Showing posts with label DNA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DNA. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Use Every Tool to Solve a Family History Mystery

The clock is ticking for me to solve a DNA match. Let's open the toolbox.

I want to show them their connection.
I want to show them their connection.
It's been about 2 years since I discovered my parents share some DNA. I want to figure out their connection while they're still able to get a laugh out of it.

Here's what I do know.
  • Every branch of my family tree came from one region in Southern Italy.
  • Each family came from a small town of no more than 2,000 people.
  • All their towns were pretty close to one another.
  • Endogamy was the name of the game. That means nearly everyone in town married someone else from their little town. Or maybe the next town.
Those intermarriages are the main reason this puzzle is still a puzzle.

Hoping for a Needle in a Haystack

My family tree has more than 20,000 people. At least 17,000 are 17th–19th century Italian countrymen and women. I hoped to find a marriage between someone from one of my dad's hometowns and someone from one of my mom's hometowns.

But there are too many people. And my parents aren't getting any younger. I needed to use some tools.

DNA Matches

My parents have both tested. I've got their results on AncestryDNA and GEDmatch.

On Ancestry I can see that my parents share a few DNA matches, not counting me. Two of those matches have family trees with a couple of familiar last names. I know these names come from my paternal grandparents' hometown in Italy.

I spent a few days working on both of the DNA match's trees until I connected them to my tree. The key last names are:
  • Zeolla
  • Pozzuto
  • Zerrillo
  • Piacquadio
They're in my tree now, but there's no known connection to my mom.

The Leeds Method

I used Dana Leeds' color-clustering method last November. I bent the rules a bit and added color blocks for the matches of my matches.

Doing this, I found 3 DNA matches who seemed to have a link to each of my parents. The key last names from this experiment are:
  • Zeolla (again)
  • Pozzuto (again)
  • Basile
DNA Painter shows where my mom and others intersect on my dad's chromosomes.
DNA Painter shows where my mom and others intersect on my dad's chromosomes.
DNA Painter

The first time I used DNA Painter, I hadn't done my homework. I painted 92% of my chromosomes, but I didn't have anything there to answer my key question. Where do my parents intersect?

Then I realized I should be painting my dad's DNA, not mine. Most of the DNA matches I see are from his side of the family. So what if I paint my mom's DNA onto my dad's chromosomes and see what that looks like.

Instead of painting every DNA match, I chose 3 people with the last name Zeolla. Two of them are almost a dead-on match for my mom! The 2 Zeollas and my mom share the same segment of my dad's 6th chromosome.

That can't be a coincidence. Now I've got 3 methods hitting me over the head with one last name:
  • Zeolla
There is one other fascinating match on my dad's 9th chromosome. There's an overlap between my mom and the brother-in-law of my dad's aunt. He's my cousins' uncle. It's too funny.

That match adds 2 more key last names to the list, but probably on a different branch of the family tree than the other names:
  • Paolucci
  • Polcini
DNA Painter also helps me estimate my parents' relationship.
DNA Painter also helps me estimate my parents' relationship.
The Zeolla Factor

I haven't found my parents' shared ancestors yet. But I didn't have to go too far to find the intersection of the names Zeolla and Pozzuto. My 4th great grandparents on my dad's side are Nicolangelo Zeolla and Giovannangela Pozzuto.

My mom is actually a pretty decent DNA match for my dad. They share 37 cM (centiMorgans) across 4 segments. AncestryDNA estimates they are 4th–6th cousins.

DNA Painter also has a tool to show me what type of relationship 2 people sharing 37 cM may have. Some of the higher probabilities are:
  • 3rd cousins once removed
  • 3rd cousins twice removed
  • Half 3rd cousins once removed
  • Half 3rd cousins twice removed
Third cousins share 2nd great grandparents. So my dad's 2nd great grandfather, Teofilo Zeolla, may be the key. He had 2 wives. What if he had a child with his 2nd wife who somehow connects to my mom?

Everything seems to point to my 3rd great grandfather, Teofilo Zeolla.
Everything seems to point to my 3rd great grandfather, Teofilo Zeolla.
After trying all these tools, I've got my big assignment. I have to find all Teofilo's children. Then I have to find out who they married and who their kids were.

Please, please, please let one of the kids marry someone from one of my mom's hometowns!

If you've got an important DNA puzzle to solve, use every tool you can. They can steer you in the right direction.

Please take this 3-question survey to help me make this content better for you. Thank you!

Friday, March 15, 2019

How to Find Your Strongest DNA Matches

So many DNA matches. How can you decide where to start?

DNA tools are on the rise, promising to help us make sense of our growing lists of DNA matches. This week I decided to try out DNA Painter and see why people are raving about it.

My chromosomes, painted with about 35 DNA matches.
My chromosomes, painted with about 35 DNA matches.
The idea is to visualize how much DNA you share with any of your DNA matches. And where they overlap with one another.

DNA Painter uses data you can find on GEDmatch, Family Tree DNA, and 23andme. I used GEDmatch because my free accounts with the other two don't seem to give me the data I need. It's really easy to do with GEDmatch.

Here are the steps:
  1. Create a free account on DNAPainter.com and click "Create a new profile".
  2. Log into GEDmatch and click "One-to-Many DNA Comparison Result" under the DNA Applications heading.
  3. Choose a DNA match with a high number in the "Largest Seg" or "Total cM" column and click the underlined letter A on the left side.
  4. Select "Position Only" beneath the 2 kit numbers and click the Submit button at the bottom.
  5. You'll see a table full of numbers. Use your mouse to select and copy the table.
  6. Back in DNA Painter, click PAINT A NEW MATCH and paste what you copied into the box. Click SAVE MATCH NOW.
  7. Fill out this screen:
    • Choose whether you know how you're connected to this match
    • Put your match's name in the box. I've been putting their name in the next box, too, as a name for the group.
    • If you know the match is on dad's side only or mom's side only, choose that.
    • Click SAVE MATCH.
This graphic will help you through the DNA Painter steps.
This graphic will help you through the DNA Painter steps.
After a while, your chromosome map may be so full you can't find this new match. If so, hover your mouse over the person's color box in the key on the right. You'll see a little eyeball. Click it to hide and show this person. You should be able to find them on your map as you turn their color off and on again.

You're almost there! And when you've done this once, the rest are easy.
You're almost there! And when you've
done this once, the rest are easy.
Following these steps, I've painted 35 DNA matches plus my 2 parents onto my chromosome map so far. For the moment, let's ignore my parents and my first cousin. My first cousin is the lilac color who's on all but TWO of my chromosomes.

I have one DNA match on chromosome 9 with a pretty long block of red color. Let's call him Tony.

Tony was the reason I wanted to try DNA Painter. You see, Ancestry DNA says Tony is a distant cousin (a 5th–8th cousin) to me, my father, and my mother!

I've written 2 articles recently about discovering and trying to find my parents' DNA connection:
I'm working on the more promising branches of my family tree, but I haven't found their link yet. When I found Tony in my DNA match list, and my dad's match list, and my mom's match list, I had to pursue his ancestors.

Tony's tree on Ancestry offered me very little to go on. But I recognized the 4 last names on his grandmother's side of the family. I knew they were from my paternal grandfather's hometown in Italy.

The source of Tony's tree was someone else's tree. That tree had almost no sources, and I was able to prove many of its facts wrong. When that happens to you, use the tree as a guidepost, but don't take any of it for granted. Find the proof.

The linchpin in Tony's tree was his great grandfather, Pietro diPaola. (His tree, and the tree he borrowed from, called him Peter DePaul and said he was from my Grandpa's town. So I knew he was really Pietro diPaola.)

There were 2 Pietro diPaola's in town. I'm related to both, and they're a year apart. I thought Tony's Pietro diPaola was the brother of my 2nd great grandmother. But, as I found more of his children's birth records, I discovered he did not match my Pietro. He was, in fact, my Pietro's 1st cousin. This makes Tony my 4th cousin once removed; my dad's 4th cousin.

I followed members of Tony's family to America. This helped me gather more facts and dates. Finally, I wrote to Tony to show him how enormous his family tree is now that it's tied into mine.

But I'm not finished. I've connected Tony to my father's family through the diPaola name. But where's the connection to my mother? Now I'm trying to find records for Pietro diPaola's wife's family. I know only her parents' names. If I can go further on her branch, will that finally be the key to discovering how my parents are related?

What do you think you might find when you use DNA Painter?


Please take this 3-question survey to help me make this content better for you. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Don't Give Up When Your DNA Match Has a Puny Little Family Tree

You've got new DNA matches. And their trees are bare. Where do you start?

On Saturday I took a look at my growing list of DNA matches on Ancestry.com. There were so many I hadn't reviewed at all. I chose a match—let's call him Joe—who's also a match to my father.

Joe has a 7-person family tree:
  • Joe
  • his 2 parents
  • his 4 grandparents
I was eager to figure out this relationship. I could see his ancestors' last names are from my grandfather's hometown in Italy.

His tree is so minimal, it has no specific dates or hometowns for his parents or grandparents. Luckily, I have an ace up my sleeve.

When your DNA match doesn't know his roots, why not find them for both of you?
When your DNA match doesn't know his roots, why not find them for both of you?
I have thousands of documents images from the town downloaded to my computer. (See how I built this genealogy research collection.) My match's parents are too young for their birth records to be available. I had to start looking for his grandparents with little information. Joe had a birth year for one set of grandparents, so I started with them.

I went through my document collection, year by year, searching the indexes. I love it when a birth record has the person's marriage mentioned in the column. I knew I had the right Giorgio Zeolla because it said he married Mariantonia Nigro. That's my guy!

All day Saturday I kept looking for more records. When I found a birth record, I had 2 more names to search for. Marriage records helped me go back another generation.

With Italian marriage records, if the bride or groom's parents are dead, you get their death certificates with more names. And if the groom's father and grandfather are dead, you get the grandfather's death record with another generation of names! (See "The Italian Genealogy Goldmine: 'Wedding Packets'".)

I was building Joe's family within my own family tree, but disconnected from me. Each time I added a new name, I compared it to other names in my tree, trying to find a possible match.

By the time I felt I'd followed every possible lead, I'd added about 20 people to my DNA match's branch. That when I noticed something.

One of Joe's great grandmothers was Pietronilla Nigro. I didn't find her birth record, but I knew her husband was born in September 1863. There wasn't a single Pietronilla born around 1863 in the town's records.

How could I prove they were the same person? There are 2 good options.
One of Joe's great grandmothers was Pietronilla Nigro. I didn't find her birth record, but I knew her husband was born in September 1863. There wasn't a single Pietronilla born around 1863 in the town's records.

All I knew about my Pietronilla Nigro was that she was born on May 12, 1857. If she was Joe's great grandmother, she would be 6 years older than her husband. That's not hard to imagine.

How could I prove they were the same person? There are 2 good options:
  1. The town's marriage records between 1861 and 1930 are not available. But I can search for more of this couple's children and hope that one birth record has Pietronilla's father's name or her age.
  2. Since this is a small town, I can search several years' worth of birth records looking for another Pietronilla Nigro. I did this. There was only the one who was already in my family tree.
You may have to add a few generations to the tree before you find your connection.
You may have to add a few generations to the tree before you find your connection.
To be thorough, I will look for those other babies' birth records for more clues. But for now, I'm pretty confident that I've placed Joe into my tree correctly. He's my 4th cousin once removed. He's related to me through my father's mother.

I've got other search options, too. My new cousin's tree tells me his father died in the Bronx. That means there are U.S. records to find. Right now I'm looking at a military compensation record for Giorgio Zeolla. It's as jam-packed with facts as a good naturalization record, death record, or passport application. It has his wife's full (maiden) name, his children's names, and his parents names, including a misspelled Pietronilla Nigro.

You know what the best part of all this detective work is? Adding these extra branches will help me find my connection to lots of other DNA matches.

If you have relatives who've taken a DNA test, search for your shared matches. Start working with their information and see what you can piece together. Whether you have a breakthrough or you get hopelessly stuck, reach out to your match. Tell them what you've found. Ask them what they think.

Hopefully this type of genealogy research will draw more and more matches to you and your glorious tree. Then, none of your research work will go to waste.


Please take this 3-question survey to help me make this content better for you. Thank you!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Gearing Up for All Your New DNA Matches

How many people do you think are opening a DNA kit today?

Not everyone finds their DNA makeup or their ancestry intriguing.

My relatives in Italy barely know about anyone beyond their great grandparents. An Italian man told me he couldn't understand why Americans and Australians were so interested in their ancestry.

Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!
Don't you think it's logical that people from America, Canada or Australia would be curious? These are countries of immigrants. And, more importantly, immigrants who started arriving relatively recently.

If you're from Italy, your ancestors probably lived in the same area for the last 500 years. Maybe before that there were some immigrants from northern Europe or the Middle East.

But it's a rare American whose roots in this country stretch back 399 years to the Mayflower. Personally, I had not a single root in America until the 1890s. Before they came here, they were all in southern Italy.

I started my genealogy hobby by finding the 1915 and 1920 ship manifests for my grandfathers. Of course I'm curious about who they left behind in Italy!

If you're giving or receiving a DNA kit today, here are some articles that can be a real help to you:

Making Sense of Your DNA Results

How are you going to feel if your ethnicity is nothing like you expected?

When DNA Says You're Related, You Determine How

Are you ready to collaborate with your DNA matches? You never know who you'll find.

Free DNA Analysis Finds Kissing Cousins

Now that you have your DNA, upload it to other websites for other kinds of results. I discovered a ridiculous fact about my parents from my DNA.

Collaborating with Your DNA Matches

Doing the research, working with your DNA matches, can lead to exciting new branches to explore.

The Leeds Method May Have Solved a Big Family Puzzle

With this method, I think I found the needle in a haystack that will solve the puzzle of my parents' shared DNA.

If you're not giving or getting a DNA kit this Christmas, thousands of others are. How many of them will be your match?

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My Genealogy Jigsaw Puzzle: DNA Matches and Vital Records

Like any big puzzle, it helps to start with the edges and find pieces that fit one another.

Last time, I told you about a DNA color-clustering method. It shows you visually how you're connected to your DNA matches. This method, and the online tree of a crucial DNA match, showed me where I need to focus. Right down to a specific last name.

You see, my parents share DNA. This was a surprise to them, and I'm eager to be able to show them exactly which set of ancestors they share.

I'm focusing on the last name Pozzuto in the town of Colle Sannita, Italy. There were a lot of people in town with that name. And they must have been distinct families, because a high number of men married women with the same name.

I began by looking at the parents of one key DNA match, both named Pozzuto. The tree is not well sourced, and much of the information comes from my 97-year-old DNA match herself.

I have 77 people in my tree with this last name, but that's not enough pieces for this puzzle.
I have 77 people in my tree with this last name, but that's not enough pieces for this puzzle.
I turned to the massive collection of Italian vital records that I have on my computer. When you've got all your ancestral town's documents on a local drive, research is fast and easy. (Find out how you can download a collection like mine.)

I've been trying to confirm the names and birth dates of the people on both sides of the Pozzuto-Pozzuto tree. I find a person's birth record, then try to find their father's birth record and their grandfather's birth record. The goal is to identify someone who is already in my tree with a blood relationship.

After adding several people to my tree this way, I realized something. I have a cousin in Italy who's about my age and is named Pozzuto. His mother's side of the family is related to my father's side of my family. So his being a Pozzuto is a coincidence.

But…I've always thought he looks like my cousin on my mother's side of my family. What if this cousin, related to my dad but with a resemblance to my mom, is the key?

I started digging into the little bit of information he'd given me about his father. I quickly found his father's parents' 1932 marriage documents. I learned my cousin's grandparents' names and kept going until I had some of his great grandparents' names.

But I couldn't tie this Pozzuto family to that of my DNA match. Time for a new strategy.

Last summer I read about a genealogist's massive effort to build out family trees for everyone in his DNA match list. I think the Pozzuto family is my key. Why not put together every Pozzuto family sitting in my collection of vital records?

That's how I built a tree of 15,000 people from my maternal grandfather's hometown. I took the information from each vital record and entered people into a Family Tree Maker file. I placed babies with their parents. I found the parents' marriage records and gave them their parents. After a while, all the families fit together.

These are some of the files I've identified with this name so far. Lots more work to do!
These are some of the files I've identified with this name so far. Lots more work to do!
I'm going to pick a year, like 1860, and find each Pozzuto baby born in the town. I'll put them in my tree and give them my "no relationship established" marker (find out why that's important). As I go from year to year, I'll find babies that are siblings to the babies I found earlier. I'll build each family.

This will take lots of hours, but I'll wind up grouping together Pozzuto families. Some of them will be people I have in my tree already. Eventually I will find a direct line to my DNA match.

Still, that's not the goal. I need to find someone in that gene pool who married someone with a last name from my mother's side of the family.

All my ancestors came from neighboring towns. The prospect of marrying someone from the next town is very real. I've seen it. I'm eager to find a girl from Colle Sannita who married a guy from either Baselice or Pastene (most likely).

It's exciting to have all those documents waiting for me to read them. The answers are there! I simply need to dig and dig until I find them.

Can you do this with your ancestors' towns and your DNA matches?


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Leeds Method May Have Solved a Big Family Puzzle

This method makes cousin connections clearer than black and white.

Earlier this week I gave up hope of meeting one of my 2018 Genealogy Goals because it was too broad and may never happen.

That goal: To find out why my parents share DNA. There's a set of ancestors in my tree that ties my father's and my mother's families together.

But now I have a fighting chance of meeting that goal this year.

A friend pointed me to The Leeds Method created by Dana Leeds. To read all about it:
I jumped right in and used Dana Leeds' color clustering method with my DNA match list from Ancestry.com. In the first column I added my parents' names with a 0 in front of them. I added my one 1st cousin who took the test, with a 1 in front of his name. And I added 3rd cousins with a 3 and 4th cousins (the first page's worth) with a 4.

The numbers allowed me to sort the names by relationship and then alphabetically. In the end, I used this method on 104 people.

Assigning colors to your DNA matches reveals hidden treasures.
Assigning colors to your DNA matches reveals hidden treasures.
What you'll do is pick one of your matches and see which matches they share with you. In one column, give that person and all their shared matches a unique color. Find the next person in your list without a color and view their shared matches. This time, in a new column, give this person and their shared matches another unique color.

I was seeing a lot of blue (my dad) and green (my mom). But it wasn't until my 10th round of adding colors to shared matches that I saw something amazing.

Three people out of 104 had both green and blue. They were a match to both my mom and my dad.

This is a breakthrough!

Of those 3 people, only 1 has a tree online. I saw lots of familiar last names from my paternal grandfather's hometown. So I wrote to the person who owned the tree. She administers the DNA test for 1 of the 3 important matches.

She told me that the DNA test was for her paternal grandmother, and that I must be a match to her father, too. Yes, I am! Her father is also 1 of the 3 matches. From what she told me, the 2 most important last names tying us together are Zeolla and Pozzuto.

As I explored her tree, I saw that facts weren't sourced, but I have all the vital records from that town on my computer. So I can look up people's birth, marriage and death facts.

After a while, climbing up and across this tree, I found this one couple. Nicolangelo Zeolla and Giovannangela Pozzuto were the parents of someone in this tree. Nicolangelo and Giovannangela are my 4th great grandparents!

The Leeds Method helped me identify a potential shared branch for my parents.
The Leeds Method helped me identify a potential shared branch for my parents.
If I hadn't tried plotting the colors as suggested by The Leeds Method, I might never have found the right branch to research.

So where do I take this lead? I'm scouring the town's vital records for births and marriages of children in this family. I'll keep building out the individual families.

I hope I'm going to find a marriage of someone from this gene pool to someone with a last name from my mom's side of the family.

I'm more motivated than ever to find that cousin connection between my parents. And now, it really looks like a goal I can reach.


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Trying to Solve a DNA Mystery with Logic

I'm mapping out a strategy to discover how my parents are distant cousins, as our DNA tells us.

An analysis of my raw DNA on GEDmatch.com shows that my parents are "probably distantly related". Their Ancestry DNA results predict that they are 4th–6th cousins. That should mean they share a set of 5th–7th great grandparents.

I want to find that link between mom and dad's DNA.

But there's another piece to this puzzle. My mom's sister's son (my first cousin Nick) is a DNA match for my dad. Ancestry DNA estimates my cousin and my dad are 5th–8th cousins. Nick's related to both my mom and my dad.

My mission is clear: Find the set of ancestors that my parents share…and see if they're the same ancestors my dad and my cousin share!

Plotting out where my ancestors lived, they were all pretty close together.
Plotting out where my ancestors lived,
they were all pretty close together.
My method is less clear. So let's work through the logic.

My dad's side of the family comes the Benevento province (similar to a U.S. county). My mother's side comes from the same province. What if, at some point, a man from one of dad's towns married a woman from one of mom's towns?

For at least several hundred years, all my ancestors lived no more than 25 or 30 miles apart. Many lived 5 or 10 miles apart, but that's as the crow flies. I've visited these rural, hill towns. They're separated by windy, hard-to-navigate, and sometimes washed-out roads.

My husband and I spent nearly an hour trying to get from one town (Colle Sannita) to the neighboring town (Baselice). We thought we'd never make it.

That experience got me thinking about how hard it was for my ancestors to go from town to town on a mule-drawn cart. That's why it's more logical to look at towns that were closer to one another.

I have 2 main choices. I can concentrate on my 2 grandfathers' towns, the ones that are a nightmare drive apart. Or I can take a hard look at 2 towns that are much closer together.

Colle Sannita (Grandpa Iamarino's town) neighbors the town of Circello. They're very close to one another, and the roads don't have to switch back and forth over mountains. Much easier on a mule cart.

One set of my 3rd great grandparents had an inter-town marriage.
One set of my 3rd great grandparents
had an inter-town marriage.
I've known for years that my cousin Nick's dad's family came from Circello. (Remember, Nick is my cousin on our mothers' sides.) But I found out recently that my 3rd great grandfather was born in Circello.

Francesco Saverio Liguori was born in Circello in 1813. In 1840 he married Anna Donata Cerrone in Colle Sannita, settled there and raised his family.

So my dad has some roots in Circello. When you look at these 2 facts:
  • Nick's last name comes from Circello
  • my dad's DNA match list has at least 3 people with that name
…it seems as if that last name may connect my cousin to my dad. But will it connect my mom to my dad? That's the big goal.

Is Nick a DNA match to my dad because of his own last name? Or is the connection through his mom, who is the same distant cousin of my dad as her sister—my mom?

Here's the plan I'm going to follow, and hope it leads to identifying that DNA connection.
  1. I'll work to build out Nick's Circello branch of the family tree.
  2. I'll also work to build out his grandmother's family tree. Why? Because she was from my Grandpa Iamarino's town! His grandparents had exactly the type of inter-town marriage I need to explore.
  3. I'll study my grandparent chart and look for last names that don't seem native to their town. For example, my 4th great grandmother's last name (Tricarico) isn't one I've seen in the town where she lived. Maybe her parents or grandparents came from another town. And maybe, just maybe, her ancestors will tie my mom and dad together.
I've spent so much time living among my ancestors' vital records collections, I can spot an uncommon name in a given town. Liguori, my 3rd great grandfather's last name, was out of place. And that turned out to be entirely true.

It's important to get really familiar with last names in your ancestors' towns. Maybe you can learn the main names in your ancestor's town by looking at land records. Or by paying attention to all the names on the index pages when searching for your ancestor's birth record.

Wish me good luck. I'll report back when I think I've found that missing link!


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, August 3, 2018

A Genealogy Challenge You'll Love

The 1st good clue in my challenge: naturalization papers.
The 1st good clue in my challenge:
naturalization papers.
What if a simple genealogy challenge could:
  • Show you how good your genealogy skills are?
  • Help you connect with a new friend?
  • Teach you some new research tricks?
Would you accept it?

A Challenge Arises

The other day a woman reached out to me longing to know about her lost Italian roots. Her grandfather Matthew had given up his Italian name to blend into American society. After Matthew and his wife divorced, their children had very little contact with either of their parents.

The woman who wrote to me loved her grandfather, but knew nothing about his origins. She offered me the few clues she had, and asked if I could help.

Challenge Accepted

When an assignment comes my way in life or at work, I like to take a peek at it and figure out how hard or easy it might be. Many times this quick peek hooks me. I'm interested, and I'm making progress. So I dive in and get to work. That's exactly how I began this challenge.

Here are the few facts I had:
  • Mattio d'Arcangelo was born in 1900 to Valentino and "Ginny"
  • He married Evangeline McElroy and owned a shoe company in Boston
  • His children, Eleanor and Robert, were given Mattio's adopted last name of Matthew.
  • Mattio and Evangeline divorced.
I wasn't getting anywhere searching Ancestry.com for Mattio. I switched to searching for his father, Valentino. I thought his distinctive name would make him easier to find.

Right away I found naturalization records for Valentino d'Arcangelo. I scoured the information, but I had no proof yet that this was the father of Mattio. His naturalization papers did not mention any family members. But they did include his exact birth date.

That May 10, 1873 date helped me match him to other records for Valentino d'Arcangelo. I found a Massachusetts marriage registry book showing the January 12, 1900, Haverhill, Massachusetts marriage of:
  • Valentino d'Arcangelo, age 26, a shoemaker from Italy, son of Mattio d'Arcangelo and Maria Porrea, and
  • Giovannina d'Arcangelo, age 25, from Italy, daughter of Raffaele d'Arcangelo and Felice Subrizio.
There was a good chance Giovannina is the real name of Mattio's mother "Ginny". But I needed more proof.

This 1910 census provides 2 great aunts and a great uncle.
This 1910 census provides 2 great aunts and a great uncle.
I found the 1910 census for Haverhill, and there they were. A family of 6: Valentino and Giovannina (now called Jenny or Jinny), and their children Mattio, Assunta, Pastiano and Mary. Mattio was born in Massachusetts, but his younger sister was born in Italy. The census taker crossed out Massachusetts for Assunta, and wrote in Italy.

A 1902 ship manifest supports the idea of the family returning to Italy for a while. In November 1902 Valentino is returning to America—to Haverhill—without his family. Giovannina and her first 2 children must have returned at a later date.

I found out from the manifest that Valentino was from the town of Bisegna in the province of L'Aquila. Unfortunately, there are no birth records available online for Bisegna after 1866.

I went on to find Valentino as a widower in the 1920 census. A death index shows he died in 1942.

I wanted some more documentation for Mattio—my new friend's grandfather. I saw that his memorial on Find-a-Grave has his name as Matthew F. Matthews. When I couldn't find him in the 1930 census, I looked for his wife Evangeline, and his kids Eleanor and Robert.

Mattio d'Arcangelo, aka Francis Matthews.
Mattio d'Arcangelo, aka Francis Matthews.
I found them living in Needham, Massachusetts, but the head-of-household was Francis Matthews. That memorial with the middle initial F. turned out to be a good clue.

They were a family unit in 1930. But in 1932, Evangeline McElroy Matthews remarried right there in Needham. I went back to the 1920 census to discover Evangeline's parents. That family of 4 consisted of:
  • Robert the father
  • Evangeline the mother
  • Evangeline the daughter, and
  • Robert the son!
I'd discovered quite a bit in one sitting. Mattio's granddaughter was just about in tears.

Your Challenge

Here are 3 ways you can find a genealogy challenge:
  1. Join any genealogy group on Facebook. Every day people ask for help. They may list some of their ancestors' names and dates and ask how to find out more about these people.
  2. Got DNA? You may belong to websites that suggest DNA matches to you. I read about an avid genealogist who is researching and building trees for all his DNA matches so he can figure out their connection.
  3. Maybe you have a friend who's mildly interested in your genealogy hobby. Help get them hooked by starting their tree for them. Ask for some basics about their parents and grandparents: names, dates and places.
Use the clues, your genealogy resources and skills and see how much you can find. Be careful not to make assumptions. Let the facts point you in the right direction.

Document everything you find clearly and thoroughly. List the facts in chronological order and show where each fact came from. Provide this person with the facts and the documents you've found.

Imagine that you are a professional genealogist, and do the best work you possibly can.

Once you've tackled this challenge, you may want to take a fresh look at your family's brick walls!


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Collaborating with Your DNA Matches

Finding this record of an 1802 birth was the key.
Finding this record of an 1802 birth was the key.
In an average family situation, you grow up with your biological mother and father and know many of their relatives.

That doesn't describe everyone—I know. But stick with me for a moment.

If your DNA match list includes 1st and 2nd cousins, you should know who they are. If it includes 3rd cousins, you may be familiar with their names or know who their grandparents were. I've met a couple of 3rd cousins this way, and they helped me fill in their parts of my tree.

It's that 4th to 8th cousin DNA match that presents the real challenge. If you're 4th cousins, you share a set of 3rd great grandparents. And who (besides a genealogist) can name their 3rd great grandparents?

The most productive DNA match to collaborate with is likely the one with familiar last names in their family tree. And if your match has a family tree online, they've probably done some worthwhile research.

It's OK if you're concerned about your privacy. You don't need to share the identities of anyone younger than your great grandparents.

Go ahead and show one another what you've found—focusing on a branch where you think you'll find a connection. Together you can advance one another's work. How will you know which branch to look at? Last names and hometowns could be your clue. Or you may start out with no clue at all!

I'm incredibly lucky that all my ancestors come from a single province in Southern Italy. (One exception: My great great grandmother Colomba came from the neighboring province.) Better still, the vital records from my five ancestral hometowns are available online.

I used a simple program called GetLinks to download thousands of vital records to my computer. Having the documents makes searching for records quicker and easier than paging through the website that hosts them. (To learn how to do this, see How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.)

On Sunday one of my DNA matches reached out to me. Each of our last names comes from the same little town in Italy. We found one another years ago, but we've never found our actual family connection.

When your tree is really big, there are tons of avenues to explore. So I'd never gotten around to exploring her family tree on Ancestry.

Then she asked for my collaboration in the best possible way. She said, "Here's my ancestor, and his mother Maria had your last name. I know her father was Pietro and her grandfather was Francesco. I think her grandfather could be this Francesco in your tree. What do you think?"

Not only was that enticing, but her question showed me exactly where to jump in and start exploring.

This tree connects me to my DNA match...sort of.
This tree connects me to my DNA match...sort of.
She and I both realized that if my Francesco was the same man as her Francesco, he had to have been married twice. That's because I have his 1820 marriage record, and Pietro was born well before that. So I searched for evidence.

Francesco's 1820 marriage documents mentioned no first wife. I needed his son Pietro's birth record so I could see his mother's name. But Pietro was born before the start of civil record-keeping in 1809.

What to do?

I approached the problem from the other side. I should be able to find a copy of Pietro's birth record in his marriage documents. But I didn't know when he got married.

How would you try to figure out when he got married?

I took another look at his daughter Maria. I found her birth record in 1855 and saw her mother's full name. I went backwards, year by year, looking for Maria older siblings. This helped me zero in on her parents' marriage.

Now I had Pietro's mother's name. I confirmed that she died shortly before Francesco remarried in 1820. My Francesco and my DNA match's Francesco were in fact the same man.

Here's the kicker, though. It's Francesco's second wife who's my blood relative. Not Francesco or Pietro or Maria.

So, my dear DNA match, we still haven't found our real connection! It's back to work, but now we have more to work with.

On the plus side, my DNA match has the same last name as my first cousin. And I've learned a lot from my match's tree that could help me with my cousin's tree.

So pick out your most intriguing DNA match and reach out to them. Collaboration may get you both further than you'd ever have gotten on your own.


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Bringing in Your Genealogy Harvest

Each time you explore a new branch on your family tree, you're sowing seeds that may take years to sprout. Then, one day, it's harvest time.

Yesterday a rich and bountiful crop was suddenly ready, waiting for me to gather it all in.

Do you know that feeling? The moment you realize a dead end is about to connect to the rest of your tree in a meaningful way?

meeting my cousins in 2005
This is me with our mutual cousins in
Colle Sannita in 2005.
This new breakthrough is going to keep me busy for quite a while. I know this family has a bunch of connections to me.

A long-time reader of this blog reached out to me yesterday with her own breakthrough. She'd been studying my tree on Ancestry.com and knew her husband and I had lots of last names in common.

More importantly, we had a small ancestral town in rural Italy in common: Colle Sannita. It's very hard to have roots in that town and not be somehow related. Oh, and by the way, her husband and my dad are a DNA match.

As I began to dig into this new lead, all the last names were important to me. But one captured my immediate attention. I'd seen this name, Polcini, in the town's vital records I downloaded from the Antenati website. It was always in the back of my mind that my grandfather worked for a man named Polcini in the Bronx in the 1930s and 40s. This man lived in his apartment house.

On one of my computer monitors I clicked through my Colle Sannita birth records. I was locating birth records for the Polcini siblings whose names my new contact had given me. On another monitor I opened my family tree software and went straight to my grandfather's 1940 census.

Imagine my "small world" feeling. The 1891 birth record for Damiano Polcini on one screen matched my grandfather's next door neighbor on the other screen! The birth record included his wife's name, and there she was on the census, too.

But that was the tip of the iceberg. My new contact told me where she thought her husband's family fit into my tree. After a little exploration, I discovered an important connection.

One of the Polcini siblings was the grandmother of a distant cousin I met in Canada many years ago. That cousin had given me lots of names to fill out his branch of the tree, but no hard facts. I had zero documentation for his family. Yet.

In one evening, I found lots of hard facts to support my connection to my Canadian cousin.

But hold up. The Polcini side of my new friend's family wasn't even the possible blood connection to my dad and me. I was so excited to find that one sibling in my dad's 1940 census that I hadn't explored the more urgent connection.

You see, my new friend's husband is related to me through the cousins I'm going to visit in Italy in a couple of weeks. They are my father's first cousins, though closer in age to me. I'm related to them through their mother.

But now, it looks as if I'm related to them through their father, too!

Does this hobby make your head feel like it's going to explode sometimes? I expect to put in a short work day today because I must figure out this connection.

The seeds I've planted by going far out on many branches of my family tree are sprouting. And just as the trees are budding outside my window, my family tree is producing new connections.

Isn't this why we never grow tired of this hobby?


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Who's Borrowing Your Family Tree?

Each time I log into ancestry.com, I see a short list called "Recent Member Connect Activity". It shows me when someone has saved one of my images to their own tree.

Most of the images in my family tree are census forms, ship manifests and vital records. I downloaded most of them from Ancestry and attached them to my tree.

I don't mind if someone grabs those images for their own use. But I do like to see if I agree with them.

One woman borrowed my grandfather's immigration record and turned him into her uncle. He was not her uncle. That careless theft of my grandfather is the motivation for my blog. I want us to be more careful, methodical and scientific in our genealogy research.

One of today's "Recent Member Connect Activity" notifications is a possible missing link for me.

If this person has done his research well, we are third cousins once removed.
You see, my AncestryDNA match list includes a man called Lou. The same Lou borrowed some of my images. Maybe he had extra time during the holidays to work on his tree. Ancestry.com analyzed our trees and determined we are third cousins once removed.

My next step is to see for myself that his mother really is part of my Leone family. I'll do this by taking the basic information from his public tree and tracking down the proof on my own.

For example, I'll search for documents showing her parents' or siblings' names. If I find that proof, then I will agree with Lou.

At that point, I will contact him so we can work together. If he's correct, he will provide me with a new branch. I've documented my Leone family back about eight generations. So if this works out, Lou has a shipload of ancestors to import from my family tree.

People who don't want to pay for genealogy subscriptions seem to dislike Ancestry.com. But their constant advertising has exploded the number of people enjoying genealogy.

The more people there are working on their tree, the more people we have to share our finds with, and to gain from.

Whichever service you use, be sure to reach out to others and learn from each other.


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.