29 August 2017

Share Your Family Tree Names in a Word Cloud

So you think you know the main ancestral last names in your family tree, right?

You may be way off! There is a way you can visualize which family names are making up the majority of your family tree.

Recently I've seen a word cloud floating around that shows the most common last names in each of the regions of Italy. It's plain to see that Russo and Rossi are the most common Italian names throughout the country.

What about your family tree?

you can create a word cloud from your family tree
A word cloud shows the frequency of names in your family tree.

I created this tree-shaped word cloud using only names from my grandfather's hometown of Baselice, Italy. My Baselice Family Tree Maker file has more than 16,000 people, and this required a lot of manual editing. To save a few days, I'm showing only the last names of people whose first name begins with A. That's 3,355 people!

Ironically, the biggest names I see are not closely related to me.

You should know that because of intermarrying, I am related to roughly 13,000 of the 16,000 people in my file.

Even more surprising is that I can spot the names of in-laws, like Pallotta at the base of the tree and Borrillo at the base of the leaves.

Oh! And there's a tiny Pilla in the center. That's a name from my other grandfather's family!

To create your word cloud, you need a text file of just the last names. I exported a GEDCOM file, pasted it into a spreadsheet, and kept whittling it down with search and replace. Then go to https://www.wordclouds.com:
  • Click the "Word list" button.
  • Click the "Paste/Type text" link near the top.
  • Copy and paste your list of names and click the "Apply" button.
When your word cloud is created, use the different buttons to change the shape, colors, spacing, and font.

When you're happy with your results, click the "File" button and choose how you'd like to save your family tree word cloud. Then share yours on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #familytreenames.

27 August 2017

Are You Overlooking Your Family Tree Discoveries?

What if the you from several years ago could talk genealogy with the you of today? Do you think the two of you could help each other out?

You're probably thinking that you've got so much more experience in family history now. You could teach so much to the past you. You could set her on the right course. You could tell her everywhere she's making genealogical mistakes.

But guess what? Past you has a lot to offer today's you, too. Past you holds some keys to your family tree that today's you has completely forgotten.

Today, past me and present me had a surprising collaboration. Here's what happened.

it's important to digitize your notes as well as your family tree documents
Digitizing death and marriage records is one thing. But notes are just as important.
When I went to Italy in 2005, I brought a notebook. It contained useful Italian phrases and facts I'd gathered about my closest ancestors.

My family tree was very small at that time, and I didn't have many documented facts. My plan was to use the few facts I had to explain who I was to the cousins I was about to meet.

In the same notebook, I jotted down details from three cemeteries I visited in my ancestral hometowns. My husband took photos of graves, and I wrote the facts in my notebook. When I was able to visit with cousins, I wrote down a few details they were able to share.

How I wish I'd taken better notes! But I was afraid of looking rude by paying more attention to my notebook than to my cousins.

Take Time to Collaborate With Yourself

This morning I read that old travel notebook and compared it to my family tree and the cemetery photos.

Past me, who'd scribbled all those notes, wound up providing present me with clues I didn't know I had! For example, my cousin Gennaro said his sister Maria had moved to New York City with her husband and four sons. I'd written down phone numbers for two of the sons, but I never called them.

Using the names of Maria and her sons, I found documentation for them on Ancestry.com. Maria and at least two of her sons became U.S. citizens. I knew I had the right people because they all had the same address between 1967 and 1971.

I learned that Maria and two of her sons died not long ago. And I had never contacted them because past me forgot to tell present me that their phone numbers were in that notebook. I missed my chance.

your scribbled notes should be typed and stored on your computer so you can use them in your genealogy research
My Italian cheatsheet alongside cemetery notes.

This is a strong argument for digitizing everything you gather in your family tree research. Scan your official documents. Enter their facts into your family tree.

This is true for notebooks, loose notes, and recorded conversations, too. Preserve the information and make it searchable by typing it into your word processing software.

I don't want to throw out my 2005 travel notebook, even though my dog chewed it as a puppy. But it would be a terrible mistake to leave it in paper form only.

What Should You Re-read Today?

Next, past me is going to share old immigration notes with present me. When I took those notes, I didn't know if the people were related to me or not. I only knew that they had the right last names, so I wrote their facts down in a notebook.

We'll see if present me can make a breakthrough with that old, forgotten information.

To paraphase a TV ad campaign, "What's in your closet"?

25 August 2017

How to Make Your Family Tree Fireproof!

My family didn't pass down any paperwork. There were no birth certificates. No marriage certificates. No citizenship papers.

That's why I'm amazed at the photos other genealogists post of their slumped-over piles of color-coded folders. Their stacks of plastic bins filled with documents. Their rows of acid-free archive-quality storage boxes.

Whatever paper genealogy documents you have, digitize them!
Whatever paper genealogy documents you have, digitize them!

I have one fat folder of paper documents related to my family tree. It rests comfortably in my two-drawer file cabinet along with every other piece of paperwork associated with my life.

Wag your finger at me if you must, but I'm here to urge you to digitize your family history! Our goal as family historians is to preserve and share every fact and document of our ancestors' lives.

That requires making their birth certificates, death certificates, and precious photographs:

  • fireproof
  • accessible
  • safe from obsolescence

This seems like an overwhelming task to many family tree researchers. But isn't every aspect of building a family tree overwhelming? For goodness sake, you have 64 great great great great grandparents alone!

Like any other genealogical task, you have to set your goals, divide, and conquer. Choose a branch and dive in with these tasks:

  • Scanning: A good scanner is not expensive. But if your budget is tight, consider borrowing one for a few days. Or get a free scanner app for your phone.
  • Saving: Your family tree software should have the option of exporting your work as a GEDCOM file. A GEDCOM is a highly compatible format that any family tree software can open and use. Save your work as a GEDCOM regularly.
  • Storing: Remember 3½-inch floppy disks? Computers can't read them anymore. A CD drive isn't even standard equipment on many new laptop computers. So practice redundancy:
    • Burn your digital files to a CD or DVD.
    • Copy them to an external hard drive.
    • Store them on one of the many clouds available to you: GoogleDocs, Dropbox, OneDrive.
    • Use FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, or another genealogy website to hold your family tree and its document files.

As genealogists, we love living in the past. We treasure each scrap of evidence of our ancestors' lives.

But we've got to plan for the future and the longevity of our hard work.

When it comes to one specific ancestor, like your maternal grandmother, you only want one. But when it comes to preserving her documents and photographs, redundancy, redundancy, redundancy!

22 August 2017

What If Your Ancestor Isn't Where You Expected at All?

They're not there!

The family I thought was from one town was really from the next town
Are you my hometown, Santa Paolina?
I thought it was all coming together. I thought I'd have some answers about my great great grandparents, Antonio Saviano and Colomba Consolazio. But sometimes your ancestors are not where you absolutely expected to find them.

Follow me for a moment on this genealogical path.

Recently I charted out exactly which of my direct-line ancestors I've identified. I color-coded them to show the direct ancestors of each of my four grandparents.

My progress was incredibly satisfying, but it held a startling truth. The branch whose descendants I grew up with—my maternal grandmother's branch—is the one where I've made the least progress.

I know my great grandparents, Giovanni and Maria Rosa, and each of their parents' names. But I'm troubled by the lack of progress with Maria Rosa's parents, Antonio and Colomba.

They each died in New York City. I've seen their death certificates at the New York City Municipal Archives. (They're online now!) Their parents' names were hard to read, and the source of the names was someone who never met these people.

From my earliest days in this genealogy hobby I had conflicting information about where Antonio and Colomba came from. My 96-year-old great aunt (their granddaughter) was still as sharp as a tack when she told me they were from Avellino. It was a simple fact she'd heard from her mother Maria Rosa time and time again.

OK, but Avellino is a city and a province. So where were they from?

Then I found the family's 1898 ship manifest when they sailed from Naples to New York, and it said something else. It said they were from Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. That's in the Benevento province, bordering Avellino.

Now what?

Their New York City marriage records say that Antonio and Colomba's daughters were born in Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. That places the family in Benevento, not Avellino.

Then I found a World War II draft registration card for Antonio and Colomba's eldest son, Semplicio. He was born in Tufo.

Woo hoo! Tufo is in Avellino!

I ordered microfilm of Tufo birth, marriage and death records from FamilySearch.org and found Semplicio's 1877 birth record. Surprisingly, I also found an 1875 birth record for another son named Raffaele. There was a younger Raffaele, so this son must have died as a child. I don't think my great aunt knew about him.

Antonio was already 33 when the first Raffaele was born. Based on my extensive research of this area at the time, I believe there must have been previous children. But the Tufo records had nothing else.

No other children of Antonio and Colomba were born in Tufo, and they were not married in Tufo.

Again, now what?

Luckily, Colomba has an uncommon maiden name of Consolazio. I scoured the Tufo records and found two men, Gaetano Consolazio and Sabato Consolazio, whose children were born in Tufo around the same time as my Raffaele and Semplicio.

this marriage document for a sibling told me the truth about my great great grandmother
My great great grandmother's brother provided the missing link.

Gaetano Consolazio's marriage document seems to hold the key to unlock this entire family's background. He was married in Tufo, but he was born in Santa Paolina—only three miles from Tufo! His marriage record also confirms his and Colomba's parents' names, which were absolutely wrong on her 1920 death record.

In 1877, the document says, 60-year-old Fiorinto Consolazio and his wife Rufina Zullo were living in Santa Paolina, Avellino.

Where does that leave us?

Colomba's brother Gaetano was born in Santa Paolina. Their parents lived in Santa Paolina. That gives me a strong reason to believe Colomba was born there. She probably married Antonio there. She may have had an earlier child there. Antonio and his siblings may have been born there, too.

I've ordered the Santa Paolina microfilm. This was my last chance to order film as the Family History Center microfilm program ends on August 31, 2017. And there's no guarantee these records will ever be digitized and put online.

So now I wait. Fingers crossed, I may soon be adding several more ancestors to my chart and datapoints to my family tree.

Oh boy, I hope they're there!

20 August 2017

It's Time to Revisit & Improve Your Earliest Family Tree Research

It's not your best work.

No offense, but the well-meaning work you did when you first began your family tree needs your attention.

an Ellis Island certificate for my grandfather's arrival in the USA
Ellis Island's website was my first resource.
When I first began playing around with genealogy, the only resource I had was the free Ellis Island website. There I found my two grandfathers' ship manifests when they came from Italy to New York.

Then I searched for any immigrants named Iamarino or Leone from the same towns as my grandfathers. I jotted down their details in a leftover school notebook. When all those pages of notes became unmanageable, I bought an early version of Family Tree Maker and began building my family tree.

"Start with what you know." That's the advice every expert gives to a beginning genealogist. So you enter details about your immediate family. You spread out to the great aunts and uncles you knew as a child.

Then your family finds out you want to be the family historian. They give you details and tell you old stories. You add names and wedding dates and soon you're adding in the third cousins you never met.

If you've been learning and improving your techniques as you go, the assumptions and downright errors you made in your earliest days of family tree research might make you want to cringe.

Don't worry. But don't ignore your newbie mistakes, either.

Make a plan to revisit and evaluate what you did when you began your family tree. Here's how.

1. Find Supporting Documents for What You Know
  • Start with your closest relative born before 1940. That might be yourself, your parent, or your grandparent. This person should be recorded in the 1940 U.S. Federal Census.
  • Look at the information you put in your family tree because you just know it. You've always known it. It might be your mom's maiden name or the address of the house your grandfather lived in.
  • Now find this person in the census and see which facts you can verify with this official record.
  • Broaden your search beyond the census to include vital records: birth, marriage and death records. See how many facts you can support with hard evidence.

You may find that you had some facts wrong. Or, if your facts were good, now you have the evidence to back it up.

2. Look for Obvious Errors
  • Use your family tree software to examine a family listing—parents and all their children—for a family that's very close to you.
  • Choose a family with children born before 1940 so you'll be able to find documents for them. For example, you might start with your maternal grandparents' nuclear family.
  • Look closely at the birth dates you've given to every family member. Is the mother too young or too old to have had any of those children? Are any of the children's birth dates too close together?
  • Now find this family in every different census year that applies. Do the reported ages in the censuses support your information? Can the censuses help you resolve any errors you think you've spotted?
Over time, you may have added details to individual family members without looking at the bigger family picture for errors.

3. Weed Out Your Mistakes
  • Examine one family grouping at a time and work your way systematically through the parts of your tree that are closest to you. You could begin by focusing only on your direct line ancestors: your father's father's family, your father's mother's family, your mother's father's family, your mother's mother's family. Then move to your great aunt's and great uncle's families.
  • Check the details you've entered for each person in each of these family units. Doesn't anything seem like it no longer fits?

    For example, I found a Social Security Death Index (SSDI) record for a woman with the same name as my grandmother's first cousin. That record gave me an exact birth date and death date that I attached to this cousin. It was only when I found official Italian birth records for three of her brothers that I realized she couldn't possibly have been born on the date I found on the SSDI record. That record didn't belong to her.
    a two-second glance told me I had a big error in this family grouping
    Can you spot the obvious error in this family view?

    To fix this error, I removed the erroneous dates. Then I found a record that wasn't available until recently. Her Social Security benefits application record gave me my cousin's actual death date and place. It gave me her age at death, which matched my newly estimated birth year for her.
  • When you find what you think are more accurate facts, search for as many pieces of evidence as you can.

    For example, let's say your great uncle's given name is different than what you always called him. If you find his original name in one census, try to find it in other census years, naturalization papers, a ship manifest, or wherever you can.
Finally, document your sources for each bit of new, better information you find. Future you will thank you. And the next family historian will thank you, too.

18 August 2017

Which Clubs Did Your Ancestors Join?

If you're missing key information on an ancestor of Italian heritage, there is a resource that may help you.

The Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA) is a national organization of Americans of Italian heritage founded in 1905. The order promotes Italian culture, traditions, language, and contributions to the world.

Go to Ancestry.com and search the card catalog for "sons of italy". You'll find enrollment applications, lodge records, and mortuary fund claims. As of this writing, they have documents from:
  • Pennsylvania
  • Massachusetts
  • West Virginia
  • California
  • Illinois

this membership application has crucial family tree information
A very family tree-friendly membership application.

I found OSIA applications for two of my grandfather's first cousins, Henry and Anthony Pilla. Here's what I learned (or confirmed) from their applications:
  • Full name
  • Father's name (mother's name if father is dead)
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Wife's name
  • Citizenship
  • Medical information

Today OSIA offers its members discounts on insurance, travel, car rental and more. Generations ago their death benefit may have been a big attraction.

this card was updated with the member's date of death
Enrollment card, updated for his death.

Here is an enrollment card for Gennaro Muollo that tells me:
  • His father was Angelo
  • He was 40 when he was initiated on 27 April 1919
  • His relative Giovanni was 32 on that date
  • His death benefit is $400
  • He died on 29 June 1937

Check your family tree for any Italian American men or women who may have belonged to an organization.

Find out what you can about that organization. It may lead to helpful documents that will add to your family tree.

15 August 2017

Finding a Genealogy Victory in Defeat

You may have heard that come September 1, 2017, you can no longer order microfilmed records from FamilySearch.org. I didn't think I'd need microfilm anymore since records are being digitized.

But I have one small town in Italy that needs my attention now. So I ordered the microfilm and went to view it at my nearest Family History Center today.

I was focusing on my great grandmother's parents, Antonio Saviano and Colomba Consolazio. I'd hoped to find their births, their marriage, and their parents' names. I had their parents' names only from their own death records. That's not very reliable.

I was disappointed.

This film does contain birth records for two of my great grandmother's brothers. But it does not have her parents' births or marriage.

Grasping for something of value, I scoured each year's index for Saviano or Consolazio. I found two men who may be the brothers of my Colomba Consolazio. I found them on their children's birth records.

Then I got lucky. One of these potential brothers was Gaetano Consolazio. I found his marriage record and learned his parents' names. And this proved to me that he was my great great uncle.

this document is not for my ancestor, but it contains my ancestors' names
A reliable source for my third great grandparents' names.

When my great great grandparents died, their eldest son, Semplicio Saviano, provided the information. He had never met his grandparents. Maybe he didn't know their exact names.

The names I had from Colomba's death record were Semplicio Consolazio and Rafina Zinzaro. The name Semplicio seemed legit because her eldest son was Semplicio. Except I knew she had a baby before him named Raffaele!

Rafina Zinzaro bothered me because Rafina is not a name I've seen before.

The far more reliable source is Gaetano Consolazio's marriage record. His parents, my third great grandparents, were Fiorinto Consolazio and Rufina Zullo who lived in neighboring Santa Paolina.

Gaetano even named his daughter Rufina, so I got to see that unusual name twice. And Fiorinto makes perfect sense to me. You see, I have records from another town showing the birth of my great grandmother and three of her siblings. On two of those documents it says Colomba Consolazio is the daughter of Fiorinto.

I thought those were the mistake. But the less reliable death record contains the mistakes.

So I will score today as a victory.

I'm disappointed not to have found what I wanted. But now I have reason to believe the Consolazio and/or Saviano families lived in Santa Paolina before going to Tufo. The Saviano family then moved to Pastene, where my great grandmother was born.

I have no reason to think they moved because they were given land or something. The fact that they moved twice is even more bizarre.

So I gained some solid information today, along with some leads. I have to quickly decide if I need to order microfilm for the town of Santa Paolina.

The clock is ticking!

13 August 2017

Dealing With Human Error on Genealogical Documents

An interesting point came up in a Facebook genealogy group yesterday. The clerk who hand-wrote your ancestor's birth, marriage or death record may not have been that skilled.
  • He may have misspelled a word—leaving you to try to translate a word that isn't a word.
  • He may have made an accidental substitution—adding the wrong sibling's birth record to a set of marriage documents.
  • He may have recorded the midwife's last name as the baby's last name.
What do you do with this messed up documentation?

In an earlier article about disagreeing documentation, I spelled out my two cardinal rules:
  1. The earliest recorded document is probably correct.
  2. Some documents are more official than others.
Sometimes you need to:
Then see if logic tells you what the truth must be.

Here's an example. Consider these data points:
  • Michele Petruccelli was born in Baselice, Italy on March 8, 1800 to Costanzo Petruccelli and Brigida Ciusolo.
  • Michele Petruccelli was born in Baselice, Italy on September 11, 1802 to the same parents.
  • Two babies born to the same parents, with the same name. Logic tells us the first Michele must have died before the second Michele was born.
  • No death records are available for 1800–1802, so we cannot verify the first baby's death.
  • In 1828 Michele (born in 1802) married Mariarosa Mattia. She died in 1828.
  • In 1830 Michele (born in 1800) married Veneranda Pozella.
The marriage records overlook the fact that Michele is a widower.
The marriage records overlook the fact that Michele is a widower.

If logic says there were not two sons growing up in the same family with the same first name, then both the 1828 marriage and the 1830 marriage must belong to the younger Michele Petruccelli—the survivor who was born in 1802. This hypothesis works because the two marriages do not overlap.

This means there was a clerical error. In 1830 when widowed Michele Petruccelli married for the second time, a clerk accidentally used the birth record of the deceased Michele Petruccelli.

For further proof, I took another look at the 1829/1830 marriage records. It says that Michele was 23 when he received permission to marry. That fits 1802 Michele better than 1800 Michele.

Of course it's still wrong. He was 27!

The document does not say that Michele is a widower, but it does say his bride is a widow. In the full set of marriage documents for Michele and Veneranda, there is no mention of Michele's first wife Mariarosa Mattia.

This is also a mistake. It's really quite an oversight!

Mariarosa Mattia's death record clearly states she was the wife of Michele Petruccelli, son of Costanzo.

The death record for Michele's first wife leaves no doubt who her husband is.
The death record for Michele's first wife leaves no doubt who her husband is.

So what would you do? Michele and Mariarosa were married only eight months when she died, so they had no children. Michele and Veneranda also had no children though they both lived past the year 1860. There is no more evidence.

I'm convinced the clerk made mistakes in 1829/1830. The Michele born in 1800 died before 1802. The younger Michele grew up and married twice.

So, having exhausted all resources and finding that logic is on my side, I'm going to update my family tree.

I'm going to say that the first Michele Petruccelli died before the second was born on September 11, 1802. And I'm going to give the bride, Veneranda Pozella, to the second Michele Petruccelli.

By the way, Michele Petruccelli is the brother-in-law of the sister-in-law of my fourth great uncle whose name is also Petruccelli. It's a small town.

11 August 2017

How to Use the Free Online Irish Census

Americans are—in this order—German, Black, Irish, Mexican, English, Italian, Polish, French…. The list goes on and on.

The 1901 and 1911 Ireland census is searchable for free online.
The 1901 and 1911 Ireland census is searchable for free online.

In 2013 many articles were written about facts learned from the 2010 United States Census. Britain's The Daily Mail states that people of Irish descent are about 12% of the population in the USA. They number more than 35 million and are the third largest ethnic group in the country.

Simple search form
Simple search form
I can't seem to find any in my family tree! But recently I was doing some research for a close friend of full Irish descent. I found a very helpful website from the National Archives of Ireland.

Before I explain everything they make available, let's look at how to search the 1901 and 1911 Irish census.

In the short search form, choose either the 1901 or 1911 census and enter what you know. Last name, first name, county, age and sex. Then click the search button.

On the results page, check the box that says "Show all information". This will give you lots of details about each result and help you find the best choices. In this example, I can rule out the two Patrick Cunninghams who are single because I know my Patrick was married.

Show all information to help you find the right family.
Show all information to help you find the right family.

For each of the married Patricks, I can click their name to see a list of every member of the household. From this screen I can tell I'm looking at the right family. My friend had told me Patrick's wife's name and a few of their children's names.

Now that I'm confident this is the right family, I can click any of the links below the words "View census images". What I want the most is Household Return (Form A) and the Additional Pages.

Ready to download the census! You can see the census sheet at the top of this page.
Ready to download the census! You can see the census sheet at the top of this page.

These links download a PDF file containing an image of the census. Now I can see for myself every recorded detail. These facts helped me go back and find the same family in the 1901 census.

The National Archives of Ireland website also includes fragments for these census years:
  • 1821
  • 1831
  • 1841
  • 1851
You can click to drill down by county, parish, townlands/streets, and then see a list of households to view. See the website's description of what is in these collections.

The Early 20th century Ireland page provides interesting glimpses into life at the time. It includes a wonderful collection of photos you'll want to see.

For more help with your Irish ancestors, see the Archives' list of genealogy websites available.

08 August 2017

Divide and Conquer Your Family Tree Research Tasks

Is your family tree research stuck? Are you so overwhelmed by certain tasks that you're avoiding them? Is a brick wall stopping all other progress?

You can overcome these genealogy blues with a simple plan.

Divide and Conquer

These brief spurts of activity will be as healthy for your family tree as a brief sprint is for your heart.
  • Work on those tedious tasks in simpler chunks.
  • Avoid your brick wall and forge ahead with another branch of your family tree.
  • Narrow your focus and score some big gains.
This method will keep you productive and happy with your genealogy hobby. And you'll be learning along the way.
"Fix all my source citations" is an overwhelming roadblock. "Fix my 1930 census source citations" is something you can tackle!
"Fix all my source citations" is an overwhelming roadblock. "Fix my 1930 census source citations" is something you can tackle!

Make Cleanup Projects Less Intimidating

Are you avoiding adding source citations to your family tree? Is the size of the project scaring you away? Break the big task into smaller pieces. Set aside chunks of time to devote to the task, and keep track of your progress.

Don't let the overall task overwhelm you. Think of it as "today I'll start adding citations to all of my 1940 census tasks". Get as far as you can in the time you've decided to spend.

Hopefully you'll either be eager to move on to the 1930 census, or eager to come back tomorrow and finish up 1940.

Piece by piece you will tackle the task.

One Bad Branch Shouldn't Spoil the Tree

Are you getting nowhere with one pesky branch of your tree? Leave it alone for a while.

Focus on another branch and document the daylights out of it! Find every piece of supporting evidence you possibly can. You'll have an excellent example of how well you can do this. Your branch will be impeccable.

Plus, working on perfecting an easier branch will teach you about certain resources and documents. It may inspire you to take a different approach to your brick wall branch.

Now go get 'em!

06 August 2017

How to Build a Professional-Quality Family Tree

I began writing this blog to encourage other genealogy hobbyists to take their family trees to a new level. My first several articles focus on the basics of a reliable, valuable family tree:
  1. Gather multiple pieces of evidence for each fact. People make mistakes. It could be the census taker or the person providing information for someone's death certificate. Because of human error, one piece of evidence does not make proof.
  2. Cite your sources. It's critical to be able to retrace your research steps. If you cite your source for a fact as the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, give the location right down to the sheet number, and provide a link to where you found it online, it's reproducible. If it's reproducible, it's more reliable.
  3. Analyze your facts for discrepancies. My family tree has many people with the exact same name. I found a situation where I gave the same birth date to two different men with the same name. I needed more investigation to fix the error.
  4. Ensure you're recording facts for the right person or people. For example, are you sure the census form you're looking at is for the specific family you think it is?
  5. Research historical events as they pertain to your ancestor. One of my ancestor's hometown changed its name after World War II. If I hadn't discovered that, I wouldn't have been able to visit the town years ago. And I wouldn't be able to find the town's vital records today.

It all boils down to this: You've got to do the legwork. Do not trust information that falls into your lap. Use someone else's tree, for example, as a series of leads for you to investigate.
The New York City Municipal Archives at 31 Chambers Street in downtown Manhattan. It's the Taj Mahal of research for New York City families.
The New York City Municipal Archives at 31 Chambers Street in downtown Manhattan. It's the Taj Mahal of research for New York City families.

How Professional Genealogists Work

Professional genealogists follow a standard of proof to deliver accurate research to their customers. Maybe you've seen references to the Genealogical Proof Standard.

Let's look at how the five elements of this standard can improve your family tree research.
  1. Conduct a reasonably exhaustive research. This goes back to my first point above of gathering multiple pieces of evidence. It also involves conducting searches that may not yield any results. For example, let's say you expected to find a family at a particular address in the 1930 census, but they're not there. To be thorough, you may need to go through every page in that census. If you still haven't found them, you may need to check out the surrounding enumeration districts.
  2. Maintain complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each piece of information. This was my second point above. You want to make your steps retraceable and show the quality of the sources. For example, the 1930 U.S. Census seems more reliable than "my cousin's father". Citing your sources can also show how many sources you've used. Several excellent sources make a fact very reliable.
  3. Test your information. This relates to my third point above about analyzing your family tree for discrepancies. If you find an error, you may need to test the validity of one of your sources.
  4. Resolution of conflicts among evidence items. This would be the logical conclusion to your analysis of discrepancies. When you resolve a discrepancy, make a note about the steps you took, and why you made your decision.
  5. A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion. When you resolve a discrepancy or find something in your tree that you don't have a lot of confidence in, make notes. I like to flag questionable facts in my family tree by adding a bookmark (a feature in Family Tree Maker) and a note. This alerts me to facts with a lower level of confidence so I can treat them with the proper amount of faith.
You may not have the funds to hire a professional genealogist. You may prefer to do the work yourself because the hunt is what makes it so enjoyable.

But if you can adopt these practices, you can have a professional-quality family tree.

04 August 2017

Here's Why Genealogists Love Immigrants

ID photo from a Petition for Naturalization
ID photo from a Petition for Naturalization
Last year my cousins' father passed away and I found his obituary. The man we called Doc is someone I've known since I was a little girl. But I didn't know anything about his family.

Genealogists know how to pull tons of facts from a well-written obituary. I documented Doc's family names and relationships in my family tree software.

Using these new pieces of information, I searched for his father Mario's arrival in the United States from Italy.

Mario's naturalization documents are among the richest I've found. Let's go through them to see how much you can learn about an immigrant ancestor through their naturalization papers.

Certificate of Arrival

When an immigrant wanted to become a citizen in the early 1900s, they provided information about their arrival into the U.S.:
Certificate of Arrival
Certificate of Arrival
  • date of arrival
  • port of entry
  • name of ship

That's a boon to your family tree research right there. In Mario's case, the documents include a Certificate of Arrival that verifies these facts.

This certificate gives you, the family tree researcher, exactly the information you need to find Mario's ship manifest. There you can gather information that may include his father or mother's name and his town of origin.

Declaration of Intention

This form has so many vital facts packed into a small area. In Mario's case, we learn his:
  • address
  • occupation and age
  • physical description
  • town of birth
  • birth date
  • wife's name and date and place of birth
  • wedding date
  • children's names and birth dates

Mario's arrival information, confirmed on the Certificate of Arrival, is repeated here. Plus we see his signature and photograph.

Petition for Naturalization

Enough data to make a genealogist weep.
Enough data to make a genealogist weep.
After filing a Declaration of Intention and going through the process, the immigrant completes another form. Mario's Petition for Naturalization repeats and supports the facts on his Declaration of Intention.

So if you are able to find one, but not both of these detailed forms for your ancestor, you've still found a genealogical treasure.

If your ancestor had a spouse and children at the time of their declaration and petition, you now have an official source of their vital information.

Mario's paperwork provided me with Doc's real name and birth date, as well as those of his brothers, whom I didn't know. With these facts I can fan out my search for census forms, Social Security Death Indexes, and other records of this family.

Perhaps most excitingly, I can search for documents from Mario's hometown in Italy and try to extend his family history there.

Naturalization records are available through the U.S. Naturalization and Records Administration (searchable online), Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

The sheer density of critical vital information makes genealogists absolutely adore our immigrant ancestors.

01 August 2017

Step-by-Step Discovery of My 5th Great Grandparents

It wasn't long ago that I discovered the maiden name of one of my great great grandmothers. (See This Expanded Resource Provided an Elusive Maiden Name.) It was a big deal when I learned her name was Maria Luigia. But it was amazing to learn her last name: Girardi.

My great great grandmother's birth record.
My great great grandmother's birth record.
It was even more exciting to me as a Yankees fan! (For non-fans, the Yankees' manager was Joe Girardi for many years.)

Last night, while the Yankees were winning their game, I was at my computer. I was going through birth records from the online Italian archives. (See How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.) I was focusing on Maria Luigia Girardi's hometown of Pescolamazza—now called Pesco Sannita, Italy.

Her 1840 birth record gave me the names and ages of her parents: Gioacchino Girardi and Maria Teresa deNigris. I set Maria Teresa deNigris aside for the moment and worked to fill out this family more thoroughly.

First I looked for more siblings for Maria Luigia. I found Emidio born in 1843, Nicola Maria born in 1847, and Francesco Saverio born in 1851. Based on their parents' ages, there should be more children, both older and younger than Maria Luigia. But before finishing that search, I got excited to find her father Gioacchino's birth record.

My great great great grandfather's birth record.
My great great great grandfather's birth record.
There he was, my 3rd great grandfather, born in 1814. His parents, my 4th great grandparents, were Nicola Girardi and Maria Pennuccia. He was their first-born child, but I found several younger siblings by going year-by-year through the birth records for their town.

Sibling Giuseppe was born in 1815, Francesco Saverio was born in 1817, but apparently he died because another Francesco Saverio was born in 1822. Maria Rosa was born in 1825 and Pietrantonio in 1829.

Once I was confident I'd found their first-born child, I went in search of the marriage of my 4th great grandparents. The documents for marriages in 1813 in Pescolamazza are incomplete, consisting only of each couple's two declarations of their intention to marry.

Bingo! My fifth great grandparents—two sets!
Bingo! My fifth great grandparents—two sets!
But that was enough.

I found Nicola Girardi and Maria Pennuccia's declarations in February 1813. Each of these two documents contained the man and woman's parents' names.

There they were. Two sets of my 5th great grandparents from a branch I would never have discovered if I hadn't learned that previously unknown name of Girardi: Giuseppe Girardi and Serafina Orlando, and Carlo Pennuccia and Angela Verro.

During tonight's Yankees game, because I can't just sit on the couch all evening, I will search for more children born to these two couples. Their children will be my 4th great uncles and aunts. Having their names, and finding their children, will allow me to piece together a lot of the Girardi and Pennuccia documents from the town.

Finding the siblings is the only way to know how or if other people in this tiny town are related to me.

My experience in documenting the entire town of my grandfather taught me a lesson. (See Why I Recorded More Than 30,000 Documents.) If people have the same last name, and it's a very small town, and it's an era when relocating was not common, they're most probably related.

So go after those siblings. If you're searching records from the 1800s, remember that a woman might give birth nearly every year, and well into her forties. While many of the children will not live to adulthood, I personally treasure each one. And I'm so thankful to find them.

Back to the search!