Friday, July 13, 2018

How to Find the Most Important Genealogy Documents Quickly

A portion of my newly downloaded vital record collection.
A tiny portion of my newly downloaded
vital record collection.
Seems like every day I read that a new genealogy document collection is coming online. Some are available through subscription services, but plenty is out there for free.

If you stay tuned in to social media, you can learn about these new collections early. That's how I discovered a document collection I needed badly was coming online this past week.

Finally, a branch of my family tree that's been a dead end was opening up. And I was ready.

Even before the vital records from the town of Santa Paolina, Italy, were fully published, I was downloading them to my computer. I now have all the available records from 1809–1945 to comb through offline. I stored the documents in 386 folders—separating births, marriages and deaths by year. I have no idea how many thousands of documents there are.

Imagine this is you. Imagine these documents hold the missing information about your great great grandmother Colomba.

Where do you begin?

A little background:
  • Colomba's 1920 New York City death record shows her last name was Consolazio and she was born around 1845, somewhere in Italy.
  • Her son's World War II draft registration card said he was born in Tufo, Italy.
  • Last year I looked at microfilmed records from Tufo. I found two sons for Colomba plus a few Consolazio babies who were her nieces and nephews. It was their records that told me the Consolazio siblings were from the next town—Santa Paolina.
I've been waiting impatiently for the Santa Paolina documents to show up online.

Here's how I'm surgically extracting the most important records first.

Find That First Birth Record

Hoping that her death record was correct about her age, I went straight to the 1845 births. I found Colomba! Though her name is a little different and her father's name isn't what I expected, I know it's her. On her birth record is a note of her marriage to my great great grandfather, Antonio Saviano.

This is unusually lucky, but her birth record say my great great grandparents married in Santa Paolina on 1 June 1871.

This 1845 Italian birth record includes the addition of her husband and marriage date.
This 1845 Italian birth record includes the addition of her husband and marriage date.
Go After the Marriage Record

Your ancestor's marriage record can provide tons of detail, including:
  • Bride and groom's birth dates
  • Death dates of their deceased parents
  • Death dates of their deceased grandfathers if their fathers are dead (this won't be true everywhere)
  • Names and death dates of any previous spouses
Santa Paolina's marriage records are a different format than I'm used to. But they gave me important facts I'd been missing: My great great grandfather Antonio's parents' names, occupation, and town of birth. It also confirmed his year of birth.

Start Collecting the Babies

Knowing my ancestors married in June 1871, I started looking for babies beginning in 1872.

I also know from earlier research that this couple had baby boys born in the town of Tufo in 1875 and 1877. So I needed to check the birth indexes only for 1872, 1873 and 1874.

I found one baby girl, Maria Grazia, born on 26 April 1872. She and the two boys born in Tufo are my great grandmother's siblings. So I knew this little girl must have died. We simply have no Maria Grazia in the family. I was sad to find she died 4 days later.

Death record for Maria Grazia Saviano.
Maria Grazia Saviano, the first-born child of my 2nd great grandparents, died at the age of 4 days.
These were Colomba's earliest babies. The rest of her children are well known to my family. They were born in another town called Pastene. And now I know that's where their father Antonio was born!

But we can't stop there. We need to find Colomba's grandparents, and maybe her great grandparents.

Hunt for the Parents

Colomba's birth record gave me names for her parents, but not their ages. Luckily Santa Paolina had a very small population. I subtracted 25 years from Colomba's birth year, bringing me to 1820. I began checking the birth indexes for 1820, 1819, 1818. I found my 3rd great grandmother, Rubina Maria Censullo! Now I have her parents' names—my 4th great grandparents.

Keep going. 1817, 1816. There he is! My 3rd great grandfather Semblicio Fiorentino Conzolazio. Now I have his parents' names—also my 4th great grandparents.

Getting close to the earliest records, I searched for Semblicio's parents' marriage. He was born in 1816, so I looked at 1815, 1814. Oh my gosh, I found it! His parents, Gaetano and another Colomba, were married on 29 December 1814.

The paragraph at the bottom includes the names of 4 of my 5th great grandparents.
The paragraph at the bottom includes the names of 4 of my 5th great grandparents.
Now I have each of their parents' names. That's 2 sets of my 5th great grandparents. I can't find Rubina Maria's parents' marriage because they were quite a bit older. I'd need church records to find them.

With one document collection, boom! 4th and 5th great grandparents.
With one document collection, boom! 3rd, 4th and 5th great grandparents.
That's a Great Start

Using targeted searches, I got the juiciest information out of this record collection in no time. But there's a ton more to find. I want to find the births of Colomba's siblings, their marriages and their babies. I need death records for the 3rd, 4th and 5th great grandparents.

I hope you'll try this methodical approach. First looking for very specific records, then expanding to the related records. Be logical and you'll go far. You can do this!


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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Who Was Your First Immigrant Ancestor?

Hard-working men, bound for America
Growing up, I knew my grandfathers had come to America from Italy as young men. When I started researching my family history, I found their immigration records on the Ellis Island website.

According to their ship manifests, each of my grandfathers were joining a relative who'd already made the voyage.

Have you found a ship manifest for any of your ancestors? Are you squeezing every bit of information out of that page or two?

If so, you know each passenger names someone they left at home, and someone who's waiting for them at their destination. The amount of detail depends on the year of immigration. If your ancestor came through Ellis Island, you'll find lots of information.
A ship manifest holds lots of details about your ancestor.
A ship manifest holds lots of details about your ancestor.

Where Were They From, Where Were They Going?

When my Grandpa Pietro Iamarino arrived in New York City on 29 November 1920, he was leaving his "Father Iamarino" in "Collo Samino, Ben." First of all, thank goodness I knew his father's name was Francesco or I'd be mighty disappointed. Second of all, "Collo Samino, Ben." is a typewritten misspelling of Colle Sannita, with "Ben." being short for the province of Benevento. Again, thank goodness I knew the town name already.

Grandpa arrived with $11 in his pocket to join his "Uncle Pilla Di Gennaro" at 22 West Street, Newton, Massachusetts. This lead was a dead end to me for quite a while. Over time, after I'd learned more about Grandpa's family, I realized something. The "Di Gennaro" part of that description meant that his uncle was the son of Gennaro Pilla—my grandfather's grandfather.

So Grandpa was joining his mother's brother, Antonio Pilla, in Massachusetts.

Follow the Leader

So what do you do next? You look for Antonio's ship manifest. Was he the first in the family to come to America, or was there someone before him?

Antonio Pilla, my second great uncle, left Italy for Philadelphia seven years earlier in 1913. The ship manifest says he left his father Gennaro in Colle Sannita, Italy. He was travelling with his brother-in-law. Both men were joining Antonio's brother Innocenzo Pilla in Lawsonham, Pennsylvania, to work in the mine or for the railroad.

Another link in the chain! Next I searched for my other second great uncle, Innocenzo Pilla. He sailed to Boston in 1909 with two of his brothers-in-law. One of them was my great grandfather, Francesco Iamarino.

The group was going to the Bronx, New York, to join my other second great uncle, Francesco's brother, Giuseppe Iamarino.

I can't seem to find Giuseppe's ship manifest, but he's in the 1905 New York State Census living in the Bronx. His seven-year-old son was born in Italy, so the family must have arrived between 1898 and 1905.

My uncle Giuseppe may have been the first in that branch to come to America. That led to his two brothers and one brother-in-law following him in 1909. And that lead to my uncle Antonio joining his brother Innocenzo in 1913. And that led to my grandfather Pietro joining his uncle Antonio in 1920.

A Migration Pattern

The memorial to fallen soldiers in my grandfather's hometown.
In May 2018 I visited the memorial
to fallen soldiers in my grandfather's
hometown of Colle Sannita, Italy.
And what's the best thing about this kind of chain migration for a genealogist? You get to discover more family members. Add dates and locations to their timelines. Find documents for relatives—even if they went back to the old country.

My great grandfather Francesco didn't stay in America. But I've found ship manifests for him in 1903, 1909, 1913, and 1929. He came to join his brother Giuseppe the first three times. He stayed and worked for the railroad for a while, then went home to his wife and daughters in Italy.

On his final trip in 1929 he visited his son Pietro, my grandfather, in Youngstown, Ohio. He may have worked for the railroad for a while. Or maybe he came to meet his son's wife and baby daughter.

It's All Part of Your Heritage

Follow the path of the relative or friend your ancestor joined when they immigrated. You may unwind a series of sea voyages and a bunch more relatives.

Thank goodness our ancestors had the strength to make such a difficult journey—sometimes over and over. You've got to admire what they did to survive. You've got to admire their courage.

Be proud of your ancestors. And keep honoring them by documenting their lives.


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Friday, July 6, 2018

6 Building Blocks of Genealogy Research, Part 2

On my genealogy trip to Italy.
One ecstatic genealogist at
the archives in all her ancestors'
province in Italy.
In my last article I discussed 3 of the 6 building blocks that form my genealogy philosophy. They can be the solid foundation to your strong family tree. Let's continue.

4. Keep at it Regularly

The best thing I ever did for my family tree research is start this blog. To publish twice a week, I have to be active. Researching, exploring new websites, and collaborating with others. And I do that nearly every day.

That strict schedule is resulting in tons of new discoveries. It seems like every couple of weeks I find a new set of 5th or 6th great grandparents!

Do whatever you can to keep a hand in your research each week. That continuity will help you focus and accomplish more.

5. Be as Organized as Possible

In my early days, I grabbed census documents, attached them to the head of household and moved on. After a while I had a mess on my hands! I couldn't retrace my steps to find that census sheet again. I didn't cite my source. And I still needed to add the image and the facts to everyone else in the household.

Now I've gotten into an efficient routine. I follow the same steps to make sure I record and document each image and fact thoroughly.

Adding information to an image on your computer.
Right-click and choose Properties.
Click the Details tab. Enter specifics
for your genealogy image.
For example, I'm working a lot with vital records from my Italian hometowns. When I find a birth record I need:
  • I crop and enhance it in Photoshop
  • I add a title and source citation to the image's properties before dragging it into my family tree. I have a format I follow that ends with the URL where I found the image.
  • I edit the date of the document in Family Tree Maker. I give it a category and make it the person's profile image if I don't have their photo.
  • Let's say it's a marriage document. I add the image to one spouse, then share it so it's attached to the other spouse, too.
  • I make note of the document in my Document Tracker. This spreadsheet shows me at a glance which documents I have (and don't have) for anyone in my family tree.
Because I made it a routine, I'm now frighteningly organized. No more doubling back to try to fix my messes.
Add important information to each image in your family tree file.
Add important information to each image in your family tree file. Above, the caption and description I added to the image file itself have carried over to Family Tree Maker. I simply edit the date and select the category.

6. Create an Inventory

This final building block applies to cuckoo-birds like me who've downloaded large document collections from FamilySearch or the Italian Antenati website.

I know it will take YEARS, but I'm filling several spreadsheet pages with the facts I transcribe from those thousands of Italian vital records. It seems daunting, but being able to easily search for a particular person in a span of years is awesome.

I've completely documented 6 years of birth records from my paternal grandfather's hometown and a smaller selection from the other towns. I want to own this complete collection, and I look forward to sharing it with my fellow descendants of these towns.

What if you inventoried the vital records, censuses, ship manifests and other images stored on your computer? How might that simplify your future searches?

When I started writing this blog, I began thinking of my genealogy research like a job (the best job ever!). I wanted to apply all the best practices of the genealogy industry to my research.

These 6 building blocks are making my family tree world class. How about you?

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

6 Building Blocks of Genealogy Research, Part 1

These are the building blocks of a strong family tree.
Six months ago I wrote about my general approach to genealogy research. Let's look at the specific building blocks that can make anyone a productive and efficient family tree researcher.

I don't want to short-change any of these concepts, so this article is in two parts. You'll find a link to part 2 at the bottom of this article.

1. Spell Out Your Goals

Did you make your list of genealogy goals for 2018? I made a list that I look at anytime I feel like I'm searching for documents without a specific goal.

Sometimes it's fun to go off on research tangents. But it's far more rewarding to focus on a goal and make real progress. Your goals might be to:
Come back to your goals again and again and whittle down the list.

2. Cast a Wide Net

I spent five years making trips to my local Family History Center. I ordered microfilm (it's available online now) from my maternal grandfather's hometown in Italy. I knew nothing beyond his parents' names, so I wanted to find out more.

I soon realized I couldn't tell who was related to me unless I pieced together all the families. So at the center I typed the data from each birth, marriage and death record. At home I entered it all into Family Tree Maker. In the end, I had a tree with 15,000 people. More than 10,000 of them had a connection to me.

Cast a wide net to capture all your ancestor's siblings and their children.
Cast a wide net to capture all your ancestor's siblings and their children.
If you don't want to go that far, at least gather all your ancestor's siblings. Say you find your 3rd great grandmother's birth record. Now you know your 4th great grandparents' names. Next you can search the surrounding years for babies born to the same couple.

Find those siblings and you can begin to identify your ancestor's close cousins. You're going to want those names when you're reviewing your DNA matches.

3. Take Advantage of Software


A small piece of my priceless vital record collection.
Here's a small piece of my priceless
vital record collection.
There are a lot of talented programmers out there creating free genealogy software. I finally gave up trying to write my own program when I found Family Tree Analyzer. This program takes the germ of an idea I was playing with and puts it on steroids. You can run reports, correct errors, and slice-and-dice your family tree in a bunch of ways.

And thank goodness I found GetLinks. Using GetLinks, I easily downloaded thousands and thousands of vital records from 7 of my ancestral hometowns in Italy.

Don't do things the hard way when other genealogy whizzes have created a solution for you.

Please continue to part 2 of this article. I get into the nuts and bolts of my genealogy philosophy with 3 more building blocks.

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