Showing posts with label history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

Friday, November 9, 2018

5 Steps to Writing Your Ancestor's Life Story

You've got the raw materials. Now let's shape them into a remembrance of your ancestor.

Have you ever thought of writing about your family history? Do you have an ancestor who's interesting enough to write a whole book about, but you don't know where to start?

It's very possible you haven't started because the whole project seems too big.

Your tree on Ancestry.com has a LifeStory view.
Your tree on Ancestry.com has a
LifeStory view.
Let's end that problem here and now. Stop thinking of your ancestor's story as a book. Don't even think about it as a short story.

Break things down to 5 simple steps and watch the project take on a life of its own. To show you this simple process, I'll use my grandfather Adamo Leone as an example. Since he was a World War I veteran, this is good timing.

Step 1: Gather Basic Facts

I've gathered almost every major document possible for my grandfather. Only his naturalization papers are missing. I'll start this process by looking at this facts chronologically.

In my Family Tree Maker software I can view a timeline of every recorded fact. On Ancestry.com I can view his "LifeStory".

No matter how you view your collected facts, this is where you'll begin. Use whatever word processing software you prefer. Put your ancestor's name at the top and start a bulleted list using the simple format of Date: Event.

Family Tree Maker has a nice timeline view. Does your software?
Family Tree Maker has a nice
timeline view. Does your software?
Copy the main facts, in order, into your outline. Try to use complete sentences, but don't worry about making things perfect. If you're inspired to add a sentence or two to describe something about a fact, go right ahead.

Step 2: Add Historical Context

My grandfather fought in World War I and was a prisoner of war in Austria for a year. I've gathered facts about the battle where he and 300,000 other Italian soldiers were captured. Earlier this year I went to Italy and photographed his Italian military record. That document is packed with dates I can add to his timeline.

I'll add the name and date of his battle. I'll add the dates of his imprisonment. I'll add the time he spent recuperating before returning to New York.

I'll add some facts I've gathered about the places he worked or owned a shoe store.

In short, I'll try to paint a picture of what was going on in my grandfather's life and in the world.

Step 3: Add Documents and Photos

You don't want to make your file too big to share. So don't add every document you've collected to this file.

There's probably no one who cares as much about every single census record as you do. Be conservative as you add images to your ancestor's life story.

Place some photos and document images where they belong in the timeline.

When you break it down, writing your ancestor's story can be pretty easy.
When you break it down, writing your ancestor's story can be pretty easy.
Step 4: Personalize Facts with Basic Details

Now that you've got so many facts listed in chronological order, it won't be hard to make them more fun to read.

Go through all the facts one by one. Add words to make more complete sentences. Add details that you know from memory or from family stories.

For instance, when my grandfather had his own shoe repair store, he once made shoes for the famous actress Gloria Swanson. She was only 5’1” tall and had tiny feet. She wore a size 4 shoe. Sometimes he would make sample shoes for her. If there were any that she didn’t want, Adamo brought them home to his wife, Mary. No matter how tiny the sample shoes were, she would cram her feet in there and wear them proudly. Eventually he stopped bringing them home, maybe because he saw how much pain they caused his wife.

Step 5: Add Memories

Step outside of your list of dates. After all the facts, start writing some of your personal memories about your ancestor. If you're too young to remember them, ask your parents or older relatives for their memories.

When I think about my grandfather, I mostly think about when I was a little girl—even though I was 28 when he died.

I remember being in my grandfather’s house for every holiday. The house was actually an apartment building. He and my grandmother lived upstairs, and my great grandparents lived downstairs. As kids, we were running up and down those stairs all the time. My grandfather would take a chair and sit in the hall outside his apartment. All he ever said, in Italian, was something that sounded like "sorda sord". I understood it to mean "quiet down, stop running, behave". Now I think he was saying "sotto, sotto", short for sottovoce: whisper or quiet down.

Put each story in a separate paragraph. Once you're done, arrange those paragraphs in chronological order as best you can.

Now all you need is an ending. It may be a quote from the person or a quick summary of their life.

My grandfather was a quiet man who always had a smile on his face. He loved his family and his life in his adopted country. How I wish I could have him with me when I've gone to visit his hometown in Italy. But, of course, I do feel his presence when I'm there.

You can complete a life story for one ancestor in a single day. Where and how will you share them? Consider:
  • saving the file as a PDF so it's easy to share
  • adding the file to your family tree
  • printing the file to create a booklet to give to your interested relatives
  • publishing the contents on your blog or your Facebook page.
Several years ago I went to a seminar about writing your ancestor's story. I was focusing on my great grandfather. But I never wrote his story. I didn't know how to dive in.

But now I've created this story about my grandfather so easily. (Here's how it turned out.) There's nothing to stop me from doing the same for:
  • my great grandfather
  • my other grandfather
  • my parents
  • and anyone else for whom I've collected enough facts.
What's stopping you?


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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.


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Friday, June 29, 2018

My Family (Isn't) In the Newspapers

Nov. 7, 1917 New York Tribune headline
This Nov. 7, 1917 New York Tribune
headline is my grandfather's story.
I've tried using historic newspaper websites for my family tree research. I never seem to get anywhere.

My ancestors were not in the society pages. They weren't captains of industry. All I've ever found are some of my great grandfather's real estate transactions.

Today I tried a different approach. I learned more about my ancestors' lives by examining one important historical event.

I turned to the free, online resources of the Library of Congress. Their "Chronicling America" project gives you access to historic American newspapers from 1789 to 1963.

To get started, choose a state and a range of years. You can also try adding some keywords to your search.

How I Chose My Historic Event

Last month while visiting Italy I saw and photographed my grandfather's World War I military record. I know the name and dates of the major battle in which he was captured and imprisoned for a year.

He had been in New York before the war. He'd joined a few of his first cousins in Manhattan and was working as a shoemaker.

At the Italian archives in Benevento.
A dream come true! Visiting the Italian
archives to see my grandfather's records.
When his Italian Army regiment called him up for duty, he sailed back home. He was in the infantry in 1915. He was promoted to Corporal on January 1, 1917.

Then, like a few hundred thousand other Italian soldiers, my grandfather was captured in the Battle of Caporetto. The German Army imprisoned him in Mauthausen, Austria, for a full year.

Using the Library of Congress, I searched the New York Tribune newspaper for the dates of the Battle of Caporetto. I watched the story unfold on the front page of the paper day after day.

I read about the prisoners, the casualties and the devastating losses.

Did my grandfather's first cousins—the ones who stayed in New York City—read this too? Did they wonder if their cousin Adamo was part of this epic battle? Did they wonder if he'd been killed or captured?

Now It's Your Turn

Today we get our news so fast, it's hard to imagine waiting for the newspaper to tell you what's happening in the war overseas.

Here's how you can put these free, digitized newspapers to work for you. Choose an event from history that was a huge news story during your ancestor's lifetime. Something they would have heard about nearly every day.

Using the Library of Congress online archives
Get started search American newspapers from the Library of Congress.
Narrow your search to a single year. Click the checkbox to show only front pages. You'll see much more at a time, and the biggest stories will be on the front page. Search the images' captions for the most important date for this event. Then click that image.

You can view the newspaper page by page, zoom in and out, and save any page as an image or a PDF. If your story is really big news, click to go to the next issue.

By looking at several issues' front pages, I saw the story of my grandfather's World War I battle unfold day by day. This battle has great significance for my family history.

What were the big stories that changed your ancestors' lives?


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Friday, December 8, 2017

Becoming Italian Was a Long, Hard Journey

The history of Italy is one of conquest, invasions, and turmoil. If you identify as all-Italian (although you were born somewhere else) expect to find a smorgasbord of ethnicities in your DNA.

The Papal States of Italy
For more history, see Understanding Italy.
By the late 1700s, Italy the Visigoths, Attila the Hun, the Lombards, and many more had attacked Italy. The pope was getting a little tired of the commotion. He convinced the Frankish King Pepin to kick out the invaders. Pepin then donated all of Italy to the pope and his successors.

That's how the Papal States came to be:
  • Kingdom of Sardinia
  • Republic of Genoa
  • Republic of Venice
  • Duchy of Palma
  • Duchy of Modena
  • Grand Duchy of Tuscany
  • Kingdom of Sardinia
  • Kingdom of Sicily

Months ago I published an article titled What's Napoleon Got To Do With Italy? to explain how each Italian town collected vital records in the 1800s.

In 1796, Napoleon was on a tear, conquering as much of the world as possible. He defeated his enemies, kicking Austrian and Spanish rulers off the Italian peninsula. By 1809, Napoleon controlled all of Italy.

That's why we're so lucky to have birth, marriage, and death records available to us starting in 1809. Napoleon ordered the creation of these vital records.

Even better, they defeated Napoleon in 1813, but the record-keeping continued.

Italian hero Giuseppe Garibaldi
Giuseppe Garibaldi.
One tough cookie.
After his defeat, our ancestors were back in a state of turmoil. They lost the northern parts of Italy Austria. The southern parts were Papal States once again. But no one was happy.

Do you have any ancestors who were born in Italy around May 1860? That's when all hell broke lose. During an uprising, Giuseppe Garibaldi kicked out foreign forces and took back Italy.

Now Garibaldi has streets and piazzas named for him throughout the land.

The kingdoms and duchies of Italy began their unification process. Lucky for us, because now we get to visit "Italy" instead of the Kingdom of Sicily or the Republic of Venice.

If you have Italian ancestors and haven't visited the Antenati website, you must! It's a treasure trove for genealogists. Here are some instructions and success stories:

If you have visited the site and did not find your ancestral hometown, check the News page regularly. You'll be the first to know when new records are added.

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Our Ancestors' Work Conditions

My ancestors came to America to escape poverty and earn money for their families. There was no work for young men in their hometowns.

When they came to America, industries were growing and needed men for hard labor. Some of my ancestors worked in coal mines or for the railroads. My great grandfather developed black lung disease, forcing his early retirement.

When World War I began, some industries had to change their ways. Long before Rosie the Riveter, women employees kept things running. Businesses also relied more on black workers.

Between December 1917 and March 1920, the government consolidated our railroads under the United States Railroad Administration.

This was a big deal. Independent, competing railroad companies now joined forces for efficiency. A year earlier, President Woodrow Wilson pushed through an act ordering railroads to limit their workers to an eight-hour work day. The workers were about to go on strike.

Now he had to avoid strikes and ensure the smooth flow of goods across the country. Wages went up, but they went up a lot more for senior employees than lower-paid employees.

In September 1918, two months before the war ended, the Secretary of the Treasury wrote a report to the president about the progress of the United States Railroad Administration.

Two facts in this report are very surprising for 1918.

The U.S. government recommended paying women the same wages as men...in 1918!
This is from the Federal U.S. government in 1918!
The government recognized the importance of women workers. Imagine that! While they protected women from jobs "unsuited to their sex", they paid them "the same wages as men engaged in similar work".

The U.S. government recommended paying black men the same wages as white men...in 1918!
Again, this is 1918!
The government recognized the importance of black workers. I don't know which of these facts is more shocking for 1918. The Secretary of the Treasury believed that "equal pay for equal service without respect to sex or color" was an act of justice.

This seems so enlightened for 1918.

After World War I, the Railway Administration Act returned the railroads to private ownership. Maybe that's why one railroad worker in my family tree was "off on strike" from July to September, 1922.

This man's service record is marred by one strike.
I'm guessing the privately-owned railroads weren't so dedicated to keeping the workers happy.

Most of my women ancestors worked at home, sewing. At least they avoided the sweatshops and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City.

We're doing better than our ancestors on working conditions. But the fact that the government recommended equal pay for all in 1918 makes you wonder when and how that stopped.


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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Putting Yourself in Your Ancestor's Shoes...Historically

Have you had the pleasure of visiting the country your ancestors came from? Those of us who have gone to the old country felt moved, enchanted, and somehow at home.

We found ourselves thinking, "How could they have left this beautiful place?"

But, as Michael Corleone said to his mother in "The Godfather Part II", tempi cambi. Times are changing. The quaint town you visited in recent times may be very different than it was when your ancestor lived there.

your ancestors emigrated from a place that may seem like paradise to you today
It may look like a slice of heaven to you, but your ancestor's hometown gave them reason to emigrate.

Recently I did some research to figure out where one ancestral branch came from. No one living knew if the family was German or Polish. After a bit of historical research, I can now place the family in today's Poland before they left for America. (See Finding Ancestral Homelands That Are No Longer There.)

My direct ancestors all came from Italy, but Italy was not united as a kingdom until 1861. My great great grandmother Marianna Iammucci was born in 1854. That means she wasn't born in the Italy we know today. She was born in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Marianna's son Adamo Leone fought for Italy in World War I. He came to America and returned to fight for his young country. As a result of that war, Italy became bigger, adding territories in the northeast.

After Italy's unification, there were big differences between northern and southern Italy. My grandfathers and great grandfathers faced poverty and a lack of opportunity. Each of them came to America to find work.

One of my great grandfathers, Francesco Iamarino, came to America at least four times. He stayed and worked for a while. Then he returned home to his wife and children.

His only son, my grandfather Pietro Iamarino, came to America at age 18. Pietro didn't visit his hometown until the 1950s when he was a widow in his fifties. He would have missed his father, who'd passed away by that time. But I can't begin to imagine how happy his mother must have been to see him one more time.

When you're researching your ancestors who left home to find a better life, pay attention to history. What was going on in their hometown when they chose to leave?

Here are two resources published by EmperorTigerstar that show how national borders and ruling powers changed during World War I and World War II. (See EmperorTigerstar's YouTube channel for tons of history.) They're a good illustration of how time changes everything.

World War I: Every Day


World War II in Europe: Every Day



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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Finding Ancestral Homelands That Are No Longer There

My son is getting interested in his family history! All these years, I'm sure he saw my hobby as "mommy being crazy for dead people".

I sparked his interest when I said he was one-eighth Polish. That gave him something in common with his Polish girlfriend. Now he's pushing me to find out all I can about his father's mother's father's family tree.

The tough part about the Stefaniak family is they came to America so early, their ship manifest doesn't include a town name. I haven't found naturalization papers, so I'm working with less than perfect sources.

I have found:
  • An 1890 ship manifest saying Mr. and Mrs. Stefaniak are from Prussia
  • A 1900 and 1905 census saying they're from "Poland (Ger)"
  • A 1910 census saying they're from "Ger/Polish"
  • A 1920 census saying they're from West Prussia and speak Polish
  • Their youngest son's 1930 census saying his parents are from Germany
  • The same son's World War I draft registration card saying his father's birthplace is Poland (state or province), Germany (nation)
Rough overlay of Prussia (purple) on today's map, highlighting West Prussia in red.
I'm sure my son will push me to find more genealogical documentation. In the meantime, I have to ask: What's the deal with Prussia? What area was called Prussia in 1890. How exactly did the German/Polish border shift between 1890 and 1940?

A website called the International World History Project has an essay explaining the history of Prussia (http://history-world.org/prussia.htm). Here are the highlights as they relate to the Stefaniak family:
  • The people known as Prussi lived around the Vistula River that cuts down the center of today's Poland. The Germanic people kept trying to convert the Prussi to Christianity as early as the 10th century.
  • Centuries later, there were ongoing tensions between Germany and Poland. West Prussia had become part of Poland. East Prussia became independent of Poland.
  • In the 1700s the Kingdom of Prussia became an enormous power in Europe under King Frederick and his heirs.
  • In 1890 when the Stefaniak family came to America, Prussia was a kingdom within Germany under the imperial chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Prussia consisted of a big chunk of the northern parts of today's Germany and Poland. On a map of Prussia in 1890 I can see that West Prussia—as the 1920 census noted their birthplace—includes the area around today's Gdansk, Poland.
  • After World War I—after the draft registration card said Mr. Stefaniak was from the state of Poland in the nation of Germany—West Prussia was lost to Poland.
  • Prussia ceased to exist in 1947.
This world history solves a family mystery over whether this branch of the family was actually German or Polish. Ethnically, they were Polish. They came from the area that is today's Poland. Their only association with Germany is that their kindgdom was part of the nation of Germany at various times.

Now my son can confidently tell his Polish girlfriend that he is one-eighth Polish.

When you come from a place that no longer exists, it feels good to finally be able to put a pin in that map and call it your ancestral homeland. How can you apply this type of history lesson to your own family tree?


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Friday, October 6, 2017

When Did Your Ancestors First Use a Last Name?

Your family tree research has a long way to go if your oldest generation has last names.

William the Conqueror and his brothers.
It's the The Conqueror family!
(12th century - Lucien Musset's The Bayeux Tapestry
ISBN 9781843831631, Public Domain, Link
Mayflower descendants are thrilled to trace their genealogy back to the early 1600s or beyond. I'm thrilled to have traced my Italian peasant ancestors back to the late 1600s.

But you're in a whole 'nother class of family tree research when you've gotten back to ancestors with no last names.

Last names, or surnames, or cognomi in Italian, didn't exist several centuries ago. Most people couldn't read or write, and they didn't travel far. So formal last names weren't needed.

Chinese last names are one very big exception. Around 2852 B.C. it's believed the Chinese emperor ordered his people to adopt last names. Those last names had to come from a sacred poem of the time. This would explain why most Chinese people to this day have as few as 60 last names among them. [source: www.lifescript.com]

In the medieval days of Europe (picture "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"), last names weren't needed. Once civilizations began collecting taxes from their people, they started recording their names. They needed a way to tell people apart so they knew who to hound for those taxes.

Enter the surname.

There are four basic surname types.

1. Occupational Surnames

Some Western European cultures began using their trade as a last name (Smith, Shoemaker/Schumacher, Wright, Miller).

2. Patronymic (or Matronymic) Surnames

Some cultures used surnames based on male names (Johnson, Ericson, MacDonald) or female names. The form of a surname meaning "son of the father" takes on a different variation in different cultures:
  • Fitzgerald means son of Gerald
  • Ivanovich means son of Ivan
  • DiGiovanni means son of Giovanni
  • Stefanowicz means son of Stefan
3. Topographical Surnames

Some cultures used place names (Palermo, Napoli). Place names might also be a description of a place (Hill, Ford, Glen[n]). The last name Church is common in multiple languages (including L├ęglise, Iglesias). Place names are also why many Polish names end in -ski. Someone from Gryzbow might be named Gryzbowski.

4. Descriptive Surnames

In some cases the noble class of a society imposed an unflattering surname on someone of a lower class. As time went on, the bad meaning of the surname became accepted as a name and not an insult. Descriptive names can be friendly (Young, Good, Brown/Braun/Bruno) or based on an undesirable characteristic (Basso means short, Grosso means fat). A redhead might be called Russo or Rubino.

As early as the 11th century, people decided to pass this assumed surname to their children, making it a family name. [source: http://forebears.io/surnames]

These basic formations of names explain many of the last names in our family trees.

To learn about name variations, plus surname prefixes (Mc, Mac, Del) and suffixes (etti, ella) in various nationalities, see:

I guess the goal is to be Valerie Bertinelli and trace your tree back to William the Conqueror!


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Sunday, September 24, 2017

How to Share Your Family Tree Research with Relatives

It's time to create your family history books.
Maybe you started recently, or maybe you've been at this genealogy business for years. Either way, you've learned a lot about your ancestors.

You gathered tons of facts—births, marriages, deaths—and piled up a bunch of evidence. You've got ship manifests for your immigrant ancestors. Census records for everyone born before 1940. So much material that no one else in your family knew.

How are you sharing all this family history with your relatives?

About 10 years ago, I was still fairly new to family tree research. One cousin encouraged me to create a large-format tree to share with my fellow Saviano & Sarracino descendants. I told her, "I've got so much more to find!" She said, "There will always be more to find, but you need to share what you have."

I created a 2-foot by 5-foot family tree starting from my great great great grandparents. It goes all the way down to the present day (as of 2007 or so). I went to Fedex Kinko's to have 40 copies printed, which I gave to the heads of the many families on the tree.

At that point, everyone from my mother's side of the family knew what I was doing for fun. I became the go-to family historian.

But that big poster was all I ever created and distributed. And it is barely the tip of the tip of the iceberg (not a typo).

What about the rest of it? How do I share with my relatives the fact that our shared ancestor moved several towns away to marry his wife. Then they moved to the next town. Then they went back to his hometown. And finally they came to America with all their surviving children.

How do I let my father's side of the family know that our great grandfather and his brother married two sisters. How do I show them the many trips to America our great grandfather made before retiring in Italy.

Giving your relatives access to your online tree isn't good enough. We might love that pedigree view, but where are the stories? Where is my particular grandfather's timeline?

We genealogists have an obligation to document our work in meaningful ways. Then we must share that documentation with our cousins, aunts and uncles, siblings, and more distant relatives.

What to Share

No matter what format you use, you need to create family history books. First divide up your family into logical groups, such as:
  • your mother's mother's relatives
  • your mother's father's relatives
  • your father's mother's relatives
  • your father's father's relatives

If your large family demands more subsets than these, spell those out, too. But each of your grandparents is a great place to start.

There will be some overlap. My first cousins—my mother's sister's children—are as interested in our grandmother as our grandfather. So they will want two of my books. But my second cousins have no relation to my maternal grandfather. It's the other book they'll want.

In my case, my other first cousins—my father's sister's children—get only one book. Why? Because our shared grandparents were third cousins. It doesn't make sense to make two books out of what's ultimately one family.

Try thinking of your family story like a Hollywood movie. My two grandfathers came from neighboring Italian towns and wound up living one block apart in the Bronx, New York. What a marvelous coincidence! Unknowing neighbors in Italy, their children attended the same school in the Bronx and later married one another.

That would be a great movie story of parallel lives finally uniting. That's a story to tell in chronological order.

Now consider what you'd like to include in each book. Here are some ideas:
  • Standard genealogy charts and reports—family group sheets and small trees, such as the parents and many siblings of your grandmother
  • Vital records—images of the birth, marriage, and death records you've found, and the facts from the documents you don't have in paper or image form
  • Timelines—focus on a specific individual and list his major life events in a timeline format. Include some historical facts to give more meaning to his life. For instance, I'll want to mention the start of World War I because of its profound effect on my grandfather.
  • Immigration records—ship manifests and naturalization papers. If you're lucky, you may have a passport photo to share.
  • Stories—either summarize parts of an individual's life in narrative form, or share an in-depth story that fascinates you
  • Photos—your relatives may love seeing a family tombstone as much as you do. Include old family photos that some relatives haven't seen.
  • Sources—include footnotes documenting the source of your facts. A generation from now, a young relative who wants to continue your work will bless you for eternity.
  • Table of contents and index—your relatives will keep your book and look at it now and again. Make it easy to find exactly what they want to find. Tip: Word and other software can create a table of contents and index automatically.

How to Create the Book

If you aren't using family tree software, this is going to be a very tough job. But if you are using family tree software or you have your tree on a genealogy website like Ancestry or FamilySearch, things are easier.

Your first step after deciding which books you need to create, is to find a central figure in your story. For instance, in my maternal grandmother's book, I would focus on her maternal grandfather. He was my first ancestor to leave Italy and come to America. I think there's a very interesting story there.

With your central figure chosen, create a large tree of that person's ancestors and descendants. Or create trees of smaller groupings, such as his direct ancestors and only his children.

Create trees that will give the most value to the relatives you want to share your book with.

Now gather your documents for this person: birth, marriage, immigration, census, death, and so on.

Examine your family tree's facts and documents for this person. As you write out their timeline of events, do any stories present themselves?

Does research tell you they emigrated due to religious or political persecution? Was there an earthquake that destroyed their town?

Have you discovered your ancestor's first marriage and other children you never knew about? There's an interesting story!

Your family tree software may have the ability to create a book with the pieces you've assembled. If not, you can put those pieces together in Word or a desktop publishing program.

Anything you can digitize—documents, trees, stories, even video or audio recordings—you can include in a Word document.

How to Share the Book

If your document is far too large to email, put it online and share its location with your relatives. You can use cloud storage that's free.

If your document doesn't contain any video or audio, consider having it printed at a local shop or a large store like Staples. You can burn your big book file to a CD-ROM and bring it to the store for printing.

Several online services will turn your work into a hard-covered book. That might cost you lots of money if you need lots of copies.

This is not an endorsement, but go to Bookemon.com, and you can view sample family history books. You can borrow ideas from their contents and layouts. They also have inexpensive templates and a book price calculator.

You know how I didn't want to print my family tree 10 years ago because I'd only just begun? That's the beauty of a strictly digital family history book.

You can update, correct, and add to the book at any time. Then give your relatives a link to the "latest edition".

Look at you! You're a genealogist, an author, and a publisher!


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Friday, September 8, 2017

Spinning Genealogical Facts into Your Family Story

I have a love/hate relationship with the TV show "Who Do You Think You Are?". I love seeing others experience the joy of finding an important genealogical document. But I hate that every celebrity is the direct descendant of a king or a patriot.

Where does that leave a descendant of peasants like me?

Whether you're the great great grandchild of powerful people or humble railroad workers, you do have an interesting story to tell.

You just have to find it.

Where to Look for Your Story

my great grandfather and apartment building owner, Giovanni Sarracino
How could this character NOT be interesting?
Take a look at what you've discovered about your grandparents and great grandparents. Check their census forms, immigration records, naturalization papers, and more.
  • Did anyone have an unusual job? My great grandfather seemed to go from bartender to apartment building owner overnight.
  • Did the two sides of your family converge before your parents were married? My two grandfathers lived in neighboring towns in Italy before winding up one block apart in New York City. They could see each other's town from their childhood home.
  • Did someone famous come from one of your ancestral hometowns? Hmmm. Well, my dad was in Regis Philbin's high school class at Cardinal Hayes in the Bronx, and George Carlin was expelled from there. But that's more of an anecdote than a story.
  • Is someone famous on the same ship as your ancestor or living on their street? I have found unrelated people from my maternal and paternal families on the same ship. That fits better with the "family convergence" idea.
  • Do you have an amusing six-degrees-of-separation story? I can connect myself to my favorite movie director, John Huston (1). His daughter Anjelica (2) was in the movie "Daddy Day Care" with Eddie Murphy (3) who was in "Shrek" with Mike Meyers (4) who was in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" with Fred Savage (5) who was in "The Wonder Years" with Josh Saviano (6) who is my third cousin. It's a fun parlor game, anyway.

For me, the story of my entrepreneurial great grandfather Giovanni Sarracino rises to the top of the list.

Where to Start Writing Your Story

One technique for crafting your story is to write out what you know as if it's a movie plot.
  • Where are the plot holes, and where should you search for what's missing?
  • What was going on at that time in history in the place where your ancestor lived?
  • What effect did any historical facts have on your ancestor?

Lots of census forms and directory listings pointed to Giovanni's evolving career path. Using the Fulton History website, I discovered real estate transaction notices in New York newspapers. Giovanni and his brother-in-law Semplicio were working as agents of a local brewery or two. First they were buying and selling buildings for the breweries. Then they were buying buildings for themselves.

Exactly what happened is still a bit of a muddle to me. There is more to learn about these defunct breweries. A visit to the Bronx Historical Society might be what I need.

It's going to take discipline, but you can do it. Put aside some of your research threads for a few days. Find your interesting nugget of a story. Write it down, gather some facts, and see where it takes you.

If you're not a celebrity, you won't be featured in an episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" or "Finding Your Roots". But you will become an instant celebrity within your family.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Your Family Tree Needs Your Ancestor's Passport Application

Did your immigrant ancestor travel back to the old country to visit his family? You may be able to find his U.S. passport application—complete with passport photo.

The Robison family of Westchester County, New York, planned to visit England, France, Italy, Egypt and Palestine in 1924. Their passport photo includes the entire family. The application provides everyone's name, date of birth and birthplace. Plus it includes Mr. Robison's father's name and place of birth, and his wife's maiden name.
A single passport application provided important genealogy facts for eight people.

This single document provides key facts for eight people! That is a fantastic find for any genealogist.

Mr. and Mrs. Walter Smith traveled to the British Isles in 1922 to visit family, and apparently to help me find the needle in the Smith haystack. With their passport application information, I was able to find the right Smith family for my family tree.
Faces to go along with the names!

U.S. government-issued passports date back to 1789. Passports were required for foreign travel during the Civil War and World War I. The rules eased for a while, but the requirement became permanent once World War II began.

If your ancestor went back to the old country to visit his parents, he might not be allowed back into the United States without a passport.

The National Archives in Washington, DC, holds passport applications from 1795–1925. They are available to some extent on ancestry.com and elsewhere.

Finding your ancestor's passport application can give you many facts, including the applicant's:
  • Birth date or age
  • Birthplace
  • Residence
  • Father's and/or husband's:
    • name
    • birth date or age
    • birthplace
    • residence
  • Wife's name
  • Date and place of immigration to the U.S.
  • Years of residence in the U.S.
  • Naturalization date and place
  • Occupation
  • Physical characteristics
  • Photograph—which may include other family members

Whichever resource you use, first check the description of the collection to see if it may include your ancestor.

Hopefully you'll find a thorough application with a photograph. That is certainly worth your ancestor's ticket price.


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