16 March 2021

Bringing My Great Grandmother Back to Life

Have you used MyHeritage's Deep Nostalgia tool to animate photos of your ancestors? I did a handful. Only one made me cry.

My great grandmother, Maria Rosa Caruso, was one tough little woman. Even in her youth, she was very broad. She looked like a wrestler compared to my great grandfather, Pasquale Iamarino.

My idea of Maria Rosa changed when I received some old photo albums belonging to my late aunt. There were several dashing photos of Pasquale. And one lovely portrait of Maria Rosa before she married. She was still a very sturdy woman, but I could see that she was beautiful.

I had already used MyHeritage to colorized her portrait. The colors were garish, but I adjusted them in Photoshop for a very nice finished product.

I uploaded the full-length portait into the Deep Nostalgia tool. When I saw the result, and young Maria Rosa smiled and looked at me, I broke down and cried. I loved her! The only time I met her, I was too young to really remember. Seeing her move and smile with her pretty eyes, I felt as if she were reaching out to me. (See the animation below.)

Since then, I've been concentrating my family tree-building efforts on Maria Rosa's branch. She and Pasquale are my only pair of great grandparents who met in America. They were not from the same town in Italy. They were set up by Maria Rosa's brothers who worked for the Erie Railroad with Pasquale. They sent for their sister, who arrived in New York in July. Four months later, she married Pasquale.

Targeting the Search

Sitting on my computer are all the available vital records from her hometown in Italy. I printed out a fan chart of all her ancestors to make it clear what I have and what I need to find.

I've already used the vital records to identify:

  • her parents and siblings, including her stillborn twin, Luca
  • her 4 grandparents
  • her 8 great grandparents
  • her 16 2nd great grandparents

Those 16 are my 5th great grandparents, so I'm doing pretty well. I've also identified:

  • 16 of her 32 3rd great grandparents
  • 1 of her 64 4th great grandparents, born about 1719

It's her missing 3rd great grandparents that I'd love to find. All were born in the early 1700s, and the vital records begin in 1809. They most likely died before 1809.

So how did I find 16 of them? The answer lies with the younger generation(s).

  • The death record of the eldest person on any branch of your family tree should name their parents.
  • A marriage record can include death records for the bride and groom's parents. If the groom's father is dead, you may find his father's death record. That takes you back another generation.
Inspired by her smile, I'm setting to work on great Grandma Maria Rosa's family tree.
Inspired by her smile, I'm setting to work on great Grandma Maria Rosa's family tree.

Digging Deeper

I've been renaming thousands of vital records from Maria Rosa's town. I'm including the name of the person and their father's first name. This makes every file searchable on my computer. I've finished all the birth and death records. I've finished the marriage records, but not the records go with the marriages.

It's these extra records that may hold the names of Maria Rosa's missing ancestors. With her fan chart beside me, I plan to continue renaming the records, looking for the names I need. I'm up to 1824, and the marriage records end in 1860. The end is in sight!

I found the 1809 death record for my 6th great grandfather, Tomaso Guerra. I'm very disappointed that it didn't mention his mother's name. That's why I have only 1 of Maria Rosa's 4th great grandparents. He's my 7th great grandfather, Nicola Guerra.

Following a Road Map

If your genealogy software lets you, I recommend printing a targeted fan-chart. Use it to focus on a particular dead end or neglected branch in your family tree. It's possible the answer is out there, but you haven't gotten serious about searching.

I spend most of my time connecting all the families from Pasquale Iamarino's hometown. Three of my great grandparents were born there, along with almost all their ancestors.

Then that eerie, creepy Deep Nostalgia technology brought Maria Rosa front and center.

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09 March 2021

Fallen Soldier Memorials Inspire a Research Project

On my Italian honeymoon, we took a day trip to find my Grandpa's hometown of Colle Sannita. Like many people, I had a fantasy of walking along the streets and finding a house with my maiden name on it.

That didn't happen. What did happen was a crazy adventure, but before things went haywire, we found the town piazza.

There was a touching memorial to their fallen sons, brothers, and husbands who fought in World War I and II. On a later visit, I photographed all four sides of the memorial and captured each soldier's name.

I knew I could identify many of the fallen and find them a place in my family tree. I know a website that lets you look up a fallen soldier and learn many facts, including their parents' names.

Three years after photographing the memorials, I haven't tackled this project. But seeing another memorial from my family's church kicked this project into gear.

Finding the Bronx Boys

They tore down my family's church in the Bronx, New York, not long ago. Every wedding from my parents' generation took place in Our Lady of Pity Church. My parents and their siblings and cousins attended Our Lady of Pity School. The priest who married my parents there baptized me there. I have vague memories of the church from my childhood.

My parents remember the church's fallen soldiers memorial quite well. Mom's brother Johnny's name is on it (LEONE J.). His B-17 plane crashed in July 1944, killing the whole crew. When I saw a photograph of the church memorial again, something struck me. Many of the last names were familiar from my recent research. Baldini, Frusciante, Vetere, Zeolla.

With so many familiar names, were any of my uncle's fellow soldiers related to us?
With so many familiar names, were any of my uncle's fellow soldiers related to us?

It would be nice to find a place in my family tree to honor these fallen soldiers.

I searched for the Bronx soldiers in the 1940 census, in my parents' neighborhood. The first soldier I found with complete certainty was C. Vetere. The name Vetere comes from my great grandmother's hometown of Pescolamazza.

Crescenzio Vetere, sometimes called Joseph, was born in 1915 to Pietrantonio Vetere and his wife Giovina, later known as Mary. In 1920 they lived around the corner from the building where my dad grew up. In 1930 they lived a couple of buildings down. In 1940, Crescenzio and his new wife lived a couple more blocks away, but still within the church's footprint.

The family lost 29-year-old Crescenzio on 16 November 1944. It took 4 years for the military to return his remains to the U.S. and bury them in a military cemetery on Long Island.

While I'm pleased to learned so much about my Uncle Johnny's comrade in arms, I can't place him into my family tree. His father came to America too early for me to prove he was born in Pescolamazza. (The earlier ship manifests don't provide as much detail as the later ones, starting about 1898.)

I'll search for more of Johnny's other colleagues. But let me try an easier, World War I Italian soldier first.

Turning Back to Italy

Angelo Mascia is not a close relative of mine. As far as I know, he is not my blood relation at all. But his parents are in my family tree. And now, so is he.

I found him listed on the Colle Sannita monument as Mascia Angelo di Costanzo. The "di Costanzo" means his father's name was Costanzo. Knowing that helped me find his birth record easily. (See How to Read an Italian Birth Record.)

Finding this distant relative's military record led to the site of a massive war memorial.
Finding this distant relative's military record led to the site of a massive war memorial.

Angelo was born on 29 August 1894 in Colle Sannita to Costanzo Antonio Mascia and Maria Paolucci. With his exact birth date, I went to a website where I could look up his military record. (This excellent resource is only for the province of Benevento, which is lucky for me.) The record says he died near Monte Sei Busi on 2 August 1915. When I finally found it on a map, what I saw broke my heart. The area is a nature preserve. But what they've also preserved are the legendary World War I trenches, gun turrets, and rows of barbed wire obstacles.

I searched online for an Italian battle happening on that date. I've done this research before to figure out where my grandfather was held as a prisoner of war. I found the battle, and I found a map showing the area where it happened.

Angelo died on the second-to-last day of the Second Battle of the Isonzo. There were 12 battles of the Isonzo, fought in the Alps near the border of Austria. This battle claimed 41,800 Italian soldiers, including Angelo.

Now I can add Angelo's birth record and military record to my family tree. I'll also add my photo of his name on the town's monument.

I love to find worthwhile genealogy projects to shake up my routine. This one seems very worthy of my time. Have you found monuments like these in your travels? If you have photos, it's time to take another look.

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02 March 2021

RootsTech's DNA Lectures Keep Inspiring

Last week's virtual RootsTech conference can keep inspiring and teaching us all year. My main focus so far is the DNA lectures. Instead of watching them all one after another, I kept pausing to try out the techniques I was learning.

First I learned about chromosome browsers. I wish Ancestry.com would add one because I have the most cousin matches on that site. I learned how to triangulate matches with the chromosome browser on MyHeritage.com. I uploaded my DNA as well as my parents' DNA there long ago.

This lecture made me think of a long-standing mystery in my own DNA. A tool on GEDmatch told me my parents are related. They show up as each other's matches on Ancestry. The first thing I wanted to try on MyHeritage was a comparison of the 3 of us.

Once I logged into myheritage.com, I went to the DNA menu and chose DNA Tools, then Chromosome Browser. You can compare up to 7 DNA matches at a time to see exactly where you intersect.

But before I tried this, I had watched a lecture about pedigree collapse and endogamy. My remote ancestral Italian hometowns had tons of intermarrying of the families. In fact, even though they met and married in Ohio, my paternal grandparents were 3rd cousins.

When I was a kid, I thought it was a coincidence that Grandpa had the same last name as Grandma. No one said anything to me, but there's no way Grandpa Iamarino didn't know who his landlord was in 1927. He was Pasquale Iamarino—the 2nd cousin of Grandpa's father. Pasquale left Italy when Grandpa was a little boy, but they definitely knew they were family.

Because my grandparents were 3rd cousins, I have double ancestors belonging to both of them. That's the pedigree collapse.

This lecturer spoke about endogamy, when families intermarry for generations. Another lecturer explained that ethnic groups share certain DNA markers. That's how they determine your ethnic estimate. I had an "aha" moment, thinking this must be why Mom and Dad share some DNA. His people and her people came from neighboring Italian towns.

I thought the chromosome browser might show that my parents' relationship is only by place.

I used a chromosome browser to see exactly where Mom and Dad are related to each other.
I used a chromosome browser to see exactly where Mom and Dad are related to each other.

On MyHeritage, I compared myself to both Mom and Dad. I found 2 chromosomes where they matched me and one another! They call this triangulation. You can see it on the chromosome browser if you compare only 2 of your DNA matches at a time. It means my parents match one another as well as me.

I wondered if any of my other matches had an intersection in the same spots. I compared several matches on the chromosome browser with no luck.

Then I saw a match whose name I recognized. She's a woman from Grandpa's hometown in Italy, and her son and his daughter are all DNA matches to both my parents. I found that all 3 of them matched at the same exact location as my parents on my chromosome 6.

Through my research I found out the man in the group is my fifth cousin. (His daughter is my 5th cousin once removed.) But the relationship is on his father's side. Think about that. His mother matches us all in the same spot, but he's my cousin through his father and my father.

I wondered if either of my parents triangulated with any of these three people. I compared each of my parents to each of the three, one pair at a time. Here's what I found:

  • The matriarch of the family triangulates with Dad only.
  • Her son (my 5th cousin) triangulates with both Mom AND Dad!
  • Her granddaughter triangulates with Dad only.

It's all a bit infuriating! I've gone very far on each of my parents' family trees. Their 37 shared centimorgans of DNA point to several possible relationships. I can rule out many because I know they do not share the common ancestor needed for these relationships.

How can this family be so intertwined with mine when the best we are is 5th cousins?
How can this family be so intertwined with mine when the best we are is 5th cousins?

All I can do is keep on fitting people from my ancestral hometowns into my family tree. Remember: You've got to document your ancestor's multiple marriages. The children from the second marriage could be your missing DNA link.

I'm also going to return to the RootsTech lectures and soak up as much information as I can about DNA. The quest continues.

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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

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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

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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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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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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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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

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.