Showing posts with label brick walls. Show all posts
Showing posts with label brick walls. Show all posts

Friday, April 5, 2019

4 Steps to Break Through Your Brick Wall

To paraphrase "The Matrix", only try to realize the truth. There is no wall.

Every genealogy fan has at least one brick wall that drives them crazy. And we all want to know the secret: How do I break through my brick wall?

Since everyone's brick wall is different, we've got to take a few steps before we can start to break through.

1. Define a Specific Problem

The first step in breaking through a brick wall is clearly defining one specific problem.

When I was starting to build my family tree, I got pretty far on my dad's side. But his mother's mother—Maria Rosa Caruso—quickly became my brick wall. I couldn't get anywhere on her line.

Is that when we decide something is a brick wall? When we can't move beyond this one person?

Not long ago, I couldn't even find her parents' names. Look at her branch now.
Not long ago, I couldn't even find her parents' names. Look at her branch now.
You can define the problem by stating one key fact you're missing. What is it that's holding you back?

My Brick Wall Definition: I can't find Maria Rosa Caruso on a ship manifest because I don't know her hometown in Italy.

My definition isn't "I can't fill out her branch of my family tree". It's smaller. It's the next step I need to take but can't. I need to find her coming to America, but I can't positively identify her without her hometown.

2. Build on What You Can Find

Many years ago, a cousin-in-law found me on an Italian genealogy message board. Her husband is also the great grandchild of Maria Rosa Caruso. But he had the advantage of growing up with her and the Ohio part of my family.

My new-found relatives told me the name of Maria Rosa's hometown: Pescolamazza. (See what to do when your hometown isn't on the map.)

Now I could find her on a ship manifest. And I learned that she came to America—4 months before marrying my great grandfather—to join her brother Giuseppe. So I searched for Giuseppe, too.

I began to piece together several Caruso siblings and the places where they lived. Some of the siblings' ship manifests told me their father's name. My great great grandfather was Francesco Saverio Caruso.

3. Compare Available Documents

It was Maria Rosa's brothers' documents that gave me clues to my great great grandmother's name.

One record transcribed their mother's name as Maria L. Gilardo. Another record transcribed her last name as Girandiu. My great uncle Giuseppe Caruso's death certificate Americanized his mother's name as Marie Gerard. (See This Expanded Resource Provided an Elusive Maiden Name.)

When I compared the 3 versions of the name—Gilardo, Girandiu, Gerard—I had a hunch her name was Girardi.

That felt like a victory, but I still didn't know for sure.

4. Seek Out New Documents

Then a glorious day arrived. The Italian genealogy archives website (Antenati) posted the vital records from Pescolamazza. I found my great grandmother Maria Rosa's 1880 birth record, and the surprise birth record of her twin brother.

This revelation came about 14 years after my search began.

Her birth record confirmed, finally, my great great grandmother's name: Maria Luigia Girardi. I admit, I got lucky when those Italian vital records from the town went online.

Her hometown was the one brick that brought down the wall.
Her hometown was the one brick that brought down the wall.
You can chip away at your brick wall by breaking it into smaller problems.

"I can't get beyond this one relative," you say.

What clues can you find about where they came from? Can you discover more about their relatives whose names you do know? Which documents might hold a clue? Immigration records, death records, wills, applications, pension forms?

If you can knock out enough individual bricks, your brick wall can collapse. And what a wonderful mess that will be.

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Friday, March 8, 2019

How One Clue After Another Broke Down My Brick Wall

My closest ancestors were the hardest to find. Who would've expected so many twists and turns?

My maternal grandmother's family is the one my mother grew up with. Most of them are the family I grew up with, too. The name that ties us all together is Saviano.

My 2nd great grandfather Antonio Saviano was my Grandma's grandfather. He was my first immigrant ancestor, coming to New York in 1890, in 1892, and in 1895 with his eldest son, Semplicio. He returned to Italy one more time, bringing the rest of his family to New York in 1898.

Antonio represents the core of my family. But I couldn't find any records for him in Italy.

I climbed that family tree, eventually, by following a trail of breadcrumbs. Here's how it happened.

Coming to America

Grandma used to say her family was from Pastene and Avellino. The first was hard to find on a map. The second is both a city and a province. The Saviano family's 1898 ship manifest said they were from S. Angelo. That's only part of a town name, so I couldn't find it.

Then I found the ship manifest for my great grandparents. They followed the rest of the Saviano family to America a year later. Their manifest says they're from S. Angelo Cupolo. That's a little better.

I started typing S Angelo Cupolo into Google Maps. I found the town of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in the Benevento province. Better yet, the town has a hamlet to the north called Pastene. I'd found their hometown!

At that time I was ordering Italian civil records on microfilm to view at a local Family History Center. But they didn't have anything for Sant'Angelo a Cupolo or Pastene. I was stuck.

I found the names of two hometowns even Grandma didn't know.
I found the names of two hometowns even Grandma didn't know.
Registering for the Draft

In 1942, Antonio's eldest son Semplicio was 65 years old. If he were one year older, he wouldn't have had to register for the draft. But he made the cut-off and had to fill out a draft registration card.

His World War I draft registration card doesn't even say where he was born. It says only that he was naturalized by September 1918.

Luckily, Semplicio's World War II draft registration card says where he was born. It's misspelled and says "Tofo - Province Avilino". When I saw that, I knew "Avilino" was really "Avellino", the place Grandma had told me. Now all I had to do was find the town of Tofo. When I typed Tofo, Avellino, Italy into Google Maps, it suggested Tufo, Avellino, Italy. Eureka!

Living Near Family

When I looked at microfilmed records from the town of Tufo, I found Semplicio's 1877 birth record. I also found an older brother Raffaele who died before my great uncle Raffaele was born 9 years later.

I found no other children, including my great grandmother. At that time, I didn't know where she was born, but it wasn't in Tufo.

There was also no marriage record for my 2nd great grandparents, Antonio and Colomba. But I did find marriage records for two other men with my Colomba's last name: Consolazio. While examining these marriage records, I found an important clue.

The Consolazio brothers' parents (my 3rd great grandparents) didn't live in Tufo. They lived in the neighboring town of Santa Paolina.

My ancestor's brother's marriage record held a vital clue.
My ancestor's brother's marriage record held a vital clue.
Going to the Next Town

Days before the Family History Center ended its microfilm program forever, I ordered film from Santa Paolina. Starting in 1874, I worked my way backwards through the town's marriage records. I was looking for Antonio and Colomba.

In the 1871 marriage records, I found them! She was not named Colomba, but Vittoria Colomba Consolazio. Her parents were Semblicio (similar to her son's name) Consolazio and Rufina Zullo.

He was Antonio Luigi Saviano, son of Raffaele Saviano and Grazia Ucci of Pastene. Pastene! Now I'd come full circle.

Putting the Pieces Together

Here's what this trail of documents told me:
  • Antonio Saviano was born in Pastene on 7 July 1843.
  • He went to Santa Paolina and married Vittoria Colomba Consolazio on 1 June 1871. Santa Paolina is a 3-hour walk or a 2-hour mule-and-cart ride away from Pastene.
  • The couple had their first child, Maria Grazia, in Santa Paolina. She died after 4 days.
  • They moved to Tufo where 2 of Colomba's brothers lived. Tufo is a 1-hour walk or a 30-minute mule-and-cart ride away from Santa Paolina. Antonio and Colomba had 2 sons there, one of whom died.
  • The couple moved back to Antonio's hometown of Pastene and had 4 more children, one of whom died as a baby.
  • The whole family, minus my great grandmother, left Pastene for New York City in 1898. Antonio had made 3 trips to New York already, so they had a place to go. His son Semplicio was there waiting for them.
  • My great grandparents, having had a miscarriage, left Pastene for New York in 1899. Grandma was "in the oven" at the time.
Climbing Further Up the Tree

Pastene civil records don't exist. A professional Italian genealogist found almost nothing for the Saviano family, even in the church.

But I have every available vital record from Santa Paolina on my computer. I downloaded them from the greatest thing to ever happen to Italian descendants: the Antenati website. (See "How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives".)

I found Colomba's 1845 Santa Paolina birth record. I found records for 4 previous generations on her father's side. I added the Ricciardelli name to my tree, connecting me with other genealogy fans.

But Colomba's mother, Rufino Zullo, was a dead end. I couldn't find anyone else named Zullo in Santa Paolina.

Once again, I needed to find and follow a breadcrumb. Rufina Zullo and Semblicio Consolazio posted their marriage banns in Santa Paolina in 1843. But they weren't married there.

Note: When an Italian married in a town where they weren't born, they still had to post marriage banns in their hometown. They won't be in the index because they didn't marry there. But their banns should be there.

The marriage banns say that Rufina's parents live in Apice, in the Benevento province. Apice is about a 2-and-a-half hour mule-and-cart ride from Santa Paolina. That's pretty far!

To learn more about my 3rd great grandmother, Rufina Zullo, I downloaded some Apice documents from the Antenati website.

I found her 1843 marriage to my 3rd great grandfather. I found her 1816 birth record. I have more work to do, but so far, I've learned the names of her parents and her paternal grandfather. Saverio Zullo is my 5th great grandfather, born about 1764. And my 4th great grandmother adds a new name to my family tree: Trancuccio.

Comparing New Facts to DNA Matches

I found 2 DNA matches tying into my Ricciardelli ancestors from Santa Paolina. I've also got a new match on the Consolazio branch. Ancestry.com's new ThruLines™ feature showed me how my new match descends from the sister of my 4th great grandfather, Gaetano Consolazio.

That information will help me as I build out the Santa Paolina portion of my tree.

I had given up hope of finding out anything about this, the closest branch of my family tree. But unexpected clues—like my 3rd great uncles' marriage records—opened up the floodgates.

Don't give up on a branch when the records run dry. There may be a trickle of detail coming from an unexpected source.


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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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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?


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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Divide and Conquer Your Family Tree Research Tasks

Is your family tree research stuck? Are you so overwhelmed by certain tasks that you're avoiding them? Is a brick wall stopping all other progress?

You can overcome these genealogy blues with a simple plan.

Divide and Conquer

These brief spurts of activity will be as healthy for your family tree as a brief sprint is for your heart.
  • Work on those tedious tasks in simpler chunks.
  • Avoid your brick wall and forge ahead with another branch of your family tree.
  • Narrow your focus and score some big gains.
This method will keep you productive and happy with your genealogy hobby. And you'll be learning along the way.
"Fix all my source citations" is an overwhelming roadblock. "Fix my 1930 census source citations" is something you can tackle!

Make Cleanup Projects Less Intimidating

Are you avoiding adding source citations to your family tree? Is the size of the project scaring you away? Break the big task into smaller pieces. Set aside chunks of time to devote to the task, and keep track of your progress.

Don't let the overall task overwhelm you. Think of it as "today I'll start adding citations to all of my 1940 census tasks". Get as far as you can in the time you've decided to spend.

Hopefully you'll either be eager to move on to the 1930 census, or eager to come back tomorrow and finish up 1940.

Piece by piece you will tackle the task.

One Bad Branch Shouldn't Spoil the Tree

Are you getting nowhere with one pesky branch of your tree? Leave it alone for a while.

Focus on another branch and document the daylights out of it! Find every piece of supporting evidence you possibly can. You'll have an excellent example of how well you can do this. Your branch will be impeccable.

Plus, working on perfecting an easier branch will teach you about certain resources and documents. It may inspire you to take a different approach to your brick wall branch.

Need some more inspiration?

Now go get 'em!