Tuesday, March 20, 2018

How to Connect the Dots to Your Possible Relatives

You've got your DNA matches. You've got people who share a bunch of your last names. You've probably ID'd a lot of possible relatives.

How will you find your connection to them? How will you connect those dots and figure out if and how you're related?

I've got a handful of these challenges on my plate right now.

broaden your genealogy search
Your roots probably spill over to the next town. Don't overlook them!
All my ancestors came from a small area in Italy, not much bigger than my home county here in New York. So when someone has a family tree filled with last names I know well, we're probably distant cousins.

Discovering that one marriage from long ago that connects you to your leads will be tough. It'll take a lot of time. You'll need to examine a ton of documents.

That's why you must follow the first rule: Enjoy the search! If you're not pursuing this mystery because it gives you pleasure, you may as well skip it.

To work with my possible relatives, I ask for details at their grandparent and great grandparent level. What names and dates do they have?

Last year I downloaded every available vital record from my ancestors' four Italian towns. Now I'm branching out. I'm downloading a neighboring town and looking at still another.

With these document collections on my computer, I can try to find birth and marriage records for the names I know. Then I can look for their siblings' births.

I can piece together that family while checking familiar names against my own family tree. If I'm very lucky, I may find a set of marriage documents that includes death records.

In Italy in the 1800s, if a couple married and any of their four parents were dead, that death certificate was included in the marriage records. If either of their fathers was dead and their grandfathers were also dead, the documents include the grandfathers' death certificates. You know what's on their grandfathers' death certificates? Their grandfathers' parents names.

Think about that for a second. A couple's marriage records can give you the names of their great grandparents!

The wider you expand the family of your possible relative, the more likely you are to find a connection. There's a good chance you'll provide them with names and documents they don't have.

Right now I'm searching the documents from that neighboring town because:
  • A contact with my great grandmother's last name has roots there.
  • My first cousin, whose DNA matches him to BOTH of my parents, has roots there.
  • A contact with my first cousin's last name (and ancestors with my maiden name) has roots there and in my grandfather's town.
  • One branch of my father's tree has roots there.
There's a good chance I have some relationship to a big chunk of that neighboring town.

And the search does make me happy. I'm connecting myself to thousands of people across the world.

If you enjoy this hobby, cast a wide net. The genealogy community is a friendly, sharing, welcoming network of people. In the end, we've got more in common than meets the eye.

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

How to Turn a Hunch into Facts for Your Family Tree

I rarely come up with a hypothesis about my family tree. An idea that might be the truth. But this week I formed a logical theory.

A theory gives you some facts to work with when you have little or none. Then you can do the work to prove your theory true or false.

Here's an example for you. See if this can apply to your family tree research.

Work through the details of your theory to prove it true or false.
Work through the details of your theory to prove it true or false.
In 2008 I discovered the location of several of my third cousins outside Pittsburgh. Soon after my discovery, my husband and I were heading to Pittsburgh for his cousin's wedding. The stars aligned, and my newfound cousin invited me to her home on the day of a big family party.

One of my third cousins is very interested in genealogy. She and I worked together for weeks to build out her portion of the family tree. She gave me facts and photos, and I gave her an amazing tree to print out.

One fact she provided didn't sit right with me. It was her grandmother's name. The family knew her as Louise Villnaci deBellis.

Since she was born in Italy, I was sure her given name was Luisa, not Louise, but that's no big deal.

The part that bothered me was her middle name. Villnaci? That's not a proper Italian name. And it isn't a middle name. Something was wrong there.

Fast forward ten years. Now I have the Antenati (ancestors) website that offers Italian birth, marriage and death records dating back to 1809. I've downloaded every record for my ancestral hometowns.

One of my towns is Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in the province of Benevento and it's smaller hamlet of Pastene. That's where my grandmother's first cousin Giuseppe—Luisa's husband—came from. I began to notice in those records that deBellis was a bit common and Villanacci was a bit common.

Aha! Villanacci. That's a proper Italian name. Surely that's what "Villnaci" was supposed to be.

So I figured Luisa deBellis' "middle name" was Villanacci. That makes sense.

But the concept of a surname as a middle name doesn't fit this period in Italy. So where did Luisa's Villanacci come from?

Luisa was born in 1895, and of course that one year is missing from the Antenati records. Searching records around 1895, I found a baby born to Luigi deBellis and Luigia Villanacci.

Ooooh. Now that sounds like a theory! What if Luisa, who left her family to come to America, wanted to make sure her descendants didn't forget the Villanacci name? What if she was holding onto her mother's last name to preserve it?

Based on my theory that Luisa was the child of Luigi deBellis and Luigia Villanacci, I went through the records to find all their children:
  • Maria Carmela, born 1881
  • Assunta, born 1882
  • Filomena, born 1884
  • Saverio, born 1886
  • Carmine Vincenzino, born 1888
I found no other children for this couple, but they could have had Luisa in 1895.

On most of her children's birth records, Luigia Villanacci's father's name is Angelantonio. Luigia was born around 1862, so I found her birth record on 14 February 1862. Her father was Angelantonio and her mother was Maria Maddalena Sarracino.

Bonus! Luisa's husband—my grandmother's first cousin—was also a Sarracino. It's a small town. I found one sister for Luigia Villanacci named Mariassunta, born in 1864, and their grandfather was Giuseppe Villanacci.

So that is my theory. That "Louise Villnaci deBellis" was Luisa deBellis, born to Luigi deBellis and Luigia Villanacci.

Now, to prove it. Without her birth record!

Where would you begin?

I've added the five children above, Luigi and Luigia, and Luigia's parents and sister to my tree. I included a note that this is a theory under investigation.

I did that yesterday, and today Ancestry.com gave me a hint. It's for Filomena deBellis, the possible sister of Luisa deBellis. Filomena came to America, married Vincent Ragognetti.

I know she's the right Filomena because her Social Security Application and Claims Index names her parents, Luigi de Bellis and Luigia Villanacci. And it calls her Filomena Ragognetti. In the 1925 New York Census, Filomena is in Manhattan with her husband Vincent and their three kids. In 1939 Filomena died in the Bronx.

This is how I will prove or disprove my theory. Now, I could buy Luisa's death or marriage record online and hope they give her parents' names.

But first, I can search for every possible fact about the five people I think are her siblings. Maybe one of them will have a document that ties them to my Luisa.

Luisa married Giuseppe Sarracino in Manhattan in 1918. Maybe she lived with one of her siblings before her marriage. Maybe her immigration record will mention her mother's name.

This is how you can turn a theory into facts.

Take a look at one of the dead-ends in your family tree. Someone for whom you have no parents, no immigration record, no siblings. Can you form a theory?

Maybe it's a theory based on facts from their hometown. Or maybe it's a theory based on where they lived and those who lived near them.

Pick your theory apart, fact by fact. Verify everything you can. Add to the puzzle. Prove or disprove parts of your theory.

Investigating everyone around your ancestor can unlock their mysteries.

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Climbing Up, Down and Across Your Family Tree

Following a Hunch

More facts about my great grandparents from my great aunt's marriage.
My great aunt's 1942 marriage.
Yesterday I was taking a looking at my grandfather's sister, Assunta Iamarino.

My oldest cousin from that family was born in 1948. The online marriage records from their hometown of Colle Sannita only go as far as 1942. It seemed unlikely that Assunta married any earlier than 1946, but I decided to take a look anyway.

What a huge payoff I found in 1942! Much to my surprise, Assunta and her husband Donato announced their intention to marry in September 1941. They married in February 1942. Their marriage documents confirmed their birth dates for me, too.

Finding More Clues

But 1942 wasn't finished surprising me. Paging through the marriage documents for that year, I saw two more brides named Iamarino. Checking my family tree, I realized they both belonged to me.

Two sets of marriage records filled out one family.
Filomena is 2 years older than her Aunt Maria,
and each married in 1942.
Maria Iamarino wasn't in my tree yet, but when I saw her parents' names, I knew exactly who she was. You see, her father Teofilo was the brother of my great grandfather Francesco. And her mother Filomena Pilla was the sister of my great grandmother Libera. Two brothers married two sisters and mushed together the branches of my family tree.

Then I found Filomena Iamarino's marriage. Filomena was born two years before Maria Iamarino, but she was Maria's niece! Her grandparents were Teofilo Iamarino and Filomena Pilla.

More mind-bending revelations.

Finally, 1942 gave me the marriage of Vincenzo Pilla and Teresina Piacquadio. They were already in my tree with no details. I knew their names only because a distant cousin, the nephew of Teresina Piacquadio, had given them to me. Now I have more facts and proof.

In one whirlwind session, leafing through one town's marriage records for one year, I found four marriages that matter to me.

Adding More Facts

This highlights the importance of finding more than your direct ancestors. Marriage records give you another data point for those ancestors and help fill in the gaps.

For example:
  • When I visited Assunta's children in Italy in 2005, they showed me the remains of Grandpa's house. It's on the property of one of Assunta's children. Grandpa left Italy in 1920.
  • In 1922 when Assunta was born, my great grandparents lived at Via Leandro Galganetti, 46. Google Street View shows that address as a pile of rubble now, far from Grandpa's house.
  • In 1942 when Assunta married, the family lived in Decorata. That's past Grandpa's house, and a good distance from Via Leandro Galganetti.
This expands what I know about my great grandfather Francesco. He came to America five times, leaving his family behind in Italy. He must have earned money and gone back home each time.

Now I can add to that profile that the family moved around within their town. They didn't stay in an ancestral home.

How much will your family history benefit from looking in all directions for relatives?

Don't stay only on the straight and narrow path. Each data point you find paints a richer portrait of your ancestors.

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

Friday, March 9, 2018

4 Ways to Make Big Genealogy Progress When You Have Little Time

You've probably seen the memes. Genealogists would rather spend every moment working on their family trees than, say, eating, sleeping or dealing with people.

Got a little time? You can make real genealogy progress.
It doesn't take a ton of time to
make real genealogy progress.
Do you have the luxury of 100% free time? I don't either!

Don't worry. You can still make significant progress on your family research in short bursts of time.

Have about an hour after the dinner table is cleared? That'll do. Have some free time in the late afternoon before the family gets home? That's great! Are you an early riser? It's genealogy time!

Arm yourself with a list of tasks and a progress chart, and a small window of time can yield big genealogy progress. Here are some examples.

1. Choose a Specific Ancestor from your Grandparent Chart

Last night I was too exhausted to spend much time on genealogy. So I chose a specific ancestor from my "grandparent chart".

The chart shows me exactly which direct-line ancestors I've identified, and which ones I haven't. (See "How to Visualize Your Ancestor-Finding Progress".)

I chose one ancestor from the chart whose parents were missing. I found him in my tree to see what I knew about him. Then I examined his children's marriage records to see if they contained the names of their grandparents.

In the short amount of time I had (before I fell asleep at the keyboard), I added a few marriage document images to my tree. I can pick up where I left off when I have another chunk of time.

2. Improve as Many Source Citations as You Can

I have a few items on my Task List in Family Tree Maker that involve making my tree better. One task is to replace some of my weaker sources with strong ones.

For example, I received some relatives' information from a distant cousin. That's not very scientific. I'm happy to have the information, but I need to verify it with proof. (See "Trade Up to Better Family History Sources".)

So, when I have some time, I can go to these people in my tree and do the legwork. I can replace the "a cousin told me" source citation with more concrete facts and documents. That's a great use of time.

3. Enhance Your Tree's Document Images with Facts and URLs

Ever since I discovered this trick, it's been a must-do task for me. Before I attach a downloaded document image (vital record, census sheet, ship manifest, etc.) to my family tree, I add facts to the image itself.

You can add a descriptive title and comments to an image's properties. Many or all the facts will be pulled into your family tree file. (See "How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images".)

Each time I have a new document to add to my tree, I edit its properties. I include a descriptive title, the name of its source and the URL it came from. Once I add it to my family tree, all I need to edit there is the date field and the category.

4. Create or Update Your List of All Gathered Documents

I'm a strong believer in keeping a spreadsheet inventory of my found documents. My document tracker contains more than 1,500 names of people in my tree, and each document I've found for them. (See "Track Your Genealogy Finds and Your Searches"

When I have some time, I can choose someone in my tree, like my grandfather. I can see exactly which documents I have for him, and which are missing. In his case, I have his:
  • 1902 birth certificate
  • 1920 ship manifest
  • 1927 naturalization papers
  • 1930 and 1940 census
  • 1992 death certificate
There are only three important documents I would like to find for him:
  • His 1928 marriage to my grandmother
  • His 1959 marriage to my step-grandmother (I do have a record of their marriage license)
  • His 1958-or-so trip back to Italy—his one and only trip home since arriving in New York in 1920.
My document tracker makes it very easy to see what I can search for when I have some time.

Don't worry about not having countless hours to spend working on your family tree.

By spending a little time on your family tree more frequently, you will see true progress. You'll feel a sense of accomplishment. And you'll know your family tree—your legacy—is better and stronger than it was yesterday.

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

How One Man's In-Laws Led to My Own Birth

It began with a 1900 ship manifest showing my relative, Giuseppe Caruso, on line one. I found this record very early in my family history research.

This ship manifest has a lot more to offer than my great uncle.
My second great uncle and another man had the same brother-in-law. Hmmm.
Giuseppe was my great grandmother's brother. I was looking for evidence that would lead to her ship manifest. This was a solid lead. It confirmed two facts: Giuseppe came from the town of Pescolamazza, Italy, and he was going to Elmira, New York. Those facts we enough to make me feel I had the right Giuseppe Caruso.

Before I filed the document away, I noticed the passenger on line two. Nicola Capozza was also from Pescolamazza. He was also going to Elmira, New York. But here's the curious part. Both Giuseppe and Nicola said they were joining their brother-in-law Michele Castelluzzo.

That's intriguing. I didn't know who Nicola Capozza was, but he and my great grandmother's brother shared a brother-in-law.

Skip ahead several years. I ordered the marriage certificate for my great grandparents from the state of Ohio. At that point I didn't know the maiden name of Maria Rosa's mother. This marriage certificate could be just what I needed!

My great grandparents' marriage certificate has a big clue for me.
What could I learn from the witnesses to my great grandparents' marriage?
If you've been dabbling in genealogy a while, you know how often the clue you need the most is the one that's missing. That's the case with this marriage certificate.

My great grandfather's parents' names are there. But I knew their names already. For the parents of the bride, it says "Francesco de Benevento" for her father. Well, her name is Caruso, and they were from the province of Benevento, so someone mistakenly wrote "Francesco from Benevento". No harm done. It's her mother's name that's the problem. All it says is Maria Luigia. No last name!

Still fuming, I turned my attention to the back of the marriage certificate. The witnesses to my great grandparents' wedding were Nicola Cappocci and Nicoletta Cappocci. I figured they were a married couple who knew my family. I wanted to know more about them.

There was a chance Cappocci was a misspelling since these were not signatures. Several wild-card searches later, I determined Nicola Cappocci was Nicola Capozza who shared a brother-in-law with my second great uncle, Giuseppe Caruso.

I found Nicola and his wife Nicoletta in the 1905 New York census. They were living with Giuseppe Caruso and his family. Then I found a 1909 ship manifest with Nicola coming to Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. Giuseppe Caruso lived there at the time. But Nicola's wife Nicoletta was back in Pescolamazza.

Next I found Pescolamazza birth records for Nicola Capozza and Nicoletta Martino on the Antenati website. But I hadn't tied Nicola and Giuseppe to that shared that brother-in-law.

The connection—not surprisingly—came from all the intermarrying of families in small Italian towns in the those times.

Capozza was the key.

The Capozza family was the key to a puzzle.
That the Capozza siblings' mother was also a Caruso is making my head spin.
Nicola Capozza's sister Marianna married my Giuseppe Caruso. So Nicola and Giuseppe, travelling together in 1900, were brothers-in-law. There were eight Capozza siblings. One of the girls, Caterina Capozza, married—wait for it—Michele Castelluzzo.

Michele came to America around 1891 and lived in Elmira, New York. There was plenty of railroad work, so Michele sent for his brothers-in-law. His wife's brother Nicola came to work. His wife's sister Marianna's husband Giuseppe Caruso came to work.

Giuseppe Caruso brought over most of his siblings. It's a safe bet that Giuseppe met my great grandfather, Pasquale Iamarino, working there in the Elmira railyard. He liked Pasquale enough to suggest that he marry Maria Rosa Caruso, who was still in Italy.

In July 1906 Maria Rosa came to join her brother in Elmira. Four months later, she married Pasquale Iamarino.

Every piece of evidence adds to the rich tapestry of our ancestors' lives. When I first saw that name of the shared brother-in-law, I didn't know he was significant. But if Michele Castelluzzo hadn't gone to work for the railroad in Elmira, New York, my great grandparents would never have married.

In fact, if Giuseppe Caruso hadn't married a Capozza, the Caruso family and the Iamarino family may never have met.

You have to marvel at how much luck and happenstance it take for you to be born.

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

Friday, March 2, 2018

When Should You Hire a Professional Genealogist?

The Statue of Liberty has welcomed our ancestors for a long time.
My ancestors' welcome party.
Why are your working on your family tree?

Are you finding out about the roots your family never discussed? Is it a giant puzzle that makes a complete picture of you? Is it simply a really fun hobby? Or are you trying to prove kinship for legal purposes?

For me, it's been all about the fun. The discovery. The confirmation of my deep roots in four Italian towns.

After 15 years or so and access to a treasure trove of Italian vital records, I've built my tree up to more than 19,000 people.

As amazing as my progress has been, many of the Italian documents I need for a few of my branches are not available online. Some of my branches are at a standstill.

So what happens next? Is it time for me to make the leap and hire a professional genealogist?

Genealogy is a hobby that will fill as much time as you're willing to give it.

So, even if you consult a professional to work on your tree, there's still tons of fun research for you to do on your own. For the rest of your life!

I've reached that point. I've gotten as far as I can with some branches. It's time to call in the pros.

I found someone I trust who specializes in research in my ancestral Italian region.

If you're thinking about hiring a pro, consider these points to get the best bang for your buck.
  • Which branch of your family tree is at a standstill and is the most important to you? For me, the branch that contains the relatives I grew up with is proving to be the most difficult to trace.
  • Which ancestor's roots can only be traced by searching records at the source? For example, have you traced your tree back to the beginning of civil records? Can you go further back in time only by accessing church records at the local parish?
When you choose your area of focus, create a full report of everything you know and how. Share the report with your professional genealogist. Be very specific about what you want to learn.

Do you have a family story you'd like to prove or disprove? Do you want to learn details about an ancestor's life? Do you want to build out their tree with all their siblings and several generations?

Going through this exercise of preparing to tell someone all you know and what you want to know will be very helpful. It will show you where you can benefit the most from hiring a professional genealogist.

I'm starting this process now. It will be some time before I can tell you the results, but I promise to share the details and lessons learned with you.

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