Showing posts with label vital records. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vital records. Show all posts

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?


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Friday, January 18, 2019

3 Reasons Why Transcribing Every Document Is Not Crazy

I'm transcribing an enormous collection of vital records for my genealogy research. Here's why I'm not nuts for doing so.

If your ancestors came from a small town, there was most likely a ton of intermarriage going on. And it's very possible that families stayed in one town for hundreds of years. Some may have moved to the next town to marry.

Because my roots are almost entirely in 5 little towns there, I've begun an ambitious project.

This massive project will connect me to thousands of relatives.
This massive project will connect me to thousands of relatives.
I discovered a software app that let me download massive collections of birth, marriage, and death records from my towns to my computer. (See "How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives".)

Here's how I've been using these document images so far.

First, I located the vital records for my closest ancestors: my grandfathers, all my great grandparents, and their parents. I put these images in my family tree software.

Next, I began searching for other babies born to my ancestors. I put their facts and documents images in Family Tree Maker, too.

Then, I started sifting through one town's birth records, pulling out all the babies with a particular last name. This is an exercise that I hope will lead me to a missing link. I need to find the one married couple who are the reason why my parents share DNA. (See "The Leeds Method May Have Solved a Big Family Puzzle".)

The thing is, I know there are countless relationships to me waiting to be discovered. That's why I want to put each image's facts into a searchable, sortable spreadsheet. Each time I discover a relative, I put that image in my tree and color the spreadsheet line green. That lets me know I've already found that relationship.

Yesterday I completed one chunk of this project. It was a reasonable amount of work—not overwhelming. That feeling of accomplishment has me excited to do more. It was one of my 2019 Genealogy Goals: to enter the first 5 years' worth of births from each town into my spreadsheet. (See "How to Set Realistic Genealogy Goals for 2019".)

After typing the names, dates, and places from 1,000s of documents into an Excel file, I realized 3 powerful benefits to this seemingly insane project.

1 Name Recognition

What do you mean, you can't read this?
What do you mean, you can't read this?
My husband can't understand how I can read these handwritten, 1800s Italian vital records. But going over every document teaches you:
  • which family names are common in the town
  • which given names are commonly found together (Nicola Domenico, Maria Antonia, Francesco Saverio)
  • what the street names were (and maybe still are) in this town
With repetition, even if the quality of the document or the handwriting are awful, you'll recognize names in a heartbeat.

2 Spotting Familiar "Faces" As You Type

Excel has an AutoComplete feature that's proving very helpful. As I enter several years' worth of birth records, couples are going to show up, having another baby every couple of years. Thanks to AutoComplete, as I begin typing the father or mother's name, I can see that I've entered their name before.

Sometimes I may be unsure of a name. There's could be a blotch on the page, or ink may be bleeding through from the other side. But as I start typing, the name I'm about to type appears in AutoComplete. That's a confirmation that I was making the right choice.

3 Lightning-Fast Searches

I saved the best for last.

Normally, to find a particular person, I have to look at the files for each year. I go to each year's index and try to find the name I need.

But with all the facts—names, dates, ages, occupations, addresses—in a spreadsheet, searches are faster than any genealogy site's search function. No online connection needed.

Imagine being able to find, in one search, each document where your great grandfather is:
  • the baby
  • the groom
  • the father of the baby
  • the decedent
My spreadsheet inventory of all my ancestral towns will be the single greatest genealogy database for ME. What can you build for your family tree research?

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

It's Crunch Time for Your 2018 Genealogy Goals

Take another look at your family research goals for the year. What will you do differently with your 2019 goals?

I had the day off from work Monday. You know what that means, don't you?

Genealogy time!

I decided I would try to complete an item from my list of 2018 Genealogy Goals. That item was to "Fill in the 'Need to find' column on my document tracker." My document tracker is a spreadsheet noting each person with document images in my family tree.

There's a column for major items: birth, immigration, marriage, censuses, naturalization, death, and several more.

The last column is where I make note of which major documents are missing. If a person's census column contains 1910, 1920 and 1940, then the 1930 census belongs in the 'Need to find' column.

Since I was giving attention to all 1,686 lines in the spreadsheet, I thought it'd be a good time to get more detailed.

Your family tree probably has a lot of identical and similar names, too.
Your family tree probably has a lot of identical and similar names, too.
First, since so many people in my tree have the same name, I added their father's name in parentheses after their name: Lebrando, Alfred (son of Amedeo).

Second, I filled in everyone's birth year, followed by "cert." if I have an image of the birth certificate. I use the word certificate only for birth, marriage and death certificates. Everything else is a document.

Third, I put in other dates that I have reason to think are right, even though I have no document. Thinks about immigration. A census form will tell you someone's immigration year. But without the ship manifest, that's nothing more than a clue. When I do have the manifest, I enter "1909 (doc.)" for "document".

After a few hours (with plenty of interruptions), I completed this 2018 genealogy goal. For 2019, I'll set another reachable goal, like trying to find every missing census form in the 'Need to find' column.

The moment I finished this goal, I checked my list for what else I could do. I spent the rest of the day working on "Replace microfilm photos with digital document images". A few years ago, I had to view my Italian's ancestors' civil records on microfilm. Sometimes I photographed the microfilm viewer's surface as it projected a dark, blurry, awful image.

My next goal is to replace the poor-quality document images with good ones.
My next goal is to replace the poor-quality document images with good ones.
Now the same microfilm is available online in gorgeous, sharp, bright, high resolution. My goal is to replace the dark iPhone images (about 200 of them) with the great images I've already downloaded to my computer.

And when I add the improved images to my family tree, I make sure they're noted in my document tracker.

Soon it'll be time to make my 2019 Genealogy Goals official.

Here's what I've learned about annual goals over the course of this year.
  1. Your goals should include grunt work. Choose tasks you need to do to make your research better. But make sure you have a good chance of finishing during the year. Filling out my document tracker was grunt work. And I finished it.
  2. Your goals should include projects with a definite ending. Last week I wrote a nice biography of my grandfather. I want to write more of them for about 10 of my ancestors. That's got a definite end. I know I can do that. Keep your projects to a manageable size.
  3. Your bigger goals should be broken into chunks. One of my goals for 2018 was to log the info from those thousands of downloaded Italian records into a spreadsheet. That's too big a goal. So next year I'll break off a chunk I think I can finish. Like, "Log all the birth records from Colle Sannita" (my grandfather's hometown).
  4. Save things you may not be able to finish in a year for your Genealogy To-Do List. One of my goals this year was "Find my parents' connection". DNA tells me they're about 4th cousins. I've been trying to find their connection, but nothing so far. That's not a good item for the goal list. It's leaving me feeling disappointed.
Here are 2 things I'd like you to think about now.
  1. What goal can you possibly finish in the next 6 weeks?
  2. What grunt work, tasks or chunks of a bigger project should you put on your list of 2019 Genealogy Goals?


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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Trying to Solve a DNA Mystery with Logic

I'm mapping out a strategy to discover how my parents are distant cousins, as our DNA tells us.

An analysis of my raw DNA on GEDmatch.com shows that my parents are "probably distantly related". Their Ancestry DNA results predict that they are 4th–6th cousins. That should mean they share a set of 5th–7th great grandparents.

I want to find that link between mom and dad's DNA.

But there's another piece to this puzzle. My mom's sister's son (my first cousin Nick) is a DNA match for my dad. Ancestry DNA estimates my cousin and my dad are 5th–8th cousins. Nick's related to both my mom and my dad.

My mission is clear: Find the set of ancestors that my parents share…and see if they're the same ancestors my dad and my cousin share!

Plotting out where my ancestors lived, they were all pretty close together.
Plotting out where my ancestors lived,
they were all pretty close together.
My method is less clear. So let's work through the logic.

My dad's side of the family comes the Benevento province (similar to a U.S. county). My mother's side comes from the same province. What if, at some point, a man from one of dad's towns married a woman from one of mom's towns?

For at least several hundred years, all my ancestors lived no more than 25 or 30 miles apart. Many lived 5 or 10 miles apart, but that's as the crow flies. I've visited these rural, hill towns. They're separated by windy, hard-to-navigate, and sometimes washed-out roads.

My husband and I spent nearly an hour trying to get from one town (Colle Sannita) to the neighboring town (Baselice). We thought we'd never make it.

That experience got me thinking about how hard it was for my ancestors to go from town to town on a mule-drawn cart. That's why it's more logical to look at towns that were closer to one another.

I have 2 main choices. I can concentrate on my 2 grandfathers' towns, the ones that are a nightmare drive apart. Or I can take a hard look at 2 towns that are much closer together.

Colle Sannita (Grandpa Iamarino's town) neighbors the town of Circello. They're very close to one another, and the roads don't have to switch back and forth over mountains. Much easier on a mule cart.

One set of my 3rd great grandparents had an inter-town marriage.
One set of my 3rd great grandparents
had an inter-town marriage.
I've known for years that my cousin Nick's dad's family came from Circello. (Remember, Nick is my cousin on our mothers' sides.) But I found out recently that my 3rd great grandfather was born in Circello.

Francesco Saverio Liguori was born in Circello in 1813. In 1840 he married Anna Donata Cerrone in Colle Sannita, settled there and raised his family.

So my dad has some roots in Circello. When you look at these 2 facts:
  • Nick's last name comes from Circello
  • my dad's DNA match list has at least 3 people with that name
…it seems as if that last name may connect my cousin to my dad. But will it connect my mom to my dad? That's the big goal.

Is Nick a DNA match to my dad because of his own last name? Or is the connection through his mom, who is the same distant cousin of my dad as her sister—my mom?

Here's the plan I'm going to follow, and hope it leads to identifying that DNA connection.
  1. I'll work to build out Nick's Circello branch of the family tree.
  2. I'll also work to build out his grandmother's family tree. Why? Because she was from my Grandpa Iamarino's town! His grandparents had exactly the type of inter-town marriage I need to explore.
  3. I'll study my grandparent chart and look for last names that don't seem native to their town. For example, my 4th great grandmother's last name (Tricarico) isn't one I've seen in the town where she lived. Maybe her parents or grandparents came from another town. And maybe, just maybe, her ancestors will tie my mom and dad together.
I've spent so much time living among my ancestors' vital records collections, I can spot an uncommon name in a given town. Liguori, my 3rd great grandfather's last name, was out of place. And that turned out to be entirely true.

It's important to get really familiar with last names in your ancestors' towns. Maybe you can learn the main names in your ancestor's town by looking at land records. Or by paying attention to all the names on the index pages when searching for your ancestor's birth record.

Wish me good luck. I'll report back when I think I've found that missing link!


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Friday, August 31, 2018

How to Make the Most of an Intriguing Genealogy Lead

How I turned a random lead into a documented relative.

I'm lucky to have such an uncommon maiden name. Nearly everyone named Iamarino can trace their roots back to the same small town in Italy.

Recently, an Iamarino from Brazil went to visit our Italian ancestral hometown. She visited 3 months after I did. I saw her photos on Facebook and recognized all the places I'd seen on my trip.

I've known about this particular Brazilian Italian cousin for 10 years. A mutual friend told me about her ancestry. Seeing her photos reminded me how much I want to learn about the Iamarinos who left Italy for Brazil.

That's why I'm diving into some Brazilian records on FamilySearch.org. I've chosen a database called "Brazil, São Paulo Immigration Cards, 1902–1980". I've entered only the last name Iamarino in the search area.

Document 1: Immigration Card

There's only 1 result, but it's intriguing to me. The photo of this 80-year-old widowed man, whose mother was named Iamarino, is calling to me.

A search for my maiden name brought up this man. What more can I learn about him?
A search for my maiden name brought up this man. What more can I learn about him?
I don't read Portuguese, but some things are clear. Miguel Basiloni is an illiterate farmer who was born in Colle Sannita (misspelled on the card) on 2 July 1895. His parents were Antonio Basiloni and Maria Iamarino.

My experience with Colle Sannita records tells me "Miguel's" real last name is Basilone, ending in an e. And I'm sure his given name is Michele, the Italian version of Miguel.

So I'm going to search my collection of Colle Sannita vital records and my family tree. Let's see what I can learn about this man.

Document 2: His Birth Record

The 1895 birth record of the man in the photo.
The 1895 birth record of the man in the photo.
Michele Basilone was actually born on 1 July 1895 in Colle Sannita. His father Antonio was a 26-year-old farmer. His mother was Marianna (not Maria) Iamarino. Let's go find his parents' births, shall we?

I'll search the birth indexes for Antonio Basilone and Marianna Iamarino in and around 1869.

Document 3: His Father's Birth Record

There is no Antonio Basilone in the 1869 index, but there's a Libero Antonio Pasquale Basilone. I've got to take a look at him.

Michele's father's birth record includes his marriage to Michele's mother.
Michele's father's birth record includes his marriage to Michele's mother.
There's the proof I need in the column of his birth record. Libero Antonio Pasquale Basilone married Marianna Iamarino on 28 August 1890. Now I have his:
  • Birth date: 15 May 1869
  • Father's name: Michele, the son of the late Pietrangelo
  • Mother's name: Andreana Paolucci, daughter of Giovanni
Document 4: His Mother's Birth Record

I didn't have to go far to find Marianna Iamarino's birth record in 1870. Finally I have a connection! Marianna's parents are already in my family tree. She is my 3rd cousin 3 times removed.

That makes Michele, the somber old man in the photo, my 4th cousin twice removed.

Michele's mother's side of the family was already in my family tree.
Michele's mother's side of the family was already in my family tree.
I'm a little worried because Marianna's birth record doesn't mention her marriage. So I'll keep checking the surrounding years. It's possible that the Marianna born in 1870 died, and another was born and married Libero Antonio.

My cousin who went to Brazil.
My cousin who went to Brazil.
OK, there are no more Mariannas, so I believe I've got my gal. Marianna was not a common name in this town. Ironically, it was my great grandmother's name, but she's from a neighboring town.

More Documents

I'm sure I can find Michele's siblings by searching the birth records starting in 1891.

I may be able to find Michele's marriage record, but only if he married after 1930. There are marriage records available from 1931–1942.

Every evening, with the Yankees playing on the TV, I sit here at my computer. I pick a genealogy project for the evening. Michele was an unexpected project that I'm feeling really good about.

Michele Basilone looks very sturdy and solid for 80 years old. I'm happy to see his face and know that my first search in the Brazilian genealogy records gave me my 4th cousin twice removed. Olá, Miguel.


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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Build Your Own Genealogy Research Library

You can have your own genealogy research library
I've been building my fortified family tree for 15 years. I started by writing down facts in a black and white composition notebook. I graduated to Family Tree Maker software so I could see the bigger picture. I developed a meticulous digital filing system.

After all these years, you know what I discovered? I have my own genealogy research library!

And you can, too.

What's In My Library

If you've been enjoying this genealogy hobby for any length of time, I'll bet you've gotten better at it. You've learned. You've figured out how to do things. You've gathered a lot of facts and materials.

My largest, most valuable collection of genealogy data contains Italian birth, marriage and death records from my ancestral hometowns. I have about 40 gigabytes of these vital records on my computer. They're there for me anytime I want to trace a family back to Italy. (See Collect the Whole Set!)

I think I found this woman in my research library
I realized I have a genealogy research library while looking at a family photo from the summer of 1930. After 10 years, I still didn't know the exact identity of a woman in the photo and her relationship to me.

Here's what I did know. The woman, who was several years older than my grandmother (also in the photo), was named Pastore and was somehow related to my Sarracino family. That's my grandmother's maiden name.

Then it hit me. I have all those vital records from the Italian hometown of my Sarracino ancestors. Why don't I look through them for anyone named Pastore and see what I can find?

Putting My Library to Use

My collection for their town (Sant'Angelo a Cupolo) begins in 1861. My grandmother was born in 1899. Based on how she looks compared to Grandma, the Pastore woman in the photograph was born in the 1880s.

I'm transcribing facts from thousands of Italian vital records into a massive spreadsheet...in my spare time. That will make searches much easier. It's going to take a lot of time, but what an amazing resource it will be!

That project is far from finished. So I looked through the Sant'Angelo a Cupolo birth indexes, and I found a Pastore. Not the woman in the photograph, but a boy named Nicolantonio Pastore with a mother named…can you guess?…Maria Giuseppa Sarracino.

Aha! A Pastore-Sarracino connection. "Let's keep searching," I thought. I found six Pastore babies born to Carmine Pastore and Maria Giuseppa Sarracino between 1877 and 1889.

The last one I found is the prize. The moment I saw her 1889 birth record, Maria Carmela Pastore became my number one prospect to grow up to be the woman in the photo.

I needed more information, so I turned to another wing of my genealogy research library.

In my "shoebox" on Ancestry.com, I'd saved a ship manifest. It was a 1902 passage from Naples to New York of a mother and daughter. The mother was Maria Giuseppa Sarracino, and her daughter was 12-year-old Maria Carmela Pastore. They were going to join Carmine Pastore in the Bronx—in my family's neighborhood. All the ages and names matched.

Yesterday I added all these Pastore names, dates and documents to my Family Tree Maker file. At this moment, they are not connected to me in any way. But they will be; I have faith.

Here's my working theory. Maria Giuseppa Sarracino's father was Antonio. He may be my 3rd great grandfather, also named Antonio Sarracino.

I'll keep consulting my library and doing online searches to try to find the exact connection. I hope to prove or disprove my working theory.

What's In Your Library?

What about you? If you have Italian heritage, you absolutely must see if your ancestral hometown's documents are online. (See How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.)

If your roots are anywhere else, sign up for a free account with FamilySearch.org. See if they offer any collections from the towns that matter to you. Browse them online, or download a collection of images to your computer with a program called GetLinks. (For complete instructions, see the link above and scroll to the bottom of the article. The software is in Portuguese, so the instructions are important.)

As part of my 2018 to-do list (see What Are Your Genealogy Goals for 2018?), I wanted to create a thorough backup plan for my genealogy files. I've made my plan. I backed up my massive Italian vital record collection in two places (besides my hard drive): an external drive and Microsoft's OneDrive. Each of these offers me one terabyte of storage. The external drive cost $75 and the OneDrive space comes with my Office 365 subscription.

Try using bookmarks or the "shoebox" (if you use Ancestry.com) to hold onto items you think will help you later. It thrilled me to find the Sarracino-Pastore immigration record and a Pastore census form in my shoebox. Now they're in my Family Tree Maker file.

Every document or collection you can download or stick a pin in online, and every paper document you've gathered are the contents of your genealogy research library. Don't overlook the possibility that the answers you need are already in your hands.


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Friday, December 8, 2017

Becoming Italian Was a Long, Hard Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Using All Your Tools to Build a Better Family Tree

If you've been enjoying this genealogy hobby for a while, you may have more tools, skills, and knowledge at your fingertips than you realize.

The other day my cousin asked me to track down his grandfather's uncle Pietro who died in World War I.

Suddenly I realized how many online resources I have. I went straight to an Italian website that lists fallen World War I soldiers.
An Italian website lists the fallen soldiers of World War I. This one happens to be an American soldier born in Italy.
Was this the fallen soldier I was looking for?

My cousin's grandfather confirmed that the record I found was the right soldier. Now I had the all-important name of his hometown in Italy (Riace) and Pietro's father's first name (Cosimo).

Until now, I knew this family's province, but not their town of origin.
Finding out your ancestor's hometown
is critical.
I jumped over to the Antenati website of vital records from Italian towns. Hurray! The town of Riace is there.

I felt as if my years of research, my knowledge of Italian, and my long list of genealogy website bookmarks had a greater purpose now. They had the power to help others.

It can be tough to research a family when you don't have first-hand knowledge of them. I'd tried before to build this family's tree, but I'd made a mistake and hit a dead-end. I needed my cousin's grandfather to tell me, "yes, that is my uncle".

What do professional genealogists do? How do they go on if they don't have a relative available to confirm important facts?

Here's what I could have done, and what you can do, too.

Work With What You Have

I could have started with that brief record of the fallen soldier. At first, I assumed he was not our man because I thought Pietro's father's name was Ilario, not Cosimo. But it's a good idea to work with the record you have. See if you can prove or disprove any of it.

Based on that record, I could have looked in the archives of the town of Riace for his birth. Ironically, the fallen-soldier record shows the wrong birthdate for him. But he is in the 1891 index of births. He was born on 9 January 1891.

Compare Your Findings to What You Do Know

Using his birth record, I could have looked for evidence that lined up with what I knew about this family. And his birth record does have what I needed.

Pietro's mother's maiden name was Niceforo. That's a fact I had all along. It was part of the scanty information I'd been told before. If Pietro's birth record showed a mother with any other last name, I would have no confidence that he was the right man.

But there she was. Anna Maria Niceforo was this soldier's mother. With both parents' names confirmed, I could search for all of their babies and see if they had any of the names I knew. And they did!

Build on Your Newly Found Facts

My new list of sibling names helped me find the ship manifest for my cousin's grandfather's mother, Teresa. I learned she'd been held in detention, kept briefly in the hospital because of "tremor of hands". She'd left behind her father Cosimo in Riace, and was to be released to her brother Domenico in Brooklyn.

That's the proof I needed. I had the birth record for her brother Domenico. Later I found Pietro's military record card on Ancestry.com. It said that Domenico in Brooklyn was the person informed of the soldier Pietro's death on 5 October 1918.

Don't Rule Out Less-than-Perfect Search Results

This brief military record holds a clue to this soldier's final battle.
His date of death also tells us which battle he died in.
You might overlook a search result because it isn't a perfect match to your family member. I was ready to toss aside that soldier's record because I didn't recognize his town name or his father's name. But he was the right man.

And Teresa's ship manifest was a bear to find. Ancestry's search only brought me to the page listing detainees. That didn't tell me her age, hometown, or her father's name. I had to comb through the 901-image collection to find the rest of her information.

I had to have her main ship manifest entry to know that I had the right person. And it was worth the trouble.

Now go out there and use your family research super powers for good!


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Friday, September 29, 2017

6 Places to Find Your Ancestor's Maiden Name

Maria Rosa Caruso and family
Without her mother's maiden name,
I couldn't build my great grandmother's family tree.
What was your biggest disappointment when you began your family tree research?

The 1890 U.S. Census went up in flames.

Yeah, that's a tough one. What else?

Tracing female ancestors is so hard without a maiden name.

For sure. But unlike the 1890 census, you can find maiden names.

Here are some of the genealogy resources that can provide your ancestor's maiden name. You may not be able to get your hands on some of these. Others may not exist for your ancestor.

Any one of these resources may hold the key to unlocking another generation in your family tree.
  1. Birth, Marriage, Death Certificates—These documents should contain your ancestor's maiden name. If you can't find them, branch out. Her maiden name may be on her children's birth, marriage, and death records. If you find different versions of her maiden name, weigh your evidence. Is the oldest-recorded document the most accurate? Do you trust the spelling you've found in 3 places more than the unique spellings?
  2. Ship Manifest—In some cultures a woman keeps her maiden name for life. If you can find your ancestor's immigration record, you may find her maiden name. If she is not from such a culture, did she emigrate before marrying? To locate her without knowing her maiden name, search with the information you have:
    • her first name and age
    • her hometown
    • her year of immigration
  3. Census Forms—Decades ago, multiple generations lived in one household. If you can find your ancestor with her husband and children, see who else is living with or near them. If there is a mother-in-law or brother-in-law in the home, you may have found your ancestor's maiden name. If there is a family next door whose first names match the known siblings of your ancestor, they may be her family.
  4. Passport Application—Your male ancestor's passport application can tell you a lot about his wife and children. This is especially true if the family was travelling together. You might discover each person's full name, date and place of birth, and the wife's maiden name. Plus, their family photo is priceless! To learn more about this resource, please see Your Family Tree Needs Your Ancestor's Passport Application.
  5. Naturalization Papers—Many of our ancestors who came to America had no intention of ever leaving. They officially declared their intention to become a citizen. They filed a petition for naturalization. If all went well, they became U.S. citizens. Each step of the naturalization process generated paperwork. If you find that paperwork, you can learn dates and places of birth, the applicant's father's name, and a woman's maiden name.
  6. U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index—Several months ago I wrote about discovering my great great grandmother's maiden name with this database. She didn't have a Social Security Number. It was her son's record that gave me the clue I needed. To learn exactly how I did it, please see This Expanded Resource Provided an Elusive Maiden Name. Now I've been able to get her birth record and more.
    Finally! Her maiden name was Girardi.
Genealogy is a treasure hunt. The more clues you can find for your ancestor, the stronger your family tree will be.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

How to Create Your Ancestral Hometown Database

I've seen many family tree researchers get ecstatic when they discover their ancestor's hometown records are online.

For me, this moment came when I learned about the Italian website, Antenati. It has birth, marriage and death records for my four ancestral towns in Italy. Other genealogists are finding their ancestor's records on FamilySearch.org.

That's a lot of records!
How do you know what's in them?
A free computer program makes it easy to download these digitized records from both FamilySearch.org and the Antenati site. It's written in Portuguese, but don't let that worry you. I've written several times about using these records and the program. See:
If you've downloaded documents from your ancestral hometown, you may have hundreds or thousands of images on your computer.

Now what?

If you're looking only at each year's index and finding what you know you need, you're missing the boat. And that boat is overloaded with your ancestors!

My recommendation: Make a spreadsheet database of every important fact in each document.

My database-in-progress for several towns' birth, marriage and death records.
What's the point? With a spreadsheet of facts, you can sort an entire town's birth records by last name. If you sort by last name and father's name, you will see all the children born to your ancestor.

There will no doubt be ancestors in your spreadsheet that you never knew existed.

Here are 5 steps to creating your ancestral hometown database from your downloaded files:
  1. Examine the records for the fields you want to capture. For example, birth records may contain the baby's name and birth date; father's name, age and occupation; mother's name and age; their address; and the baby's baptism date. Death records will contain different facts, and so will marriage records.
  2. Create columns in your spreadsheet to hold all the facts. I keep birth, death and marriage records on different sheets in my Excel file so they can have different column headings.

    TIP: The best way to be able to sort your records by date is to keep the year, month and day in separate columns.
  3. Enter information from the documents into your spreadsheet. This takes time, but I found shortcuts as I did this last night.
    • I went through one year's birth records, entering only the baby's name into the spreadsheet. I put the baby's last name in one column and first name in another. (I record parents' names as last-name-first to help with sorting.)
    • On my second pass through the records, I entered the birth and baptism dates.
    • On my third pass, I entered the mother and father's information.
    Why is this better? I was always looking in one specific spot on the page for the information I wanted. It felt faster than going one document at a time, picking out facts from all over the page.
  4. Sort the data by any column to uncover hidden facts. You may find an unknown sibling. You may find that a man had several wives over the years. You may find that a family moved from one part of town to another.

    See Dr. Daniel Soper's YouTube channel for tips on using Excel. Many tips will apply to other spreadsheet software.
  5. Share your database! Years ago I documented the facts from the vital records for my grandfather's hometown. I gathered these facts while sitting at a microfilm viewer in a Family History Center, so I used a simple text file. You can't sort a text file, but at least you can search it. I shared this file, as well as a GEDCOM for the whole town, with other descendants of that town.

    Your spreadsheet can be a valuable resource to other family tree researchers. Once you're done, I encourage you to share it everywhere you can think of.
I completed two years of records while watching the Yankees slaughter the Orioles last night. I expect to get much further tonight because of the shortcuts I found.

When you have your database, find an appropriate Facebook group or the like, and put the data out there. Genealogy is a collaborative sport!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Here's Why Genealogists Love Immigrants

ID photo from a Petition for Naturalization
Last year my cousins' father passed away and I found his obituary. The man we called Doc is someone I've known since I was a little girl. But I didn't know anything about his family.

Genealogists know how to pull tons of facts from a well-written obituary. I documented Doc's family names and relationships in my family tree software.

Using these new pieces of information, I searched for his father Mario's arrival in the United States from Italy.

Mario's naturalization documents are among the richest I've found. Let's go through them to see how much you can learn about an immigrant ancestor through their naturalization papers.

Certificate of Arrival

When an immigrant wanted to become a citizen in the early 1900s, they provided information about their arrival into the U.S.:
Certificate of Arrival
  • date of arrival
  • port of entry
  • name of ship

That's a boon to your family tree research right there. In Mario's case, the documents include a Certificate of Arrival that verifies these facts.

This certificate gives you, the family tree researcher, exactly the information you need to find Mario's ship manifest. There you can gather information that may include his father or mother's name and his town of origin.

Declaration of Intention

This form has so many vital facts packed into a small area. In Mario's case, we learn his:
  • address
  • occupation and age
  • physical description
  • town of birth
  • birth date
  • wife's name and date and place of birth
  • wedding date
  • children's names and birth dates

Mario's arrival information, confirmed on the Certificate of Arrival, is repeated here. Plus we see his signature and photograph.

Petition for Naturalization

Enough data to make a genealogist weep.
After filing a Declaration of Intention and going through the process, the immigrant completes another form. Mario's Petition for Naturalization repeats and supports the facts on his Declaration of Intention.

So if you are able to find one, but not both of these detailed forms for your ancestor, you've still found a genealogical treasure.

If your ancestor had a spouse and children at the time of their declaration and petition, you now have an official source of their vital information.

Mario's paperwork provided me with Doc's real name and birth date, as well as those of his brothers, whom I didn't know. With these facts I can fan out my search for census forms, Social Security Death Indexes, and other records of this family.

Perhaps most excitingly, I can search for documents from Mario's hometown in Italy and try to extend his family history there.

Naturalization records are available through the U.S. Naturalization and Records Administration (searchable online), Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

The sheer density of critical vital information makes genealogists absolutely adore our immigrant ancestors.