31 July 2020

Did Your Ancestors Have Arranged Marriages?

There was a time when arranged marriages were expected and accepted.

It makes me chuckle when I see matching spouse names on 1800s vital records. "This baby is born to Tommaso and Tommasina." "He was the son of the late Giovanni and Giovanna." What a cute coincidence.

But, was it a coincidence? Or did two families who were planning to join their families decide to pair up the kids with similar names?

Why am I thinking about arranged marriages, you ask? I have an awesome book that documents my ancestral hometown in 1742. Like a modern-day census, it lists the names and ages of everyone in each household. It also lists the head of household's:
  • land, and its use
  • animals
  • tax rate, and
  • how many virgins he has
Yup. It lists the family's names as:
  • husband
  • wife
  • sons in descending age order
  • virgin daughters in descending age order
This made it clear to me that having a marriageable daughter was an asset. He may even have been taxed on his daughters.

A proper match was often the decision of the father of the bride.
A proper match was often the decision of the father of the bride.

I've always known that my maternal grandparents had an arranged marriage in New York City in 1922. Grandma Mary liked a young man with red hair, but my great grandfather made the choice for her. He chose my grandfather Adamo for his eldest daughter.

After researching my great grandparents, it's clear they had an arranged marriage, too. Great grandpa Pasquale Iamarino came to America in 1902. By 1905 he was in upstate New York working for the Erie Railroad. There he met the Caruso brothers. They came to America from a town very close to Pasquale's hometown in Italy.

When the only girl in the Caruso family came to America in 1906, she married Pasquale 4 months later. Her brothers surely made the match.

It's clear the Caruso brothers chose Pasquale for their only sister.
It's clear the Caruso brothers chose Pasquale for their only sister.

Then there's Pasquale's daughter Lucy—my paternal grandmother. As a kid, I thought it was a coincidence that my grandparents, Lucy and Pietro, had the same last name of Iamarino. But no. Our last name is rare, and my grandparents were 3rd cousins.

When my grandfather, Pietro Iamarino, came to America, he bounced around a bit. He went up to Boston where his mother's brother lived. Then he went to western Pennsylvania, where many of his townsmen worked. His next stop was Ohio, where he lived in the house of his father's 2nd cousin…Pasquale Iamarino. Within months, he married his 3rd cousin and housemate, Lucy.

For most of us, the idea of marrying a person your family chooses for you is hard to imagine. It's something we know from movies and from other cultures. But it has nothing to do with us.

Yet, I have to go back only to my grandparents to find arranged marriages in my family.

In my rural Italian hometowns, I often see marriages between neighboring families. A family with one tract of land might marry their daughter to the son of a family with the neighboring tract of land. In this way, the 2 families increase their relative wealth and prosperity.

I've heard my grandmother's youngest sister Aida adored her husband Arturo. Did my great grandfather give in to true love between Grandma's 1922 marriage and Aunt Aida's 1936 marriage? In 1928, the middle sister, Stella Sarracino, married Attilio Sarracino. Same last name, with roots in the same tiny Italian town. Maybe it was pure luck that Aida was head-over-heels in love with her husband Arturo.

By the time my parents were growing up, arranged marriages were no longer common. Did my grandmothers long to see their children marry for love? On her deathbed, Grandma Lucy urged my father to marry his childhood sweetheart back home. And so he did.

Throughout history, families made arranged marriages to:
  • Keep bloodlines pure
  • Join assets, wealth, and power
  • Forge strategic alliances
My godmother/cousin once told me that our family "married within their tribe." That's part of the reason why all my roots lie in a very condensed area of Southern Italy. Even in America, they were more likely to marry someone who spoke the same dialect of Italian. That made a good match.

Take another look at your married ancestors. Can you find any likely arranged couples?

28 July 2020

Can Your Genealogy Work Survive Without You?

Act now to preserve your genealogy treasures and leave instructions.

It happened again. While seeking a source for facts in my family tree, I learned a distant cousin had died. This man jump-started my research into our shared Caruso branch.

More than 10 years ago, he mailed me a book about our shared ancestral hometown. He also sent postcards and a brochure from a lodging he recommended when I visit. The book includes a few handwritten notes about our common ancestors.

I said I'd read the book as fast as possible and mail it back to him. He said, "No, you keep it. My children aren't interested in our heritage at all." That made me so sad.

Today my husband pointed to a new pile of letters and keepsakes my mom mailed to me. He said, "So if you die first, do I throw them out?"

I can hear you all shouting No! But do you have a plan in place? What will happen to your countless hours of research when you're gone?

Think through what you have. Decide on—and document—your succession plan today.

Original Documents

I'm not a big paper person. I have a very small collection of official birth, baptism, marriage, and death records. But you may have stacks of them.

Consider storing them in archival-quality boxes. And keep the boxes in a safe place. I inherited a large metal storage cabinet with drawers, a combination safe, and a door. I've moved all the family photos, baby books, and yearbooks into this cabinet.

It'll be a good place to store my recently acquired letter from my Uncle Johnny. He wrote home to tell my grandparents he was promoted to Staff Sergeant and would be able to send home more money. He dated the letter July 1, 1944. He died when his plane was shot down on a bombing run 6 days later.

Be sure to add sheets of paper that explain what everything is.

Document your family heirlooms as you preserve them for the future.
Document your family heirlooms as you preserve them for the future.


These can come in all shapes and sizes, and their meaning can fade over time. My mom sent me her Washington Irving High School beret, which I recognized from old photos. She graduated in 1949!

My sons won't know what it is, but it conjures up a memory for me. Decades ago, I was in the summer home of my ex-in-laws, retrieving something from the attic. I spotted something intriguing. It was a black bowler hat, perched atop a styrofoam head. Pinned to the hat was a handwritten note that said, simply: "Uncle Anton's hat."

I didn't know who Uncle Anton was at the time, but I never forgot that hat. When I did some research into the family, I found Anton as a young man in Wisconsin. That old keepsake brought Anton's paperwork to life for me.

You need to pass on the story of each keepsake. You can do it verbally, write it down, or both.


I paid a professional photographer for help with my grandparents' 1922 wedding portrait. He photographed it, digitally retouched the damaged areas, and put the new print in my old frame. The original photo is safely wrapped and stored away.

You can correct creases, tears, and color loss by scanning your family photos. Think about different platforms for sharing these treasures with your relatives. I used an invitation-only Pinterest board.

Find a safe place to store the originals, and keep backups of the digital files, too.

Digital Files

I have tons of digital historical files in my family tree collection. But it's the vital records that are most precious. Future researchers can find the census files online, the same as I did.

But my set of Italian vital records from a handful of my ancestral hometowns is unique. My copies of the documents are searchable by name. That's because I've been renaming each file to include the name of the person in the document.

This is something I want to share with other descendants of the towns. I don't own the files, but I own the work I've done.

I have all the files on my computer and synchronized on OneDrive. Once a week, I make an off-computer backup of each digital file I've added to my family tree.

I have a specialized database that will appeal to a particular audience.
I have a specialized database that will appeal to a particular audience.

Your Family Tree

I synchronize my Family Tree Maker file with Ancestry.com after each session of work. To me, this is the best way to make my work available to anyone who might care.

I make backups once or twice during a long day of research. I copy the backups to an external drive each Sunday. They sit on OneDrive, too.

Even if you're already preserving your family tree work, there's one important step we all need to take. Type up a document that explains all you've done. Tell your unnamed successor where to find all the bits and pieces you've stored. Make sure the most important people in your life know what you've done and where to find it.

I want you to enjoy the process of doing genealogy research. But I also want you to work on your family tree as if you'll be gone tomorrow. Your family tree is your legacy. Make sure your work outlives you.

24 July 2020

Catch and Fix Your Missing Source Citations

Wouldn't it be great to have a safety net to catch all your forgotten source citations?

At times we all overlook adding sources to the family tree. When we start out, we don't know any better. Other times we forget or can't be bothered. These unsourced facts add up. And they make our online trees look less reliable.

There are a few reasons why facts in my family tree are missing a source citation:
  1. I never add a source for a person's sex. It seems unnecessary.
  2. I never add a source for an estimated birth year. If it's an estimate, there is no source. It's either 25 years before the birth of their eldest child or 25 years after the birth of their younger parent.
  3. Something happens to distract me in that moment.
  4. I experienced the fact (such as attending a wedding or funeral) but have no documentation.
  5. I'm in an excited rush because I just found all this great information, and I can hardly believe my luck!
Most of the time it's #5.

So, how do we find these unsourced facts before things get even more out of control? In a word: software.

It's easy to create an Undocumented Facts report in Family Tree Maker. Go to Publish / Source Reports / Undocumented Facts. I chose to share it as a CSV file. You can open a Comma-Separated Values file as a spreadsheet in a program such as Excel.

But there is a far better way to do this. This method has more steps, but it will save you so much time in the end.

Follow the steps to create a report and see where sources are missing.
Follow the steps to create a report and see where sources are missing.

I've written many times about the free Family Tree Analyzer program. (Find all articles on the Genealogy Lessons page.) There are so many incredibly useful things to do with it. Now I find it's a great way to identify all your unsourced facts.

Here's how:
  1. Open your latest GEDCOM file with Family Tree Analyzer. (You can export a GEDCOM file from your family tree software, or download it from your online tree.)
  2. Click the Facts tab and check the boxes for all relationship types.
  3. Click the button to Select all Fact Types.
  4. Click the right arrow, which will duplicate the list of fact types.
  5. In this duplicate list, check the box for any fact types you don't want to include in this report. You should exclude facts that you know don't need a source. For example:
    • Child Born. The baby gets a source for their birth date. The parent doesn't need a source for having had the kid.
    • Custom facts. I have a custom Ahnentafel Number fact that doesn't need a source. If you have custom facts, you'll find them in this list in all capital letters.
  6. Click the big button that begins with "Show only the selected Facts for Individuals…."
Your report opens in a new window. At the top of that window, choose to export this report as an Excel file (actually a CSV file). Now open the file in your spreadsheet software.

First, sort the spreadsheet by the source column and delete the many, many rows of facts that DO have a source citation.

Next, delete the unnecessary columns to make things easier to see. I deleted all but Surname, Forenames, DateofBirth, TypeOfFact, FactDate, and Location.

Choose to export your report from Family Tree Analyzer to a spreadsheet.
Choose to export your report from Family Tree Analyzer to a spreadsheet.

I'm left with an awful lot of rows of unsourced facts. But remember, I said I don't source estimated birth years. I can sort or filter the spreadsheet by the DateofBirth column and delete all the rows with "Abt" (short for About). That brings me down to a very manageable 133 rows of unsourced facts.

Finally, I'll sort the data by Surname so I can make my way through this task list. I'll delete a row once I've added the missing source citation to my family tree.

I know the complete dates from the 1800s fit into the category of "I'm in an excited rush." I have the documents to back up these dates. Now I need to go back and finish my work. I suspect some of the years (not full dates) in the 1900s will be birth years I took from a census sheet. Again, I need to finish my work.

It's nice to have this report as a safety net for days when you aren't on your best behavior. It's as if Family Tree Analyzer is your coach or teacher, reminding you to think about what you're doing. And by all means, show your work!

21 July 2020

How to Use the Power of Shared DNA Matches

There is a way to get a good handle on those tree-less DNA matches.

I bought my DNA test from Ancestry DNA 8 years ago. Lately I've explained a handful of ways to figure out your DNA matches. You'll find them in the DNA section of my Genealogy Lessons page.

Today let's look at one of my new favorite features of Ancestry DNA: shared matches.

I've uploaded my raw DNA file to other sites, including GEDmatch, Family Tree DNA, 23 and Me, and My Heritage. But Ancestry gives me the best tools to use.

I imagine I'd get more tools from the other websites if I had a paid membership! I did pay a one-time fee to Family Tree DNA, and I see they do have a "Matches in Common With" feature. Check your testing site for something like what I describe below.

I love the Shared Matches feature on Ancestry. Keep in mind that this is extra important for those DNA matches who haven't attached a usable family tree.

Ancestry lets you add each DNA match to groups you create. Once you do, that match gets one or more colorful dots attached to their listing. I use a green got to signify that I've figured this person out. So I'll scroll down to find a DNA match without a green dot. I want to focus on my mother's side of the family. My father's side has a gazillion matches, all coming from one ancestral town! My mother's side has far less matches.

When your DNA match offers little or no clues, don't forget to look at your shared matches.
When your DNA match offers little or no clues, don't forget to look at your shared matches.

My 1st match on my mother's side without a green dot has a last name I know. It starts with a V. This name is from a town tied to my maternal grandmother's family. It's called Pastene, and it's very small.

His tree is as useless as it gets. It has 1 private person. Him! When I click Shared Matches on Ancestry, I see that besides my mother, we share only 4 DNA matches. I recognize 2 of our shared matches as being descendants of that same last name. I know this because I've corresponded with them and explored one of their trees.

Another shared match has my grandmother's maiden name, so I know his roots are also in Pastene. I'll add a note to this match's profile that says he's a V from Pastene.

But I can keep going. I clicked the match with Grandma's maiden name. He also has no family tree, but I can look at his shared matches. This list includes everyone from the previous shared matches list, and several more.

I see one match who I know had a grandmother with my Grandma's maiden name. I see another match whose handle appears to be an abbreviation of that maiden name. Her shared matches support that idea.

One other match has a last name I know from a different, but connected town. You see, my 2nd great grandfather was from Pastene, but he married a girl from nearby Santa Paolina. This match has a name that's prevalent in Santa Paolina to this day.

Following this method, I can add notes to the profiles of unknown matches. The notes can include last names I know and towns. Over time, these notes will help me see how different matches may fit together.

I can continue to click interesting shared matches and view our shared matches. Here's a person with a decent tree of 243 people. On both the mother's and the father's side of this tree, I see last names from Santa Paolina. Lately I've been reviewing my downloaded vital records from Santa Paolina. I'm getting very familiar with the town's names as I change the file name of each document image. For each image, I'm adding the person named on the document and their father's first name.

I know I can find vital records for this DNA match's grandparents and generations before them. This is a match I can figure out!

Make notes and use groups to leave yourself research breadcrumbs.
Make notes and use groups to leave yourself research breadcrumbs.

When I figure them out, and work them into my family tree, I'll have strengthened my ties to our shared DNA matches. More "common names" will appear in our trees.

If your DNA website lets you add categories or notes to your matches, do it. (Do this offline in a spreadsheet, if you must.) Leave yourself these useful breadcrumbs. If you know the general branch a match should fit into, note that. If they have last names you know, notes them.

It's impossible to count our thousands upon thousands of DNA matches. But categorizing many of them, and figuring out those you can, can help you get to the result you want. And that is, fewer empty branches on your family tree.

17 July 2020

It's Time to Review Old Genealogy Messages

I've been messaging people on Ancestry.com for many years now. My messages go back at least 3 years before I took a DNA test. Since then, my family tree has exploded with people pieced together from 1,000s of Italian documents.

This week I was paging through my old messages. Some of my answers surprised me! I found myself replying, "Sorry, I don't know that last name," or, "Those records are impossible to find." That's not true anymore.

It was as if my clone had answered these messages. The current me disagreed with the past me so many times.

I realized there are lots of hints in these old conversations. There are names and leads that can expand my family tree. They may break down some brick walls. They deserve a fresh look, don't you think?

Ancestry.com was about to push their new messaging system on me (yuck, but I'll give it time). I emptied and deleted my message folders on their website. (Folders are incompatible with their new system.) I pasted the contents of the old conversations into a Word document.

Using last names as section headings, I pasted conversations about a name into the matching section of the document. Now I can see, for example, a bunch of conversations I had with people about the last name Pilla. (That's my great grandmother's name.)

Take this conversation from 2015. A woman wrote to me about the last names Cecere, Musto, Frusciante, and Lombardo. I didn't know any of those names in 2015, but I know them all now.

She provided a long, detailed history of these names in her family tree. She said they came from Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy. I knew in 2015 that my 2nd great grandmother was born in Santa Paolina. But not much more.

You're further along in your family tree today. It's time to revisit the hints in those old potential-cousin messages.
You're further along in your family tree today. It's time to revisit the hints in those old potential-cousin messages.

It was purely coincidental that she wrote to me. I didn't have Cecere (her mother's maiden name) in my tree, but I had Cece. There's no relationship between the names. Cece comes from another province. But because she mentioned Santa Paolina, I told her, "There may be something between us, but I can't tell what it is."

Today I have tons of vital records from Santa Paolina. They weren't available in 2015, but they're on my computer now. Lately, I've been sorting through the files and getting familiar with the town's last names. Names like Cecere, Musto, Frusciante, and Lombardo.

Now, after 5 years, I can provide this contact with more facts than she knew. I can send her the birth records of her ancestors. I can work out how they fit into my family tree.

Once they're in my family tree, I'll check my contact's details about what became of these people in America. I can use Ancestry to find documents for the family in the U.S.

And I wouldn't know any of this if I didn't revisit those old messages. One down, HUNDREDS to go. I'll start with the last names that are the closest to me.

Do you have old genealogy emails and messages you filed away and forgot about? Pick a few to re-read and see if they make sense to you now. This is why we do genealogy: to find new connections to our past.

14 July 2020

How to Use Directories to Find a Missing Census

Last week I wrote about my 2nd great uncle's daughter, Jennie. When she died in a tragic accident at the age of 27, she left behind a young son and her husband Vincent. I wanted to know more about Vincent, who came from the same Italian hometown as all my Iamarino ancestors.

I found Vincent and his son Serafino in the 1930 and 1940 censuses. They were living with Vincent's sister Concetta and her family. I had no luck finding Vincent or Concetta in the New York census in 1925.

Vincent's World War I draft registration card tells me where he lived right before he married Jennie. But I don't pick up his home address again until 1930.

How else can I find out where Vincent lived between 1918 and 1930?

This is when city directories become so valuable. Ancestry.com has directories for countless cities and organizations around the world. I went to the 1925 NYC directory and found Vincent Piteo listed with 3 of his brothers and a possible cousin.

City directories can be a great way to find your relative during those missing years.
City directories can be a great way to find your relative during those missing years.

I knew from censuses that Vincent worked as a roofer. The 1925 city directory says:
  • He worked for the Standard Roofing Company.
  • He lived at 430 East 144th Street in the Bronx.
This adds a bit more to the story of Jennie. She died in a kitchen fire in 1923. By 1930, her husband and son moved in with his sister Concetta. But in 1925, 2 years after the tragedy, Vincent lived at 430 East 144th Street. A 1924 voter registration list also shows Vincent at that address. He must have moved there right after his wife died.

Now that I have his exact street address, I should be able to find him in the 1925 census. Looking at a map, I see that 430 East 144th Street is between Willis Avenue and Brook Avenue.

You need to see the adjacent streets before taking this next step.

I went to the Steve Morse website and chose New York State Censuses. (This website has lots of powerful search tools for genealogists.) I chose East 144th Street and the cross-streets of Willis Avenue and Brook Avenue. The Morse website gave me two enumeration districts to search. I picked district 20 and found Vincent in 3 clicks!

To my surprise, Vincent is a lodger in the home of a George Smith. I know it's him because his occupation is roofer, and this is his address from the city directory. I couldn't find him in a search because:
  • They wrote his last name as Petro instead of Piteo.
  • His son Serafino is not with him. I was trying to find father and son together.
Was Serafino with his Aunt Concetta? Back in the city directory, I found Concetta's husband at 252 East 148th Street. Google Maps shows me this address is on the corner of Morris Avenue. On the Steve Morse site, I found 3 different enumeration districts for this address.

I found Concetta in the 1st of the 3 enumeration districts. No wonder she hadn't turned up in a search. They listed her as Catherine. She has 7 children in this census ranging in age from 13 to 23.

Sadly, Vincent and Jennie's son Serafino is not with his Aunt Concetta in 1925. Where is the boy?

Was he placed in an orphanage when his mother died? Was he with one of his uncles or his maternal grandfather? That would be my 2nd great uncle Giuseppantonio Iamarino. I don't have a 1925 census for any of these men.

The 1925 New York City Directory has addresses for Serafino's uncles. I used the Steve Morse website to pinpoint their addresses in the 1925 census. I found only 1 of the 3 uncles. His Uncle Michael (with his last name misspelled) had a wife and 6 children. No room for little Serafino.

Combine tools to find your relative at an address, then page through the census.
Combine tools to find your relative at an address, then page through the census.

I knew my 2nd great Uncle Giuseppantonio Iamarino's address in 1920 and 1930. But he was not there in the 1925 census. He wasn't in the 1925 city directory, either.

This was around the time Giuseppantonio's first wife died, and he seemed to disappear for a while. If his 1st wife had died recently, the census taker may have overlooked him in the 1925 census.

The New York City directory, combined with the Steve Morse website, helped fill in a lot more facts about this extended family. I didn't answer the burning question of "where was 3-year-old Serafino?" But I did find a lot more family members.

Make sure you're familiar with all the tools available to you in your family tree searches. Combining tools will always get you further.

10 July 2020

A Startling Family Tree Discovery

I was working on a distant branch of my family tree, and I wondered what was my exact relation to this person. I used the Relationship Calculator in Family Tree Maker for a visualization.

The tool creates a stepping-stone trail from you (or whomever you choose) to any person in your tree. I thought it'd be fun to see the Relationship Calculator for my grandparents, Pietro Iamarino and Lucy Iamarino. They didn't both have the unusual last name of Iamarino for no reason.

I learned a few years ago that my grandparents were 3rd cousins. The Relationship Calculator in Family Tree Maker lists 3 relationships for my grandparents:
  • Pietro is Lucy's husband
  • Pietro is Lucy's 3rd cousin (they share 2nd great grandparents)
  • Pietro is the nephew of the husband of the 1st cousins twice removed of Lucy
Of course I needed a visual aid to figure out that last relationship. Lucy Iamarino's grandfather had a 1st cousin named Libera Nigro. She married a relative in the Iamarino family. I recognized his name right away. He was the Uncle Joe my dad remembers from his early childhood.

Uncle Joe, or Giuseppantonio Iamarino, was the go-to relative in the Bronx, New York. When my grandfather's father came to America, he stayed with his brother Joe. When my grandmother's father came to America, he also stayed with Joe—his 2nd cousin!

I have a bit of unfinished research business with Uncle Joe. Years ago in the New York City Municipal Archives, I learned Uncle Joe had remarried in November 1928. I'd never found the death record for his 1st wife, Libera Nigro.

Now that indexed New York City vital records are online, I thought I'd search for Libera's death. Instead I found a death record for her daughter.

I have their daughter Giovannangela Iamarino's 1895 birth record from the Antenati website. And I have her 1903 ship manifest. It shows her coming to America with her mother (Libera Nigro) and brother to join her father (my Uncle Joe). Giovannangela, also called Jennie, is with her parents in the 1905, 1910 and 1915 censuses. I had no idea what became of her.

The shocking discovery of cousin Jennie's horrific death is tempered by the discovery of her husband: another cousin.
The shocking discovery of cousin Jennie's horrific death is tempered by the discovery of her husband: another cousin.

Until now. When I clicked that death record entry, I learned one key fact right away: Jennie had married a man named Piteo.

The index of her death record has several critical facts:
  • It confirms her birth date, so I'm certain she's the right person.
  • She was only 27 years old when she died on 18 February 1923.
  • She's buried in St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx along with the vast majority of my family.
It was the cause of death that threw me for a loop. The transcription is pretty bad (can't you at least spell kitchen?), but understandable. It says, "Difun Burns of Body (Accidental) Cloths Caughs Fin This And from Kithcen for Range."

Poor Jennie's clothes caught fire while she was cooking ("Cloths Caughs Fin," argh!). She died from burns to her body. Instantly, I pictured this scene in my mind. Was she lighting the stove with a match? Did the flames get too high? Did she use a mapina (dish towel) to beat the flames, but wind up spreading it to her own clothing? She must have been screaming. The entire apartment house must have heard her. Did anyone try to save her? Did she have a small child or children there with her?

But this story seemed familiar. I don't have contact with anyone who would have remembered Jennie. Did I really hear this before?

It was her son's U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index that led me further. It lists Jennie Iamarino as mother, Vincent Piteo as father. Their child, Serafino Vincent Piteo, lived to the age of 84 (I'm so glad!). He was born in January 1920 and died in 2004. He probably missed the 1920 census, but I found him with his dad in the 1930 census.

A random, unexpected path led me to a tragic discovery in my family tree.
A random, unexpected path led me to a tragic discovery in my family tree.

Now that I had the name of Jennie's husband, I wondered where he came from. I found his World War I draft registration card on Ancestry. As I scanned the card for his place of birth, I nearly cried again. He's from the same town as Jennie and every Iamarino: Colle Sannita.

I realized I had his 1892 birth record in my possession. (See Collect the Whole Set.) Vincent's (Vincenzo's) mother is my 3rd cousin 3 times removed.

While I'm haunted by what happened to poor Jennie, I'm eager to fit her son into my family tree. I can't wait to see how many different relationships he and I have.

How I got to this point, working the Piteo men into my family tree, was very roundabout. And I never found a death record for Jennie's mother. It just goes to show you. You never know what amazing stories you'll find while playing around with genealogy.

07 July 2020

How to Sharpen Your DNA Detective Skills

How inspiring was "The Genetic Detective" TV series featuring CeCe Moore? It's fascinating to see her piece together an unknown person's family. In practically no time, she finds enough family tree evidence to identify the DNA donor.

While CeCe's detective work inspired me, it also confounded me. Why can't I get anywhere with the matches I find on GEDmatch?

Then I remembered…people upload their DNA to GEDmatch. That means they tested somewhere else. Maybe they're using the same name or handle on their original testing site. I found someone that way before. First I discovered him on GEDmatch, and then I realized he was my DNA match on Ancestry.

Over the long weekend I had fun identifying a couple of DNA matches who'd been a mystery for a long time. I solved each one by finding one familiar last name in their family tree. That last name was from one of my grandfather's hometowns in Italy. In the end, I pieced together their families to find a connection to myself.

I had another match I really wanted to crack. All I had was her photo and her handle, which I figured was some version of her name. She's one of those pesky DNA matches with a connection to both my parents.

Start with a Simple Search

A web search for her handle found her right away! There I saw the same photo of her and her full name. Returning to Ancestry.com, I discovered her last name might not be Italian. And, in fact, it was her married name. Thanks to New York City marriage indexes on Ancestry, I learned her maiden name, her birth date, and her place of birth.

Find Their Current Connections

I went to Facebook, as Cece Moore would do. Very little of my DNA match's page was public, but I made a big discovery. A photo of her and her mother had a comment from someone with a familiar last name. This person had a tree on Ancestry. I'd been looking at it a bit earlier.

Before long, I learned the names, birth dates, and birth places of this DNA match's parents and 2 older siblings. Then I learned the names of her father's parents. Finally, I could take this research back into Italian vital records.

That was the end of the Ancestry document trail. But I got what I needed. Her father's family comes from a town neighboring my ancestral hometowns. I needed to find her grandparents' birth records. Then I'd be able to build out their family trees until they connect to mine.

I had to marvel at what had happened so far. I went from knowing nothing about her to knowing very specific details. And it all happened in a few minutes.

Dig Into Their Ancestors' Past

With a kick-start from this match's relative's family tree, I found her great grandfather's birth record. The year before it, I found his parents' marriage records. And guess what? The 1857 bride was born in my grandfather's hometown. In fact, she and her whole family are in my family tree already.

I knew if I went back a generation or two, I'd find a connection to my family tree. And I did!
I knew if I went back a generation or two, I'd find a connection to my family tree. And I did!

I did it! I found this mystery DNA's connection to my mom's side of the family fast enough to please the likes of CeCe Moore. I may know more about her ancestry than my DNA match does.

I suppose some of you are freaking out about the lack of privacy. We all leave a digital footprint and a paper trail. As a genealogy fan, aren't you glad your ancestors left behind a paper trail for you to follow?

I have no intention of reaching out to this DNA match. Or to many of the very-distant matches I've identified. I only want to use their ancestral clues to beef up my family tree. How else would I have learned that a teenage girl from Baselice, whose father died before she was born, married a man in another town in 1857?

I'm no crime solver, but I'm pretty damned happy with my genealogy detective skills today. Isn't it time to revisit your unsolved DNA matches?

03 July 2020

How to Create a Targeted Genealogy Research Plan

I've been all over the place with my genealogy research lately. That's fine. It's all fun and helps me make progress. But since I've got a long weekend, I want to do some carefully targeted research.

Here are my 4 steps for creating my targeted research plan. Think about how this applies to your research.

1. Choose Your Most Important Goal

If you've read a few of my articles, you probably know I'm trying to find out why my parents share some DNA. If there's a common ancestor, I want to know who it is. I'd like to figure this out while my parents are still able to have a laugh about it.

2. Look at the Research You've Done

I've built the daylights out of both their trees. Lately I've been working on one of Mom's under-developed branches. This branch's hometown is so small, it was common for the young ladies to marry men from another town. Did one of those grooms come from one of Dad's towns?

DNA Painter showed that Mom and another match (I know exactly who he is) overlap in 2 places on Dad's chromosomes. But I have no inkling of a relationship between Mom and this other match.

The Leeds Method gave me a way to examine Mom and Dad's shared DNA matches. But I didn't reach a conclusion.

Tools and methods only got me so far. Now I've got a theory, and I'll work to prove or disprove it.
Tools and methods only got me so far. Now I've got a theory, and I'll work to prove or disprove it.

I've looked at their shared matches on Ancestry DNA, and reached out to many matches with no real progress. Some offer no family tree. Those who do have a tree don't have a visible connection to me.

I made a spreadsheet (yes, another spreadsheet!) of my parents' 8 shared DNA matches. I included the number of centiMorgans (cMs) they shared with each and across how many segments. This helped me see which matches skewed more toward Mom, and which leaned more toward Dad. I made note of familiar last names in the available family trees.

3. Decide Where It's Best to Focus

Even though they're not the closest matches, I decided to focus on 3 matches with a family tree. A 4th match has a tree, and it's entirely incorporated into mine because of our relationship. But her tree is entirely on Dad's side of the family.

4. Spell Out Your Plan of Action

For the 3 matches with undeveloped family trees, I latched onto a familiar name.
  • Donato Zerrillo was born in 1896 in the same town as my Dad's father. He's in my tree with a lot of relatives. I can explore his branches further to see if any lead to Mom's family.
  • Salvatore Antonio Pozzuto was born in 1884, also in my Dad's father's town. I need to give his ancestors more attention, too. I'll see where his branches lead.
  • Giuseppe Leone was born in 1882 in the same town as my Mom's father. I've already got a working theory to try to prove. Giuseppe's father was Michele Leone. There were 2 Michele Leones in town born a year apart. One of them was my 2nd great uncle. If this DNA match is a descendant of my 2nd great uncle, that would make total sense. And get this: I already know his relationship to Dad. He and I share my 4th great grandfather Pietro diPaola. We have a half 4th cousin once removed relationship.
The 3rd option seems to be the most important to follow. I already have my paternal relationship nailed down. And I think I have a good lead on the maternal relationship.

If this theory is true, I'll have 1 DNA match closely connected to my 2 parents.
If this theory is true, I'll have 1 DNA match closely connected to my 2 parents.

My goal this weekend is to try to connect 1882 Giuseppe Leone to my 2nd great uncle Michele Leone.

If I tackle these, or if I try and strike out, I can get back to my aimless-but-fun family tree research.