December 16, 2018
The Search for our Ancestry (LIV)
Finding Living Relatives
By Angelo Coniglio
Frequently, readers make requests like the one below, with minimal information about the ancestors they wish to research. In these cases, it’s impossible to give detailed answers, but the general process is addressed in my answer, applicable for anyone searching for their ancestry and for living relatives in Sicily or Italy.
Q: I expect one day to take my daughters to Sicily, in hopes that I may find living relatives of my family. I would love to take my girls to the place where their family history originated. Is there any advice that you may give me? I have a search started but I have come to a dead end. Where do I go from here?
I would also love to put people’s names to the faces in my parents’ photo albums. I have gotten just so far and am at a dead end on photos, as well. I think I have come across something in Sicilian records, but I'm not sure if what I have is correct. How do you know if what you even have is the right thing?
A: Without knowing more details (names, dates, places), or where your "dead ends" occur, or what your research skills are, it's difficult for me to give you any specific advice. When you ask "Where do I go from here?" what I need to know, is where is "here"? How far have you gotten?
If your goal is to find living relatives in Sicily, there are two major things you must do.
1) Determine the exact town from which your ancestors came; and
2) build as complete a family tree as possible, identifying not only your direct ancestors, but their siblings and the descendants of their siblings (that is, their collateral relatives).
These two efforts are intertwined, and to some extent, one depends on the other. Family photos are wonderful to have, but they don't provide much help in genealogical research. Further, very few of our ancestors in the 1800s had the means to be photographed. Here's how to proceed. I'll use your paternal side as an example, but the same process should be followed for your maternal side.
Find your father in the 1940 U. S. Census. If he was born after 1940, find his father in the 1940 census. To find censuses, you can search on-line on Ancestry.com or the free Mormon site familysearch.org. Federal censuses were done every ten years, and some states also had periodic censuses. Keep working back to earlier censuses until you find your ancestor listed with his parents, and so on, until you find a census that indicates when the earliest immigrants came to the U.S. Unless the immigrant came from a large city like Rome, the censuses give only limited information about origins, like ‘Italy’ or ‘Italy South’.
Search passenger ship manifests for the immigrants, using the information developed from the censuses. These manifests are available on line on several venues, for example ellisisland.org, familysearch.org and Ancestry.com. Passenger manifests often gave the name of the town in Sicily where the immigrants lived or were born. If that fails, try to find family records that indicate the town, or go to the county clerk in the place in the U.S. where they lived, and inquire about their naturalization papers. If found, those papers should name the town of origin.
Once the ancestral town is known, using the resources of the Mormon church, in on-line sites or at a physical Family History Center (FHC), find the microfilms or on-line venues that have birth, marriage and death records for that town, and begin searching for the records of your ancestors. This must be a step-by-step process; find one generation at a time, then find the records for that person's parents, then his or her parents, etc. As you find information, record it and develop a 'family tree'. Include siblings if you can find them, for each ancestor. The best way to build a tree is by entering the data in a computer program that will organize the information and allow you to print family tree charts, list of descendants or collateral relatives of your ancestors, and so on. Such programs are available to be ordered on-line for $30 or so and downloaded to your PC. It is possible to ‘build’ family trees on on-line venues such as Ancestry.com, familysearch, MyHeritage, etc. but I STRONGLY urge you to build and maintain your primary tree off-line on your PC, where it is completely under your control. If you’re not computer-literate, your local Mormon FHC has charts and forms on which you can manually record your tree and family information.
When you have completed the family tree as far as possible, and knowing the ancestral town, when you visit Sicily you can go to the town's municipio (town hall) and parish rectory and ask if they know of any families with the surnames in your tree. These may not be the surnames of your father or mother, because some of your ancestors' female relatives would have descendants with other surnames; - they're still your relatives. You can also check local telephone directories for familiar surnames. Once you meet the potential relatives, show them your family tree. If they recognize someone in it as their ancestor, you will have found a living relative!
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 helpful hints on genealogic research. If you have genealogy questions, or would like him to lecture to your club or group, e-mail him at email@example.com