08 October 2019

Why All Siblings Are Critical to Your Family Tree

Marie's branch was a dead end until I found one ancestor's siblings.

I've been sharing genealogy discoveries with Janet for a long time. Her in-laws are from my grandfather's town in Italy. Her father-in-law saw my photo of my Italian cousins. They were his nieces!

We realized right away that his brother's wife was my great aunt—my grandfather's sister. Janet and I pieced together many generations of her father-in-law's family tree.

But there was more to the story. Her mother-in-law Marie is a solid DNA match to my father and me. I was eager to figure out our connection. But Marie's tree hit a dead end at her great grandparents.

Here were the problems we faced:
  • Her great grandfather and great grandmother had very common names for this town.
  • We weren't positive when they were born. Our only clue was from the birth record of one of their children.
  • They married too late for us to find their marriage documents online.
Yesterday I made up my mind to punch through this brick wall. I needed to find more of this couple's children—more of Marie's grandmother's siblings. Each additional birth record might give me the clues I needed to go further.

Here's what I did.

Marie's great grandparents were Giovanni and Maria. (That's right. "John and Mary"!) They had Marie's grandmother when they were more than 40 years old. It's only GeneaLOGICAL™ that they would have had some children before her. (Also see "Finding the Siblings Your Ancestor Never Mentioned".)

The first sibling I found was Marie's grandmother's older brother, Francesco. He was born 8 years earlier than her in 1874. In 1874, the birth records in this town were not a fill-in-the-blanks form. This left room for more details.

What I found on his birth record were both of his grandfather's names. That's a fantastic find!

If I didn't look for all their children, I'd never have broken through this brick wall.
If I didn't look for all their children, I'd never have broken through this brick wall.

Now I knew that Giovanni's father was Giuseppe, and Maria's father was Donato. Plus, this record was 8 years earlier than Marie's grandmother's birth record. So it had more reliable ages for Giovanni and Maria.

That's an important concept when you're researching people from a century or more ago. People didn't always know their correct age. You and I have to give out our full birth date every time we see a doctor. But back in the day, someone might not know their age. So, the older the genealogy record, and the younger the person, the more likely they are to remember their age. If you don't have their birth record, their marriage record probably has the right age.

I searched all the birth records in a span of years. I found the only Giovanni with the right last name and a father named Giuseppe. And I found the only Maria with the right last name and a father named Donato.

Probably their first-born child, Francesco's birth record had the extra clues I needed.
Probably their first-born child, Francesco's birth record had the extra clues I needed.

As luck would have it, their parents were already in my family tree. The key to the whole thing was that one sibling's birth record that had both grandfathers' names on it.

I kept piecing together several of Marie's ancestors, with the help of a few sibling records. At last, I found our true relationship. Marie went from being the wife of my 1st great aunt's brother-in-law, to my 5th cousin twice removed. She and Grandpa are 5th cousins.

I've gone all-out researching each of my grandfather's hometowns. In their small towns, everyone is related in some way. I have some families with 8 to 12 children. Each of the children is critical! You never know when their record will have the facts you need to break through your brick wall.

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