lists of places to go.
In my paternal grandfather's hometown of Colle Sannita, I need to see the church of St. George the Martyr (la Chiesa di San Giorgio Martire). So that's on my map. A couple of streets away are two addresses where my ancestors lived (I suspect one is a pile of rubble now). I plan to use the app to guide me as I walk from the church to these locations. I can snap photos of these places and upload them to my personalized map later.

My personal collections of map pins will be accessible to me wherever I go.

Add Places to Your GPS

My husband bought a map of Italy for our GPS device because we'll be renting a car for a few days. He asked me to mark some of my destinations in the GPS as favorites. "Put your cousin Maria's house in there," he said. "She's so far in the middle of nowhere, I don't have a real address for her," I replied.
Pinpointing a hard-to-find location.
Pinpointing a hard-to-find location.

But you can add a precise location to your GPS using longitude and latitude coordinates, so that's what I did. Here's how.

I've studied the aerial and street view of my grandfather's town so many times I can find my cousin Maria's house by sight. I visited her there 13 years ago, and I still remember her describing her horrible garage as a landmark. Yes, the house is far from town, but I found it. If I click to put a pin in it, Google Maps gives me some information about that location.

The information says the name of the town, shows a little image, and includes the GPS coordinates. If I click those numbers, I can:
  • add a label to this place
  • save it in my list of places
  • see those coordinates nice and big so I can punch them into my GPS.
Now I can easily find two of my cousins' homes and not worry about getting lost where there are barely any road markers.
Longitude and latitude coordinates tell your GPS exactly where to go.
Longitude and latitude coordinates tell your GPS exactly where to go.

Whether you're planning a real trip, want to share your collections with your family, or want to "walk" your ancestors' streets in Google Street View, these map collections are a must-have for any genealogist.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

3 Top Safety Tips for Your Family Tree Data

Results of Following Genealogy Best Practices, Part 3

This is the third article in a series about the benefits of following genealogy best practices. (Read about more genealogy best practices in part 1 and part 2.)

Be careful out there
Last November my 5-year-old computer started misbehaving. I couldn't risk losing all my genealogy data and business assets, so I acted quickly. I secured my data and made multiple backups while I waited for my new computer to arrive.

Five months later, I'm faithfully sticking to my data-safety plan. I hope this will inspire you to do the same before disaster strikes.

1. Stick to an Easy Back-Up Plan

To make sure my family tree research is protected, I created a simple back-up plan. Each Sunday I run down my short list of which files to back up to which location. Here's the entire list, just to prove how simple it is.

LAST BACKUP 4/15/2018
  • Back up to OneDrive:
    1. (automatic) Antenati files
    2. (manual) E:\FamilyTree
  • Back up to external drive:
    1. C:\Users\diann\Documents\Quickbooks
    2. C:\Users\diann\Documents\Outlook Files
    3. E:\ everything EXCEPT FamilyTree
I have two main backup locations: a 1 terabyte external drive and 1 terabyte on the Microsoft cloud (OneDrive). That's a lot of space. A lot of space.

My OneDrive folders are backed up automatically.
My OneDrive folders are backed up
I subscribe to Microsoft Office 365 because I need it for work. The cloud storage is free with my subscription. You can use free or paid cloud storage from Apple (if you have an iPhone), Google, Dropbox and other providers.

I love how the folders I name as OneDrive folders are continuously updated on the cloud. I don't have to save a spreadsheet as I'm working on it. And if I rename files or folders, that's synchronized with the cloud version. No effort needed.

The thousands and thousands of Italian vital records I've downloaded from the Italian genealogy archives site (Antenati) are always backed up to the cloud. So are my various genealogy tracking spreadsheets.

What I update manually are the document images I've added to my family tree. I also copy my complete Family Tree Maker file, its automatic backup, and my 2 most recent manual backups there. Once a week I simply drag the newest files to my cloud storage.

The rest of my backup list shows me the few locations of files to copy to my external drive. By sorting my file folders by date, I can see what's new and complete all my backups in about five minutes.

2. Take Advantage of Free Cloud Storage

I've already explained how I'm using my 1 terabyte of Microsoft OneDrive. Don't have that? Try a search for "free cloud storage providers".

Note: I don't keep anything on the cloud that's personal. My email and financial records are not there. Only publicly available genealogy documents are there. So don't be paranoid and brush off this idea.

Take a look at Google Drive and Dropbox. If you don't want to pay for storage, you can combine different free spaces. If you spell that out in your backup list (like mine above), you'll always know what goes where.

3. Keep Track of Your Genealogy Records

I believe strongly in keeping an inventory of the documents I've attached to people in my family tree.

I've also got a complex spreadsheet where I'm documenting the thousands of vital records from my ancestors' 5 Italian hometowns. I've got an ancestor spreadsheet listing the name and Ahnentafel number of each direct ancestor whose name I've discovered. Plus I've got a list of Italian words for occupations and their English translations. (See How to Handle Foreign Words in Your Family Tree.)

Anything you need to reference regularly, need to keep track of and want to keep updated, you can store on the cloud. Then you've always got a safety backup.

To safeguard your genealogy treasure, make these steps a habit. Decide which files belong where. Designate a day each week to make a manual backup. If you can remember to brush your teeth each day, you can remember to practice these safety tips.

Be safe out there.

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Results! Hiring a Professional Genealogist

Chiesa di Santa Marissima del Rosario, Pastene, Italy
My ancestors' church
I finally did it. I hired professional genealogists to do what I can't: find my ancestors' records in a church in Italy.

For one full week I tried not to think about the two genealogists who were visiting the tiny hamlet where my ancestors lived.

And then came the results. Eleven high-resolution images of documents dating back to 1803. The images were numbered one to eleven, and a PDF file gave me a brief explanation of what they were.

I opened up my family tree and went to my grandmother's family. Her parents (last names Sarracino and Saviano) came from this little hamlet called Pastene. I've been there and visited the cemetery. I've viewed the town countless times on Google Earth. It's a long, thin string of houses and an old church. That's it.

With my family tree on one monitor, I started going through the new images on another.

#1 The 1873 marriage record for Giovanni Saviano, the brother of my great great grandfather Antonio. I would have liked to learn the bride's mother's name, but this type of record includes no parents.

#2 The 1842 marriage record for Giovanni's and Antonio's parents, my 3rd great grandparents, Raffaele Saviano and Grazia Ucci. This confirms two facts for me:
  • my great great grandfather Antonio was their first-born child
  • my 3rd great grandmother's name was not Maria Grazia as I'd suspected, but Grazia.
#3 The 1864 marriage record for my great great grandparents Giuseppe Sarracino and Maria Luigia Muollo. One of my goals was to learn Maria Luigia's mother's name, but it is not there. It did tell me that my estimated birth year for one of their sons is almost certainly wrong.

Those are all great facts even though they don't provide what I really wanted: parents' names.

The rest of the documents had me puzzled. I wasn't quite sure who I was looking at. My family tree documents that Giuseppe Sarracino's (from document #3) father was Antonio. But was this him?

#4 The 1821 marriage record for Antonio Sarracino and Vincenza Perrella. Vincenza was from another town. Is he my Antonio?

#5 The 1826 marriage record for Antonio Sarracino and Anna Maria Muollo. Wait, what? I'm still not sure who's who.

#6 through #11 are records of households in the town. The church wrote these lists of the "souls" in their town, but to a genealogist, they're basically a census. OK, here we go.

1803: A husband and wife and their deceased parent's names. They have one son named Antonio Sarracino, age 4. So far, technically, this could be my 3rd great grandfather Antonio Sarracino. He's about the right age. But that's not proof.
1803 church record for Domenico Sarracino's household
1803 church record for Domenico Sarracino's household

1816: The same family with two more daughters.

1823: The same family, but now the mother has died, and Antonio's wife from document #4, Vincenza Perrella, has also died.

1827: Now Antonio no longer has his sisters with him. He has his father, the widower, and his new wife, Anna Maria Muollo from doument #5. They have a new baby named Teresa.
1827 church record for Domenico Sarracino's household
1827 church record for Domenico Sarracino's household

1833: The same family members plus two more children for Antonio and Anna Maria: Giovanni and Mariagrazia.

You know, I'm still not sure exactly what I've got here!

The last document. 1837: Antonio has a household of six people now. His father is not there and may have died. His children are all still alive. Teresa. Giovanni. Mariagrazia. And a new baby: Giuseppe Sarracino.
1837 church record for Antonio Sarracino's household
1837 church record for Antonio Sarracino's household. The youngest baby is my great great grandfather.

That's it! This is in fact the family of my great great grandfather Giuseppe Sarracino. Back up a minute. Now that I know who this family is, let's take a closer look at all the details.

From these six household lists, I've learned the names of:
  • My great great grandfather Giuseppe's three older siblings.
  • His mother's name and her parent's names. Those are my 4th great grandparents Francesco Saverio Muollo and Grazia Cimino.
  • His father's parents' names: Domenico Sarracino and Teresa Mastroberardino. They're also my 4th great grandparents.
  • Domenico and Teresa's parents' names. Those are my 5th great grandparents: Giovanni Sarracino, Rosaria Santangelo, Domenico Mastroberardino and Maria Tufo.
What an incredible revelation! The lack of civil documents for this town had me stuck. But these simple lists found in the church records brought me back three generations. This is something I can't imagine doing on my own. In this remote little town, my broken Italian wouldn't get me very far.

Now I am absolutely planning to go into that church on my upcoming visit to Italy. Simply standing there, knowing the names of many generations of my ancestors who were baptized and married there, will move me to tears.

So what's next? My researchers tell me there is a central church archive that may help me with my Saviano branch.

In the meantime, I have the names and ages of two new great aunts and a great uncle. There's a good chance that inside the Pastene records I've downloaded to my computer I will find their children. The records for those children may tell me more about their mother's Muollo ancestors.

The quest continues!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

You Can Read Foreign-Language Genealogy Records

"I don't understand the language" is not an excuse. You can find the facts you need on a foreign-language vital record.

The reason why you can is the format. Official records from your ancestor's town are usually written on a pre-printed form, or in a standard style. In most cases, it isn't hard to find the keywords: born, died, father, daughter, the twenty-third of May 1859. Find these words and you'll find the facts you need for your family tree.

Understand the Form or Format

As usual, I'm going to focus on Italian documents. That's where all my non-English document experience is.

Here are two examples of the basic formats you may find.

Annotated Italian-language vital record

This 1813 birth record (download a larger version) has handwriting that's easier to read than the pre-printed form. The basic format includes:
  • Document number
  • Date
  • Town official's name and town name
  • Keyword: comparso. Look for the word comparso (appeared). It's followed by the name of the person reporting this event. Let's call them the declarant because they are declaring a baby was born. On a birth record, the declarant is usually the father of the new baby, but it may be the midwife or a close relative. You should see their age (di anni), profession (professione), and where they live (domiciliato).
  • On this document, the next section is a paragraph that follows a format. It says on this day of this month at this time in the home of the declarant was born a baby to him and his legitimate wife. The sentence may include the baby's mother's name, age and profession. The sex of the baby is written as masculine (maschio) or feminine (feminina).
  • The name given to the baby
  • The names, ages and professions of two witnesses who are familiar with this family
  • Signatures (or a mark, if a person is illiterate), including that of the mayor.
My takeaways from this birth record? Antonio Iamarino was born on 3 April 1813 to Giorgio Iamarino, a 21-year-old farmer, and his wife Pietronilla Cocca, age 20. They lived on Strada li Tufi in my grandfather's town of Colle. One of the witnesses has the same last name as the baby's mother. He may be a relative.

Here's a harder type of record. It may look intimidating, but when you know what to look for, it isn't so scary.

A standardized but formless Italian document.

This document, written in 1820, was part of a set of marriage documents (download a larger version). It says that on 15 March 1810 Maria Viola died. She was the daughter of Gregorio and Angela Caporaso. She was the wife of the late Pietro Iamarino and 60 years old.

On a free-form document like this, start with dates. Then look at names and words for birth, death, baptism and relationships.

The key to breaking into this document is the word marzo (March) in the fourth line. The sentence begins, "A quindici marzo mille otto cento e dieci". If you study the numbers a little for the language you need, you'll recognize this as a date. It says "On 15 March 1810".

Immediately after the date is a name, Maria Viola. Then there's another keyword: figlia, meaning daughter. So the next names are her parents. Then we see moglie, meaning wife. So Maria was the wife of the next name, Pietro Iamarino who has died previously (the word fu tells us this).

Unless you're viewing a document with no idea where it came from, you have some context to help you. If you found this document, you'd know it's related to Francesco Saverio Iamarino whose parents were Pietro Iamarino and Maria Viola. The facts you know will help you understand the document.

Locate the Keywords and the General Words

There is probably no better genealogical language resource than FamilySearch.org. You need an account to use this website, but it is free to join. The following pages offer the keywords for vital records and their English translation.
The pages above also offer the words for days, months, numbers and general words found on genealogy records. Get familiar with the language you need. It'll help you understand even more of the document. And when you're stuck on a word, try Google Translate. It may help you make sense of things.

Also check the language pages for other links to help you with handwriting, explain naming patterns in certain cultures and more.

Note: Bad handwriting or a low-quality image is a tougher challenge, but not impossible. Compare the difficult word to other words and letters on the document. If you think one letter in your problem word is a capital T, for example, compare it to another capital T in a word that is clearer to you.

I've read thousands of Italian vital records. I learned the Italian keywords quickly. I got used to the old-fashioned handwriting. Most of the time the important facts are ridiculously easy for me to understand.

You can do this! Get familiar with the important words. Find them in your document. Make sense of the facts.

Do not let your ancestor's language—the one you never learned—stop you from building your family tree.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

How to Be Better at Genealogy than at Your Job

Results of Following Genealogy Best Practices, Part 2

Last time I wrote about the priceless benefits of documenting an entire town. Today I'm focusing on another pillar of my genealogy philosophy. It can help you produce a valuable family tree.

Stick to Your Organization Style

I'm a terrific on-the-job learner. I've become a whiz at organization and efficiency. I like to apply best practices from my work life to my genealogy life.

Here are my top organization and documentation techniques. They've become second nature, and they make my tree stronger every day.

Do what's logical for you and what you think will be logical to your genealogy research heir.

The short version of what's to follow is this:
  1. Categorize: create high-level folders to hold your documents
  2. Recognize: name your files so they say what they are
  3. Annotate: add metadata to the image files themselves
  4. Find: add source citations to your facts right away
  5. Track: Keep an inventory of every document you've found
Categorize: Consistent Folder Structure

create logical, high-level folders
Early in my genealogy days, I began downloading and saving document images on my computer. I created a main FamilyTree folder with sub-folders for the major types of documents:
  • census forms
  • certificates (birth, marriage and death)
  • draft cards
  • immigration
I added more folders as necessary: naturalization, applications, passports. The combination of my simple file folder structure and file naming discipline makes it easy to click my way to a particular document. I don't have to search my computer or wonder if I'm overlooking the file.

Recognize: Logical File Naming

name your files in a way that makes their content clear
For me, the best way to name any image was this format:
  • last name
  • first name
  • type of document (only necessary in my "certificates" folder)
  • year
  • if needed, the file name includes -p1, -p2, -v1, -v2 to distinguish between files that should have the same name
Here's an example from my census forms folder:
  • AusterJacob1920.jpg
  • AusterJacob1925.jpg
  • AusterJacob1930.jpg
  • AusterJacob1940.jpg
I make a habit of naming census files for the head of household. In Jacob Auster's case, these file names are crucial because Jacob used a different first name each time!

These examples from my certificates folder show me all I have for someone at a glance:
  • PisciottiLuigiBirth1825.jpg
  • PisciottiLuigiPecoraAngelamaria1stMarriageBanns1848.jpg
  • PisciottiLuigiPecoraAngelamaria2ndMarriageBanns1848.jpg
  • PisciottiLuigiPecoraAngelamariaMarriageLicense1848.jpg
  • PisciottiLuigiPecoraAngelamariaMarriage1848.jpg
It looks like I need a death record for Luigi Pisciotti.

Annotate: Useful Image Annotation

annotate your images with metadata
As soon as I download an image, I crop it in Photoshop, name it according to my style and save it in the proper folder. Then I right-click the file, choose Properties and click the Details tab. I fill in the empty Title and Comments fields. Whatever I put there stays with the image file.

For the Title, I enter exactly what I want to see in Family Tree Maker, like "1825 birth record for Luigi Pisciotti". In the Comments field I include the URL where anyone can find the original file. If it applies, I'll include the line number(s) of interest.

When I add the image to Family Tree maker, it imports those two fields.

Anyone finding a common ancestor in my tree on Ancestry.com also sees those important image details. To learn more, see How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images.

Find: Thorough Source Citation

create detailed source citations to add to your facts
I like my source citations to be simple. For all the census years, I name the citation as simply as "1930 U.S. Census". Most other sources I name exactly as they appear on Ancestry.com. For example, "New York, Index to Petitions for Naturalization files in New York City, 1792-1989".

But in the Citation detail field I add the description of the document collection, taken right from the source. Example: "Ancestry.com. New York, Index to Petitions for Naturalization filed in New York City, 1792-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007."

In the Citation text field, I copy more information from the source. Example: "Soundex Index to Petitions for Naturalization filed in Federal, State, and Local Courts located in New York City, 1792-1989. New York, NY, USA: The National Archives at New York City."

The important thing is to add a source to each fact as you enter it. Adding a birth date? Attach the source. Adding an address? Add the source. Immediately. To learn more, see Trade Up to Better Family History Sources.

Track: Sanity-saving Document Inventory

While this last item is important to me, some of you may think it's nothing but extra work. I keep a single spreadsheet of each document I've attached to someone in my family tree.

here's everything I've collected on one person

If I'd opened that spreadsheet this morning, I wouldn't have bothered downloading a 1907 marriage record for a cousin—because I already had it! You can't keep all these facts in your head. A document tracker keeps you from wasting your time. Plus it shows you what you're missing. To learn more, see Track Your Genealogy Finds and Your Searches.

Next time you download a document image for your family tree, think CRAFT. If you've already got your category folders created, think RAFT (picture actor George Raft flipping a coin). Recognize means name your files in a way that helps you recognize what they are in the future. Annotate means add details to the properties of each image so it makes sense even out of context. Find means add a source citation to each fact so you can find where it came from. Track means update your inventory so you'll always know what you've found.

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

How to Build a Broad Family Tree and Unite Strangers

Results of Following Genealogy Best Practices, Part 1

A year and a half ago I didn't know I had a genealogy philosophy. That after years of working on my family tree, I'd developed sure-fire methods I rely upon. When I realized how crucial these methods are to my family tree, I decided to blog about it.

Now I'm putting my own philosophy to the test. Today let's take a look at one method I write about a lot.

Collect All the Documents

Documenting a whole town uncovers hidden relationships.
A tiny sampling of the Leone's
from my grandfather's hometown.
I believe in examining every available vital record from your ancestor's town. The benefits of this method are unbeatable.

First you'll need to find out if records from your ancestral hometown are available. They may be on FamilySearch.org or you may need to visit the collection in person. If you're Italian like me, you may find your town's documents on the Antenati website.

You may find the language and handwriting tough on documents from a different country. That problem can almost entirely disappear as you go through many, many documents.

Several years ago I set out to gather information from every vital record from my grandfather's hometown of Baselice, Italy. I visited my local Family History Center countless times to scroll through the microfilmed documents from 1809 through 1860.

I realized the only way to know who my relatives were was to document everyone.

It took me years! I sat there with a computer in my lap and typed the information I saw. I developed an efficient shorthand so I could go home with my text file and record everyone in Family Tree Maker. The result: a town-wide tree of almost 16,000 people, more than 10,000 of which had a connection to me by blood or marriage. (See Families of Baselice.)

You see, in the 1800s, people couldn't travel as easily as we do today. They married someone in town. The same families intermarried a number of times. Everyone was related!

I began posting my enormous town tree on several websites. To this day, people with roots in that town are contacting me and adding 4 or 5 generations to their own family trees.

Here's how going through an entire town's records can help you:

Name recognition

In small towns, or city neighborhoods, you'll see a lot of the same names repeated. You wouldn't believe how fast I got at typing names like Mariantonia, Michelarcangelo, Lapastoressa and Gianquitto because of the repetition.

But speed isn't the benefit. It's knowing the town's names so well that you can read them no matter how bad the handwriting or how damaged the document.

Language comprehension

I see lots of people on Facebook asking others to interpret old records because they don't understand Italian. They don't know yet that you don't have to speak the language to understand the names, dates and facts on a vital record.

The more foreign-language records you view, the more that language becomes second nature. You'll learn the words for born, married, died, spouse, all the numbers and months of the year. And you'll know where on the document to look for them.

Scope of relationships

When I started looking at Baselice records, I was searching for anyone named Leone. Right away I realized I couldn't tell how any of them were related to me unless I spread out. I had to find other children born to the couple I learned was my great grandfather's parents. Then I had to see who those other children married. And then I went back more generations.

It was documenting everyone that gained me 10,000 relatives. And that's why my tree continues to find delighted Baselice descendants to this day.

Today I can download those Italian records to my computer. The clarity blows those ancient microfilm projectors out of the water. So I am doing for my other ancestors' towns what I did for Baselice. In one weekend I added 4 generations to my cousin's tree. It was amazingly easy.

So I will continue to recommend you don't stay on the straight and narrow path of your direct-line ancestors. Your family tree has an endless amount of rich data to gain by spending time with all the documents you can find.

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, March 30, 2018

How to Prepare for Your Visit to Your Ancestor's Hometown

The church some of my ancestors attended in Sant'Angelo a Cupolo, Italy.
The church some of my ancestors attended
in Sant'Angelo a Cupolo, Italy.
The first time I visited my grandfather's hometown in Italy, I got stranded there. My husband and I went there without a plan. We boarded a train to the city of Benevento. Then we asked for help in getting to my ancestral hometown of Colle Sannita. We got on a bus to Colle with a bunch of college students.

The students were so helpful. They told us what time we needed to catch the last bus back to Benevento. They gave us the name of a nice hotel in Colle in case we wanted to stay. They bid us "Arrivederci" at our stop.

We wandered around town for a while, but we had only 45 minutes until the last bus of the day! On our way to the bus stop we stopped at a bank for some cash. That's where we were stranded. You can read that crazy little story on my honeymoon website.

Two years later I had become an amateur genealogist, and I did a much better job of planning my trip to Italy. Somehow the webmaster of the Colle Sannita website gave me contact information for one of my Colle Sannita cousins in America! So when my husband and I returned to Colle, we met almost three dozen relatives. I documented that visit on my website, too. Please don't judge me for my fanny-pack. I don't know what I was thinking.

Twelve years later, we're finally planning another visit to my ancestral homeland. This time I have a few more things I want to see besides the cemeteries.

If you're American, Australian, or Canadian, chances are your ancestors were somewhere else a few generations or a few hundred years ago. If you're lucky enough to visit your ancestors' homeland, you can experience the feeling I had. The welling up of emotion. The feeling of a deep connection.

You know where you've seen that feeling? On most episodes of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

So when you go, here are some of the places and people you can plan to visit.

Your Ancestor's Home or Neighborhood

If you've collected vital records for your ancestors, see if they show an address or a neighborhood. I didn't have these documents and addresses before. But on this trip, I want to stand outside the house where my other grandfather was born, the other house where his father died, and a bunch more.

Your Living Relatives

I've found a few more of my Italian relatives on Facebook. Someone recommended a Facebook group for people from my other grandfather's town of Baselice. I posted an image there of my grandfather's house and started a conversation about him. Two of my Italian cousins saw the conversation and said hello to me. It turns out I already know their brother with whom I've corresponded for several years.

On this trip I hope to meet these relatives as well as visiting those I met 12 years ago.

The Town's Cemetery

In 2005 I visited three cemeteries in Italy. We photographed every grave with a name I knew, but I didn't know who the people were. Later, with help from cousins and my research, I discovered my relationship to nearly every one of the people whose graves I'd visited.

This time I would like to see three more cemeteries. I never went to the Colle Sannita cemetery because I had so many living relatives to visit. But I'd like to see it. I've since discovered two neighboring towns where my great great grandparents had two children who died young. I don't expect to see their graves after so many years, but I do expect to see the last name of Consolazio.

The Town Center

One of my biggest regrets about my two visits to Colle Sannita is how little time I spent in the town piazza. There's a statue there, dedicated to the town's fallen World War I soldiers. I took two photos of it, but I should have carefully photographed the names carved into the statue's base.

I want to experience being in the piazza from each of my Italian hometowns. I want to feel what my life might have been if my ancestors hadn't come to America for a more prosperous life.

So now I need to get busy. Busy making lists of the places I want to be. Plotting them on a map. Reaching out to the people I want to visit.

I want to have that tears-in-the-eyes feeling you see on every subject of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

4 Ways to Decide Where to Spend Your Family Tree Research Time

That's a lot of branches.
Yeah, I've got a lot of branches to work on.
The more time you spend at this exciting adventure we call genealogy, the more branches your family tree has.

Your parents form two branches. Your grandparents form four branches. And if you've been lucky, your great great great grandparents form 32 branches.

Thirty-two branches! On my paternal grandfather's branch, I've identified the names of four of my 9th great grandparents. That gives me several hundred branches to explore.

So how do you decide where to focus your energy when you sit down to work on your family tree?

Here are four tactics you can use to focus your family research for better results. Better results equals more enjoyment!

1. Choose an Ancestor with Special Meaning to You

Marianna Iammucci, born 1 Jan 1856 in Baselice, Benevento, Campania, Italy
Marianna Iammucci
I have a photo of my great grandmother Marianna Iammucci, and it is striking how much I look like her. Once I found her 1856 birth record, I wanted to find all her siblings and work my way up her family tree. I've used available vital records to work back to my 6th great grandfather, Giovanni Iammucci, born about 1698. To go any further on the Iammucci branch, I think I'd need access to very old local church records in Latin.

2. Choose Your Most Stubborn Brick Wall

You may be sick of banging your head against that brick wall, but document everything—thoroughly. Document what you have found, which facts are uncertain, and where you've looked. This can help you get a more focused research plan when you're:
  • taking advantage of a professional consultation session at a genealogy event
  • deciding to hire a pro.
3. Focus on a Surviving Relative's Branch

Don't squander the chance to learn names and places and stories from an elderly family member. I got my first taste of genealogy when I brought my first baby to visit my grandmother. I asked Grandma to tell me about her family because there was a family tree page in my son's keepsake baby book.

Years later, genealogy became my full-fledged obsession of a hobby. Then I found my notes from that conversation with Grandma. Everything she'd told me was correct, and now I had a bunch of documents to prove it all. Make good use of your priceless resources while you can.

4. Exhaust Available Resources

Many of my ancestors' names are waiting for me in my collection of downloaded Italian records. You may have found one or more of your ancestral hometowns' records on the Antenati website. (Learn How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.) Or you may have a different resource from wherever in the world your ancestors were born.

Whatever place-specific resource you have access to, harvest it! Search for your people generation by generation. Search for siblings' births. Search for marriages and deaths. Uncover every fact the collection holds for your family tree.

Last week I downloaded every available vital record from the town of Circello, Italy. I've known for a long time that this is the town next to my paternal grandfather's town. I also knew it's the town my uncle's family came from. But that research was on the back burner.

Then I discovered a few things that made Circello more important to me than ever:
  • My 3rd great grandfather, who married and died in my grandfather's town, was born in Circello.
  • My uncle by marriage, whose ancestors are from Circello, is in some way related to my father by blood. This discovery comes from several DNA tests.
  • I've met two people with Circello ancestors who share some last names with me.
Now it's important to me to build out my uncle's family tree, and explore the trees of the two people I've met. My goal is to connect as many people as possible. Exhausting the records from Circello may connect us all.

I still enjoy following tangents now and then. I'll fill out a distant relative's branch because it's easy and interesting. But it's more fulfilling to focus on one area—breaking your way through generation after generation.

Do you have different techniques you use to focus your research? Please share them in the comment section below.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

4 Ways to Fit Genealogy into Your Busy Day

If you don't have some time, make some time...for genealogy.
Don't stress about it. Do your
genealogy in stolen moments.
Does this sound familiar? You haven't worked on your genealogy in a while because you're busy at your new job. Or your kids had the flu. Or you haven't had a weekend to yourself in months.

It's easy to postpone your family history research, even though you love it so much. But if you put it off, your research plans are no longer fresh in your mind. It gets harder and harder to pick up where you left off. You can feel as if you're not getting anywhere.

You can break that cycle! By carving out even the smallest amount of time each day, or several days a week, you can keep your head in the game.

Here are 4 things you can do in a small block of time that will strengthen your family tree research.

1. Work on One Person

Choose one family member that's of great interest to you and look at their timeline of facts. What's missing? Do you need to find a birth record, death record, military record? Choose one type of record and do an online search. Important: Make note of where you searched and where you plan to search. Then you can pick up where you left off next time. (See Where Did Grandpa Come From?)

2. Stop Ignoring Sources

Take a look at your source citations. Are they good enough to be useful when someone has inherited your family tree research? Work your way through and improve them. If you tackle them alphabetically, it'll be easy to make a note of where you stopped so you can continue the next time. (See Trade Up to Better Family History Sources)

3. Get Consistent

Are you consistent in the way you record facts? Would you rather record last names in all capital letters? Do you wish you'd started with a different date format (I like DD Mon YYYY)? Choose one item and work your way through correcting or changing them. This can be an enormous task if you have several thousand people in your tree. But won't the consistency make your work so much better? (See Organize Your Genealogy Research By Choosing Your Style)

4. Add Value to Documents

Look at your media collection. You may have photos of people and lots of images of documents. Does each image, on its own, contain facts that make it more valuable? I've gone through each of my hundreds and hundreds of census images and annotated them. People borrow my images from my Ancestry.com tree all the time. They're getting a lot of information about where the image came from and which line numbers to look at. (See Who's Borrowing Your Family Tree?)

These are tasks that don't demand you spend several uninterrupted hours. If you're disciplined and take research notes, you can make progress on the big picture each day. In small blocks of time.

So where will you find that small block of time? You could:
  • wake up a few minutes earlier each day
  • give up one TV show you don't care that much about
  • bring your laptop or tablet with you when you're waiting to pick up the kids or see the doctor. Or while you get someone else to clear away the dinner dishes for a change.
Genealogy is a fascinating, time-consuming hobby that we love. But don't think of it as requiring six hours at a time.

With some planning, you can keep up your momentum and make progress. You only have to try.

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