30 June 2017

What Story Does Your Ancestor's Job Tell You?

After visiting the idyllic towns in Italy where my grandfathers were born, I had to wonder why they left their families and came to America.

It turns out their occupations paint two very different pictures. These two stories may represent many immigrants to America.
Our ancestors sought opportunity, work, and a decent living.

The Skilled Craftsman

My maternal grandfather Adamo left Basélice, Italy twice. The first time he was 23 years old and already listed his occupation as shoemaker. He had two choices:

  • Stay in Basélice and be one of a small number of shoemakers in a small town of about 2,000 people.
  • Go to New York City and be one of many shoemakers serving thousands of people.

Unfortunately, Adamo's plans were rudely interrupted by World War I. He returned to Italy to fight and became a prisoner of war under brutal circumstances.

Eventually he made his way back to New York City. He continued working as a shoemaker and had his own store in the Bronx for a while. Later he did other types of leather work, making saddles and holsters for the police department.

For Adamo, a skilled young tradesman, coming to America meant greater opportunity doing what he knew how to do.

The Unskilled Laborer

My paternal grandfather Pietro left Colle Sannita, Italy at the age of 18. He had no skilled occupation. He was probably working the land to provide food for his family while his father Francesco made several visits to America for work.

On each of Francesco's trips to work in the United States, he was a laborer. He did whatever type of work was available, including railroad labor and mining.

Pietro did the same as his father, working at a bakery near his uncle's home, at a steel company near his cousin's home, and for the railroad. But he wanted a trade that wasn't so dirty and back-breaking. Oral history tells me that Grandpa's opinion of working in the railroad roundhouse was, "This job stinks on-a the ice."

Pietro became a jewel setter, working with his hands at a clean workbench. He liked it well enough that he kept a small workbench in his cellar at home and continued to make trinkets when I was a girl.

For Pietro, an unskilled laborer, coming to America meant opportunities in fields he might never have imagined.

Just as American families today are likely to relocate for a job at some point in their lives, our ancestors faced a similar situation. While they didn't have an IBM paying to move them to a new state, they did need to move in order to prosper.

It's not hard to understand that reality. Is it?

27 June 2017

Picturing America Through Your Ancestors Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 June 2017

How to Visualize Your Ancestor-Finding Progress

I've seen lots of graphics lately showing how many direct ancestors we each have. Two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, etc. It adds up fast!

Since I've been lucky enough to find a handful of 5th great grandparents lately, I thought it would be a good exercise to see where I stand.

I made a spreadsheet you can download with placeholders for grandparents in one column, great grandparents in the next column, and so on through 10th great grandparents.

Update: I've made a revised spreadsheet to include color coding for your four basic tree branches: one color for each grandparent. I've also created a row at the top to show how many ancestors we each have for each generation.

Then I used Family Tree Maker software to create a chart of my ancestors, labeling the generations. I scrolled across my chart and filled in the blanks on the spreadsheet.

Color coding the 4 branches helps a lot.
Color coding the 4 branches helps a lot.

My results are mixed. When I identified four of my 8th great grandparents and four of my 9th great grandparents, I couldn't have been happier. But now I can see that they aren't even the tip of the iceberg. They're a crystal of the iceberg!

To focus on the plus side, I'm missing only three of my 32 3rd great grandparents. That's pretty good considering they never came to America.

I'm missing 23 of my 64 4th great grandparents. After that, I'm not even counting. Yet.

On the plus side, now I can focus my work on finding as many of the missing "younger" generations as I can. (See "5 Steps to Grow Your Italian Family Tree" and "How I Gained 2 More Generations in 1 Day".)

See what this progress report can tell you about your research!

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23 June 2017

Simplify Your Genealogy Info Gathering With This Form

Skip the handwritten notes with these fill-in-the-blanks family genealogy worksheets

Years ago on a trip to the New York City Municipal Archives, my genealogy buddy Dawn gave me Word document forms to print out. There was one for birth records, one for death records, and one for marriage records.

The forms saved us each a ton of time because we were focused on locating and writing down all the key facts.

But after 35 years at a keyboard all day, I can barely sign my name anymore. Typing, on the other hand, I can do in my sleep.

I created a series of PDF forms you can download and use repeatedly. They are fill-in-the-blanks forms you can save. When you begin using one, do a "Save As" and give it a unique name. You can return to a saved file and add more to it at any time.

Write on the sheet or type in the field and capture the critical information.
Write on the sheet or type in the field and capture the critical information.

Note: I've created several new forms since this article was first published. Let me know if you have any problems or find any errors. This group is in PDF format:

This group is in Word format:

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20 June 2017

Tips & Tools to Help You Translate Foreign Genealogy Records

There are tons of Facebook genealogy groups devoted to very specific readers. If you search, you can find a group devoted to your area of research: Southern Italian Genealogy, Hesse Germany Genealogy Group, Polish Texan Genealogy, French Canadian Genealogy. You name it!

In these groups you will find many people seeking translations of foreign birth, marriage and death records. And there are countless people willing to help.

But you can become a self-sufficient translator of your own documents. Often the hardest part is figuring out the letters themselves. It helps tremendously to know the types of words you're looking for.

If you learn the genealogical keywords, numbers, months, days, etc., in the language you need, the words will become clearer to you.

When you're stuck on a letter or two, search the rest of the document for any other markings that may be the same letter. When you have an educated guess, plug it into Google Translate and see what you get.

Don't be intimidated! You just have to know what you're looking for.
Don't be intimidated! You just have to know what you're looking for.

Here are several excellent resources to help you learn the words you need to know in four languages. If the language you need is not here, visit the FamilySearch Wiki for more.

Still getting stuck? Join a Facebook genealogy group for your ethnicity. You'll find a wealth of knowledge and very helpful genealogists.

18 June 2017

How to Find More Great Grandfathers for Father's Day

Last night I discovered the names of a few of my 4th and 5th great grandparents in Italy. And I plan to gather many more.

I've written before about using the online Italian Genealogy Archives known as Antenati (see How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives). And I've told you how I used that site to gain two generation in one day.

Because I had so much good fortune with my family tree last night, I want to share a few tips and methods with you.
In a few steps I found my 5th great grandfather, Innocenzo Cerrone.

First, start with the youngest ancestor you would like to find in the archives, like your grandfather. If you don't already know the names of his parents, you will find them on his birth record, along with their ages.


Consenting to marriage by making a mark.
  • Search the surrounding years for the birth of his siblings. You'll know you've found them if the parents' names match and their ages are a reasonable match. I say that because in the old days you might not know exactly how old you were. (I have to do the math to figure out my husband's age every time someone asks!)
    Note: An Italian woman in the 1800s might bear children for 20 years straight! My own grandfather was 20 years older than this sister.
  • When you think you've found the firstborn child in a family (because the parents are so young), go back one year and search for the parents' marriage. (See How to Read Italian Marriage Records.)
    Example: When I found the 1841 birth record for a sister of my great great grandmother, and the new mother was only 20 years old, I searched the 1840 marriage records and found their wedding documents.
  • Use the marriage documents (see The Italian Genealogy Goldmine: "Wedding Packets") to identify the names of your great grandparents' parents. Marriages required the consent of one's parents, so their names are listed.
    Note: Sometimes to distinguish between people with the same name, a person's father's name is included. If the name is listed as Giovanni di Giuseppe, Giovanni's father Giuseppe is still alive. If it's listed at Giovanni fu Giuseppe, Giovanni's father Giuseppe has died. Now you have another great grandfather and a date by which he died.
  • Look through the marriage records in the Matrimoni, processetti (Weddings, processions) section. If the bride or groom's father has died, that death record is included. This provides yet another set of great grandparents' names. If the bride or groom's grandfather has also died, you will see his death record. Now you have the names of the great grandparents of the bride or groom—who may already be your great great grandparents!
  • Keep in mind these other facts as you go back in time:
    • My extensive research of a few rural Italian towns in the 1800s shows that the average age of marriage was 25. You will see some younger and some older, but this has been the average. If one spouse is a lot older than that, it's probably not their first marriage.
    • When a child died, it was extremely common to use the same name, or a slight variation of the name, on the next child born. In my search last night, I found an Anna Cerrone born to my 4th great grandparents. I wasn't sure she was my 3rd great grandmother. I had seen my 3rd great grandmother listed as Anna Donata or Donata, and this baby was simply Anna. So I kept searching. Sure enough, baby Anna had died, and they name the next baby girl Anna Donata Cerrone. So don't go chasing the wrong sibling.
    • There was no divorce in Italy until 1970, but you will find lots of remarriages. If someone became a widow, they did not stay that way for long. They would remarry and continue bearing children as long as possible. I have seen a few people from this era who were married four times. Today that has a whole different connotation!
    • You will find some human error on these documents. I have seen the wrong birth certificate included in wedding documents. It doesn't happen often, but when siblings have the same exact name, mistakes can happen!

So this Father's Day, I invite you to find the names of a few new-to-you Nth great grandfathers. Celebrate their names and be grateful to them. Without any single one of them, you would not be here.

16 June 2017

Run This Genealogy Report To Help Clean Up Your Dates

Update: Family Tree Analyzer is now available for Mac.

I've written before about my indispensable Document Tracker (see Haven't I Seen You Before?). It's a spreadsheet that shows at a glance which facts or documents I've collected and which I'm missing.

I've also written about Family Tree Analyzer (see Why You Should Be Using the Free "Family Tree Analyzer"). It's a program that does what I was struggling to write a program to do. And it does it so much better than I could have imagined. (Get the latest version.)

Now I'd like to show you how Family Tree Analyzer can quickly produce a document tracker for you.

Step 1: Export a GEDCOM

Export a standard GEDCOM file from whichever family tree software you're using. You may need to click File / Export in your family tree software. You can also download a GEDCOM from Ancestry.com if that's where you work on your tree.

Step 2: Open GEDCOM in Family Tree Analyzer

Launch Family Tree Analyzer and open your new GEDCOM file. Click the Individuals tab to view a grid of every single individual in your tree. My tree has 19,341 people at the moment, and that's not a problem. There is no delay at all in displaying the information.
The Individuals view in Family Tree Analyzer

Step 3: Export a Spreadsheet

Now click Export in the menu across the top and click the first option, Individuals to Excel. The program will ask you to name your file and pick a location for it.
Exporting your Individuals report

The file will be in CSV format. That stands for Comma Separated Values. You can open a CSV file with any spreadsheet software at all—not only Excel.

Step 4: Work with Your New Report

Now you have a spreadsheet of everyone in your tree and several basic facts about them. You can hide or delete the columns you don't want, and add some that you find more helpful.

Try some creative formatting: Find every cell with the word UNKNOWN and highlight it in yellow. Now you can spot these items quickly.
With all your people in one file, your imagination is the only limit.

I can review all the yellow-highlighted UNKNOWNs and work on filling in approximate birth, marriage and death dates. Entering an approximate birth date, such as Abt. 1900, makes it easier to distinguish people with similar names in your tree.

You can enter an approximate birth year for someone based on what else you know about them. For example, subtract 25 from the eldest child's birth year to approximate the parents' birth years. Or, if you have the mother's birth year as 1900 but not her husband's birth year, you can fill in Abt. 1900 for him.

Be sure to use the standard abbreviations of Abt. for about, Bef. for before, Aft. for after, and Bet. for between, if you're giving a range of years. (Note: Family Tree Analyzer prefers that you don't use a period—Abt instead of Abt.—but Family Tree Maker puts it in automatically. You can change this in Tools / Options on the Names/Dates/Places tab. Look for "Fact labels".)

How many ways will you use this Family Tree Analyzer report to fortify your family tree?

13 June 2017

Where to Find Free Historical City Directories and Newspapers

Have you ever subscribed to an online newspaper archive website? I've tried them twice, but I never found anything about my relatives.

Those sites may be worth the subscription fee if your ancestors were important businessmen or socialites. Or if they were involved in a crime or a train wreck. But I never found my folks.

This directory shows me when Antonio's
son James starting working.
I've had better luck with a free newspaper website (see Fulton History below). There I found some real estate transactions by my great grandfather and his brother-in-law. The information was sparse, but it helped me piece together some of his business dealings.

City directories, on the other hand, have been a great help in locating an ancestor in between census years. (See How To Squeeze Everything Out of the Census.) This can help you when you discover your ancestor is not living at the same address in 1930 as he was in 1920. The city directories between 1920 and 1930 can show you where he moved.

This directory tells me exactly when Antonio died!
Here are a few free websites (also see Free Genealogy Resources) where you can search for your ancestors. If you find them, you can add more data points to their timeline, giving you a more complete view of their lives.

Some of these free sites may have an unfriendly interface or have no search function. You get what you pay for.

Tip: When opening a city directory, look at the table of contents so you have a rough idea of which pages to view.

Free Newspaper Websites

  • Fulton History. What began as "Old Fulton NY Post Cards" now contains over 39,328,000 historical newspaper pages from the United States and Canada. The site includes a good search feature and highlights your search terms on the resulting pages. This is where I found my great grandfather's business transactions.
  • Internet Archive. Type newspaper in the search box, then narrow down your results in the left column. There is so much available on this website that I may devote an entire article to it soon.
  • Library of Congress: Chronicling America. This website contains digitized newspapers from 1789 through 1924 in 13 languages. That's 2,234 newspapers. The search functionality is very helpful.

Free City Directory Websites

This real estate directory tells me my great grandfather
owned one building and lived in another.
Subscribers to Ancestry.com have access to their city directories collection. I've used these to locate certain ancestors in between census years. A directory helped me figure out where my grandfather went to live and work upon entering the United States. Directories can show you when a grown son left his parents' household and moved nearby, possibly helping to estimate his marriage date.

A city directory may provide a missing piece to the puzzle for you.

11 June 2017

Let a Few Quick Wins Reinvigorate Your Genealogy Research

I admit it. What I'm about to share with you is common knowledge.

But common knowledge is often forgotten knowledge.

Many of us sneak in some quick family tree research time here and there, whenever we can. We're not focused on it as if it were our full-time job. (I joke, of course. Who's concentrating on their jobs?)

Our research habits may have gotten a little sloppy. Maybe we need to get back to basics.

Notice there's no last name in this search.
With that in mind, today I decided to track down some census records I simply couldn't find in the past. I used a few tried-and-true techniques and started racking up the wins. (See How To Squeeze Everything Out of the Census.)

Now I'm psyched for more! How many missing census forms can I find in one sitting? And do I really have to go to work tomorrow?

Here's what I did. You can do the same.

My maiden name is not easy for anyone to pronounce or spell, so I never expect the transcription to say "Iamarino".

No problem. Here are three techniques that helped me successfully locate a census for two Iamarino families:

  1. Do a wild card search. I tried *amarino and ?amarino to locate nearly correct spellings.
  2. Search for a family member instead. When my search for the head of household didn't work, I tried searching for his son Bernard—not as common a name as Peter.
  3. Remove the last name completely. This did the trick! I had a family of four named Peter, Marie, Joseph and Bernard. That combination, with no last name, brought up the long-missing 1940 census record. "Iamarino" had been transcribed as "Lamarine".
I found them! Cousin Bernie was the key.

I recommend looking at your family tree and starting close to yourself. Fan out until you identify a family that's missing some census years. Then go to your favorite census search engine, whether it's ancestry.com, familysearch.org, or anywhere else.

Try various combinations of the three techniques above to see if you can find that missing census form.

If you find one, you won't be able to stop. If you fail a couple of times, pick a different branch and try again.

Happy hunting!

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09 June 2017

How to Visit Your Ancestral Hometown at Your Desk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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