31 May 2019

How to Make Your Sources Clear and Accurate

NOTE: There is a way to make your sources indisputable. Please see "Taming a Tangle of Source Citations."

Don't practice smash-and-grab genealogy. Make this method an unbreakable habit.

Seventeen years ago. That's when I graduated from scribbling in a notebook to building a family tree on my computer. I've had Family Tree Maker and an Ancestry.com subscription since 2002.

From the start, I never liked the option of saving a fact or a document to my family tree on Ancestry.com. I hated the ridiculously long source citations it added to my tree. I wanted my sources to be clear and easy to understand.

Because I run a tight ship, I have 275 sources in my Family Tree Maker file. And I have 20,963 people at the moment.

Here's how I keep my sources neat but thorough and retraceable.

Once I found the citation detail and citation text on Ancestry.com, it became too easy not to do.
Once I found the citation detail and citation text on Ancestry.com, it became too easy. I had to do it.

One Name to Rule Them All

When I started building my family tree, most of my sources were census pages and ship manifests. I didn't know what other people were doing. I only knew I wanted clarity. So my census source titles are as simple as can be:
  • 1900 U.S. Federal Census
  • 1910 U.S. Federal Census
  • 1920 U.S. Federal Census
  • 1930 U.S. Federal Census
  • 1940 U.S. Federal Census
If my tree has that the source of a person's address as the "1930 U.S. Federal Census," there's no mistaking where it came from. It doesn't need to say, "United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls."

But a simple source title does not give us everything we need in our family tree. Behind the scenes, we need all the information. We need an absolute way to get back to the source. We need a link to the proof of each fact in our tree.

Fill in these details for the main source, not for each fact or document.
Fill in these details for the main source, not for each fact or document.

More Details Under the Hood

Family Tree Maker has a Sources tab where you can see and control all your sources. I've gone down the list of source titles looking for a few things:
  • Are people attached to this source? If not, I can delete the source. Maybe it belonged to people I've removed from my family tree.
  • Are there duplicate or very similar titles? If I decide to merge a couple of sources, I have to update each person with a fact linked to the source I want to merge.
  • Does each source have a clear title, citation details, a web address, and a repository?
If a source needs more detail, I go look it up. For example, I'll look up the 1915 New York State Census on whichever website I prefer. It can be Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, or any of the other official sites you may use. (Yes, it may be in a book, too.)

Instead of going to a particular document or record, go to the top-level page for that collection. On Ancestry.com, that page has the source citation detail and text, the exact name of the collection, and its URL.

These extra details make your family tree research more reliable.

Add enough details to each image to allow anyone to find it for themselves.
Add enough details to each image to allow anyone to find it for themselves.

Specific Micro-Details Where They Count

I want each document image in my tree to show exactly where it came from. It should tell anyone who's looking at it how they can find the original.

On the image of a 1920 ship manifest, for example, I added a breadcrumb trail to the description.

If you view this immigration fact in my tree, you'll see only the source title: "New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957". But the image itself has a description. And that gives you everything you need to know to find the original image file:
  • Line number(s). For a ship manifest or census form, I note which line number(s) to look at.
  • Source title. This is the exact name of the collection as seen on Ancestry, FamilySearch, or wherever. This will match my source title mentioned above.
  • Location of the film. Most of our genealogy documents exist on a roll of film somewhere. If I were trying to find that roll of film in a drawer at an archive, where would I look? This is always shown beneath the source title on Ancestry. For example, Roll > T715, 1897-1957 > 2001-3000 > Roll 2853. Or Wisconsin > Milwaukee City > 14 > Draft Card S.
  • Image number. If I asked you to go to John Stefaniak on a roll of Milwaukee, Wisconsin draft registration cards, it'd still take you a while to find him. So I include the image number. For example, image 664 of 973.
  • Web address. Sure, a URL may be different today than it was 5 years ago. But maybe it won't change for decades. And if it does, the film location and image number are even more important.
If you haven't been capturing these details for your documents, you may feel overwhelmed. Don't feel that way. Make it a habit going forward. Add a chunk of this annotation work to your annual genealogy goals. I finished all 630 of my census documents, but I have to go back and fix many of my 365 ship manifests.

The name of the game when it comes to your family tree's sources is usefulness. Each source should be useful in these 3 ways:
  • Understandable. Anyone can see where your information came from in general.
  • Retraceable. Anyone can follow your breadcrumbs to get to the original document collection.
  • Specific. At the document image level, anyone should be able to see exactly where this one unique image came from.
Make this a mandatory part of your fact gathering from now on. Don't just get the image and put it in your family tree. Don't just add the facts and let the image serve as your source. Gather all the facts about your source and record them where they belong. Right away.

Doing it right, from the start, makes the whole process much easier.

28 May 2019

4 Quick Family Tree Clean-up Tasks

Keep these in mind each time you work on your family tree and do it right.

Here are 4 things you can do to make your family tree better and more professional. Think of this list as a mental break. These tasks don't take a ton of thought, and you can tackle them when you're:
  • frustrated by a brick wall in your family research
  • bored because there's nothing good on TV
  • trying to avoid doing your chores
  • unable to decide which of your dozens of branches you want to work on.
An ancestor by any other name...would mess up your family tree and reduce its value.
(c) Can Stock Photo / rawf8

1. Add Missing Birth Dates

Does your family tree software let you sort everyone in your tree by birth year? If so, you can easily see who's missing a birth date. If not, scan your entire list of people, looking for gaps in the birth column.

It's much easier to make smart choices—and avoid errors—if you have a rough birth year for everyone. For example, you'll never attach a child to a set of parents if you see their birth years are 80 years apart. And what if you have several people with the same name? You'll never mistake the one born in about 1750 for the one born in about 1900.

Follow one of these 3 rules to give people an estimated birth year:
  • If you know their spouse was born in 1860, give this person the same approximate birth year: Abt. 1860.
  • If you know when their child was born, you can assume the parent may be 25 years older than their first child. Carolina was born in 1790. I don't know when her parents Angelo and Libera were born, but I can estimate it was 25 years before Carolina. I'll give them the birth date of Abt. 1765.
  • If you know when someone's parents were born, you can assume the child is 25 years younger than the mother. Giuseppe was born in 1915, and his wife Serafina was born in 1921. I don't know when their son Joseph was born. I can estimate it was when Serafina was 25. I'll give Joseph a birth date of Abt. 1946.
These estimates may be off by 20 years or more. For example, what if Joseph is the 5th child of Giuseppe and Serafina? He would have been born well after 1946.

But the estimates are going to be useful to you.

Note: I do NOT add a source to an estimated birth year fact. There is no true source. This also signals to me that I used my own rules to estimate this fact.

These simple rules make it easy to add estimated birth and death dates and places.
These simple rules make it easy to add estimated birth and death dates and places.
2. Give Everyone a Real Name

Sort all the people in your family tree alphabetically by last name. Are all the same-named people listed together? Or have you given people fake names that make sense only to you? Anna "Jason's-Wife", Antonio "Greco the Father", Antonio "Greco the Son".

Let your family tree display speak for itself. When we see father and son Antonio Greco in your tree, it's obvious which is the father and which is the son. (It'll be even more obvious when you replace blanks with estimated birth years.)

You can always add your hints to a person's notes.

When I know someone's first name but not their last name (or the opposite), I used to use the word Unknown. It was a placeholder for their missing name. Then I saw a comment by chief Ancestry.com genealogist Crista Cowan. She draws a blank (5 underscores) for the unknown name. "Aida Unknown" becomes "Aida _____". "Unknown Davis" becomes "_____ Davis".

I do think this looks neater and its meaning is unmistakable. But when viewing my list of all individuals in my family tree on Ancestry, the blank last names don't show up in the list. I can search for an individual, like Aida _____, but I can't see all the unknowns at once.

If this matters to you, you might prefer to use Unknown (or another word) instead of _____.

Having real names and a standard placeholder name makes your family tree more professional.

3. Use Approximate Death Dates

I have a TON of people in my family tree with no death date. Here are 3 reasons to enter an estimated death date or a date range.
  • Findability. Let's say someone was born about 100 years ago. You don't have a death date for them. That person will be private on Ancestry.com and assumed to be living. If you'd like to help your distant cousins find you through your tree, make those dead people dead.
  • Note to Self. I haven't found the death record for my 3rd great grandfather, Teofilo Zeolla. But I do know he was dead when his grandchild was born in 1868. So I can estimate his death date as before the baby's birth date: Bef. 14 Aug 1868.

    Better yet, I know he was alive when his youngest child was born in 1859. I can narrow down my search for his death record by recording his death as between his last child's birth and his grandchild's birth: Bet. 20 May 1859–14 Aug 1868.
  • Exclusion. You can avoid unnecessary searches by noting a date by which someone died. Let's say you have a couple named John and Mary. You learn that Mary died sometime before her young child Ann died. Make note of that, and you'll know better than to search for more children born to John and Mary after that date.
4. Enter Assumed Birth and Death Countries

I started doing this so I wouldn't get so many impossible hints. No, Ancestry, my 3rd great grandfather was not in the 1830 United States Federal Census. He was born and died in Italy too early to have come to America for a while.

This also keeps Family Tree Analyzer from telling me I need a census for someone who only ever lived in Italy. (See "This Genealogy Report Shows You What's Missing".)

But I'm conservative with this idea. I don't assume an ancestor born in the 1750s was born in the same town as his descendants. I do assume he was born in the same country. All my ancestors born before 1899 were born in Italy. They didn't move around much. A man might marry a woman from the next town, but not the next country.

I always have this task in mind when I add an estimated birth or death date. Put the country in, too. It's a much safer assumption when the ancestor lived hundreds of years ago.

So don't get frustrated and take a break from genealogy. Make your tree better in these 4 important ways.

24 May 2019

3 Ways to Keeps Strangers Out of Your Family Tree

Name 3 reasons why you're positive this man belongs in your family tree.

I started this blog out of some frustration. Someone stole my grandfather and added him to their family. They didn't care that he was from the wrong part of Italy and had a well-documented family. They put him and my grandmother in their tree.

But it happens. When you step out a little further onto a distant branch of the family tree, the names are less familiar. It gets easier to make a mistake.

So what are the best ways to avoid adding the wrong person—and everyone attached to them—to your family tree?

Here are 3 smart ways to make sure you're adding the right people to your family tree.
Here are 3 smart ways to make sure you're adding the right people to your family tree.
©Can Stock Photo / leonidtit

1. Compare All the Facts

Let's say you find a man in a census document. His name matches the missing son you're trying to find. You don't know who he married. You only know he isn't with his parents anymore.

How do you know he's the right man?

Take the time to compare all his facts to the person you want him to be.
  • Do his age and place of birth fit your family?
  • Does he have a job that would be impossible based on what you know about him?
  • How many years has he been married, and does that make sense based on what you know?
Consider all the facts on the document you found. Are you sure you've got the right person?

2. Follow the Person Through Time

Imagine you're trying to find the death date for a man in your family tree. You find 2 men with almost the same name. One man served in the Army and is buried in a military cemetery. The other man has almost the same birth date. But his Social Security Death Index has a different death date than the veteran.

How do you know which one is your guy?

The answer is to research both men. Follow them through time. Find them in the census. Find their military record. If you can find their burial site online, who is buried next to them?

Research both men with the goal of ruling one man out of your family, as much as ruling one man into your family.

Check and compare all available facts. Are they the same person?
Check and compare all available facts. Are they the same person?

3. Check Other Family Trees

I wouldn't rely on someone else's family tree any more than I would rely on their hand-drawn map of the world.

But you can check other people's trees for corroborating evidence. Let's say you're wondering if this person with limited documentation belongs to you. You find 5 family trees that have him, and they all firmly place him in a family you don't know. That's a lot of evidence that he's not yours.

You can use other people's research to decide to pass on this particular person.

You probably have some unrelated people in your tree by accident. You didn't do it because you don't care about getting the facts right. You did it because this person is way out there on a distant branch. You're not invested in him. You grabbed him on the way to find someone else.

21 May 2019

Using Genealogy Documents to Follow Our More Mobile Ancestors

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

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

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

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

A growing steel industry meant real opportunity for men like my grandfather.
A growing steel industry meant real opportunity for men like my grandfather.

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

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

Let's look at the data points.

Grandpa's Travels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pietro's documents show where he worked just months before he married.
Pietro's documents show where he worked just months before he married.

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

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

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

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

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

17 May 2019

The Genealogy Project You Bring Home from Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

The locals were definitely looking at me funny.
The locals were definitely looking at me funny.

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

A Genealogy Fan's Calling

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

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

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

3 Success Stories

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

1. Potential 1st Cousin

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

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

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

Even if you don't know them now, they may be yours.
Even if you don't know them now, they may be yours.

Three years later, I found out the truth. I'd gone to Pittsburgh to meet a large group of my distant Sarracino cousins. They showed me photographs of Vincenzo Sarracino with his wife and children. His father and my grandmother's father were brothers.

Vincenzo really was my grandmother's first cousin.

2. Side-by-Side

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

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

Were they placed there randomly, or did they belong together?
Were they placed there randomly, or did they belong together?

They were Angela Iamarino and Innocenzo Gentile. She had my maiden name. I wondered if the two of them belonged together.

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

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

3. A Kind Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

She honored her family—my family—in many ways.
She honored her family—my family—in many ways.

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

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

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

14 May 2019

How Far Did Your Ancestors Commute to Work?

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

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

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

What was your ancestor's workday routine like?
What was your ancestor's workday routine like?

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

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

A draft registration card can tell you the name and address of the business where your ancestor worked. The cards also have your ancestor's home address.

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

When you see how close your ancestor lived to work, you might rethink your choices.
When you see how close your ancestor lived to work, you might rethink your choices.

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

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

If you don't have the exact address, you can make an educated guess.
If you don't have the exact address, you can make an educated guess.

These commuter graphics give you another insight into your ancestor's daily life. I imagine my ancestors would think my commute is as wonderful as I do. But I can't map it online. My commute is from my bedroom to my great room.

How far did your ancestors commute to work?

10 May 2019

Great Grandpa Was a Bird of Passage

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

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

Did your ancestor make more than one trip to another country?
Did your ancestor make more than one trip to another country?

His brother, my 2nd great uncle Giuseppe, left for America in 1900. Francesco stayed behind and married a year later. Giuseppe Iamarino stayed in the Bronx. My dad remembers living in Uncle Joe's apartment building as a child.

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

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

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

Without all his trips, I'd have nothing but birth, marriage, and death records.
Without all his trips, I'd have nothing but birth, marriage, and death records.

Here are some of the facts I've pieced together:
  • July 11, 1903. Francesco leaves his wife Libera and my 9-month-old grandfather Pietro to sail to New York.
  • August 1, 1903. Francesco arrives in the New York harbor to join his brother Giuseppe at 556 Morris Avenue in the Bronx. Coincidentally, this is the same neighborhood where my mother's family lived. They'd arrived in 1899.
  • February 21, 1904. Francesco's 2nd child Giovannangela is born, but it isn't clear if Francesco is in Italy at the time.
  • February 24, 1909. After the birth of his 3rd child, Maria, Francesco returns to the Bronx and his brother, Giuseppe. This time he travels with 4 other men from his hometown. One is his brother Teofilo; the others are his brothers-in-law.
  • 13 October 1913. Once again, Francesco returns to his brother in the Bronx.
  • 10 September 1922. Francesco's 4th and final child Assunta is born. Francesco is 44 years old, but isn't quite done making those 3-week voyages across the Atlantic.
  • 19 March 1929. Did Francesco know this was to be his final trip to America? This time he went to Youngstown, Ohio, to visit the son he hadn't seen in almost a decade. He meets his son's wife and new baby girl.
Multiple voyages mean more and more facts for your family tree.
Multiple voyages mean more and more facts for your family tree.

Francesco's many voyages shaped him and changed him. On one of his trips, staying in the Bronx, he heard singing and stopped into a local church. It was an Evangelical Church—not the Catholic Church of his traditional Italian upbringing.

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

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

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

07 May 2019

The DNA Problem We Aren't Talking About

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

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

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

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

In some cultures and some geographies, intermarriage was the only choice.
In some cultures and some geographies, intermarriage was the only choice.

Imagine keeping up that practice for centuries. The 200 families' DNA would be so blended together that they may be hard to tell apart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These 4 shared segments can mean a long list of possible relationships.
These 4 shared segments can mean a long list of possible relationships.

I'm adding every Pozzuto baby to my family tree one at a time. I'm piecing together their ancestors until I can tie them to someone already in my tree. Now that random, unrelated baby is my distant relative.

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

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

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

03 May 2019

2 Reasons to Add Unrelated People to Your Family Tree

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

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

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

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

1. To Find a Missing Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep track of your unattached people with an image or obvious notation.
Keep track of your unattached people with an image or obvious notation.

2. To Tie into Your DNA Connections

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

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

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

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

It's well worth the effort when the disconnected branch gets connected.
It's well worth the effort when the disconnected branch gets connected.

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

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

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