26 January 2021

Get the Most of a Free Newspapers.com Trial

I envy those of you who can find your ancestors' names in old newspapers. My people seemed to completely avoid making news.

There are no marriage announcements. No soirees on the society page. No birth announcements.

Last weekend I needed to see a 2002 obituary so I can try to help a woman research her birth parents. To see that obituary, I signed up for a free trial subscription to newspapers.com.

Since I have access for a few days, I may as well give my family searches another try. I started with some generic searches.

A search for my maiden name brings up an endless amount of articles mentioning my brother. He was the commissioner of different college sports conferences for many years. But as I scrolled beyond the Commissioner Iamarino articles, I found something else.

My brother was a sports writer for our local paper when he was fresh out of college. I downloaded 8 of his articles from the late 1970s and sent them to him. He has lots of saved articles from those days, but not these. He was happy to receive them.

Refine and restrict your search to keep from getting lost in the results.
Refine and restrict your search to keep from getting lost in the results.

Look for Specific People

I tried a search for my full name. The one result was my sister's wedding announcement, which mentioned me. There wasn't an announcement for my wedding. Was I supposed to do that myself?

I went back further in my family tree. I searched for my great grandparents last names: Sarracino/Saracino and Saviano. Nothing. One recent article mentioned a distant Saviano cousin, but it had no value for me.

I shifted to my upstate New York relatives. My great grandmother who lived there was a Caruso, and she had a few brothers. I restricted my Caruso search to Chemung County, New York, in the early 1900s. I had to weed through a ton of articles on the famous singer, Enrico Caruso.

I did find one Caruso family that lived on the street where my grandmother was born. But I can't figure out their connection. Now I need to explore my great grandmother's Caruso nieces and nephews.

Search for Specific Events

I thought about an event from my childhood that I wanted to look up. A terrible car crash. It was May 18, 1970, and a pickup truck crossed into our lane and hit us head-on. This was before the days of seat belts. Our car's passenger door flew open, and I watched the pavement speeding past my face. My mom held onto me by my clothing with one hand, and steered us into a ditch on the side of the road with the other.

I was 10 years old. My mom saved my life. She suffered a broken collar bone and a bone-deep gash in her shin. I got cuts and scratches. But I have no idea what happened next. Mom must have gone to the hospital. Did I? I remember a passerby recognized us and stopped. She took the groceries from our wrecked car and drove them home to my brother and sister. That had to be interesting. I'll have to ask the family what they recall.

The local newspaper in 1970 was surprisingly thick in the middle of the week. I went through 44 pages hoping to find mention of the crash. But there was nothing.

I knew all about Dad's jet fighter bail out, but seeing all the news coverage is priceless.
I knew all about Dad's jet fighter bail out, but seeing all the news coverage is priceless.

Limit the Search Results

To get past my brother's very public career, I narrowed down my maiden name search. I searched for my Dad's full name and quickly found something wonderful. My dad was an Air Force pilot who had to bail out of his crashing, disintegrating F84F jet airplane in 1955. I know the story well.

I already had a poor quality copy of an Athens, Alabama, article about the crash. It was big news in the little town where it happened. Now I have an excellent quality copy of that article, and several more mentions of the crash from other Alabama newspapers.

Next I thought about my Sarracino cousins in Western Pennsylvania. I searched for their last name and their town name. I found a few World War II-era mentions of the Sarracino brothers. The youngest one, Luigi, the article says, had just entered Basic Training.

I remembered that poor young Luigi is the one brother who died in the war.

My family hasn't left me many treasures in newsprint. But you'll probably do better. I mentioned I'm helping a woman investigate her birth parents. I found lots of obituaries for her family, and a big scandal that almost swallowed up her birth mother. That was a wild ride!

If you want to start a free one-week trial of newspapers.com, you may or may not see the offer on their website. I found it by searching Ancestry.com for obituaries. When I clicked to view the image of an obituary, I got the free trial offer.

Get your thoughts together. What will you search for? Try to have a bunch of searches ready to go, and make the best use of your time.

19 January 2021

Search the Treetops to Focus Your Genealogy Research

My family tree has exploded to include more than 26,000 people. My grand mission—to connect Grandpa's entire town—is making it grow faster than ever.

When you've done a ton of research, it can be hard to see where your tree needs more work. And that's exactly what I want to know. Where should I focus to get the most bang for the buck?

I need a way to see exactly where the gaps are in my family tree.

Three ways to visualize these research gaps come to mind.

1. Grandparent Chart

My grandparent chart spreadsheet lists all my direct ancestors by their Ahnentafel number. I use color-coding to separate 4 main branches—1 color for each of my grandparents.

I've been good about keeping this spreadsheet up to date. But when I get to the higher generations, it takes a lot of scrolling to see where the gaps are. This tool isn't quite right for this task.

This Ahnentafel chart keeps tabs on the direct ancestors in my family tree. But it doesn't highlight the dead ends very well.
This Ahnentafel chart keeps tabs on the direct ancestors in my family tree. But it doesn't highlight the dead ends very well.

2. Family Tree Analyzer

I knew that the free Family Tree Analyzer tool has a report called Treetops. It lets you see the earliest known members of your tree on different branches. These are the people with no ancestors in your family tree. They are each the "treetops" of a particular branch.

This report still didn't give me the visualization I wanted. I was hoping to see the dead ends, to clearly see the gaps in my research.

The Treetops report in Family Tree Analyzer finds all the dead ends in your genealogy research. But it doesn't show where each person fits.
The Treetops report in Family Tree Analyzer finds all the dead ends in your genealogy research. But it doesn't show where each person fits.

3. Family Tree Fan Chart

I thought a family tree chart might be just what I needed. I could have used the charting functionality of my Family Tree Maker software, but colors might be helpful.

I'd been thinking of revisiting Charting Companion by Progeny Genealogy to see if I wanted to buy it. Now was the perfect time to kill two birds with one stone.

I downloaded the free trial version to see what was new since I owned a very early version years ago.

After looking at a few types of charts, I realized a fan chart of all my direct ancestors is exactly what I need for this project.

An ancestor fan chart is just the thing to provide an instant, visual guide for your ongoing family tree research.
An ancestor fan chart is just the thing to provide an instant, visual guide for your ongoing family tree research.

I created a chart of 9 generations of my ancestors. I printed it to a PDF so I can zoom in to read names, and I can see the color banding. I also printed a copy to my black and white laser printer. I trimmed the 4 pages and taped them together to make a big chart.

On the paper version, I used a highlighter pen to mark the treetops—the oldest known ancestor on a branch of my family tree.

Now I have a true visualization of the branches needing more research.

Each branch has its own challenges. On my maternal grandmother's branch, my research is cut off because there are very few vital records available for their Italian hometown. On other branches I've identified my 7th great grandparents, born between the late 1600s and early 1700s. Until I can access earlier church records, this is as far as I can go.

This exercise got me exactly what I wanted. It's an easy-to-read chart of my direct ancestors most in need of more research.

My ancestor fan chart, with all the treetops highlighted, becomes a road map for my family tree research.
My ancestor fan chart, with all the treetops highlighted, becomes a road map for my family tree research.

My quest to piece together Grandpa's entire town is wonderful, but enormous. If I could focus that project on my direct ancestors first, it'd be more fun and inspiring. Three quarters of my paternal ancestors came from Grandpa's hometown. I can try to break through those treetops while working on Grandpa's hometown project at the same time.

Last week I finished a major task so I could work on Grandpa's hometown project. I renamed every available vital record from the town (Colle Sannita, Benevento, Italy) to include the name of the subject. Then I made an easily searchable text file and Excel file of all the data and published it.

Those renamed files make it as easy as it can possibly be for me to break through three quarters of my paternal treetops. If I can't find what I need, then I've done all I can with what's available.

Do you know where all your treetops are? Have you done all you can to expand them?

13 January 2021

The Loss of a Cousin Stirs Up Memories

Mom's 1st cousin died last night, making her the oldest member of the family she grew up with and grew old with.

As genealogists, many of us make a mental note to add the date to our family tree, and I will. But right now I'm flooded with sweet memories of my childhood. And the last thing my cousin said to me.

I love to spend my time digging through the vital records of my ancestors from the last 2 centuries. I've felt sadness again and again over the death of babies born to my relatives in the 1800s. But when a close relative dies, and your own past experiences come to mind, you know what family means.

The very atmosphere of your close family defines you. My atmosphere was filled with fun, laughs, and lots of great Italian cooking. It made my childhood a happy one.

I was watching "Finding Your Roots" on TV when our cousin died. It struck me that the show's guests knew a bit about some of the stories that came to light. But they didn't know the whole picture.

It seems to me we need to think back on our memories and tug on the threads of each story we can recall. Then we can try to learn more through research.

My cousin was the only child of the most enterprising woman in my family—my grandmother's sister Stella. Stella was an extraordinary maker of bridal gowns. She was quite famous in the Bronx. Stella had her wits fully about her up until she died, just short of her 97th birthday.

Stella's husband Attilio, my late cousin's father, died at age 32 in 1940. I was always curious about his having the same last name as Stella and my grandmother: Sarracino. Shortly before she died, Stella told me she and Attilio were not cousins, despite the name. She knew this because they were given permission to marry.

But Attilio's roots stretched deep into the same small Italian town as Stella. A lack of records for that little town is keeping me from climbing further up Attilio's family tree. But I have found his 4 grandparent and each of their fathers. So I know any relationship between Stella and Attilio was distant enough for them to marry.

Research helps bring an ancestor's memory to life.
Research helps bring an ancestor's memory to life.

I'll never forget the day in 2012 when a large group of my close relatives went to bury Mom's sister. We were in the cemetery where nearly my entire family is buried.

The cousin with the most knowledge of the cemetery, led the group of us around to see our ancestors' graves. Then we decided we needed to find Attilio Sarracino's grave. His daughter, who died last night, said she had never seen his grave. Never seen it!

So we all fanned out, canvasing the rows nearest to my 2nd great grandparents' grave. At last, someone found him and called out to the group. When my late cousin reached her father's grave, I know her heart became full. She was 11 years old when he died, so her memory of him was probably thin. Perhaps she felt regret over the lack of memories—over losing him so early in her life.

My deep-dive research into my Italian ancestors won't bring these types of stories to light. But through my research I've found a real connection to their names and their towns. I feel sadness when a couple from the 1840s loses their young child. I feel anguish when I find another relative who died in the 1805 earthquake in their area. I feel pride when I trace an ancestor back to the 1600s in the very same town.

On we go, learning more and more about our ancestors. Today I'm inspired to look closer at the limited vital records from my Sarracino ancestral hometown. Can I learn more about Attilio's roots? Will I ever be able to say, while thinking of my late cousin, "Here's why your parents were distant cousins"?

On we go.