12 June 2018

Trust But Verify Your Relative's Family Tree

"Trust, but verify" is a translation of an old Russian proverb that reminds you to find the truth for yourself. It's particularly useful when applied to genealogy.

Here are some situations where "trust, but verify" should pop into your head:
  • A relative gives you their family tree with no sources.
  • A stranger's online family tree seems like it may connect to yours.
  • An elder tells you a bunch of family facts they remember from decades ago.
You may trust the relative or the elder, but you've got to verify their work.

How to Handle Unsourced Names and Dates

Use an image to alert you to unsourced facts in your family tree.
Use an image to alert you to
unsourced facts in your family tree.
You welcome the new information. You're excited to have it. But take steps to mark this new set of names and dates as unsourced. Some options for marking this content are:
  • Add a bookmark to each unsourced person in your family tree software.
  • Add a profile image to each unsourced person, such as this graphic that says "No sources".
  • Create a source citation using the name of the person who shared the information with you.
  • Attach no source at all. Personally, I've been very diligent about attaching sources. If I find people in my tree without a source attached, I know someone handed those people to me.
This step to identify unverified information can save future-you a big headache.

The moment you receive a batch of new information, add it to your genealogy to-do list. You need to put some research time into proving or disproving these unsourced facts.

Think how satisfying it'll be when you can replace an individual's "no sources" graphic with an image of their birth record.

How to Figure Out the Facts

Eleven years ago a man named John saw my For the Cousins website and emailed me. He's part of a large group of Italian immigrants and their children in Niagara Falls, Canada. They all came from my paternal grandfather's hometown in Italy.

Four months later, my aunt and I flew up to meet this Italian enclave at their annual dinner party. I brought a big family tree printout with me. As I met and talked with many of the people, they shared lots of names and relationships with me. Together we added branches to my tree.

Eleven years is a long time, but now I have all the available vital records from my grandfather's hometown on my computer. This past weekend, while looking at my family tree for a new section to explore, and I found the Canadian branch.

Adding birth records as a person's photo show the proof.
Add a person's birth record as their photo so you know you have the proof.
I began with John from Canada's grandparents. I found birth records, parents' names, wedding dates, and death dates. I attached each document I discovered to the person in John's family tree. Now I had trusted, verified sources.

Sometimes a birth record will include marriage names and dates.
This 1887 birth record includes
names and dates for 2 marriages.
Here are a few pointers when working with someone else's tree:
  • Expect some names to be slightly different. If your contact's tree comes from family sources, they may remember their "Uncle Antonio". But his birth record may show his given name was:
    • Michelantonio
    • Giovannantonio
    • Giuseppantonio or
    • Nicolantonio.
  • Check a person's parent's names in the tree to decide if you've found the right birth record. If both mother and father match, you've probably found either the right person's birth record or that of a sibling. Is the birth year what you expected?
  • Look for marriage data in the margin of birth records. This is more common on more modern birth records. It's less often found on very old records. Sometimes this annotation is exactly what you need to be sure you've found the right person.
The best surprise in this branch is that John from Canada is related to a set of my cousins through their father. I'm related to them through their mother.

But knowing this small town's high rate of intermarriage, I'm sure I'll find I'm related to John in half a dozen ways!

As I search for more connections, I'm gathering vital records and fortifying my family tree.


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08 June 2018

How to Find Your Pre-Civil Records Ancestors

On yet another episode of "Who Do You Think You Are" a celebrity learned she's descended from a king. The 20-foot-long ancestor charts they unroll so dramatically on TV are likely to frustrate us mere mortals.

Other celebrities' ancestors were on the Mayflower, fought in the Revolutionary War, or were among the Founding Fathers. All have deep, traceable roots in America.

That can make an Italian-American like me feel like a newcomer and a nobody. Antonio was my first ancestor to arrive in New York City in 1890. I had no useful documentation for him other than his 1898 crossing when he was 55 years old and brought his wife and children to America.

So how does someone from Southern Italian peasant stock wind up with the names of a handful of her 9th great grandparents born in the early 1600s?

Here are 2 ways to learn the names of these early, low-profile ancestors.

Hire a Pro to Search Local Church Records

An 1821 marriage record I hired a professional genealogist to find.
An 1821 marriage record I hired a professional genealogist to find.
One of my brick walls was my first immigrant ancestor, Antonio, born in 1843. I still don't know anything beyond the names of his parents.

I hired a pair of Italian genealogists to search church records from Antonio's tiny hometown. The town, Pastene, is basically one long street with a church in the middle and a cemetery at one end.

Unfortunately, it was not mandatory for this little hamlet to keep civil records. And my genealogists learned there wasn't even a church birth record for my Antonio. Thankfully, they focused on another of my Pastene ancestors. I'm absolutely thrilled with what they found for me on his family.

Find "Secondary" Vital Records within the Civil Records

A 1791 church death record found within 1848 marriage documents.
A 1791 church death record found within 1848 marriage documents.
Shortly before I hired the professional genealogists, I wasn't sure where Antonio was born. But I knew he lived in Pastene in 1898 when he brought his family to America. Then a World War II draft registration card told me his eldest son was born in another town called Tufo.

I used my nearest Family History Center to view the Tufo civil records and learned that the family hadn't lived there for long. They came from nearby Santa Paolina, so I had to view those records.

In Antonio's 1871 Santa Paolina marriage documents, I learned:
  • Antonio's wife Colomba was born in Santa Paolina.
  • Colomba's parents were Semblicio and Rubina.
  • Antonio was, in fact, born in Pastene on 7 July 1843.
  • His parents were Raffaele and Grazia.
All 4 of Antonio and Colomba's parents were alive in 1871. If any had been dead, their death records would be in the marriage documents. And you know what's on the death records, don't you? The names of the deceased's parents.

In 19th century Italian marriages, if the bride or groom's father was dead, they needed their paternal grandfather's consent. If that grandfather was dead, guess what's included in the marriage documents? The grandfather's death record and his parents names!

But all 4 of Antonio and Colomba's parents were alive. (Darn?)

That's not the end of the trail. Pastene may not have civil records, but Santa Paolina has plenty. That's how I wound up learning that one of my 5th great grandfathers was Saverio Consolazio.

Here's how I got back that far:
  • Colomba was born in 1845 to parents who were 27 and 29 years old. There had to be more children. I searched birth records for the surrounding years and found 3 of her siblings.
  • I found marriage documents for two of her siblings and learned some more ancestors' names.
  • I found birth records for some of her siblings' children and learned even more names.
Despite finding no death records, I found the names of Colomba's parents, all 4 grandparents, and one great grandparent, Saverio. Always look into your ancestor's siblings!

Remember what I wrote earlier about death records within the marriage documents? If the bride or groom's father and paternal grandfather are dead, that grandfather's death record could pre-date the town's civil records.

These early documents tend to be handwritten copies of church records that include:
  • The name and age of the deceased.
  • The date of death and burial.
  • The name of their spouse (if it says they were a widow, you know that spouse died first).
  • The names of their parents (if it says "fu" or "furono", you know one or both parents have died).
The church records within the marriage documents may include the names of your fifth great grandparents. I found the names of 68 of my 128 5th great grandparents using these two methods.

How many do you have? How many more can you find now?


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05 June 2018

Collaborating with Your DNA Matches

Finding this record of an 1802 birth was the key.
Finding this record of an 1802 birth was the key.
In an average family situation, you grow up with your biological mother and father and know many of their relatives.

That doesn't describe everyone—I know. But stick with me for a moment.

If your DNA match list includes 1st and 2nd cousins, you should know who they are. If it includes 3rd cousins, you may be familiar with their names or know who their grandparents were. I've met a couple of 3rd cousins this way, and they helped me fill in their parts of my tree.

It's that 4th to 8th cousin DNA match that presents the real challenge. If you're 4th cousins, you share a set of 3rd great grandparents. And who (besides a genealogist) can name their 3rd great grandparents?

The most productive DNA match to collaborate with is likely the one with familiar last names in their family tree. And if your match has a family tree online, they've probably done some worthwhile research.

It's OK if you're concerned about your privacy. You don't need to share the identities of anyone younger than your great grandparents.

Go ahead and show one another what you've found—focusing on a branch where you think you'll find a connection. Together you can advance one another's work. How will you know which branch to look at? Last names and hometowns could be your clue. Or you may start out with no clue at all!

I'm incredibly lucky that all my ancestors come from a single province in Southern Italy. (One exception: My great great grandmother Colomba came from the neighboring province.) Better still, the vital records from my five ancestral hometowns are available online.

I used a simple program called GetLinks to download thousands of vital records to my computer. Having the documents makes searching for records quicker and easier than paging through the website that hosts them. (To learn how to do this, see How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.)

On Sunday one of my DNA matches reached out to me. Each of our last names comes from the same little town in Italy. We found one another years ago, but we've never found our actual family connection.

When your tree is really big, there are tons of avenues to explore. So I'd never gotten around to exploring her family tree on Ancestry.

Then she asked for my collaboration in the best possible way. She said, "Here's my ancestor, and his mother Maria had your last name. I know her father was Pietro and her grandfather was Francesco. I think her grandfather could be this Francesco in your tree. What do you think?"

Not only was that enticing, but her question showed me exactly where to jump in and start exploring.

This tree connects me to my DNA match...sort of.
This tree connects me to my DNA match...sort of.
She and I both realized that if my Francesco was the same man as her Francesco, he had to have been married twice. That's because I have his 1820 marriage record, and Pietro was born well before that. So I searched for evidence.

Francesco's 1820 marriage documents mentioned no first wife. I needed his son Pietro's birth record so I could see his mother's name. But Pietro was born before the start of civil record-keeping in 1809.

What to do?

I approached the problem from the other side. I should be able to find a copy of Pietro's birth record in his marriage documents. But I didn't know when he got married.

How would you try to figure out when he got married?

I took another look at his daughter Maria. I found her birth record in 1855 and saw her mother's full name. I went backwards, year by year, looking for Maria older siblings. This helped me zero in on her parents' marriage.

Now I had Pietro's mother's name. I confirmed that she died shortly before Francesco remarried in 1820. My Francesco and my DNA match's Francesco were in fact the same man.

Here's the kicker, though. It's Francesco's second wife who's my blood relative. Not Francesco or Pietro or Maria.

So, my dear DNA match, we still haven't found our real connection! It's back to work, but now we have more to work with.

On the plus side, my DNA match has the same last name as my first cousin. And I've learned a lot from my match's tree that could help me with my cousin's tree.

So pick out your most intriguing DNA match and reach out to them. Collaboration may get you both further than you'd ever have gotten on your own.


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01 June 2018

Weaving Your Family Tree into a Wreath

Rural towns - where every family intermarried like crazy.
The type of town where every family intermarried.
You know that feeling when you're researching an ancestor and you find out they're related to you in multiple ways? You can't quite wrap your mind around the complications and your head explodes.

If your ancestors came from a small town—especially a rural town—that entanglement is commonplace.

I recently visited the rural town in Italy my father's side of the family comes from. His father was born there. His mother's father was born there. If your last name is Iamarino, your ancestor was almost certainly born there.

I visited my cousin Maria who told me lots of family stories. As a youngster, she enjoyed asking her mom (my grandfather's sister) tons of questions. And God bless her memory, she was able to tell me a bunch of them.

One story briefly mentioned a name and relationship I didn't know. Giovanni Paolucci was my great grandfather Francesco Iamarino's brother-in-law. Giovanni and Francesco had both been in the Bronx, New York.

I never knew Francesco had been in the Bronx. Most of my family history in America centers in the Bronx. But Francesco was an itinerant worker in mines and railroads. I had never placed him in the Bronx.

This morning I decided to look for Francesco and Giovanni in New York City. Since I have all the ship manifests I can find for Francesco, I focused on Giovanni.

First I looked at Francesco's sister to see if she had married Giovanni. Nope.

Next I looked at Francesco's wife who had several sisters. Bingo. Francesco's sister-in-law Maria Maddalena Pilla married Giovanni Paolucci. But my family tree file had only one 1913 ship manifest for Giovanni. I needed more information.

That ship manifest says Giovanni was born in 1890. I checked the 1890 birth records for the town. Nope. Not born in 1890. I searched the birth records for several years before 1890. Bingo. Giovanni was born in 1883, and his birth record says he married Maria Maddalena Pilla in 1909. So he's my man.

Now, who was Giovanni Paolucci's mother? Uh oh. The small town syndrome strikes again! Giovanni Paolucci, brother-in-law of Francesco Iamarino, was the son of Maria Cristina Iamarino—my 1st cousin 4 times removed. That makes Giovanni my 2nd cousin 3 times removed AND the husband of my 2nd great aunt.

Kaboom!

Giovanni Paolucci's 1883 birth record shows his mother was an Iamarino.
Giovanni Paolucci's 1883 birth record shows his mother was an Iamarino.
At the moment, I still can't place Giovanni or Francesco in the Bronx. But isn't it amazing how a character in a story about my great grandfather just blew open a branch of my family tree?

That's definitely the stuff that keeps us going. Back to work!


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29 May 2018

Lessons Learned from My 3 Trips to the Old Country

Each time I visit my ancestors' hometowns in Italy, I get a bit more adventurous.

Trip #1

Trip #1 to Grandpa's hometown.
Trip #1 to Grandpa's hometown.
In 2003 my husband and I went on our honeymoon. We planned a trip to quite a few of the most famous sites in Italy, from north (Lake Como) to south (Sorrento). I'd only just begun digging into my family history.

While staying at a cliffside hotel in Sorrento, home of limoncello, we took a day trip to the city of Benevento. Benevento is the province where every one of my ancestors (save one) came from.

We arrived in Benevento without a real plan. But we found out we could take a bus to my grandfather's hometown of Colle Sannita. So we hopped on.

During the ride, we learned the last bus back to the Benevento train station was leaving 45 minutes after our arrival. The bus was filled with college students who were all trying to be helpful. Some suggested we stay in the beautiful hotel in Colle Sannita called Ca' del Ré.

But all our stuff was in the hotel in Sorrento. So we resigned ourselves to a quick walk through town, and we headed back to the bus. We missed that bus because we got trapped in a bank that was in the midst of a power outage. I've written that improbable tale elsewhere.

The bottom line is, I got only a taste of my roots.

Trip #2

Two years later we planned a second trip to Italy. I'd made contact with a cousin in New York whose sisters still lived in Grandpa's hometown of Colle Sannita. We worked out the details so they were expecting my arrival.

Trip #2 to where Grandpa actually lived.
Trip #2 to where Grandpa actually lived.
My beautiful cousins made me feel like royalty. One cousin brought me from house to house, meeting dozens of cousins along the way. She translated for me when I couldn't understand or find the words. I kept hearing her say "due anni fa", meaning "two years ago". She told everyone how I'd tried to visit the town two years ago, but didn't know where my cousins lived.

The last person we visited that night was my grandfather's first cousin Libera. She wanted me to visit her daughter and two grandchildren the next day. Each one owned a restaurant in the city of Benevento. We met them and spent another entire day being treated with love and generosity.

That's the dream, right? To go to your ancestor's hometown, meet all the relatives, share stories and feel like you belong to the family. It was heaven.

Trip #3

Trip #3, soaking in Grandpa's hometown
Trip #3, soaking in Grandpa's hometown
Earlier this month my husband and I took another Italian vacation. This one centered on my ancestors' hometowns in the Benevento province. We spent three nights in the very same Ca' del Ré (House of the King) hotel the students on the bus recommended in 2003. I'd learned on trip #2 that the owner is the relative of my cousin's husband. Small world. Or perhaps small town.

We visited my cousins with the restaurants again and had a lovely time. We visited my cousin's home and talked about their grandparents—my great grandparents. We walked through the heart of town. The very same streets I'd looked at on Google Street View time and time again came to life beneath my feet.

Now, on the third try, I've seen it. I've gotten a glimpse of my life if my grandfathers and half of my great grandparents hadn't come to America.

You know what? I liked what I saw.

I wouldn't have the same career, maintaining corporate websites from home with my high-speed internet connection. But I would be there among ancient Roman relics, homes that dated back hundreds of years, and a breathtaking countryside.

If you can make the journey to any of your ancestors' hometowns in the "old country", be sure to slow down. Walk through the center of town and observe the people. Say hello to them. You may find they're more friendly and courteous to strangers than you're used to at home.

I'm already thinking about what trip #4 might be like. My goal? To stay longer. To live there for two or three months at a time. To become a familiar face in the piazza. To honor my ancestors.


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25 May 2018

Finding Relatives in Your Ancestral Hometown's Cemetery

The entrance to the cemetery in my grandfather's Italian hometown.
The entrance to the cemetery in my grandfather's
Italian hometown.
I've twice visited the cemeteries in my ancestral hometowns in Italy. In 2005 I visited three towns and photographed each grave that had a last name from my family tree.

Over time, I learned the identities of just about every person whose grave I photographed. Some were closely related, like my grandmother's first cousin Vincenzo. Others were more distant relatives, but they have a place in my tree.

I learned exactly who most of them were from other relatives. For instance, my mom's cousin knew grandmother's first cousin Vincenzo. She had photos of him and his family.

Two weeks ago I visited the cemetery in Colle Sannita for the first time, and two other towns for a second time.

You can't go to an Italian cemetery and find graves from the 1700s the way you can in America. Be sure to research the burial customs in the country you'll be visiting. They may condense remains into a single family grave. They will remove those who died a long time ago.

The first thing I noticed on my second trip to one cemetery was this reuse of graves. I remembered there was a Leone family grave on the left wall, so I went straight to it. The names and photos of the husband and wife who were in that grave in 2005 were now placed to the left of the marble slab. A baby who was in his own grave in 2005 was now placed to the right of the marble slab. And in the center of this single grave was a newly deceased Leone relative.

I visited the Colle Sannita cemetery on the day before I was to visit my cousins. I found their father in one grave, their brother somewhere else, and their mother in a third location. My cousins were waiting for the cemetery to say their parents could placed together with their brother. "But the cemetery never called," my cousin told me.

If you have the chance to visit a cemetery where your ancestors lived, you may also find that it has changed over time. Some people will have moved, and others will be gone.

Two headstones ready to be removed.
I don't know you now, Angela. But I will find you.
Was Innocenzo your husband?
My task now, having taken so many new photographs of graves, is to try to identify as many people as possible. Thanks to the Antenati website, I have thousands of birth records from my ancestral hometowns on my computer.

The plan is to find birth records for the deceased and learn who their parents were. Finding their parents may be enough to place the person in my family tree.

I took many photos while thinking, "This person is too young. I probably can't find out who their parents were." But, as time goes by, I may someday learn who they were.

I adore my family names. Each and every one is special and beautiful to me. Pausing to look at the photos on their graves, I did feel as if I were paying my respects to a beloved family member.

If you ever have the chance to visit a cemetery containing one or more of your relatives, look around. Especially if the cemetery is in a small town. Find other names you recognize and do a bit of research.

A dedication to my relative, Michelina Leone.
A dedication to my relative, Michelina Leone.
One of my 2005 grave photos was for Michelina Leone. I didn't know who she was. A couple of years later, while corresponding with a distant cousin, I learned how important Michelina was to my family.

When my grandfather's sister Eva died from an accidental poisoning, her cousin Michelina stepped in and raised Eva's young sons. Two weeks ago, in a church my Leone family hometown, I found a plaque dedicating a church pew to Michelina Leone.

Now I knew she was someone important to me.

And that's how I feel about everyone in my ancestral hometown cemeteries. They're all important to me.


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22 May 2018

Do-It-Yourself Genealogy Vacation, Part 2

Mapping Out Your Genealogy Vacation

My map collection for my grandfather's hometown.
My map collection for my
grandfather's hometown.
For days before my recent trip to Italy, I saved locations to my collection of places on Google Maps. Now I can access them from my iPhone, too.

I created a folder for each of my ancestral hometowns I planned to visit. I pinpointed churches, cemeteries, our hotels and a handful of addresses I'd found on my ancestors' vital records. For remote locations, I used the longitude and latitude coordinates.

I planned to locate homes where my grandfathers and great grandparents were born or died. In case I didn't have Wi-Fi (I didn't) and was afraid of blowing through my data (I was), I also had a printout of a map.

On the map are addresses and facts with arrows pointing to the locations. I used one map to ask some locals where a particular street was. They were so kind, one man began asking anyone nearby if they remembered a family named Iammucci. We all had a laugh when they learned my great grandmother died in 1929. Of course they didn't remember her name!

The other map helped me walk around another town and find the places (mostly rubble) where members of my father's family were born.

How Our Rural Ancestors Gave Birth

Some of the facts I'd learned from my ancestors' Italian birth records confused me. Why was my grandfather born at one address in town, and his sister born at another address in town, when his real house was not in the town? They knocked down his house, damaged by an earthquake, in 1964 or so. It stood on the land where some of my cousins live today, well outside of town.

My cousin Maria explained it to me. Back in the day, my Iamarino family owned a little house in town—not much more than one room. They lived out in the countryside, but when my great grandmother was about to give birth, she'd go to the house in town.

It took a mule and a cart to get to town, and town is where the midwife (levatrice) lived. So, to be near the midwife, my great grandmother would have waited at the house in town until she was ready to give birth.

That explains a lot. That's how my countryside-living relatives could bring the newborn baby to the mayor's office without killing the baby!

Walking where my ancestors were born and died.
Walking where my ancestors were born and died.
I will no longer add the address of a baby's birth as the residence of the parents in my family tree. It may very well not be their residence.

When I visited my dad's first cousins on May 13, they pulled out a plot plan—the type you might see for new construction here in America. It showed the locations of many houses that are no longer standing. They surrounded the house where we were gathered.

My great grandparents raised their four children in one house. Straight across the street was the home of my great grandmother Libera's sister. It was also the home of my great grandfather Francesco's brother. You see, Libera's sister had married Francesco's brother.

This cluster of houses was a contrada—a group of homes, often rural, given a nickname instead of a modern-day street address. I had thought a contrada was named for a particular family, but in my family's case, it was simply a nickname.

Please keep this story in mind if your family documents show addresses that don't seem to make sense.


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19 May 2018

Taking a Do-It-Yourself Genealogy Vacation, Part 1

At the Archivio di Stato, Corso Garibaldi, Benevento.

At the Archivio di Stato,
Corso Garibaldi, Benevento.
Thursday night my husband and I landed in Newark Liberty Airport after a long flight from Rome. Our genealogy vacation was over.

Our flight landed at 9:30 p.m., but customs took forever. We were in our own car by 11:30 p.m. with a 90-minute drive home ahead of us.

A massive storm and tornadoes knocked out the electricity at home two days earlier. We arrived home at 1:00 a.m. and entered the house in pitch blackness. Our dog was barking and our son had woken up to let us in.

After finding our toothbrushes in our suitcases, we all went to bed. I didn't have time to process my incredible journey through my ancestors' towns. This had been our fourth trip to Italy. We'd seen most of the tourist sites already. After two nights in Rome, we headed to Benevento, the province in Southern Italy where all my roots are found.

On May 10, we rented a car and drove two and a half hours from Rome to the city of Benevento. If you're American, think of the city of Benevento as the county seat.

We checked into the Hotel Antiche Terme and took the short walk to Pizzeria Romano—my cousin Vincenzo's restaurant. We could see Vincenzo inside, but there were workers trying to install a new sign and doorway, and I felt it was unsafe to go any closer. I couldn't get his attention.

Carefully turning the pages of World War I military records in Benevento.
Carefully turning the pages of
World War I military records in
Benevento.
It was a bad feeling, thinking we might not get to visit Vincenzo. But we walked along Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi in Benevento so I could see the church of Santa Sofia. I thought the Archivio di Stato—the archives that digitized thousands of vital records from my ancestral hometowns—was near the church, but I couldn't find it. We tried the next block and the next block. Finally I asked two women where it was.

Dov'è l'archivio di stato?

They told me to go another block and look for an obelisk. I would find the archives there.

Once I found it, I had to go inside. I had prepared a couple of Italians sentences to say in the hopes of seeing my grandfather's World War I military record. So that's what I began to say.

Mio nonno era Adamo Leone di Baselice. Era un prigioniero di guerra con l'esercito italiano nella prima guerra mondiale.

Before I'd finished, I was directed to go upstairs where someone would help me. Not sure where to go, I found two workers and began my statement again.

Mio nonno era Adamo Leone di Baselice. Era un prigioniero di guerra con l'esercito italiano nella prima guerra mondiale.

The two workers conferred with one another and called in another woman. She gave me a form to fill out stating who I was and that I wanted this document for genealogical purposes. She gave me a second form giving me permission to photograph any documents. When I finished the forms, she had me turn around. A big volume was on the table, tied shut with white ribbons.

This was register #67. That's the one I'd asked for, having looked up the document number for my grandfather on their website.

My grandfather's Italian military record from World War I.
My grandfather's Italian military record from World War I.
If you have an Italian ancestor who served in the military, start at this page. Find your ancestor's last name (Cognome), enter his first name (Nome). If you know it, choose his birth place (Luogo di nascita), and choose the year he was born (Classe). Click search (Ricerca). If you get more than one result, hopefully you'll know the correct man by his birthdate.

I clicked my grandfather's name in the search results. I found the two numbers I needed: Registro (register) 67, Matricola (roll list) 21728. So I needed to ask for register 67 and look in it for document 21728.

I untied the white ribbons and opened register 67. I was surprised to be able to handle the pages. No white gloves, no one watching me all that closely.

I turned the pages, approaching document number 21728. Instead, I found a big gap. The numbers jumped significantly. Not wanting to panic, I turned to a later section in the book and found document numbers closer to 21728.

Finally, I found it. Leone Adamo. My grandfather. One year ago I wrote about my grandfather's World War I experience. He had told us only that he'd been a prisoner of war and had to eat rats to keep from starving. Research led me to the 1917 Battle of Caporetto in northern Italy. More than a quarter of a million Italian soldiers were captured.

With such a large number, there's certainly a chance my grandfather was taken prisoner in that battle. The men were kept in camps in Austria, including Mauthausen. There were so many prisoners, the conditions were awful and they were not well cared for.

Now I have an official record of my grandfather's military service. He served in the infantry from 1911 to 1914. At that time he was allowed to leave the military and follow his first cousins to New York City.

My grandfather received a call to arms in May 1915. He left his new home in America in August, sailing back to Italy. He rejoined the infantry on 9 September 1915. He was promoted to Corporal on 1 January 1917. On 6 November 1917, my grandfather was taken prisoner, held in Matausen, Austria.

It sure looks as if my theory, formed a year ago in my blog, was correct. He does seem to have been taken prisoner in the Battle of Caporetto which lasted from 24 October to 19 November 1917 on the Austro-Italian front. Matausen, or Mauthausen, was later turned into a World War II concentration camp.

Exactly one year after his capture, my grandfather was repatriated at Castelfranco Emiliano in northern-central Italy. The army gave him some small payment for this lost year of his life. They sent him on on unlimited leave to recuperate in light of his loyalty and faithful service.

After his recovery, on 15 February 1920, Corporal Leone left Italy once again for New York City. Shortly afterward, the army awarded him a commemorative medal of his service in the war.

Looking at my grandfather's 1891 birth record.
Looking at my grandfather's 1891 birth record.
This one page from the archives is packed with information about my grandfather. At age 20, he was already a shoemaker. His hair was curly (like mine), his coloring was rosy, his teeth were healthy. His hair and eyes were brown. He was 5'2", which seems impossible because of how tall and proud he always held himself. He could read and write.

I was in another world, standing there in the Archivio di Stato poring over that page. I didn't realize there was a new person in the room. A young man told me they had my grandfather's birth record and he would bring it to me.

I had downloaded his 1891 birth record from the Antenati website, but of course I wanted to see the real thing! When he brought me the book, I was so surprised to see how large it is. It was at least 18 inches high and his record took up two-thirds of the page. I really think the group of workers was as happy as I was.

It wasn't my plan to walk into the archives that day. I was saving it for the next morning. But I couldn't stop myself, and it couldn't have turned out better.

And this was only Step 1 in my genealogy journey. To be continued…


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04 May 2018

Walking in Your Ancestors' Footsteps

Fifteen years ago my husband and I went on a dream-come-true honeymoon. There was only one place in the world I wanted to go. Italy.

Sforza Castle in Milano
Sforza Castle in Milano, 2015. We'd been here before, but there was more to see.
He wanted to go, too. So with help from Rick Steves' travel book, we planned a jam-packed site seeing tour. It flowed from Lake Como up north to Sorrento down south.

With the cliffside Hotel Minerva in Sorrento as our base for a few days, we took a day-trip to Pompeii. Did you know you can use Google Street View to "walk" through Pompeii now?

The next day we took a train to the city of Benevento. From there we would figure out how to get to the rural town of Colle Sannita. This was going to be my first time setting foot in the town where my grandfather was born.

I later documented our misadventure getting stranded in a Colle Sannita bank during a power failure.

Two years later we tried it again. We planned out a second tour of Italy that included Milano and the Tuscan town of Cortona. That was the setting of "Under the Tuscan Sun".

But this time I'd made contact with my dad's first cousins in Colle Sannita. My cousin Maria took me from house to house to meet cousins galore. It was everything I'd hoped for!

Pizzeria Romana in Benevento, Italy
Best pizza ever. By my cousins.
Our last stop of the night was the home of Libera, my grandfather's first cousin. He left for America the year she was born. But she, and everyone I met, knew who my grandfather and my American-born father were.

The next day we visited Libera's daughter and two grandchildren. Each owns a restaurant in Benevento. Her grandson and I had a long conversation about our shared ancestors, the Pilla family.

I can't imagine a more enjoyable, welcoming group of relatives—many of whom had no idea their American cousin was coming to visit that day.

My husband and I took trip in 2015 that included some time in northern Italy: Cinque Terre and Milano. After an unforgettable week in France, we experienced one of Italy's infamous train strikes. We left France and were stuck on an Italian train platform with tourists from around the world.

It was another adventure. Some extra time and extra money, but hey. We experienced an Italian train strike.

So here we are in 2018. Planning our fourth trip to my beloved ancestral Italy. This visit will begin and end in Rome, and include a second stay in one of our favorite places—Siena.

But the main focus of this trip is my cousins and all four of my ancestral hometowns. I want to visit all the cemeteries again. I want to go into the churches where priests baptized and married my ancestors. I want to walk past their former homes and spend time in the piazzas.

If my grandfathers and my grandmothers' parents hadn't emigrated to America, I would be an Italian.

On this trip, I want to get a taste of what the Italian version of me might have been like. I'll let you know what I find out.


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01 May 2018

Search That Building for More Relatives

562 Morris Avenue, Bronx, New York
This Bronx building has tons of family tree
evidence for me.
My mom and dad grew up a block apart in the Bronx, New York. They went to the same grade school that was part of the church in their neighborhood.

When I first started exploring my family tree, I was using a website with no search function to view the census. I went page by page through the 1930 census for my parents' neighborhood. Virtually every last name I saw on those pages was familiar to me. They were names I'd heard all my life. Some of them were my relatives, others were my family's friends.

It felt like I was walking through the past.

It turns out there was a lot more family history in those few blocks of New York City than I'd imagined. My mother's grandfather owned her apartment building, so everyone living there was my relative. I'd always known that. But my father's building is turning out to be a genealogy treasure trove.

A Bad Job Changed My Father's Life

My dad was born in Ohio. You'd never know it by this thick New York accent, but he was a product of a small town near Youngstown. When he was three years old, his family moved from Ohio to the Bronx. From what I've heard, my grandfather was not happy working for the railroad or the steel mill in Ohio. He found it to be dirty work, and he hated it.

Grandpa's uncle Giuseppe in the Bronx offered the family a place to live. So my dad's family of four moved in with this uncle at 275 East 151st Street. My mom lived on the next block at 260 East 151st Street.

I have to marvel at the fact that if Grandpa hadn't been unhappy with his job in Ohio, my parents would never have met.

Is Everyone Related?

This past week I've been collaborating on my family tree with a new-found cousin-in-law. While her husband is a DNA match to me and my dad, he's also related to Grandpa's sister by marriage. So…that's a puzzle we're working on.

I quickly found that her husband's uncle Damiano, born in Italy, lived in the same Bronx building as my dad! This was dad's second home in the Bronx: 562 Morris Avenue at the corner of 150th Street—still very close to where my mom lived.

To complicate matters, Damiano had the same last name as another man in my dad's building—the man my Grandpa worked for. All these people:
  • my grandfather
  • his uncle Giuseppe
  • Damiano (my DNA match's uncle)
  • the man Grandpa worked for
were from the same small town in Italy. That's no coincidence!

Why Not Look Further?

As I collaborated with my new cousin-in-law, I remembered my dad's lifelong best friend has the same last name as her husband. So I asked my parents a few questions about him and began to dig.

Francesco Paolucci
Dad's best friend's father.
Dad's best friend Johnny grew up in that same building at 275 East 151st Street. His father Francesco died in 1939, but he became a U.S. citizen a few months before he died. His naturalization papers said he was born in Benevento. (The province or the city? It didn't say.) The papers included the exact date he arrived in America.

When I found his ship manifest, well, do you want to guess where in Benevento he was born? Colle Sannita! The same town as my grandpa and everyone else I've mentioned above. I was able to go back three more generations in my dad's friend Johnny's family tree. They lived in Colle Sannita at least as early as the 1700s. Same as my ancestors.

My dad's two addresses from age three to age 20 are jam-packed with family tree treasures for me.

The best coincidence about my dad's childhood building? In another apartment was a boy several years older than him named Ralph. That boy would grow up to marry my mom's sister. So my dad grew up in the same building as my uncle—his future brother-in-law.

Did your ancestors live in an apartment house in a city? Or a multi-family house in any town? Take a closer look at all the names in that apartment building or home.

Birds of a Feather *Live* Together

Our immigrant ancestors often arrived intending to join a relative or friend. Were they all in the same apartment building? How much does that apartment building have to offer your family tree?


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