Super Sleuth

Super Sleuth
Digging Up The Past One Relative At A Time

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sign on the Dotted Line

     The past two months have been dedicated to searching a little further into the family tree.  Brick walls have been my nemeses over and over again, and I'm trying not to become discouraged.  If genealogy was simple, everyone would be able to trace their roots back to Noah!

     A couple of years ago, when I was just starting out on my family search, I came upon several records in the town of Marcianise, Caserta, Italy that were signed by my 3x-Great-Grandfather, Giosue Armiero (1812-1888).  I am not exactly sure what his signature meant on each of the birth, marriage, and death records of the town, but I'm assuming that he may have been a worker in the town hall.  What I can determine by this gem of a find is that:  1)  My 3x-Great-Grandfather was literate; 2)  He had a prominent job; 3)  The way he writes his "A" is very similar to the way I do; and 4)  Giosue is the Italian form of the name, "Joshua".

     There are other bits of information that may prove to be very valuable in your search.  For example, please consider the following document:

     This is an "Atti di Matrimonio", a marriage record for my 2x-Great-Grandparents, Luigi Varrera and Rosolina Sorvillo.  They were married on 12 September 1877 in Orta di Atella, Caserta, Italy.  The information on this record is priceless to me and enabled me to go back one more generation.  Here is some of the information that I have found that may be useful in your own research:

1)  My 2x-Great-Grandfather, Luigi, was 30-years-old when he got married.
2)  Luigi's profession is listed as a "guardiano", which translates into "guardian".  Perhaps he was a watchman or a policeman.
3)  I know that Luigi's father, my 3x-Great-Grandfather, Domenico Varrera, was already deceased at the time of this marriage.  I know this because Domenico is listed as, "figlio di fu".  When you have the "figlio/figlia di "fu"", it means that the person is deceased.
4)  Luigi's mother, my 3x-Great-Grandmother, Massima Pezzella, was alive at the time of this marriage.
5)  This record also tells me that Luigi was born in and a resident of Orta di Atella.
6)  My 2x-Great-Grandmother, Rosolina, was 24-years-old at the time of this marriage.
7)  Rosolina's occupation is listed as a "contadina", which could mean farmer or countryman.
8)  Rosolina's father, my 3x-Great-Grandfather, Giuseppe Sorvillo, was deceased at the time of the marriage, but her mother, my 3x-Great-Grandmother, Speranza Pellino, was alive.

     This marriage document gave me some fantastic hints.  Plus, if I "think outside of the box", the fact that their ages were presented, gives me a ballpark figure of the possible years they were born.

     Thanks for reading!  Happy hunting!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"When You Just Feel a Connection"

     Hunting down people in your family tree can be an exciting endeavor, but there are times when you fly head first into a brick wall and cannot move any further.  In these instances, I try to slow down and focus on the things that I have found so far.  I read and reread the information I have gathered in my binders.  Sometimes I find something that I haven't seen the first time I looked at it.  This happens a lot and you should never get discouraged when those brick walls appear.  You just need to take a little break in your research.

     I have discovered many people in my family tree.  Currently, on my account, I have about 800 people now dangling from the tree.  The names fascinate me the most.  Going back to the 1500's and 1600's, the styles of names are so elegant.  I love finding similar names because it means that people were named after their ancestors.  In Italian culture, this is very common.  Usually, the first-born male child will be named after his paternal grandfather.  The first-born female child will be named after her paternal grandmother.  The second-born male child and female child will be named for their maternal grandfather and maternal grandmother respectively.  

Joseph's and Giuseppe's Throughout the Generations:

     The above paragraphs can be better explained through some visual aids.  There are / were many Joseph's (Giuseppe's) in my family tree.  I will begin with the most recent generation and work my way backwards:

My Brother:  Joseph Esposito was named for my father, not my paternal grandfather.  I believe that was a decision made by my parents.  Not one male child on my father's side of the family was named for their paternal grandfather...perhaps because we've become more Americanized over the past few decades.

My Father:  Joseph Esposito was the second male child born to my paternal grandparents, so my father was named after his maternal grandfather.

My Paternal Great-Grandfather:  Giuseppe Varrera was also the second male child born to my great-great-grandparents, so he was named after his maternal grandfather.

My Paternal 3x-Great-Grandfather:  Giuseppe Sorvillo is the last leaf I can find on this branch of the family tree.  I am certain I will be able to go back further over time, but the brick wall presented itself.


     As you can see, generationally, we hold on to our ancestors in some manner, shape, or form.  Particularly interesting is when multiple generations are alive at the same time.  I am so excited when I see multiple generations present at family parties or at friends' gatherings.  I am usually the one taking the photograph.  Here are some examples of multi-generational families:

A Four-Generation Photo:  (2014)  
In this photograph, taken by yours-truly, we have from left to right, my first-cousin; her grandson, her son, and her mother (my aunt).  As soon as I realized everyone was present, I HAD to take this picture.

A Four-Generation Photo:  (circa 1955)
In this photograph, we have from left to right, my uncle, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and my 2x-great-grandmother.


This is truly the masterpiece of my collection!  In this photograph, taken by my father, we have from left to right, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my mother, my sister, and my nephew.  I am so happy to have this memento.  My great-grandmother was one month shy of her 101st birthday when she passed away two years after this photograph was taken.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"You Remind Me So Much of..."

     One of the most interesting things I have discovered in my heritage hunting is that certain hobbies and interests that I have stemmed from ancestors of long ago.  Thanks to the "Atti di Morte" records on, I was able to know the professions of deceased ancestors, and quite surprised when I found out that some of the things I enjoy doing today was the livelihood of my ancestors.

     The above picture is a scan of the death record of my 2x-great-grandfather.  You can find a plethora of information on this type of document.  A working knowledge of Italian is not necessary, because there are many programs on the Internet that can help you translate any language into the language you are most comfortable with.  

     The information that I found out through this type of document is as follows:
1.  My 2x-great-grandfather's name was Luigi Varrera.
2.  He passed away on 2 November 1925 in Orta di Atella, Caserta, Italia.
3.  He was 79-years-old when he passed.
4.  His wife, Rosolina Sorvillo, my 2x-great-grandmother, was still alive at the time of his passing.
5.  His father's name was Domenico Varrera.
6.  His mother's name was Massima Pezzella.
7.  His profession was a farmer / laborer.

     Since my roots are solely in Italy, the crux of my research is housed there.  My family, on both sides--maternal and paternal--have not been in the United States 100 years yet, so my American history is limited, as far as I know, but there is a rich rooted system all over mid-to southern Italy and thankfully, the church and civil records are available for viewing.  
     Some of my ancestors have been doctors, seamstresses, weavers, farmers, laborers, and barbers.  There was also a story about one of my great-grandmothers being a school teacher, but I'm not certain whether that is fact or folklore.

     Above is a collage I created with the photographs of all of my great-grandparents.  Remember, each person has eight biological great-grandparents.  When I look at this image, I can see so many facial features that I share with my great-grandmothers.  I am so grateful that I did not inherit my great-grandfathers' mustaches!!  

     If you happen to have old photographs lying around in boxes, they need to be preserved for posterity.  I am a sentimental person, as you may have guessed, and I try to give sentimental gifts to family members.  I do not have children of my own, but I have a multitude of nieces and nephews that I try to share my ancestry findings with.  Gifts like this can open up a world of conversation and a deep respect for those who came before us.

     Old photographs should be handled carefully.  I scanned most of the photographs that belonged to my grandparents which probably isn't the best way to preserve due to the lasers in the scanners, but after they were scanned, the originals were placed in protective books while the scanned copies were saved to the computer to be cleaned up a little and brightened.  I was also able to categorize them for easy access.

     If you are ready to start your own family research and have questions, please fell free to leave a question or a comment.  I look forward to hearing from you!  Happy hunting!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Little Fancy Footwork

     Out of my four grandparents, three of them were born in Italy and one of them was born here in America.  Believe it or not, I am having the most difficult time trying to get a copy of the birth certificate belonging to my American-born, paternal grandmother.  Why is this?  New York has very strict rules and regulations when it comes to obtaining information that discusses the personal aspects of an individual's life.  Privacy is a very important matter, so only certain years are available for purchase.  Yes, I said purchase.  Almost everything comes with a price, and obtaining a document that discusses birth, marriage, or death will cost you.  Depending on the state in question, the fee could vary.
     When I searched through the Italian records on and, I was able to locate and print out the birth announcements of my Italian-born grandparents.  The only way I will be able to obtain a copy of my American-born, paternal grandmother's birth certificate is if my aunt or one of my uncles (my grandmother's children) fill out the request form for me.  

Investigation Leads to a Final Resting Stone:

     About two years ago, I was doing a little hunting on my eight great-grandparents.  I knew where six of them were buried, but I couldn't find two of them.  I interviewed some relatives, but they couldn't recall the location of the cemeteries.  I started to focus on one of my great-grandmothers, Giuseppa Maria Rosa (Josephine) since she died first in 1937.  She was only 47-years-old when she passed away. I knew that she died in Manhattan, so I started to search the Internet.  I was unsuccessful in finding her for weeks.  The reason?  The medical examiner spelled her name incorrectly on the form.  When I did finally hunt her down, I had to travel into Manhattan to obtain the copy of her death certificate.  
     The report told me where she was buried, so I took it upon myself, when I had a day off from work, to travel out to Queens to St. Michael's Cemetery only to find out that my great-grandmother was buried in an unmarked grave.  There was no tombstone to identify where she was or even who she was.  The caretaker of the cemetery was kind enough to lead me to where she was buried and all I saw was just a patch of grass.  This was a very disappointing and depressing day for me.  Obviously, since no one really knew where she was buried, her burial place was not visited for at least 60 years.  
     After sharing this information with the rest of my extended family, we decided to chip in together and purchase a tombstone for her.  It was placed at her grave during the 75th year of her death.  Family is probably one of the most important components of one's life.  When we all work together, we continue the legacy that began generations ago.  I am forever indebted to my family for making this possible.  

The State Archives:

     To explore what the State Archives in your particular state has to offer, please visit one of the following websites:

     If you have a relative who was born, got married, or passed away in one of the above states, try looking them up by clicking on the link.  By obtaining your ancestors' documents, you are piecing together an heirloom to pass down to future generations.  It is important for all children to know about their ancestors, what events in history their ancestors lived through, and what ailments caused your ancestors to die.  This is excellent information to assist you in keeping track of your own medical issues.  Perhaps there is a history of something in your family that can be treated with modern technology and/or medicine, if you choose.  Happy hunting!

Monday, September 1, 2014


     Every ten years, on a year ending with a zero, Americans take part in filling out the United States  Census.  Why exactly do we do this and how can the census assist you in finding out more about who your ancestors were?  

Official Census Dates:

     The United States Congress established the census to record and keep track of the population exactly as it was on the official census date.  The first official census took place in 1790.  The recorded population of the United States in 1790 was 3.9 million people!  I think it's safe to assume that we've grown dramatically in population since then, especially with the influx of immigrants during the two major waves of immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Censuses have been taken in the following years thus far:  1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010.
     Another important fact to consider is that the United States wasn't "whole" in 1790.  If you remember from your school years, the last two states to enter the Union were Alaska and Hawaii, both admitted in 1959.  Therefore, as the United States grew due to Manifest Destiny, the California Gold Rush, the waves of immigration, and the annexation of territories, we became larger and larger as the decades passed.  

Limitations of the Census Records:

     In my years of researching, I've had easy and difficult times when tracking down ancestors.  For example, my mother's maternal grandparents, my great-grandparents, came to America in 1920, however I cannot find them ANYWHERE on the 1930 and 1940 censuses.  My father's family has presented themselves many times throughout the censuses.  So, what is the problem?  Here are some reasons:

1.  Your ancestors may not have been at home when the enumerator, (the person that went from door to door to collect the information--we now do this by U.S. Mail), came knocking.

2.  Your ancestors' names may have been spelled incorrectly.  If you are typing their names into an ancestry search engine the correct way, but they were recorded the incorrect way by the enumerator, you will find that you have to spend extra time in trying different spelling configurations.  An example to illustrate this point is as follows:  My mother's paternal grandparents' names were Vincenzo Ferrara and Concetta Scotti-Ferrara.  When I tried looking them up, spelling their last name correctly as "Ferrara", they would not appear.  I knew they've been in America since 1911, so what was the deal?  It wasn't until I typed in their last name as "Ferraro" that I was able to get a hit.  I knew I was looking at the correct family because I already knew what street they lived on, and I knew the names of the children in the household, but there were many spelling and grammatical errors.

3.  Reading, writing, and arithmetic were not as important then as they are now.  Remember, that many of your ancestors may have had to leave school before 7th or 8th grade to help contribute to the household income.  My two great-grandmothers on my mother's side were not literate in English.  I don't even believe they were literate in their native language, Italian.  They couldn't even sign their names, but they were excellent when it came to mathematical figures.  

Question Comparisons:

     The difference in the types of questions asked by the government were astounding between 1790 and 1940.  Take a look below:

A)  Questions of the 1790 United States Census:
     1-Name of the head of the family
     2-Free white males 16-years-of-age and older, including heads of families
     3-Free white males under 16-years-of-age
     4-Free white females
     5-All other free persons
     7-Dwellings and miscellaneous

B)  Questions of the 1940 United States Census:
     2-House number
     3-Family number
     4-Home owned or rented
     5-Value of home if owned or monthly rental if rented
     6-Does this household live on a farm
     7-Name of each person whose usual place of residence on April 1, 1940, was in this household
     8-Relation to head of household
     10-Color or race
     11-Age at last birthday
     12-Marital status
     13-Attended school or college any time since March 1, 1940
     14-Highest grade of school completed
     15.  Place of birth
     16-Citizenship of the foreign born
     17-City, town, village
     19-State (or territory or foreign country)
     20-On a farm
     (There are thirty more questions, so I won't bore you with them here, but you are most welcomed to look them up if you are interested to know the rest.)

Census Example:

     Here is the 1940 United States Census information for my maternal grandparents.  By examining this record, I was able to obtain the following information:  my grandfather, (whose name is spelled incorrectly on this census), was 29-years-old in 1940; they list his birth year being circa 1911 (this was true); he was a white, married male; he lived on Eldridge Street in Manhattan with my grandmother and my aunt (my mother and my uncle were not born yet).  
     I also learned that he worked as a longshoreman, he did not go to college and completed school up to the 8th grade.  He worked 25 hours per week and his income was $520.  

     Census records should not be discounted when researching your past.  Both and are up-to-date with their census records.  Try it out.  You may be surprised by what you find out.  

     We will explore more of the United States Census at a later date.  Small steps first before we sprint!  Happy hunting!

Saturday, August 30, 2014


     If you really stop to think about it, you are related to a lot of people.  You may not think so, but it's true.  Let's crunch some numbers and you'll see what I mean.  Now, brace yourself, because it's about to get real up in here!  

1.  You have two biological parents.
2.  Your parents had two biological parents each which makes four grandparents.

(Each generation back gets doubled since it takes two people to make one baby, right?  Let's continue, shall we?)

3.  You have 8 great-grandparents.
4.  You have 16 great-great-grandparents (2x-great-grandparents).
5.  You have 32 3x-great-grandparents.
6.  You have 64 4x-great-grandparents.
7.  You have 128 5x-great-grandparents.
8.  You have 256 6x-great-grandparents.
9.  You have 512 7x-great-grandparents.
10.  You have 1,024 8x-great-grandparents.
11.  You have 2,048 9x-great-grandparents.
12.  You have 4,096 10x-great-grandparents.
13.  You have 8,192 11x-great-grandparents.
14.  You have 16,384 12x-great-grandparents.

(Are you starting to sweat yet?  Trust me, this gets pretty amazing.  Hang on...)

15.  You have 32,768 13x-great-grandparents.
16.  You have 65,536 14x-great-grandparents.
17.  You have 131,072 15x-great-grandparents.
18.  You have 262,144 16x-great-grandparents.
19.  You have 524,288 17x-great-grandparents.
20.  You have 1,048,576 18x-great-grandparents.

(I think we can stop here, but you get the general idea.  Each time you travel back a generation, you have to double the amount of people who were responsible for you being on this Earth.)

     I am not a "math-person"; never have been and never will be, but these are the kinds of figures that excite me.  Put this into perspective for just a moment.  I found a marriage record for a set of my 13x-great-grandparents.  They were married in June 1566 A.D.!  Just by doing a little bit of research, I learned that the world's population in 1500 A.D. was about 435 million!  Do you understand the significance here?  It's more than likely that you are related to just about everyone you know.  Yes, it's true...somewhere down the generational line, you probably share relatives with everyone else.  When you put it into these terms, the old adage, "What a small world!" really hits home.

     I was serious when I said that I found a marriage record from 1566 for one set of my 13x-great-grandparents.  Here is a picture of it:

Yes, looks old, doesn't it?  Well, it is old!  It is written in Latin...thank goodness for Google Translate!  Anyway, my 13x-great-grandfather's name was Mariano Blundo and my 13x-great-grandmother's name was Vicenza di Magnano.  They were married in Sortino, Siracusa, Sicilia, Italia on 19 June 1566.

     You may be asking yourself how I was able to obtain this record, or how I am even sure that these people are relatives of mine.  The explanation is simple.  Remember how I mentioned that you must start with the current generation and work your way backwards?  That is what I did.  This record was obtained using the website  I have been a subscriber to for several years now, and I love it, but as a researcher, I cannot only use one reference.  If you were asked to write a term paper in school using only one resource, you really wouldn't have different perspectives and you may be missing out on pertinent information that would enhance your final report.

     While allows you to browse through millions of records for a subscription fee, allows you the same opportunity and all you have to do is sign up with a valid email.  I have obtained a lot of valuable information using, but because also scanned Catholic Church records to their site, I was able to trace back to before the year 1866.  The Catholic Church records allow you to take a glimpse into your ancestors' Baptisms, Holy Communions, Confirmations, Marriages, and deaths.  I recommend to anyone who does not want to make a monthly commitment yet to, but I HIGHLY recommend to anyone who wants to "hunt and gather" information and keep all of their found records and documents in one place on the computer.  Both are valuable resources.   is another invaluable resource to anyone who had ancestors who were immigrants and were processed through Ellis Island.  On this site, you can locate relatives, see their placement on the ship's manifest, learn about who they traveled with, how much money they had on them, what their physical appearance was, who they were meeting in America, any relative they may have had back in the homeland, AND you can see a picture of the ship that transported them to America.

     Click on the links below to browse these excellent websites:

     Since Sunday is a day of rest, I will see you all on Monday.  Enjoy the weekend and happy hunting!

Friday, August 29, 2014


     I would like to make every Friday's blog a "mini-lesson" to assist you in comprehending the lingo of the professionals.  

     Cousins, cousins, cousins...first, second, third, once-removed...etc.  How do you know to what degree you are related to your "cousins"?  Here are some hints to help you out.  I will use my own personal information to illustrate.

1)  I have 14 first cousins on my father's side of the family.  How do I know they are my first cousins?  The reason why I know this is because we all share the same grandparents.  Therefore, if you and your cousin share the same grandparents then you are FIRST cousins.

2)  Now, we all get older, right?  Sometimes we don't want to deal with that, but it's a fact of life.  When your first cousin has a baby, what is that baby's relationship to you?  Well, I'm glad you asked.  You would be considered FIRST cousins ONCE REMOVED.  How do I know this?  I know this because the grandparents I share with my first cousin become the great-grandparents of THEIR children.  

3)  So, when are you considered SECOND cousins?  Second cousins occur when you and someone else share the same GREAT-GRANDPARENTS.  You will probably start noticing a pattern here.  Watch this...

4)  When your second cousin has a baby, that baby becomes your SECOND cousin ONCE REMOVED.  Do you see what is happening here?  Every time a new generation comes to life, it alters your relationship with them.

5)  Here is a little quiz to see if you were paying attention.  We already know that if you and someone else share the same grandparents, then you are considered FIRST COUSINS.  We also know that if you and someone else share the same great-grandparents, then you are considered SECOND COUSINS.  What are you considered then if you and someone else share the same great-great-grandparents?  That's right!  You would be considered THIRD COUSINS!

     We will dig a little deeper into the Relationship Chart so you will understand what the terms TWICE removed, THREE TIMES REMOVED, and so forth, mean.  In the interim, here is a cheat sheet to help you identify the relationship correlations.  The link to this chart is found below.


     How many "greats" are too many "greats" to place in front of the word, "grandparent"?  Another fantastic question!  Here is a quick-reference guide for you:

Etc., etc., etc...


     Facebook has become one of my favorite websites, not because of the addicting games or the stimulating conversation.  Facebook has shortened the miles-gap between myself and my extended family.  It is a comfort to know that we are all still in touch though the Internet.  It truly is an asset when used properly.
     About three years ago, I noticed that my "first cousin once removed" was friends with some people on Facebook who shared the same last name as my paternal grandmother's maiden name.  These "friends" of my first cousin once removed lived in a small town in Italy.  The name of the town was familiar to me because, in my research, I discovered that my paternal grandmother's father (my great-grandfather) came from the same town.  After some investigative work and through the assistance of Google Translate, I discovered that theses "friends" in Italy were actually my THIRD COUSINS.  How did I know this for sure?  The young lady I was corresponding with on the Internet had a grandfather who was still living and was able to piece together some of the loose ends.  When all was said and done, this young lady and I not only shared the same 2x-Great-Grandparents, but her great-grandfather and my great-grandfather were brothers.
     In 2013, she came to America on her honeymoon and was invited to my house to meet the American family.  This past July, my husband and I went to Italy to meet the rest of her family--mia famiglia!  We are separated by the Atlantic Ocean, but, thanks to technology, we were reconnected.  My great-grandfather was the only one of his six brothers and sisters to immigrate to America.  He came in 1914.  The siblings and parents he left behind in Caserta lost touch with him over the years and they had no idea of the amount of relatives they had in America.

This is a photograph of my THIRD COUSIN and me taken in Caserta, Italy in July 2014.  Her great-grandfather and my great-grandfather were brothers!

Thursday, August 28, 2014


     You wrote down all of your vital stats and now you can begin plotting on your pedigree chart.  Thanks to the current interest in family history, you can purchase pedigree charts and ancestry-based paper in craft stores all over the United States.  There are also several websites that offer free, printable pedigree charts, just like the fan chart that I provided for you yesterday.  
     When you create your pedigree chart, it is VITAL that you remember to be respectful of others' privacy regarding their identities.  Even if a person is deceased, you want to take special care in how you utilize their personal information.  If the pedigree chart is for your own personal and family use, then you don't have to be so rigid regarding privacy.  However, if you plan to share your information on the Internet or some other public space, then you may want to blur out certain identifying characteristics and get the consent from living relatives before proceeding.  Below is an example of how to begin your pedigree chart.  For privacy, I have blurred out some personal information.

     Notice that if you are creating the pedigree chart for yourself, then YOUR name must be on the first line.  Your spouse's information would be written under your name if you have a spouse.  If you don't have a spouse, leave it blank.  There are sections for your father, mother, your paternal side (father's side), and your maternal side (mother's side).

1.  At this point, the pedigree chart should become your working copy.  You can print out several copies if you like for scrap and jot down hints that you find along the way.  Remember to keep all of your loose papers in a folder, box, or file cabinet so that they are easily accessible.

2.  Enter as much information about your parents, your paternal grandparents, maternal grandparents, and so on, as you can.

3.  Now is a good time to interview your living ancestors.  If you are fortunate to still have your parents and grandparents with you, then you need to grill and drill them for any information they can remember.  Once they pass on, some of your questions will not be answered and that will make your detective work a little harder.

4.  Write your information in pencil if you are uncertain of name spellings, dates, and locations.  Only move to permanent ink when you are SURE that the information is correct.  

5.  Last names should be CAPITALIZED throughout the tree.

6.  Do not forget to record ALL of the women in your family with their MAIDEN names.  Trust me, this is important.


     Check out this list of possible places where you can figure out family information!

A)  family Bibles
B)  the backs of old photographs
C)  interviewing living ancestors, cousins, etc
D)  graveyards (I know, it sounds creepy, but you would be amazed at what you can find regarding dates and who your ancestors are buried with or near.)
E)  yearbooks
F)  old newspapers (Newspapers are good resources to find out about engagements, weddings, and obituaries.)
G)  prayer cards you receive at wakes and funerals (Again, a little morbid, but the information is priceless.)

     Here is another wonderful website for printing out free ancestry forms:


     Print out a free pedigree chart and start plotting your information.  These will be collected and graded!  (Just kidding!)  Happy hunting!

My maternal grandparents, Gennaro and Giuseppa being silly on the rooftop of their Lower East Side apartment building, circa 1940s.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


     It's always smart to have a game plan when it comes to researching your past.  The trick is to start with the most recent generation and work your way backwards.  Begin with yourself!  Find a blank notebook to record your notes--teachers LOVE notebooks!  Make sure you write down everything about yourself--JUST THE FACTS!  Although it would be lovely to know that your favorite color is violet and you always enjoyed hang-gliding, right now we just need to know the facts about you.  The other stuff will come later on.  Here is a short list to help you, but feel free to add anything else you wish.

1.  Your FULL birth name.  It is imperative to write down your name exactly as it was given to you at birth.  This is a helpful hint for when and if you research ancestors in Europe!  It Italy, especially, women, even if they are married, will always be found under their maiden names.  (Helpful Hint Alert!--ladies, when creating your own family trees, write your full MAIDEN name, not your married name.)

2.  The day, month, and year of your birth.  You will notice that professionals write it this way.  So, instead of writing, for example:  January 1, 2000, you would write it as:  1 January 2000, or 1 JAN 2000.  This way, if you are researching ancestors from other countries, you will not be thrown off when you see a date written as "11/7/1850."  This does NOT mean November 7, 1850 in Europe, it actually means, 11 July 1850!  Not knowing that simple trick could set you back months in your research as it did for me when I first started.

3.  If you happen to know the hospital you were born in, or the location of your birth, record that as well.  Depicting town, city, state, and country will make researching easier because it concentrates in one specific area.  There is a big difference between researching a relative in the "United States" and researching a relative in "Staten Island, New York, United States."

4.  If you are Catholic, you should record the dates of your Baptism, First Holy Communion, Confirmation, etc.  Most Catholic churches keep records of their parishioners past and present.  You can request a copy of these sacramental certificates, but you may be asked to offer a small donation.  Furthermore, you would have to request the certificate at the church in which you received the sacrament.  If you practice another form of religion, notify your place of worship to see if there are any documents you can obtain.

5.  Write the full names of your biological parents, if known, and any siblings that came from the union of your biological parents.  Record birth dates and death dates.

     You are ready to begin your pedigree chart!  I, personally, enjoy using a fan chart, but you can create any configuration you want, as long as you understand the progression of it.  Below is an example of the fan chart I made for one of my 3x-great-grandmothers.  I can trace back her family to 1566!  

     Also, check out the link below for free, printable fan charts!  Happy hunting!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"The past is a source of knowledge, and the future is a source of hope.  Love of the past implies faith in the future."  --Stephen Ambrose, 1936-2002

     If you are a nostalgic and curious person like I am, then you've probably dabbled in genealogy.  After all, who wouldn't want to dig up all of those dirty secrets?  Who could have descended from royalty!  Nostalgic and curious people find nothing strange or abnormal about lurking through cemeteries to find the hidden headstone with the birth and death dates of relatives that would complete their pedigree charts.  They would also find looking through dresser drawers, closets, and attics exhilarating!
     Sometimes you just don't know where to begin.  If you had been exposed to family photos and stories at a young age, then you most likely have a starting off point.  Case in point--me.  I was fortunate to have all four grandparents in my life until I was twelve-years-old.  In those first twelve years of my life, I have seen photos, heard names, imagined stories in my head through my own made up pictures, and was exposed to a second language--Italian--however, they only spoke it when they didn't want me to know something.
     My maternal grandmother, Giuseppa (Josephine) 1913-2001, was the quintessential reason why I had an itch for genealogy.  When I spent summer days at her and my grandfather's house, a weekly ritual would be to take down the dusty box of old family photos and be educated on who the people were, where they came from, and what inevitably happened to them.  I was truly fascinated by the serious and stalwart expressions of my ancestors.  Why was everyone so serious?  Didn't anyone ever smile?
     Fast-forward to the current me...a 38-year-old middle school history teacher...hmmm...seems rather symbolic, don't you think?  Anyway, for the past four years, I have seriously and officially taken on the role of "family historian / sleuther".  I have researched both sides of my family and, within four years, have traced back 13 generations on my mother's side and 9 generations on my father's side.  Not too shabby for someone who is not a professional genealogist.  What do I consider myself?  I consider myself a professional researcher.  I have a desire to know more and to find out as much as I can about my past so I can improve and solidify my future.
     The purpose of this blog is not to bore you with my family tree--although that would come into play every once in a while.  The main purpose is to help others who have always wanted to uncover their family's past, but didn't quite know how to begin.  I will share my hints and tips as much as possible.  I hope I can, in some way, open the door to the past in other's lives.  Happy hunting!