23 February 2021

Genealogy Challenge Accepted!

I've been working day after day on my ultimate genealogy goal. I'm busily fitting Grandpa's entire town in Italy into my family tree.

It can get tedious sometimes. There are a lot of steps involved in adding a person to my tree with their vital records and source citations. And I want to do it right.

Then a string of genealogy challenges came my way. At first I didn't want to be bothered. Then I accepted those challenges and had a lot of fun completing them!

My first reaction to this genealogy challenge was, "so what?" But it quickly got interesting.
My first reaction to this genealogy challenge was, "so what?" But it quickly got interesting.

Genealogy Challenge #1: Is He Our Relative?

Recently, my father pointed me to a stranger's obituary out of the blue. He was a 90-year-old man in Ohio who was born in my Grandpa's hometown. The obituary provided plenty of clues. The man himself is not in my collection of vital records from the town, but his parents are. And each of their birth records includes a note in the margin confirming who they married.

I kept searching generation after generation until I found a match in my family tree. The man's last name was familiar to Dad and me. But his blood connection to us was through his mother. That connection led to Dad's 6th great grandfather, Giancamillo Martuccio, born around 1667.

This challenge went quickly, and in the end, the man in the obituary Dad found was his 7th cousin. It made me think I should be scouring obituaries for familiar names! I wrote back to Dad with a chart showing their relationship. They were born two years apart, and the man died in a city where Dad once lived.

Genealogy Challenge #2: Who Are My Cousins?

My old friend is a private detective. When an adopted woman came to him for information about her birth family, he referred her to me.

She knew her parents' names, and their families happen to come from a town just north of me. I used a free trial of newspapers.com to learn about her birth mother, including a close brush with disaster.

With access to the woman's DNA matches, I was able to point out three of her 2nd cousins and a possible half-sibling. Now I leave it to her to decide if she wants to make contact.

For me, it was a confidence-building experience.

Genealogy Challenge #3: Who Were His Parents?

I belong to Facebook groups dedicated to my two grandfathers' hometowns in Italy. Once in a while someone will post a photo of an ancestor from the town.

That's irresistible to me! In one case, the photo showed a married couple. Now they're in my family tree. In another case, I helped a distant cousin in South America piece together his ancestors.

Then someone posted a funeral card with a photo of the man on it. I saw the reactions from group members who had fond memories of the man. He was a traffic policeman in the town, which seems strange, knowing how quiet the town is.

I decided to find his ancestors and see if this nice man belonged in my family tree. Luckily, he was born in the second-to-last year of available birth records from the town. Now I knew his parents' names and was ready to keep climbing.

I rarely learn anything about my Italian relatives, so this challenge had a big payoff.
I rarely learn anything about my Italian relatives, so this challenge had a big payoff.

It took almost no time to find a blood connection. The man was my 1st cousin 3 times removed. My color-coded family tree told me at a glance that he is on my paternal grandfather's branch. And his last name told me that Grandpa's mother is the connection. This nice man, so well loved, is the first cousin of my great grandmother.

His mother's family stretched into another town, but I kept building her tree. And the man's wife, whose name is in the margin of his birth record, turns out to be my 5th cousin once removed.

My 26,907-person (and growing) family tree makes all the townspeople relatives!

Do people sometimes ask you to put your genealogy talents to work? Accept that genealogy challenge if it intrigues you. Solving the puzzle can prove that you are the go-to genealogy resource.

Keep your mind open, put your skills to work, and accept that genealogy challenge.

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.

16 February 2021

Get Your Fill of Virtual Genealogy Events

The genealogy conferences I've gone to were within driving distance, or a train ride away. But they were still a hassle. I had to book a hotel room, pay for travelling, and eat at restaurants. Now we're all realizing how much we can do virtually.

Let's take a look at a few of the upcoming, virtual genealogy conferences you may want to experience. These are roughly in chronological order.

Mark your calendar and register now for any or all of these virtual genealogy conferences. Some of them are free!
Mark your calendar and register now for any or all of these virtual genealogy conferences. Some of them are free!

21st Century Italian Genealogy with a New Jersey Focus

I'm attending this February 22, 2021, conference because I'm familiar with the presenter, Michael Cassara. Michael will give an Italian genealogy overview. He'll also talk about some resources that may be new to you. Register for free online.

RootsTech Connect

In the past, RootsTech has streamed many of its lectures and seminars for free. This year, the entire conference is virtual and completely free.

From their website: "RootsTech Connect will be live during February 25–27, 2021, at rootstech.org. All of the content will then be available following the live event for at least 12 months."

If you haven't registered, take a moment to do so right now.

Be sure to mark your calendar for February 25. It's almost here!

Family Tree University

Family Tree Magazine is hosting this conference from March 12–14, 2021, so you'll need to enroll soon. For your enrollment fee, you get unlimited access to 15 video classes on these topics:

  • using DNA to track down ancestors
  • the latest tools and technology to benefit your research
  • strategies and resources for finding your ancestors
  • genealogy organization tips and preservation strategies

The list above comes directly from their website at https://university.familytreemagazine.com/courses/winter-2021-virtual-genealogy-conference.

IGGP German Genealogy Conference

The International German Genealogy Partnership is holding a virtual conference from July 17–24, 2021. But they're offering earlybird pricing through March 31. Go to https://iggpartner.org to see which registration package is best for you.

New England Regional Genealogical Consortium Conference

The NERGC is having their first-ever virtual conference that will last 2 full months, from April 1–May 31, 2021. For full details go to the conference website and click Fees, Agenda, and Featured Speakers at the top of the page.

To find more virtual genealogy conferences, go to https://conferencekeeper.org/conferences. If you're on Facebook, go to the Events section and enter "genealogy" in the search box. I think you'll be surprised.

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.

09 February 2021

How to Weed Out Those Unreliable Sources

Once in a while I spot them in the details of my family tree. Those questionable, unreliable sources.

When we're new to genealogy, we're more likely to borrow facts from the trees of strangers. It's a quick way to move things along. It can flesh out a more distant branch of relatives.

If you want your tree to be a reliable source for others, you cannot keep these lesser sources. You must trade them for the real thing. If it's an immigration fact, find that ship manifest and add the proper source. If it's a birth, marriage, or death record, track it down and record the source.

Our people deserve much better than the unreliable sources we're guilty of using.
Our people deserve much better than the unreliable sources we're guilty of using.

I needed an easy way to find all the low-quality sources hiding in my very large family tree file.

First I exported an up-to-date GEDCOM file. Not familiar with that term? It's a text file containing the names, facts, and relationships of everyone in your tree. Any decent family tree software can export a GEDCOM. If you keep your tree online only, you should be able to download a GEDCOM.

Next, I launched the free Family Tree Analyzer (FTA) program. It can tell you more about your family tree than you can imagine. Then I used FTA to open my new GEDCOM file.

On the program's Main Lists tab, I chose Sources. There I found a long list of every source in my family tree—309 of them. It showed me how many uses there are for each one. I clicked the top of the FactCount column to sort the sources from least used to most used. It won't surprise my regular readers that the bulk of my sources are from the State Archives of Benevento. That's where I find Italian vital records for my ancestors.

For me, it's the least used sources that are most likely to be unreliable. They're the ones I used early on, when I didn't know any better.

While I can see all my sources in Family Tree Maker, Family Tree Analyzer shows me how many times I'm using each one.
While I can see all my sources in Family Tree Maker, Family Tree Analyzer shows me how many times I'm using each one.

I decided to replace the "Someone's Family Tree" sources first. They centered around my 4th cousin 5 times removed, Giovannangela Mascia. She was born in my Grandpa Iamarino's hometown in southern Italy. Her husband came from a nearby town, and that's where they raised their children.

I can't remember how I discovered this family in someone's tree years ago. But now there's no reason on earth for a stranger's tree to be my only source for these people. I have Giovannangela's birth and marriage records on my computer. They're in my collection of all the available records from Grandpa's hometown. Her husband and children's birth records are all available online.

It was time to replace every mention of "Someone's Family Tree" as the source for this family's facts. I started by finding Giovannangela's birth and marriage records on my computer. Then I found birth records for her husband and kids online. I added the document images to my family tree along with a proper source citation.

For her family, I attributed the facts to:

The State Archives of Campobasso
Birth records for (year) in Riccia, Campobasso, Campania, Italy
The exact URL where anyone can find the document

According to this other person's tree, part of the family came to America. I went to Ancestry.com to find their ship manifests for myself. One of Giovannangela's sons spent 14 years in Philadelphia before returning to Italy. He made a trip in 1901 to bring back his parents. I was very surprised by his parents' ages. Giovannangela was 75 years old, and her 83-year-old husband was senile.

They may be the oldest Italians I've seen coming to America. Both died a few years later.

Now I have a proper "New York, Passenger and Crew Lists" source citation for these facts. As I add these reliable sources, I can remove the unreliable source.

You may have developed good genealogy habits along the way, as I have. But your early work can cast doubt on the value of your family tree.

I encourage you to examine your source list and find any that you know are not high quality. Concentrate on replacing them one at a time. Pull your early work up to your current, more professional standards.

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.

02 February 2021

Reaping the Benefits of Genealogy Legwork

Two weeks ago I wrote about searching the treetops to break through your dead ends. Let me tell you about the great success I had. Here's how I did it:

  • I printed out a large fan chart of my ancestors.
  • I used a highlighter to mark the names of my oldest known ancestors.
  • Three-eighths of my family lines come from one Italian town, Colle Sannita. I began there because I've created the ultimate database of every available vital record from that town.
  • One by one, I searched my database for the names of my highlighted ancestors.
  • I found the death records of EIGHT of my 6th great grandparents! They were sitting there, waiting for me to find them. Now I know the names of their parents—my 7th great grandparents.
Printing a fan chart of my ancestors made it clear where most of my roots come from. I'm researching that town full blast!
Printing a fan chart of my ancestors made it clear where most of my roots come from. I'm researching that town full blast!

In some cases, things got even better. Take my 6th great grandfather, Giorgio Iacobaccio. He was one of my dead ends, born in 1733. I knew his wife was Antonia Cioccia, and I had plenty of information about 3 of their children.

When I found a record of Giorgio's 1791 death, I had the names of his parents, born in the very early 1700s. That made them suitable for my favorite research aid.

I'm the proud owner of a book that details every living person in my ancestral town in the year 1742. That year the town performed a full census, listing:

  • the head of household and his age
  • whether he owned or rented his home
  • everything he owned, from donkeys and sheep to vegetable gardens and vineyards
  • the name, age, and relationship of everyone living in the household

It's a freaking gold mine of information. Exploring my treetops often leads me to search for a family in the 1742 census. I found my 6th great grandfather Giorgio Iacobaccio in the book because I knew his parents' names.

There I learned so much more.

Giorgio lived in the home of his uncle Carlo. Carlo was a 51-year-old shoemaker who lived in his own house, and owned 2 other houses. He had a donkey and 5 different plots of land.

Carlo didn't have a wife or children in his home. He had his mother, Camilla Grasso—my 8th great grandmother born in 1669. And he had his sister-in-law (my 7th great grandmother) Caterina and her children. This told me that my 7th great grandfather (Carlo's brother Nicola) was dead by 1742. His widow Caterina diPinto lived in Carlo's house with her 4 children.

My 6th great grandfather Giorgio, formerly my dead end, was the 2nd oldest child at age 9. The youngest child, Margherita, was only 4. So I know my 7th great grandfather Nicola must have died between 1738 and 1742.

When I searched for my next dead end, Giorgio's wife Antonia Cioccia, I had the same luck. I found her family in the 1742 census, and I found the name of my 8th great grandfather Carlo Cioccia, born about 1677.

Pairing up my own hometown database of vital records with an historian's book about the town is breaking through to new generations.
Pairing up my own hometown database of vital records with an historian's book about the town is breaking through to new generations.

Before I search the treetops of my other ancestral towns, I want to keep exploring the 1742 census. Each time I place a 1742 family into my family tree, I put a checkmark by their listing in the book. And I cross out their listing in the index. My goal is to place the entire book in my tree.

This is the ultimate jigsaw puzzle. I'm viewing each unchecked family in the book and searching for their names in my town database. Sometimes I get lucky and make a positive ID. Then the whole family goes into my tree.

This entire exercise is making my family tree grow so fast! I'm busy adding facts, documents, and sources. After a long day of adding details, I synchronize my Family Tree Maker file with my tree on Ancestry.com.

Why am I doing all this, going so far? I'm creating the ultimate resource for every descendant of this town. (I have shared my database, too.) We are all over the world, living in different cultures, but formed by the same roots.

This will be my legacy. What will yours be?

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.

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.

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

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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?

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

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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.

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.

05 January 2021

Skip a Generation to Fill in the Blanks

You're closing in on an ancestor's birth record that you've wanted forever. You didn't find it in a search result. No. You found the birth date listed on other documents.

Then one day you discovered that his hometown's vital records are available online. And here you are, going page by page, looking for that important date.

But Murphy's Law beat you to it. The exact page you need is missing! Oh, the humanity!

Even if pages aren't missing, you may find that several years are missing. With most of my towns, the marriage records from 1861 through 1930 are not available. Birth records are hit-or-miss in the early 1900s and end in 1915. It breaks my heart every single time I run up against those missing records.

What can you do? How can you learn who your 2nd great granduncle married when the marriage records aren't available?

The answer is time travel…in a manner of speaking. Skipping ahead a generation can help you find the facts.

Let's say you have a 2nd great granduncle born in 1860. Since the marriage records end that same year, you won't find his marriage record. But you may find his children's birth records. You may find their marriage records, too. And if the evidence is clear, you may learn who your 2nd great granduncle married.

Note: Sometimes you get lucky and find who and when they married written in the column of their birth record. I love when that happens!

I spent my holiday vacation renaming thousands of document images. They're marriage records from my Grandpa's hometown in Italy. I finished the marriages through 1860, renaming each file to include the subject(s) of the document. Then I jumped ahead to tackle the remaining marriage records from 1931 through 1942.

It made me so happy to find Grandpa's younger sister's wedding. There was a treasure in there. She was born in 1922, and the birth records stop at 1915. My grandaunt's 1922 birth record can only be found in her 1941 marriage records. So now I have it!

Only by paging through all the records could I learn more about this family.
Only by paging through all the records could I learn more about this family.

Let's look at how to examine these 1930s marriage records for new relationships. I randomly chose the 1931 marriage of Giovannantonio Marino and Concetta Iamarino. The marriage record tells me Concetta is 25 years old. The birth records for that year (1906) are not available.

I see that her parents are Pasquale Iamarino and Orsola Marino. That couple, born in 1862 and 1863, is in my tree. He is my 2nd cousin 4 times removed, and I know they married in 1889 because it's written on both their birth records. Until now, I never knew they had a daughter named Concetta because she was born in a year with no records.

Now I can add Concetta to my family tree as the daughter of my 2nd cousin 4 times removed. I can add the details of her 1931 marriage. And I can piece together her husband's family.

In Concetta's case, I already knew when her parents married. But there will be cases where a 1930s marriage will fill in the blanks on dead ends in my family tree. Let's not forget the 1880s birth records, either. They will hold children of men and women who are in my family tree, but whose marriage documents are out of range. It's their kids who will tell me who many of my 1840's-and-later babies married.

These renamed documents help me fill in the blanks for missing people.
These renamed documents help me fill in the blanks for missing people.

These later documents sometimes provide copies of out-of-range death records, too. They can point me to a first marriage that may have resulted in children who are new to me.

It can be difficult to skip a generation this way. You have to make certain there's enough evidence. (See Are You Sure They're the Same Person?) Be sure you have enough facts to know you've found the right family. No matter where your people came from, there were probably several people in their town with the same exact name. Pay attention to who their father was.

The important thing to remember is that you don't know which records will fill in those blanks. It pays to go through them all. That's my goal: to piece together everyone from Grandpa's town. We're all related! And I'm determined to find out how.

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

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29 December 2020

Harvesting Clues from Your DNA Matches

My DNA matches continue to disappoint me. After ignoring them for a while, I decided to browse through my new matches. I filtered my Ancestry DNA results to show only unviewed matches with a family tree.

I quickly viewed and dismissed about a dozen of them. What good is your tree if it has 3 people? Or if you include only living, unnamed people?

At last I found someone I could latch onto and research. His family tree contains only 6 people including himself. But I knew I was looking at ancestors with ties to my mother's side. That set my expectations on what to look for.

This is why I always say you've got to learn the last names from your ancestral hometowns. I looked at this skimpy tree and saw only 2 last names: d'Onofrio and Ferro. I knew from experience that those names come from my maternal grandfather's hometown.

I searched the vital records I have on my computer for the town of Baselice. I was looking for Leonardo d'Onofrio born in 1913 and Maria Addolorata Ferro born in 1912. I found both their birth records! I felt lucky because the birth records end in 1915, and some years are missing.

If you can find one or two of your DNA match's ancestors, you're in! Do the #genealogy research your DNA match can't seem to do.
If you can find one or two of your DNA match's ancestors, you're in! Do the genealogy research your DNA match can't seem to do.

These are, without a doubt, the right people. Each one's birth record has a note in the margin saying they married the other in 1937. I have their marriage records, too.

With their documents open on one monitor, I launched Family Tree Maker on another. Would I be able to place them in my family tree? My DNA match is a 4th to 6th cousin. It may take some work to make the connection.

My first step was to check my family tree for the bride and groom—my DNA match's parents. They are not in my tree, but I can search the town's vital records for their parents. Hopefully I'll find a place where they fit.

I started with the groom's mother, Maria Teresa Pettorossi. I found her birth record in 1870. It named her parents and each of their fathers. That helped me positively ID her parents, who were already in my tree. Now I had a relationship to these people. But it wasn't a blood relationship.

I continued searching for each parent and seeing if they fit into my family tree. Because I spent 5 years piecing together the families of the town of Baselice, these new people all have a place. Unfortunately, their relationships to me are all through marriage. There was a lot of intermarrying in this somewhat isolated hill town. I'll bet I'm a 4th to 6th cousin of everyone from Baselice.

The best part of this exercise is how it's filling in missing marriages. There are tens of thousands of vital records available for this town. But the marriage records end in 1860 and pick up again in 1931. If I follow the children and grandchildren of the 1850s babies in my tree, I can figure out who they married.

I always intended to figure out missing marriages this way. This new DNA match is a good reason to start.

Because this is "my" town, i added several generations in a heartbeat.
Because this is "my" town, I added several generations in a heartbeat.

There is one person in this family group I can't positively identify. I need an Angelamaria Petruccelli born in about 1851. There were 2 babies with that name born a few months apart, and I can't be sure which is the right one.

Because of that uncertainty, I can't go any further. As of now, this DNA match has at least 6 different relationships to me. But each one involves a marriage somewhere up the line.

Don't be too disappointed if you can't find a meaningful relationship to a distant DNA match. Focus on your closer matches. Then use the more distant ones to fill in some gaps in your own family tree. Take the facts they know from oral history, and back them up with documents.

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

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22 December 2020

Your Ancestor's Location is Critically Important

Q: What's a top reason why people mistakenly put OUR relatives in THEIR family trees?

A: They're not looking at a map.

The first time I saw this happen, someone put my grandfather in her family tree. She took him and gave him different parents, different siblings, and a different wife. MY grandfather! It's not as if his last name was so uncommon that he must belong in her tree. You can find the name Leone in every part of Italy.

You owe it to your genealogy research to learn about:

  • the place where your ancestors lived, and
  • what was happening when they lived there.

Take a look at Germany, Poland, and Prussia in the first half of the 20th century. The borders kept moving. Which country was it when your ancestor was born?

Carefully consider the location when reviewing a promising family tree search result.
Carefully consider the location when reviewing a promising family tree search result.

Research shows that my Italian ancestors barely moved an inch until the 1890s. Remember that woman who stole my grandfather? If she had looked at a map, she would have seen that he was born hours away from his incorrect parents and siblings.

He's not your man, my friend.

Now, I have seen some people from my ancestral hometowns move—to the next town. If a young man met and agreed to marry a young woman from a town or two away, one of them had to move.

It was common for the couple to marry in the bride's town. That's where you should look for the marriage records. But they often lived and raised a family in the groom's town. That's because he was more likely to inherit land and a home.

Check to see if your ancestral town's marriage records include marriage banns. Those are a public notice of the intention to marry. If so, look at the banns in the groom's town. These documents may tell you where the bride comes from, if you don't know. In all the Italian marriage records I've seen, the banns do not have their own index, so you have to page through them. Only the actual marriage records have an index.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course. In 1840 when my 3rd great grandfather married my 3rd great grandmother, he moved to her town. But check the map! His town borders her town. They may have lived a short walk apart.

Don't expect your early ancestors to move hours away for the birth of one baby, then go home for the birth of the next. Keep in mind that transportation at the time may have been a mule and a cart. And great grandpa wasn't getting a corporate job transfer.

How times have changed! My parents are from the Bronx, New York, but my dad was born in Ohio. Their first 2 kids were born in Virginia. Then I was born in New York City but spent no more than 6 months of my life there, and not all at once. My family's many moves would shock and dismay our ancestors.

My ancestors stayed close to home. How close to home? Everyone from my 1st to my 8th great grandparents lived and died in neighboring towns. My roots are all from the "Sannio" area of the Campania region of Italy. Many of my family names are still found in the same towns.

Which of these tools will work best for finding your ancestors on the map?
Which of these tools will work best for finding your ancestors on the map?

That brings me to a set of tools I want to share with you. I consult the Cognomix website all the time. I enter an Italian last name in the search box, and I can see every region, province, and town where that name is found. Not only that—it tells how many families with that name you can find in each region, province, and town.

Here are a handful of tools that show last name distribution in different countries:

If you find a search result that looks promising, look up that person's town on Google Maps or whatever you use. Is the town anywhere near the place where your ancestors lived? Was anything happening at that time in history that might have caused your family to move? Was there an earthquake or epidemic?

If your family stayed put for generations, and this search result lived hours away, keep searching. He's not your man.

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.