Showing posts with label branches. Show all posts
Showing posts with label branches. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Use Cousin Baiting to Expand Your Family Tree

A new cousin took the bait and contacted me with details about his branch.

Filling out the branches of your family tree will help attract more cousins.
Filling out the branches of your family tree
will help attract more cousins.
You know those long ancestral scrolls you see on the ancestry TV shows we all love? The straight-up family trees that always end with the king of England? That may look great on a wall. But you'll never connect to your DNA matches if you don't look beyond your direct-line ancestors.

What can you do to help unknown cousins find you?

Add Their Branches

"Cousin baiting" is a term used by genealogy bloggers. It's a way to attract distant relatives to yourself. When bloggers write about their ancestors, they drop plenty of names, dates, and places. They're putting out bait to attract new cousins. New cousins may have old photos, a family bible, or papers a genealogy fan would treasure.

But cousin baiting isn't only for bloggers. You can attract DNA matches and other cousins by filling your family tree with bait. Go way out onto the branches of your tree. Add as many facts as you can find. Your 3rd great grandparents' 4th child may be exactly the right person to attract an important cousin to you.

Recently I chose 3 of my DNA matches to work on. I used a bit of the information from their family trees, but not much. They each had very few facts to offer.

With your own research library, you can choose almost anyone and fit them into your tree.
With your own research library, you can choose almost anyone and fit them into your tree.
I, on the other hand, have an insane amount of data to work with. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I've put together an enormous genealogy research library on my computer.

I know which Italian towns my ancestors lived in as far back as the late 1600s. (Knowing the exact town is critical!) I've downloaded and organized all the vital records currently available from those towns.

With my collection of documents, and my knowledge of the last names found in each of my towns, I can quickly find the facts my DNA match doesn't know.

Make the Connection Clear

I'm baiting my DNA matches by offering them:
  • exact birth, marriage and death dates for their ancestors
  • images of their ancestors' documents with a link to the original file online
  • details of their ancestors' siblings, other marriages, and other children.
I'm building out my tree one DNA match at a time. And while I'm doing that, I'm no doubt adding bait for my other DNA matches to find.

How are you handling your DNA matches?
  • Are you waiting for them to contact you?
  • Are you looking only at the closest relatives?
  • Are you giving up on a match with a small family tree?
Make your family tree thicker and richer by adding more and more relatives. While you're working on one DNA match, several others may see the connection and contact you.

I photographed this man's grave many years ago, not yet knowing who he was.
I photographed this man's grave many years ago, not yet knowing who he was.
Reap the Benefits

Each new cousin I figure out adds a couple of dozen people to my tree. Each time I do this, I make more connections. For instance, the Teresa Ciotti belonging to one DNA match turned out to be the Maria Teresa Concetta Ciotti already in my tree. I added 4 more generations to that DNA match instantly.

Because of my very bushy family tree, I heard from the great great great grandson of my great great grandfather in Italy. He gave me lots of details about his branch of the family. I never knew they had lived in America.

I hope this inspires you to creep further out onto the limbs of your family tree. The answers you need may be in the hands of a cousin you've never met. Lay the bait and help them find you.

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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.


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Friday, January 25, 2019

Did Your Ancestors Break the Mold?

There's at least one in every generation. The rebel who doesn't do what's expected. I found one this week.

My closest relatives in my parents' generation grew up in the same neighborhood. Because they were so close together, each mom helped raise her siblings' and her cousins' kids.

Because of that shared childhood, I figured my more distant cousins were raised just like me. After all, we all share the same roots. How different could our parents be?

Pretty different, actually.

The building where my mother's extended family lived.
The building where my mother's extended family lived. Their church was on the next block. So was my dad.
Seeing How My More Distant Cousins Grew Up

I went to a family funeral on Tuesday. The deceased (let's call her T) was my mom's 2nd cousin. T's daughter gave a unique eulogy at the funeral. Since her mother always wanted to be a writer, she delivered the eulogy like a book. She told us T's story in chapters.

Two of my mom's cousins, R and T. Everyone grew up together.
Two of my mom's cousins, R and T.
Everyone grew up together.
I learned T's ideas about life and child-rearing were dramatically different than my mom's. T was a strong-willed, open-minded, self-confident woman. More so than any other woman of her generation in my family. One thing that made T different was her mom. She was an entrepreneur and a tough businesswoman. T carried on the business in her own way. She worked all her life, and she enjoyed it.

Because T raised 3 remarkable children, meeting my 3rd cousins was like stepping into an alternate universe. Their mom did things that my mom wouldn't do in a thousand years.
  • When her husband didn't want to go on a particular vacation, T took the kids and went without him. My mother is still horrified when I drive somewhere alone.
  • When her daughter's friends needed a ride to a Queen concert in the 1980s, T drove them into New York City…and stayed for the concert. My mother could never handle driving in a city.
  • When her children's school friends came to the house—which they did all the time—T was the adult they all confided in. They didn't worry about her ratting them out to their parents. They listened to her advice. My house was not the one all the kids came to.
T taught her children to be adventurous, nurturing, and hard-working.

How Does This Relate to Our Ancestors?

This got me thinking about our earlier, shared ancestors. They lived in tiny, rural Italian towns for hundreds of years.

They were peasants: farmers, shoemakers, and shopkeepers. They lived with their parents until they married, and then they often lived next door. They were illiterate. It'd be surprising if anyone in their towns ever read the newspaper before World War I.

But I wonder. Were there women with an independent streak? Were there parents who wanted their children to have a different life? More than just a good piece of land to farm?

Without written or oral history, how can we know? One thing we can do is look for deviations from the norm. For instance, a set of my great grandparents did not follow the traditional Italian baby-naming conventions. They didn't name a single one of their 6 babies after their own parents.

Was this a rebellious streak? My parents broke those rules, too, otherwise you'd call me Mary. It made my grandfather angry as can be that my brother didn't have his name. But I imagine my parents were thinking like the Americans they were.

And what about the young men, like both of my grandfathers, who went to America and never looked back? Were they more self-confident than the others? More independent? Or were they the only able-bodied sons?

How can you identify the rebels in your family tree? Did their independence lead them to a better life, or a worse one? T sure had a great life. Her legacy is already strong in her grandchildren.

Is it too late for us to break the mold?

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

How to Spot and Fix a Big Mistake in Your Family Tree

The further back you go in your family history, the more branches you have to explore. And if you have a lot of branches, you probably have a bunch that need more research work.

At some point, your research may toss some new facts at you that make you realize the sad truth. You've got a big old mistake in your family tree.

What will you do when that happens?

How a Mistake Can Pop Up

I realized I'd swapped Rubina for Rufina when I found her married to the wrong man.
I realized I'd swapped Rubina for
Rufina when I found her married
to the wrong man.
Let me give you a concrete example using one of my 16 third great grandmothers. (We're all entitled to 16 third great grandmothers and 16 third great grandfathers.)

One year ago I discovered that my 2nd great grandmother was born in the little town of Santa Paolina, Italy. I learned this important piece of information when I found the marriage records of 2 of her brothers.

Those records (from a neighboring town) said my 3rd great grandparents lived in Santa Paolina.

So I ordered a few films for Santa Paolina. This was days before the end of the FamilySearch microfilm program. Everything was going online. But at the time, the vital records for Santa Paolina's province were not online. And I didn't want to wait.

I spent a few hours going through the dark and fuzzy document images and found some pay dirt. I found my 2nd great grandparents' Santa Paolina marriage record. That led to my 2nd great grandmother's birth record and that of their first baby.

I found that my 3rd great grandfather's name was different on each document. He was:
  • First name: Semblicio or Simblicio
  • Middle name: Fiorintino or Fiorentino or Fiorinto or Florindo
  • Last name: Consolazio
The first name makes sense because of my 2nd great uncle (his grandson) Semplicio. But I made a note that this man sometimes goes by a variation of Fiorintino.

There was more confusion with my 3rd great grandmother's name. It was Rufina Zullo, but I didn't see anyone else named Zullo in Santa Paolina. I saw Zuzolo and Cenzullo. When I found a Rubina Cenzullo, I started to think this was a spelling variation of Rufina Zullo. Eventually I convinced myself Cenzullo = Zullo.

Now the Santa Paolina and Tufo documents are available online. I downloaded all the Santa Paolina records to my computer, and a few select years of Tufo records. (See "How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives".) This past weekend I was going through the downloaded vital records for more facts and people.

My 3rd great grandparents' marriage record was missing. I began searching every logical year for it. When I didn't find it, I thought, "What if they married after their first child was born?"

That's when I found something that made me gasp. In 1844, after the first baby was born, I found a marriage record for Rubina Cenzullo…and another man! What? But she kept having babies with Simblicio Consolazio!

At that moment I realized she wasn't my 3rd great grandmother. I returned to my 2nd great grandmother's birth record and that of her sister Catarina. Both documents said their mother was Rufina Zullo. I'd gone off in the wrong direction!

Working to Fix the Error

How would I find the right woman? I searched every logical year of birth records and found no one in town named Zullo. So I had to find her death record.

I know she had a baby in 1856, so I started there. I search the death indexes of each year looking for Rufina Zullo or Simblicio Consolazio. I found Simblicio's death record in 1891. Rufina was still alive, so I kept searching.

I found her death record in 1898, and with it, the answer to the mystery. Rufina Zullo was born in another town called Apice—a new ancestral hometown for me!

Luckily, the Apice vital records are online. I found the real Rufina's 1816 birth record, so now I had my real 4th great grandparents' names. Then I found Rufina's 1843 marriage to my 3rd great grandfather, named as Fiorintino.

Since they married in Apice, there should be marriage banns recorded in his hometown of Santa Paolina, too. And there are! I'd overlooked them because I'd checked only the index for 1843. They didn't marry there, so they aren't in the index.

Learning from Mistakes

Here are the specific lessons I learned:
  1. Don't make assumptions without a lot of evidence to support them. Some document convinced me her last name was Cenzullo. But there was so much evidence saying it was Zullo. I don't know what I was thinking.
    Detaching a person from the wrong family in Family Tree Maker.
    Detaching a person from the wrong
    family in Family Tree Maker.
  2. Search for all the major documents for your person and their immediate family. Notice when the facts on some documents contradict the facts on others. Then search for what's missing. Finding Simblicio's death record confirmed Rufina's name. Finding Rufina's death record confirmed why she was the only Zullo in town.
  3. Look beyond the indexes. They are a tremendous help, but there are times when you won't find the document you want in the index—especially when it comes to marriages.
Now I had to fix this problem in my family tree. I had Rubina Cenzullo as the wife of Semblicio and the mother of his 8 children. I also had her parents, 2 grandparents and 2 siblings. In Family Tree Maker I selected Rubina. In the Person menu, I choose Attach/Detach Person and Detach Selected Person. I clicked the checkbox for Semblicio and the 8 kids and clicked OK.

Next I attached my No Relationship Established image to Rubina and her people. I'm hold onto them for now because Santa Paolina is so very small. There may be a relationship to her.

Finally, I added my Rufina as the wife of Simblicio and mother of his kids. I attached her parents to her.

At last! My great great grandmother's family is complete.

My Consolazio family, complete with the right mamma.
My Consolazio family, complete with the right mamma.


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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Trust But Verify Your Relative's Family Tree

"Trust, but verify" is a translation of an old Russian proverb that reminds you to find the truth for yourself. It's particularly useful when applied to genealogy.

Here are some situations where "trust, but verify" should pop into your head:
  • A relative gives you their family tree with no sources.
  • A stranger's online family tree seems like it may connect to yours.
  • An elder tells you a bunch of family facts they remember from decades ago.
You may trust the relative or the elder, but you've got to verify their work.

How to Handle Unsourced Names and Dates

Use an image to alert you to unsourced facts in your family tree.
Use an image to alert you to
unsourced facts in your family tree.
You welcome the new information. You're excited to have it. But take steps to mark this new set of names and dates as unsourced. Some options for marking this content are:
  • Add a bookmark to each unsourced person in your family tree software.
  • Add a profile image to each unsourced person, such as this graphic that says "No sources".
  • Create a source citation using the name of the person who shared the information with you.
  • Attach no source at all. Personally, I've been very diligent about attaching sources. If I find people in my tree without a source attached, I know someone handed those people to me.
This step to identify unverified information can save future-you a big headache.

The moment you receive a batch of new information, add it to your genealogy to-do list. You need to put some research time into proving or disproving these unsourced facts.

Think how satisfying it'll be when you can replace an individual's "no sources" graphic with an image of their birth record.

How to Figure Out the Facts

Eleven years ago a man named John saw my For the Cousins website and emailed me. He's part of a large group of Italian immigrants and their children in Niagara Falls, Canada. They all came from my paternal grandfather's hometown in Italy.

Four months later, my aunt and I flew up to meet this Italian enclave at their annual dinner party. I brought a big family tree printout with me. As I met and talked with many of the people, they shared lots of names and relationships with me. Together we added branches to my tree.

Eleven years is a long time, but now I have all the available vital records from my grandfather's hometown on my computer. This past weekend, while looking at my family tree for a new section to explore, and I found the Canadian branch.

Adding birth records as a person's photo show the proof.
Add a person's birth record as their photo so you know you have the proof.
I began with John from Canada's grandparents. I found birth records, parents' names, wedding dates, and death dates. I attached each document I discovered to the person in John's family tree. Now I had trusted, verified sources.

Sometimes a birth record will include marriage names and dates.
This 1887 birth record includes
names and dates for 2 marriages.
Here are a few pointers when working with someone else's tree:
  • Expect some names to be slightly different. If your contact's tree comes from family sources, they may remember their "Uncle Antonio". But his birth record may show his given name was:
    • Michelantonio
    • Giovannantonio
    • Giuseppantonio or
    • Nicolantonio.
  • Check a person's parent's names in the tree to decide if you've found the right birth record. If both mother and father match, you've probably found either the right person's birth record or that of a sibling. Is the birth year what you expected?
  • Look for marriage data in the margin of birth records. This is more common on more modern birth records. It's less often found on very old records. Sometimes this annotation is exactly what you need to be sure you've found the right person.
The best surprise in this branch is that John from Canada is related to a set of my cousins through their father. I'm related to them through their mother.

But knowing this small town's high rate of intermarriage, I'm sure I'll find I'm related to John in half a dozen ways!

As I search for more connections, I'm gathering vital records and fortifying my family tree.


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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

When to Cut a Branch Off Your Family Tree

Eleven years ago, my sister-in-law Mary Ann lost her dad. As she wrote his obituary, she realized she knew nothing about his family.

After asking her for some basic facts, I offered to piece together both sides of her family tree.

Mary Ann's family was a new challenge for me. Everyone related to me was born either in Italy or the United States. And none of my relatives came to the United States before 1890. So I hadn't even searched for a U.S. census record earlier than 1900 at that point.

Her large family has a long history in America. I found lots of family trees and other documentation for them. I was jealous that I'd found her 10th great grandparents for her.

I added her family members into my family tree because I saw no reason to have a separate file. But now I have a renewed interest in documenting her mom's family.

The Muse family was in Virginia as early as the 1600s. I'd like to see if the family lore about being part of the Jamestown Settlement is true.

Sometimes it's better to prune.
Mary Ann's entire branch was one that I could cut from my family tree without hurting anything. Other than keeping Mary Ann, my brother and my nephew in my tree, everyone else would work better as a separate tree.

As a separate tree, I can publish it on Ancestry.com and give her full access. She can look at her family without swimming through the 19,000 other people in my tree.

On Friday night I decided to separate out her entire 595-person family tree. I wasn't finished until Sunday morning!

I planned to document the process and tell you how easy it was. That plan changed after the first couple of frustrating hours.

I tried several different ways to export every one of Mary Ann's relatives. I kept discovering that people were missing in the new file. After three failed attempts, I worked with a copy of my tree and deleted everyone not related to her. I thought it would never end.

To export and then delete a branch from a tree in Family Tree Maker is a strange process. You choose someone from the tree and go to the reports (Publish) tab. Create a report that will include all the people you want. The Extended Family Chart seems to be the best choice.

When you're satisfied with the list of people in the chart, right-click anyone's name and choose Export > Entire Chart.

Unfortunately, I didn't quite do it that way.

Now that you have your new file, you can delete those people from the original file. Using that same Extended Family Chart, right-click anyone's name and choose Delete from File > All persons in chart. Note: If you want to keep anyone, right-click and choose to remove them from your chart first.

With this done, there's still a lot of clean-up left. On both your new family tree file and the original family tree file, you need to delete unused media files, sources, and locations.

I compacted each tree to clear out all the things I'd deleted. Then I made new backup files and synchronized both finished trees with Ancestry.com.

I don't think I have another branch that should stand alone. I have gone off on some in-law tangents, but they came from the same geographic area as my family, so I like to keep them.

I've read heated online discussions about how many trees you should maintain. Some people keep a separate family tree file for each grandparent. I really can't see the point in that. It's your tree, isn't it? Why juggle different branches of your own family tree?

In my case, my father's parents were third cousins, so their trees intertwine. And now DNA testing shows that my parents are cousins. So my entire family tree is weaving its way into a family wreath!

I'm sure I'll hesitate to ever cut a branch off my tree again. Although I sure did learn how not to do it.

You can base your decision on the audience. Mary Ann's family tree needs more work—and I created it for her. So giving her her very own tree makes the most sense.

Have you started working on an in-law's branch? Is the work big enough to deserve its own tree? If so, prune that branch before things get harder to control.


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