30 June 2020

How to Work Out Errors in Your Family Tree

The Ellis Island website was my gateway to genealogy. In my early days, I found ship manifests for my 2 grandfathers and other relatives. Then came my Ancestry.com membership, and my next gateway: census records.

What busted my family tree wide open was microfilm. I learned I could go to a Family History Center to view vital records from my Grandpa Leone's hometown. I began a 5-year process of viewing microfilm and typing every fact into a laptop. I have a text file with 29,864 lines of facts from his town's vital records, 1809–1860. I entered those facts into Family Tree Maker software to see how all the families fit together. (If you have an ancestor from Baselice, contact me!)

I'm related to 95% of the town. That research added 15,000 people to my family tree.

But I'm sure I made some errors. I couldn't look at each document again to correct any mistakes. Until 3 years ago. That's when a free website called Antenati published all those vital records and more. Now I have easy access to all the information I transcribed from microfilm in the dark.

Yesterday I ran Family Tree Analyzer to find some of those mistakes. It seems I have a family unit whose birth years don't line up. The 11 children (eleven!) have birth years from the 1760s to the 1780s. The problem is their mother, Antonia Cormano, was too young to have had the first 2 of her children.

And if her birth year is wrong, so are my estimated birth years for her parents and grandparents.

A routine error check lead me to several generations of one family with age issues.
A routine error check lead me to several generations of one family with age issues.

The whole mess hinges on the unknown birth year of her first child, Antonio Colucci. Antonio died before 1809 when civil records began. So I can't find his death record easily. I estimated his birth year as 1746—25 years before his eldest child was born. I need to re-examine the marriage records of his descendants to sort things out.

Side note: Italian marriage documents are awesome. They include the bride and groom's birth records. And if any of their parents are dead, you get their death records. If their fathers and grandfathers are dead, you get the grandfathers' death records!

I wanted to learn the true birth year of Antonia's first-born child, Antonio. To find such an early record, I needed to find a male descendant of his who married after he died. Antonio's grandson Michele Antonio Colucci married in 1854. His marriage records did indeed have a death record for his grandfather Antonio. It shows his birth year as 1759, very different from my estimated birth year of 1746. That would help solve my problem with the birth years of Antonia and her ancestors.

But, of course, there's a complication. If Antonio was born in 1759, then he's too young to have had his 2 children born in 1771 and 1775!

The ripple effect of one bad date is enormous! (Are any "Indiana Jones" fans thinking of Harrison Ford's "Bad dates" line right now?)

Maybe Antonio's death record had his age wrong. These mistakes happen all the time. There were no other well-timed marriages that would include the death record I want. But let's say the birth year of 1759 is about right. Biologically, he could have had a child in 1775. So maybe his daughter Angela's birth year of 1771 is wrong. With a child born in 1797, Angela could have been born a bit later.

Her 1832 death record says she was 61 years old, born in 1771. Early birth records from the town rarely include the parents' ages. My only hope of seeing Angela's age apart from on her death record is her daughter's 1811 birth record. Sadly, that record confirms Angela's husband's age, but doesn't mention her age at all.

It's hard to imagine his age could be off by much when he's only 27 years old.
It's hard to imagine his age could be off by much when he's only 27 years old.

Well, that was frustrating. All I can do with what I have is fudge Antonio's birth year a bit and work backwards from there.

The following changes are going to need asterisks:
  • I'll push Antonio's birth year back a bit and record it not as 1759, but as 1753. That'd make him an 18-year-old father. That's not common in this town, but it sometimes happened.
  • I'll leave his father with his documented birth year of 1735. That'd make him an 18-year-old father, too. Like father, like son.
  • Despite what her death record says, I'll change Antonia Cormano's birth year from 1742 to 1735. That'd make her an 18-year-old mother. It's like "Romeo and Juliet" if they'd lived.
  • Then I'll follow my usual protocol. For Antonia's parents and grandparents, I'll subtract 25 from the year their child was born. If I change Antonia's birth year to 1735, then her parents were born "Abt 1710", and their parents were born "Abt 1685".
I'm not happy with fudging 2 documented dates, but the pieces didn't fit. I plan to work through this entire extended family, adding documents and sources to Family Tree Maker. If I'm lucky, some overlooked document will turn up with a better clue.

Genealogy, like life, can be messy. Slap on that bandage and keep searching.

26 June 2020

How to Add Context to DNA Matches

No. I still haven't figured out my parents' DNA connection. It's a journey, and along the way, I keep finding tools and methods to help make sense of DNA matches.

After giving up on DNA triangulation, I wanted an easier way to understand my DNA matches.

Here's what I did, and it's really helpful. I looked at my Ancestry DNA matches to find the closest relative I haven't yet identified. Let's call her TK. TK and I share 125 centiMorgans (cMs) across 12 segments. Ancestry DNA says we may be in the general range of 2nd cousins once removed.

I clicked on TK's name in my DNA match list. Then I clicked to see our shared matches. It's a fairly long list, and since the 1st shared match is my father, I know TK is on his side of the family.

I opened a blank spreadsheet. In column A, I put the names of our top shared DNA matches. (I included TK in the list.) In column B, I added the amount of centiMorgans (cMs) I share with each person.

It turns out I know who almost all our top shared DNA matches are. A bunch of them have the same last name, and our connection is my father's 1st cousin.

So, in column C, I entered my relationship to each person. The majority are descendants of my great grandfather Pasquale. Some are a bit more distant. They're descendants of Pasquale's sister, so we share my 2nd great grandparents.

Arranging our shared DNA matches in order added context to this unknown match.
Arranging our shared DNA matches in order added context to this unknown match.

The results were unmistakable:
  • The closest relative, my dad's 1st cousin JM, shares 441 cMs with me.
  • Her children, my 2nd cousins JM and DM, share an average of 230 cMs with me.
  • Their children, my 2nd cousins once removed MM and TM, share an average of 124 cMs with me.
  • 3 matches are my 3rd cousins LH, MW and JP, sharing a pair of 2nd great grandparents with me. One of them shares 153 cMs with me, but the other 2 share an average of 78 cMs with me.
You can see a pretty strong correlation between the cMs and the relationship.

I ended my list with a recently discovered DNA match, GP. We share only 40 cMs, but we have an unusual relationship. Each of her parents is my 6th cousin. I needed her in this set as a reference point.

In my list of 12 DNA matches, there are only 3 with an unknown relationship. Two of those are in my tree, but our relationship is very convoluted. Our blood connection is still missing.

I highlighted each of the 3 unidentified DNA matches, including TK, and saw a definite pattern. TK should be my 2nd cousin once removed through my great grandfather Pasquale. Her number (125) fits right between my known 2nd cousins once removed.

But that isn't our connection. Pasquale had 3 children, and I know the names of their children and grandchildren. None of the girls have a name starting with T.

But TK's 125 cMs also fall in line with my 3rd cousins. They're the ones descended from Pasquale's sister.

I happen to know one such cousin with the right first name, but she spells it differently. I've reached out to her and hope she can help me unravel TK. The good news is, she already knows me, and we're planning to have a conversation later.

My next DNA match with an unidentified connection, MM, fits right between 2 of my 3rd cousins. As I said, she's in my tree, but there are a lot of empty branches hiding our true DNA connection. I know my great grandfather had another sister, but I don't know who she married. Could MM be her great granddaughter?

My last unidentified DNA match from this set, SZ, has almost the same amount of shared cMs as my 6th cousin once removed. She and I probably have a more distant relationship. I know she was born before my parents, so I expect us to have a once or twice removed relationship. The big deal about SZ is that she's a match to my mom, too!

Now I have a spreadsheet that gives me a much better idea of my relationship to these 3 DNA matches. Seeing the relationships in order of shared cMs adds context. It makes the possible relationships much clearer.

What if we list even more of our closest DNA matches this way? How many others can we figure out when we give them some context?

23 June 2020

Are Your Dead Ends Hiding DNA Matches?

Some dead ends are more important than others when a DNA connection is missing.

Despite some juicy leads, I still don't know why my parents share some DNA. They have a distant cousin relationship that I can't nail down. So let's try something else.

Recently I wrote about How to Diagram a Mystery DNA Match. It was a new technique that worked incredibly well on my first try. So why not try it on my parents?

I chose one parent's DNA test and found the other parent in the match list. I clicked to see all the possible relationships for 2 people who share 37 centimorgans. In my relationship calculator spreadsheet, I highlighted these possible relationships.

I know the names of all my father's 3rd great grandparents. I'm missing 8 of my mother's 3rd great grandparents due to a lack of records from their hometown. With so many ancestors known, I was able to rule out all the most likely relationships.

Mom's maternal side still has a lot of missing ancestors, some of which I may yet find.
Mom's maternal side still has a lot of missing ancestors, some of which I may yet find.

But my parents may have a half-cousin relationship. What if one of his 3rd or 4th great grandparents married one of her 3rd or 4th great grandparents? I know my Italian ancestors didn't stay widowed for long. They would remarry for help raising the children or for companionship.

I went through my parents' ancestors looking for those I knew had more than one marriage. I kept noticing all the missing ancestors and wondering about them.

I have to keep working on my under-explored towns:
  • Apice and Santa Paolina on Mom's side
  • Pesco Sannita and Circello on Dad's side
Each one of their towns is pretty close to the others.

Can I fill in more holes in my family tree? Will any new paths lead to my other parent's ancestral hometowns?

I thought it might help to check the Relationship Calculator in Family Tree Maker. It might tell me where to start searching.

I clicked on Dad and checked his relationship to Mom. Besides "husband", I found these relationships:
  1. Dad is the nephew of the wife of the 2nd cousin once removed of the wife of the 2nd cousin of Mom
  2. Dad is the nephew of the wife of the 4th cousin once removed of the brother-in-law of Mom
  3. Dad is the half 1st cousin 3 times removed of the wife of the 2nd cousin once removed of the brother-in-law of Mom
  4. Dad is the grand nephew of the wife of the half grand nephew of the wife of the nephew of the husband of the 2nd great aunt of Mom
  5. Dad is the nephew of the wife of the 1st great grand nephew of the wife of the 1st cousins of the husband of the half 1st great aunt of Mom
Well, that's clear, isn't it? I checked Family Tree Maker's relationship chart for each of the 5 relationships to make sense of it.

The Relationship Calculator in Family Tree Maker shows you hidden relationships.
The Relationship Calculator in Family Tree Maker shows you hidden relationships.

Here's what jumps out at me:
  • Relationship 1 hinges on a marriage between Mom's paternal hometown (Baselice) and Dad's paternal hometown (Colle Sannita). But that marriage happened only a few years before my parents were born.
  • Relationships 2 and 3 above end with the brother-in-law of Mom. That's my Uncle Kenny—my aunt's husband. Other DNA relationships point to a blood relationship between Uncle Kenny and me. I haven't figured it out, but here it is again.
  • Relationships 4 and 5 above also include marriages between the 2 towns. These marriages happened in the 1830s and 1850s.
I'm always on the lookout for marriages between my 2 grandfathers' towns. The marriage in relationship #4 includes the last name Pozzuto. All my roads seem to lead to Pozzuto. I found this out when I did some DNA mapping using the Leeds Method. My parents share DNA matches with a high percentage of Pozzuto, and a heapin' helpin' of Zeolla.

So, what does all that analysis tell me to do? Keep working on dead ends in specific areas of my family tree. I'll start by exploring those 2 inter-town marriages. I'll also work on some other towns, searching for Mom's missing ancestors.

I know that any new relationships I add along the way may connect me to more DNA matches.

Do you have DNA mysteries you can't solve? Spend time researching the common branches. Or concentrate on particular last names. Fill in as many blanks as possible.

It's a never-ending journey. But when you love genealogy, the journey is what makes it fun.