Showing posts with label documents. Show all posts
Showing posts with label documents. Show all posts

Friday, April 19, 2019

5 Tips for Researching the In-Laws

When the family names and places aren't yours, how can you be sure it's them?

I wouldn't research my ex-in-laws at all if they weren't my sons' ancestors. But since they are, once in a while I check to see what else I can learn about them.

The main problem with researching your in-laws is the lack of familiarity. When it's your family, the names and places you discover are familiar. You can remember how Grandpa always mentioned the name of his hometown. You heard your mom talk about her great uncle living in a little room in her building.

But when it's not your family, you have so much less to go on. What can you do?

When my 1st son was born, I filled in a family tree chart in his baby book. My ex-mother- and father-in-law gave me the names for their side of the family. The baby-book chart only goes back as far as the baby's great grandparents. But it's a good start.

Here are 5 tips for building that less-familiar family tree.

One document after another, you can make progress on that in-law's family tree.
One document after another, you can make progress on that in-law's family tree.
1. Start With the Easy Documents

Try to find the latest census record you can for the family. For me, that's the 1940 census for each of my ex-husband's parents. (Let's call them ex-Mom and ex-Dad.) This is the first step to learning more about the families.

These census pages tell me where ex-Mom and ex-Dad lived in 1940 and 1935. They confirm ex-Mom's siblings' names and that ex-Dad was an only child. Now I have the approximate birth years and birth places of their parents.

Each tidbit of information gives clues to help find more documents. Keep building on each fact you learn.

A seemingly meaningless memory came in handy when I found Uncle Anton.
An odd little memory came in handy when I found Uncle Anton.
2. Try to Remember Details

One snippet of a memory proved to be very helpful. I remember visiting my ex-in-laws' vacation home in the 1980s. I went up to the attic to fetch something and saw an old hat. It was a black bowler hat with a sheen to it. Pinned to it was a piece of paper that said "Uncle Anton's hat".

Knowing there was an Uncle Anton helped me positively identify the family in the 1900 census. Both father and son were named Anton. Another son, John, was ex-Mom's father.

That meant I'd found another generation, plus siblings. And that led to many more documents.

A rock-solid bit of family lore—debunked!
A rock-solid bit of family lore—debunked!
3. Investigate Family Stories

For years we thought ex-Dad's mother's uncle was Captain Smith who went down at the helm of the Titanic. I met ex-Dad's mom. This sweet old woman was deeply ashamed that her father Walter Smith's brother was the captain. My ex-Dad even belonged to a Titanic historic association.

When my son's school friends didn't believe he was related to Captain Smith, I said, "Now I know how to prove it." So I used my new genealogy research skills and quickly learned…wait for it…Captain Smith had no siblings! That is, he had only half-siblings whose last name was Hancock, not Smith.

What went wrong there? My ex-Dad came to realize the truth, but by then, his mom had passed away.

Have you heard any family stories with a single drop of historical fact you can investigate?

4. Follow the Paper Trail

Here's where you need to be careful. Without first-hand knowledge of the family, it will be impossible to be sure of some documents.

For example, take ex-Mom's maternal grandfather Edmund. The 1910 U.S. Federal Census says he arrived in America in 1889 and was naturalized by 1910.

I found an 1889 ship manifest with a man from Ireland who is the right age and has the right name. But ship manifests in 1889 don't offer much information. How can I be sure this is my guy? For now I've saved the URL of the manifest, but I haven't added it to my family tree.

The best way to prove I'm looking at the right Edmund is to find his naturalization papers. So far, I can't find those papers.

5. Seek Out Relatives

Of course you should never trust someone else's family tree if it has no sources. But you can use it for clues.

I found a relative with a published family tree. This took ex-Dad's paternal line back several generations. Using this tree as a guide, I searched for documents on Ancestry.com to prove whether the tree was right or wrong.

With this helpful tree, I went back as far as a set of 5th great grandparents for my sons.

If you use someone else's tree for its clues, be sure to cite the tree as a source. I'm happy when I can replace that family tree citation with a more formal source (like "England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538–1975"). But until you have proof in hand, add a citation so you know where you found this detail.

While you may never get as far on your in-laws side as you do on your own, you can do it justice. Use your skills to gather every piece of low-hanging fruit. And see where it leads you.


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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Why Do You Work on Your Family Tree?

How hard you work at genealogy depends on motivation, and a touch of fever.

Everyone has a reason for starting to build their family tree. What was yours? Was it:
  • to solve a family mystery?
  • to connect to your roots?
  • health and heredity needs?
  • a search for royal or famous ancestors?
  • a school assignment?
  • because everybody else is doing it?
Once you catch genealogy fever, you may forget your first motivation. And if you have caught the fever, that's good. You'll be more likely to practice thorough, careful genealogy.

Here's how my own interest began, and where I am now.

In 2003 as I was planning my wedding, my husband-to-be was planning our honeymoon in Italy. I'd never been to Italy, and I knew so little about my family history there. It was at my wedding that I learned my great grandmother's last name was Caruso.

Here's the moment my genealogy obsession began, in Grandpa's hometown.
Here's the moment my genealogy obsession began, in Grandpa's hometown.
While staying in Sorrento, we took a day trip to the town where my grandfather was born: Colle Sannita. It was a life-changing experience for me. I felt as if something were calling to me. I felt I belonged there. I felt as if I could melt into the ground itself.

Back home, I wanted to learn more. Where did the branches of my family tree begin hundreds of years ago?

That strong emotional feeling I had in Italy made me start working on my family tree.

Today, 16 years later, I've got a carefully built family tree with more than 20,000 people. Nearly every Italian in my tree was born within a 15-mile radius. That means I can harvest thousands of relatives from the vital records of one town. And I did. I found out I'm related by blood or marriage to almost everyone in my grandfathers' hometowns.

Some will say that what I'm doing is not family history. Well, my ancestors were illiterate. They survived by working their land. These vital records are all that remains.

If my obsessive labor of love sounds crazy, consider this:

DNA Matches

The more families I build from these 19th century documents, the more DNA matches I can connect to. I've had a lot of luck lately picking a DNA match with any size tree, and working to find our connection. As I build more families, I'm building connections to more of my DNA matches.

Generations

My "overkill" approach is the reason I know the names of a good number of my 6th, 7th, and 8th great grandparents. Maybe I had to find marriage records for a bunch of siblings before I found the earlier generation. To me, it's totally worth the effort.

How much will you miss if you only look at your direct ancestors?
How much will you miss if you only look at your direct ancestors?
Hometown Knowledge

Deep dives into my towns' documents made me familiar with:
  • the townspeople's last names
  • the street and neighborhood names
  • some of their customs.
I'm no longer shocked when a 19th century Italian man remarries one month after his wife died. Seeing how common it was for a widower to marry a much younger woman and have more kids helped me. It's no longer gross that my great great grandfather's second wife was his daughter's age.

I took my obsessive genealogy techniques to a new level this past weekend. I started looking at every document in my vital record collection. These are the thousands of documents I downloaded from my ancestral hometowns. I'm reviewing each one and seeing if it fits in my tree. If it does:
  • I crop the document image in Photoshop
  • add information to the image file
  • add the document to that person in Family Tree Maker
  • make note of it in my document tracker
  • turn that line green in my inventory spreadsheet. Green means it's in my family tree.
As I add more documents, my family tree becomes stronger.
As I add more documents, my family tree becomes stronger.
So far, I did this for one towns' 1809 births, deaths, and marriages. The moment I finished, I moved on to 1810 births. It's crazy to think how many people and relationships I'll add to my tree by doing this.

Not as obsessed as me? OK. You don't have to piece together the family of your 5th cousin 4 times removed. But I'll keep going.

Because the people from these documents are more than names and dates. They're calling to me. We belong to one another. They are what makes my family tree come alive.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

How to Become a Genealogy Document Expert

It's the same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice, practice, practice.

Guess what happened after I spent hours and hours reading vital records from the 1800s. I became something of an expert on the subject.

A foreign language, squiggly handwriting, and countless abbreviations don't slow me down a bit. I'm used to it. And that made me practically a pro.

Did I graduate college skilled and ready for the workforce. Nah.
Sue me. It was the '80s.
How to Make Yourself a Pro

Do you fall into one of these 3 camps?
  1. You climb one branch of your tree, adding people and facts from whichever document you just found.
  2. You don't move on until you've searched for every document for a particular family.
  3. You enjoy going off on tangents and plan to return later for the documents.
All those methods are fun. But you can become an expert on any one type of genealogy document if you make this one change.

Choose a single document type. It could be any one of these:
  • census sheet
  • ship manifest
  • draft registration card
  • birth record
  • death record
  • marriage record
  • or some other type of document.
Commit a good chunk of time to searching for only this type of document. I'm in the midst of searching for every census sheet I don't yet have.

You'll need some way of seeing who in your family tree is missing their census sheet and for which year. I've got my Document Tracker and its "Need to find" column. I can go down the alphabetical list of names and search for every missing census. I'm up to last names beginning with L, and I'd like to knock off another letter or two this weekend.

You may not have a separate tracking sheet. But maybe your document image filing system can help you figure out what you have and what you're missing. The free program Family Tree Analyzer can help you keep tabs on your census sheet finds.

If all else fails, start with your parents and fan out. Go generation by generation, looking for missing censuses.

What to Learn

As you repeat your searches for this one type of document over and over, you will be learning. Here's the type of thing to keep in mind:
  • Which search tricks are giving you a lot of success?
    • Searching for a group of first names but no last name?
    • Using Stephen Morse's tools to find the right set of census pages and going through them one at a time?
    • Narrowing your search to a county rather than a town?
As you try out different ways of searching, they'll become second nature. You'll waste less time.
  • What facts are you seeing on the documents that you've overlooked before?
    • The native language on the 1920 census?
    • The place of residence in 1935 on the 1940 census?
Here's a cheat sheet to show you what new questions the government asked in each U.S. Federal census.
  • What conclusions can you draw by comparing documents?
    • Can you tell that a certain relative died between the date of this census and the date of that census?
    • Did the family move right before one of the children was born?
    • Was one of the censuses wrong about the year of immigration or naturalization? Which one?
Follow your ancestors through each census to track family changes.
Follow your ancestors through each census to track family changes.
After you spend enough time with one type of document, you will be an expert on that type of document.

Where do you want to start? The moment you begin downloading those new files, take a moment to add valuable facts to the image file. In whatever way makes you comfortable, keep track of what you've found and what you need.

Go on now, expert.

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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, 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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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

6 Places to Discover Your Ancestor's Town of Birth

Your ancestor's exact place of birth is critical. You won't get far without it.

Question: What's the difference between:
  • a family tree that stretches back 10 generations, and
  • one that goes back 3 generations?
Answer: Knowing where to look for more records.

We all began our family tree by entering what we know. Ourselves, our parents, our grandparents. Maybe some of our great grandparents.

But you can't go back farther than that until you learn where your ancestors were born. Not in which country. Not in which state, province, or region. Which town.

When you know the town, you can find birth records and parents' names. You can finally climb that branch of your tree. You'll know exactly where to search.

So how do you discover the name of the town?

Let's look at 6 types of genealogy documents that can show you the town of birth. Note: Sometimes the first document won't give you the answer. But it can give you clues to help you find the next document.

1. Birth or Baptism Records

Subject: Patricia J. Reynolds, my sons' 2nd great grandmother

Searches: A distant relative published a detailed, but unsourced family tree. I borrowed names, dates and photos, but I had to find good sources for myself. U.S. Census forms confirm that Patricia was born in Canada, and her parents were born in Ireland.

I found Patricia's 1867 church baptism record on Ancestry.com. The hand-written record is from a church in Goderich, Huron County, Ontario, Canada. Goderich is less than 10 miles from Clinton where the relative said Patricia was born.

Conclusion: Patricia was born on 28 Feb 1867 in or near Goderich, Canada, to Dominic Reynolds and Mary Walsh.

Gathering facts from multiple documents can lead you to that hometown.
Gathering facts from multiple documents can lead you to that hometown.
2. Marriage Records

Subject: Francesco Saverio Liguori, my 3rd great grandfather

Searches: It took years to learn that my 2nd great grandmother's maiden name was Liguori. (Aren't maiden names fun? See "This Expanded Resource Provided an Elusive Maiden Name".) When I couldn't find her father's birth record in their town, I looked for his marriage record. Italian marriage records are a genealogy dream come true. (See "The Italian Genealogy Goldmine: 'Wedding Packets'".)

Conclusion: Francesco Saverio was not born in the same town as his wife or children. He was born in the neighboring town of Circello, giving me new roots to explore.

3. Military Records

Subject: Semplicio Vincenzo Luigi Saviano, my 2nd great uncle

Searches: This branch of my family was a dead end. My grandmother told me the family was from Avellino, Italy. But did she mean the town or the province? That's like the difference between New York City and New York State.

Conclusion: Semplicio's 1942 draft registration card had the answer. Its misspelled town-of-birth led me to Tufo, a small town in the province of Avellino. That's where I found records of my family. (See "Why You Need Your Ancestors' Draft Registration Cards".)

4. Naturalization Papers

Subject: Mario Maleri, my 2nd cousins' grandfather

Searches: I didn't learn Mario's name until I read it in his son's obituary. When I searched for any records, I found his Declaration of Intention to become a citizen of the USA. (See "What to Find on Your Ancestor's Naturalization Papers".)

Conclusion: Mario Maleri was born on 7 Feb 1893 in Pesaro, Pesaro e Urbino, Marche, Italy. Pesaro is a big city with records available online. His wife was born in the same town a year later. If I go through the records and find their birth records, I can take the family back another generation. Or more.

Finding the right document can unlock your ancestor's past.
Finding the right document can unlock your ancestor's past.
5. Passport Applications

Elizabeth Merrin, from her 1922 passport application.
Elizabeth Merrin, from her
1922 passport application.
Subject: Elizabeth Merrin, my sons' 2nd great grandmother

Searches: In 1922, Elizabeth Merrin and her husband Walter Smith took a trip home to England. I found their passport application on Ancestry.com. While it didn't include their towns of birth, it did give me their exact birth dates.

With those dates, I found their 1896 marriage record in the town of Derby, Derbyshire, England. The 1871 England Census shows baby Elizabeth Merrin living with her parents and sisters in Derby.

Conclusion: Elizabeth Merrin was most likely born in Shardlow, a village near Derby. An English civil registration birth index has only one Elizabeth Merrin born in or around 1869. Her birth record is in volume 7b, page 364 of the index. To find out more, I would try to get that birth record and explore records in Derby and Shardlow. (See "Your Family Tree Needs Your Ancestor's Passport Application".)

6. Ship Manifests

Subject: Maria Rosa Caruso, my great grandmother

Searches: My father didn't know where his grandmother was born. But his cousin told me Maria Rosa said she was from what sounded like Pisqualamazza. I searched for ship manifests with anyone named Caruso, hoping to find a town called Pisqualamazza.

Conclusion: What I found, again and again, was the town of Pescolamazza, now called Pesco Sannita. That's where I found my great grandmother's birth record—and her unknown twin brother. Now I've taken her family tree back 5 generations.

Do you have dead end branches on your family tree? Find every possible document for each dead-end ancestor. The combination of facts can lead you back home, where your family comes from.

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Friday, March 1, 2019

How to Create a 'Book of Life' for Your Relatives

You already have the materials to make this most personal gift for someone you love.

Have you been watching Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s "Finding Your Roots" on PBS? It's bursting with the type of excitement that keeps us active in genealogy year after year.

I've always liked the "book of life" he gives to each guest. You and I may be used to reading census sheets and ship manifests. But for the TV show's guests, it's probably the first time they've seen such a thing.

My mom's 1st cousin Eleanor had a milestone birthday last week. Years ago I printed a family tree that measured 2 feet by 4 feet. I made 40 copies and gave them to the heads of 40 families. Eleanor is the only one who put hers up on a wall and looks at it regularly.

Eleanor is the perfect cousin to get a "book of life" from me. You must have relatives who would appreciate a gift like this, too.

Here's how I created the book for my cousin.

1. See What You Have

My research hasn't gotten very far on Eleanor's father's side of the family. But I do have his ship manifest showing his arrival in America. I have his father's draft registration card, ship manifest, and census sheets.

Eleanor's mother was my great aunt. I've taken her tree back many generations. I have her beautiful wedding portrait and a copy of her marriage certificate.

All these items are good material for the book. I even had an extra 1-inch binder and lots of clear sleeves to hold as many pages as I wanted. If I didn't have the binder, I'd have looked for ideas in a local stationery store.

Fill the sheet of paper with your document. For trees, size them to fit.
Use up the entire sheet of paper by toying with your print options.
2. Print the Best Documents

Print the different census sheets, manifests, and certificates onto 8½" x 11" paper. It's nice to see them and hold them at this size when you're used to seeing them only on your computer screen.

I have a laser printer that does an excellent job of printing documents. If your ink-jet or other type of printer isn't doing justice to the documents, put the files on a flash drive. Find a friend with a better printer or go to a store like Staples or the UPS Store that can print the images for you.

3. Create "Call-Outs" to Make it Easy to Follow

You and I know how to find the right line on a census or manifest and understand the information. But your cousin doesn't.

There are 2 things you can do to help:
  • Use your photo-editing software to carve out the important lines on the document. Blow them up a bit bigger and print them out. Place the enlarged cut-outs on top of the document. I put a little rolled-up bit of tape on the back of the cut-out to attach it to the document.
  • Create a text box in your word processing software with nice big letters. Explain what we're looking at. For example, I made a text box to attach to a draft registration card that says:

    Carlo Vallone's World War I draft registration card, Sept. 12, 1918
    Address: 239 E. 151st St., Bronx, New York
    Birth: Dec. 8, 1881 in Italy
    Job: elevated conductor for the IRT

Enlarge and summarize the most important information.
Enlarge and summarize the most important information.
I printed these call-outs on marigold-colored paper. I included a thick outline for each call-out to help it stand out.

4. Put it in a Scrapbook or Binder

Some documents, like ship manifests, often have 2 pages. When you're putting your printouts into the book, be sure to arrange them so you can see both pages at once. When you're creating a family tree for the book, try to size it to 2 pages, and arrange them on facing pages in the book.

Make sure 2-page documents can be seen together.
Make sure 2-page documents can be seen together.
My binder had an extra pocket in the back. I decided to print an extended family tree and fold it down to fit in the pocket. I started with Eleanor's mother and siblings and went up 6 generations. I included dates and places of birth, marriage, and death.

I sized this tree to fit on 9 sheets of paper. Then I printed it out, trimmed the pages, taped them together from the back, and folded it down neatly. For instructions on how to put together a multi-page document like this, see "This Project Makes Your Family History Larger than Life".

I didn't get to see Eleanor open her "book of life", but she did tell me how much it means to her.

How often do you have the chance to give such a unique and personal gift? Check your calendar. Is there a birthday coming up for a relative who would love their own "book of life"?

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

What Do the Records Say About Your Ancestor's Town?

You can get real insight into your ancestor's hometown by looking closely at its birth, marriage, and death records.

Not long ago I discovered the original hometown of my 2nd great grandmother, Colomba. She's the only one of my 2nd great grandmothers to leave Italy and settle in America. I wanted to know which town she left behind.

I had to piece together bits of evidence to learn her hometown. I discovered Colomba was born in 1845 as Vittoria Colomba Consolazio in the town of Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy. By the time I learned this, I already had years of experience reading and documenting the vital records from a few of my nearby ancestral hometowns.

This town stood out among its neighbors. Reading through all the records uncovered the differences.
This town stood out among its neighbors. Reading through all the records uncovered the differences.
In those other towns, about 9 out of 10 people were farmers. They worked their plots of land to produce enough food and livestock for their own survival. A much smaller number of townsmen were shopkeepers, shoemakers, butchers, and barbers. There was usually one doctor in the town.

But Santa Paolina looked different. It's a very small town. Very small. Most of the marriages in the 1800s involved a partner from another town because there weren't enough potential spouses to go around. That was the case with my 2nd great grandparents. Antonio Saviano came from another town to marry Vittoria Colomba Consolazio in Santa Paolina. Before long, they moved back to his hometown.

Apart from importing marriage partners, Santa Paolina had another noticeable difference. Santa Paolina's men had better jobs. They weren't working their land to survive. This town had a lot more tradesmen (bricklayers, blacksmiths, and manufacturers) and professionals (merchants, notaries, and doctors).

So many spouses came from another town. What drew them to this spot?
So many spouses came from another town. What drew them to this spot?
The fact that fewer people appeared to be scraping by says a lot about the town. And possibly about the mindset of the people there.

This little town is in a stream-filled valley at the foot of a mountain where prehistoric man was known to live. The town's craftsmen from the Neolithic age (which ended about 2000 BC) produced fine pottery. Today the town is known for its wines and handmade lace. Records of this town date back to the year 1083. My roots in the town may run that deep.

Was it their centuries-deep roots that made this town different than its neighbors? Did their fertile land ensure the wealth of the vineyard owners? Did that attract young men and women from other towns to marry into Santa Paolina families? Did it allow people the "luxury" of being craftsmen instead of laborers?

When my 2nd great grandfather Antonio came to Santa Paolina for marriage, he was a shoemaker. He came from such a small town, I walked up and down most of it in a few minutes last year. Antonio had a different occupation each time one of his children was born. He was a bricklayer, a manufacturer, a farmer, a driver, and a merchant.

Based on marriage records, it seems my 2nd great grandmother's brothers may have inherited the family's land. That may be why Vittoria and Antonio moved back to his hometown. It may also be why Antonio kept changing professions.

If Vittoria's father did overlook her, that may have encouraged my 2nd great grandparents to come to America. According to the U.S. census, 10 years after arriving in New York City, 67-year-old Antonio had his "own income". He retired soon after. His family never seemed to want for anything, and Antonio was respected in his community. It looks like my 2nd great grandparents made the right decision.

Thanks to DNA, I've discovered some distant cousins with shared roots in Santa Paolina. I'm busily working to fill out our common branches. Somewhere in those documents I may find out why this town was so different than its neighbors.

What can vital records tell you about your ancestor's hometown when they lived there?


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Friday, February 22, 2019

This Project Makes Your Family History Larger than Life

This is the next best thing to seeing and holding your ancestor's original documents.

You're so wrapped up in your genealogy treasures. And rightly so! You've found proof for all those birth names, birth dates, marriages, and deaths. You've got immigration and naturalization records. You've got military records and census sheets galore.

Then you visit your cousins and have no good way to share the enormous scope of your family history work. What can you do?

The answer is paper. At least, until I invent the family tree hologram. And big paper, at that.

I've lived my life at a computer keyboard since 1982. I prefer to keep every genealogy document in digital form. Named logically, filed logically, and backed up weekly. But sometimes paper is the most powerful way to share the joy of your family tree.

Here's a project that will help you get those cousins excited about your crazy, obsessive, endless hobby.

An inexpensive paper cutter makes this process so easy, you won't believe it.
An inexpensive paper cutter makes this process so easy, you won't believe it.
Notice the 12" ruler at the top for scale.
This project has just a few steps:
  • print
  • trim
  • tape
  • file
You're going to print over-sized documents that your cousins can read. No magnifying glass required. You'll start with your closest relatives—the ones for whom you've found documents.

You can print across several sheets of paper from certain programs.
You can print across several sheets
of paper from certain programs.
My two grandfathers immigrated to the United States from Italy, so they're a great place for me to start. I can print out full-sized copies of all their major documents:
  • ship manifests
  • census sheets
  • naturalization papers
  • military documents
  • birth, marriage, and death certificates
To make these big printouts at home, you have a couple of options.

Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Paint (yes, plain old Paint) let you print your image on multiple sheets of paper. I like Acrobat because it can add "cut marks" that come in handy when you're ready to put the sheets together. In Paint, you can choose how many pages to print to. For example, you might find that 2-pages wide by 2-pages high is a good size. For Mac users, whichever application you use, look for Scale options in the Print dialog. Note: I was able to open a document image in Photoshop and export is as a PDF. This is my best option.

Once you print out your images, a paper cutter is the best tool for trimming off the excess. You can find low-priced paper cutters like this one from Overstock. I bought a similar one a few years ago for $15. They should have some in your local craft or sewing store, too.

Now line up your trimmed sheets, two at a time. You're going to want to tape them together on the back side. Don't skimp on the tape. It's going to form a very convenient fold-line for storing your oversized document.

These big documents are very impressive, and so much easier to read than a shrunken down version.

An accordion folder is an easy way to carry a huge number of big documents to your next family gathering.
An accordion folder is an easy way to carry a huge number of big documents to your next family gathering.
Print and assemble all the documents you like for a particular ancestor. Then fold them down, clip them together, and put them into an accordion folder. Fill your accordion folder with documents and bring it with you the next time you visit your relatives.

I dare your cousins not to light up at the sight of these big, old-timey documents with their ancestor's name on them!


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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

3 Rules for Naming Digital Genealogy Documents

These 3 logical rules will add tons of value to your family tree and every document in it.

I'm a natural-born organizer. My strict computer file organization is easiest to see in my thousands of genealogy image files. Thanks to my 3 rules for naming and storing digital genealogy files, I can locate the original copy of any image in my tree in seconds.

It's worked so well, that what happened to me on Sunday was shocking. I was following my rules, but the correct filename was already taken.

It seems I have 18 people in my family tree named Giuseppantonio Pozzuto. Two were born in 1814. When I tried to save an image file as PozzutoGiusappantonioBirth1814.jpg, my computer asked if I wanted to overwrite the existing file. No, I didn't.

To get around the problem, I added Giuseppantonio's father's name to the file name: PozzutoGiuseppantoniodiDonatoBirth1814.jpg. I use "di" as shorthand. In Italian, it tells us Giuseppantonio is the son of Donato.

That's the first time my genealogy file naming rules hit a snag. Ever. That tells me it's a solid method.

Here are the rules:

1. Folder-Naming Format
  • Keep your genealogy files in one top-level folder. I named mine FamilyTree. It's synchronized with OneDrive, and I make a weekly manual backup, too.
  • In your main folder, create a separate folder for each major type of document you'll collect. Name them as simply as possible so you'll never forget what's in each one. For example:
    • census forms
    • certificates (for birth, marriage, and death records)
    • city directories
    • draft cards
    • immigration (for ship manifests)
    • naturalization
    • passports
    • photos
    • yearbooks
  • Make as many folders as you need. Now everything is centralized.
Simple, logical file folder names remove any confusion.
Simple, logical file folder names remove any confusion.

2. Image-Naming Format

Inside each of your folders, follow a consistent, simple format.
  • For census files, the format is LastnameFirstnameYear.jpg, using the name of the head of household. Example: KinneyJames1920.jpg
  • For ship manifests, the format is LastnameFirstnameYear.jpg. But:
    • When there are 2 sheets to a ship manifest, the format is LastnameFirstnameYear-p1.jpg and LastnameFirstnameYear-p2.jpg.
    • When there are 2 people on the manifest, you have a choice. Either duplicate the file, 1 for each person, or double-up the names. Example: BaroneNicolinaPetriellaDomenico1891.jpg.
  • For draft registration cards, the format is LastnameFirstnameWW1.jpg or LastnameFirstnameWW2.jpg. These cards have 2 sides, so they need page numbers. Example: MaleriEnsoWW2-p1.jpg and MaleriEnsoWW2-p2.jpg.
I keep all vital records together in one certificates folder. Because they're together, they need more detail in their file names. Why don't I separate them into birth, marriage, and death folders? I prefer being able to see every vital record for a person in one place. It's a personal preference.

The simple rule for certificates is LastnameFirstnameEventYear.jpg. Double up names for marriages, and use page numbers when needed. Examples:
  • BasileGiovanniBirth1911.jpg
  • BasileGiovanniPillaAssunta1stMarriageBanns1933.jpg
  • BasileGiovanniPillaAssunta2ndMarriageBanns1933.jpg
  • BasileGiovanniPillaAssuntaMarriage1933-p1.jpg
  • BasileGiovanniPillaAssuntaMarriage1933-p2.jpg
  • BasileGiovanniDeath1942.jpg
Having separate folders helps you avoid problems with duplicate file names. I have a census image named IamarinoPietro1930.jpg and a city directory image named IamarinoPietro1930.jpg. But because they're kept in different folders, there is no conflict.

Always follow the same pattern when naming your document image files.
Always follow the same pattern when naming your document image files.

3. Image Comments

You can add important facts to an image file when it's in a folder or in your family tree software. Take the long view. When you return to a file years later, or when someone takes over your genealogy research, these extra facts will be worth a fortune.

In your file folder, right-click an image, choose Properties and click the Details tab. (I'm not a Mac person, so I don't know what your choices will be.) Add a plain-language title and detailed comments. When you import the image into your family tree software, your added facts will come along.

I give my images the exact title I want to see in Family Tree Maker. I lead with the year so the images are listed chronologically. It's a very simple format: Year, type of document, person. Example: "1911 birth record for Giovanni Basile".

You can add a lot to the Comments field of the image's Details tab. I add enough detail so anyone can find the original source of this image. Example: lines 12-15; 1940 United State Federal Census; Connecticut > Fairfield > Bridgeport > 9-97; supervisor's district 4, enumeration district 9-97, ward of city 8, block 421, sheet 12A; image 24 of 33; https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/2442/m-t0627-00532-00508

I don't add a date to the image's Details tab because it can't accept the date format I use in my family tree: 5 Feb 2019. Instead, I add the event date to the document image within Family Tree Maker.

These 3 rules have served me well. I hope they'll help you avoid confusion, find files easily, and fortify your family tree.


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