12 July 2019

You're the Scientist in Your Family Tree

Don't have a Bachelor of Science degree? You're still an honorary scientist.

There's a reason why genealogy has that "ology" at the end. An "ology" is any science or branch of knowledge. According to Dictionary.com, genealogy is the study of family ancestries and histories.

So doesn't that make us all scientists? We're amateur scientists, exploring and studying family ancestries and histories.

That's why we should approach our genealogy passion like a scientist. I wrote about this idea 2 years ago when I saw that being as disciplined as a scientist gets you better results.

My maternal grandmother's roots are here.
My maternal grandmother's roots are here.
As an honorary scientist, I conduct experiments in my family tree. One of them involves the Muollo family of Pastene. Pastene is a little hamlet of the town of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in the Bevento province in southern Italy.

My 2nd great grandmother, Maria Luigia Muollo, lived and died in Pastene. Vital records for Pastene are scarce:
  • Births: 1861–1915, with no documents for 1872, 1895, and 1906–1908
  • Marriages: 1931–1942, but 1937 is missing
  • Deaths: 1931–1942, but 1937 is missing
Based on the births of 5 children, I know Maria Luigia Muollo was born in about 1843. I hired a pair of Italian genealogists to find church records for me. They found that Maria Luigia Muollo married Giuseppe Sarracino on 9 December 1864 in Pastene.

But even the researchers didn't find much. They told me this little hamlet had avoided keeping records. Like a little rebel town giving Napoleon the finger. And I want to learn her mother's name.

What would a scientist do in this situation? She'd be logical, methodical, and follow the evidence.

This is one reason why you must find all the children; not only your ancestor.
This is one reason why you must find all the children; not only your ancestor.

Let's look at the facts.
  • Maria Luigia's birth record is not available. I found her age only on her son Biagio's 1879 birth record: 36. That's also the only record that say Maria Luigia's father is Antonio—and he's still alive in 1879.
  • Maria Luigia's death record is not available.
  • Maria Luigia's 1864 marriage record offers no information but the marriage date.
  • A search for any much-younger siblings comes up empty. There are no Muollo babies born to an Antonio who's the right age in the 1860s.
But I may have gotten lucky.

A Muollo girl was born to a father named Antonio 2 years before the available birth records. She's 16 years younger than Maria Luigia, but that's not impossible. When you have a baby every other year from marriage to menopause, the kids span a lot of years. My first-born grandfather was 20 years older than his youngest sister.

This other Muollo girl was Maria Saveria. Like my 2nd great grandmother, she also married a Sarracino man from Pastene. I found birth records for 10 babies born to this couple between 1880 and 1903.

Maria Saveria is in my tree because of her husband. Is she my great aunt, too?
Maria Saveria is in my tree because of her husband. Is she my great aunt, too?

My break came when I found that members of this family came to America. Maria Saveria and her 2 youngest children came to New York City after her husband Orazio died. At least 2 of her other children were here in New York.

Maria Saveria died in New York City on 10 January 1944, and that's why I was able to see her death certificate. (Many thanks to the generous reader who gave me the document image.) Her death record gave me these facts:
  • She was born on 24 May 1859
  • She lived on Courtlandt Avenue in the Bronx for just about her entire time in America
  • Her father was Antonio Muollo
  • Her mother—and this is what I most wanted to find—was Giuseppina Torrico
  • She's buried in the same place as nearly all my Bronx ancestors: St. Raymond's Cemetery
That gives me new data to analyze:
  • I can continue to piece together the lives of Maria Saveria's children in New York.
  • I can try to find out where her husband Orazio was living and if he died in America.
  • I can investigate the name of her mother: Giuseppina Torrico.
Torrico feels like more of a Spanish name than an Italian one. There are plenty of records on Ancestry.com supporting that.

But it is an Italian name, too. I used the Cognomix website to check the name Torrico in Italy. It's not a common name, but there are a few families with that name in my part of Italy: Campania. In the province of Caserta, not far from my Benevento province, the Torrico name exists in 3 towns.

I checked out the town of Carinola because it has the most Torrico families. I needed birth records around 1834 and they are available.

Methodically, I checked the indexes for every birth year from 1821–1839. I was looking for a Giuseppa, Giuseppina, or Maria Giuseppa Torrico.

I found two:
  • Giuseppa Torrico was born on 6 December 1828 to Felice (born 1797) and Anna Robbio (born 1798)
  • Giuseppa Torrico was born on 15 April 1837 to Francesco (born 1972) and Anna diCioco (born 1797)
Next I checked the Carinola marriage records for Antonio Muollo and Giuseppa Torrico. It was a long-shot, so I gave up after checking the 4 most likely years.

So far, this experiment is a failure due to a lack of Italian documents. I don't know if Maria Saveria is the sister of my 2nd great grandmother. Or if Giuseppina Torrico is my 3rd great grandmother.

Someday I want to spend months at a time researching in Italy. Until then, I'll keep searching for U.S. documents for Maria Saveria and her family.

I hope you see how being scientific will keep you from going down the wrong path and making a mess of your family tree. I'd like you to choose one of your brick walls and lay out all the evidence. Where does it lead you?

09 July 2019

It's Mid-Year Genealogy Goals Checkup Time

Half a year left. It isn't too late to start your genealogy goals!

I had such a wildly productive 4-day weekend of genealogy research. I want every day to be as filled with joy and accomplishment as that.

I had enough hours to bounce around, finishing off tasks that weren't even on my to-do list. Not officially. For example:
  • Upgrade my unofficial sources to official sources. I researched facts that I'd borrowed from other distant relatives. I found documentation to prove or fix what they'd told me.
  • Go through my old to-do list in Family Tree Maker. I followed up on several questions and answered a bunch of them.
  • Find the family connection for branches that are floating loose in my family tree. I knew these people had to be related somehow. I figured out a bunch of them.
Then I realized we've just passed the halfway point of 2019. It's time to refocus on our 2019 genealogy goals. How are you doing with your list?

The bigger your family tree gets, the easier it is to get lost. Your goals can keep you on the right path.
The bigger your family tree gets, the easier it is to get lost. Your goals can keep you on the right path.

Making Progress on Genealogy Goals

These are the realistic genealogy goals I planned for 2019 and their status:
  • Enter the first five years' worth of birth records from each of my ancestral towns into a spreadsheet. DONE!
  • Search for all missing census forms in my document tracker spreadsheet. DONE!
  • Enter every "Pozzuto" birth and marriage from the town of Colle Sannita into my family tree. MAKING PROGRESS. I'm up to 1841 BIRTHS going forward, and 1852 marriages going backwards.
  • Find Erie Railroad documents from the time my great grandfather worked there. TRIED and FAILED. There is a 1938 Erie Railroad magazine issue that includes my ancestor's name. Maybe the Hornell, New York, library has it.
  • Figure out when my 2nd great uncle moved to Illinois. NARROWED DOWN to between 1906–1910.
  • Search 1920–1925 New York City newspapers for the mutual aid society to which my 2nd great grandfather belonged. TRIED and FAILED.
  • Enter every "Muollo" baby born in Sant'Angelo a Cupolo into my family tree. Find all available documents for the ones who emigrated to Pennsylvania. MAKING PROGRESS.
The first 2 items on the list took a pretty long time. They were tedious. But finishing them was such a rush.

All I can think about is the next step—my 2020 genealogy goals:
  • I want to enter more vital records from my ancestral towns into that spreadsheet.
  • I want to search for the missing draft registration cards for every American man in my document tracker.
It's like potato chips. Once you start, you just can't stop. (See "Plowing Through My 2019 Genealogy Goals".)

The more I add to this database of my ancestral towns, the more valuable it is.
The more I add to this database of my ancestral towns, the more valuable it is.

Time to Get Busy

Now here's what I'd like you to do:
  • If you never made a 2019 goals list, write a short, achievable list of goals.
  • If you did make a 2019 list, see where you stand with each item.
  • Figure out which goals you can make the biggest dent in beginning now.
  • Think about which goals are better left for next year.
Never stop making progress in your family tree research. Anyone who enjoys this crazy-obsessive genealogy hobby knows the secret: Finding that next important fact is everything! That's what keeps us going. And loving every minute of it.

02 July 2019

There Are No Ready-made Family Trees

Tell me. What did you expect to get for the price of a DNA test?

When you ordered a DNA kit, did you expect a full-blown family tree? Were you disappointed to find a DNA-match list of people you don't know?

The marketing hype can make you think it's super-easy and quick. It is not.

Your DNA test is a tool that may connect you to relatives who've already worked on their part of the family tree. But there's no getting around it. There is work involved.

So ask yourself this question:

Do I want to experience the adventure of finding documents, piecing together my ancestors, and building my family tree? Or do I want a finished product handed to me?

If you expected more than this from your DNA kit, I've got a surprise for you.
If you expected more than this from your DNA kit, I've got a surprise for you.

If you're up for the adventure, you'll be part of an enormous community of fellow seekers. Amateur genealogists enjoy the thrill of discovery each time they climb up another generation in their family tree.

But if you want the finished product, it's going to cost you more than the price of a DNA test. A genealogist can use your DNA test and a good amount of basic information to build your family tree for money.

For the past 2½ years, I've used this blog to give you the tools you need for this adventure called genealogy. For free.

bookmark this page for later
If you're open to learning, to expanding your mind and your research skills, family tree-building is right for you. Here are some of the basic challenges you'll meet on this adventure. Have a look at the links below, and load up your toolkit for the journey of your life.

Organization Skills and Principles

You're going to accumulate a lot of document images in a hurry. Keep these organization methods in mind, and you won't wind up buried in a pile of your own research.
Software and Other Tools

You'll need to decide which family tree building software to use. I have always used Family Tree Maker and have absolutely no reason to consider any other program.

But there are some other tools and lots of websites you should explore.
Finding and Understanding Documents

These titles explain themselves. Read these articles to understand what you want to get out of each type of genealogy document.
Foreign Languages and Handwriting

If you're working with foreign documents or just old documents, the handwriting will seem impossible to you at first. It does get easier! I'm so used to reading Italian documents from the 1800s, it's easy as can be.
DNA Tools

There's a lot more to DNA than your list of DNA matches.
Now that you've seen a bit of what's involved, it's decision time.

Do you want to join in the fun and the thrill of the genealogy hunt? Do you want to hire someone to do it for you? Or are you satisfied with your ethnicity pie chart?