Complete genealogical foundations help answer family questions
A Case Study: D’Amico
By Don Taylor
A friend was telling me that his wife knew her ancestors, the D’Amico side, were Italian, but didn’t know where in Italy they were from. He also told me he didn’t have any idea where to start. He said they had poked around Ellis Island records but found nothing. He provided me very little information, just the parents names, grandmother’s name. He mentioned they settled in New England (Mass. & Maine) and one key bit of information, her father died in 1959 at the age of 43.
As a former Project Manager, I really believe in the process. My process is to always enter what I think I know into a family tree program. I currently use Heredis 2015 World (Mac) [By the way, Heredis is running a 50% off sale which ends today.] as my preferred genealogy organization software, but I could as easily other software or even paper. The process is the same either way.
1. Enter what you think you know.
a. Enter the known relationships and any known vital facts. In this case, there wasn’t much to begin with, but entered it and started.
Starting point for D’Amico Project.
2. My next goal is to find the family unit in at least two censuses and make sure that I have a family unit understood. I typically use Family Search for my initial start. I like Family Search particularly because I like their “copy” feature. It provides an easy way to copy all of the data of the record plus the source citation in a single click so I can easily paste it into a source record in my software. I also like to confirm any of the seed facts from step 1.
a. I then created a source entry and pasted the information into it. I saved that and then created the facts I wish, and drag and drop my source to the fact I’ve entered. In this case the month and place of death as well as the birthdate.
b. 1940 Census, 23 year-old Michael with wife and daughter living in Maine.[i]
d. 1930 Census, 13 year-old Michael living with his widowed mother, Margaret, and four siblings in Franklin, Norfolk Co., MA. It also indicated her grandmother was born in Italy immigrated in 1900, and was naturalized.[iii]
I was fairly certain that this 1930 Census record was the correct family but wanted to be absolutely certain. I contacted my friend to have him ask his wife if her father grew up in Franklin, MA, and did she have an aunt Elinora and uncles, Frank, Joseph, and Victor. She responded that she did, so I knew I was with the right family.
3. My next process is to follow the individual through all the censuses of his or her life. I found him in the 1920 Census with his father, Michael (new name) his mother, and his four siblings. The census reported that the father, Michael, was born in Italy, immigrated in 1890, and was naturalized in 1900.[iv] That finished all of the census records for the Michael the son.
Next, a quick check found Michael’s birth registration which yielded the maiden name for his mother, Marguerita Melano.[v]
Now on to follow Michael the father through more census records; he should be listed in 1910 and 1900.
The 1910 Census finds Michael in Franklin, MA with his wife and three children. His oldest child, Donato is 4 years old doesn’t show up in the 1920 census, so I suspect something happened to him. It also indicated that he immigrated in 1886 and is naturalized. This broadens his immigration date to between 1886 and 1890 for future searches. It also indicates that Marguerita immigrated in 1904.[vi]
* Note: Before the 19th Amendment women took the citizenship of their husbands upon marriage.
I wasn’t successful in quickly finding Michael D’Amico nor Marguerita Melano in the 1900 Census but I decided to continue on anyway and see if I could answer the questions.
Switching to Ancestry.com I searched Immigration & Travel for Margherita Melano arriving in 1904.
Searched Immigration & Travel for Margherita Melano.
There she was in the New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 arriving on 23 Jul 1904 aboard the Citta Di Torino sailing from Napoli (Naples). Her “race or peoples” is listed at So Italian and her last Residence was Caserta. We don’t know for certain if that is Caserta the city or Caserta the province. Caserta (the city) is only about 15 miles north of Naples, so it makes sense that she would take a ship out of Naples to America.[vii]
Using the information, I had regarding Michael, I didn’t find anything in Immigration & Travel that seemed to fit him. Then I searched the Birth, Marriage & Death records for Michael D’Amico born in Italy 1864. Up came an index record for Michele D’Amico, Baptized 1 May 1864 in Civile, Casalvecchio Di Puglia, Foggia, Italy. Father Donato D’ Amico and Mother Eleonora Rossacci.[viii] That must be him. Michael’s first son was named Donato and his first daughter was named Elenora clearly after his parents. The age was right. Casalvecchio Di Puglia is about 100 miles northeast of Naples.
I know that it is a leap to ascribe the Baptism record of Michele D’Amico of Casalvecchio Di Puglia to Michael D’Amico, the grandfather of my subject individual, but because of the expected birth date and the parents’ names (as they relate to the grandfather’s children’s names) I believe it is a good fit. So tentatively, I have him with that baptism and birth location.
According to The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. website, there was a Michele D’Amico who arrived in 1899 aboard the SS EMS whose last address was Cercemaggiore, which is about 35 miles from Casalvecchio Di Puglia. That is his likely immigration, however, I can’t prove it and it will take a bunch more research to prove it.
But going back to the process:
1. Start a tree. Fill in what you think you know.
2. Confirm what you think you know with evidence.
3. Find the individual in every census.
4. Find the individual’s vital (birth, marriage, death) information.
5. Seek answers to specific questions in appropriate locations.
Move on to another ancestor.
In this case, I believe that Michael D’Amico was born in Casalvecchio De Puglia and possibly lived in Cercemaggiore. I also believe that Marguerita Melano was from Caserta. Both were from southern Italy within 100 miles of Naples.
[i] 1940 Census; Michael A D’Amico – Ward 9, Portland, Portland City, Cumberland, Maine, United States; Family Search.
My primary reason for genealogical research is to get to know someone, an ancestor. Often the ancestor is mine or my wife’s but occasionally the ancestor is a friend’s or, not nearly often enough, a client. Census records are a key starting point to know an ancestor. Census records also situate the individual in time and place, which then provides a context for other searching and getting to know the ancestor. Information about my presentation, “Getting to Know You: Ancestors through Genealogy” is on my website.
I like to use Ancestry.com as my baseline regarding an individual. Many of their collections include images, which make validation of the transcriptions easier. Family Search is also an excellent resource. Because of indexing quirks, sometimes you can find an ancestor on one system and not the other. Family Search also has many of the Census records images available through them at no charge. For census records that they don’t have the image for, Family Search often directs you to the images on Ancestry or Fold3. What is really cool is you can save records you find, when the image is not available from Family Search, to a personal Source Box (you need a free account with Family Search). Later, you can visit your local library, most of whom have access to the Library Edition of Ancestry.com and/or Library access to Fold 3, access your Family Search account, then access your source box. From there you should be able to select the images you have been wanting, download them to a thumb drive and have the images you desire. Personally, I find having an Ancestry.Com account well worth the expense and I recommend getting one. If you are an AARP member and want an Ancestry.com account, CALL Ancestry and tell them you want the one-time AARP Member discount. If you haven’t used the discount already, you can use it for a renewal too.
I find it difficult to write about an ancestor I’ve never known, nor met in person, when there are many other people who knew the ancestor in life. With the exception of the photo, the below story of Essie Pansy Barnes Roberts is based almost entirely on what I have found on Ancestry.com. My goal was to follow Essie through all the Censuses during her life and then fill in some details based upon stumble on finds on Ancestry (got to love those shaky leaves). Next time I’ll use what I learned here and use social media, scour newspapers, and search other sources for relevant information to fill in the texture of her life, but here are the basics of Essie’s life.
RB05 – Essie Pansy Barnes Roberts (1903-1982)
52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 6
Essie Barnes Roberts aka “Gran”
to her many grandchildren.
Photo courtesy of granddaughter.
Essie Pansy Barnes was born on 15 March 1903 in Graysville (Turman Township, Sullivan County) Indiana.[i] She died on 20 November 1982 in Mount Clemens (Macomb, Michigan), aged 79[ii].
She is the daughter of Joel Clinton Barnes(1857-1921), and Marada Mae Lister, (aka Marady, May, Morady, & Maranda)(1867-1932).
The 1900 Census indicates that before she was born, her mother, Marada, had three children before 1900. One was John Lister, whose father is unknown. One was an older brother, Ray, whose father was Joel Barnes. The third child was born and died before 1900. It is unclear of that child was Joel’s of if he or she had a different father. [iii]
Likewise, her father had three children by another wife, Sarah Josephine Conner. The children were Flora, Flava, and Anna/Alma. Flava was born in 1881 and died in 1882. This set the stage for Essie’s birth in 1903.
1910 Census indicates 7-year-old Essie living in Turman Township, Sullivan County, Indiana with her father, mother, paternal half-sister Anna, maternal half-brother John A, Lister, older brother Ray, and younger sister Mabel. Essie was attending school. The 1910 Census also indicates that her mother had six children, four of which were living. The implication of this is that Marada had another child between 1900 and 1910 that had died.[iv]
1920 Census indicates the 16-year-old Essie living in Turman Township, Indiana with father, mother, brother Ray, and sister Mabel Bessie. Essie was attending school.[v]
In May, 1922, Essie married Bert Allen Roberts(1903-1949), son of Hugh Ellis Roberts(1884-1908) and Clora D Scott [roberts] [adams](1884-?) in Sullivan County, Indiana[vi]. Her marriage registration indicates that her father was dead. Subsequent research found that her father, Joel, died in 1921. The registration also indicates she was living in Graysville, which is an unincorporated community in Turman Township, Sullivan County, Indiana, the same place she was born.
The 1930 Census finds the young couple thirty miles to the north renting a home at 613 North 15th Street in Terre Haute, Indiana. Bert is working in construction as a plumber’s helper. Their oldest child Pansy is attending school. Their oldest son, Bert and their twins, Hugh and Helen, and Essie’s 63-year-old mother, Marada (“May” in the Census) round out the household.[vii] Marada died in 1932.
Ancestry.Com’s City Directories for Terre Haute show the Bert and Essie living at 354 Chestnut in 1934 and 1936. [viii][ix]
The 1940 Census finds the family living at 1719 Chestnut Street, Terre Haute. Because they are living at the “same place” as in 1935, it appears that they moved up Chestnut Street and didn’t have the street renumbered.
Their oldest daughter is listed in the 1940 Census as “Penny” and not Pansy. She is 17 years old and attending high school.
Bert Junior is 15 years old and also attending high school.
The twins, Helen & Hugh, are 13-years-old and are attending grade school (7th grade)
I was bad. I mean, I was very bad. I got my wife an Ancestry autosomal DNA test for her birthday. Sure, she received some other gifts from me, but she thinks the autosomal DNA test was more for me than for her. She’s probably right – actually, she’s always right. I like figuring out relationships of DNA matches. For me it is great sport and she knows me well. So, I guess it really was my gift to me on the occasion of the celebration of her birth.
After the test was done and the results were received, I started looking at her results. Ireland, Scandinavia, Great Britain – no surprises there. Iberian Peninsula is a bit odd, but not unbelievable. Then it hit me – No Swiss!? That is very odd. Two of her great grandparents emigrated from Switzerland. Her great-grandfather, John Huber, came from Windlach, Zürich, Switzerland. Family oral history says that his family farmed the same land for 800 years. Her great-grandmother, Bertha Trümpi, came from Ennenda, Glarus, Switzerland. With both great-grandparents coming from Switzerland, I would have expected her grandmother to have been 100% Swiss. With her grandmother being 100%, I expected my wife to be about 25% Swiss. However, there was no reference to that ancestry in Ancestor.Com’s ethnicity profile for her. That is really odd. Now, the “trace regions” make up 10% of her DNA, but diving into that showed that she about 9% Italian, Greek, and “Europe West.” Anyway, 9% is a far cry away from the 25% that I expected. I’ll have to see if I can get her mother to test as well and see what comes through from those results.
About 9% from areas that include Switzerland
Although the Ethnicity Estimates are fun, the real reason for DNA testing is to make connections with others researching the same family trees and to facilitate communications between cousins researching the same family. For that, I was disappointed that Ancestry allows you to connect your DNA profile only to one tree. Long ago, I separated my wife’s family trees into two different trees – one for her paternal line and one for her maternal line. The biggest reason I did that was that other people, who are researching one line, are never researching the other line. I’ve also found that few people really care about the genealogy of individuals related only by the marriage of a distant cousin. Anyway, I think Ancestry should allow you to link an individual’s DNA to any tree that they are a part of.
Anyway, because Ancestry.com doesn’t allow for multiple trees to be linked to an individual DNA profile, I needed to create a new tree just for her autosomal DNA results. So, I exported her two trees, then merged them into one, uploaded that as a new tree, and then linked her DNA to that tree. Sigh… Not a huge task, but now I have an instance of her tree that I probably will not manage.
I looked closer at the DNA Matches. Wow, 180 matches at 4th cousin or closer. That’s amazing. One of the matches shared a common ancestor hint. A new 4th cousin’s relationship appeared. Ancestry showed my wife’s tree going up to the common ancestor and back down to the cousin.
Then I looked at the cousin’s tree closer. She had parents for that common ancestor, names that I didn’t have. So, I now have two new ancestors named. The great thing is that individual also had sources for those ancestors. I can then take what she has and determine if I can follow her analysis and see if I agree. So, it is a great beginning to another research project.
Matching tree from Ancestry.com
(first two generations not displayed)
The other matches (3rd cousin or closer) either have private trees or do not have meaningful trees on Ancestry matched to their DNA. I will need to contact each individual and see if they have a tree elsewhere they will share with me. In any event, there are many new leads to follow because of the autosomal DNA testing of my wife.
Actions to take:
Have my wife’s mother tested though Ancestry.
Follow-up research with Catherine A.D. Walter (wife’s shared common ancestor).
Contact each of the 5 people identified as 3rd cousins and see if we can determine the relationship and identify and research any new ancestor leads.
Sometimes I just enjoy the search. I like to take a person, plug them into my
process and see what spits out. As a
former Project Manager (PMP), I am all about the process. I thought I’d share a bit of my process here.
Recently, I was talking with my sister
in-law. Well, I think of her as my sister-in-law,
although in reality she is the “wife of my brother-in-law.” (She is my wifes’s
brother’s wife). Anyway, we had a delightful
lunch with her and her husband the other day. As is often the case when I’m involved in conversation, talk moved to
genealogy and family history. As we
chatted, it became clear that she was extremely proud of her parents and their
stories. She knew that one side had been
in Maine for many generations. On her paternal
side she had some Greats that “came from away,” one from Ireland and
another from New York. As we
chatted, I know that I wanted to know much more about her family, and
subsequently more about who her people are and what made the kind of person
that she is. As we chatted she gave her permission to do some research on her
From discussions long ago, I had a couple tidbits
of information. I knew her parents names and where they lived (Auburn, Androscoggin County, Maine). With that information, I started with my basic “getting to know you” process.
My process begins with Ancestry.Com. I have a paid
subscription and I highly recommend having one. If you can’t afford a
subscription, the “library edition” is available at most libraries and at all Family History Centers. I use Ancestry.Com to “pick the low hanging fruit.” I quickly found her father, her
mother, where they were married and then both of them through the 1930 and 1940
censuses. I found her father’s parents names in the 1930 census but could not,
for the life of me, find them in the 1920 census. I found the grandparents in
the 1910 census, but still nothing in
1920. I continued my Ancestry.Com
searches and found many city directories that showed where they lived ever
two or three years from after World War II until into the 1950s.
My next important search location in my process is Find-a-Grave. I used to go there second but now Ancestry.Com searches provides links to Find-a-Grave, so used that feature and easily found
the Find-a-Grave memorials for her parents. Looking at markers, I saw
immediately that her father had been a World War II veteran. Good to know — I’ll look into that more late.
The markers also provided solid evidence for both their birth and
death dates. All the censuses and other
records I found were consistent with that date. Thanks to Find-a-Grave, I also learned
of a brother that was born before my sister-in-law and died that same year as an infant.
I then switched to Family Search – an awesome free
resource. If I didn’t have an Ancestry.Com account, Family Search would be my first place to look. Any records that have images through Ancestry
and not Family search I would save to my “Source Box.” Later at a library or family history center
I’d use that source box records to save image files to my thumb drive.
Anyway, some kinds of searches work really well on Family
Search. I searched for her father’s first
name only, and added parents first names only, leaving the surname blank. I also added the state, Maine; bang there it
was. Severely misspelled surname but the right family, parents the right age,
siblings the right ages, location in the right town and state. Only the surname was off. Not much else on Family Search that I found in
a number of quick searches. A deeper
dive will most likely yield more information.
A search of Google News found their marriage
announcement. In it several other bits
of information were provided. Where her father and mother graduated from High
School. Where her mother went to college, what their occupations were. Even info about other relatives that attended
the wedding. Those are really good bits
of info to know and I input everything into my records. Sometimes just knowing that a person was
alive, still unmarried, and living at a specific city can lead to marriage and
Then on to my newspaper resources. My search in Genealogy Bank found a French language article about her father from 1939. Thanks to Google Translate, the
Two dogs Eskimo, owned by xxxx xxxxxxx, of Fletcher Street,
Kennebunk, harnessed to a sled, made the trip entire Biddeford and Kennebunk in
I’ll bet a native French speaker can tell me if “firent le trajet entre” means round
trip or one way – Google’s translation is unclear but it is a good first cut on translating
almost any language into almost any other language. That the article was in French was interesting as well. It made me
wonder if he was bilingual. I know his wife spoke both English and French.
I didn’t find anything on Newspapers.Com or through
Elephind.com regarding the family
Because of my findings on Find-a-Grave, I went back to Ancestry
and searched for military records for my sister-in-law’s father. Sure enough,
several documents were there. I learned he enlisted in early 1941 long before Pearl Harbor. I also found
the document where his widow applied for a veteran’s marker. That was cool because there was a color copy
on-line and the form was clearly in her mother’s hand.
Bates College students burying a stuffed bobcat to
Commemorate the demise of the Bates humor
magazine: The Bobcat
Photo Courtesy: Bates College
I wondered if the Maine State Archives had a copy of the
wedding certificate on line. No such luck,
but it did confirm the date and provided instructions on how to order one from
the state. (I think I’ll ask my sister-in-law to do that.) The wedding announcement mentioned that my sister-in-law’s mother had
attended Bates College. Hummm. I
wondered if a yearbook might be available on line. Yup.
Archive.Org had a copy on line. I REALLY love Archive.Org. They are high on my list of places to search
for people and documents. Of course
“mom” was there, a graduation photo and it showed her involvement and interests
in school life. She had earned an
apprenticeship in French, she was a member of the French Club, and the Glee
Club, and much more.
In just a few hours I found 18 sources of information about
my sister-in-law’s father and just a many regarding her mother (there is
substantial overlap). Actually, I found the information in an hour or two, documenting it took several times longer than finding the information.
I could do a lot more to get to know my sister-in-law’s
parents. But this is a good first beginning to get to know my sister-in-law’s people.
My process includes doing general searches using:
Ancestry.Com(Find the person in
every census they were alive for.)
Family Search and
Genealogy in Time
(which is really Google but more focused)
Finally I do focused Searches based upon previous findings
which generally include
Google News Archive.Org and various
That is kind of the start of my process. I think that it provides enough information to know a bit about a person. Enough to begin to ask more questions and focus my further research.
Note: Due to privacy
issues, I have intentionally left out names and personally identifying
information in this article/blog. As matter of policy, I do not publicly write about the
specifics of individuals or couples who have been dead less than 25 years.
Where I am at with my Y-DNA Projects, 16 December 2014
My Wife’s Y-DNA – Ancestry
My wife’s brother tested his Y-DNA with Ancestry.Com. Because they have quit supporting Y-DNA and because I haven’t done a transfer of the Ancestry results to Family Tree DNA, there are no new results. I’ve thought about transferring his results to Family Tree DNA however, it costs $58.00 and I’m feeling broke this month. Maybe next year. Also, I’m disillusioned by my Y-DNA results (see below), so maybe not next year either. We’ll see.
Join the Genealogy Revolution. Search for your surname in the largest DNA database of its kind!
My closest hit to my DNA (89% likelihood a common ancestor in 8 generations) still hasn’t answered. So, I emailed him again last month. Still no answer. No new matches either. Sigh….
My Friend T-Roy
I’ve been helping a friend, T-Roy, with his genealogy. In particular, his paternal side is lost. We know precious little regarding his grandfather and nothing before that. Because of the many disappointments I have had with Y-DNA testing, I am reluctant to recommend that path any longer. Maybe an atDNA test will provide results. There is such a large base if atDNA test subjects.
I’ve decided to break my blogs regarding DNA testing into two groups threads. This one regarding Y-DNA and another thread regarding atDNA. That way I can track and report statuses on each of the project areas better.