Friday, October 26, 2018

How to 'Attack' Your Ancestor's Small Town Vital Records

Everyone in your ancestor's small town may belong in your family tree.

Small towns may hold more genealogy gems for you than big cities. Let's use my 2nd great grandmother's little town of Santa Paolina as an example. The town has a very small number of houses, and a very small number of families.

Small towns are a blessing when researching your family.
Small towns are a blessing
when researching your family.
Learn the Names First

There may be only a small number of last names in your small town. Get to know them by looking at each year's vital records index files. Get familiar with the names so you know how to spell them. Later, when you're looking at records, you'll recognize even the most poorly written names.

Most of the names in Santa Paolina were brand new to me. But I learned them fast.

Choose Your Entry Point

You're looking at this town because at least one of your ancestor's was born, married or died there. Start with that ancestor's documents. All you can find.

As you enter the facts in your family tree, you can begin to branch out.

I first found my 2nd great grandmother by going straight for her 1871 marriage record. Now I had her year of birth and her parents' names. I found her birth record and her parents' birth records. I searched the years around her birth and found her siblings' names. I figured out her parents' marriage year and found those documents.

Now I had the names of some of my 4th great grandparents. With those names, I could search for the siblings of my 3rd great grandparents.

The family is blossoming out so quickly!

Some of the siblings I'm finding have their marriage date and spouse's name on their birth record. Now I can pick nearly anyone and build out their wing of the family.

Leave no stone unturned. Each document could be important to you.
Leave no stone unturned. Each document could be important to you.
Let Nothing Go to Waste

As I identify each relative's vital records, I change the original document's file name. Now I can see which documents I've processed and which may still hold goodies for me.

In a small town, you may have a very manageable number of documents for each year. Unless your only goal is to make yourself a long scroll of a family tree leading back to Charlemagne, harvest all those documents. They're all your people.

Think how many more DNA matches you can identify by spreading out your branches to take in that entire small town.


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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

How Many of These 5 Gifts Does Genealogy Research Give You?

Do people have a hard time understanding your interest in genealogy? They don't realize all the gifts it gives you.

We get into genealogy for different reasons and with different expectations. I met a man who thought after 3 clicks on an unsourced genealogy website that he was related to Adam and Eve. That's it. I win genealogy.

Others are eager to learn about where their ancestors came from. What was their family name before their grandfather changed it? Can they find living cousins they never knew before? Why did their ancestors leave their homeland?

Our motivations can change over time, too. I've learned from my research that all my ancestors came from a compact geographical area—my mom's side and my dad's side. Then DNA testing showed me my parents are not-too-distant cousins. That's an important motivation for me now.

My genealogy research gives me an appreciation for my lost culture.
My genealogy research gives me an appreciation for my lost culture.
Give the following genealogy research gifts some thought. Then, get ready to fire back some knowledge at the next person who says you're wasting time on your family tree.

1. My genealogy research gives me an appreciation for my lost culture.

As the grandchild of immigrants, I was raised in a much different culture than my ancestors. Most immigrants to America tried their best to assimilate and blend in. Their cultural influence diminishes with each new generation.

Your genealogy research teaches you about the names, places and customs of the old country. It makes you wish your ancestors were still here to tell you all about it.

2. My genealogy research inspires me to visit to my true homeland.

The first time I set foot in my grandfather's hometown in Italy, the earth moved. I felt a sense of belonging. I loved everything I saw. Every stone, garden and poppy. After that visit I spent time studying the language and preparing for my next visit. I've been there a few times, and going back is all I can think about.

3. My genealogy research urges me to learn more about history.

My maternal grandfather was a prisoner of war in Italy during World War I. As a prisoner, he had to eat rats to stay alive. But he never told us anything more.

I researched Italian army battles where prisoners were taken. I narrowed down my search to a particular battle where an astonishing number of prisoners were captured and sent to one of two camps. That was my theory of what happened to my grandfather.

During my last visit to Italy, I went to the archives to see my grandfather's military record. Imagine my tears when I saw for myself that he really was in the battle I had guessed. And they sent him to one of those two prison camps.

Who inspires your genealogy research?
We each have our own reasons for taking up this hobby.
4. My genealogy research has made me more analytical.

Newcomers to this hobby haven't yet seen how easily you can follow the wrong lead. How quickly you can put the wrong family into your family tree.

These mistakes can still happen to us after years of research. But with each mistake, we learn what to look for, and what to look out for. We become more analytical and keep an open mind.

Those skills will spill over into your everyday, non-genealogy life.

5. My genealogy research has made me more organized and efficient.

As a contractor, I've always worked for more than one company at a time. I like to take the skills I learn on one job and apply them to the other. I get better at my job and both companies benefit. Everybody wins.

Genealogy has become like another client to me. The tricks I learn with Excel spreadsheets on the job, I now apply to my genealogy work. I take the Photoshop skills I develop while enhancing document images and apply them to my paying clients. And my organization skills are always improving.

It seems clear to me these gifts are the reason you find so many helpful amateur genealogists on Facebook paying it forward. People are always ready to help you with a difficult search. Or to translate a birth record. Or to recommend where to go next in your search.

We're ready to help the next genealogist because we're grateful for all our gifts.

You think I'm wasting my time with family tree research? You clearly don't see what's going on here.


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Friday, October 19, 2018

3 Ways to Find Your Ancestors in a Huge Pile of Documents

You've downloaded thousands of vital records from your ancestor's birthplace. How do you find your people in all those files?

My genealogy research changed dramatically in 2017. I decided to put my U.S.-based research on hold. Why? Because a new door opened wide. Now I have access to my ancestors' birth, marriage and death records in the old country.

Finally! I'm able to take my great grandparents back many, many generations. So far, I've discovered the names of:
  • 4 of my 8th great grandparents
  • 7 of my 7th great grandparents
  • 34 of my 6th great grandparents
  • about half of my 128 5th great grandparents
And I will discover many more.

A brief explanation: FamilySearch.org ended their microfilm program. They used to send rolls of microfilm to your local Family History Center. You could visit these rolls during your center's limited hours and view them on antiquated machines.

But in 2017 they began digitizing everything.

Earlier, I spent 5 years viewing microfilmed vital records from my grandfather's hometown. I typed all the important facts into a laptop. Suddenly those thousands of records are available as high-resolution images online. Free! And so are records from the towns of all my ancestors. You can find them on FamilySearch and on an Italian website called Antenati (ancestors).

I started viewing images from my grandfather Iamarino's town and downloading them. One by one. It was going to take forever!

Then I learned about a simple program called GetLinks. This program runs on any type of computer. It's compatible with FamilySearch and Antenati. For a full explanation and a link to the program, see How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.

Now I have well-organized image files from all my ancestors' hometowns. They range in time from 1809 to as late as 1942. But they include rewritten documents of births and deaths from the 1700s. That's how I've found such early ancestors.

Simplify your search by organizing your downloads.
Simplify your search by organizing your downloads.

I'm limited to documents written as early as 1809 only because it's Italy. If your ancestors are from other countries, you may find much older records on FamilySearch.org.

So let's say you've downloaded thousands of images containing oh-so-many of your ancestors.
  • How do you find your people?
  • How can you efficiently pull out the people and facts you need? 
  • What's the best way to find your needles in those haystacks?
I'm approaching my 8 haystacks (individual Italian towns) in 3 different ways. You might choose one or two, or want to do them all.

1. Most time-consuming; best long-range pay-off

I'm typing the facts from each document into a spreadsheet. In the end, I'll have an easily searchable file. Want to locate every child born to a particular couple? No problem. Want to find out when a particular 4th great grandparent died? No problem.

But it is slow-going. I've completed about 6 years' worth of birth, marriage and death records for one town. I return to this project when I'm feeling burned out on a particular ancestor search and want a more robotic task to do.

There is another benefit to this method. Spending this much time with the documents has made me very familiar with the names in my ancestors' towns. I can recognize names despite the awful handwriting. And when a name is completely unfamiliar, I often discover that the person came from another town.

A well-organized spreadsheet is best for making records searchable.
A well-organized spreadsheet is best for making records searchable.

2. Takes a few extra seconds; pays you back again and again

Whenever I find a particular record, I like to edit the name of the image file to include the name on the document. If it's an image of a single birth record, I add the baby's name to the end of the file name. If the name is common, I also add the baby's father's name. (I use the Italian word "di" as a shorthand for "son of" or "daughter of".) If it's an image of 2 birth records or a marriage record, I'll add both names to the file name.

The benefit of renaming the files comes later. When you're making another search in the future, the renamed file can save you time. You can either spot the name you're looking for, or use the search box in that file folder. You can even use the search box at a higher folder level.

Imagine you're looking for my grandfather's name, Pietro Iamarino. You can search his entire town at once and let your computer find every file you've renamed to include "Pietro Iamarino".

When I began downloading the files, I renamed each file containing anyone named Iamarino. Now I can always find the Iamarino I want. Quickly.

Adding people's names to the file names makes the collection searchable.
Adding people's names to the file names makes the collection searchable.

3. Efficient, fast and fruitful; makes you want to come back

To my mind, this is the most important lesson. You'll be more efficient at finding what you need in this massive amount of files if you put blinders on.

Search with a tight focus. Ignore the people in the index with your last name. You'll get back to them. But at this moment, when you're searching for someone in particular, don't look at anyone else. Zero in on that one name and complete your search.

Use this focused approach and find your ancestors faster. The moment you find them, rename the file and get that person into your tree.

My many folders of vital records hold countless discoveries for me. But I've found that choosing one family unit and searching only for them is highly effective. Here's an example.

I've found the birth record of a particular 2nd great grandparent. I know their parents' names (my 3rd great grandparents), but I don't know when they married or their exact ages. I'll search the surrounding years for more babies born to this couple. Now I'm putting together their family. I'm also trying to identify which is the eldest child. Now I can search a year before the eldest child's birth for the couples' marriage. There I can find their ages, and possibly see a rewritten copy of their birth records.

With that set of marriage records and my 3rd great grandparents' birth records, I've now discovered the names of 2 sets of my 4th great grandparents. And if they weren't born too early, I may be able to find their birth records, too!

Having built out one family unit as far as I can, I'm even more eager to pick a new family to investigate. Sometimes I'll choose a family with a dead end, and work to find that missing piece of the puzzle.

Which method will work best for you? Or will you combine all 3 as I'm doing?


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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations

Your family tree is not reliable without sources. Don't let creating sources intimidate you.

When you started your genealogy research, were you noting the source of each and every fact? Or were you so happy to find grandma in the 1920 census that you rushed off to find her in the 1930 census?

Create your source citations by copying a few bits of information.
Create your source citations by copying a few bits of
information.
No one is going to trust your family tree if it has no sources. If you're ignoring your sources because it's too complicated or you don't know where to begin, let's make it easy.

As of today, my family tree has 19,464 people, about 2,900 document images, and just 242 sources. That's because I believe in having the source be general:
  • The name of the collection
  • What it contains
  • Where to find it.
Where I get specific is on the document image or fact notation:
  • Title of document image: 1910 census for Timothy Kinney and family
  • Date of document: 23 Apr 1910
  • Where to look: lines 28–29
  • Collection: Columbia Township, Columbia City, Whitley County, Indiana census enumeration district 143, supervisor's district 12, sheet 8A
  • Image number: image 15 of 18
  • Exact URL: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7884/31111_4328284-00540/7066655
Here's how you can easily create your general source citations and specific image and fact notations.

1. Find the Document or Fact Again

Can't find grandma in the 1920 census again? Aha! That's the main reason you must make note of your sources. Try to find an easy one to start with.

2. Copy the Exact Name of the Collection

Simple reference notes keep the family tree software uncluttered.
Simple reference notes keep the
family tree software uncluttered.
If your source is a national census, a passport application, or a passenger list, it's part of an official document collection. Put the exact title of the document collection in your source citation.

I like to use the same title as my reference note in Family Tree Maker because it's nice and short, easy to understand, and doesn't take up a lot of room.

3. Copy the Root URL of the Website or the Name of the Repository

Think of this as the address where the document collection lives. It may be ancestry.com, the New York State Library or familysearch.org. Write down the basic URL or building name.

4. Copy the Recommended Citation Detail and Text

Document collections found on a website or in a book will usually give you a suggested description or "source citation". Take the suggestion.

5. Copy the URL of the Collection

Let's say the document collection you're using is the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. And let's also say you're accessing it on ancestry.com. Go to the main page of the collection. This is the search screen for the collection. Or, if you find the collection in the website's catalog, it's the link that's in the search results.

From this URL, you can search for and find every 1930 census fact and document image in your family tree.

That's the basics of source citations! That wasn't so tough, was it? But there's one more thing to do. And it's going to take you longer.

Link to your general source, but pack all the specifics into the document image.
Link to your general source, but pack all the specifics into the document image.
6. Add More Specifics to the Document Image or Fact

How many census, ship manifest, draft registration card and birth record images do you have in your family tree? I have about 2,900.

Do you want your family tree to be your incredibly valuable legacy? Don't skimp on the details. All your document images need individual, more specific notations.

Yes, it's a big task! I devoted time to annotating my 513 census images earlier this year. I'm making sure I add all the details each time I add a new document of any kind to my tree. But my next task is to annotate my 337 ship manifest images. Work your way through, one type of document at a time. You'll get there.

Here are some facts to include:
  • Descriptive title
  • Date on the document
  • Document category (census, immigration, military, vital record, etc.)
  • Document collection title, and specifics from the page
  • Image number if it's part of a set
  • Exact URL of the image online
This level of detail makes my work easy to verify. Even without an ancestry.com subscription, the breadcrumbs are there. You can find the document in another repository.

Creating or fine-tuning your basic source citations should not scare you. Stop putting it off. Tackle them in groups and it will go quicker:
  • census sources
  • passenger list sources
  • military records, and so on.
You'll be the envy of every genealogy hobbyist you know!


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Friday, October 12, 2018

Find Out What You're Missing on Those Immigration Records

Who and what are you overlooking on that ship manifest?

On 10 February 1909 my great grandfather boarded the S.S. Cretic in Naples, bound for New York City. He came to America a handful of times, earned money and went back home to Italy.

But his 1909 ship manifest is absolutely my favorite. His name is on line 3. But the men on lines 2, 4, 5 and 6 are all from his hometown. In fact, they're all related. Closely related.

Have you ever noticed on any of your relatives' ship manifests that people are often listed by town? You'll see several lines of people from one town, then several lines of people from another town.

Are you looking carefully at the other people from your relative's town? What are their last names? What are the names of the relatives they're leaving at home? Who are they joining at their destination, and what address are they going to?

If you look at these facts, you may find that some of the townspeople are related to your ancestor.

Take a look at my 5 townsmen.

Their relationships may not be obvious. Find all the clues and do some digging.
Their relationships may not be obvious. Find all the clues and do some digging.

On lines 3 and 4 you have 2 Iamarino brothers. They happen to be married to 2 Pilla sisters. Those sisters have a brother Innocenzo on line 5. They also have a sister who's married to Antonio Paolucci on line 6. So the men on lines 3–6 are brothers or brothers-in-law.

They're all travelling with another Paolucci on line 2. He is their cousin, and with some more research, I'm confident he'll be a closer cousin. Maybe he'll be another brother-in-law, too!

The first thing to catch my eye on this ship manifest was the name of my great grandfather's hometown: Colle Sannita. I saw it there with several ditto marks, meaning here were several people from the same town. Not a husband and wife and their kids—but 5 men.

This makes a messy graphic, but humor me.

Look beyond the name and ages, and see all there is to learn.
Look beyond the name and ages, and see all there is to learn.

When I found this ship manifest, I was searching only for my great grandfather, Francesco Iamarino. But all those Colle Sannita people were calling out to me.

This was the first time I learned of my great grandfather's brothers: Teofilo, on the ship with him, and Giuseppe, who they were going to join.

I checked the column where passengers list the name of a relative they left at home. Francesco lists his wife Libera. That's my great grandmother. Teofilo lists his wife Filomena.

Suddenly I had proof for a family story I'd heard. Two Iamarino brothers had married two Pilla sisters. Sure enough, Libera and Filomena were the sisters who married the brothers Francesco and Teofilo.

But wait! There's more!

Notice how all 5 men are going to the exact same destination. They are going to an address in New York City to join Giuseppe Iamarino.

Giuseppe is:
  • Giorgio's cousin
  • Francesco's brother
  • Teofilo's brother
  • Innocenzo's brother-in-law
  • Antonio's cousin

Wait. What? Is Antonio Paolucci on line 6 both my great grandfather's cousin and my great grandmother's brother-in-law? I've got more research to do.

If you're downloading your ancestor's ship manifest and simply filing it away, go back and look at it. How many names, relationships and clues are waiting there for you to discover?


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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

3 Housekeeping Tasks for a Professional-Quality Family Tree

No rubber gloves necessary. Family tree housekeeping uses no rags, cleansers or mops.

I don't enjoy cleaning my house. The dog's gonna mess it up in no time anyway. But I will make time for family tree housekeeping. Unlike my house, my beautifully polished family tree will stay pristine forever. Don't you want your family tree to be your legacy? Can you imagine the joy of the relative who inherits your amazing family history research?

Most of us jump into this genealogy hobby all excited, grabbing names and documents left and right. We learn more and get more professional about it as we go. But there's a good chance our earlier work doesn't live up to our current standards.

Here are 3 important family tree housekeeping tasks you can do while you're watching something boring on TV.

1. Add breadcrumbs and links to your documents

Your family tree should have lots of images of:
  • census sheets
  • ship manifests
  • draft registration cards
  • vital records
In your family tree software, add all the important facts into the description. It's a lot more efficient to do this at the moment you first add an image to your tree. (Try to make that a habit.)

Add facts to each document in your family tree.
Add facts to each document in your family tree.
But you need to go back to those older document images. Add enough facts to allow anyone to retrace your steps and prove you're right.

I like to add:
  • the line numbers containing your people
  • the name of the document database
  • the image number if it's one of many
  • the web address (URL)
Let's say you add the URL of the document on ancestry.com. What if someone without a subscription needs to know more? What if the URL changes? Add enough detail to help someone find it somewhere else.

2. Upgrade your sources

How many times have you kicked yourself for not writing down where you found a particular fact?

Make a habit of creating good, reliable sources each time you add a new type of image to your family tree. All the unsourced facts and images in your tree need your attention.

When you find a fact online or in a reference book, look for a description of the document collection. You can copy the citation detail and citation text for the collection from its source. That may be a page on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, or in a book.

Add enough facts to your source to make it official and retraceable.
Add enough facts to your source to make it official and retraceable.
There's no need to go overboard. I don't have a separate source for each document or fact, because I would have more than 3,000 sources. I have one source for the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, for example. The source includes the URL to the collection, a description and citation. Each 1910 census image includes the URL to that specific page. And each fact taken from a 1910 Census links to the one source.

3. Standardize your place names

My parents lived a block apart as kids. So my early family tree research focused on their Bronx, New York, neighborhood. Nearly every family lived on numbered streets, with very similar addresses. After a while I realized I needed some consistency. I decided to spell everything out with no abbreviations:
  • 221 East 151st Street, Bronx, New York, USA
  • 237 East 149th Street, Bronx, New York, USA
  • 615 West 131st Street, Bronx, New York, USA
Once I standardized the addresses, my Family Tree Maker software offered me suggestions. I'd type "237" and it would immediately suggest "237 East 149th Street, Bronx, New York, USA". It's a great time-saver.

I love it when I start to type an address, and the suggestion shows I've got another relative living there.

This orderly arrangement of addresses makes it easy to see which relatives lived near one another.
This orderly arrangement of addresses makes it easy to see which relatives lived near one another.
I also like to use my software's ability to locate each address on a map. Every address is neatly arranged. I can drill down by country, state or region, county or province, town and address. For each address, I can see the list of people I've associated with the address.

If your tree has only a few thousand people, you might tackle these housekeeping tasks in a weekend. If you've gone wild and have 19,000 people like I do, it's more of a challenge. But set aside time now and then. Chip away at it. You can get this done.

In the end, you'll have a high-quality tree that will show genealogy newcomers how it's supposed to be done.


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Friday, October 5, 2018

Do These 3 Things Before You Add Another Name to Your Family Tree

Put that person's facts down! You don't know where they came from.

I'll never forget the time someone took my grandfather and added him to their family tree. They didn't care that my grandfather was born in a different town and province than their family. They weren't concerned that his last name—Leone—is practically the Smith of Italy. They just took him and my grandmother!

That's actually one reason why I started this blog. I want us all to be more professional in our genealogy hobby. Do your research with care and skill, and your family tree won't be riddled with non-relatives.

I'll admit I've been guilty of accidentally adding non-relatives to my family tree. It tends to happen when I'm way out on a limb, gathering facts for a 3rd cousin's husband's mother's family. When you get into that level of not-my-people territory, you have no family lore and memories to guide you.

It's too easy to add a man with the right name and the right hometown—even though you haven't proven he's the right guy.

To avoid adding the wrong people to your family tree, set these unbreakable ground rules.

Shaky leaf hints for my grandmother revealed trees that copied from me before I had the facts right.
Shaky leaf hints for my grandmother revealed trees that copied from me before I had the facts right.
#1 Find the Documentation Yourself

A shaky leaf or someone else's tree is nothing but a lead. Promise yourself you will look at the hint or tree, jot down the facts, and seek proof on your own. Find the census forms, ship manifests and draft registration cards yourself. Weigh those documents yourself. Decide if the person belongs in your family tree for yourself.

Remember: The person whose tree you're looking at may be newer to genealogy than you are.

#2 Don't Ignore Contradictory Information

Let's say you found a woman named Mary Bianco in someone else's tree as a search result. Some of her facts match the Bianco family in your tree. She has the right last name, her father has the right first name, and she lives in the right town.

Is that enough to add her? No, it isn't. Examine all the facts about her.
  • Does she have the right first name, or is it a variation of what you expected?
  • Does her mother's name match the family you have?
  • Are her siblings' names right?
  • Is she the right age?
  • Was she born in the right place?
If some of her facts don't match the family you want to add her to, stop a moment. You need to prove or disprove her relationship to your family with more research.

Can you find her in other documents? Let's say you have her with a Bianco family in the 1900 census. But her mother's name seems wrong.

Search for this family with the wrong mother in another census year. You may find this is a different family than yours. They have similarities, but other documents prove they're the wrong family. Not your family.

You just saved yourself from making a big mistake.

#3 Make Note of Your Sources

If you're using an unofficial source, make careful notes!
If you're using an unofficial source, make careful notes!
You may decide you totally believe someone else's tree. You recognize the author's name. The woman you're researching is the tree owner's grandmother. You really want to add "Mary Bianco" to your tree.

If you're feeling confident enough to add her, add the source to your tree, too. Note that these facts came from "The Bianco Family Tree". Capture the URL of the tree.

If Mary Bianco is important to you, someday you may add better, stronger sources for her name, birth and other facts.

Imagine for a moment that you hired a professional genealogist. Would you still want to pay his fee if one of his sources was "Mary Bianco's granddaughter's tree"?

Allow me to harp on one of my favorite themes again. Your family tree is your legacy. Make it as valuable as possible!


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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Trying to Solve a DNA Mystery with Logic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Friday, September 28, 2018

How to Find Official Sources for Family Facts You Just Know

Imagine your grandchild inherits your family tree. How reliable will the information be for your generation?

Marriage registers, yearbooks, newspaper clippings...these are official sources for your living relatives.
Marriage registers, yearbooks, newspaper
clippings…these are official sources for your
living relatives.
I don't need a document to tell me I was born in Mother Cabrini Hospital in New York City. Or that I was baptized in Our Lady of Pity Church in the Bronx. (Both gone now, by the way.)

But years from now, if my grandchild wants to carry on my genealogy work, what proof will they have for facts about me, my siblings and my cousins?

Everyone says to start your tree with yourself and the facts you know. Then you move on. Finding census forms, draft registration cards, death records and so much more. But have you returned to yourself and your generation to find proof for your facts?

Your Own Documents

You should have your own birth certificate in your possession. I even have my baptismal certificate, along with two marriage certificates.

I need to scan those documents and put them in my family tree. (For the worriers: You can mark individual images as private in Family Tree Maker. Hopefully in your software, too.)

Of course, I'm not going to ask my brother and my cousins to let me scan their birth certificates. So what do you do?

Public Records Index

On Ancestry.com you can access volumes 1 and 2 of the U.S. Public Records Index, 1950–1993. The information in these databases comes from a combination of:
  • telephone books
  • post office change-of-address forms
  • other public documents.
In my experience, the birth dates given in these collections are often wrong. For me, an entry might say I was born on the 1st of the month instead of the 24th. But it generally has the right year.

So, when all else fails, a public records source proves the person in your tree existed:
  • by their name
  • in a specific place
  • in a specific range of time.
Newly Released Indexes

It pays to watch social media for genealogy news. That's where you can learn about groups like Reclaim the Records. They're on a mission to get access to the genealogical and archival data we genealogists want so much.

They've scored tremendous wins, particularly for New York and New Jersey documents. But they're also working to release data from many U.S. states.

Thanks to them, I've found documentation for several events, including:
  • my parents' marriage license
  • my grandfather's 2nd marriage license
  • my and my close cousins' births
  • my grandmother Lucy's birth
Seeing the index of New York births, I finally found my grandmother's birth certificate number.
Seeing the index of New York births, I finally found my grandmother's birth certificate number.
Lucy's birth record has eluded me for years. Now I know her New York State birth certificate number is 60968. On the index she has no first name and a badly misspelled last name. No wonder I couldn't find her certificate! It's definitely her because my father has always known she was born on 10 Dec 1908 in Hornell, New York.

Newspapers

I haven't found much historical information on my family in the newspapers. But I'm constantly finding references to my brother in newspapers. His career has always had a big public relations aspect to it. So any search for Iamarino brings up my brother. I found his North Carolina marriage announcement that way.

Proof of a modern-day marriage may be found in the bride's hometown paper.
Proof of a modern-day marriage may be found in the bride's hometown paper.
You may have more luck searching for your family. Think about all the events you could search for when it comes to your contemporary relatives:
  • birth, marriage and death announcements
  • public relations announcements for various professionals
  • graduating class lists
Your facts and your closest, living relatives' facts may not be your top priority. But documenting these things you've known all your life:
  • your mom's birth date
  • your brother's middle name
  • your aunt's home address
…will go a long way toward strengthening your legacy.

Set aside some time to find documents or public sources for your own nuclear family. Some day your grandchild may thank you from the bottom of their heart.


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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

This Genealogy Policy Takes the Guesswork Out of Names

My in-law policy is working so well, I've created a naming policy for my family tree.

If your ancestor changed their name, are you recording both names?
If your ancestor changed their name,
are you recording both names?
In my last article, I wrote about how freeing it can be to set policies for building your family tree. My new policy for handling the in-laws of distant relatives has been incredibly helpful.

This past weekend I found 29 more people who were in my family tree simply because they were an easy get. For instance, this one man named Giovanni married one of my distant relatives in New York City long ago. I do want him and his parents in my tree. But I no longer want his 8 siblings—or any of their spouses and children—in my family tree.

So I removed them. And if I ever wanted them back, the census sheets where I found their names are still part of my tree. I'm keeping the documents because they contain Giovanni and his parents.

This in-law policy makes me happy because it's always there to guide me. It'll keep me from reaching out too far. It'll put an end to those awkward messages I get from people wondering why their grandfather is in my family tree.

It makes me so happy, I want to consider other genealogy policies.

I didn't have to think too hard about it before I realized—I already have another genealogy policy.

What I'm about to describe is not an established, official genealogy rule. There's a good amount of personal preference.

So think about your own personal preferences as you read on.

Naming Conventions in Your Family Tree

I'm putting my naming convention policy in writing. But it's based on practices I already follow. This is the style I've developed over the years.

Now, with a policy in place, I'll be sure to be consistent.

#1 Birth Names

If your ancestors emigrated to a country with a different language, they probably went by a different name. Giovanni became John. Anton became Anthony. Pablo became Paul.

I record my ancestors using the name on their birth record. If I haven't seen their birth record, I check each census. If they were born in another country, and on some censuses they use an ethnic name, then I believe that's their given name.

In Family Tree Maker, I use their birth name as their Name fact.

Record multiple names for your ancestor if they unofficially changed their name.
Record multiple names for your ancestor if they unofficially changed their name.
#2 Common Names

In their new home in a new country, many of our ancestors tried to fit in. They identified themselves by a non-ethnic name, like Rose instead of Mariarosa.

We don't want to lose track of those new names. The new name is likely to be what's on their death record.

In Family Tree Maker, I record their common, or assumed name, as a second name fact. The software lets me add multiple names and set one as the preferred fact. Their birth name is that preferred fact.

Last names are important, too! If your ancestor changed their last name in their new country, you need to record that. You can make it their alternate name—their non-preferred name. For example, I have ancestors named Muollo. That's so hard for an American mouth to say, that one Muollo man changed his name legally to Williams.

That may seem like an odd choice. But you pronounce Muollo as mwoe-low. That could sound as if you're mumbling Williams. I need to record the Williams name because that's the legal last name of this man's children.

#3 Nicknames

Everyone in my parents' Bronx neighborhood in the old days had a nickname. In my family there was a Baldy and a Blondie. People in the family never called them anything else. So I need to preserve those colorful nicknames in the family tree, too.

In Family Tree Maker, I record a nickname with the AKA (Also Known As) data fact. Having spelled out this policy, now I'll be sure to fill in what I'm missing. I think I've left out a lot of Americanized names because I'm so in love with the Italian names.

#4 Reference Words

I've been working on my document tracker a lot lately. This is a spreadsheet where I log each document I've found for the people in my tree. Everyone who has a document image gets a line in the document tracker.

A simple shorthand highlights my closer ancestors, and their father's name.
A simple shorthand highlights my
closer ancestors, and their father's name.
Filling it out helps me realize which documents I'm missing for each person. It encourages me to do more. Lots of times I'll enter something in the "Still to find" field, like "1902 immigration record". Then I think, "Why not search for it right now?" It makes me feel like I'm really doing good work.

Here's where I'm using a naming convention in my spreadsheet.

I have tons of people in my tree with the same name. On many Italian birth records, because many people in town had the same name, they will identify the father of the baby as, for example, "Giovanni, son of Giuseppe".

So I'm doing that in my spreadsheet. After a person's name, I add, in parentheses, (son of Giuseppe), or whatever the father's name is. That helps me when I need to locate the person in my family tree.

I also like to identify certain close relatives in the spreadsheet. I use this shorthand: 2G is a 2nd great grandparent, 2GA is a 2nd great aunt, 2GU is a 2nd great uncle.

What naming conventions are you using? Are you being consistent?

Spend a little time thinking about the names in your tree. What policies can you set to make your family tree make more sense?


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