February 8, 2018

The Search for our Ancestry (XLV)

Collateral Tricks
By Angelo Coniglio
In genealogic terms, your ‘collateral lines’ are branches of your family tree that do not include your direct ancestors. For example: consider your great-great grandfather’s sister, who married and bore children with a different surname than his. This great-great grandaunt, her children and their descendants, all of them, are your relatives. They are a collateral line, as are all the descendants of every sibling of every one of your direct ancestors. As such, they share your ‘blood’, or to express it in modern terms, they share portions of your DNA.
Many researchers spend minimum time investigating their collateral lines. They are interested only in identifying ancestors in a direct line from themselves; or even more narrowly, only the direct ancestors that share their own surname, that is, only their paternal line. However, there are many reasons to do ‘sideways’ or collateral genealogy. Collateral relatives (aunts, uncles or cousins of some degree: first cousins, third cousins twice removed, great-granduncles, etc.) share some of your DNA. If you have your DNA tested by venues such as FamilyTreeDNA, AncestryDNA or 23andMe, the ‘DNA matches’ that they identify for you will most likely be from collateral lines, some as distant as five, six, or more generations. You may then find that when contacted, these relatives might have information about their ancestors who were also yours; that is, common ancestors between you and they..

So doing ‘collateral genealogy’ could help you to contact, correspond with, or even meet living distant relatives. These could be cousins still living in your little ancestral town in the hills of Sicily or Italy, or they could be old neighborhood friends who attended grammar school with you, but neither you nor they ever suspected that they were related to you. I have found relatives in both those categories, and part of the allure of collateral genealogy, to me, is finding relatives who inherited the same physical and behavioral family traits as I.

But there is another valuable application of collateral genealogy. I have previously pointed out that two important questions to resolve are “What were the ancestor’s children’s names, in order of age?” and “What were the ancestor’s siblings’ names, in order of age?” In Sicily and southern Italy, it was almost universal that the names a couple gave to their children followed a pattern called the Sicilian Naming Convention. This tradition required that the couple’s first son be named after the boy’s paternal grandfather; the first daughter after her paternal grandmother; the second son after his maternal grandfather; and the second daughter after her maternal grandmother. 

Here’s an example of how one can get around a ‘brick wall’ by combining collateral genealogy with the naming convention. I knew the name and approximate birth date (1831) of my great-grandfather, Raimondo Coniglio, but records are missing for the years 1830 – 1832, so I couldn’t find his birth record containing the names of his parents. However, I knew his children (my grandfather and his siblings) born from 1855 through 1865, were named in order of age; Giuseppa, Gaetano (my grandfather), Leonardo, Luciano, and Maria.  From this information, I conjectured that my g-grandfather’s father and mother were named Gaetano and Giuseppa, the names he gave his firstborn of each gender. I then began searching the records for Coniglio births, for the years before and after my great-grandfather’s presumed birth year of 1831.

I found numerous Coniglios born in my ancestral town in that time frame, but Pasquale, born in 1822; Felicia (b. 1824); Antonino (b. 1827; Angelo (b. 1833); and Concetta (b. 1834) were the only ones who were the children of Gaetano Coniglio and Giuseppa Montante. Their parents’ names matched my grandfather and his eldest sister; and the other given names were common in my family. There was a six-year gap between the births of Antonino and Angelo, when the usual difference in age was two or three years. This led me to the conclusion that my great-grandfather Raimondo most likely also was the son of Gaetano Coniglio and Giuseppa Montalto, and that he had named his first son, my grandfather Gaetano, after his own father.  Not iron-clad, but pretty good circumstantial evidence, which was later corroborated when I found Raimondo’s marriage record, which confirmed his birth year and his parents’ names. But while doing the ‘sideways’ search, I had found several great-grand uncles and aunts, whose offspring and descendants are part of my ‘collateral family’.

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