Showing posts with label in-laws. Show all posts
Showing posts with label in-laws. Show all posts

Friday, April 19, 2019

5 Tips for Researching the In-Laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Follow the Paper Trail

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

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

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

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

5. Seek Out Relatives

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

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

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

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

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


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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

When Documents Disagree, Get More Documents

Mo' documents, mo' proof. When researching a distant relative, supporting evidence is a must.

When you're going out on a limb of your family tree that isn't quite yours, it's easy to make mistakes. You have no personal knowledge of this branch. How will you know if the census taker made a mistake? Or if the death certificate informant was wrong?

How can you avoid putting bad information in your family tree?

Your best option is to gather every available scrap of evidence. Some facts will contradict each other. What if 3 documents say one thing and the 4th says another? Are the 3 sources reputable? Could the 4th source contain a human error?

Here's an example I found yesterday.

I'm working on one of my 2019 Genealogy Goals. I'm going line-by-line through my document tracker spreadsheet. Each time I find a U.S. census noted in a person's "Need to find" column, I'm searching for it. My goal is to do a "reasonably exhaustive search" for every missing U.S. census in my family tree.

After a productive weekend of searching, I was up to the name Foster in my alphabetical list of almost 2,000 names.

Elvia Foster was born in 1884 and married my ex-husband's grandmother's uncle. A 1916 Michigan marriage register was my only source of information for Elvia. The register lists the parents of the 32-year-old bride as Albert and "Unknown".

Poor Elvia needed more documents badly. Here's what I learned from several searches:

Go after every major document so you can see the whole picture.
Go after every major document so you can see the whole picture.

1. 1910 United States Federal Census

I found a 1910 census with an "Elva" Foster. She was from the right state (Michigan), but her father is Alfred J. Foster, not Albert. Her mother is either Lillie or Nellie. So I started looking for Elvia (or Elva) after her marriage.

2. 1920 United States Federal Census

In 1920 "Elvah" was still in Michigan, married to James Kinney. Their ages and places of birth supported the 1910 census information. I saw that she was a bookkeeper in a casket company. That's helpful. The 1910 census I'm not so sure about shows Elva Foster working as a bookkeeper in a cabinet company. Caskets are sort of cabinets…

But something caught my eye. Listed right above the Kinney family in the 1920 census are Alfred J. and Nellie L. Foster. The Fosters have one son with them: Everitt born in 1899. I checked that 1910 census again. There is a son listed as E. Lesley born in 1900. Taken together, these are good reasons to believe these Fosters are Elvia/Elva/Elvah's family.

Be careful not to overlook another part of the family.
Be careful not to overlook another part of the family.

3. 1930 United States Federal Census

In 1930 James and Elva are living in the same house as in 1920, but the Fosters are gone. Elva has worked her way up to office executive at the casket factory. Her husband James has changed careers. He's now a cabinet maker at a furniture factory. Maybe Elva's father, a carpenter, taught James a thing or two.

4. 1940 United States Federal Census

In 1940 James and Elva are still at the same address. There are no Fosters nearby. They're getting on in years. Elva has retired and James is in another industry.

5. 1900 United States Federal Census

I did one more search for an earlier census. The 1900 census lists Alfred J. Foster as James A. Foster. His year and place of birth agree with the other censuses. His wife is again listed as Nellie L., and Everitt or E. Lesley is now Lesley E. Pick a name, dude!

Luckily there was one more entry: Alfred's mother-in-law. She's listed as Elizabeth Beaumont, widow. So Nellie's maiden name must be Beaumont, right?

Normally I'd say "Yes…most of the time." But this was not enough data to be sure Nellie was a Beaumont. What if her mother had remarried?

6. Death Records

Since I had all the censuses I needed for Elva, I wanted to search for her death date. If I could find that, she would be complete in my document tracker. I'd have all the major documents I wanted.

Here's where I got really lucky. A Michigan death record and a Find-a-Grave link appeared at the top of my search results. The Michigan death record provides her birth date, town of birth, and death date. It confirms that her father was Alfred James Foster. It tells me why her mother was called Nellie: her given name was Cornelia. But Nellie's full maiden name is Cornelia Leona Peck, not Beaumont.

On the Find-a-Grave website, someone added photos and detailed information about the Foster family. Nellie's father was named Peck. Her mother (Elizabeth Beaumont from the 1900 census) had the maiden name Blackford. Hey! That's the name of a boarder living with the Foster family in the 1900 census.

Sure enough, Elizabeth Blackford did marry twice. Her first husband was John Peck, father of Nellie. Her second husband was Frederick Beaumont.

I'm not going to go any further on documenting the Foster family. They're way too unrelated to me. My policy is to capture the names of an in-law's parents. But I'm not going to add Nellie's siblings or parents. All I wanted to do was confirm Nellie's maiden name.

Now I have lots of data on Elva (that's the spelling that's used the most) Foster Kinney. There's nothing more I need to find on such a distant in-law.

Finding and processing the documents mentioned here took less than 2 hours (see "How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images"). Now my tree, shared on Ancestry.com, has the right names for James Kinney's wife and her parents.

This example shows why I encourage you to keep an inventory of the documents you have and the ones you're missing.

Those missing documents may completely change the facts in your family tree.

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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?


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Friday, September 21, 2018

How to Keep from Going Too Far with Your Family Tree

How do you know when to stop gathering documents and facts for the in-laws in your family tree?

My full collection of documents for a distant cousin's wife.
For certain types of distant relatives, I'm collecting
the basic documents and stopping right there.
I've been thinking about this ever since I decided to delete the in-laws of distant relatives from my tree.

Here's an example. When I was new at family history research, "easy" families were impossible to resist. So, when I saw my Great Uncle Mike's granddaughter-in-law had a tree with 7 generations of Uncle Mike's wife's family, I "adopted" them all.

I added this big branch to my tree with little or no documentation. I found documents for some of the people, but I didn't care enough about this branch to see it through. They weren't mine.

My new policy is simple. Unless I have a reason to go further, I will stop at the parents of a relative's spouse. I kept Uncle Mike's wife's parents, but the rest of her many ancestors are gone.

The 2 main reasons I would break this policy are:
  1. An in-law asked me to research their family.
  2. The in-law family is from the same town as mine and may be related.
With this new policy fresh on my mind, I found myself looking at documents for a relative's wife today. I downloaded Emily's naturalization papers from FindMyPast.com 2 weeks ago. They were offering free access for a few days.

The site had indexed Emily by her married name—my family name—which is why I found her. I recognized who she was immediately and downloaded the 2 pages. Then they sat on my desktop for a while.

When I finally examined the naturalization papers, I realized I had Emily's:
  • date and place of birth in Italy
  • immigration date with the name of the ship
The pages also confirm the birth dates I had for her husband and son, so they're well worth having.

Before I found her naturalization papers, all I had for Emily was:
  • Her 1927 marriage certificate—but not a copy of it. I saw and transcribed it at the New York City Municipal Archives years ago. Her parents' names were on that marriage certificate, so I already had them in my tree.
  • The 1940 U.S. Federal Census.
  • The Social Security Death Index record of her death in 1991.
Knowing that I have no plans to add anyone else from her family, what other documents should I try to find and add to my tree?

Her naturalization papers say she was born on 2 Dec 1907 in Savignano, Italy. So I've got to look for that document. Vital records for Savignano are available online, so I drilled down to the year 1907 and found it.

This document gives me her mother's original name and her father's age and occupation. I don't need any more details about Emily's parents.

In 1907 Emily's town was called Savignano di Puglia. She was born on Via San Giovanni.
In 1907 Emily's town was called Savignano di Puglia. She was born on Via San Giovanni.
Oh, by the way, her name isn't Emily. I always thought it might be Emilia, but now I have her birth record. She was born Ermilinda Franceschina Concettina D'Apice. She signed her marriage certificate as Emily, and her naturalization papers say Emily. But those papers also include the name "Ermelinda".

Now I have Emily's:
  • 1907 birth in Italy
  • 1927 marriage in New York
  • 1940 census in New York
  • 1944 naturalization in New York
  • 1991 death in New York
What's the most important piece of documentation missing from that list? She was born in Italy and married in New York. How did she come to America, and with whom?

Emily and her sister Giuseppa came to New York in 1919 to join their sister Elvira in the Bronx.
Emily and her sister Giuseppa came to New York in 1919 to join their sister Elvira in the Bronx.
Her naturalization papers include an immigration date of 19 Dec 1919 aboard the S.S. Duca D'Aosta.

When I found her ship manifest, she was single and sailing with her much older, unmarried sister, Giuseppa. They listed their father Angelo, so I knew they were the right family from Savignano. They were joining their other sister, Elvira, at 628 Morris Avenue in the Bronx.

Emily's street in Savignano still exists. It's always nice to get an idea of where the people in your family tree came from.
Emily's street in Savignano still exists. It's always nice to get an idea of where the people in your family tree came from.
I had to laugh when I saw that address, because if you were going there, you were bound to meet my relatives.

So now I've learned the names of 2 of Emily's sisters, the age of one of them and the address of the other. But I have a policy now. No unnecessary siblings of the spouse of a distant relative.

That's why Giuseppa and Elvira D'Apice will live in my tree only in Emily's immigration notes. Having a policy makes it much easier to deal with questionable situations like this. What I will add, because her husband and son belong to my family, is her 1930 census. And maybe I'll find her and her sisters in the 1920 census. But no more than that!

If you're a fan of Mel Brooks' movie "The Producers," you may recognize the phrase I will repeat when I'm tempted to add a wildly distant in-law to my family tree. "Be brutal! Be brutal!"


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