25 January 2022

Family Tree Research Takes Time to Bear Fruit

Twenty years ago I knew absolutely nothing about my great grandmother in Ohio. I met her only once when I was five years old.

When I was about to leave for my 2003 honeymoon in Italy, my aunt mentioned my great grandmother's last name. Caruso. I never knew what it was before that moment.

After visiting Italy, I wanted to know more and more about my ancestors. Great grandma Caruso was one of my biggest mysteries. Relatives couldn't agree on her first name. A cousin who grew up with great grandma Caruso remembered her saying she was from "Pisqua Lamazza." Well, that isn't a town. But it was a clue.

Maria Rosa was barely a memory for me. Now I have so much great information!
Maria Rosa was barely a memory for me. Now I have so much great information!

Here are all the puzzle pieces that had to come together for me to trace great grandma Caruso's past. Once I cracked her mystery, I was able to climb five generations up her family tree.

Immigration Record

I had to figure out what town she came from that sounded like "Pisqua Lamazza." I tried a simple trick that I've used over and over again. I searched Ancestry for anyone named Caruso coming to New York Harbor in the early 1900s. In the search results, I paid attention only to each person's hometown.

And then I saw it. Pescolamazza. That was it! I could imagine someone with a heavy accent pronouncing that town the way great grandma Caruso did. Now that I had the name of her hometown, I went to Google Maps. But Pescolamazza doesn't exist. A separate Google search had the answer. The town of Pescolamazza had changed its name to Pesco Sannita in 1947.

To my delight, Pesco Sannita is very close to my ancestral hometown of Colle Sannita. And all my other ancestral hometowns.

Knowing the town name, I found a 1906 ship manifest showing the arrival of Maria Rosa Caruso in America. The only problem was, it said she was married.

For years I wasn't sure this was my great grandmother on the ship manifest. Then I saw the truth was hiding in plain sight.
For years I wasn't sure this was my great grandmother on the ship manifest. Then I saw the truth was hiding in plain sight.

Town Hall Record

Based on her age written on the July 1906 ship manifest, Maria Rosa Caruso was born in 1881 in today's Pesco Sannita. An Italian friend offered to go to the town hall to request Maria Rosa's 1881 birth record for me.

The town clerk said Maria Rosa wasn't born there. He suggested she might be from another town. How disappointing!

Marriage Record

In 2009 I visited the New York State Archives. I found out my great grandparents married on 29 November 1906 in Steuben County. I had the certificate number, so I sent away for the document.

I realized that Maria Rosa married my great grandfather four months after arriving in America. Four months!

Her marriage certificate managed to get both of her parents' names wrong. They listed Maria Rosa Caruso's father as Francesco deBenevento. This was obviously a misunderstanding. He was Francesco Caruso from the province of Benevento. For her mother, it said only Maria Luigia. No last name.

But now I had a document saying she was 26 years old in late 1906. So she wasn't born in 1881. She was born in 1880. The Pesco Sannita town clerk would have checked the index of the book of 1881 births. He didn't look beyond the year we requested.

They're great to have, but your immigrant ancestor's new-world documents often have bad information.
They're great to have, but your immigrant ancestor's new-world documents often have bad information.

Another Cousin

It's so important to put your family tree online. Another cousin found me and shared a lot of information about the Caruso family. He'd been to Pesco Sannita a few times. Too bad he didn't find me sooner.

Thanks to him, I learned the names of all the Caruso brothers. They were working for the railroad before sending for their only sister. They must have worked with my great grandfather and arranged for him to marry their sister. That's why my great grandparents married so quickly.

I still wondered if the 1906 ship manifest was the right one. It said she was already married. When I took a closer look at it, I could see a very light "S" written right over the "m" for married. A few lines above her, someone had lightly written "single" over the "m" for married. Now, at last, I knew I'd really found her.

Vital Records

I'd spent a few years viewing microfilmed Italian records at a Family History Center. I was concentrating on another branch of the family. It would take many more years before I'd get around to Pesco Sannita.

That all changed in 2017. I learned the Italian government was putting digitized vital records online for free. The Antenati website gave me access to tons of records from Pesco Sannita.

My first stop was the 1880 birth records. Not only did I find Maria Rosa's birth record—with her parents' full and proper names—I discovered she was a twin! Sadly, the second-born twin, Luca, was stillborn.

To this day, I'm continuing to explore the Pesco Sannita vital records to grow Maria Rosa's family. The early drip, drip, drip of clues about my great grandmother is now a full-on stream of facts.

All kinds of obstacles may keep you from climbing to that next generation in your family tree. Solving the mystery of a single ancestor can take:

  • a bunch of different documents
  • some imagination, and
  • access to just the right records.

Gather every shred of evidence you can, and if that isn't enough, gather more!

18 January 2022

How to Make the Best of the New Antenati Website

UPDATED ON 29 MAY 2024. By now, everyone should be comfortable with the November 2021 redesign of the Italian Portale Antenati—the ancestors portal. The site's managers have been making changes behind the scenes, and the website is working better than ever.

No one should still be upset about the redesign of Antenati.

Why They Changed the Website

There was a time when the Antenati site went down almost every day. Since the change, only once did I find the site unavailable. That's a huge improvement.

The redesign makes site maintenance easier for their team—no doubt. It's a huge website! The homepage on 29 May 2024 says its contains:

  • 85 provincial state archives
  • 1,725,481 register books
  • 139,159,506 images.

As a 25-year website maintenance veteran, I get why the Antenati team wants to make their lives easier. Now let's make your life easier.

Adapting to the Changes

Creating Source Citations. Every Antenati document in my family tree had a source citation that became obsolete with the change. However, the old image URL you saved before November 2021 now redirects you to the same image at its new URL. This is fantastic, and I believe it's because we requested it so loudly.

Here's one of my old-style source citations:

From the Benevento State Archives: http://dl.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/v/Archivio+di+Stato+di+Benevento/Stato+civile+della+restaurazione/Baselice/Morti/1856/199/007850708_01745.jpg.html

You can see from the old URL itself that the document is from Benevento, from the town of Baselice, and from the death records for 1856.

You new Antenati documents need a new style of source citation. Here's my template.
Your new Antenati documents need a new style of source citation. Here's my template.

My new Antenati source citation format is this:

From the xxx State Archives, YEAR TYPE, TOWN, document xx, image xx of xx at book url; image URL

I keep that text (and so much more) in my Notebook.txt file that's always open on my computer.

Using the same image as an example, I'd change:

  • "xxx State Archives" to "Benevento State Archives"
  • "YEAR TYPE, TOWN" to "1856 nati, Baselice"
  • "document xx, image xx of xx" to "document 65, image 35 of 41"
  • "book url" to "https://antenati.cultura.gov.it/ark:/12657/an_ua757415/wWK9rlj"
  • "image URL" to "https://iiif-antenati.san.beniculturali.it/iiif/2/wWK9rlj/full/full/0/default.jpg" (Find out how to get the individual image URL below.)

Altogether, the new source citation is:

From the Benevento State Archives, 1856 nati, Baselice, document 65, image 35 of 41 at https://antenati.cultura.gov.it/ark:/12657/an_ua757415/wWK9rlj; https://iiif-antenati.san.beniculturali.it/iiif/2/wWK9rlj/full/full/0/default.jpg

This format gives you all the information you need to go see the document for yourself, online or in person. It includes the province, town, and specific book; the URL of the register book; and the URL of the high-resolution image of the document.

Navigating Smartly. Getting to the register book you want is easier than it was before the redesign. We used to click a province, click a time period, click our town, click a document type, and click a year. That got you to the right collection of images.

Now I start at the homepage and enter the name of the town I want. Then I can narrow down the results. Maybe I want only birth records. I can scroll down the town's results page and click Nati below the Tipologia heading. Then I can either scroll through the years or click Espandi below the Anno heading, and choose my year.

Note: I always view the site in Italian. If you haven't figured out that Anno means year and Nati means birth, you need to get grounded. The FamilySearch wiki is a great resource for learning Italian genealogy words. Memorize a few words and make things much easier.

Now that you're looking at the register you want, the best thing to do is look for the index pages. To do this, you need to use the thumbnail view menu. Here's how:

  • Looking at your register book, click what's meant to be a page view icon on the right (see #1 in the image below) and choose "Right" to display thumbnails on the right or "Fondo" to display the thumbnails across the bottom. (You can even choose "Galleria" in that same menu to see nothing but thumbnails, which I realized today.)
  • Scroll through the thumbnails and click any one to jump to that image.
Once you know what and where to click, the new Antenati site is easy to master.
Once you know what and where to click, the new Antenati site is easy to master.

Zooming in to Read. The index and documents will be too small to read. To zoom in on any image, simply click the image! Click it again to zoom in further. I didn't realize this until 1 April 2022 when they released the 1950 U.S. Census on the NARA website. They use an almost identical image viewer, and I found you can simply click the image to zoom in.

Getting the High-Resolution Document Image. They must not want us to find and download the high-resolution images like we used to. Why else would they make it so tough to get to them?

While it is an inconvenience, I've turned this process into a habit. Now it's second nature for me to get the high-resolution document image I want.

Getting the vital record you need from the new Antenati website takes a few more clicks. Don't worry! It'll become routine after a few tries.
Getting the vital record you need from the new Antenati website takes a few more clicks. Don't worry! It'll become routine after a few tries.

Start by going to the page you want within any register book. As you click from page to page, you should notice that the last section of the URL (after the last slash) in the address bar of your web browser changes with each page. Copy that last section and paste it into this URL that you will keep in a safe place, replacing only the word TARGET:


For example, I'm looking at a document and the URL ends in 5K6QgbP. If I paste that into my template URL, replacing the word TARGET, I get https://iiif-antenati.san.beniculturali.it/iiif/2/5K6QgbP/full/full/0/default.jpg. If you click that link you'll see the document all by itself. You can click the image once to enlarge it. And you can right-click and save that wonderful high-resolution image to your computer.

I like to leave all the browser tabs open until I complete my source citation. Copy the register book URL, the image URL, and the page number in the register.

Adapting and thriving. It's easy enough once you get used to it, and we're still getting a free resource that's intensely valuable. Remember:

  • Gather source citation details as you go.
  • Use the hidden thumbnail page navigator to get around.
  • Zoom in by clicking the image once or twice.
  • Paste the end of the URL into your template URL and save that high-resolution image.

The old website was no picnic. Make this one work for you!

The reason I decided to update this article on 29 May 2024 is the name-search feature. When you go to the Antenati site, the homepage lets you search by town (Localit√†) or by name and town (Nome, Cognome, Localit√†). Only recently have I had decent success in searching by name. It can be a tremendous time-saver—especially when you're searching for someone in a large city.

When you're looking at either a list of available register books for a town, or at an individual register book, see if there's a page icon. A page icon is a small graphic that looks like a printed page with its corner folded down. When you're looking at a list of available registers, the words Atti collegati are beside the icon. When you're looking at a register, the words Nominativi collegati are beside the icon.

These words and the page icon tell you this register is searchable by name! Take advantage of that. The search results list may be long, so pay attention to the details of each item in the list.

Personally, I'm eternally grateful to everyone responsible for the Antenati website. It is a godsend to every genealogist with Italian ancestry.

Be sure to also read How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.

11 January 2022

Why DNA Matches Appear Closer Than They Are

DNA match Maria and I are 6th cousins twice removed. I've done the research work, as has she. My 7th great grandparents Domenico and Filippa are her 5th great grandparents. Our relationship is through my paternal grandfather's branch. According to Blaine Bettinger's Shared cM Project, she and I should share 0–45 cMs because we're so distant. But we don't. We share 79 cMs (centiMorgans). That's enough for us to be solid 3rd cousins.

A chart on the ISOGG Wiki says there's an 11% chance that 6th cousins testing with AncestryDNA® will share any DNA. And this is my 6th cousin twice removed!

Exclude Smaller Amounts of DNA

So why do some DNA matches appear to be much closer cousins than they are? The answer in this case is endogamy. Endogamy is a long history of marrying within a closed community. And it ran rampant among my ancestors. My roots run deep in a handful of neighboring hills towns in the Campania region of Italy. Populations stayed put for centuries. Everyone married someone from town or someone from the next town.

Keep in mind your 3rd–4th cousin DNA matches may be more distant than they appear.
Keep in mind your 3rd–4th cousin DNA matches may be more distant than they appear.

All that swimming in the same gene pool makes for some complex relationships. But what if DNA match Maria and I have another, more distant relationship? If we do, then our shared 79 cMs may be the sum total of smaller, unrelated amounts. We may be getting up to 45 cMs from Domenico and Filippa and 34 more cMs from other shared ancestors.

If your DNA testing service has a chromosome browser (FamilyTreeDNA or 23andMe®), use it to focus on the longer stretches of DNA you share with a match. If you exclude the very short spans, you're left with a more realistic amount of meaningful shared DNA. That smaller number may point to your true relationship.

Find Another DNA Source

For reasons I can't understand, AncestryDNA doesn't offer a chromosome browser. That means I can't focus on only the long stretches of DNA Maria and I share. Luckily, I've found our main relationship. To account for the extra DNA, I need to expand the common branches of our family trees. I need to look for other relationships.

I found a possibility, but it requires one logical assumption. Maria's great grandfather Giuseppe Basilone was born in about 1852. There are only two Giuseppe Basilones born in the town at that time. (Find out how I know there are only two.) There are no available marriage or death records to prove my theory. But there is logic.

I took the bold step of merging two people in my family tree:

  • 1852 Giuseppe Basilone of unknown ancestry, and
  • 1851 Giuseppe Onofrio Basilone, who happens to be my 2nd cousin 4 times removed.
When documents are not available, thorough research around your person can help.
When documents are not available, thorough research around your person can help.

Why was I comfortable doing this? Because:

  • Giuseppe Onofrio was 32 years older than his wife when he married in 1904. (I have the 1904 date from his wife's birth record.)
  • The Giuseppe I'm trying to connect to had 4 children from 1878–1886, and then they stopped coming.
  • It's logical that Giuseppe's first wife died after 1886, and he remarried a much younger woman.
  • The only other possible match is a Giuseppantonio (not Giuseppe) Basilone. He's a dead end. There's no annotation about his marriage, and there are no birth records for his children.

Still, this is a theory, so I wrote a detailed note about it in my family tree. If I'm correct, DNA match Maria is now also my 5th cousin once removed. This relationship is through my paternal grandmother. My 5th great grandparents Paolo and Giuseppa are her 4th great grandparents. We just got closer! That relationship is good for about 21 cMs, or a range of 0–80 cMs. This extra relationship would explain why Maria and I share 79 cMs but are distant cousins.

Two distant relationships added together can seem like a much closer cousin.
Two distant relationships added together can seem like a much closer cousin.

Don't Get Hung Up on Estimates

What does this mean to you when you're checking out your DNA matches? Once you get past 2nd or 3rd cousins, every other match may be more distant than they appear. This is especially true if you come from an endogamous population like me. Other well-known endogamous populations are:

  • Acadians
  • Amish
  • Arabs
  • Ashkenazi Jews
  • French Canadians
  • Mennonites
  • Newfoundlanders
  • Polynesians

Think of the early settlers of Colonial America. Their community was pretty small, so how many marital choices did one have? This was the case with all my semi-isolated Italian towns.

Don't fret about the estimated cousin relationship if the facts don't support it. Instead, look for other, hidden relationships.

04 January 2022

Keep Genealogy Exciting With This One List

I abandoned my annual genealogy goals in the year of the plague—2020. It seemed pointless to be so disciplined when it felt like the end of the world.

Did I give up on my family tree research? Just the opposite. I've become more productive at building my family tree. Even before I retired from my job three months ago, I was spending time on genealogy every single day. Now that I am retired, my family tree is my full-time job.

Do you ever worry about becoming bored with your genealogy research? I don't. The research routine I've settled into keeps me engaged and entertained. Every day!

The secret is to (a) have a list of tasks you can work on, and (b) do whatever you're in the mood to do. On any given day, I may pick a task and go at it, or jump from task to task, or let my findings lead me where they want to go.

Create a list of genealogy research tasks for yourself, and you can always do what makes you happy on any given day. Let me explain my list, and you can think about what to put on yours.

Steady progress on your family tree is entertaining when you have tasks to suit your mood.
Steady progress on your family tree is always entertaining when you have tasks to suit your mood.

My list revolves around my ultimate goal for my family tree. This is not for everyone, but I know I've inspired some of you. My goal is to connect everyone from my ancestral hometowns in one massive family tree.

While researching a town in Italy, I found connections between everyone in town. All my ancestral hometowns are rural and isolated. Everyone married someone else in town or from a neighboring town. And all my hometowns are neighboring towns.

My towns' vital records are available online. After finding as many of my direct ancestors as possible, I wanted to fill out each individual family. Who did my direct ancestors' siblings marry? Who were their children? I can answer those questions, limited only by the years for which vital records are available.

In trying to connect everyone from my towns, I have an enormous family tree with well over 34,000 people. Lately, by doing whatever makes me happy, I've been adding an average of 100 people a day to my tree.

Here are my favorite genealogy tasks. Each day I start working on whichever one will make me happy at that moment.

Task 1. Research people with approximate birth dates.

There are lots of people in my tree without an exact birth date. For many of them, all I need to do is search for the right document.

My favorite task right now is finding a date of birth for everyone possible.
My favorite task right now is finding a date of birth for everyone possible.

First I sort everyone in my Family Tree Maker file by birth date. I began this task with people born in the 1780s. Italian civil records begin in 1809, but the early marriage records can include a birth date.

I'm up to people born in 1827. When I find someone's birth record, I add their parents. Then I search for all their siblings and see who each one married. I find each couple's children and the families of each spouse. The people add up fast, which is why I'm averaging 100 people a day.

Task 2. Fill in missing facts in my document tracker.

When I add a genealogy document to my family tree, I record it in a single spreadsheet I call my document tracker. I sort the 5,000+ lines by last name with one line per person.

One year my genealogy goal was to search for missing U.S. census records for the people in my document tracker. Now I'm going line-by-line finding missing vital records for every Italian.

If I find a birth, marriage, and death record for someone, I color the line green so I know I've found everything. If any dates are outside the range of available vital records, I note that and color the line blue. That tells me I've done all I can.

Task 3. Fit everyone from my Colle Sannita spreadsheet into my tree.

One of my 2019 goals was to transcribe the 1809–1813 birth records from my Italian towns in a spreadsheet. Now I'm focusing on my Grandpa Iamarino's hometown of Colle Sannita. I'm working to fit every single baby from these years into my tree.

The spreadsheet tells me the baby's name and birth date, and the parents' names and ages. Sometimes I find that the parents are already in my tree, so all I have to do is add the baby.

Other times I need to find out who the baby grew up to marry, and then see if I have that family in my tree. One way or another, I can fit almost everyone in. I'm currently down to line 145 in the spreadsheet, and there are only seven babies I can't place in my family tree. Yet.

Task 4. Download and label more Italian vital records.

My 2nd great grandmother was born in Santa Paolina. I find that many people from that town married someone from the next town, Tufo. Now I'm downloading Tufo record images from the Antenati website. Finding the Tufo birth, marriage, or death records I need to complete a family is so satisfying.

Each time I download a vital record, I rename it so the people are searchable on my computer. For example, one two-page record image from 1821 is on my computer as:

18 Michele Pasquale Romano di Giovanni & 19 Giovanni Raffaele Grosso di Domenico.jpg

The "di" tells me the name of the baby's father. This makes it easy for me to quickly find every child born to one couple. I can search my computer for "romano di giovanni" and check each result to see the mother's name.

I'm including the record numbers so a collection of files is in chronological order. I may need #18 Michele now, but later on, I'll probably need #19 Giovanni. When I do, I'll find his record easily.

I love viewing all the vital records and renaming them. It helps me get familiar with the last names from any given town. I can usually spot an out-of-towner by their unfamiliar last name.

Find a genealogy task you really enjoy. Then work on it whenever the mood strikes you.
Find a genealogy task you really enjoy. Then work on it whenever the mood strikes you.

Task 5. Reduce the size of huge document images.

Last year I learned a better way to save files in Photoshop to reduce their file size. (I'll explain this if anyone is interested.) My family tree has tons of bloated census pages, immigration records, and more. When the mood strikes me, I search for the fattest files and resave them. Then I replace the image in my tree. This helps reduce the overall size of my massive family tree file.

Task 6. Follow up on leads in my research notebook.

I have a text file I work in every single day called notebook.txt. It has my to-do list, information I need to keep handy, and it tells me where I left off on all the tasks above.

The file also contains leads and project ideas I've added over the years. One project revolves around photos I took in Italy. They are photos of monuments to the young men from three towns who died in World War I and II. My project is to fit each one of the men into my family tree.

My text file also has notes about some of my DNA matches, where I left off with genealogy hunches, and more. It even has a daily schedule of what I want my retirement to look like. I love to be productive, and my family tree is more than enough to keep me active and happy for the rest of my life.

What are you doing to keep up your genealogy research momentum?