Friday, September 29, 2017

6 Places to Find Your Ancestor's Maiden Name

Maria Rosa Caruso and family
Without her mother's maiden name,
I couldn't build my great grandmother's family tree.
What was your biggest disappointment when you began your family tree research?

The 1890 U.S. Census went up in flames.

Yeah, that's a tough one. What else?

Tracing female ancestors is so hard without a maiden name.

For sure. But unlike the 1890 census, you can find maiden names.

Here are some of the genealogy resources that can provide your ancestor's maiden name. You may not be able to get your hands on some of these. Others may not exist for your ancestor.

Any one of these resources may hold the key to unlocking another generation in your family tree.
  1. Birth, Marriage, Death Certificates—These documents should contain your ancestor's maiden name. If you can't find them, branch out. Her maiden name may be on her children's birth, marriage, and death records. If you find different versions of her maiden name, weigh your evidence. Is the oldest-recorded document the most accurate? Do you trust the spelling you've found in 3 places more than the unique spellings?
  2. Ship Manifest—In some cultures a woman keeps her maiden name for life. If you can find your ancestor's immigration record, you may find her maiden name. If she is not from such a culture, did she emigrate before marrying? To locate her without knowing her maiden name, search with the information you have:
    • her first name and age
    • her hometown
    • her year of immigration
  3. Census Forms—Decades ago, multiple generations lived in one household. If you can find your ancestor with her husband and children, see who else is living with or near them. If there is a mother-in-law or brother-in-law in the home, you may have found your ancestor's maiden name. If there is a family next door whose first names match the known siblings of your ancestor, they may be her family.
  4. Passport Application—Your male ancestor's passport application can tell you a lot about his wife and children. This is especially true if the family was travelling together. You might discover each person's full name, date and place of birth, and the wife's maiden name. Plus, their family photo is priceless! To learn more about this resource, please see Your Family Tree Needs Your Ancestor's Passport Application.
  5. Naturalization Papers—Many of our ancestors who came to America had no intention of ever leaving. They officially declared their intention to become a citizen. They filed a petition for naturalization. If all went well, they became U.S. citizens. Each step of the naturalization process generated paperwork. If you find that paperwork, you can learn dates and places of birth, the applicant's father's name, and a woman's maiden name.
  6. U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index—Several months ago I wrote about discovering my great great grandmother's maiden name with this database. She didn't have a Social Security Number. It was her son's record that gave me the clue I needed. To learn exactly how I did it, please see This Expanded Resource Provided an Elusive Maiden Name. Now I've been able to get her birth record and more.
    Finally! Her maiden name was Girardi.
Genealogy is a treasure hunt. The more clues you can find for your ancestor, the stronger your family tree will be.

You may also enjoy:

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

4 Ways to Protect Your Genealogy Research from Disaster

Don't wait! You must protect your family tree research.
The epic hurricane season and earthquakes of 2017 have everyone thinking about natural disasters. Our hearts truly break for those who've lost loved ones and all their possessions.

We hope it'll never happen to us, but we know it can. Disasters don't give us much warning. It's time to plan ahead and protect your prized genealogy research.

Here are 4 types of storage. A combination of these suggestions can give your family tree research the best possible chance to survive a disaster.

1. Online Storage

Take advantage of free online storage services available to you. These include:
  • Dropbox—create a free account and use up to 2 GB of storage. Paid plans can give you more storage.
  • Google Drive—create a free account (if you don't have a Google account) and use up to 15 GB of storage. You can pay to increase your storage amount.
  • iCloud—if you have an iPhone or iPad, you probably have 5 GB of storage available. You can pay to increase your storage amount.
  • OneDrive—create a free account (if you don't have a Microsoft account) to use up to 5 GB of storage. You can pay to increase your storage amount. If you subscribe to Office 365 as I do, you get a free terabyte of storage!
  • Your Internet provider—find out if your Internet provider gives you access to free storage space.

2. Digital Storage

Of course you will keep your files on your computer hard drive, but we all know computers can go bad. To protect your digital files, you should also make a copy of the files on other media, including:
  • CD-ROMS or DVDs
  • external hard drives
  • another computer, ideally at another location, such as a relative's house
  • paid online backup services such as Carbonite
  • Upload your family tree, complete with all digital files, to the family tree website of your choice. These include Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, etc.

3. Physical Storage

Your paper files need special protection. First, scan your documents and store these files with your other digital files. You can also make paper copies so they can exist in two different places.

To protect your most important original paper documents from fire and flood, consider buying a fireproof safe. These safes are like a small heavy suitcase and can withstand a fire. They are reported to remain intact after a disaster. They're available to buy online or at stores like Walmart. Brand names include:
  • Sentry Safe
  • Mesa Safe
  • First Alert

4. Offsite Storage

If the unthinkable happens to your home, having two destroyed copies of your files will do you no good. You can protect against this by arranging to store one copy at another location.
  • If you are storing your digital files in the cloud, that is your second location.
  • If you are storing your files on an external hard drive, CDs or DVDs, see if a friend or relative will keep them at their house.

We know we need to protect our work. Can you imagine losing your hard work?

Make the time now—this weekend at the very latest!—and protect your genealogy and family tree research for the future.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

How to Share Your Family Tree Research with Relatives

It's time to create your family history books.
Maybe you started recently, or maybe you've been at this genealogy business for years. Either way, you've learned a lot about your ancestors.

You gathered tons of facts—births, marriages, deaths—and piled up a bunch of evidence. You've got ship manifests for your immigrant ancestors. Census records for everyone born before 1940. So much material that no one else in your family knew.

How are you sharing all this family history with your relatives?

About 10 years ago, I was still fairly new to family tree research. One cousin encouraged me to create a large-format tree to share with my fellow Saviano & Sarracino descendants. I told her, "I've got so much more to find!" She said, "There will always be more to find, but you need to share what you have."

I created a 2-foot by 5-foot family tree starting from my great great great grandparents. It goes all the way down to the present day (as of 2007 or so). I went to Fedex Kinko's to have 40 copies printed, which I gave to the heads of the many families on the tree.

At that point, everyone from my mother's side of the family knew what I was doing for fun. I became the go-to family historian.

But that big poster was all I ever created and distributed. And it is barely the tip of the tip of the iceberg (not a typo).

What about the rest of it? How do I share with my relatives the fact that our shared ancestor moved several towns away to marry his wife. Then they moved to the next town. Then they went back to his hometown. And finally they came to America with all their surviving children.

How do I let my father's side of the family know that our great grandfather and his brother married two sisters. How do I show them the many trips to America our great grandfather made before retiring in Italy.

Giving your relatives access to your online tree isn't good enough. We might love that pedigree view, but where are the stories? Where is my particular grandfather's timeline?

We genealogists have an obligation to document our work in meaningful ways. Then we must share that documentation with our cousins, aunts and uncles, siblings, and more distant relatives.

What to Share

No matter what format you use, you need to create family history books. First divide up your family into logical groups, such as:
  • your mother's mother's relatives
  • your mother's father's relatives
  • your father's mother's relatives
  • your father's father's relatives

If your large family demands more subsets than these, spell those out, too. But each of your grandparents is a great place to start.

There will be some overlap. My first cousins—my mother's sister's children—are as interested in our grandmother as our grandfather. So they will want two of my books. But my second cousins have no relation to my maternal grandfather. It's the other book they'll want.

In my case, my other first cousins—my father's sister's children—get only one book. Why? Because our shared grandparents were third cousins. It doesn't make sense to make two books out of what's ultimately one family.

Try thinking of your family story like a Hollywood movie. My two grandfathers came from neighboring Italian towns and wound up living one block apart in the Bronx, New York. What a marvelous coincidence! Unknowing neighbors in Italy, their children attended the same school in the Bronx and later married one another.

That would be a great movie story of parallel lives finally uniting. That's a story to tell in chronological order.

Now consider what you'd like to include in each book. Here are some ideas:
  • Standard genealogy charts and reports—family group sheets and small trees, such as the parents and many siblings of your grandmother
  • Vital records—images of the birth, marriage, and death records you've found, and the facts from the documents you don't have in paper or image form
  • Timelines—focus on a specific individual and list his major life events in a timeline format. Include some historical facts to give more meaning to his life. For instance, I'll want to mention the start of World War I because of its profound effect on my grandfather.
  • Immigration records—ship manifests and naturalization papers. If you're lucky, you may have a passport photo to share.
  • Stories—either summarize parts of an individual's life in narrative form, or share an in-depth story that fascinates you
  • Photos—your relatives may love seeing a family tombstone as much as you do. Include old family photos that some relatives haven't seen.
  • Sources—include footnotes documenting the source of your facts. A generation from now, a young relative who wants to continue your work will bless you for eternity.
  • Table of contents and index—your relatives will keep your book and look at it now and again. Make it easy to find exactly what they want to find. Tip: Word and other software can create a table of contents and index automatically.

How to Create the Book

If you aren't using family tree software, this is going to be a very tough job. But if you are using family tree software or you have your tree on a genealogy website like Ancestry or FamilySearch, things are easier.

Your first step after deciding which books you need to create, is to find a central figure in your story. For instance, in my maternal grandmother's book, I would focus on her maternal grandfather. He was my first ancestor to leave Italy and come to America. I think there's a very interesting story there.

With your central figure chosen, create a large tree of that person's ancestors and descendants. Or create trees of smaller groupings, such as his direct ancestors and only his children.

Create trees that will give the most value to the relatives you want to share your book with.

Now gather your documents for this person: birth, marriage, immigration, census, death, and so on.

Examine your family tree's facts and documents for this person. As you write out their timeline of events, do any stories present themselves?

Does research tell you they emigrated due to religious or political persecution? Was there an earthquake that destroyed their town?

Have you discovered your ancestor's first marriage and other children you never knew about? There's an interesting story!

Your family tree software may have the ability to create a book with the pieces you've assembled. If not, you can put those pieces together in Word or a desktop publishing program.

Anything you can digitize—documents, trees, stories, even video or audio recordings—you can include in a Word document.

How to Share the Book

If your document is far too large to email, put it online and share its location with your relatives. You can use cloud storage that's free.

If your document doesn't contain any video or audio, consider having it printed at a local shop or a large store like Staples. You can burn your big book file to a CD-ROM and bring it to the store for printing.

Several online services will turn your work into a hard-covered book. That might cost you lots of money if you need lots of copies.

This is not an endorsement, but go to, and you can view sample family history books. You can borrow ideas from their contents and layouts. They also have inexpensive templates and a book price calculator.

You know how I didn't want to print my family tree 10 years ago because I'd only just begun? That's the beauty of a strictly digital family history book.

You can update, correct, and add to the book at any time. Then give your relatives a link to the "latest edition".

Look at you! You're a genealogist, an author, and a publisher!

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Make Progress with a Guilt-Free Genealogy Task-a-Day Calendar

One task a day - whatever day it is - can make great progress for your family tree.
What day is it? Genealogy day!
Your family tree hobby started out so fun. You were filling in great grandparents and finding them in the census. You were adding great aunts and great uncles you never met.

Then your fun little hobby got serious. And time-consuming.

The "serious" part is wonderful. My reason for writing this blog is to inspire every family tree researcher to do the best job possible.

But that "time-consuming" part is not as wonderful. It keeps us from doing our best. And maybe it makes us feel a little guilty for leaving so many tasks unfinished.

I have a suggestion that can help you make noticeable progress and put an end to any feelings of guilt.

First let's think about all the tasks you wish you could do throughout your family tree, such as:
  • Adding a portrait photo to each person
  • Giving a well-formatted citation to each fact
  • Gathering every available census for every person
  • Using a consistent format for each place name
Next, think about your research materials outside of your family tree. You have files and folders, and maybe binders and books and catalogs and recordings and photo albums. They all need organization, scanning and analyzing.

Focus on one task and get more done.
When you have time for genealogy,
a task calendar can help you focus.
Now, how can you make good progress on all these different tasks without feeling like the job is too big to manage? A Genealogy Task-a-Day Calendar™.

You don't have time for family tree work every day—I'm not suggesting that.

This is a calendar with days, but no dates. Picture a Page-a-Day calendar that you place on your desk, peeling off one sheet of paper for each day of the year. But your Genealogy Task-a-Day Calendar has no specific day of the year assigned to each sheet of paper.

Instead, it's a sheet for each day that you have some time to spend working on your tree. You sit down to work, and the Genealogy Task-a-Day Calendar tells you that today's task is to scan your photos.

It doesn't say you have to finish all your scanning. But that's your focus this day.

The next day you have time, the next sheet of the Genealogy Task-a-Day Calendar tells you to find all the family tree facts with no citation.

Maybe the next day you'll be searching for those missing census forms.

You can make yourself an electronic Genealogy Task-a-Day Calendar—which is totally something I would do—or you can make one using a small, spiral-bound notebook, or a sticky notepad.

Each time you use the calendar, you'll be working on your assigned task. That should erase any guilt you may feel for not having everything done and perfect.

You're working on it! Cut yourself a break.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Free Resource Lets You Plot Family Tree Locations

A few months ago I explained how you can add locations to Google Maps and save them in a collection.

I use these collections to plot my relatives' homes in Italy, the landmarks I can see from my mountaintop home, and the many places I've lived.

Google seems to have added new mapping features that can come in handy to the family tree researcher.

If you don't have a Google account, create one. It's free and gives you access to far too many tools to ignore. Once logged in, go to Google My Maps and click the red button to Create a New Map.

You can start adding addresses and adding a description to each map pin. You can color-code your map pins, maybe choosing different pin colors for different branches of your family tree.

Create different layers and you can separate the locations by family unit.

Google offers plenty of help explaining how to:
  • Create, open, or delete a map
  • Add places to your map
  • Save directions on My Maps
  • Draw lines & shapes in My Maps
  • Import map features from a file

That last feature could be a tremendous help for your family tree research. You can use your family tree software to create a report on all the addresses in your tree. Then copy those addresses into a spreadsheet. Finally, import the locations into your map.

My original thought was to create a migration map for some of my ancestors. Google My Maps can do that. I've added my grandfather's addresses to a map. I've detailed each map pin with his name and the year(s) he lived there.

Showing the travel route between my grandfather's locations on Google My Maps
This fully customizable, full-featured maps highlights my grandfather's travels.
Now I can use Google My Maps to draw lines showing his progression through time. In this image, instead of drawing a straight line, I used driving instructions. This makes a more realistic picture of Grandpa's path from his uncle's home in Newton, Massachusetts, to the coal mine in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

I've only scratched the surface here. Let me get back to you soon with a detailed map that I hope will inspire you in your family tree research.

UPDATE: I did a test of importing an Excel file of addresses into a map. You can import only 200 addresses at a time. Add a header row called Address. It worked well. See the "Import test" layer at Now I can customize these new map pins as desired.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images

As a long-time computer professional, I'm embarrassed that I didn't learn this till today.

You can add custom details and descriptions to any JPG file on your computer. Your customizations will stay with the file when you copy, move or share it.

The biggest benefit to customizing your image files' details may be this:

You can search for your customized description in a huge folder of images and quickly find the file you need.

You can rename your images as needed.
I have thousands of downloaded vital records from the Italian Antenati website. As I go through them, I like to rename some of the files to include the name of the subject. If it's a close ancestor, I might include "my 4GA" (my fourth Great Aunt) in the file name. But now I can get more specific—especially with those direct ancestors.

This works on Windows or Macintosh. In Windows 10, right-click the image and choose Properties. Then click the Details tab. Many of the fields are editable. I never thought to check that before!

The Description and Origin sections are editable.
For Windows 7 instructions, see this short tutorial. For Mac users, see these instructions.

Before diving into this project, I'm going to decide on a set of standards. What might I want to search for? Which details are most important? My first thoughts are:
  • Person's name, year, and type of record (for example, Libera Pilla 1882 birth record)
  • The person's relationship to me (for example, my great grandmother, or my paternal grandfather's mother)
  • Which town the record comes from and the type of record (for example, Colle Sannita; birth record)
  • The URL of the original image and the name of the source
I'd recommend giving lots of thought to your own set of standards. Then start with the images that are most important to you. I'll start with wedding photos and my closest relatives' vital records.

Searching is easy with customized descriptions.
Ironically, this tip is the solution to the problem I was having when I stumbled upon it. I wanted to find my great grandmother's birth record to send to my cousin. I couldn't remember her year of birth, and I didn't want to wait for Family Tree Maker to open. So I tried looking in several folders without success. I finally opened my tree on and found the correct year. Then I happened to click on the image's properties and discover I could edit them!

Now a quick search for my great grandmother's name and "birth record" brings up the right image.

How will image details make your family tree research a bit easier?

Bonus: Select multiple images and edit their details at once.

Friday, September 15, 2017

How to Create Your Ancestral Hometown Database

I've seen many family tree researchers get ecstatic when they discover their ancestor's hometown records are online.

For me, this moment came when I learned about the Italian website, Antenati. It has birth, marriage and death records for my four ancestral towns in Italy. Other genealogists are finding their ancestor's records on

That's a lot of records!
How do you know what's in them?
A free computer program makes it easy to download these digitized records from both and the Antenati site. It's written in Portuguese, but don't let that worry you. I've written several times about using these records and the program. See:
If you've downloaded documents from your ancestral hometown, you may have hundreds or thousands of images on your computer.

Now what?

If you're looking only at each year's index and finding what you know you need, you're missing the boat. And that boat is overloaded with your ancestors!

My recommendation: Make a spreadsheet database of every important fact in each document.

My database-in-progress for several towns' birth, marriage and death records.
What's the point? With a spreadsheet of facts, you can sort an entire town's birth records by last name. If you sort by last name and father's name, you will see all the children born to your ancestor.

There will no doubt be ancestors in your spreadsheet that you never knew existed.

Here are 5 steps to creating your ancestral hometown database from your downloaded files:
  1. Examine the records for the fields you want to capture. For example, birth records may contain the baby's name and birth date; father's name, age and occupation; mother's name and age; their address; and the baby's baptism date. Death records will contain different facts, and so will marriage records.
  2. Create columns in your spreadsheet to hold all the facts. I keep birth, death and marriage records on different sheets in my Excel file so they can have different column headings.

    TIP: The best way to be able to sort your records by date is to keep the year, month and day in separate columns.
  3. Enter information from the documents into your spreadsheet. This takes time, but I found shortcuts as I did this last night.
    • I went through one year's birth records, entering only the baby's name into the spreadsheet. I put the baby's last name in one column and first name in another. (I record parents' names as last-name-first to help with sorting.)
    • On my second pass through the records, I entered the birth and baptism dates.
    • On my third pass, I entered the mother and father's information.
    Why is this better? I was always looking in one specific spot on the page for the information I wanted. It felt faster than going one document at a time, picking out facts from all over the page.
  4. Sort the data by any column to uncover hidden facts. You may find an unknown sibling. You may find that a man had several wives over the years. You may find that a family moved from one part of town to another.

    See Dr. Daniel Soper's YouTube channel for tips on using Excel. Many tips will apply to other spreadsheet software.
  5. Share your database! Years ago I documented the facts from the vital records for my grandfather's hometown. I gathered these facts while sitting at a microfilm viewer in a Family History Center, so I used a simple text file. You can't sort a text file, but at least you can search it. I shared this file, as well as a GEDCOM for the whole town, with other descendants of that town.

    Your spreadsheet can be a valuable resource to other family tree researchers. Once you're done, I encourage you to share it everywhere you can think of.
I completed two years of records while watching the Yankees slaughter the Orioles last night. I expect to get much further tonight because of the shortcuts I found.

When you have your database, find an appropriate Facebook group or the like, and put the data out there. Genealogy is a collaborative sport!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Today I Demolished My Family Tree's Only Brick Wall

You know that guardedly ecstatic feeling when you think you're looking at the answer to your biggest family tree mystery?

Should you shout out EUREKA! or keep reading the document you've found to make sure you've got it right?

This happened to me a few times today, and I was giggling with joy!

my great great grandfather Antonio Luigi Saviano in his coffin
I had his death photo. Now I have his birth and marriage records!
Recently, I filled out my chart of direct ancestors, color-coding the names to correspond to each of my four grandparents. That's when I realized I hadn't gotten further than my third great grandparents on my maternal grandmother's branch. And those names were from an unreliable source.

I needed to find Italian documents for my grandmother's grandparents: Antonio Saviano and Colomba Consolazio. Only then could I be sure of their parents' names. And maybe I'd learn their grandparents' names.

My great great grandfather Antonio Saviano presented me with another problem besides his ancestors' names. I didn't know where he was born, and he seemed to move a few times before coming to America. I haven't found any other Italian family in my tree that moved more than once in 1800s Italy.

The Saviano and Consolazio origins were my only brick wall.

How I Broke Through…Slowly

First I found Antonio and most of his family on an 1898 ship manifest coming to New York. They stated they were from Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. That's a little town in the province of Benevento. But I'd always heard they were from Avellino.

Next I found the World War II draft registration card for Antonio and Colomba's son, Semplicio Saviano. It said he was born in Tufo, Avellino, Italy. Great! Now I was onto something.

Then I ordered microfilm of Tufo vital records to view at my nearest Family History Center. I found that Antonio Saviano and Colomba Consolazio had a son before Semplicio named Raffaele.

I looked in the Tufo microfilms for Antonio and Colomba's births and marriage. But they weren't there!

Thanks to Colomba's brother's marriage records, I discovered that the Consolazio family came from the neighboring town of Santa Paolina.

So, with only days left to order microfilm, I ordered four reels from Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy. Today I went to see them.

I immediately set out to find Antonio Saviano's 1843 birth record. It wasn't there, and I was disappointed. but I continued looking.

And then it happened.

I wasn't sure at first, so I kept quiet. But there I was, looking at Colomba Consolazio's birth record. My great great grandmother was not born on the date I saw on her death record. She was born three years earlier, and her name was Vittoria Colomba Consolazio.

There was an extra paragraph in the center of the birth record. It stated that Vittoria Colomba Consolazio married Antonio Luigi Saviano on 1 June 1871 in Santa Paolina!

I rewound that reel of film faster than I thought possible. I had to get to the 1871 marriage records ASAP.

From uncertainty to 3 more generations!
And the bricks came tumbling down.
When I found the marriage banns and marriage record, I had an answer I never expected. Antonio Luigi Saviano was born on 7 July 1843 in Pastene.

Pastene is a small section of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in Benevento! That's where the family was living before they came to America. That's where my great grandmother and her younger siblings were born.

So Antonio was born in Pastene, moved to Santa Paolina to marry Vittoria Colomba, had one baby who died at four days of age, moved to Tufo to have two more children, and moved back to Pastene to complete his family.

I learned Antonio's parents' names were not what I saw on his death certificate. They were Raffaele Saviano and Grazia Ucci. Grazia died before 1871. I learned Antonio's birth date and his town of birth.

I learned Vittoria Colomba's real name, real birth date, and her parents' full names. These facts were almost entirely wrong on her death certificate. Her father was Sembricio Fiorentino Consolazio, son of Gaetano who was the son of Saverio. Sembricio's mother was Colomba Ricciardella.

Finally, I learned about Vittoria Colomba's mother. On her death record, her mother was Rafina Zinzaro. In the Tufo documents, she was Rufina Zullo.

But on an 1818 birth record I discovered Rafina Zinzaro / Rufina Zullo was born Rubina Maria Consullo (sometimes written as Conzullo). Her parents were Simone Consullo and Domenica Iacobellis.

During my visit today I jotted down the facts for every Consolazio I could find, and I will go back to finish that work. Suddenly my family is much bigger thanks to the Consolazio ancestors that had been hiding behind that brick wall.

Now it's time to scour the Pastene and Sant'Angelo a Cupolo records I downloaded to get the facts on every Saviano and Ucci.

Can I shout EUREKA now? EUREKA!!!!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Find Your Happy Place in Your Favorite Genealogy Tasks

One of my favorite parts of my day job—those hours when I'm not doing genealogy research—is tackling projects I can do alone.

You say you need 300 web pages edited because of a new product name? No problem. You say you need a bunch of high-resolution images optimized for the web using Photoshop? No problem.

I enjoy handling organizational projects and projects where I need to find the best solution to a specific problem.

Looking at that description of the types of work I enjoy, it's blatantly obvious I was meant to be a family tree researcher.

an old family photo can inspire you to be a genealogist
A photo like this is all the inspiration I need to work on my family tree.
As I'm thinking about it, there are a handful of big projects I need to complete for my family tree. How many of these can you relate to?
  • Enhancing the citations for the documents in my family tree.
  • Capturing the facts from the tons of Italian birth, marriage and death records I've downloaded.
  • Adding images of these documents to my tree.
  • Find the missing census forms for people in my tree.
  • Requesting the birth and death records I'm missing.
It is ironic that I've written about this idea before. I've encouraged you to Divide and Conquer Your Family Tree Research Tasks. I've tried to inspire you to Organize Your Genealogy Research By Choosing Your Style. I've urged you to Work in Batches to Strengthen Your Family Tree.

But I haven't always been able to live up to these goals.

Life gets in the way of genealogy, and that's fine. Maybe we need to be a bit less demanding of ourselves.

If I didn't have that day job, I might spent at least four or five hours a day on genealogy. But for now, I'm going to divide those tasks above into manageable chunks. I'll knock them off, bit by bit, and gain the same satisfaction I get from my job.

If you're reading this blog, you must feel a devotion to genealogy as I do. Remember this:
  • We've all got a lot of individual genealogy tasks to tackle.
  • When we put all the pieces together and do our research well, we rejoice in the result.
So here's my recommendation to you—and to me. Figure out what's needed to get your family tree in tip-top shape. Decide which family tree tasks you enjoy the most.

Then kill two birds with one stone: Fortify your family tree while making yourself a happy, joyous genealogist.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Spinning Genealogical Facts into Your Family Story

I have a love/hate relationship with the TV show "Who Do You Think You Are?". I love seeing others experience the joy of finding an important genealogical document. But I hate that every celebrity is the direct descendant of a king or a patriot.

Where does that leave a descendant of peasants like me?

Whether you're the great great grandchild of powerful people or humble railroad workers, you do have an interesting story to tell.

You just have to find it.

Where to Look for Your Story

my great grandfather and apartment building owner, Giovanni Sarracino
How could this character NOT be interesting?
Take a look at what you've discovered about your grandparents and great grandparents. Check their census forms, immigration records, naturalization papers, and more.
  • Did anyone have an unusual job? My great grandfather seemed to go from bartender to apartment building owner overnight.
  • Did the two sides of your family converge before your parents were married? My two grandfathers lived in neighboring towns in Italy before winding up one block apart in New York City. They could see each other's town from their childhood home.
  • Did someone famous come from one of your ancestral hometowns? Hmmm. Well, my dad was in Regis Philbin's high school class at Cardinal Hayes in the Bronx, and George Carlin was expelled from there. But that's more of an anecdote than a story.
  • Is someone famous on the same ship as your ancestor or living on their street? I have found unrelated people from my maternal and paternal families on the same ship. That fits better with the "family convergence" idea.
  • Do you have an amusing six-degrees-of-separation story? I can connect myself to my favorite movie director, John Huston (1). His daughter Anjelica (2) was in the movie "Daddy Day Care" with Eddie Murphy (3) who was in "Shrek" with Mike Meyers (4) who was in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" with Fred Savage (5) who was in "The Wonder Years" with Josh Saviano (6) who is my third cousin. It's a fun parlor game, anyway.

For me, the story of my entrepreneurial great grandfather Giovanni Sarracino rises to the top of the list.

Where to Start Writing Your Story

One technique for crafting your story is to write out what you know as if it's a movie plot.
  • Where are the plot holes, and where should you search for what's missing?
  • What was going on at that time in history in the place where your ancestor lived?
  • What effect did any historical facts have on your ancestor?

Lots of census forms and directory listings pointed to Giovanni's evolving career path. Using the Fulton History website, I discovered real estate transaction notices in New York newspapers. Giovanni and his brother-in-law Semplicio were working as agents of a local brewery or two. First they were buying and selling buildings for the breweries. Then they were buying buildings for themselves.

Exactly what happened is still a bit of a muddle to me. There is more to learn about these defunct breweries. A visit to the Bronx Historical Society might be what I need.

It's going to take discipline, but you can do it. Put aside some of your research threads for a few days. Find your interesting nugget of a story. Write it down, gather some facts, and see where it takes you.

If you're not a celebrity, you won't be featured in an episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" or "Finding Your Roots". But you will become an instant celebrity within your family.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Finding the Siblings Your Ancestor Never Mentioned

Noé and Adamo Leone in Italy
My grandfather Adamo Leone (right)
and his younger brother Noé.
When I started my family tree research, I knew nothing about my maternal grandfather's ancestry.


In conversations with my mother and aunt, I learned that my grandfather had a brother Noah (Noé in Italian) and a sister Eve (Eva in Italian). That was good for a chuckle because my grandfather was Adam (Adamo in Italian).

Adam and Eve and Noah? Come on!

This lack of detail made me want to research Adamo's hometown of Basélice in Benevento, Italy, more than anyplace else. (See "Why I Recorded More Than 30,000 Documents".)

The Specifics of Your Ancestral Hometown

As I began to document the vital records from Basélice for the years 1809 through 1860, I spotted some patterns:
  • Most couples married at an average age of 25 years.
  • Most couples had their first child within one year of marriage.
  • Most couples continued to have children every two or three years until the woman was roughly 45 years old.
  • The average number of children per couple was six to eight.
  • If a man was widowed, he was likely to marry a much younger woman, and father another six to eight children.
Something's Not Logical

Recently I was able to access and download Basélice vital records for years beyond 1860. When I located my grandfather's 1891 birth record and his parents' 1881 marriage record, something didn't add up.

How could his parents, Giovanni Leone and Marianna Iammucci, have been married for 10 years without having a child? Adamo, Noé and Eva were born in 1891, 1895 and 1898, respectively. Their mother Marianna was 42 in 1898.

It seems fine that she had her last child a little while before her childbearing years ended. But the 1881 to 1891 childless gap made no sense based on my knowledge of their hometown.

So I began searching. The other night I found them!

My surprise great uncle Giuseppe Leone's 1883 birth record. See his marriage annotation in the right column.
My grandfather never mentioned them. But now I know he had an older brother Giuseppe (born in January 1883) and an older sister Maria Grazia (born in July 1889).

My mother can't believe it! She said he never spoke about his life in Italy, and he only mentioned his siblings Eva and Noé.

In the column of Giuseppe's birth record a note says he married Maria Castaldi in August 1914. I have no further details, but I do know Giuseppe did not die in World War I. (Here is a website where you can search for Italian casualties of WWI.)

My surprise great aunt Maria Grazia Leone's 1889 birth record.
Maria Grazia may have married, or she may have died in her youth. The vital records are not available online for me to find out her fate.

I'll never know why my grandfather didn't mention these siblings. Maybe Maria Grazia died when my grandfather was a little boy or before he was born. But what about big brother Giuseppe? I do hope I'll find out what became of him.

Many times in this blog I've encouraged you to gather every document you can from your ancestral hometowns. (See the links at the bottom of this article.) You could be related by blood or marriage to most of the town.

Use This To Your Advantage

The Giuseppe and Maria Grazia Leone story is another reason to look closely at every genealogy record from your ancestor's hometown.
  • Find out at what age couples married and had children.
  • See if your ancestral family has a big gap in years between children's births.
  • Look in the town's birth and death records for babies who were stillborn or died as infants.
Maybe you'll find a shocking, previously unknown great uncle or aunt for your family tree, too!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Out-of-Wedlock Child in Your Family Tree

1809 birth record for foundling Maria Giuseppa.
I had the wrong image here before!
When I began researching Italian birth records from the 1800s, I noticed something curious.

In one small town, a few babies were born each year to:
  • padre incerto (father uncertain)
  • madre ignoto (mother unknown)
  • genitori ignoti (parents unknown)

These babies were often listed separately from the other births and labelled projetti. I asked my friend to explain this to me. He is an expert in Italian genealogy who comes from one of my ancestral towns.

He told me the projetti were babies abandoned at birth. The father's identity was unknown, and the mother's identity was known only to the midwife.

What's an Unwed 1800s Mother To Do?

Try to imagine a young woman in Roman Catholic Italy in the 1800s who finds herself pregnant and unmarried. Maybe the man refuses to marry her. Maybe he refuses to acknowledge that he is the father of the baby.

What does this young woman do to avoid bringing dishonor to herself and her family?

Angelamaria Biferno was named by the mayor after being abandoned.
Angelamaria Biferno is named after a river in the area.

First she would have to hide her pregnancy, possibly leaving town for made-up reasons. Then she could deliver her baby with the help of a midwife who would keep her identity a secret. The midwife (levatrice in Italian) would report the birth to the mayor without naming the baby's mother or father.

If you are the descendant of an abandoned infant, you may find the birth record in the town where the baby was raised. The baby might have been raised in a foundling home, a foster home, or a monastery.

This was a system that saved the pregnant woman from shame and gave the baby a chance at life.

A Sign to Identify the Baby

There was a way for a mother to reclaim her abandoned infant. At the time of birth, she could leave with the baby some item that only she could identify. It might be something as simple as a piece of cloth or a blanket.

She could later claim the baby by describing the item and the date of birth. This rarely happened.

A Unique Name for the Baby

The midwife or the mayor himself named the abandoned babies. They used a last name (cognome in Italian) that was different than the names in that town. Sometimes it was a geographical name. A handful of names commonly used for projetti include:
  • Innocenti, meaning innocent one
  • Projetti, the same as the registry of abandoned baby birth records
  • Esposito, meaning abandoned
  • Incogniti, meaning unknown

This can lead to confusion for family tree researchers because the baby kept this name for life. A man named Esposito, abandoned at birth, would pass the name Esposito on to his children, and his sons would pass it on to their children.

Don't assume that your Esposito ancestor was an abandoned baby.

In my grandfather's hometown of Baselice, Italy, they preferred to name abandoned babies after rivers and towns. They did not give them a name that marked them for life as abandoned.

Or Maybe It's Not an Illegitimate Birth

Now let me throw a monkey wrench into your family tree research. Sometimes the abandoned baby was not born out of wedlock.

It is known that in Milan and Florence ... the majority of abandoned children were legitimate.

We can guess: poverty, deformity, severe illness. Imagine how heartbreaking that must have been for the woman giving birth.

Two Examples

The images in this article include two examples of projetti from the rural town of Baselice. I found a handful of projetti recorded each year from 1809 through 1860.

The first image does not give the foundling a last name. Since the document explains how my fifth great grandfather, Nicola Pisciotti, found the baby, I thought he and his wife had raised her.

The document says my ancestor, age 60, found the baby girl outside his door. She had no identifying item that the mother could use to reclaim her baby.

The mayor names the baby Maria Giuseppa and turns her over to a nurse. So the baby girl is probably raised in a foundling home or in the monastery along with many other projetti.

The second image is the birth record of Angelamaria Biferno in 1815. Biferno is not a last name found in the town of Baselice, but it is the name of a nearby river. Dorodea Colucci was the midwife who delivered Angelamaria and most of the babies in this town. She goes to the mayor and presents the baby, wrapped in a black rag, but without any other sign from its mother.

Angelamaria Biferno grew up in the same town and married there. Unfortunately she died at age 28 and had no children.

Angelamaria Biferno is a big puzzle for me. Marriage records from 1843 include another Angelamaria Biferno, born about the same time, and in the same town. She was also an abandoned baby. She married a man in Baselice the same year the first Angelamaria Biferno died. They had at least six children together.

The confusing, overlapping case of the two Angelamaria Biferno's needs detailed examination. Let's save that for another day.

To learn more about the Italian Infant Abandonment system, see the FamilySearch Research Wiki.