Friday, June 30, 2017

What Story Does Your Ancestor's Job Tell You?

After visiting the idyllic towns in Italy where my grandfathers were born, I had to wonder why they left their families and came to America.

It turns out their occupations paint two very different pictures. These two stories may represent many immigrants to America.
Our ancestors sought opportunity, work, and a decent living.

The Skilled Craftsman

My maternal grandfather Adamo left Basélice, Italy twice. The first time he was 23 years old and already listed his occupation as shoemaker. He had two choices:

  • Stay in Basélice and be one of a small number of shoemakers in a small town of about 2,000 people.
  • Go to New York City and be one of many shoemakers serving thousands of people.

Unfortunately, Adamo's plans were rudely interrupted by World War I. He returned to Italy to fight and became a prisoner of war under brutal circumstances.

Eventually he made his way back to New York City. He continued working as a shoemaker and had his own store in the Bronx for a while. Later he did other types of leather work, making saddles and holsters for the police department.

For Adamo, a skilled young tradesman, coming to America meant greater opportunity doing what he knew how to do.

The Unskilled Laborer

My paternal grandfather Pietro left Colle Sannita, Italy at the age of 18. He had no skilled occupation. He was probably working the land to provide food for his family while his father Francesco made several visits to America for work.

On each of Francesco's trips to work in the United States, he was a laborer. He did whatever type of work was available, including railroad labor and mining.

Pietro did the same as his father, working at a bakery near his uncle's home, at a steel company near his cousin's home, and for the railroad. But he wanted a trade that wasn't so dirty and back-breaking. Oral history tells me that Grandpa's opinion of working in the railroad roundhouse was, "This job stinks on-a the ice."

Pietro became a jewel setter, working with his hands at a clean workbench. He liked it well enough that he kept a small workbench in his cellar at home and continued to make trinkets when I was a girl.

For Pietro, an unskilled laborer, coming to America meant opportunities in fields he might never have imagined.

Just as American families today are likely to relocate for a job at some point in their lives, our ancestors faced a similar situation. While they didn't have an IBM paying to move them to a new state, they did need to move in order to prosper.

It's not hard to understand that reality. Is it?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Picturing America Through Your Ancestors Eyes

When I think of my first ancestor coming from a small rural town in Italy to the metropolis of New York City in 1890, I picture him being overwhelmed by the congestion and fast pace.

But maybe it wasn't that hectic. New York City was dramatically different 127 years ago.

Look at Grand Central Terminal in the 1890s and today. The chaos of yellow taxis and delivery trucks was merely a cable car and some horse-drawn wagons. (And it looked nothing like today's building!)

Take a tour through the online photo collection of the Library of Congress for more images. You can narrow your search by choosing a time period and a location.

The library's collection of historic American buildings can give you a glimpse of the landmarks your ancestors saw in their day.

If your ancestors were here for generations before mine, you might like the Library of Congress' various map collections. Drill down through the Cities and Towns collection, then narrow the results by date and location.

It may be difficult to imagine any U.S. city being underdeveloped. These digital collections can help you get in touch with the United States of your ancestors.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

How to Visualize Your Ancestor-Finding Progress

I've seen lots of graphics lately showing how many direct ancestors we each have. Two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, etc. It adds up fast!

Since I've been lucky enough to find a handful of 5th great grandparents lately, I thought it would be a good exercise to see where I stand.

I made a spreadsheet you can download with placeholders for grandparents in one column, great grandparents in the next column, and so on through 10th great grandparents.

Update: I've made a revised spreadsheet to include color coding for your four basic tree branches: one color for each grandparent. I've also created a row at the top to show how many ancestors you have for each generation.

Then I used my family tree software to create a chart of my ancestors, labeling the generations. I scrolled across my chart and filled in the blanks on the spreadsheet.

My results are mixed. When I identified four of my 8th great grandparents and four of my 9th great grandparents, I couldn't have been happier. But now I can see that they aren't even the tip of the iceberg. They're a crystal of the iceberg!

Color coding the 4 branches helps a lot.
To focus on the plus side, I'm missing only three of my 32 3rd great grandparents. That's pretty good considering they never came to America.

I'm missing 23 of my 64 4th great grandparents. After that, I'm not even counting. Yet.

On the plus side, now I can focus my work on finding as many of the missing "younger" generations as I can. (See "5 Steps to Grow Your Italian Family Tree" and "How I Gained 2 More Generations in 1 Day".)

See what this progress report can tell you about your research!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Simplify Your Genealogy Info Gathering With This Form

Skip the handwritten notes with these fill-in-the-blanks family genealogy worksheets

Years ago on a trip to the New York City Municipal Archives, my friend Dawn gave me Word document forms to print out. There was one for birth records, one for death records, and one for marriage records.

The forms saved us each a ton of time because we were focused on locating and writing down all the key facts.

But after 35 years at a keyboard all day, I can barely sign my name anymore. Typing, on the other hand, I can do in my sleep.

I created a series of PDF forms you can download and use repeatedly. They are fill-in-the-blanks forms you can save. When you begin using one, do a "Save As" and give it a unique name. You can return to a saved file and add more to it at any time.

Note: I've created several new forms since this article was first published. Let me know if you have any problems or find any errors.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tips & Tools to Help You Translate Foreign Genealogy Records

There are lots of Facebook groups devoted to very specific readers. If you search, you can find a group devoted to your area of research: Southern Italian Genealogy, Hesse Germany Genealogy Group, Polish Texan Genealogy, French Canadian Genealogy. You name it!

In these groups you will find many people seeking translations of foreign birth, marriage and death records. And there are countless people willing to help.

But you can become a self-sufficient translator of your own documents. Often the hardest part is figuring out the letters themselves. It helps tremendously to know the types of words you're looking for.

If you learn the genealogical keywords, numbers, months, days, etc., in the language you need, the words will become clearer to you.

When you're stuck on a letter or two, search the rest of the document for any other markings that may be the same letter. When you have an educated guess, plug it into Google Translate and see what you get.
Don't be intimidated! You just have to know what you're looking for.

Here are several excellent resources to help you learn the words you need to know in four languages. If the language you need is not here, visit the FamilySearch Wiki for more.

Still getting stuck? Join a specialized Facebook group. You'll find a wealth of knowledge and very helpful genealogists.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

How to Find More Great Grandfathers for Father's Day

Last night I discovered the names of a few of my 4th and 5th great grandparents in Italy. And I plan to gather many more.

I've written before about using the online Italian Genealogy Archives known as Antenati (see How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives). And I've told you how I used that site to gain two generation in one day.

Because I had so much good fortune with my family tree last night, I want to share a few tips and methods with you.
In a few steps I found my 5th great grandfather, Innocenzo Cerrone.

First, start with the youngest ancestor you would like to find in the archives, like your grandfather. If you don't already know the names of his parents, you will find them on his birth record, along with their ages.


Consenting to marriage by making a mark.
  • Search the surrounding years for the birth of his siblings. You'll know you've found them if the parents' names match and their ages are a reasonable match. I say that because in the old days you might not know exactly how old you were. (I have to do the math to figure out my husband's age every time someone asks!)
    Note: An Italian woman in the 1800s might bear children for 20 years straight! My own grandfather was 20 years older than this sister.
  • When you think you've found the firstborn child in a family (because the parents are so young), go back one year and search for the parents' marriage. (See How to Read Italian Marriage Records.)
    Example: When I found the 1841 birth record for a sister of my great great grandmother, and the new mother was only 20 years old, I searched the 1840 marriage records and found their wedding documents.
  • Use the marriage documents (see The Italian Genealogy Goldmine: "Wedding Packets") to identify the names of your great grandparents' parents. Marriages required the consent of one's parents, so their names are listed.
    Note: Sometimes to distinguish between people with the same name, a person's father's name is included. If the name is listed as Giovanni di Giuseppe, Giovanni's father Giuseppe is still alive. If it's listed at Giovanni fu Giuseppe, Giovanni's father Giuseppe has died. Now you have another great grandfather and a date by which he died.
  • Look through the marriage records in the Matrimoni, processetti (Weddings, processions) section. If the bride or groom's father has died, that death record is included. This provides yet another set of great grandparents' names. If the bride or groom's grandfather has also died, you will see his death record. Now you have the names of the great grandparents of the bride or groom—who may already be your great great grandparents!
  • Keep in mind these other facts as you go back in time:
    • My extensive research of a few rural Italian towns in the 1800s shows that the average age of marriage was 25. You will see some younger and some older, but this has been the average. If one spouse is a lot older than that, it's probably not their first marriage.
    • When a child died, it was extremely common to use the same name, or a slight variation of the name, on the next child born. In my search last night, I found an Anna Cerrone born to my 4th great grandparents. I wasn't sure she was my 3rd great grandmother. I had seen my 3rd great grandmother listed as Anna Donata or Donata, and this baby was simply Anna. So I kept searching. Sure enough, baby Anna had died, and they name the next baby girl Anna Donata Cerrone. So don't go chasing the wrong sibling.
    • There was no divorce in Italy until 1970, but you will find lots of remarriages. If someone became a widow, they did not stay that way for long. They would remarry and continue bearing children as long as possible. I have seen a few people from this era who were married four times. Today that has a whole different connotation!
    • You will find some human error on these documents. I have seen the wrong birth certificate included in wedding documents. It doesn't happen often, but when siblings have the same exact name, mistakes can happen!

So this Father's Day, I invite you to find the names of a few new-to-you Nth great grandfathers. Celebrate their names and be grateful to them. Without any single one of them, you would not be here.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Run This Genealogy Report To Help Clean Up Your Dates

I've written before about my indispensable Document Tracker (see "Haven't I Seen You Before?"). It's a spreadsheet that shows at a glance which facts or documents I've collected and which I'm missing.

I've also written about Family Tree Analyzer (see Why You Should Be Using the Free "Family Tree Analyzer"). It's a program that does what I was struggling to write a program to do. And it does it so much better than I could have imagined. (Get the latest version.)

Now I'd like to show you how Family Tree Analyzer can quickly produce a document tracker for you.

First, export a standard GEDCOM file from whichever family tree software you're using. Then open that GEDCOM with Family Tree Analyzer.

Click the Individuals tab to view a grid of every single individual in your tree. My tree has 19,341 people at the moment, and there is no delay at all in displaying the information.
The Individuals view in Family Tree Analyzer

Now click Export in the menu across the top and click the first option, Individuals to Excel. The program will ask you to name your file and pick a location for it.
Exporting your Individuals report

The file will be in CSV format. That stands for Comma Separated Values. You can open a CSV file with any spreadsheet software at all—not only Excel.

Now you have a spreadsheet of everyone in your tree and several basic facts about them. You can hide or delete the columns you don't want, and add some that you find more helpful.

Try some creative formatting: Find every cell with the word UNKNOWN and highlight it in yellow. Now you can spot these items quickly.
With all of your people in one file, your imagination is your only limit.

I can scan all the yellow UNKNOWNs and work on filling in approximate birth, marriage and death dates. Entering an approximate birth date, such as Abt. 1900, makes it easier to distinguish people with similar names in your tree.

You can enter an approximate birth year for someone based on what else you know about them.

For example, if you know who a woman's children are, and when the oldest one was born, subtract 25 from the child's birth year to approximate the mother's birth year.

Or, if you have the mother's birth year as 1900 but not her husband's, you can fill in Abt. 1900 for him.

I find this approximation to be very helpful. Be sure to use the standard abbreviations of Abt. for about, Bef. for before, Aft. for after, and Bet. for between, if you're giving a range of years.

See how many ways you can use the Family Tree Analyzer report to fortify your family tree.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Where to Find Free Historical City Directories and Newspapers

Have you ever subscribed to an online newspaper archive website? I've tried them twice, but I never found anything about my relatives.

Those sites may be worth the subscription fee if your ancestors were important businessmen or socialites. Or if they were involved in a crime or a train wreck. But I never found my folks.

This directory shows me when Antonio's
son James starting working.
I've had better luck with a free newspaper website (see Fulton History below). There I found some real estate transactions by my great grandfather and his brother-in-law. The information was sparse, but it helped me piece together some of his business dealings.

City directories, on the other hand, have been a great help in locating an ancestor in between census years. (See How To Squeeze Everything Out of the Census.) This can help you when you discover your ancestor is not living at the same address in 1930 as he was in 1920. The city directories between 1920 and 1930 can show you where he moved.

This directory tells me exactly when Antonio died!
Here are a few free websites (also see Free Genealogy Resources) where you can search for your ancestors. If you find them, you can add more data points to their timeline, giving you a more complete view of their lives.

Some of these free sites may have an unfriendly interface or have no search function. You get what you pay for.

Tip: When opening a city directory, look at the table of contents so you have a rough idea of which pages to view.

Free Newspaper Websites

  • Fulton History. What began as "Old Fulton NY Post Cards" now contains over 39,328,000 historical newspaper pages from the United States and Canada. The site includes a good search feature and highlights your search terms on the resulting pages. This is where I found my great grandfather's business transactions.
  • Internet Archive. Type newspaper in the search box, then narrow down your results in the left column. There is so much available on this website that I may devote an entire article to it soon.
  • Library of Congress: Chronicling America. This website contains digitized newspapers from 1789 through 1924 in 13 languages. That's 2,234 newspapers. The search functionality is very helpful.

Free City Directory Websites

This real estate directory tells me my great grandfather
owned one building and lived in another.
Subscribers to have access to their city directories collection. I've used these to locate certain ancestors in between census years. A directory helped me figure out where my grandfather went to live and work upon entering the United States. Directories can show you when a grown son left his parents' household and moved nearby, possibly helping to estimate his marriage date.

A city directory may provide a missing piece to the puzzle for you.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Let a Few Quick Wins Reinvigorate Your Genealogy Research

I admit it. What I'm about to share with you is common knowledge.

But common knowledge is often forgotten knowledge.

Many of us sneak in some quick family tree research time here and there, whenever we can. We're not focused on it as if it were our full-time job. (I joke, of course. Who's concentrating on their jobs?)

Our research habits may have gotten a little sloppy. Maybe we need to get back to basics.

Notice there's no last name in this search.
With that in mind, today I decided to track down some census records I simply couldn't find in the past. I used a few tried-and-true techniques and started racking up the wins. (See How To Squeeze Everything Out of the Census.)

Now I'm psyched for more! How many missing census forms can I find in one sitting? And do I really have to go to work tomorrow?

Here's what I did. You can do the same.

My maiden name is not easy for anyone to pronounce or spell, so I never expect the transcription to say "Iamarino".

No problem. Here are three techniques that helped me successfully locate a census for two Iamarino families:

  1. Do a wild card search. I tried *amarino and ?amarino to locate nearly correct spellings.
  2. Search for a family member instead. When my search for the head of household didn't work, I tried searching for his son Bernard—not as common a name as Peter.
  3. Remove the last name completely. This did the trick! I had a family of four named Peter, Marie, Joseph and Bernard. That combination, with no last name, brought up the long-missing 1940 census record. "Iamarino" had been transcribed as "Lamarine".
I found them! Cousin Bernie was the key.

I recommend looking at your family tree and starting close to yourself. Fan out until you identify a family that's missing some census years. Then go to your favorite census search engine, whether it's,, or anywhere else.

Try various combinations of the three techniques above to see if you can find that missing census form.

If you find one, you won't be able to stop. If you fail a couple of times, pick a different branch and try again.

Happy hunting!

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

How to Visit Your Ancestral Hometown at Your Desk

Have you ever seen a Google car driving around? I saw one, and it was goofy as can be.

I'm grateful for those cars! They've driven up and down the windy, narrow streets of my ancestral hometowns in Italy.

My ancestors, and maybe yours, left their homeland because of poverty and a lack of prospects. But today their sleepy little hill towns beckon to me with their beauty and serenity.

I use a combination of Bing maps and Google maps. In Bing I save collections of places. I have one collection of all the landmarks I can see from my mountaintop home in New York. In another collection, I have some of the current and past homes of my relatives in Italy.
The view from my grandfather Leone's first home in Basélice.

Bing offers a birdseye view, and sometimes a street-level view. But Google has sent that crazy car exactly where I want be, like the house where my grandfather was born in 1891.

I can sit here at my desk and "stand" in Italy. I'm right outside the rebuilt house in Basélice, Italy, of my grandfather Adamo Leone. I can see the amazing hilltop views I'll bet his family loved.

I can "stand" near my cousin Esterina's pink house in Colle Sannita, Italy, and see the giant windmills that lead to Basélice. On Esterina's property, partially buried in the ground, is an old doorstep. That's where my other grandfather Pietro Iamarino's house once stood.
The view from my grandfather Iamarino's one-time land in Colle Sannita.

If you're lucky enough to have a birth record for your ancestor, check it again for a street name, and maybe a house number.

Then give it a shot—put that address into Google maps and see if you can walk the streets where your roots still live.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Free Resource Provides Graphic Genealogy Research Basics

I'm happy to pay for my subscription. I have full access for less than a dollar a day.

But many genealogy fans prefer to go the all-for-free route.

Well, there's a newcomer to the genealogy resource field. MooseRoots is a completely free site that can help you find birth, death and marriage dates and places, and a lot more. (See also What To Do When You Have No Birth or Death Record.)

Results of a search for Grandma's birth record
From their Genealogy Collections page, choose from a long list of categories, including:

  • U.S. Census records
  • State birth records
  • State death records
  • State marriage and divorce records (Australian records, too)
  • Casualties from several wars

I began testing the site by looking for my grandmother's New York City birth record from 1899. I already have a copy of her birth record from the New York City Municipal Archives. The main fact I learned from her birth record was that her middle name was Carmina—and that's not what she told us it was.

The MooseRoots result was disappointing because it didn't include her parents' names. But it did include the certificate number. That would be enough for me to find the original on microfilm at the archives.

Next I searched the same collection for anyone with her last name to see if I would find her siblings. I found her two brothers, but the transcriptions of their first names were ridiculous. I found two misspelled Alfredos, and I wouldn't know which one was my great uncle if I hadn't already known his birthday.

But the lack of parents' names is based on the record collection, so I don't blame MooseRoots. I checked California birth records because I know they include the mother's maiden name. And those maiden names appeared in the results. But the California birth records did not include a certificate number.
Easily share various parts of the results page

I was very impressed by MooseRoots' collection of Japanese-American Internment Camp records. Unfortunately, you can't search for a specific name or sort the results, so I didn't see the two last names of my in-laws. (See also Can Genealogy Research Be Painful?.)

I chose a random person named Tanaka (another family name in my husband's tree), and I was impressed with the results.

The website generates a narrative including lots of facts about Takanosu Tanaka: his year and place of birth, that he was widowed, the name of the "camp" where he was detained (Tule Lake), and much more.

As I scrolled down the page I found visualizations of Takanosu's facts. And this is the thing that makes MooseRoots unique: visualizations.

A company called Graphiq powers the site. Graphiq compiles facts into colorful graphs to make them easier to understand.

I believe MooseRoots has plans to become a much richer genealogy resource. When you click a person's name in your results list, you have the opportunity to add their photo once you create a free account. I hit a snag when I tried to register with my Facebook account. Instead, I chose the Google+ login option. That worked, but then the "Add or Edit Photos" button didn't do anything. So, they've got some kinks to iron out.

This video includes facts unique to your ancestor.
Search results pages give you one-click access to an Ancestry search and a MyHeritage search if you're a subscriber. You can click a button to share any individual piece of the results.

The 1940 Census results included a nice surprise: a customized video that includes the census facts for the person you chose. There's also a scrollable list of other people on the same census sheet, with clickable names. (See also How To Squeeze Everything Out of the Census.)

When you're visiting the site, be sure to click the More menu at the top of the page to get an idea of which collections may be the most helpful to you.

Happy [moose] hunting.

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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Italian Genealogy Goldmine: "Wedding Packets"

I've shown you how to dissect Italian birth records, Italian death records (twice, in fact), and Italian marriage records before.

But I promised to explain the treasure trove I call Italian "wedding packets". (Maybe these exist for other countries, too!)

If you're researching your Italian ancestors, and you're lucky enough to find your ancestral hometown's records in the Italian genealogy archives (Antenati), then you have access to the wedding packets.

On the Antenati site, you'll find different kinds of "matrimoni" documents for each year.

  • First comes "Matrimoni, pubblicazioni" which includes the two times a couple had to publicly post their intention to marry. The first record may not tell you anything more than the names of the groom and bride and both sets of parents.
    First notification of intention to marry
    The second record provides ages, occupations, places of birth and/or residence. If the bride or groom is widowed, you may also get the name of the deceased spouse.
    Second notification of intention to marry
  • Second is "Matrimoni" which adds the date on which they were approved for marriage (think of it as a marriage license date), and the date they were married in church. Sometimes you'll also find the names of the priest and witnesses.
  • Third comes "Matrimoni, processetti"—my favorite! This wedding packet can contain many pages. It starts with a birth record for the bride and groom. If either is a widow, you get the deceased spouse's death record. Then there is a death record for any of their parents who have died. This, of course, can tell you the names of the bride or groom's grandparents. If the father of the bride or groom has died, and their grandfather is not alive to give his permission for the marriage, then you'll also see the grandfather's death record.
    Groom's first wife's death record
Groom's father's death record—giving me the names of my 4x great grandparents

The best-case scenario is an older couple, both widowed, and both with no living parents or grandparents. I've had wedding packets provide me with one or both spouse's great grandparents' names!

We're lucky because in the old days, no one stayed single. If their spouse died, they absolutely remarried—sometimes again and again. Life was too hard not to have a partner.

Is that not a genealogist's treasure trove?

Friday, June 2, 2017

How to Use a Paper Trail to Recreate Your Ancestor's Life

Maybe I remember a long drive from New York to Ohio to visit my great grandparents when I was five. Maybe I have a single image in my mind of great grandma's kitchen. But that's it.
Pasquale Iamarino

Before I began researching my family tree, I knew next to nothing about my great grandfather Pasquale Iamarino—or Patsy Marino, as he was known. He lived in Ohio and worked for the railroad. Nothing more.

Genealogists enjoy piecing together our ancestors' paper trails and mapping out their locations. If we're lucky, we can wind up with enough facts to bring our ancestors back to life in a way.

Italian church records from the 1880s told me that Patsy and my other paternal great grandfather were second cousins. A ship manifest told me that Patsy came to America at age 20, heading first to his uncle in New York City.

Four years later, in 1906, he was working for the Erie Railroad in Steuben County, New York. In the rail yard he must have met the Caruso brothers who came from a neighboring town in Italy.

By late 1906 he married the only sister in the Caruso family, in Hornellsville, New York. Hornellsville was a boom town at that time, achieving city status that year, thanks to the railroad.

The Erie Shops and Roundhouse, Hornellsville, New York
When my grandmother was born in 1908, Patsy and his little family lived at 95 Front Street—a short walk from the railroad station.

Between 1910 and 1914 Patsy moved to Albany and continued working as a railroad laborer.

Then, suddenly, in 1918 Patsy registered for the draft in Youngstown, Ohio. Perhaps he had to move to keep his job.

He was a boilermaker for the Erie Railroad, working in the railroad roundhouse in the 1920 and 1930 census.

City directories show him on Dearborn Street in Girard, Ohio in the early 1930s. This is the same house I feel as if I remember.

By 1940, at the age of 58, Patsy retired. I'm closing in on 58 and wish I could retire! But my dad recently told me that Patsy had to retire because of lung issues. Did all those years as a boilermaker give him something like black lung disease?

Patsy on Dearborn Street
According to the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, "Railroad Boilermakers service and repair locomotives, and manufacture parts, including hundreds of items used every day in the railroad industry. They also perform welding on tracks and general maintenance work."

With today's worker safety rules, a boilermaker probably isn't at any risk of lung disease. But something incapacitated Patsy in his fifties. He lived to be 87 years old.

During his long retirement, Patsy enjoyed tending to his garden and his roses at the house on Dearborn Street. I wish I could remember him.