Showing posts with label hometown. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hometown. Show all posts

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.

Don't miss out! Please follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!

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.


Please take this 3-question survey to help me make this content better for you. Thank you!

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.

Please take this 3-question survey to help me make this content better for you. Thank you!

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?


I want to see you here again! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My Genealogy Jigsaw Puzzle: DNA Matches and Vital Records

Like any big puzzle, it helps to start with the edges and find pieces that fit one another.

Last time, I told you about a DNA color-clustering method. It shows you visually how you're connected to your DNA matches. This method, and the online tree of a crucial DNA match, showed me where I need to focus. Right down to a specific last name.

You see, my parents share DNA. This was a surprise to them, and I'm eager to be able to show them exactly which set of ancestors they share.

I'm focusing on the last name Pozzuto in the town of Colle Sannita, Italy. There were a lot of people in town with that name. And they must have been distinct families, because a high number of men married women with the same name.

I began by looking at the parents of one key DNA match, both named Pozzuto. The tree is not well sourced, and much of the information comes from my 97-year-old DNA match herself.

I have 77 people in my tree with this last name, but that's not enough pieces for this puzzle.
I have 77 people in my tree with this last name, but that's not enough pieces for this puzzle.
I turned to the massive collection of Italian vital records that I have on my computer. When you've got all your ancestral town's documents on a local drive, research is fast and easy. (Find out how you can download a collection like mine.)

I've been trying to confirm the names and birth dates of the people on both sides of the Pozzuto-Pozzuto tree. I find a person's birth record, then try to find their father's birth record and their grandfather's birth record. The goal is to identify someone who is already in my tree with a blood relationship.

After adding several people to my tree this way, I realized something. I have a cousin in Italy who's about my age and is named Pozzuto. His mother's side of the family is related to my father's side of my family. So his being a Pozzuto is a coincidence.

But…I've always thought he looks like my cousin on my mother's side of my family. What if this cousin, related to my dad but with a resemblance to my mom, is the key?

I started digging into the little bit of information he'd given me about his father. I quickly found his father's parents' 1932 marriage documents. I learned my cousin's grandparents' names and kept going until I had some of his great grandparents' names.

But I couldn't tie this Pozzuto family to that of my DNA match. Time for a new strategy.

Last summer I read about a genealogist's massive effort to build out family trees for everyone in his DNA match list. I think the Pozzuto family is my key. Why not put together every Pozzuto family sitting in my collection of vital records?

That's how I built a tree of 15,000 people from my maternal grandfather's hometown. I took the information from each vital record and entered people into a Family Tree Maker file. I placed babies with their parents. I found the parents' marriage records and gave them their parents. After a while, all the families fit together.

These are some of the files I've identified with this name so far. Lots more work to do!
These are some of the files I've identified with this name so far. Lots more work to do!
I'm going to pick a year, like 1860, and find each Pozzuto baby born in the town. I'll put them in my tree and give them my "no relationship established" marker (find out why that's important). As I go from year to year, I'll find babies that are siblings to the babies I found earlier. I'll build each family.

This will take lots of hours, but I'll wind up grouping together Pozzuto families. Some of them will be people I have in my tree already. Eventually I will find a direct line to my DNA match.

Still, that's not the goal. I need to find someone in that gene pool who married someone with a last name from my mother's side of the family.

All my ancestors came from neighboring towns. The prospect of marrying someone from the next town is very real. I've seen it. I'm eager to find a girl from Colle Sannita who married a guy from either Baselice or Pastene (most likely).

It's exciting to have all those documents waiting for me to read them. The answers are there! I simply need to dig and dig until I find them.

Can you do this with your ancestors' towns and your DNA matches?


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

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How to Understand Your Ancestors' Marriage and Remarriage Customs

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

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

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

Age at First Marriage

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

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

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

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

Remarriage: How Soon and How Old/Young?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Families Intermarrying

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, October 26, 2018

How to 'Attack' Your Ancestor's Small Town Vital Records

Everyone in your ancestor's small town may belong in your family tree.

Small towns may hold more genealogy gems for you than big cities. Let's use my 2nd great grandmother's little town of Santa Paolina as an example. The town has a very small number of houses, and a very small number of families.

Small towns are a blessing when researching your family.
Small towns are a blessing
when researching your family.
Learn the Names First

There may be only a small number of last names in your small town. Get to know them by looking at each year's vital records index files. Get familiar with the names so you know how to spell them. Later, when you're looking at records, you'll recognize even the most poorly written names.

Most of the names in Santa Paolina were brand new to me. But I learned them fast.

Choose Your Entry Point

You're looking at this town because at least one of your ancestor's was born, married or died there. Start with that ancestor's documents. All you can find.

As you enter the facts in your family tree, you can begin to branch out.

I first found my 2nd great grandmother by going straight for her 1871 marriage record. Now I had her year of birth and her parents' names. I found her birth record and her parents' birth records. I searched the years around her birth and found her siblings' names. I figured out her parents' marriage year and found those documents.

Now I had the names of some of my 4th great grandparents. With those names, I could search for the siblings of my 3rd great grandparents.

The family is blossoming out so quickly!

Some of the siblings I'm finding have their marriage date and spouse's name on their birth record. Now I can pick nearly anyone and build out their wing of the family.

Leave no stone unturned. Each document could be important to you.
Leave no stone unturned. Each document could be important to you.
Let Nothing Go to Waste

As I identify each relative's vital records, I change the original document's file name. Now I can see which documents I've processed and which may still hold goodies for me.

In a small town, you may have a very manageable number of documents for each year. Unless your only goal is to make yourself a long scroll of a family tree leading back to Charlemagne, harvest all those documents. They're all your people.

Think how many more DNA matches you can identify by spreading out your branches to take in that entire small town.


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

Friday, October 19, 2018

3 Ways to Find Your Ancestors in a Huge Pile of Documents

You've downloaded thousands of vital records from your ancestor's birthplace. How do you find your people in all those files?

My genealogy research changed dramatically in 2017. I decided to put my U.S.-based research on hold. Why? Because a new door opened wide. Now I have access to my ancestors' birth, marriage and death records in the old country.

Finally! I'm able to take my great grandparents back many, many generations. So far, I've discovered the names of:
  • 4 of my 8th great grandparents
  • 7 of my 7th great grandparents
  • 34 of my 6th great grandparents
  • about half of my 128 5th great grandparents
And I will discover many more.

A brief explanation: FamilySearch.org ended their microfilm program. They used to send rolls of microfilm to your local Family History Center. You could visit these rolls during your center's limited hours and view them on antiquated machines.

But in 2017 they began digitizing everything.

Earlier, I spent 5 years viewing microfilmed vital records from my grandfather's hometown. I typed all the important facts into a laptop. Suddenly those thousands of records are available as high-resolution images online. Free! And so are records from the towns of all my ancestors. You can find them on FamilySearch and on an Italian website called Antenati (ancestors).

I started viewing images from my grandfather Iamarino's town and downloading them. One by one. It was going to take forever!

Then I learned about a simple program called GetLinks. This program runs on any type of computer. It's compatible with FamilySearch and Antenati. For a full explanation and a link to the program, see How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.

Now I have well-organized image files from all my ancestors' hometowns. They range in time from 1809 to as late as 1942. But they include rewritten documents of births and deaths from the 1700s. That's how I've found such early ancestors.

Simplify your search by organizing your downloads.
Simplify your search by organizing your downloads.

I'm limited to documents written as early as 1809 only because it's Italy. If your ancestors are from other countries, you may find much older records on FamilySearch.org.

So let's say you've downloaded thousands of images containing oh-so-many of your ancestors.
  • How do you find your people?
  • How can you efficiently pull out the people and facts you need? 
  • What's the best way to find your needles in those haystacks?
I'm approaching my 8 haystacks (individual Italian towns) in 3 different ways. You might choose one or two, or want to do them all.

1. Most time-consuming; best long-range pay-off

I'm typing the facts from each document into a spreadsheet. In the end, I'll have an easily searchable file. Want to locate every child born to a particular couple? No problem. Want to find out when a particular 4th great grandparent died? No problem.

But it is slow-going. I've completed about 6 years' worth of birth, marriage and death records for one town. I return to this project when I'm feeling burned out on a particular ancestor search and want a more robotic task to do.

There is another benefit to this method. Spending this much time with the documents has made me very familiar with the names in my ancestors' towns. I can recognize names despite the awful handwriting. And when a name is completely unfamiliar, I often discover that the person came from another town.

A well-organized spreadsheet is best for making records searchable.
A well-organized spreadsheet is best for making records searchable.

2. Takes a few extra seconds; pays you back again and again

Whenever I find a particular record, I like to edit the name of the image file to include the name on the document. If it's an image of a single birth record, I add the baby's name to the end of the file name. If the name is common, I also add the baby's father's name. (I use the Italian word "di" as a shorthand for "son of" or "daughter of".) If it's an image of 2 birth records or a marriage record, I'll add both names to the file name.

The benefit of renaming the files comes later. When you're making another search in the future, the renamed file can save you time. You can either spot the name you're looking for, or use the search box in that file folder. You can even use the search box at a higher folder level.

Imagine you're looking for my grandfather's name, Pietro Iamarino. You can search his entire town at once and let your computer find every file you've renamed to include "Pietro Iamarino".

When I began downloading the files, I renamed each file containing anyone named Iamarino. Now I can always find the Iamarino I want. Quickly.

Adding people's names to the file names makes the collection searchable.
Adding people's names to the file names makes the collection searchable.

3. Efficient, fast and fruitful; makes you want to come back

To my mind, this is the most important lesson. You'll be more efficient at finding what you need in this massive amount of files if you put blinders on.

Search with a tight focus. Ignore the people in the index with your last name. You'll get back to them. But at this moment, when you're searching for someone in particular, don't look at anyone else. Zero in on that one name and complete your search.

Use this focused approach and find your ancestors faster. The moment you find them, rename the file and get that person into your tree.

My many folders of vital records hold countless discoveries for me. But I've found that choosing one family unit and searching only for them is highly effective. Here's an example.

I've found the birth record of a particular 2nd great grandparent. I know their parents' names (my 3rd great grandparents), but I don't know when they married or their exact ages. I'll search the surrounding years for more babies born to this couple. Now I'm putting together their family. I'm also trying to identify which is the eldest child. Now I can search a year before the eldest child's birth for the couples' marriage. There I can find their ages, and possibly see a rewritten copy of their birth records.

With that set of marriage records and my 3rd great grandparents' birth records, I've now discovered the names of 2 sets of my 4th great grandparents. And if they weren't born too early, I may be able to find their birth records, too!

Having built out one family unit as far as I can, I'm even more eager to pick a new family to investigate. Sometimes I'll choose a family with a dead end, and work to find that missing piece of the puzzle.

Which method will work best for you? Or will you combine all 3 as I'm doing?


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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Find Out What You're Missing on Those Immigration Records

Who and what are you overlooking on that ship manifest?

On 10 February 1909 my great grandfather boarded the S.S. Cretic in Naples, bound for New York City. He came to America a handful of times, earned money and went back home to Italy.

But his 1909 ship manifest is absolutely my favorite. His name is on line 3. But the men on lines 2, 4, 5 and 6 are all from his hometown. In fact, they're all related. Closely related.

Have you ever noticed on any of your relatives' ship manifests that people are often listed by town? You'll see several lines of people from one town, then several lines of people from another town.

Are you looking carefully at the other people from your relative's town? What are their last names? What are the names of the relatives they're leaving at home? Who are they joining at their destination, and what address are they going to?

If you look at these facts, you may find that some of the townspeople are related to your ancestor.

Take a look at my 5 townsmen.

Their relationships may not be obvious. Find all the clues and do some digging.
Their relationships may not be obvious. Find all the clues and do some digging.

On lines 3 and 4 you have 2 Iamarino brothers. They happen to be married to 2 Pilla sisters. Those sisters have a brother Innocenzo on line 5. They also have a sister who's married to Antonio Paolucci on line 6. So the men on lines 3–6 are brothers or brothers-in-law.

They're all travelling with another Paolucci on line 2. He is their cousin, and with some more research, I'm confident he'll be a closer cousin. Maybe he'll be another brother-in-law, too!

The first thing to catch my eye on this ship manifest was the name of my great grandfather's hometown: Colle Sannita. I saw it there with several ditto marks, meaning here were several people from the same town. Not a husband and wife and their kids—but 5 men.

This makes a messy graphic, but humor me.

Look beyond the name and ages, and see all there is to learn.
Look beyond the name and ages, and see all there is to learn.

When I found this ship manifest, I was searching only for my great grandfather, Francesco Iamarino. But all those Colle Sannita people were calling out to me.

This was the first time I learned of my great grandfather's brothers: Teofilo, on the ship with him, and Giuseppe, who they were going to join.

I checked the column where passengers list the name of a relative they left at home. Francesco lists his wife Libera. That's my great grandmother. Teofilo lists his wife Filomena.

Suddenly I had proof for a family story I'd heard. Two Iamarino brothers had married two Pilla sisters. Sure enough, Libera and Filomena were the sisters who married the brothers Francesco and Teofilo.

But wait! There's more!

Notice how all 5 men are going to the exact same destination. They are going to an address in New York City to join Giuseppe Iamarino.

Giuseppe is:
  • Giorgio's cousin
  • Francesco's brother
  • Teofilo's brother
  • Innocenzo's brother-in-law
  • Antonio's cousin

Wait. What? Is Antonio Paolucci on line 6 both my great grandfather's cousin and my great grandmother's brother-in-law? I've got more research to do.

If you're downloading your ancestor's ship manifest and simply filing it away, go back and look at it. How many names, relationships and clues are waiting there for you to discover?


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

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

4 Tips to Help You Find that Missing Ancestor

Here's how I'm finding the missing connections for my newly discovered ancestor.

Recently I told you how I found a big error in my family tree. It was the result of hard-to-read documents and my not being familiar with a particular town's families. I wound up following Rubina Cenzullo when I should have been looking for Ruffina Zullo.

Some of my ancestors moved to nearby towns to marry.
Some of my ancestors moved to nearby towns to marry.

When her death record showed me the truth—that Ruffina was born in another town—I knew exactly what I had to do.

The most important documents I needed to find in the new town (Apice, Italy) were:
  • her birth record (around 1816)
  • her marriage to my 3rd great grandfather (around 1843)

But now I have a new family named Zullo, and a whole new branch to discover. Ruffina's parents were Leonardo and Caterina. But I want to learn the names of my 4th and 5th great grandparents in this branch.

Here's what I'm doing to expand my new Zullo branch.

Find Siblings, Marriages, Deaths

Ruffina was born in 1816 when her father was about 27 years old. There could be siblings born before Ruffina, for sure. To find them, I used the GetLinks program to download all the Apice birth records. (Read about how GetLinks works with FamilySearch and the Antenati website. You'll find the download link there, too.)

I downloaded her town's 1809–1815 birth records and looked for Ruffina's siblings. I found:
  • Saverio Antonio Nicola Zullo, born in 1811
  • Saverio Zullo born in 1813

When two children of the same parents have the same name, it's a safe bet that the 1st child died before the 2nd was born. The 1st Saverio, in this case, should have died before the 2nd Saverio was born in 1813.

To prove that, I downloaded the town's 1811 death records. I found that the 1st Saverio died in October 1811.

But I found a surprise, too. A month earlier, in September 1811, another Ruffina Zullo died. She was the daughter of the same parents as the other children, and she was 2 years old. It's only because this Ruffina died that my Ruffina got her name.

The correct name led me to a new family unit.
The correct name led me to a new family unit.

This opens up another avenue for me to explore. I checked the 1809 Apice birth records. Ruffina was not born in Apice in 1809 (not in 1810 or 1811, either).

But I noticed something important. There are lots of people named Zullo in Apice to this day. But there was no one there with the same last name as Ruffina's mother: Trancuccio.

While thinking about this, I formed a theory.

Did Leonardo and Caterina, the parents of the Zullo siblings, marry in another town? Was it Caterina's hometown? That would explain why no other people in Apice have Caterina's last name. If this theory is right, 1809 Ruffina could have been born in Caterina's hometown.

This isn't far-fetched at all. Many times in 1800s Italy a couple would marry in the wife's town but live in the husband's town. My Ruffina's daughter Vittoria has a similar story, but with more complications.

Vittoria married Antonio (these are my 2nd great grandparents). Antonio was from Pastene; Vittoria from Santa Paolina. They married in Santa Paolina and had 1 child. Then they moved to the neighboring town of Tufo and had 2 more children. Then they moved to Antonio's town of Pastene to have the rest of their children. (And that's why my great grandparents met and married in Pastene.)

I used a website to see where Caterina's last name exists in Italy. I find it mostly in 2 nearby towns. Another tip: Enter the last name into a genealogy site search for immigration records. See where those people came from.

I downloaded the 1809 and 1810 birth records from these 2 likely towns. So far, I haven't found my 4th great aunt Ruffina Zullo. But I have found people with the last name Trancuccio.

I still like my theory, but I may have to check more towns.

I won't be visiting this ancestral hometown—at least not the old part of town. It was destroyed and abandoned after a 1962 earthquake.
I won't be visiting this ancestral hometown—at least not the old part 
of town. It was destroyed and abandoned after a 1962 earthquake.

There was another surprise waiting for me when I located my 3rd great grandmother Ruffina's siblings. On her brother Saverio's 1811 birth record, the father of the baby is "Leonardo Zullo di Saverio". That means "Leonardo Zullo, son of Saverio".

That's exactly what you hope to find! Saverio is baby Saverio's grandfather, and my 5th great grandfather. This Saverio Zullo was born in about 1764, possibly in the same town where Ruffina was born in 1816.

What can I do with 1764 Saverio's name to help build my tree some more?

Well, while looking for Ruffina's siblings, I saw several other Zullo babies born to different fathers. I also found some Zullo men and women who married in that town between 1809 and 1815. I can download all those records easily.

I can put together Zullo babies, brides and grooms. I'll match siblings by comparing their parents' names. With luck, I'll find a sibling for my 4th great grandfather, Leonardo Zullo. And maybe one of that sibling's records will tell me my 5th great grandmother's name. (I'll bet it's Ruffina!)

No matter who you're looking for, or which branch you're trying to grow, these basic tasks can help you succeed:
  1. Found an ancestor's birth record? Search the surrounding years for the births of their siblings. Comb each record for more information, like ages, occupations and other relatives.
  2. Based on the oldest sibling's birth, try to find marriage records for their parents.
  3. Starting in the year of the youngest sibling's birth, try to find death records for their parents.
  4. Pay attention to names. If your ancestor is from a big city, this isn't as helpful. But if you're looking at records from a really small town, you should see a lot of last names repeated. These are the long-standing families in that town. If your ancestor's last name is unique, maybe they're from another town.

Finding out Ruffina was born in Apice when I knew she married and had babies in Santa Paolina was a big surprise. Keep your mind and your eyes open. Let the facts you have suggest a theory about the facts you don't have. Then try to prove that theory. Don't give up the search!


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