28 December 2021

Create an Ancestor Profile from Vital Records

How much can you ever know about your peasant ancestors? I spend all my time reading 19th-century vital records from a handful of rural Italian towns. Most records contain X's instead of signatures because almost everyone was illiterate.

In places like these, you can't expect to find your ancestors in the local society pages. No one could read, so there wouldn't be a need for such newspaper coverage. All you have are birth, marriage, and death records. Well, almost.

You can find some general local history about your ancestral towns. Last week I wrote about using Google Books to learn more about the places where your ancestors lived. You may find a good reference book in a library, too.

Without published stories, what can you learn about your family from vital records and a book or two? Here are examples from my extended family tree.

Successful Man Suffers Many Losses

When you find every available vital record for a family in your tree, you'll begin to see a snapshot of their lives.
When you find every available vital record for a family in your tree, you'll begin to see a snapshot of their lives.

Nicolangelo Nista was born in 1788 in my ancestral hometown of Colle Sannita, Italy. Piecing together the vital records for his immediate family, I discovered:

  • His first wife and two of their daughters died on August 2, August 7, and August 9, 1834. The dates make it reasonable to think a sickness was going through the town at the time. That year saw many more deaths than the surrounding years.
  • Four of his other children had already died before 1834.
  • His wife's death left Nicolangelo with six children to raise, ranging in age from 18 to two years old.
  • He married a younger widow the following year.
  • They had four children together, two of whom died in infancy.
  • His sister Nicolina was luckier in life, despite dying at the age of 46. She had at least two children who grew up, married, raised a family, and outlived her.
  • His brother Giovanni became a priest and lived to be 78 years old.
  • Nicolangelo lived to be more than 72 years old. The available death records for the town end in 1860, and Nicolangelo was still alive.
  • He was a proprietario—an owner of property or a business. Despite his losses, Nicolangelo is likely to have lived a comfortable life.

Earthquake Hits Home

The same town of Colle Sannita has suffered several earthquakes. The 1962 earthquake damaged my grandfather's childhood home so badly, they had to demolish it. On my second visit to Grandpa's town, my cousins showed me the stone front doorstep. It was all that remained of his home.

I have a list of the 40 victims of an earthquake in Colle Sannita way back on 26 July 1805. Civil records for the town begin in 1809, yet I've managed to place a few of the victims in my family tree. One of them was my 38-year-old 5th great grandaunt, Libera Nigro.

See how one piece of local history from your ancestral hometown can add very real context to your family tree.
See how one piece of local history from your ancestral hometown can add very real context to your family tree.

Libera and her husband Giovanni had three daughters that I've found. Sadly, Libera and two of her daughters, ages four and five, died in the 1805 earthquake. Without that list of victims, I would have no record of little Grazia and Anna Maria, my 1st cousins 6 times removed.

Suffering and Serendipity

I love to put entire families together from my ancestral hometowns. In doing so, I often see cases of several children dying young in the same family. It's so sad to see a couple name their baby Giuseppe, for example, only to have him die so soon. They name the next son Giuseppe, and he dies young. Then they name the next one Giuseppe. Each time I see this happen, I say, "That's a doomed name for them."

It also makes me sad to see a husband and wife die on the same day or a few days apart. These death records don't include a cause of death, but we may assume they died of the same cause. Maybe they both caught the flu or had some sort of accident.

One thing I noticed years ago always makes me laugh. You see, most of the old-country Italians in my family tree were poor. They usually gave their children one or two first names. For example, my 5th great grandparents named one son Angelo, and the other Tommaso Antonio.

Sometimes I find a well-to-do family. What's funny is that these richer families often give their children four or five first names. One such family named their children:

  • Angela Maria Lorenza
  • Maria Luisa Barbara Margarita
  • Maria Amalia Carmela Camilla
  • Domenico Maria (he got short-changed)
  • Francesco Saverio Gaetano Achille
  • Carolina Maria Vincenza
Pay attention to each detail from vital records. You may find common patterns like this.
Pay attention to each detail from vital records. You may find common patterns like this.

Their father had the honorary titles of Don and Baron. At different times his occupation was landowner (proprietario), gentleman (galantuomo), or well-to-do (benestante). I always joke that these families were rich enough to afford more names for their babies.

The keys to developing a profile from vital records are:

  • Find every available vital record for the immediate family.
  • Notice the timing of events.
  • Search for historical points of interest, like earthquakes, famine, disease, and war.

What stands out about your ancestors' vital records?

21 December 2021

Surprising Free Finds from Google Books

Long-time reader of this blog, Suzanne, found two books that mention my great uncle. She had no luck on Newspapers.com, but she found him when she searched Google Books.

She encouraged me to pick up and continue the search. Two legal briefs help explain how my immigrant uncle and my great grandfather came to own a building. They were leasing it in 1905 from a brewing company—a company that may have had some bad lawyers. My ancestors parlayed this lease into ownership of the building where my mom was born.

What else might I find on Google Books? As usual, I didn't have much luck in searching for the names of my ancestors. Changing tactics, I searched for the names of my ancestral Italian hometowns. I searched for Santa Paolina, a small town in southern Italy, and I made a surprising discovery.

Imagine finding this one-of-a-kind biography of your ancestor.
Imagine finding this one-of-a-kind biography of your ancestor.

In my family tree is the 1873 birth record for my 2nd cousin 4 times removed, Fioravanti Ricciardelli. His great grandfather, Emanuele Ricciardelli, is my 5th great grandfather. One search result in Google Books is "History of the Municipalities of Hudson County, New Jersey," written by Daniel Van Winkle in 1924. This isn't what I expected when searching for my town.

The book details the lives of Hudson County's notable citizens, including my cousin Fioravanti. Thanks to the page-and-a-quarter devoted to my cousin, I learned:

  • His father, also named Emanuele Ricciardelli, was a "Red Shirt" who fought under Giuseppe Garibaldi for Italy's freedom.
  • I knew from vital records that Emanuele and his wife had only 4 children in Santa Paolina. Now I know why. The book says the family moved to another town that's a half hour away by modern transportation. That's unexpected. They may have had more children in their new town.
  • My cousin Fioravanti was an accomplished musician, business owner, and inventor.
  • In America, he married a distant cousin from Santa Paolina, also named Ricciardelli. They had 9 children in New Jersey.
  • The book says Fioravanti raised and educated all his siblings.

This is the type of detail I never get to learn about my Italian relatives. Even if I had discovered the family in U.S. documents, they wouldn't give me this much detail. Without this book, this family was a dead end. What a wonderful find!

Start Your Google Books Search

To search Google Books, go to google.com and start a search as usual. Then click "Books" below the search box. Note: You may have to click the word "More" before you see the "Books" option. Next, for more satisfying results, click the words "Any view" and choose "Preview and full view." Now you can fully explore the best results. If you find something you want, you may be able to download the book as a PDF. Note: You can save a step by going straight to https://books.google.com.

With this Google Books search, I can learn more about the WWI battle that almost killed my grandfather. What can you find?
With this Google Books search, I can learn more about the WWI battle that almost killed my grandfather. What can you find?

Get creative with your searches. You never know what you'll find. Think about:

  • People and Places. Try family and town names from your family tree. I found an 1888 Italian book about the history of my ancestral hometowns. It tells me their populations at the time.
  • Historical Events. Which wars or other important events had an impact on your family? I'll search for the World War I battle where they captured my grandfather and imprisoned him for a year.
  • Maps. I'd love to find a book with old maps of my towns of interest. The closest I came is a book with a folded-up map in the back. They didn't scan the unfolded map!
  • Workplaces. Search for the company where your ancestor worked. What was happening when your relative worked there?

Devote one hour to Google Books and you'll understand more about your ancestors' lives. It's a massive resource. Thank you to Suzanne for reminding me to give it more attention.

14 December 2021

An End-of-Year Tune Up for Your Family Tree

The end of the year is a perfect time to give your family tree a thorough check for errors. How many times during the past year did you:

  • Add a person without checking if their birth date fits in with their parents and siblings?
  • Change the way you record a particular fact, like someone's nickname?
  • Accidentally attach a marriage date to the first spouse instead of the second?
  • Update a person's birth year without changing their parents' estimated birth years?
  • Attach a census fact to the youngest child in the family who wasn't born yet?

All kinds of human errors can happen while you're caught up in the genealogy zone. I generated two reports to find errors in my more than 33,000-person family tree:

  • In Family Tree Maker, I ran the Data Errors Report.
  • In Family Tree Analyzer, I opened a brand new GEDCOM file to look for the usual types of errors. If you don't use Family Tree Maker, create or download a GEDCOM file of your family tree. Then open it in Family Tree Analyzer and check out the error list.
Human error will always creep into your genealogy research. Here are 2 reports that will find the mistakes in your family tree.
Human error will always creep into your genealogy research. Here are 2 reports that will find the mistakes in your family tree.

I saved the Family Tree Maker report as a very long PDF file. It's long because it lists "The marriage date is missing" each time I don't know a couple's marriage date. That isn't an error. These early documents aren't available, so I'm ignoring that message.

The report also thinks it's an error when a husband and wife have the same last name. It isn't. I use only maiden names for the women in my family tree, but sometimes a Marino marries a Marino. What're you gonna do?

Here are the errors from the Family Tree Maker Data Errors Report that I'm fixing in my family tree:

  • The birth date occurred before his/her father/mother was 13. This happens when new information changes my estimated birth date for a person. Let's say I add a person to my family tree with a birth year of 1800. If I know their parents' names, I give them an estimated birth year. My rule is to say the parents are 25 years older than their oldest child—until I find hard facts. So I'll give the 1800 baby's parents an estimated birth year of "Abt. 1775." But what if I discover that baby was born in 1782? If I don't redo the math for the parents' estimated birth year, I'll have a "parent too young" error.
  • The birth date occurred after his/her mother was 60. I have two very large families where the children's births spanned way too many years. In one case, the oldest child was so much older than the rest that their birth year had to be wrong. I had to look at their children, too, to make sure I used a valid date estimate.
  • The birth date occurred more than one year after his/her father died. This happened with people born in the 1700s. All I could do was adjust the child's birth year to the year their father died.
  • The birth date occurred more than one year after his/her mother died. Same problem as above.
  • Baptism date occurred before individual's birth date. This was my typo, and I' glad the report pointed it out.
  • The individual was married before the age of 13. Unfortunately I have a couple of cases where that's true.
  • The marriage occurred after the death date. A man's wife died before him, and I marked his death date as After her date. Then he remarried, and I forgot to delete that death estimate.
These reports will find conflicting facts in your family tree.
These reports will find conflicting facts in your family tree.
  • The marriage occurred after the spouse's death. I must have given a marriage date to the first spouse instead of the second. It's too easy to make that mistake.
  • Event immigration (or divorce or marriage) contains no data. I can't explain how some of these happened, so I appreciate this safety net.
  • This individual's children sort order may be incorrect. I thought that was automatic. I may have clicked the wrong button on this family.
  • Person does not have a preferred spouse set. Somehow I added marriage date without adding a spouse's name.
  • The birth date is missing. These are living people I added recently. I don't know how old they are, so I'll have to add estimates based on their parents' ages.
  • The name may include a nickname. I had a man's nickname in parentheses with his name. Now I've changed the nickname to an alternate Name fact.
  • Residence date occurred before individual's birth date. The 1940 census says where the family lived in 1935. It may be the same house or the same place/town. Twice I gave the 1935 address to kids born after 1935. Now I've deleted those residence facts.
  • The age at death is greater than 120. This is usually not an error. If I don't have a document to tell me when someone died, but I know they were dead when their child died, I'll say they died "Bef. [the child's death date]." This error report isn't taking the "Before" into account.
  • The burial date occurred before his/her death. This was my typo, but yikes! What a thought.
Find those troublesome families in your family tree with one of these genealogy error reports.
Find those troublesome families in your family tree with one of these genealogy error reports.

When you're working in Family Tree Maker, the software will make an alert sound if:

  • You add a baby to a parent who's too young, too old, or too dead.
  • A bride or groom is under the age of 13.
  • A husband and wife have the same last name.

I appreciate those warnings—except for the last one. But if you update someone's birth date later, you may not get the warning. That's what these reports are good for.

Give your family tree an error cleanse before the new year. Start off 2022 with a cleaned-up, fine-tuned, fortified family tree.

07 December 2021

Keep These Genealogy Resources Always Within Reach

Our genealogy research evolves over time. And we change our methods as we expand our family tree. I've gotten to a point where there are certain resources I must have handy as I work on my tree.

Here are 7 of my most-needed resources. Because of my heritage, some of my tools are Italian-specific. But I'm sure there are similar resources for your heritage.

1. Google Translate

After years of Italian research, I understand all the important genealogy words. Months, numbers, relationship words, and more. But sometimes a record mentions a mother-in-law (suocera), brother-in-law (cognato), or some other word I don't know or can't remember.

When that happens, I rely on Google Translate. It's critical when I'm faced with a free-form document explaining how a soldier died in the war. Or how someone died in a tavern while passing through another town.

I keep Google Translate on the always visible bookmarks toolbar of my web browser.

2. Google Maps and Bing Maps

I need both map websites on my bookmarks toolbar. When I'm reading an old vital record, and it includes a street name, I want to see the place! Google Street View is wonderful for seeing the house or the neighborhood. But Bing Maps does a better job of showing every last street name in my ancestral Italian towns.

Keep both types of maps handy. Each one has its benefits, and you'll get more value by using both.
Keep both types of maps handy. Each one has its benefits, and you'll get more value by using both.

If I'm looking up a street in Italy, I locate it on Bing Maps, then find the same, unmarked location on Google Maps. Now I can use Google Street View for a better perspective.

For U.S. addresses, Bing Maps includes the county name up at the top. Google Maps makes me read a Wikipedia entry to find the county name. I like how Bing does it.

3. Ancestry and Antenati Websites

Lately I've been searching for missing documents for whoever I'm viewing in my family tree. If I discover that someone born in Italy went to America, I need their immigration record. I go straight to Ancestry.com to find the document.

Let's say I find out that one of my distant cousins in Italy married a woman from another town. I go to the Antenati website and look for his wife's missing birth record.

Both websites are critical to my progress.

4. "Colle Sannita nel 1742"

I'm so lucky to have this book! It's a detailed listing of every family in my Grandpa's hometown in the year 1742. When I'm lucky enough to identify people who were alive in 1742, I can often find them in the book.

When I do, I learn the whole family's names and ages. I learn where they lived, what they did for a living, and what property they owned. The book details more than 500 families. If the publisher ever does the same for my other towns, I'll buy those books in a heartbeat.

A United States equivalent of this book might be land records and wills.

5. Street Name Changes for Grandpa's Hometown

The book about Colle Sannita tells how the ancient street names changed over time. Have you noticed how many European countries have streets named for FDR and JFK? Those weren't the original names.

Keep important notes handy by using the Plans tab of Family Tree Maker.
Keep important notes handy by using the Plans tab of Family Tree Maker.

In Italy, they renamed many streets for Italian heroes (Vittorio Emmanuele, Umberto I, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Count Camillo di Cavour) or for important dates in their history (IV Novembre). I update the old addresses so I know where to visit in Grandpa's town.

I use the Plan tab of Family Tree Maker to keep my list of old street names and modern equivalents handy. When I spot an old street name in a vital record, I click over to my list to see the new name. Using the current street name allows Family Tree Maker to plot it on the map.

6. Translations of Italian Occupation Words

Old Italian vital records may show someone's occupation as something that doesn't translate. That's why I keep a spreadsheet of all the Italian job words I've found, and their English translations. I started by copying an old website that was making the rounds. Then I added more words I found that weren't on that website.

When I need the list, I right-click Excel in my Windows toolbar and choose my Italian occupations file. If you're using foreign-language documents, make a spreadsheet of words that trip you up.

Make sure all your family tree-related files are easy to find when you need them.
Make sure all your family tree-related files are easy to find when you need them.

7. Grandparent/Ahnentafel Chart

Are you using my grandparent spreadsheet with Ahnentafel numbers in each cell? If so, keep it handy. Any time you discover a new direct ancestor, put them in that chart immediately. Your chart is a great way to really see which direct ancestors' names you're missing.

Each of the tools above is either physically on my desk (the book), or bookmarked on my computer for quick access. Make sure everything you need to forge ahead with your research is as handy as possible.

What are your must-have tools and resources when you're working on your family tree?

30 November 2021

Put More Logic in Your Genealogical Research

When I'm adding people and facts to my family tree, I can feel my mind racing. I'm running through a decision tree to decide the next step.

What's a decision tree? It's a series of questions where each answer tells you which way to turn. I follow this type of path without realizing it. Let's take a look at this process and see how you can best apply it to your family tree research.

Fix an Illogical Birth Year

There's a man named Donato in my family tree with an estimated birth year of 1715. He had two children with an estimated birth year of 1790. Making babies at age 75 is definitely pushing it, even though Charlie Chaplin did so at age 73.

How would you figure out whether his age estimate is a mistake? Here's my thought process:

  • In my family tree, Donato has an exact date of death in 1792. Let's take another look at that death record to see if it states his age.
  • I have several versions of the death record, and each one says he was 57 years old.
  • That would mean Donato was born in 1735, not 1715.

Does that work? Let's keep going through the logic.

  • I have two wives for Donato. Is it possible that I combined two different men with the same name? Let's check each copy of his death record.
  • No, I did not combine two men. One copy of his death record mentions both his wives by name.
  • Donato's estimated birth year matches that of his first wife Anna, but where did it come from? Let's look at their family.
  • My family tree has two children for Donato and Anna. It says they were born in 1740 and 1765. The 1715 estimate is 25 years earlier than their first child Teresa's 1740 birth year. That's my usual formula—25 years before the first child's birth is the estimated birth year.
  • Is 1740 the correct birth year? Let's look more closely at Teresa.
  • Teresa's husband was born in 1759 and they had a son in 1793. It's ridiculous to think she had a baby at age 53 with a man 19 years her junior.
  • Where did I get her 1740 birth year? I have an 1800 death date for Teresa, so let's look at the death record.
  • Aha! Teresa died in 1825, not 1800. I've never seen such a blatant error in my tree! Her 1825 death record says she was 65 years old.
  • Now I know Teresa was born in 1760, not 1740. That means her parents' birth year estimate should be about 1735 (1760-25).

Donato's death record is logical after all. It says he was born in 1735, and that what the logic says, too. Problem solved!

When the data in your family tree makes no sense, get more data!
When the data in your family tree makes no sense, get more data!

Narrow Down a Missing Death Date

Not all death records are easily available to us. When that happens, you can use logic to narrow down the death to a range of years. Here's the example of my 2nd great uncle Filippo Caruso.

  • I have Filippo's 1868 birth record from their hometown in Italy.
  • This helped me find him coming to America in 1903 to join another brother, Giuseppe, in Elmira, New York.
  • I found him living with Giuseppe in both the 1910 and 1920 censuses in northern Pennsylvania. I needed to keep following Filippo through time.
  • In the 1930 and 1940 censuses he is living with another brother, Nicola, in Hornellsville, New York.
  • The date of the 1940 census with Filippo is 24 April 1940. What happened next?
  • The Catholic church in Hornellsville has a lot of my Caruso relatives in its graveyard. Naturally, I discovered this after I made a trip to see the town!
  • The Find a Grave website has a photo of Filippo's grave that says 1868–1940. That means he died soon after the 1940 census.
  • Since I don't have Filippo's exact death date, I have to estimate his death date. I have it written as "Bet. 24 Apr–31 Dec 1940" because he was alive for the census, but dead by the end of the year.

Filippo's exact death date was unknown to me. But the big websites update record collections all the time. I went to Ancestry.com to see if the New York Death Index might contain Filippo. And it does! Now I know my 2nd great uncle died on 2 Sep 1940. My estimate was right, but this is much better.

Don't forget to repeat your search for missing records every six months or so.

After you track down every possible genealogy document for someone, it's time to check for newly available information.
After you track down every possible genealogy document for someone, it's time to check for newly available information.

Find a Missing Birth Date

I like to sort my Family Tree Maker file by Birth Date and work on someone whose exact birth date I don't know. For this example, I'll choose Anna Maria Basile. All I know about her right now is:

  • She married Angelo Zeolla.
  • They had a daughter in 1830 when Anna Maria was supposedly 26 years old.

The logic I've gained from Italian vital records tells me that based on her age, I should be able to find her marriage records. That will tell me her birth date and her parents' names. I should be able to find more of her children, and I may find her death record, unless she died after 1860. I say that because I know that available death records for Anna Maria's hometown end in 1860.

Here's the logic I'll follow:

  • I'll search the Italian records for the marriage of Angelo Zeolla and Anna Maria Basile.
  • Yes! I found their marriage documents in 1826. I learned Angelo and Anna Maria's exact birth dates and their parents' names.

Both sets of parents were already in my family tree. Once I connected Anna Maria to her parents, I saw that she's my 1st cousin 6 times removed.

To learn more about Anna Maria, I'll search for more of her children. Here's the process:

  • I found their first child in 1827. Now I know which street Anna Maria lived on with her husband.
  • On her third child's birth record, I found that Anna Maria's family moved to a different street in town.
  • The couple had their last child in 1847.
  • Neither Anna Maria nor Angelo died before 1860 when the available death records end.

How else can I narrow down when Anna Maria died? There is one other possibility. Anna Maria's oldest children could have married before 1860. Based on one child's marriage records, I know Anna Maria and her husband were alive in December 1853. I followed all her children and couldn't get any more facts about Anna Maria or her husband.

Using logic to search for the answers turned a random name into a true cousin.
Using logic to search for the answers turned a random name into a true cousin.

The more you use census forms, ship manifests, vital records, etc., the more you learn. Think about how each document can help you the next time you have a question. Then use logic to do all you can to find the answer.

23 November 2021

Discover Your Ancestral Hometown's History

My earliest family tree breakthroughs came from municipal websites. I was impressed, 15 years ago, by how many small towns in Italy had an information-packed website. Today, you may find a website for almost any town or township anywhere in your country or your old country.

I remember being very interested in my most recently discovered ancestral hometown. I went to the town's website and decided to send an email to the webmaster. To my delight, he wrote back to me with documents for the births and marriage of my great grandparents.

With the explosion of interest in ancestry, town webmasters may not be so generous today. They'd be overrun by requests!

Still, there's a lot you can learn by finding these town websites. My favorite thing to do with Italian town websites is search for their history (storia) page. Here's what I learned about one hometown: Sant'Angelo a Cupolo.

  • The name of the town comes from (a) their patron saint, Michael the Archangel, shortened to Sant'Angelo; and (b) the fact that it sits up on a hill, or dome (cupolo). So, it's the town of St. Michael the Archangel which sits up on a hill.
  • The first mention of the town is in a document from the year 1065!
  • The most sacred landmark in their neighborhood is the statue of the Madonna del Rosario. The name of the church where my ancestors were baptized and married is Santa Maria Santissima del Rosario. The statue must be inside the church.
  • The convent I saw on a distant hill on my first visit to the town dates back to 1775. That means every ancestor I can name also saw that building up on the hill.
  • The typical dishes of the town are tagliatelle, cecatielli, fusilli, stuffed peppers, and tripe (eww).
  • The main religious holidays for my great grandparents' neighborhood are the feasts of San Biagio and San Giuseppe (the name of their piazza).
Your ancestral hometown website can give you a taste of what it's like to live there, and how it was for your ancestors.
Your ancestral hometown website can give you a taste of what it's like to live there, and how it was for your ancestors.

There's also information that's important to people who live in the town today:

  • Photographs of the town.
  • The town's elected officials. You may recognize some last names.
  • Local businesses.
  • Resolutions and ordinances.
  • Local organizations.
  • Places of worship.

Whoa! That last fact may have helped solve a long-standing mystery about my 2nd great grandfather, Antonio Saviano. I have a 1925 photo of him in his coffin, and there is a ribbon pinned to his jacked. It's hard to read, but it seems to match the name of the church in one of the town's neighborhoods. Maria Santissima delle Grazie translates to holy Mary of the graces. Maybe Antonio was a supporter of the church from his new home in the Bronx.

Let's try a U.S. town now. I lived in Southampton, Pennsylvania, for many years. Like many U.S. town websites, Southampton offers:

  • A way to reach its different administrative departments.
  • Meeting minutes from the town council.
  • A calendar of upcoming events.
  • The town's history, which began in 1685—ancient by U.S. standards.
  • Historic photos.
  • A list of townsmen who fought in the Revolutionary War. Very cool!
Hometowns across the United States are highly likely to have a website featuring a bit of their history.
Hometowns across the United States are highly likely to have a website featuring a bit of their history.

If you don't know much about your ancestors' hometowns, it'll be a real treat to browse their websites.

What if your town doesn't have a website? My family tree contains the town of Spondon, Derbyshire, England. When I searched, I didn't find a town website for Spondon. What I did find is a bunch of websites providing some of the same information as the town websites.

  • Wikipedia can give you the town's statistics and history.
  • The FamilySearch.org wiki also has information about the town. Plus you get a list of the town's documents available on FamilySearch.
  • You can find photos and maps for your town in your search results.
  • Scour those search results for more insights into the town.
An image search for your ancestors' hometown may show you landmarks from their time.
An image search for your ancestors' hometown may show you landmarks from their time.

I want to make sure my future visits to my ancestral hometowns happen on one of their feast days. That way, I'll have the chance to see many more townspeople than I have before. Find out about your town's attractions and their history before you visit. Or search for photos and feel as if you're there.

Give it a try!

17 November 2021

How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives

THIS ARTICLE is all new on 17 NOV 2021, and updated again later that day:

I was in a panic when the Italian genealogy website, Antenati, changed completely on November 15, 2021. But I'm here to help you cope.

First, the bad news:

  • If you saved URLs for the vital records you needed, they do not work!
    • Their format can help you retrace your steps. The URLs contain the name of the province and town, the year, and the type of document. That will be helpful.
  • The new site does not allow us to easily save a high-resolution image of a document.
    • People are working on solutions, and I will walk you through mine. It does work, but boy oh boy, it's way more than click, right-click, and save.

Here are 5 tips for using the new (I will not say improved) Antenati.

Tip 1: Use the Site's Improved Search Function

The homepage of the Antenati site has a slightly different URL than before: https://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it. The first thing you'll see is a search form. Click the Italian flag at the top right of the page, if you like, to translate this search form to another language. I always leave it on Italian because it isn't a lot of words.

You can use this search form to quickly get to a particular town. Type the town's name in the first box (Località), click the yellow-highlighted suggestion, and click the Cerca (Search) button.

The Antenati group is always working on indexing vital records so you can search for a person. Instead of the default "Cerca nei registri" (search in the registers), choose "Cerca per nome" (search for a name). Enter a first name, last name, town, and year (click the down-arrow on those last two for more options).

I searched for my grandfather, born in Colle Sannita in 1902. Antenati has indexed the person's name, both their parents' names, and their date of birth, death, or marriage. It's pretty impressive.

You can click the view button for any search result to go to a page of text. Then click what will not appear to be a link, but is. It'll be beneath the word Atti, and when you hover your mouse over the words, for example, "Atto di nascita 10 Ottobre 1902," you can click that link. You'll find yourself on the exact page of the document you wanted.

There are 3 ways to see all the page numbers and get around the register.
There are 3 ways to see all the page numbers and get around the register.

Tip 2: Find a Province, Time Period, and Town

If you prefer the old method of drilling down to your town, you can still do that. In the top menu of the website, click "Esplora gli Archivi" or Find the Archives. I don't find the map helpful, but scroll below it to see the good-old alphabetical list of provinces.

Click your province of choice to go to its landing page. You'll find two buttons:

  • Cerca nei registri (Search the registries) gives you a list of all the registers for the town. You can sort these from oldest to newest, or vice versa. Click the Vedi il registro (View the register) button for any book you want. You'll now be in a register viewer, able to turn the pages of the book.
  • Esplora i fondi (Explore the fonds—not a typo) is closer to the old format. I'll warn you now that you're better off with the first button to search the registries. But if you want to see the old way, click the button to see the three time periods, now displayed in alphabetical, not chronological, order:
    • Stato civile italiano—the latest time period, usually from 1866 on. These are the years after Italy became a unified republic.
    • Stato civile napoleonico—the earliest time period, usually from 1809 through 1815. These are the years when Napoleon was in charge.
    • Stato civile della restaurazione—the middle time period, usually from 1816 through 1865. These are the years after Napoleon, but before Italy became one country.
  • Click a time period, then choose your town. And whaddaya know? You're right back where you were when you clicked Cerca nei registri. That was a waste of time. So maybe the new site helps us get where we want to go faster.

Tip 3: See Thumbnails or Pick a Page to View

At first glance, it seems as if you can only page your way through a register one image at a time. If that's the case, imagine paging through a 100-page book to get to the index pages.

Luckily, there are several other ways to get around. Start by looking at any page of a register. Then:

  • Method 1: Click the icon to the top right of the viewing area that's meant to look like a window. Change your view from Singolo to Galleria. You can't see what the pages look like, but you can jump to the end and hope to find the index.
  • Method 2: Same as above, click the icon at the top right, but this time, click Right. (Why is that in English?) Now you have a scrollable list on the right with all the page numbers. You can click any one of them.
  • Method 3: Click the hamburger menu the 3 stacked horizontal lines). Then click the third icon down that looks like five stacked lines of different lengths. Now you can see a list of all the page numbers. Or you can choose to see them as "thumbnails," although they aren't the actual images of the pages.

Click any page number to go where you want to go.

Tip 4: Make Your Own URL Spreadsheet

If you have towns/comuni whose records you need to use often, make a shortcut spreadsheet. Create columns for Town, Year, Type of Record, URL, and Number of Pages. If you spend the time up front, your spreadsheet will save you lots of time in the future.

Here's how I'm making my spreadsheet:

  • Navigate to the town you want.
  • Sort the results (all the register books) by year, old to new (Anno, dal meno recente).
  • Scroll to the bottom and change the menu from "10 risultati per pagina" to "100 risultati per pagina." This will save a lot of clicking.
  • For each entry, right-click the red button to view the register (Vedi il registro) and choose to open it in a new tab. This saves you time and keeps you from losing your place in the results list.
  • Go to that tab to copy its URL and see (at the bottom) how many pages are in the register.
  • Add a line to your spreadsheet with the Town, Year, Type of Record, URL, and Number of Pages.
Having this as a reference will come in handy as you continue your genealogy research.
Having this as a reference will come in handy as you continue your genealogy research.

Too much work? Then add to your spreadsheet whenever you use a new register instead of doing the work up front. Your spreadsheet will make it easy to sort the contents by year, town, or type of document.

Tip 5: Saving a Record's URL and High-Res Image

I'm going to walk you through a harder-than-usual way to download the image you want and save its URL.

Why go to this trouble? Because the Antenati site no longer gives us a way to download a high resolution image of the document we want. And that's a freaking crime.

Start by going to the page you want within any register book. Take note of which page number it is that you want. Remember, this is NOT the document number written or typed on the vital record. It's the page number displayed at the bottom of the register viewer.

For example, I'm looking at page 6 of a matrimoni register for Pratola Serra in Avellino. Here's the URL for the register: https://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/detail-registry/?s_id=191748

Now comes the rough part.

You shouldn't have to be a website programmer to get the URL you want, but that's where Antenati has left us.
You shouldn't have to be a website programmer to get the URL you want, but that's where Antenati has left us.
  1. Click the "hamburger" menu—the 3 stacked lines—at the top-left corner of the register viewing area.
  2. Scroll down to the bottom to find and click the Contenuti Collegati link. This link works best in the Firefox web browser with its built-in JSON code viewer, but you can get a JSON add-on for Google Chrome.
  3. Use Ctrl/Cmd F to search for your document's page number in the format the site uses, such as pag. 5.
  4. Look a few lines above your page number for a link ending in .jpg. Click that to see a separate page with your image. Notice it has a distinct URL, and you can click to enlarge the image before you save it.

Now, finally, you can right-click the enlarged image and save the image.

Hot damn, that was stupid!

The Antenati web team says they're working on a way for your old URLs to temporarily work. Any programs we used in the past to mass-download documents will not work now. But I'll bet there are people who will work on that.

Hang in there, my Italian researchers. The Antenati site was never the easiest in the world anyway.

16 November 2021

Look Back to See How Your Genealogy Hobby Is Going

If you spend any time on social media, you've seen them. The before-and-after images with the words "how it started" and "how it's going." Usually the joke is that things are not going very well at all.

What if we apply the same idea to our family tree research? How it started for me was a 1989 conversation with my Grandma Leone and a hand-drawn tree of her family. How it's going is a family tree with 32,000 people from all my grandparents' hometowns.

Then I had a conversation with my Grandpa Iamarino. He told me a bit about his sisters. I'd known nothing about them! Now my family tree has his sisters, their children, and generations of their husbands' ancestors.

"How it started" was a 1989 conversation and a scrap of paper. "How it's going" is a treasure trove of documents and family history.
"How it started" was a 1989 conversation and a scrap of paper. "How it's going" is a treasure trove of documents and family history.

Fast-forward to 2002 when my husband-to-be and I were planning our honeymoon in Italy. I wanted to know more about where my ancestors came from. I started with the EllisIsland.org website. I found ship manifests for my two grandfathers. When I noticed that everyone named Iamarino came from one town (Colle Sannita), I took out a notebook. I filled tons of pages with facts about every Iamarino emigrating from Colle.

My husband bought me Family Tree Maker software with a subscription to Ancestry.com. He thought it was time I graduate from the slips of paper I was laying out on the floor to simulate a family tree.

"How it started" was a notebook filled with info from ship manifests. "How it's going" is a collection of 505 digital manifest images.
"How it started" was a notebook filled with info from ship manifests. "How it's going" is a collection of 505 digital manifest images.

I did indeed graduate. I found my extended family in the census records. Not a single one of my ancestors had come to America before 1890. Our roots here are still so shallow.

My next how it started / how it's going began in about 2006. I learned I could visit a Family History Center at a local church to view microfilm of Italian vital records. For five years, I viewed and documented EVERY vital record (1809–1860) from my Grandpa Leone's hometown of Baselice. I chose his town because I knew almost nothing about his family.

I started this project by finding his parents' birth records in 1850 and 1856. Now I knew their parents' names.

The only way to know my relationship to other Leones in town was to piece together all the families. So I brought my laptop to the Family History Center and typed a line in a text file for each record. Here's an example:

  • Pasquale Maria Cernese b 1 apr 1809 to Giovanni di Saverio 35 (bracciale) and Battista di Giovanni Colucci

That's a birth record for Pasquale Maria Cernese, born on 1 April 1809. His father was Giovanni Cernese, a 35-year-old laborer, and the son of Saverio Cernese. His mother was Battista Colucci, daughter of Giovanni Colucci.

"How it started" was viewing barely-legible vital records by appointment. "How it's going" is a family tree more than 32,000 strong.
"How it started" was viewing barely-legible vital records by appointment. "How it's going" is a family tree more than 32,000 strong.

With this type of shorthand, I created a text file that's 29,864 lines long. After each long session at the microfilm viewer, I'd go home and try to work everyone into a Family Tree Maker file. I found a connection to about 15,000 people from the town.

During the entire five-year process, I was yearning to do the same for my Grandpa Iamarino's town. But the visits to the center were a pain. Then, everything changed in 2017. The Italian government published digitized vital records for tons of towns online. Now I can see clear images of the vital records I'd struggled to read on crappy microfilm viewers. Plus, the records don't end in 1860. They go way, way beyond.

And Grandpa Iamarino's hometown vital records are online for me, too! As are my great grandmother Caruso's hometown records. My Grandma Leone's parents' town has very few records online, but they are helpful. And when I discovered two other towns where I have roots, I found their vital records online, too.

Much to my horror, the Italian website completely changed their format today, making it seemingly impossible to download a high-resolution image of your ancestor's document. This stinks! UPDATED: How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.

For my research, how it started is the five years of squinting at microfilm with a computer in my lap. How it's going is my searchable database of records from my Italian hometowns. And a family tree of more than 32,000 people that's been growing by almost 100 people a day lately.

Why so much growth? Because how it started was asking Grandma and Grandpa about their siblings. How it's going is piecing together the thousands of unions from my ancestors' towns. For instance, I can find the marriage records for my 3rd great grandparents. Then I can find the births of all their children, who their children married, and which kids they had. It adds up fast.

It helps my cause that all my people came from such a tiny footprint on the Italian map. In 2005 my cousins showed me the exact spot where Grandpa Iamarino's house once stood. They pointed out that I could see Grandpa Leone's town in the distance.

A man from one of my towns could meet and marry a woman from one of my other towns. In fact, my 3rd great grandfather Francesco Liguori did just that. He lived in Circello—my one real connection to that town. But he married a woman from the neighboring town of Colle Sannita. They had eight children in Colle, introducing his last name to the town. And that meant I had to explore Francesco's extended family in the Circello vital records.

How did your interest in your family tree start? Think back on your origin story and then ask yourself, "How's it going?"

09 November 2021

4 Problems You Can Fix with Family Tree Analyzer

Want to find mistakes you didn't know you made in your family tree? Launch the free software called Family Tree Analyzer. Export a GEDCOM file from your family tree software or the website where you keep your tree. Then open the GEDCOM in Family Tree Analyzer.

When your file is open and processed, you'll see a screen full of facts about your family tree. For instance, my tree has 326 sources, 31,775 people, and 11,494 families. Wow! Next comes a breakdown of everyone's relationship to me, the home person in the family tree:

  • Direct Ancestors: 411. Uh oh. Last week I counted 403 direct ancestors. Did I miss eight, or are those my double ancestors? (My paternal grandparents were 3rd cousins with shared ancestors.)
  • Descendants: 2. Hi, kids.
  • Blood Relations: 4,802. That's a lot of blood.
  • Married to Blood or Direct Relation: 1,877. These are the immediate in-laws.
  • Related by Marriage: 19,283. Yup, my ancestral hometowns were full of intermarriage.
  • Linked through Marriages: 5,225. I go off on a lot of tangents.
  • Unknown relation: 175. I carry some unrelated people because I know there's a connection somewhere. But 175 seems high.

I had another reason for launching Family Tree Analyzer today. But right now I have two potential problems to investigate:

  • The number of direct ancestors.
  • The number of unknown relations.

To find out more about these issues, click the Main Lists tab to open the very useful Individuals table.

Problem 1: The Number of Direct Ancestors

As you scroll to the right in the Individuals table, you'll find a column labelled Relation to Root. Start with "2nd great grandfather." This takes a lot of scrolling in a big family tree. You'll find your 1st great grandparents under "great grandfather" and "great grandmother."

Even custom facts you create can be used and checked with Family Tree Analyzer.
Even custom facts you create can be used and checked with Family Tree Analyzer.

In my case, I need to see if any of my great grandparents are missing their custom fact I called Ahnentafel. I use this custom fact in Family Tree Maker to view only my direct ancestors in the index. That's how I counted 403 of them.

To see if the extra people are my double ancestors, I'll look for missing Ahnentafel numbers. I realize this is specific to my tree because of the Ahnentafel field. You may want to scan the list for misidentified people.

And, in fact, I didn't miss any of my direct ancestors. The difference in the number of direct ancestors must be because of my double ancestors.

Problem 2: The Unknown Relations

Going back to the Individuals table, scroll to the right and click the top of the Relation column to sort the table. Scroll down to the bottom to find all the Unknowns. Then scroll to the left to see their names.

In my case, I recognize a ton of the Unknowns. (see "How to Handle the Unrelated People in Your Family Tree.") They're related to a cousin Silvio whose exact relationship I can't determine. It's a dead end because of a lack of records from Silvio's hometown. So, here he sits in my tree, with a ton of direct relations, unrelated to me.

Next in the list I see a family group that I found in a 1742 census of my grandfather's hometown. But I never found their connection to me. I did a quick search of the tens of thousands of vital records on my computer for one member of this family. I found his death record! Now I can merge the two men named Gregorio Alderisio in my tree. His death record proves the connection by including the name of his wife and both parents, and his age at death.

That one death record converted 11 unrelated people in my family tree to distant cousins.

I found another family group that's unrelated to me, and I can't remember why I put them in my tree. I'll have to investigate further and decide if I should remove them. With Family Tree Analyzer, it's easy to find them when I'm ready to solve the problem.

Problem 3: Comments + Time = Discrepancies

The reason I wanted to see this report today is to find discrepancies in descriptions within my family tree. I'm thinking of how I type in different occupations for people.

Here's an unexpected way to find and fix inconsistencies in your family tree.
Here's an unexpected way to find and fix inconsistencies in your family tree.

I'll sort the Individuals table by the Occupation column. My tree has tons of Italian job titles followed by an English translation in parentheses. Sometimes I see a multi-word job title that has an error. I want to find those in the list. Then I can see which people it's attached to, and go fix it in my family tree.

I found a few entries that must be what I call "Search and Replace victims." A long time ago, I decided to add an English translation to the Italian job titles. To do this, I used the search and replace function of Family Tree Maker. You have to be very careful with search and replace. You may wind up changing something you didn't want to change. And, of course, I'm scanning for typos in the English job titles.

Now I can go to these people in my tree and fix their occupation entries.

Problem 4: Unused Sources

Before we leave Family Tree Analyzer, there's one other thing to check. We've been looking at the Main Lists / Individuals table. Click Sources, two tabs to the right of Individuals. Now click to sort by the last column, FactCount. Do you have any sources in your family tree that are showing a zero fact count? I have five, so I want to investigate.

After taking a look at these sources in my family tree, I deleted four, but one actually had three uses. I don't know why it was in the list.

There's no end to the fixable problems you can discover using Family Tree Analyzer. Make it part of your routine to export a GEDCOM, say, once a quarter, and examine your tree with Family Tree Analyzer. It's a valuable safety net for your family history research.