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.

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.

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!