Showing posts with label handwriting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label handwriting. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

3 Tricks for Better Genealogy Search Results

When your family won't turn up, try some tricky searches.

How many times have you searched for your relative in a set of documents and found nothing? Or maybe you found a ton of results that looked like junk to you.

There's a good chance that the search results are bad because the transcription was bad. Did the volunteer transcriber have trouble reading the bad handwriting? Did they enter dramatically wrong data into the system?

Your search is doomed to fail, right? Not necessarily.

If you use partial searches, related searches and detailed searches, you may find your family.

1. Partial searches

It was common for our ancestors to have a first name and a middle name. But how were they identified on the census form? Did the person providing the information know them by their middle name only? Or by an adopted name in their new country?

Try leaving their first name out of your search completely. Fill in their age and place of birth, but use only their last name.

Try the opposite, too. I had more luck finding my grandfather on a census with only his first name of Adam. The census-taker wrote his last name in a way I hadn't expected.

Simplify your search. Toss out the extras, and your results may improve.
Simplify your search. Toss out the extras, and your results may improve.
2. Related searches

When a family is tough to find, look at the kids. The particular combination of children's names in this family can be the key to finding them.

Do a search that includes all the kids' names. Leave off the last name and let the search focus on finding those kids together.

You can also try using the husband and wife's first names only. That combination may be what does the job.

3. Detailed searches

I'm having trouble finding my great grandfather's naturalization papers. His name often causes me problems. His given name was Pasquale Iamarino, but on some documents he is Patsy Marino. Or a combination of those names.

So I searched using his exact birth date. I didn't find him. I also searched using his birth year and town of birth, but no name.

His naturalization isn't showing up yet. But, I once found his wife's brothers on ship manifests by searching for their last name and town of birth only.

Here's an example using Pasquale Iamarino. I did a general search of all categories on Ancestry.com. I entered only his last name, his town of origin and his exact year of birth.

The results were terrific. In fact, they include one new result that I never expected to find. It's the claim ID for his railroad retirement pension. I'll have to buy a copy of it from the National Archives at Atlanta (why there?), but this is brand new information.

So many misspellings, but the results are all for my great grandfather.
So many misspellings, but the results are all for my great grandfather.
My dad says Pasquale may have had black lung disease from years of cleaning out the furnace of coal-burning train engines. He had to retire early on disability. This pension claim may tell me a lot more about what happened to him.

Also, the Suggested Records in the right column of my Ancestry.com results are very impressive! Despite all the spelling variations, that exact birth year seems to have done wonders for my search. All those records belong to my great grandfather.

The point is to experiment. Don't give up if the results don't look promising. All these genealogical records are a gigantic database. You may need to slice and dice that database to get past bad transcriptions and misspellings.

Give it a try the very next time you don't get the results you want. Do a partial search, add in related names, or toss out the names and plug in specific facts.

Working on your family tree is a big puzzle. Clever searches are yet another piece of the puzzle.

Don't get frustrated. Get clever.


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

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Single Best Technique for Reading Old Genealogy Records: Immersion

You may have started dabbling in genealogy years ago or months ago. Think back to the first documents you found for your family. What was the toughest hurdle for you?

For most people, it's the handwriting—and for some of us, the handwriting in a foreign language.

Do not let that slow you down! Every day I see people requesting document translations in Facebook genealogy groups. And there are always people ready to jump in to help. I'm one of them.

But we don't type out the translation because we're fluent in the other language. Or because we were raised to read and write in an old-fashioned style.

No. We can read and understand these birth, marriage and death records, census forms, ship manifests and more because we swim in them every day.

I've written articles about understanding foreign-language documents before. You'll find them at the bottom of this article. Much like "The Blues Brothers", I'm "on a mission from God." My mission: To throw you into the old-fashioned and foreign handwriting water and show you that you can swim!

Ten years ago this document was a ball of confusion. No it's all painfully obvious to me.
Ten years ago this document was a ball of confusion. No it's all painfully obvious to me.

A few days ago I realized the power of the immersion technique. I was hunting through some very old email I'd saved, trying to find the source document for some people in my tree. In a 10-year-old email, I found an 1886 parish marriage document for someone with my maiden name.

My reply to the email surprised me. I asked my friend, "Why are there so many names on this document? What does it all mean? Who are they all?"

As I look at the document now, it's perfectly obvious who they all are. They are the groom and his parents, the bride and her parents, and the witnesses.

Why was I confused by that? The answer is simple. Ten years ago I hadn't seen any 19th-century Italian marriage documents. Now I've viewed and transcribed thousands of them.

Familiarity is the main thing you need. You do not need to know the translation for each word on the page. You need to know the key words for things like:
  • born
  • died
  • son/daughter
  • husband/wife/widow
  • dates/numbers
Below are 4 articles with links to resources for helping you understand those old documents.

The single best technique for reading old genealogy documents is to expose yourself to lots and lots of them. Looking for your 2nd great grandmother's birth record? Look at the other documents before and after hers. Use them to help you figure out that one word or letter you cannot decipher.

You'll also see for yourself which names are common in the town. After you see it written 10 times, that difficult last name becomes so easy to pick out.

The obstacle of foreign languages and old-fashioned handwriting will disappear.

Use the tools available to you. Spend time looking closely at similar documents. Familiarity is your best teacher. You can do this!


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

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

You Can Read Foreign-Language Genealogy Records

"I don't understand the language" is not an excuse. You can find the facts you need on a foreign-language vital record.

The reason why you can is the format. Official records from your ancestor's town are usually written on a pre-printed form, or in a standard style. In most cases, it isn't hard to find the keywords: born, died, father, daughter, the twenty-third of May 1859. Find these words and you'll find the facts you need for your family tree.

Understand the Form or Format

As usual, I'm going to focus on Italian documents. That's where all my non-English document experience is.

Here are two examples of the basic formats you may find.

Annotated Italian-language vital record

On this 1813 birth record (download a larger version), the handwriting is easier to read than the pre-printed words. The basic format includes:
  • Document number
  • Date
  • Town official's name and town name
  • Keyword: comparso. Look for the word comparso (appeared). It's followed by the name of the person reporting this event. Let's call them the declarant because they are declaring a baby was born. On a birth record, the declarant is usually the father of the new baby, but it may be the midwife or a close relative. You should see their age (di anni), profession (professione), and where they live (domiciliato).
  • On this document, the next section is a paragraph that follows a format. It says on this day of this month at this time in the home of the declarant was born a baby to him and his legitimate wife. The sentence may include the baby's mother's name, age and profession. The sex of the baby is written as masculine (maschio) or feminine (feminina).
  • The name given to the baby
  • The names, ages and professions of two witnesses who are familiar with this family
  • Signatures (or a mark, if a person is illiterate), including that of the mayor.
My takeaways from this birth record? Antonio Iamarino was born on 3 April 1813 to Giorgio Iamarino, a 21-year-old farmer, and his wife Pietronilla Cocca, age 20. They lived on Strada li Tufi in my grandfather's town of Colle. One of the witnesses has the same last name as the baby's mother. He may be a relative.

Here's a harder type of record. It may look intimidating, but when you know what to look for, it isn't so scary.

A standardized but formless Italian document.

This document, written in 1820, was part of a set of marriage documents (download a larger version). It says that on 15 March 1810 Maria Viola died. She was the daughter of Gregorio and Angela Caporaso. She was the wife of the late Pietro Iamarino and 60 years old.

On a free-form document like this, start with dates. Then look at names and words for birth, death, baptism and relationships.

The key to breaking into this document is the word marzo (March) in the fourth line. The sentence begins, "A quindici marzo mille otto cento e dieci". If you study the numbers a little for the language you need, you'll recognize this as a date. It says "On 15 March 1810".

Immediately after the date is a name, Maria Viola. Then there's another keyword: figlia, meaning daughter. So the next names are her parents. Then we see moglie, meaning wife. So Maria was the wife of the next name, Pietro Iamarino who has died previously (the word fu tells us this).

Unless you're viewing a document with no idea where it came from, you have some context to help you. If you found this document, you'd know it's related to Francesco Saverio Iamarino whose parents were Pietro Iamarino and Maria Viola. The context will help you understand the document.

Locate the Keywords and the General Words

There is probably no better genealogical language resource than FamilySearch.org. You need an account to use this website, but it is free to join. The following pages offer the keywords for vital records and their English translation.
The pages above also offer the words for days, months, numbers and general words found on genealogy records. Get familiar with the language you need. It'll help you understand even more of the document. And when you're stuck on a word, try Google Translate. It may help you make sense of things.

Also check the language pages for other links to help you with handwriting, explain naming patterns in certain cultures and more.

Note: Bad handwriting or a low-quality image is a tougher challenge, but not impossible. Compare the difficult word to other words and letters on the document. If you think one letter in your problem word is a capital T, for example, compare it to another capital T in a word that is clearer to you.

I've read thousands of Italian vital records. I learned the Italian keywords quickly. I got used to the old-fashioned handwriting. Most of the time the important facts are ridiculously easy for me to understand.

You can do this! Get familiar with the important words. Find them in your document. Make sense of the facts.

Do not let your ancestor's language—the one you never learned—stop you from building your family tree.


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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

How to Read Names on Badly Written Vital Records

Imagine you're searching through a collection of old, hand-written vital records. You're winding through a reel of microfilm or clicking through a collection of images.

I'm familiar with the names in my ancestors' towns. So I can identify these names with zero hesitation.At last you find what you want: the marriage record for your 2nd great grandparents. Eureka! Now you can learn the names of two sets of your 3rd great grandparents.

You grab a magnifying glass or zoom in on the document, eager to see those new names.

But what do they say? They're almost completely illegible. You aren't sure of any of the letters!

What would you do? I've seen people share an image on Facebook, asking for opinions on a hard-to-read name. Time and again, the people who can read the name with authority are already familiar with the exact name.

That's the answer! I've been documenting vital records from all my ancestral hometowns for years.

I'm pretty fast at it. Why? Because this practice helps me decipher even the most sloppily written names in no time.

Scientists say we're able to read by recognizing the shapes of words. That's why it's easier to read this THAN IT IS TO READ THIS.

So, get familiar with the names from your ancestral hometowns. Then you'll find it easy see the difference between:
  • Chiusolo and Ciusolo
  • Anzuino and Anzovino
  • Ferella and Ferrara.
And bonus! If you're examining a small town, there was no doubt a lot of intermarrying. You may find you're related to the majority of the town! So it's worth your while to learn those names.

This image shows some examples of names that didn't slow me down for a second—once I made myself familiar with the town.


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