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Finding a genealogy buddy

There are times when I wish I could do some market research about Italian genealogy. For example, I wonder just how many people are curious about their Italian roots and ask relatives for information. Then there are those who look into their own roots online. Then there are those who visit libraries and government repositories to dig a little deeper. Then there are the ones who want records from Italy to start tracing their ancestors. Finally, there are the lucky few who actually visit Italy to dig further back.

Not everyone who asked cousin Dan for a copy of the family tree eventually visits Italy to do their own research. Each step listed above thins the pool of people more and more. I wish I had the research to know which of these steps drops the most people the fastest, because that is the step that needs to be simplified, taught and emphasized the most.

Like orchestra conductors, Italian genealogists have to learn from the “sorcerer” as the “sorcerer’s apprentice.” There are limited opportunities to sit in a classroom setting and have a teacher spoon-feed the methods to you. Basically, you need to find your chances to learn wherever you can get them.

One place to learn, of course, is this column. Obviously, I can’t see which of you are confused by what I am describing to you, and I cannot show specific examples of documents, so it is a one-way teaching process. But hopefully I have guided you toward resources that can be useful to you.

Another place to learn is the genealogy group meeting. Chicagoland has two chapters of POINTers in Person, based respectively in Woodridge and Schaumburg. During our meetings, we get the chance to discuss specific questions and problems, see occasional presentations from speakers, and demonstrate websites that can be of use to members. We are the only group in the area dedicated to Italian genealogy specifically.

However there are many other groups in the area that meet monthly about genealogy in general, and even though you may be only working on your Italian research, it is always worth joining these groups and attending the meetings that may be of interest. I’ve been at this for 20 years and I still learn something new at these meetings. You need to check the internet to see which groups are in your local area, and each one will have a website that lists the speakers and topics at each meeting. You don’t have to attend every meeting of every group, but if there’s a 1 percent chance that the topic might be helpful, you should try to attend.

However, nothing replaces one-on-one assistance. Where can one find a person to help them when they need it? My advice to you is to find a “genealogy buddy.” There are some activities, like scuba diving, that should never be done alone. You should always have a buddy there in case you run into a problem.

When you are researching, you have to plan a block of time, especially if you are going to a library or a family history center. The worst thing is to plan a four-hour block of time, and then run into a major snag 20 minutes in, and you can’t continue because you can’t get past the snag. That’s where your buddy comes in. You need a friend who is willing to go with you to the same library or family history center when you do, even if you are not working on the same project. If this buddy can help you decipher bad handwriting, or translate a phrase on a document, or act as a sounding board for what to do next, it is the best kind of help. The only cost to you is that you have to be available to help them, so they may throw some questions at you while you are working. But both of you will get far more done because you have someone nearby who might have run into that situation before, and can guide you to the next step.

You can find a genealogy buddy by meeting someone at one of these genealogy groups. You may also have to find someone on the internet who has researched your ancestral village, and who happens to live nearby. You may even meet someone at a family history center who can meet you there every Thursday. A good way to break the ice is to mumble to yourself about a problem you’re having, or asking a family history center volunteer. If the other patron might know the answer, they’re bound to stick their nose in, and you’ve met your new “buddy”!

Write to Dan at italianroots@comcast.net and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject line.

About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.