Showing posts with label archives. Show all posts
Showing posts with label archives. Show all posts

Friday, October 19, 2018

3 Ways to Find Your Ancestors in a Huge Pile of Documents

You've downloaded thousands of vital records from your ancestor's birthplace. How do you find your people in all those files?

My genealogy research changed dramatically in 2017. I decided to put my U.S.-based research on hold. Why? Because a new door opened wide. Now I have access to my ancestors' birth, marriage and death records in the old country.

Finally! I'm able to take my great grandparents back many, many generations. So far, I've discovered the names of:
  • 4 of my 8th great grandparents
  • 7 of my 7th great grandparents
  • 34 of my 6th great grandparents
  • about half of my 128 5th great grandparents
And I will discover many more.

A brief explanation: FamilySearch.org ended their microfilm program. They used to send rolls of microfilm to your local Family History Center. You could visit these rolls during your center's limited hours and view them on antiquated machines.

But in 2017 they began digitizing everything.

Earlier, I spent 5 years viewing microfilmed vital records from my grandfather's hometown. I typed all the important facts into a laptop. Suddenly those thousands of records are available as high-resolution images online. Free! And so are records from the towns of all my ancestors. You can find them on FamilySearch and on an Italian website called Antenati (ancestors).

I started viewing images from my grandfather Iamarino's town and downloading them. One by one. It was going to take forever!

Then I learned about a simple program called GetLinks. This program runs on any type of computer. It's compatible with FamilySearch and Antenati. For a full explanation and a link to the program, see How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.

Now I have well-organized image files from all my ancestors' hometowns. They range in time from 1809 to as late as 1942. But they include rewritten documents of births and deaths from the 1700s. That's how I've found such early ancestors.

Simplify your search by organizing your downloads.
Simplify your search by organizing your downloads.

I'm limited to documents written as early as 1809 only because it's Italy. If your ancestors are from other countries, you may find much older records on FamilySearch.org.

So let's say you've downloaded thousands of images containing oh-so-many of your ancestors.
  • How do you find your people?
  • How can you efficiently pull out the people and facts you need? 
  • What's the best way to find your needles in those haystacks?
I'm approaching my 8 haystacks (individual Italian towns) in 3 different ways. You might choose one or two, or want to do them all.

1. Most time-consuming; best long-range pay-off

I'm typing the facts from each document into a spreadsheet. In the end, I'll have an easily searchable file. Want to locate every child born to a particular couple? No problem. Want to find out when a particular 4th great grandparent died? No problem.

But it is slow-going. I've completed about 6 years' worth of birth, marriage and death records for one town. I return to this project when I'm feeling burned out on a particular ancestor search and want a more robotic task to do.

There is another benefit to this method. Spending this much time with the documents has made me very familiar with the names in my ancestors' towns. I can recognize names despite the awful handwriting. And when a name is completely unfamiliar, I often discover that the person came from another town.

A well-organized spreadsheet is best for making records searchable.
A well-organized spreadsheet is best for making records searchable.

2. Takes a few extra seconds; pays you back again and again

Whenever I find a particular record, I like to edit the name of the image file to include the name on the document. If it's an image of a single birth record, I add the baby's name to the end of the file name. If the name is common, I also add the baby's father's name. (I use the Italian word "di" as a shorthand for "son of" or "daughter of".) If it's an image of 2 birth records or a marriage record, I'll add both names to the file name.

The benefit of renaming the files comes later. When you're making another search in the future, the renamed file can save you time. You can either spot the name you're looking for, or use the search box in that file folder. You can even use the search box at a higher folder level.

Imagine you're looking for my grandfather's name, Pietro Iamarino. You can search his entire town at once and let your computer find every file you've renamed to include "Pietro Iamarino".

When I began downloading the files, I renamed each file containing anyone named Iamarino. Now I can always find the Iamarino I want. Quickly.

Adding people's names to the file names makes the collection searchable.
Adding people's names to the file names makes the collection searchable.

3. Efficient, fast and fruitful; makes you want to come back

To my mind, this is the most important lesson. You'll be more efficient at finding what you need in this massive amount of files if you put blinders on.

Search with a tight focus. Ignore the people in the index with your last name. You'll get back to them. But at this moment, when you're searching for someone in particular, don't look at anyone else. Zero in on that one name and complete your search.

Use this focused approach and find your ancestors faster. The moment you find them, rename the file and get that person into your tree.

My many folders of vital records hold countless discoveries for me. But I've found that choosing one family unit and searching only for them is highly effective. Here's an example.

I've found the birth record of a particular 2nd great grandparent. I know their parents' names (my 3rd great grandparents), but I don't know when they married or their exact ages. I'll search the surrounding years for more babies born to this couple. Now I'm putting together their family. I'm also trying to identify which is the eldest child. Now I can search a year before the eldest child's birth for the couples' marriage. There I can find their ages, and possibly see a rewritten copy of their birth records.

With that set of marriage records and my 3rd great grandparents' birth records, I've now discovered the names of 2 sets of my 4th great grandparents. And if they weren't born too early, I may be able to find their birth records, too!

Having built out one family unit as far as I can, I'm even more eager to pick a new family to investigate. Sometimes I'll choose a family with a dead end, and work to find that missing piece of the puzzle.

Which method will work best for you? Or will you combine all 3 as I'm doing?


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Friday, July 13, 2018

How to Find the Most Important Genealogy Documents Quickly

A portion of my newly downloaded vital record collection.
A tiny portion of my newly downloaded
vital record collection.
Seems like every day I read that a new genealogy document collection is coming online. Some are available through subscription services, but plenty is out there for free.

If you stay tuned in to social media, you can learn about these new collections early. That's how I discovered a document collection I needed badly was coming online this past week.

Finally, a branch of my family tree that's been a dead end was opening up. And I was ready.

Even before the vital records from the town of Santa Paolina, Italy, were fully published, I was downloading them to my computer. I now have all the available records from 1809–1945 to comb through offline. I stored the documents in 386 folders—separating births, marriages and deaths by year. I have no idea how many thousands of documents there are.

Imagine this is you. Imagine these documents hold the missing information about your great great grandmother Colomba.

Where do you begin?

A little background:
  • Colomba's 1920 New York City death record shows her last name was Consolazio and she was born around 1845, somewhere in Italy.
  • Her son's World War II draft registration card said he was born in Tufo, Italy.
  • Last year I looked at microfilmed records from Tufo. I found two sons for Colomba plus a few Consolazio babies who were her nieces and nephews. It was their records that told me the Consolazio siblings were from the next town—Santa Paolina.
I've been waiting impatiently for the Santa Paolina documents to show up online.

Here's how I'm surgically extracting the most important records first.

Find That First Birth Record

Hoping that her death record was correct about her age, I went straight to the 1845 births. I found Colomba! Though her name is a little different and her father's name isn't what I expected, I know it's her. On her birth record is a note of her marriage to my great great grandfather, Antonio Saviano.

This is unusually lucky, but her birth record say my great great grandparents married in Santa Paolina on 1 June 1871.

This 1845 Italian birth record includes the addition of her husband and marriage date.
This 1845 Italian birth record includes the addition of her husband and marriage date.
Go After the Marriage Record

Your ancestor's marriage record can provide tons of detail, including:
  • Bride and groom's birth dates
  • Death dates of their deceased parents
  • Death dates of their deceased grandfathers if their fathers are dead (this won't be true everywhere)
  • Names and death dates of any previous spouses
Santa Paolina's marriage records are a different format than I'm used to. But they gave me important facts I'd been missing: My great great grandfather Antonio's parents' names, occupation, and town of birth. It also confirmed his year of birth.

Start Collecting the Babies

Knowing my ancestors married in June 1871, I started looking for babies beginning in 1872.

I also know from earlier research that this couple had baby boys born in the town of Tufo in 1875 and 1877. So I needed to check the birth indexes only for 1872, 1873 and 1874.

I found one baby girl, Maria Grazia, born on 26 April 1872. She and the two boys born in Tufo are my great grandmother's siblings. So I knew this little girl must have died. We simply have no Maria Grazia in the family. I was sad to find she died 4 days later.

Death record for Maria Grazia Saviano.
Maria Grazia Saviano, the first-born child of my 2nd great grandparents, died at the age of 4 days.
These were Colomba's earliest babies. The rest of her children are well known to my family. They were born in another town called Pastene. And now I know that's where their father Antonio was born!

But we can't stop there. We need to find Colomba's grandparents, and maybe her great grandparents.

Hunt for the Parents

Colomba's birth record gave me names for her parents, but not their ages. Luckily Santa Paolina had a very small population. I subtracted 25 years from Colomba's birth year, bringing me to 1820. I began checking the birth indexes for 1820, 1819, 1818. I found my 3rd great grandmother, Rubina Maria Censullo! Now I have her parents' names—my 4th great grandparents.

Keep going. 1817, 1816. There he is! My 3rd great grandfather Semblicio Fiorentino Conzolazio. Now I have his parents' names—also my 4th great grandparents.

Getting close to the earliest records, I searched for Semblicio's parents' marriage. He was born in 1816, so I looked at 1815, 1814. Oh my gosh, I found it! His parents, Gaetano and another Colomba, were married on 29 December 1814.

The paragraph at the bottom includes the names of 4 of my 5th great grandparents.
The paragraph at the bottom includes the names of 4 of my 5th great grandparents.
Now I have each of their parents' names. That's 2 sets of my 5th great grandparents. I can't find Rubina Maria's parents' marriage because they were quite a bit older. I'd need church records to find them.

With one document collection, boom! 4th and 5th great grandparents.
With one document collection, boom! 3rd, 4th and 5th great grandparents.
That's a Great Start

Using targeted searches, I got the juiciest information out of this record collection in no time. But there's a ton more to find. I want to find the births of Colomba's siblings, their marriages and their babies. I need death records for the 3rd, 4th and 5th great grandparents.

I hope you'll try this methodical approach. First looking for very specific records, then expanding to the related records. Be logical and you'll go far. You can do this!


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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Taking a Do-It-Yourself Genealogy Vacation, Part 1

At the Archivio di Stato, Corso Garibaldi, Benevento.

At the Archivio di Stato,
Corso Garibaldi, Benevento.
Thursday night my husband and I landed in Newark Liberty Airport after a long flight from Rome. Our genealogy vacation was over.

Our flight landed at 9:30 p.m., but customs took forever. We were in our own car by 11:30 p.m. with a 90-minute drive home ahead of us.

A massive storm and tornadoes knocked out the electricity at home two days earlier. We arrived home at 1:00 a.m. and entered the house in pitch blackness. Our dog was barking and our son had woken up to let us in.

After finding our toothbrushes in our suitcases, we all went to bed. I didn't have time to process my incredible journey through my ancestors' towns. This had been our fourth trip to Italy. We'd seen most of the tourist sites already. After two nights in Rome, we headed to Benevento, the province in Southern Italy where all my roots are found.

On May 10, we rented a car and drove two and a half hours from Rome to the city of Benevento. If you're American, think of the city of Benevento as the county seat.

We checked into the Hotel Antiche Terme and took the short walk to Pizzeria Romano—my cousin Vincenzo's restaurant. We could see Vincenzo inside, but there were workers trying to install a new sign and doorway, and I felt it was unsafe to go any closer. I couldn't get his attention.

Carefully turning the pages of World War I military records in Benevento.
Carefully turning the pages of
World War I military records in
Benevento.
It was a bad feeling, thinking we might not get to visit Vincenzo. But we walked along Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi in Benevento so I could see the church of Santa Sofia. I thought the Archivio di Stato—the archives that digitized thousands of vital records from my ancestral hometowns—was near the church, but I couldn't find it. We tried the next block and the next block. Finally I asked two women where it was.

Dov'รจ l'archivio di stato?

They told me to go another block and look for an obelisk. I would find the archives there.

Once I found it, I had to go inside. I had prepared a couple of Italians sentences to say in the hopes of seeing my grandfather's World War I military record. So that's what I began to say.

Mio nonno era Adamo Leone di Baselice. Era un prigioniero di guerra con l'esercito italiano nella prima guerra mondiale.

Before I'd finished, I was directed to go upstairs where someone would help me. Not sure where to go, I found two workers and began my statement again.

Mio nonno era Adamo Leone di Baselice. Era un prigioniero di guerra con l'esercito italiano nella prima guerra mondiale.

The two workers conferred with one another and called in another woman. She gave me a form to fill out stating who I was and that I wanted this document for genealogical purposes. She gave me a second form giving me permission to photograph any documents. When I finished the forms, she had me turn around. A big volume was on the table, tied shut with white ribbons.

This was register #67. That's the one I'd asked for, having looked up the document number for my grandfather on their website.

My grandfather's Italian military record from World War I.
My grandfather's Italian military record from World War I.
If you have an Italian ancestor who served in the military, start at this page. Find your ancestor's last name (Cognome), enter his first name (Nome). If you know it, choose his birth place (Luogo di nascita), and choose the year he was born (Classe). Click search (Ricerca). If you get more than one result, hopefully you'll know the correct man by his birthdate.

I clicked my grandfather's name in the search results. I found the two numbers I needed: Registro (register) 67, Matricola (roll list) 21728. So I needed to ask for register 67 and look in it for document 21728.

I untied the white ribbons and opened register 67. I was surprised to be able to handle the pages. No white gloves, no one watching me all that closely.

I turned the pages, approaching document number 21728. Instead, I found a big gap. The numbers jumped significantly. Not wanting to panic, I turned to a later section in the book and found document numbers closer to 21728.

Finally, I found it. Leone Adamo. My grandfather. One year ago I wrote about my grandfather's World War I experience. He had told us only that he'd been a prisoner of war and had to eat rats to keep from starving. Research led me to the 1917 Battle of Caporetto in northern Italy. More than a quarter of a million Italian soldiers were captured.

With such a large number, there's certainly a chance my grandfather was taken prisoner in that battle. The men were kept in camps in Austria, including Mauthausen. There were so many prisoners, the conditions were awful and they were not well cared for.

Now I have an official record of my grandfather's military service. He served in the infantry from 1911 to 1914. At that time he was allowed to leave the military and follow his first cousins to New York City.

My grandfather received a call to arms in May 1915. He left his new home in America in August, sailing back to Italy. He rejoined the infantry on 9 September 1915. He was promoted to Corporal on 1 January 1917. On 6 November 1917, my grandfather was taken prisoner, held in Matausen, Austria.

It sure looks as if my theory, formed a year ago in my blog, was correct. He does seem to have been taken prisoner in the Battle of Caporetto which lasted from 24 October to 19 November 1917 on the Austro-Italian front. Matausen, or Mauthausen, was later turned into a World War II concentration camp.

Exactly one year after his capture, my grandfather was repatriated at Castelfranco Emiliano in northern-central Italy. The army gave him some small payment for this lost year of his life. They sent him on on unlimited leave to recuperate in light of his loyalty and faithful service.

After his recovery, on 15 February 1920, Corporal Leone left Italy once again for New York City. Shortly afterward, the army awarded him a commemorative medal of his service in the war.

Looking at my grandfather's 1891 birth record.
Looking at my grandfather's 1891 birth record.
This one page from the archives is packed with information about my grandfather. At age 20, he was already a shoemaker. His hair was curly (like mine), his coloring was rosy, his teeth were healthy. His hair and eyes were brown. He was 5'2", which seems impossible because of how tall and proud he always held himself. He could read and write.

I was in another world, standing there in the Archivio di Stato poring over that page. I didn't realize there was a new person in the room. A young man told me they had my grandfather's birth record and he would bring it to me.

I had downloaded his 1891 birth record from the Antenati website, but of course I wanted to see the real thing! When he brought me the book, I was so surprised to see how large it is. It was at least 18 inches high and his record took up two-thirds of the page. I really think the group of workers was as happy as I was.

It wasn't my plan to walk into the archives that day. I was saving it for the next morning. But I couldn't stop myself, and it couldn't have turned out better.

And this was only Step 1 in my genealogy journey. To be continued…


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