31 January 2020

What's in Your Genealogy Toolbox?

It's just you and WiFi for a week. Which genealogy tools are mandatory?

What are your must-have family tree-building tools? I'm talking about the indispensable items you'd have to have if you were cut off from everything else for a week.

Get ready to hit the road or run to the panic room. Grab your genealogy toolbox!
Get ready to hit the road or run to the panic room. Grab your genealogy toolbox!

Here's what's in my genealogy toolbox.

When Visiting an Archive

I've visited the New York City Municipal Archives because the bulk of my family comes from the Bronx. I've visited the New York State Archives in Albany. And the archives for the province of Benevento in Italy. I spent 5 years viewing microfilm at my local Family History Centers.

The most important tools for those genealogy field trips were:

1. Blank forms

I wanted to view as many vital records as possible for my extended family. Before my visit to the NYC Municipal Archives, I created forms in Word for key facts from a vital record. I printed out a small stack of birth, marriage, and death forms to bring along. I filled in the blanks each time I found a relative's document. (This idea belongs to my research buddy Dawn Fulton.)

2. A USB flash drive

At the New York State Library and Archives, I wanted to look up an event from my childhood in the newspaper. When I found 2 articles about it, I was able to save the articles as PDFs. But I had to have a flash drive with me.

3. My iPhone's camera

While viewing microfilm at a Family History Center, I took some awful images with my iPhone. They were awful because (a) the microfilm viewer was a thousand years old, and (b) I couldn't avoid the iPhone's shadow. But they were better than nothing.

That camera is just the thing when visiting cemeteries. And I had it with me on my one-of-a-kind visit to see my grandfather's military record in Italy.

4. A laptop with a text editor

For 5 years I sat in dark rooms viewing microfilmed vital records. To make the most of my time there, I kept a laptop open in my lap beneath the table and typed everything I saw. For each document I used abbreviations to capture the facts. Man did I get fast at typing Italian names. Here's a sample:

-Rosaria Colucci b 16 jun 1815 to Michele di Giuseppe 30 and Mariarosa di Pietrantonio Izzo 25 bap 17 jun 1815

That means Rosaria Colucci was born on 16 Jun 1815. Her father Michele (son of Giuseppe) was 30 years old. Her mother Mariarosa Izzo (daughter of Pietrantonio Izzo) was 25 years old. The baby was baptized on 17 Jun 1815.

At first I was fitting people right into Family Tree Maker. But I could go dramatically faster by typing the basics there, and fitting families together at home.

When Visiting a Cemetery

In 2012 I visited the Bronx cemetery where practically my entire family is buried. It was my 1st visit, and I was with a cousin who knew exactly where to find our people. So cousin Joseph was indispensable that day.

When I returned in 2017, I found my grandparents using landmarks. They're close to a corner and a fence. But I couldn't find my great grandparents and their family. And I'd never found my other grandfather.

After searching for a while, I pulled out my iPhone and opened the Ancestry app. I remembered that after my 1st trip to this cemetery, I made a note of the section, range, and grave numbers. That did the trick! The Ancestry app was indispensable because I'd made note of the grave locations.

That day I also visited the cemetery office to ask where to find my grandfather. It was the first time I'd seen his grave since we buried him in 1992. Now I keep a text file on my phone with a list of family members' grave locations.

At My Desk

I have lived on a keyboard since 1983. It's second nature for me to do everything on my computer. This is where I have the bulk of my genealogy tools. Any decent research session will involve a few of these tools.
  1. Family Tree Maker. It's the only family tree software I've ever used. No regrets.
  2. Ancestry.com. This is where I keep my public tree, work with DNA matches, and do my searches.
  3. My downloaded Italian vital records. These are not on Ancestry and some are not on FamilySearch. I downloaded my ancestral towns' records from the Italian Antenati (ancestors) website.
  4. My document tracker. My most used spreadsheet is where I keep track of every document I add to my tree (download your own copy).
  5. GetLinks. This image-downloading tool from a Portuguese-speaking programmer is a game changer. Without it, I'd still be downloading my Italian records, one at a time.
  6. Photoshop. You can improve a lot of bad document images by adjusting their brightness and contrast. I like to crop out the excess, too.
  7. Family Tree Analyzer. Once in a while your family tree needs a checkup. This free program has a host of tools for finding the mistakes you never knew you made.
  8. My database of town records. I'm entering the basic facts from my vital record collection into a spreadsheet. It makes it so easy to find out if, for example, Francesco Bianco and Maria Caruso had another baby I didn't know about. Adding more records is always on my annual list of genealogy goals.
  9. My grandparent chart. I open up this spreadsheet each time I learn another direct ancestor's name. My chart (download one for yourself) includes placeholders with each ancestor's Ahnentafel number. The chart is also color-coded for your 4 grandparents' different branches.
  10. My surnames list. This spreadsheet is an alphabetized list of my direct ancestor's last names only. I've got 84 of them so far—all Italian.
  11. My relationship calculator. I made this chart to help figure out the likely relationship of a DNA match. You can download your copy of this file, too.
  12. My chart of Italian occupation translations. There was a page online long ago with a long list of Italian occupation words. Like, calzolaio means shoemaker. I grabbed those translations and added in several more that I know from my ancestral towns. It's handiest to me when I can't make out all the letters. I can scan my chart looking for a similar word.
Now I want you to add your comments at the bottom of this article. I'm sure you're using tools I haven't yet realized I need. And I'll bet you have tools for other types of research trips. Like, I have a digital audio recorder I can bring along to record conversations with my relatives. What are your favorite genealogy tools?

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.


28 January 2020

Make Smarter Progress on Your Family Tree

If you don't stop and look around, you may never complete that family.

You know the old phrase for when you can't make any progress? It's "1 step forward, 2 steps back." You never seem to get anywhere.

To make progress in your genealogy research, I recommend the opposite: "2 steps forward 1 step back." That's right! This more measured approach has you looking around instead of blindly forging ahead.

Here's how it works. Let's say a cousin sent you a digitized photo of your shared ancestor. It's brand new to you, and you're eager to place it in your family tree. That'd definitely be 1 step forward.

But while you're there in your ancestor's profile, take a step back. Look around. I'm sure you can find something else in her profile that needs your attention.
  • Does each fact in her profile have a well-formed citation? My citations were all broken recently. So I'm eager to improve the citations for each ancestor whose profile I visit.
  • Is every one of her document images annotated? I add the specifics to the image's notes. Say it's a ship manifest. I add the title of the collection (like "New York, Passenger and Crew Lists"), the line number where you'll find my ancestor, the image number in the collection (like "250 of 478"), a link to the document on Ancestry, and Ancestry's source citation.
  • Does her timeline of facts have a gap? For instance, are you missing her 1930 census? Take the time to search for whatever is missing. You're here now. Don't miss this chance to get it done.
Once you make this a habit, you'll make more progress than if you added the new photo and moved on to something else.

Each time you add something to a person in your tree, take a moment to improve all their sources and search for what's missing. Fix up their immediate family, too.

Over the weekend I kept this idea in mind. I wanted to fix the citations for my direct ancestors. But it didn't make sense to fix my great grandfather's citations and ignore his siblings. They were a click away. Before moving on to my great great grandfather, I fixed the citations for my 2nd great uncles. Now that nuclear family is solid.

Here's a quick example. I have 6 document images for my 3rd great grandmother Angela Maria Franza. I have her 1820 birth record and 5 pages from her 1846 marriage documents.

That adds up to 7 facts in her profile, each needing a source citation:
  • her name
  • her birth date
  • her baptism date
  • her 1st marriage banns
  • her 2nd marriage banns
  • her marriage license
  • her actual marriage
I'll give each fact a solid citation by following these steps:

1. I'll look at my notes on her birth record image and copy the URL of its original location.

My practice of making note of the original image URL is a lifesaver while I'm fixing source citations.
My practice of making note of the original image URL is a lifesaver while I'm fixing source citations.

2. I'll paste that URL into the citation for her birth fact. I've got 1,000s of Italian vital records in my tree, and I've decided to use a simple citation detail: "From the [year] [type of document] records for [town]." The exact phrase for this birth fact, then, is "From the 1820 birth records for Colle Sannita, Benevento, Campania, Italy."

Unlike my old method, this citation will be specific to the facts on this one document.
Unlike my old method, this citation will be specific to the facts on this one document.

3. I'll add the document image to the citation.

You can add one or more document images to a specific citation.
You can add one or more document images to a specific citation.

4. I'll copy this citation to the related facts. Her birth record is my primary source for her name, birth date, and baptism date. So each fact can use the same exact citation.

Before I move on I'll (a) see if I can find her death record (I can't), and (b) follow these same steps for her 3 siblings. That way, when I'm ready to work on her father (my 4th great grandfather), his entire family will be complete.

Take 1 step back and handle the entire nuclear family in one sitting.
Take 1 step back and handle the entire nuclear family in one sitting.

This whole idea boils down to "While you're here…". While you're here, fix the citation for your 2nd great uncle's birth fact. While you're here, download that marriage record that you never added to the tree.

Don't let your genealogy research be a hit-and-run operation. Add a new fact or document (that's 1 step forward). Take a look at what else this person needs (that's 1 step back). Make this person's profile as complete as you can (that's a 2nd step forward).

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.

24 January 2020

Taming a Tangle of Source Citations

Having to download my family tree for a do-over is forcing some changes.

Last time I wrote about my week-long struggle to overcome a corruption of my Family Tree Maker file. Now my file is healthy and synchronized with my tree on Ancestry.com. But there's a bunch of clean-up work to do.

The new file uses Ancestry's source citation format. It's more complicated than the simple source format I've always used. My method was to create one source with only one citation for each major document type. That's one source/citation for all 1930 U.S. Censuses. One source/citation for all New York Passenger Lists. And—here's where I got into trouble—one source/citation for my thousands of vital records from one Italian archive.

I was already worried that adding so many facts to one source was bogging down my file. TWICE I had an accident. A mysterious slip of the mouse somehow dragged an image file into that overused source. I didn't see it happen. Removing the image affected thousands of people in my tree. And then it happened again! Not with an image, but with some other random change to the citation.

This massive mistake choked the system when I tried to sync my tree. Was it my downfall? I needed to change how I handle the Italian vital records that are the bulk of my tree.

Today I'm working through the steps of creating a good source/citation so I can share them with you.

I'll use this new method for each new person I add, each new document I add, and on my closest ancestors. I'll start with my grandfather, Adamo Leone.

Work Through the Document Images

Adamo's documents include birth, marriage, and military records, 2 ship manifests, 4 census sheets, and a draft registration card.

I always add tons of details to the description field of each image. There's great value in that. But my tree on Ancestry.com looks like I don't have good sources. The details are hiding in the image.

Here are the steps to create more thorough sources and citations for each image in your family tree. I'll start with Adamo's 1940 census.
  1. Re-locate the document online. Use whichever online source you prefer and search for your ancestor again. (These instructions are geared toward Ancestry.com.) Luckily, all 4 of Adamo's censuses are right on top in the search results.
  2. Click the title link (not the image link) first, opening it in a new tab. (Right-click the link and choose to open it in a new tab.) This gives you important information about the image, including the source citation. Scroll down below the breakdown of the document's info to the Source Citation block.
  3. In your family tree software, choose to add a new source/citation to an individual census fact.
  4. The title of the source is something you'll reuse over and over. So, my simple source title of "1940 U.S. Federal Census" is what I'll select from the Source title pull-down list. It's the Citation detail, Citation text, Web address, and Media that will be new.
  5. On Ancestry, copy the Source Citation text. Paste it into the Citation detail field in your software. (The wording and layout depend on your family tree software. I use Family Tree Maker.) In this case, I'll copy and paste "Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, Bronx, New York; Roll: m-t0627-02468; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 3-315". Funny…that's the stuff I've been adding to the image's description, but not to the source citation. Always the rebel.
  6. Copy the Source Information text from Ancestry. Paste it into the Citation text field in your software. In this case it's "Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940. T627, 4,643 rolls."
  7. On Ancestry, click to open the document image and copy the URL from your web browser's address field. It's a crazy-long URL, so I don't copy the whole thing. (If you use FamilySearch, the URL is shorter and you should copy the whole thing.) On Ancestry, I end the URL after the Person ID. You'll see that in the URL as ?pid= and a number. In this case the URL is https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/2442/m-t0627-02468-00876?pid=11686383. I used to stop before the ?pid=, but keeping it allows the page to display the name of the ancestor, as in "1940 United States Federal Census for Adam Leone." Better still, it highlights the lines that include your family! Paste that URL into the Web address field in your software.
  8. In your software go to the citation's Media tab. Click to either Attach New Media (if it isn't already in your family tree) or Link To Existing Media (if it is in there).

Once you get into this habit, great sources/citations will be second nature.
Once you get into this habit, great sources/citations will be second nature.

When you're adding a new source, this isn't as bad as it looks. Click, click, copy, paste. Even when you're "fixing" an existing source, it isn't so bad. What's daunting is when your entire 23,137-person tree is calling for this kind of attention.

Work Through the Facts with No Image

Some of our favorite sources have no image. They're an index only. For example, I've discovered maiden names from the "U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007."

Most of the time it's a simple copy and paste job to make a great citation.
Most of the time it's a simple copy and paste job to make a great citation.

When I search for this record for Adamo, I see it's a good source for his birth and death dates. When I right-click the title's link to open it in a new tab, I discover something interesting. There is no citation detail for this source that's specific to the record. For the 1940 census, the citation detail included specifics like the page number and enumeration district. We don't have that for the U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007.

That means I could use one single source/citation for every fact I find in this resource. Unless, that is, I want to include the web address of this result page. Unfortunately for me, I do want that URL. Why? Because that URL includes all the facts:

Name: Adamo Leone
Gender: Male
Birth Date: 30 May 1891
Death Date: 5 Oct 1987
Claim Date: 26 Sep 1962 (did he get disability income for a while?)
SSN: 057207008
Death Certificate Number: 209851

Including that link makes this source reliable. Once you see I've got this plus his birth record and a photo of his grave marker, doubt me at your own peril.

So I'll give Adamo his own unique source/citation for his birth and death date facts from the SSA and Claims Index. This also has a crazy-long URL on Ancestry, but I'll end it after his person ID: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=60901&h=800352538&tid=61818592&pid=34073303523

Family Tree Maker lets me copy this particular source/citation from Adamo's birth date and paste a link to it as the source for Adamo's death date. Now both facts share the same exact source.

Pull Off The Italian Job

I mentioned my problem with thousands of facts attached to one source I titled "Archivio di Stato di Benevento". About 90% of my ancestors are from the province of Benevento. So I'm going to ease the burden by splitting the source into towns.

So far I've created one town-specific source: "Archivio di Stato di Benevento, Comune di Baselice". That's Adamo's hometown—Baselice. I'm making each citation more specific than before. Adamo's birth date fact now has a source/citation with a URL that opens his birth record online.

I have the specific URL noted in the description field of each Italian vital record image in my family tree. Going forward, I'll add the URL to the fact-specific source/citation, too.

My mishaps forced me to rethink my Italian document citations, and I'm happy now.
My mishaps forced me to rethink my Italian document citations, and I'm happy now.

It's all going to make my tree a better legacy. But…may I borrow a cup of decades from someone?

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.

21 January 2020

A Genealogy Catastrophe Made Me Mend My Ways

A corrupted family tree file has forced me into better genealogy habits.

I'm back from one solid week in genealogy HELL. When the problem was finally fixed, I had a real "come to Jesus" moment. And I've learned 2 important lessons. First let me tell you what happened.

We each have our own way of creating and sharing our family tree research. I've used Family Tree Maker (FTM) software on my desktop since 2003. And I love the Ancestry.com user interface for browsing and understanding a family tree. No other website can compare.

When Ancestry introduced synchronized FTM and online trees, that's what I did. I make all my changes in FTM and upload them to my tree on Ancestry. So, when something goes wrong, and I cannot for the life of me synchronize FTM to Ancestry, it is devastating!

After my 9 Jan 2020 synchronization, the next sync failed. I followed all the FTM recommendations:
  1. I restored my tree to my 6 Jan 2020 backup version, giving it a different file name. The sync FAILED. To add insult to injury, each attempted sync took at least 12 hours to fail.
  2. I restored my tree to my 1 Jan 2020 backup. This was the earliest backup I had saved. The sync FAILED.
  3. I contacted FTM's live chat and sent them my latest Sync Failure Report. They isolated a corrupted spot in my database to one person: Maria Rosa Marucci.
  4. I deleted evil wicked Maria Rosa from my Ancestry tree and my FTM tree and tried to sync using my original FTM file. The sync FAILED.
  5. I had one last ace up my sleeve. FTM suggested downloading my Ancestry tree as a new FTM file. I did that and tried again to sync. The sync SUCCEEDED. But it needs a ton of work.
It was a brutal week where I couldn't make any progress on my family tree. But, as I said, I learned 2 important lessons.

Since my simple source citations are broken, I've decided to conform with the norms.
Since my simple source citations are broken, I've decided to conform with the norms.

Lesson 1: Backup and Synchronize Much More Often

When I upgraded to the latest version of Family Tree Maker last November, I had a failed sync. Through an online chat, the company isolated the corrupted spot in the database to one person. I deleted her and everything was fine.

I got more careful about backup files. If I spend a whole Saturday working on my tree, I stop a bunch of times to make a backup. I used to over-write the file each time. Now I give them names like:
  • Family_Tree_2020-01-20a.ftmb
  • Family_Tree_2020-01-20b.ftmb
  • Family_Tree_2020-01-20c.ftmb
  • Family_Tree_2020-01-20d.ftmb
The files are very large, so I kept only 4 days' worth of backups. When I had this problem last week, I didn't have many choices for reverting to an earlier version. From now on I'll keep 10 days' worth.

In November I started something new. An FTM expert told me you can save a synchronization log when you sync. I do this every time now. Each file (saved in PDF format) shows exactly which changes are about to made to my online tree. The files are small, and I have almost 40 of them. When I hit 100 files I may delete the earliest one.

I also made myself a promise. I will never again make massive changes to my tree without frequent backups and syncs. Recently I was updating an obsolete source attached to thousands of facts. If you make massive changes in one sitting, your file sync is going to take forever. It may even fail. And wouldn't it be awful to have to do that all over again?

So it's bite-sized overhauls from now on.

Lesson 2: Completely Change How I Make Source Citations

As I said above, what fixed my family tree file was to download my Ancestry tree as a new FTM file. I didn't lose a single person (except that wicked witch Maria Rosa Marucci, who I added back later).

But 3 unpleasant things happened:

First, my 1,973 individual place names need attention. Town names are fine (e.g., Buffalo, Erie County, New York, USA). But street addresses are not (e.g., 10 Union Avenue, Peekskill, Westchester County, New York, USA). They show an "unresolved" icon. I could ignore this, but I'd rather resolve them. I'll be sure to stop and make several backups and synchronizations along the way.

I'm too much of a control freak not to correct all these unresolved addresses.
I'm too much of a control freak not to correct all these unresolved addresses.

Second, my image files no longer have a category selected. Categories (Census, Photo, Vital Record) make it easier to work with your media. I'll have to take my time and fix them.

Third, my compact, one-size-fits-many source citations are destroyed.

I've written before about a simple way to cite your sources. Basically, you have one source, such as "1900 U.S. Federal Census." You attach that source to every fact you find on a 1900 U.S. census page. Simple! I add more specific details in the description of each document image file. The description explains exactly where I found that image.

These unwanted changes happened because Ancestry:
  • doesn't have the "Resolve Place Names" feature
  • doesn't use image categories, and
  • doesn't subscribe to my simple sources theory.
I must say that I like it when a source is specific to the fact at hand and includes the image. You can click to enlarge the image. You can click to go right to its source location. This is the preferred way to cite your sources.

A corrupted database has dragged me kicking and screaming into a better way of citing sources.
A corrupted database has dragged me kicking and screaming into a better way of citing sources.

I've got a ton of work ahead of me. I'm excited about creating a better product, but it's so much work that I may not get all the way there for ages.

Think about upgrading your backup habits and source citation style. You can do both right now and from now on. Don't worry about past mistakes. Work on your closest ancestors' sources first. Then continue on with your new, improved style.

That's what I'm going to do. I began with one of my grandfathers. I'll follow the new rules with each person I add or edit. I'll detail my new process for you in another article. Right now I'm so happy to be out of genealogy hell!

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

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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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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

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