31 January 2017

Where Have You Been All My Life?

When you've been at this crazy business of genealogy as long as I have, the past years of research seem to melt away. Those countless hours of searching, gathering and documenting are a blur because you're so focused on what you need to find next.

As a long-time subscriber to ancestry.com, I'm always pleased to see new collections added to the mix. Often when I thought I had every possible document there was to find for a specific ancestor, a new collection of documents becomes available, and I've got to gather the new bits of information, too. That's why I keep renewing my subscription.

If you subscribe to any genealogy sites, or if you use free sites like FamilySearch.org, it's important to keep going back to see what new tools and records they've made available.

The other day I saw a post in a genealogy forum on LinkedIn that mentioned the many treasures available for genealogists with family from the Benevento province of Italy. Well, lucky me. Every branch of my family comes from the Benevento province. The post included a link to the State Archives of Benvento. I feel sure I have visited this site in the past, but now its collection of vital records is astounding!

In pretty short order (despite the intense slowness of the website) I found the town birth record for my maternal grandfather and his brother, my paternal grandfather and his father, and my paternal grandmother's parents and one set of her grandparents.

section of Italian birth record

That last one was a true miracle. It was only in the last few weeks that I discovered the maiden name of my paternal grandmother's (the Maria Rosa Caruso I've written about a few times) mother. It was Girardi, and I first found it misspelled in two or three new Social Security Applications Claims records on ancestry.com. I felt sure that the bad transcription of the name was really Girardi. Then I found a death record for Maria Rosa Caruso's brother Giuseppe. There I saw his mother's name in handwriting, but it had been Americanized to Gerard.

But last night I found my Maria Luigia Girardi's original birth record in the Benevento State Archives and lo and behold! I learned her parents' names! Now I have a brand new last name to add to my wildly long list: DiNigris. And equally exciting and mind-blowing, I discovered that Maria Rosa Caruso had a twin brother. There were a few twins in that branch of the family, so it's very interesting to trace it back to my great grandmother—especially when she did not pass down that trait.

So the lessons here are (a) you're never finished with this hobby, and (b) keep revisiting your sources to find out what's new.

29 January 2017

Case Study on "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Here's a lesson that supports my earlier post, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" I have one branch of my family where the information was pretty scant. In fact, I never knew my great grandmother's maiden name was Caruso until the eve of my first trip to Italy—the trip that sparked my interest in genealogy. Later I heard from a distant cousin named Michael who was very interested in the Caruso family tree and shared a great deal of first-hand information with me.

As with any information I receive without documentation, I set about proving all of the facts Michael had shared with me, and in doing so, I learned quite a bit more facts.

My great grandmother, Maria Rosa Caruso, had at least four older brothers, all of whom came to upstate New York in the very early 1900s. Giuseppe came here first because each of this brothers' ship manifests says they were joining their brother Giuseppe at 827-829 Canal Street, Elmira, New York.

Maria Rosa's ship manifest was the hardest to find, and even after finding it, I was not sure it was the right Maria Rosa Caruso for quite some time. The manifest has some facts that are correct for her (born in 1880 or 1881 in Pescolamazza, and coming to join her brother Giuseppe), but it also has facts that do not work.

The manifest says she was married as of July 1906, but that doesn't work because I have her November 1906 marriage certificate from Hornell, New York. It also says her final destination is Addison, New York. While that is not terribly far from Elmira, or even Cameron, New York, which is another place her brother Giuseppe lived, I have no facts putting any members of this Caruso family in Addison. There is an address beneath her brother Giuseppe's name, but it appears to say "236 Bore". I can't make anything out of that.

She wasn't married, despite the ship manifest.
I kept returning to this 1906 ship manifest and finally noticed something very important. Where the manifest shows an "m" for married, in much lighter ink there is an "s" for single overwriting the "m". (See the far-right side of the image.) So it was an error.

That left me with the troubling town of Addison. But in a web search today I discovered that Addison was the end of a particular railroad line that connected with the New York Central Railroad. So there is a good possibility that Maria Rosa had her ticket from New York City to Addison and then had to get on the Erie Railroad to get to her brother. At that time, Giuseppe lived in Cameron, New York, on a street parallel to the railroad tracks where he worked. I can see a railroad line on Bing Maps that runs from Addison to Cameron. And on her marriage certificate, Maria Rosa lists her residence as Cameron.

Now I feel as if the 1906 ship manifest finally makes sense. And this illustrates how important it is to gather as many provable facts as possible about your ancestor and their entire family.

26 January 2017

Case Study on "What If There's No There There?"

This case study supports my earlier post, "What If There's No There There?"

When I began researching my great grandmother Maria Rosa Caruso, I found a distant cousin-in-law through a message board who was also researching the Caruso family. Her mother-in-law, as well as my father, had always heard their grandmother Maria Rosa mention her hometown, calling it Pisqualamazza.

But there is no such town as Pisqualamazza in Italy.

The real name of my great grandmother's hometown.
When I finally found her 1906 immigration record (which is a subject for another story), her hometown was fairly clearly written as Pescolamazza.

Aha! Maybe "Pisqua" was a result of her accent—the way the locals said it. But there is no Pescolamazza on the map, either!

That's when I turned to a search engine. I quickly found a link to a tourism website for the town of Pesco Sannita. Well, it has a Pesco, so let me read on. On the website's town history page, they provide the original Latin name of the town, as well as the town's name until after World War II: "Pesclum, now Pesco Sannita (Pescolamazza until 1947)…".

I would never have thought the town would change its name, but this was my proof. Modern day Pesco Sannita is in the province of Benevento and neighbors the towns that all the rest of my ancestors came from.

Armed with this information, I was able to switch from searching for Pisqualamazza to searching for any Caruso from Pescolamazza. That nugget of information helped me find records for Maria Rosa's many brothers.

If you can't find what you'd always thought was your ancestor's hometown, search for anyone with their last name, and be sure to use several search engines and try to find out more.

24 January 2017

Case Study on "Where Did Grandpa Come From?"

How to Find that Hometown

Let me share with you a case study that supports my earlier post, "Where Did Grandpa Come From?".  It details the steps I followed to find the true hometown(s) of my great grandmother's family—the Saviano family.

For many years I heard my grandmother and her siblings mention two towns: Pastene and Avellino. She and her siblings had heard those town names from their parents and repeated them throughout their lives.

It turns out they were slightly off. The family was from Avellino and Pastene the same way I'm from Rockland County, New York. That doesn't tell you what town I lived in, does it?

Pastene, ending in an E, is difficult to find. Plus, there's more than one Pastena, ending in an A, that could throw you off the trail. But I also knew the family was from the Benevento province, which borders the Avellino province. (A province in Italy is similar to a county in America.) In that area, there is a comune (municipality) named Sant'Angelo a Cupolo that contains a frazione (hamlet) called Pastene.

To put it more simply, Pastene is a tiny section of the town of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. For proof that the Saviano family was from this place, I found their 1898 ship manifest when the whole family came to the U.S. They listed their hometown as "S. Angelo Cupolo".

Once I found the town on a map, this was perfectly legible to me.
Once I found the town on a map, this was perfectly legible to me.

I had never heard of that town before I found this document. At a later date, I found the New York City marriage certificate for my great grandmother's sister Filomena, and it listed Pastene, Italy as her birthplace.

But why did my relatives also say the family was from Avellino? Avellino is both a city and a province a few miles away from Pastene. My answer came from the World War II draft registration card for my great grandmother's brother Semplicio. It very clearly (albeit misspelled) lists his place of birth as Tufo in the province of Avellino, Italy.

Aha! Once I found that, I went to the Family History Center near where I lived at the time. Miraculously, someone had ordered a roll of microfilm from Tufo, so it was sitting there in the drawer!

On the microfilm I found the 1877 birth record for Semplicio Saviano. The big surprise was the 1875 birth record for an older brother no one in my family had ever known about. He died as a child. In fact, he had the same first name as another brother who was born later in Pastene: Raffaele.

So, although I haven't a clue why, this Saviano family moved from Tufo, Avellino, Italy, to Pastene, Benevento, Italy. A few miles was very far in those days, and my great great grandfather was not moving for a job.

And if you're thinking I may be looking at the wrong family in Tufo, I'm not. The mother in this family had the uncommon name of Colomba Consolazio, and that is seen very clearly on the Tufo birth records.

All of this is another example of the importance of locating as many documents as possible for your entire family.

22 January 2017

What If There's No There There?

How do you find documents from your ancestor's hometown if you can't find it on any map?

Did the Town Change its Name?

Sometimes your genealogy research requires some history research. For example, I learned that my great great grandmother's town, which family members often heard her mention, had changed its name after World War II.

The name change hampered my search for a while, but the truth was out there. I was able to visit the town in 2005 after I discovered its current name.

Beautiful Pesco Sannita—formerly Pescolamazza.
Beautiful Pesco Sannita—formerly Pescolamazza.

Did the Borders Move?

Then there are situations like this: You search for your Polish family's hometown only to find it in Germany. "How could they not know they're German?" you ask.

But a little Googling of the history will tell you that the Germany/Poland border fluctuated over time. So your ancestor came to America from Poland, but if he were to return today, he'd be going to Germany.

When you can't find what you believe to be your ancestor's hometown on the map, use a search engine to learn about the surrounding area. What events happened there after your ancestor's emigration?

Didn't They Love Their Homeland?

When I first began looking into my two grandfathers' decision to leave the idyllic Italian countryside I'd visited to come live in a cramped apartment in the Bronx, New York, I couldn't understand it. (See Why Did They Come To America?.)

How could they leave the most peaceful place on earth to come to the gritty city?

Then I read about the extreme poverty and lack of hope in Southern Italy as early as the 1800s.

My grandfathers were faced with the idea of never being more than a menial worker who sold his products only to his own little town. They each followed the example of a relative who found almost unlimited work in American coal mines and railroad yards.

It must have seemed like their only option because—and this amazes me—they came to America and never saw their families again.

It is quite hard to imagine. So read about it. Don't ignore the history that goes along with your ancestor's immigration.

20 January 2017

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Fan Out Your Search for Better Results

There's Donata's missing brother John!
There's Donata's missing brother John!
Do you trace your direct-line ancestors only? Or do you explore other branches and in-laws when working on your family tree?

I believe strongly in gathering as much information as possible and presenting a more complete timeline for each family in your tree.

Most of my ancestors simplified my genealogy research by coming to America in a relatively short time span, and living within a few city blocks of one another.

Recently I was tracing one ancestor's sister through the years in census forms. In one census I found her brother Giovanni living with her. Giovanni had been missing to me, and he wasn't showing up in a search for his name.

If I hadn't been tracking his sister, I might never have found Giovanni.

This is also a good way to find a widowed ancestor.

When following the records for one of your great aunts or great uncles, you may find your widowed great great grandmother living with them. That helps narrow down the stretch of years when your great great grandfather died.

I guess you could say I prefer my family tree wide like a maple, not tall and thin like a spruce. Spread out and see how your family tree flourishes.

17 January 2017

Haven’t I Seen You Before?

It can be fun to follow a genealogy lead online and begin gathering facts and downloading documents as fast as you find them.

But beware. If you’re not well organized, you may discover that the terrific documents you spent an hour downloading are documents you already had!

My Family Tree Research Secret Weapon

That’s why I like to keep my “cheat sheet” open whenever I’m looking at information.

My document tracker shows me what I have and what I'm missing in my family tree.
My document tracker shows me what I have and what I'm missing in my family tree.

I have a spreadsheet I call my Document Tracker. It has one person on each line and columns for the types of documents or facts I collect. The columns include birth, baptism, marriage, immigration, death, censuses, military, and more.

Whenever I'm investigating someone, I take a glance at that person in my alphabetical spreadsheet. Instantly I know what I have and what I need to find. No more wasted or duplicated effort.

To be thorough, I save the image of a census document and name it for the head of household and the year (e.g., IamarinoPietro1940.jpg). Then in my family tree software I attach it to each member of the household. Finally, I note it on each person’s line in my Document Tracker spreadsheet.

Now I can see which census years I've found for a father and each of his children as they move on to their own households.

This spreadsheet also helps you see what is missing for anyone in your family tree, such as the 1920 and 1940 census, or a World War II draft registration card.

Use your document tracker to focus on exactly what you need to locate. Think how much that will improve your productivity and fortify your family tree.

16 January 2017

How Is That Possible?

They say the "unexamined life is not worth living". I say the "unexamined family tree is not worth publishing"!

Check Your Facts

Occasionally you need to analyze your family tree to see if anything looks illogical. Your family tree software may alert you if you’ve entered facts that are impossible, such as a woman giving birth when she’s a little girl or after she’s dead. But it won't alert you if your facts show a person living in two different states at the same time.

Don't leave impossible facts in your family tree.

A common name in my family, but 2 with the same birth date?
A common name in my family,
but 2 with the same birth date?
Recently I was adding census data to my family tree. One set of facts said the wife came to America two years before her daughter.

If this were true, it would mean she left her infant daughter in Italy, came to join her husband in America, and didn’t send for her baby for another two years.

That's highly unlikely and can only be proved or disproved by finding the mother and daughter’s immigration records.

These types of logic errors are what I frequently find in other people’s family trees—a big reason why I never accept someone else's research without seeing the documentation. Many times, these errors are difficult to spot and difficult to solve.

I like to put a bookmark on people with a logic error so I can quickly see where more investigation is needed.

See what type of reporting features your software may have. Whatever tools you can use, your tree will benefit from a logic scrubbing.

15 January 2017

Where Did I Find This?

A Lack of Sources Can Ruin Your Tree

To give credibility to your genealogy facts and make your family tree stronger, you need good annotation.

Describe the source of each bit of information well enough that anyone can retrace your steps and find the same information. That includes:
  • Name
  • Birth date
  • Birth place
  • Marriage date
  • Death date
  • Death place
  • and more.
For example, if you haven't found a ship manifest documenting a person’s immigration to America, but the 1920 census states that they arrived in 1905, be sure to cite the 1920 census as the source of that tidbit.

It's clear that the 1920 census is not as reliable as an actual ship manifest when it comes to immigration, but at least we know where that data point came from.

Written proof is more trustworthy than a family story passed down to you.

Myth destroyed. Not our uncle after all!
Myth destroyed. Not our uncle after all!
This seems like a good place to tell my passed-down family story that turned out to be 100% false. My in-laws fully believed they were descended from the brother of the captain of the Titanic.

I met Grandmother Lillian who told the story of being Captain Smith’s brother’s daughter. She was ashamed of the fact that her uncle lost so many lives at sea. It clearly pained her.

The problem is Captain Edward Smith had no brothers. He had a half-sister, but there were no other Smith boys in his family. How could Grandmother Lillian be so wrong?

I decided to see if Grandmother Lillian’s father was Captain Smith’s first cousin rather than his brother. Unfortunately, this was another dead end. No Smith boys.

This story illustrates how much you need to show exactly where your facts came from. Captain Smith’s would-be niece is no longer alive, so we can’t ask her why she believed he was her uncle. Without proof, we’ve got nothing.

Think about this: Would you want to grab someone else’s family tree and attach it to your own when a goof like this calls their entire tree into question?

Do your due diligence. Cite your sources. Here's a great reference on citing sources from FamilySearch.org.

Where Did They Go Next?

Follow the Family at Every Turn

To give your family tree the ultimate credibility, locate as many pieces of genealogical documentation as possible. This creates a robust timeline for each person in your family tree.

To help you locate birth, marriage and death records, you need to know where a person lived at different times in their life. Knowing where someone lived also helps you be sure you have the right document.

Many members of my family lived at this address...including me, briefly.
Many members of my family lived at this address...including me, briefly.

For example, let’s say I have census forms, draft registration cards, and other documents that show my ancestor always lived in the same neighborhood in the Bronx, decade after decade.

Misspelled, but my family.
Misspelled, but my family.
If I have a death certificate that lists the person’s address at the time of death, and it matches the address I had for him on the census earlier that year, I can be sure I have the right death certificate.

Now imagine you have a census sheet for a family from your tree. This census tells you the older children were born in Tennessee but the younger children were born in Virginia.

If you hadn’t learned about the two different states, you wouldn’t know where to find the family 10 years earlier. This may also be a clue as to where the husband and wife were married, helping you find that marriage certificate.

Follow your ancestors throughout their journey. Document as many facts as you can. Knowing where your family lived at different times will tell you if information you found in someone else’s tree is reliable.

14 January 2017

Who Are These People?

Why Complete Documentation is Important

Do you search for every census your ancestor was recorded in? It's important to do so.

As you gather every census record for a family, compare the facts carefully. If there is a child in the 1930 census who was born in 1915, but that child is missing from the 1920 census, one of the census forms could be the wrong family.

It's easy to find a family with some similar names and think they're the family you want.

Don't forget the state censuses, like this 1925 New York state census.
On the other hand, names were sometimes misspelled by the census taker, and the digitized census form may be improperly indexed. So, if you think you have the right family despite a badly misspelled name, compare the facts to every other census you can find for this family.

If the last name is off but the first names, ages, and address match up, you’ve probably found the right family.

Resolving a Discrepancy

I had a case where the family’s last name was Abbate, but on the 1900 census the name is written as Abata. I nearly overlooked this census until I saw that:
  • The husband and wife had the correct first names.
  • Their seven-year age difference matched all the other information I had.
  • They had no children yet.
  • The wife’s parents were living with them and had the same last name as their son-in-law. This was a fact I'd discovered on other documents, so here was further proof that the husband and wife had the same last name.
  • The wife’s parents were named Victor and Angela, which matched the names of the couple’s first two children, seen on later census forms.

Living with a Mystery

There was no daughter named Annie.
Here's another example where information does not match, yet it is certainly my family. In the 1930 census, on one page and in a building I know my family owned, are my maternal grandparents with my uncle and aunt, a set of cousins whose seven names match the family I know, and my great grandparents with two daughters.

The problem is, 23-year-old Annie, listed as their daughter. She is absolutely not their daughter. Her occupation is dressmaker, which matches their daughter Stella. Stella is about the right age at the time, but in 1930 she was married, not working, had a baby, and was living several blocks away.

No one alive can solve the mystery of Annie the dressmaker. But considering the tons of overwhelming evidence, I know this is the correct 1930 census for my great grandparents.

That's why it's so important to look at all the evidence when making your decision: My family or not my family?

12 January 2017

Where Did Grandpa Come From?

Rule #1 Must Be: Find Your Ancestor's Hometown

Be very careful when "borrowing" ancestors.
Be very careful when
"borrowing" ancestors.
When you're trying to find documents for your ancestor, it is critical to know their original hometown.

You won't find a lot of truly unique names in your genealogy research. You've got to do your homework before you grab an ancestor and run with him.

For example, someone took my grandfather and placed him and his ancestors (my ancestors) in their family tree simply because of his last name. And his last name is very common throughout Italy. It's like the Smith of Italy.

If this grandpa-poacher had known the hometown of her ancestors and looked at the hometown of my grandfather, she would have known he was in no way related to her.

Depending on their year, ship manifests tend to be very precise about each passenger’s hometown. I’ve followed leads on many immigrants who were a good match in name and age, only to find that their hometown was in the wrong part of Italy.

The hometown let me rule them out as relatives. Don’t miss the example: Case Study on 'Where Did Grandpa Come From?'.

How to Find their Town

If you weren’t lucky enough to have heard your grandparents mention their hometowns often, here are 5 ways to find out where they came from:

  1. Ship manifests. I have a copy of the 1898 ship manifest that includes my great great grandparents and three of their children. That collection of names and ages is indisputable—there is no doubt they are my family. While my grandmother mentioned the town of Pastene many times, the ship manifest taught me something new. Pastene is a small section (a frazione) of a town called Sant’Angelo a Cupolo. That is the hometown on the ship manifest.
  2. Naturalization papers. My cousin’s husband Enzo passed away recently, and in his obituary I found the names of his parents and brothers whom I didn't know personally. With these names I found Enzo’s father’s naturalization papers. This gave me a photograph of Enzo’s father as well as the Italian hometown of Enzo's parents.

    That town name is the key to verifying any other documentation I may find for him.
  3. Passport applications. At certain times in U.S. history, your ancestor needed a passport to make sure he'd be allowed back in after visiting family in his homeland. A passport application can provide great information, including the name of your ancestor's father, his original hometown, and the names and birth dates of family members making the trip with him.

    You may even score a photo of the whole family.
  4. World War II draft registration cards. The same family that told me they came from Pastene would also say they came from Avellino. When I realized that Pastene is in Benevento, the province neighboring Avellino, I didn’t know what to make of this oral history fact.

    It was the World War II draft registration card for one of the sons from this family that gave me the answer. The card said he was born in the town of Tufo in the province of Avellino. When I viewed Tufo vital records at a Family History Center, I found that my great great grandparents’ first two children (including one who died as a child) were born in Tufo. Then, for reasons unknown, they moved to Pastene where their next four children were born.
  5. Last name prevalence. You can use various websites to see if the last name of your ancestor is or was ever prevalent in what you think is their hometown. If your ancestor was Italian, you can visit http://www.gens.info/italia or https://www.cognomix.it/mappe-dei-cognomi-italiani to see where their last name is found.

    I'm lucky to have a maiden name that is found in very, very few places in Italy. There's a really strong chance that someone with my maiden name is related to me. Find out What To Do When Your Last Name Is So Common.
Use every document you can find to discover that hometown. Then use the town name to verify potential relatives before adding them to your family tree.

11 January 2017

Welcome, Genealogy Fans

I want to share methods and tips to help you fortify your family tree. My years in the business world have taught me the value of following "best practices." That's what I'd like all genealogists to do.

If we each create high-quality, verifiable, ultra-fortified family trees, maybe someday it will be possible to link everyone on earth in an incomprehensibly large family tree chart. Only then can people say they’re related to every king and celebrity ever known…albeit distantly.

To help you fortify your family tree and give you the confidence to stand behind your research, I’ll share several best practices and principles for producing a truly high-quality family tree.

  • Show us what you’ve found. Capture images of every genealogy document you find, and provide enough information to make your path to this discovery reproducible by other genealogists.
  • Explain your sources. There are several books available on proper citation of genealogical sources. I prefer to keep it simple (e.g., “1930 U.S. Census” or “U.S. Social Security Death Index”). Provide enough detail so any other genealogical researcher can find the same item for themselves.
  • Paint the entire picture. Completeness of records tells others that your information is accurate. Search every available Federal and state census for each family. Search military documentation for the men who were of age at the right time, ship manifests for every family member who traveled to another country, and birth, marriage and death records.
    Your ancestors were captured in documents throughout their lives.
    Your ancestors were captured in documents throughout their lives.

  • Be consistent. Develop patterns in the language and style you use so you are giving facts and documenting your images in a consistent, logical, sensible way. This consistency will create reliability.
  • Follow through. Develop a game plan that you can follow whenever you’re able to carve out some time for genealogy. Focusing on your plan will make you much more productive while fortifying your tree.

Join me as I detail these principles and practices and provide concrete examples that will increase the quality of your legacy—your family tree.