10 September 2019

A Foundation for Your Genealogy Research Process

A new genealogist is born every day. Do they all know what to do? Not yet!

In the side panel of this blog there is a 3-question content survey. That's where I ask you what kinds of subject matter you'd like to find here. Some readers have asked for an all-in-one family tree tutorial.

At first I thought that wasn't possible. It's too vast. Many of my articles go in-depth on a specific part of genealogy, like:
Whether you're new to genealogy or dove into the deep end, a "start-to-finish genealogy process" would help.

So let's boil down the idea of family tree research to the basics.

Start With Yourself

Imagine a very old fence made of stones. You can't build the top row of stones without the foundation beneath it, right? Well, don't expect to find your 2nd great grandfather without the foundation of his descendants.

Building a family tree is a one-generation-at-a-time process.

Each time you add a generation you gain more facts. Those facts tell you where to look for more information.

As you add family members, think about all the types of documents you may find:
  • census records (right now the most recent U.S. census available is from 1940)
  • vital records (birth, marriage, death)
  • church records (baptism and other sacraments)
  • public records (street address, yearbooks, newspaper articles)
  • military records (draft registrations and military service)
  • citizenship records (immigration and naturalization)
Search for and gather every type of record you can.

Ready-made family trees are NOT what you want. You want the documents.
Ready-made family trees are NOT what you want. You want the documents.

Keep Track of All Sources

As you gather each document, immediately capture its source information.

Let's say you're using Ancestry.com to find your father or grandfather in the 1940 U.S. census. You can click "View Image" to see the document. But in the search results you can also click the words "1940 United States Federal Census". Beneath the listing of facts you'll see "Source Citation" and "Source Information". Copy that text and store it as the citation for the census image.

If you find a document on FamilySearch.org, click the listing (not the camera). Look for "Document Information" in the right-hand column. You'll find a handy "Citing this Record" section to copy.

Be Logical

Imagine you've gathered every possible document for your grandfather's immediate family. Take a close look at the family grouping. Are there any facts that don't make sense?
  • Do you have children born before their parents were old enough, or after a parent died? (Neat trick: a recently dead man can have a baby.)
  • Was one child born in a different place even though there's no sign the family ever moved?
Be logical and avoid publishing bad information. If something is illogical, search for more evidence to prove it right or wrong.

Move Up One Generation at a Time

Say you found your grandparents' marriage certificate. It may tell you where they living at that time. It may have each of their parents' names and place of birth. Those names and birthplaces are the foundation you need to build the next course of your stone fence.

I have my maternal grandparents 1922 marriage certificate. It says my grandfather and my 4 maternal great grandparents were born in Italy.

Knowing that, I was ready to pinpoint their hometowns. When you reach a foreign-born generation, search for immigration and naturalization records.

The joy of a well-timed migration: tons of clues for your descendants.
The joy of a well-timed migration: tons of clues for your descendants.

Ship manifests for your immigrant ancestors—if they are from a certain range of years—are crucial. You may learn the foreign hometown of your ancestor. You may learn the name of that ancestor's relative: father, mother, spouse, or more. These are the clues you need to go back another generation.

Be Methodical and Thorough

Try to "close out" each family unit before moving on. Gather every possible document for them. Make note of what you haven't found yet (like that one elusive census year) so you can try again in the future.

Pay close attention to the evidence. My 3rd great grandfather from Italy was a problem for me. I knew which town the family came from. I found birth records for all his children. I found his wife's birth record and her parents' names.

But I couldn't find his birth record. I knew he was born in about 1813, but there was no record of his birth.

Then I found the clue I needed. In his 1840 marriage record it clearly says he was born in another town. The neighboring town. That's why I couldn't find him or his siblings. I was looking in the wrong town.

Each document you find may have the answer to a mystery. My 2nd great uncle's World War II draft registration card had a critical clue I needed. The name of the town where he was born. His parents and his siblings, it turns out, were not from that town. But by searching that town's vital records, I discovered where his parents came from. And that cracked open that branch of the family.

Those are the basics. As you progress I've got tons of advice for ways to get and stay organized. And only after you've gone pretty far with your tree will you be able to find the connection to your DNA matches. In most cases, they're the icing on your cake. But you have to bake that cake.

Please see the Genealogy Lessons link on my blog for lots more articles listed by topic.

06 September 2019

Help Your DNA Match Expand their Family Tree

Show your DNA match who's the genealogist in the family!

You've probably got more genealogy skills than many of your DNA matches. If you want to figure out your connection, why not do some of the work for them? We all complain about our matches' missing or flimsy trees. Let's put some more leaves on their trees.

It helps if you can spot the best place to dive in.

My dad and I have one DNA match, Annie, who shares 44 cMs (centiMorgans) with him and (surprisingly) 43 cMs with me. Annie has a very small family tree posted. It doesn't have a lot of facts. But 5 of the 13 people in the tree have my 2nd great grandmother's last name.

That's our only apparent connection: the last name Girardi. Now, I know that name comes from more than one part of Italy. Former Yankees manager Joe Girardi's ancestors came from up north. My people are all from southern Italy.

But that name is the place for me to dive in.

If you're a genealogy warrior, why not help your DNA match find their missing link to you?
If you're a genealogy warrior, why not help your DNA match find their missing link to you?

I decided to see if Annie's Girardi ancestor was born in my 2nd great grandmother's town. Annie's tree had no date for Luciano Girardi's birth. But it had a December 1900 date for Luciano's wife. I went to my folder of 1900 birth records from the town of Pescolamazza.

There she was: Lorenza Immacolata Viglione. And in the margin of her birth record was the date of her marriage to Luciano Girardi.

Now I was sure this Girardi family was from my Girardi family's hometown. And it's a small town, not a city.

I went year by year, checking each birth index for Luciano Girardi. I found him in 1892 and held my breath. Was he a fit for my family tree?

Both his father and his mother were named Girardi. Even though neither of his parents were in my tree, I had my marching orders. Because of his birth year, one of Luciano's parents might be my 2nd great grandmother's 1st cousin.

Let's play a little game, shall we?

Annie seems to be the child of Luciano. That'd put her close to my father's age, just for reference.

Imagine Luciano's parent is my 2nd great grandmother's 1st cousin. If so, Annie's 3rd great grandparents are my father's 4th great grandparents. She would be my father's 3rd cousin once removed. (I had to draw it to make sense of it.)

I couldn't do this in my head if I tried. A drawing helped me understand the theoretical relationship.
I couldn't do this in my head if I tried. A drawing helped me understand the theoretical relationship.

Ancestry DNA estimates Dad and Annie are 4th–6th cousins. I checked the "consanguinity relationship chart" from Family Tree UK that I mentioned last week. With their shared 44 cMs of DNA, Annie and my dad could most likely be:
  • 1st cousins 4 times removed
  • 2nd cousins twice removed
  • 2nd cousins 3 times removed
  • 3rd cousins
Each of the above relationships has the exact same probability based on the numbers.

Now let's add in the "divide by 68" rule from last week. Dividing their shared 44 cMs by 68 tells me that Dad and Annie share .647%, and Annie and I share .632% of our DNA. Wow. We share such a small percentage of DNA with our not-so-distant-cousins. Even 2nd cousins share only about 3.125% of their DNA.

I sent Annie a link to Luciano and Lorenza's Italian birth records. But I need to keep researching. I need to investigate these new Girardi names. I need to find Italian documents for them and hope to connect them to my family.

Knowing your possible relationship to a DNA match won't solve the puzzle. As you do the genealogy research, keep those possible relationships in mind. Draw yourself a diagram. You can solve many of your DNA relationships this way.

03 September 2019

Same Name; Which Ancestor is Which?

It isn't only John Smiths that get mixed up. Naming customs are to blame.

No matter what ethnicity or nationality you ancestors were, you've probably seen this.

Everybody has the same name!

Many cultures followed a naming pattern that led to repeating names over and over. (Go to the FamilySearch Wiki and search for "naming customs" to see the rules.)

Here's an example. Imagine a man named Giuseppe Bianco whose father was Giovanni. Giuseppe names his 1st son Giovanni after his father. He names his 2nd son Salvatore after his wife's father. When young Giovanni and Salvatore grow up, they each name their 1st son Giuseppe after their father. No you've got 2 first cousins each named Giuseppe Bianco.

Now imagine that type of thing happening in every branch of your family, over and over again. The repeated names can drive any genealogy researcher crazy.

Picture yourself searching for a record of someone with a common name. How will you know you've found the right person?

Dates, Relatives, and More Documents

Search for your person in a wide array of years. Even if you think you know their birth year, check a bunch of surrounding years. Make note of every other person with the same or similar name. Who were their parents? Who did they marry?

Can't find an ancestor in the year you expected? Check a number of surrounding years.
Can't find an ancestor in the year you expected? Check a number of surrounding years.

Search for every related document you can. Find other records that include the person's age to help you estimate their birth year. Examples are their children's births and marriages, and their death. Carefully consider every fact you find before deciding which one is your ancestor.

This past weekend I was building a family tree for a client. I was off to a good start because she knew several ancestors' names. When I found a birth record, I could see that the baby's parents matched the names my client gave me.

But one ancestor, let's call her Giulia Russo, was a problem. I couldn't find a birth record for her or her father. I did find Giulia's 1911 marriage record. It told me her parents' names (Francesco and Maria) and her approximate birth year.

I continued piecing together the rest of the family. Giulia and her father Francesco were the only 2 people missing a birth record. Actually, I found more than one birth record for a baby named Francesco Russo. But they were born so much earlier than Giulia's mother.

How could I know which Francesco Russo was the right one?

I needed Giulia's birth record so I could get an idea of when her father Francesco was born. Based on her marriage record, she should have been born in 1887 or 1888. She wasn't.

I had to assume they got Giulia's age wrong on her marriage record. I broadened my search and found the only baby girl with a name even close to Giulia Russo. She was born in late 1884. She was actually 26 when her marriage record said she was 23.

But I knew it was her. Why? Because I'd checked a wide range of years in 2 towns and this "Giulia Maria Russo" was the only option. She had the right parents. Their names matched those on the marriage record.

Finally I was able to say with some confidence that her father Francesco Russo was born in about 1842. That's much earlier than his wife, and much earlier than I'd expected.

I searched birth records from 1837 through 1865 looking for every Francesco Russo. I found only two. But they each had a problem. They each had a note saying who he married and when. And neither bride was Giulia's mother.

But Giulia's birth record put her father's birth year at 1842. The 2 Francesco's I found were born in 1842 and 1848. I took another look at the Francesco Russo born in 1842.

As a rule, it's always a good idea to search records in the surrounding years.
As a rule, it's always a good idea to search records in the surrounding years.

When I considered everyone's ages, it became clear to me. The 1870 marriage to another woman written on his birth record was his 1st marriage. His 1st wife must have died before he married Giulia's mother Maria. Maria was 22 years younger than Francesco. She was 6 years old when he married the 1st time.

When Francesco married his 2nd wife, she was very young. She gave birth to their daughter Giulia at the age of 20. Ideally I'd want proof that Francesco's 1st wife died before Giulia was born. But the record isn't available. Neither is the marriage record for Francesco and Maria.

I searched a range of years for his 1st wife's death. No luck.

But I had one more ace up my sleeve. I could search for all the babies Francesco had with his 1st wife and see if they end by 1884. When the babies stop coming, that could be when his 1st wife died.

I found 4 babies born to Francesco and his 1st wife from 1872–1880. I kept searching, knowing that Giulia (the daughter of Francesco's 2nd wife) was born in 1884.

Good news, everyone! From 1881 to 1883 there no more babies for the 1st wife. Plus there was an 1883 baby born to the other Francesco Russo and his wife. The better clue came in 1885. A year after Francesco had a baby with his 2nd wife, the other Francesco Russo had another baby with his only wife.

This proves to me that I chose the right Francesco Russo.

In my experience with 19th century Italians, widows always remarried—sometimes awfully fast. And a man usually married a much younger woman and continued making the babies.

Francesco's experience fit perfectly into this mold. It's the same exact experience my 2nd great grandfather had. He married his 1st wife and had several children. Then his wife died. He quickly remarried, choosing a young lady who was his eldest daughter's age! Thank goodness he did, because that young 2nd wife was my 2nd great grandmother.

You won't always be 100% sure you've identified the right ancestor. But if you seek out as much information as possible, you're bound to have more success.