Last month we talked about being stuck in genealogical gridlock. Genealogical old-timers (among whose ranks I think I belong) call them “brick walls.” You’ve looked in as many genealogical resources as you can but you just don’t have enough information to be sure of a piece of information. That birth date could belong to Uncle Lou, or it could be one of 24 different Lou Russos living in Chicago at that time. The other kind of brick wall is that you have no clue when or where Lou was born and there doesn’t seem to be any way to figure it out.
Today I want to talk about a resource that should be used with caution. It can help break apart those brick walls, but it can also lead you down the wrong path. It is also one of the fastest growing resources on-line these days: the on-line family tree.
Some friends of mine, who know almost nothing about genealogy, think that the secret to finding their family tree is to find someone else who already did the family tree, and then they are done! If your lifestyle just doesn’t allow you time to do research for yourself, then, yes, you are done. If, however, you have spent years building your own tree and need help with a small twig, then you have a lot more to do.
The two primary sites for on-line trees are ancestry.com and familysearch.org. Both sites have made it easy to upload your family trees and have made it easy to gain new information by doing so. Familysearch.org is connected of course to the LDS (Mormon) church and the church asks its members to upload their trees to the site. Ancestry.com advertises that when you upload your tree to their site, and you move amongst the names, a leaf will pop up, indicating that Ancestry.com has a piece of data that matches the data you have, which helps you source that data in a standardized way. It might also be a piece of data you never saw before that could lead you to new data or someone’s tree that has a match. I’ll explain what this means.
Once you upload your tree to familysearch, the site tries to match up your records with the records of other people already on the site. If your records are complete and well researched, this can help you connect to another person’s tree because everything matches. The name, birthdate, birthplace, spouse’s name, marriage date, death date, death place and other data are compared between your record and someone else’s. The more matches there are, the more likely your Lou Russo and their Lou Russo are the same person. Then you can traverse the other person’s tree and find more connections. A good example would be that you have no clue when your Lou Russo was born or died. But you uploaded him in your tree and familysearch tries to match him up. This is what it finds on Jeff Johnson’s family tree:
Name (your records): Lou Russo
Name (Jeff’s records): Luigi Russo
Born (your records): unknown
Born (Jeff’s records): Jun 10, 1914,Termini Imerese, Sicily
Married (your records): Maria Abbinante
Married (Jeff’s records): Mary Abbinante, June 10, 1940, Chicago
Buried (your records): Unkown
Buried (Jeff’s records): Cremated
You can’t be 100 percent sure this is your Lou Russo. However, the fact that you know he lived in Chicago, and Jeff’s record has him married in Chicago and dying in the south suburbs, should tell you this is a possibility. The fact that both records say he was married to Maria/Mary Abbinante is also important. There may be many Lou Russos, and there may be quite a few in Chicago in the mid20th century, but how many of them married Mary/Maria Abbinante?
So what do you do now that you found this? Well, the first step is to NOT connect your Lou to his Lou. Why not? Because you aren’t sure yet. Once you link your Lou to his Lou, it’s hard to un-link them later if it turns out that these are two different people. But you now have a record to look at and you can look at the other records in that person’s tree to see what matches up. In this case, the reason you don’t know much about Uncle Lou is that he was divorced from Aunt Mary a long time ago and was no longer with your family. Jeff Johnson, it turns out, married Lou’s stepdaughter from a second marriage. Lou died in 1986 while married to wife No. 2, and since he was part of that family for a lot longer, Jeff was lucky enough to get more data from his mother-in-law. There might be a link to contact Jeff and e-mail him to find out more about Lou. It also turns out that Jeff doesn’t know much about Mary because that was Lou’s first wife, and needless to say, wife No. 2didn’t know much about wife No. 2.
Next month we will talk about ancestry.com and the leaf!