Showing posts with label timeline. Show all posts
Showing posts with label timeline. Show all posts

Friday, November 9, 2018

5 Steps to Writing Your Ancestor's Life Story

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

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Gather Basic Facts

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

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

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

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

Step 2: Add Historical Context

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

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

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

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

Step 3: Add Documents and Photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 5: Add Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Grandpa's Journeys Shed Light On My Own

Pietro Iamarino looking dapper in New Jersey
My grandpa, Pietro Iamarino, in New Brunswick, NJ.
My Grandpa lived in the same house from the time I was born until two years before he died. Whenever my family was in the Bronx, we stopped in to visit him. All those weekend visits to the orthodontist when I was a kid with braces, my dad and I would stop in to visit Grandpa. Years later when I was grown, I made the trip from New Jersey to visit Grandpa.

He was always there.

Yet Grandpa had been so many places. In 1920, at age 18, he left home in Italy to come to America. After Ellis Island, he went north to a Boston suburb. There he joined his mother's brother, Antonio Pilla.

my grandfather's declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen
Grandpa was quick to declare he was staying in America.
A short time later, Grandpa was in western Pennsylvania working as a laborer. There, in 1924, he filed his Declaration of Intention to become a citizen of the United States of America. He was still in Pennsylvania three years later when he became a citizen.

Now an American citizen, Grandpa didn't seem to have a steady job or profession. His next move, I think, was his family's suggestion. Grandpa moved to Ohio.

Within eight months of becoming a citizen in Pennsylvania, my grandfather, Pietro Iamarino:
  • had taken a job as a laborer in the Carnegie Steel Mill in Youngstown, Ohio
  • was a boarder in the home of Pasquale Iamarino (his father's second cousin)
  • married his landlord's daughter, and his third cousin, Lucy Iamarino.
But Grandpa wasn't finished with his travels. After the steel mill he worked for the railroad along with Pasquale Iamarino. He famously said his railroad job "stinks on the ice," so he packed up his wife and two kids. They moved to the Bronx, New York, and lived for a time with Grandpa's uncle Giuseppe. Grandpa became a jeweler—a much cleaner job than working in a mill or a railyard.

He continued his nice, clean jeweler's job in the Bronx for almost 15 years. But he wasn't finished. My grandmother became ill and wanted to move back to Ohio near her parents. So that's where they went. On her deathbed in 1954, my grandmother told my dad to go back to the Bronx and marry his childhood sweetheart—my mom.

By 1955, my parents had married and had a child. They invited Grandpa to live on the first floor of their townhouse in the Bronx. Yup. He was back in the Bronx.

In 1959 Grandpa remarried and bought the house where I would visit him for the rest of his life.

I wanted to map out Grandpa's travels from Italy to New York to Pennsylvania to Ohio to New York to Ohio to New York for one reason.

My Southern Italian grandfather did NOT take a ship from Naples to New York like all my other relatives. That would have been too direct for him.

Grandpa's 1920 ship manifest
Grandpa sailed from where?!?!?
When I began my genealogy research in 2003, the first document I found was Grandpa's ship manifest. I didn't understand why, but his manifest didn't say "sailing from Napoli". It said "sailing from Cherbourg". That's in France. Northern France.

Cherbourg is a 24-hour car ride from Grandpa's hometown of Colle Sannita, Italy. And you know 18-year-old Grandpa didn't take a car that distance in 1920. I imagine he traveled for weeks to get to northern France. And then he spent 12 days on the Atlantic Ocean.

I have no documentation of that part of Grandpa's journey. He never spoke about his early life.

Judging by the rest of his travels, I'd like to think he acted like a student backpacking his way through Europe. He traveled for a while, stopped to do some odd jobs for money, and continued his way north.

Oh, he did make one other journey. In 1958, before he remarried, he made a trip back home for the first time since 1920. His father Francesco had traveled back and forth from Italy to America five times! He had visited Grandpa in Ohio in 1929. But Francesco died in 1951.

Grandpa did get to see his mother one last time during that visit to Italy. Imagine that? He left home as an 18-year-old boy and didn't see his mamma again until he was a 56-year-old man.

Aha! Now it seems like fate that I've lived in New York, California, New York, Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. I am, after all, an Iamarino.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Answers Lead to More Questions About My First Immigrant Ancestor

Growing up, the family members I knew and saw on holidays were almost entirely the descendants of one man: Antonio Luigi Saviano.

Most of us didn't know his name. He was the father of our grandparent or great grandparent.

But four years ago my mother pulled out a photo of Antonio lying in his coffin. He died in the Bronx, New York, several years before she was born.
Was my first immigrant ancestor a shrewd businessman?

I'd been researching my family tree for about 10 years at that point. The branch of the family where I'd made the least progress was Antonio's branch—the very branch I'd known my whole life.

This year I went on a quest to find out where Antonio and his wife Colomba Consolazio came from. Here's what I knew already:
  • According to his World War II draft registration card, their son Semplicio was born in Tufo, Avellino, Italy.
  • I had looked at microfilm of vital records from Tufo. I found Semplicio's birth and the earlier birth of a son—Raffaele Vitantonio Saviano. I knew this baby did not survive because it was a younger Raffaele who came to America in later years.
  • Antonio and Colomba moved less than 10 miles from Tufo, Avellino, to Pastene. Pastene is a small section of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in the neighboring province of Benevento. They had 3 children there: my great grandmother Maria Rosa, Raffaele, and Filomena.
  • It was in Pastene that Maria Rosa met and married my great grandfather, Giovanni Sarracino. They had their first child there, but he did not survive.
  • Antonio began travelling to America in 1890, three years after the birth of his youngest child. He was my first ancestor in any branch to do so.
  • He was 47 years old at the time. That's a bit on the old side for the first of his three cross-Atlantic trips.
  • He brought his son Semplicio to America and left him there. Then in May of 1898, Antonio returned to the Bronx with his wife and his children Raffaele and Filomena.
  • The family left for America one month after the marriage of my great grandparents. That means my great grandmother did not have her family there to support her when she gave birth to her son Carmine in December 1898. And she didn't have their support when Carmine died a short time after.
Let's stop there for a moment. Something strikes me about my great grandparents and their ill-fated baby boy, Carmine.

Maybe my great grandparents never planned to come to America. Baby Carmine was born just shy of eight months after their wedding. There was nothing stopping them from coming to America with the rest of the family.

Maybe it was only the shock of Carmine's death, and his possibly premature birth, that drove the couple to leave their home.

Maybe if Carmine had lived, I would be an Italian national.

That aside, let's look at what I learned about my great grandparents Antonio Saviano and Colomba Consolazio this year.

Working backwards from the Tufo births of their children Semplicio and the first Raffaele, I discovered that Colomba had two brothers living near her in Tufo. I found the marriage record for one brother.

His place of birth, and the town where his parents still lived, was not Tufo. It was the neighboring town of Santa Paolina.

My next step was to view microfilm of the vital records from Santa Paolina. Sure enough, I discovered that Antonio and Colomba were married there. They had a baby girl before Raffaele and Semplicio named Maria Grazia. She died after four days.

Colomba was born in Santa Paolina, but her real name was Vittoria Colomba. I learned her parents' names and her grandparents' names.

And on their marriage documents I learned the origin of my great great grandfather, Antonio Saviano. He was not born in Santa Paolina where he married and began his family.

He was not born in Tufo where he moved and had more children.

He was born in Pastene! The very town to which he returned, had more children, and from which he left for America.

Antonio Saviano, my first ancestor to come to America, travelled in lots of circles. He went from Pastene to Santa Paolina to Tufo to Pastene, completing a very small circle. He went to America and back to Pastene three times. Finally, he brought his family to America and settled down…age of 55!

Antonio lived to be 82 years old. He outlived his wife Colomba by five years, but he died surrounded by this four surviving chlidren.

I learned that he was:
  • a shoemaker (calzolaio) in his youth
  • a dealer or merchant (commerciante) shortly before his first documented trip to America
  • a day laborer two years after settling in America, and
  • had his "own income" by the time of the 1910 census.
Was Antonio an independent businessman? Are his accomplishments the reason his son Semplicio and my great grandfather Giovanni Sarracino became the owners of apartment buildings and agents for a local brewery?

Was Antonio a wheeler and dealer? What was the source of his "own income"? It may be nothing, but his cause of death was a toxic infection of the kidneys and the heart's inner lining. Were these infections related to the Bronx's underground beer cellars of the time, owned by the breweries with which his son and son-in-law did business?

I've often wondered if my family owned those particular apartment buildings because of their access to the beer cellars. This would make them good partners for the breweries.

The discovery of Antonio Saviano's origin and travels shed a lot of light on him. But now I find I have a ton more questions.

I think it's time for some Bronx brewery history lessons!

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Spinning Genealogical Facts into Your Family Story

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

Where does that leave a descendant of peasants like me?

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

You just have to find it.

Where to Look for Your Story

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

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

Where to Start Writing Your Story

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 2, 2017

How to Use a Paper Trail to Recreate Your Ancestor's Life

Maybe I remember a long drive from New York to Ohio to visit my great grandparents when I was five. Maybe I have a single image in my mind of great grandma's kitchen. But that's it.
Pasquale Iamarino

Before I began researching my family tree, I knew next to nothing about my great grandfather Pasquale Iamarino—or Patsy Marino, as he was known. He lived in Ohio and worked for the railroad. Nothing more.

Genealogists enjoy piecing together our ancestors' paper trails and mapping out their locations. If we're lucky, we can wind up with enough facts to bring our ancestors back to life in a way.

Italian church records from the 1880s told me that Patsy and my other paternal great grandfather were second cousins. A ship manifest told me that Patsy came to America at age 20, heading first to his uncle in New York City.

Four years later, in 1906, he was working for the Erie Railroad in Steuben County, New York. In the rail yard he must have met the Caruso brothers who came from a neighboring town in Italy.

By late 1906 he married the only sister in the Caruso family, in Hornellsville, New York. Hornellsville was a boom town at that time, achieving city status that year, thanks to the railroad.

The Erie Shops and Roundhouse, Hornellsville, New York
When my grandmother was born in 1908, Patsy and his little family lived at 95 Front Street—a short walk from the railroad station.

Between 1910 and 1914 Patsy moved to Albany and continued working as a railroad laborer.

Then, suddenly, in 1918 Patsy registered for the draft in Youngstown, Ohio. Perhaps he had to move to keep his job.

He was a boilermaker for the Erie Railroad, working in the railroad roundhouse in the 1920 and 1930 census.

City directories show him on Dearborn Street in Girard, Ohio in the early 1930s. This is the same house I feel as if I remember.

By 1940, at the age of 58, Patsy retired. I'm closing in on 58 and wish I could retire! But my dad recently told me that Patsy had to retire because of lung issues. Did all those years as a boilermaker give him something like black lung disease?

Patsy on Dearborn Street
According to the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, "Railroad Boilermakers service and repair locomotives, and manufacture parts, including hundreds of items used every day in the railroad industry. They also perform welding on tracks and general maintenance work."

With today's worker safety rules, a boilermaker probably isn't at any risk of lung disease. But something incapacitated Patsy in his fifties. He lived to be 87 years old.

During his long retirement, Patsy enjoyed tending to his garden and his roses at the house on Dearborn Street. I wish I could remember him.

Friday, April 14, 2017

When Is a Marriage Not a Marriage?

In January I wrote about how to handle the facts in your family tree that don't add up in How Is That Possible? I like to use Family Tree Maker's bookmark feature to call attention to the people in my tree who have a problem with their facts.

Bookmarks help remind me to check the facts.
Today I took a look at Francesco Cece who was born in 1805 in my grandfather's town of Basélice, Benevento, Campania, Italy. His facts included three marriages, which was not uncommon in the 1800s.

If your spouse died back then, you were going to remarry. If you had children, they needed a new mother or father, and if you were old, you needed a younger spouse to take care of you.

Francesco's three marriages were pretty close together, so I looked to see when wives number one and two died.

But wife number two was alive when he married wife number three, so something was wrong.

I decided to visit the online Benevento Archives to take a closer look at the marriage of Francesco Cece and Mariarosa Marucci.

I have not seen this a lot in my research, but Francesco and Mariarosa went through the process of publicly posting their intention to marry on 13 March 1831 and 31 March 1831.

They were granted permission to marry on 6 April 1831, but as you can see on their marriage license, the right column where their church wedding would be recorded was crossed out.

A handwritten note in that section of the page says that despite having a contract with one another, the couple were not united in marriage.
Only when I revisited this marriage record did I realize they were never married.

Mariarosa entered into another marriage contract nine months later and married Saverio Colucci on 1 March 1832.

Francesco entered into a marriage contract five years later at age 31 with an 18-year-old girl from another town, Donata Maria Fantetta. Each of them had lost their parents, so this could have been a marriage of necessity for young Donata Maria.

Sadly, this contract also did not end up in marriage for Francesco Cece.

I checked the marriage records all the way through the year 1860 and never again saw Francesco's name.

His first and only wife, Margarita Capuano, died at the age of 25, just six years after they married. They had no children.

I've removed my bookmark from Francesco, but I don't think I'll soon forget him.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

When I'm Sixty-Four (I'll Still Have Only Two Children)

I'm very keen on finding all family members rather than climbing my tree from father to father to father.

I mean, if I knew the King of Italy were a dozen generations up the tree, I'd probably head straight for him, but I'm definitely from peasant stock.

Here is an example of how viewing every available vital record and documenting every single fact gave me an interesting insight into my great great grandfather, Nicoladomenico Leone, born in 1796 in Basélice, Italy.

While recording the facts from every Basélice vital record from 1809–1860, I found my great grandfather Giovannangelo Leone's birth record which told me his parents' names: Nicoladomenico Leone and Caterina Pisciotti.

But I was creeped out to see that the baby's mother was 36 and his father was 53. Then I learned it was a common practice at that time and place to remarry shortly after your spouse died and continue making the babies.

So many babies.

As I continued reviewing vital records I found an 1837 death record for my great great grandfather's first wife, Sinfarosa Ferella. She died at age 35 after giving birth six times (three of the babies died extremely young).
Children from 2 marriages. It took 3 tries to get a Giuseppe Maria Leone to live past infancy!

Nicoladomenico became a widower in late 1837 and surprisingly waited four-and-a-half years before remarrying.

But he appears to have married his eldest daughter's classmate. Angelamaria Leone and Caterina Pisciotti were both born in 1819.

Both Angelamaria and her only surviving sister, Gelsomina, were still living with their father when he married this 22-year-old girl that they surely knew.

It must've been weird at that dinner table, don't you think?

By combing through all of these records I found that Nicoladomenico Leone fathered 12 children (five of whom died in infancy).

The last one I know about (because the records ended in 1860) was born when Nicoladomenico was 64 years old.

My great great grandfather went on to live 91 years, probably because he was not a contadino (farmer) his whole life. No, he left the fields and had what was most likely an easier life as a butler, a broker, a coachman, and at age 64, a tavern keeper.

His occupation was written on each of his children's birth records, giving me a full timeline of his career.

You have to admire the stamina of this man. I'm from peasant stock, yes, but apparently that's a strong and hearty stock.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Can Genealogy Research Be Painful?

You bet. Last night I went with my husband and his sister to an exhibit at the FDR Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York. It was a wonderful exhibit (see the virtual tour), and we were treated to a guided tour by the curator and a docent who were very knowledgeable.

But the subject was an extremely painful part of my husband's family history: the shameful incarceration of all west-coast Japanese and American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II.

Before I met my husband I visited a similar exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. At that time I didn't know any Japanese Americans personally, but I was moved to tears by the images of American citizens being forced out of their homes, losing their businesses and possessions, their farms and houses, and sent to the middle of nowhere indefinitely under armed guard.

Last night, seeing images of the very camp where my in-laws were kept and where my husband's great grandfather died made me cry and made me sick to my stomach. But this is an enormous part of my husband's family history and worth preserving. The experience certainly shaped my late father-in-law's character, and that was not lost on his children.

I may spend countless hours gathering names and expanding my tree, but an exhibit like this provides so much insight into the character and experience of our ancestors. It is priceless.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Why Did They Come to America?

When I first started researching my Italian ancestors after spending my honeymoon in Italy, I couldn't understand how they left such a beautiful place to come and work for the railroad or live in a cramped city apartment.

If you're wondering the same thing about your ancestors, no matter where they came from, you can gain a lot of insight by reading a bit of history about your ancestors' homeland at the time they came to America. They may have come here because it was their only option for steady work. They may have been fleeing an oppressive regime or hoping to avoid a war.

My entire family came from rural Southern Italy where poverty was extreme and advancement was all but impossible. In the late 1800s it became difficult to grow crops, and waves of cholera and other diseases were increasing the death rate. America offered steady work for healthy men.

On a PBS website called Destination America, you can view an interactive map that shows the amount of emigration throughout Europe by decade, from 1851 to 1910. According to this fascinating map, the decades are characterized as follows:
  • 1851–1860: The Potato Famine in Ireland made emigration a matter of life or death.
  • 1861–1870: Prussia and the German states could not provide good jobs to their people.
  • 1871–1880: The German Empire, ruled by Otto von Bismarck, became inhospitable to Catholic Germans.
  • 1881–1890: Skilled laborers throughout the United Kingdom escaped poverty and famine to work in America's industries.
  • 1891–1900: Extreme poverty in Southern Italy, along with malnutrition and disease, led to a massive exodus.
  • 1901–1910: Millions of Jews had to leave Russia to escape anti-Semitic violence, army conscription, and ethnic friction.

With so many millions of people pouring into the United States, some controls were needed. According to an immigration timeline on a Harvard University website, more than three million immigrants came to America between 1891 and 1900, and that includes many of my ancestors. A whopping 5.7 million Italians came to America between 1911 and 1920, including my two grandfathers.

The overwhelming numbers of immigrants led to a series of laws that were intended to stem the flow a bit. In 1917, according to the Harvard website, Congress enacted a literacy requirement for immigrants by overriding President Woodrow Wilson's veto. The law requires immigrants to be able to read 40 words in some language and bans immigration from Asia, except for Japan and the Philippines.

Between 1921 and 1930 more than four million immigrants arrived, but several laws during this decade enforced immigration restrictions:
  • The Emergency Quota Act, 1921 restricted immigration from any country to 3% of the number of people from that country living in the US in 1910.
  • The Immigration Act of 1924 limited annual European immigration to 2% of the number of people from that country living in the United States in 1890.
  • The 1924 Oriental Exclusion Act prohibited most immigration from Asia. That same year the Border Patrol was created to help prevent illegal immigration.
  • In 1929 they really clamped down on Asian immigration: The National Origins Formula institutes a quota that caps national immigration at 150,000 and completely bars Asian immigration, though immigration from the Western Hemisphere is still permitted.

I have cousins who left Italy in the 1950s but simply were not allowed to come to the United States, so they and many of their friends and relatives settled in, and still live in Niagara Falls, Canada. It would require more research, but I suspect that after the 1920s or so, it was never again as simple as getting on a boat, coming to America, and saying you wanted to stay.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What If There's No There There?

How do you find documents from your ancestor's hometown if you can't find it on any map?

Did the Town Change its Name?

Beautiful Pesco Sannita—formerly Pescolamazza.
Sometimes your genealogy research requires some history research. For example, I learned that my great great grandmother's town, which family members often heard her mention, had changed its name after World War II.

The name change hampered my search for a while, but the truth was out there. I was able to visit the town in 2005 after I discovered its current name.

Did the Borders Move?

Then there are situations like this: You search for your Polish family's hometown only to find it in Germany. "How could they not know they're German?" you ask.

But a little Googling of the history will tell you that the Germany/Poland border fluctuated over time. So your ancestor came to America from Poland, but if he were to return today, he'd be going to Germany.

When you can't find what you believe to be your ancestor's hometown on the map, use a search engine to learn about the surrounding area. What events happened there after your ancestor's emigration?

Didn't They Love Their Homeland?

When I first began looking into my two grandfathers' decision to leave the idyllic Italian countryside I'd visited to come live in a cramped apartment in the Bronx, New York, I couldn't understand it. (See Why Did They Come To America?.)

How could they leave the most peaceful place on earth to come to the gritty city?

Then I read about the extreme poverty and lack of hope in Southern Italy as early as the 1800s.

My grandfathers were faced with the idea of never being more than a menial worker who sold his products only to his own little town. They each followed the example of a relative who found almost unlimited work in American coal mines and railroad yards.

It must have seemed like their only option because—and this amazes me—they came to America and never saw their families again.

It is quite hard to imagine. So read about it. Don't ignore the history that goes along with your ancestor's immigration.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Where Did They Go Next?

Follow the Family at Every Turn

To give your family tree the ultimate credibility, locate as many pieces of genealogical documentation as possible. This creates a robust timeline for each person in your family tree.

To help you locate birth, marriage and death records, you need to know where a person lived at different times in their life. Knowing where someone lived also helps you be sure you have the right document.

Many members of my family lived at this address...including me, briefly.

For example, let’s say I have census forms, draft registration cards, and other documents that show my ancestor always lived in the same neighborhood in the Bronx, decade after decade.

Misspelled, but my family.
If I have a death certificate that lists the person’s address at the time of death, and it matches the address I had for him on the census earlier that year, I can be sure I have the right death certificate.

Now imagine you have a census sheet for a family from your tree. This census tells you the older children were born in Tennessee but the younger children were born in Virginia.

If you hadn’t learned about the two different states, you wouldn’t know where to find the family 10 years earlier. This may also be a clue as to where the husband and wife were married, helping you find that marriage certificate.

Follow your ancestors throughout their journey. Document as many facts as you can. Knowing where your family lived at different times will tell you if information you found in someone else’s tree is reliable.