July 9, 2016

The Search for our Ancestry (XXVI)

By Angelo Coniglio
Recent columns have reviewed the free genealogy research website of the Mormon church, https://familysearch.org/ (familysearch). The most recognized paid subscription genealogy site is www.Ancestry.com (Ancestry). Ancestry may be considered expensive by many beginning researchers; however, the service does offer free 14-day trials. It is also available for free at many public libraries, and at Mormon FamilySearch Centers (FSCs). 
Many features seen on familysearch may also be found on AncestryThese include images of many Italian and Sicilian civil birth, marriage and death records. Ancestry, however, has records from some ancestral towns that familysearch does not. On the other hand, familysearch has church baptism and marriage records for US cities, which Ancestry, as yet, doesn’t. Both sites have extensive images of US Federal Census records and access to manifests of passenger ships that brought immigrants to the US.   
In my experience, Ancestry is more user-friendly and more intuitive in its use than familysearch. I find that familysearch also tends to steer the user to its ‘Family Tree’ function, which I feel is the least helpful to new researchers. Ancestry also has family tree options, and encourages the use of its online trees. However it’s not as insistent as familysearch is with the latter’s ‘Family Tree’ function. It’s a good idea to use both of these sites in concert.  What you don’t find on one may be on another, or images may be clearer, or downloading items may be simpler.  You may find that due to indexing errors, a name search on, say, the 1930 US Federal Census on familysearch fails to find your relative, while a search of the same census on Ancestry gives the results you wanted. Ancestry may be missing one year of birth records for your town, while that year is present on familysearch. Or vice versa!
Ancestry, like familysearch, has on-line instructional videos. Although they are not grouped by nation, subject, etc., they too can be very helpful. Click on the ‘Ancestry Academy’ tab, and type a key word in the search box. Typing ‘Italian’ will return a link to the video ‘Tesoro! Finding Your Italian Roots’. Typing the word ‘Census’ will return links to ten videos, including ‘You Found WHAT in the 1940 Census?’ Clicking on the ‘Course Library’ tab will display the titles of available videos, about 45 in all, under categories such as ‘Records’, ‘Methodology and Skills’ or ‘Localities and Ethnic Research’.  New videos are added frequently.
Like familysearch, Ancestry has options to allow searching by an individual’s name for many records, such as ships’ passenger manifests, US Federal Censuses, some state censuses, and military records. Sometimes on familysearch, selecting “View Image” will simply transfer the user to Ancestry, and to see the record you must log on Ancestry as a paid user, or from a library or FSC that allows access. It seems more sources may be viewed in their original format on Ancestry, rather than in a transcribed version, as many familysearch records are presented. Also, if a searched name on familysearch yields information on a ship’s manifest, you are transferred to www.ellisisland.org to see the document’s image, but which must be purchased if you want a hard copy. The same search on Ancestry will produce the image, and further, it can be downloaded and printed. 
As with many genealogy sites, Ancestry is continually tweaking its functions and adding to the already vast array of information it holds. For example, for most towns in three Sicilian provinces, Caltanissetta, Messina and Agrigento, it has on-line images of civil records of birth, marriage banns, marriages, and deaths, and has yearly indices for the records, facilitating finding a particular document. familysearch has the same on-line records and many more; however the indices are not separately listed, making navigation more difficult. To see if your ancestral province or town’s records are on Ancestry, click its “Search” tab and select “Card Catalog”, then type in the name of the province. Some records, as for the Sicilian provinces noted above, are grouped by province, some by the town name. Records are added frequently and randomly, and I can’t include a complete, up-to-date list here.
Coniglio is the author of the book The Lady of the Wheel, inspired by his Sicilian research. Order the paperback or the Kindle version at http://bit.ly/SicilianStory Coniglio’s web page at http://bit.ly/AFCGen has helpul hints on genealogic research. If you have genealogy questions, or would like him to lecture to your club or group, e-mail him at genealogytips@aol.com