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Pursuing Our Roots

So what should we call grandpa?

Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” but we should be asking, “What IS his name?” Recently I have been going through a lot of Cook County birth and death certificates, and it reminded me that people don’t always carry exactly the same name from birth through to death. We are all aware of the problems researchers in encounter because women tend to take the names of their husbands when they marry. But traditionally in Italy, women used their maiden names throughout their lives. It is easier to deal with looking for the birth of Anna Volpe in 1822 and the ...

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A microfilm research roadmap

This has been a summer and fall of big news in genealogy both nationally and in Chicago. In mid-July, the Family History Library decided to end their program of sending microfilm to local family history centers. The decision was made due to technological advancements as well as rising microfilm copying costs. I’m sure most of you know that when you are researching your ancestral towns in Italy, you need to choose which microfilms you need based on which record type you want (birth, marriage, death, allegati, processeti etc.) and which year range you need in order to find your immigrant ...

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The pitfalls of digitized newspaper archives

  Last month we reviewed newspaper resources. If you know the date, for death notices and such, you should find microfilm and go ahead and locate the death notice in the paper. If you are just trolling for any mention of your family name, you will need to use only searchable digitized newspapers. This logic can apply to any newspaper research, whether in Chicago or not. There is no way to go through newspapers nationwide, but let’s find out what is available in Chicagoland. At this writing, we have the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times, plus suburban papers ...

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Searching newspapers, old school vs. new

While I was in St. Paul, I spent a lot of time at their state historical library. (Believe me, I wish I lived closer to Springfield in order to do a lot of work here in Illinois!) They have one of the best collections of Minnesota newspapers around, covering most major cities and some smaller towns throughout the state. So before I went up there, I made sure I had a complete list of everybody I wanted to find in those papers, particularly death notices. When preparing to work with newspapers, whether small town or big metropolis, you need to ...

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Gearing up for a family reunion

I’m in St. Paul, Minn., at an annual family reunion and I’m partly prepared but not 100 percent. I knew about this year’s family reunion year ago, so I had plenty of time to prepare for it. Or so I thought! There are a lot of genealogy issues you need to work on before leaving town for a big reunion such as the one I am at. You should plan to make time to visit the family, both during the larger reunion party, and if possible, before or after to get more one-on-one time with specific relatives that you need ...

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A genealogist is always prepared

When I’m not writing columns, I have a 9-5 job. Well, an 8-6 job. Some days it’s a 6-8 job! We’ve been through a lot of change in the past 18 months. Our parent company bought another company, and I worked 37 weekends to help get it up and running, only to have it sold in January. My role in the company has changed twice during this period, which means that after almost 24 years here, I’m still learning my new responsibilities. What does all this have to do with genealogy? Well, it means that despite earning four weeks paid ...

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Choosing a family tree chart

The simplest questions sometimes have the most complicated answers. “Dan, can you print a family tree chart?” Fra Noi editor Paul Basile recently asked me. “Sure, what kind of chart would you like?” “Um, what kind do you have?” After looking at the software I use to keep my family tree (which is Family Tree Maker) I found out just how many different kinds of charts there are. Each of them has a purpose and conveys the information in a different way. I can’t speak for the other software programs, but all of them print family tree charts. Fortunately for ...

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When to say when

I enjoy receiving e-mails from my readers, especially if they give me an idea for a column! Someone recently asked me whether it was worth their time and effort to extract everyone with the same surname in a town. They’re all related, right? Probably. Should I spend the time? Depends on the scope of your research and other factors. Let’s start by discussing the scope of a very simple genealogy. If you are lucky enough to find all your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents etc. going back six generations, you have to find 127 people starting with yourself. To go all the ...

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Using your cellphone to scan photos

Over many years of meeting with relatives, I will admit that there are occasions of apprehension. After I am invited to their home, I sit, make conversation, have a cup of coffee, and silently wait for the right moment to segue into how to ask them to break out the old family photo albums. When I started this odyssey, I had to bring a laptop and scanner that weighed more than I did! Later on, I could bring a flatbed scanner that only weighed a couple of pounds. Today, new phone cameras and apps are making this task even easier. ...

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Avoiding a critical record-keeping error

  I have spent most of the winter going back over my Italian records from towns that are close to my main ancestral “comune.” A lot of people from neighboring towns married into our families. (Or maybe they say that we married into theirs!) I had to order a lot of different films and visit Salt Lake City on multiple occasions in order to find the birth records for these people. When I first looked for many of them, I made a mistake that I don’t want you to make. I rented the microfilm (or viewed it in Salt Lake ...

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