12 July 2019

You're the Scientist in Your Family Tree

Don't have a Bachelor of Science degree? You're still an honorary scientist.

There's a reason why genealogy has that "ology" at the end. An "ology" is any science or branch of knowledge. According to Dictionary.com, genealogy is the study of family ancestries and histories.

So doesn't that make us all scientists? We're amateur scientists, exploring and studying family ancestries and histories.

That's why we should approach our genealogy passion like a scientist. I wrote about this idea 2 years ago when I saw that being as disciplined as a scientist gets you better results.

My maternal grandmother's roots are here.
My maternal grandmother's roots are here.
As an honorary scientist, I conduct experiments in my family tree. One of them involves the Muollo family of Pastene. Pastene is a little hamlet of the town of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in the Bevento province in southern Italy.

My 2nd great grandmother, Maria Luigia Muollo, lived and died in Pastene. Vital records for Pastene are scarce:
  • Births: 1861–1915, with no documents for 1872, 1895, and 1906–1908
  • Marriages: 1931–1942, but 1937 is missing
  • Deaths: 1931–1942, but 1937 is missing
Based on the births of 5 children, I know Maria Luigia Muollo was born in about 1843. I hired a pair of Italian genealogists to find church records for me. They found that Maria Luigia Muollo married Giuseppe Sarracino on 9 December 1864 in Pastene.

But even the researchers didn't find much. They told me this little hamlet had avoided keeping records. Like a little rebel town giving Napoleon the finger. And I want to learn her mother's name.

What would a scientist do in this situation? She'd be logical, methodical, and follow the evidence.

This is one reason why you must find all the children; not only your ancestor.
This is one reason why you must find all the children; not only your ancestor.

Let's look at the facts.
  • Maria Luigia's birth record is not available. I found her age only on her son Biagio's 1879 birth record: 36. That's also the only record that say Maria Luigia's father is Antonio—and he's still alive in 1879.
  • Maria Luigia's death record is not available.
  • Maria Luigia's 1864 marriage record offers no information but the marriage date.
  • A search for any much-younger siblings comes up empty. There are no Muollo babies born to an Antonio who's the right age in the 1860s.
But I may have gotten lucky.

A Muollo girl was born to a father named Antonio 2 years before the available birth records. She's 16 years younger than Maria Luigia, but that's not impossible. When you have a baby every other year from marriage to menopause, the kids span a lot of years. My first-born grandfather was 20 years older than his youngest sister.

This other Muollo girl was Maria Saveria. Like my 2nd great grandmother, she also married a Sarracino man from Pastene. I found birth records for 10 babies born to this couple between 1880 and 1903.

Maria Saveria is in my tree because of her husband. Is she my great aunt, too?
Maria Saveria is in my tree because of her husband. Is she my great aunt, too?

My break came when I found that members of this family came to America. Maria Saveria and her 2 youngest children came to New York City after her husband Orazio died. At least 2 of her other children were here in New York.

Maria Saveria died in New York City on 10 January 1944, and that's why I was able to see her death certificate. (Many thanks to the generous reader who gave me the document image.) Her death record gave me these facts:
  • She was born on 24 May 1859
  • She lived on Courtlandt Avenue in the Bronx for just about her entire time in America
  • Her father was Antonio Muollo
  • Her mother—and this is what I most wanted to find—was Giuseppina Torrico
  • She's buried in the same place as nearly all my Bronx ancestors: St. Raymond's Cemetery
That gives me new data to analyze:
  • I can continue to piece together the lives of Maria Saveria's children in New York.
  • I can try to find out where her husband Orazio was living and if he died in America.
  • I can investigate the name of her mother: Giuseppina Torrico.
Torrico feels like more of a Spanish name than an Italian one. There are plenty of records on Ancestry.com supporting that.

But it is an Italian name, too. I used the Cognomix website to check the name Torrico in Italy. It's not a common name, but there are a few families with that name in my part of Italy: Campania. In the province of Caserta, not far from my Benevento province, the Torrico name exists in 3 towns.

I checked out the town of Carinola because it has the most Torrico families. I needed birth records around 1834 and they are available.

Methodically, I checked the indexes for every birth year from 1821–1839. I was looking for a Giuseppa, Giuseppina, or Maria Giuseppa Torrico.

I found two:
  • Giuseppa Torrico was born on 6 December 1828 to Felice (born 1797) and Anna Robbio (born 1798)
  • Giuseppa Torrico was born on 15 April 1837 to Francesco (born 1972) and Anna diCioco (born 1797)
Next I checked the Carinola marriage records for Antonio Muollo and Giuseppa Torrico. It was a long-shot, so I gave up after checking the 4 most likely years.

So far, this experiment is a failure due to a lack of Italian documents. I don't know if Maria Saveria is the sister of my 2nd great grandmother. Or if Giuseppina Torrico is my 3rd great grandmother.

Someday I want to spend months at a time researching in Italy. Until then, I'll keep searching for U.S. documents for Maria Saveria and her family.

I hope you see how being scientific will keep you from going down the wrong path and making a mess of your family tree. I'd like you to choose one of your brick walls and lay out all the evidence. Where does it lead you?


  1. Here's to social science and the great strides a genealogist can make when taking a scientific approach to the records. Great post!

  2. I don't know about science, but certainly discipline and methodology. I am very much of your school of thought that you need to find all the siblings of your direct ancestor and even their children. In the censuses I have found a few grand-parents living their last days with one of the younger kids after I had lost their trail many years ago. I research in Europe exclusively (including Italy: one of the reason I started to follow your blog!), so the censuses are not indexed and following all the kids is a life saver. Also, what the priest or the civil servant forgot to write down for one child's baptism or mariage, shows up in another kid's act where le priest or civil servant actually did his job. Always a win-win situation when you are thourough and methodical. As always very good post. Annick H.

  3. Another reason to always build your tree down and as well as up -- you can identify your DNA matches. This makes "proving" your research much easier!

    1. Absolutely, Valorie! That's usually the only way to find your connection to a DNA match whose name you don't recognize.