30 July 2019

Free Newspaper Site for Your Family Research

Search the news for a slice of history to round out your ancestor's story.

Newspapers haven't been very helpful to me in my family tree research. There are a few reasons for that:
  • My ancestors didn't settle in the USA until 1898.
  • They arrived as illiterate laborers.
  • They never made news.
But that doesn't mean there's no value in old newspapers for someone like me.

I get angry when my seat on an airplane is too cramped. My poor ancestors rode in the belly of one of these. ... Ancestry.com. New York Port, Ship Images, 1851-1891 [database online]. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com, Inc., 2004. Original data: Ship images obtained from and reproduced courtesy of Mystic Seaport.
I get angry when my seat on an airplane is too cramped. My poor ancestors rode in the belly of one of these.

The Library of Congress has a free collection of U.S. newspapers from 1789 to 1963. It's called Chronicling America. You may find your ancestors' social news, like engagements and weddings. You may learn that an ancestor was a criminal, or a lawyer.

Narrow your search by date, place, and newspaper, and look for clippings that belong in your family tree. Start at the Advanced Search screen and enter some information.

If you have any historic event in mind from 1789–1963, you should find a newspaper article about it.
If you have any historic event in mind from 1789–1963, you should find a newspaper article about it.

Here are the best things I've found so far.

Ship Arrivals

My first ancestors to arrive in America were my great grandmother's family in 1898. My great grandparents followed them in 1899. Since I have their ship manifests in my family tree, I know the exact dates of arrival and the ship names.

I thought the New York newspapers should have some mention of the ships arriving each day. And they do. It's only a couple of lines, but here's what I learned about my great grandparents' 1899 voyage:
  • The ship made 8 stops to pick up passengers and merchandise, before sailing to New York.
  • My great grandparents boarded in Naples on 3 July 1899, which was the 7th stop on the ship's journey.
  • There were 162 steerage passengers on the Karamania for this voyage.
  • They arrived in New York Harbor at 6:00 p.m. on 23 July 1899.
My great grandmother's parents and siblings arrived a year earlier. Here's what I learned from the New York Tribune listing of ship arrivals:
  • The ship made 6 stops to pick up passengers and merchandise before sailing to New York.
  • My family boarded in Naples on 21 May 1898, which was the 5th stop on the ship's journey.
  • There were 424 steerage passengers on the California for this voyage. That sounds packed!
  • They arrived in New York Harbor at 7:25 p.m. on 7 June 1898.
That date is new information for me. My family's ship manifest has a blank in the arrival date field. But Ancestry.com has indexed this manifest with an arrival date of 8 June 1898. The newspaper clipping tells me the ship actually arrived the night before.

My Grandfather's WWI Battle

I've written before about using newspapers to learn about my grandfather's capture and imprisonment in World War I.

The last time I visited Italy, I went to the archives for the province of Benevento. I wanted to see my maternal grandfather's military record at the archives. These one-page records are jam-packed with facts. I've seen these records available online if the soldier died in the service of his country. But my grandfather lived to be 96 years old.

So I walked into the archive building with the volume number and record number I needed to see. I had a couple of sentences prepared in Italian to get me started.

I took photographs of the page, so now I have every last detail. I learned the name of his big battle, the date of my grandfather's capture, and the location of his prison camp.

At home I used the Chronicling America website to find news about the battle. It was an epic failure for the Italian Army. My grandfather was lucky to survive a prison camp that starved so many fellow soldiers to death.

The newspaper articles take this deeply personal story and set it on the world stage.

News at the time of my family's arrival triggered a childhood memory for me.
News at the time of my family's arrival triggered a childhood memory for me.

Your Own History

I did a more general search of Chronicling America for "Bronx" in 1898 or 1899. That's when my family arrived there. The first thing to catch my eye was an article published 60 years before I was born.

The headline is THE "ZOO" NEARLY READY. It explains that the Bronx Zoo was almost ready to open for the first time. This reminded me of my own traumatic visit to the Bronx Zoo in May 1971.

At the New York State Library 10 years ago, I found a New York Times article about the Bronx Day events happening on that 12th of May 1971.

There's a brief reference to my grade school class getting terrorized by a gang of hoodlums:

"The day was marred…by a few ugly situations. At the zoo, where hundreds of unruly adolescents gathered, the police reported a 12-year-old girl had been beaten. Several buildings and the restaurant were closed to curtail serious vandalism.

"William G. Conway, director of the zoo, said: 'Too many youngsters were without supervision. If we were host again, we'd want more supervision.'"

This really underplays what happened. My classmates know the story. But I'm glad to have this article. Now I'll always remember the date of that doomed class trip, cut short due to beatings, threats, and robbery.

If your ancestors were not in charge, not in high-society, and not on trial, you may not find their names in the paper.

If that's the case, be broader and more general in your newspaper searches. You may find clippings you'll want to add to your family tree.

26 July 2019

Why You Need to Set Genealogy Priorities

Knowing what you want from your genealogy research can keep you on track.

Imagine a world…where time stands still and you can research your family tree for as long as you please.

Yeah. That's not gonna happen.

Since your genealogy research time is limited, you need to make the most of it. If you stick to your top priorities, you can make the most progress.

Let your priorities keep you on the path you want to take.
Let your priorities keep you on the path you want to take.

Here's an example of what I mean. There's a celebrity whose ancestors came from my grandfather's hometown in Italy. I'd known about her link to the town for years.

But a new lead gave me the names of the celebrity's great grandparents: Francesco diPaola and Libera Antonia Marino. And the fact that they emigrated to the USA.

It turns out her great grandparents were in my family tree! Better yet, her great grandfather was the grandson of my 4th great grandparents. If things worked out, and she and I shared this set of 4th great grandparents, we'd be 5th cousins.

That's what I needed to prove. I had to find a line from this immigrant couple to the celebrity. I turned to Ancestry.com for U.S. records. I found Francesco diPaola's 1903 immigration record. He was still single when he came here.

I pressed on. I went first to the family's 1940 census. I figured the celebrity's grandparent was most likely to be there as a child.

Logically, since the celebrity's maiden name is not diPaola, she should be the granddaughter of one of the diPaola girls. There were 2 girls in the family on this 1940 census. I picked one. I searched for any record that might show she married a man with the same last name as the celebrity.

And I found it. The elder diPaola daughter's U.S. Social Security Application and Claims Index shows her maiden name, diPaola, and her married name. It matches the name of the celebrity. Based on that alone, I attached the celebrity's father to this diPaola daughter. (I found his name on Wikipedia.)

That made the celebrity my 5th cousin.

But I kept going. I wanted to find the other documents for the family. I discovered that Libera, the celebrity's great grandmother, came to America in 1899 to join her father. Her father Giorgio Marino was in the same U.S. town Francesco diPaola went to in 1903.

That means this Italian couple, born in the same town, reconnected and married in Pennsylvania. The Marino family then joined the diPaola family and moved from Pennsylvania to Michigan.

Then I found that an older daughter, not in the 1940 census, had also married a man with the celebrity's maiden name. Maybe she was the celebrity's grandmother!

An obituary would help me decide which sister is the celebrity's grandmother. So far I haven't found one. I'd like to get it right, of course. But either way, I do know the celebrity is my 5th cousin. That was the game I was playing.

More than once during this genealogy session I had to rein myself in. Did I really want to spend so much time following Francesco and Libera's many, many children? Not really.

That's when I thought about my priorities. Focusing on my priorities, I decided to leave the descendants alone for now. I'd found almost every possible U.S. record for them. But the couple's siblings in Italy were more important to me.

My Priority One is always the 19th-century Italians from my ancestral hometowns. I want to strengthen that part of my family tree and make it as complete as possible. I have 1,000s of vital records from my towns sitting on my computer. Nearly every person in those documents is connected to me. My passion is to piece them all together.

Yes, it would be great to find out where all the Italian emigrants wound up later in life. But that's not my priority.

In a rare case of peeking at someone else's tree, I got the leg-up I needed.
In a rare case of peeking at someone else's tree, I got the leg-up I needed.

So I returned to their ancestors. I knew the names of Francesco diPaola's parents, but I couldn't find their documents. A peek at someone else's family tree helped me narrow down their birth years. Eventually, I found them!

Now I'm looking through their family's facts. What am I missing? Where should I look for it? Can I add more generations?

My priorities set me back on the track that's most important to me.

What's your top priority? Is it to:
  • document your closest family members?
  • locate the living descendants of your ancestor's siblings?
  • find your earliest recorded ancestor?
  • figure out your connection to your DNA matches?
  • spread your tree out as wide as you can?
Whatever is most important to you, let it guide you. When research time is limited, let your top priority set you on the path toward that goal.

Diversions can be really fun. I've gone way out on distant limbs of my family tree just because I could. But in the end, I want my family tree to be a rock-solid, well-documented snapshot of my ancestral hometowns.

Now it's time to get back to it.

23 July 2019

Where Did Your Last Name Come From?

Is there a hidden meaning behind the last names in your family tree?

You may know where your recent ancestors came from. You may even know where your much earlier ancestors came from. But do you know the origins of their last names?

You may call it a last name, a family name, or a surname. In Italian it's un cognome. In Spanish, un apellido.

Last names fall into a few different categories and can give you a clue about their background.

Are your last names tied to a particular place?
Are your last names tied to a particular place?

Do your ancestral last names fit into these categories?
  • Monogenetic—A name that began with one family in one place. My grandfather's last name, for example, has its roots almost exclusively in one town in Italy. How lucky for me!
  • Polygenetic—A name used at different times, in different places, by different families. My other grandfather's last name is ridiculously common and found in every part of Italy.
Those are general categories. Let's get more specific with these 4 types of last names:
  1. Place names—Hill, Dale, Ford, Rivers, as well as specific names of rivers, mountains, and towns
  2. Occupational names—Smith/Ferraro/Schmidt, Miller/Molinari/Mueller, Cooper/Bottaio, Weaver/Tessitore/Weber, Tailor/Sarti/Snyder, Shoemaker/Zapatero/Schumacher
  3. Patronymics—These are names with a beginning or ending that says who was your daddy.
    • German: -sohn, -sen (Larsen, son of Lars)
    • Irish: Mc-, Mac-, O'- (McDonald, son of Donald)
    • Italian: d'-, di-, de-, li-, lo- (diFranco, son of Franco)
    • Russian: -ev, -evsky, -ov, -ovich, -ovsky (one of my favorite authors is Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky; his middle name tells us his father was Mikhail)
    • Spanish: -ez, -es, -is, -iz (Gonzalez, son of Gonzalo)
  4. Personal appearance and characteristic names. These include words for short, curly-haired, red-haired, fat, big, strong, kind. Animal names also fall into this category, such as Wolf/Lupo, Fox/Volpe.
There are also foundling names. These are the names given to babies usually born out of wedlock and abandoned to the care of the church.
  • Spanish: ExpĆ³sito, Iglesia, Cruz, Blanco
  • Italian: Esposito, Proietti, Trovato, Casadio
Authorities might give a foundling baby boy the last name Esposito. But he will pass the name on to each of his children, and his sons will pass it on to their children. So don't assume each Esposito was a foundling.

Here's what it looks like when I apply these rules to some of my ancestors' last names.
  • Caruso: A word meaning close-cropped hair, but also a term for a boy or young man.
  • diPaola: A patronymic from the name Paolo (Paul), although in my family it's changed to Paola.
  • Franza: From Franciscus, or someone who lives in France. We've got no French DNA, though.
  • Iamarino: A patronymic from the name Giovanni Marino. The variation of Giammarino makes the Giovanni or Gianni clearer.
  • Leone: The word for lion, but meaning the son of Leonardo.
  • Petruccelli: A patronymic from the name Pietro (Peter).
  • Pilla: Possibly from the Roman family name Pompilius. That'd be cool.
  • Pisciotti: An occupational name from the word pesce, fish.
  • Sarracino: From the Saracens—a non-Arab people living in the Arabian desert when it was a Roman province. Later, Saracen meant Muslim or Arabs.
  • Saviano: From the Sabine people who lived in the Apennine Mountains of ancient Italy.
  • Tedesco: The word for German.
  • Valente: The word for talented.

The Saracens were an ancient people. Were my ancestors named for them?
The Saracens were an ancient people. Were my ancestors named for them?
Erhard Reuwich "Sarazenen", 1486, Public domain
I love that Saviano has ancient Italian roots. This is the last name of my 2nd great grandfather. He's my first ancestor to come to America. He made trips to New York and back in 1890, 1892, and 1895, then brought the rest of his family here in 1898.

In fact, my maternal grandmother's parents were a Sarracino (Saracen) and Saviano (Sabine). Their marriage may have been a union of two very ancient peoples. That could explain my mom's 100% Southern Italian DNA.

Learning their names and finding their hometowns is all I need to make me love genealogy. (See "Genealogy is the Joy of Names".)

How many last names do you descend from?
How many last names do you descend from?

Is there more history and meaning hidden in your ancestors' last names? Here are some resources from "Behind the Name" to help you understand the names in your family tree:
For a lot more types of names, visit the Behind the Names website.