Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Using Genealogy Documents to Follow Our More Mobile Ancestors

Do you have an ancestor who moved a number of times? Do you know why?

I'm the daughter of an IBMer. You may know the old joke. IBM stands for I've Been Moved.

My dad started with the company the year before I was born. His first big move took us from the Bronx to Los Angeles when I was 6 weeks old. He took a transfer to New York City before I turned 2. Most (but not all) of his later job transfers allowed us to stay in one house.

But what about our ancestors? Did they also move for the sake of their careers?

A growing steel industry meant real opportunity for men like my grandfather.
A growing steel industry meant real opportunity for men like my grandfather.
When I look at my family, which has not been here for centuries, there was not a lot of movement. My maternal grandmother's family always lived in the same Bronx neighborhood. Most of their close relatives stayed close to them. They may have moved to different apartment houses, but they were always right there in the Bronx.

But my paternal grandparents (Pietro and Lucy) skipped around a bit. Does the evidence show that they moved for the same reasons my father moved us? For a better job?

Let's look at the data points.

Grandpa's Travels

1920. My grandfather Pietro arrived in America at the age of 18. His Uncle Antonio was in Newton, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. That was Grandpa's first stop. He went to Newton and worked for a baker in his Uncle Antonio's neighborhood.

1924. Did the bakery close? Were they not able to pay Grandpa enough money? I don't know. But in 1924 Grandpa filed his declaration of intention to become a United States Citizen. He was more than 9 hours away, working for the National Tube Company in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania.

Ellwood City is a small town in Western Pennsylvania. The National Tube Company formed iron or steel tubes for many uses. Think of tubes as small as the barrel of a rifle or as big as the muzzle of an armored tank.

In 1924 they were growing so fast that they developed a residential area to house the workers. Did Grandpa hear National Tube was hiring? Were they advertising in newspapers across the country?

When he filed his naturalization papers, his home address was a post office box in Ellwood City. He was still there when he became a citizen in February 1927.

1927. Eight months after becoming a citizen, Pietro had moved an hour away to marry my grandmother, Lucy. He was working for the Carnegie Steel Company.

Was this a job transfer after a company merger? Or did his father's cousin (also his future father-in-law) help him get the job? His quick marriage makes me think this was an arranged marriage. The family decided Pietro would be a good match for Lucy, so he took an opportunity to work for Carnegie Steel.

Pietro's documents show where he worked just months before he married.
Pietro's documents show where he worked just months before he married.
1933. Pietro now had 2 young children, including my father. He lived next to his wife's family in the Youngstown suburbs. But he's known to have hated his job. It was dirty work, and he wanted out.

1935. Pietro seized an opportunity to leave the dirty work behind. He moved his family to the Bronx where his Uncle Giuseppe lived. Pietro took a much cleaner job. He was a stone setter at a novelty jewelry factory.

1953. Pietro was 51 years old. Not a great age for a job change. His wife Lucy had cancer and wanted to be near her parents. The family moved back to the Youngstown area. Pietro took a railroad job, but he didn't like it.

1957. After Lucy's death, my father married my mother, and they lived in U.S. Air Force housing. By 1957 my parents lived in a row home in the Bronx. Pietro lived on the bottom floor and returned to working in the cleaner jewelry industry.

Do you have ancestors who moved around? What can the documents tell you about why they moved?


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Friday, May 17, 2019

The Genealogy Project You Bring Home from Vacation

Cemeteries get genealogists excited. Put that excitement to good use.

It was April 2005. As we were leaving the little town where my great grandparents were born, I spotted something.

"Stop! Go back! That was the cemetery."

What I had spotted was my 2nd great grandmother's last name peeking up above a wall. The name Muollo, high up on a crypt, was all I could see of the cemetery.

My husband and I stepped into this very small Italian town's very small cemetery. We were looking for familiar names. And we found plenty. He took several awkward pictures of me smiling next to a grave.

We also took gravestone photos in my mother's father's hometown and my father's grandmother's hometown.

The locals were definitely looking at me funny.
The locals were definitely looking at me funny.
I didn't return to my ancestors' hometowns until 2018. By that time, I knew a heck of a lot more last names that belonged in my family tree. I took so many pictures that my iPhone's battery died. And it's always fully charged. I switched to my husband's phone.

A Genealogy Fan's Calling

If you get the chance to visit your ancestors' towns, remember this: As a genealogy fan you're duty-bound to visit the cemeteries. Take as many photos as you can. All those lovely gravestones are people waiting to find their way into your family tree.

And if it's also the custom where your people come from, the graves may have a photograph of the deceased. I treasure those photographs.

Once you're home again, dig up the photos and see what you can create from all those names and dates.

3 Success Stories

Here are 3 examples of random cemetery photos I took. They were people I hoped were relatives. Here's what I discovered about them.

1. Potential 1st Cousin

On the 2005 visit to that first cemetery, I knew only 3 last names from the town:
  • Muollo—the name that called out to me as we were driving by the cemetery
  • Sarracino
  • Saviano
Just inside the gate, opposite the Muollo crypt, there were a couple of Sarracino gravestones. These were little niches built into the exterior wall of the cemetery.

We continued walking row by row, finding a Saviano and many Sarracinos. One Sarracino grave seemed to speak to me. This is my maternal grandmother's maiden name. Grandma was conceived right there in that town, but born in New York in late 1899. (She's yelling at me from beyond for not saying she was born in 1900.)

I found the grave of Vincenzo Sarracino, born in 1902. I saw the photo of his face, and I thought he looked nice. He felt familiar. Because of his name and birth year, I thought he might be my grandmother's first cousin.

Even if you don't know them now, they may be yours.
Even if you don't know them now, they may be yours.
Three years later, I found out the truth. I'd gone to Pittsburgh to meet a large group of my distant Sarracino cousins. They showed me photographs of Vincenzo Sarracino with his wife and children. His father and my grandmother's father were brothers.

Vincenzo really was my grandmother's first cousin.

2. Side-by-Side

In some countries including Italy, your remains don't stay in the grave forever. They limit the cemetery's footprint. Over time, they place the bones into small containers so many family members can occupy one space.

In my grandfather's hometown in 2018, I spotted 2 gravestones leaning against a wall. I thought the markers were recently removed from their spot and the bodies relocated.

Were they placed there randomly, or did they belong together?
Were they placed there randomly, or did they belong together?
They were Angela Iamarino and Innocenzo Gentile. She had my maiden name. I wondered if the two of them belonged together.

Using my collection of downloaded Italian vital records, I found their birth records. Angela and Innocenzo were in fact a married couple. Each of their birth records has their marriage date and their spouse's name written in the column. (I love when they do that.)

It turns out Angela's parents were already in my family tree. Angela was my great grandfather's 3rd cousin. Thanks to the gravemarker, I have her gentle face in my family tree.

3. A Kind Face

When we photographed Michelina Leone's grave in 2005, we had no idea who she was. And while my grandfather's last name of Leone is common, in his hometown, any Leone is likely related to me. And I thought she had a kind face.

A couple of years later a second cousin reached out to me from Italy. He must have found me on a genealogy board and emailed me. His grandmother was my grandfather's sister Eva Leone.

He told me Eva's sad story—which no one in my family in America had ever heard. Eva was 49 years old, working as a housekeeper in someone else's home. One day she decided to take a little drink of what she thought was wine.

It was poison. Despite it being 1947, no one could get her to medical care in time, and she died.

Eva's sons were grown at the time, but not married. Michelina Leone stepped in to help out. She took care of Eva's sons and probably kept house for Eva's widower. Michelina was the daughter of Eva's first cousin, but only 6 years younger than Eva.

I visited the Leone hometown again in 2018. Thanks to a tip from a friend, I found a small plaque placed by Michelina Leone attached to one of the church pews. It's dedicated to the memory of her parents.

She honored her family—my family—in many ways.
She honored her family—my family—in many ways.
Now each of these people—and many more—are in my family tree. So is my photograph of their gravestone. And so is their portrait, as seen on their grave.

Small town cemeteries are bound to contain many relatives. But it isn't only small towns. I can walk the rows of St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx, New York, and find a good number of relatives' names there. And they'll always be there.

What about your hometowns? The next chance you have to visit a cemetery where you know you have relatives, spread out. Photograph more and more of the gravestones. Work with the facts to see what you've found. Then share your photos on Find a Grave, Billion Graves, or both. It's a genealogy project that keeps on giving.


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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

How Far Did Your Ancestors Commute to Work?

Think a 45-minute drive to work is pretty good? Your ancestors would be shocked.

I visited the town of Hornell, New York, in 2016. I walked back and forth in front of the house where my grandmother Lucy was born.

Then I walked in front of the train station (now the Hornell Erie Depot Museum) where my great grandfather Pasquale worked. Although I drove, Pasquale's house was less than a half mile from the railroad yard.

What was your ancestor's workday routine like?
What was your ancestor's workday routine like?
Bing Maps says it's a 7-minute walk to work. I can imagine Pasquale walking home for lunch. His wife Maria Rosa would have his place at the table set and waiting for him. He could eat for a few minutes and walk back to work. I don't know how long his lunch break was, but he could definitely do this within 30 minutes.

One great resource for learning where your male ancestor lived and worked is his draft registration card.
  • If he was born between 1872 and 1900 and lived in America, you should be able to find his World War I draft registration card.
  • If he was born between 28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897 and lived in America, you should be able to find his World War II draft registration card. These are not the cards for young men who were to be drafted. This was the "Old Man's Draft" to be used only in an emergency situation.
I wasn't sure of the company name until I Googled it.
I wasn't sure of the company
name until I Googled it.
A draft registration card can tell you the name and address of the business where your ancestor worked. The cards also have your ancestor's home address.

You can easily create a "commuter graphic" for each ancestor:
  • Go to your favorite map software such as Bing Maps or Google Maps.
  • Enter his work address.
  • Click the Directions button and select walking directions to his job location.
  • Save this walking map and the directions with a screen capture tool such as Windows Snipping Tool.
  • Add the commuting map to your ancestor's profile in your family tree software.
You can also Google the business name and address to find out more about the company. In 1918, Harold Patrick Gibbons worked for Schorsch & Company. I discovered they were a paper bag manufacturer that had moved to the Bronx, New York, in 1913. Their street address changed over time, but their building was the same until they went out of business in 1951. Harold had a 7-minute walk to work, just like my great grandfather.

When you see how close your ancestor lived to work, you might rethink your choices.
When you see how close your ancestor lived to work, you might rethink your choices.
Also in 1918, Giuseppe Golia lived north of New York City in the town of Port Chester. His World War I draft registration card says he worked in Port Chester for "R.B.&W." A Google search found that the Russell, Burdsall & Ward Bolt and Nut Company is still in business, but not in Port Chester. Founded in 1844, the company started the Port Chester Bolt and Nut Company in Port Chester in 1871. They became the Russell, Burdsall & Ward Bolt and Nut Company, where Giuseppe Golia worked, in 1901.

I don't have a street address for RB&W, but it's a safe bet they were along the railroad tracks. Giuseppe's 1918 address doesn't exist anymore. But his 1920 address is a 6-minute walk to the railroad tracks.

If you don't have the exact address, you can make an educated guess.
If you don't have the exact address, you can make an educated guess.
These commuter graphics give you another insight into your ancestor's daily life. I imagine my ancestors would think my commute is as wonderful as I do. But I can't map it online. My commute is from my bedroom to my great room.

How far did your ancestors commute to work?


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Friday, May 10, 2019

Great Grandpa Was a Bird of Passage

His repeated trips to America give me lots of clues about my great grandfather's life.

My great grandfather Francesco Iamarino made a handful of trips from Italy to the Bronx where his brother lived. He set out on his first trip in 1903. He was 25 years old with a wife and infant son (my grandfather).

Did your ancestor make more than one trip to another country?
Did your ancestor make more than one trip to another country?
His brother, my 2nd great uncle Giuseppe, left for America in 1900. Francesco stayed behind and married a year later. Giuseppe Iamarino stayed in the Bronx. My dad remembers living in Uncle Joe's apartment building as a child.

But my great grandfather Francesco did not stay. He was what they call a "bird of passage". That's an immigrant who left the poverty of Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to earn money. They made multiple journeys across the ocean. They found work, earned money for a period of time, and went back home to their wives and children.

My other ancestors came to America to stay. But not Francesco.

His ship manifests are the only evidence I have of his time in America. He was not here for a census. He's not in a city directory. He's only on the ship manifests.

Without all his trips, I'd have nothing but birth, marriage, and death records.
Without all his trips, I'd have nothing but birth, marriage, and death records.
Here are some of the facts I've pieced together:
  • July 11, 1903. Francesco leaves his wife Libera and my 9-month-old grandfather Pietro to sail to New York.
  • August 1, 1903. Francesco arrives in the New York harbor to join his brother Giuseppe at 556 Morris Avenue in the Bronx. Coincidentally, this is the same neighborhood where my mother's family lived. They'd arrived in 1899.
  • February 21, 1904. Francesco's 2nd child Giovannangela is born, but it isn't clear if Francesco is in Italy at the time.
  • February 24, 1909. After the birth of his 3rd child, Maria, Francesco returns to the Bronx and his brother, Giuseppe. This time he travels with 4 other men from his hometown. One is his brother Teofilo; the others are his brothers-in-law.
  • 13 October 1913. Once again, Francesco returns to his brother in the Bronx.
  • 10 September 1922. Francesco's 4th and final child Assunta is born. Francesco is 44 years old, but isn't quite done making those 3-week voyages across the Atlantic.
  • 19 March 1929. Did Francesco know this was to be his final trip to America? This time he went to Youngstown, Ohio, to visit the son he hadn't seen in almost a decade. He meets his son's wife and new baby girl.
Multiple voyages mean more and more facts for your family tree.
Multiple voyages mean more and more facts for your family tree.
Francesco's many voyages shaped him and changed him. On one of his trips, staying in the Bronx, he heard singing and stopped into a local church. It was an Evangelical Church—not the Catholic Church of his traditional Italian upbringing.

My great grandfather was so moved by what he saw, he became a convert. He saw people overcome by the spirit of God. They were wailing and crying. Back home in Italy, Francesco founded his own small church. His grandchildren and great grandchildren are still running the church today. They're the ones who told me this story and showed me their church.

Imagine how different his and his family's lives would have been if he hadn't made that particular trip to the Bronx.

Are you looking for your ancestors who didn't stay in your country? You may have a bird of passage in your tree and not even know it.


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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The DNA Problem We Aren't Talking About

Everybody in the gene pool! You're all my ancestors.

Are you chasing a pair of magic ancestors who don't exist? You find a strong DNA match. You expect to find a shared set of 4th great grandparents or so. But is there a common set of great grandparents at all?

If you and your DNA match come from an endogamous culture, the answer may be "Sorry. No."

Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a specific group, over and over again. Let's say a small town has 200 families. When each child comes of age, they marry someone from one of the other 199 families in the town.

In some cultures and some geographies, intermarriage was the only choice.
In some cultures and some geographies, intermarriage was the only choice.
Imagine keeping up that practice for centuries. The 200 families' DNA would be so blended together that they may be hard to tell apart.

The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) Wiki says endogamous populations include:
  • Jews
  • Polynesians
  • Low German Mennonites
  • the Amish
  • Acadians
  • French Canadians
  • the people of Newfoundland
  • many Arab countries
  • people from many islands.
None of those groups include my ethnicity. But I've seen firsthand that endogamy was a necessity when you lived in a rural, isolated town in the 1700s or 1800s. In my ancestors' towns, intermarriage of families was the only choice. Sometimes a man married a woman from the next town. But most of the time, he married a woman from his own little neighborhood.

Think about their DNA segments getting all twisted together in knots. It's like that tangled-up ball of Christmas lights. You'd rather throw it out and get a new set than wrestle with it all day.

The ISOGG says that people "from endogamous populations … will typically have large numbers of matches in the DNA databases. … [Their] relationships will often be more distant than predicted."

More distant than predicted. Let that sink in. If your people practiced endogamy, their relationships may be more distant than predicted.

My parents' ancestors came from a few neighboring endogamous towns. My parents share 37 centimorgans across 4 DNA segments. That can make them many things. According to Ancestry DNA, my parents could be:

Got shared DNA? There are so many ways you may be related.
Got shared DNA? There are so many ways you may be related.

And here I've been trying to find that one magic couple. That one set of my 4th or 5th great grandparents that belong to each of my parents.

What if that couple doesn't exist? What if my parents share DNA because their entire region of Italy shares DNA?

LegacyTree tells us that people from endogamous groups often "share multiple ancestors in common with each other. They also may descend from the same ancestral couple multiple times."

DNAeXplained adds that if you match someone from an endogamous population, "it's because you share so much of the same DNA…not because a particular segment comes from one specific ancestor."

How does this change your genealogy research? If you have ancestors who married within their small town or tribe for centuries, what should you do?

I've been researching my ancestral hometowns since 2005. I saw right away that there was a ton of intermarriage. The only way to sort out my ancestors was to document the entire town. I did that for my maternal grandfather's town. Now I'm piecing together every extended family relationship from my paternal grandfather's town. The 2 towns are so close that you can see one from the other. But traveling from one to the other is hard. Even to this day.

It's official. I no longer expect to find one magic couple shared by my parents.

The Leeds Method and DNA Painter showed me that the last names of Pozzuto and Zeolla from my paternal grandfather's town have the closest DNA ties to my mother. So I'm going to continue doing what I've been doing.

These 4 shared segments can mean a long list of possible relationships.
These 4 shared segments can mean a long list of possible relationships.
I'm adding every Pozzuto baby to my family tree one at a time. I'm piecing together their ancestors until I can tie them to someone already in my tree. Now that random, unrelated baby is my distant relative.

I'm paying special attention to families that:
  • have both the Pozzuto and Zeolla names through marriage.
  • have one spouse from one of my father's towns and the other spouse from one of my mother's towns.
When that rando-baby becomes a relative, their descendants may tie me to one of my DNA matches. If that DNA match has a connection to both my parents, I've got something special.

It won't be that one magic couple. But it may be a highly condensed bucketful of the shared gene pool. The pool that has my entire Italian region as card-carrying members.

Are you seeing a lot of the same last names marrying one another in your extended family tree? Keep endogamy in mind when your search for one magic couple is feeling like anything but magic.

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Friday, May 3, 2019

2 Reasons to Add Unrelated People to Your Family Tree

When you can't go from point A to point B, you can use "bridge" relatives.

I didn't used to do this. I didn't used to add anyone to my family tree until I knew their connection to me.

But there are at least 2 good reasons to add people, and build their families inside your tree—disconnected from you or anyone else.

Of course the goal is to work on their families until you find that connection. Then they're your family. Here are 2 disconnected families I'm working on right now, and why.

1. To Find a Missing Link

I recently used the Ahnentafel numbering system to create my grandparent chart. The first missing ancestor was Ahnentafel #59. That's the mother of my 2nd great grandmother, Maria Luigia Muollo. I know Maria Luigia's father was Antonio, but I don't know anything else.

The family comes from a little hamlet in Italy that has no available records before 1861. That really limits what I can discover.

But I have a lead. A Muollo family from the same Italian hamlet came to America. They settled in a tiny Pennsylvania borough with my great grandfather's nephew.

I began building the Pennsylvania branch of the Muollo family in my family tree. I labelled them in Family Tree Maker and my document tracker as having no relationship established to me. Yet.

After adding all the United States documents I could find for them, I turned to the Italian documents. I found birth records for the Italian emigrants. Those documents gave me each person's parents' names.

With these new names, I can fit together more members of the Muollo family from my ancestral hometown. I haven't found a connection to my 2nd great grandmother yet, but I'm getting closer. I'm looking forward to that moment when "No direct relationship found" turns into something else. Anything else!

Keep track of your unattached people with an image or obvious notation.
Keep track of your unattached people with an image or obvious notation.
2. To Tie into Your DNA Connections

I've tried both the Leeds Method and DNA Painter to work on my biggest DNA puzzle. My parents share DNA. And we'd like to know how.

These tools showed me that 2 specific last names are key. They're both common in my paternal grandfather's hometown. These two last names, Pozzuto and Zeolla, have the highest concentration of DNA shared by both my parents.

There are a ton of people with those names in my collection of Italian documents. By putting together several of their families within my family tree, I can see how they all fit together. I can see how they connect to my DNA matches' family trees.

For example, I chose an 1858 birth record for an Angelo Pozzuto. That gave me his parents' names, Giuseppe and Maria. I put them in my tree. Then I found Giuseppe and Maria's 1851 marriage records. That where I found Maria's parents' names, and her father's parents' names.

It's well worth the effort when the disconnected branch gets connected.
It's well worth the effort when the disconnected branch gets connected.
Giuseppe's side of the family was better. I learned his parents' names, and all his grandparents' names. And that's where it happened. His maternal grandparents, Giorgio and Serafina, were already in my tree. They were all related to me.

Mark your unrelated people clearly.
Mark your unrelated people clearly.
This new branch of 11 people went from "no relationship established" to my distant cousins. I've had this kind of luck with other random Pozzuto and Zeolla babies. I'm building stronger connections to my DNA matches, and getting closer to solving the puzzle of my parents.

If you decide to build unrelated branches inside your family tree, follow these 2 tips:
  • Make it clear this family is not connected to you. I give them a special profile picture in Family Tree Maker that makes it unmistakable. In my document tracker spreadsheet, I highlight their name in yellow and follow it with the words NO RELATION.
  • Don't skip the sources. When you connect these people to yourself, you'll need to go back and grab the documents you found.
It's a fantastic feeling when you make that connection. Then you can remove that special profile picture and erase that yellow highlighting. And best of all, you've expanded your growing family.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

How to Fully Process Your Census Documents

A process improves the quality of your work, but only if you follow it!

One of my realistic 2019 genealogy goals is to search for every missing census form for the people in my family tree. I'm up to last names beginning with the letter R.

That sounds terrific, but the bulk of my family is named Sarracino and Saviano, so I've got a long way to go.

To do this, I'm scrolling down the "Need to find" column of my document tracker. That's where I keep track of every document I've collected for anyone in my tree. I'm on the lookout for any mention of a census in that column.

On Sunday I got through the letters P and Q. I may not find every single missing census, but I do find a lot. The point is to make a good effort and see what comes up.

Once I find a missing census, a whole process needs to happen. That's what I want to share with you. Years ago I didn't follow this process. Experience taught me it's absolutely critical.

Follow these steps to make the most of every fact in every census sheet. One disclaimer: I have no relation who was in a U.S. census before 1900. I know the earlier censuses give you a lot less detail, but the ideas are the same.

1. Naming Style

Download the census sheet image and give it a logical name. Create a format that makes sense to you and stick to it. My format uses the head of household's name and the year.

What naming style will make sense to future you, and your successor?
What naming style will make sense to future you, and your successor?
2. Filing System

Save the file in the proper folder. You should have a filing system that makes sense to you. If I ask you to show me the 1930 census for your grandfather's family, how quickly can you find it?

I keep every census image in the "census forms" folder in my "FamilyTree" folder. These are on my computer and backed up to a cloud at the same time.

3. Image Properties

Add information to the image file itself. Right-click the image file and choose Properties, Details. Give it a logical title, like "1900 census for John Joseph Glennon and family". Lead with the year to sort the images chronologically in Family Tree Maker. Add a description that makes the image re-traceable. Here's my format:
  • line numbers, so you or anyone can find the family on the page
  • name of the document, such as "1900 United State Federal Census"
  • details showing how it's filed at the National Archives. For example, "Connecticut > Fairfield > Bridgeport Ward 11 > District 0076; supervisor's district 38, enumeration district 76, sheet 4A"
  • image number on Ancestry or wherever your found it, such as "image 7 of 56"
  • the document's URL, such as "https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6061/4294445-01032"
Store facts with the image file to add traceability.
Store facts with the image file to add traceability.
That image is going to be part of your family tree, and these facts make it 100% credible. The URL is handy for you when you realize the head of household's brother is probably living nearby.

4. Information Gathering

Now you can add all the details and the image to all the right people in your family tree. Start with the head of household. Give them:
  • their year of birth, based on their age in this census
  • the street address with the date found at the top of the page
  • their occupation or their unemployment. I tend to assume they worked in the same city because commuting wasn't a thing back in the day.
  • any notations about immigration or naturalization
  • their number of years married or age at first marriage
  • their veteran status
  • their language spoken. For me, it's always the same. The old-timers spoke Italian, but their American-born children spoke English.
  • on the 1940 census, record where they lived in 1935. Was it the "same house" (use that address), the "same place" (use the city), or a different city?
  • attach the census image to the head of household. The title and description you gave it earlier should carry over to your genealogy software. In Family Tree Maker, I add the date of the census and give the image a category of "Census".
Take this bit of perfection and spread it to each member of the household.
Take this bit of perfection and spread it to each member of the household.
Now, repeat! For each member of the household, add:
  • their year of birth
  • the address
  • their occupation, if they had one
  • immigration or naturalization years
  • every other fact that's something you want to note
  • attach a copy of the same image
5. Tracking

My final step is to make a note of this census in my document tracker. If this was a missing census, I put its year in each family member's Census column and remove it from their "Need to find" column.

A tracking spreadsheet keeps your genealogy research on track.
A tracking spreadsheet keeps your genealogy research on track.
One of my readers told me this level of thoroughness is way more than she cares to do. But what if this hobby gets to be more important to you as time goes by? What if a DNA match doubts your work? How much will you regret your slapdash way of recording facts? (Note: "Slapdash" is dictionary.com's cleaner version of what I'm thinking. "Sloppy" is another good one.)

I hope this process gives you an idea of what a superstar you are or how much more you can do. I have no regrets about being this thorough. Except when it's late at night and I find a big household to process.

And even then, I'll either trudge through the steps or save them for the next day. It's that important.

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Friday, April 26, 2019

A Roadmap for Your Genealogy Research

It may look like a spreadsheet, but it is a roadmap. Let it point the way.

My last article talked about how helpful it is to use Ahnentafel numbers. After writing that, I worked on my grandparent chart some more. I did 2 things to make my chart better.

1. Used Proper Placement

I used each person's number to put them in the right cell of the spreadsheet. Did you notice the four colors of my grandparent chart? I gave each of my four grandparents and their ancestors a color: yellow, pink, green, and blue.

Will color-coding uncover a merger in your family history?
Will color-coding uncover a merger in your family history?
I did the same thing in Family Tree Maker. I tagged each of my grandparents with a color. That color spreads automatically to every one of their direct ancestors. It's a quick way to see:
  • which of the more than 20,000 people in my tree are my direct ancestor
  • whose branch they're on.
It also helps me see the shared ancestors of my dad's parents. Pietro Iamarino and Lucy Iamarino were 3rd cousins. I've got lots of ancestors with both yellow and pink color codes. I mark these ancestors as orange in my chart—that's a blend of yellow and pink.

The Ahnentafel numbers helped me see that I'd placed some names in the wrong color.

2. Added Placeholders

I added the right Ahnentafel number to the blank cells in my grandparent chart. It was tedious. I was typing away during conference calls all day. I finally got tired of it at the 9th and 10th great grandparent level, so I skipped around and left many cells blank. You'll find the updated blank chart here for download.

I make my placeholders bold so it's clear they haven't been found.
Make placeholders bold so it's clear they haven't been found.
Then I realized something cool I could do with the blank cells.

Pick any one of your known ancestors. Their father's Ahnentafel number is twice their own. And their mother's number is one more than that.

Knowing their numbers, but not their names, I can put placeholders in my chart to highlight who I need to find. For example, I added placeholders for my 6th great grandparents' parents in the 7th Great Grandparents column:
  • #528 father of Costantino d'Emilia
  • #529 mother of Costantino d'Emilia
  • #530 father of Libera Mascia
  • #531 mother of Libera Mascia
But wait, there's more! I can add placeholders for their ancestors in the 8th Great Grandparents column:
  • #1056 paternal grandfather of Costantino d'Emilia
  • #1057 paternal grandmother of Costantino d'Emilia
  • #1058 maternal grandfather of Costantino d'Emilia
  • #1059 maternal grandmother of Costantino d'Emilia
  • #1060 paternal grandfather of Libera Mascia
  • #1061 paternal grandmother of Libera Mascia
  • #1062 maternal grandfather of Libera Mascia
  • #1063 maternal grandmother of Libera Mascia
In my case, I'm unlikely to discover many of these names without access to Italian church records. But if your ancestors come from the United Kingdom and other places, you're in luck. You have a much better chance of filling in these missing names.

You know what that means? Your personalized grandparent chart is your genealogy research roadmap.

Placeholders make it easy to see who you should be searching for.
Placeholders make it easy to see who you should be searching for.
In my case, my chart shows me that I'm missing a bunch of 4th great grandparents. And they're all on my maternal grandmother's branch. I've been going hog-wild researching my paternal ancestors lately. But these 8 ancestors on my blue branch need to be a priority.

It's so easy (and fun) to go off on a tangent with your family tree building. Your grandparent chart can set you back on track. It's amazing to me that I've identified 56 of my 64 4th great grandparents. It's even more amazing to know the names of 4 of my 9th great grandparents.

Let this roadmap highlight your top-priority research areas. Think how good it will feel to complete more cells of your grandparent chart.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

3 Things to Do with Ahnentafel Numbers

This numbering system takes all the guesswork out of which ancestor is which.

Did you realize each of your direct ancestors has a number? It's a number that never changes. And my ancestor #126 is the same as your ancestor #126. They're not the same person, but they are our mother's mother's mother's mother's mother's father.

We call this numbering system Ahnentafel numbers. Ahnentafel is German for ancestor (ahnen) table (tafel). Here's how it works.

In your family tree, you are #1, your father is #2, and your mother is #3. The rest follows a pattern. All male ancestors have even numbers and all female ancestors have odd numbers.

Ahnentafel numbers let me sort a column of ancestors easily.
Ahnentafel numbers let me sort a column of ancestors easily.
You can figure out the numbers yourself. Let's use your father, Ahnentafel #2, as an example. His father is double his number (so, 4) and his mother is 1 more than his father (so, 5).

One of my 2nd great grandmothers is #31, so her father is double that (62) and her mother is 1 more than her father (63).

Family Tree Maker has an Ahnentafel report to figure them all out for you. Choose yourself, or anyone in your tree who you want to be #1, and run the report. But what can you do with these numbers?

Here are 3 useful things you can do with your Ahnentafel numbers.

1. Add Them to Your Grandparent Chart

I created a grandparent chart to keep track of all the direct ancestors I've identified. Here's a blank chart you can use—now updated with numbers in the cells. Some of the longer columns were getting pretty full. That's when I realized Ahnentafel numbers would help me keep the people in each column in the right order. It helps me see where the missing ancestors belong, too.

2. List Them Out

Let's say you want to see who's missing, but you don't want a grandparent chart. You can list your ancestors in numerical order, like this:
  1. you
  2. father
  3. mother
  4. paternal grandfather (your father's father)
  5. paternal grandmother (your father's mother)
  6. maternal grandfather (your mother's father)
  7. maternal grandmother (your mother's mother)
  8. great-grandfather (your father's father's father)
  9. great-grandmother (your father's father's mother)
  10. great-grandfather (your father's mother's father)
  11. great-grandmother (your father's mother's mother)
  12. great-grandfather (your mother's father's father)
  13. great-grandmother (your mother's father's mother)
  14. great-grandfather (your mother's mother's father)
  15. great-grandmother (your mother's mother's mother)
Continue the list as far as you can until you hit a missing number. That's the closest ancestor you're missing.

Here's a simple tool to help you figure out which number belongs to which ancestor. Simply enter a number in the box to see their relationship to you, like #120, your mother's mother's mother's father's father's father.

The first ancestor I'm missing is Ahnentafel #59, my mother's mother's father's mother's mother, or my 3rd great grandmother.

I'm not missing another one until #109, my mother's father's mother's mother's father's mother, or my 4th great grandmother.

My missing 3rd great grandmother and handful of missing 4th great grandparents need my attention. If I didn't look at my tree in this way, I wouldn't know exactly who is missing.

This section of my ancestor chart shows each ancestor's Ahnentafel number.
This section of my ancestor chart shows each ancestor's Ahnentafel number.
3. Create a Custom Ahnentafel Chart

I added a new custom Ahnentafel field in Family Tree Maker. (Go to Edit > Manage Facts > New. Use Ahnentafel for the Fact label, but uncheck the boxes for Date and Place.) I can add the proper Ahnentafel number to each of my direct ancestors.

Now I can create my vertical pedigree chart and see the numbers. It's easier to see exactly who's missing in this graphical format.

No matter how you do it, think of your Ahnentafel numbers as a tool to show you where to focus your research work. I really want to find the name of my #59.

You may not think of genealogy as a numbers game, but these numbers can help you fortify your family tree. Don't miss the companion article on this topic.


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Friday, April 19, 2019

5 Tips for Researching the In-Laws

When the family names and places aren't yours, how can you be sure it's them?

I wouldn't research my ex-in-laws at all if they weren't my sons' ancestors. But since they are, once in a while I check to see what else I can learn about them.

The main problem with researching your in-laws is the lack of familiarity. When it's your family, the names and places you discover are familiar. You can remember how Grandpa always mentioned the name of his hometown. You heard your mom talk about her great uncle living in a little room in her building.

But when it's not your family, you have so much less to go on. What can you do?

When my 1st son was born, I filled in a family tree chart in his baby book. My ex-mother- and father-in-law gave me the names for their side of the family. The baby-book chart only goes back as far as the baby's great grandparents. But it's a good start.

Here are 5 tips for building that less-familiar family tree.

One document after another, you can make progress on that in-law's family tree.
One document after another, you can make progress on that in-law's family tree.
1. Start With the Easy Documents

Try to find the latest census record you can for the family. For me, that's the 1940 census for each of my ex-husband's parents. (Let's call them ex-Mom and ex-Dad.) This is the first step to learning more about the families.

These census pages tell me where ex-Mom and ex-Dad lived in 1940 and 1935. They confirm ex-Mom's siblings' names and that ex-Dad was an only child. Now I have the approximate birth years and birth places of their parents.

Each tidbit of information gives clues to help find more documents. Keep building on each fact you learn.

A seemingly meaningless memory came in handy when I found Uncle Anton.
An odd little memory came in handy when I found Uncle Anton.
2. Try to Remember Details

One snippet of a memory proved to be very helpful. I remember visiting my ex-in-laws' vacation home in the 1980s. I went up to the attic to fetch something and saw an old hat. It was a black bowler hat with a sheen to it. Pinned to it was a piece of paper that said "Uncle Anton's hat".

Knowing there was an Uncle Anton helped me positively identify the family in the 1900 census. Both father and son were named Anton. Another son, John, was ex-Mom's father.

That meant I'd found another generation, plus siblings. And that led to many more documents.

A rock-solid bit of family lore—debunked!
A rock-solid bit of family lore—debunked!
3. Investigate Family Stories

For years we thought ex-Dad's mother's uncle was Captain Smith who went down at the helm of the Titanic. I met ex-Dad's mom. This sweet old woman was deeply ashamed that her father Walter Smith's brother was the captain. My ex-Dad even belonged to a Titanic historic association.

When my son's school friends didn't believe he was related to Captain Smith, I said, "Now I know how to prove it." So I used my new genealogy research skills and quickly learned…wait for it…Captain Smith had no siblings! That is, he had only half-siblings whose last name was Hancock, not Smith.

What went wrong there? My ex-Dad came to realize the truth, but by then, his mom had passed away.

Have you heard any family stories with a single drop of historical fact you can investigate?

4. Follow the Paper Trail

Here's where you need to be careful. Without first-hand knowledge of the family, it will be impossible to be sure of some documents.

For example, take ex-Mom's maternal grandfather Edmund. The 1910 U.S. Federal Census says he arrived in America in 1889 and was naturalized by 1910.

I found an 1889 ship manifest with a man from Ireland who is the right age and has the right name. But ship manifests in 1889 don't offer much information. How can I be sure this is my guy? For now I've saved the URL of the manifest, but I haven't added it to my family tree.

The best way to prove I'm looking at the right Edmund is to find his naturalization papers. So far, I can't find those papers.

5. Seek Out Relatives

Of course you should never trust someone else's family tree if it has no sources. But you can use it for clues.

I found a relative with a published family tree. This took ex-Dad's paternal line back several generations. Using this tree as a guide, I searched for documents on Ancestry.com to prove whether the tree was right or wrong.

With this helpful tree, I went back as far as a set of 5th great grandparents for my sons.

If you use someone else's tree for its clues, be sure to cite the tree as a source. I'm happy when I can replace that family tree citation with a more formal source (like "England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538–1975"). But until you have proof in hand, add a citation so you know where you found this detail.

While you may never get as far on your in-laws side as you do on your own, you can do it justice. Use your skills to gather every piece of low-hanging fruit. And see where it leads you.


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