11 June 2019

Drawing Inspiration from the Genealogy Pros

Do high-profile genealogists inspire you to do better family tree research?

If this sounds like I'm writing a grade school assignment, stick with me.

The genealogy professional I find most inspiring is Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak. She's a key researcher behind my favorite genealogy shows, "Who Do You Think You Are?" and "Finding Your Roots". She's an author and the former Chief Family Historian at Ancestry.com.

Megan works to identify the living descendants of deceased military personnel. She helps get the remains of these service members back to their homes.

Ms. Smolenyak also solves the mysteries of unclaimed bodies in the morgue. Finding living descendants is hard! You can watch a well-produced video to get a feel for Megan's work.

Megan's work with fallen military personnel reminded me of a website in my Favorites list. It's a database of Italian soldiers who died in World War I. There's another site for soldiers who died in World War II.

Long ago I searched for any Italian soldier with my maiden name who died in the first world war. I found only one: Alfonso Iamarino, born in my grandfather's hometown of Colle Sannita on 15 Feb 1892.

Alfonso's birth record and military record led to a ton of names, and our relationship.
Alfonso's birth record and military record led to a ton of names, and our relationship.

Finding living people is hard. But I should be able to identify this soldier's ancestors and siblings. My goal was to see where Alfonso fits in my family tree.

The fallen soldiers website tells me Alfonso's birth date and his father's name. The collection of the town's vital records sitting on my computer will make it easy to find his relatives.

But how will I find his relationship to me? Step by step.

Initial Facts

In 1892 when Alfonso was born, his father Pasquale was 30 years old. His mother Orsola Marino's age is not stated.

Since Pasquale was 30, I looked for and found his birth record in 1862. It even says at the bottom that he married Concetta Orsola Marino on 21 Dec 1889. I'll be sure to search for Alfonso's siblings later. But I want to go up his tree first.

Pasquale Iamarino's parents were Nicola Iamarino and Concetta Zeolla. The 1862 birth record said his parents were both 40 years old. But I couldn't find Nicola's birth record.

Don't know when a couple got married? Work your way back to their first baby.
Don't know when a couple got married? Work your way back to their first baby.

Searching Sideways

Since I couldn't find Nicola's birth record around 1822, I needed more information. If Nicola and Concetta were 40 in 1862, they should have several older children.

I checked the index of births for each year, going backwards from 1861. Nicola and Concetta's ages were so inconsistent! I found these babies:
  • Michele Arcangelo Iamarino, born 5 Apr 1859
  • Francesco Saverio Iamarino, born 19 Jan 1857
  • Giuseppantonio Iamarino, born 19 Feb 1852
  • Antonio Iamarino, born 13 Nov 1850
  • Angelantonio Iamarino, born 2 Apr 1849
I couldn't find any babies born before Angelantonio. It was time to search for Nicola and Concetta's marriage record.

I found them quickly. They married on 21 Feb 1848. The marriage records should include their birth records and their parents' names.

I found Concetta's 1824 birth record. But Nicola was different. Instead of the usual birth record, there's a 2-and-a-half-page document in hard-to-read handwriting. After staring at it for a while I was able to read it.

It says, in effect, "Oops! We can't find Nicola's birth record in the register. It isn't written there, and we don't know why. But we do know he was born in September 1819."

Family Tree Maker's color coding keeps me from overlooking these important relationships.
Family Tree Maker's color coding keeps me from overlooking these important relationships.

Making the Link

The unusual birth record for Nicola tells me who his parents were, as does his marriage record.

And that's where I found a lucky surprise. Nicola's parents were Angelo Iamarino and Anna Elena Pozzuto. Those names were familiar to me because I'd been looking at them about an hour earlier.

It turns out Nicola's sister Liberantonia was married the same day as he was. Their documents are listed one after the other in the 1948 marriage register. An hour before I found Nicola's marriage record, I discovered that Liberantonia's grandparents were my 5th great grandparents.

That makes Libera my 1st cousin 5 times removed. Her brother Nicola is also my 1st cousin 5 times removed.

Suddenly I realized Alfonso Iamarino, the only Iamarino to die in World War I, is my cousin. Alfonso's 2nd great grandparents are my 5th great grandparents. Poor Alfonso is my 3rd cousin 3 times removed.

Hey. I like this. I'm ready to choose another fallen soldier from my ancestral towns and figure out how we're related. For those of you who are of Italian descent, be sure to bookmark these sites:
How do your genealogy heroes inspire you?

Don't miss out! Please follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!


  1. Your step-by-step instructions are so helpful! Thank you for sharing your process and your inspiration.

    1. Thanks, Marian. You're one of my idols, too.