17 January 2020

Which of Your Ancestors Has the Best Life Story?

Follow this process to choose your best subject and write their life story.

This month I've made great progress on my 2020 Genealogy Goals. Today's goal is this: Write a brief life story for each of my direct ancestors with enough data.

I added the with enough data restriction because of my background. Half of my great grandparents and every ancestor before them (except 2) never left Italy. Their lives in Italy are documented only by their birth, marriage, and death records. There isn't much I can say about them.

That really limits the ancestors I can write about. I'll be you have some limitations, too.

My female ancestors in America lived at a time when women weren't usually educated and rarely held a job outside the home. That limits their document trail. I knew my maternal grandmother Mary well, and I absolutely should write down an many memories of her as I can. My paternal grandmother Lucy died a few years before I was born. I know she was warm and well-loved in her neighborhood.

I also know she had a job. Today we call it telecommuting or "working from home". In my grandmother's day they called it "homework".

I learned this from a story my father tells. He got in trouble at school once when his teacher kept insisting he re-do an assignment. The teacher didn't tell my dad what he was doing wrong. She just insisted he throw it away, take out a new sheet of paper, and try again. Eventually he refused (go Dad!), and she sent him to the principal's office. He explained, "My mother works hard to pay for my paper. I'm not going to keep wasting sheets of it if the teacher won't tell me what I'm doing wrong." The principal made the teacher apologize to my dad.

Grandma Lucy's homework was to take home shirts from a factory and carefully snip off the excess lengths of thread. Her work made the shirts look beautifully tailored. I'd love to know what that job title was. Thread snipper? She isn't listed as working on the census. I'll bet the story happened shortly after 1940.

So I can't say a lot about my female ancestors, but I do have some anecdotes to capture. Are you writing down your family anecdotes?

There is more to say about my male ancestors because of their documents. Here are my top candidates. Please think about your own ancestors as you read on.

1. Adamo Leone, born 1891

My maternal grandfather has an interesting story because he was a World War I prisoner of war for a solid year. That's why I've already written his story.

2. Pietro Iamarino, born 1902

My paternal grandfather's life is marked by a lot of moving around:
  • He left Italy at age 18.
  • He started in the Bronx, New York, where his Uncle Giuseppe was living in 1920.
  • He went to Boston where he had another uncle, Antonio, soon after.
  • He went to western Pennsylvania where he applied for his U.S. citizenship in 1924.
  • He went a little further west to Ohio where he married my grandmother in 1927.
  • They moved with their 2 children back to the Bronx where he still had his Uncle Giuseppe. This was about 1936.
  • They moved back to Ohio when Grandma Lucy became ill and wanted to be near her parents in 1952. She died in 1954.
  • They scattered a bit because my aunt and my father each got married, but they all came back to the Bronx by 1955.
I've documented Grandpa's moves on a map, but I do need to put them together into one big story.

I used a special mapping feature to show Grandpa's journey, but I need to write his story.
I used a special mapping feature to show Grandpa's journey, but I need to write his story.

3. Pasquale Iamarino, born 1882

My great grandfather Patsy, as he was known, came to America at age 20. He started in the Bronx where he also had an uncle. He started working for the Erie Railroad in upstate New York. He met and married my great grandmother quickly, and started his family.

He also did a bit of moving around. He bounced to a couple of places in upstate New York and then over to Youngstown, Ohio, always working for the railroad. He was a boilermaker. That means he cleaned the engine's boilers and tanks, using scrapers and steam or water hoses. Eventually this job of scraping coal residue gave him black lung disease. The Lung Health Institute described the disease as "a chronic respiratory disease traditionally resulting from long-term exposure to and inhalation of coal dust."

Well of course that was going to happen!

Patsy retired early with a pension. They let him travel by rail for free, so he went to New York City once in a while to visit his daughter (my grandmother). He lived to be 87 years old, growing roses and vegetables on his land in Ohio. I need to press my dad for more stories before I can really write about Patsy.

4. Giovanni Sarracino, born 1876

My great grandfather Giovanni is legendary on my mother's side of the family. He always struck me as being the character most worth writing about in my family tree. It's time to quit stalling and get this done.

The reasons he intrigues me are:
  • he had a famously hot temper.
  • he came to America with no money or education and somehow bought 2 apartment buildings!
  • he worked as an agent (whatever that means) for a Bronx brewery which seems to be tied to his ability to buy 2 apartment buildings.
  • he looked like famous actor Spencer Tracy. I have an awesome photo of him looking like the biggest man in town.
I don't have all the details about him. That's for sure. But I can present the newspaper clippings I've found of his real estate transactions. I can tell the story of the time a doorknob got caught on the keys hanging from his pocket. It ripped his pants and sent him flying into a rage. (It may not sound like it, but it's a funny story.)

His early story has a couple of twists and turns. His Sarracino family had a pattern of not reporting their babies' births in a timely manner, even though it was mandatory. They reported his 1876 birth in 1898. The reason they bothered at all is that he was getting married and it was 100% required.

His first child was born in Italy 8 months after my great grandparents married. The baby died right away. But my great grandmother (Maria Rosa Saviano) was pregnant with my Grandma Mary almost immediately. I think this premature birth and death may be why my great grandparents followed the Saviano family to America. They had left Italy—and left my great grandparents behind—more than a year earlier.

If they hadn't followed the Saviano family, I would never have been born.

Even his birth record has a story to tell! I've got to write my great grandfather's life story.
Even his birth record has a story to tell! I've got to write my great grandfather's life story.

I've chosen. It's time to write Giovanni Sarracino's story. The process will be to follow the paper trail from birth certificate to death certificate. I can include a brief description of his hometown because I've visited it twice. Writing an explanation of his real estate dealings may help me understand them better. And I'll be sure to search for a Bronx map showing the properties around 1912.

Which of your ancestors has a compelling tale and enough documents for you to write their life story? What's stopping you?

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14 January 2020

What to Do When There Are No Documents

There may be related documents with some of the facts you're missing.

One of my 2020 Genealogy Goals is to learn more about my 2nd great grandmother. Her name was Maria Luigia Muollo and her facts are very slim.

She was born in a section of the Southern Italian town of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in 1843. I have only one source for her year of birth, and it's unreliable. It's the birth record for her youngest child, born in 1879, and it says Maria Luigia was 36 years old. That same birth record tells me Maria Luigia's father's name was Antonio and he was dead by that time.

That's all I know. The available vital records cover 1861–1915 births and 1931–1942 deaths and marriages. I can't go any further back. I can't get Maria Luigia's birth record or her parents' birth, marriage, or death records. I hired a research team in Italy who found that even their church had very limited records. They did find an 1864 marriage record for Maria Luigia and my 2nd great grandfather Giuseppe Sarracino. It has no details but the date.

What bothers me is Maria Luigia's unnamed mother is my only missing 3rd great grandparent. I've identified the other 31, but she remains lost to me.

Somewhere in here I may find the name of my missing ancestor.
Somewhere in here I may find the name of my missing ancestor.

My 2020 goal is to "Enter all Sant'Angelo a Cupolo births for babies named Muollo into my family tree."

To get this project started, I spent 3 days renaming my collection of vital record images for the town. Thanks to this task, I'm now very familiar with the last names in this ancestral town of mine. I wasn't slowed down by bad handwriting or the occasional mistake. And now I can search my computer for all Muollo documents at once.

There are 72 results. The process is to view each document and try to fit the people into my family tree. The first result (I don't know what determines the order of the results) is:
  • Maria Grazia Muollo
  • She died on 27 Oct 1941
  • She was 73 years old, so she was born around 1868 (and I do have her birth record)
  • Her parents were Francesco Saverio Muollo and Fortunata Ruotolo, both dead by 1941
  • Her 2nd husband was Vincenzo Pesante (not a last name from this town)
Turning to her 1868 birth record, I learn:
  • Maria Grazia Muollo was born on 9 Jun 1868
  • Her father Francesco Saverio Muollo was born in 1838 (out of range for my document collection)
  • His father was Giacomo Muollo
  • Her mother was Maria Fortunata Ruotolo (no age given)
  • Maria Fortunata's father was Pasquale Ruotolo
Please borrow.
Now I can add all Francesco Saverio and Maria Fortunata's children, if they were born after 1860. None of the names above are in my family tree yet. But, since it's a small town, I'm bound to find a connection to them eventually.

I'll begin adding this family and their facts to my tree. I'll give each person my "No Relationship Established" graphic as a profile image. That makes them instantly recognizable as someone who is not attached to me yet. The moment any of them gets connected and has a relationship to me, I'll remove all their graphics.

Because this last name is important to me, I labelled each Muollo document image with the name of the person's father. Now I can search for "Muollo di Francesco Saverio". (The word "di" means of, and it's a great shorthand for "daughter of" or "son of".)

All it'll take is one marriage, and this big family may become my close cousins.
All it'll take is one marriage, and this big family may become my close cousins.

There are 6 results, not counting Maria Grazia's birth and death. I'll open up each image and see if the person's mother was Maria Fortunata Ruotolo.
  • Antonio Pasquale Muollo born on 29 Sep 1866. He is a match for this family, so I add him to my family tree.
  • Vincenzo Muollo born on 15 Feb 1886. He is also a match for this family, so I add him to my family tree.
  • Luigi Muollo born on 18 Apr 1881. He also belongs to this family.
  • Another Luigi Muollo born on 16 Jan 1879. He is part of this family, and since there was a Luigi born 2 years later, I know this one died before the 2nd one was born. I can give him a death date of Bef. 18 Apr 1881.
  • Maria Giuseppa Muollo born 19 Mar 1873. She also belongs to this family.
  • Maria Luisa Muollo born on 19 Oct 1870. She also belongs to this family.
I love working with such a small town. The documents tell me there was only one Francesco Saverio Muollo in town who had kids from 1861–1915.

Francesco Saverio Muollo was about 5 years older than my 2nd great grandmother. But they have different fathers, so they can't be siblings. The closest relationship they could have is 1st cousin. So this family group does not help me learn my 3rd great grandmother's name. At least, not yet.

The prize could be finding someone else's death record that names my 3rd great grandparents.

I'll continue this process by going back to my general "Muollo" search. I'll work my way through each family unit until every Muollo is in my family tree. I'll continue with any "Muollo di Antonio" since that was my 3rd great grandfather's name. When I have everyone in my tree, I can judge whether anyone may be a sibling of my 2nd great grandmother.

I have vital records from several Italian towns where my ancestors lived. This town has the most limited records. But I'll do a lot more work like this. Last year's goal was to enter all the Pozzuto babies from the town of Colle Sannita. Wow, there were a lot of them! And this year's goal is to enter another big group: the Zeolla babies from Colle Sannita.

Entering these family groups—even when there is no connection to me—helps my genealogy research in a 2 big ways:
  • Almost all the unrelated people will become my relatives, expanding my family tree.
  • These extra branches will help me connect to my DNA matches.
If I'm lucky, there will be some record out there that may lead me to my 3rd great grandmother's missing name. I won't give up on her.

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10 January 2020

3 Steps to My Ultimate, Priceless Family Tree

Nothing interests me more than harvesting this rich genealogy resource.

All I need is my laptop and a working electrical outlet to be endlessly happy.

That's because I have an enormous resource for building my family tree on my laptop. You see, all my ancestors come from a handful of neighboring towns in southern Italy. For most of my life, this was all I knew:
  • my Grandpa Leone was born in Baselice
    • he had a brother Noah and a sister Eve, which was funny because he was Adam
  • my Grandpa Iamarino was born in Colle Sannita
    • he had a sister called Susie, and his parents were Francesco Iamarino and Libera Pilla
  • my maternal grandmother Mary was born in New York City to parents from Pastene
    • her mother's siblings and parents lived in the Bronx, New York
  • my paternal grandmother Lucy was born in New York state to Pasquale Iamarino and Maria Rosa something
When I started working on my family tree, there was only one resource for Italian documents. I had to order and view microfilm at a local Family History Center. I spent 5 years viewing and transcribing (in my own shorthand) all the vital records from Baselice.

I built my Grandpa Leone's family tree going back 6 generations.

The whole time I was doing that, I was eager to do the same for my other ancestral hometowns. But 5 years per town is an awful lot of trips to a Family History Center.


One of my 2020 genealogy goals involves a family from the hamlet of Pastene in the town of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. So I'm going to start doing for Sant'Angelo a Cupolo what I did for Baselice…in MUCH less time.

Using these documents, I can paint a detailed picture of my direct ancestors' hometowns.
Using these documents, I can paint a detailed picture of my direct ancestors' hometowns.

Here's my plan. If you have access to a collection of vital records from your ancestral hometowns, you should do the same.

1. Rename the Document Images

I've got a folder of Italian vital records on my computer. It's simultaneously backed up to OneDrive, too.

In the main folder there's a folder for each of the 2 provinces where I have roots: Benevento and Avellino. In each of the province folders are different town folders. In each town folder are as many as 225 folders. That's 1 folder for each year's birth records, 1 for death records, and 1 for marriage records.

Sant'Angelo a Cupolo has only 72 folders because there are no records before 1861. Recently I renamed the images in 21 of the 72 folders to include the name of the subject(s).

Until I rename the document images, the people in all those folders are hidden from me. As I rename files, I'm discovering relatives. I found children born to my 2nd great grandmother's sister. I found my 2nd cousin 3 times removed. I found a branch of my Sarracino family that I can't connect to my family tree yet.

It doesn't take all that long to rename the document images, and then they're searchable.
It doesn't take all that long to rename the document images, and then they're searchable.

All these people are discoverable the moment I rename their document image file.

2. Learn the Names

Each time I start renaming files from another town, I have many more names to learn. Lots of times I'm unsure of the spelling. But when I see the name written on several documents, they become clearer to me.

Learning the names from my ancestral hometowns is key to figuring out who most of my DNA matches are. I start by looking at their (all-too-often) sparse family tree for a familiar last name.

When I spot a name like Pilla or Cocca, I know it could be from Grandpa Iamarino's town. A name like Petruccelli or Bozza could be from Grandpa Leone's town. This familiarity is so important. I can decipher a badly written name on a document because I know which names come from that town.

3. Piece Families Together

When I began those 5 years of microfilm viewing, I realized something important. I couldn't tell which people were my direct ancestors until I put families together.

I have 8 people from the town named Giovanni Pisciotti. They're all in my family tree, and some were born only a few years apart. How could I know which one was my 3rd great grandfather? I had to build each family in town.

Piecing together my grandfather's entire town? Well worth it!
Piecing together my grandfather's entire town? Well worth it!

Using my collection of vital records, I can build out every little branch of my family tree. I love doing that for my 19th century Italians. But when it comes to modern times in the USA, I decided to cut off in-law trees at their parents.

For example, I'll give my 2nd cousin her husband and their wedding date. And I'll give her husband his parents. But that's it. He gets no siblings and no grandparents.

My indulgence is with my multitude of small-town Italians. These twisted and distant relationships are going to be what ties me to a DNA match. Plus, I adore their names more than I can say.

Thanks to the documents, I turned what would be a 2,000-person tree into a 23,000-person tree, and growing. All those names (all those souls!) give me a connection to my ancestral hometowns. Even today I see people online from my towns with names I know so well.

So here I am, starting my journey into another one of my ancestral hometowns. I'll learn their names as I rename their files, and start fitting people into my family tree. Remembering my 2020 genealogy goal, I'll pay extra attention to people with name Muollo.

Don't let anyone tell you who does and doesn't belong in your family tree. This is your hobby, and we each have our reasons for dabbling in genealogy. I hope you've found a purpose that makes you as excited about genealogy as I am.

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07 January 2020

How to Figure Out a DNA Match

Even with no cooperation, you can work a DNA match into your family tree.

One of my 2020 Genealogy Goals is to figure out my connection to at least 1 DNA match per month. Here's a breakdown of how I met this goal for January.

I bought an Ancestry DNA kit back in 2012. I have uploaded my raw DNA to a few other websites, but Ancestry DNA gives me the most robust tools. As I scroll down my match list, I can see the brief notes I added to people, like:
  • descendant of Teofilo Iamarino (that's my great grandfather's brother)
  • related thru Libera Maria Iamarino (that's another great grandfather's sister)
  • related thru Nicola Leone (that's my grandfather's 1st cousin)
These notes make it easy to scan the list and find someone with a family tree but no note from me.

No tree, private tree, worthless tree. Why did they get a DNA test?
No tree, private tree, worthless tree. Why did they get a DNA test?

My 1st candidate is a man with a 7-person tree, but only 4 names are not private. The facts are almost non-existent. But I recognize the my match's last name as being from my grandfather's hometown in Italy.

I don't know what year anyone in my match's family tree was born. So I searched for my match's exact name on Facebook. I found a man who is very likely him, based on our mutual friend. Having seen him in one photo, I can estimate he's about my age.

That gives me something to go on. I can assume his grandfather is from my grandfather's town and was born more than 100 years ago. There are 2 people in my collection of Italian vital records who could be the grandfather of my match.

But I can't go any further without writing to my match and hoping he replies. Let's move on.

My 2nd candidate is a woman with a 29-person family tree. Once again I recognize a couple of last names from my grandfather's Italian hometown.

Unfortunately this 29-person family tree makes very little sense. People are not connected to one another. There's a lack of maiden names. And the 2 last names I recognize don't have an obvious connection to my DNA match. I'm starting to lose hope.

Before I move on, I'll search my Italian vital records collection for people in the tree. One person from the tree might be the son of my 1st cousin 5 times removed, Liberantonia Iamarino. But I have no way to be sure.

The next few candidates have worthless trees. This is what happens when someone gets a DNA kit as a gift but doesn't care.

Finally, down in the 4th–6th cousin range, I see another familiar last name. (Grandpa's hometown has descendants EVERYWHERE!) His family tree has only 7 people, but it has what I really like: Italians born in the 1800s.

Sure enough, my DNA match's paternal grandfather is from Grandpa's town. I found his 1882 birth record and saw a note written in its column. It said this man married my DNA match's grandmother in 1904. That proves I've got the right birth record.

To turn this cousin into a solved DNA match, I've got to get his people into my tree. His grandfather Gennaro was born in 1882 to Ignazio and Costanza. Ignazio is not a common first name in the town, and that will help me. I searched my digital town folder and found his 1931 death record. I know it's him because he's still married to Costanza. Based on his age at death, I found his birth record. Then I found Ignazio's parents' (my match's 2nd great grandparents') 1843 marriage records.

While fitting this DNA match into my family tree, I discovered 4 of my 7th great grandparents!
While fitting this DNA match into my family tree, I discovered 4 of my 7th great grandparents!

And that marriage is the key. The bride in 1843 (Costanza) is the daughter of my 5th great uncle, Francesco Saverio d'Emilia. Boo yah!

Now I can work my way down to my DNA match. I add my 1st cousin 5 times removed, Costanza Carmela Guilia d'Emilia, to my family tree. I add her husband and their son. Then I add his wife and their son. Then I add his son—my DNA match.


Solved: This DNA match is my 5th cousin once removed. I'll go back to add the details and attach the Italian document images. Then I'll contact my DNA match and point him to that part of my tree. Your DNA match is more likely to answer if you say "Here's your family" than if you ask "Who's your family?"

This is why you work on your DNA match's family tree.
This is why you work on your DNA match's family tree.

As I told my husband the other day, anyone who's a DNA match to me is very lucky. I've got a big tree and the documents to make it bigger and bigger. The key to figuring out your DNA match's connection is familiarity. You've got to be very familiar with the last names in your family tree and in your towns. That's how I attack each match. I spot a last name (usually from Grandpa Iamarino's town), and I try to solve it.

That's my DNA genealogy goal for January. Time to tackle a different goal.

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03 January 2020

How to Set Unofficial, No-Deadline Genealogy Goals

What are your go-to genealogy tasks when you need to keep things simple?

Your unofficial genealogy goals may be unwritten and have no deadline. But you still want to get them done some day.

I can work on my unofficial goals without much concentration. I can work on them when I'm not feeling well or I'm half-heartedly watching TV.

Here are the 4 unofficial genealogy goals I turn to, depending on my mood. See if they make you think of something you'd like to work on.

1. Replace Certain Sources

I spent years visiting a Family History Center to view microfilmed vital records. I typed the facts from thousands of documents into a text file on my laptop computer. Then I entered them into a Family Tree Maker file.

I gave each fact a source based on the roll of microfilm. For instance:

Source title: 1848–1853 - Baselice, Italy, Births, Marriages, Deaths
Repository: www.familysearch.org
Citation detail: Nati, morti, notificazioni, processetti, matrimoni 1848-1853
Citation text: Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007850709?cat=565057
Reference note: 1848–1853 - Baselice, Italy, Births, Marriages, Deaths

But you can't order microfilm anymore. And these records are not available on familysearch.org. They are available on the Italian genealogy site called Antenati. So now I want to change the source citation for thousands of facts.

I could leave them alone, but these obsolete sources are bugging me.
I could leave them alone, but these obsolete sources are bugging me.

When I want to work on this goal, I:
  • choose a person linked to the old source
  • replace all the old microfilm sources with my preferred Antenati source citation.
I whittled one of the sources down from 1,300 facts to 800 facts on New Year's Eve. Remember: Citing your sources doesn't have to be hard.

2. Rename Vital Record Images

I want to make better use of the thousands of downloaded Italian vital records on my computer. In 2019 I renamed every single document image from one of my ancestral towns. Each file name now includes the name(s) of the subject(s) of the document. That makes everyone in the town searchable on my computer.

My unofficial goal #2 is to rename the files from my other towns. I'm gonna have the best genealogy resource ever!

3. Find Missing Dates

When I don't know someone's birth date, I follow these rules:
  • If I know their spouse was born in 1900, I mark their birth as Abt. 1900.
  • If I know their eldest child was born in 1900, I mark their birth as about 25 years earlier, so, Abt. 1875.
  • If I know one of their parents was born in 1900, I mark their birth as 25 years later, so, Abt. 1925.
Following this practice, everyone in my tree has at least an estimated birth year. My unofficial goal #3 is to find a documented birth date to replace each estimate.

Sorting my people by birth date, I can search for missing birth records on my computer.
Sorting my people by birth date, I can search for missing birth records on my computer.

Thanks to unofficial goal #2 above, I can search my computer for any name from the town of Colle Sannita. The process is to:
  • Sort the Family Tree Maker index by Birth.
  • Focus on the years available in my document collection.
  • Search my records for the name of everyone from Colle Sannita with an estimated birth year.
I'm up to people born "Abt. 1830." I can see that 2 people with an "Abt. 1830" birth date are husband and wife. I can search for their marriage record and find out everything I need to know about them.

It turns out they married in 1857, so I have the records! They include parents' and grandparents' death records. I discovered that the husband in this couple was already in my tree. I simply need to merge "Abt. 1830" Giovanni Iacobaccio with 20 Feb 1827 Giovannangelo Iacobaccio. And I'll add all the facts from the couple's marriage documents.

One good search and BOOM! Instant generations discovered.
One good search and BOOM! Instant generations discovered.

Later I can sort the index of individuals by Death or Marriage and search for those missing dates.

4. Find a Home for Documents

I've been entering the facts from my collection of vital records into a spreadsheet. I can share that database with anyone who has roots in some of my towns.

Unofficially, I want to review what I've entered and see which documents fit into my family tree.

I've reviewed Colle Sannita birth records (1809–1812) and death records (1809–1810). At least half of the documents are now placed in my Family Tree Maker file. This process helps make my tree more solid and complete.

The whole process is very rewarding. So are all these tasks.

For my job as a website producer, I keep a digital notebook of HTML code snippets I need often. I keep it and a to-do list file open all day long. It works well for me, so I started a text file for genealogy notes. That's where I keep track of my genealogy tasks and their progress.

Do what works best for you. You may prefer to write in a paper notebook or print out your to-do lists. Not me. You can't copy and paste a handwritten note. And I hate to waste paper. So I keep my text files on my computer, open all day in different tabs of my preferred text editor. They're backed up to the OneDrive cloud, and I make a 2nd weekly backup to an external drive.

Get into the habit of leaving yourself notes about where you left off. Make a note of how you searched for a person's birth date, but you couldn't be sure which of 2 babies is the right one.

Pick away at these unofficial tasks when you're not in the mood for a full research session. Or work on them when you don't have a lot of time, but you want to get something done. If you chip away at these and all your other goals, imagine how much you can get done by 2021.

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