30 November 2021

Put More Logic in Your Genealogical Research

When I'm adding people and facts to my family tree, I can feel my mind racing. I'm running through a decision tree to decide the next step.

What's a decision tree? It's a series of questions where each answer tells you which way to turn. I follow this type of path without realizing it. Let's take a look at this process and see how you can best apply it to your family tree research.

Fix an Illogical Birth Year

There's a man named Donato in my family tree with an estimated birth year of 1715. He had two children with an estimated birth year of 1790. Making babies at age 75 is definitely pushing it, even though Charlie Chaplin did so at age 73.

How would you figure out whether his age estimate is a mistake? Here's my thought process:

  • In my family tree, Donato has an exact date of death in 1792. Let's take another look at that death record to see if it states his age.
  • I have several versions of the death record, and each one says he was 57 years old.
  • That would mean Donato was born in 1735, not 1715.

Does that work? Let's keep going through the logic.

  • I have two wives for Donato. Is it possible that I combined two different men with the same name? Let's check each copy of his death record.
  • No, I did not combine two men. One copy of his death record mentions both his wives by name.
  • Donato's estimated birth year matches that of his first wife Anna, but where did it come from? Let's look at their family.
  • My family tree has two children for Donato and Anna. It says they were born in 1740 and 1765. The 1715 estimate is 25 years earlier than their first child Teresa's 1740 birth year. That's my usual formula—25 years before the first child's birth is the estimated birth year.
  • Is 1740 the correct birth year? Let's look more closely at Teresa.
  • Teresa's husband was born in 1759 and they had a son in 1793. It's ridiculous to think she had a baby at age 53 with a man 19 years her junior.
  • Where did I get her 1740 birth year? I have an 1800 death date for Teresa, so let's look at the death record.
  • Aha! Teresa died in 1825, not 1800. I've never seen such a blatant error in my tree! Her 1825 death record says she was 65 years old.
  • Now I know Teresa was born in 1760, not 1740. That means her parents' birth year estimate should be about 1735 (1760-25).

Donato's death record is logical after all. It says he was born in 1735, and that what the logic says, too. Problem solved!

When the data in your family tree makes no sense, get more data!
When the data in your family tree makes no sense, get more data!

Narrow Down a Missing Death Date

Not all death records are easily available to us. When that happens, you can use logic to narrow down the death to a range of years. Here's the example of my 2nd great uncle Filippo Caruso.

  • I have Filippo's 1868 birth record from their hometown in Italy.
  • This helped me find him coming to America in 1903 to join another brother, Giuseppe, in Elmira, New York.
  • I found him living with Giuseppe in both the 1910 and 1920 censuses in northern Pennsylvania. I needed to keep following Filippo through time.
  • In the 1930 and 1940 censuses he is living with another brother, Nicola, in Hornellsville, New York.
  • The date of the 1940 census with Filippo is 24 April 1940. What happened next?
  • The Catholic church in Hornellsville has a lot of my Caruso relatives in its graveyard. Naturally, I discovered this after I made a trip to see the town!
  • The Find a Grave website has a photo of Filippo's grave that says 1868–1940. That means he died soon after the 1940 census.
  • Since I don't have Filippo's exact death date, I have to estimate his death date. I have it written as "Bet. 24 Apr–31 Dec 1940" because he was alive for the census, but dead by the end of the year.

Filippo's exact death date was unknown to me. But the big websites update record collections all the time. I went to Ancestry.com to see if the New York Death Index might contain Filippo. And it does! Now I know my 2nd great uncle died on 2 Sep 1940. My estimate was right, but this is much better.

Don't forget to repeat your search for missing records every six months or so.

After you track down every possible genealogy document for someone, it's time to check for newly available information.
After you track down every possible genealogy document for someone, it's time to check for newly available information.

Find a Missing Birth Date

I like to sort my Family Tree Maker file by Birth Date and work on someone whose exact birth date I don't know. For this example, I'll choose Anna Maria Basile. All I know about her right now is:

  • She married Angelo Zeolla.
  • They had a daughter in 1830 when Anna Maria was supposedly 26 years old.

The logic I've gained from Italian vital records tells me that based on her age, I should be able to find her marriage records. That will tell me her birth date and her parents' names. I should be able to find more of her children, and I may find her death record, unless she died after 1860. I say that because I know that available death records for Anna Maria's hometown end in 1860.

Here's the logic I'll follow:

  • I'll search the Italian records for the marriage of Angelo Zeolla and Anna Maria Basile.
  • Yes! I found their marriage documents in 1826. I learned Angelo and Anna Maria's exact birth dates and their parents' names.

Both sets of parents were already in my family tree. Once I connected Anna Maria to her parents, I saw that she's my 1st cousin 6 times removed.

To learn more about Anna Maria, I'll search for more of her children. Here's the process:

  • I found their first child in 1827. Now I know which street Anna Maria lived on with her husband.
  • On her third child's birth record, I found that Anna Maria's family moved to a different street in town.
  • The couple had their last child in 1847.
  • Neither Anna Maria nor Angelo died before 1860 when the available death records end.

How else can I narrow down when Anna Maria died? There is one other possibility. Anna Maria's oldest children could have married before 1860. Based on one child's marriage records, I know Anna Maria and her husband were alive in December 1853. I followed all her children and couldn't get any more facts about Anna Maria or her husband.

Using logic to search for the answers turned a random name into a true cousin.
Using logic to search for the answers turned a random name into a true cousin.

The more you use census forms, ship manifests, vital records, etc., the more you learn. Think about how each document can help you the next time you have a question. Then use logic to do all you can to find the answer.

23 November 2021

Discover Your Ancestral Hometown's History

My earliest family tree breakthroughs came from municipal websites. I was impressed, 15 years ago, by how many small towns in Italy had an information-packed website. Today, you may find a website for almost any town or township anywhere in your country or your old country.

I remember being very interested in my most recently discovered ancestral hometown. I went to the town's website and decided to send an email to the webmaster. To my delight, he wrote back to me with documents for the births and marriage of my great grandparents.

With the explosion of interest in ancestry, town webmasters may not be so generous today. They'd be overrun by requests!

Still, there's a lot you can learn by finding these town websites. My favorite thing to do with Italian town websites is search for their history (storia) page. Here's what I learned about one hometown: Sant'Angelo a Cupolo.

  • The name of the town comes from (a) their patron saint, Michael the Archangel, shortened to Sant'Angelo; and (b) the fact that it sits up on a hill, or dome (cupolo). So, it's the town of St. Michael the Archangel which sits up on a hill.
  • The first mention of the town is in a document from the year 1065!
  • The most sacred landmark in their neighborhood is the statue of the Madonna del Rosario. The name of the church where my ancestors were baptized and married is Santa Maria Santissima del Rosario. The statue must be inside the church.
  • The convent I saw on a distant hill on my first visit to the town dates back to 1775. That means every ancestor I can name also saw that building up on the hill.
  • The typical dishes of the town are tagliatelle, cecatielli, fusilli, stuffed peppers, and tripe (eww).
  • The main religious holidays for my great grandparents' neighborhood are the feasts of San Biagio and San Giuseppe (the name of their piazza).
Your ancestral hometown website can give you a taste of what it's like to live there, and how it was for your ancestors.
Your ancestral hometown website can give you a taste of what it's like to live there, and how it was for your ancestors.

There's also information that's important to people who live in the town today:

  • Photographs of the town.
  • The town's elected officials. You may recognize some last names.
  • Local businesses.
  • Resolutions and ordinances.
  • Local organizations.
  • Places of worship.

Whoa! That last fact may have helped solve a long-standing mystery about my 2nd great grandfather, Antonio Saviano. I have a 1925 photo of him in his coffin, and there is a ribbon pinned to his jacked. It's hard to read, but it seems to match the name of the church in one of the town's neighborhoods. Maria Santissima delle Grazie translates to holy Mary of the graces. Maybe Antonio was a supporter of the church from his new home in the Bronx.

Let's try a U.S. town now. I lived in Southampton, Pennsylvania, for many years. Like many U.S. town websites, Southampton offers:

  • A way to reach its different administrative departments.
  • Meeting minutes from the town council.
  • A calendar of upcoming events.
  • The town's history, which began in 1685—ancient by U.S. standards.
  • Historic photos.
  • A list of townsmen who fought in the Revolutionary War. Very cool!
Hometowns across the United States are highly likely to have a website featuring a bit of their history.
Hometowns across the United States are highly likely to have a website featuring a bit of their history.

If you don't know much about your ancestors' hometowns, it'll be a real treat to browse their websites.

What if your town doesn't have a website? My family tree contains the town of Spondon, Derbyshire, England. When I searched, I didn't find a town website for Spondon. What I did find is a bunch of websites providing some of the same information as the town websites.

  • Wikipedia can give you the town's statistics and history.
  • The FamilySearch.org wiki also has information about the town. Plus you get a list of the town's documents available on FamilySearch.
  • You can find photos and maps for your town in your search results.
  • Scour those search results for more insights into the town.
An image search for your ancestors' hometown may show you landmarks from their time.
An image search for your ancestors' hometown may show you landmarks from their time.

I want to make sure my future visits to my ancestral hometowns happen on one of their feast days. That way, I'll have the chance to see many more townspeople than I have before. Find out about your town's attractions and their history before you visit. Or search for photos and feel as if you're there.

Give it a try!

17 November 2021

How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives

THIS ARTICLE was updated on 30 May 2022 as the Antenati site keeps making tweaks to the site. Be sure to read Tip 5!

I was in a panic when the Italian genealogy website, Antenati, changed completely on November 15, 2021. But I'm here to help you cope.

First, the bad news:

  • The new site does not allow us to easily save a high-resolution image of a document. But users are smart. Someone figured out an easy solution, and I will share it with you.

Here are 5 tips for using the new Antenati portal.

Tip 1: Use the Site's Improved Search Function

The homepage of the Antenati site has a slightly different URL than before: https://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it. The first thing you'll see is a search form. Click the Italian flag at the top right of the page, if you like, to translate this search form to another language. I always leave it on Italian because it isn't a lot of words.

You can use this search form to quickly get to a particular town. Type the town's name in the first box (Località), click the yellow-highlighted suggestion, and click the Cerca (Search) button.

The Antenati group is always working on indexing vital records so you can search for a person. Instead of the default "Cerca nei registri" (search in the registers), choose "Cerca per nome" (search for a name). Enter a first name, last name, town, and year (click the down-arrow on those last two for more options).

I searched for my grandfather, born in Colle Sannita in 1902. Antenati has indexed the person's name, both their parents' names, and their date of birth, death, or marriage. It's pretty impressive.

You can click the view button for any search result to go to a page of text. Then click what will not appear to be a link, but is. It'll be beneath the word Atti, and when you hover your mouse over the words, for example, "Atto di nascita 10 Ottobre 1902," you can click that link. You'll find yourself on the exact page of the document you wanted.

There are 3 ways to see all the page numbers and get around the register.
There are 3 ways to see all the page numbers and get around the register.

Tip 2: Find a Province, Time Period, and Town

If you prefer the old method of drilling down to your town, you can still do that. In the top menu of the website, click "Esplora gli Archivi" or Find the Archives. I don't find the map helpful, but scroll below it to see the good-old alphabetical list of provinces.

Click your province of choice to go to its landing page. You'll find two buttons:

  • Cerca nei registri (Search the registries) gives you a list of all the registers for the town. You can sort these from oldest to newest, or vice versa. Click the Vedi il registro (View the register) button for any book you want. You'll now be in a register viewer, able to turn the pages of the book.
  • Esplora i fondi (Explore the fonds—not a typo) is closer to the old format. I'll warn you now that you're better off with the first button to search the registries. But if you want to see the old way, click the button to see the three time periods, now displayed in alphabetical, not chronological, order:
    • Stato civile italiano—the latest time period, usually from 1866 on. These are the years after Italy became a unified republic.
    • Stato civile napoleonico—the earliest time period, usually from 1809 through 1815. These are the years when Napoleon was in charge.
    • Stato civile della restaurazione—the middle time period, usually from 1816 through 1865. These are the years after Napoleon, but before Italy became one country.
  • Click a time period, then choose your town. And whaddaya know? You're right back where you were when you clicked Cerca nei registri. That was a waste of time. So maybe the new site helps us get where we want to go faster.

Tip 3: See Thumbnails or Pick a Page to View

At first glance, it seems as if you can only page your way through a register one image at a time. If that's the case, imagine paging through a 100-page book to get to the index pages.

Luckily, there are several other ways to get around. Start by looking at any page of a register. Then:

  • Method 1: Click the icon to the top right of the viewing area that's meant to look like a window. Change your view from Singolo to Galleria. New as of 30 May 2022: In some cases you will see a true thumbnail of what the pages look like. Hopefully this will roll out to more areas.
  • Method 2: Same as above, click the icon at the top right, but this time, click Right. (Why is that in English?) Now you have a scrollable list on the right with all the page numbers. You can click any one of them.
  • Method 3: Click the hamburger menu the 3 stacked horizontal lines). Then click the third icon down that looks like five stacked lines of different lengths. Now you can see a list of all the page numbers. Or you can choose to see them as thumbnails.

Click any page number to go where you want to go.

Tip 4: Make Your Own URL Spreadsheet

If you have towns/comuni whose records you need to use often, make a shortcut spreadsheet. Create columns for Town, Year, Type of Record, URL, and Number of Pages. If you spend the time up front, your spreadsheet will save you lots of time in the future.

Here's how I'm making my spreadsheet:

  • Navigate to the town you want.
  • Sort the results (all the register books) by year, old to new (Anno, dal meno recente).
  • Scroll to the bottom and change the menu from "10 risultati per pagina" to "100 risultati per pagina." This will save a lot of clicking.
  • For each entry, right-click the red button to view the register (Vedi il registro) and choose to open it in a new tab. This saves you time and keeps you from losing your place in the results list.
  • Go to that tab to copy its URL and see (at the bottom) how many pages are in the register.
  • Add a line to your spreadsheet with the Town, Year, Type of Record, URL, and Number of Pages.
Having this as a reference will come in handy as you continue your genealogy research.
Having this as a reference will come in handy as you continue your genealogy research.

Too much work? Then add to your spreadsheet whenever you use a new register instead of doing the work up front. Your spreadsheet will make it easy to sort the contents by year, town, or type of document.

Tip 5: Saving a Record's URL and High-Res Image

This section is new as of 30 May 2022.

The Antenati site no longer gives us a button to download a high resolution image of the document we want. That feels like such a tease. But here's a solution for you.

Start by going to the page you want within any register book. As you click from page to page, you should notice that the last section of the URL (after the last slash) in the address bar of your web browser changes with each page. Copy that last section and paste it into this URL that you will keep in a safe place, replacing only the word TARGET:


For example, I'm looking at a document and the URL ends in 5K6QgbP. If I paste that into my template URL, replacing the word TARGET, I get https://iiif-antenati.san.beniculturali.it/iiif/2/5K6QgbP/full/full/0/default.jpg. If you click that link you'll see the document all by itself. You can click the image to enlarge it. And you can right-click and save that wonderful high-resolution image.

This may seem like a pain, but wow is it easier than the method I've been using since last November!

Hang in there, my Italian researchers. The Antenati site was never the easiest in the world anyway. I've heard that some towns now have more recent documents than they did before. Today I learned that my uncle's town is finally online, and I can expand his family tree!