Home / Columns / Just say no to dead ends

Just say no to dead ends

Happy 2013! I hope your holidays were filled with laughter, joy, cool presents, warm memories and a few genealogical discoveries! Did you make your New Year’s resolutions yet? I resolved to lose 40 pounds, and even though I lost it, I ended up finding it again!

Please keep your genealogical resolutions separate from your regular goals for the new year. For one thing, you want to actually try to accomplish the genealogical ones! I don’t want you all to give up too easily.

So what should be your goal this year? That is a complicated question. I have written a number of columns on things you should do, such as tag your digital family photos or looking up all of your relatives in the 1940 census while it is still free. But what I really want you to do is focus on the ancestor chart. When you first started, you created an ancestor chart starting from you (or your kids) and wrote in as many people as you could. Eventually, you get to an ancestor whose parents are utterly unknown to you. If you have researched for a while, you might have been able to work back a little further–or even a lot. But every ancestor tree has a branch that ends with “Vito Russo,” born in 1852 in Italy, and we don’t know who his parents were. And the more ancestors you have, the more of these dead ends you have in your chart. Those are the people we want to focus on this year.

Every person has two parents, and as you go backward in your tree, you find the ancestor whose parents are unknown to you. I would like each of you to resolve that in 2013–you are going to attempt to find the parents of each of these road blocks. Whoa! Big job! Maybe, maybe not. It is the reason you are doing this research, and if you cannot find the parents of someone, then it is time to get some help and go the next step.

Some of you have done only a little, and you have the name of your grandparents, and that is all. So you have four grandparents, all born in the motherland, and their parents all died over there and you have no idea what their names were. You can try to find the death certificates of your grandparents and hope they put the parents on it, and sometimes they do. But often it says “parents unknown.” So now what? Do you know the town your grandfather was born in? Do you know his date of birth? Maybe it’s time for you to find the original birth certificate in the Italian civil records. That paper will list the names of his parents. Then you need to repeat that with the other three grandparents.

Some of you already have worked for a couple of years at a family history center looking for the ancestors, and you have worked your way back to the beginning of those records. You have found your great-seven-times-grandfather who was listed on the birth record of your great-six-times-grandfather in 1814. It says he was about 30 years old. That means he was born in about 1784. But they don’t have records going back to 1784. Now what do you do? The only place to find his parents (the great-eight-times-grandparents) is to find their baptism records in the church archives of your ancestral town in Italy. This means either writing to the priest (or a relative in Italy who knows how to look through the records) and asking them to look for the document. It also may mean getting ready to fly to the homeland and look through the records yourself. Is it likely that you will succeed in this quest? Probably not. But this is the year to try writing that letter. Maybe this is the year to try to friend someone on Facebook who lives in your ancestral town in Italy. Maybe that person will know someone who can get to the baptism books and look up those records for you.

So I hope you will take a look at your ancestor charts and ponder each of the dead end ancestors. Figure out what you don’t know about them, and then make a plan for how to find it. Figure out how you plan to discover the names of their parents, and then just do it. It’s on you to push forward.

You know what they say about the journey of 1,000 miles — it starts with the first step.

If you have any questions, send me an e-mail at italianroots@comcast.net and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject line. Have fun!

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*