Showing posts with label world war i. Show all posts
Showing posts with label world war i. Show all posts

11 June 2019

Drawing Inspiration from the Genealogy Pros

Do high-profile genealogists inspire you to do better family tree research?

If this sounds like I'm writing a grade school assignment, stick with me.

The genealogy professional I find most inspiring is Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak. She's a key researcher behind my favorite genealogy shows, "Who Do You Think You Are?" and "Finding Your Roots". She's an author and the former Chief Family Historian at

Megan works to identify the living descendants of deceased military personnel. She helps get the remains of these service members back to their homes.

Ms. Smolenyak also solves the mysteries of unclaimed bodies in the morgue. Finding living descendants is hard! You can watch a well-produced video to get a feel for Megan's work.

Megan's work with fallen military personnel reminded me of a website in my Favorites list. It's a database of Italian soldiers who died in World War I. There's another site for soldiers who died in World War II.

Long ago I searched for any Italian soldier with my maiden name who died in the first world war. I found only one: Alfonso Iamarino, born in my grandfather's hometown of Colle Sannita on 15 Feb 1892.

Alfonso's birth record and military record led to a ton of names, and our relationship.
Alfonso's birth record and military record led to a ton of names, and our relationship.

Finding living people is hard. But I should be able to identify this soldier's ancestors and siblings. My goal was to see where Alfonso fits in my family tree.

The fallen soldiers website tells me Alfonso's birth date and his father's name. The collection of the town's vital records sitting on my computer will make it easy to find his relatives.

But how will I find his relationship to me? Step by step.

Initial Facts

In 1892 when Alfonso was born, his father Pasquale was 30 years old. His mother Orsola Marino's age is not stated.

Since Pasquale was 30, I looked for and found his birth record in 1862. It even says at the bottom that he married Concetta Orsola Marino on 21 Dec 1889. I'll be sure to search for Alfonso's siblings later. But I want to go up his tree first.

Pasquale Iamarino's parents were Nicola Iamarino and Concetta Zeolla. The 1862 birth record said his parents were both 40 years old. But I couldn't find Nicola's birth record.

Don't know when a couple got married? Work your way back to their first baby.
Don't know when a couple got married? Work your way back to their first baby.

Searching Sideways

Since I couldn't find Nicola's birth record around 1822, I needed more information. If Nicola and Concetta were 40 in 1862, they should have several older children.

I checked the index of births for each year, going backwards from 1861. Nicola and Concetta's ages were so inconsistent! I found these babies:
  • Michele Arcangelo Iamarino, born 5 Apr 1859
  • Francesco Saverio Iamarino, born 19 Jan 1857
  • Giuseppantonio Iamarino, born 19 Feb 1852
  • Antonio Iamarino, born 13 Nov 1850
  • Angelantonio Iamarino, born 2 Apr 1849
I couldn't find any babies born before Angelantonio. It was time to search for Nicola and Concetta's marriage record.

I found them quickly. They married on 21 Feb 1848. The marriage records should include their birth records and their parents' names.

I found Concetta's 1824 birth record. But Nicola was different. Instead of the usual birth record, there's a 2-and-a-half-page document in hard-to-read handwriting. After staring at it for a while I was able to read it.

It says, in effect, "Oops! We can't find Nicola's birth record in the register. It isn't written there, and we don't know why. But we do know he was born in September 1819."

Family Tree Maker's color coding keeps me from overlooking these important relationships.
Family Tree Maker's color coding keeps me from overlooking these important relationships.

Making the Link

The unusual birth record for Nicola tells me who his parents were, as does his marriage record.

And that's where I found a lucky surprise. Nicola's parents were Angelo Iamarino and Anna Elena Pozzuto. Those names were familiar to me because I'd been looking at them about an hour earlier.

It turns out Nicola's sister Liberantonia was married the same day as he was. Their documents are listed one after the other in the 1948 marriage register. An hour before I found Nicola's marriage record, I discovered that Liberantonia's grandparents were my 5th great grandparents.

That makes Libera my 1st cousin 5 times removed. Her brother Nicola is also my 1st cousin 5 times removed.

Suddenly I realized Alfonso Iamarino, the only Iamarino to die in World War I, is my cousin. Alfonso's 2nd great grandparents are my 5th great grandparents. Poor Alfonso is my 3rd cousin 3 times removed.

Hey. I like this. I'm ready to choose another fallen soldier from my ancestral towns and figure out how we're related. For those of you who are of Italian descent, be sure to bookmark these sites:
How do your genealogy heroes inspire you?

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10 August 2018

6 Ways to Add Another Generation to Your Family Tree

When you started building your family tree, you may have known only your 4 grandparents' names. What fun it is each time you discover a relative's parents' names. You've added another generation to your tree!

Here are 6 places to look for the names of that previous generation. Some may surprise you.

1. Census Sheets

Look closely at each member of your relative's household in each census. You may find the Head of Household's mother, father, mother-in-law, or father-in-law living with the family. The best find is the male head of household's father-in-law. Now you've got the wife's maiden name!

2. Draft Registration Cards

If your male relative was single and the right age, his draft registered card may name his father or mother as his nearest relative. In this example, Tony Jr. is not his real name—it's Anton Jr. But this card is evidence that he is, in fact, named after his father.

The draft registration card for a single man may give you his mother or father's name.
The draft registration card for a single man may give you his mother or father's name.

I'd heard stories about "Uncle Anton" from my mother-in-law. When I found this card, I realized his father's name was Anton, too.

3. Ship Manifests

If your ancestor emigrated during a particular span of years, you're lucky. Their ship manifest may include a column labelled, "The name and complete address of nearest relative or friend in country whence alien came."

Your relative may give the name of their spouse. But an unmarried traveler may name their father or mother.

Your immigrant ancestor's ship manifest can tell you their hometown - and their parent's name.
Your immigrant ancestor's ship manifest can tell you their hometown—and their parent's name.

You may not understand this scribble, but this is my grandfather Adamo naming his father Giovanni as the relative he's leaving in his town of Baselice.

4. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

A while ago I found a collection on called "U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1935-2007".

If your relative worked in the United States after the 1935 founding of the Social Security Administration, they should have Social Security records. Hopefully you're already familiar with the SSDI—the Social Security Death Index. That can give you dates and places of birth and death.

But the Applications and Claims Index can give you much more! With some luck, you can learn the decedent's father's name and their mother's maiden name.

Plus, if you're looking up a female relative by her birth date, you can learn her married name.

5. Passport Applications

If your relative was a U.S. citizen going to another country at a certain time, they needed a passport. These applications can be a treasure trove. And you even get a photo.

Here's some of what you might learn about your relative:
  • birth date and place
  • address
  • occupation
  • father's name, birth date or age, birthplace and address
  • wife's name
If the applicant is a married woman, you'll get details about her husband rather than her father.

A passport application provides lots of names, dates and places you need.
A passport application provides lots of names, dates and places you need.

This example is from a relative named Walter Smith. It provides birth dates and countries for Walter, his wife Elizabeth, and his father George. It also says when he sailed from Liverpool to the U.S., and on which ship. The next page has photos of Walter and Elizabeth.

That's some valuable info when you're researching a guy named Smith!

6. Vital Records

Of course all genealogy fans want to find their ancestor's birth, marriage and death records. Keep in mind that:
  • The parents' names on a birth record should be pretty reliable. But either parent may be using a nickname rather than their true, full name.
  • All information on a death record is obviously supplied by someone other than the person who died. What if the decedent is an 85-year-old who was born in another country? Will their child, who's supplying the information, know the correct spelling of their grandparents' names? What if they never even met those grandparents?
  • If the couple getting married is pretty young, you can have more confidence in how they list their parents' names. (The "nickname" rule still applies.) But if the couple is older—2 widows getting remarried—the information is more likely to have an error.
  • If your couple got married in the same little town where they were born and raised, the clerk writing the names is more likely to get them right.

The lesson to take away is this: Don't give up on that previous generation if you can't get your relative's vital records. You have 5 other types of records to find, each of which can help you fortify your family tree.

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

15 June 2018

Genealogy is the Joy of Names

Yesterday I used a set of 1819 marriage records to make a big discovery. An acquaintance who I assumed is related to me is in fact my 6th cousin.

He and I share a set of 5th great grandparents. I know their names, their approximate years of birth, and some of their children's names. But that's all.

A word cloud of my closest relatives and the frequency of names.
A word cloud of my closest relatives and the frequency of names.

My ancestors all came from little hilltop towns in rural Southern Italy. I visited their towns last month and got a better feel for these places. My ancestors lived simple lives that were basically undocumented and unexceptional.

That means I'm not going to find a letter from my ancestor to the king. My ancestor wasn't the mayor of the town or instrumental in a revolution. My ancestor's name and exploits weren't in the newspaper.

Without the possibility of a direct line of ancestors leading to the King of England, why do I do it?

Why do I spend countless hours gathering the documents that tie me to such distant cousins?

For me, it's the sheer joy of names. I adore all the names I find in my vast collection of birth, marriage and death records. They're repeated over and over because of the Italian tradition of naming children after their grandparents.

Although each of my ancestors' towns are close to one another as the crow flies, each town has a core set of surnames. For example, my maiden name barely exists in my grandfather's hometown anymore. But people in the town recognized it and responded to me warmly.

It's some of my closest last names that enable me to assume someone is my relative. If their name is Pozzuto, for example, and their ancestors came from the town of Colle Sannita, we've got to be cousins. It's an exciting challenge to try to find that exact relationship.

Some genealogists may look down on me as nothing more than a "name collector". But I love collecting those names. I've learned a little bit about life in my ancestral hometowns in centuries past. I can't expect to find much more.

My grandfather's one-page military record told me volumes.
My grandfather's one-page military record told me volumes.

Here are two specific things I learned about my ancestors' lives in Italy:
  1. My grandfather told us he was a prisoner of war with the Italian Army during World War I. He had to eat rats to survive. Last month I photographed his military record at the archives in his home province.

    Now I know:
    • when he was captured
    • the name of the battle
    • where he was imprisoned
    • how long he was imprisoned.
    That's a lot of detail in a few lines on a page.
  2. My great grandfather was rumored to be an Episcopal minister. An usual thing in a Roman Catholic country. It was only by visiting my cousins in Italy (his granddaughters) that I learned the story.

    This is not written anywhere. And even my cousins have never seen a photograph of their grandparents.

    My great grandfather Francesco and his brother-in-law were living and working in the Bronx, New York. It was one of Francesco's many trips to America to earn money. One day he passed by a church in the Bronx. He heard singing and loud voices, and he felt drawn to go inside.

    This was the type of church where people are so overwhelmed, so deeply moved by the presence of God, they begin speaking in tongues.

    Francesco brought his new faith back home to Colle Sannita and started his own church. His great grandchildren hold prayer services and follow Francesco's teachings to this day.
Those two stories won't get me on TV, but they're all I have so far.

Meanwhile, I'm more than happy to indulge my love of Italian names. I collect the siblings of my ancestors and their spouses and children. I love seeing the names get passed down. My 4th great grandfather was Francesco Iamarino. My great grandfather was Francesco Iamarino. My father is Frank Iamarino.

So call me a name collector. I am a name collector. These names "are" my ancestral hometowns, and I love them dearly.

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

20 February 2018

Was Your Ancestor in the Military? It May Not Matter

One of my best family history clues came from a World War II draft registration card for a 64-year-old man.

My grandmother's uncle barely made the deadline for the "old man's registration". In late April 1942, local draft boards recorded facts about men born between 28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897. The men were 45 to 64 years old. How badly did the war have to go before they called up 64-year-old men?

Born four months into the date range, my great uncle was about to turn 65 when he went to the draft board in the Bronx, New York.

His name was Semplicio Saviano, known as Sam. His World War II draft registration card tells me was was 5'6" and had an artificial left eye. My mother remembers being so afraid of him, and her mother would scold her for it. "He's my uncle. Don't be silly!" But maybe it was that fake eye that spooked her as a little girl.

Sam's registration card also tells me that he was living in my mother's building. That confirms her story of seeing him at the end of the hall, staying in a little room that wasn't much bigger than a closet. He lists his sister (my great grandmother) as the person who will always know his address. That makes sense, too, because Sam's wife had died, and my great grandparents owned my mom's building.

But the fantastic clue needed so badly was his place of birth. All I'd ever heard for so many years was that my great grandmother's family was from Avellino, Italy. The problem is Avellino is both a city and a province. So where did they come from?

Although riddled with errors, this draft registration card holds a vital key to my family history.
The answer, though completely misspelled, is printed neatly on the card. It says "Tofo - Province Avilino". I had no doubt that "Avilino" was meant to say "Avellino". So I checked an online map of Avellino for a town with a name anything like Tofo.

Aha! Finally, I had hard evidence pointing to the town of Tufo, Avellino.

Shortly after this discovery, I was visiting the Family History Center in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It was my first time at a Center, so I was just checking it out. One of the volunteers suggested I look at which films were sitting in their "Italy drawer". Would you believe I found a reel of film from Tufo?

I made a big discovery thanks to that film. Sam was born there, and so was an older brother that no one in my family knew about.

If you're searching for someone in the World War II draft registration cards, keep those birth dates (28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897) in mind. I'd been searching for my paternal grandfather's card for a long time before I realized he was too young. He was born in 1902—probably too old to serve, but too young for this registration.

World War I draft registration cards are important to gather, too. It's another moment in time to see where your relative lived and worked. These cards were filled out on three separate dates, each with its own birth date ranges:
  • On 5 June 1917 they registered men born between 6 June 1886 and 5 June 1896.
  • On 5 June 1918 they registered men born between 6 June 1896 and 5 June 1897.
  • On 12 Sept 1918 they registered men born between 11 Sept 1872 and 12 Sept 1900.
My paternal grandfather fell through the cracks again! He was too young to serve or be registered.

Draft registration card images are available on and If your ancestor didn't serve, you may have overlooked this important family history resource. Which of your male ancestors should be in these record collections?

If this all seems a bit familiar, I did write about draft registration cards 9 months ago. Finding Sam's place of birth was such an important breakthrough for me, I want to encourage you to find your ancestors' cards, too.

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

01 December 2017

Our Ancestors' Work Conditions

My ancestors came to America to escape poverty and earn money for their families. There was no work for young men in their hometowns.

When they came to America, industries were growing and needed men for hard labor. Some of my ancestors worked in coal mines or for the railroads. My great grandfather developed black lung disease, forcing his early retirement.

When World War I began, some industries had to change their ways. Long before Rosie the Riveter, women employees kept things running. Businesses also relied more on black workers.

Between December 1917 and March 1920, the government consolidated our railroads under the United States Railroad Administration.

This was a big deal. Independent, competing railroad companies now joined forces for efficiency. A year earlier, President Woodrow Wilson pushed through an act ordering railroads to limit their workers to an eight-hour work day. The workers were about to go on strike.

Now he had to avoid strikes and ensure the smooth flow of goods across the country. Wages went up, but they went up a lot more for senior employees than lower-paid employees.

In September 1918, two months before the war ended, the Secretary of the Treasury wrote a report to the president about the progress of the United States Railroad Administration.

Two facts in this report are very surprising for 1918.

The U.S. government recommended paying women the same wages as 1918!
This is from the Federal U.S. government in 1918!
The government recognized the importance of women workers. Imagine that! While they protected women from jobs "unsuited to their sex", they paid them "the same wages as men engaged in similar work".

The U.S. government recommended paying black men the same wages as white 1918!
Again, this is 1918!
The government recognized the importance of black workers. I don't know which of these facts is more shocking for 1918. The Secretary of the Treasury believed that "equal pay for equal service without respect to sex or color" was an act of justice.

This seems so enlightened for 1918.

After World War I, the Railway Administration Act returned the railroads to private ownership. Maybe that's why one railroad worker in my family tree was "off on strike" from July to September, 1922.

This man's service record is marred by one strike.
I'm guessing the privately-owned railroads weren't so dedicated to keeping the workers happy.

Most of my women ancestors worked at home, sewing. At least they avoided the sweatshops and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City.

We're doing better than our ancestors on working conditions. But the fact that the government recommended equal pay for all in 1918 makes you wonder when and how that stopped.

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

03 November 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 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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22 October 2017

Putting Yourself in Your Ancestor's Shoes...Historically

Have you had the pleasure of visiting the country your ancestors came from? Those of us who have gone to the old country felt moved, enchanted, and somehow at home.

We found ourselves thinking, "How could they have left this beautiful place?"

But, as Michael Corleone said to his mother in "The Godfather Part II", tempi cambi. Times are changing. The quaint town you visited in recent times may be very different than it was when your ancestor lived there.

your ancestors emigrated from a place that may seem like paradise to you today
It may look like a slice of heaven to you, but your ancestor's hometown gave them reason to emigrate.

Recently I did some research to figure out where one ancestral branch came from. No one living knew if the family was German or Polish. After a bit of historical research, I can now place the family in today's Poland before they left for America. (See Finding Ancestral Homelands That Are No Longer There.)

My direct ancestors all came from Italy, but Italy was not united as a kingdom until 1861. My great great grandmother Marianna Iammucci was born in 1854. That means she wasn't born in the Italy we know today. She was born in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Marianna's son Adamo Leone fought for Italy in World War I. He came to America and returned to fight for his young country. As a result of that war, Italy became bigger, adding territories in the northeast.

After Italy's unification, there were big differences between northern and southern Italy. My grandfathers and great grandfathers faced poverty and a lack of opportunity. Each of them came to America to find work.

One of my great grandfathers, Francesco Iamarino, came to America at least four times. He stayed and worked for a while. Then he returned home to his wife and children.

His only son, my grandfather Pietro Iamarino, came to America at age 18. Pietro didn't visit his hometown until the 1950s when he was a widow in his fifties. He would have missed his father, who'd passed away by that time. But I can't begin to imagine how happy his mother must have been to see him one more time.

When you're researching your ancestors who left home to find a better life, pay attention to history. What was going on in their hometown when they chose to leave?

Here are two resources published by EmperorTigerstar that show how national borders and ruling powers changed during World War I and World War II. (See EmperorTigerstar's YouTube channel for tons of history.) They're a good illustration of how time changes everything.

World War I: Every Day

World War II in Europe: Every Day

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06 September 2017

Finding the Siblings Your Ancestor Never Mentioned

Noé and Adamo Leone in Italy
My grandfather Adamo Leone (right)
and his younger brother Noé.
When I started my family tree research, I knew nothing about my maternal grandfather's ancestry.


In conversations with my mother and aunt, I learned that my grandfather had a brother Noah (Noé in Italian) and a sister Eve (Eva in Italian). That was good for a chuckle because my grandfather was Adam (Adamo in Italian).

Adam and Eve and Noah? Come on!

This lack of detail made me want to research Adamo's hometown of Basélice in Benevento, Italy, more than anyplace else. (See "Why I Recorded More Than 30,000 Documents".)

The Specifics of Your Ancestral Hometown

As I began to document the vital records from Basélice for the years 1809 through 1860, I spotted some patterns:
  • Most couples married at an average age of 25 years.
  • Most couples had their first child within one year of marriage.
  • Most couples continued to have children every two or three years until the woman was roughly 45 years old.
  • The average number of children per couple was six to eight.
  • If a man was widowed, he was likely to marry a much younger woman, and father another six to eight children.
Something's Not Logical

Recently I was able to access and download Basélice vital records for years beyond 1860. When I located my grandfather's 1891 birth record and his parents' 1881 marriage record, something didn't add up.

How could his parents, Giovanni Leone and Marianna Iammucci, have been married for 10 years without having a child? Adamo, Noé and Eva were born in 1891, 1895 and 1898, respectively. Their mother Marianna was 42 in 1898.

It seems fine that she had her last child a little while before her childbearing years ended. But the 1881 to 1891 childless gap made no sense based on my knowledge of their hometown.

So I began searching. The other night I found them!

My surprise great uncle Giuseppe Leone's 1883 birth record. See his marriage annotation in the right column.
My grandfather never mentioned them. But now I know he had an older brother Giuseppe (born in January 1883) and an older sister Maria Grazia (born in July 1889).

My mother can't believe it! She said he never spoke about his life in Italy, and he only mentioned his siblings Eva and Noé.

In the column of Giuseppe's birth record a note says he married Maria Castaldi in August 1914. I have no further details, but I do know Giuseppe did not die in World War I. (Here is a website where you can search for Italian casualties of WWI.)

My surprise great aunt Maria Grazia Leone's 1889 birth record.
Maria Grazia may have married, or she may have died in her youth. The vital records are not available online for me to find out her fate.

I'll never know why my grandfather didn't mention these siblings. Maybe Maria Grazia died when my grandfather was a little boy or before he was born. But what about big brother Giuseppe? I do hope I'll find out what became of him.

Many times in this blog I've encouraged you to gather every document you can from your ancestral hometowns. (See the links at the bottom of this article.) You could be related by blood or marriage to most of the town.

Use This To Your Advantage

The Giuseppe and Maria Grazia Leone story is another reason to look closely at every genealogy record from your ancestor's hometown.
  • Find out at what age couples married and had children.
  • See if your ancestral family has a big gap in years between children's births.
  • Look in the town's birth and death records for babies who were stillborn or died as infants.
Maybe you'll find a shocking, previously unknown great uncle or aunt for your family tree, too!

09 July 2017

How to Avoid Searching for Non-Existent Genealogy Records

Don't waste time searching for an ancestor in a document collection that will not contain their name.

Genealogy is a thriving industry overflowing with documents and databases. If you subscribe to any ancestry sites, you've got a never-ending supply of databases to browse.

But don't waste time. Learn exactly what a document collection holds before you start your search.
These men in my tree had military records for me to find. But not my grandfather.
These men in my tree had military records for me to find. But not my paternal grandfather.

Here's a prime example of how I've been wasting time hunting for a document that can't even exist.

My maternal grandfather, Adamo Leone, fought in World War I. He was in the Italian army and became a prisoner of war. Obviously I'm not going to find a United States World War I draft registration card for him.

I do have a copy of his World War II registration card when he was 51 years old. This is called the "Old Man's Draft" and was more a database of skills than prospective soldiers. These men were never intended to go to war.

My paternal grandfather, Pietro Iamarino, was still living in Italy between 1914 and 1918. He was only 16 when World War I ended.

But I had no World War II record for him. I spent a lot time examining images of registration cards, one by one. I figured the name "Iamarino" was misfiled, so I hoped to find it myself.

Then one day it struck me. Maybe his 1902 birth year excluded him from this set of records.

Here's what I should have researched in the first place.

Men who were drafted for World War II were age 18–35 in 1942. If they were between 35 and 45 and unmarried, they were also eligible for the draft.

Grandpa was 40 years old and married in 1942. He was beyond the cut-off for military service.

Then there was the "Old Man's Draft" where I found my other, older grandfather Adamo. This registration included men born between April 27, 1877 and February 16, 1897.

Grandpa, born in October 1902, didn't fall into this category, either. As an able-bodied 40-year-old man, Grandpa Pietro was left to continue his work and take care of the home front.

This tiny bit of research could have saved me lots of time.

So here's the moral of my story. Before you search for a particular ancestor in a document collection, stop. Find out exactly what that collection contains. Decide if your ancestor should be there or not.

On, each collection has its details listed below the search area. On, the descriptions are above the search area.

Find out what you're looking at before you spend hours looking at it.

I can put an "n/a" in the draft card field of my document tracker spreadsheet for Grandpa.

08 May 2017

Why You Need Your Ancestor's Draft Registration Cards

As the song teaches us, war is good for "absolutely nothing". Unless you're a genealogist.

Military records are filled with data points every genealogist wants. Perhaps the easiest military records to find are draft registration cards for World War I and II.

World War I

The U.S. declared war on the German Empire on April 6, 1917, entering World War I.

In 1917 and 1918, 98% of men in the United States who were born between 1872 and 1900 had to register for the draft. Each man went to a local place to have his information and signature (or mark) collected on a registration card.

It's interesting to note that although my grandfather was the right age to fight in World War I, there is no registration card for him. That's because he went back to Italy to fight for his native country.

The exact information collected depends on the state where your ancestor lived.
This tells me where his father lives in Japan

For genealogists, the World War I registration card for your ancestor can provide:
  • full name and current address
  • age and date of birth
  • race:
    • White
    • Negro
    • Oriental
    • (American) Indian
  • citizenship status
  • place of birth
  • occupation, employer and address of employment
  • list of dependents including parent, wife, and sibling or children under 12
  • marital status
  • name and address of nearest relative (could be in another country)
  • military service
  • exemption from draft
  • your ancestor's signature
  • physical characteristics:
    • height: tall, medium or short
    • build: slender, medium or stout
    • hair and eye color
  • "Has person lost arm, leg, hand, foot, or both eyes, or is he otherwise disabled (specify)?"
  • date the information was collected
  • location of the draft board

World War II

We all know it was the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 that forced the U.S. to officially enter World War II.

A staggering 16.1 million Americans fought in World War II, so a draft became necessary. This was the Selective Service Act.

The government registered more than 10 million men from November 1940—before the U.S. entered the war—until October 1946—after the war ended.

Better safe than sorry, I guess.
Front side of a World War II draft registration card

The government took the extra measure to register older men between the ages of 45 and 64. Think about what a 64-year-old man probably looked like in 1941. Ancient, no doubt. Ten years away from reaching the limit of life expectancy!

These "old man" draft registration cards were somehow completed in one day: 27 April 1942. The men had to have a birth date between two very specific dates: 28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897.

A World War II registration card for your ancestor can provide:
  • full name and current address
  • mailing address
  • telephone number (if they had a telephone)
  • age and date of birth
  • place of birth including county (if within the U.S.) or country
  • name and address of someone (usually a relative) who will always know where to find you
  • employer's name and address
  • place of employment or business
  • your ancestor's signature
  • physical characteristics:
    • race: White, Negro, Oriental, (American) Indian, or Fillipino
    • height
    • weight
    • hair and eye color
    • type of complexion: sallow, light, ruddy, dark, freckled, light brown, dark brown, black
  • Other obvious physical characteristics that will aid in identification"
  • date the information was collected
  • location of the draft board

A World War II registration card gave me a breakthrough. My grandmother's Uncle Semplicio's card gave me his Italian home town. That told me where my great great grandparents came from.

Because of that card, I was able to find Semplicio's birth record, along with that of an unknown brother. The brother died as a child.

These draft registrations took place between census years. You may find that they provide additional addresses to help you map your ancestor.

Maybe they will provide an address that helps you find your ancestor within the previous or next census.

And maybe you'll learn about a physical disability you might otherwise have never known. For example, my grandmother's Uncle Semplicio had an artificial eye.

So that's why my mother was always afraid of him!

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20 April 2017

POW: My Grandfather's World War I Experience

My grandfather Adamo Leone
(standing center) in World War I.

As a child I had a language barrier with my maternal grandfather. Adamo was a smiling, sweet man who didn't speak much and rarely in English.

He'd tell me in Italian to slow down or be quiet—with a smile on his face—but I don't remember him telling me stories.

I loved him unconditionally, but I knew nothing about him.

Perhaps the only tidbit of a story I had was that Adamo had been a prisoner of war during World War I, fighting for Italy, and that he was forced to eats rats to stay alive. That's all I ever heard.

With the 100th anniversary of World War I upon us, I've been thinking about my grandfather a lot, wondering where he fought, where he was imprisoned, and what horrible conditions he faced.

Some research into Italy's experience in World War I led me to the 1917 Battle of Caporetto in northern Italy. The battle was so devastating that 11,000 Italian soldiers died, 29,000 were wounded, and more than a quarter of a million were taken prisoner.

Adamo may have been among these prisoners.

The Austro-Hungarians who captured the Italians were unprepared to care for this many men. At least 100,000 Italian soldiers died in captivity. The men were kept in a large number of camps in places like Mauthausen (future site of a WWII concentration camp) and Milowitz, and they were dying from tuberculosis and starvation.

Adamo and his  family in America.
It's easy to imagine eating rats to stay alive.

The prisoners were doing hard labor in coal mines and stone quarries on a food supply of less than 1,000 calories a day.

Those who survived the camps until the end of the war were kept in quarantine camps by the Italian government so they could be interrogated and either cleared or prosecuted as traitors.

Adamo had come to America in 1914 to join a few of his cousins. He returned to Italy in August 1915, shortly after Italy entered the war. He did not leave for America again until February 1920, 15 months after the war ended.

I once heard that Adamo stayed with his parents in Italy for about two years, recovering from his captivity.

Imagine then making the decision to leave them forever to return to a better life in New York City.

It's easy to understand his sweeping this story under the rug. I'm just so glad he came back.