29 October 2017

What To Do When You Can't Solve the Mystery

Mixed in with my relatives in the 1930 census I have a mystery family. I've been gathering evidence, but I still don't know who they are.

This 1930 census shows the Ferro family living with my Saviano family. Who are they?
How is Patsy Ferro my great uncle's nephew?

The more pieces I find, the closer I get to solving this mystery. That's why I created a timeline of found facts.

You can use this process to help solve your own family tree mysteries.

It all began with an extra family in the 1930 census. Living with my grandmother's uncle Semplicio Saviano and his children were:
  • Patsy (a nickname for Pasquale) Ferro, age 29, married for 10 years, born in Italy, a building contractor. He is listed as Semplicio's nephew.
  • Josephine Ferro, age 26, born in Italy. She is listed as Semplicio's niece.
  • Antonette Ferro, age 6, born in Italy. She is listed as Semplicio's grand-niece.
If Patsy was really Semplicio's nephew, then either his sister or his wife's sister should have married a man named Ferro. But they didn't.

I found five more documents for the Ferro family.

1923 Ship Manifest

On 12 November 1923, Pasquale Ferro arrived in Boston. He was from Baselice, Italy, which happens to be the hometown of my grandfather, Adamo Leone. Since my grandmother was Semplicio's niece, is Adamo Leone the relative of Pasquale Ferro?

Pasquale states that he is joining his cousin Leonardo Canonico at 260 East 151st Street in the Bronx. Well, now. Isn't that a coincidence? That is where my newlywed grandparents lived. The building had only three or four apartments, and all but one belonged to my closest relatives.

I recognize the name Canonico as a common name from Baselice, Italy, too.

The ship manifest originally stated that Pasquale Ferro was leaving "nobody" behind in Italy. That was crossed out and "wife Gusolo" was typed in. I'll come back to that name in a moment.

1925 New York State Census

On 1 June 1925 there is a Pasquale Ferro, carpenter, boarding with a family named Ria at 310 East 153rd Street in the Bronx. This is only a couple of blocks away from his 1923 location. It says Pasquale has been in the U.S. for two years.

I'm not entirely sure this is the Pasquale Ferro I'm looking for.

1930 Ship Manifest

Pasquale Ferro went back to Italy to retrieve his wife and daughter.
Pasquale Ferro returns to the USA with his family.

On 10 January 1930, Pasquale Ferro arrives in New York City with his wife and daughter. He is a U.S. citizen with a passport issued on 12 July 1929. He lives in my grandparents' building at 260 East 151st Street in the Bronx.

His wife's name is Giuseppina (Josephine, in English) Chiusato. I've done extensive documentation of birth, marriage and death records from the town of Baselice, Italy. Chiusato is not a name I've seen in the town. But Chiusolo is a common name there. "Chiusato" was typewritten on the ship manifest.

My educated guess is that "Chiusato" and the "Gusolo" typewritten on Pasquale's 1923 ship manifest were both meant to be Chiusolo. This is a tidbit I would have overlooked if I hadn't gathered these documents together.

Also on the ship in 1930 is Pasquale and Giuseppina's daughter Antonetta. She is six years old, just as she was on the 1930 census where I found her the first time.

1930 Census

This is the same document I discussed in the beginning of this article. Two facts to add are:
  • Patsy was naturalized in 1923. But since he arrived in the U.S. in November 1923, this seems like a mistake.
  • The family was living at 1010 Van Nest Avenue in the Bronx.
1940 Census

Now Pasquale and his family are living with several of Semplicio Saviano's grown children at 1010 Van Nest Avenue in the Bronx. Pasquale is 40 years old and not working. He is listed as the cousin of Anthony Saviano, who is the head of household. Pasquale and his daughter Antonette are naturalized, but his wife is still an alien.

1950 Ship Manifest

Pasquale Ferro traveled alone to Italy in 1950 and planned to stay for three months. The manifest states that his passport was issued on 28 June 1929. This is not an exact match of the date on his 1930 ship manifest, but I know this is the same man.

His home address is 980 Van Nest Avenue in the Bronx. At the time of her 1947 death, Semplicio Saviano's daughter Columba lived at this same address.

Taken altogether, these six documents tell me a lot about Pasquale Ferro.

But they don't tell me how he's related to me.

I found two Social Security records for Pasquale's wife, Josephine. These records provide her birth date in Baselice. But I've downloaded the 1904 Baselice birth records to my computer, and she is not there. I have her parents' names, too, so I will work with those and see where it gets me.

The trail goes completely cold on the young girl, Antonette Ferro.

There is one more document that I viewed on my iPad the other day, but can't seem to find again. It was a New York City deed or mortgage that included Pasquale Ferro. I don't remember what other name was on this document, or who I was searching for at the time. I viewed every page in my browser history without finding it.

That one missing document may be a big piece of this puzzle. Or it may be a different Pasquale Ferro.

One thing is certain: You've got to take notes on your searches. The very next thing you find may be the answer to your mystery. But you'll need those notes so you can be sure.

27 October 2017

1925 Death Photo Holds a Clue to My Ancestor's Life

Last time, I wrote about the long and winding journey of my great great grandfather, Antonio Saviano. Since then, I've been trying to find out something more about his life in the Bronx, New York. He lived there with this family from 1898 until his death in 1925.

1912 New York City newspaper clipping
My great grandfather Giovanni Sarracino did
business with 2 Bronx breweries.

I found some newspaper clippings from 1912, 1913, and 1922, but they were not about Antonio. They were about my great grandfather, Giovanni Sarracino. Giovanni was the son-in-law of Antonio.

Giovanni's news clippings were about real estate transactions. They each involved the building he owned at the corner of Morris Avenue and East 151st Street in the Bronx. I knew that building. My mom was born there, and it was her parents' home until the 1970s.

In these real estate transactions, Giovanni seems to be selling the building, or part of it, to the Westchester County Brewing Company of Pelham, NY. But then he's selling it again as the "agent" of the Ebling Brewery.

A ribbon from an Italian mutual-aid society
My great great grandfather Antonio
Saviano wore this ribbon in his coffin.

I'm confused. I'm going to have to locate details about those business dealings in some city archive.

I was hoping to find that Antonio Saviano was somehow involved in these sales, but I have no proof of that.

So, once again, I'm fixated on the ribbon pinned to his suit as he lay in this coffin in 1925. This is the only photograph I have of Antonio.

Today I rescanned that 1925 photo at 1200dpi—the highest resolution my scanner can do.

I think it's clear enough to read his ribbon now. I used Google to fine-tune what I thought I saw, and find something that matches.

Here's what I found: Societá Fratellanza Contursana Di Maria S.S. Delle Grazie.

On the ribbon, you can see Societá at the top. Then there are some initials, then Maria S.S., and finally Delle Grazie, Bronx, NY.

In 1931, after Antonio died, Societa Fratellanza Contursana Di Maria S. S. Delle Grazie, Inc. filed as a domestic not-for-profit corporation. They could have been in existence long before they incorporated in 1931.

I learned today that Italians who came to America in the late 1800s and early 1900s formed local mutual-aid societies. These societies helped new immigrants adjust.

When I was a little girl, I remember the old Italian men sitting on the sidewalk in the Bronx, playing cards around a folding table. My mom said they belonged to a men's club. Now I feel pretty sure their men's club may have been the mutual-aid society.

Antonio's 1925 trail is kinda cold. But I'm hopeful there may be a crack in this case soon!

24 October 2017

Answers Lead to More Questions About My First Immigrant Ancestor

Growing up, the family members I knew and saw on holidays were almost entirely the descendants of one man: Antonio Luigi Saviano.

Most of us didn't know his name. He was the father of our grandparent or great grandparent.

But four years ago my mother pulled out a photo of Antonio lying in his coffin. He died in the Bronx, New York, several years before she was born.

Was my first immigrant ancestor a shrewd businessman?
Was my first immigrant ancestor a shrewd businessman?

I'd been researching my family tree for about 10 years at that point. The branch of the family where I'd made the least progress was Antonio's branch—the very branch I'd known my whole life.

This year I went on a quest to find out where Antonio and his wife Colomba Consolazio came from. Here's what I knew already:
  • According to his World War II draft registration card, their son Semplicio was born in Tufo, Avellino, Italy.
  • I had looked at microfilm of vital records from Tufo. I found Semplicio's birth and the earlier birth of a son—Raffaele Vitantonio Saviano. I knew this baby did not survive because it was a younger Raffaele who came to America in later years.
  • Antonio and Colomba moved less than 10 miles from Tufo, Avellino, to Pastene. Pastene is a small section of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in the neighboring province of Benevento. They had 3 children there: my great grandmother Maria Rosa, Raffaele, and Filomena.
  • It was in Pastene that Maria Rosa met and married my great grandfather, Giovanni Sarracino. They had their first child there, but he did not survive.
  • Antonio began travelling to America in 1890, three years after the birth of his youngest child. He was my first ancestor in any branch to do so.
  • He was 47 years old at the time. That's a bit on the old side for the first of his three cross-Atlantic trips.
  • He brought his son Semplicio to America and left him there. Then in May of 1898, Antonio returned to the Bronx with his wife and his children Raffaele and Filomena.
  • The family left for America one month after the marriage of my great grandparents. That means my great grandmother did not have her family there to support her when she gave birth to her son Carmine in December 1898. And she didn't have their support when Carmine died a short time after.
Let's stop there for a moment. Something strikes me about my great grandparents and their ill-fated baby boy, Carmine.

Maybe my great grandparents never planned to come to America. Baby Carmine was born just shy of eight months after their wedding. There was nothing stopping them from coming to America with the rest of the family.

Maybe it was only the shock of Carmine's death, and his possibly premature birth, that drove the couple to leave their home.

Maybe if Carmine had lived, I would be an Italian national.

That aside, let's look at what I learned about my great grandparents Antonio Saviano and Colomba Consolazio this year.

Working backwards from the Tufo births of their children Semplicio and the first Raffaele, I discovered that Colomba had two brothers living near her in Tufo. I found the marriage record for one brother.

His place of birth, and the town where his parents still lived, was not Tufo. It was the neighboring town of Santa Paolina.

My next step was to view microfilm of the vital records from Santa Paolina. Sure enough, I discovered that Antonio and Colomba were married there. They had a baby girl before Raffaele and Semplicio named Maria Grazia. She died after four days.

Colomba was born in Santa Paolina, but her real name was Vittoria Colomba. I learned her parents' names and her grandparents' names.

And on their marriage documents I learned the origin of my great great grandfather, Antonio Saviano. He was not born in Santa Paolina where he married and began his family.

He was not born in Tufo where he moved and had more children.

He was born in Pastene! The very town to which he returned, had more children, and from which he left for America.

Antonio Saviano, my first ancestor to come to America, travelled in lots of circles. He went from Pastene to Santa Paolina to Tufo to Pastene, completing a very small circle. He went to America and back to Pastene three times. Finally, he brought his family to America and settled down…age of 55!

Antonio lived to be 82 years old. He outlived his wife Colomba by five years, but he died surrounded by this four surviving chlidren.

I learned that he was:
  • a shoemaker (calzolaio) in his youth
  • a dealer or merchant (commerciante) shortly before his first documented trip to America
  • a day laborer two years after settling in America, and
  • had his "own income" by the time of the 1910 census.
Was Antonio an independent businessman? Are his accomplishments the reason his son Semplicio and my great grandfather Giovanni Sarracino became the owners of apartment buildings and agents for a local brewery?

Was Antonio a wheeler and dealer? What was the source of his "own income"? It may be nothing, but his cause of death was a toxic infection of the kidneys and the heart's inner lining. Were these infections related to the Bronx's underground beer cellars of the time, owned by the breweries with which his son and son-in-law did business?

I've often wondered if my family owned those particular apartment buildings because of their access to the beer cellars. This would make them good partners for the breweries.

The discovery of Antonio Saviano's origin and travels shed a lot of light on him. But now I find I have a ton more questions.

I think it's time for some Bronx brewery history lessons!

22 October 2017

Putting Yourself in Your Ancestor's Shoes...Historically

Have you had the pleasure of visiting the country your ancestors came from? Those of us who have gone to the old country felt moved, enchanted, and somehow at home.

We found ourselves thinking, "How could they have left this beautiful place?"

But, as Michael Corleone said to his mother in "The Godfather Part II", tempi cambi. Times are changing. The quaint town you visited in recent times may be very different than it was when your ancestor lived there.

your ancestors emigrated from a place that may seem like paradise to you today
It may look like a slice of heaven to you, but your ancestor's hometown gave them reason to emigrate.

Recently I did some research to figure out where one ancestral branch came from. No one living knew if the family was German or Polish. After a bit of historical research, I can now place the family in today's Poland before they left for America. (See Finding Ancestral Homelands That Are No Longer There.)

My direct ancestors all came from Italy, but Italy was not united as a kingdom until 1861. My great great grandmother Marianna Iammucci was born in 1854. That means she wasn't born in the Italy we know today. She was born in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Marianna's son Adamo Leone fought for Italy in World War I. He came to America and returned to fight for his young country. As a result of that war, Italy became bigger, adding territories in the northeast.

After Italy's unification, there were big differences between northern and southern Italy. My grandfathers and great grandfathers faced poverty and a lack of opportunity. Each of them came to America to find work.

One of my great grandfathers, Francesco Iamarino, came to America at least four times. He stayed and worked for a while. Then he returned home to his wife and children.

His only son, my grandfather Pietro Iamarino, came to America at age 18. Pietro didn't visit his hometown until the 1950s when he was a widow in his fifties. He would have missed his father, who'd passed away by that time. But I can't begin to imagine how happy his mother must have been to see him one more time.

When you're researching your ancestors who left home to find a better life, pay attention to history. What was going on in their hometown when they chose to leave?

Here are two resources published by EmperorTigerstar that show how national borders and ruling powers changed during World War I and World War II. (See EmperorTigerstar's YouTube channel for tons of history.) They're a good illustration of how time changes everything.

World War I: Every Day

World War II in Europe: Every Day

20 October 2017

Add Proof and a Breadcrumb to Family Tree Documents

Has this ever happened to you? You're taking a look at the ship manifest you saved for your ancestor. You had a hard time finding this manifest because your ancestor's name was so badly transcribed.

Suddenly, you realize there's someone on the first line with a last name you know. You need to see who that person is travelling with.

The people you need to see are on the previous page. How can you find that page online again?

We collect so many documents. Can you return to where you found them?
We collect so many documents. Can you return to where you found them?

A Shortcut for Difficult Searches

Here are three options:
  • Perform a search for someone else on the image you have in front of you. Choose someone whose name is written very clearly, and include the first names of the relatives travelling with them.
  • If your relatives' names are written incorrectly, search for the names exactly as they're written.
  • If the top of the ship manifest includes the ship name, the arrival date, and the port of arrival, you can search page-by-page through that particular arrival of that ship.

These tips apply to census forms, too. If you can't find the page again by searching for your relative, search for the easiest-to-read name on the page.

And you can use the information on the top of the census sheet to find the collection that will contain that page.

Search in Vain No More

I'm working on a project that will:
  • Help me instantly find online any document I've downloaded: a ship manifest, census sheet, draft registration card, etc.
  • Allow other genealogists to view my source documents in place, retrace my steps, and see for themselves if my facts can be trusted.

My Family Tree Maker file contains about 2,400 document images. That doesn't count my photographs of people or tombstones.

I'm making my way through each media item, one at a time. I'm adding every important fact and the original web address of the image to its notes.

This annotation lets me—or anyone—return to the original file easily.
This annotation lets me—or anyone—return to the original file easily.

I started with census forms. I try to stick to a format that includes:
  • the lines numbers on which you'll find the family from my tree
  • the town, county and state
  • the enumeration district, supervisor's district, assembly district, block number, page or sheet number
  • the number of the image in the collection, such as image 2 of 45
  • the URL of the original file so I—or other researchers—can return to it

It's an ambitious project. I completed all 623 of my census images before I realized I should include the image number and the web address. So now I'm going through them again, finding each one online to record those two facts. I'm up to 1930, so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Next I'll annotate my 332 ship manifests. Then my 563 birth, marriage, and death records. But I have tons of downloaded Italian vital records I haven't yet added to my tree!

It takes a special kind of devotion to fortify your family tree and make it the best it can be.

But I'm trying.

17 October 2017

Track Your Genealogy Finds and Your Searches

Ten years ago I needed to take control of my family tree digital files. I had a growing collection of census forms, draft registration cards, vital records, and more.

I'd already settled on my preferred way of saving these files:

  • A folder for each type of document
  • A naming convention that groups a person's documents together:
    • LastnameFirstnameYear for a census or ship manifest (I use the head of household's name for a census.)
    • LastnameFirstnameBirthYear for a birth record
    • LastnameFirstnameWW1 for a draft registration card, etc.

But my well-named image files, sitting in all those different folders, didn't show me the big picture.

How could I see at a glance every document I have for a particular ancestor? And how could I quickly see which documents are missing?

Use the Technology You Know

That's when I turned to my old pal, Microsoft Excel.

For years I'd been using Excel spreadsheets on the job. I tracked progress on large-scale projects. I built formulas to show an accurate cross-section of the content on a website I manage. I kept tabs on my freelance hours for invoicing.

Why wouldn't I use Excel to create a genealogy research inventory?

My genealogy "document tracker" has 1540 lines right now. I have one person on each line. There are columns for each type of document I collect. The last column gives me space to note what's missing.

For example, for one of my grandmother's cousins, the "To find" column contains this:

  • 1915 census
  • 1920 census
  • 1925 census

One Spreadsheet Tells the Whole Research Story

Now it's time to get even more value out of my document tracker.

I've been looking at sample research logs on different genealogy sites. A research log is a disciplined way for you to note:

  1. What you're searching for (the 1930 census, a WWII draft registration card, etc.)
  2. Where you searched (National Archives, State Library, Ancestry.com, etc.)
  3. How you searched (by first name only, browsing through the whole census district, etc.)
  4. Your thoughts on what to try next

The research logs I found were much more complicated than I wanted. For starters, I'm satisfied with the list above.

here's how you can get more value out of a genealogy spreadsheet

So I've added a second sheet to my document tracker Excel file and named it Research Notes. The first column is for the person's name. I added four more columns to match the four items in my list.

How to Start Using Your Research Notes

The next time I'm trying to find a specific document—like the elusive 1940 census for the Raffaele Saviano family—I'll add a line to the new Research Notes worksheet.

I might note that I tried searching for the family using only their first names. And that I used Americanized versions of their Italian names. I'll add that I tried this on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

When I'm ready to call it quits for the moment, I'll add a note about what I think I should try next.

Finally—and this is a cool Excel trick—I'll add a link from this research note to Raffaele Saviano's line on the first worksheet where all of his documents are listed. And I'll add a link from there back to his line on the new Research Notes worksheet.

My favorite thing about linking between the sheets is this: You can reorganize the lines on either worksheet and not break the links. You can sort them, add new lines in the middle, do whatever you need to do, and the links will still work.

Here's how to create a link between the two worksheets in a single Excel spreadsheet file:

  • Make a mental note of which line number holds your ancestor on your new Research Notes worksheet. For example, I have Raffaele Saviano on line 2.
  • Click the empty cell where you want to add the link. You'll want to devote a column to these links. In my example, I'll go to Raffaele Saviano's line (1327) on my Facts worksheet and click in the empty "Link to Notes" column.
  • On the Insert toolbar or ribbon, click Link and choose Insert Link.
  • Click to select the name of your new research notes worksheet.
  • In the field labelled "Type the cell reference" it may say "A1" by default. Change it to A2, or A and whichever line number you need to link to.
  • Click OK and you'll see your link.

Now make a mental note of the line number for this ancestor on the Facts worksheet. Go to the Research Notes worksheet and link back in the same way.

Click the links to see them work.

Now you can have all of these facts at your fingertips. It's 100% searchable, sortable, and update-able. Download a sample spreadsheet to build on.

My favorite thing about Excel: I know it can do a million more things I haven't even thought of yet.

For more detail on the document tracker, see:

15 October 2017

Solving a Family History Mystery with an Unexpected Clue

The witnesses to this marriage were a key to a puzzle.
The witnesses to this marriage were a key to a puzzle.
Sometimes it really pays to research your ancestors' friends and neighbors.

Case in point: The witnesses to my great grandparents' wedding unlocked a mystery that had me stumped for years.

Three years ago I received my great grandparents' 1906 marriage certificate from the New York State Department of Health. On the back, the two witnesses' names appear to be Nicola Cappocci and Nicolella Cappocci.

I started to wonder who they were. I did a bit of searching for them, but I had no luck.

Then I happened to be looking at my 2nd great uncle, Giuseppe Caruso. He was the brother of the bride in that 1906 wedding. He was the first member of that Caruso family to come to America and pave the way for his siblings.

Brother-in-law Michele Castelluzzo, and ditto.
Brother-in-law Michele Castelluzzo, and ditto.
Giuseppe Caruso arrived in New York City on March 23, 1900. His ship manifest showed that he was with his brother-in-law, Nicola Capozza. The two men were travelling to Elmira, New York, to join their mutual brother-in-law, Michele Castelluzzo.

I didn't know how to work Nicola Capozza and Michele Castelluzzo into my family tree. I didn't have enough information to be sure of their exact relationship to my Caruso family.

But now I had that marriage certificate. The light bulb was going off above my head.

Was Nicola Capozza the same man as the witness, Nicola Cappocci?

How could I tie Giuseppe Caruso to Nicola Capozza/Cappocci?

Giuseppe's wife was named Marianna, but I didn't know her maiden name. I had found her only on census forms.

I formed a hypothesis that Marianna might be Marianna Capozza, brother of Nicola Capozza from the March 1900 ship manifest. That would make Nicola and Giuseppe brothers-in-law.

To test my hypothesis, I searched for a ship manifest with the name Marianna Capozza.

I found her on a ship, landing at the port of New York, on March 18, 1901 as Maria Anna Capozza. She was with her father Francesco, coming to join Francesco's son and Maria Anna's brother Nicola Capozza on Canal Street in Elmira, New York.

Planning to be with them, but crossed off the ship manifest, was Nicoletta Martino. She was the wife of Nicola Capozza on Canal Street in Elmira, New York.

Nicoletta Martino was the other witness to my great grandparents' wedding. Now I knew that her husband, Nicola Capozza, was the brother-in-law of the 1906 bride's brother, Giuseppe Caruso.

Now I had solved one mystery. I knew exactly who Nicola and Nicoletta—the witnesses to my great grandparents' wedding—were.

But what about Michele Castelluzzo? He was the man mentioned on the ship manifest as a brother-in-law to both Giuseppe Caruso and Nicola Capozza.

I took a closer look at my documents for Giuseppe Caruso.

In his 1905 New York State Census, I found three families living beside one another in Cameron, New York, near Elmira:
  • Giuseppe Caruso and his wife Marianna (Capozza)
  • Nicola Capozza and his wife Nicoletta (Martino)
  • Michele Castelluzzo and his wife Caterina
Caterina proved to be the connection. She was Caterina Capozza, the sister of Nicola and Maria Anna. That makes Michele Castelluzzo the brother-in-law of both Nicola Capozza and Giuseppe Caruso.

It's exactly what the 1900 ship manifest said.

I had that 1900 ship manifest for seven years before I could connect Nicola and Michele to my 2nd great uncle Giuseppe Caruso.

It was the witnesses to my great grandparents wedding who held the key.

Which answers are hiding in plain sight on your ancestors' documents?

13 October 2017

Online Course Takes Your Family History to the Next Level

Note: The sale on this course ends Oct. 26, 2017. To get the lower prices, go to www.ordergreatcourses.com. I am not affiliated with that site. I get nothing out of this. But I really do recommend it.

Would you like to jumpstart your genealogical research?

I found a great way for you to advance to a higher level—whether you're somewhat new to family tree research or you've been at it for a long time.

Learning is more fun when you love the subject matter.
There's always more to learn.
Once in a while I get a catalog in the mail from a company called The Great Courses®. The catalog is like a glossy magazine, and it's interesting to browse through.

The latest catalog had a genealogy course to offer: Discovering Your Roots: An Introduction to Genealogy by Professor John Phillip Colletta. I read the description, and I felt it covered several areas I'd like to learn more about.

I bought the online version so I can watch the 15, half-hour lessons at my computer and at my leisure. The cost was only $22.95—not as much as I might spend to go to a two-hour genealogy seminar.

This low price is a huge sale. The regular price for watching the course on your computer is $169.95. If you go to the website to read about this course you'll see the full price. There's a red tab on the page advertising a 70% off sale—the drastic price reductions are a regular thing. Keep checking back to see when you can score the same deal I did.

My first ancestor left Italy to come to America in 1890. I have no ancestors who fought in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, or the War of 1812. Only one or two fought in World War I. So I have little or no direct experience with early military records and pension records.

That's one area where I know I have a lot to learn. But what is there that I don't know I don't know?

Professor John Phillip Colletta is an interesting and enjoyable speaker. He weaves fascinating tales of ancestors while explaining how to use genealogy resources. He takes individual facts from the census, a ship manifest, or a military record to tell a richly detailed story of that ancestor's life.

The Great Courses'® online learning is far better than I'd hoped for.
This great course gives you a genealogy
education you'll enjoy tremendously.
You can't help but be inspired to discover a fuller history of your own ancestors.

If you take this course, you'll learn about specific websites and how they can help you with your family tree. You'll learn where to go for specific resources. You'll find out about records, maps, and techniques that may be completely new to you.

This is not a dry overview of how to research your family tree. These lessons are engaging stories that will inspire you while teaching you:
  • How to interview older relatives to get the best results
  • What you can find in a library that you can't find online
  • Everything you can learn from ship manifests, military records, and naturalization records
  • How to use the Genealogical Proof Standard to fortify your family tree
  • Which documents you can find at the state or county level
  • How to tell your ancestor's life story through creative writing
  • How to create an account of your family history you can share
  • What you need to know to research ancestors from another part of the world

So, if you're new to genealogy, this course can help you become a knowledgeable genealogist in a few hours.

If you focus your searches on specific records—like census forms and ship manifests—this course can give you a much broader grasp of genealogy research techniques.

If you've been at this family tree hobby for years, you can still gain a lot from this course. I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

The Great Courses. ©The Teaching Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

10 October 2017

How to Build Your Social Genealogy Network

I've spent 90% of my genealogy research time alone. Most of us relish being left alone to sort through the facts and documentation for people in our family tree.

The other 10% of my time used to consist of:
  • a couple of genealogy conferences
  • emailing relatives and potential relatives
  • watching Ancestry's Crista Cowan present extremely helpful lessons on YouTube.
That all changed this year.

I still want plenty of alone-time to dig into the research. But throughout the day, I check in with an extended community of genealogy researchers online.

You'll find a welcoming, generously helpful genealogy community online.
You'll find a welcoming, generously helpful genealogy community online.
The vast amount of free help fellow genealogists are willing to provide will amaze you. You can:
  • Get help translating documents from another language.
  • Get opinions on how to read a poorly written name on an old document.
  • Get advice on where to search for missing information.
  • Be the first to know about a new family history resource.
You'll quickly see who the experts are within any group. If you send them a friend request on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, you can stay on top of their latest advice.

I spent years transcribing facts from Italian birth and marriage records. Then an expert in a Facebook genealogy group showed me that I was reading baptism and marriage dates incorrectly!

In a LinkedIn genealogy group, I learned about a website with thousands of Italian vital records. In a Facebook genealogy group, I learned about free software to make it easy to download those records. Twitter helps me stay on top of genealogy tips and upcoming conferences or seminars.

Here are some of the top platforms for interacting with fellow genealogists:


Click the Groups icon on your Facebook homepage and start typing in search terms. Search for "genealogy" or a specific type of genealogy, like "Irish genealogy". Many groups have an administrator who must OK your request to join. Once you're in, read the group's rules of conduct. It's usually the first post on the page.


When I first joined, I would search for #genealogy or #familyhistory to see what was happening. Now my Twitter feed is 99% genealogy-related. Why? Because all I do is:
  • interact with genealogy posts
  • follow other genealogists
  • post about genealogy.

Search for genealogy on the homepage. You can choose from Posts, Communities, Collections, or People & Pages. I haven't done much exploring yet, but I do maintain a genealogy collection where I post each of my blog articles. (Note: This doesn't exist anymore.)

You may also want to look at Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Search for genealogy topics. Follow the experts you've found on other social networks.

You'll find your fellow genealogists are willing to help, collaborate, and inspire you.

I hope to see you in my Facebook groups: Fortify Your Family Tree and My Italian Family Tree.

08 October 2017

Finding Ancestral Homelands That Are No Longer There

My son is getting interested in his family history! All these years, I'm sure he saw my hobby as "mommy being crazy for dead people".

I sparked his interest when I said he was one-eighth Polish. That gave him something in common with his Polish girlfriend. Now he's pushing me to find out all I can about his father's mother's father's family tree.

The tough part about the Stefaniak family is they came to America so early, their ship manifest doesn't include a town name. I haven't found naturalization papers, so I'm working with less than perfect sources.

I have found:
  • An 1890 ship manifest saying Mr. and Mrs. Stefaniak are from Prussia
  • A 1900 and 1905 census saying they're from "Poland (Ger)"
  • A 1910 census saying they're from "Ger/Polish"
  • A 1920 census saying they're from West Prussia and speak Polish
  • Their youngest son's 1930 census saying his parents are from Germany
  • The same son's World War I draft registration card saying his father's birthplace is Poland (state or province), Germany (nation)
Rough overlay of Prussia (purple) on today's map, highlighting West Prussia in red.
Rough overlay of Prussia (purple) on today's map, highlighting West Prussia in red.

I'm sure my son will push me to find more genealogical documentation. In the meantime, I have to ask: What's the deal with Prussia? What area was called Prussia in 1890. How exactly did the German/Polish border shift between 1890 and 1940?

A website called the International World History Project has an essay explaining the history of Prussia (http://history-world.org/prussia.htm). Here are the highlights as they relate to the Stefaniak family:
  • The people known as Prussi lived around the Vistula River that cuts down the center of today's Poland. The Germanic people kept trying to convert the Prussi to Christianity as early as the 10th century.
  • Centuries later, there were ongoing tensions between Germany and Poland. West Prussia had become part of Poland. East Prussia became independent of Poland.
  • In the 1700s the Kingdom of Prussia became an enormous power in Europe under King Frederick and his heirs.
  • In 1890 when the Stefaniak family came to America, Prussia was a kingdom within Germany under the imperial chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Prussia consisted of a big chunk of the northern parts of today's Germany and Poland. On a map of Prussia in 1890 I can see that West Prussia—as the 1920 census noted their birthplace—includes the area around today's Gdansk, Poland.
  • After World War I—after the draft registration card said Mr. Stefaniak was from the state of Poland in the nation of Germany—West Prussia was lost to Poland.
  • Prussia ceased to exist in 1947.
This world history solves a family mystery over whether this branch of the family was actually German or Polish. Ethnically, they were Polish. They came from the area that is today's Poland. Their only association with Germany is that their kingdom was part of the nation of Germany at various times.

Now my son can confidently tell his Polish girlfriend that he is one-eighth Polish.

When you come from a place that no longer exists, it feels good to finally be able to put a pin in that map and call it your ancestral homeland. How can you apply this type of history lesson to your own family tree?

06 October 2017

When Did Your Ancestors First Use a Last Name?

Your family tree research has a long way to go if your oldest generation has last names.

Mayflower descendants are thrilled to trace their genealogy back to the early 1600s or beyond. I'm thrilled to have traced my Italian peasant ancestors back to the late 1600s.

But you're in a whole 'nother class of family tree research when you've gotten back to ancestors with no last names. And most of us won't get there.

It's the "The Conqueror" family!
It's the "The Conqueror" family!
(12th century - Lucien Musset's The Bayeux Tapestry
ISBN 9781843831631, Public Domain, Link

Last names, or surnames, or cognomi in Italian, didn't exist several centuries ago. Most people couldn't read or write, and they didn't travel far. So formal last names weren't needed.

Chinese last names are one very big exception. Around 2852 B.C. it's believed the Chinese emperor ordered his people to adopt last names. Those last names had to come from a sacred poem of the time. This would explain why most Chinese people to this day have as few as 60 last names among them. [source: www.lifescript.com]

In the medieval days of Europe (picture "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"), last names weren't needed. Once civilizations began collecting taxes from their people, they started recording their names. They needed a way to tell people apart so they knew who to hound for those taxes.

Enter the surname.

There are four basic surname types.

1. Occupational Surnames

Some Western European cultures began using their trade as a last name (Smith, Shoemaker/Schumacher, Wright, Miller).

2. Patronymic (or Matronymic) Surnames

Some cultures used surnames based on male names (Johnson, Ericson, MacDonald) or female names. The form of a surname meaning "son of the father" takes on a different variation in different cultures:
  • Fitzgerald means son of Gerald
  • Ivanovich means son of Ivan
  • DiGiovanni means son of Giovanni
  • Stefanowicz means son of Stefan
3. Topographical Surnames

Some cultures used place names (Palermo, Napoli). Place names might also be a description of a place (Hill, Ford, Glen[n]). The last name Church is common in multiple languages (including Léglise, Iglesias). Place names are also why many Polish names end in -ski. Someone from Gryzbow might be named Gryzbowski.

4. Descriptive Surnames

In some cases the noble class of a society imposed an unflattering surname on someone of a lower class. As time went on, the bad meaning of the surname became accepted as a name and not an insult. Descriptive names can be friendly (Young, Good, Brown/Braun/Bruno) or based on an undesirable characteristic (Basso means short, Grosso means fat). A redhead might be called Russo or Rubino.

As early as the 11th century, people decided to pass this assumed surname to their children, making it a family name. [source: http://forebears.io/surnames]

These basic formations of names explain many of the last names in our family trees.

To learn about name variations, plus surname prefixes (Mc, Mac, Del) and suffixes (etti, ella) in various nationalities, see:

It's easy if you're Valerie Bertinelli and a big TV show traces your tree back to William the Conqueror. But for the rest of us, the paper trail may never get us back that far. So don't believe the genealogy fan who tells you their tree goes back to Adam or Noah.

03 October 2017

Family Mystery Solved! Two Lost Boys Found

Months ago I wrote about a family story that's not at all uncommon among immigrant families. (See Searching for the Missing Link in Your Family Tree.)

My great aunt Stella and her husband Attilio had the same last name—Sarracino. Stella told me they had permission to marry because they were absolutely not related.

That wasn't quite true. They weren't closely related, so it was OK for them to marry. But they were indeed cousins.

I know the boys went back to Italy because their U.S. births were recorded in Italy.
Attilio Sarracino's 1907 U.S. birth was recorded in Italy in 1909.
I discovered this when I traced Attilio's parents to the same little hamlet in Italy where my great aunt's parents were born. It's the frazione of Pastene in the comune of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo.

I'd already collected the Pastene birth records for Stella Sarracino's parents—my great grandparents. (See How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.) Then I found the Pastene birth records for Attilio's parents, Carmine and Maria Rosa dell'Aquila.

Carmine and Maria Rosa's story is interesting:
  • Carmine came to New York City in 1891 at the age of 25.
  • He returned to Pastene and married Maria Rosa in 1898.
  • They had a son Equilino in 1899. He was born while Carmine was spending another year in New York City.
  • He returned to Pastene and had a son Carlo in 1902, and a daughter Stellina in 1903.
  • In 1904, baby Carlo had died, but the rest of the family came to New York City in April.
  • In 1905 their son Enrico was born in the Bronx.
  • In 1907 their son Attilio was born in the Bronx.
  • Between Attilio's June 1907 birth and October 1909, Carmine and Maria Rosa returned to Pastene.

Let me stop right there. In my extended family, it's rare to see a family come to America for a while, and then return to Italy.

When my genealogy research showed me that Carmine and Maria Rosa continued having children in Italy after Enrico and Attilio were born in the Bronx, I thought they had abandoned their boys. I thought they must have left them with relatives.

But why?

They continued:
  • In October 1909, daughter Iolanda was born in Pastene.
  • In 1911 Carmine made another trip to New York City.
  • In June 1911 his daughter Antonia was born in Pastene while Carmine was in New York City.
  • In 1916 Carmine was back in Pastene and his son Guido was born.

Attilio Sarracino's 1924 passport photo.
Attilio's passport photo.
I know that Enrico, born in the Bronx, died in the Bronx at age 80. His brother Attilio, born in the Bronx, died there, tragically, at age 33.

Were they ever reunited with their parents? Or did they only see their father on his occasional trips to America?

The answer was hiding in my downloaded collection of Pastene vital records.

I've been recording the facts from thousands of birth, marriage, and death records in a spreadsheet for easy searching and eventual sharing. (See How to Create Your Ancestral Hometown Database.)

While going through the 1909 birth records for Pastene, I found two records detailing the U.S. births of Enrico in 1905 and Attilio in 1907. These late entries for their births may have been required by the comune of Sant'Angelo to have a record of their inhabitants.

These late birth records are so detailed, they include the address of the house where the boys were born—458 East 150th Street. The records include the names and Bronx addresses of the witnesses to the births.

I know from Attilio's passport records that he returned to New York City in 1924. (See Your Family Tree Needs Your Ancestor's Passport Application.) I also know Enrico was in the Bronx in 1924. He testified that he recognized his brother's passport photo. He hadn't seen his brother since they were together in Italy two years earlier.

Finally this family mystery makes sense. Young Enrico and Attilio were not left behind. They did return to Italy with their parents and siblings. They each lived in Pastene until, like most young men at the time, they were old enough to make their own way in America.

I'm still piecing together facts from my downloaded vital records to discover the exact relationship between my great aunt Stella Sarracino and her dashing young husband, Attilio.