29 October 2019

This Genealogy Project Has 2 Hidden Benefits

Dive into your ancestral hometown's documents for extra benefits.

I'm really letting my genealogy freak flag fly lately. A few weeks ago I started an ambitious project to help my research. And it's paying off wildly!

Take a deep dive and become an expert in your ancestral town.
Take a deep dive and become an expert in your ancestral town.

I'm creating a searchable database of everyone who lived in my paternal Italian hometown. (During a large span of time.) First I downloaded all the available records to my computer. Now I'm renaming each vital record image to include the name of the person in it.
  • Each birth record's file name now includes the name of the baby.
  • Each marriage record's file name includes the bride and groom's names.
  • I'm still working through the death record images to add the name of the person who died to the file name.
I don't know how many thousands of vital records from the town are on my computer. They span from 1809–1942. There are gaps. Birth records end in 1915, and there are no marriage or death records between 1860–1931.

But in those thousands of records are the clues I need to piece together my extended family. Let's say I find a birth record for a relative. I've already documented the baby's father's family. But I don't know who the mother's family is. It says she is Angela Basile and her father's name is Giovanni. I can go to my folder of all the town's records and search for "Angela Basile". Then I can open the results to find one who's the right age and has a father named Giovanni. Most of the time I can make a positive ID. It's fantastic.

When the file names include proper names, you can use your computer to search everything in a second.
When the file names include proper names, you can use your computer to search everything in a second.

Here are 2 major things you can learn by taking a deep dive into your ancestor's hometown.

1. Names of People and Places

Overcome bad handwriting. When you're familiar with your towns' last names, you can recognize them despite bad handwriting. So many times when I couldn't read a name, I figured it out because I knew what to look for.

The same goes for street names. I record exactly where someone was born, if it's on their birth record. I'm so familiar with these records, I can recognize street names easily.

An unfamiliar name. You'll also know when a last name doesn't belong. I have one ancestor named Francesco Saverio Liguori. Based on the vital records, the only people in town named Liguori are his children. That made me wonder if he was from another town. On a hunch, I searched a neighboring town for his 1813 birth record, and I found him! That helped me go back 2 more generations in his family.

Travel companions. When you know all the town's names, you'll recognize them when they're with your ancestor on a ship manifest. Or when they show up next door to your ancestor in a new country.

2. Naming Customs

Carefully examining all the town's documents can teach you about local naming customs.

Foundlings. In my town in the 19th century, abandoned babies were not uncommon. Almost no woman kept and raised her out-of-wedlock baby. The custom was for the mayor to give the baby a name. They sometimes used unusual first names from mythology. But most first names were common to the town, like Maria Teresa or Giovanni.

But last names were different. These names didn't exist in the town. If a foundling boy grew up to have children, the kids took on the made-up name. This is how some new names were first introduced into the town.

Baby-naming conventions. The FamilySearch.org wiki explains baby-naming conventions in your ancestor's culture. In Italy, the rule is to name the 1st baby boy after its father's father, the 2nd baby boy after its mother's father.

When you have 12 kids, though, you need to get creative. Was the baby born on a saint's feast day? Use the saint's name. Is a name popular in town lately? Use that name.

Nicknames and shortened names. A person's death record might use a slightly different name than their birth or marriage record. On their death record you're more likely to see the name they were commonly known as. My 2nd great grandfather Francesco Saverio Caruso may have gone by the name Saverio. I can count on his birth and marriage records to have his full, proper name. But his death record may be from someone reporting that "Saverio Caruso" died.

When you get used to it, spotting the names and renaming the files can go quickly.
When you get used to it, spotting the names and renaming the files can go quickly.

People with multi-part names often went by only one. I'm sure my 6th great aunt, Maria Catarina Colomba Martuccio, wasn't called Maria Catarina Colomba. When I find her death record, I may learn that everyone called her Catarina.

I know we can't all download our town's vital records. You may not have discovered where your family came from. Or their hometown's records might have been destroyed.

But you can apply this name-study to census records, too. Pay attention to the names of the families living near your ancestor in each census. Are you seeing some family names repeat from census to census? Were members of that family born in the same place as your ancestor?

What about immigration records? The ship manifest for your ancestor may have little useful information. But check the names of the people surrounding your ancestor. Do their names match the people living near your ancestor in the new country? They could be relatives from the old country.

This week I'll try to complete my file naming project for Colle Sannita's death records. The act of renaming the files helps me learn the last names and street names from this town.

How I wish I'd been able to do this while my Colle Sannita-born grandfather was still alive!

Be sure to see the follow-up to this article which shows exactly how you can benefit from this project.

25 October 2019

Is a Family History Mistake Holding You Back?

Myths, mistakes, and fuzzy facts can hold back your family tree research.

Is your brick wall based on one completely wrong "fact"? What if you only hit that wall because you started with a family history mistake?

Here are 3 types of mistakes that can hamper your research.

Unrelated Celebrities

My ex-in-laws said their great uncle was Edward Smith, captain of the Titanic. That led to lots of genealogy problems. I was trying to place my ex's great grandfather (Walter Smith) in the same location as the ill-fated captain. They were brothers, after all.

Then I made a surprising discovery. Captain Smith never had a brother!

Without this myth muddying up the waters, I was able to find out where Walter Smith came from. And it had nothing to do with the captain.

You may think you have a reliable source. But some memories are not facts.
You may think you have a reliable source. But some memories are not facts.

Mistaken Identity

Decades ago, my brother was writing a college paper about our family history. Grandpa told him our great grandmother's (Grandpa's mother-in-law's) last name was Ferrara. There was no reason to doubt Grandpa, and no one else to ask.

But Grandpa was mistaken. In 2003 my aunt told me the last name was Caruso. If not for that, I'd never have gotten anywhere on that branch of my family tree.

I put my family tree on Ancestry.com with my great grandmother listed as Maria Rosa Caruso. That attracted the attention of a relative I didn't know. She was working on her husband's family tree. She found my tree and realized her husband and I were 2nd cousins. We share a set of great grandparents: Pasquale Iamarino and Maria Rosa Caruso.

This cousin-in-law gave me the clue I needed to research a common name like Caruso. She said Maria Rosa Caruso was from Pescolamazza, Italy. When that town wasn't on the map, I discovered that it changed its name to Pesco Sannita. At last I could build that part of my family tree.

Once I had her true maiden name and hometown, the brick wall disappeared.
Once I had her true maiden name and hometown, the brick wall disappeared.

Not Quite the Right Place

In 2004, my great aunt Stella repeated something I'd heard ever since I was a child. Our family came from 2 places in Italy: Pastene and Avellino.

Over time I found that Pastene is a small hamlet in a larger town called Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. When my great aunt Stella's parents came to America in 1899, they came from Sant'Angelo a Cupolo.

OK, so the family was from Pastene. But what about Avellino? That was a problem for 2 reasons:
  • If both of Aunt Stella's parents were from Pastene, who was from Avellino?
  • Avellino is both a city and a much larger province. Where in Avellino were my people from?
I kept Avellino in the back of my mind until I found the World War II draft registration card for my 2nd great uncle. He went by "Sam" in America, but his name was Semplicio Saviano. My great uncle Sam was the older brother of my great grandmother.

Sam's World War I draft registration card didn't even say what country he was born in. But his World War II card, recorded when he was a 65-year-old man, showed his town of birth.

It's misspelled as Tofo, Avillino. In reality, he was born in Tufo, a small town in the province of Avellino.

Finally a piece of evidence to support this bit of passed-down history. I later found Uncle Sam's 1877 birth record from Tufo, and that of an older brother my family didn't know about. (He died as a child.)

Then I found what may be the reason the family said they were from Avellino, not Tufo. My 2nd great grandmother (Uncle Sam's mother) was from another town in Avellino. She was born in, and married my 2nd great grandfather in Santa Paolina, Avellino.

Without the right location, it can be nearly impossible to find some ancestors.
Without the right location, it can be nearly impossible to find some ancestors.

It all came full circle when I read the 1871 marriage papers for my 2nd great grandparents.

My 2nd great grandmother Vittoria was born in Santa Paolina. Her husband Antonio was born in Pastene. I still find all this unusual:
  • Antonio was born in Pastene, Benevento.
  • He married Vittoria in Santa Paolina, Avellino, in 1871. It's a 30-minute drive today from Pastene to Santa Paolina. Imagine doing it on a horse, or in a mule-drawn cart. How did that happen?
  • Antonio and Vittoria had a baby girl in Santa Paolina in 1872 who died right away. The they moved about 15 minutes away (by modern transportation) to Tufo. Two of Vittoria's brothers lived there.
  • They had 2 more children in Tufo in 1875 and 1877.
  • Then they moved to Pastene! There they had 4 more children from 1879–1887.
  • In 1898, they took all but one of their surviving children to settle in New York City once and for all.
My great grandparents followed the next year.

It was a long, strange trip for my 2nd great grandfather. From Pastene to Santa Paolina to Tufo to Pastene to the Bronx. It was all a brick wall until I found Uncle Sam's draft card.

Here's what I want you to do. Look at one of your brick walls. Are your facts based on less-than-solid evidence? If one of your assumptions is wrong, does everything else fall apart?

Make sure the foundation of that brick wall is solid. You may find a mistaken, misunderstood, or missing fact underneath it all. If you pull that mistake out, will your brick wall come crumbling down?

22 October 2019

How to Inject New Life into Your Genealogy Research

Break out of your genealogy rut by choosing a new-to-you research path.

Do you ever get a little bored by your genealogy research? Are you so deep into one branch that you're ignoring the rest of your family tree?

Pick a new branch to liven things up. Here are 3 ways to find a new dead end to explore:
  • Look for the blanks in your grandparent or ahnentafel chart.
  • Color-code your direct ancestors (in Family Tree Maker) to see where each line ends.
  • Create ancestor charts that include blanks for the missing generations. Those blanks will help you spot the holes.
Now pick a branch you haven't spent much time on. That'll freshen things up.

I've decided to research a branch from an Italian town I haven't explored—Apice. I learned from my 3rd great grandmother's death record that she was born there.

My 3rd great grandmother was Rufina Zullo. Her daughter, my 2nd great grandmother, came to America the year Rufina died—1898. That's a little sad and makes me want to go further on Rufina's branch of my family tree.

Here's what I'll do.

1. Gather Research Documents

I'll download the Apice vital records to my computer. If you're lucky enough to have your ancestral towns' records online, download them all. Find out how to use the Antenati Italian archives and download the records. Check that page's comments for a program that can download from Family Search.

Figure out what you know and when and where you should look.
Figure out what you know and when and where you should look.

2. Label the Related Images

I'll mark the image files that have last names from this branch. The last names of Rufina Zullo's great grandparents were Zullo, Trancuccio, Montenigro, and Lomaglio. I learned these names from the death records of Rufina's parents.

When I find a death record with 1 of those 4 names, I'll rename the image file name to include the deceased's name.

You'll never wonder where you saw that one file if you rename it and make it searchable.
You'll never wonder where you saw that one file if you rename it and make it searchable.

By renaming the images, I'm creating a searchable database of Apice vital records on my computer. Of course, as I'm renaming the files, I'll keep an eye out for the 4 exact people I want to find:
  • Saverio Zullo
  • Angela Montenigro
  • Biase Trancuccio
  • Angela Lomaglio
It's important to have that list of 4 names in front of me the whole time. I need to pounce whenever I see those names.

And may I say, Oof! This town's records are hard to read. I'm searching for the shape of those 4 names and ruling out names that can't possibly be them.

Many of the vital records for Apice don't have an index. That's why it's so important to download the whole collection. It's infinitely faster to click through the files on your computer than online.

3. Focus on the Right Timeframe

I'll target my searches to the logical years when these 4 ancestors may have died. All I know so far is that 2 died before their son did on 28 Dec 1844, and 2 died before their daughter did on 22 Aug 1837. I know this because their parents were dead when my 4th great grandparents died.

4. Examine the Results

Now comes the tricky part. I found an 1816 death record for a Saverio Zullo. That's the name of my 5th great grandfather. How can I tell if this is "my" Saverio Zullo? Let's look at the facts:
  • The son of my Saverio Zullo was born in 1789. I'm using an estimated birth year for Saverio of 25 years before 1789, or 1764. I don't know when he was really born.
  • The Saverio Zullo who died in 1816 was 80 years old. So he was born in 1736. It's completely possible that he could have had a child in 1789 when he was 53 years old. That is, as long as his wife was a few years younger than him.
  • The 1816 death record does not say if 80-year-old Saverio was married or widowed. It only mentions his parents' names: Giuseppe and…geez…I think Libera Carese but I can't be sure yet.
I'll rename this image file and keep searching.

A few documents later I find an Angela Montenigro. This is the name of my Saverio Zullo's wife. If it is her, she is a good age to have had a child in 1789. This entire town doesn't include the name of the deceased's spouse on the death record! So I'll rename this image, too. If I search every year and never find another Saverio Zullo or Angela Montenigro, then these are probably my 5th great grandparents. I may not be 100% sure, but I can be reasonably sure.

It's also important that I keep viewing this town's records to get familiar with the names there. Angela Montenigro's mother seems to be Berardina Lavorano. If I see "Lavorano" a few more times, written clearly, I'll know that's the correct name.

In the end, I'll have marked the documents for siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles of my 3rd great grandmother. That's what I like to do—piece together extended families. That is my never-ending, never boring jigsaw puzzle.

Genealogy research is never done. That's why so many of us have been at it for years. If you find yourself in a rut, look for that unexplored branch. Can you take it back another generation or two? Think how much that can juice-up your family tree research!