06 July 2021

Prepare to Walk Along Your Ancestors' Streets

I love having access to tens of thousands of vital records from my ancestral hometown. Some of the birth records from Colle Sannita, Italy, helped prepare me for my visit to the town in 2018. I was able to walk along the street where my great grandfather was born. In another town, I found the house where my great grandmother died.

European towns seem ancient to my American sensibilities. But they do change street names sometimes. Some streets in the old documents aren't on today's map. When I enter some addresses into Family Tree Maker, it can't find the street and puts the map pin almost anywhere. I hate that!

On my 1st trip to Grandpa's town, I thought I'd see my name on a doorway. Now, finally, I am prepared to walk in his footsteps.
On my 1st trip to Grandpa's town, I thought I'd see my name on a doorway. Now, finally, I am prepared to walk in his footsteps.

I needed to update the non-existent addresses in my family tree to current-day street names. I want to be able to go to the places my ancestors lived when I return to Italy. After thinking about this for a while, I realized I had the perfect resource.

In 2007 I posted a message on an Italian ancestry message board. The man who answered me was an historian from my Grandpa Iamarino's hometown. He told me that Iamarino was one of the earliest names from the town of Colle Sannita. He also said he was writing a book about the town.

Fast forward to today. I have his book about Grandpa's town sitting on my desk at all times. The heart of the book is a 1742 town census. I've managed to add many of the 560 households from that time to my family tree.

There's plenty more to the book. It's written in Italian, so I've added many Post-It Notes to the pages for future translation.

The other day I sent a message to the author. I asked him how I can find out the current names of old streets in the town. He told me I'd find the answers in his book. I opened my copy and found one of my Post-It Notes. "This tells where to find the old street names," I had written.

It was exactly what I needed. This passage mentions all the streets and neighborhoods listed in the 1742 census. Then it explains where to find those streets and neighborhoods today.

I've discovered so much about my Colle Sannita family through vital records and this book. Over and over, one neighborhood seemed to always hold relatives of mine. Its name was li Tufi. Sometimes Strada (street) li Tufi, sometimes Via (also street) Tufi. Each time I saw li Tufi I thought, "Oh, they're my people for sure."

But there is no mention of anything named Tufi on a modern map of Grandpa's hometown.

That's why this book, "Colle Sannita nel 1742," is the most important book I own. I learned that the former li Tufi is a neighborhood of three parallel streets near the center of town. They renamed the ancient streets for the first king of Italy:

  • Via Calata Vittorio Emanuele (calata means descent)
  • Via Vittorio Emanuele
  • Via Gradoni Vittorio Emanuele (gradoni means steps)

This is major news to me! It means I can walk these streets on my next visit. I expect to feel weak in the knees. (And not just because it's hilly.)

Leave yourself notes as you learn the current name of your ancestors' ancient roads.
Leave yourself notes as you learn the current name of your ancestors' ancient roads.

Next I needed to update the streets in Family Tree Maker so the program would place them on the map. I had to keep track of my changes to avoid future confusion.

I used the Plan tab in Family Tree Maker. I made a new, high-priority task for each street with a name change. (Choosing "high-priority" keeps the items at the top of the list.) I can check these items whenever I'm adding another birth or death record for an old street name.

The format of these task items is very simple:

  • old street name = new street name

For example, li Tufi = Via Vittorio Emanuele. (It's actually three streets, but I decided to split the difference.)

After pulling information from the book, I still had six old street names that are no longer in the town. While these six didn't exist in 1742, they did exist throughout the 1800s. I asked the author, and he told me what I needed.

To update street names in our ancestral towns we need a modern reference to the historical town. I encourage you to seek out any written history of your ancestral hometowns. Do not let a foreign language stop you. You can find the street names you need by eye. Then use Google Translator to understand what the book says.

With this type of update to your ancestral addresses, you may be able to someday walk where they walked.

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29 June 2021

Solve Genealogy Mysteries Step-by-Step

In a whirlwind of research, I solved the mysteries of my client's great grandparents. I want to share the process with you so it can help you in your genealogy research.

The puzzle I had to solve was this:

  • Where were Giuseppe Ruggiero and Giovannina Grasso born?
  • How is it possible that they married in Italy after they arrived in America?

What We Knew from Documents

My client found naturalization and death records on Ancestry.com. From these documents we learned:

  • Giuseppe was born on 3 Feb 1872 in Ricci, Italy.
  • His parents were Frank Ruggiero and Veneranda Lucarsio.
  • Giovannina was born on 24 Jun 1879 in Ricca, Italy.
  • They both arrived in the United States on 22 Jan 1895 aboard the Olympia.
  • They married in Ricci, Italy, on 14 Nov 1895.

Her family believes the couple was born in Riccia, Campobasso, Italy. And they've heard that Giovannina's parents were Luigi Grasso and Filomena Ponti.

Finding the Birth Records

To my surprise, no Ruggiero or Grasso babies were born in 1872 or 1879 in Riccia. I combed the surrounding years for any babies with the expected parents' names. In all, I found 13 babies.

Sorting through the birth records, I found only one Giuseppe Ruggiero. He was born on 3 Feb (as his naturalization papers say), but in 1868, not 1872.

I had a 12 Sep 1877 birth record for a Maria Giovanna Grasso. The name was fine since Giovannina was likely to be a nickname. But how could her birth day, month, and year all be so far from what the naturalization papers say? We'll never know the answer to that question.

Understand which information is on each type of genealogy document. Then follow the facts logically to solve your family tree puzzle.
Understand which information is on each type of genealogy document. Then follow the facts logically to solve your family tree puzzle.

Which Came First: Marriage or Immigration?

How was it possible that the couple arrived on 22 January 1895, but married in Italy later that year? I knew I needed to see that ship manifest for myself.

On Ancestry.com, you can search for a New York passenger list by date and ship name. I went to 1895, January, 22 to see if the Olympia arrived on that date. It did not. I checked each date a week before and after the 22nd. No Olympia!

Had they made a mistake? I searched 1896 instead. On the 24th of January, I found the Olympia. The first people on the first page of the manifest are Giuseppe and Giovannina, husband and wife. That solves that mystery! They married in Italy in 1895 and came to America in 1896.

Since the couple arrived in New York in 1896, their ship manifest does not state their hometown. If they had arrived in 1898, as my family did, we would have known right away they came from Riccia.

I noticed their ages in 1896 did not agree with the naturalization papers. These stated ages helped me positively identify their birth records.

Luckily, the town of Riccia has its 1895 marriage records available. I found Giuseppe and Maria Giovanna's marriage, confirming their ages and their parents' names.

How Can We Go Back a Generation?

On the 13 births records I found, the parents' ages bounced all over the place. They were unreliable. I could take a stab at finding Giuseppe and Giovannina's parents' births in the indexes. But some of the years have no index.

I had to search for their marriages. But how would I know when either couple married? Italian couples of this time often had their first child within two years of their marriage. I needed to identify each couple's first child.

I searched year by year until their were no more babies born to either couple. When the well ran dry, I knew I'd found each couple's first child.

Giovannina's parents, Luigi Grasso and Filomena Ponte, had their first child in 1861. I found their marriage in 1857. Now I knew Luigi and Filomena's birth dates and their parents' names. Since both their fathers were dead by 1857, I learned their death dates, and their parents' names. Luckily for me, the bride and groom's paternal grandfathers were also dead by 1857. The 1857 marriage records included both grandfathers' death records with their parents' names!

I was not as lucky with Giuseppe Ruggiero's parents. Their first child was born in 1855, but I did not find their marriage in the years before that.

Knowing where to look to solve your genealogy mysteries will move you down that road to the solution.
Knowing where to look to solve your genealogy mysteries will move you down that road to the solution.

Knowing the Marriage Rules

I've been up to my eyeballs in Italian vital records since 2006. I know that a bride and groom from different towns had to post their intention to marry in both towns.

These postings are the equivalent of today's "If anyone knows of any reason why these two should not be lawfully married, let them speak now or forever hold their peace."

I couldn't find a marriage record for "Frank Ruggiero and Veneranda Lucarsio" in Riccia. And I didn't see anyone else in Riccia named Lucarsi (the proper spelling). My conclusion: Veneranda was from another town. But where?

I started in 1854 in Riccia, a year before their first child was born. I searched the "matrimoni pubblicazioni". These are the two public notifications of a couple's intention to marry.

I found them! I learned Francesco's age and parents' names, and Veneranda's age and parents' names. The documents didn't say where Veneranda was born, but they said her deceased parents had lived in "S. Croce".

It looked like a scribble, and I overlooked the town name at first. Then I realized what I had in front of me.

Looking at Google Maps, I found three possible Santa Croce towns in the area. But two were in the next province. I stuck to Campobasso and searched the 1854 marriage records in Santa Croce di Magliano.

Success! The town is missing the birth and death records usually associated with a marriage. That was a quick dead end. But I did learn something useful. Veneranda, whose age changed randomly over the years, was born in Santa Croce di Magliano in 1830. And I found her birth record.

What Next?

There's definitely more we can find. We could search Riccia for Francesco Ruggiero's siblings' births, and parents' marriage. We could search Santa Croce for Veneranda's parents' deaths and her siblings' births.

For now, it's great to sort out the inconsistencies and uncertainties in this family tree.

This can happen to you, too. When you know what the records contain, you can use them to solve your own genealogy puzzles.

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22 June 2021

Don't Believe Everything Your Ancestors Told You

When someone asks me to research their family tree, I pick out the key facts from what they've told me, and go to the available documents.

As an Italian-American, I know our ancestors "Americanized" their names to fit in. And I know many of us heard our ancestors came from Naples. It's my job as an Italian ancestry researcher to see past the changed names and look beyond Naples.

It was common for our immigrant ancestors to never speak of the old country. If your elders didn't mention their hometown by name, you likely don't know where they were born.

Genealogy documents hold the clues you need. Your ancestor's immigration record may name their hometown. If not, you can search for naturalization records. Also check World War I and II draft registration cards. While one of these may tell you only the country of birth, the other may have the exact town name.

I can plot ALL my ancestors on a thin strip of a souvenir map from Italy. It took a bunch of documents to make this happen.
I can plot ALL my ancestors on a thin strip of a souvenir map from Italy. It took a bunch of documents to make this happen.

But Where, Exactly?

My Sarracino and Saviano ancestors are a perfect example of using documents. My grandmother and her sister told me their family came from two places: Pastene and Avellino. When I began to research, those two specific places became a problem.

Looking at Google Maps, I found Pastena, which is what I thought I heard. And there was a big Sarracino family from the town. After adding the wrong family to my tree, I learned they were not my family. And when I looked for Avellino on the map, I found it was both a city and a province. Imagine if you knew your family was from New York, but you didn't know if that meant the city or the state. Big difference!

It was the documents that set things straight. I found the 1899 ship manifest for my Sarracino and Saviano great grandparents. The hometown written on the manifest was Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. Checking the map again, I found a hamlet within Sant'Angelo a Cupolo called Pastene. Pastena/Pastene—a one-letter difference. The two places are in different provinces, which makes a world of difference. They store the vital records for each province separately. And they're filed separately online.

Having solved the Pastene mystery, I didn't know where Avellino came into play. If both my great grandparents were from Pastene, who came from Avellino?

Another genealogy document to the rescue! My great granduncle's World War II draft registration card had the answer. They misspelled the town, but the map made it clear. He was born in Tufo, a small town in the province of Avellino.

I followed the document trail in Tufo and found a surprise. My 2nd great grandmother Colomba wasn't from Tufo. She was from the neighboring town of Santa Paolina. She and her father's ancestors all came from Santa Paolina. One more document, a death record for Colomba's mother, held another surprise. My 3rd great grandmother was from Apice, a town in the Benevento province.

Think about that for a moment. The oral history said my family was from Pastena and Avellino. The documents showed me this part of my family actually came from:

  • Pastene (part of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in Benevento)
  • Santa Paolina in Avellino
  • Apice in Benevento.

You've got to follow the documents.

Grandma didn't lie. But your family's word-of-mouth history is a lot like a game of "telephone".
Grandma didn't lie. But your family's word-of-mouth history is a lot like a game of "telephone".

Two Proud Grandpas and One Strong Accent

Two of my ancestral hometowns were always a given. My two immigrant grandfathers were proud to say where they were born. I've known this all my life: one was from Baselice and the other was from Colle Sannita, both in Benevento.

There was only one more hometown I needed to identify. My Caruso great grandmother met my great grandfather in upstate New York. I didn't know where she was born. I connected with my Dad's first cousin June who grew up with her grandmother. She said my great grandmother was also proud of her hometown. With my great grandmother's Italian accent, the hometown sounded like Pisqualamazza.

First I checked the map. Pisqualamazza is not a town. Then I had an idea. I checked Ancestry.com for immigrants named Caruso. Yes, that's a common name. But I was searching for a hometown that looked something like Pisqualamazza.

It hit me like a thunderbolt. I found a Caruso from the town of Pescolamazza. I can totally understand how Pesco could sound like Pisqua. There was only one problem. Pescolamazza also isn't on the map.

A regular Google search for Pescolamazza explained it all. The name of the town evolved over the centuries:

  • Pesclum
  • Pesco
  • Piesco
  • Lo Pesco
  • Lo Pesco de la Macza
  • Pescolamazza
  • and in 1947: Pesco Sannita

At last I found my great grandmother's hometown: Pesco Sannita, also in Benevento.

You can't find your immigrant ancestor's birth record if you don't know their town. Use the documents you can find to pin down the town of birth. Identifying the towns and accessing their vital records is why my family tree has 30,000 people.

So, keep the oral history in mind, but follow the documents!

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15 June 2021

Tackling Several Genealogy Projects on the Fly

I have several genealogy projects I bounce between every day. But I'm always open to whatever comes my way. This week I helped 3 distant cousins with their family trees—for their benefit and mine.

Project 1: Italian Emigrants to Brazil

First there was a man from Brazil. He found my website that's devoted to my grandfather's hometown: Baselice, Benevento, Italy. He wrote to ask if I could help him discover more about his Italian heritage.

We started with his great grandfather Giuseppe. He was born in Baselice in 1887 to Antonio and Concetta. They left for Brazil the following year.

If I built this family for my Brazilian friend, I'd know why they disappeared from town.

I began by finding Giuseppe's birth record and seeing his parents' ages at the time. Then I found his father Antonio's 1860 birth record. Antonio's parents were already in my family tree. That meant that BOOM! I had 6 generations ready and waiting for my new friend.

The only problem was Giuseppe's mother, Concetta. The clerk wrote the wrong last name for her on his birth record. That made her a dead end. What could I do to discover her real name? The marriage records available for the town end around the year she was born.

To learn this missing name, I could check the birth record of every Concetta born in town at the right time. If I were lucky, the right record would mention who she married. But the birth records around 1860 rarely have a marriage notation in the column.

Luckily this couple had another child, and his birth record had Concetta's real last name. I found her birth record and discovered 5 generations of her ancestors waiting in my family tree.

Project 2: New-found Family Members

My ancestry is like strong espresso coffee. Very concentrated! Most of my people come from 5 neighboring towns. Because my family tree represents these towns so well, I get the same comment all the time. "Your tree keeps showing up in all my hints."

One woman who said that to me has been trying to discover her birth father through DNA matches. She kept matching people with names familiar to me. They were all from my other grandfather's town—Colle Sannita. (Find out how to Harvest Clues from Your DNA Matches.)

On Friday, she had a breakthrough. Instead of hard-to-place 3rd cousin matches, she finally got a very close cousin. Her new match is her birth father's nephew.

I soon found her birth father's uncle and ancestors were already in my family tree. The reason the uncle was there was pure serendipity. In 2018, I photographed lots of graves in Colle Sannita. When I got home, I searched the town's vital records to learn whose graves I had captured.

The birth father's uncle had married my 2nd cousin 4 times removed. Not only that, but her birth father's grandmother was my 4th cousin 3 times removed.

I built out the family with vital records from the town and U.S. census records. In the end, this friend (who is not on my DNA match list) is my 7th cousin.

Project 3: Tying Up Loose Ends

After working on those families, I found a 3-month-old email from a man I learned is my 6th cousin twice removed. He had given me a lead on one of his branches, and I knew I could expand that branch.

It was his grandfather's brother's wife I needed to explore. I found her birth record and discovered a connection. Her maternal grandmother was my 4th great grandmother.

So, the great uncle of my 6th cousin twice removed married my half-1st cousin 4 times removed. Only in genealogy, right?

Handle multiple projects without losing your place—or losing your mind.
Handle multiple projects without losing your place—or losing your mind.

What's the Trick?

The key to being able to shift gears and handle new projects is keeping notes. I have a text file that's always open on my computer. I keep notes on exactly where I am with my genealogy projects when I quit for the day. I made a note to add specific birth record images for my friend in Brazil. I made a note to add census records for my new 7th cousin. And I made a detailed note about where I left off with my own, very complex project.

I'm trying to add as many cousins as possible from one of my ancestral hometowns. Here's that note:

Working on children of Emanuele Ricciardelli and Giovanna Consolazio:

  • down to Samuele's son Ponziano Ricciardelli's son Ruggiero's children who married
  • but 1st look for kids of Marino Ricciardelli

I'd be so lost without that note. Set yourself up for success and pure luck. Keep notes so you can:

  • be ready to pounce on unexpected genealogy projects
  • jump back to your own project without missing a beat.
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08 June 2021

How to Find Your Exact Relationship to Any Cousin

I've recently identified hundreds of my cousins from Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy. I found them in the town's thousands of 1809–1945 vital records. Now I want to find some living cousins.

To find descendants of the town, I turned to my Ancestry DNA matches. I like the different options they have for filtering your matches. A handful of last names from Santa Paolina are closely tied to me. I can filter my DNA matches to show only those with a specific last name in their family tree—even if it's a private tree.

Finding a Likely Cousin

I picked one of my family names from the town at random: Ricciardelli. Then I filtered my DNA match list to show only those with Ricciardelli in their family tree. I chose a DNA match who's in the 4th–6th cousin range for me.

I should tell you that my closest relative from this town is my 2nd great grandmother. I would not expect to find any very close DNA cousins—other than the cousins I grew up with.

I took a look at this 4th–6th cousin's family tree and found only one Ricciardelli. But there were quite a few positive things about her:

  • This Ricciardelli woman was born in 1879, which is well in range of the available vital records.
  • My DNA match knows the woman's exact birth date, making her easy to positively identify.
  • My match listed the woman's hometown as Alvelena, Italy. That doesn't exist, but I'll bet this was how her family heard "Avellino" get passed down through the years.
  • The woman died in the U.S., which means I can find immigration and census records for her family.
By pure coincidence, a family I worked on last week belongs to today's DNA match.
By pure coincidence, a family I worked on last week belongs to today's DNA match.

Following a Path to My DNA Match

My recent deep dive into Santa Paolina records taught me a lot. I know which names are common and how to spell them. It was obvious my match had Americanized the woman's first name. And she misspelled her middle name a bit. So I went right after this Ricciardelli woman, using her correct name.

I launched a search program on my PC called Everything. I typed in Maria Diamante Ricciardelli. There were two of them, both born to the same parents. The 1877 baby was actually Diamante Maria, while the 1879 baby was Maria Diamante. Surprisingly, there is no death record for the first baby. Were they purposely trying to mess with future genealogists?

I checked to see if Maria Diamante Ricciardelli's parents were in my family tree. They were! Her father Emanuele is my 1st cousin 5 times removed. His father Samuele is my 4th great uncle, and his father (also Emanuele) is my 5th great grandfather. I can take Maria Diamante back 4 generations to my 6th great grandfather, Saverio Ricciardelli, born about 1741.

Figuring Out Our True Relationship

Maria Diamante Ricciardelli is my 2nd cousin 4 times removed. I saw that when I put her name into Family Tree Maker. She appears to be the great grandmother of my DNA match. So, what does that make us to one another?

Trying to figure this out was worse than trying to split a bill seven ways at a restaurant. Without a calculator. I needed a chart to make it clear how I'm related to a descendant of a person with a known relationship to me. I've published a relationship calculator before. It has its purpose, but it wasn't exactly what I needed now. It doesn't tell me how I'm related to the great grandchild of my 2nd cousin 4 times removed.

I made a new chart you can download called Cousin Connection. I've highlighted all the "full cousin" relationships in green (1st cousin, 2nd cousin, 3rd cousin, etc.). NOTE: If you are unable to download the file, please let me know. I can add it to a different location.

Use this chart to take the guesswork out of distant cousin relationships.
Use this chart to take the guesswork out of distant cousin relationships.

How to Use the Chart

Maria Diamante Ricciardelli is a descendant of my 5th great grandparents. So I'll start at Column G, the 5th Great Grandparent column. She is 3 generations below my 5th great grandparents, so I'll go down the column 3 cells. This cell (G4) places Maria as the great grandchild (look to the left at Column A) of my 5th great grandparents. It says she is my 2nd cousin 4 times removed. So far, so good.

To see how my DNA match is my cousin, I'll move down Column G 3 more cells. That's how many generations below Maria she is (child, grandchild, great grandchild). That puts us at cell G7. That tells me she is my 5th cousin once removed.

Based on our amount of shared DNA, Ancestry DNA said we were in the 4th–6th cousin range. Now I can see exactly what to call our relationship, and it does fall in that range. We are 5th cousins once removed.

After I add Maria's birth record to my family tree and follow up with U.S. documents and facts, I'll write to this DNA match.

Telling her our exact relationship is much better than saying, "Your great grandmother's grandparents are my 5th great grandparents." Don't you agree?

I hope this chart will be a useful tool for calculating your relationships to cousins, too.

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01 June 2021

Why My Family Tree is Exploding in Size

This will anger some genealogists, but here goes. I added 500 people to my family tree in a couple of days. It was fun and easy. Here's how it works.

Examining the Documents

I made the entire collection of an Italian town's vital records searchable on my computer. I had already downloaded the town's documents to my computer. I put them in 386 folders—one for each year's birth records, marriage records, and death records, from 1809 to 1945.

Then I viewed every single document image to see who it belonged to. Each file comes with a name like 007859450_00687.jpg. This number helps me recreate the exact URL where anyone can find it for themselves. I use that URL in the source citation. So I kept the numbers, but I added the name of the person(s) in the document.

Why settle for only my 2nd great grandparents' 1871 marriage record when TONS of cousins are waiting for me in this collection?
Why settle for only my 2nd great grandparents' 1871 marriage record when TONS of cousins are waiting for me in this collection?

A lot of people in the town have the same name. So it's extremely helpful to include the name of the person's father in the file name. In Italian, di means of, and it's how they state the name of a person's father. "Vitantonio Egidio di Pasquale" means that Pasquale is the father of Vitantonio Egidio. It's also a handy shorthand for my file names:

  • 007859450_00688 Angelarosa Lombardo di Felice and Pasquale Musto di Carmine.jpg
  • 007859450_00689 Maria Spinelli di Francesco and Saverio Spinelli di Vincenzo.jpg
  • 007859450_00690 Angelo Raffaele Carpenito di Saverio and Paolina deGuglielmo di Antonio.jpg

Finding What's Missing

With all the files renamed, I can search for anyone. I use a free Windows program called Everything. Let's say I want to find all the children born to a particular man. I simply type his last name "di" his first name in quotes—"deGuglielmo di Antonio"—into Everything.

The cousins pile up fast when all their names are at your fingertips.
The cousins pile up fast when all their names are at your fingertips.

Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy, is the hometown of my 2nd great grandmother and her paternal ancestors. Its population may have peaked at 2,487 in 1951. I want to identify as many Santa Paolina cousins as possible. This can help me connect to distant cousins around the world.

I've already found all my direct Santa Paolina ancestors. Now I'm going sideways. One generation at a time, I'm finding all the siblings of my direct ancestors. Who did they marry? Who were their spouses' ancestors? Who were their children, and who did their children marry? All the answers are in my renamed files.

Just the Facts

The only way I could add 500 cousins so quickly is by taking off the training wheels for a while. Normally I add vital records images to my family tree as I find them, along with a source citation. Right now, for this town, I'm adding only the names and facts and moving on.

There's no risk for me in skipping these important documents and sources. They're only a couple of clicks away. The vital records are easily searchable on my computer. I can find them again whenever I want. If a distant cousin finds my tree on Ancestry.com, I'll add the documents and sources for our mutual benefit.

I would not, and do not, do things this way with census records, ship manifests, or any record I find on Ancestry.com. I gather the document and create a source citation immediately. But the Italian vital records on my computer (and backed up in triplicate) are very easy to put my hands on again.

But right now, I'm owning my Santa Paolina heritage 100%. My grand aunt used to say the family was from Avellino. But she didn't know which town, or which ancestors. I'm so happy I discovered the answers. I'm running with it!

It's amazing to see how this process is working. I choose, let's say, a 3rd great uncle. I find out who he married and add her birth date and her parents' names. Then I find her parents' marriage so I can learn their parents' names. And I can look for their death records and learn their parents' names.

Coming back to that 3rd great uncle, I search for all the children he and his wife had. I search for his death, and his wife's. I search for the marriages and deaths of his children. I follow the children's children as far as the records will take me.

You can see how easy it would be to quickly add 500 people this way.

From what I've seen, the best way to connect to many DNA matches is to have their grandparents in your family tree. I will keep going, harvesting facts from Santa Paolina, and my other ancestral towns. And if anyone finds a hook into my tree? Well, they're going to be in for quite a shock.

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25 May 2021

How to Find the Stragglers in Your Family Tree

I'm living in my 16th home, so I know a thing or two about moving. To lighten the load before you pack, you sort your stuff into three categories: keep, sell, or throw away.

We can use a similar rule on our family trees. I generated a list of unrelated people in my family tree. I fit each person into one of three categories: research, keep, or delete.

This started when a Family Tree Maker user asked how to find the loose (unrelated) people in her family tree. One person answered "Family Tree Analyzer" without an explanation. I launched my copy of the program and answered with these instructions:

Family Tree Analyzer is a free program that can analyze your tree in many ways. Export a GEDCOM from your tree and open it with Family Tree Analyzer. Once it's open, click the Main Lists tab and view the Individuals tab (the first tab). Scroll to the right to find the Relation column and click to sort by it. The "Unknowns" are your loose people.

I did this and exported my full list of people to a spreadsheet. Then I sorted and deleted everyone who did have a relationship to me.

Take a fresh look at the unrelated people in your family tree.
Take a fresh look at the unrelated people in your family tree.

Now I had a spreadsheet of all the unrelated people in my family tree. I set out to categorize them as research, keep, or delete. I added a new column to my spreadsheet with the heading "Reason." As I worked my way down the list of alphabetized names, I added the reason they're in my tree.

For example, I had dozens of disconnected people with the last name Asahina. They're in my tree because of an undocumented connection to my husband's Ohama family. In the "Reason" column, I gave each of these people "Asahina" as the reason they're in my tree.

Other people are in my tree because my family says they are cousins, but the documents don't exist. I gave them a last name as a "Reason." They are either Saviano (my great grandmother's maiden name) or Sarracino (my great grandfather's name).

Now that everyone in the list had a particular reason to be there, I sorted the spreadsheet by the reasons.

  • Some people were from my grandfather's hometown. I worked with vital records to figure out their connection. I had lots of success and deleted them from the spreadsheet.
  • A couple of families were in the published 1742 census for my grandfather's town. I did some research, but I couldn't find a bridge between the civil records and 1742. I decided to keep these 12 people anyway.
  • There were a few families of three: two parents and a baby. I searched for more of their children. Unfortunately, all the children died young. Without a marriage to build on, I could not connect this small family to anyone else. I deleted them from my family tree and the spreadsheet.
  • When it came to the Asahina family, my own notes for two different people gave me the connection I was seeking. The story is, an Ohama family gave one of their babies to a childless cousin. As shocking as that sounds, it's a Japanese tradition. My own father-in-law was nearly given away! In the Ohama family, I'd entered a baby named _____ Asahina with a note saying, "this is the baby they gave away." In the Asahina family, I had attached a note to a woman named Masa Asahina. "A distant cousin says Masa is the Ohama baby given to the Asahina family." Hurray! I merged _____ Asahina with Masa Asahina, connecting the entire family. I removed them from my spreadsheet of unrelated people.
  • I tried again to connect a Saviano clan to myself. The family says they are cousins, and I have no doubt of that. But their hometown didn't keep civil records before 1861. Their church records are lacking, too. I added some new documents and facts, but they are still loose in my tree. I will keep them there.

My family tree still has 161 unrelated people I've chosen to keep. Twelve are from the 1742 census of Grandpa's town. The rest are from the town without documentation. I'm OK with that. They all have a now-documented reason for being in my family tree. I'll be on the lookout to see if any distant cousins know more about them than I do. So far, they don't.

In the end, I researched everyone in the list to some extent, deleted a bunch, and kept 161 people. And that's how you sort out and lighten the load before you move on to more research.

If you use Family Tree Maker, use these settings to find the unrelated people in your family tree.
If you use Family Tree Maker, use these settings to find the unrelated people in your family tree.

Someone else had a different answer to the "how to find loose people" question. They recommended Family Tree Maker's Kinship Report. With 29,000+ people in my tree, the report takes about 30 minutes to run, and it's 979 pages long. I can export to a spreadsheet by clicking Share, Export to CSV. Then, in Excel, I can filter the results to show only the "Unrelated" Relationship.

I recommend you go with Family Tree Analyzer for quick, useful, effective results. Then get moving and sort out your people.

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18 May 2021

Sorting Out a Hot Mess in Your Family Tree

It all started with Angela. When I landed on her in my 29,000-person family tree, I noticed I had her death date, but not her parents' names. She died in April 1809—about a month after my part of Italy began keeping birth, marriage, and death records.

I pulled up her death record. I found her parents' names and added them to my family tree. Then I saw a bigger problem with her father, Pasquale. His facts were a hot mess.

I found two versions of Pasquale's 1799 death record:

  • in his son Angelo's 1815 marriage documents
  • in his grandson Pasquale's 1853 marriage documents

In both versions of the death record, Pasquale is the son of Tommaso Cocca and Angela Gentile. That's fantastic because Tommaso and Angela are in the town's 1742 census. (The census is captured in a book called "Colle Sannita nel 1742" by my friend, Dr. Fabio Paolucci.) In both death records Pasquale's wife is Costanza Iamarino. I knew two of Pasquale and Costanza's children: Angela (born in 1776 per her death record) and Angelo (born in 1795).

But here's the problem. In my family tree, I had also identified Mariangela Iamarino as Pasquale's wife. That couple had two children in 1771 and 1773.

A note in my family tree made me wonder if he really had married both Mariangela and Costanza. Here's my note:

"Pasquale's death record (from his granddaughter Carmina Cocca's 1837 marriage documents) says he died on 2 Jul 1795, was the son of Giambattista Cocca and Pietronilla Vignogna, and was married to Mariangela Iamarino. I believe I've combined 2 men."

Finding More Facts to Sort Out the Mess

Now that I've stumbled upon this Pasquale mess again, it's time to set things straight.

The first thing to do is look at the 1795 death record in Carmina Cocca's marriage documents. In all, I found three versions of Pasquale's 1795 death record, but only one included his age at death.

Two different death records, with two different wives, made it clear I'd merged two men.
Two different death records, with two different wives, made it clear I'd merged two men.

The available facts make it clear I accidentally merged two Pasquale Cocca's into one. So how do I separate them while maintaining each man's facts?

If I could duplicate Pasquale in Family Tree Maker, I could remove the wrong facts, spouses, and kids from each man. Since there is no duplication option, I'll make a note of each fact that belongs to the Pasquale who died in 1795:

  • He married Mariangela Iamarino
  • They had 3 children: Giambattista, Donata, and Maria Maddalena
  • I now know he died in 1795 and his parents were Giambattista Cocca and Pietronilla Vignogna

Separating the Families Carefully

To avoid losing sight of Mariangela and her children, I'll follow these steps:

  1. Select each of the children and detach them from Pasquale, but not from Mariangela Iamarino.
  2. Select Mariangela and detach her from Pasquale.
  3. Create a new Pasquale Cocca as Mariangela's husband and father of her children.
  4. Add this new Pasquale's death date and his parents' names.

With all the facts and steps in front of me, I can fix this mess without missing anything. I'll remove that very important note and bookmark from the other Pasquale Cocca, too.

Now I've given Mariangela and her children their very own Pasquale Cocca. When I added his parents, I found that they, too, are in the 1742 census. I used the census to add Pasquale's paternal grandfather and his two older siblings. Since Pasquale is not listed in the 1742 census, I know he was not born in 1740, as his death record says. I'll give him a birth date of Abt. 1743.

Don't Assume You'll Remember These Things

I'm so grateful I left myself a note about Pasquale.

The Bookmarks feature of Family Tree Maker is an important way to keep your notes visible.
The Bookmarks feature of Family Tree Maker is an important way to keep your notes visible.

When I add a note in Family Tree Maker, I give the person a bookmark. Seeing that bookmark in the list of all people lets me see there's something about this person I need to know. Once I solve a problem, I remove the note and the person's bookmark.

If there's a hot mess in your family tree, gather as many facts as you can. Pay attention to the discrepancies. Take careful notes so you can undo your errors and set things straight.

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11 May 2021

Use What You Know to Break Down a Brick Wall

When you've been swimming in old Italian vital records for as long as I have, you learn a lot of little tidbits. Using those tidbits, I broke through a brick wall last week.

I finally got past one of my 5th great grandfathers. Once I found exactly the right record, I shot straight up his paternal line to my 8th great grandparents!

It was one heck of a process, and I'm so glad I stuck with it.

Since you may not know all the tidbits I've learned along the way, I thought it'd be helpful for me to list them for you. These facts are true of Italian vital records and some church records. Some of these facts should apply to other countries' vital records as well.

  1. Italian women keep their father's last name for life. There is no "maiden name" and "married name." There's one name. If they boarded a ship to emigrate, they used their one-and-only last name.
  2. Birth records may include the name of the baby's grandfathers and if they're alive or dead. If it says di and a name, the grandfather is alive. If it says fu and a name, the grandfather is dead.
  3. Death records name the deceased's parents and spouse, and whether they are alive or dead. But, if a person died in another town, the people there may not know the names all the deceased's parents and spouse. And if a man died quite early, his death record may say that he is married, but not give his wife's name.
  4. An Italian marriage requires the consent of the bride and groom's parents. If a parent is dead, a grandfather may consent. If everyone's dead, there needs to be proof. So, the marriage records can include:
    • Bride and groom's birth or baptism record, possibly with their parents' ages at the time. Note: The earlier in someone's life their age is stated, the more reliable it is.
    • Bride and groom's mother's death record, if she's dead at the time of the marriage
    • Bride and groom's father's death record, if he's dead at the time of the marriage
    • Bride and groom's grandfather's death record, if parent and grandfather are both dead
    • Bride and groom's previous spouse's death record. Note: There was no divorce in Italy until 1970, but widows usually remarried quickly.

Last week I noticed that my Grandma Lucy's line had a dead end at my 5th great grandfather, Antonio Zeolla. I've done tons of work to make every vital record from Antonio's town searchable. So why didn't I know when he died or who his parents were?

Building out all of Antonio's children and grandchildren was the key to finding his ancestors.
Building out all of Antonio's children and grandchildren was the key to finding his ancestors.

I did know Antonio was still alive in 1817. I learned that from his wife's death record.

  • If the deceased's spouse is dead, the document says they were the vedovo di or vedova di, followed by their late spouse's name. Vedovo/a di means widow of.
  • If the deceased's spouse is alive, the document says they were the marito di or moglie di, followed by their spouse's name. Marito di means husband of. Moglie di means wife of.

I searched for an Antonio Zeolla who was the widow of Andreana Piacquadio (my 5th great grandmother). There was no widow of Andreana. Had Antonio remarried? In 1817 when Andreana died, the couple had 2 very young children. Antonio should have remarried.

But I couldn't search for the marriage of an Antonio Zeolla. That's a common name in the town of Colle Sannita, and I wouldn't know if I'd found the right man. If he remarried at the right time, the documents would include Andreana's death record. I searched for that. But he didn't remarry at the right time.

I knew what I had to do.

I had to find all of Antonio and Andreana's children and their marriage records. But Antonio was still alive when his children married.

Antonio's grandchildren's marriage records would include his death if they married:

  • after their parent had died, and
  • after Antonio had died.

I began identifying his grandchildren and searching for their marriages.

At last I found what I needed. In 1850, Andreana Zeolla got married. She was the daughter of Antonio's eldest son. Luckily for me, When she married, both her father and grandfather were dead. After hours of searching, I found Antonio's death record from 1848. I learned his parents (my 6th great grandparents) were Marco Zeolla and Donata Tedesco.

It took his granddaughter's marriage to positively identify Antonio's death date and second wife. Then I found even more.
It took his granddaughter's marriage to positively identify Antonio's death date and second wife. Then I found even more.

The 1848 death record says Antonio was the widow of a different woman. It's clear from the context that this is the Antonio I was looking for. His second wife is the reason I couldn't find him.

Now I knew he had remarried Lucia Piacquadio, so I found his 1819 marriage documents. Those documents held an even bigger treasure for me.

When Antonio remarried, both his father and grandfather were dead. Hurray, right? I learned that:

  • my 6th great grandfather Marco Zeolla died in 1791
  • he was the son of Antonio Zeolla and Angela Iacobaccio, my 7th great grandparents
  • my 7th great grandfather Antonio Zeolla died in 1764
  • he was the son of Marco Zeolla and Fioribella diRuccia, my 8th great grandparents!!

While this method doesn't always lead to this much success, you mustn't overlook it. When you can't find the document you need, work around it. A family member—one you haven't found yet—may be the key to help you break down that brick wall.

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