30 April 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 am finding a lot. The point is to make a good effort and see what comes up.

Once I find a missing census, a 5-step 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 ancestor 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 of the census.

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.

26 April 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.

Then I realized something cool I could do with the blank cells.

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.

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.

23 April 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.

Be sure to see 3 Ways to Find Double Ancestors in Your Family Tree which highlights another benefit of using Ahnentafel numbers in your grandparent chart.

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. Plus, I found a 4th great thing to do! Make your own Elder Scroll.

19 April 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.

16 April 2019

Why Do You Work on Your Family Tree?

How hard you work at genealogy depends on motivation, and a touch of fever.

Everyone has a reason for starting to build their family tree. What was yours? Was it:

  • to solve a family mystery?
  • to connect to your roots?
  • health and heredity needs?
  • a search for royal or famous ancestors?
  • a school assignment?
  • because everybody else is doing it?

Once you catch genealogy fever, you may forget your first motivation. And if you have caught the fever, that's good. You'll be more likely to practice thorough, careful genealogy.

Here's how my own interest began, and where I am now.

In 2003 as I was planning my wedding, my husband-to-be was planning our honeymoon in Italy. I'd never been to Italy, and I knew so little about my family history there. It was at my wedding that I learned my great grandmother's last name was Caruso.

Here's the moment my genealogy obsession began, in Grandpa's hometown.
Here's the moment my genealogy obsession began, in Grandpa's hometown.

While staying in Sorrento, we took a day trip to the town where my grandfather was born: Colle Sannita. It was a life-changing experience for me. I felt as if something were calling to me. I felt I belonged there. I felt as if I could melt into the ground itself.

Back home, I wanted to learn more. Where did the branches of my family tree begin hundreds of years ago?

That strong emotional feeling I had in Italy made me start working on my family tree.

Today, 16 years later, I've got a carefully built family tree with more than 20,000 people. Nearly every Italian in my tree was born within a 15-mile radius. That means I can harvest thousands of relatives from the vital records of one town. And I did. I found out I'm related by blood or marriage to almost everyone in my grandfathers' hometowns.

Some will say that what I'm doing is not family history. Well, my ancestors were illiterate. They survived by working their land. These vital records are all that remains.

If my obsessive labor of love sounds crazy, consider this:

DNA Matches

The more families I build from these 19th century documents, the more DNA matches I can connect to. I've had a lot of luck lately picking a DNA match with any size tree, and working to find our connection. As I build more families, I'm building connections to more of my DNA matches.


My "overkill" approach is the reason I know the names of a good number of my 6th, 7th, and 8th great grandparents. Maybe I had to find marriage records for a bunch of siblings before I found the earlier generation. To me, it's totally worth the effort.

How much will you miss if you only look at your direct ancestors?
How much will you miss if you only look at your direct ancestors?

Hometown Knowledge

Deep dives into my towns' documents made me familiar with:

  • the townspeople's last names
  • the street and neighborhood names
  • some of their customs.

I'm no longer shocked when a 19th century Italian man remarries one month after his wife died. Seeing how common it was for a widower to marry a much younger woman and have more kids helped me. It's no longer gross that my great great grandfather's second wife was his daughter's age.

I took my obsessive genealogy techniques to a new level this past weekend. I started looking at every document in my vital record collection. These are the thousands of documents I downloaded from my ancestral hometowns. I'm reviewing each one and seeing if it fits in my tree. If it does:

  • I crop the document image in Photoshop
  • add information to the image file
  • add the document to that person in Family Tree Maker
  • make note of it in my document tracker
  • turn that line green in my inventory spreadsheet. Green means it's in my family tree.
As I add more documents, my family tree becomes stronger.
As I add more documents, my family tree becomes stronger.

So far, I did this for one towns' 1809 births, deaths, and marriages. The moment I finished, I moved on to 1810 births. It's crazy to think how many people and relationships I'll add to my tree by doing this.

Not as obsessed as me? OK. You don't have to piece together the family of your 5th cousin 4 times removed. But I'll keep going.

Because the people from these documents are more than names and dates. They're calling to me. We belong to one another. They are what makes my family tree come alive.

12 April 2019

The Basics of a Well-Crafted Family Tree

If genealogy were a race, we'd all lose! Take the time to do it right.

We all know how exciting it is. You finally found that one document you really need for your family tree!

Let's say it's a census form that tells you an immigration year. You're so eager to find that ship manifest that you skip the details. You enter only part of the new information from the census form. You plan to come back and do it the right way. But what if you never do?

If you don't harvest this information now, you may never do it.
If you don't harvest this information now, you may never do it.

That census form may have a bunch of children to add to your family. Or it may have the wife's maiden name. But you might forget you have all those facts waiting for you.

No matter how much that next document is calling you, it's time for some discipline. Doing things the right way, every time, will give you a better family tree. It will help you avoid making mistakes.

Take the time to process each new document as you find it. If it's a census form, record the birth year, address, and occupation (if there is one) for each member of the household. Attach the image of the census to each person in your tree who's on that page.

Being thorough, and following 4 basic guidelines, will give you a well-crafted family.

1. Consistency

Choose a style and stick to it. This will make your tree more professional, and make you more proud of your work.

Names. Do you want to put last names in CAPITAL LETTERS? Then do it each time. I prefer to record everyone's given name. My great grandfather was known as Patsy Marino in America, he's Pasquale Iamarino in my tree. You can record the "also known as" facts separately.

Dates. Countries around the world use different date formats, so try to be more universal. I find that DD Mon YYYY is clear. 29 Jul 1969. 01 Jan 1856. Choose your style and be consistent.

Places. Family Tree Maker is great about suggesting proper place names as you type. If an old address doesn't exist anymore, I like to enter it how it was.

I'm consistent in using the word "County" in my U.S. addresses. I find "Hampton, Elizabeth, Virginia, USA" to seem like a confusing list of names. But Hampton, Elizabeth County, Virginia, USA makes so much more sense. (Note: "County" doesn't appear in this Family Tree Maker view, but it's there in each person's facts.)

Be consistent in how you enter your facts, and you'll reap the benefits.
Be consistent in how you enter your facts, and you'll reap the benefits.

2. Sources

Don't skip them! When you return to work on a particular family 3 years from now, you're not going to know where you got your "facts" from. How reliable are they? Should you start from scratch?

Record your sources immediately. It doesn't have to be hard. See "6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations".

3. Documents

Capture an image of every document you find for your people. Attach them to the right people in your tree. Annotate the images with information about them and where they came from. See "Add Proof and a Breadcrumb to Family Tree Documents".

If you follow the pattern you create, you'll always enter information the right way.
If you follow the pattern you create, you'll always enter information the right way.

4. Logic

I have a new term I want to trademark. GeneaLOGICAL™. We all need to have our logical hats on when we're doing genealogy. Your software program may be able to help with that. It can alert you when you've attached a baby to a man who's been dead more than 9 months, or a girl who's under 13 years old.

If you aren't using software that can alert you to problems, be on your toes. Did you attach a baby to its grandfather instead of its father? Did you attach the baby to the wrong couple with similar names? See "Organize Your Genealogy Research By Choosing Your Style".

So take your time. Be complete, consistent, and logical. That next document isn't going anywhere, and you want your tree to be ready for it.

09 April 2019

Use Every Tool to Solve a Family History Mystery

The clock is ticking for me to solve a DNA match. Let's open the toolbox.

I want to show them their connection.
I want to show them their connection.
It's been about 2 years since I discovered my parents share some DNA. I want to figure out their connection while they're still able to get a laugh out of it.

Here's what I do know.
  • Every branch of my family tree came from one region in Southern Italy.
  • Each family came from a small town of no more than 2,000 people.
  • All their towns were pretty close to one another.
  • Endogamy was the name of the game. That means nearly everyone in town married someone else from their little town. Or maybe the next town.
Those intermarriages are the main reason this puzzle is still a puzzle.

Hoping for a Needle in a Haystack

My family tree has more than 20,000 people. At least 17,000 are 17th–19th century Italian countrymen and women. I hoped to find a marriage between someone from one of my dad's hometowns and someone from one of my mom's hometowns.

But there are too many people. And my parents aren't getting any younger. I needed to use some tools.

DNA Matches

My parents have both tested. I've got their results on AncestryDNA and GEDmatch.

On Ancestry I can see that my parents share a few DNA matches, not counting me. Two of those matches have family trees with a couple of familiar last names. I know these names come from my paternal grandparents' hometown in Italy.

I spent a few days working on both of the DNA match's trees until I connected them to my tree. The key last names are:
  • Zeolla
  • Pozzuto
  • Zerrillo
  • Piacquadio
They're in my tree now, but there's no known connection to my mom.

The Leeds Method

I used Dana Leeds' color-clustering method last November. I bent the rules a bit and added color blocks for the matches of my matches.

Doing this, I found 3 DNA matches who seemed to have a link to each of my parents. The key last names from this experiment are:
  • Zeolla (again)
  • Pozzuto (again)
  • Basile
DNA Painter shows where my mom and others intersect on my dad's chromosomes.
DNA Painter shows where my mom and others intersect on my dad's chromosomes.

DNA Painter

The first time I used DNA Painter, I hadn't done my homework. I painted 92% of my chromosomes, but I didn't have anything there to answer my key question. Where do my parents intersect?

Then I realized I should be painting my dad's DNA, not mine. Most of the DNA matches I see are from his side of the family. So what if I paint my mom's DNA onto my dad's chromosomes and see what that looks like.

Instead of painting every DNA match, I chose 3 people with the last name Zeolla. Two of them are almost a dead-on match for my mom! The 2 Zeollas and my mom share the same segment of my dad's 6th chromosome.

That can't be a coincidence. Now I've got 3 methods hitting me over the head with one last name:
  • Zeolla
There is one other fascinating match on my dad's 9th chromosome. There's an overlap between my mom and the brother-in-law of my dad's aunt. He's my cousins' uncle. It's too funny.

That match adds 2 more key last names to the list, but probably on a different branch of the family tree than the other names:
  • Paolucci
  • Polcini
DNA Painter also helps me estimate my parents' relationship.
DNA Painter also helps me estimate my parents' relationship.

The Zeolla Factor

I haven't found my parents' shared ancestors yet. But I didn't have to go too far to find the intersection of the names Zeolla and Pozzuto. My 4th great grandparents on my dad's side are Nicolangelo Zeolla and Giovannangela Pozzuto.

My mom is actually a pretty decent DNA match for my dad. They share 37 cM (centiMorgans) across 4 segments. AncestryDNA estimates they are 4th–6th cousins.

DNA Painter also has a tool to show me what type of relationship 2 people sharing 37 cM may have. Some of the higher probabilities are:
  • 3rd cousins once removed
  • 3rd cousins twice removed
  • Half 3rd cousins once removed
  • Half 3rd cousins twice removed
Third cousins share 2nd great grandparents. So my dad's 2nd great grandfather, Teofilo Zeolla, may be the key. He had 2 wives. What if he had a child with his 2nd wife who somehow connects to my mom?

Everything seems to point to my 3rd great grandfather, Teofilo Zeolla.
Everything seems to point to my 3rd great grandfather, Teofilo Zeolla.

After trying all these tools, I've got my big assignment. I have to find all Teofilo's children. Then I have to find out who they married and who their kids were.

Please, please, please let one of the kids marry someone from one of my mom's hometowns!

If you've got an important DNA puzzle to solve, use every tool you can. They can steer you in the right direction.

05 April 2019

4 Steps to Break Through Your Brick Wall

To paraphrase "The Matrix", only try to realize the truth. There is no wall.

Every genealogy fan has at least one brick wall that drives them crazy. And we all want to know the secret: How do I break through my brick wall?

Since everyone's brick wall is different, we've got to take a few steps before we can start to break through.

1. Define a Specific Problem

The first step in breaking through a brick wall is clearly defining one specific problem.

When I was starting to build my family tree, I got pretty far on my dad's side. But his mother's mother—Maria Rosa Caruso—quickly became my brick wall. I couldn't get anywhere on her line.

Is that when we decide something is a brick wall? When we can't move beyond this one person?

Not long ago, I couldn't even find her parents' names. Look at her branch now.
Not long ago, I couldn't even find her parents' names. Look at her branch now.

You can define the problem by stating one key fact you're missing. What is it that's holding you back?

My Brick Wall Definition: I can't find Maria Rosa Caruso on a ship manifest because I don't know her hometown in Italy.

My definition isn't "I can't fill out her branch of my family tree". It's smaller. It's the next step I need to take but can't. I need to find her coming to America, but I can't positively identify her without her hometown.

2. Build on What You Can Find

Many years ago, a cousin-in-law found me on an Italian genealogy message board. Her husband is also the great grandchild of Maria Rosa Caruso. But he had the advantage of growing up with her and the Ohio part of my family.

My new-found relatives told me the name of Maria Rosa's hometown: Pescolamazza. (See what to do when your hometown isn't on the map.)

Now I could find her on a ship manifest. And I learned that she came to America—4 months before marrying my great grandfather—to join her brother Giuseppe. So I searched for Giuseppe, too.

I began to piece together several Caruso siblings and the places where they lived. Some of the siblings' ship manifests told me their father's name. My great great grandfather was Francesco Saverio Caruso.

3. Compare Available Documents

It was Maria Rosa's brothers' documents that gave me clues to my great great grandmother's name.

One record transcribed their mother's name as Maria L. Gilardo. Another record transcribed her last name as Girandiu. My great uncle Giuseppe Caruso's death certificate Americanized his mother's name as Marie Gerard. (See This Expanded Resource Provided an Elusive Maiden Name.)

When I compared the 3 versions of the name—Gilardo, Girandiu, Gerard—I had a hunch her name was Girardi.

That felt like a victory, but I still didn't know for sure.

4. Seek Out New Documents

Then a glorious day arrived. The Italian genealogy archives website (Antenati) posted the vital records from Pescolamazza. I found my great grandmother Maria Rosa's 1880 birth record, and the surprise birth record of her twin brother.

This revelation came about 14 years after my search began.

Her birth record confirmed, finally, my great great grandmother's name: Maria Luigia Girardi. I admit, I got lucky when those Italian vital records from the town went online.

Her hometown was the one brick that brought down the wall.
Her hometown was the one brick that brought down the wall.

You can chip away at your brick wall by breaking it into smaller problems.

"I can't get beyond this one relative," you say.

What clues can you find about where they came from? Can you discover more about their relatives whose names you do know? Which documents might hold a clue? Immigration records, death records, wills, applications, pension forms?

If you can knock out enough individual bricks, your brick wall can collapse. And what a wonderful mess that will be.

02 April 2019

Ask One Question for Better Genealogy Results

I followed this basic research advice and made an absolute genealogy killing.

Last week I watched YouTube videos by Crista Cowan, a chief genealogist at Ancestry.com. Crista recommends you start each genealogy research session with a question.

What do you want to know? Form a question, then figure out which documents might hold the answer. As you search:
  • keep that question in mind
  • think about what other documents might help.
Yesterday I realized I was doing exactly what Crista described. I'd heard from a new DNA match whose paternal grandparents' last names were familiar to me. Her grandmother's name seemed like a misspelling of my grandmother's name, Sarracino.

Here's what my thought process looked like.

My 1st Question: Was Concetta Saraceno really Concetta Sarracino?
Documents to search: U.S. and New York censuses

I needed to find Concetta and her husband in the U.S. census. All I had were their names and approximate birth years. A census can tell you an immigration year. An immigration record can tell you a hometown.

On the 1915 New York census, Concetta and her husband and kids live with her parents. Their names are Mike and Antonia Sarracino. Mike Sarracino was born in 1858. I needed to check other census years.

I found Concetta's father's name as Angelo more than Mike. And there's always a different misspelling of Sarracino. On the 1900 census he's Angelo M Sarracino. He's married, but alone.

Based on census records, I do think Concetta Saraceno is Concetta Sarracino. They even lived on the same Bronx street as my grandmother and her family. But it's only circumstantial evidence.

Each document you find will hold some sort of clue.
Each document you find will hold some sort of clue.

My 2nd Question: Where did Concetta and her father come from in Italy?
Documents to search: Immigration and naturalization papers

I searched for Angelo Sarracino's immigration and naturalization papers. I found his U.S. passport application.

Was he from the same little hamlet as my Sarracino ancestors? They were from Pastene ending in an E. There's a different town of Pastena ending in an A.

In fact, there are a few towns named Pastena ending in an A. But none of them are in my family's Benevento province.

He signed his passport application as Angelo Michele Sarracino. The document states the following:
  • Angelo Michele Sarracino was born on 29 Sep 1858 in Pastena, Benevento. If it didn't say "Benevento" I would think it was the wrong town.
  • His wife is Mariantonia Bianchini. She is Antonia on the 1915 census, but that's very common.
  • He has a daughter Concetta who was born on 5 Feb 1886 in Pastena, Benevento.
  • He has a daughter Rosaria who was born on 22 Sep 1888 in Pastena, Benevento.
The document also has some immigration dates I can research. But what made me light up was his witness. The signature is a name I know well. It's a name from my family's town. He signed the paper:

Pastore Carmine

...ending in an E.

With Concetta and Rosaria's birth dates, I can check my collection of Pastene vital records.

Of course, they're not there.

My 3rd Question: Did Angelo Michele Sarracino return to Italy to bring back his wife and daughters?
Documents to search: Ship manifests

Angelo's passport application says he was in the U.S. continuously from 1890 to May 1904.

He went home to Italy on 31 May 1904. Now, in June 1904, he's preparing to return to New York.

I searched passengers lists for Angelo Michele Sarracino in 1904. No luck. I searched for Concetta Sarracino, his daughter. No luck. I searched for Mariantonia Bianchini, his wife. And I found the whole family.

Who else is with your people when you find them?
Who else is with your people when you find them?

The ship manifest says Angelo was in America from 1894–1904, but his wife and children were not. Because Angelo was a U.S. citizen, the whole family gets discharged on the pier.

Their hometown is still infuriatingly written as Pastena. But there's a welcome surprise on the next line. It's Angelo Muollo and his family from just outside Pastene. This is my family. My great grandfather Giovanni Sarracino's mother was a Muollo.

The ship manifest doesn't list a family member in Italy. So I can't connect Angelo—and my DNA match—to other Sarracino family members. The birth records for Pastene are not available before 1861.

My 4th Question: How can I connect Angelo to my family?
Documents to search: Vital records

I couldn't find Concetta and Rosaria's birth records. But then I remembered what happened with my great grandfather. He was born in Pastene in 1876. But his father didn't officially declare the birth until 1898. He had to do it so Giovanni could legally marry.

Maybe Concetta and Rosaria's births were filed late, too. Maybe they were registered just in time to sail to America.

I searched the town's birth records year-by-year, starting in 1904 and going backward. I found 3 other Sarracino's whose birth were reported years late. What was up with my family?

Finally I found the goods. On his 1904 passport application, Angelo got his daughter Rosaria's birth date wrong. I found her exactly one year later. She was born on 22 Sep 1889, not 1888. And I learned that Angelo's father-in-law was Giovanni.

Gasp! Does that mean I might find Concetta's birth record in the wrong year, too? Yes it does! Concetta Maria Domenica Sarracino was born one year later than it says on her father's passport.

This is why I keep all the vital records on my computer!
This is why I keep all the vital records on my computer!

Now I'm sure my new DNA match is a Sarracino from Pastene like me and my mom. I still don't know who Angelo's father was, so I don't know the exact relationship.

My 5th Question: How can I find the names of Angelo's parents?
Documents to search: More vital records

An Ancestry search tells me Angelo died in New York on 7 Feb 1931. His Manhattan death certificate is number 4251. But I can only see it by visiting the New York City Municipal Archives. I'm not able to do that.

My last resort is to go through all the vital records I have from Pastene. I may be able to piece together Angelo and his wife's families. Only then will I know my exact relationship to my DNA match.

I didn't even mention how I tracked down my match's grandfather with only his name and birth year. Census forms and ship manifests led me to a town called San Nicola Manfredi. Would you believe it's the town next door to Pastene?

So, to make your genealogy research more productive, follow Crista Cowan's advice. Ask the question and figure out which records can get you the answer.