Saturday, April 29, 2017

7 Free Resources for the Frugal but Fanatical Genealogist

In high school my son had an assignment to create a document of his family tree. He laughed and said, "Mom, print that out for me?" That's as far as many people get: parents, grandparents, and a portion of their great grandparents.

But for those of us who keeping researching and researching, genealogy is a project that is never finished. And we don't mind at all.

Here are some free resources that won't "finish" your family tree, but they can make it stronger, broader, and more satisfying for you.

Census form
1. Free U.S. Censuses

Did you know that there's more to the census than the Federal census taken every 10 years? Some states also had their own census halfway between the Federal censuses. You can find the state and Federal versions for free on

2. Free New York Passenger Lists

Spanning the years 1820 through 1891, this free online collection can be searched or browsed by microfilm roll number, each roll spanning months. Another collection includes the years 1909 and 1925 through 1957.

Marriage certificate
3. Free U.S. Social Security Death Index

Search by name for SSDI records between 1962 and 2014. The results show the person's age, full name, birth and death dates, the state in which they died, and their last place of residence.

4. Free England Censuses

England and Wales censuses are available online from 1841 through 1911. Check out the full list of England resources on that page. You'll be impressed.

5. Free Canada Censuses

The Canada census is available online from 1851 through 1911 with a bonus year of 1906.

6. Free Find-a-Grave

Ship manifest
Have you considered trying Find a Grave for cemeteries worldwide? When you view their search form take a look at the pull-down menu next to "Cemetery in" and you may be surprised by the number of countries included. While the non-U.S. listings are slim, they are growing.

7. Free Genealogy Forms and Charts

If it helps you to have some paperwork to carry with you on your research travels, these genealogy forms and charts will be very useful. Print out ancestor charts, research logs, census forms, family record sheets, and more.

Everyone likes a bargain, and it is certainly worth your time to see what resources are out there that you haven't tapped into yet.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mapping Your Ancestors Can Answer Questions

My parents grew up in a tight-knit neighborhood in the Bronx, New York. They went to grade school together, and it was a very small class of neighborhood kids. They had relatives nearby, either in their apartment buildings or on their blocks.

Family gatherings were held at the house where my mother was born until the time when our relatives no longer lived there or owned it. I have childhood memories of the neighborhood, but they're a bit vague now, and my mom's building was eventually torn down.

That's why I like to use "Street View" on either Google or Bing maps and feel like I'm driving through the neighborhood. I can use it to go right up to the door of the church where I was baptized, which is a couple of doors up from where my mom was born.

But you can do more with Bing and Google maps, like creating collections of addresses and plotting them on the map.

Based on all of my collected information—census forms, draft registration cards, city directories, death certificates—I plotted a handful of my closest relatives' addresses in the Bronx from 1900 to 1940. There were some outlying locations over the years (meaning a few blocks away), but the various families tended to cluster together again and again.

Plotting my great grandfather Giovanni Sarracino's handful of Bronx addresses finally helped me make sense of his on again/off again relationship with beer companies.

He and my great grandmother Maria Rosa came to America in July 1899 to join Maria Rosa's father Antonio (my first ancestor to come to America) in the Bronx. In 1900 and 1905, Giovanni and Maria Rosa did not live in the neighborhood where my parents later grew up. They were quite a few blocks away by St. Ann's Avenue.

That St. Ann's address is associated with Ebling's Brewery. Ebling was a famous brewery operating in the Bronx in those days, and William H. Ebling, Jr., was the vice-president of the Westchester Brewing Company in Mount Vernon, which borders the Bronx.

Going back to my collected documents, my great grandfather was a bartender in 1905, worked in a saloon in 1910, but after that he was a painter in buildings.

Now I know that he lived right by Ebling Brewery in the earlier years. He may have formed a business relationship with Ebling, because newspaper clippings I discovered showed that he sold a building to the Westchester County Brewing Company of Mount Vernon, New York for $2,500 in late 1912.

In 1921 he either bought or sold his former residence of 603 Morris Avenue (the abbreviations in the clipping make it difficult to understand), and he is listed in the transaction as "Ebling Brewing Co., agt [agent] Giovanni Sarracino et al."

Was my great grandfather flipping houses back in the day? Or was he buying or selling the building on behalf of Ebling for a piece of the sale?

In 2009 at a St. Ann's Avenue construction site, tunnels were unearthed and discovered to be the "Natural Caves" where Ebling aged their beer a century before, and they stretched quite a long distance.

Until I can find out more, I'd like to think Giovanni was selling the earth beneath his building for $3,000 in 1921 to age that crisp Bronx-water beer.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

How to Avoid Going Down the Wrong Path

It's a good thing the Family Tree Maker®/® TreeSync® feature isn't working right now because that saved me from committing a genealogical sin.

I nearly posted bad information about someone. Publicly.

This wake-up call reminds me that it is so easy to be led astray when researching a family you know nothing about. It all started when a woman contacted me on about her great grandfather Rudolph, who is in my tree.

He is in my tree with very few facts because he was the father of a woman who married a cousin of mine. Since the cousin himself is so distant to me, I did not go into great detail about his wife's ancestors—just the names of her parents.

But after hearing from Rudolph's descendant and collaborating with her to find his marriage record, I spent a little time searching for more facts about him.

Many cultures embrace the practice of naming children after their grandparents, which is a potential pitfall for genealogists. I fell right into that trap yesterday, following the wrong Rudolph, son of the wrong August.

I found what seemed like Rudolph's family, but missing Rudolph, only to be told that while the husband and wife's names matched, the birthplace, immigration year, and occupation did not match what his descendant knew to be true and had thoroughly documented.
Multiple, agreeing sources let you know you've got things right.
There's a reason why everyone tells you start your family tree with yourself and work your way up. Once you get beyond the relatives you knew personally—such as your grandparents and their siblings—nothing is certain until you have an abundance of corroborating facts.

For example, if you're investigating a distant branch, such as the in-laws of your great great uncle, you probably won't have any first-hand knowledge of that family. To help ensure you're putting the right facts in your tree you'll need a few things:
  • Your great great uncle's marriage record can give you his wife's name (let's call her June for this example), birth year, and her parents' names.
  • Now you can look for June in census records, making sure to match the names you know and June's birth year.
  • Once you find them you can search for the same family, possibly at the same address, in different census years, making sure the facts line up. There should not be too much discrepancy among the censuses when it comes to recorded immigration years, age, place of birth, and occupation. Since you know when June was married, you would not expect to find her with her family instead of her husband after that time.
  • Before going too far with June's family, search for any military records for the man you've identified as her father. Check to see if the censuses closest to the military record match for residence, wife's name or number of children.
As I browse through my tree of 19,295 people, I can find a number of dubious facts that I know need further investigation. But you know what it's like. So many relatives, so little time.

Be careful with your genealogy facts out there.

Family Tree Maker is a registered trademark of The Software MacKiev Company. and TreeSync are registered trademarks of Operations, Inc.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

POW: My Grandfather's World War I Experience

My grandfather Adamo Leone
(standing center) in World War I.

As a child I had a language barrier with my maternal grandfather. Adamo was a smiling, sweet man who didn't speak much and rarely in English.

He'd tell me in Italian to slow down or be quiet—with a smile on his face—but I don't remember him telling me stories.

I loved him unconditionally, but I knew nothing about him.

Perhaps the only tidbit of a story I had was that Adamo had been a prisoner of war during World War I, fighting for Italy, and that he was forced to eats rats to stay alive. That's all I ever heard.

With the 100th anniversary of World War I upon us, I've been thinking about my grandfather a lot, wondering where he fought, where he was imprisoned, and what horrible conditions he faced.

Some research into Italy's experience in World War I led me to the 1917 Battle of Caporetto in northern Italy. The battle was so devastating that 11,000 Italian soldiers died, 29,000 were wounded, and more than a quarter of a million were taken prisoner.

Adamo may have been among these prisoners.

The Austro-Hungarians who captured the Italians were unprepared to care for this many men. At least 100,000 Italian soldiers died in captivity. The men were kept in a large number of camps in places like Mauthausen (future site of a WWII concentration camp) and Milowitz, and they were dying from tuberculosis and starvation.

Adamo and his  family in America.
It's easy to imagine eating rats to stay alive.

The prisoners were doing hard labor in coal mines and stone quarries on a food supply of less than 1,000 calories a day.

Those who survived the camps until the end of the war were kept in quarantine camps by the Italian government so they could be interrogated and either cleared or prosecuted as traitors.

Adamo had come to America in 1914 to join a few of his cousins. He returned to Italy in August 1915, shortly after Italy entered the war. He did not leave for America again until February 1920, 15 months after the war ended.

I once heard that Adamo stayed with his parents in Italy for about two years, recovering from his captivity.

Imagine then making the decision to leave them forever to return to a better life in New York City.

It's easy to understand his sweeping this story under the rug. I'm just so glad he came back.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Why You Should Be Using the Free "Family Tree Analyzer"

A few years ago I began dabbling in Visual Basic programming because I had an idea for a genealogy program. I created a simple program called Census Taker to analyze your tree and produce a list of every person likely to be found in the 1940 census.

It was very helpful to me, but it worked only on computers running one or two versions of Windows. After trying to enhance the program, I became discouraged with the limitations and abandoned the project.

Last year I studied the Java programming language because its programs can run on anything. I began rewriting my program and had some success.

But time after time I would run into problems I could not resolve. We all have differences in the way we store our family tree information, so I had to account for all sorts of variations in a GEDCOM file.

Once again I became frustrated and abandoned the project.

While thinking about this project recently I found something new (to me) in a Google search. It is a free program called Family Tree Analyzer that does everything I intended my program to do and a million times more at lightning speed. Goodbye, my fledgling programming career. Note: This program runs on Windows.

Hats off to the creator of Family Tree Analyzer, Alexander Bisset.

Family Tree Analyzer analyzed my 19,285-person tree without blinking. It provides a detailed table of each individual's facts in a flawless format that looks eerily like what I was struggling to do with my program.

The "Individuals" table helps you see what you're missing and plan your research accordingly.

It found every possible data error in my file. It found potential duplicate people which I was able to export to a spreadsheet so I can look into fixing them.

One small piece of what it does is like my Census Taker, but of course far better.

The "Treetops" button shows you the eldest person (or people) in your tree with a given surname. I entered Iamarino and found that the people at the very top of two branches with that name were born in 1640 and 1710.

The Locations, Occupations and Sources tabs show how many people are associated with a particular source, place or job. I'll use it to find any typos or instances where I may want to change to more consistent wording.

I've barely scratched the surface, but I strongly recommend you try this program. Family Tree Analyzer can provide you with all kinds of analysis to help you really fortify your family tree and make it bulletproof.

Friday, April 14, 2017

When Is a Marriage Not a Marriage?

In January I wrote about how to handle the facts in your family tree that don't add up in How Is That Possible? I like to use Family Tree Maker's bookmark feature to call attention to the people in my tree who have a problem with their facts.

Bookmarks help remind me to check the facts.
Today I took a look at Francesco Cece who was born in 1805 in my grandfather's town of Basélice, Benevento, Campania, Italy. His facts included three marriages, which was not uncommon in the 1800s.

If your spouse died back then, you were going to remarry. If you had children, they needed a new mother or father, and if you were old, you needed a younger spouse to take care of you.

Francesco's three marriages were pretty close together, so I looked to see when wives number one and two died.

But wife number two was alive when he married wife number three, so something was wrong.

I decided to visit the online Benevento Archives to take a closer look at the marriage of Francesco Cece and Mariarosa Marucci.

I have not seen this a lot in my research, but Francesco and Mariarosa went through the process of publicly posting their intention to marry on 13 March 1831 and 31 March 1831.

They were granted permission to marry on 6 April 1831, but as you can see on their marriage license, the right column where their church wedding would be recorded was crossed out.

A handwritten note in that section of the page says that despite having a contract with one another, the couple were not united in marriage.
Only when I revisited this marriage record did I realize they were never married.

Mariarosa entered into another marriage contract nine months later and married Saverio Colucci on 1 March 1832.

Francesco entered into a marriage contract five years later at age 31 with an 18-year-old girl from another town, Donata Maria Fantetta. Each of them had lost their parents, so this could have been a marriage of necessity for young Donata Maria.

Sadly, this contract also did not end up in marriage for Francesco Cece.

I checked the marriage records all the way through the year 1860 and never again saw Francesco's name.

His first and only wife, Margarita Capuano, died at the age of 25, just six years after they married. They had no children.

I've removed my bookmark from Francesco, but I don't think I'll soon forget him.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Married Thanks to a Royal Decree

While recording facts from my grandfather's Italian hometown's vital records, I noticed more than one extremely young person getting married. Often a young girl who was orphaned would be married with her grandfather's permission as a matter of survival. Her new husband could take care of her.

While revisiting some of these documents I found some young people who needed a royal decree before they could marry in 1818.

One was Michele Franco, a 16-year-old farmer who was about to marry a 19-year-old seamstress. They lived in different towns, so perhaps this was not an arranged marriage, but a marriage for love.

It's hard to imagine why else a 16-year-old boy from another town would be a suitable choice for this 19-year-old seamstress. Because of his age, Michele received a royal decree on 18 August 1818 granting him permission to marry.

Another, somewhat astonishing case is 12-year-old Mariantonia Marucci. She was not an orphan and had her parents' consent to marry 29-year-old Michelarcangelo Pettorossi, a bricklayer.

The couple had 10 children together starting when Mariantonia was the ripe old age of 15. Mariantonia received a royal decree on 24 February 1818 granting her permission to marry despite her lack of age.

I have no details about Mariantonia's parents, but maybe they were so impoverished that this was the only way they could provide a decent life for Mariantonia.
Mariantonia Marucci, age 12…authorized to marry despite her age, by royal decree

Then there was 14-year-old Angelamaria Silvestro, who became an orphan at the age of 10.

Her grandfather was quite old when he gave her his consent to marry 29-year-old Serafino Verdura, a farmer. Angelamaria did not appear to need a royal decree which makes me wonder when and why such a court order was required.

You can understand the 12-year-old girl needing special permission, but why did the 16-year-old boy need it when the 14-year-old orphan girl did not?

Some research about the age of consent to marry in the 19th century seemed to indicate that it was perfectly fine for a 12-year-old girl to marry. It is possible that this particular area, or perhaps all of what was then the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, had their own age of consent rules.

In the early 1800s in the small Italian towns I've research, the average age at first marriage was about 25, so parents were not marrying off their children unless they really had to.

It's interesting to compare these two very young girls to modern-day Italians who must be 18 to marry—or 16 with court consent.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

When I'm Sixty-Four (I'll Still Have Only Two Children)

I'm very keen on finding all family members rather than climbing my tree from father to father to father.

I mean, if I knew the King of Italy were a dozen generations up the tree, I'd probably head straight for him, but I'm definitely from peasant stock.

Here is an example of how viewing every available vital record and documenting every single fact gave me an interesting insight into my great great grandfather, Nicoladomenico Leone, born in 1796 in Basélice, Italy.

While recording the facts from every Basélice vital record from 1809–1860, I found my great grandfather Giovannangelo Leone's birth record which told me his parents' names: Nicoladomenico Leone and Caterina Pisciotti.

But I was creeped out to see that the baby's mother was 36 and his father was 53. Then I learned it was a common practice at that time and place to remarry shortly after your spouse died and continue making the babies.

So many babies.

As I continued reviewing vital records I found an 1837 death record for my great great grandfather's first wife, Sinfarosa Ferella. She died at age 35 after giving birth six times (three of the babies died extremely young).
Children from 2 marriages. It took 3 tries to get a Giuseppe Maria Leone to live past infancy!

Nicoladomenico became a widower in late 1837 and surprisingly waited four-and-a-half years before remarrying.

But he appears to have married his eldest daughter's classmate. Angelamaria Leone and Caterina Pisciotti were both born in 1819.

Both Angelamaria and her only surviving sister, Gelsomina, were still living with their father when he married this 22-year-old girl that they surely knew.

It must've been weird at that dinner table, don't you think?

By combing through all of these records I found that Nicoladomenico Leone fathered 12 children (five of whom died in infancy).

The last one I know about (because the records ended in 1860) was born when Nicoladomenico was 64 years old.

My great great grandfather went on to live 91 years, probably because he was not a contadino (farmer) his whole life. No, he left the fields and had what was most likely an easier life as a butler, a broker, a coachman, and at age 64, a tavern keeper.

His occupation was written on each of his children's birth records, giving me a full timeline of his career.

You have to admire the stamina of this man. I'm from peasant stock, yes, but apparently that's a strong and hearty stock.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My 5th Great Grandfather: A Random Act of Kindness?

I spent about five years documenting the thousands of birth, marriage and death records for my grandfather's hometown of Basélice, Benevento, Italy dated 1809–1860.

Documenting every record allowed me to bring my grandfather's previously unknown-to-me family back many generations. I worked backwards through time, primarily, so that I could attach people to my bloodline more easily.

When I first looked at the earliest reel of microfilm, which begins in April 1809, I was dumbfounded by the very first birth record.

My 5th great grandfather, Nicola Pisciotti—age 60—found a baby girl at this door without clothing, as he left his house. The baby girl, whom they named Maria Giuseppa, was a few days old. She was 16 years younger than Nicola's youngest son—my 4th great grandfather, Giovanni Pisciotti.

Did Nicola and his 58-year-old wife Rosa Pecora really raise Maria Giuseppa at their advanced age?

Well…maybe not. I did not capture an image of this document when I first saw it on microfilm (I didn't have a smartphone yet), but now it is online on the Benevento archives site.

And now that I can take my time and translate it, I realize that Nicola found the baby, but he did not raise her.

That explains why I found no other records for a Maria Giuseppa Pisciotti.

The saddest aspect of these early 1800s records from this small, rural town (population about 2,000) where a young woman absolutely could not raise her out-of-wedlock baby, was that each year about five babies were born to women whose identities were known only to the midwife.

The babies were given last names that no one else in town had, and were usually raised at the convent.

But not our Maria Giuseppa. Perhaps her mother did not go to the midwife. Perhaps she had the baby on her own, with no help whatsoever, and left the infant at the home of Nicola and Rosa. I don't know what became of Maria Giuseppa because I don't know what last name they gave to her.

Here is the document and my translation:
The last word, nutrice, changed the story entirely.

Today, the second day of the month of April of the year 1809 at two p.m. appeared before me, Mayor Pasquale Carusi, Nicola Pisciotti, laborer, 60 years old, living in Baselice on Strada la Costa, and he presented a baby which he says he found on this doorstep, naked, without rags [clothing or blanket], while he was leaving his house. After seeing the baby I [the Mayor] have determined that it is a girl a few days old. I enter the name of the newborn in the registry as Maria Giuseppa. Under that name I order that said child be remitted to a nurse.

It wasn't until I translated that last, difficult, handwritten word for nurse that I realized Nicola and Rosa did not raise this baby.

Still, it was quite a unique story for this town.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Why You Should Track Down the Extra Cousin

Years ago I found the 1898 ship manifest that includes my great great grandfather Antonio Saviano bringing his family to America for the first time.

He had been here three times prior to 1898—once with his eldest son Semplicio—but now he was ready for the entire family to settle down for good in New York City.

Antonio is my first ancestor to come to America, as far as I know.

In the grand scheme of things, the fact that my earliest connection with the United States is as recent as 1890 makes me feel like a newcomer.

On this 1898 ship manifest beginning on line three you see Antonio and his wife Colomba Consolazio (thank you, Italy, for always using a woman's maiden name) with two of his children: Raffaele and Filomena.

Semplicio was living in New York awaiting the family, and his final sibling, my great grandmother Maria Rosa, arrived separately with her husband and pregnant with my grandmother.
My family and others from the same town arriving in 1898

But notice Angela Saviano on line seven. She is not Antonio's daughter, and the manifest says she is going to join her cousin Semplicio Saviano.

So Angela is a cousin I didn't know about. I decided to try to find out more about Angela, but the trail went cold very quickly.

Much later I was exchanging information with my mother's third cousin Rita who claimed to have Saviano roots.

It turns out that Angela Saviano was her grandmother, and she died shortly after coming to America.

So the mystery cousin turned out to be a key link to a cousin we could not previously place in our family tree.

But it gets even better. On that same manifest on line two is a 65-year-old woman named Caterina Ucci who is from the same town as my Saviano family: Sant'Angelo a Cupolo, listed as S. Angelo on this manifest.

While Angela was single when she left home in 1898, she did marry and have a daughter by late 1899.

And here's the fun part: Angela married the son of Caterina Ucci.

That's why I always take a look at the surrounding names on a ship manifest—especially when they're from the same town as my ancestor.

With a little more research I found out why the trail on Angela Saviano had gone cold. She died in June 1901 of a heart valve problem. I saw her death certificate at the New York City Municipal Archives.

It seems so unfair for this 19-year-old girl to have made that two-week journey across the ocean in 1898, married by early 1899, had a baby in late 1899, and died in mid-1901.

What makes me happy is that her grandchildren were always referred to as our Saviano cousins despite having never known young Angela Saviano.