30 May 2017

Searching for the Missing Link in Your Family Tree

My father's parents were third cousins. That was a bit of a surprise, but not a shock because they had the same last name.

All of their descendants have been great students and done well for themselves. No harm, no foul.

This past holiday weekend I began going through the vital records I'd downloaded from the Italian archives for my ancestral town of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo.

My goal: figure out if my great aunt Stella was related to her husband Attilio who had the same last name as her.
Attilio's 1924 passport photo.
Attilio's 1924 passport photo.

This is an interesting family, and it became more curious as I sifted through the documents.

Carmine and Maria Rosa were married in Italy and had 3 babies. Carmine was "absent in America" when the first child was born, and he'd gone back and forth from the Bronx to Sant'Angelo a Cupolo many times. He was naturalized as early as 1899.

In 1904 Carmine and Maria Rosa and two of their children (the third must have died) came to America. While they lived in the Bronx, they had two sons, Enrico and Attilio, in 1906 and 1907.

I know from his passport papers that Attilio went to visit his family in Italy in 1924. On his application he stated that he had been in America ever since he was born in 1907.

But here's the shocking part.

Carmine and Maria Rosa went back to Italy as early as 1915, leaving young Enrico and Attilio behind. They had another child in Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in 1916.

There is no evidence that they ever returned to America, despite the fact that Carmine was a U.S. citizen.

If the parents left America in 1915, Enrico was nine and Attilio was eight. Enrico went to see his family when he was 17; Attilio went a year later when he was 17.

Meanwhile, I cannot find the boys in any census records until they are grown men.

Who was caring for the two boys?

I searched for families that had the same name as the boys' mother—dell'Aquila. I'd hoped to find them as part of an extended family household where they were receiving the full benefit of their U.S. citizenship.

But I can't find the boys anywhere.

Unless more vital records are put online, I can't find out who Carmine's parents are. I can't tell his exact link to my bloodline. But in such a small town, I don't think there was enough room for unrelated families with the same uncommon name.

26 May 2017

How to Run Your Genealogy Research Like Clockwork

Years ago I thought if I broke up my housework into smaller tasks, I'd be more likely to get it all done. Wash the laundry on Monday, clean the bathrooms on Tuesday, change the sheets on Wednesday—like that.
Ah, Paris

I found out a strict schedule doesn't work if you don't want to do the tasks!

But what if this schedule consisted of things you basically love to do—like all things genealogical?

Imagine you have two hours you can carve out of most days—say one hour early in the morning and one hour right after dinner.

If you apply yourself to specific tasks, think of the steady growth your strong and accurate family tree will see!

My challenge to you (and to myself) is to develop a Family Tree Calendar and use it to push yourself toward a better and better body of research.

Here are some suggested tasks to work in one-hour sprints:
  • Make an inventory of what you've collected. I keep a spreadsheet with columns for things like birth, death and marriage records, census forms, draft cards, etc. And I have one person on each line. This one document shows me what I have and what I need.
  • Organize your documents into folders. Hopefully you've got some sort of a system going, but think about how you can improve it in a way that makes it crystal clear what is where.
  • Annotate the documents you store in your family tree software. Your software probably lets you add notes to a file you've attached to an ancestor. Think about the family historian who will come after you. Annotate the documents in a way that would let anyone else find them the same way you did.
  • Find the missing documents for one nuclear family. Use your inventory of documents you've collected, focus on one family, and try to locate the missing documents. Tie up those loose ends.
  • Use a tool to analyze the flaws in your tree. Family Tree Analyzer is one such tool that will show you errors you didn't realize were there. How many can you resolve in one hour?
  • Fill in the missing GEDCOM facts. When you do locate a census sheet for a family, do you add the residence, date, and occupation facts for each member of the household?

Even if there are some tasks you truly don't enjoy (like beefing up your source citations), going at it for one uninterrupted hour can't hurt you.

Make a plan and use it to keep yourself on course. I've been known to wander off on many a tangent, documenting a very distant family simply because the information was there for the taking.

That's fine—but save the tangents for the weekend or other free time.

Try this: Spend one month treating your research like a paid job, and see how far you can go!

Let me know how you do. And tell me which tasks you added to your list!

And if you're a big fan of organization, read my Work in Batches to Strengthen Your Family Tree.

23 May 2017

Work in Batches to Strengthen Your Family Tree

Do you want to make your family tree accurate, reliable, and highly credible? There are many things you can do:
  • Add descriptions to your images.
  • Be consistent with addresses.
  • Cite your sources accurately.
  • Choose a style and stick with it.
I know it can seem overwhelming—especially if you started your tree long ago or you can only work on it now and then.

But if you divide and conquer your tasks, working in batches, you'll see real and valuable progress. If you gang-up your tasks, you'll save time and gain consistency.

Here's what I mean.

Add Descriptions to Images

Step through each image in whichever family tree software you use, focusing on one type of image at a time.

In Family Tree Maker, I can sort my images by type (because I clicked a checkbox to categorize each one). Now I can go one-by-one through each census form image, for example, and include important information. I've chosen to note which lines a family is on, and everything you'd need to find the original image:
  • town, county, state
  • enumeration district, city ward, assembly district
  • page number and image number if it's part of a set
  • a URL on ancestry.com or familysearch.org.

Great annotations make your facts reproducible and verifiable.
Great annotations make your facts reproducible and verifiable.

Be Consistent with Addresses

Your family tree software may help you validate a place name when you are typing. Take advantage of that feature if you have it.

Otherwise choose a style for entering place names, verify them on Google Maps, and stick with your style. I prefer to include the word County in my U.S. place names. I think it seems confusing (especially to non-Americans) to have something like "Monsey, Rockland, New York". That's why I consistently use this format: "Monsey, Rockland County, New York".

Entering the address shows me exactly where my great grandparents lived.
Entering the address shows me exactly where my great grandparents lived.
Cite Your Sources

This will be blasphemy to some of you, but I do not like excessively long citations for the sources of my facts. I use a short format each time:
  • 1930 U.S. Federal Census
  • 1915 New York State Census
  • New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

There isn't any question which collection I'm citing. Plus I put the full description and unique link on the image's notes.

No matter what format, do include your sources. It's absolutely key to the strength and reliability of your data.

Be Consistent in Everything

Do you always use the same date format? I prefer dd-Mon-year (24 Sep 1959) because you should understand it no matter where you're from.

Do you always capitalize last names? I don't, because I think you lose something with compound names like McCartney or deBlasio. But stay consistent.

Do you always spell out every word in an address? I do because I feel it leaves no room for misinterpretation.

For example, my mother was born at 260 East 151st Street, Bronx, New York. If your native language were not English, E. 151st St. would be more challenging than East 151st Street.

Do you have a preferred style for descriptions of immigration facts? That may seem like an awfully granular thing to call out, but I like to add specific information to these descriptions. Here's my format:

For each ship manifest I record the date the ship left as an Emigration fact (for a person's first voyage) or a Departure fact (for subsequent voyages). In the description I follow this format:
"Left for [destination city] on the [ship name]."
Then I record the date the ship reaches port as an Immigration fact (for a person's first voyage) or an Arrival fact (for subsequent voyages). In that description field I follow this format:
"Arrived [with which relatives] to join [which relative] at [address], leaving his [relative] in [hometown]."
Now think about your family tree. Where do you feel your data needs the most care? Is it your sources? Images? Particular facts?

Pick one and dive in. Work your way through as many people as you can in one sitting to ensure absolute consistency. Make notes about the style decisions you've made so you can stick to them.

By picking one type of task and working hard to plow through it all, you will see overall improvement in your tree.

That accomplishment should inspire you to pick your next subject and get busy strengthening your family tree. Then you'll be ready to grow your family tree bigger and better.

19 May 2017

5 Steps to Grow Your Italian Family Tree

I knew nothing about my grandfather's family when I started on my family tree. But I was determined to find his ancestors.

I spent years visiting a Family History Center to view microfilm from his town, ordered from FamilySearch.org. I wound up identifying ancestors born as far back as the late 1600s. That's so satisfying!

The process taught me how to piece together several generations of ancestors from foreign vital records.

This multi-generation chart is the tip of the iceberg.
This multi-generation chart is the tip of the iceberg.

After all that work, I recently found Antenati—an online collection of Italian birth, marriage and death records. The website has high-resolution images of the exact records I viewed on crummy old microfilm projectors.

Now I'm ready to move on to my other ancestors. Using the GetLinks program, I downloaded every available vital record from three other towns.

Here are 5 steps for climbing your Italian family tree.

1. Start with your youngest ancestor

If it's available, jump into the year you believe your youngest ancestor was born. For this example, let's say you're searching for your great grandfather.

Many times there is a handwritten index at the end of each year's records. If not, you may have to go page-by-page. The reward is worth it: you will learn his parents' names.

2. Search for siblings

After you find your great grandfather's birth, search the surrounding years for his siblings. These records can provide more information, such as the name of one or both of the baby's grandfathers.

In the Italian towns I've researched, a handful of names are used again and again. It's confusing, to say the least.

To clearly identify parents, a birth record may say, for example, "Giuseppe Sarracino fu Giovanni". This tells us that Giuseppe is the son of the late Giovanni. If it said "di Giovanni" we would know Giovanni is alive, but "fu" means he has died.

Getting that additional name will help you go to the next generational level.

3. Search for the parents' marriage records

You've found your great grandfather's parents names. You've found birth records for several of their children. Now you can search for their marriage records.

Italian marriage records are much more than a simple marriage certificate. They are several pages long, including birth records for the bride and groom, and death records of their parents who died. If the bride or groom's father is dead, and their grandfather is also dead, you should see the grandfather's death record.

Do you know what that means? You could wind up with the names of the married couple's great grandparents!

4. Scour the death records

The names and birth years you've gathered so far will help you search for these ancestors' death records.

A death record can provide you with the deceased's parents' names and their spouse's name.

If you see the word "vedovo" or "vedova", the deceased was a widow. You can search for their spouse's death record, too.

If you see "in seconde nozze" after the spouse's name, the deceased was married twice. "In terze nozze" means they were married three times.

5. Trust the earliest-recorded age

Birth records are gold, but you won't be able to find one for every ancestor.

Let's say you're focusing on your 3x great grandmother. You don't have her birth record, but her age is recorded on her 8 kids' birth and marriage records.

When you do the math, the recorded ages don't always add up. She gets older, she gets younger…which is right?

In the 1800s in Italy, people didn't keep track of their vital information the way we do today. By the time a woman was 55, she may not be sure when she was born.

That's why I put my faith in the earliest-recorded age. When a 22-year-old woman gives birth for the first time, she is more likely to know her age than 25 years later when that baby is getting married.

Follow these 5 steps and you, too, can pull generations' worth of ancestors from the Antenati website.

14 May 2017

How I Gained 2 More Generations in 1 Day

Maria Rosa Caruso, my great grandmother
Maria Rosa Caruso,
my great grandmother
Three months ago I wrote about how I used the "U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index" to learn the maiden name of my great grandmother's mother: Girardi.

Two months ago I wrote about how I'm downloading every vital record for my ancestral towns from an Italian genealogical archives web site.

Last night all that information came together to take me back two more generations on a branch of my family tree that hadn't grown in years.

Here's what happened.

I discovered many years ago that my great grandmother, Maria Rosa Caruso, was born in Pescolamazza, Italy. That was a problem at the outset because there is no such town! With a little research, I learned that Pescolamazza was renamed long ago to Pesco Sannita.

Pesco Sannita, in the province of Benevento, is a beautiful, well-manicured hill town that's very close to each of my other ancestral towns. (My heritage is highly concentrated!) I visited the town and its cemetery in 2005.

Over the last two days I downloaded every birth, marriage and death record for Pescolamazza from 1809 to 1942 (with a very big gap from 1861 to 1930). Once I had everything downloaded into sub-folders by year and type of document, I began searching for Maria Rosa Caruso's birth record and learned she had a twin brother Luca.

Maria Rosa's birth record.
Maria Rosa's birth record.

This record confirmed her mother's full name of Maria Luigia Girardi. So I searched for Maria Luigia's 1840 birth record and found it. Et voila! I had her parents' names: Gioacchino Girardi and Maria Teresa deNigris.

I also found her husband's 1842 birth record—that's my great great grandfather Francesco Saverio Caruso—and learned his parents' names: Giuseppe Caruso and Luigia Pennucci.

The 1814 birth records are not available for Gioacchino Girardi and Maria Teresa deNigris, so I went searching for their marriage documents. Bingo!

The set of 1840 marriage documents told me that Gioacchino's middle name was Napoleone (was that 1814 patriotism or fear I wonder) and his parents were Nicola Girardi and Maria Pennucci. Maria Teresa's parents were Pasquale deNigris and Maria Emanuele Inglese.

Key facts from an Italian marriage record.
Key facts from an Italian marriage record.

This generation of my 4x great grandparents was born between 1784 and 1793. I happily gained three new surnames (or cognomi in italiano): deNigris, Pennucci and Inglese.

I've expanded the families a bit more by finding two siblings for Maria Luigia Girardi and two for Francesco Saverio Caruso.

I will eventually squeeze every last drop of family out of these vital records as I did for my maternal grandfather's Italian hometown a few years ago.

11 May 2017

6 Key Genealogy Facts on a Ship Manifest

I'm so lucky. All of my ancestors who emigrated sailed from Naples to New York between 1890 and 1920. The only document collection I need is "New York Passenger Lists". And every one of my people went through Ellis Island.
Ellis Island, December 2017
Ellis Island, December 2017

The ship manifest—the list of passengers on a particular ship for a particular journey—can tell you your ancestor's hometown. That alone is a significant boon to your genealogy research. It can lead you to their foreign vital records.

I'm more excited to find an ancestor who arrived in the U.S. in 1909 or later because there is likely to be a two-page manifest listing extra information.

The most treasured two-page ship manifests can provide your ancestor's:

Manifest Page 1
Not a nuclear family, but 4 out of 5 of these men are mine!
Not a nuclear family, but 4 out of 5
of these men are mine!
  • Ship name (you can look for a photo of the ship)
  • Departure date and port city
  • Last name—a maiden name for many women
  • Given name
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • Occupation
  • Ability to read and write
  • Nationality
  • Race or people (e.g., Italian)
  • Last residence (country and town)
  • Name and location of nearest relative left behind
  • Destination state and town

Manifest Page 2
And they were all going to the same place!
And they were all going to the same place!
  • Arrival date and port city
  • Whether they have a ticket to their final destination
  • Who paid for their passage
  • How much money they are carrying
  • If and when/where they were in the U.S. before
  • Person they are joining here, often including the name and address of a relative
  • Place of birth (country and town)
  • A bunch of sure-fire extreme vetting questions, including (these are reworded):
    • Are-you-a-deadbeat type questions, such as were you in prison, an almshouse, or supported by charity?
    • Are you a polygamist?
    • Are you an anarchist?
    • Are you coming here because of a job offer?
    • Condition of mental and physical health
    • Are you deformed or crippled?
    • Height, complexion, hair and eye color
    • Identifying marks (including scars)

These are the blanks to be filled in for each person, but there is another set of facts for a genealogist to crave. Family members!

Sometimes you'll find an entire family traveling together. Or you may see a mother and her children, and the manifest will show the name and address of her husband who is already in the United States. Jackpot!

Your ancestor's ship manifest—assuming they did not sail so early that no questions were asked—should be the first thing you search for. You can't go back overseas and get that birth certificate if you don't know your ancestral hometown.

Not sure where to start? Check the census for your ancestor. It may include their immigration year.

08 May 2017

Why You Need Your Ancestor's Draft Registration Cards

As the song teaches us, war is good for "absolutely nothing". Unless you're a genealogist.

Military records are filled with data points every genealogist wants. Perhaps the easiest military records to find are draft registration cards for World War I and II.

World War I

The U.S. declared war on the German Empire on April 6, 1917, entering World War I.

In 1917 and 1918, 98% of men in the United States who were born between 1872 and 1900 had to register for the draft. Each man went to a local place to have his information and signature (or mark) collected on a registration card.

It's interesting to note that although my grandfather was the right age to fight in World War I, there is no registration card for him. That's because he went back to Italy to fight for his native country.

The exact information collected depends on the state where your ancestor lived.
This tells me where his father lives in Japan.
This tells me where his father lives in Japan.

For genealogists, the World War I registration card for your ancestor can provide:
  • full name and current address
  • age and date of birth
  • race:
    • White
    • Negro
    • Oriental
    • (American) Indian
  • citizenship status
  • place of birth
  • occupation, employer and address of employment
  • list of dependents including parent, wife, and sibling or children under 12
  • marital status
  • name and address of nearest relative (could be in another country)
  • military service
  • exemption from draft
  • your ancestor's signature
  • physical characteristics:
    • height: tall, medium or short
    • build: slender, medium or stout
    • hair and eye color
  • "Has person lost arm, leg, hand, foot, or both eyes, or is he otherwise disabled (specify)?"
  • date the information was collected
  • location of the draft board

World War II

We all know it was the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 that forced the U.S. to officially enter World War II.

A staggering 16.1 million Americans fought in World War II, so a draft became necessary. This was the Selective Service Act.

The government registered more than 10 million men from November 1940—before the U.S. entered the war—until October 1946—after the war ended.

Better safe than sorry, I guess.
Front side of a World War II draft registration card
Front side of a World War II draft registration card

The government took the extra measure to register older men between the ages of 45 and 64. Think about what a 64-year-old man probably looked like in 1941. Ancient, no doubt. Ten years away from reaching the limit of life expectancy!

These "old man" draft registration cards were somehow completed in one day: 27 April 1942. The men had to have a birth date between two very specific dates: 28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897.

A World War II registration card for your ancestor can provide:
  • full name and current address
  • mailing address
  • telephone number (if they had a telephone)
  • age and date of birth
  • place of birth including county (if within the U.S.) or country
  • name and address of someone (usually a relative) who will always know where to find you
  • employer's name and address
  • place of employment or business
  • your ancestor's signature
  • physical characteristics:
    • race: White, Negro, Oriental, (American) Indian, or Fillipino
    • height
    • weight
    • hair and eye color
    • type of complexion: sallow, light, ruddy, dark, freckled, light brown, dark brown, black
  • Other obvious physical characteristics that will aid in identification"
  • date the information was collected
  • location of the draft board

A World War II registration card gave me a breakthrough. My grandmother's Uncle Semplicio's card gave me his Italian home town. That told me where my great great grandparents came from.

Because of that card, I was able to find Semplicio's birth record, along with that of an unknown brother. The brother died as a child.

These draft registrations took place between census years. You may find that they provide additional addresses to help you map your ancestor.

Maybe they will provide an address that helps you find your ancestor within the previous or next census.

And maybe you'll learn about a physical disability you might otherwise have never known. For example, my grandmother's Uncle Semplicio had an artificial eye.

So that's why my mother was always afraid of him!

05 May 2017

27 Key Facts to Extract from a Death Certificate

Last year I paid for a copy of my grandfather's 1992 Bronx, NY, death certificate because my brother, my first cousins and I wanted to be sure of his cause of death for our own health records.

When it arrived I was surprised and disappointed that it did not include his cause of death.

My grandfather's death certificate.
My grandfather's death certificate.

I had seen many New York City death certificates while doing research at the New York City Municipal Archives, but they were from decades earlier. I don't know if my grandpa's certificate was abbreviated because he died less than 25 years ago, or if that is what the Bronx death certificate form looked like in 1992.

So I've gone through my records and compared death records from four decades—three certificates from the Bronx and one from Warren, Ohio, near Youngstown.

The following table compares the 27 pieces of information found in different years. These certificates can be an amazing find if you didn't already know every little fact.

1925 Bronx, NY 1940 Bronx, NY 1970 Warren, OH 1992 Bronx, NY
Full name, sex and age Full name, sex and age Full name, sex and age Full name, sex and age
Race Race Race
Place of death and characterization of place (e.g., hospital, hotel) Place of death and if it’s a hospital or institution Place of death and if it’s a hospital or institution Place of death; if in a hospital, date of admission
Date of death Date of death Date of death Date of death

Time of death Time of death
Attending physician and dates tending to the deceased Attending physician and dates tending to the deceased Attending physician and dates tending to the deceased Attending physician and dates tending to the deceased
Primary and secondary cause of death Primary and secondary cause of death Primary and secondary cause of death
Last residence Last residence Last residence Last residence
Marital status Marital status Marital status Marital status

Name of surviving spouse Name of surviving spouse (maiden name if wife) Name of surviving spouse (maiden name if wife)
Date of birth Date of birth Date of birth Date of birth

Social Security Number Social Security Number
Occupation Occupation Occupation Occupation

Whether served in armed forces Whether served in armed forces

Date last worked at occupation

Birthplace Birthplace Birthplace Birthplace

Citizen of what country
How long in U.S. if foreign born How long in U.S. if foreign born

How long resident in City of New York How long resident in City of New York

Level of education
Parents' names Parents' names Parents' names Parents' names
Parents’ birthplaces Parents’ birthplaces

Name of informant, relationship to deceased, and address Name of informant, relationship to deceased, and address Name of informant, relationship to deceased, and address

Autopsy and laboratory tests dates Autopsy
Name and location of cemetery Name and location of cemetery Name and location of cemetery Name and location of cemetery
Date of burial Date of burial or cremation Date of burial or cremation Date of burial or cremation
Funeral director's name and address Funeral director's name and address Funeral director's name and address Funeral director's name and address

Are you scouring your ancestor's death certificate for every possible scrap of information?

02 May 2017

How to Squeeze Everything Out of the Census

You may be overlooking critical, helpful census information.

If you're not wringing every last drop of data out of your ancestor's census sheet, you may be missing important pieces of your genealogy puzzle.

The U.S. has had a nationwide census every ten years since 1790. Very little survives of the 1890 census due to a fire, and the newest publicly available census is from 1940. There are also some states (like my own New York) with their own census in years ending in a five.

Focusing on the national censuses, the form and the information gathered changed each year. It's helpful to download blank census forms to more clearly see the column headings.

Are you grabbing every piece of information?

The census format changes every time. Don't miss any important facts.
The census format changes every time. Don't miss any important facts.

Take a look at how the format varies over the years:
  • 1790 recorded only the head of family's name. Family members were tallied in columns of free white men 16 and up or under 16, free white women of any age, and slaves.
  • 1800 and 1810 also named only the head of family. Other members of the household were tallied and broken down into males and females in five age groups. And slaves.
  • 1820 added a few more columns to capture foreigners not naturalized, manufacturers, free colored people and slaves.
  • 1830 added even more age ranges.
  • 1840 added columns for people working in seven different professions, for military pensioners, for those labelled deaf and dumb, blind and insane (white and colored persons separately), and for those attending different types of schools.
  • 1850 Behold! We finally get to see the name of every person in the household, their color (white, black or mulatto), profession, place of birth, and if they were married or attended school within the year. The form also captured those over 20 who could not read and write, as well as those who were "deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict." Oh boy.
  • 1860 no longer cared about the deaf, dumb and blind, but did care who was illiterate.
  • 1870 More good news! This year added each person's birthplace, whether they had a foreign-born mother or father, and if they were eligible to vote.
  • 1880 added "Relationship to head of household" and the place of birth of everyone's parents.
  • 1890 was almost entirely lost, and it's heartbreaking to see all that was added. In denoting a person's race/color, it asked for two races I never heard of. It asked for marital status and whether you were married in the previous year, how many children a woman has had and how many were alive. It asked if you were born in the U.S., were naturalized or had declared your intention to become a citizen. It asked separately if you could read and if you could write, and which language you spoke. It asked about disease, afflictions, and whether you were a "prisoner, convict, homeless child, or pauper." Homeless child? They enumerated homeless children?
  • 1900 added the street name and house number, number of years married, years of immigration and how long in the U.S., number of months unemployed, and if you owned or rented your home.
  • 1910 included a column for Veteran of Civil War.
  • 1920 got a bit intrusive. If you own your home, do you have a mortgage? And what is the mother tongue of your mother and father?
  • 1930 was when the government got pushier. What is the value of your home or how much do you pay in rent? Do you own a radio? What was your age at first marriage? The form went into lots of occupation detail, asking your industry, whether you were unemployed or a veteran and of which war.
  • 1940 added the highest grade of school completed, where you lived in 1935, whether you worked or were seeking work, and how much you earned.

Have you been documenting all of those facts, or was this an eye-opener for you?

Why not revisit some of those census forms to see what else you can discover?

Finally, take the time to look at a page or two before and after the one containing your ancestor. You may very well find other relatives living nearby.