31 July 2020

Did Your Ancestors Have Arranged Marriages?

There was a time when arranged marriages were expected and accepted.

It makes me chuckle when I see matching spouse names on 1800s vital records. "This baby is born to Tommaso and Tommasina." "He was the son of the late Giovanni and Giovanna." What a cute coincidence.

But, was it a coincidence? Or did two families who were planning to join their families decide to pair up the kids with similar names?

Why am I thinking about arranged marriages, you ask? I have an awesome book that documents my ancestral hometown in 1742. Like a modern-day census, it lists the names and ages of everyone in each household. It also lists the head of household's:
  • land, and its use
  • animals
  • tax rate, and
  • how many virgins he has
Yup. It lists the family's names as:
  • husband
  • wife
  • sons in descending age order
  • virgin daughters in descending age order
This made it clear to me that having a marriageable daughter was an asset. He may even have been taxed on his daughters.

A proper match was often the decision of the father of the bride.
A proper match was often the decision of the father of the bride.

I've always known that my maternal grandparents had an arranged marriage in New York City in 1922. Grandma Mary liked a young man with red hair, but my great grandfather made the choice for her. He chose my grandfather Adamo for his eldest daughter.

After researching my great grandparents, it's clear they had an arranged marriage, too. Great grandpa Pasquale Iamarino came to America in 1902. By 1905 he was in upstate New York working for the Erie Railroad. There he met the Caruso brothers. They came to America from a town very close to Pasquale's hometown in Italy.

When the only girl in the Caruso family came to America in 1906, she married Pasquale 4 months later. Her brothers surely made the match.

It's clear the Caruso brothers chose Pasquale for their only sister.
It's clear the Caruso brothers chose Pasquale for their only sister.

Then there's Pasquale's daughter Lucy—my paternal grandmother. As a kid, I thought it was a coincidence that my grandparents, Lucy and Pietro, had the same last name of Iamarino. But no. Our last name is rare, and my grandparents were 3rd cousins.

When my grandfather, Pietro Iamarino, came to America, he bounced around a bit. He went up to Boston where his mother's brother lived. Then he went to western Pennsylvania, where many of his townsmen worked. His next stop was Ohio, where he lived in the house of his father's 2nd cousin…Pasquale Iamarino. Within months, he married his 3rd cousin and housemate, Lucy.

For most of us, the idea of marrying a person your family chooses for you is hard to imagine. It's something we know from movies and from other cultures. But it has nothing to do with us.

Yet, I have to go back only to my grandparents to find arranged marriages in my family.

In my rural Italian hometowns, I often see marriages between neighboring families. A family with one tract of land might marry their daughter to the son of a family with the neighboring tract of land. In this way, the 2 families increase their relative wealth and prosperity.

I've heard my grandmother's youngest sister Aida adored her husband Arturo. Did my great grandfather give in to true love between Grandma's 1922 marriage and Aunt Aida's 1936 marriage? In 1928, the middle sister, Stella Sarracino, married Attilio Sarracino. Same last name, with roots in the same tiny Italian town. Maybe it was pure luck that Aida was head-over-heels in love with her husband Arturo.

By the time my parents were growing up, arranged marriages were no longer common. Did my grandmothers long to see their children marry for love? On her deathbed, Grandma Lucy urged my father to marry his childhood sweetheart back home. And so he did.

Throughout history, families made arranged marriages to:
  • Keep bloodlines pure
  • Join assets, wealth, and power
  • Forge strategic alliances
My godmother/cousin once told me that our family "married within their tribe." That's part of the reason why all my roots lie in a very condensed area of Southern Italy. Even in America, they were more likely to marry someone who spoke the same dialect of Italian. That made a good match.

Take another look at your married ancestors. Can you find any likely arranged couples?

28 July 2020

Can Your Genealogy Work Survive Without You?

Act now to preserve your genealogy treasures and leave instructions.

It happened again. While seeking a source for facts in my family tree, I learned a distant cousin had died. This man jump-started my research into our shared Caruso branch.

More than 10 years ago, he mailed me a book about our shared ancestral hometown. He also sent postcards and a brochure from a lodging he recommended when I visit. The book includes a few handwritten notes about our common ancestors.

I said I'd read the book as fast as possible and mail it back to him. He said, "No, you keep it. My children aren't interested in our heritage at all." That made me so sad.

Today my husband pointed to a new pile of letters and keepsakes my mom mailed to me. He said, "So if you die first, do I throw them out?"

I can hear you all shouting No! But do you have a plan in place? What will happen to your countless hours of research when you're gone?

Think through what you have. Decide on—and document—your succession plan today.

Original Documents

I'm not a big paper person. I have a very small collection of official birth, baptism, marriage, and death records. But you may have stacks of them.

Consider storing them in archival-quality boxes. And keep the boxes in a safe place. I inherited a large metal storage cabinet with drawers, a combination safe, and a door. I've moved all the family photos, baby books, and yearbooks into this cabinet.

It'll be a good place to store my recently acquired letter from my Uncle Johnny. He wrote home to tell my grandparents he was promoted to Staff Sergeant and would be able to send home more money. He dated the letter July 1, 1944. He died when his plane was shot down on a bombing run 6 days later.

Be sure to add sheets of paper that explain what everything is.

Document your family heirlooms as you preserve them for the future.
Document your family heirlooms as you preserve them for the future.


These can come in all shapes and sizes, and their meaning can fade over time. My mom sent me her Washington Irving High School beret, which I recognized from old photos. She graduated in 1949!

My sons won't know what it is, but it conjures up a memory for me. Decades ago, I was in the summer home of my ex-in-laws, retrieving something from the attic. I spotted something intriguing. It was a black bowler hat, perched atop a styrofoam head. Pinned to the hat was a handwritten note that said, simply: "Uncle Anton's hat."

I didn't know who Uncle Anton was at the time, but I never forgot that hat. When I did some research into the family, I found Anton as a young man in Wisconsin. That old keepsake brought Anton's paperwork to life for me.

You need to pass on the story of each keepsake. You can do it verbally, write it down, or both.


I paid a professional photographer for help with my grandparents' 1922 wedding portrait. He photographed it, digitally retouched the damaged areas, and put the new print in my old frame. The original photo is safely wrapped and stored away.

You can correct creases, tears, and color loss by scanning your family photos. Think about different platforms for sharing these treasures with your relatives. I used an invitation-only Pinterest board.

Find a safe place to store the originals, and keep backups of the digital files, too.

Digital Files

I have tons of digital historical files in my family tree collection. But it's the vital records that are most precious. Future researchers can find the census files online, the same as I did.

But my set of Italian vital records from a handful of my ancestral hometowns is unique. My copies of the documents are searchable by name. That's because I've been renaming each file to include the name of the person in the document.

This is something I want to share with other descendants of the towns. I don't own the files, but I own the work I've done.

I have all the files on my computer and synchronized on OneDrive. Once a week, I make an off-computer backup of each digital file I've added to my family tree.

I have a specialized database that will appeal to a particular audience.
I have a specialized database that will appeal to a particular audience.

Your Family Tree

I synchronize my Family Tree Maker file with Ancestry.com after each session of work. To me, this is the best way to make my work available to anyone who might care.

I make backups once or twice during a long day of research. I copy the backups to an external drive each Sunday. They sit on OneDrive, too.

Even if you're already preserving your family tree work, there's one important step we all need to take. Type up a document that explains all you've done. Tell your unnamed successor where to find all the bits and pieces you've stored. Make sure the most important people in your life know what you've done and where to find it.

I want you to enjoy the process of doing genealogy research. But I also want you to work on your family tree as if you'll be gone tomorrow. Your family tree is your legacy. Make sure your work outlives you.

24 July 2020

Catch and Fix Your Missing Source Citations

Wouldn't it be great to have a safety net to catch all your forgotten source citations?

At times we all overlook adding sources to the family tree. When we start out, we don't know any better. Other times we forget or can't be bothered. These unsourced facts add up. And they make our online trees look less reliable.

There are a few reasons why facts in my family tree are missing a source citation:
  1. I never add a source for a person's sex. It seems unnecessary.
  2. I never add a source for an estimated birth year. If it's an estimate, there is no source. It's either 25 years before the birth of their eldest child or 25 years after the birth of their younger parent.
  3. Something happens to distract me in that moment.
  4. I experienced the fact (such as attending a wedding or funeral) but have no documentation.
  5. I'm in an excited rush because I just found all this great information, and I can hardly believe my luck!
Most of the time it's #5.

So, how do we find these unsourced facts before things get even more out of control? In a word: software.

It's easy to create an Undocumented Facts report in Family Tree Maker. Go to Publish / Source Reports / Undocumented Facts. I chose to share it as a CSV file. You can open a Comma-Separated Values file as a spreadsheet in a program such as Excel.

But there is a far better way to do this. This method has more steps, but it will save you so much time in the end.

Follow the steps to create a report and see where sources are missing.
Follow the steps to create a report and see where sources are missing.

I've written many times about the free Family Tree Analyzer program. (Find all articles on the Genealogy Lessons page.) There are so many incredibly useful things to do with it. Now I find it's a great way to identify all your unsourced facts.

Here's how:
  1. Open your latest GEDCOM file with Family Tree Analyzer. (You can export a GEDCOM file from your family tree software, or download it from your online tree.)
  2. Click the Facts tab and check the boxes for all relationship types.
  3. Click the button to Select all Fact Types.
  4. Click the right arrow, which will duplicate the list of fact types.
  5. In this duplicate list, check the box for any fact types you don't want to include in this report. You should exclude facts that you know don't need a source. For example:
    • Child Born. The baby gets a source for their birth date. The parent doesn't need a source for having had the kid.
    • Custom facts. I have a custom Ahnentafel Number fact that doesn't need a source. If you have custom facts, you'll find them in this list in all capital letters.
  6. Click the big button that begins with "Show only the selected Facts for Individuals…."
Your report opens in a new window. At the top of that window, choose to export this report as an Excel file (actually a CSV file). Now open the file in your spreadsheet software.

First, sort the spreadsheet by the source column and delete the many, many rows of facts that DO have a source citation.

Next, delete the unnecessary columns to make things easier to see. I deleted all but Surname, Forenames, DateofBirth, TypeOfFact, FactDate, and Location.

Choose to export your report from Family Tree Analyzer to a spreadsheet.
Choose to export your report from Family Tree Analyzer to a spreadsheet.

I'm left with an awful lot of rows of unsourced facts. But remember, I said I don't source estimated birth years. I can sort or filter the spreadsheet by the DateofBirth column and delete all the rows with "Abt" (short for About). That brings me down to a very manageable 133 rows of unsourced facts.

Finally, I'll sort the data by Surname so I can make my way through this task list. I'll delete a row once I've added the missing source citation to my family tree.

I know the complete dates from the 1800s fit into the category of "I'm in an excited rush." I have the documents to back up these dates. Now I need to go back and finish my work. I suspect some of the years (not full dates) in the 1900s will be birth years I took from a census sheet. Again, I need to finish my work.

It's nice to have this report as a safety net for days when you aren't on your best behavior. It's as if Family Tree Analyzer is your coach or teacher, reminding you to think about what you're doing. And by all means, show your work!