03 October 2017

Family Mystery Solved! Two Lost Boys Found

Months ago I wrote about a family story that's not at all uncommon among immigrant families. (See Searching for the Missing Link in Your Family Tree.)

My great aunt Stella and her husband Attilio had the same last name—Sarracino. Stella told me they had permission to marry because they were absolutely not related.

That wasn't quite true. They weren't closely related, so it was OK for them to marry. But they were indeed cousins.

I know the boys went back to Italy because their U.S. births were recorded in Italy.
Attilio Sarracino's 1907 U.S. birth was recorded in Italy in 1909.
I discovered this when I traced Attilio's parents to the same little hamlet in Italy where my great aunt's parents were born. It's the frazione of Pastene in the comune of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo.

I'd already collected the Pastene birth records for Stella Sarracino's parents—my great grandparents. (See How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.) Then I found the Pastene birth records for Attilio's parents, Carmine and Maria Rosa dell'Aquila.

Carmine and Maria Rosa's story is interesting:
  • Carmine came to New York City in 1891 at the age of 25.
  • He returned to Pastene and married Maria Rosa in 1898.
  • They had a son Equilino in 1899. He was born while Carmine was spending another year in New York City.
  • He returned to Pastene and had a son Carlo in 1902, and a daughter Stellina in 1903.
  • In 1904, baby Carlo had died, but the rest of the family came to New York City in April.
  • In 1905 their son Enrico was born in the Bronx.
  • In 1907 their son Attilio was born in the Bronx.
  • Between Attilio's June 1907 birth and October 1909, Carmine and Maria Rosa returned to Pastene.

Let me stop right there. In my extended family, it's rare to see a family come to America for a while, and then return to Italy.

When my genealogy research showed me that Carmine and Maria Rosa continued having children in Italy after Enrico and Attilio were born in the Bronx, I thought they had abandoned their boys. I thought they must have left them with relatives.

But why?

They continued:
  • In October 1909, daughter Iolanda was born in Pastene.
  • In 1911 Carmine made another trip to New York City.
  • In June 1911 his daughter Antonia was born in Pastene while Carmine was in New York City.
  • In 1916 Carmine was back in Pastene and his son Guido was born.

Attilio Sarracino's 1924 passport photo.
Attilio's passport photo.
I know that Enrico, born in the Bronx, died in the Bronx at age 80. His brother Attilio, born in the Bronx, died there, tragically, at age 33.

Were they ever reunited with their parents? Or did they only see their father on his occasional trips to America?

The answer was hiding in my downloaded collection of Pastene vital records.

I've been recording the facts from thousands of birth, marriage, and death records in a spreadsheet for easy searching and eventual sharing. (See How to Create Your Ancestral Hometown Database.)

While going through the 1909 birth records for Pastene, I found two records detailing the U.S. births of Enrico in 1905 and Attilio in 1907. These late entries for their births may have been required by the comune of Sant'Angelo to have a record of their inhabitants.

These late birth records are so detailed, they include the address of the house where the boys were born—458 East 150th Street. The records include the names and Bronx addresses of the witnesses to the births.

I know from Attilio's passport records that he returned to New York City in 1924. (See Your Family Tree Needs Your Ancestor's Passport Application.) I also know Enrico was in the Bronx in 1924. He testified that he recognized his brother's passport photo. He hadn't seen his brother since they were together in Italy two years earlier.

Finally this family mystery makes sense. Young Enrico and Attilio were not left behind. They did return to Italy with their parents and siblings. They each lived in Pastene until, like most young men at the time, they were old enough to make their own way in America.

I'm still piecing together facts from my downloaded vital records to discover the exact relationship between my great aunt Stella Sarracino and her dashing young husband, Attilio.

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

01 October 2017

How to Plan an Efficient Genealogy Research Trip

An online genealogy friend recently asked if I needed any New York City vital records. He was heading to the city and offering to do some lookups for me.

Luckily I use the Task planner in Family Tree Maker to keep a list of items I need to find. I categorize this list by the location of the record, if it's found in a specific repository.

use a detailed task list to simplify your genealogy research
Family Tree Maker includes a Plan tab and this Task list.
So in scanning my list of items categorized as "Archives", I was able to pick out the one document I wanted the most. A few minutes later, my friend emailed me the birth certificate I wanted!

My Task list sure came in handy, but I haven't been keeping it up to date. Let's all prepare ourselves to make the most of any genealogy research trip.

The first step is to fill in your Document Tracker with what you have and what you're missing. For a detailed look at how to use a spreadsheet as your document tracker, see Haven't I Seen You Before? and Case Study On 'Haven't I Seen You Before?'.

For documents you can't access online, make note of where you need to go to access them. That location may be in another state or at a particular library.

For example, most of my family lived in New York City in the past. I need to go to the New York City Municipal Archives for their vital records. Or I may be able to access them at a Family History Center.

When planning to visit a particular library or archive, do your homework first! Your research trip will be much more productive.

For example, last year I vacationed in an area close to where my grandmother Lucy was born. I carved out time for a side-trip to her town and set three goals:
  1. See the house where Lucy lived as a baby and was probably born.
  2. See the railroad yard where her father Pasquale worked.
  3. Visit the town library to see old city directories.
I stood where my great grandparents once lived
Once my great grandparents' house.
Before my trip, I visited the library's website and corresponded with a librarian. I confirmed that the library had city directories for the years around my grandmother's birth.

My first stop on this side trip was the library's cabinet of city directories. I combed through those books for up to an hour without finding a single listing for my great grandfather Pasquale, no matter which variation of his name I used.

What I failed to do was work with the librarian to see if any other documents from the early 1900s might be useful to me. Was there an old map or photographs showing Pasquale's house at the time of his marriage? That address is a baseball field now. Did they have books about the local railroad station from the time Pasquale worked there?

After the library, I drove to the house where my grandmother Lucy and her parents had lived. I got out of the car and walked up and down the sidewalk to get a good look at the house and the yard. I could picture Pasquale there, tending to his garden.

Pasquale's train station is a museum now.
Next I drove to the train station where Pasquale worked. The station is no longer active, and the depot is now a museum. That was great news! The only problem was it was closed that day.

If I'd done more homework, I could have timed my visit so I could tour that museum. Now I need to make another trip there.

On the way to the train station I passed the Catholic church, St. Ann's. I knew that one of my great grandmother's brothers was married in that church.

Somehow it didn't occur to me that my great grandparents were probably married there, too! I should have gone inside! Months later I learned that the church graveyard contains many people named Caruso—all my cousins.

I enjoyed that side trip tremendously. Standing in front of my ancestors' house, and walking along the tracks where Pasquale worked—that was a wonderful feeling!

But I didn't learn very much, and I didn't do enough to strengthen my family tree.

Here's what I'll do before my next research trip. I hope you'll learn from my mistakes, too.
  • Start with the list of items you need to find for your family tree.
  • Expand that list to include the basic facts you know about the ancestor in question. For example, on a recent visit to a Family History Center to view several rolls of microfilm, I brought a list of what I hoped to find on each different roll. The list includes when I expected to find my great great grandparents' marriage. It includes when I believe they were born. And it includes other names I want to confirm.
  • Get familiar with what's available at the archives, library, or museum you're planning to visit. You don't want to miss out on a collection because you were focused only on another collection.
  • Think beyond the dates and names you're seeking. If you're visiting an ancestor's hometown, where did they work? Where did they worship? Where were they buried?
My father has a saying that we kids are tired of hearing, but we know he's right. He calls it the 5 P's: "Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance".

Before I go off on another family history adventure 5 hours from home, I will do my homework and remember my 5 P's.

Now it's time to start my Prior Planning for my next visit to my ancestral hometowns in Italy. I don't want to waste a second of that trip!

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

29 September 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.

You may also enjoy:

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

26 September 2017

4 Ways to Protect Your Genealogy Research from Disaster

The epic hurricane season and earthquakes of 2017 have everyone thinking about natural disasters. Our hearts break for those who've lost loved ones and all their possessions. It's all unimaginable.

We hope it'll never happen to us, but we know it can. Disasters don't give much warning. The time to plan ahead and protect your prized genealogy research is now.

Don't wait! You must protect your family tree research.
Don't wait! You must protect your family tree research.

Here are 4 types of safe storage. A combination of these suggestions can give your family tree research the best possible chance to survive a disaster.

1. Online Storage

Take advantage of free online storage services available to you. These include:
  • Dropbox—create a free account and use up to 2 GB of storage. Paid plans can give you more storage.
  • Google Drive—create a free account (if you don't have a Google account) and use up to 15 GB of storage. You can pay to increase your storage amount.
  • iCloud—if you have an iPhone or iPad, you probably have 5 GB of storage available. You can pay to increase your storage amount.
  • OneDrive—create a free account (if you don't have a Microsoft account) to use up to 5 GB of storage. You can pay to increase your storage amount. If you subscribe to Office 365 as I do, you get a free terabyte of storage!
  • Your Internet provider—find out if your Internet provider gives you access to free storage space.

2. Digital Storage

Of course you will keep your files on your computer hard drive, but we all know computers can go bad. To protect your digital files, you should also make a copy of the files on other media, including:
  • CD-ROMS or DVDs
  • external hard drives
  • another computer, ideally at another location, such as a relative's house
  • paid online backup services such as Carbonite
  • Upload your family tree, complete with all digital files, to the family tree website of your choice. These include Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, etc.

3. Physical Storage

Your paper files need special protection. First, scan your documents and store these files with your other digital files. You can also make paper copies so they can exist in two different places.

To protect your most important original paper documents from fire and flood, consider buying a fireproof safe. These safes are like a small heavy suitcase and can withstand a fire. They are reported to remain intact after a disaster. They're available to buy online or at stores like Walmart. Brand names include:
  • Sentry Safe
  • Mesa Safe
  • First Alert

4. Offsite Storage

If the unthinkable happens to your home, having two destroyed copies of your files will do you no good. You can protect against this by arranging to store one copy at another location.
  • If you are storing your digital files in the cloud, that is your second location.
  • If you are storing your files on an external hard drive, CDs or DVDs, see if a friend or relative will keep them at their house.

We know we need to protect our work. Can you imagine losing your hard work?

Make the time now—this weekend at the very latest!—and protect your genealogy and family tree research for the future.

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

24 September 2017

How to Share Your Family Tree Research with Relatives

If you've been at this genealogy business for a while, you've learned a lot about your ancestors.

You've gathered tons of facts—births, marriages, deaths—and piled up a bunch of evidence. You've got ship manifests for your immigrant ancestors. Census records for everyone born before 1940. You've got birth records for forgotten relatives.

So much material that no one else in your family knew!

How are you sharing all this family history with your relatives?

About 10 years ago, I was still fairly new to family tree research. One cousin encouraged me to create a large-format tree to share with my fellow Saviano and Sarracino descendants. I told her, "I've got so much more to find!" She said, "There will always be more to find, but you need to share what you have."

I created a 2-foot by 6-foot family tree starting with my 3rd great grandparents. It goes all the way down to the present day (as of 2007 or so). I went to Fedex Kinko's to have 40 copies printed, which I gave to the heads of the many families on the tree.

Your family research is never done. That doesn't mean you can't share it now.
Your family research is never done. That doesn't mean you can't share it now.

At that point, everyone in the family knew about my hobby. I became the go-to family historian.

But that big poster was all I ever created and shared. And it is barely the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

What about the rest of it? How do I share with my relatives the fact that our shared ancestor moved several towns away to marry. Then he moved to the next town, where our great uncle was born. Then he went back to his hometown. And finally he came to America with his entire family.

How do I let my father's side of the family know that our great grandfather and his brother married our great grandmother and her sister? How do I show them the many trips our great grandfather made to America before retiring in Italy? (See "Great Grandpa Was a Bird of Passage".)

Giving your relatives access to your online tree isn't good enough. We might love that pedigree view, but where are the stories? Where is my particular grandfather's timeline?

As genealogists, we all have an obligation to document our work in meaningful ways. We must share that documentation with our cousins, aunts and uncles, siblings, and more distant relatives.

What to Share

No matter what format you use, you need to create family history books. First divide up your family into logical groups, such as:
  • your mother's mother's relatives
  • your mother's father's relatives
  • your father's mother's relatives
  • your father's father's relatives
If your large family demands more subsets than these, spell those out, too. But each of your grandparents is a great place to start.

There will be some overlap. My first cousins—my mother's sister's children—are as interested in our grandmother as our grandfather. So they will want two of my books. But my second cousins have no relation to my maternal grandfather. It's the other book they'll want.

In my case, my other first cousins—my father's sister's children—get only one book. Why? Because our shared grandparents were third cousins. It doesn't make sense to make two books out of what's ultimately one family.

Try thinking of your family story like a Hollywood movie. My two grandfathers came from neighboring Italian towns and wound up living one block apart in the Bronx, New York. What a great coincidence! Unknowing neighbors in Italy, their children attended the same school in the Bronx and later married one another.

That would be a great movie story of parallel lives finally uniting. That's a story to tell in chronological order.

Now consider what you'd like to include in each book. Here are some ideas:
  • Standard genealogy charts and reports—family group sheets and small trees, such as the parents and many siblings of your grandmother
  • Vital records—images of the birth, marriage, and death records you've found, and the facts from the documents you don't have in paper or image form
  • Timelines—focus on a specific individual and list his major life events in a timeline format. Include some historical facts to give more meaning to his life. For instance, I'll want to mention the start of World War I because of its profound effect on my grandfather.
  • Immigration records—ship manifests and naturalization papers. If you're lucky, you may have a passport photo to share.
  • Stories—either summarize parts of an individual's life in narrative form, or share an in-depth story that fascinates you
  • Photos—your relatives may love seeing a family tombstone as much as you do. Include old family photos that some relatives haven't seen.
  • Sources—include footnotes documenting the source of your facts. A generation from now, a young relative who wants to continue your work will bless you for eternity.
  • Table of contents and index—your relatives will keep your book and look at it now and again. Make it easy to find exactly what they want to find. Tip: Word and other software can create a table of contents and index automatically.
How to Create the Book

If you aren't using family tree software, this is going to be a big job. But if you are using family tree software or you have your tree on a genealogy website like Ancestry or FamilySearch, things are easier.

After deciding which books you need to create, find a central figure—a hero—for your story. For instance, in my maternal grandmother's book, I would focus on her maternal grandfather. He was my first ancestor to leave Italy and come to America. He's a ground-breaker. Our lives all changed with his decision.

With your central figure chosen, create a large tree of that person's ancestors and descendants. Or create trees of smaller groupings, such as his direct ancestors and only his children.

Create trees that will give the most value to the relatives you want to share your book with.

Now gather your documents for this person: birth, marriage, immigration, census, death, and so on.

Examine your family tree's facts and documents for this person. As you write out their timeline of events, do any stories come to life?

Does research tell you they emigrated due to religious or political persecution? Was there an earthquake that destroyed their town?

Have you discovered your ancestor's first marriage and other children you never knew about? There's an interesting story!

Your family tree software may have the ability to create a book with the pieces you've assembled. If not, you can put those pieces together in Word or a desktop publishing program.

Anything you can digitize—documents, trees, stories, even video or audio recordings—you can include in a Word document.

How to Share the Book

If your document is far too large to email, put it online and share its location with your relatives. You can use cloud storage that's free. (See "How to Back Up Your Family Tree Files Automatically".)

If your document doesn't contain any video or audio, consider having it printed at a local shop or a large store like Staples. You can copy your big book file to a flash drive or CD-ROM and bring it to a store for printing.

Several online services will turn your work into a hard-covered book.

This is not an endorsement, but if you go to Bookemon.com, you can view sample family history books. You can borrow ideas from their contents and layouts. They also have inexpensive templates and a book price calculator.

You know how I didn't want to print my family tree 10 years ago because I'd only just begun? That's the beauty of a strictly digital family history book.

You can update, correct, and add to the book at any time. Then give your relatives a link to the "latest edition".

Look at you! You're a genealogist, an author, and a publisher!

Follow me wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or Bloglovin.

Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.

22 September 2017

Make Progress with a Guilt-Free Genealogy Task-a-Day Calendar

One task a day - whatever day it is - can make great progress for your family tree.
What day is it? Genealogy day!
Your family tree hobby started out so fun. You were filling in great grandparents and finding them in the census. You were adding great aunts and great uncles you never met.

Then your fun little hobby got serious. And time-consuming.

The "serious" part is wonderful. My reason for writing this blog is to inspire every family tree researcher to do the best job possible.

But that "time-consuming" part is not as wonderful. It keeps us from doing our best. And maybe it makes us feel a little guilty for leaving so many tasks unfinished.

I have a suggestion that can help you make noticeable progress and put an end to any feelings of guilt.

First let's think about all the tasks you wish you could do throughout your family tree, such as:
  • Adding a portrait photo to each person
  • Giving a well-formatted citation to each fact
  • Gathering every available census for every person
  • Using a consistent format for each place name
Next, think about your research materials outside of your family tree. You have files and folders, and maybe binders and books and catalogs and recordings and photo albums. They all need organization, scanning and analyzing.

Focus on one task and get more done.
When you have time for genealogy,
a task calendar can help you focus.
Now, how can you make good progress on all these different tasks without feeling like the job is too big to manage? A Genealogy Task-a-Day Calendar™.

You don't have time for family tree work every day—I'm not suggesting that.

This is a calendar with days, but no dates. Picture a Page-a-Day calendar that you place on your desk, peeling off one sheet of paper for each day of the year. But your Genealogy Task-a-Day Calendar has no specific day of the year assigned to each sheet of paper.

Instead, it's a sheet for each day that you have some time to spend working on your tree. You sit down to work, and the Genealogy Task-a-Day Calendar tells you that today's task is to scan your photos.

It doesn't say you have to finish all your scanning. But that's your focus this day.

The next day you have time, the next sheet of the Genealogy Task-a-Day Calendar tells you to find all the family tree facts with no citation.

Maybe the next day you'll be searching for those missing census forms.

You can make yourself an electronic Genealogy Task-a-Day Calendar—which is totally something I would do—or you can make one using a small, spiral-bound notebook, or a sticky notepad.

Each time you use the calendar, you'll be working on your assigned task. That should erase any guilt you may feel for not having everything done and perfect.

You're working on it! Cut yourself a break.

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

19 September 2017

Free Resource Lets You Plot Family Tree Locations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I've only scratched the surface here. Imagine creating a detailed map to include in your family tree research.

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

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

17 September 2017

How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images

As a long-time computer professional, I'm embarrassed that I didn't learn this till today.

You can add custom details and descriptions to any JPG file on your computer. Your customizations will stay with the file when you copy, move or share it.

The biggest benefit to customizing your image files' details may be this:

You can search for your customized description in a huge folder of images and quickly find the file you need.

You can rename your images as needed.
I have thousands of downloaded vital records from the Italian Antenati website. As I go through them, I like to rename some of the files to include the name of the subject. If it's a close ancestor, I might include "my 4GA" (my fourth Great Aunt) in the file name. But now I can get more specific—especially with those direct ancestors.

This works on Windows or Macintosh. In Windows 10, right-click the image and choose Properties. Then click the Details tab. Many of the fields are editable. I never thought to check that before!

The Description and Origin sections are editable.
For Windows 7 instructions, see this short tutorial. For Mac users, see these instructions.

Before diving into this project, I'm going to decide on a set of standards. What might I want to search for? Which details are most important? My first thoughts are:
  • Person's name, year, and type of record (for example, Libera Pilla 1882 birth record)
  • The person's relationship to me (for example, my great grandmother, or my paternal grandfather's mother)
  • Which town the record comes from and the type of record (for example, Colle Sannita; birth record)
  • The URL of the original image and the name of the source
I'd recommend giving lots of thought to your own set of standards. Then start with the images that are most important to you. I'll start with wedding photos and my closest relatives' vital records.

Searching is easy with customized descriptions.
Ironically, this tip is the solution to the problem I was having when I stumbled upon it. I wanted to find my great grandmother's birth record to send to my cousin. I couldn't remember her year of birth, and I didn't want to wait for Family Tree Maker to open. So I tried looking in several folders without success. I finally opened my tree on Ancestry.com and found the correct year. Then I happened to click on the image's properties and discover I could edit them!

Now a quick search for my great grandmother's name and "birth record" brings up the right image.

How will image details make your family tree research a bit easier?

Bonus: Select multiple images and edit their details at once.

15 September 2017

How to Create Your Ancestral Hometown Database

What genealogy fan wouldn't be thrilled to find their ancestor's hometown records online?

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

A free computer program called GetLinks 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?

Once you download all the records from your town, imagine how many of your relatives are in these folders!
Once you download all the records from your town, imagine how many of your relatives are in these folders!

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.
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; the address where the baby was born or where the father lived (not always the same); 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 several siblings for your ancestor who died young.

    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 (for years!), 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 documented 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 other place, and put the data out there. Genealogy is a collaborative sport!

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

12 September 2017

Today I Demolished My Family Tree's Only Brick Wall

You know that guardedly ecstatic feeling when you think you're looking at the answer to your biggest family tree mystery?

Should you shout EUREKA! or keep reading the document you've found to make sure you've got it right?

This happened to me a few times today, and I was giggling with joy!

my great great grandfather Antonio Luigi Saviano in his coffin
I had his death photo. Now I have his birth and marriage records!

Recently, I filled out my chart of direct ancestors, color-coding the names to correspond to each of my four grandparents. That's when I realized I hadn't gotten further than my third great grandparents on my maternal grandmother's branch. And those names were from an unreliable source.

I needed to find Italian documents for my grandmother's grandparents: Antonio Saviano and Colomba Consolazio. Only then could I be sure of their parents' names. And maybe I'd learn their grandparents' names.

My great great grandfather Antonio Saviano presented me with another problem besides his ancestors' names. I didn't know where he was born, and he seemed to move a few times before coming to America. I haven't found any other Italian family in my tree that moved more than once in 1800s Italy.

The Saviano and Consolazio origins were my only brick wall.

How I Broke Through…Slowly

First I found Antonio and most of his family on an 1898 ship manifest coming to New York. They stated they were from Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. That's a little town in the province of Benevento. But I'd always heard they were from Avellino.

Next I found the World War II draft registration card for Antonio and Colomba's son, Semplicio Saviano. It said he was born in Tufo, Avellino, Italy. Great! Now I was onto something.

Then I ordered microfilm of Tufo vital records to view at my nearest Family History Center. I found that Antonio Saviano and Colomba Consolazio had a son before Semplicio named Raffaele.

I looked in the Tufo microfilms for Antonio and Colomba's births and marriage. But they weren't there!

Thanks to Colomba's brother's marriage records, I discovered that the Consolazio family came from the neighboring town of Santa Paolina.

So, with only days left to order microfilm, I ordered four reels from Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy. Today I went to see them.

I immediately set out to find Antonio Saviano's 1843 birth record. It wasn't there, and I was disappointed. but I continued looking.

And then it happened.

I wasn't sure at first, so I kept quiet. But there I was, looking at Colomba Consolazio's birth record. My great great grandmother was not born on the date I saw on her death record. She was born three years earlier, and her name was Vittoria Colomba Consolazio.

There was an extra paragraph in the center of the birth record. It stated that Vittoria Colomba Consolazio married Antonio Luigi Saviano on 1 June 1871 in Santa Paolina!

I rewound that reel of film faster than I thought possible. I had to get to the 1871 marriage records ASAP.

From uncertainty to 3 more generations!
And the bricks came tumbling down.

When I found the marriage banns and marriage record, I had an answer I never expected. Antonio Luigi Saviano was born on 7 July 1843 in Pastene.

Pastene is a small section of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in Benevento! That's where the family was living before they came to America. That's where my great grandmother and her younger siblings were born.

So Antonio was born in Pastene, moved to Santa Paolina to marry Vittoria Colomba, had one baby who died at four days of age, moved to Tufo to have two more children, and moved back to Pastene to complete his family.

I learned Antonio's parents' names were not what I saw on his death certificate. They were Raffaele Saviano and Grazia Ucci. Grazia died before 1871. I learned Antonio's birth date and his town of birth.

I learned Vittoria Colomba's real name, real birth date, and her parents' full names. These facts were almost entirely wrong on her death certificate. Her father was Sembricio Fiorentino Consolazio, son of Gaetano who was the son of Saverio. Sembricio's mother was Colomba Ricciardella.

Finally, I learned about Vittoria Colomba's mother. On her death record, her mother was Rafina Zinzaro. In the Tufo documents, she was Rufina Zullo.

But on an 1818 birth record I discovered Rafina Zinzaro / Rufina Zullo was born Rubina Maria Consullo (sometimes written as Conzullo). Her parents were Simone Consullo and Domenica Iacobellis.

During my visit today I jotted down the facts for every Consolazio I could find, and I will go back to finish that work. Suddenly my family is much bigger thanks to the Consolazio ancestors that had been hiding behind that brick wall.

Now it's time to scour the Pastene and Sant'Angelo a Cupolo records I downloaded to get the facts on every Saviano and Ucci.

Can I shout EUREKA now? EUREKA!!!!

Follow me wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or Bloglovin.

Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.