29 September 2020

Be More Thorough with Your Family Tree

I have a mantra for keeping things tidy, and it works for genealogy, too. I call it "all-the-way away," as in "Don't place your shoes by the door. Put them all-the-way away in the closet."

I spent the weekend working on my family tree with this mantra firmly in mind. It's clear that this slower, much more thorough process results in:

  • more discoveries
  • fixing past errors
  • a more fortified family tree

My family tree includes nearly everyone in my small ancestral hometowns. It has 25,306 people. Far too many times I've added names and dates to my tree without being thorough.

When you find a new person to add to your tree, it isn't enough to take down names and dates. You've got to be thorough and add documents and sources right then and there. Put those shoes all-the-way away.

Here's what I'm doing now. I hope it'll inspire you to do something like it.

I've been writing about this book I have, detailing each family in Grandpa's hometown in the year 1742. I want to get every last fact from the book into my family tree. But that means I have to trace all the families back to their ancestors who were alive in 1742. And that means I have to extract every last clue available in the vital records from the town.

I began this journey of thoroughness last week. I chose a last name from the town that's early in the alphabet: Basile. I worked through each Basile in my document tracker spreadsheet. I found and attached missing vital records to each Basile.

I realized I could do a lot more than complete the Basile lines in my document tracker. I could, and should, look at every Basile document in the collection and see if it fits into my family tree. That would be the best possible use of my completely indexed collection of vital records.

No more rushing through the cousins. I found out this cousin used to live near me.
No more rushing through the cousins. I found out this cousin used to live near me.

But wouldn't it be more fun, rewarding, and engaging to start with my maiden name? Why put off the most important name of all, waiting for it to come up in the alphabet?

Instead of going further with the B names, I jumped to the first Iamarino name in my family tree. Abbonnanzia Iamarino was born in 1848. For each Iamarino name in the index of my family tree:

  • I searched my document collection for missing facts
  • I cropped each vital record image and attached it to the right person
  • I created a thorough source citation for each fact taken from each document image
  • I added mention of each new document to my document tracker

I left off on Sunday with Francesco Saverio Iamarino, born on 27 June 1786. It looks as if I have all available vital records for him. I'll mark in my document tracker that his 1st marriage documents are outside the range of available vital records. (His 1st marriage happened before 1802 when he was only 16!)

I can see in my family tree that Francesco Saverio's ancestors are listed in the book of 1742 residents of the town. (I can see this because I use a photo of the book as their profile image.) But one of his grandmothers is a dead end. She was alive in 1742. Is there anything more I can learn about her? I want to be thorough before I move on.

Her name was Angela Caporaso. That wasn't a common last name in this town, so I checked the book's index. I gasped when I saw there was only one Caporaso household in town in 1742.

I turned to entry #9 in the book, and guess what? I found her! This one entry contains a ton of information about Angela's family in 1742:

  • her father Francesco had died by 1742
  • her mother Elisabetta Scrocca, is 42 years old
  • her 17-year-old brother Antonio is now the head of household
  • Angela is 14 years old
  • her brother Giuseppe is 9 years old
  • her older sister Teresa is 22 years old and married to a man from several towns away

None of Angela's family members were in my family tree yet. I would not have found them without thoroughly going through my people one by one. A search of my vital records collection shows no one else named Caporaso in this town. I believe Francesco Caporaso moved here when he married Elisabetta Scrocca. Her name has deep roots in the town. They raised their family here, and it was the first Caporaso family in town. Maybe Angela's brothers Antonio and Giuseppe did not carry on the family name.

Angela Caporaso is no longer a dead-end because I'm squeezing every drop out of the resources that I have. And now I have 25,312 people in my family tree.

One of my goals is to stretch my families far back enough to find them in the 1742 town register.
One of my goals is to stretch my families far back enough to find them in the 1742 town register.

This thorough method is much better than the smash-and-grab genealogy we sometimes do. On Sunday I followed a Donato Iamarino across the ocean to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I found his ship manifest, naturalization papers, and World War II draft registration card. I found his wife's 1958 Pennsylvania death record. I learned that he later moved to Connecticut, where he died in 1981. I was living a few towns away in Connecticut the day he died!

My message to you is to slow down, and enjoy thoroughly exploring each person in your family tree. You don't know where each one will lead you. Each journey may be the most exciting one of all.

25 September 2020

Spinning a Hint into Genealogy Gold

You know those Potential Father, Potential Mother suggestions on Ancestry.com? The ones so many people find ridiculous? I decided to check one out today.

I was randomly viewing my tree on Ancestry. I wanted to see how many people could fit on the screen at once. I wish I could see thousands of them at a time.

The results weren't good, but a pair of bright green potential ancestors caught my eye, so I had a look. I didn't realize at the time that they were potential 7th great grandparents for me.

I usually ignore hints, but this one's from the 1700s. I had to investigate.
I usually ignore hints, but this one's from the 1700s. I had to investigate.

Their last names told me they were from Grandpa Iamarino's hometown. The hometown for which I have the most awesome genealogy book in the world. A book that tells me everyone who lived there in the year 1742.

Antonio Zeolla and Maddalena Pilla were the potential parents of my 6th great grandmother, Libera Zeolla. There were no sources for them in the family tree of my possible cousin. His tree was the source of the hint.

So I turned to my book, "Colle Sannita nel 1742." There's an index that helped me quickly find every household in town with the name Zeolla. There were 19 households with a head-of-household named Zeolla. Household #17 was the one I needed.

In the home of 71-year-old Pietro Giorgio Zeolla, the name Maddalena Pilla jumped out at me. I looked closer and saw she was the wife of Antonio Zeolla. That's the potential couple from Ancestry! But, were they the parents of my Libera Zeolla?

This was a big household with a very long listing in the book. Antonio and Maddalena had 3 young children living there. Their oldest child was 9-year-old Libera.

It's her! My 6th great grandmother Libera Zeolla is in this most wonderful book with lots of relatives. Now I've learned the names of her:

  • parents
  • two younger sisters
  • paternal grandfather
  • uncle
  • two aunts
  • two first cousins (one of whom was already in my family tree)

I now know much more about this family than my possible cousin who's the source of this wonderful hint. Now MY find will become a hint for HIM.

I never expected such a vague hint to be so fruitful.
I never expected such a vague hint to be so fruitful.

Behold the power of an early, detailed census of your ancestral hometown.

This past Wednesday I reviewed every family in the book with my maiden name. Then I began filling in their missing documents in my document tracker spreadsheet.

Now I'm thinking…I need to find more Potential Fathers and Potential Mothers to investigate. I routinely ignore hints, but I may have some early ancestors hiding there. The key is simple: Do your own research to prove a hint right or wrong.

22 September 2020

Imagine a Register of Your Entire Ancestral Hometown

I love when people tell me they aren't Italian, but my advice helps with their genealogy research. I try to keep my articles generic. But since I'm all Italian, I have to use Italian examples as illustration.

I've avoided writing about my new favorite genealogy treasure. It makes my heart swell every time I use it. But it's so specific. Not only to Italian ancestry, but to my grandfather's hometown. (Oh boy, here she goes again with Colle Sannita.)

Indulge me, though, because you will wish you had one of these for your ancestral hometown. And some of you may. At the bottom of this article are 46 Italian towns with a similar book.

Years ago a man found my post on an Italian message board devoted to my grandfather's hometown. That man, Dr. Fabio Paolucci, came from Grandpa's town, and is a local historian. He told me my maiden name of Iamarino is one of the original names from the town of Colle Sannita. Sometime later, he gave me my paternal family tree, dating back to the year 1690.

At that time, Italian vital records were not online. And Italian church records (from my area) are still not online. So Fabio provided me with something that was impossible for me to get on my own.

He pored over the oldest records from the town, piecing together hundreds of families. I knew he was writing a book, but I didn't know what it would contain. Until I finally got my hands on "Colle Sannita nel 1742" (nel means in).

Like a census, Italian towns produced a register (catasto) of every person in their town. This register lists the assets owned by the head of household. From individual plots of land to the number of sheep and mules. Based on their assets, the town calculated each household's tax.

This register also lists the names, ages, and occupations of each member of the household. In the book, I have the names, ages, and assets of each family living in my grandfather's hometown in the year 1742!

This detailed description of each household in my ancestral hometown is the best genealogy tool ever!
This detailed description of each household in my ancestral hometown is the best genealogy tool ever!

My family tree already contained a good number of people born in the 1700s. But this book is helping me form their families and nail down each person's year of birth. That's invaluable! I'm also getting a better idea of life in these early years. Many of the households owned several plots of land, including many vineyards. Most families owned their own home. Several households included a man and his immediate family, his widowed mother, and his siblings and their families.

There were 560 households in town in 1742. I'm up to #343, looking for each family in my tree. If I find a match:

  • I add the names, ages, and occupations of each member of the family.
  • I give each fact a source I created for the book, including a photo of the book cover.
  • I make the book cover the profile photo for each person, unless they already have a document as their photo. In that case, I add the book cover to their collection of images.

This makes it easy to track everyone I found in the book. In Family Tree Maker, I can view the image and see that I've identified 406 people from the book so far.

This past weekend I followed my own advice to make one thing perfect in my family tree. I worked my way through everyone in my tree with the last name Basile (bah-ZEEL). I found each person's available vital records within my collection of the town's records.

Then I turned to my new favorite book and found 13 people named Basile to document in my family tree. (There are more, but I can't fit them into my tree yet.)

It was such a rewarding weekend. I chose Basile because it was the first Colle Sannita name early in the alphabet that came to mind. Halfway through I thought, "why didn't I start with my maiden name?" So that's what I'll do next. I'll find all the available vital records for everyone name Iamarino in my family tree. And I'll use the Colle Sannita book to find even more details about those alive in 1742.

I worked through everyone in my family tree with one name, and completed their records and source citations.
I worked through everyone in my family tree with one name, and completed their records and source citations.

If you do have Italian ancestry, check the list below for your towns. I found these by searching for "catasti" on the publisher's website. I bought my book online using PayPal, and they shipped it quickly. The books sell for 30 Euro, but with shipping, it was more than $60. Still, the best money I ever spent.

Town registers available from the same publishing company are:

Aiello Casale di Atripalda
Apice (I need that one!)
Colle Sannita
Massa Lubrense
Pellezzano (part of Salerno)
Pertosa (part of Caggiano)
Ponte Cagnano Faiano
Prata Sannita
San Cipriano
San Giorgio della Montagna
San Pietro di Scafati
Santa Maria Capua
Tavernola Casale d'Atripalda
Vico Equense

These books are a dream come true for someone like me, with deep roots in one or more of these towns.