27 September 2019

What Was Happening When Your Ancestor Died?

If a lot of townspeople died at the same time, something big happened.

When we research our relatives from centuries past, we find lots of tragedies. Mothers who die in childbirth. Babies born shortly after their father died. Two or 3 siblings dying within hours of one another. Stillborn babies.

If you find family members dying at about the same time, that may point to an historical event.

Did something happen to cause many people to die? An epidemic? A natural disaster?

The 1805 Earthquake

Many years ago an historian from my grandfather's hometown gave me a piece of history. It's a list of 40 townspeople who died in the earthquake of 26 July 1805. To put this in context, that's the same year Napoleon declared himself the Italian Emperor.

The info in the list is as good as an Italian death record. It includes:
  • the deceased's name and age
  • their parents names
  • their spouse's name if they had one.
One by one, I'm checking the victims' names against my family tree. On line 23 I find someone. Everything I knew about Maria I learned from her son Giovanni's 1829 death record. I knew her husband died in 1805, but it wasn't clear if Maria was alive at that time.

What can history's tragedies tell you about your ancestor's death?
What can history's tragedies tell you about your ancestor's death?

Now, thanks to this list of earthquake victims in 1805, I've got more facts:
  • She was born in 1749. By coincidence, that was the estimated birth year I was using already. I have a rule I follow. If I don't know when someone was born, I subtract 25 from their oldest child's birth year. I had Maria's birth year as "about 1749" because I know her son Giovanni was born in 1774.
  • Her parents were Mattia Pizzella and Libera Polcino. I can estimate that they were born "about 1724".
  • Her husband was Giorgio Pozzuto. That's a key fact. That and her age helped me match this earthquake victim to the woman already in my family tree.
  • Her approximate date of death. My list of victims doesn't say whether these 40 people died immediately. In Family Tree Maker, I'll give them a death date of "about 26 Jul 1805". I'll add "Victim of the 26 July 1805 earthquake" as the description. My source for these facts is my friend the historian. He has given me lots of facts over the years. He has access to the original documents.
Three of the victims were my 6th great aunt Libera and her 2 little girls Grazia and Anna Maria. Libera's husband Giovanni Palmiero must have remarried after their deaths. Can you imagine his sorrow, having his family wiped out? There is another Giovanni Palmiero in my family tree. He's about the right age and married a younger woman. This could be him, but without church records for his marriage, I can't be sure.

A list of the victims of the 1805 earthquake gave me the missing information I needed.
A list of the victims of the 1805 earthquake gave me the missing information I needed.

Finding Disasters

Search online for epidemics, pandemics, earthquakes, and floods in your ancestors' part of the world.

One of the first things I found was that the 26 July 1805 earthquake killed 44 people in Grandpa's town. An estimated 5,573 people died from this event and its aftershocks in all.

My cousins in Italy showed me the stone threshold where my grandfather's house once stood. They said they had to demolish the house after a 1960s earthquake. An Italian earthquake list on Wikipedia makes it clear. The 21 August 1962 earthquake ruined Grandpa's home. It was a 6.1 on the Richter scale. Its epicenter was nearby in Irpinia, Avellino. That's the neighboring province.

Irpinia had an earlier, bigger earthquake on 23 July 1930. I was hoping to see if anyone had died in Grandpa's town on that date, but the available death records start in 1931.

Still, you can see where I'm going. If you can find a list of disasters near your ancestor's hometown, you may find the most likely cause of death for your relatives.

In 1918 a flu pandemic killed 20 to 50 million people. The cholera pandemic of 1910–1911 took more than 800,000 lives. For more on this topic, see "Why Did They Die?"

It's disappointing when old death records don't show a cause of death. Spend a little time investigating the major killers of the time: waves of sickness and natural disasters. You may find your family member's probable cause of death.

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24 September 2019

Don't Ignore a Genealogy Hunch

If you don't have enough info to go on, imagine what that info ought to be.

I spent all day yesterday piecing together a family for Barbara. We began with a few basic facts. I knew her parents' names and her grandparents' names. I didn't have any dates, but I knew Barbara's approximate age.

Let me walk you through how I built out as many facts as possible from those basic facts.

Census Records Lead to One Another

First I wanted to find Barbara in a census or two. With only "New York City" as a location, I found her in the 1940 census. From that I learned the names and ages of her siblings.

Their names helped me be sure I had the right family when I found them in the 1915 and 1920 censuses. As the children grew up, I found that the parents were no longer together. At first I thought Barbara's father had died, but her mother was in one place and her father was in another. They had divorced.

Next I searched for earlier censuses when Barbara's parents were children.

Knowing when Barbara's grandparents were born, I found their marriage records. And some of their death records, which also provided their exact birth dates.

Searching for the Immigrant Ancestors

I'm the luckiest Italian American alive. My 2 grandfathers often told me the names of their hometowns in Italy. My ancestors came to America late enough for their ship manifests to be very detailed.

My 2 grandmothers were born in New York. But their parents arrived here in 1899 and 1906. Their ship manifests tell me their hometowns.

If your people came to the new country before the late 1890s, you may get no help from their ship manifest. That's when naturalization papers can fill in the gaps.

Ship manifests are not created equal. The late 1890s to 1920s are full of great information.
Ship manifests are not created equal. The late 1890s to 1920s are full of great information.

But Barbara's grandfather's certificate of naturalization doesn't say where he came from. The dates on his papers helped me find his ship manifest, but there was a problem. He was the only one onboard from his town, and the town name was so generic.

Barbara said he was from southernmost Italy. There was no town with this name down south. I thought the town might have a longer name. I found a good possibility, but its 1880s birth and marriage records were destroyed! I've sent an email to the town asking for help. We'll see what they say.

But there was another immigrant to find. Barbara's paternal grandfather was born in New York in the 1890s. I didn't know who his immigrant father was. How could I go back another generation in Barbara's family tree?

That's when my big hunch came into play.

When the paper trail is out of your reach, make your best educated guess.
When the paper trail is out of your reach, make your best educated guess.

Barbara's father was John and his father was Sylvester. His father should be Giovanni, right? And based on Sylvester's age, I thought "Giovanni" should have been born about 1865. That was my hunch.

But Giovanni and Cristina had come to America before 1889. Their ship manifests won't tell me their hometowns. I did find Giovanni's naturalization record from 1894. Now I had his exact birth date and a ship arrival date in 1881 (too early). Unfortunately, that date was an estimate, and there's no ship arriving on that date from Italy.

I may be stuck on finding the family's hometowns, but I was able to build out Barbara's family and make her very happy.

Have you been doing this genealogy thing for a while? I'll bet you know more than you give yourself credit for. If you've got a hunch, follow it through. It may lead you to a new generation.

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20 September 2019

How to Benefit from a Cousin's Mistaken Family Tree

It drives us crazy when someone takes parts of our tree and messes things up.

Each time I go to Ancestry.com I see a list of the latest documents someone borrowed from my tree and put into theirs. I don't mind that.

But it's upsetting when you go to their tree and see mistakes. Maybe that document they took doesn't belong in their tree. Or maybe that person doesn't belong in their tree.

Again, I don't really mind because it isn't going to change anything about our lives. I'd rather look for something good that can come from this experience.

What can we learn when someone messes up the family tree?

I'm happy to share my research, but I want it used correctly.
I'm happy to share my research, but I want it used correctly.

What Do They Know That You Don't?

We all start building our family tree with what we know. We enter facts about our immediate family and some of their ancestors. Then we turn to research and lots of documents.

If we look at our borrower's tree, we can learn the names of people they know and we don't. For instance, say you're my distant relative. You learned the names of my great grandfather's children from a census form. But you don't know who those children married. If you came to my tree, you would learn their names.

When I looked at this borrower's tree, I saw a handful of familiar last names. I knew they came from my maternal grandfather's hometown of Baselice, Italy.

Use Your Superior Skills and Learn More

To see if my borrower knew more than I did, I first went to the document she borrowed from me. It was an 1809 birth record for the wife of my 3rd great uncle. One of this couple's sons, Giovannangelo, was in my tree. But I have him married to a different woman that my borrower does.

And Giovannangelo is critical to her tree. He's her 3rd great grandfather. She has an Anglicized version of his last name. Consulting my handy relationship chart, my borrower is my 6th cousin twice removed. Our shared ancestors were born around 1718 in Baselice. (I sorted this out after I solved the problem with her family tree.)

Since her Giovannangelo born on 3 Jan 1849, has a different wife than my Giovannangelo born on 3 Jan 1849, who's right? Was it the same man who married twice and had 2 sets of children?

I have about 15,000 people from the town of Baselice in my family tree. They came directly from the town's 1809–1860 vital records. I looked in my tree for the woman my borrower shows as Giovannangelo's wife—Serafina. There was only one choice. And guess what? Her husband is Giovanni, not Giovannangelo, but he has the same last name. The same name they Anglicized in America.

My borrower didn't do the exhaustive research I've done on Baselice. (Who else would?) So she assumed that Giovannangelo, born the same year as Serafina, was her direct ancestor. She didn't know about Giovanni.

With a clue from my borrower's tree, I found where she went wrong.
With a clue from my borrower's tree, I found where she went wrong.

For proof, I looked up the birth records of the children my borrower gave to Giovannangelo and Serafina. The first baby told me all I needed to know. The Giovanni who married Serafina and had this baby had a father named Giuseppe. Those facts match my tree. My borrower chose the wrong man and his ancestors and put them in her family tree.

Giovannangelo's ancestors—the whole bunch in my borrower's tree—came from my tree. From my research. She thinks they're her direct ancestors. I guess I'm obligated to set her straight.

Bring the Old Country Folks to the New Country

I can get a lot of new information from her tree about the generations in America. And I can learn who the children of Giovanni and Serafina married. My first interest is in Annamaria who married one of Giovanni and Serafina's sons. Her last name is prevalent in Baselice. Her father is in my tree, but I didn't know who he married. He is my 2nd cousin 4 times removed.

This Italian family is the 2nd in my tree that adopted a very English name in America. Why? Because it's easier for an American mouth to say. Or maybe just to fit in. That loss of identity makes me sad. I'm glad my family kept their names.

Is someone mistakenly borrowing people from your family tree? See if their tree has any information you can use. Then, if you want to, you can show them their error. While my borrower grabbed the wrong branch of my family, she is absolutely my relative. Her tree gives me a lot of leads I can use.

Is this what they mean by "don't get mad; get even"?

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17 September 2019

This Chart Finds Hidden Relationships in Your Family Tree

My intertwined, overlapping, twisted family tree just got a new tool.

It seems that 98% of the people with my maiden name have roots in one town in Southern Italy. Colle Sannita is the birthplace of the Iamarino name. (See Where Did Grandpa Come From? to learn how important your ancestor's hometown is.)

So when I noticed Maria Cristina Iamarino, born in 1863, married a man named Paolucci, I had to dig deeper.

Many of my DNA match's relationships connect to the name Paolucci. It's a prevalent name in Colle Sannita. Most of these relationships connect to my great aunt's in-laws. My Great Aunt Assunta Iamarino married Donato Paolucci, and his family is enormous. That time I connected my dad to his best friend it was through that same Paolucci family.

Maria Cristina Iamarino is my 1st cousin 4 times removed. Her grandparents are my 4th great grandparents.

Her husband is Francesco Saverio Paolucci. In Family Tree Maker, I see that his great grandparents are my 5th great grandparents. They are Pietro and Carmina.

As a direct descendant of my 5th great grandparents, he does have a blood relationship to me. I thought I'd find it by using Family Tree Maker's Relationship Calculator.

The Relationship Calculator in Family Tree Maker isn't taking everything into consideration.
The Relationship Calculator in Family Tree Maker isn't taking everything into consideration.

While viewing Francesco Saverio Paolucci in my tree, I can click Tools / Relationship Calculator. In the Relationship section there is a pull-down menu listing our relationships:
  • husband of 1st cousin 4x removed
  • father-in-law of 2nd great aunt
That's no good. Neither one is a blood relationship, and he's the great grandchild of my ancestors. I know our common ancestors are in my paternal grandmother's line because I use color-coding.

A combination of tools helped me find our hidden relationship.

Using the Relationship Calculator I can compare Lucy Iamarino (my grandmother) to:
  • Pietro Piacquadio. He is her 3rd great grandfather. So far, so good. Now to his son.
  • Donato Piacquadio. He is Lucy's 3rd great uncle because he's the brother of her 2nd great grandmother. Now to his daughter.
  • Angela Piacquadio. She is Lucy's 1st cousin 3x removed. Next is her son.
  • Francesco Saverio Paolucci. That's where the Relationship Calculator fails. It shows only in-law relationships and finds no common relative. But I can see their common ancestors!
What I need is a chart that can help me put a name to distant relationships. I found one, and using it is a real mind-bender partly because of its diamond shape. Using the chart I found that:
  • Lucy and Francesco Saverio are 2nd cousins 2x removed.
  • Francesco Saverio and I are 2nd cousins 4x removed. Of course that makes sense because I'm a 2-generation descendant of Lucy, his 2nd cousin 2x removed. My dad has to be (and is, per the chart) Francesco Saverio's 2nd cousin 3x removed.
Here's another challenge with this family that I'd like to solve. If I can figure this out, I can stop missing out on distant cousin relationships.

Francesco Saverio Paolucci (my 2nd cousin 4x removed) and his wife Maria Cristina Iamarino (my 1st cousin 4x removed) had 2 sons who married sisters from my grandfather's family. (If you're going insane already, add this: My paternal grandparents are 3rd cousins, both named Iamarino.)

The 2 sons (Giovanni and Antonio) are my 3rd cousins 3x removed. Their wives (Carmela and Maria Maddalena) are my 2nd great aunts.

Since the 2 men are on my paternal grandmother's side, and the 2 women are on my paternal grandfather's side, I should have multiple relationships to their kids. I happened to meet one of the sons of Antonio and Carmela—as well as his son—in their home in Colle Sannita in 2005. Antonio and Carmela's son is my 1st cousin 2x removed, but let's see what else he is.

The Family Tree Maker Relationship Calculator won't even try to call him anything but my 1st cousin 2x removed. But the chart I found doesn't give up. As the son of Antonio, he is also my 4th cousin 2x removed. And his son, who is my 2nd cousin 1x removed on his mother's side, is my 5th cousin 1x removed on his father's side.

The chart is on Wikimedia. Zoom in on it before you lose your mind.

I also found a calculator that let's you skip the running-2-fingers-along-the-chart step. To use this calculator, choose a common ancestor for you and the person you want to figure out. I'll use the calculator to figure out my relationship to the man I met in Italy who is my 2nd cousin 1x removed on his mother's side. We're roughly the same age.

In the calculator I enter that I'm the 5th great grandchild of the common ancestor (Pietro/Carmina). The man I met is the 4th great grandchild of the same ancestor. The calculator says we are 5th cousins 1x removed. It gives me the option of seeing a relationship chart. While I appreciate the visual, it took me 3 tries to get the right chart. So I made my own version in Excel. You can download my chart for yourself. If you want to make it fit on a piece of paper, you'll have to give up some generations.

I made an easier-to-use chart to figure out distant relationships.
I made an easier-to-use chart to figure out distant relationships.

I'm not sure this will solve my problem with DNA matches who only map to an in-law. But if there's a common ancestor hiding in my tree, all secrets will be revealed.

What got me started on this topic was a new discovery. I've been talking about here Francesco Saverio Paolucci. Well, all I knew about his mother was her name was Angela Piacquadio. I hadn't found her parents yet. When I did find them, Angela went from one of those long in-law relationships to my 1st cousin 5x removed.

That's how I learned Francesco Saverio Paolucci was the great grandson of my 5th great grandparents.

That's how all these cascading relationships changed.

Take a look at your family tree. Who is missing parents because you haven't looked for them yet? Are their parents are already waiting there in your family tree?

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13 September 2019

Naturalization Papers Answer Many Genealogy Questions

You may have been born into citizenship. Your ancestor has another story.

If you have an immigrant ancestor, you may have some papers waiting for you. Has your family been in your country for a small number of generations? Then you may be able to find your ancestor's naturalization papers.

Naturalization and citizenship documents can offer a lot of hard facts. Say your immigrant had a spouse and kids when they filed for citizenship. You may find each family member's name and birth date/place listed out for you.

And you may find a card certifying the exact date your ancestor arrived, and the name of the ship that brought them. With that information, you have a much better chance of finding their ship manifest.

Yesterday I was paging through naturalization records looking for my grandfather. I have his papers, but I wanted to find a cleaner image from another source. (I did.)

While searching, I saw a familiar name: Giovanni Antonio Basile. It gave his birth date. It gave his hometown—my Grandpa's hometown of Colle Sannita. He's in my family tree!

If you can find your ancestor's naturalization papers, you'll find a ton of facts.
If you can find your ancestor's naturalization papers, you'll find a ton of facts.

Here are the main facts from his papers:
  • He was born in Colle Sannita on 22 Feb 1894. I have his birth record, but if I didn't, this would help.
  • He arrived at Ellis Island on 15 Oct 1920 aboard the Adriatic. I already knew this, but imagine if I didn't. With the date and ship name, he can't hide.
  • He lived in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, and worked at a tube mill. That's interesting. He got here a month before Grandpa. But this is the same town and steel tube mill where my grandfather lived and worked at the very same time. Giovanni and Grandpa have the same 2 witnesses on their papers.
  • He left for America not from Naples, but from Cherbourg, France. Grandpa did the same!
  • His wife was Giovannina Galasso, born on 20 March 1900. This checks out. I have her birth record, too.
  • His son Giorgio was born in Italy on 29 January 1921. This is new information. I knew Giorgio existed because I have his 1927 ship manifest when he came to America with his mom. I have him in the 1930 and 1940 censuses, too. But I never had his birth date, and 1921 Italian birth records are too recent to access. Armed with his birth date, I immediately found his obituary and military information.
Behold the power of naturalization records.

Some naturalization papers give you facts you can't find anywhere else.
Some naturalization papers give you facts you can't find anywhere else.

My grandfather's naturalization papers took me by surprise when I first saw them. I didn't know he was ever in western Pennsylvania. By this time he'd been in New York City, and with his uncle outside Boston. He may have followed some of his Italian townsmen to work at the steel tube mill.

Grandpa has one extra naturalization document that's different. It's a card with a handwritten date of 26 March 1952. The card repeats several facts about his naturalization, including:
  • His 1927 Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, address
  • His naturalization date of 24 February 1927
  • The certificate, volume and document number of his naturalization. (His document number is 68535 while Giovanni's is 68525.)
The card also says he is now 49 years old (in 1952) and has been in Ohio for 1 year. That last fact is important to me. I was never sure exactly when he and my grandmother moved from New York to Ohio. It looks like it was 1951.

His signature is still a shocker to me. It's exactly like my father's signature, right down to the circles over the i's. I had to ask my father if he had forged it!

Finding your ancestor's naturalization papers is hard if you can't search an index. You need to know which district court they went to. You need to know which year. And you may not find them.

I'm having no luck with my other grandfather. I do know which district court he would have gone to. And I can narrow the time frame down to 1925–1927. You see, all I've found is an index card with nothing but his name on it.

If you have very little to go on, consider this:
  • The index card with his name on it is from a collection dated 1914–1927.
  • He was in New York City from mid-1914 to mid-1915.
  • He went back to fight in World War I for the Italian Army, so I doubt he'd applied for U.S. citizenship.
  • He was a prisoner of war for a year and recovering for 2 years, so he didn't get back to America until 1920.
  • His 1925 New York State Census says he's an alien.
Those facts narrow down the 1914–1927 index card collection to mid-1925–1927 for me. So far I've hurt my wrist clicking through 800 pages. That was about a week's worth of New York City naturalization papers!

If you need to do a manual search:
  • Go to FamilySearch.org and Search the Catalog.
  • Enter your ancestor's state
  • On the results page, refine your search by clicking Keywords and entering Naturalization
  • From there choose either naturalization and citizenship or the index.
  • To figure out the right district, Google those in the list (such as Ohio Southern District Court). See if they covered your ancestor's town.
  • When you've got that, keep clicking your options. Hopefully you'll have a long list of choices, each labelled with a date range, document range, or town name.
Then, start clicking through the pages. And clicking. And clicking. If you find your ancestor, I promise your wrist will stop hurting.

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10 September 2019

A Foundation for Your Genealogy Research Process

A new genealogist is born every day. Do they all know what to do? Not yet!

In the side panel of this blog there is a 3-question content survey. That's where I ask you what kinds of subject matter you'd like to find here. Some readers have asked for an all-in-one family tree tutorial.

At first I thought that wasn't possible. It's too vast. Many of my articles go in-depth on a specific part of genealogy, like:
Whether you're new to genealogy or dove into the deep end, a "start-to-finish genealogy process" would help.

So let's boil down the idea of family tree research to the basics.

Start With Yourself


Imagine a very old fence made of stones. You can't build the top row of stones without the foundation beneath it, right? Well, don't expect to find your 2nd great grandfather without the foundation of his descendants.

Building a family tree is a one-generation-at-a-time process.

Each time you add a generation you gain more facts. Those facts tell you where to look for more information.

As you add family members, think about all the types of documents you may find:
  • census records (right now the most recent U.S. census available is from 1940)
  • vital records (birth, marriage, death)
  • church records (baptism and other sacraments)
  • public records (street address, yearbooks, newspaper articles)
  • military records (draft registrations and military service)
  • citizenship records (immigration and naturalization)
Search for and gather every type of record you can.

Ready-made family trees are NOT what you want. You want the documents.
Ready-made family trees are NOT what you want. You want the documents.

Keep Track of All Sources


As you gather each document, immediately capture its source information.

Let's say you're using Ancestry.com to find your father or grandfather in the 1940 U.S. census. You can click "View Image" to see the document. But in the search results you can also click the words "1940 United States Federal Census". Beneath the listing of facts you'll see "Source Citation" and "Source Information". Copy that text and store it as the citation for the census image.

If you find a document on FamilySearch.org, click the listing (not the camera). Look for "Document Information" in the right-hand column. You'll find a handy "Citing this Record" section to copy.

Be Logical


Imagine you've gathered every possible document for your grandfather's immediate family. Take a close look at the family grouping. Are there any facts that don't make sense?
  • Do you have children born before their parents were old enough, or after a parent died? (Neat trick: a recently dead man can have a baby.)
  • Was one child born in a different place even though there's no sign the family ever moved?
Be logical and avoid publishing bad information. If something is illogical, search for more evidence to prove it right or wrong.

Move Up One Generation at a Time


Say you found your grandparents' marriage certificate. It may tell you where they living at that time. It may have each of their parents' names and place of birth. Those names and birthplaces are the foundation you need to build the next course of your stone fence.

I have my maternal grandparents 1922 marriage certificate. It says my grandfather and my 4 maternal great grandparents were born in Italy.

Knowing that, I was ready to pinpoint their hometowns. When you reach a foreign-born generation, search for immigration and naturalization records.

The joy of a well-timed migration: tons of clues for your descendants.
The joy of a well-timed migration: tons of clues for your descendants.

Ship manifests for your immigrant ancestors—if they are from a certain range of years—are crucial. You may learn the foreign hometown of your ancestor. You may learn the name of that ancestor's relative: father, mother, spouse, or more. These are the clues you need to go back another generation.

Be Methodical and Thorough


Try to "close out" each family unit before moving on. Gather every possible document for them. Make note of what you haven't found yet (like that one elusive census year) so you can try again in the future.

Pay close attention to the evidence. My 3rd great grandfather from Italy was a problem for me. I knew which town the family came from. I found birth records for all his children. I found his wife's birth record and her parents' names.

But I couldn't find his birth record. I knew he was born in about 1813, but there was no record of his birth.

Then I found the clue I needed. In his 1840 marriage record it clearly says he was born in another town. The neighboring town. That's why I couldn't find him or his siblings. I was looking in the wrong town.

Each document you find may have the answer to a mystery. My 2nd great uncle's World War II draft registration card had a critical clue I needed. The name of the town where he was born. His parents and his siblings, it turns out, were not from that town. But by searching that town's vital records, I discovered where his parents came from. And that cracked open that branch of the family.

Those are the basics. As you progress I've got tons of advice for ways to get and stay organized. And only after you've gone pretty far with your tree will you be able to find the connection to your DNA matches. In most cases, they're the icing on your cake. But you have to bake that cake.

Please see the Genealogy Lessons link on my blog for lots more articles listed by topic.

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06 September 2019

Help Your DNA Match Expand their Family Tree

Show your DNA match who's the genealogist in the family!

You've probably got more genealogy skills than many of your DNA matches. If you want to figure out your connection, why not do some of the work for them? We all complain about our matches' missing or flimsy trees. Let's put some more leaves on their trees.

It helps if you can spot the best place to dive in.

My dad and I have one DNA match, Annie, who shares 44 cMs (centiMorgans) with him and (surprisingly) 43 cMs with me. Annie has a very small family tree posted. It doesn't have a lot of facts. But 5 of the 13 people in the tree have my 2nd great grandmother's last name.

That's our only apparent connection: the last name Girardi. Now, I know that name comes from more than one part of Italy. Former Yankees manager Joe Girardi's ancestors came from up north. My people are all from southern Italy.

But that name is the place for me to dive in.

If you're a genealogy warrior, why not help your DNA match find their missing link to you?
If you're a genealogy warrior, why not help your DNA match find their missing link to you?

I decided to see if Annie's Girardi ancestor was born in my 2nd great grandmother's town. Annie's tree had no date for Luciano Girardi's birth. But it had a December 1900 date for Luciano's wife. I went to my folder of 1900 birth records from the town of Pescolamazza.

There she was: Lorenza Immacolata Viglione. And in the margin of her birth record was the date of her marriage to Luciano Girardi.

Now I was sure this Girardi family was from my Girardi family's hometown. And it's a small town, not a city.

I went year by year, checking each birth index for Luciano Girardi. I found him in 1892 and held my breath. Was he a fit for my family tree?

Both his father and his mother were named Girardi. Even though neither of his parents were in my tree, I had my marching orders. Because of his birth year, one of Luciano's parents might be my 2nd great grandmother's 1st cousin.

Let's play a little game, shall we?

Annie seems to be the child of Luciano. That'd put her close to my father's age, just for reference.

Imagine Luciano's parent is my 2nd great grandmother's 1st cousin. If so, Annie's 3rd great grandparents are my father's 4th great grandparents. She would be my father's 3rd cousin once removed. (I had to draw it to make sense of it.)

I couldn't do this in my head if I tried. A drawing helped me understand the theoretical relationship.
I couldn't do this in my head if I tried. A drawing helped me understand the theoretical relationship.

Ancestry DNA estimates Dad and Annie are 4th–6th cousins. I checked the "consanguinity relationship chart" from Family Tree UK that I mentioned last week. With their shared 44 cMs of DNA, Annie and my dad could most likely be:
  • 1st cousins 4 times removed
  • 2nd cousins twice removed
  • 2nd cousins 3 times removed
  • 3rd cousins
Each of the above relationships has the exact same probability based on the numbers.

Now let's add in the "divide by 68" rule from last week. Dividing their shared 44 cMs by 68 tells me that Dad and Annie share .647%, and Annie and I share .632% of our DNA. Wow. We share such a small percentage of DNA with our not-so-distant-cousins. Even 2nd cousins share only about 3.125% of their DNA.

I sent Annie a link to Luciano and Lorenza's Italian birth records. But I need to keep researching. I need to investigate these new Girardi names. I need to find Italian documents for them and hope to connect them to my family.

Knowing your possible relationship to a DNA match won't solve the puzzle. As you do the genealogy research, keep those possible relationships in mind. Draw yourself a diagram. You can solve many of your DNA relationships this way.

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03 September 2019

Same Name; Which Ancestor is Which?

It isn't only John Smiths that get mixed up. Naming customs are to blame.

No matter what ethnicity or nationality you ancestors were, you've probably seen this.

Everybody has the same name!

Many cultures followed a naming pattern that led to repeating names over and over. (Go to the FamilySearch Wiki and search for "naming customs" to see the rules.)

Here's an example. Imagine a man named Giuseppe Bianco whose father was Giovanni. Giuseppe names his 1st son Giovanni after his father. He names his 2nd son Salvatore after his wife's father. When young Giovanni and Salvatore grow up, they each name their 1st son Giuseppe after their father. No you've got 2 first cousins each named Giuseppe Bianco.

Now imagine that type of thing happening in every branch of your family, over and over again. The repeated names can drive any genealogy researcher crazy.

Picture yourself searching for a record of someone with a common name. How will you know you've found the right person?

Dates, Relatives, and More Documents


Search for your person in a wide array of years. Even if you think you know their birth year, check a bunch of surrounding years. Make note of every other person with the same or similar name. Who were their parents? Who did they marry?

Can't find an ancestor in the year you expected? Check a number of surrounding years.
Can't find an ancestor in the year you expected? Check a number of surrounding years.

Search for every related document you can. Find other records that include the person's age to help you estimate their birth year. Examples are their children's births and marriages, and their death. Carefully consider every fact you find before deciding which one is your ancestor.

This past weekend I was building a family tree for a client. I was off to a good start because she knew several ancestors' names. When I found a birth record, I could see that the baby's parents matched the names my client gave me.

But one ancestor, let's call her Giulia Russo, was a problem. I couldn't find a birth record for her or her father. I did find Giulia's 1911 marriage record. It told me her parents' names (Francesco and Maria) and her approximate birth year.

I continued piecing together the rest of the family. Giulia and her father Francesco were the only 2 people missing a birth record. Actually, I found more than one birth record for a baby named Francesco Russo. But they were born so much earlier than Giulia's mother.

How could I know which Francesco Russo was the right one?

I needed Giulia's birth record so I could get an idea of when her father Francesco was born. Based on her marriage record, she should have been born in 1887 or 1888. She wasn't.

I had to assume they got Giulia's age wrong on her marriage record. I broadened my search and found the only baby girl with a name even close to Giulia Russo. She was born in late 1884. She was actually 26 when her marriage record said she was 23.

But I knew it was her. Why? Because I'd checked a wide range of years in 2 towns and this "Giulia Maria Russo" was the only option. She had the right parents. Their names matched those on the marriage record.

Finally I was able to say with some confidence that her father Francesco Russo was born in about 1842. That's much earlier than his wife, and much earlier than I'd expected.

I searched birth records from 1837 through 1865 looking for every Francesco Russo. I found only two. But they each had a problem. They each had a note saying who he married and when. And neither bride was Giulia's mother.

But Giulia's birth record put her father's birth year at 1842. The 2 Francesco's I found were born in 1842 and 1848. I took another look at the Francesco Russo born in 1842.

As a rule, it's always a good idea to search records in the surrounding years.
As a rule, it's always a good idea to search records in the surrounding years.

When I considered everyone's ages, it became clear to me. The 1870 marriage to another woman written on his birth record was his 1st marriage. His 1st wife must have died before he married Giulia's mother Maria. Maria was 22 years younger than Francesco. She was 6 years old when he married the 1st time.

When Francesco married his 2nd wife, she was very young. She gave birth to their daughter Giulia at the age of 20. Ideally I'd want proof that Francesco's 1st wife died before Giulia was born. But the record isn't available. Neither is the marriage record for Francesco and Maria.

I searched a range of years for his 1st wife's death. No luck.

But I had one more ace up my sleeve. I could search for all the babies Francesco had with his 1st wife and see if they end by 1884. When the babies stop coming, that could be when his 1st wife died.

I found 4 babies born to Francesco and his 1st wife from 1872–1880. I kept searching, knowing that Giulia (the daughter of Francesco's 2nd wife) was born in 1884.

Good news! From 1881 to 1883 there no more babies for the 1st wife. Plus there was an 1883 baby born to the other Francesco Russo and his wife. The better clue came in 1885. A year after Francesco had a baby with his 2nd wife, the other Francesco Russo had another baby with his only wife.

This proves to me that I chose the right Francesco Russo.

In my experience with 19th century Italians, widows always remarried—sometimes awfully fast. And a man usually married a much younger woman and continued making the babies.

Francesco's experience fit perfectly into this mold. It's the same exact experience my 2nd great grandfather had. He married his 1st wife and had several children. Then his wife died. He quickly remarried, choosing a young lady who was his eldest daughter's age! Thank goodness he did, because that young 2nd wife was my 2nd great grandmother.

You won't always be 100% sure you've identified the right ancestor. But if you seek out as much information as possible, you're bound to have more success.


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