21 April 2020

How to Identify Relatives in an Old Photo

Can acting like a detective unlock the mysteries of your old photos?

Two photographs in my late aunt's collection have Italian inscriptions on the back. These black and white photos seem to belong together because the handwriting looks the same.

How can I figure out who these mystery relatives are when there's no one alive to ask? Let's see how far I can get with logic.

Are there enough clues to figure out who these relatives may be?
Are there enough clues to figure out who these relatives may be?

First we have an elderly woman and man holding hands. They look very "old country" to me. Behind them is an old-fashioned TV set with 2 dials. The woman is leaning on an appliance that may be a short refrigerator. I can read "LANDIA 123" on its front. I had no luck finding a brand name ending in "landia".

The man has a handkerchief folded neatly in his suit jacket pocket. He's holding a cigarette European style: with the burning tip hidden in his palm.

I'd guess this black and white photo is from the early 1960s. That's based on the TV set, the woman's clothes, and the similarity to my own family photos of that era.

On the back it says, "ricordo di tua sorella e cognato; tua sorella di anni 74, tuo cognato di anni 77." That means "remember your sister and brother-in-law; your 74-year-old sister, your 77-year-old brother-in-law." If it were taken in 1962, the woman would have been born in 1888.

The other photo shows a well-dressed young man. His neck is too thick for a teenager. He may be about 24 years old. Someone who knows clothing styles may be able to date his distinctive shirt collar. He doesn't look like the older couple, but the handwriting on the back seems identical.

On the back it says, "questo e tuo nipote, Mariano." That means "this is your nephew, Mariano." Nipote is a funny word because it can mean nephew or grandchild. But he can't be the grandchild of one of my closest ancestors. So it's logical that he's the son of the sorella (sister) in the first photo. If she is my relative's sister, then her son is my relative's nephew. The math adds up if the young man's photo is from the early 1950s—earlier than the photo with the TV set.

Who were these photos sent to? Knowing the answer to that question would help me identify these people. Let's examine everyone who might have owned the photos that wound up in my aunt's collection:

Subject 1: My aunt Lillian Iamarino had no sister and was far too young. She was closer to Mariano's age.

Subject 2: My grandmother Lucy Iamarino had no sister. She was the eldest of 3 children born in New York between 1908 and 1914.

Subject 3: My grandfather Pietro Iamarino had 3 sisters. But they all died at a much younger age than 74. Two never made it to age 30.

Grandpa Iamarino's parents stayed in Italy, so the photos were not written and sent to them. That leaves Grandma Lucy's parents. Their birth years are close to my assumed birth years for the couple in the photo.

Subject 4: My great grandmother Maria Rosa Caruso had lots of brothers, but no sisters.

That leaves one possibility.

Subject 5: My great grandfather Pasquale Iamarino had 2 sisters who were about the right age. One sister, Libera Maria Iamarino, came to America and married in Albany, New York. She died there, too. Pasquale would have been able to visit her by train anytime. He was a railroad employee who traveled for free. Libera Maria wouldn't have needed to say "remember your sister."

That leaves Maria Giuseppa Iamarino born in 1878. There is no marriage mentioned on her birth record. That was a common thing to do at the time. I can't search for her marriage document because the possible years are not available.

Can I find any of her children's birth records? That would tell me she did live past childhood. But I don't know what her children's last name would be. I have to page through the town's birth records starting in 1896, with my eyes trained on the last name of the mother.

I thought I had her for a while. I found 2 babies born in 1899 and 1901 to Valentino Borromeo and Giuseppa Iamarino. There is no other Giuseppa Iamarino in the records besides my great aunt who's the right age. The name Borromeo is not from my Iamarino town, so I searched for his full name on FamilySearch.org. I discovered the family went to live in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. I learned that Valentino was born in the town of Circello in 1878. So I found his birth record and discovered he was an illegitimate baby. That's why no one in the area had the name Borromeo. Someone made it up.

Valentino's U.S. Passport application said Giovanni Basilone of Colle Sannita adopted him. That explains how he came to live in Colle Sannita.

His birth record gave me the clue I really wanted to find. In the column a clerk wrote that Valentino married in Colle Sannita on 2 March 1899. He married Giuseppina Addolorata Iamarino.

I chased down every possible document until I had the answer. Not her!
I chased down every possible document until I had the answer. Not her!

That's not my great aunt. There is no such woman born in Colle Sannita, according to my collection of vital records. I don't know who she is, but she isn't mine. And if it were her in the photo at age 74, the photo would be from 1952. That's too early. I finally looked at photos of old TV sets, and the style in the photo is more likely to be from the early 1970s.

If that's the right time frame, then the sorella was born around 1900. I don't know a female relative born at that time who lived to age 74!

Well, that was a wild ride. I don't like to write about something that didn't work for me. But this method is sound and worth trying.

The name on his photo piqued my interest. I know that name!
The name on his photo piqued my interest. I know that name!

I found 3 more interesting portraits in my aunt's collection this past weekend. One shows a man in a suit, and it says D____ Basile on the back. (The glue from the photo album tore off some letters.) The other 2 show a woman alone, and the same woman with a little child.

I think the woman is my grandfather's sister Giovannangela Iamarino because she married a man named Donato Basile. I may never be able to prove it, but if I can't disprove it, that's going to remain my theory.

If you ever inherit an unlabelled collection of old family photos, that's great! Don't forget to use documents and all your research skills to unlock as many mysteries as you can.


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17 April 2020

Make Consistency King in Your Family Tree

Run this program to clean up typos and boo-boos in your family tree.

I've been a webmaster or web content producer since 1997. I've always believed consistency makes a website a look professional.

When I started building my family tree, I realized consistency is critical there, too. I wanted my tree to be as professional as possible. That includes recording and documenting facts in a consistent way.

Once in a while, I like to use the free Family Tree Analyzer tool to give my tree a consistency checkup. There's a new version of the program out, so visit their website for the download.

You need to export a GEDCOM file from the latest version of your tree. Then launch Family Tree Analyzer and import your GEDCOM. Choose the Export menu at the top and select Facts to Excel. This generates a spreadsheet you can save. Now you can sort and filter the information as you wish.

Use Family Tree Analyzer to export your facts to a spreadsheet. Now inconsistencies are easy to find.
Use Family Tree Analyzer to export your facts to a spreadsheet. Now inconsistencies are easy to find.

I want to check the consistency of the occupation and location facts in my family tree.

Consistent Treatment of Foreign Words

When it comes to Occupation facts, my family tree is full of Italian-language job titles. Two years ago, I used Find and Replace in Family Tree Maker to add the English translation to these Italian words. For example, I searched for "sartore" and replaced it with "sartore (tailor)". But I wonder if I overlooked any Italian job titles.

Let me find them in the Facts spreadsheet I created. I can either Sort or Filter the FactType column. (I prefer Excel's Filter function, but you can do what's comfortable for you.) Now I can scroll down the spreadsheet with my eyes on the FactComment column. I'm looking for Italian words that have no translation.

I see a few that are words I still can't translate. I also see one common word that I left untranslated by accident. It's contadino. That's the most common occupation in my family tree. It means farmer or peasant. The spreadsheet tells me this job title belongs to Francesco Iampietro. I'll go to him in my family tree and make the fix.

Paging Francesco Iampietro. Holy cow, look at this crowd!
Paging Francesco Iampietro. Holy cow, look at this crowd!

It figures. I have 12 men in my tree with this same name! But this is an 1817 fact, so that narrows down the list a bit. After viewing the facts in my tree for almost every man with this name, I can't find this 1817 fact. The spreadsheet tells me his GEDCOM individual ID number is 12869. So I'll resort my spreadsheet to show more of Francesco's facts.

He turns out to be older than I thought, born in 1740 and died on the date in 1817. When I view his facts in Family Tree Maker, I can see that I updated his source citations, but I overlooked the missing translation of his job title. I'll fix it now.

The spreadsheet shows me one blank occupation fact. I had added a year and place, but no job title. I'll have to view the original document to find this person's missing occupation.

I may want to revisit the records with untranslatable job titles. I'll bet the documents have bad handwriting. I hope they'll make sense to me now because I have more experience.

Consistent Treatment of Place Names

Next I'll turn to place names. I like to include the word County in U.S. addresses. For exanple, Burgettstown, Washington County, Pennsylvania, USA. I find it makes some place names easier to understand. I can sort the Facts spreadsheet by the FactLocation column. Then I'll scroll down the list looking for places missing "County".

I quickly found a Brooklyn, New York, address missing the word County. It was the home of a family named Abbate. I can:
  • go to the Abbate family in Family Tree Maker
  • update the address, and
  • choose to update every instance of the original address at once.
I'll continue checking for the missing word County. I'll also see if anything else looks like a possible typo. For example, if an address shows up many times, followed by a different spelling, I'd bet that lone address is wrong.

Family Tree Analyzer is a great tool for finding inconsistent place names.
Family Tree Analyzer is a great tool for finding inconsistent place names.

I see one place name listed as Unknown. When I view that person in my tree, I see I forgot to add her address to the Residence fact for the 1940 census. Easily fixed.

It's a pretty quick process to find errors and inconsistencies in your tree's facts. Why not make this a regular checkup? How often you should perform a checkup depends on how often you work on your family tree. I find that I'm reminded to have a checkup each time Family Tree Analyzer releases a program update.

How's your consistency looking?

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14 April 2020

Try Quick Genealogy Tasks When You Can't Focus

Tackle some easier family tree tasks when your head is not in the game.

A lot of my genealogy friends are saying the same thing online. "I can't seem to concentrate. I thought I'd make a lot more progress on my family tree in quarantine."

I'm not having trouble concentrating. I've worked from home since 1991, and I'm as busy with work now as ever.

But I understand what my friends are feeling. Their routines are gone. There's so much to worry about. They'd like to make some real genealogy progress.

Sometimes I want to make genealogy progress, but I don't want to make a big commitment. I may feel tired or have limited time.

That's when I turn to my Quick Genealogy Task List. It's a list of simple family tree tasks that aren't too demanding.

This is my go-to genealogy task when I'm not ready to devote a lot of time.
This is my go-to genealogy task when I'm not ready to devote a lot of time.

When you're having trouble concentrating, start chipping away at a simple item. Something that doesn't take a lot of mental effort. You may find that once you get going, you'll be eager to knock off another task.

Here are some basic categories of tasks. As you read them, think about your genealogy research. What can you add to your list?

Clean-up Tasks

I'll bet there are a few things about your family tree you'd like to go back and clean up.
I like to think of family tree clean-up tasks as upgrades. I adopted a much better style of citing my sources, and it's a big upgrade. But my tree has more than 23,000 people, so I can't upgrade all my old sources at once.

Instead of fretting about them all, I concentrated on my direct ancestors first. I upgraded all the sources for my 290 direct ancestors.

And I didn't do it in one sitting. That's important when you're having trouble concentrating. Don't put any extra pressure on yourself. This is a project you can come back to at any time. Make note of where you leave off.

It was exciting to finish my direct ancestors' source citations. I felt inspired to start fanning out by working on the citations of all the children of a given set of ancestors.

Organization Tasks

Genealogist love having their stuff organized neatly. Stuff like certificates, family group sheets, binders, and digital files.

Are all your family photos digitized? Are the image files named in a standardized way? Are the filed in a logical way? Are they added to your family tree?

I've been working through hundreds of photos from my late aunt's collection. I'm scanning them and doing some retouching in Photoshop. I've been uploading them to a private Pinterest board that I'm sharing with relatives. I need their help in identifying some of the people and places in the old photos.

Can't concentrate for long? Divide your genealogy project into smaller increments.
Can't concentrate for long? Divide your genealogy project into smaller increments.

Scanning may be the easiest, least brain-intensive part of this process. Then comes proper file naming and filing. Followed by archival-quality photo storage boxes for preserving the original photos. I have a plan for that.

Follow-up Tasks

Most of us have been plugging away at this hobby for a long time. Do you have leads that you haven't followed up on yet?

Have you interviewed a relative, but never typed up the transcript? I have. I recorded a conversation with my parents, asking them about their childhood. I still haven't transcribed that digital audio file, and that was 2 years ago.

I also have an old notebook filled with Ellis Island ship manifest entries. It's from my first days of family tree research. I want to follow up on each entry in that notebook. Are they a relative? Do they belong in my family tree? Did I ever put them in there?

And I have my brother's college genealogy paper. I need to completely scrub it for facts and anecdotes he got from Grandpa back in the 1970s.

Finally, I tend to add bookmarks to people in my family tree who have a problem to resolve. Trying to resolve one person's problem can take your mind of this whole doomsday scenario for a while.

Those are a few low-commitment task categories. I'll bet you can come up with more. Spend a few moments starting your list. Add to it whenever something comes to mind. Then turn to your list when time—or your concentration level—is short. And turn to it again and again even after we begin to get back to normal.

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10 April 2020

Is This Name a Coincidence? I Aim to Find Out

Her last name makes me think Dad's childhood crush was a distant cousin.

I sent my dad a photo from my late aunt's collection. "Do you know these women with your mother?" I knew the background was his Bronx apartment house.

I wanted to know about one particularly beautiful young woman. I have another photo of her in a different location. Someone wrote on the bottom "Amelia and me," and this pretty lady was on the right. I assumed she was the "me."

This photo triggered lots of memories for Dad. "The older woman on the right is Mrs. Pozzuto, who lived across the street from my grandmother [in Girard, Ohio]. The three women are her daughters, Amelia, Marie and Margaret. The one you pointed out is Amelia. I was in love with her when I was about 9 or 10. Marie married Tony who taught me how to drive at 12 or 15 years old in Girard. That might be me in the picture with my grandmother on the extreme left."

Way to go, Dad! Pozzuto is a last name from my ancestral hometown of Colle Sannita, Italy. It's a key name in our family tree. I had to investigate.

The 4 women were named Pozzuto. If you knew my family, you'd know that's no coincidence.
The 4 women were named Pozzuto. If you knew my family, you'd know that's no coincidence.

Starting the Search

The first thing I did was pull up my great grandparent's 1930 census from Girard, Ohio. I wanted to see their neighbors. Two families down from my Iamarino family, I found the Pozzuto family!
  • John Pozzuto, 35 years old, born in Italy, arrived in 1916, married for 10 years
  • wife Agnes, 26 years old, born in Italy, arrived in 1906 (so I know they married in America)
  • daughter Marie, 9 years old, born in Ohio
  • daughter Amelia, 6 years old, born in Ohio
  • daughter Marguerite, 4 years old, born in Ohio
Wouldn't it be great if John Pozzuto was our relative? I'm sure it was no coincidence. A Pozzuto living across the street from my Colle Sannita-born great grandfather?

I knew what I needed to search for:
  • an immigration record for John (Giovanni) Pozzuto, born in 1895, coming to America in 1916
  • an 1895 birth record for him from my collection of Colle Sannita vital records
  • a 1920 Ohio (most likely) marriage record for Giovanni and Agnes
  • Giovanni in America before his marriage
The first solid result I found was for Margherita Pozzuto's Ohio marriage. It lists her parents as John Pozzuto and Agnes Natale. Now I have a maiden name for Mrs. Pozzuto.

On Ancestry.com, this record had several leads in the Suggested Records column. From those records I learned that:
  • John Pozzuto died in Girard, Ohio in 1959.
  • Marie Pozzuto's middle name was Julia and she married Tony Dellagnena in Ohio in 1946. So it was Tony Dellagnena who taught my under-aged dad to drive.
  • Amelia's middle name was Rose, and she married Nicholas Victor Basciano in Ohio in 1950.
  • Margaret's birth name was Margherita, and she married George Bella in Ohio in 1951.
Narrowing the Scope

I needed to know more about the father of the family, Giovanni Pozzuto. I searched for World War I and II draft cards and found 2 possibilities. The World War I card was for a Giovanni Pozzuto born in 1896 in Colle Sannita. When I looked at his birth record in my collection, it said he married a girl named Angela Martuccio in Italy in 1920. That rules him out.

The World War II draft registration card is right on the money. His wife is Agnes and his address is the one I know on Dearborn Street. This card says he was born on 24 Jan 1895. I checked my Italian vital record collection. There is a Giovanni Pozzuto born in Colle Sannita who is a match. He was born on 24 Jan 1895 to Antonio Pozzuto and Annamaria Zeolla.

OMG, when the names Pozzuto and Zeolla come together, I get chills. Those 2 names combined hold the secret to the DNA relationship between my mother and my father. I've worked nearly every Pozzuto vital record into my family tree, and plan to do the Zeolla records next.

But this particular Pozzuto birth record is not in my tree yet. I had trouble positively identifying his parents, Antonio and Annamaria. There's a couple in my tree that seems like a good match. But they had a son named Giovanni in 1901, so they couldn't have had a Giovanni in 1895 who lived beyond 1901.

Finding a Good Fit

I began searching for any variations of Antonio Pozzuto in my tree, born around 1870. Giovannantonio, Giuseppantonio, Francesantonio, anything.

I found a Giuseppe Antonio Pozzuto born in 1871. His wife is not Annamaria Zeolla, but she is Maria Zeolla. They married in 1891. I already found 5 children born to them between 1893 and 1899.

This looks like a good fit for Giovanni, but more research is needed.
This looks like a good fit for Giovanni, but more research is needed.

The husband's father was Saverio, and that is the name of the couple's 1st son. The wife's father was Giovanni Vincenzo. I already had their son Vincenzo, born in 1899—after the Giovanni I'm trying to place in their home.

It does fit for my Giovanni from Ohio to be this couple's son. And one of the other children in the family was born at the same address as Giovanni: Vico Selice, 5.

I'm going to place Giovanni in this family with a big old asterisk. In Family Tree Maker, I'll add a bookmark to his name. This tells me to look at his notes to see if I can resolve any problems.

If I did put him in the right family, Dad's boyhood crush was on his 4th cousin Amelia. How fun is that?

Dear readers, I love doing this. I've been working with my parents to name all the old neighborhood people in my late aunt's photos. Everyone knew everyone else who lived there.

And in my small ancestral hometowns, nearly everyone was related. It seems if I dig long enough, I find a connection.

Now I must do what I can to eliminate Giovanni's asterisk.

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07 April 2020

Finding the Best Family Photo Sharing Option

Consider the features you want before choosing a photo sharing platform.

I'm halfway through the scanning of my late aunt's family photo collection. So far I've spent the better part of 2 Sundays scanning and enhancing the images in Photoshop. I recognized some people and reached out to my parents by email to identify others.

I used Facebook to send one family friend several photos of her late mother as a young girl. These were photos she never knew existed. They took her by surprise and filled her with emotion.

That made me realize I needed a way to share many more of these photos. I want feedback, memories, and more information about the people in the photos. I was up all night thinking about how to code a made-from-scratch website to share with family. But they wouldn't be able to tell me what they know other than by sending an email.

Facebook is an option, but not everyone I want to share these photos with is on Facebook. In a perfect world, I'd give any relative a web link and let them to add comments to the photos.

I decided to use Google Photos to create an album I can share. I created a new album and tried to drag and drop 129 images. The process stalled a couple of times. It would have been better to upload the photos in smaller batches.

Once I uploaded the family photos to Google Photos, I realized it didn't have the features I wanted.
Once I uploaded the family photos to Google Photos, I realized it didn't have the features I wanted.

With all the photos in place, I wanted to make smaller collections of photos that go together. I didn't find a way to do that. But you can add text after a row of photos. So I started grouping together photos and adding a line of text beneath the rows:
  • Pasquale Iamarino and family (my great grandfather)
  • Pietro Iamarino (Grandpa)
  • Uncle Mike and Uncle Frank (my grandmother's brothers)
  • 562 Morris Avenue, Bronx (my dad's apartment building for most of his youth)
The biggest problem here is that these descriptions appear only beneath a full row. I didn't always have a full row of similar photos.

What's Most Important to You?

Ideally, I want to:
  • Display a caption for each photo.
  • Group similar subjects together.
  • Allow for notes and comments.
Google Photos doesn't give me all these features.

Other photo-sharing options include:
  • Dropbox—I can display the image's file name, but not a caption.
  • Instagram—I don't see a way to make a private collection of photos. But they wouldn't display their captions anyway.
  • Adobe Portfolio—I have an Adobe subscription, but it's prompting me to create a website. I'm looking for something easier.
  • Amazon Photos—I have Amazon Prime, so I tried this. I uploaded 3 photos into a new album so see how it worked. It didn't allow a caption or comments. This isn't what I want.
Where Else Can You Turn?

Then I thought of something a bit outside the box. I have a Pinterest account I use to promote this blog. What if I create a new, secret board, fill it with captioned photos, and invite only select people to see it?

Each photo (or pin) displays its caption. When you click a photo, it can display a description I add. And it allows my invited relatives to access the photos by computer and make comments. They will need to create a free Pinterest account. Hopefully the privacy-loving Facebook haters won't mind having a Pinterest account.

It's not the expected choice, but Pinterest meets my photo sharing and collaboration needs.
It's not the expected choice, but Pinterest meets my photo sharing and collaboration needs.

Now that I've chosen Pinterest as my platform, this process will take a good deal of time. I want each photo to be its own pin. I need to upload them one at a time, adding a title and description for each one as I go.

Let's try this out. I created a secret board called Family Photos. I'm ready to create my first pin. Here are the steps:
  • Click the + above the board's title to create a pin.
  • Drag and drop a photo into the space.
  • Add a title.
  • Add a description of the photo.
  • Click Publish.
This is a time-consuming task. I'll start by adding photos I want to share with the 2nd cousin who found me on Ancestry.com. There are 2 photos that may include his mother and his aunt. I'd love to direct him to a bunch of photos of his branch of the family and ask him for input. I want him to show them to his mother.

To invite someone to my secret board, I click Invite, click Copy Link, and give that link to a relative. They'll see a prompt to create an account, or log in with Facebook, Google, or an email address.

I especially want to share annotated photos with my 1st cousin. She was nice enough to think of sending me her mother's photos. She couldn't identify anyone outside the immediate family. I'll be more than happy to show her what I've discovered.

It's time to get busy.

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03 April 2020

Six Degrees of Separation, Family Tree Edition

You say a public figure has roots in my ancestral town? Challenge accepted!

Let's play a little "Six Degrees of Separation," genealogy style. Can you find your connection to a public figure with roots in the same ancestral town as you?

All my ancestors lived in small, rural Italian hill towns up until 1899–1920. They weren't noblemen, aristocrats, or educated. Their families stayed put for hundreds of years.

Then came a massive exodus of Southern Italian men. Today, descendants of my ancestors' townspeople are spread all over the world. It can be fun to figure out how a public figure connected to your town fits into your family tree.

I've heard that pop star Gwen Stefani and World War II hero "Manila John" Basilone were descendants of my grandfather's Italian hometown.

Tracing the Pop Star

For a long time Gwen Stefani's ancestors were out of my reach. Our connection goes back further than my family tree did. But now my tree has such deep, dense roots in the town of Colle Sannita, that I found our connection.

Here's how I did it. Since she is a public figure, I was able to Google Gwen for her details. Born in 1969 in California to Dennis Stefani and Patricia Flynn. I needed to climb Dennis Stefani's family tree a generation or two to get back to Colle Sannita. I haven't seen the name Stefani in Colle Sannita records. So I expected to find a connection on his mother's side of the family.

I searched for Dennis Stefani and found his mother, born in Michigan, had the maiden name diPaola. That is my hook. That name is significant. I have several direct ancestors from Colle Sannita with that name. They range from a 2nd great grandmother to an 8th great grandfather.

Census records and the marriage record of Dennis Stefani's parents gave me more clues. In America, his mother's parents were Frank diPaola and Lillie Marino. I needed to find Colle Sannita records for a Francesco diPaola and a Libera Marino.

It takes a pretty big tree to find a place for your celebrity 5th cousin.
It takes a pretty big tree to find a place for your celebrity 5th cousin.

I followed the Francesco diPaola born in Colle Sannita in 1885 across the ocean to America. In 1918, according to his World War I draft registration card, he lived in Michigan with his wife Lilly. The birth date on this draft card confirms that I chose the right birth record from Colle Sannita.

There's more research to do on Libera Antonia (Lilly) Marino, born in Colle in 1888. But so far, her relation to me is only through her husband Francesco diPaola. Francesco's birth record gave me his parents' names. I discovered that his mother's maternal grandparents are my 4th great grandparents.

From my 4th great grandparents, I stepped back down the generations to Gwen Stefani. She and her siblings are my 5th cousins. Her 3 children by one of my favorite rock stars, Gavin Rossdale, are my 5th cousins once removed.

Documenting the War Hero

"Manila John" Basilone was a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. He died a hero in Iwo Jima, Japan. He showed courage and initiative during a fierce battle and saved the lives of his men.

John has a well-documented life. I learned that his father, Salvatore Basilone, was born in Colle Sannita on Christmas Day, 1884. Salvatore's parents were both named Basilone. His father Angelo was born months after his own father, also Angelo, had died.

Young Angelo Basilone married 3 times between 1858 and 1881. He had children with each wife from 1859 to 1886. As I climbed Angelo's mother's side of the family tree, I connected him to people already related to me.

I often wonder if Grandpa knew about his sister's in-law, the war hero.
I often wonder if Grandpa knew about his sister's in-law, the war hero.

Giovannangela Iamarino was my Grandpa's sister. Her mother-in-law was Colomba Filomena Pilla. Colomba's grandmother was Colomba Zeolla. Her grandfather was Angelo Mascia. Coming back down, Angelo Mascia's grandson was Salvatore Basilone. He's the father of "Manila John" Basilone. Easy, right?

There is more research to do. I can track down the death records of more of John's ancestors. I may find a closer connection to me. For now, he is in my family tree. He's the 3rd cousin once removed of the husband of my 1st great aunt, Giovannangela Iamarino.

Recently I told you how I fit a stranger with a Brazilian immigration record into my family tree. The theory is the same:
  • Start with someone you know has a connection to your ancestral hometown.
  • Climb their tree, piecing together as many facts as possible.
  • Keep going until you hit one of your relatives.
  • Then retrace your steps, adding in all the documents, facts, and sources you used.
Six Degrees of Separation? Six is exactly how many generations I had to climb Gwen Stefani's family tree to hit my direct ancestors. It is a fun game, and we can all use a good distraction right now.

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31 March 2020

Searching for Family in a New Town Takes Practice

Take your time and you can overcome bad handwriting and unfamiliarity.

I have a DNA match with a connection to the least-explored branch of my family tree. I haven't known about this branch very long. I found out they came from a new-to-me Italian town called Apice (a peach, eh). But I didn't do much more than look up the immediate family of my 3rd great grandmother.

Meanwhile, my DNA match has been busy adding nearly everyone from this town to his family tree. He's creating a document of the town—piecing together families even if they're not related to him. Thanks to his exploratory tree, I discovered the names of 2 sets of my 6th great grandparents!

I knew I had to start treating this town the same as I treat my other ancestral towns. There are a ton of the town's vital records available on the Italian Antenati website. I've downloaded lots of them, but I haven't finished.

Even before I download all of them, I want to go through the files I have and look for my ancestors' last names:
  • Lomaglio
  • Lorito
  • Mazzarella
  • Montenigro
  • Trancuccio
  • Zullo
So I started renaming the image files from Apice as I viewed them. (By editing the file name to include the name of the person in the document, it becomes searchable on my computer.) From the very start, I had a major stumbling block. The handwriting was awful!

My knowledge of Italian names helps, but I needed to see it written clearly.
My knowledge of Italian names helps, but I needed to see it written clearly.

That's when I remembered my tips for working with a set of hard-to-read documents:
  1. Examine as many records as possible. The more times you see a name written, the greater your chances of seeing it written clearly.
  2. Take your best guess. I renamed the Apice vital records for 1809–1811. When I couldn't quite read a name, I typed my best guess. When I see a guessed name enough times, and I figure it out, I can go back and correct all my guesses.
  3. Find documents with better handwriting. The town clerk won't have kept his job forever. I jumped way ahead to the 1844 death records, and the handwriting was large and clear. A new town clerk was on the job! If you find documents with good handwriting, study them to learn the names of people in this town.

As I rename the files, I keep my family tree open. Each time I find a Zullo document (or any of the other names in my list), I check to see if they can fit in my tree yet. I'm eager to find death records for my 5th great grandparents, Saverio Zullo and Angela Montenigro, so I can learn their parents' names. They may have died before 1809 when Italy began keeping civil records. But there's a chance I'll find them.

Renaming my files made the town's names clearer: Casazza, Caporaso, Licciardi, Iebba...
Renaming my files made the town's names clearer to me: Casazza, Caporaso, Licciardi, Iebba…

I started an alphabetical list of the last names in this town. I'm adding them to an Excel file as I find them. (I can sort it alphabetically in 2 clicks.) That way I can remember what I decided is the proper spelling of each name. This has been tremendously helpful when I find a name that written so badly.

When we've got these endless, entertaining puzzles to play with, who wants to go outside? Seriously, though, get the hell in your house!

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27 March 2020

Working Backwards from an Intriguing Discovery

When you think a new document belongs in your tree, here's what you can do.

This week I was looking at the family tree of a DNA match. When I recognized her grandparents' names from my tree, I got to work. I spent hours piecing together as many of her direct ancestors as possible. If she ever answers my message, she will be amazed.

Next I found a collection of Brazilian records on Ancestry.com (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965). These documents are like passports, but better. They have the person's photo, birth date and place, parents' names, and spouse's name.

I searched the collection for people from my grandfather's hometown in Italy. I found 4. To get any of them into my family tree, I had to find their parents in my vital record collection.

These immigration cards from Brazil can open up some dead ends in my family tree.
These immigration cards from Brazil can open up some dead ends in my family tree.

The first one with good results was a handsome man named Giovanni Battista Anacleto. He's a bit younger than my dad, which is funny when you're used to dealing with people from 200 years ago. I recognized Anacleto as a rare name from my Colle Sannita, Italy, documents. His mother's name seems to be from another town, so I'll get to her later.

My goal was to find a record for this young man's father, Salvatore Anacleto. Then I would climb his family tree until I found someone already in my tree. Then I'd be able to add Giovanni Battista and everyone else I find from his family. Here are the steps I took.

Find His Father

I searched my collection of vital records for Salvatore Anacleto. (I renamed my entire collection of records for this town, so I can search for any name from File Explorer.) I found his 1904 birth record. I know it's him because it mentions his 1926 bride, and I know she's Giovanni Battista's mother.

Find His Grandparents

The 1904 birth record names Salvatore's parents. I have no vital records for his father, Emilio Anacleto. Salvatore's mother was Andreana Paolucci. I found an 1864 birth record for an Andreana Filomena Paolucci. I know she's the right one. At the bottom of her birth record, it say she married Emilio Anacleto.

Andreana's parents were not in my family tree. Yet.

Find His Great Grandparents

Andreana Paolucci's father Saverio was 33 years old on the 1864 record. And his late father was named Giorgio. That helps narrow down my search. I searched my computer for "Saverio Paolucci di Giorgio" born about 1831. (In an Italian vital record, "di" means "child of". It's a handy abbreviation.)

I found 2 candidates:
  • Francesco Saverio Paolucci born in 1830
  • Francesco Saverio Paolucci born in 1831
It's perfectly normal for a man born as Francesco Saverio to go by the name of Saverio when he's older.

I decided to pursue the second one, born in 1831. I'm satisfied with this choice because his grandmother is Andreana, just like his daughter. Still, I will have to fully explore the 1830 Francesco Saverio and see where that leads.

The 1831 birth record says Francesco Saverio's parents are Giorgio Paolucci and Marianna Marino. I searched for the marriage of those two. I found out Giorgio Paolucci was born Baldassarre Giorgio Paolucci, son of Saverio. And Marianna Marino was born Mariangela Marino.

I kept climbing his family tee until I found some of his ancestors were already in my family tree.
I kept climbing his family tee until I found some of his ancestors were already in my family tree.

I know at this point you're totally doubting me. Everyone's names are a bit off. But my great grandmother was born Marianna and later called herself Mariangela. I've seen it happen many times. And I have a pretty exhaustive database of the town.

I looked into the 1822 marriage documents for Baldassarre Giorgio and Mariangela. It turns out Baldassarre's parents were already my distant relatives. Better yet, Mariangela's grandparents are my 6th great grandparents!

Put the Pieces Together
Now I was ready to climb back down the tree, adding in the new people I'd found:
  • Baldassarre Giorgio Paolucci and his wife Mariangela Marino, along with their parents' facts from the 1822 marriage documents.
  • Their son Francesco Saverio Paolucci and his wife Maria Marino. (I still need to investigate her.)
  • Their son Salvatore Anacleto and his wife Maria Lucia Barone. I've checked 2 neighboring towns for Maria Lucia so far. No luck.
  • My emigrant to São Paulo, Brazil, Giovanni Battista Anacleto. Now that he's in my family tree, I know he is my 5th cousin twice removed! (Yes, I will work to prove I chose the right Francesco Saverio.)
There are countless ways to approach your family tree research. When I'm not chipping away at the more tedious tasks, I like to keep it interesting. Following up on my new DNA match was very rewarding. But I've always wanted to track down the townspeople who went to Brazil. This immigration collection will give me hours and hours of genealogy detective work.

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24 March 2020

Using Ancestry's ThruLines to Find DNA Matches

This visual clue makes it easy to see your connection to a DNA match.

It had been a while since I looked at Ancestry.com's ThruLines™ tool. This can be a great way to quickly understand your connection to a DNA match.

I noticed a few of my ancestors tagged with the word UPDATED. This means there's a new DNA match linked to those ancestors. I clicked one of my updated 2nd great grandparents. There I saw a basic family tree chart showing a direct line from my 2nd great grandparent down to me. It highlighted my dad as a DNA match.

The "updated" tag on your ancestor is a quick way to find your newest DNA matches with a known connection.
The "updated" tag on your ancestor is a quick way to find your newest DNA matches with a known connection.

A second branch of this chart began with my great grandmother's brother—my 2nd great uncle. I knew exactly who he was. He was my grandfather's Uncle Antonio who lived in Newton, Massachusetts. Grandpa lived and worked near him for a short while. Because of this brief stay in Newton, I did a lot of research into Antonio's family in Massachusetts. When Uncle Antonio's daughter died in 2014, I learned the names of her children.

One of those children is my 2nd cousin once removed. We're around the same age. Now her daughter has taken a DNA test. It's that daughter—my 3rd cousin—whom I've discovered today thanks to ThruLines.

Seeing my ThruLines laid out so simply made it easy to see exactly who this DNA match is.
Seeing my ThruLines laid out so simply made it easy to see exactly who this DNA match is.

I'd looked at all my UPDATED ancestors in ThruLines. Next I began hovering my mouse over my earlier ancestors, looking for a high number of DNA matches. The highest number was 8 DNA matches tied to a pair of my 4th great grandparents.

There are 5 DNA matches stemming from my 3rd great grandfather Giuseppantonio. I know them all. There are 2 DNA matches stemming from his brother Pasquale. He's my 4th great uncle. These 2 matches are my 5th cousins. I've already examined their details.

Another brother of my 3rd great grandfather was my 4th great uncle Giambattista. That's an interesting Italian name that means John the Baptist. Stemming from Giambattista is a DNA match I hadn't seen before.

I can tell from ThruLines that this new match is the daughter of my 3rd cousin twice removed. That makes her my 4th cousin once removed.

When I looked at her family tree, I saw 2 very familiar names on her father's side. But she's related to me on her mother's side.

I knew her father's parents because 2 years ago I photographed their graves in Italy. Seeing their names together, I remembered the unusual grave markers immediately. It was my husband who spotted them, leaning against a brick wall. He pointed them out because the wife was an Iamarino, like me.

Angela Iamarino and Innocenzo Gentile died in my grandfather's hometown in 1977. The most likely reason for the leaning grave markers is that their remains were now into a family crypt. (You don't keep your final resting place forever in Italy.)

We photographed a ton of grave markers that day. When I got home I tried to identify each person to see where they fit in my family tree. Angela Iamarino was my 3rd cousin once removed.


I looked at my new DNA match's family tree. I learned that Angela and Innocenzo from the cemetery had a son who married my 2nd cousin 3 times removed. I placed Angela and Innocenzo's son into my family tree and married him to my cousin. Then I gave them their daughter—my DNA match.

My relationship to her father's side of the family was a surprise. She and I are double 4th cousins once removed. I used Family Tree Maker's Relationship Tool for help. My match is related to both my grandfather and my grandmother. My grandparents were 3rd cousins which leads to lots of double cousins.

Imagine if every DNA-tester added a basic tree with 3 or 4 generations of their direct ancestors. We could solve so many mysteries!

I wrote to this DNA match. I don't think she knows about the grave markers in our ancestral hometown.

If you have a DNA test with no tree or a private tree, you're wasting everyone's time. Worried about privacy? Add your direct ancestors only. The websites hide living people's names. It's your 2nd and 3rd great grandparents who are the most valuable. They will nab you the most relatives, insights, and discoveries.


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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.