How Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning Impact Genealogy

Artificial Intelligence and Genealogy
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 32

In this episode we tackle a few small geeky tech questions about artificial intelligence, better known as AI, that may have a pretty big impact on your genealogy life. Questions like:

  • Is artificial intelligence the same thing as machine learning?
    And if not how are they related?
  • And am I using AI, maybe without even being aware of it?
  • And what impact is AI really having on our lives? Is it all good, or are there some pitfalls we need to know about?

We’re going to approach these with a focus on family history, but pretty quickly I think we’ll discover it’s a much more far-reaching subject. And that means this episode is for everyone.

Free Webinar AI Machine learning and Genealogy

Watch the free video below.

While I’ve done my own homework on this subject and written about it in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, I’m smart enough to call in an expert in the field. So, my special guest is Benjamin Lee. He is the developer of the Newspaper Navigator, the new free tool that uses artificial intelligence to help you find and extract images from the free historical newspaper collection at The Library of Congress’ Chronicling America. I covered Newspaper Navigator extensively in Elevenses with Lisa episode 26.

Ben  is a 2020 Innovator-in-Residence at the Library of Congress, as well as a third year Ph.D. Student in the Paul G. Allen School for Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, where he studies human-AI interaction with his advisor, Professor Daniel Weld.

He graduated from Harvard College in 2017 and has served as the inaugural Digital Humanities Associate Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum,  as well as a Visiting Fellow in Harvard’s History Department. And currently he’s a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

Thank you so much to Ben Lee for a really interesting discussion and for making Newspaper Navigator available to researchers. I am really looking forward to hearing from him about his future updates and improvements.

Artificial Intelligence and Genealogy

Covering technology and its application to genealogy is always a bit of a double-edged sword. It can be exciting and helpful, and also problematic in its invasiveness.

Tools like family tree hints, the Newspaper Navigator and Google Lens (learn more about that in Elevenses with Lisa episode 27) all have a lot to offer our genealogy research. But on a personal level, you may be concerned about the long reaching effects of artificial intelligence on the future, and most importantly your descendants. In today’s deeply concerning cancel culture and online censorship, AI can seriously impact our privacy, security and even our freedom.

As I did my research for this episode I discovered a few things. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning is having the same kind of massive and disrupting impact that DNA has had on genealogy, with almost none of the same publicity. (For background on DNA data usage, listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 217. That episode covers the use of DNA in criminal cases and how our data potentially has wide-reaching appeal to many other entities and industries.)

A quick search of artificial intelligence ancestry.com in Google Patents reveals that work continues on ways to apply AI to DNA and genealogy. (See image below)

Patents for AI machine learning and DNA

Patent search result: a pending patent involving AI and DNA by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

AI now makes our genealogical research and family tree data just as valuable to others outside of genealogy.

This begs the question, who else might be interested in our family tree research and data?

Who Is Interested in Your Genealogy Data

One answer to this question is academic researchers. During my research on this subject The Record Linking Lab at Brigham Young University surfaced as just one example. It’s run by a BYU Economics Professor who published a research paper on their work called Combining Family History and Machine Learning to Link Historical Records. The paper was co-authored with a Notre Dame Economics and Women’s Studies professor.

In this example, their goals are driven by economic, social, and political issues rather than genealogy. Their published paper does offer an eye-opening look at the value that those outside the genealogy community place on all of the personal data we’re collecting and the genealogical records we are linking. Our work is about our ancestors, and therefore it is about ourselves. Even if living people are not named on our tree, they are named in the records we are linking to it. We are making it all publicly available.

In the past, historical records like birth and death, military and the census have been available to these researchers, but on an individual basis. This made them difficult to work with. Academic (and industry) researchers couldn’t easily follow these records for individual people, families, and generations of families through time in order to draw meaningful conclusions. But for the first-time machine learning is being applied to online genealogy research data making it possible to link these records to living and deceased individuals and their families.  

It’s a lot to think about, but it’s important because it is our family history data.  We need to understand how our data is being used inside and outside the genealogy sandbox.

Answers to Your Live Chat Questions About AI

One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.

Elevenses with Lisa Q&A on AI and Genealogy

www.GenealogyGems.com/Elevenses

From Linda J: ​What about all the “people search” sites (not genealogy) that have all, or a lot of, our personal date?
Lisa’s Answer: My understanding is that much of the information provided on many of the “people search” websites comes from public information. So while the information is much easier to access these days, it’s been publicly available for years. That information isn’t as accessible to projects like the one discussed in this episode because those websites don’t make their Application Programming Interface (known as API) publicly available like FamilySearch does.

From Doug H: Wouldn’t that potentially find errors in our trees?
Lisa’s Answer: Yes.

From Sheryl T: ​Do these academic researchers have access to the living people on the trees? Or are those protected from them as it is to the public?
Lisa’s Answer: They have access to all information attached to people marked as “Living Person.” Therefore, if the attached record names them, their identity would then be known. Click a hint on your tree at Ancestry for example, and the found records clearly spell out the name of the person they believe is your “Living” person.

From Nancy M: ​How long do the show notes stay available? am looking for Google Books two weeks ago and last week’s Allen Co Library.
Lisa’s Answer: The show notes remain available until the episode is archived in Premium Membership. You can find all of the currently available free Elevenses with Lisa episodes on our website in the menu under VIDEOS click Elevenses with Lisa.

Nannie A: I heard a rumor that Ancestry .com has been sold. Do you know if that’s true?
Lisa’s Answer: Yes, they were sold again this year. Read:
Private equity firm Blackstone Group Inc. buying Ancestry.com for $4.7 billion
Private equity wants to own your DNA by CBS News.

Resources

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Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member today. 

 

Italian Genealogy – Research Your Italian Heritage

In this video on Italian genealogy and family history research  Lisa Louise Cooke and her guest professional genealogist Sarah Gutmann of Legacy Tree Genealogists will discuss:

  • How to get started in Italian Genealogy 
  • The best websites for Italian Genealogy
  • Italian genealogical records
  • Language tips and resources

Sarah Gutmann began her obsession with family history when she was 13-years-old.  She now has almost three decades of experience helping others climb their family tree. She is a professional genealogist with Legacy Tree Genealogists where she specializes in United States and Italian research. As a veteran classroom teacher, Sarah enjoys teaching  various genealogy programs to libraries, historical societies, and lineage organizations across America.

Exclusive Offer: Save $100 on full-service genealogy research projects with code GGP100 at Legacy Tree Genealogists. Or schedule a Genealogist-on-Demand™ 45-minute genealogy consultation HERE. (By using our affiliate links we will be compensated. Thank you for supporting our free genealogy content.)

Watch Live: Thursday, April 21, 2021 at 11:00 am CT 
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Three ways to watch:

  1. Video Player (Live) – Watch video premiere at the appointed time in the video player above.
  2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch the YouTube premiere with Live Chat at the appointed time above at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 
  3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat. 

Members-Only Italian Genealogy Handouts

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members
PREMIUM MEMBER BONUS: Italian Translation Cheat Sheet
PREMIUM MEMBER BONUS 2: How to Use the Italian Archive Site Antenati

Show Notes

It’s all about Italian ancestry here at Genealogy Gems today, and I’ve got the perfect person to talk to us about it and help you find a lot more out about your Italian roots. Sarah Guttman is a professional genealogist with Legacy Tree Genealogists. She specializes in US research, but also Italian research. She’s going to help us find out how to find our Italian roots. Welcome to the show, Sarah!

Sarah: Thanks so much, Lisa. I’m a big fan of the show. And it’s so nice to be able to get to meet you in person and to be able to talk to your listeners and hopefully share some information to help them find their Italian ancestry.

Americans with Italian Ancestry

(01:04) Lisa: Do you have some idea of how many people in the U.S. have Italian roots?

Sarah: Well, thanks to the magic of Google, it looks like about 5% of all Americans can trace their ancestors back to some Italian roots. But I like to think that it’s a lot higher, especially in New York you can’t go down the street without seeing a few pizza places. And I’m sure other parts of America have a heavier population than others. But for me, it seems like everybody has some Italian in them.

Lisa: I was we were thinking about this. You just need one ancestor who comes from a particular country and all of a sudden your genealogy research and breaks into a whole other area. And that’s the fun of genealogy, isn’t it? It’s different depending on which ancestor your work on.

Sarah: It’s really fun! About four years ago, the Italian archives really took off online, and we’ll talk about that today. The Italian archives is a free website, and it is based in Italy. I remember, I was on vacation in New Jersey with my family on a beach vacation and I got a call from my friend at around midnight. And she said, “Sarah, you have to get on this website! I think your brick walls are just going to come right down. The Italian town that your family is from is on there.”

So, I spent the rest of this beach vacation, locked in a room. And I had the best time looking at my family. I was getting records from people who lived in the late 1790s. It is just amazing the stuff you can find if you can kind of crack the code, and I’ll hopefully show people how to do that. You can really expand upon your Italian ancestry and have a lot of fun with that. And really, once you just get one ancestor, all of a sudden, you’re just going back several generations, and you just feel so great about yourself and just makes these wonderful connections. It’s just a great experience.

Lisa: I totally agree. I think I probably have done that on a vacation or two! And I’m excited because I have some new friends here in our neighborhood and the husband is half Italian. He’s like, “I don’t know anything about it!” So even if you’re not Italian, we’re going to be able to help our friends who are.  So, let’s jump into it!

How to Find the Italian Village of Origin

(03:51) Sarah: The first thing we have to do is identify where the family is from over in Italy. Once you figure out what village your family is coming from, you can then jump into the Italian records.

One thing I think that we take for granted in America is that if we know that one of our ancestors was born in New York, there’s a pretty good chance that we’re going to be able to find that person. But a lot of times when we’re dealing with European countries, especially with Italy, unless you know the exact village that your family is from you’re going to have a really tough time.

Now, if you’ve ever gone on FamilySearch you probably know that if you put in an Italian last name you’re probably going to get some matches. That’s really exciting, and that’s great. But the problem is a lot of the records right now on FamilySearch are available in the catalog but they haven’t been indexed. So, you might not be getting your actual family member who’s in your family tree.

I want to share a way of really going into the actual Italian records from the State Archives for Italy and going into the village records and taking a peek and looking through them.

The first question that we always want to figure out when we’re dealing with Italy, and really anywhere, we want to find out what village our ancestors are coming from. That’s going to be really important. And that’s going to be the reason we’re either going to have a hard time or we’re really going to be successful on this.

A couple of things that we want to do before we hop over the pond is we want to check out and exhaust American records to see what is possibly available. So of course, we want to be looking at:

  • birth, marriage and death records,
  • church records,
  • passenger records,
  • naturalization records,
  • draft cards,
  • family Bibles (and I’m always so jealous if anybody has a family Bible because they are just a treasure trove of information),
  • old letters and envelopes (maybe your ancestors might have saved some old letters from their family over in Italy and you might be able to gain some of that from the address on the envelope, or maybe from the letter itself),
  • old photos, (flip them over. It might say where the family was coming from in Italy, or maybe your Italian ancestors had some visitors that were going to go back to Italy. They may have written that on the back of their photo),
  • probate records (maybe somebody’s leaving something to a family member over in Italy),
  • and obituaries.

Also check out the records for spouses and siblings. Check out your family’s “FAN Club” (Friends, Associates and Neighbors) and see if you can spot where that village is for your family

So, don’t give up. For one of my ancestors, I was having a really hard time finding what village they were from. But I noticed everywhere that my family went, there was this guy, Vincent Fiola who moved with them. Vincent never had any children. He was never married. But I was able to find his draft record. And on Vincent’s draft record he mentioned the town in Italy that he was from. So, I went and I looked at the records from that town. Sure enough, with Vincent Fiola in that same year was my great, great grandfather! So that’s how I found out my great, great grandfather’s town of origin by using one of his neighbors who just kept moving with him. So, it is possible to find the town. Just exhaust everything you can possibly find. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find that village so you can start looking for your ancestors.

Overcoming the Language Barrier with Italian Records

(07:41) One of the big things that I think people get really scared of with Italian research is that the records are in Italian. I’m a little bit guilty of this myself with some other languages of my ancestors. I see these languages that I am completely unfamiliar with and I think this is something I’ll just get to on another day. But I want to tell you that if you want to, you can totally do it. You can do it.

There are different ways to be successful at this. And there are some key topics that you can google for yourself to kind of figure out what some of the words mean. So, I just want to share some different phrases that are going to help you because you’re going to see the same things over and over again in your Italian records.

One of the first things that you want to be familiar with is the numbers. That’s going to be really important to you because a lot of our documents that we’re looking at in Italy, they are spelling out the numbers. They spell the entire year, the day street addresses, so we want to be able to identify those.

I will be honest, I am learning Italian myself. I am certainly not fluent in it. But I look at these records all day long. Sometimes I feel like I’m fluent in Italian because you’re looking at the same phrases over and over again. So, what I like to do when I’m doing my research is have a chart next to me with some of these helpful phrases on it. One of them is the Italian numbers.

Another thing is to know your months that you’re looking for in Italian. Keep in mind too, that these months are not capitalized because I think sometimes in our brain when we’re looking at these Italian records we might be trying to identify a month and looking for a capital letter. But that’s not what they’re doing in Italy. They are lowercase and we have to be aware of that when we’re looking for things.

Another thing is common words that we want to be able to pick out when we’re looking at the Italian records. So, for child we’re looking for bambino, bambina, and infante. Father, mother, Padre, Madre. The names for parents, genitori. The different types of records that we’re going to be looking at nata, matrimono. These are all going to really help you. It’s surprising that once you get just a hang of several of these phrases and words, you’re going to really be able to dive into those records and get the most out of them.

Common Italian Occupations

(10:26) Another thing that is often listed in the Italian records is our ancestors occupation. This is a really fun thing to find out, I think. With the birth, marriage and death records that we come across they’re going to usually tell not only that individual’s occupation, but also the names of their parents, and their spouses, even in death records, things like that.

These are some of the very common occupations that you will see over and over again in these Italian records. Bracciole is a day laborer, and a Contadino is a farmer. That’s something that you will likely see I’ve come to find in about 80% of the records. Sometimes they have fun ones that you can find on there such as rich person. That’s something that my occupation would never say, but they have it listed as somebody is a landowner. So, when you see something like that you might also be clued into maybe this person was a person of prominence in the village that people came to or people worked for.

The Italian Archives

(11:40) Now let’s jump into how to use the Italian archive website now that we have a little bit of backing with it. The first thing you’re going to go to is the Antenati website. You can even Google Antenati and it should come up.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is change the language into English. Let’s make it a little bit easier for ourselves! When you go to the website you’ll notice that there is an Italian flag. Click on the Italian flag and you’ll see a drop-down menu. Click on the English flag. Then magically, everything turns into English!

If you have been on this website in the past, be aware that they have changed the entire look of this website in the last few months. Unfortunately, they have also changed the website links. I was really disappointed because of course you always want to source everything, and on my Ancestry tree I had the actual links that were going to be connected to it. I wrote down where my family was from. And then all of a sudden, they totally changed this website, and those links that I had saved, don’t work anymore. So, I had to go back in and switch everything again, and actually put the images in just to make sure I had all the right information. So, keep that in mind when you’re looking at this website. Don’t save the links because it might not be there the next time you go on.

Lisa: Gosh, Sara, that’s a great reminder. I always encourage people to download the documents, and that’s a perfect reason why, because the links could change tomorrow.

Watch Lisa’s video How to Take Control of Preserving Your Family Tree Information (video and downloadable handout available with Premium Membership)

Sarah: Absolutely, and there was no warning with this website. So that was very upsetting to a lot of people. So save, save, save!

When you go to the archive’s homepage it will ask you what location you are looking for? This is very temperamental, because sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I like to bypass this screen because sometimes I’ll put in a town that I know is there and then it comes back and says “no, this town is not listed right now.” That’s really frustrating, especially if you’re using it for the first time. I like to go right up to the Browse the Archive button and click that. It’s going to show you a map. From the map you could scroll in and you can see what state archives you’re looking at. Click the State Archive where your family is from. If you don’t know, run a simple Google search. You’ll typically find a Wikipedia article on it. It will tell you what Providence, the state, and the region in Italy. So, it’s not too hard to do.

Click the State Archive. For my family I use Salerno because that’s where a lot of my family comes from. It’s brings me to the State Archive of Salerno. You’re going to see a flag on the archive page. This flag is going to be either green, yellow, or red. If it’s green, or yellow, green is the best means everything’s on the website, it’s complete. If it’s yellow, it means it’s still in the works. You can check back later and they might have some new stuff. Red means it’s not ready yet, and that’s indefinite.

So, if you see a yellow or green flag, go up to where it says Search the Registries and click on that. Then I want you to pay attention to the left-hand margin. You can either click Series or Location. I find that you could click either one of these and it’s going to bring you to the same spot where you’re going to go to click on the village that your family is from. And then it’s going to give you a whole big list of all the villages that are in the State Archive.

For me, I’m going to click on the village of Postiglione. And that brings me into the village or the communes territory of the website, and then I click on the year. I can also click on what type of record I want to look at. Do I want to look at marriage, birth, or death? Marriage, birth and death are the ones that most of these state archives are currently showing.

You can also look at military records at the State Archives website. All males of a certain age were conscripted into the military, and they have really good military records.

Italian Famiglia Folios

(17:46) I also found out that some of these towns have a famiglia folio. This is where it was required of certain families to keep a family group sheet, if you will. One of our onsite researchers recently found one of these and showed it to me and it was 20 pages of wonderful genealogy sources going back and tracing the siblings, where people went in America or other parts of Italy, birth, marriage and death information, and a lot of great things. So, these are some things that hopefully should be coming down the pike for these state archives that you could be hopefully looking for in the near future.

But for right now, most of the State Archives are going to have your birth marriage and death records.

Italian Marriage Banns

(18:44) Again, once you click on the type of record, you click the year, and it’s going to show you what is available for that year. Sometimes you can find marriage banns. And those are really fun group of records because that is kind of like our marriage licenses nowadays.

Marriage Banns are several pages long. They would have be posted on the church door about the upcoming union. People could object to the wedding if there was a blood relationship between the husband and wife, if they just did not agree with the marriage, or if somebody was under age. You can find these marriage bands online.

Italian Birth Records Online

(19:27) When you click on a birth record at the State Archives you’re going to probably get a lot of images. That can be very intimidating because you’re thinking to yourself, well, I don’t want to have to go through this entire book of records of a language that I don’t know. But there is help and there is hope.

You will see a button, what looks like an open book icon with an underline on it. Click on that and will give you the Gallery view. On the next page, sometimes the thumbnail images don’t load properly. If it does show you an icon of the page, you can’t actually tell what’s written on it, so you kind of have to guess. But  don’t worry. With these Italian records, and this is very important, most of the time, they’re going to have an index. That index is going to be at the back of the book. Click on either the last page or the next to the last page and hopefully  you’re going to find an index.

The index is by last name, first name, and the numbers coordinate with the entry number. You can then go into the book and find that entry number. Ideally, our ancestors information will be staring us right back in the face.

I don’t want you to get intimidated, and there is a method to this madness. Each type of Italian record, just like with our American records, follows a particular format. So with birth records you’re going to see, and it’s usually in this order, the name, date and entry number in the margin. Again, that date is going to be spelled out. So it’s going to be helpful to be familiar with your numbers.

It’s also going to tell you the officiating agent and locality. I think a lot of times people can get thrown off by this. But if you look at these record collections, you’re going to keep seeing the same name over and over again. It is not one person having a child over and over again. It’s the clerk. The clerk is the first person usually who is mentioned.

It’s going to tell you the gender of the child. And then it’s going to tell you the occupation and parentage of the civil agent. So again, we’re getting some more information about that person recording the record. So, it’s going to tell you who the recordkeepers parents are. So again, not who you’re looking for. Then it’s going to tell you the name of the child’s father. And a good indication that you’re dealing with the child’s father is that they’re going to have the same last name. So that is one of your keywords that you’re looking for – that same surname – the child’s father. It’s going to tell you the age, their occupation, hopefully the father’s name, and the place of birth. They’re then going to say the legitimacy of birth, which is usually my wife. Or they might say that they’re not married. And then they’re going to tell you the child’s mother. The name, the occupation, or father’s name, and her place of birth, and maybe her parents place of birth. They’re then going to tell you the child’s birth date, and place.

What’s really fun is you can sometimes, and especially in later records, see the actual house that the child was born in, and that house would be your family’s house. In most cases, they’re going to give you an actual house and street address. And Lisa I know you love to do this, you can then plug that in to Google Earth. And you could take a trip right to your family’s house.

Watch Lisa’s video Plotting Land with Google Earth Pro (including a downloadable handout for Premium Members.)

Lisa: That sounds fantastic. We love that.

Sarah: It’s really cool! That just gets me away from my laundry all the time! I just go right down a rabbit hole.

And of course, we’re going to see the child’s name. Sometimes you get some really crazy long names. One of my ancestors has six. My guess is that one was the first name and five  were middle names. So you see the whole line up there.

Then you get the witnesses, which were often the midwife and anybody else, and their occupation which is also really cool. You’ll get to see the signature of the father. So that might be a nice connection. You get to see that and you’ll see a lot of these block letters. Just seeing that and having that connection!

Now that I told you this, I’m going to show you a copy of a birth record here. This is for my great great grandfather Lorenzo Fragetta who later changed his name to Fragetti. He was born September 8, in 1869.

Italian birth records

Birth record of Lorenzo Fragetta

Now, this does look rather intimidating, especially because with these earlier records, there’s no typeface on here. It’s all handwritten. But in the world of Italian records, this is actually really good writing. I’m very glad because I have a grandmother, she just passed in December, she was 90 years old, and she would write me these greeting cards and send me beautiful letters. And this was like her handwriting. So, for me, this is second nature to just pick this up.

On the margin you’re going to get the entry number, and that entry number is spelled out, and it’s the same entry that’s going to be in that index.

You also get the individuals name. In a closer look at the record some key things are going to jump out at us. Here we have the town he was born in, and we have his father’s name, Vincenzo Fragetta, and it says figli, that he is the son of Antonio. So right there, we get another generation. So we have Lorenzo we have his father and we have his grandfather on here. We then have his father’s age and profession. They also have the names of his spouse on one of the other pages. And when we get the age of our individual, we can use that information to go back into some of the other records and try to find them.

Lisa: It’s really interesting to see that they split those names. So this would be something when we’re first working with a foreign language like this to be aware that they split the name Antonio between two lines. There’s no hyphen. So that is not two different words. That’s a really good thing to know.

Sarah: Right, and that is a great point that you brought up. I was dealing with a client’s record recently and they do not split it up by syllables, and there’s no indication that they’re splitting it up. And I’m looking at this person’s last name and thinking, oh my gosh, like this is so different, they really Americanized this! And then I kind of put two and two together, and I was like, oh, wait a minute, this is being split up here. So yes, absolutely. Be aware of that if something’s not making sense. I’m so glad you brought that up.

Italian Naming Patterns in Records

(27:47) On this record we’re also seeing the name of the mother’s father. The mother’s father is Lorenzo and Lorenzo is the name of the son. By knowing this, the name of the Son in relationship to where they are is the parents, you can also maybe figure out that this child is the second born male based on the Italian naming pattern because you could see that he’s named after his maternal grandfather. So that’s also a fun thing to play around with, the Italian naming pattern.

This record also includes Vincenzo Fragetta’s signature. You think, okay, this person actually touched this document, and was a witness. I just get chills!

I type up an extraction of the information from the record like this:

  • Lorenzo Fragetta born 11 September 1869 on Via S. Maria, Postiglione
  • Father: Vincenzo Fragetta, son of Antonio. Vincenzo is a 25-year-old landowner who lives in Postiglione.
  • Mother: Carmella Paolino, daughter of Carmine. Wife of Vincenzo Fragetta

Italian Women’s Maiden and Married Names

(29:11) The one thing to remember when you’re dealing with Italian records is that women never change their last name. And that is something to remember, especially when you’re looking at passenger lists for your family.

When I first started, I used to look at some of these records and think oh my gosh, these kids are coming over to America all by themselves. These nine year-olds and 10 year-olds are being unattended on this ship. But the mother never changed the name. When a woman marries, she  keeps her father’s surname. So, she may still be in the record collection right there with them but with a different last name. So be on the lookout for that. Look for this with death records with marriage records too.

Lisa: What a great introduction to Italian genealogy research There are many things to be aware of that are unique to Italy. It reminds me that when I research in any other country there are important things to look for such as patterns and the names and just knowing something as simple as they may not be capitalizing the month. Don’t overlook a date just because you’re looking for a capitalized letter that’s not there. It’s very simple, but could really snag you up.

Sarah: Sure! And sometimes with these records, one of the really fun finds is on the margin. The civil recorder will go in and he’ll write when the person was married, who they married and when they died. So sometimes you can almost get like three records in one in these.

Using the FAN Principle in Italian Genealogy

(30:51) Lisa: I wanted to touch on one of the things that you mentioned early on as you were talking that I think is important, and something that new genealogists may not be familiar with, and that’s the FAN principle. Please tell folks what that means and the role it plays in all this.

Sarah: Sure. The FAN club is your Friends, Associates, and Neighbors of the person you are researching. We don’t want to just be sticking to an actual ancestor and kind of closing off our vision.  We want to look at who else is around them in their community, check out who’s signing off on their marriage licenses, or naturalization records, etc.  Those people are probably important to that person. And in lots of cases, these individuals who are in their FAN club possibly came over with them to America. If you can’t find information on your ancestors, take some time and do some research on these other individuals whose names are appearing over and over again, and see if you can identify where that person is coming from because that just might lead you right to your village of origin.

How to Get Help with Italian Research from a Professional Genealogist

(32:06) Lisa: What if somebody needs some help? I know that you are a professional genealogist. Tell folks, how they can reach you and what kinds of ways that you can help them if they do get stuck.

Sarah: If you get stuck, I work for Legacy Tree Genealogists and we have people well-versed in genealogy all over the world. I specialize in Italian records. We do lots of things. We can help you get records from communes over in Italy that are otherwise unresponsive, because it is very hard to get some responses. Sometimes when you’re dealing with local records or parish priests, we have people who are actually on site in Italy and will physically go to a church and sit with the priest and get these records that are just not available online.

Here’s another really cool thing that we offer. The records that are on the Antenati archive site only go back to 1806. That’s when they start. But some of these church records have been around for hundreds of years before that. So, we can have researchers on the ground that can go into these churches and even go further back for your family and see if there’s any baptismal records, any of those sacramental records, and really get that connection. We take that information and we write a little story about it. So it really makes it everything come to life and you have a piece of your ancestor. We’ll give you all the documents so that you can see that handwriting and will translate and give you a little translation for it so that you actually know what it says. So there’s lots of ways that we can help you in different areas not just Italian, but with anything, any ancestry that you have.

Lisa: Absolutely, I’ve had Kate at Legacy help me with some Irish research that we did in a video. That was amazing.

Watch Lisa’s video How to Find Your Irish Ancestors (video and downloadable handout available with Premium Membership)

Sarah: She’s my mentor. So I love

Lisa: Well, you’ve been a wonderful mentor for us to get us started on Italian research. Thank you so much, Sarah.

Sarah: Oh, thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you everybody and good luck with your family over in Italy.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members
PREMIUM MEMBER BONUS: Italian Translation Cheat Sheet
PREMIUM MEMBER BONUS 2: How to Use the Italian Archive Site Antenati

Learn more about becoming a Genealogy Gems Premium Member. 

Organize a Family Reunion on Facebook? 9 Tips You Can Use

FR 2

McClellan Family Reunion, Summer 2014, Cleveland, Ohio.

A couple weeks ago, I helped host 47 people at my family reunion here in Cleveland, Ohio. Local relatives made up about half the group: the rest flew and drove in from Arkansas, Nevada and Washington state. We spent 4 days splashing in Lake Erie, driving through the countryside, visiting an Amish-run cheese house and local historic sites, kayaking, hiking in the woods, wading in the sparkling shallows of the Cuyahoga River, and visiting, eating, and visiting some more (and then eating some more). The fundraising auction in my backyard raised such an ruckus that neighbors at the other end of the block asked what in the WORLD was going on at our house that night.

One of the most surprising things about the reunion–other than my brother’s natural gifts as a comedian-auctioneer–was the degree to which it worked to communicate on Facebook. My grandparents were the only ones we needed to actually call about all the reunion plans. We sent no letters–not one!

Here are my 9 tips for organizing your family reunion on Facebook (mostly.) Some of these we did well and others we’ll do better in the future:

1. Make sure at least one member of each nuclear family is active on Facebook. You want a significant percent of relatives participating. If you’re family just isn’t on Facebook, look for other ways to be in touch (group text?).

2. Create a family Facebook page. Click here to learn how. This lets your family post reunion- and family-related items in your own secure group.

3. Reserve the date up to a year in advance. Suggest a time frame and/or a few specific dates on Facebook. Tag everyone on the post to get them to notice and respond. However, you may not get much response. At least in our family, people tend not to volunteer or comment if they’re not personally, directly being asked about something urgent. Once you’ve given people a reasonable amount of time to comment on your suggested dates (and consulted those not on Facebook), JUST PICK A DATE. Then post it (and call the non-Facebookers). Again, tag everyone so you know they see it.

4. Start advertising immediately. Those who travel some distance may need more incentive to come. It’s especially helpful when you can convince the in-laws that they want to come. Do this by catering to people’s interests and hobbies. Post pictures of places you plan to visit together, images of recipes you plan to serve, the website of the local golf course/shopping district/historic site/art gallery/amusement park or any other local attraction that might persuade people to make the trip (whether this is officially part of the reunion activities or not). Tag people in those posts and include URLs to attraction websites: “Uncle Albert, I know how much you love to golf. Why don’t you stay for an extra day and play 18 holes on this championship course?” In the media world, this is called creating “buzz.”

5. Encourage long-distance relatives to introduce themselves and their families. My aunts and uncles were amazed at how much the kids had all grown. They see us so infrequently that it was super helpful to post the kids’ names, updated pix and interests before the reunion. That way, they could talk to my son about his cello playing and my daughter about her upcoming 8th birthday. We’ve asked everyone to start sharing family news and events on the family page, not just their own page. That way we can capture the highlights of all the big family milestones before the next reunion.

6. Play travel agent. Post information about the local airport, bus route, hotels, etc, several months in advance. Encourage relatives to share their hotel information so they can stay together (hotel pool party!) or coordinate travel plans.

7. Post details about the upcoming gathering. What should people plan to bring, wear and do? Do they need to bring beach wear, walking shoes, an umbrella, a baby picture of themselves, or a T-shirt to decorate? Tell them on Facebook ahead of time. Post the initial meeting place and time, along with its address (almost EVERYONE, including the over-60s used GPS to get around while they were here). You can hand out the rest of the itinerary at the reunion, if you need to.

8. Post DURING the reunion. Offer a prize for the best picture posted during the reunion (or the most pictures posted). That tells everyone at home what they’re missing while building excitement among attendees and preserving memories for the future. When uncles are tagging their nephews in photos (and vice versa), they’re building relationships. Remembering names. “Friend-ing.” I don’t suggest posting last-minute changes in plans: when traveling, not everyone makes Facebook-checking a priority. Only do this if everyone knows to check the Facebook page frequently during your gathering.

9. Follow up. Is everyone supposed to send a donation to the reunion fund afterward, mail a card to the great-aunt who couldn’t make it, or share all their reunion pictures on a photo-sharing site? Thank the reunion hosts, planners and those who sacrificed a lot (in time or money) to be present. When is the next reunion? Whoever’s planning the next one can pick up where you left off.

Have you used Facebook to get the word out about a family reunion? Share your experiences and learning at our the Genealogy Gems Podcast Facebook Page.

 

 

Family History Never Tasted So Good!

We all have cookbooks in our kitchen, many of which were handed down to us by our mothers and grandmothers. In addition to be overflowing with delectable recipes, they are often brimming with family history. Today I’d like to share with you a recipe mystery that followed me for years, and the bit of genealogical serendipity that solved it. 

family history never tasted so good: cookie recipe

I once gave a presentation called Inspiring Ways to Capture the Interest of the Non-Genealogists in Your Family at a local genealogical society. (Genealogy Gems Premium Members can log in and watch this vide class as part of their membership here.)

In it, I gave an example of some items I had found on Ebay from my husband’s Larson family. If you listen to the Genealogy Gems Podcast then you have heard me mention the Larson family. They hailed from Winthrop Minnesota and owned a hardware store and lumber business there for many years.

LJ Larson Hardware store

LJ Larson Hardware store

While I was taking questions toward the end of the presentation a woman in the front raised her hand. Her name was Harriet, and she said she was sure that she had a cookbook from Winthrop, Minnesota in her collection of books at home. She offered to send it to me and I gladly gave her my email address so we could connect.

Considering that Winthrop is such a small town, it make her statement surprising indeed! To provide perspective: Winthrop is about 1 square mile and the population hovers somewhere around 1300. So, I was surprised indeed to have someone in Pleasanton, California telling me that she had a cookbook that dated back to the early 20th century from this little town.

As promised, Harriett followed up with me by email. She asked for my address and told me that the book “looks a little worn but all of the pages are there. I hope it can be of some use to you. My sister taught either first grade or kindergarten there during World War 2 and that’s how it came in to her possession.”

The Cookbook Filled with Family History

Harriett was a woman of her word because about a week later the 340 Home Tested Recipes cookbook compiled by members of The Ladies Aid of the First Lutheran Church of Winthrop, Minnesota was in my mailbox.

The Winthrop Cookbook

The Winthrop Cookbook

It continues to amaze and delight me how powerful just putting your family history “out there” is. By regularly mentioning real people and places in your own research, it so often leads to information and items that just seem to be waiting to be found. It’s what we call “genealogical serendipity” in genealogy circles. 

But the genealogical serendipity didn’t end there. Not only did my husband’s ancestors contribute recipes to this little community cookbook, which of course I was thrilled to find – but there was a recipe in there that I had been in search of for over 25 years.

The Great Cookie Mystery

You see, when Bill and I got married, he shared his fond memories of a sour cream cookie his grandmother used to make. I’m an avid baker, so I checked with his mom to see if she had the recipe. Sadly, she didn’t.
 
Over the years I have tried to find a recipe for sour cream cookies in an attempt to recreate them. Every time I found one, I whipped up a batch. Bill would take a bite and shake his head saying they’ were good, but they weren’t like grandma’s cookies.
 

Bill enjoying baked treats with his Grandma Helen (Larson) Mansfield.

 
So as you can imagine, the first thing I looked for when I received this cookbook from the town where Bill’s grandma was born, was a recipe for sour cream cookies. There were many yummy-sounding treats to comb through like Pecan Sticks, Victoria Cookies, Father and Son Favorite Cookies, and Sorghum Cookies. 
 
I got excited as I came across names I recognized from the family tree including Mrs. Sheldon S. Larson, the mother of a cousin we had the good fortune to finally meet two years ago when I presented a genealogy seminar in Minnesota at the Swedish Genealogical Society. 
 
But the real thrill came when I made my way to page 42. There I found a recipe for Sour Cream Drop Cookies:
 

Larson sour cream cookie recipe (1)

The infamous sour cream cookie recipe!

 
Surprisingly, the recipe wasn’t contributed by Bill’s grandma Helen (Larson) Mansfield or anyone named Larson. Instead it was submitted for inclusion in the cookbook by Mrs. Hulda Anderson. That fact didn’t deter me from trying it out. In a small town like Winthrop, recipes likely were regularly swapped and handed down through various families. 
 
I immediately baked a batch and served them up to Bill. I’ll never forget his eyes as they lit up in excitement! He took a bite, and was ecstatic to once again be tasting Grandma’s sour cream cookies!
 
It may sound like a small victory in the scheme of thing, but for me it was a thrilling one, none the less!
 
I emailed Harriet and told her the good news and thanked her profusely.
 
I got a reply from her husband George. He wrote:
 
“I thought I would add a little amusement to the coincidence of the Sour Cream cookies. My father, George Anderson, Sr., was a salesman for American Steel and Wire, subsidiary of U. S. Steel, from the 1920s to the 1960s, traveling to every hardware store and lumber yard in southern Minnesota to sell fence, posts, nails etc. I don’t have any record of it, but I’m sure he would have called on your family’s hardware store in Winthrop. He knew all of his customers by first name, no doubt your in-laws included.”
 
Genealogy Serendipity never tasted so good!
 

A Genealogical Look at the Cookbook

 
I looked through the book carefully for a publishing date but none was to be found. However, there were several clues including the name of the church and the pastors name:
 
First Lutheran Church
Lambert Engwall, Pastor
 
To put these clues to use, I headed to Google and searched the name of the church, the location and the name of the pastor:
first lutheran church winthrop minnesota lambert engwall, pastor
 

Googling the pastor

Googling the church, location and pastor

 
The first result was just what I needed. The link to me to a Wikipedia page about the church: 
 

researching the pastor

The church in Wikipedia

 
It was a fairly comprehensive page, and I was specifically looking for a list of pastors who had served at the church. To save time, I used Control + F (PC) to trigger a find on page search bar. I searched for “pastor” and was immediately take much further down the page to exactly what I wanted to know. 
 

previous pastors

A helpful list of previous pastors

 
I quickly learned that Lambert Engwall served at this church in Winthrop, Minnesota from 1944 to 1972. Given that Harriett through it hailed from the World War II era when her sister lived there, and from the condition and style of the book, I feel confident it was published closer to 1944. 
 
The next steps to learn more about the relationship between the Andersons and Larson include could include:

  • Reviewing the 1940 census for Winthrop, Sibley County, Minnesota, and mapping their homes in Google Earth.
  • conducting additional research into church and their available records include church meeting minutes.
  • A comprehensive search of the Winthrop News newspaper, with a particular eye on the social pages. 

Share Your Genealogical Serendipity and Cookbook Stories

Have you experienced glorious instances of genealogical serendipity in your own family history quest? Do you have a cookbook that has been handed down to you that you treasure? Please leave a comment below and share your story!  
 

Resources

  • Learn more powerful Google search techniques and ways to use Google Earth for genealogy in The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louse Cooke (2020) available at the Genealogy Gems Store.
  • The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

    Book by the author

    Learn more here about how to access the 50+ video classes that are a part of Genealogy Gems Premium membership. 

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