29 March 2019

Don't Rely on Your DNA Match to Do the Work

Want to get your money's worth out of your DNA test? Build up your tree.

When I look at my long list of DNA matches, most of them fall into the 4th-6th cousin level and further. You connect to your 4th cousins through your 3rd great grandparents.

If you haven't identified your 3rd great grandparents yet, that should be your goal. But that's only the beginning. You need to find the names of all their children. Then find as many of the kids' marriages and children as possible.

These 3 DNA matches link together my mother and father.
These 3 DNA matches link together
my mother and father.

That's where you'll find your match to your DNA cousins. And then, hopefully, you'll learn a lot more about those branches.

Ancestry DNA identifies most of my DNA matches as Mother's Side or Father's Side. And then there are my glorious three labeled Both Sides.

My "Both Sides" matches are my best bet for figuring out the answer to a big question: How are my parents related? Their DNA connection is at about the 4th-to-6th cousin level.

One of these uber-DNA matches has no tree. So I'm working on the other two. Here's how.

1. Find a Familiar Name

One of my matches has a tree with 220 people. She and I don't have any last names in common. But I looked for her Italian names, hoping to find a familiar one. And I did. The tree contains a father and son with the last name Zerrillo. I recognize that name. And my match knows the father was born in Colle Sannita, Italy. That's my paternal grandfather's hometown.

My other match has a tree with more than 1,300 people. We share one last name: Pozzuto. Pozzuto is a Colle Sannita name, too. There must be thousands of Colle Sannita descendants all around the world.

I haven't linked them to my family yet, but give me time.
I haven't linked them to my family yet, but give me time.

2. Use the Clues to Build the Branch

My Zerrillo match knew the birth date of the father, Dan Zerrillo. Always keep an open mind and use your genealogy knowledge. An Italian in 1896? I knew "Dan" wasn't his name. I was betting on Donato.

So I went to the collection of Italian vital records I keep on my computer. I opened up the 1896 birth records and went to the index. And there he was. Donato Zerrillo. Then I began to climb.

Donato's 1896 birth record lists his parents as Francesco, born about 1855, and Libera Piacquadio. Piacquadio is one of my family names. I found Libera's 1855 birth record.

Now I had her parents: Francesco, son of Giovanni, born about 1830, and Maddalena Zeolla, born about 1832. (Another family name.) I found Francesco's birth record in 1829.

Now I had his parents: Giovanni Piacquadio, born about 1803, and Annaelena Totaro, born about 1804. At this point, I'd gone back far enough to be able to search for this couple's marriage record. Not every year's marriage records are available.

Their son was born in 1829 when they were still pretty young. I started in 1828 and searched year after year of marriage records until I found them.

Giovanna and Annaelena married in 1823. Now I have their parents: Francesco Piacquadio and Maria Iamarino (hey, that's my name!), and Carlo Totaro and Donata Nigro.

But Italian marriage records don't stop there. The groom's father, Francesco, was dead. So I have his death record with his parents' names. And the bride's father, Carlo, was dead. So I have his parents, too!

In almost no time, I turned one name in my match's tree into 16 names. And I have more leads to follow.

3. Dig Until You Find a Match in Your Tree

My personal research library gives me an edge my DNA matches don't have.
My personal research library gives me an edge my DNA matches don't have.

So far, though, I haven't connected any of these people to my family tree. But I will.

For my Pozzuto match, I took one person from her tree and found his birth record. Two generations later, they tied into a family that's in my tree, but not connected to me yet. You see, I know the name Pozzuto will connect me to many of my DNA matches. So I've been piecing together Pozzuto families from the town's vital records.

4. Contact Your DNA Match

They usually don't answer, right? But if you write to say, "I just added 20,000 people to your family tree," they might write back!

And if you have done some successful work on their branch, you should definitely let them know. But remember. Some DNA testers are only in it for the pie.

26 March 2019

Your All-in-One Family Tree Clean-up List

Use this checklist of 7 tasks to scrub your family tree clean.

I want to help you make your family tree better and more professional. That's why I've been writing these genealogy articles twice a week for more than two years.

Today we'll look at 7 types of family tree clean-up tasks. Together they can improve your tree in so many ways.

1. Names

Does every name in your family tree meet your standards?
  • Maiden names. It's a genealogy best-practice to record women using their maiden name. Let them have their own identity.
  • Unknown names. When you haven't discovered someone's first or last name, consider recording it as _____. This makes it clear you haven't yet filled in that blank. Credit for this goes to Ancestry.com expert Crista Cowan. I used to use the word "Unknown", but a relative of mine misunderstood that. She said, "Oh, I'm sure she knew her name." I was stunned.
  • Names only. Some people will record a person's name as Grandma Johnson, or Jane Dad's great aunt. If you put notes on people's names, you're not helping relatives and DNA matches to find you.
  • More than one name. I insist on recording everyone's birth name. I'll add other names (nicknames, Anglicized names, and legal name changes) in the description field of a person's birth fact because it's a highly visible spot.

2. Places

Make sure the place names in your tree follow a consistent style. Family Tree Maker organizes your place names when they're written the right way. It's easy to click a country, then a state or province, then a town, and find a place. And with a click you'll see every name associated with a place.

Once I saw how nicely Family Tree Maker organizes place names, I cleaned them all up.
Once I saw how nicely Family Tree Maker organizes place names, I cleaned them all up.

3. Media Files

Remember when you first got started in genealogy? I know I was downloading census sheets and ship manifests as fast as I could find them.

All those media files need a facelift. And it will make them believable and valuable as evidence of your ancestor. Here's how I mark up each document image in my family tree:
  • Write a caption. Start with a year to force media items to display in date order. Make it clear what each document is.
  • Add the date. Documents will almost always have an exact date on them. Add this to the date field.
  • Choose a category. Family Tree Maker lets me pick a category from their list, or add custom categories. Now I can sort my thousands of media files by type.
  • Describe everything about the document image. I add enough information to allow myself or anyone else to find the original image again. That includes line numbers on the page, a description of the document collection, and a URL.
  • Add a note. There is a notes tab for each media item in Family Tree Maker. You can type any information in there. Maybe you need to record who you wrote to to get this image.

4. Sources

I like to keep my sources simple. But I've been adding more and more detail to them.

I use a simple title, like "1900 U.S. Federal Census". A short title doesn't clutter up the person view in Family Tree Maker.

I copy the citation details and citation text from the collection. For example, for the 1900 U.S. Federal Census:
  • The citation detail is:

    Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.
  • The citation text is:

    United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.
  • The web address where you find those details and can search this collection is:

Having a neat, tight list of sources makes them easy to maintain and make better.
Having a neat, tight list of sources makes them easy to maintain and make better.

I like that I can click any source in my tree and see every person and fact that's associated with it. I have a goal to get rid of secondary sources—like other people's trees. I need to replace them with primary sources. My source list makes it easy to find the facts I need to work on.

For more on this topic see 6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations.

5. Filing

People seem to worry a lot about their document filing systems. Don't overthink it. Keep it simple and logical. Remember that you may pass your work on to a loved one some day.

What's logical to me is a folder for each main type of document:
  • census
  • draft cards
  • ship manifests
  • birth, marriage, and death certificates, etc.
I name my files, in general, LastnameFirstnameYear. Here are some of my file names:
  • RignaneseMatteoNaturalization1944-p1.jpg
  • CiottiMariaTeresaConcettaBirth1848.jpg
  • CoccaAngeloAntonioMontaganoMariaBenedettaGenerosa1stMarriageBanns1833.jpg
  • LucarelliGirolamoWW1.jpg
Because I follow a pattern, it's easy to see what a document is.

6. Backups

How fatal of a heart attack would you have if all your genealogy research disappeared?

Spread things out, but keep them at hand. Use your computer drive, external drives and cloud storage.

Make a backup plan for your genealogy files and stick to it. Remember that two backups are better than one. Many of my files synchronize to my cloud storage the moment they change. For everything else, I make a backup every Sunday morning. Without fail.

7. To-Do Lists

It seems like everyone has their favorite way of keeping to-do lists. Post-It Notes, a special notebook, EverNote. I'm fond of keeping a single text file open on my computer all the time. It's called Notebook.txt. That's where I have my:
  • Genealogy To-Do List
  • 2019 Genealogy Goals List
  • List of important families to work on
  • List of files and folders to back up each Sunday
  • and more
I don't care how you do it, but find a way to keep track of :
  • what you want to do next
  • what you were doing when you stopped for the day
  • what you'd like to do when you have the chance.
For more on this topic see Start Your Rainy-Day Genealogy List.

That was a lot. And it's a lot of work. But chip away at these ideas and your family tree will grow stronger from your effort.

Make these tasks into a to-do list and tackle it one bite at a time. It's worth it.

22 March 2019

How to Become a Genealogy Document Expert

It's the same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice, practice, practice.

Guess what happened after I spent hours and hours reading vital records from the 1800s. I became something of an expert on the subject.

A foreign language, squiggly handwriting, and countless abbreviations don't slow me down a bit. I'm used to it. And that made me practically a pro.

Did I graduate college skilled and ready for the workforce. Nah.
Sue me. It was the '80s.

How to Make Yourself a Pro

Do you fall into one of these 3 camps?
  1. You climb one branch of your tree, adding people and facts from whichever document you just found.
  2. You don't move on until you've searched for every document for a particular family.
  3. You enjoy going off on tangents and plan to return later for the documents.
All those methods are fun. But you can become an expert on any one type of genealogy document if you make this one change.

Choose a single document type. It could be any one of these:
  • census sheet
  • ship manifest
  • draft registration card
  • birth record
  • death record
  • marriage record
  • or some other type of document.
Commit a good chunk of time to searching for only this type of document. I'm in the midst of searching for every census sheet I don't yet have.

You'll need some way of seeing who in your family tree is missing their census sheet and for which year. I've got my Document Tracker and its "Need to find" column. I can go down the alphabetical list of names and search for every missing census. I'm up to last names beginning with L, and I'd like to knock off another letter or two this weekend.

You may not have a separate tracking sheet. But maybe your document image filing system can help you figure out what you have and what you're missing. The free program Family Tree Analyzer can help you keep tabs on your census sheet finds.

If all else fails, start with your parents and fan out. Go generation by generation, looking for missing censuses.

What to Learn

As you repeat your searches for this one type of document over and over, you will be learning. Here's the type of thing to keep in mind:
  • Which search tricks are giving you a lot of success?
    • Searching for a group of first names but no last name?
    • Using Stephen Morse's tools to find the right set of census pages and going through them one at a time?
    • Narrowing your search to a county rather than a town?
As you try out different ways of searching, they'll become second nature. You'll waste less time.
  • What facts are you seeing on the documents that you've overlooked before?
    • The native language on the 1920 census?
    • The place of residence in 1935 on the 1940 census?
Here's a cheat sheet to show you what new questions the government asked in each U.S. Federal census.
  • What conclusions can you draw by comparing documents?
    • Can you tell that a certain relative died between the date of this census and the date of that census?
    • Did the family move right before one of the children was born?
    • Was one of the censuses wrong about the year of immigration or naturalization? Which one?
Follow your ancestors through each census to track family changes.
Follow your ancestors through each census to track family changes.

After you spend enough time with one type of document, you will be an expert on that type of document.

Where do you want to start? The moment you begin downloading those new files, take a moment to add valuable facts to the image file. In whatever way makes you comfortable, keep track of what you've found and what you need.

Go on now, expert.

19 March 2019

Use Cousin Baiting to Expand Your Family Tree

A new cousin took the bait and contacted me with details about his branch.

Filling out the branches of your family tree will help attract more cousins.
Filling out the branches of your family tree
will help attract more cousins.

You know those long ancestral scrolls you see on the ancestry TV shows we all love? The straight-up family trees that always end with the king of England? That may look great on a wall. But you'll never connect to your DNA matches if you don't look beyond your direct-line ancestors.

What can you do to help unknown cousins find you?

Add Their Branches

"Cousin baiting" is a term used by genealogy bloggers. It's a way to attract distant relatives to yourself. When bloggers write about their ancestors, they drop plenty of names, dates, and places. They're putting out bait to attract new cousins. New cousins may have old photos, a family bible, or papers a genealogy fan would treasure.

But cousin baiting isn't only for bloggers. You can attract DNA matches and other cousins by filling your family tree with bait. Go way out onto the branches of your tree. Add as many facts as you can find. Your 3rd great grandparents' 4th child may be exactly the right person to attract an important cousin to you.

Recently I chose 3 of my DNA matches to work on. I used a bit of the information from their family trees, but not much. They each had very few facts to offer.

With your own research library, you can choose almost anyone and fit them into your tree.
With your own research library, you can choose almost anyone and fit them into your tree.

I, on the other hand, have an insane amount of data to work with. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I've put together an enormous genealogy research library on my computer.

I know which Italian towns my ancestors lived in as far back as the late 1600s. (Knowing the exact town is critical!) I've downloaded and organized all the vital records currently available from those towns.

With my collection of documents, and my knowledge of the last names found in each of my towns, I can quickly find the facts my DNA match doesn't know.

Make the Connection Clear

I'm baiting my DNA matches by offering them:
  • exact birth, marriage and death dates for their ancestors
  • images of their ancestors' documents with a link to the original file online
  • details of their ancestors' siblings, other marriages, and other children.
I'm building out my tree one DNA match at a time. And while I'm doing that, I'm no doubt adding bait for my other DNA matches to find.

How are you handling your DNA matches?
  • Are you waiting for them to contact you?
  • Are you looking only at the closest relatives?
  • Are you giving up on a match with a small family tree?
Make your family tree thicker and richer by adding more and more relatives. While you're working on one DNA match, several others may see the connection and contact you.

I photographed this man's grave many years ago, not yet knowing who he was.
I photographed this man's grave many years ago, not yet knowing who he was.

Reap the Benefits

Each new cousin I figure out adds a couple of dozen people to my tree. Each time I do this, I make more connections. For instance, the Teresa Ciotti belonging to one DNA match turned out to be the Maria Teresa Concetta Ciotti already in my tree. I added 4 more generations to that DNA match instantly.

Because of my very bushy family tree, I heard from the great great great grandson of my great great grandfather in Italy. He gave me lots of details about his branch of the family. I never knew they had lived in America.

I hope this inspires you to creep further out onto the limbs of your family tree. The answers you need may be in the hands of a cousin you've never met. Lay the bait and help them find you.

15 March 2019

How to Find Your Strongest DNA Matches

So many DNA matches. How can you decide where to start?

DNA tools are on the rise, promising to help us make sense of our growing lists of DNA matches. This week I decided to try out DNA Painter and see why people are raving about it.

My chromosomes, painted with about 35 DNA matches.
My chromosomes, painted with about 35 DNA matches.

The idea is to visualize how much DNA you share with any of your DNA matches. And where they overlap with one another.

DNA Painter uses data you can find on GEDmatch, Family Tree DNA, and 23andme. I used GEDmatch because my free accounts with the other two don't seem to give me the data I need. It's really easy to do with GEDmatch.

Here are the steps:
  1. Create a free account on DNAPainter.com and click "Create a new profile".
  2. Log into GEDmatch and click "One-to-Many DNA Comparison Result" under the DNA Applications heading.
  3. Choose a DNA match with a high number in the "Largest Seg" or "Total cM" column and click the underlined letter A on the left side.
  4. Select "Position Only" beneath the 2 kit numbers and click the Submit button at the bottom.
  5. You'll see a table full of numbers. Use your mouse to select and copy the table.
  6. Back in DNA Painter, click PAINT A NEW MATCH and paste what you copied into the box. Click SAVE MATCH NOW.
  7. Fill out this screen:
    • Choose whether you know how you're connected to this match
    • Put your match's name in the box. I've been putting their name in the next box, too, as a name for the group.
    • If you know the match is on dad's side only or mom's side only, choose that.
    • Click SAVE MATCH.
This graphic will help you through the DNA Painter steps.
This graphic will help you through the DNA Painter steps.

After a while, your chromosome map may be so full you can't find this new match. If so, hover your mouse over the person's color box in the key on the right. You'll see a little eyeball. Click it to hide and show this person. You should be able to find them on your map as you turn their color off and on again.

You're almost there! And when you've done this once, the rest are easy.
You're almost there! And when you've
done this once, the rest are easy.

Following these steps, I've painted 35 DNA matches plus my 2 parents onto my chromosome map so far. For the moment, let's ignore my parents and my first cousin. My first cousin is the lilac color who's on all but TWO of my chromosomes.

I have one DNA match on chromosome 9 with a pretty long block of red color. Let's call him Tony.

Tony was the reason I wanted to try DNA Painter. You see, Ancestry DNA says Tony is a distant cousin (a 5th–8th cousin) to me, my father, and my mother!

I've written 2 articles recently about discovering and trying to find my parents' DNA connection:
I'm working on the more promising branches of my family tree, but I haven't found their link yet. When I found Tony in my DNA match list, and my dad's match list, and my mom's match list, I had to pursue his ancestors.

Tony's tree on Ancestry offered me very little to go on. But I recognized the 4 last names on his grandmother's side of the family. I knew they were from my paternal grandfather's hometown in Italy.

The source of Tony's tree was someone else's tree. That tree had almost no sources, and I was able to prove many of its facts wrong. When that happens to you, use the tree as a guidepost, but don't take any of it for granted. Find the proof.

The linchpin in Tony's tree was his great grandfather, Pietro diPaola. (His tree, and the tree he borrowed from, called him Peter DePaul and said he was from my Grandpa's town. So I knew he was really Pietro diPaola.)

There were 2 Pietro diPaola's in town. I'm related to both, and they're a year apart. I thought Tony's Pietro diPaola was the brother of my 2nd great grandmother. But, as I found more of his children's birth records, I discovered he did not match my Pietro. He was, in fact, my Pietro's 1st cousin. This makes Tony my 4th cousin once removed; my dad's 4th cousin.

I followed members of Tony's family to America. This helped me gather more facts and dates. Finally, I wrote to Tony to show him how enormous his family tree is now that it's tied into mine.

But I'm not finished. I've connected Tony to my father's family through the diPaola name. But where's the connection to my mother? Now I'm trying to find records for Pietro diPaola's wife's family. I know only her parents' names. If I can go further on her branch, will that finally be the key to discovering how my parents are related?

What do you think you might find when you use DNA Painter?

12 March 2019

Don't Give Up When Your DNA Match Has a Puny Little Family Tree

You've got new DNA matches. And their trees are bare. Where do you start?

On Saturday I took a look at my growing list of DNA matches on Ancestry.com. There were so many I hadn't reviewed at all. I chose a match—let's call him Joe—who's also a match to my father.

Joe has a 7-person family tree:
  • Joe
  • his 2 parents
  • his 4 grandparents
I was eager to figure out this relationship. I could see his ancestors' last names are from my grandfather's hometown in Italy.

His tree is so minimal, it has no specific dates or hometowns for his parents or grandparents. Luckily, I have an ace up my sleeve.

When your DNA match doesn't know his roots, why not find them for both of you?
When your DNA match doesn't know his roots, why not find them for both of you?

I have thousands of documents images from the town downloaded to my computer. (See how I built this genealogy research collection.) My match's parents are too young for their birth records to be available. I had to start looking for his grandparents with little information. Joe had a birth year for one set of grandparents, so I started with them.

I went through my document collection, year by year, searching the indexes. I love it when a birth record has the person's marriage mentioned in the column. I knew I had the right Giorgio Zeolla because it said he married Mariantonia Nigro. That's my guy!

All day Saturday I kept looking for more records. When I found a birth record, I had 2 more names to search for. Marriage records helped me go back another generation.

With Italian marriage records, if the bride or groom's parents are dead, you get their death certificates with more names. And if the groom's father and grandfather are dead, you get the grandfather's death record with another generation of names! (See "The Italian Genealogy Goldmine: 'Wedding Packets'".)

I was building Joe's family within my own family tree, but disconnected from me. Each time I added a new name, I compared it to other names in my tree, trying to find a possible match.

By the time I felt I'd followed every possible lead, I'd added about 20 people to my DNA match's branch. That when I noticed something.

How could I prove they were the same person? There are 2 good options.
One of Joe's great grandmothers was Pietronilla Nigro. I didn't find her birth record, but I knew her husband was born in September 1863. There wasn't a single Pietronilla born around 1863 in the town's records.

All I knew about my Pietronilla Nigro was that she was born on May 12, 1857. If she was Joe's great grandmother, she would be 6 years older than her husband. That's not hard to imagine.

How could I prove they were the same person? There are 2 good options:
  1. The town's marriage records between 1861 and 1930 are not available. But I can search for more of this couple's children and hope that one birth record has Pietronilla's father's name or her age.
  2. Since this is a small town, I can search several years' worth of birth records looking for another Pietronilla Nigro. I did this. There was only the one who was already in my family tree.
You may have to add a few generations to the tree before you find your connection.
You may have to add a few generations to the tree before you find your connection.

To be thorough, I will look for those other babies' birth records for more clues. But for now, I'm pretty confident that I've placed Joe into my tree correctly. He's my 4th cousin once removed. He's related to me through my father's mother.

I've got other search options, too. My new cousin's tree tells me his father died in the Bronx. That means there are U.S. records to find. Right now I'm looking at a military compensation record for Giorgio Zeolla. It's as jam-packed with facts as a good naturalization record, death record, or passport application. It has his wife's full (maiden) name, his children's names, and his parents names, including a misspelled Pietronilla Nigro.

You know what the best part of all this detective work is? Adding these extra branches will help me find my connection to lots of other DNA matches.

If you have relatives who've taken a DNA test, search for your shared matches. Start working with their information and see what you can piece together. Whether you have a breakthrough or you get hopelessly stuck, reach out to your match. Tell them what you've found. Ask them what they think.

Hopefully this type of genealogy research will draw more and more matches to you and your glorious tree. Then, none of your research work will go to waste.

08 March 2019

How One Clue After Another Broke Down My Brick Wall

My closest ancestors were the hardest to find. Who would've expected so many twists and turns?

My maternal grandmother's family is the one my mother grew up with. Most of them are the family I grew up with, too. The name that ties us all together is Saviano.

My 2nd great grandfather Antonio Saviano was my Grandma's grandfather. He was my first immigrant ancestor, coming to New York in 1890, in 1892, and in 1895 with his eldest son, Semplicio. He returned to Italy one more time, bringing the rest of his family to New York in 1898.

Antonio represents the core of my family. But I couldn't find any records for him in Italy.

I climbed that family tree, eventually, by following a trail of breadcrumbs. Here's how it happened.

Coming to America

Grandma used to say her family was from Pastene and Avellino. The first was hard to find on a map. The second is both a city and a province. The Saviano family's 1898 ship manifest said they were from S. Angelo. That's only part of a town name, so I couldn't find it.

Then I found the ship manifest for my great grandparents. They followed the rest of the Saviano family to America a year later. Their manifest says they're from S. Angelo Cupolo. That's a little better.

I started typing S Angelo Cupolo into Google Maps. I found the town of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in the Benevento province. Better yet, the town has a hamlet to the north called Pastene. I'd found their hometown!

At that time I was ordering Italian civil records on microfilm to view at a local Family History Center. But they didn't have anything for Sant'Angelo a Cupolo or Pastene. I was stuck.

I found the names of two hometowns even Grandma didn't know.
I found the names of two hometowns even Grandma didn't know.

Registering for the Draft

In 1942, Antonio's eldest son Semplicio was 65 years old. If he were one year older, he wouldn't have had to register for the draft. But he made the cut-off and had to fill out a draft registration card.

His World War I draft registration card doesn't even say where he was born. It says only that he was naturalized by September 1918.

Luckily, Semplicio's World War II draft registration card says where he was born. It's misspelled and says "Tofo - Province Avilino". When I saw that, I knew "Avilino" was really "Avellino", the place Grandma had told me. Now all I had to do was find the town of Tofo. When I typed Tofo, Avellino, Italy into Google Maps, it suggested Tufo, Avellino, Italy. Eureka!

Living Near Family

When I looked at microfilmed records from the town of Tufo, I found Semplicio's 1877 birth record. I also found an older brother Raffaele who died before my great uncle Raffaele was born 9 years later.

I found no other children, including my great grandmother. At that time, I didn't know where she was born, but it wasn't in Tufo.

There was also no marriage record for my 2nd great grandparents, Antonio and Colomba. But I did find marriage records for two other men with my Colomba's last name: Consolazio. While examining these marriage records, I found an important clue.

The Consolazio brothers' parents (my 3rd great grandparents) didn't live in Tufo. They lived in the neighboring town of Santa Paolina.

My ancestor's brother's marriage record held a vital clue.
My ancestor's brother's marriage record held a vital clue.

Going to the Next Town

Days before the Family History Center ended its microfilm program forever, I ordered film from Santa Paolina. Starting in 1874, I worked my way backwards through the town's marriage records. I was looking for Antonio and Colomba.

In the 1871 marriage records, I found them! She was not named Colomba, but Vittoria Colomba Consolazio. Her parents were Semblicio (similar to her son's name) Consolazio and Rufina Zullo.

He was Antonio Luigi Saviano, son of Raffaele Saviano and Grazia Ucci of Pastene. Pastene! Now I'd come full circle.

Putting the Pieces Together

Here's what this trail of documents told me:
  • Antonio Saviano was born in Pastene on 7 July 1843.
  • He went to Santa Paolina and married Vittoria Colomba Consolazio on 1 June 1871. Santa Paolina is a 3-hour walk or a 2-hour mule-and-cart ride away from Pastene.
  • The couple had their first child, Maria Grazia, in Santa Paolina. She died after 4 days.
  • They moved to Tufo where 2 of Colomba's brothers lived. Tufo is a 1-hour walk or a 30-minute mule-and-cart ride away from Santa Paolina. Antonio and Colomba had 2 sons there, one of whom died.
  • The couple moved back to Antonio's hometown of Pastene and had 4 more children, one of whom died as a baby.
  • The whole family, minus my great grandmother, left Pastene for New York City in 1898. Antonio had made 3 trips to New York already, so they had a place to go. His son Semplicio was there waiting for them.
  • My great grandparents, having had a miscarriage, left Pastene for New York in 1899. Grandma was "in the oven" at the time.
Climbing Further Up the Tree

Pastene civil records don't exist. A professional Italian genealogist found almost nothing for the Saviano family, even in the church.

But I have every available vital record from Santa Paolina on my computer. I downloaded them from the greatest thing to ever happen to Italian descendants: the Antenati website. (See "How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives".)

I found Colomba's 1845 Santa Paolina birth record. I found records for 4 previous generations on her father's side. I added the Ricciardelli name to my tree, connecting me with other genealogy fans.

But Colomba's mother, Rufino Zullo, was a dead end. I couldn't find anyone else named Zullo in Santa Paolina.

Once again, I needed to find and follow a breadcrumb. Rufina Zullo and Semblicio Consolazio posted their marriage banns in Santa Paolina in 1843. But they weren't married there.

Note: When an Italian married in a town where they weren't born, they still had to post marriage banns in their hometown. They won't be in the index because they didn't marry there. But their banns should be there.

The marriage banns say that Rufina's parents live in Apice, in the Benevento province. Apice is about a 2-and-a-half hour mule-and-cart ride from Santa Paolina. That's pretty far!

To learn more about my 3rd great grandmother, Rufina Zullo, I downloaded some Apice documents from the Antenati website.

I found her 1843 marriage to my 3rd great grandfather. I found her 1816 birth record. I have more work to do, but so far, I've learned the names of her parents and her paternal grandfather. Saverio Zullo is my 5th great grandfather, born about 1764. And my 4th great grandmother adds a new name to my family tree: Trancuccio.

Comparing New Facts to DNA Matches

I found 2 DNA matches tying into my Ricciardelli ancestors from Santa Paolina. I've also got a new match on the Consolazio branch. Ancestry.com's new ThruLines™ feature showed me how my new match descends from the sister of my 4th great grandfather, Gaetano Consolazio.

That information will help me as I build out the Santa Paolina portion of my tree.

I had given up hope of finding out anything about this, the closest branch of my family tree. But unexpected clues—like my 3rd great uncles' marriage records—opened up the floodgates.

Don't give up on a branch when the records run dry. There may be a trickle of detail coming from an unexpected source.

05 March 2019

6 Places to Discover Your Ancestor's Town of Birth

Your ancestor's exact place of birth is critical. You won't get far without it.

Question: What's the difference between:
  • a family tree that stretches back 10 generations, and
  • one that goes back 3 generations?
Answer: Knowing where to look for more records.

We all began our family tree by entering what we know. Ourselves, our parents, our grandparents. Maybe some of our great grandparents.

But you can't go back farther than that until you learn where your ancestors were born. Not in which country. Not in which state, province, or region. Which town.

When you know the town, you can find birth records and parents' names. You can finally climb that branch of your tree. You'll know exactly where to search.

So how do you discover the name of the town?

Let's look at 6 types of genealogy documents that can show you the town of birth. Note: Sometimes the first document won't give you the answer. But it can give you clues to help you find the next document.

1. Birth or Baptism Records

Subject: Patricia J. Reynolds, my sons' 2nd great grandmother

Searches: A distant relative published a detailed, but unsourced family tree. I borrowed names, dates and photos, but I had to find good sources for myself. U.S. Census forms confirm that Patricia was born in Canada, and her parents were born in Ireland.

I found Patricia's 1867 church baptism record on Ancestry.com. The hand-written record is from a church in Goderich, Huron County, Ontario, Canada. Goderich is less than 10 miles from Clinton where the relative said Patricia was born.

Conclusion: Patricia was born on 28 Feb 1867 in or near Goderich, Canada, to Dominic Reynolds and Mary Walsh.

Gathering facts from multiple documents can lead you to that hometown.
Gathering facts from multiple documents can lead you to that hometown.

2. Marriage Records

Subject: Francesco Saverio Liguori, my 3rd great grandfather

Searches: It took years to learn that my 2nd great grandmother's maiden name was Liguori. (Aren't maiden names fun? See "This Expanded Resource Provided an Elusive Maiden Name".) When I couldn't find her father's birth record in their town, I looked for his marriage record. Italian marriage records are a genealogy dream come true. (See "The Italian Genealogy Goldmine: 'Wedding Packets'".)

Conclusion: Francesco Saverio was not born in the same town as his wife or children. He was born in the neighboring town of Circello, giving me new roots to explore.

3. Military Records

Subject: Semplicio Vincenzo Luigi Saviano, my 2nd great uncle

Searches: This branch of my family was a dead end. My grandmother told me the family was from Avellino, Italy. But did she mean the town or the province? That's like the difference between New York City and New York State.

Conclusion: Semplicio's 1942 draft registration card had the answer. Its misspelled town-of-birth led me to Tufo, a small town in the province of Avellino. That's where I found records of my family. (See "Why You Need Your Ancestors' Draft Registration Cards".)

4. Naturalization Papers

Subject: Mario Maleri, my 2nd cousins' grandfather

Searches: I didn't learn Mario's name until I read it in his son's obituary. When I searched for any records, I found his Declaration of Intention to become a citizen of the USA. (See "What to Find on Your Ancestor's Naturalization Papers".)

Conclusion: Mario Maleri was born on 7 Feb 1893 in Pesaro, Pesaro e Urbino, Marche, Italy. Pesaro is a big city with records available online. His wife was born in the same town a year later. If I go through the records and find their birth records, I can take the family back another generation. Or more.

Finding the right document can unlock your ancestor's past.
Finding the right document can unlock your ancestor's past.

5. Passport Applications

Elizabeth Merrin, from her 1922 passport application.
Elizabeth Merrin, from her
1922 passport application.
Subject: Elizabeth Merrin, my sons' 2nd great grandmother

Searches: In 1922, Elizabeth Merrin and her husband Walter Smith took a trip home to England. I found their passport application on Ancestry.com. While it didn't include their towns of birth, it did give me their exact birth dates.

With those dates, I found their 1896 marriage record in the town of Derby, Derbyshire, England. The 1871 England Census shows baby Elizabeth Merrin living with her parents and sisters in Derby.

Conclusion: Elizabeth Merrin was most likely born in Shardlow, a village near Derby. An English civil registration birth index has only one Elizabeth Merrin born in or around 1869. Her birth record is in volume 7b, page 364 of the index. To find out more, I would try to get that birth record and explore records in Derby and Shardlow. (See "Your Family Tree Needs Your Ancestor's Passport Application".)

6. Ship Manifests

Subject: Maria Rosa Caruso, my great grandmother

Searches: My father didn't know where his grandmother was born. But his cousin told me Maria Rosa said she was from what sounded like Pisqualamazza. I searched for ship manifests with anyone named Caruso, hoping to find a town called Pisqualamazza.

Conclusion: What I found, again and again, was the town of Pescolamazza, now called Pesco Sannita. That's where I found my great grandmother's birth record—and her unknown twin brother. Now I've taken her family tree back 5 generations.

Do you have dead end branches on your family tree? Find every possible document for each dead-end ancestor. The combination of facts can lead you back home, where your family comes from.

01 March 2019

How to Create a 'Book of Life' for Your Relatives

You already have the materials to make this most personal gift for someone you love.

Have you been watching Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s "Finding Your Roots" on PBS? It's bursting with the type of excitement that keeps us active in genealogy year after year.

I've always liked the "book of life" he gives to each guest. You and I may be used to reading census sheets and ship manifests. But for the TV show's guests, it's probably the first time they've seen such a thing.

My mom's 1st cousin Eleanor had a milestone birthday last week. Years ago I printed a family tree that measured 2 feet by 4 feet. I made 40 copies and gave them to the heads of 40 families. Eleanor is the only one who put hers up on a wall and looks at it regularly.

Eleanor is the perfect cousin to get a "book of life" from me. You must have relatives who would appreciate a gift like this, too.

Here's how I created the book for my cousin.

1. See What You Have

My research hasn't gotten very far on Eleanor's father's side of the family. But I do have his ship manifest showing his arrival in America. I have his father's draft registration card, ship manifest, and census sheets.

Eleanor's mother was my great aunt. I've taken her tree back many generations. I have her beautiful wedding portrait and a copy of her marriage certificate.

All these items are good material for the book. I even had an extra 1-inch binder and lots of clear sleeves to hold as many pages as I wanted. If I didn't have the binder, I'd have looked for ideas in a local stationery store.

Fill the sheet of paper with your document. For trees, size them to fit.
Use up the entire sheet of paper by toying with your print options.

2. Print the Best Documents

Print the different census sheets, manifests, and certificates onto 8½" x 11" paper. It's nice to see them and hold them at this size when you're used to seeing them only on your computer screen.

I have a laser printer that does an excellent job of printing documents. If your ink-jet or other type of printer isn't doing justice to the documents, put the files on a flash drive. Find a friend with a better printer or go to a store like Staples or the UPS Store that can print the images for you.

3. Create "Call-Outs" to Make it Easy to Follow

You and I know how to find the right line on a census or manifest and understand the information. But your cousin doesn't.

There are 2 things you can do to help:
  • Use your photo-editing software to carve out the important lines on the document. Blow them up a bit bigger and print them out. Place the enlarged cut-outs on top of the document. I put a little rolled-up bit of tape on the back of the cut-out to attach it to the document.
  • Create a text box in your word processing software with nice big letters. Explain what we're looking at. For example, I made a text box to attach to a draft registration card that says:

    Carlo Vallone's World War I draft registration card, Sept. 12, 1918
    Address: 239 E. 151st St., Bronx, New York
    Birth: Dec. 8, 1881 in Italy
    Job: elevated conductor for the IRT

Enlarge and summarize the most important information.
Enlarge and summarize the most important information.

I printed these call-outs on marigold-colored paper. I included a thick outline for each call-out to help it stand out.

4. Put it in a Scrapbook or Binder

Some documents, like ship manifests, often have 2 pages. When you're putting your printouts into the book, be sure to arrange them so you can see both pages at once. When you're creating a family tree for the book, try to size it to 2 pages, and arrange them on facing pages in the book.

Make sure 2-page documents can be seen together.
Make sure 2-page documents can be seen together.

My binder had an extra pocket in the back. I decided to print an extended family tree and fold it down to fit in the pocket. I started with Eleanor's mother and siblings and went up 6 generations. I included dates and places of birth, marriage, and death.

I sized this tree to fit on 9 sheets of paper. Then I printed it out, trimmed the pages, taped them together from the back, and folded it down neatly. For instructions on how to put together a multi-page document like this, see "This Project Makes Your Family History Larger than Life".

I didn't get to see Eleanor open her "book of life", but she did tell me how much it means to her.

How often do you have the chance to give such a unique and personal gift? Check your calendar. Is there a birthday coming up for a relative who would love their own "book of life"?