24 November 2020

Don't Let Latin Church Records Scare You

I spent the weekend with the type of genealogy records I hate: Latin church records. Normally I'm knee-deep in Italian vital records. It's second nature to locate and pull out the facts I need:

  • dates
  • names
  • relationships

But I would cringe when faced with a church record written in Latin. Reading an Italian document is as easy for me as reading an English document. That took practice. Complete immersion in Italian vital records made them easier and easier to understand.

Now I'm more comfortable with Latin records after a weekend of immersion.

The town I was researching had very brief church records. They didn't include anyone's age. That did simplify things, though. All I needed to translate was the date and names.

Here's a breakdown of the 3 things you need to know to get over any fear of Latin documents.

Talk about facing your fears. After a weekend of non-stop Latin church records, I have no problem translating these genealogy documents anymore!
Talk about facing your fears. After a weekend of non-stop Latin church records, I have no problem translating these genealogy documents anymore!

1. Latin Dates

Nearly all the documents I was reading wrote the day of the month as numerals, not words. Some records did spell out the day of the month. When that happens, I consult the Latin Genealogical Word List on FamilySearch.org.

I got stuck on one document where the writing was faint, and they wrote the day of the month as an ordinal number (first, second, third, etc.).

There were a lot of birth records on the same page. The records before this one had the Latin words for 23rd, 25th, 26th, and the records after it said the 28th and 29th. That narrowed things down. I compared the numbers on the page. Then I consulted the Numbers section of the Latin word list. I decided this date said vicesimus octavus, the 28th.

The Latin months are very close to English and Italian months. They're easy to understand. But sometimes the documents use a shorthand I know from Italian records. They abbreviate September through December as:

  • 7bre. Forget that it's the 9th month of the year. The beginning of September means seven. In Italian it's Settembre. Sette means 7, so 7bre for short.
  • 8bre. In Italian the word is Ottobre, and otto means 8; 8bre.
  • 9bre. Novembre; nove means 9.
  • Xbre. They use a Roman number in most cases, but you may see 10bre. In Italian it's Dicembre, and dieci means 10.

They wrote the year as numerals in the documents I was reading. But you're probably viewing these documents in a collection for a particular year. You should already know which year you're viewing. If your document isn't in a collection, or it mentions another year, check the Latin genealogical word list.

2. Vital Record Words

You'll get used to the other key words you need to focus on:

  • Die. Often the first word on a document, die means on the day. The document may begin Die 24 9bris 1814, meaning on the 24th day of November, 1814.
  • Nomen. When you're looking at a baptism record, try to find the word nomen. Right after it is the first name given to the baby.
  • Natus/Natu/Nata, ex, et. A bit above the baby's name, look for a variation of natus ex. This means born of, and right after the ex you'll see the baby's father's name followed by et, which means and. Then comes the baby's mother's name.

Here is an example of the key sentence in a baptism record, dissected for translation:

  • nata (if it ends in an a, the baby is a girl) means born
  • ex Joseph [last name] means of Joseph, as in the baby is born of Joseph, its father
  • et Rosa [last name] means and Rosa, so the baby is born of Joseph and Rosa
  • cui impom est nomen [impom is an abbreviation of impositus] Rosaria means they give to the baby the name Rosaria

The full sentence would look something like: Nata ex Joseph et Rosa cui impom est nomen Rosaria.

Now that you know the construction, it isn't so intimidating.

Marriage documents have keywords, too. Look for matrimonio tra near the beginning of the document. This means marriage between. Then find the groom's name and his parents, followed by the bride's name and her parents.

These compact little marriage records pack a lot of info into a small space. And the Latin genealogy words are nothing to be afraid of.
These compact little marriage records pack a lot of info into a small space. And the Latin genealogy words are nothing to be afraid of.

The marriage documents I viewed stacked 3 dates in a row. These were the dates when the couple posted their intention to marry, or their marriage banns. Then, in different handwriting, I saw another date and several names. This was the date on which the couple married in the church.

3. Latin Names

The last piece of the puzzle is the names. On these documents from an Italian church, the last names were in their original Italian. Most first names were in Latin. Once I got used to them, it wasn't a problem. Know that male names often end in -us or -ius, while female names end in -a. Here are some examples:

  • Antonius = Antonio or Anthony or Anton; the female is Antonia
  • Dominicus = Domenico or Domenick; the female is Dominica
  • Franciscus = Francesco or Francis or Frank; the female is Francisca
  • Joseph = Giuseppe or Josef; the female is Josepha
  • Joannes = Giovanni or John or Johann; the female is Joanna
  • Sebastianus = Sebastiano or Sebastian; the female is Sebastiana
  • Vincentius = Vincenzo or Vincent; the female is Vincenta

For some Italian names, they change an f to ph. Epiphanio is Epifanio and Philippo (sometimes shortened to Pho) is Filippo.

You can get used to Latin by looking for the key words you need and dissecting the sentences. This is exactly how I recommend people get used to Italian documents. Find the key words that help you understand:

This is an article I never thought I'd write because Latin documents made me cringe. But now I see how they work. Just pick out the dates names you need. Don't let them scare you.

20 November 2020

Are You Sure They're the Same Person?

I got an email from Geni.com where, unfortunately, I uploaded my family tree years ago. I say "unfortunately" because I didn't know people would try to correct me and want to "take over" people in my tree.

The email said it found duplicates and wanted me to merge some people. I checked them out, and each one was clearly the same person in different family trees. I approved them all. I really don't care.

What I do care about is MY tree. My living, constantly developing family tree I build in Family Tree Maker and synchronize to Ancestry.com. In my tree, I make no assumptions. I base every fact on available documents.

It was a coincidence to get the Geni email about mergers the same day I was considering a merger within my own tree.

Should These People Be Merged?

Recently I've been examining the earliest available vital records from my grandfather's hometown. I can fit nearly every person named in the early 1800s birth, marriage, and death records into my tree. It's kinda easy when all the families intermarry over and over again.

I'm examining the earliest vital records so I can identify more people in this amazing book I bought. The book contains a detailed description of each of the 560 households in Grandpa's town in the year 1742. (That's the year the town did a complete census for tax purposes.) I've tied into about a quarter of these families so far.

Imagine a set of marriage documents that tells you the names of the bride and groom's great grandparents!
Imagine a set of marriage documents that tells you the names of the bride and groom's great grandparents!

The town's marriage records get more valuable in the mid-1820s. That's when they include:

  • the groom's birth or baptism record
  • the bride's birth or baptism record
  • the death record (if it applies) for the bride and groom's deceased parents
  • the death record (if their father is dead) for the bride and groom's deceased grandfathers

The death records show why a parent or grandparent can't give consent for the marriage. They're dead.

Imagine finding the marriage of a couple born in 1800, and learning the names of their paternal great grandparents! It's a genealogist's gold mine.

In these records I found 2 brothers named Cocca who married 2 sisters named Cocca. I knew they fit into my family tree. So I started processing all the documents from their 1827 and 1830 marriages.

Because the brothers' and the sisters' fathers were dead, there were lots of records. I was able to connect both families to households found in the 1742 census.

That's when I had a decision to make. You see, the Cocca brothers' paternal grandmother was Colomba Lombardo. Her 1816 death record says her parents were Domenico Lombardo and Cristina Pilla. And that couple is in the 1742 census. Domenico was born in 1696; Cristina in 1704. Awesome!

Colomba fit into a family listed in the 1742 census. But hold on. There's already a Colomba there.
Colomba fit into a family listed in the 1742 census. But hold on. There's already a Colomba there.

As I added Colomba to this family, I noticed Domenico and Cristina already had a child named Colomba. Was she the same person? Should I merge them?

Let's look at the facts:

  • In the 1742 census, there is a 1-year-old girl named Colomba Lombardo. That tells me she was born in 1741.
  • In the 1816 death records, there is a 68-year-old Colomba Lombardo from the same family. According to this death record, she was born in 1748.

Now, we all know death records can be inaccurate. And I know that at this time in history, my townspeople weren't 100% sure of their age. They didn't have to put their exact birth date on forms all the time like we do.

So maybe the Colomba who died in 1816 wasn't 68 years old. Maybe she was 75 years old and is the same baby from the 1742 census. If she were born in 1741, she'd be 8 years older than her husband. That's a little unusual in this town, but not out of the question.

Then again, there's always the possibility that baby Colomba found in the 1742 census died as a child. It would be customary for the couple to give their next baby girl the same name.

Because I know this custom, I cannot assume that the Colomba who died in 1816 is the Colomba who was born in 1741. For now, I will leave them both in my tree as sisters.

How can I ever prove they were sisters and not the same person? The answer may be waiting in more of the town's marriage records. So far, I've found only one child for Colomba and her husband. As I work through more marriages, I may find more. Those extra documents may give me more facts about Colomba's birth year.

The moral of this story is never make assumptions. Learn the traditions and customs of your ancestral hometowns. Seek out every possible document. Build on the evidence only, no matter how tempting it may be to "merge" people in your family tree.

For now, I'll add a note to each Colomba Lombardo in my family tree, explaining why they both exist. This way, anyone who finds them in my tree on Ancestry will understand that this was a choice, not an error.

17 November 2020

How Good Is Your Census Fact-Gathering Routine?

You've probably realized that I spend countless hours buried in Italian vital records. But sometimes I do return to more conventional genealogy documents.

Last week I had a lead on an Italian family that came to America. The lead was a woman's name—an uncommon name that would be easy enough to trace. I soon discovered it was her husband who was my relative; my 2nd cousin twice removed.

When I found this family in several U.S. censuses, I realized I was out of practice with census forms. I hadn't dealt with one in quite a while. So let's have a little refresher course on all the steps to take each time you find a new census sheet.

How to Fully Process Your Census Documents

Since I hadn't added a new census form in a while, it helped that I had an old routine to fall back on. He's the short version, but please take a look at the step-by-step process:

  • Follow your routine for how you name the document, assuming that you're downloading a copy.
  • Follow your routine for where you file your census documents.
  • Before you leave the webpage where you found the document, annotate the image with facts. Copy the URL, the source citation, and more.
  • Examine the entire page for all the facts you can add to these people in your family tree.
  • Add this fact to your document tracker so you never waste time searching for this document again.
When you're familiar with which facts to find on each census, you can develop a foolproof routine.
When you're familiar with which facts to find on each census, you can develop a foolproof routine.

How To Squeeze Everything Out of the Census

Each census form captured different facts about the people living in each household. Don't treat a 1900 census the same way you treat a 1940 census. There are different facts in there.

Here is a rundown on which facts the government added or removed from each U.S. census form from 1790 to 1940. And if you prefer a more visual style, see 3 Unique, Key Facts about Every U.S. Federal Census.

Were you surprised at the simplistic questions on the 2020 census? I was.

Simplify Your Genealogy Info Gathering With This Form

Download a free fill-in-the-blank PDF for U.S. census years from 1900–1940. They're great for genealogists who keep binders or folders on their different families.

How can you find your family when their name is always mangled in the census? Search for the neighbors that were nearby decade after decade.
How can you find your family when their name is always mangled in the census? Search for the neighbors that were nearby decade after decade.

4 Tips for Finding a Missing Census Record

Of course these tips are worthless if you can't find that missing census form. We're at the mercy of transcribers and indexers. And sometimes names are impossible to read. But if you use these 4 tips, you'll increase your chances of finding that missing family:

  • Search by address
  • Search for the neighbors
  • Search for first names only
  • If all else fails, consult someone else's family tree for leads.

Be sure to read the practical details on how to use each of these tips to help you in your search.

When I did return to the 1900s and U.S. documents, it helped that I had such a strong routine to fall back on. Now, if you'll excuse me, 1800s Italy is calling me back.

13 November 2020

Following the Documents from Marriage to Marriage

Last time, I told you how I'm building, using, and sharing a database of my ancestral hometowns.

On Wednesday, I used it to follow an unbelievable succession of marriages in the early 1800s. By the time I got to a man and wife who managed not to die right away, it was clear how an entire town can come to be related.

As a bit of background, times were tough in the 1800s in rural Italy and elsewhere. Most marriages were arranged, and if your spouse died, you needed another spouse. You needed a man to support you. You needed a woman to raise your children.

Widows and widowers usually remarried fast. It still takes me by surprise. What follows are multiple remarriages, causing connections among a lot of families.

Each marriage yielded more in-laws, babies, and deaths.
Each marriage yielded more in-laws, babies, and deaths.

It began with the 1810 marriage of Daniele (that's Daniel) Marinaro and Nicoletta Mutino. He was 24 years old and she was 20. After 3½ years of marriage and the birth of 1 child, both Nicoletta and her baby, Giovanni, died in September 1813.

A year later, Daniel tried again. He married 17-year-old Costanza Palmiero. She died after 6 months of marriage. (Meanwhile, I'm gathering, cropping, annotating, and adding all these documents to my family tree as I go.)

Six months later, Daniel gave family life another shot. He married Lucia Rosa Maria Cocca in September 1815. They managed to have a baby, Angelamaria, in 1819. And she didn't die right away!

Things are looking up for Daniel. Until he died in early 1821 at the age of 34. He had 3 short marriages, 2 young brides who died, 1 son who died, and 1 daughter who lived.

But this marriage chain isn't over. Daniel's widow, Lucia Rosa, married Giovannangelo diRuccia, 3 years after Daniel's death. That's a long time between marriages when a young woman has a small child to care for. Daniel and Lucia Rosa's daughter, Angelamaria Marinaro, was 24 when her mother died in 1843. I searched for her in my renamed vital records from the town. I discovered that Angelamaria married Salvatore Petriella in 1835. I'm so happy for her! She lived!

An exhaustive search is a piece of cake with my database and Everything.
An exhaustive search is a piece of cake with my database and Everything.

Before I follow Angelamaria and her husband, I'm not through with her parents' story. When her mother Lucia Rosa died, her stepfather, Giovannangelo diRuccia, waited 5 years. Then he married Mariantonia Scrocca in 1848. Mariantonia was the widow of Gennaro Giuseppe Viola. He had died 11 years after his marriage to Mariantonia.

I still have to find any more children of these marriages, but my goodness! It took 38 years for this marriage chain not to end in a premature death. Granted, Giovannangelo and Mariantonia married only 12 years before 1860. That's the last year of available death records for the town. They may have died soon after 1860.

As I continue exploring my database, I may learn when survivors Giovannangelo and Mariantonia died. The answer may lie in their children's marriage records. I hope they lived long lives together.

And this, my friends, is the reason for—and the beauty of—my obsessive ancestral town database. It sure can lead to some long sessions of family tree building.

10 November 2020

How to Create and Share Your Ancestral Town Database

On Sunday, after finishing a bunch of chores, I was eager to launch Family Tree Maker. I wanted to do one thing. It's something I've been preparing for the last few weeks.

My Own Vital Records Database

You see, in 2017 I downloaded all the available vital records from my ancestral hometowns. These jpg files sit on my computer, organized in folders by year and type of record (birth, marriage, death). Whenever I wanted to search for an ancestor, I could go year-by-year and look at the indexes until I found them.

But there's a much better way. I've been renaming every document image file to include the name of the main person(s) in the vital record. The original image file name of 2 facing 1809 birth records was 007853875_00497.jpg. Now it's 007853875_00497 Carmine Pasquale Zeolla di Antonio & Anna Maria Martuccio di Giovanni.jpg. The image includes the birth records for:

  • Carmine Pasquale Zeolla, son of Antonio
  • Anna Maria Martuccio, daughter of Giovanni

In the future, if I need to find either Carmine or Anna Maria, I can locate these documents in a snap.

There are thousands of files in my collection. I want to squeeze every single relative from them. And that'll be way easier if I can search for their names on my computer.

A perfect combination of software makes my public genealogy database possible.
A perfect combination of software makes my public genealogy database possible.

Breaking Through to Another Generation

With that in mind, I've been renaming the vital record files from my great grandmother's hometown. I'd already gone quite far in building her family tree. But I knew there were more ancestors hiding in those files.

Sunday night I hoped to add a generation to her family tree. One by one, I looked at her direct ancestors in Family Tree Maker to see who was missing a death record. Only two of my 5th great grandparents were still dead ends.

I use a Windows program called Everything to search my computer for an ancestor's name. It organizes the results by folder names, so it's easy to see which results are death, birth, or marriage records—and which year they're from.

I found the death records for my two dead-end 5th great grandparents easily. That means I discovered the names of four of my 6th great grandparents. All within a few minutes!

The database I'm creating by renaming the image files is invaluable. I'd love to share it with other descendants of my towns. If they find their ancestor in a list of all my file names, they can pull the original file from the Antenati website.

My database is the best thing ever to happen to my family tree. Now I have a way to share it.
My database is the best thing ever to happen to my family tree. Now I have a way to share it.

Sharing My Hard Work

To make this database sharable, I need to capture all the file names in hundreds of folders and sub-folders. After researching, I found a reputable Windows program that can do the job. It's called Karen's Directory Printer, and it comes highly recommended.

I put it to work on my grandfather's town of Colle Sannita. I set it up to create a list of each file name and the folder it comes from. Within a couple of minutes the program generated a nearly 40,000-line text file of file names. This is the first time I've had any sense of how many vital records I have for this town!

There are many marriage documents I skipped in the file renaming process. At first I renamed only the marriage documents themselves. That made the couple's names searchable. But the folders also contain marriage banns, birth, and death records for the two families. Usually I rename those extra documents when I'm working on a particular couple.

But lately I've been renaming all the files in a marriage folders. I have a long way to go, but the very old death records are wildly helpful. I've been using them to bring some branches of my family tree back to the 1600s.

What I did for now is create a text file for each of my towns containing the file name every vital record on my computer. I'll regenerate the text files after I rename lots more image files. Finally, I can share this bounty with everyone who has a stake in any of my ancestral hometowns.

I've seen lots of people upset that these Italian documents online aren't searchable. It takes hundreds of man-hours to turn an image collection into searchable text. As long as I'm spending those man-hours, I may as well share the results.

This project will keep me busy for a long time. If you're thinking about doing something similar, there are many benefits:

  • If you view and rename batches of files from a town, you will get familiar with the names. This helps you overcome bad handwriting.
  • Individual searches for your ancestors become very easy.
  • You may find that the whole town's related through marriage.

I'll add links to my database in the Free Genealogy Resources section of this blog. I'll upload the files to my www.forthecousins.com website. And I'll mention them in Facebook groups devoted to individual towns. Maybe I can interest the Antenati site, too.

Don't keep a big important genealogy project to yourself! You've got tons of DNA relatives out there who need your work.

06 November 2020

Genealogy Projects: A Much Needed Distraction

Genealogy tasks and projects are the perfect antidote for a year of bad news. They're a distraction that takes you straight to your happy place.

This year you'd better not have any large gatherings for the holidays. But you can have your family time by working on your family tree.

Does 2020 make you want you chill? Replace the stress with these family tree projects.
Does 2020 make you want you chill? Replace the stress with these family tree projects.

If you don't have a handful of go-to genealogy tasks to keep you busy, try one or more of these projects:

Make a Custom, Keepsake Family Tree. You may start out making one of these unique family trees for a loved one. But I'll bet you'll want one for yourself.

Take Your Obsession to the Next Level. Poring over the vital records from one grandfather's hometown in Italy, something became very clear. The whole town was related! Neighboring families marrying their children to one another. Widowed in-laws marrying. The amount of interconnection was amazing. That's when I knew what I had to do. I had to document everyone in town and make an enormous family tree. What's your obsession with genealogy? What can you do to make it truly grand?

Serenity now! This genealogy therapy will actually calm you down.
Serenity now! This genealogy therapy will actually calm you down.

Pay it Forward with Cemetery Photos. You may not be able to travel to your ancestor's cemetery, but I'll bet you have several nearby. Why not spend a day documenting one? You can check the Find a Grave or Billion Graves websites to see who's asking for a photo of a particular grave. Then go find it!

Help Out a Less-Experienced Genealogist. Have you developed a talent for reading old handwriting? Are you pretty darned good at finding someone in the census? Sharpen your skills while doing a good deed! Plenty of less-experience family tree buffs are out their asking for help. Try to solve their mystery for them.

Genealogy is the perfect escape from all your troubles. Which project will you choose first?
Genealogy is the perfect escape from all your troubles. Which project will you choose first?

03 November 2020

How to Improve Old Photos and Genealogy Documents

Are you putting bad-quality images in your family tree? You don't have to live with crummy images. Here are some tips for making your images better than the way you found them.

Now, I've used Adobe Photoshop since 1991 when it was called Aldus PhotoStyler. It came free with the first digital scanner I bought, which was crazy-expensive. I've updated it several times over the years, and now I have it on a monthly subscription, so it's always up to date. If you don't have a favorite photo-editing program, find links to some free ones at the bottom of this article.

A heads-up for Ancestry users: It's nearly impossible to crop an Ancestry.com image without blowing up its file size. I tried a census sheet as a test, and my cropped image was 4 megabytes compared to the original 1 megabyte. When I took steps to reduce the file size, of course the quality suffered.

Bottom line: I don't go through the following steps with documents saved from Ancestry.

Restore Faded Photos

My grandparents' 1922 wedding portrait was crumbling and faded. I took it to a local photographer. He photographed it, restored the damaged areas in Photoshop, and made me a full-size print to frame. I wrapped up the original for safe-keeping.

The photographer said the sepia/brownish tint of the original is what happens when black and white photography fades. I'm sure most of us have old faded photographs of family members. But you don't have to put the deteriorated version in your family tree.

Your photo-editing software can greatly improve old family photos in a few clicks.
Your photo-editing software can greatly improve old family photos in a few clicks.

Let's restore a photo of my great grandfather's nephew, Giuseppe. I got this photo from Giuseppe's family. It's faded and has bad creases in it.

To fix a faded, discolored black and white photo in Photoshop, click Image / Mode. You'll probably see that the image is RGB Color. Change it to Grayscale. Gone is the yellow, brown, or greenish cast. Now click the Image menu again and choose Auto Contrast. You should see the black portions get blacker, and the photo get less faded.

I took a Photoshop tutorial recently and learned how to use the Curves tool. You'll find it on the Image / Adjustments menu. By changing the curves on this screen, you can bring out more detail in areas that seem too dark or too light.

Crop Out the Excess

Now the photo of Giuseppe is looking sharper. If there were an old-fashioned border around the photo, I could crop that out. In this case, I can crop the left side to center Giuseppe in the photo.

I do most of my cropping on the old Italian vital records I work with every day. Many of the birth, marriage, and death records are photographed as two facing pages in a book. I don't want my ancestor's birth record image to include someone else's birth record. So I crop out the excess. I also use Photoshop's Straighten tool (my favorite tool!) to fix a crooked page. I find the edge of the page and click near the top. I let go of the mouse near the bottom, and the whole image tilts to straighten out.

You don't have to live with the original quality of document images.
You don't have to live with the original quality of document images.

After I straighten the image, I crop out the facing page and any black borders. Then I enhance the contrast to see the writing better on a faded document. Now the image is suitable for my family tree.

Repair Damage

With Giuseppe's photo looking all crisp, and Giuseppe centered in the photo, it's time to repair those creases. Photoshop has a healing tool that works like magic. If you click on a damaged area, it makes the area better match its surroundings. The tool erases little spots, too. Just go slowly. Keep the size of the tool small, and work on small areas at a time.

These repairs aren't for black and white images only. I have a faded color photo of my grandparents. It has an unnecessary white border, too. To start, I can choose Image / Auto Color to bring back some of the faded color. It works well, in this case. Their skin tone looks good, and their kitchen looks the way I remember it. But I can boost it a bit by choosing Image / Adjustments / Hue/Saturation. I can adjust the separate Hue and Saturation sliders until I feel the color is as realistic as possible.

You'll be amazed by the rich color software can restore to faded old photos.
You'll be amazed by the rich color software can restore to faded old photos.

Now I've got a much more lifelike photo of my grandparents in their kitchen. I cropped out the white border and repaired a few spots and scratches.

Add Details to the Properties

Once your image is looking great, don't forget to add details to the file's properties. On a Windows computer you can right-click the image file and choose Properties. Then go to the Details tab to add a Title and Comments. I don't know how this looks on a Mac, but I'm sure it's there.

Free Photo Editing Tools

Here are a bunch of free photo editing programs for Windows and Mac. Scroll past the ads at the top and bottom of the list, and notice that there are a few pages' worth of program listings.

Two of the most popular apps are GIMP (for Windows and Mac) and Irfan View (for Windows only). My son uses GIMP, and I've seen him to do remarkable, artistic things.

You don't have to rely on the kindness of strangers to fix your old photos. Try these techniques on a duplicate of the original. Put your best work into your family tree.