Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts

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?

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How to Understand Your Ancestors' Marriage and Remarriage Customs

Figuring out marriage customs can help you avoid making mistakes in your family tree.

Have you noticed that people today are getting married many years later than they used to? Years from now, genealogists will examine records and notice that shift.

Are you paying attention to the marriage facts and figures for your ancestors? 

Age at First Marriage

Get familiar with the customs in the towns you're researching. While paging through marriage documents looking for your ancestors, take a look at the ages of the other brides and grooms.

In my ancestors' towns, all tightly arranged in Southern Italy, I saw the commonalities:
  • first-time brides and grooms were usually very close in age to one another
  • first marriages before the age of 22 were less common
  • first marriages after the age of 28 were less common
Based on these facts, I decided to use 25 as my magic number. Twenty-five was the average age at which people in my towns were having their first baby. They'd get married at 24, and have their first baby at 25.

Don't know when they were born? A smart estimate will help your family tree.
Don't know when they were born? A smart estimate will help your family tree.
Why does that matter? If you don't know the ages of someone's parents in your family tree, you can assume they are "about 25 years" older than the oldest child you've found.

Adding "born about 1850" to the parents in your tree can help you understand who you're working with. It can stop you from even thinking about attaching them as the parents of someone born in 1920—even if they seem to have the right names.

Remarriage: How Soon and How Old/Young?

The people in my towns in 19th century rural Italy didn't stay single for long after their spouse died.

This is when you remember that most people didn't marry for love. So, 4 months after the death of their spouse, they're engaged to someone else. Can you imagine that today?

But it was a hard life. A man needed a woman to cook for him and raise his children. He would choose a younger woman (with more life to her?) and continue having children. A woman needed a man for support. She would choose a man with property or livestock or a good job. It was vital to their lives.

Before I figured this out, I was shocked to find that my 2nd great grandparents had a huge age difference. He was 46 when he married my 23-year-old 2nd great grandmother.

My first reaction was "ewww!" As I continued digging, I found his other children, his first marriage and his first wife's death. His new bride was born the same year as his eldest child. Were they childhood playmates? (Again, ewww!)

I found that my 2nd great grandmother's father died just 4 months after her marriage. Did they know he was dying? Did she need to marry to help support her mother?

Knowing what I know now, this big age difference wouldn't have shocked me. I would have assumed he was a widower and searched for his first wife.

My grandfather in America.
My grandfather in America.
I like to think of my grandfather as a perfect example.
  • He married in 1927 at the age of 25.
  • He was widowed at the age of 52.
  • He remarried at the age of 57.
  • They were too old for children, but they needed each other.
  • He was widowed again at the age of 84.
  • Marriage would have meant sharing his lifetime's fortune, but he did choose to live with a woman. (Despite not liking her cooking.)
If some of these norms hold true where your ancestors came from, be on the lookout for more marriages.

Families Intermarrying

My great grandfather and his brother married two sisters who lived close by. The two married couples lived across the street from one another for the rest of their lives. And when I say "across the street" I mean a few paces across the dirt path the mules followed.

I can imagine that the brothers' family (the Iamarino's) and the sisters' family (the Pilla's) each owned a parcel of land. Maybe their lands were literally across the mule path from one another.

But it gets better. Two more Pilla sisters—it was a big family—married two brothers from the Paolucci family. They all lived nearby. Maybe the Paolucci family had another parcel of adjacent land. It's a bunch of marriages of convenience working to twist my family tree into a wreath.

Marriages between families may have happened multiple times.
Marriages between families may have happened multiple times.
It's helpful to have an understanding of the marriage customs in the place you're researching.

Oh, and be sure to find out if divorce existed in your place of research. Legally, there was no such thing in Italy until 1970—following a mandatory 5-year separation! Because of that, I know that a 45-year-old woman in an 1880 Italian marriage document is probably a widow. And her husband may have died only months before.

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

How Many of These 5 Gifts Does Genealogy Research Give You?

Do people have a hard time understanding your interest in genealogy? They don't realize all the gifts it gives you.

We get into genealogy for different reasons and with different expectations. I met a man who thought after 3 clicks on an unsourced genealogy website that he was related to Adam and Eve. That's it. I win genealogy.

Others are eager to learn about where their ancestors came from. What was their family name before their grandfather changed it? Can they find living cousins they never knew before? Why did their ancestors leave their homeland?

Our motivations can change over time, too. I've learned from my research that all my ancestors came from a compact geographical area—my mom's side and my dad's side. Then DNA testing showed me my parents are not-too-distant cousins. That's an important motivation for me now.

My genealogy research gives me an appreciation for my lost culture.
My genealogy research gives me an appreciation for my lost culture.
Give the following genealogy research gifts some thought. Then, get ready to fire back some knowledge at the next person who says you're wasting time on your family tree.

1. My genealogy research gives me an appreciation for my lost culture.

As the grandchild of immigrants, I was raised in a much different culture than my ancestors. Most immigrants to America tried their best to assimilate and blend in. Their cultural influence diminishes with each new generation.

Your genealogy research teaches you about the names, places and customs of the old country. It makes you wish your ancestors were still here to tell you all about it.

2. My genealogy research inspires me to visit to my true homeland.

The first time I set foot in my grandfather's hometown in Italy, the earth moved. I felt a sense of belonging. I loved everything I saw. Every stone, garden and poppy. After that visit I spent time studying the language and preparing for my next visit. I've been there a few times, and going back is all I can think about.

3. My genealogy research urges me to learn more about history.

My maternal grandfather was a prisoner of war in Italy during World War I. As a prisoner, he had to eat rats to stay alive. But he never told us anything more.

I researched Italian army battles where prisoners were taken. I narrowed down my search to a particular battle where an astonishing number of prisoners were captured and sent to one of two camps. That was my theory of what happened to my grandfather.

During my last visit to Italy, I went to the archives to see my grandfather's military record. Imagine my tears when I saw for myself that he really was in the battle I had guessed. And they sent him to one of those two prison camps.

Who inspires your genealogy research?
We each have our own reasons for taking up this hobby.
4. My genealogy research has made me more analytical.

Newcomers to this hobby haven't yet seen how easily you can follow the wrong lead. How quickly you can put the wrong family into your family tree.

These mistakes can still happen to us after years of research. But with each mistake, we learn what to look for, and what to look out for. We become more analytical and keep an open mind.

Those skills will spill over into your everyday, non-genealogy life.

5. My genealogy research has made me more organized and efficient.

As a contractor, I've always worked for more than one company at a time. I like to take the skills I learn on one job and apply them to the other. I get better at my job and both companies benefit. Everybody wins.

Genealogy has become like another client to me. The tricks I learn with Excel spreadsheets on the job, I now apply to my genealogy work. I take the Photoshop skills I develop while enhancing document images and apply them to my paying clients. And my organization skills are always improving.

It seems clear to me these gifts are the reason you find so many helpful amateur genealogists on Facebook paying it forward. People are always ready to help you with a difficult search. Or to translate a birth record. Or to recommend where to go next in your search.

We're ready to help the next genealogist because we're grateful for all our gifts.

You think I'm wasting my time with family tree research? You clearly don't see what's going on here.

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