Tuesday, January 29, 2019

When Documents Disagree, Get More Documents

Mo' documents, mo' proof. When researching a distant relative, supporting evidence is a must.

When you're going out on a limb of your family tree that isn't quite yours, it's easy to make mistakes. You have no personal knowledge of this branch. How will you know if the census taker made a mistake? Or if the death certificate informant was wrong?

How can you avoid putting bad information in your family tree?

Your best option is to gather every available scrap of evidence. Some facts will contradict each other. What if 3 documents say one thing and the 4th says another? Are the 3 sources reputable? Could the 4th source contain a human error?

Here's an example I found yesterday.

I'm working on one of my 2019 Genealogy Goals. I'm going line-by-line through my document tracker spreadsheet. Each time I find a U.S. census noted in a person's "Need to find" column, I'm searching for it. My goal is to do a "reasonably exhaustive search" for every missing U.S. census in my family tree.

After a productive weekend of searching, I was up to the name Foster in my alphabetical list of almost 2,000 names.

Elvia Foster was born in 1884 and married my ex-husband's grandmother's uncle. A 1916 Michigan marriage register was my only source of information for Elvia. The register lists the parents of the 32-year-old bride as Albert and "Unknown".

Poor Elvia needed more documents badly. Here's what I learned from several searches:

Go after every major document so you can see the whole picture.
Go after every major document so you can see the whole picture.

1. 1910 United States Federal Census

I found a 1910 census with an "Elva" Foster. She was from the right state (Michigan), but her father is Alfred J. Foster, not Albert. Her mother is either Lillie or Nellie. So I started looking for Elvia (or Elva) after her marriage.

2. 1920 United States Federal Census

In 1920 "Elvah" was still in Michigan, married to James Kinney. Their ages and places of birth supported the 1910 census information. I saw that she was a bookkeeper in a casket company. That's helpful. The 1910 census I'm not so sure about shows Elva Foster working as a bookkeeper in a cabinet company. Caskets are sort of cabinets…

But something caught my eye. Listed right above the Kinney family in the 1920 census are Alfred J. and Nellie L. Foster. The Fosters have one son with them: Everitt born in 1899. I checked that 1910 census again. There is a son listed as E. Lesley born in 1900. Taken together, these are good reasons to believe these Fosters are Elvia/Elva/Elvah's family.

Be careful not to overlook another part of the family.
Be careful not to overlook another part of the family.

3. 1930 United States Federal Census

In 1930 James and Elva are living in the same house as in 1920, but the Fosters are gone. Elva has worked her way up to office executive at the casket factory. Her husband James has changed careers. He's now a cabinet maker at a furniture factory. Maybe Elva's father, a carpenter, taught James a thing or two.

4. 1940 United States Federal Census

In 1940 James and Elva are still at the same address. There are no Fosters nearby. They're getting on in years. Elva has retired and James is in another industry.

5. 1900 United States Federal Census

I did one more search for an earlier census. The 1900 census lists Alfred J. Foster as James A. Foster. His year and place of birth agree with the other censuses. His wife is again listed as Nellie L., and Everitt or E. Lesley is now Lesley E. Pick a name, dude!

Luckily there was one more entry: Alfred's mother-in-law. She's listed as Elizabeth Beaumont, widow. So Nellie's maiden name must be Beaumont, right?

Normally I'd say "Yes…most of the time." But this was not enough data to be sure Nellie was a Beaumont. What if her mother had remarried?

6. Death Records

Since I had all the censuses I needed for Elva, I wanted to search for her death date. If I could find that, she would be complete in my document tracker. I'd have all the major documents I wanted.

Here's where I got really lucky. A Michigan death record and a Find-a-Grave link appeared at the top of my search results. The Michigan death record provides her birth date, town of birth, and death date. It confirms that her father was Alfred James Foster. It tells me why her mother was called Nellie: her given name was Cornelia. But Nellie's full maiden name is Cornelia Leona Peck, not Beaumont.

On the Find-a-Grave website, someone added photos and detailed information about the Foster family. Nellie's father was named Peck. Her mother (Elizabeth Beaumont from the 1900 census) had the maiden name Blackford. Hey! That's the name of a boarder living with the Foster family in the 1900 census.

Sure enough, Elizabeth Blackford did marry twice. Her first husband was John Peck, father of Nellie. Her second husband was Frederick Beaumont.

I'm not going to go any further on documenting the Foster family. They're way too unrelated to me. My policy is to capture the names of an in-law's parents. But I'm not going to add Nellie's siblings or parents. All I wanted to do was confirm Nellie's maiden name.

Now I have lots of data on Elva (that's the spelling that's used the most) Foster Kinney. There's nothing more I need to find on such a distant in-law.

Finding and processing the documents mentioned here took less than 2 hours (see "How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images"). Now my tree, shared on Ancestry.com, has the right names for James Kinney's wife and her parents.

This example shows why I encourage you to keep an inventory of the documents you have and the ones you're missing.

Those missing documents may completely change the facts in your family tree.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Did Your Ancestors Break the Mold?

There's at least one in every generation. The rebel who doesn't do what's expected. I found one this week.

My closest relatives in my parents' generation grew up in the same neighborhood. Because they were so close together, each mom helped raise her siblings' and her cousins' kids.

Because of that shared childhood, I figured my more distant cousins were raised just like me. After all, we all share the same roots. How different could our parents be?

Pretty different, actually.

The building where my mother's extended family lived.
The building where my mother's extended family lived. Their church was on the next block. So was my dad.
Seeing How My More Distant Cousins Grew Up

I went to a family funeral on Tuesday. The deceased (let's call her T) was my mom's 2nd cousin. T's daughter gave a unique eulogy at the funeral. Since her mother always wanted to be a writer, she delivered the eulogy like a book. She told us T's story in chapters.

Two of my mom's cousins, R and T. Everyone grew up together.
Two of my mom's cousins, R and T.
Everyone grew up together.
I learned T's ideas about life and child-rearing were dramatically different than my mom's. T was a strong-willed, open-minded, self-confident woman. More so than any other woman of her generation in my family. One thing that made T different was her mom. She was an entrepreneur and a tough businesswoman. T carried on the business in her own way. She worked all her life, and she enjoyed it.

Because T raised 3 remarkable children, meeting my 3rd cousins was like stepping into an alternate universe. Their mom did things that my mom wouldn't do in a thousand years.
  • When her husband didn't want to go on a particular vacation, T took the kids and went without him. My mother is still horrified when I drive somewhere alone.
  • When her daughter's friends needed a ride to a Queen concert in the 1980s, T drove them into New York City…and stayed for the concert. My mother could never handle driving in a city.
  • When her children's school friends came to the house—which they did all the time—T was the adult they all confided in. They didn't worry about her ratting them out to their parents. They listened to her advice. My house was not the one all the kids came to.
T taught her children to be adventurous, nurturing, and hard-working.

How Does This Relate to Our Ancestors?

This got me thinking about our earlier, shared ancestors. They lived in tiny, rural Italian towns for hundreds of years.

They were peasants: farmers, shoemakers, and shopkeepers. They lived with their parents until they married, and then they often lived next door. They were illiterate. It'd be surprising if anyone in their towns ever read the newspaper before World War I.

But I wonder. Were there women with an independent streak? Were there parents who wanted their children to have a different life? More than just a good piece of land to farm?

Without written or oral history, how can we know? One thing we can do is look for deviations from the norm. For instance, a set of my great grandparents did not follow the traditional Italian baby-naming conventions. They didn't name a single one of their 6 babies after their own parents.

Was this a rebellious streak? My parents broke those rules, too, otherwise you'd call me Mary. It made my grandfather angry as can be that my brother didn't have his name. But I imagine my parents were thinking like the Americans they were.

And what about the young men, like both of my grandfathers, who went to America and never looked back? Were they more self-confident than the others? More independent? Or were they the only able-bodied sons?

How can you identify the rebels in your family tree? Did their independence lead them to a better life, or a worse one? T sure had a great life. Her legacy is already strong in her grandchildren.

Is it too late for us to break the mold?

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Plowing Through My 2019 Genealogy Goals

It isn't to late to set some goals for the year. Set reachable goals and reap the benefits.

Goals give you a purpose and direction. It can be fun to let your genealogy research lead you wherever it wants. But goals lead to more productive research.

I set 7 genealogy goals for 2019. The first 3 are finite goals. They aren't "I hope I can discover…". They are "do this task until it's finished".

Here's where I stand with my first three 2019 Genealogy Goals:

1. Log the first five years' worth of birth records from each town into spreadsheet

This one is done! I want to create a digital, searchable database of every key fact from 1000s of documents. I downloaded birth, marriage, and death records from my 6 ancestral Italian towns. They start in 1809, and some go into the 1940s.

Because it's an insanely big project, I broke off a chunk—5 years of birth records—to encourage myself to get into it. I'd already transcribed a good amount of the 1809–1813 births, so this wasn't an accurate test of how long the whole project will take.

But the benefits are real. After I finish the next 2 goals, I want to work on the 1814–1818 birth records. That eagerness to continue is exactly what I was shooting for.

2. Search for all missing census forms in my document tracker

Dive in and start those goals. Look what I found in 3 sessions.
Dive in and start those goals.
Look what I found in 3 sessions.
I'm going through the alphabetical list of people in my document tracker spreadsheet. I'm focusing on which names have a missing census form in their "Need to find" column.

Right now I'm into last names beginning with C, and it's been a very satisfying three days. I've added a lot of missing documents to my family tree.

Sometimes while searching for a census form, I can't help but see the death record or marriage index that I was missing. So I'll grab those while I'm at it, too.

The important thing to remember is to stick to your process and handle each document carefully. My routine when finding a new document image is to:
  • Crop it in Photoshop if needed.
  • Rename it using the style I've developed. My file naming rules make it easier to find any document.
  • Add it to the family tree record of each person named on the document. That means each family member on the census form gets a copy of the census sheet in Family Tree Maker.
  • Add each fact and the source citation to each person. Each family member will get a Residence fact based on the census image. Those with a job will get an Occupation fact, too. And all facts get the proper source citation. Other facts can include immigration year, naturalization year, birth and marriage years.
  • Update my document tracker spreadsheet. This is my inventory and to-do list rolled into one. It's important that I keep it accurate.
One thing I decided after starting this goal was to be reasonable. If several search techniques don't get me the census I need, I will move on. The important thing is to make a good effort.

You can add notes and a title to every document image you collect.
You can add notes and a title to every document image you collect.
3. Enter every Pozzuto baby from Colle Sannita into my family tree

I started this goal last year. A DNA analysis method pointed me to a specific last name from my grandfather's hometown. Someone with this name is highly likely to be a direct ancestor for both my parents. Their DNA says they are 4th to 6th cousins. My true goal is to find my parents' connection by analyzing these babies.

I'm working my way through my downloaded collection of vital records from Grandpa's town, adding each of these babies to my tree. I add their parents and try to ID their grandparents. If they aren't connected to anyone in my family tree yet, I give them a profile picture that says "no relationship established". If I find their connection later, I'll be sure to remove their relationship graphic.

It's still January, and I'm having an insanely productive genealogy year already. I plan to bounce between goals 2 and 3 to avoid boredom. That'll make me feel like I'm accomplishing more, too.

It's still January, and it's only January. Have you set your 2019 Genealogy Goals?

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Friday, January 18, 2019

3 Reasons Why Transcribing Every Document Is Not Crazy

I'm transcribing an enormous collection of vital records for my genealogy research. Here's why I'm not nuts for doing so.

If your ancestors came from a small town, there was most likely a ton of intermarriage going on. And it's very possible that families stayed in one town for hundreds of years. Some may have moved to the next town to marry.

Because my roots are almost entirely in 5 little towns there, I've begun an ambitious project.

This massive project will connect me to thousands of relatives.
This massive project will connect me to thousands of relatives.
I discovered a software app that let me download massive collections of birth, marriage, and death records from my towns to my computer. (See "How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives".)

Here's how I've been using these document images so far.

First, I located the vital records for my closest ancestors: my grandfathers, all my great grandparents, and their parents. I put these images in my family tree software.

Next, I began searching for other babies born to my ancestors. I put their facts and documents images in Family Tree Maker, too.

Then, I started sifting through one town's birth records, pulling out all the babies with a particular last name. This is an exercise that I hope will lead me to a missing link. I need to find the one married couple who are the reason why my parents share DNA. (See "The Leeds Method May Have Solved a Big Family Puzzle".)

The thing is, I know there are countless relationships to me waiting to be discovered. That's why I want to put each image's facts into a searchable, sortable spreadsheet. Each time I discover a relative, I put that image in my tree and color the spreadsheet line green. That lets me know I've already found that relationship.

Yesterday I completed one chunk of this project. It was a reasonable amount of work—not overwhelming. That feeling of accomplishment has me excited to do more. It was one of my 2019 Genealogy Goals: to enter the first 5 years' worth of births from each town into my spreadsheet. (See "How to Set Realistic Genealogy Goals for 2019".)

After typing the names, dates, and places from 1,000s of documents into an Excel file, I realized 3 powerful benefits to this seemingly insane project.

1 Name Recognition

What do you mean, you can't read this?
What do you mean, you can't read this?
My husband can't understand how I can read these handwritten, 1800s Italian vital records. But going over every document teaches you:
  • which family names are common in the town
  • which given names are commonly found together (Nicola Domenico, Maria Antonia, Francesco Saverio)
  • what the street names were (and maybe still are) in this town
With repetition, even if the quality of the document or the handwriting are awful, you'll recognize names in a heartbeat.

2 Spotting Familiar "Faces" As You Type

Excel has an AutoComplete feature that's proving very helpful. As I enter several years' worth of birth records, couples are going to show up, having another baby every couple of years. Thanks to AutoComplete, as I begin typing the father or mother's name, I can see that I've entered their name before.

Sometimes I may be unsure of a name. There's could be a blotch on the page, or ink may be bleeding through from the other side. But as I start typing, the name I'm about to type appears in AutoComplete. That's a confirmation that I was making the right choice.

3 Lightning-Fast Searches

I saved the best for last.

Normally, to find a particular person, I have to look at the files for each year. I go to each year's index and try to find the name I need.

But with all the facts—names, dates, ages, occupations, addresses—in a spreadsheet, searches are faster than any genealogy site's search function. No online connection needed.

Imagine being able to find, in one search, each document where your great grandfather is:
  • the baby
  • the groom
  • the father of the baby
  • the decedent
My spreadsheet inventory of all my ancestral towns will be the single greatest genealogy database for ME. What can you build for your family tree research?

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

This Memento Provides Key Facts for Your Family Tree

Have you added your relatives' funeral cards to your family tree?

In my small collection of paper family tree documents is a small stack of funerals cards. Each is a little bigger than a business card. They have a religious image on one side and a prayer on the other. Some are laminated. One folds out to double its size.

These keepsakes provide some important information about my relatives.
These keepsakes provide some important information about my relatives.
You can expect to find funeral cards at the funeral home to commemorate the deceased. They provide printed evidence of your loved one's date of death. They contain the name and address of the funeral home, which can be important to you.

Did you know that a funeral home can tell you where you ancestor is buried? They can check their records for the burial place.

I had no luck finding my great grandfather Pasquale Iamarino's Ohio death record. Then I contacted the funeral home from his 1969 funeral card. They sent me a copy of the death record. It had been impossible for me to find because of a bad typewriter. A dirty O key looked like an E.

The crown jewel of my card collection is the fold-out card for my other great grandfather, Giovanni Sarracino. It lists the names of his wife and five children. And while all the names but one are Americanized, it's still pretty awesome. It even has enough room to include his photograph.

This unusual funeral card format includes a photo, family names, and a prayer, plus 2 religious images on the other side.
This unusual funeral card format includes a photo, family names, and a prayer, plus 2 religious images on the other side.
If you don't have funeral cards for your relatives, other members of your family probably do. Ask them to photograph them for you.

I've scanned my funeral card collection, and I'm attaching them to my family tree. Each one is a highly unique item that deserves to be in your family history collection.


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Friday, January 11, 2019

10-Minute Genealogy Tasks You Can Do

With these options, you can get a lot of genealogy research done in 10-minute blocks here and there.

Some more sleep would be nice. But I've been getting up really early each morning with one goal in mind: Do something productive.

Two mornings a week, posting this blog is the only thing I do. On the other mornings I try to see how many genealogy tasks I can complete before it's time to get dressed for work. It turns out, there are a lot of genealogy tasks you can do when you have only 10 minutes or so. Here are my top 5.

1. Search for a Missing Document
No commitments! See how much you can get done in only 10 minutes.
No commitments! See how much you can get done in
only 10 minutes.

First, pick a common type of document, like a ship manifest or a census.

Next, choose a particular family from your tree that's missing that document. Even if you've searched and failed to find it before, try again. Use the different search tricks (see 3 Tricks for Better Genealogy Search Results), like searching for the family by their first names only.

Even if you gave up on finding this missing document long ago, indexing systems can change. The document may become easier to find. Last month when searching for something else, I found my grandparents' 1925 New York State census sheet. Somehow, it had never come up in all my years of doing family tree research.

2. Scan Paper Documents and Photos

You may have some paper birth, marriage and death records in folders or binders. If you don't have a digital copy too, you can't add the document to your family tree software.

Gather a bunch of these paper documents and scan them as high-resolution images. No scanner? Your phone or digital camera will do.

No matter which device you use, take the document out of its shiny sleeve or glass frame. If you're not scanning, take the picture straight on and avoid shadows. There's a handy app called CamScanner that straightens out your image and makes it the best it can be.

3. Fill in Missing Sources

Some of the earlier facts in my family tree came from family members. That's really not reliable.

Revisit the branches someone else told you about or helped you with. Search online for documentation and reliable sources for as many of these facts as you can. Then add those new sources to your tree. (See 6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations and Trust But Verify Your Relative's Family Tree.)

4. Annotate Your Images

Have you ever tried to re-find a census sheet online because you need to see the next page? It isn't always easy to find a document again. A misspelling may have made it tough to find the first time. Imagine having to go through that again.

Save yourself the aggravation and ensure the long-term provability of your facts. Add enough information to the document images in your family tree to allow you, or anyone, to find the original file again. Include the collection it's from, the microfilm reel number, the page number, the image number, the URL. The more facts you include, the more traceable the document will be.

For instance, I added the following note to the image properties of a ship manifest. When you attach notes to the image file, you'll import the notes into your family tree along with the image.

1957 travel record for Silvio Tagliamonte and Lillian Iamarino
lines 4-5; New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957; Roll — T715, 1897-1957 — 8001-8892 — Roll 8854; image 716 of 1197
https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7488/NYT715_8854-0716


5. Put Odds and Ends into Your Tree

Ancestry.com has a feature called a Shoebox. It's a place to save items you may need, but right now you're not sure you need. I have a similar way of saving things I gather. I have a folder on my computer called "gen docs". It has sub-folders for photos, census forms, ship manifests, and much more.

If you have a catch-all system too, your 10-minute task is to start digging into it. Annotate the image files and add them where they belong in your family tree.

Are you a morning person? Clear-headed and ambitious. Or are you a night owl? Ready to conquer the world while everyone else is in bed.

Whatever time of day your brain is locked in and ready to go, choose one of these tasks. How far will you get in 10 minutes?

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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

How to Turn Your Family History into a Great Read

There is an appealing story in your family's background. Find your story's hook and run with it!

In 1976, my brother Jay had a college assignment to write a paper about his family history. He sent home letters with questions for our parents to ask their parents. During the Easter break he talked over the details with mom and dad. Back at school he wrote the paper and got an A-.

Jay updated the paper in 1992. I wouldn't get involved in genealogy until 2003. That's when I started finding all the errors in his paper!

Despite some faulty memories and no documentation, he did write an engaging story. The key was finding a good hook and weaving it throughout. Jay chose the number of coincidences in our family history as his hook:
  • Our father grew up in the same building as his future brother-in-law.
  • Our mother once dated her other future brother-in-law.
  • Our father and our uncle were both stationed at Langley Air Force Base. Each had to bail out of a plane, though several years apart. (See "What Story Does Your Ancestor's Job Tell You?".)
Take it a step at a time. Choose your theme, gather your facts. Keep climbing.
Take it a step at a time. Choose your theme, gather your facts. Keep climbing.
That's the tip of the iceberg. My grandfathers came from neighboring towns in Italy and ended up one block apart in the Bronx, New York. That's the only reason my parents met.

My brother tells a story about one set of our great grandparents. My research turns out to blow family lore out of the water:
  • He says her name was Rosemarie Ferrara. It was Maria Rosa Caruso.
  • He says they married in Italy. They met and married in upstate New York.
  • He says our great grandfather Pasquale had to convince his reluctant wife to come to America. Actually, she got here first and was single at the time. It was her brothers who introduced her to Pasquale in New York.
  • He says it was a coincidence that our grandparents had the same last name. No…they were 3rd cousins.
When Grandpa was answering questions for Jay's paper, he left many things out. The truth is, Grandpa took a room in Pasquale's house because Pasquale was his father's 2nd cousin. That's why they had the same last name. That's why Grandpa married our grandmother. It was no coincidence. (See "Spinning Genealogical Facts into Your Family Story".)

Still, the coincidences do make a good hook. The fact that all branches of our family tree started in the same Italian province is a pretty good coincidence. I'd like to run with my brother's idea and add to it the benefit of my research and documents.

What about you? What might the hook be in your family story? Here are some suggestions:
  • coincidence
  • sacrifice
  • loyalty
  • love at first sight
  • injustice
  • survival
  • suffering
  • achievement
  • freedom
  • forgiveness
  • religious beliefs
  • cultural influences
If something in that list makes you think "that's my family, for sure," consider diving in. Start with lists of facts to support your hook. Pad it out with stories supporting the hook. Put more and more together. Outline it. Will you tell the story in chronological order? Or will you start with a key moment and tell the story in flashbacks and flash-forwards? (See "How to Share Your Family Tree Research with Relatives".)

You may not be ready to write your story today. But consider these possible hooks and keep them firmly in mind. During your family tree research, be on the lookout for that hook when it shows up in the facts and stories you uncover. (See "How to Use a Paper Trail to Recreate Your Ancestor's Life".)

You've got a good story there. Don't leave it untold.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

5 Ways to Find Your Female Relative's Married or Maiden Name

Are lots of distant female cousins dead ends in your family tree? Here's some help.

How great is it when an elderly relative can tell you the married names of all the women in your family tree? Or the maiden names of all the in-laws? These women are in your tree, but your research on them is stuck.

You have to be more of a detective to find out who those young ladies married. Or what their maiden name was. Here are a few tools to help you find out.

Using examples from my family tree, I'll show you how these 5 resources led me to missing married or maiden names.

1. Census Sheets

Make sure you search for every possible census form for the family you're researching. Sometimes an elderly parent will come to live with the family. If that parent is the head of household's in-law, they'll have the maiden name of the head of household's wife.

I have one family in the 1940 census that has the man's mother-in-law living with him. Because of her, I now know the wife's maiden name is Abbate. When Mrs. Abbate was younger and her husband was alive, her parents lived with them. Because of that earlier census, I found out her maiden name and married name were both Abbate. (See "3 Unique, Key Facts about Every U.S. Federal Census".)

Check the census to see if her parents are living with her.
Check the census to see if her parents are living with her.

2. U.S. Social Security Indexes

Catherine Theresa Leone, born in 1917, was my mother's 2nd cousin. I found her in the U.S. and New York State Censuses for 1920, 1925, 1930, and 1940. She was only 23 in 1940, so it isn't surprising that she was still living with her parents.

Dead end, right? No! A simple search brought up her record in the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index. I know it's my Catherine Theresa Leone because the index lists both her parents' names. They match what I already knew.

It turns out Catherine Theresa died at age 76 and did not go by another other name. She never married. I found another record to support these facts. The U.S. Social Security Death Index has the exact same birth and death date for her. (See "This Expanded Resource Provided an Elusive Maiden Name".)

3. Marriage Indexes

I never knew my Aunt Sophie's maiden name. Without her maiden name, I can't find her parents or siblings.

Fortunately, almost all my recent ancestors married in New York City. I can use the Italian Genealogical Group's online database to search for my uncle's marriage to Aunt Sophie. I entered his name into the Groom's Index and found him. The listing gives me the marriage date and certificate number in Manhattan.

When I click the Bride Lookup link, there's Aunt Sophie's real name: Serafina Eufemio. With that name, I was able to find Aunt Sophie earlier in her life, living with her parents and siblings.

Search marriage indexes to find out who she married...or who he married.
Search marriage indexes to find out who she married...or who he married.

4. Family Obituaries

My aunt's sister-in-law died in 2004. I knew only a little about my uncle's family. I knew his sister's first name, that she was born in Italy, and the name of one of her sons. Her obituary, as short as it was, told me several facts about her. I learned:
  • She moved from New York to Florida in 1974, but she died in New York.
  • She married twice, and had converted to Judaism for her 2nd husband.
  • Her 2 sons' names, and their different last names.
  • The married name of her 2nd husband's daughter.
  • Her sister's married name. (That's my uncle's other sister, so this tells me the maiden names of her 2 daughters.)
  • Her 2nd husband died before her.
A more detailed obituary can tell you the names of siblings and their spouses, children and their spouses, and grandchildren, too.

Even if the woman you're researching is still alive somewhere, you might find an obituary for one of her parents or siblings.

5. DNA Matches and their Trees

Emma Leone, born in 1906, was also my mom's 2nd cousin. She was living with her parents on census forms through 1930. It was a DNA match—Emma's son—who told me who and when Emma married. With her married name, I was able to find her Social Security death records. These contained her birth date, which matches the 1906 birth index listing for Emma Leone.

Because my DNA match (my 3rd cousin) told me her married name, I found her and my new cousin in the 1940 census, too. (See "Bringing in Your Genealogy Harvest".)

One big caveat to finding facts in another person's tree: That's not proof. You must find documents to support the details you find in anyone else's tree.

An obituary tends to be more reliable, but may contain errors. My own first cousins didn't know our grandmother's maiden name. They had it wrong in their mother's obituary. When my sister-in-law wrote her father's obituary, she knew no one's names but her aunt and grandparents.

Whatever evidence you do find, take it as a clue, but don't take it for granted. All the clues I've mentioned in this article were details I was able to support with other evidence.

Don't give up on the ladies. They're the reason we're all here.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

How to Set Realistic Genealogy Goals for 2019

Love crossing things off your to-do list? Set achievable goals to reach that feeling of satisfaction.

A few days ago, I polished off one more of my 2018 genealogy goals. While working through that task, I realized something very important:

Setting goals for yourself that are entirely possible will make you feel so much better at the end of the year.

Set your 2019 genealogy goals with purpose for a better result.
Set your 2019 genealogy goals with purpose for a better result.
Here's what I mean:

Break It Up

Break big, time-intensive tasks into achievable chunks. Don't put all those chunks on this year's list.

One of my 2018 genealogy goals was "Log Antenati documents into spreadsheet". My "Antenati documents" are thousands and thousands of Italian vital records. I want to enter all the facts from these documents into an Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet will make the entire collection easily searchable and shareable.

I can't possibly reach this goal in a year. In fact, the sheer size of the project tended to keep me away from it.

This project is important to me, though. To make it more achievable, I can break it up into chunks.

Goal #1: Log the first five years' worth of birth records from each town into spreadsheet.

When I finish that goal, I may move on to the first five years' worth of death records from each town.

Change Expectations

Another of my 2018 genealogy goals was "Find my parents' connection". I discovered from a DNA test that my parents are 3rd or 4th cousins. I basically asked myself to find a needle in a haystack within a certain amount of time.

If your goal involves a ton of research that may lead nowhere, change your expectations. I made a breakthrough on this front in November. (See "The Leeds Method May Have Solved a Big Family Puzzle".) Evidence tells me to look at the last name Pozzuto in the town of Colle Sannita.

I've started adding every Pozzuto baby in my collection of Colle Sannita birth records to my family tree. If the baby's parents aren't already in my family tree, I give them all same profile picture. It's a blue and white graphic that says "No Relationship Established". (See "How to Handle the Unrelated People in Your Family Tree".)

So far I've added babies born between 1809 and 1820 and between 1858 and 1860. Whenever possible, I found the baby's parents' marriage documents. I've built out some unrelated families to the point where they became related to me.

One of these families will hold the key. But I don't know when I'll find that connection, so I have to change my expectations.

Goal #2: Enter every Pozzuto baby from Colle Sannita into my family tree.

Get Specific

The rest of my unfinished 2018 genealogy goals were too vague. They had no specific plan:
  • Verify the upstate New York railyard story and the Agostino Sarracino fight story I heard
  • Find out Antonio Saviano's position in that Italian-American society
  • Figure out my connection to the Muollo in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania
That first one contains two completely different goals (bad idea). They both involve finding out the truth about the flimsiest of rumors. I have done a few newspaper searches, but honestly? I don't have enough information to go on.

Rumor #1 says that my great grandfather and his brothers-in-law moved away from their railroad jobs in New York because of an accident. One of their sons was playing in the railyard without permission. He had an accident and lost some toes.

Goal #3: Find a resource for Erie Railroad documents during the years my great grandfather worked in New York state.

Rumor #2 is even flimsier. It says my other great grandfather's brother Agostino had to leave the Bronx and flee to Illinois. He either witnessed or took part in a fight that may have left one man dead.

Goal #4: Gather every available document of Agostino's time spent in the Bronx to figure out the year he moved to Illinois.

The second vague goal involves a ribbon pinned to the chest of my great great grandfather in his coffin. I learned that the ribbon is from a mutual aid society in which Italian immigrants helped out newer immigrants to America. But I haven't been able to find out any more than that.

Goal #5: Search 1920–1925 New York City newspapers for any mention of the mutual aid society to which my great great grandfather belonged.

The third vague goal is about my great great grandmother Maria Luigia's last name of Muollo. A Muollo family from her town came to settle in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, along with Maria Luigia's nephew. I want to find the exact relationship between the Muollo family and my great great grandmother.

A specific approach to this goal would be to log all the Muollo babies and gather all the documents for the Muollo who came to America. I'll see where that gets me.

Goal #6: Log every Muollo baby born in Sant'Angelo a Cupolo into my family tree, and find all available documents for the one who emigrated to Pennsylvania.

Keep It Interesting

I've listed six genealogy goals for myself in this article. But I'm not sure I'll put them all on my list. I want to keep it interesting, challenging and fun so that I'll do it. Goals #1 and #2 above are definitely going on the list. I'm deeply involved in these now, and I want to see them through.

Goal #6 above is also interesting to me, and I don't think it'll take a lot of time.

But I want to keep thinking about this. I want to add a goal or two that will teach me more about genealogy, or get me excited each time I sit down to work on them.

As you begin thinking about your list of 2019 genealogy goals, remember to:
  • Break It Up
  • Change Expectations
  • Get Specific
  • Keep It Interesting
Set yourself up for success and you'll be eager to work toward completing each goal. Happy 2019!

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