11 August 2020

Keep Track of Your Genealogy Theories and Tasks

I like to work from text-file task lists. I started doing this in my corporate job so I can easily re-prioritize my to-do list. If a task has a deadline, its line begins with the due date: AUG 11, AUG 25, etc. I keep those items in order so I never miss the deadlines.

This blog is about using business sensibilities and efficiencies in your genealogy research. So it makes perfect sense to use the task list idea in your family tree work.

There's no need for special software, although many of you may use Evernote or OneNote. You only need a text editor, like Notepad on a Windows computer or TextEdit on a Mac. I use Notepad++ because I can have a bunch of files open at once and include some HTML code when I need to.

Use your task list to keep track of:

  • Where you left off with a search for an ancestor.
  • Your theory about a particular ancestor and where you might find them.
  • A problem you're trying to solve, like an unreadable last name or conflicting birth dates.
  • Your progress on any of your annual genealogy goals.
  • Links to online pages that may be helpful to you, and a note about why.
  • Reference books you want to find or buy.

For each line item, it may help you to type last names in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Once you have several entries, you can organize them by type, or by branch of your family tree.

Keep a running, constantly updated list of what you're working on in your genealogy research.
Keep a running, constantly updated list of what you're working on in your genealogy research.

Here's an example. I found an unusual 1809 death record for my 5th great grandfather, Vincenzo Liguori. I found it in the 1840 marriage documents of his grandson, my 3rd great grandfather. The problem is:

  • The document doesn't actually say he died in their hometown of Circello
  • It doesn't mention his parents or wife…only his son, my 4th great grandfather
  • It isn't included in the 1809 death records.

I need to find another version of the document in another set of marriage records. I'm missing the names of Vincenzo's grandchildren born before 1809. (Civil record keeping began in 1809 in my part of Southern Italy.) I need to search marriage records for anyone with the name Liguori.

I added this line to my task list:

  • Did Gregorio LIGUORI [Vincenzo's son] & Apollonia Grazia Caruso have a child before 1809? Search Circello marriages starting in 1825 for other Liguori children. (I'm up to 1841.)

The end of that line item tells me where I left off. That's critical to your task list.

Here's another example. My 5th great grandmother Francesca d'Andrea is a dead end. I don't know when she died or who her parents were. I think she came from Pesco Sannita because I see the name d'Andrea on lots of documents from that town. I started looking for people who might be her siblings.

I added this line to my task list:

  • Francesca d'ANDREA's parents may be Giuseppe and Rosa Salamone or Antonio and Vincenza Orlando. That's based on other d'Andrea death records. Search for supporting marriage documents. (Not started.)

Finally, I've been working on a branch of my family tree with the last name Consolazio from Santa Paolina. My closest Consolazio relative is my 2nd great grandmother. I've been renaming the town's vital records files to include the names on the documents. Then I'm trying to fit all the people named Consolazio into my family tree.

I added this to the task list:

  • I'm up to 1828 births reviewing CONSOLAZIO records.

Keep your task list open each time you sit down to work on your family tree. Consult it often. When you finish a task, add a note to the right person in your family tree, explaining how you learned this fact.

The notes in your task list are great reminders of what you've already done to solve a problem. Re-reading these notes may trigger that "aha!" moment and help you finally solve that puzzle.

07 August 2020

Solving 2 Problems to Find My 6th Great Grandparents

Don't stop your research too soon if the documents aren't crystal clear.

My last article convinced me to make a pair of 5th great grandparents my #1 genealogy priority. I needed to find their Italian death records so I could learn the names of 4 more of my 6th great grandparents.

As I began my search, I realized I had already located what might be both their death records in 1816.

The problem was, neither death certificate mentions the deceased's spouse. I needed to prove I had the right death records. He, 80-year-old Saverio Zullo, had a very common last name in their little town. She, 63-year-old Angela Montenigro, had a very uncommon last name. The town's vital records show there may have been only one Montenigro family in town when she was born. (Their age difference may mean Saverio had kids with his 1st wife.)

Before I set out to prove these were the right documents, I had another problem. The clerk in town at the time had awful handwriting. I cannot read the last names of my newfound 6th great grandmothers!

I kept track of my steps as I solved these 2 problems.

It isn't time to rejoice yet. These documents aren't definitively my 5th great grandparents.
It isn't time to rejoice yet. These documents aren't definitively my 5th great grandparents.

Problem #1: Prove the 1816 Death Records Are for My Ancestors

Here is everything I did to determine if I had the right death records:

I searched the town's marriage records before and after 1816, looking for my 5th great grandparents' children.

  • In 1814, their son Saverio married, and his parents were still alive.
  • In 1815, their daughter Berardina married, and her parents were still alive.
  • In 1817, their son Carlo married, and his parents were dead!

Hurray! Only a genealogist is this happy to see that someone's parents have died.

The marriage records suggest Saverio and Angela died between 1815 and 1817. That supports the two 1816 death records as belonging to my 5th great grandparents.

There may be more proof, though. I searched more marriage records, hoping for a rewritten version of their death records. So far, I've gotten up to 1835 in this search. The supporting marriage documents for these years are mostly missing. But eventually I should find more complete marriage records for their grandchildren. Those records may include a rewritten version of Saverio Zullo's death record.

In the meantime, I was anxious about the other problem with the 1816 death records. What did those documents say?

I used several methods to figure out the bad handwriting in my 5th great grandparents' death records.
I used several methods to figure out the bad handwriting in my 5th great grandparents' death records.

Problem #2: Figure Out My 6th Great Grandmothers' Last Names

Figuring out the last names of Saverio and Angela's mothers took a lot more work. Here's what I did:

  • I took my best guess on each letter in the last names. I compared the writing to the other words in the document, and in other documents written by the same clerk. It was clear that neither name had any ascending letters (b, d, f, t, etc.) or descending letters (also f, g, p, etc.). That helped me rule out many possible names.
  • I wrote down the possible letter combinations. I'm familiar with the common last names in this town from having examined so many vital records. These were not common names from the town.
  • I checked a few resources for the name variations I'd written down.
    • For Italian descendants, the Cognomix website shows where to find a last name in Italy today.
    • You can also search for a name on the Italian White Pages website.
    • I checked my digital copy of a book exploring the origins and variations of Italian last names. (Search online for name origins in your ancestral country.)
    • You can search for a last name on FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com to see where people with that name come from.
  • I searched the town's records again for more documents with the 2 mysterious last names. I compared these to my original document. The clerks wrote the names a bit differently each time.
  • I searched for, and found, a sibling for my 5th great grandmother Angela Montenigro. This document gives me another look at my 6th great grandmother Berardina's last name.
  • The 1816 death records are missing an index. But the index for the year Angela's sister died gives me another look at Berardina's last name.

I took all these steps before making a decision. The evidence shows Saverio Zullo's mother, my 6th great grandmother, was Livia Carosa.

Angela Montenigro's mother, my other 6th great grandmother, was Berardina (sometimes Berarda):

  • Lavorana,
  • Laverono, or
  • Lavorino

It's still not clear which version is correct. But I did narrow it down. I'll continue to search for every Montenigro in town, and anyone with a last name that looks like Lavorana, Laverono, or Lavorino. For now, I'll choose which variation to use and add my 4 new 6th great grandparents to my family tree.

Soon I'll move on to my #2 genealogy priority. That is to find my 8 missing 6th great grandparents from the town of Circello, Italy. I'm so thankful for the Italian Antenati website and all the vital records!

Don't give up when a sloppy, indefinite document is all you have. There are so many tools you can use.

04 August 2020

How to Decide Where to Put Your Research Effort

With so many juicy genealogy leads, what should be my priority? If I never had to work, or cook or clean or eat or sleep, I wouldn't need to make this decision.

A few distant relatives have been writing to me from different branches of my family tree. When that happens, I shift gears and work on their branch until I come to a conclusion.

Because of these shiny genealogy objects, I've been bouncing around from:

  • Most of Dad's side, working my way through an amazing reference book about their hometown.
  • My paternal grandmother's maternal side, connecting myself to a cousin in Western Australia.
  • My maternal grandmother's maternal grandmother's side (that's my 2nd great grandmother), collaborating with a distant cousin from that town.

All this bouncing around made me wonder—am I putting my effort in the right places? I've done an enormous amount of work on some of my 7 ancestral hometowns. Should I be working on different towns?

Let's turn this into a game of percentages and let the numbers point us in the right direction.

My family origins are pretty homogeneous. My 8 great grandparents came from 4 neighboring towns in Italy. Once you get to my 3rd great grandparents, a few more towns enter the mix.

Let your ancestors help you set your genealogy research priorities.
Let your ancestors help you set your genealogy research priorities.

We each have 32 3rd great grandparents. Looking only at them in my family tree, I can see how many of the 32 came from each of my 7 ancestral hometowns. I can divide that number by 32 for a percentage of my genetic makeup. Here are my 7 towns, ranked by percentage of my 3rd great grandparents:

  • 11 come from Colle Sannita: 34.34%
  • 8 come from Baselice: 25%
  • 6 come from Sant'Angelo a Cupolo: 18.75%
  • 4 come from Pesco Sannita: 12.5%
  • 1 comes from Apice: 3.125%
  • 1 comes from Circello: 3.125%
  • 1 comes from Santa Paolina: 3.125%

The bottom 3 towns are a small percentage of my origin, but they could be easy to tackle.

In Apice, for example, I've identified half of my 8 6th great grandparents. All were born in the early 1700s. I may find their death records included in their descendants' marriage records. Those documents should tell me their parents' names.

You may still need to build your tree wide to find those missing ancestors.
You may still need to build your tree wide to find those missing ancestors.

Completing Apice wouldn't yield a big percentage of my ancestry. But it should be a reasonably quick task. The same is true for Santa Paolina and Circello. There are lots of vital records available for these 3 towns.

At the other end of the spectrum is Colle Sannita, which makes up more than a third of my family tree. More than a third of me! Next comes beautiful Baselice, which is a quarter of me. And I happen to look just like my great grandmother from Baselice.

The percentages justify the insane amount of time I spend on my Colle Sannita ancestors. It's not only the birthplace of my maiden name; it's very much in my bones.

Then again, when faced with a large task, I always chip off the easy parts first. It's my mental trick to keep me going. When I'm shoveling snow in our driveway, I never commit to doing the whole job in one session. I bargain with myself. I say, "I'll just make a path for one car." And when that's done, and I'm still feeling fine, I say, "I'll just widen that path and clean up the edges."

One bit at a time, I trick myself into doing the whole job. But I never made a commitment. So this bargaining side of me wants to pick off the bottom 3 towns in my list first. I need to find:

  • 4 6th great grandparents from Apice.
  • 8 6th great grandparents from Circello.
  • No 6th great grandparents from Santa Paolina, but 10 missing 7th great grandparents.

I need to tackle those. Looking at my 12.5% town of Pesco Sannita, I need 12 of my 16 6th great grandparents. I haven't spent a lot of time on this town. I'll bet those names are waiting for me.

My next highest town (Sant'Angelo a Cupolo) doesn't have records available before 1861. I don't expect to go back any farther than I have. As for Baselice, that was my "gateway" genealogy town. I spent 5 years viewing the 1809–1860 vital records on microfilm and piecing together families. While there are ton more recent vital records available to me now, I don't think I can go any higher in my family tree; just wider.

There. I've found my priorities, in this order:

  1. Find the 4 missing 6th great grandparents from Apice.
  2. Find the 8 missing 6th great grandparents from Circello.
  3. Search my Santa Paolina records to complete that set of 7th great grandparents. (I've been renaming my collection of vital records to include the name of the person in the document. Game-changer!)
  4. Find the 12 missing 6th great grandparents from Pesco Sannita.
  5. Return to my Colle Sannita book that details the 560 families living there in 1742.

You may set your priorities in a different way. I'll bet you thought I'd go for the highest percentage town first. You didn't know how much I love doing the easy stuff first.

I feel great about this plan. Instead of trying to split my time among the towns, I have specific goals.

You may have hometowns that are almost impossible to research. That will influence your plans. Those towns may call out to you most strongly, but don't let them stop the rest of your progress. So…what are your percentages?