27 February 2018

These 4 Simple Rules Will Improve Your Genealogy Research

I created this blog with a single thought:

If we amateur genealogists follow some basic rules, our family trees will be so much better.

I listed out the primary keys to high-quality genealogy research:
  1. Know exactly where your people are from
  2. Analyze each document carefully before attaching it to your tree
  3. Cite your sources as you go
  4. Develop a strong, logical system of document-naming and filing
Let's take a look at how you can put these keys to work for you today.

Know Exactly Where Your People Are From

If you don't know exactly which town your ancestor was born in, you can't find their birth record. You may not find their marriage record. You might download records from a genealogy site and never know they're for the wrong person.

naturalization papers provide many key facts
My late step-grandmother's naturalization papers told me her story.

Look for evidence of the town of origin right away. It may be on military records, a passport application or naturalization papers. Knowing that town, you can now reject hints pointing to someone from the wrong place.

Analyze Each Document Carefully Before Attaching it to Your Tree

My tree has so many people with the same name. My grandfather had two first cousins. All three of them were named Pietro Iamarino.

So before you attach a record to your tree—even if you think it's such a unique name—analyze all the other facts. Does everything about this record make sense for your ancestor? Or are there too many facts you know don't match your person?

Keep some basic logic in mind. A dead woman can't give birth or get married. A woman can't give birth to two babies a month apart. A man can't become a father more than nine months after he dies.

Cite Your Sources As You Go

You can add facts to your images.
You can add facts to your images.

When we begin this genealogy hobby, we're excited by each new name and date we find. And, oh, those ship manifests and census forms! They couldn't make us any happier.

It's common to grab those facts and documents and forget about citing your sources. "It's the 1930 census. Isn't that good enough?"

No, it isn't. Picture this: One day you realize your uncle lived on the same street as your grandmother. You can't find him in a search. If you could just get back to her census form online, you're sure your uncle would be on the next page. If only you'd recorded some facts and a URL.

Put a stake in the ground today. Going forward, you're going to add citation info to each fact and document you add to your family tree.

And then spend a few weekends cleaning up your early work. Make that tree better.

Develop a Consistent System of Document-naming and Filing

Develop your logical filing system.
Develop your logical filing system.

At the start of my research, I developed some rules:
  • My computer's FamilyTree folder contains a sub-folder for each type of document:
    • census forms
    • vital records
    • city directories
    • draft cards
    • ship manifests
    • naturalization papers, etc.
  • Each file name follows the same format. Generally, it's LastnameFirstnameYear.jpg. Since I keep all vital records in one folder, they are more specific: LastnameFirstnameBirthYear.jpg or LastnameFirstnameDeathYear.jpg.
  • Census records are named for the head of household: LastnameFirstname1930.jpg. This is true of a ship manifest containing a whole family, too: LastnameFirstname1922.jpg.
When I learn something new at work, I try to apply it to my genealogy hobby. For example:
  • I work with Excel all day long. So I catalog my thousands of genealogy records in a single spreadsheet.
  • I store work files on OneDrive so I can access them from another computer. Now I store my tens of thousands of Italian vital records in a OneDrive folder so it's backed up instantly.
Be smart, logic and efficient in your hobby. You'll still have all the fun you want, but you'll leave behind a priceless legacy: Your impeccable family tree.

23 February 2018

Grandpa's Journeys Shed Light On My Own

Pietro Iamarino looking dapper in New Jersey
My grandpa, Pietro Iamarino, in New Brunswick, NJ.

My Grandpa lived in the same house from the time I was born until two years before he died. Whenever my family was in the Bronx, we stopped in to visit him. All those weekend visits to the orthodontist when I was a kid with braces, my dad and I would stop in to visit Grandpa. Years later when I was grown, I made the trip from New Jersey to visit Grandpa.

He was always there.

Yet Grandpa had been so many places. In 1920, at age 18, he left home in Italy to come to America. After Ellis Island, he went north to a Boston suburb. There he joined his mother's brother, Antonio Pilla.

my grandfather's declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen
Grandpa was quick to declare he was staying in America.

A short time later, Grandpa was in western Pennsylvania working as a laborer. There, in 1924, he filed his Declaration of Intention to become a citizen of the United States of America. He was still in Pennsylvania three years later when he became a citizen.

Now an American citizen, Grandpa didn't seem to have a steady job or profession. His next move, I think, was his family's suggestion. Grandpa moved to Ohio.

Within eight months of becoming a citizen in Pennsylvania, my grandfather, Pietro Iamarino:
  • had taken a job as a laborer in the Carnegie Steel Mill in Youngstown, Ohio
  • was a boarder in the home of Pasquale Iamarino (his father's second cousin)
  • married his landlord's daughter, and his third cousin, Lucy Iamarino.
But Grandpa wasn't finished with his travels. After the steel mill he worked for the railroad along with Pasquale Iamarino. He famously said his railroad job "stinks on the ice," so he packed up his wife and two kids. They moved to the Bronx, New York, and lived for a time with Grandpa's uncle Giuseppe. Grandpa became a jeweler—a much cleaner job than working in a mill or a railyard.

He continued his nice, clean jeweler's job in the Bronx for almost 15 years. But he wasn't finished moving. My grandmother became ill and wanted to move back to Ohio near her parents. So that's where they went. On her deathbed in 1954, my grandmother told my dad to go back to the Bronx and marry his childhood sweetheart—my mom.

By 1955, my parents had married and had a child. They invited Grandpa to live on the first floor of their townhouse in the Bronx. Yup. He was back in the Bronx.

In 1959 Grandpa remarried and bought the house where I would visit him for the rest of his life.

I wanted to map out Grandpa's travels from Italy to New York to Pennsylvania to Ohio to New York to Ohio to New York for one reason.

My Southern Italian grandfather did NOT take a ship from Naples to New York like all my other relatives. That would have been too direct for him.

Grandpa's 1920 ship manifest
Grandpa sailed from where?!?!?

When I began my genealogy research in 2003, the first document I found was Grandpa's ship manifest. I didn't understand why, but his manifest didn't say "sailing from Napoli". It said "sailing from Cherbourg". That's in France. Northern France.

Cherbourg is a 24-hour car ride from Grandpa's hometown of Colle Sannita, Italy. And you know 18-year-old Grandpa didn't take a car that distance in 1920. I imagine he traveled for weeks to get to northern France. And then he spent 12 days on the Atlantic Ocean.

I have no documentation of that part of Grandpa's journey. He never spoke about his early life.

Judging by the rest of his travels, I'd like to think he acted like a student backpacking his way through Europe. He traveled for a while, stopped to do some odd jobs for money, and continued his way north.

Oh, he did make one other journey. In 1958, before he remarried, he made a trip back home for the first time since 1920. His father Francesco had traveled back and forth from Italy to America five times! He had visited Grandpa in Ohio in 1929. But Francesco died in 1951.

Grandpa did get to see his mother one last time during that visit to Italy. Imagine that? He left home as an 18-year-old boy and didn't see his mamma again until he was a 56-year-old man.

Aha! Now it seems like fate that I've lived in New York, California, New York, Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. I am, after all, an Iamarino.

20 February 2018

Was Your Ancestor in the Military? It May Not Matter

One of my best family history clues came from a World War II draft registration card for a 64-year-old man.

My grandmother's uncle barely made the deadline for the "old man's registration". In late April 1942, local draft boards recorded facts about men born between 28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897. The men were 45 to 64 years old. How badly did the war have to go before they called up 64-year-old men?

Born four months into the date range, my great uncle was about to turn 65 when he went to the draft board in the Bronx, New York.

His name was Semplicio Saviano, known as Sam. His World War II draft registration card tells me was was 5'6" and had an artificial left eye. My mother remembers being so afraid of him, and her mother would scold her for it. "He's my uncle. Don't be silly!" But maybe it was that fake eye that spooked her as a little girl.

Sam's registration card also tells me that he was living in my mother's building. That confirms her story of seeing him at the end of the hall, staying in a little room that wasn't much bigger than a closet. He lists his sister (my great grandmother) as the person who will always know his address. That makes sense, too, because Sam's wife had died, and my great grandparents owned my mom's building.

But the fantastic clue needed so badly was his place of birth. All I'd ever heard for so many years was that my great grandmother's family was from Avellino, Italy. The problem is Avellino is both a city and a province. So where did they come from?

Although riddled with errors, this draft registration card holds a vital key to my family history.
The answer, though completely misspelled, is printed neatly on the card. It says "Tofo - Province Avilino". I had no doubt that "Avilino" was meant to say "Avellino". So I checked an online map of Avellino for a town with a name anything like Tofo.

Aha! Finally, I had hard evidence pointing to the town of Tufo, Avellino.

Shortly after this discovery, I was visiting the Family History Center in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It was my first time at a Center, so I was just checking it out. One of the volunteers suggested I look at which films were sitting in their "Italy drawer". Would you believe I found a reel of film from Tufo?

I made a big discovery thanks to that film. Sam was born there, and so was an older brother that no one in my family knew about.

If you're searching for someone in the World War II draft registration cards, keep those birth dates (28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897) in mind. I'd been searching for my paternal grandfather's card for a long time before I realized he was too young. He was born in 1902—probably too old to serve, but too young for this registration.

World War I draft registration cards are important to gather, too. It's another moment in time to see where your relative lived and worked. These cards were filled out on three separate dates, each with its own birth date ranges:
  • On 5 June 1917 they registered men born between 6 June 1886 and 5 June 1896.
  • On 5 June 1918 they registered men born between 6 June 1896 and 5 June 1897.
  • On 12 Sept 1918 they registered men born between 11 Sept 1872 and 12 Sept 1900.
My paternal grandfather fell through the cracks again! He was too young to serve or be registered.

Draft registration card images are available on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. If your ancestor didn't serve, you may have overlooked this important family history resource. Which of your male ancestors should be in these record collections?

If this all seems a bit familiar, I did write about draft registration cards 9 months ago. Finding Sam's place of birth was such an important breakthrough for me, I want to encourage you to find your ancestors' cards, too.

16 February 2018

Taking Refuge in Your Family History Research

There it is. My happy place.
Genealogy: My escape to a better place and time.

I started this blog to go to my happy place. Genealogy gives me endless satisfaction and an escape from everything bad.

It's hard to concentrate today, though. There's too much bad news and sadness to ignore.

So let's think about why we love genealogy.

It's a neverending puzzle where every piece has meaning to us

Each of us has a ton of ancestors:
  • 4 grandparents
  • 8 great grandparents
  • 16 2nd great grandparents
  • 32 3rd great grandparents
  • 64 4th great grandparents
  • and let's jump up to 4,096 10th great grandparents
That's a lot of puzzle pieces to find! Keep in mind your numbers may vary a little if any cousins married. For example, my paternal grandparents were 3rd cousins, so they share a branch of the family tree.

It helps us imagine our ancestors' lives

I learned some concrete facts about my ancestors' lives by examining thousands of vital records from their towns:
  • the average age at which they married.
  • how many babies they had.
  • how quickly they remarried when their spouse died.
  • the kinds of work they did.
  • how many babies were born out of wedlock.
It helps us understand how we came to be

When you fill in your grandparent chart with generations of your ancestors' names, one thing becomes clear. Thousands of people had to marry one specific person and have one specific child for you to be born!

It's fun to solve those mysteries

Mystery 1: My family always wondered why my father's parents had the same last name. We knew it wasn't a common name. But they never told anyone the reason why.

Genealogy research led me to Francesco Iamarino born in 1784 in Italy. He was the 2nd great grandfather to both my grandmother and my grandfather.

Mystery 2: At my mother's birth, the doctor asked my grandfather, "What are you naming this baby?" He answered "Mariangela"—his mother's name.

The problem is, I found my great grandmother's 1856 birth record, and she was named Marianna. She had an older sister Mariangela who died as a little girl, but she was Marianna. Why didn't my grandfather say "Marianna"?

Some more genealogy research led me to that answer, too. My great grandmother had five children. On some of their birth records she is Marianna and on others she is Mariangela.

Mariangela may have been her preferred name. My grandfather may never have known his mother's name was actually Marianna. So he proudly named my mother for her: Mariangela.

My Happy Place

If I could spend all my time doing genealogy, I would. We all deserve happiness. May your family history research bring you as much joy as mine brings me.

13 February 2018

When to Cut a Branch Off Your Family Tree

Eleven years ago, my sister-in-law Mary Ann lost her dad. As she wrote his obituary, she realized she knew nothing about his family.

After asking her for some basic facts, I offered to piece together both sides of her family tree.

Mary Ann's family was a new challenge for me. Everyone related to me was born either in Italy or the United States. And none of my relatives came to the United States before 1890. So I hadn't even searched for a U.S. census record earlier than 1900 at that point.

Her large family has a long history in America. I found lots of family trees and other documentation for them. I was jealous that I'd found her 10th great grandparents for her.

I added her family members into my family tree because I saw no reason to have a separate file. But now I have a renewed interest in documenting her mom's family.

The Muse family was in Virginia as early as the 1600s. I'd like to see if the family lore about being part of the Jamestown Settlement is true.

Mary Ann's entire branch was one that I could cut from my family tree without hurting anything. Other than keeping Mary Ann, my brother and my nephew in my tree, everyone else would work better as a separate tree.

As a separate tree, I can publish it on Ancestry.com and give her full access. She can look at her family without swimming through the 19,000 other people in my tree.

Cutting off branches of your family tree that mean less to you will help you concentrate on branches that mean the most to you.
Cutting off branches of your family tree that mean less to you will help you concentrate on branches that mean the most to you.

On Friday night I decided to separate out her entire 595-person family tree. I wasn't finished until Sunday morning!

I planned to document the process and tell you how easy it was. That plan changed after the first couple of frustrating hours.

I tried several different ways to export every one of Mary Ann's relatives. I kept discovering that people were missing in the new file. After three failed attempts, I worked with a copy of my tree and deleted everyone not related to her. I thought it would never end.

To export and then delete a branch from a tree in Family Tree Maker is a strange process. You choose someone from the tree and go to the reports (Publish) tab. Create a report that will include all the people you want. The Extended Family Chart seems to be the best choice.

When you're satisfied with the list of people in the chart, right-click anyone's name and choose Export - Entire Chart.

Unfortunately, I didn't quite do it that way.

Now that you have your new file, you can delete those people from the original file. Using that same Extended Family Chart, right-click anyone's name and choose Delete from File - All persons in chart. Note: If you want to keep anyone, right-click and choose to remove them from your chart first.

With this done, there's still a lot of clean-up left to do. On both your new family tree file and the original family tree file, you need to delete unused media files, sources, and locations.

I compacted each tree to clear out all the things I'd deleted. Then I made new backup files and synchronized both finished trees with Ancestry.com.

I don't think I have another branch that should stand alone. I have gone off on some in-law tangents, but they came from the same geographic area as my family, so I like to keep them.

I've read heated online discussions about how many trees you should maintain. Some people keep a separate family tree file for each grandparent. I really can't see the point in that. It's your tree, isn't it? Why juggle different branches of your own family tree?

In my case, my father's parents were third cousins, so their trees intertwine. And now DNA testing shows that my parents are cousins. So my entire family tree is weaving its way into a family wreath!

I'm sure I'll hesitate before cut a branch off my tree again. Although I sure did learn how not to do it.

You can base your decision on the audience. Mary Ann's family tree needs more work—and I created it for her. So giving her her very own tree makes the most sense.

Have you started working on an in-law's branch? Is the work big enough to deserve its own tree? If so, prune that branch before things get harder to control.

09 February 2018

Imagining the Journey of Our First Immigrant Ancestors

These windows at Ellis Island
have a view of the Statue of Liberty.

When I visited Ellis Island a year ago, I felt chills. It was emotional to think my ancestors had stood on the very same spot long before me.

The first ship manifests I downloaded years ago fascinated me. Sure, they give us important facts about our ancestors. But they can paint a little picture of the voyage.

Sometimes a group of travelers from one town made that ocean voyage together. The group may include entire families or a few brothers and cousins. Other times it seems as if all the young men in town made the decision to find their fortunes together. Often you'll see a woman making the journey with her young children to join her husband who went before them.

These five young men came to New York together from a small Italian town. I'm related to at least three of them.

Most of my ancestors spent three weeks in steerage sailing from Naples, Italy, to New York. The 2015 movie "Brooklyn" gives you an idea what that difficult trip may have been like. But "Brooklyn" takes place in the 1950s. I suspect her seasick journey was a lot nicer than my ancestors' voyages between 1890 and 1920.

One reason I'm American.

When I've flown to Europe or California, I arrived looking like death warmed over. But here's the worst possible scenario. My great grandmother, Maria Rosa Saviano, was five months pregnant with my grandmother when she boarded the S.S. Karamania in 1899.

Think about that. Three weeks in crowded, foul-smelling, uncomfortable conditions. At least some amount of rough seas. No room to move and very little fresh air. And you're five months pregnant!

That was one tough lady.

The museum at Ellis Island lets you walk where your ancestors walked. It shows you what the inspection process was like for them.

Were any of your ancestors detained at Ellis Island? Were they sick and quarantined? Women and children were sometimes held until a male relative arrived to take them on their way.

For an excellent description of the entire immigrant journey—from hometown to port to voyage to Ellis Island and on to their final destination—read "The Immigrant Journey" on OhRanger.com.

What sacrifices did your immigrant ancestors make? Don't take their strength and courage for granted.

06 February 2018

How to Read Names on Badly Written Vital Records

Imagine you're searching through a collection of old, hand-written vital records. You're winding through a reel of microfilm or clicking through a collection of images.

I'm familiar with the names in my ancestors' towns. So I can identify these names with zero hesitation.At last you find what you want: the marriage record for your 2nd great grandparents. Eureka! Now you can learn the names of two sets of your 3rd great grandparents.

You grab a magnifying glass or zoom in on the document, eager to see those new names.

But what do they say? They're almost completely illegible. You aren't sure of any of the letters!

What would you do? I've seen people share an image on Facebook, asking for opinions on a hard-to-read name. Time and again, the people who can read the name with authority are already familiar with the exact name.

That's the answer! I've been documenting vital records from all my ancestral hometowns for years.

I'm pretty fast at it. Why? Because this practice helps me decipher even the most sloppily written names in no time.

Scientists say we're able to read by recognizing the shapes of words. That's why it's easier to read this THAN IT IS TO READ THIS.

So, get familiar with the names from your ancestral hometowns. Then you'll find it easy see the difference between:
  • Chiusolo and Ciusolo
  • Anzuino and Anzovino
  • Ferella and Ferrara.
And bonus! If you're examining a small town, there was no doubt a lot of intermarrying. You may find you're related to the majority of the town! So it's worth your while to learn those names.

This image shows some examples of names that didn't slow me down for a second—once I made myself familiar with the town.

02 February 2018

How I Tracked Down My 4th Great Grandmother's Parents

In my last article, I mentioned how tough it was to find the names of my 4th great grandmother's parents. She was Apollonia Grazia Caruso. Here's what I knew about her when I set out to find her parents:
  • Born around 1775, Apollonia had three children in the town of Circello, Benevento, Campania, Italy between 1809 and 1813.
  • Her son Francesco Saverio Liguori, my 3rd great grandfather, married in the next town, Colle Sannita, in 1840.
  • Her husband, my 4th great grandfather Gregorio Liguori, died in Circello in 1814. He and Apollonia had three children under the age of 10 at the time.
Apollonia's death record was missing from Francesco Saverio's 1840 marriage documents. Instead, a long letter testified, "Yes, she is dead, but we don't remember when she died. It was a long time ago."

The town clerk wrote that he couldn't find her death record because he didn't know which years to search. That meant I couldn't find her death date or her parents' names.

What would you do next?

I turned to my knowledge of these small towns in the province of Benevento in the 1800s. I've documented thousands of birth, marriage and death records from the area.

I learned that in my rural, ancestral hometowns in the 1800s:
  • Couples married at the average age of 25.
  • They had a child about every other year until the wife was in her mid-forties.
  • When one spouse died, the survivor remarried within a couple of years.
With this in mind, I examined what I knew. Apollonia's husband died when she was about 40 years old. She had three small children. She needed to remarry.

Her husband died in December 1814, so I looked at the 1815 marriage records for Circello. No Apollonia.

I looked at the 1816 records, and there she was. At the age of 44, Apollonia married Salvatore delGrosso. He was a 66-year-old widower from Colle Sannita. As a tailor, he was most likely able to give her a better life than she had before.

Their marriage records finally gave me the names of the 5th great grandparents I was searching for. Francesco Caruso and Francesca d'Andrea were born around 1750.

A timeline of family history events; one leading me to the next.
The facts I had about her family led me to discover more about Apollonia.

Apollonia died in Colle Sannita only six years after her second marriage. Her children were ages 13, 11 and nine. I can only hope that their elderly step-father continued to care for the children.

I know Francesco Saverio, the youngest child, grew up, married and had children. I plan to search the Colle Sannita death and marriage records for his sisters.

Isn't it amazing how many things had to align for you to be born?

If Apollonia hadn't become a widow and married a man from another town:
  • My 3rd great grandparents might never have married.
  • They wouldn't have had a daughter named Maria Giuseppa Liguori.
  • She wouldn't have had a daughter named Libera Pilla.
  • Libera wouldn't have married Francesco Iamarino—my grandfather's father.
Thanks to the hours I spend examining old Italian vital records, I learned about these people. I knew I had to search for Apollonia's second marriage soon after her first husband died.

Here's your challenge.

Learn all you can about your ancestral hometown through its vital records. Don't search only for specific people. Take the time to look at the surrounding documents. Look for patterns and facts.

Act like a detective and think about what your ancestor might have done. This tactic could help you find those missing names—or solve that family mystery.