Showing posts with label maps. Show all posts
Showing posts with label maps. Show all posts

Friday, December 21, 2018

Which Global Map is Best for Genealogists?

Don't rely on one mapping tool when there are a few excellent ones.

I'm the oddball who searches on Bing instead of Google. I love Bing's features (a daily image and top news stories). Plus I rack up points to swap for $5 Amazon gift cards.

As a genealogist, I wondered which of these free map systems is better:
So I tested them side by side.

I chose to explore a small island in Italy where my uncle was born. I don't know the name of the street where his family lived, but I wanted to have a look around town.

When you enter a place name in both Google Maps and Bing Maps, there is a left panel with information. Both offer some quick facts about the place from Wikipedia. Google Maps offers photos, Street View or panoramic pictures. Bing Maps seems more interested in helping you travel to this destination. They offer info on places to stay and things to do. Note: Google Maps has that information, too, but it takes an extra click to get to it.

When searching for places where my ancestors lived, I want clear images, street names and a street-side view. For this location, the tiny island of Ponza, Italy, Bing Maps came up way short. You can see by these side-by-side comparisons that Bing's images are not clear and it's missing some street names.

Comparing Bing Maps and Google Maps side by side was eye-opening.
Comparing Bing Maps and Google Maps side by side was eye-opening.

Google Earth Pro is a downloadable program, but you can launch it from a website, too. It offers the same image detail as Google Maps, but it adds a topographical component. You can see if the town is flat, mountainous, or in a valley. (It is available for Windows and Mac. Go to their website for more information and to download.)

To test the level of detail each tool can give you, I zoomed in on a church in the town. I went all the way to street level and Bing Maps was the clear loser—for this location. It could not zoom in very far on the church and street view was not available at all. Google Maps and Google Earth Pro gave me the same streetside view of the church. But Google Earth Pro also gave me the lay of the land.

I did more side-by-side comparisons using 3 houses I've lived in: one in Pennsylvania and two in New York. Once again, Bing's overhead view didn't get very close to my house, and it was a bit fuzzy. Google lets me zoom in all the way until it switches to street view. Google Earth Pro also lets me get really close, and adds a more 3D quality.

It may seem like a slam-dunk to you that Google Maps is the clear winner, with Google Earth Pro coming in second for its topographical view. But I always check both Google and Bing. You will find cases where an address doesn't exist in one map, but it does exist in the other.

Bing has one terrific feature important to a genealogist. It shows the county name. I can put in a street address, and at the top I see "United States - PA - Bucks Co. - Upper Southampton Township."

This feature is one reason why I always go to both maps.
This feature is one reason why I always go to both maps.

As a genealogist, you owe it to yourself to bookmark Google Maps, bookmark Bing Maps, and install Google Earth Pro. Happy virtual travels!

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Lessons Learned from My 3 Trips to the Old Country

Each time I visit my ancestors' hometowns in Italy, I get a bit more adventurous.

Trip #1

Trip #1 to Grandpa's hometown.
Trip #1 to Grandpa's hometown.
In 2003 my husband and I went on our honeymoon. We planned a trip to quite a few of the most famous sites in Italy, from north (Lake Como) to south (Sorrento). I'd only just begun digging into my family history.

While staying at a cliffside hotel in Sorrento, home of limoncello, we took a day trip to the city of Benevento. Benevento is the province where every one of my ancestors (save one) came from.

We arrived in Benevento without a real plan. But we found out we could take a bus to my grandfather's hometown of Colle Sannita. So we hopped on.

During the ride, we learned the last bus back to the Benevento train station was leaving 45 minutes after our arrival. The bus was filled with college students who were all trying to be helpful. Some suggested we stay in the beautiful hotel in Colle Sannita called Ca' del Ré.

But all our stuff was in the hotel in Sorrento. So we resigned ourselves to a quick walk through town, and we headed back to the bus. We missed that bus because we got trapped in a bank that was in the midst of a power outage. I've written that improbable tale elsewhere.

The bottom line is, I got only a taste of my roots.

Trip #2

Two years later we planned a second trip to Italy. I'd made contact with a cousin in New York whose sisters still lived in Grandpa's hometown of Colle Sannita. We worked out the details so they were expecting my arrival.

Trip #2 to where Grandpa actually lived.
Trip #2 to where Grandpa actually lived.
My beautiful cousins made me feel like royalty. One cousin brought me from house to house, meeting dozens of cousins along the way. She translated for me when I couldn't understand or find the words. I kept hearing her say "due anni fa", meaning "two years ago". She told everyone how I'd tried to visit the town two years ago, but didn't know where my cousins lived.

The last person we visited that night was my grandfather's first cousin Libera. She wanted me to visit her daughter and two grandchildren the next day. Each one owned a restaurant in the city of Benevento. We met them and spent another entire day being treated with love and generosity.

That's the dream, right? To go to your ancestor's hometown, meet all the relatives, share stories and feel like you belong to the family. It was heaven.

Trip #3

Trip #3, soaking in Grandpa's hometown
Trip #3, soaking in Grandpa's hometown
Earlier this month my husband and I took another Italian vacation. This one centered on my ancestors' hometowns in the Benevento province. We spent three nights in the very same Ca' del Ré (House of the King) hotel the students on the bus recommended in 2003. I'd learned on trip #2 that the owner is the relative of my cousin's husband. Small world. Or perhaps small town.

We visited my cousins with the restaurants again and had a lovely time. We visited my cousin's home and talked about their grandparents—my great grandparents. We walked through the heart of town. The very same streets I'd looked at on Google Street View time and time again came to life beneath my feet.

Now, on the third try, I've seen it. I've gotten a glimpse of my life if my grandfathers and half of my great grandparents hadn't come to America.

You know what? I liked what I saw.

I wouldn't have the same career, maintaining corporate websites from home with my high-speed internet connection. But I would be there among ancient Roman relics, homes that dated back hundreds of years, and a breathtaking countryside.

If you can make the journey to any of your ancestors' hometowns in the "old country", be sure to slow down. Walk through the center of town and observe the people. Say hello to them. You may find they're more friendly and courteous to strangers than you're used to at home.

I'm already thinking about what trip #4 might be like. My goal? To stay longer. To live there for two or three months at a time. To become a familiar face in the piazza. To honor my ancestors.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Do-It-Yourself Genealogy Vacation, Part 2

Mapping Out Your Genealogy Vacation

My map collection for my grandfather's hometown.
My map collection for my
grandfather's hometown.
For days before my recent trip to Italy, I saved locations to my collection of places on Google Maps. Now I can access them from my iPhone, too.

I created a folder for each of my ancestral hometowns I planned to visit. I pinpointed churches, cemeteries, our hotels and a handful of addresses I'd found on my ancestors' vital records. For remote locations, I used the longitude and latitude coordinates.

I planned to locate homes where my grandfathers and great grandparents were born or died. In case I didn't have Wi-Fi (I didn't) and was afraid of blowing through my data (I was), I also had a printout of a map.

On the map are addresses and facts with arrows pointing to the locations. I used one map to ask some locals where a particular street was. They were so kind, one man began asking anyone nearby if they remembered a family named Iammucci. We all had a laugh when they learned my great grandmother died in 1929. Of course they didn't remember her name!

The other map helped me walk around another town and find the places (mostly rubble) where members of my father's family were born.

How Our Rural Ancestors Gave Birth

Some of the facts I'd learned from my ancestors' Italian birth records confused me. Why was my grandfather born at one address in town, and his sister born at another address in town, when his real house was not in the town? They knocked down his house, damaged by an earthquake, in 1964 or so. It stood on the land where some of my cousins live today, well outside of town.

My cousin Maria explained it to me. Back in the day, my Iamarino family owned a little house in town—not much more than one room. They lived out in the countryside, but when my great grandmother was about to give birth, she'd go to the house in town.

It took a mule and a cart to get to town, and town is where the midwife (levatrice) lived. So, to be near the midwife, my great grandmother would have waited at the house in town until she was ready to give birth.

That explains a lot. That's how my countryside-living relatives could bring the newborn baby to the mayor's office without killing the baby!

Walking where my ancestors were born and died.
Walking where my ancestors were born and died.
I will no longer add the address of a baby's birth as the residence of the parents in my family tree. It may very well not be their residence.

When I visited my dad's first cousins on May 13, they pulled out a plot plan—the type you might see for new construction here in America. It showed the locations of many houses that are no longer standing. They surrounded the house where we were gathered.

My great grandparents raised their four children in one house. Straight across the street was the home of my great grandmother Libera's sister. It was also the home of my great grandfather Francesco's brother. You see, Libera's sister had married Francesco's brother.

This cluster of houses was a contrada—a group of homes, often rural, given a nickname instead of a modern-day street address. I had thought a contrada was named for a particular family, but in my family's case, it was simply a nickname.

Please keep this story in mind if your family documents show addresses that don't seem to make sense.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

Create a Digital Map of Your Family History

I've been in love with the aerial view in Google Maps for years. I've created different collections of map pins, like all known addresses for my grandfather. Everywhere I visited during my 2015 trip to France and Italy. The dozen or so places I've lived.

Now I'm creating an itinerary map for my next visit to my ancestors' hometowns in Italy. And I'll have it with me on my iPhone.

Create Your Portable Family History Map

First, you need a free Google account. Sign into that account and go to on your computer. You can look up virtually any address, town or place of business in the world and click to stick a pin in it.
Save any location to your personal map list
Click any spot or place-name to save it.

I have a reservation at Hotel Antiche Terme in the city of Benevento. I found it on the map and clicked it. (Apparently it has two names, which may be good to know when I get there.) Then I can click SAVE to keep this location.

Choose what you want to do with this place.
Choose what you want to do with this place.
Now I have a few options. I can simply make the location a favorite, put a flag or a star on it, or save it to a list. I've created a different list for each of my ancestral hometowns.

Here's my list so far for Benevento. It includes my cousin Vincenzo's wonderful pizzeria where I met him in 2005. It includes the State Archives of Benevento—the absolute godsend that has given me all the records from all my towns. I plan to go there to find my grandfather's military records. And it includes the hotel where I'll be staying.

In my ancestors' towns I've saved the locations of the cemeteries, the piazzas, the churches, and the homes of the cousins I'll visit. I'm going to buy an international plan for my iPhone while I'm in Italy (not expensive at all). With that plan, I'll be able to open the Google Maps app on my phone and access my saved locations.

One of my personal lists.
One of my personal lists of places to go.
In my paternal grandfather's hometown of Colle Sannita, I need to see the church of St. George the Martyr (la Chiesa di San Giorgio Martire). So that's on my map. A couple of streets away are two addresses where my ancestors lived (I suspect one is a pile of rubble now). I plan to use the app to guide me as I walk from the church to these locations. I can snap photos of these places and upload them to my personalized map later.

My personal collections of map pins will be accessible to me wherever I go.

Add Places to Your GPS

My husband bought a map of Italy for our GPS device because we'll be renting a car for a few days. He asked me to mark some of my destinations in the GPS as favorites. "Put your cousin Maria's house in there," he said. "She's so far in the middle of nowhere, I don't have a real address for her," I replied.
Pinpointing a hard-to-find location.
Pinpointing a hard-to-find location.

But you can add a precise location to your GPS using longitude and latitude coordinates, so that's what I did. Here's how.

I've studied the aerial and street view of my grandfather's town so many times I can find my cousin Maria's house by sight. I visited her there 13 years ago, and I still remember her describing her horrible garage as a landmark. Yes, the house is far from town, but I found it. If I click to put a pin in it, Google Maps gives me some information about that location.

The information says the name of the town, shows a little image, and includes the GPS coordinates. If I click those numbers, I can:
  • add a label to this place
  • save it in my list of places
  • see those coordinates nice and big so I can punch them into my GPS.
Now I can easily find two of my cousins' homes and not worry about getting lost where there are barely any road markers.
Longitude and latitude coordinates tell your GPS exactly where to go.
Longitude and latitude coordinates tell your GPS exactly where to go.

Whether you're planning a real trip, want to share your collections with your family, or want to "walk" your ancestors' streets in Google Street View, these map collections are a must-have for any genealogist.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

When You Can't Find Your Ancestor on a Map

I'm working on the ultimate database of my ancestral hometowns in the 19th century. I'm typing the important facts into a spreadsheet as I examine:
  • birth records
  • death records
  • marriage records
from all my ancestors' hometowns in Italy. My husband thinks I'm crazy, of course. But every detail fascinates me.

The facts I'm pulling from each vital record include:
  • names
  • dates
  • occupations
  • ages
  • addresses
A family's address in an 1866 Italian birth record. The village is seen after the father's name. The street is seen after the mother's name.
A family's address in an 1866 Italian birth record. The village is seen after the father's name. The street is seen after the mother's name.
The beauty of the spreadsheet is this:

When I discover a new relative, I can search the spreadsheet to see if I've already got his siblings or his parents. If I do, I can piece together more about this family.

Neighborhood names are seen in larger text on a Google or Bing map.
Neighborhood names are seen in larger text.
I can spot some patterns, too. I've noticed that many of my closer ancestors will have the same address.

In 19th century rural Italy, these are not street addresses and house numbers like we know today. They are sections, neighborhoods, clusters of houses. You can imagine that in more modern times, mail delivery made it necessary to have house numbers. But when my ancestors lived there, family members built their homes next to one another. As time went by, children grew up and married, and they built more houses near their relatives.

These neighborhoods may have changed names over the years. Some of the rural sections may not be quite as rural as they were. Tempi cambi—times change.

If you are taking note of the place where your ancestor lived, you may not be able to find it on a map today. But it's still helpful to compare the addresses of different family members. Let's say one family lived in Neighborhood A, and another in Neighboorhood B. If the families intermarried, where did they live?

Here's a very helpful website that explains the different Italian street types. I found out many of my ancestors' addresses were like township or hamlet names in America.

In fact, my mom's ancestors come from a township called Pastene. That's the name of the place my grandmother and great aunt often said their parents came from.

But when their parents and grandparents came to America, they said they were from Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. It turns out that Pastene is a township of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo.

So, how can you figure out where on the map your ancestors lived?

On Google Maps or Bing Maps, you may not get a lot of detail for your European ancestral hometown. You can zoom all the way in, and you can see how it looks when you're driving down the street. But you can't see the names of the tiniest outlying streets.

So look for the neighborhood names—those clusters where extended families used to live. When I look at the map of Pastene, the bigger names surrounding it are villages. I recognize these names from my 19th century documents. Perrillo, Panelli, Montorsi, Maccoli, Motta.

Having a map of the town open while you try to read the place name on an 1850 birth certificate can come in handy.

You may not be able to pinpoint your ancestor's home, but finding their neighborhood is something to celebrate.

The TomTom app shows more street names.
The TomTom app shows
more street names.
Here's a tip for anyone who uses a GPS and has access to international maps. You can see more street names with your GPS than on Bing or Google.

My GPS is a TomTom, and I have their app on my smartphone. When I search for Pastene in the app, I can zoom in and see more street names. Its search function is very smart, and can help you find the area you want.

If you can find an online phone directory for the country you want, you may be able to search for an address. For example, on the Italian White Pages site, I can choose to search by address. The form asks me to provide a locality (town), address and number. I entered an address from an 1866 birth record: Sant'Angelo a Cupolo, Contrada Lesi. As I typed, the website gave me the closest match: Via Lesi.

And OMG, of the four families living on that street, one has the same last name as my grandmother: Sarracino!

An online phone directory finds the new street name.
An online phone directory finds the new street name.
Whichever country and town you're researching, use everything you can to do pinpoint your ancestors:
  • online maps
  • GPS maps
  • online searches, particularly Google and Wikipedia
  • online phone directories
Putting pins on a map, even if they mark a neighborhood and not a house, can help you understand where your roots lie.

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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 ( 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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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Free Resource Lets You Plot Family Tree Locations

A few months ago I explained how you can add locations to Google Maps and save them in your own personal collection.

I use these collections to plot my relatives' homes in Italy, the landmarks I can see from my mountaintop home, and the many places I've lived.

You can use Google My Maps for genealogy.
You can use Google My Maps for genealogy.
Google's mapping features can come in handy to family tree researchers like you.

If you don't have a Google account, create one. It's free and gives you access to far too many tools to ignore. Once logged in, go to Google My Maps and click the red button to Create a New Map.

You can start adding addresses and adding a description to each map pin. You can color-code your map pins, maybe choosing different pin colors for different branches of your family tree.

Create different layers and you can separate the locations by family unit.

Google offers plenty of help explaining how to:
  • Create, open, or delete a map
  • Add places to your map
  • Save directions on My Maps
  • Draw lines & shapes in My Maps
  • Import map features from a file

That last feature could be a tremendous help for your family tree research. You can use your family tree software to create a report on all the addresses in your tree. Then copy those addresses into a spreadsheet. Finally, import the locations into your map.

My original thought was to create a migration map for some of my ancestors. Google My Maps can do that. I've added my grandfather's addresses to a map. I've detailed each map pin with his name and the year(s) he lived there.

This fully customizable, full-featured map highlights my grandfather's travels with the United States.
This fully customizable, full-featured map highlights my grandfather's travels with the United States.
Now I can use Google My Maps to draw lines showing his progression through time. In this image, instead of drawing a straight line, I used driving instructions. This makes a more realistic picture of Grandpa's path from his uncle's home in Newton, Massachusetts, to the coal mine in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

I've only scratched the surface here. Let me get back to you soon with a detailed map that I hope will inspire you in your family tree research.

UPDATE: I did a test of importing an Excel file of addresses into a map. You can import only 200 addresses at a time. Add a header row called Address. It worked well. See the "Import test" layer at Now I can customize these new map pins as desired.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Take a Genealogy Vacation This Summer

I take the most exhausting vacations known to mankind. There's no sitting by the pool. There's no lying on the beach.

There's tons of sightseeing and a painful amount of walking. But I love it that way.

My major vacation for 2017 ended on Monday. Now I want to map out some shorter-distance, shorter-length genealogy vacations for this summer. And you should, too.

Last summer my husband and I planned a trip to the Finger Lakes of New York, knowing that my grandmother was born in Hornellsville, 45 minutes west of Cornell. So we booked a hotel in Cornell and made our sightseeing, winery-touring plans.

On the way west, we drove past Cornell and went straight to the house where my grandmother lived as a little girl. It's most likely where she and her brother were born. We visited the local library searching for evidence of my great grandfather. And we walked along the railroad tracks by the station where he worked.

Here's what I learned from that side-trip: Plan better!

Using my family tree software, I can find nearby places I should visit.
We discovered that my great grandfather's railroad station is now a museum, but it wasn't open that day. We drove past the church where one of my great grandmother Caruso's brothers got married, but I didn't think to go in. My great grandparents were probably married there, too. I later discovered on that many of my Caruso relatives are buried in that churchyard.

Oh, the horror! I have to go back and spend a couple of days there sometime.

My grandmother's house was almost a five-hour drive away. What can I do that's much closer—that I may be able to do in one long day or short weekend?

Think about your family tree. Which of your ancestors lived or spent any time in a place that's not too far from where you are now?

Is there a graveyard you should visit? Does an ancestor's place of business still exist? Are any of your ancestors' homes still standing? (To find out, see "How to Visit Your Ancestral Hometown at Your Desk".)

If you use family tree software that can plot your ancestors on a map, you've got the basis for planning your genealogy vacation. (See "Mapping Your Ancestors Can Answer Questions".)

In Family Tree Maker, I can drill down from the USA to New York state, to nearby counties. I see lots of houses and cemeteries I want to visit.

Let's get out our calendars. It's genealogy vacation time!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Picturing America Through Your Ancestors Eyes

When I think of my first ancestor coming from a small rural town in Italy to the metropolis of New York City in 1890, I picture him being overwhelmed by the congestion and fast pace.

But maybe it wasn't that hectic. New York City was dramatically different 127 years ago.

Look at Grand Central Terminal in the 1890s and today. The chaos of yellow taxis and delivery trucks was merely a cable car and some horse-drawn wagons. (And it looked nothing like today's building!)

Take a tour through the online photo collection of the Library of Congress for more images. You can narrow your search by choosing a time period and a location.

The library's collection of historic American buildings can give you a glimpse of the landmarks your ancestors saw in their day.

If your ancestors were here for generations before mine, you might like the Library of Congress' various map collections. Drill down through the Cities and Towns collection, then narrow the results by date and location.

It may be difficult to imagine any U.S. city being underdeveloped. These digital collections can help you get in touch with the United States of your ancestors.

Friday, June 9, 2017

How to Visit Your Ancestral Hometown at Your Desk

Have you ever seen a Google car driving around? I saw one, and it was goofy as can be.

I'm grateful for those cars! They've driven up and down the windy, narrow streets of my ancestral hometowns in Italy.

My ancestors, and maybe yours, left their homeland because of poverty and a lack of prospects. But today their sleepy little hill towns beckon to me with their beauty and serenity.

I use a combination of Bing maps and Google maps. In Bing I save collections of places. I have one collection of all the landmarks I can see from my mountaintop home in New York. In another collection, I have some of the current and past homes of my relatives in Italy.
The view from my grandfather Leone's first home in Basélice.

Bing offers a birdseye view, and sometimes a street-level view. But Google has sent that crazy car exactly where I want be, like the house where my grandfather was born in 1891.

I can sit here at my desk and "stand" in Italy. I'm right outside the rebuilt house in Basélice, Italy, of my grandfather Adamo Leone. I can see the amazing hilltop views I'll bet his family loved.

I can "stand" near my cousin Esterina's pink house in Colle Sannita, Italy, and see the giant windmills that lead to Basélice. On Esterina's property, partially buried in the ground, is an old doorstep. That's where my other grandfather Pietro Iamarino's house once stood.
The view from my grandfather Iamarino's one-time land in Colle Sannita.

If you're lucky enough to have a birth record for your ancestor, check it again for a street name, and maybe a house number.

Then give it a shot—put that address into Google maps and see if you can walk the streets where your roots still live.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mapping Your Ancestors Can Answer Questions

My parents grew up in a tight-knit neighborhood in the Bronx, New York. They went to grade school together, and it was a very small class of neighborhood kids. They had relatives nearby, either in their apartment buildings or on their blocks.

Family gatherings were held at the house where my mother was born until the time when our relatives no longer lived there or owned it. I have childhood memories of the neighborhood, but they're a bit vague now, and my mom's building was eventually torn down.

That's why I like to use "Street View" on either Google or Bing maps and feel like I'm driving through the neighborhood. I can use it to go right up to the door of the church where I was baptized, which is a couple of doors up from where my mom was born.

But you can do more with Bing and Google maps, like creating collections of addresses and plotting them on the map.

Based on all of my collected information—census forms, draft registration cards, city directories, death certificates—I plotted a handful of my closest relatives' addresses in the Bronx from 1900 to 1940. There were some outlying locations over the years (meaning a few blocks away), but the various families tended to cluster together again and again.

Plotting my great grandfather Giovanni Sarracino's handful of Bronx addresses finally helped me make sense of his on again/off again relationship with beer companies.

He and my great grandmother Maria Rosa came to America in July 1899 to join Maria Rosa's father Antonio (my first ancestor to come to America) in the Bronx. In 1900 and 1905, Giovanni and Maria Rosa did not live in the neighborhood where my parents later grew up. They were quite a few blocks away by St. Ann's Avenue.

That St. Ann's address is associated with Ebling's Brewery. Ebling was a famous brewery operating in the Bronx in those days, and William H. Ebling, Jr., was the vice-president of the Westchester Brewing Company in Mount Vernon, which borders the Bronx.

Going back to my collected documents, my great grandfather was a bartender in 1905, worked in a saloon in 1910, but after that he was a painter in buildings.

Now I know that he lived right by Ebling Brewery in the earlier years. He may have formed a business relationship with Ebling, because newspaper clippings I discovered showed that he sold a building to the Westchester County Brewing Company of Mount Vernon, New York for $2,500 in late 1912.

In 1921 he either bought or sold his former residence of 603 Morris Avenue (the abbreviations in the clipping make it difficult to understand), and he is listed in the transaction as "Ebling Brewing Co., agt [agent] Giovanni Sarracino et al."

Was my great grandfather flipping houses back in the day? Or was he buying or selling the building on behalf of Ebling for a piece of the sale?

In 2009 at a St. Ann's Avenue construction site, tunnels were unearthed and discovered to be the "Natural Caves" where Ebling aged their beer a century before, and they stretched quite a long distance.

Until I can find out more, I'd like to think Giovanni was selling the earth beneath his building for $3,000 in 1921 to age that crisp Bronx-water beer.

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