Sunday, September 27, 2015

Italian Family History Road Trip Countdown

The clock is counting down. This time next week I'll be in Italy. 

No, I haven't started to pack. I'm too busy with my last-minute Italian genealogy research.

Yes, there will be plenty of time for Mediterranean beaches, Tuscan hill towns, and countless museums to past civilizations. But there will also be a bit of family history.

I cannot wait! Well, I sort of can. You see, I've been fighting a race against the clock to identify key genealogical information that will make the family history portion of the trip more rewarding.

Who's Who?
Giuseppe and Maria (La Rocca) Ruoti - born in Potenza, Italy
My great-grandmother's parents, Giuseppe and Maria (La Rocca) Ruoti, were both born in the comune of Potenza in southern Italy. 

Could I locate their birth records and identify the church where they were baptized? 

What about their parents? Could I identify the church in which my 3rd great-grandparents were married?

How cool would it be to step foot in the same church where my family history was made?

My challenge: would the documents exist to help me identify these locations? With less than a week before I depart, would I be able to gain access to these materials?

I turned to, my go-to database for Italian records. Happily, they had Civil Registrations online for births, marriages, and deaths covering the years 1866-1910. 

Those records yielded Maria La Rocca's birth record (born in 1875) and death records for both of her parents. Unfortunately, this set of civil registrations didn't mention baptism or funeral locations. There were no clues to which churches hosted these solemn events, and there was no birth record in this database for Giueseppe who was born in 1864.

Another FamilySearch database caught my eye. Potenza Civil Registrations from the State Archives covering the years 1697-1923. Did you say 17th century records? Yes, please!

I clicked on the link and watched as the page loaded my worst nightmare. The clock continued to tick.

My heart sank. I'd come to the end of the research road within the comfort of my home. I would have to venture out (or, I suspect, convert to Mormonism). The hyperlink pointed me to the family history center in Washington, DC: the Daughters of the American Revolution.

I cleared my Saturday schedule to make way for hours of Italian genealogy research (does DAR allow Chianti in the research room, I wondered?). 

When I arrived at their computer labs, I was quickly disappointed to discover that their logins do not satisfy the family history center criteria necessary to gain access to Potenza's records. My heart sank, again. 

Access to the records remained just out of reach. The records were taunting me!

Where There's A Will...
Back at home, as I nursed my disappointment, it occurred to me that perhaps the records were digitized and available to Italians on an Italian website. 

A press release announcing FamilySearch's efforts to digitize millions of Italian records pointed me to the website for Italy's National Archives. I was elated (and relieved). Records could be viewed online for free. Now. At home. Grazie mille!

Back in full research mode, I started trawling through the records - glorious in all of their black and white imagery. Within an hour, I located the birth and baptism record for Giuseppe Ruoti. 

My Italian family history road trip now has a site of interest. Giuseppe was baptized in Potenza's historic chiesa San Michele, which dates back to the 12th century.

Now I'm ready for Italy. The clock can continue its countdown. Ciao!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Probate Shines Light on Family History's recent release of millions of U.S. probate records has been a boon for my family history research.

As I prepare for an upcoming trip to Italy, I wondered what the records could tell me about my Italian ancestors who settled in Colorado. I'm eager to learn as much as I can about my 2nd great-grandparents Giuseppe and Maria Rosina (La Rocca) Ruoti.

I plan to spend an afternoon wandering the streets of their hometown of Potenza. Perhaps, if I can learn the locations, I'll even be able to step inside the churches where they were baptized and prayed before sailing for America in the late 19th century.

Trawling through the records, I found the probate file for Joseph Ruota who died in Denver on August 16, 1918.

Joseph's probate record shines a light on his financial status in America, but also illustrates the challenges his widow was left to confront.

What's In A Name?
An initial challenge I frequently run into when researching my Italian ancestors who emigrated to America is pinpointing their names. Due to Anglicization, they can be difficult to identify.

Giuseppe's probate record, for example, highlights his common name discrepancies. Parts of the probate package list his surname as Ruota, but elsewhere it's spelled as Ruote or Route. Route is the iteration that was engraved on his headstone. All are different from the Italian Ruoti with which he was born, but you can certainly see the phonetic resemblance.

Joseph and Rosa Route grave (photo by author)
A Family Copes With Death
Aside from affirming the many spelling iterations of his surname, Joseph's probate record confirms his death date and that he was born in Italy. It also tells me that he was a man of modest means.

At the time of his death, we learn that he had little to no cash. In fact, the records state simply that he had no estate. His net worth was locked up entirely in his home, which was valued at $2,500. Accounting for inflation, that's equivalent to approximately $42,000 in 2015.

His widow, Maria Rosa Filomena (La Rocca) Route or Rosina, petitioned the court to sell the home. She desperately needed the money, so she could have financial means to provide for herself and her remaining dependents. It's heartbreaking to imagine the anguish she may have felt at the loss of her companion while also wondering how she would provide for herself and children.

With a couple check marks, the 1920 census tells me that Rosina was unable to read or write. Joseph's 1918 probate record demonstrates her illiteracy in a more moving fashion. Newly widowed, Rosina had to make a mark where her signature was required on legal documents. It's one thing to see that in a census, but an entirely different experience to see the reality of it in her own hand.

Maria Rosina (La Rocca) Route makes her mark

In the 1910 census, Joseph was listed as able to read and write. He must have taken the responsibility of signing the family's legal documents. Now, after his death, all of that responsibility was on Rosina's shoulders. Her inability to write was in the public domain. What was that experience like for her?

A Family's Legacy
Census records are fantastic at helping to piece together families. Of course, it can be difficult once children begin moving away or daughters marry and assume new surnames. The probate record made that effort much easier.

In outlining each of his heirs, Joseph's probate record provides their addresses and married names for his daughters. As I continue to search for Ruoti, Ruota, Ruote, or Route cousins, this information provides helpful leads.

Joseph Route's heirs

Joseph's newly digitized probate record has brought his family back to light and, in a sense, to life. It's another example of the value these records hold for family historians, and reinforces the ever-expanding reach of genealogy as more archives open to digitization.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Probate Record Lays Breadcrumb Trail

In December 2014, my research into Burr Zelah Dornon's death expanded to include all of his children. Perhaps the collateral ancestors would shed light on his passing and burial.

As I snooped into Burr's descendants, I discovered that his daughter Lucinda copied a page out of his book and also disappeared from history (see Lost Lucinda: Like Father Like Daughter).

The last year of Lucinda's documented life unfolds as follows:

  • She marries Levi A. Stanley on June 11, 1899 in Gove County, Kansas. This was Lucinda's second marriage following the death of her first husband Sylvester Scannel in a Kansas prairie fire in March 1893.
  • On November 24, 1899, she and husband Levi make the society pages of the local newspaper in Plainville, Kansas. The gossipy piece tells us that the Stanleys are in town from Oklahoma visiting Levi's daughter from a previous marriage.
  • On February 9, 1900, they appear again in the society pages of the Plainville newspaper. Mr. Stanley's daughter hosts them for dinner before Levi and Lucinda return to their home in Oklahoma. 

  • On June 12, 1900, the Stanleys are enumerated in Stella Township, Woods County, Oklahoma Territory. 

1900 U.S. Federal Census: Woods County, Oklahoma

After this census, I couldn't find records for Levi or Lucinda. At least not until released probate records this week for Oklahoma.

Probate Record Provides Hint
A search for the Stanley surname turned up a series of documents for Levi in neighboring Alfalfa County. On December 14, 1916, a guardianship case was brought before the county judge by a group calling themselves the "Committee of Friends Church Cherokee." 

In their guardianship filing, they make the case that Levi Stanley is not physically able to care for himself.
"Levi Stanley lives alone, and is old and bed-fast, and has no one to care for him. That owing to his physical condition he is unable to care for himself or to manage his business." 
The guardianship case quickly fizzles and gives way to probate proceedings when Levi Stanley dies two days later on December 16, 1916.

Throughout his lengthy probate record, I saw no mention of Lucinda. Did she pre-decease him?

Documents from Levi's probate file hint at where he was buried, and may also provide clues to Lucinda's final whereabouts. In the settling of Levi's estate two invoices are submitted for payment including a bill for his grave and burial ($21), and his casket and funeral expenses ($122.50).

Invoices for Levi Stanley's Grave, Burial and Casket, Funeral

The final reconciliation of his estate's expenses includes a $21 line item to M.W.A. Cemetery. What was M.W.A.? 

There was no obvious match in my precursory review of Alfalfa County cemeteries. A quick Google search turned up a RootsWeb message board where one user identified the cemetery as the Modern Woodmen of America Cemetery. Another user indicated that the cemetery's name was changed to Cherokee Municipal Cemetery.

$21 Payment to M.W.A Cemetery

Cherokee Municipal Cemetery is on FindAGrave, but there was no existing memorial page for Levi Stanley. Perhaps there was no page because Levi's grave is unmarked. The probate file's many invoices never indicated that a headstone was purchased. 

Regardless, the probate records suggest that Levi Stanley was buried in the cemetery. I've created a FindAGrave page to mark his likely burial location.

If Lucinda did in fact pre-decease Levi, can I infer that he was buried beside his wife? That's my working theory thanks to the breadcrumb trail left by Levi's probate record.

My next step is to reach out to Alfalfa County to see if there are existent cemetery records that confirm Lucinda's burial. To be continued.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

AncestryDNA Ups Its Genetic Matching Game

Have you heard the good news? Genetic genealogists have cause to celebrate! took a step in a very positive direction this week by adding two new features to AncestryDNA that will help immensely with your genetic genealogy research.

Genetic Matches
With the addition of a "Shared Matches" button, you now have the ability to click on the profile for a DNA match and view a list of AncestryDNA users who are also genetic matches between you and the selected profile.

Why is this so cool?

Let's say that you've recently uncovered a non-paternal event (hypothetically) and  you want to zero in on only paternal line matches. If you've been fortunate enough to identify a potential biological paternal line cousin, you can now click on said cousin's profile and select the "Shared Matches" option.

A list will generate and you're off to the races. You no longer need to trawl through your own list of matches and then a cousin's list of matches to find the few shared common matches. The comparison is automated. Efficiency is cause to celebrate.

Of course, this isn't a chromosome browser. You can't, in this current format, verify which chromosome blip the matches all share in common. Subsequently, you can't identify - with 100% certainty - the common ancestor. It remains incumbent upon the diligent researcher to scrutinize the shared matches in order to suss out a likely common ancestor.

But let's not nitpick, for now, and celebrate this victory.

Mother and Father Filter
AncestryDNA also unveiled a new filter for users who have had either or both of their parents test. Once your parents' tests are in the system, a Mother and Father button will appear in your match view.

Click on either button to see matches that you share with your mother or your father. Again, another mighty helpful feature if you're looking to focus on a particular line of your ancestry.

To learn more, check out AncestryDNA's Anna Swayne as she walks users through the new features.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Family Mystery Part III: Are You My Grandpa?

After uncovering an 81 year-old family secret (see A Family History Mystery Revealed) and then identifying that secret's possible protagonist (see Family Mystery Part II: Identifying the Watchman), I set out to learn more about Sam Kirk - the mysterious watchman.

Could I identify clues that would help confirm whether Sam was my biological paternal great-grandfather?

I turned my sleuthing abilities to Sam's life to map out every documented detail. Mindful that any clue could help shed light on this family mystery, no record was too small or insignificant. This would be the definition of an exhaustive search.

Timeline of Sam Kirk's Life
1895 Iowa State Census

  • The 1895 Iowa census is the earliest document I was able to locate for Sam Kirk. His age is given as two years old.
  • He's living in Polk County, Iowa with his parents William F. and Nancy (Weeks) Kirk along with seven siblings.
  • Curiously, both father and son are enumerated by their middle names. William F. Kirk is listed as Frank Kirk and Sam J. Kirk is listed as ... drum roll please ... James S. Kirk. James!
  • Sam's middle name could explain the father's name of Jimmy Kirk that appears on my grandfather's birth certificate. 
  • Now would also be a good time to mention that my grandfather's first name was Frank. Was he named after Sam's father?
  • While this information is not conclusive proof on its own, it's certainly eyebrow-raising and may help tip the scales as we weigh the preponderance of evidence.

James S. Kirk in the 1895 Iowa state census

1900 U.S. Federal Census

  • Sam appears in Grant Township, Dallas County, Iowa. Dallas and Polk counties border each other, so the family didn't travel far between 1895 and 1900.
  • Sam is enumerated as Samuel Kirk and is now seven years old. His birth occurred in February 1893 in Iowa.
  • His parents, William F. and Nancy E. Kirk, have nine other children (ten in total).

Samuel Kirk in the 1900 U.S. federal census

1910 U.S. Federal Census

  • Samuel Kirk is enumerated with his parents living in Edgewater, Jefferson County, Colorado.
  • He's 17 years old, can read and write, but is not attending school. He is now working as a laborer.

Samuel Kirk in the 1910 U.S. federal census

World War I - Draft Registration

  • On June 5, 1917, Samuel James Kirk completes his draft registration card for World War I.
  • His full birth date is listed as February 23, 1893, and he says he is a natural born citizen born in Granger, Iowa.
  • He's employed by John Evert as a bee keeper.
  • He is single with no dependents, and described as short, slender, with blue eyes and black hair.

Samuel Kirk - WWI Draft Registration Card
  • A list of drafted men is published in an issue of the Colorado Transcript on February 14, 1918, indicating that Sam was pulled into service.
Colorado Transcript February 1918
  • His headstone engraving and a list of enlisted men held at the Denver Public Library indicates he served as a Private 1st Class in the Army's Motor Transport Corps.

1920 U.S. Federal Census
  • Samuel Kirk is enumerated living at home with his mother and five siblings. His father is now deceased.
  • He is 26 years old, single, and working as a farm laborer.

Samuel Kirk in the 1920 U.S. federal census

1930 U.S. Federal Census
  • Sam J. Kirk is listed as single at the age of 36.
  • He continues to live at home with his mother and several siblings.
  • He works as a laborer completing odd jobs.
  • This is the year that my grandfather would be conceived. Sam is living in the same neighborhood as my great-grandmother. They live a 2-minute drive or 11-minute walk apart.
Samuel Kirk in the 1930 U.S. federal census

1940 U.S. Federal Census
  • Samuel J. Kirk is living in the same home, but his mother is now deceased. His brother William is the new head of household.
  • Samuel is 47 years old and still single. 
  • He's working as an overseer for the Industrial School for Boys in Golden, Colorado.
Samuel Kirk in the 1940 U.S. federal census

World War II - Draft Registration
  • In 1942, Samuel J. Kirk completes a draft registration card following the outbreak of World War II.
  • For the first time, he's no longer living with his siblings in the Edgewater family home. He's living in Lakewood.
  • He lists Minnie Kirk as the person who will always know his address. This is the first time we see the name of Sam's wife.
Samuel Kirk - World War II Draft Registration
  • Samuel J. Kirk died April 24, 1970 in a military hospital in Fort Lyon, Bent, Colorado. He was buried in the city cemetery in Golden, Colorado.
  • His obituary states that he was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
  • His obituary also states that he married Minnie on June 7, 1940. That date would make sense. Sam is single in the 1940 census, which was enumerated on April 1st of that year, but by 1942, Minnie is listed with the Kirk surname on his WWII draft registration card. Curiously, I was not able to locate a marriage record for them in that year. In fact, their civil marriage record is on file with the city of Denver and took place on December 5, 1963. Had they previously been married in the church and were only now - 23 years later - filing that marriage with the state? Perhaps there was a legal need that necessitated the move.
Excepting my grandfather's birth certificate, there is nothing in written record that I've uncovered to-date linking Samuel James Kirk explicitly with his son Frank. 

The documented sketch of Sam's life suggests similarities to the father on the birth certificate: he was a man of the right age, with a middle name that could be construed as the father's, and lived and worked in close proximity to the mother. 

I felt like I was researching the right man, but I wanted proof. I wanted something that could confirm whether Samuel James Kirk was my biological paternal great-grandfather. Perhaps there was a role for DNA to play in confirming a genetic link.

[To be continued.]

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Looking For Bisnonna

In October, I will travel to Italy for a three-week jaunt down the peninsula.

I plan to visit the comune of Potenza where my great-grandmother Ancilla (Ruota or Route) Colacci's parents were born and where their parents died (or at least three of them did).

I would like to visit the Potenza cemetery where Ancilla's grandparents are buried. While I'm familiar with the European practice of eventually disinterring the dead to accommodate the newly deceased, there's typically a communal grave where the remains are deposited. I want to visit that site and see where they rest eternally.

As I book hotels and map out my itinerary, I still have important research questions to tackle before I leave.

For example, how do I locate the particular cemetery where they're buried? Do burial indexes exist? Unfortunately, burial information isn't included on the Italian civil death records.

Also, I have death records for three of Ancilla's grandparents confirming they each died in Potenza. However, I'm still looking for the death record for one of them: Ancilla's paternal grandmother Vincenzia (Raimondi) Ruoti.

Did she die in Potenza? Is she buried there, too? I need to find that record to determine what happened to her.

Ancilla's Parents
Ancilla's parents were Giuseppe Route (an Anglicized iteration of the Italian Ruoti) and Maria Filomena La Rocca. They settled in Colorado where they are buried beside each other.

Giuseppe and Maria Filomena (La Rocca) Ruota
A year ago I wrote about using their marriage records to locate where in Italy they were born, when they immigrated to the United States, and to identify their parents.

With the help of fantastic researchers on the forums, we found death records for Giuseppe's father and Maria Filomena's parents. Those records indicated that they passed away in Potenza.

The remaining question about Giuseppe and Maria is when did they arrive in the U.S.? I've still not found an immigration or naturalization record for them. The 1900 and 1910 census suggest Giuseppe arrived in 1880 and 1883 respectively. Maria arrived in 1890 or 1889 according to the 1900 and 1910 censuses. Alas, this is another search (and blog post) entirely.

Maria's Parents
Maria's father was Pancrazio La Rocca. He was born in about 1829 in the comune of Tricarico to parents Rocco Vincenzo La Rocca and Maria Vincenza Mobilio. Pancrazio died in Potenza on March 7, 1887.

Pancrazio La Rocca Death in Potenza - March 7, 1887

Maria's mother was Maria Giuseppa De Melio. She was born in about 1837 in the comune of Pignola to parents Saverio De Melio and Angela Spatuzzi. Maria Giuseppa died in Potenza on March 3, 1885.

Maria Giuseppa De Melio Death in Potenza - March 3, 1885

Giuseppe's Parents
Giuseppe's father was Vincenzo Ruoti. He was born in about 1827 in the comune of Potenza to parents Rocco Felice Ruoti and Margherita D'Bello. Vincenzo died in Potenza on August 9, 1883.

Vincenzo Ruoti Death in Potenza - August 9, 1883

According to Vincenzo's death record, it appears that his wife Vincenzia Raimondi survives him. When and where did she die?

As I continue to trawl through Potenza's civil records searching for her, I'm considering the following possibilities:
  • My Italian is poor and the script can, at times, be difficult to decipher. Perhaps I've overlooked her name in the indexes. 
  • Perhaps she moved away from Potenza and died elsewhere, and I'm not searching records in the correct comune.
  • Her death record was overlooked and not included in the index of names.
  • She had multiple first names and was not indexed under Vincenzia. Although, I've been reviewing the records for any female with a surname of Raimondi.
  • She did in fact pre-decease her husband Vincenzo.
The clock is ticking down and the search continues for bisnonna Vincenzia Raimondi. 

Do you have research tips for locating my bisnonna, or confirming Italian burials? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Grazie!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Top 10 Reasons to Climb Your Family Tree

Genealogy is a fast growing billion dollar industry ranked as America's second most popular pastime (only behind gardening).

Its internet dominance has also scored it a position as the second most frequented category of website (right behind porn).

With the introduction of DNA testing to its research repertoire, genealogy has gone high tech. New researchers are attracted to the hobby thanks to the introduction of science and its more dynamic experience.

Continuing to attract new users is in the interest of all genealogists. More researchers mean new cousins who may hold the clues to the answers we're after.

To help lure these budding genealogists, Family Sleuther compiled a listicle over at BuzzFeed. Check it out!