Showing posts with label cemeteries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cemeteries. Show all posts

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Genealogy Project You Bring Home from Vacation

Cemeteries get genealogists excited. Put that excitement to good use.

It was April 2005. As we were leaving the little town where my great grandparents were born, I spotted something.

"Stop! Go back! That was the cemetery."

What I had spotted was my 2nd great grandmother's last name peeking up above a wall. The name Muollo, high up on a crypt, was all I could see of the cemetery.

My husband and I stepped into this very small Italian town's very small cemetery. We were looking for familiar names. And we found plenty. He took several awkward pictures of me smiling next to a grave.

We also took gravestone photos in my mother's father's hometown and my father's grandmother's hometown.

The locals were definitely looking at me funny.
The locals were definitely looking at me funny.
I didn't return to my ancestors' hometowns until 2018. By that time, I knew a heck of a lot more last names that belonged in my family tree. I took so many pictures that my iPhone's battery died. And it's always fully charged. I switched to my husband's phone.

A Genealogy Fan's Calling

If you get the chance to visit your ancestors' towns, remember this: As a genealogy fan you're duty-bound to visit the cemeteries. Take as many photos as you can. All those lovely gravestones are people waiting to find their way into your family tree.

And if it's also the custom where your people come from, the graves may have a photograph of the deceased. I treasure those photographs.

Once you're home again, dig up the photos and see what you can create from all those names and dates.

3 Success Stories

Here are 3 examples of random cemetery photos I took. They were people I hoped were relatives. Here's what I discovered about them.

1. Potential 1st Cousin

On the 2005 visit to that first cemetery, I knew only 3 last names from the town:
  • Muollo—the name that called out to me as we were driving by the cemetery
  • Sarracino
  • Saviano
Just inside the gate, opposite the Muollo crypt, there were a couple of Sarracino gravestones. These were little niches built into the exterior wall of the cemetery.

We continued walking row by row, finding a Saviano and many Sarracinos. One Sarracino grave seemed to speak to me. This is my maternal grandmother's maiden name. Grandma was conceived right there in that town, but born in New York in late 1899. (She's yelling at me from beyond for not saying she was born in 1900.)

I found the grave of Vincenzo Sarracino, born in 1902. I saw the photo of his face, and I thought he looked nice. He felt familiar. Because of his name and birth year, I thought he might be my grandmother's first cousin.

Even if you don't know them now, they may be yours.
Even if you don't know them now, they may be yours.
Three years later, I found out the truth. I'd gone to Pittsburgh to meet a large group of my distant Sarracino cousins. They showed me photographs of Vincenzo Sarracino with his wife and children. His father and my grandmother's father were brothers.

Vincenzo really was my grandmother's first cousin.

2. Side-by-Side

In some countries including Italy, your remains don't stay in the grave forever. They limit the cemetery's footprint. Over time, they place the bones into small containers so many family members can occupy one space.

In my grandfather's hometown in 2018, I spotted 2 gravestones leaning against a wall. I thought the markers were recently removed from their spot and the bodies relocated.

Were they placed there randomly, or did they belong together?
Were they placed there randomly, or did they belong together?
They were Angela Iamarino and Innocenzo Gentile. She had my maiden name. I wondered if the two of them belonged together.

Using my collection of downloaded Italian vital records, I found their birth records. Angela and Innocenzo were in fact a married couple. Each of their birth records has their marriage date and their spouse's name written in the column. (I love when they do that.)

It turns out Angela's parents were already in my family tree. Angela was my great grandfather's 3rd cousin. Thanks to the gravemarker, I have her gentle face in my family tree.

3. A Kind Face

When we photographed Michelina Leone's grave in 2005, we had no idea who she was. And while my grandfather's last name of Leone is common, in his hometown, any Leone is likely related to me. And I thought she had a kind face.

A couple of years later a second cousin reached out to me from Italy. He must have found me on a genealogy board and emailed me. His grandmother was my grandfather's sister Eva Leone.

He told me Eva's sad story—which no one in my family in America had ever heard. Eva was 49 years old, working as a housekeeper in someone else's home. One day she decided to take a little drink of what she thought was wine.

It was poison. Despite it being 1947, no one could get her to medical care in time, and she died.

Eva's sons were grown at the time, but not married. Michelina Leone stepped in to help out. She took care of Eva's sons and probably kept house for Eva's widower. Michelina was the daughter of Eva's first cousin, but only 6 years younger than Eva.

I visited the Leone hometown again in 2018. Thanks to a tip from a friend, I found a small plaque placed by Michelina Leone attached to one of the church pews. It's dedicated to the memory of her parents.

She honored her family—my family—in many ways.
She honored her family—my family—in many ways.
Now each of these people—and many more—are in my family tree. So is my photograph of their gravestone. And so is their portrait, as seen on their grave.

Small town cemeteries are bound to contain many relatives. But it isn't only small towns. I can walk the rows of St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx, New York, and find a good number of relatives' names there. And they'll always be there.

What about your hometowns? The next chance you have to visit a cemetery where you know you have relatives, spread out. Photograph more and more of the gravestones. Work with the facts to see what you've found. Then share your photos on Find a Grave, Billion Graves, or both. It's a genealogy project that keeps on giving.


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Friday, February 1, 2019

One Simple Strategy to Avoid Genealogy Burnout

Does your family tree ever weigh you down? Here's an easy way to push ahead without getting burned out.

I've been off to the races on my 2019 Genealogy Goals. I completed my 1st goal by mid-January. Now I'm making a serious push on my 2nd goal.

I've finished my 1st genealogy goal of the year, but the 2nd one can get tedious.
I've finished my 1st genealogy goal of the year,
but the 2nd one can get tedious.
I'm excited about how many census forms I've added to my family tree in a short time. Fifty-five in 2 weeks!

But sometimes I get bored. I'll find a census for a big family and think, "Now I've got to add all these facts to all these people." I don't want to stop working on my tree. But it can feel like a grind sometimes.

What's a bored genealogist to do?

Try a New Strategy

I've been using an anti-boredom strategy since I was a girl. I still use it when I'm cleaning the house, shoveling snow, or working at my day job.

The secret is this: Jump from small task to small task and trick your brain into thinking you're on to something new.

For example, when I mow the lawn, I tend to shift directions. Carve out a smaller section to cut. I'm purposely not committing myself to an enormous job. I'm committing to one piece of the job at a time. I'm telling myself I can stop whenever I want to. Then I realize I want to do another section. I go on to complete the larger task, one piece at a time.

Why not apply this strategy to genealogy?

I still encourage you to keep a list of genealogy goals—even if you won't complete them this year. But, to battle any boredom, keep a separate, smaller task list. These tasks are the things you can jump to when your bigger goal is bogging you down.

Last night I was getting discouraged with one family because I couldn't find them in 1910 or 1930. I tried all kinds of search tricks, but they kept hiding from me.

That's when I noticed a problem with some of the images in my family tree. They were missing a date or category, or weren't named in my usual style. I'd detached a few unwanted images, but I'd forgotten to delete them.

I overcame my boredom and frustration by fixing the problems with these 30-something images. It was a mental break. A short, easy task. And I'm so happy they're fixed.

I pressed on and edited the captions for all my photos of grave markers. I wanted them to be consistent, and I could never decide if they were tombstones, gravestones, headstones, or what. So I chose "grave marker" and labelled each photo in the same way. I put the cemetery name in the description. If I had the original URL for the image, I made sure each one said "From the Find-a-Grave website" followed by the URL.

Cleaning up a certain file type in my family tree was a quick break to get me back on track.
Cleaning up a certain file type in my family tree was a quick break to get me back on track.


I keep a list of smaller genealogy tasks I want to finish. They're not lofty enough to be on my annual goals list, so I called them my "Rainy-Day Genealogy List". I could call them my "I'm Bored List":
  • Transcribe my Oct 2018 interview of Mom and Dad (should take an hour or so)
  • Sort out my photo collection, scan the non-digitized ones, and add more to my tree (a weekend job)
  • Capture all entries from my old notebook of Ellis Island immigrants (I don't have to do it all at once)
  • Revisit my brother's old genealogy paper for more facts from Grandpa (a couple of hours, tops)
  • File away everything in my catch-all "gen docs" folder (a bigger task, but easy to break into pieces)
It's Time to Start Your List

You must have similar tasks you'd like to complete. Start your list of boredom busters. Choose one as a mental break when you feel frustrated by a brick wall.

Don't avoid genealogy because one family is driving you crazy. Move on to something simpler for a while. Something you can finish with no obstacles.

Break through that boredom while making your end-product better and better. Your family tree is going to be the tidiest family tree in the neighborhood!

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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!


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Friday, June 22, 2018

Paying it Forward with Genealogy

Why not share your photos on Find-a-Grave?
Why not share your photos on Find-a-Grave?
You may not have time to transcribe genealogy documents as a volunteer. And goodness knows there are a lot of opportunities to help out in that way.*

But what if the genealogy research you're doing for yourself can help people you don't even know? Wouldn't it thrill you if someone else shared research work that's invaluable to you?

Last month I took a deeply satisfying genealogy vacation to Italy. I visited each of my 4 ancestral towns in the province of Benevento. I visited each town's cemetery and took lots of photos. I concentrated on last names that meant something to me, but then I'd find 30 graves with that last name.

Now I'm going to share those photos on the Find-a-Grave website.

First I clicked the Cemetery tab on the website to browse for cemeteries in Italy. There were no listings for my 4 cemeteries, so I'm creating them.

To prepare for my vacation, I saved the longitude and latitude of each cemetery in Google Maps. Now I can use those numbers to precisely locate my 4 cemeteries on the Find-a-Grave map.

Upload your cemetery entrance photo
I took a photo of the cemetery entrance just so I could add it to Find-a-Grave.com.
Once I create the new cemetery, I can upload a photo of its entrance. You see, before my trip I read someone's tip to be sure to take a photo of the cemetery entrance. So I did.

Next, I can drag and drop all my photos from that cemetery at once. After dropping the photos, I simply go down the list adding the deceased's name as the caption.

If you know the person whose grave you're uploading, it's nice to add a memorial. A while back I added a photo of my great great grandmother's grave in the Bronx, New York. I also wrote a paragraph outlining what I knew about her. Today my research on her family has gone much further, so I updated my memorial.

A memorial for my great great grandmother.
I created, then updated, the memorial for my
great great grandmother.
I have so many photos to upload, and then I will detail each one with the dates I see on the grave. Someday, I hope relatives of the deceased will contact me. Maybe we'll be cousins!

What can you do to preserve your family history and, at the same time, pay it forward?

* Volunteer Opportunities:


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Friday, May 25, 2018

Finding Relatives in Your Ancestral Hometown's Cemetery

The entrance to the cemetery in my grandfather's Italian hometown.
The entrance to the cemetery in my grandfather's
Italian hometown.
I've twice visited the cemeteries in my ancestral hometowns in Italy. In 2005 I visited three towns and photographed each grave that had a last name from my family tree.

Over time, I learned the identities of just about every person whose grave I photographed. Some were closely related, like my grandmother's first cousin Vincenzo. Others were more distant relatives, but they have a place in my tree.

I learned exactly who most of them were from other relatives. For instance, my mom's cousin knew grandmother's first cousin Vincenzo. She had photos of him and his family.

Two weeks ago I visited the cemetery in Colle Sannita for the first time, and two other towns for a second time.

You can't go to an Italian cemetery and find graves from the 1700s the way you can in America. Be sure to research the burial customs in the country you'll be visiting. They may condense remains into a single family grave. They will remove those who died a long time ago.

The first thing I noticed on my second trip to one cemetery was this reuse of graves. I remembered there was a Leone family grave on the left wall, so I went straight to it. The names and photos of the husband and wife who were in that grave in 2005 were now placed to the left of the marble slab. A baby who was in his own grave in 2005 was now placed to the right of the marble slab. And in the center of this single grave was a newly deceased Leone relative.

I visited the Colle Sannita cemetery on the day before I was to visit my cousins. I found their father in one grave, their brother somewhere else, and their mother in a third location. My cousins were waiting for the cemetery to say their parents could placed together with their brother. "But the cemetery never called," my cousin told me.

If you have the chance to visit a cemetery where your ancestors lived, you may also find that it has changed over time. Some people will have moved, and others will be gone.

Two headstones ready to be removed.
I don't know you now, Angela. But I will find you.
Was Innocenzo your husband?
My task now, having taken so many new photographs of graves, is to try to identify as many people as possible. Thanks to the Antenati website, I have thousands of birth records from my ancestral hometowns on my computer.

The plan is to find birth records for the deceased and learn who their parents were. Finding their parents may be enough to place the person in my family tree.

I took many photos while thinking, "This person is too young. I probably can't find out who their parents were." But, as time goes by, I may someday learn who they were.

I adore my family names. Each and every one is special and beautiful to me. Pausing to look at the photos on their graves, I did feel as if I were paying my respects to a beloved family member.

If you ever have the chance to visit a cemetery containing one or more of your relatives, look around. Especially if the cemetery is in a small town. Find other names you recognize and do a bit of research.

A dedication to my relative, Michelina Leone.
A dedication to my relative, Michelina Leone.
One of my 2005 grave photos was for Michelina Leone. I didn't know who she was. A couple of years later, while corresponding with a distant cousin, I learned how important Michelina was to my family.

When my grandfather's sister Eva died from an accidental poisoning, her cousin Michelina stepped in and raised Eva's young sons. Two weeks ago, in a church my Leone family hometown, I found a plaque dedicating a church pew to Michelina Leone.

Now I knew she was someone important to me.

And that's how I feel about everyone in my ancestral hometown cemeteries. They're all important to me.


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Friday, May 4, 2018

Walking in Your Ancestors' Footsteps

Fifteen years ago my husband and I went on a dream-come-true honeymoon. There was only one place in the world I wanted to go. Italy.

Sforza Castle in Milano
Sforza Castle in Milano, 2015. We'd been here before, but there was more to see.
He wanted to go, too. So with help from Rick Steves' travel book, we planned a jam-packed site seeing tour. It flowed from Lake Como up north to Sorrento down south.

With the cliffside Hotel Minerva in Sorrento as our base for a few days, we took a day-trip to Pompeii. Did you know you can use Google Street View to "walk" through Pompeii now?

The next day we took a train to the city of Benevento. From there we would figure out how to get to the rural town of Colle Sannita. This was going to be my first time setting foot in the town where my grandfather was born.

I later documented our misadventure getting stranded in a Colle Sannita bank during a power failure.

Two years later we tried it again. We planned out a second tour of Italy that included Milano and the Tuscan town of Cortona. That was the setting of "Under the Tuscan Sun".

But this time I'd made contact with my dad's first cousins in Colle Sannita. My cousin Maria took me from house to house to meet cousins galore. It was everything I'd hoped for!

Pizzeria Romana in Benevento, Italy
Best pizza ever. By my cousins.
Our last stop of the night was the home of Libera, my grandfather's first cousin. He left for America the year she was born. But she, and everyone I met, knew who my grandfather and my American-born father were.

The next day we visited Libera's daughter and two grandchildren. Each owns a restaurant in Benevento. Her grandson and I had a long conversation about our shared ancestors, the Pilla family.

I can't imagine a more enjoyable, welcoming group of relatives—many of whom had no idea their American cousin was coming to visit that day.

My husband and I took trip in 2015 that included some time in northern Italy: Cinque Terre and Milano. After an unforgettable week in France, we experienced one of Italy's infamous train strikes. We left France and were stuck on an Italian train platform with tourists from around the world.

It was another adventure. Some extra time and extra money, but hey. We experienced an Italian train strike.

So here we are in 2018. Planning our fourth trip to my beloved ancestral Italy. This visit will begin and end in Rome, and include a second stay in one of our favorite places—Siena.

But the main focus of this trip is my cousins and all four of my ancestral hometowns. I want to visit all the cemeteries again. I want to go into the churches where priests baptized and married my ancestors. I want to walk past their former homes and spend time in the piazzas.

If my grandfathers and my grandmothers' parents hadn't emigrated to America, I would be an Italian.

On this trip, I want to get a taste of what the Italian version of me might have been like. I'll let you know what I find out.


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Friday, March 30, 2018

How to Prepare for Your Visit to Your Ancestor's Hometown

The church some of my ancestors attended in Sant'Angelo a Cupolo, Italy.
The church some of my ancestors attended
in Sant'Angelo a Cupolo, Italy.
The first time I visited my grandfather's hometown in Italy, I got stranded there. My husband and I went there without a plan. We boarded a train to the city of Benevento. Then we asked for help in getting to my ancestral hometown of Colle Sannita. We got on a bus to Colle with a bunch of college students.

The students were so helpful. They told us what time we needed to catch the last bus back to Benevento. They gave us the name of a nice hotel in Colle in case we wanted to stay. They bid us "Arrivederci" at our stop.

We wandered around town for a while, but we had only 45 minutes until the last bus of the day! On our way to the bus stop we stopped at a bank for some cash. That's where we were stranded. You can read that crazy little story on my honeymoon website.

Two years later I had become an amateur genealogist, and I did a much better job of planning my trip to Italy. Somehow the webmaster of the Colle Sannita website gave me contact information for one of my Colle Sannita cousins in America! So when my husband and I returned to Colle, we met almost three dozen relatives. I documented that visit on my website, too. Please don't judge me for my fanny-pack. I don't know what I was thinking.

Twelve years later, we're finally planning another visit to my ancestral homeland. This time I have a few more things I want to see besides the cemeteries.

If you're American, Australian, or Canadian, chances are your ancestors were somewhere else a few generations or a few hundred years ago. If you're lucky enough to visit your ancestors' homeland, you can experience the feeling I had. The welling up of emotion. The feeling of a deep connection.

You know where you've seen that feeling? On most episodes of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

So when you go, here are some of the places and people you can plan to visit.

Your Ancestor's Home or Neighborhood

If you've collected vital records for your ancestors, see if they show an address or a neighborhood. I didn't have these documents and addresses before. But on this trip, I want to stand outside the house where my other grandfather was born, the other house where his father died, and a bunch more.

Your Living Relatives

I've found a few more of my Italian relatives on Facebook. Someone recommended a Facebook group for people from my other grandfather's town of Baselice. I posted an image there of my grandfather's house and started a conversation about him. Two of my Italian cousins saw the conversation and said hello to me. It turns out I already know their brother with whom I've corresponded for several years.

On this trip I hope to meet these relatives as well as visiting those I met 12 years ago.

The Town's Cemetery

In 2005 I visited three cemeteries in Italy. We photographed every grave with a name I knew, but I didn't know who the people were. Later, with help from cousins and my research, I discovered my relationship to nearly every one of the people whose graves I'd visited.

This time I would like to see three more cemeteries. I never went to the Colle Sannita cemetery because I had so many living relatives to visit. But I'd like to see it. I've since discovered two neighboring towns where my great great grandparents had two children who died young. I don't expect to see their graves after so many years, but I do expect to see the last name of Consolazio.

The Town Center

One of my biggest regrets about my two visits to Colle Sannita is how little time I spent in the town piazza. There's a statue there, dedicated to the town's fallen World War I soldiers. I took two photos of it, but I should have carefully photographed the names carved into the statue's base.

I want to experience being in the piazza from each of my Italian hometowns. I want to feel what my life might have been if my ancestors hadn't come to America for a more prosperous life.

So now I need to get busy. Busy making lists of the places I want to be. Plotting them on a map. Reaching out to the people I want to visit.

I want to have that tears-in-the-eyes feeling you see on every subject of "Who Do You Think You Are?"


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