I am being asked this question an increasing number of times by visitors to my website. This is good. More and more people are looking for their ancestors, and as they become proficient we will all have more information sources. But instead of reinventing the wheel, this page will serve to direct you to places to start. But first, you have to have "a place to start."
Get your hands on every bit of information you can about your family and related families (cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws, etc).
Get this information as far back as possible, and don't forget this information for all the brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins in each generation. Look over this information from time to time, because as you go along, things will pop up at you that you now make sense or align with something you now know.
- Names, birth, marriage and death dates of every relative;
- Where your relatives were born and where they lived;
- When they emigrated;
- When they moved;
- How long they lived in each location;
- Where they worked;
- What groups or unions they belonged to;
- Who lived nearby;
- Who were their close friends.
Gather information from all your older living relatives and the older family friends. Don't wait to do this!! This can take the form of stories, but also documents (immigration papers, deeds, wills, passports, newspaper clippings) and photos. Document family stories (write down what is said, and who told you - stories are not always completely correct, but they hold clues and are still important). Ask a lot of questions, ask often, and don't be discouraged if your older relatives say they don't remember much. Each time you chat with them, they will invariably come up with some tidbit that will help you add a puzzle piece. You will find that your questions will get more precise as you go along.
Getting Relatives to
Talk to You
Any number of people have told me that their older relatives, especially if Italian, simply do not want to talk about "the old country." However, if you can start to share information that you are discovering, sometimes they will warm up to the idea. Short of that, I have never met a person who did not thoroughly enjoy talking about himself and his life. So ask questions about the person himself. This will invariably lead to stories and information about people involved in his life.
Analyze What You Know
After you have some starting information, review and analyze it. You have to decide what to go after first. To me, genealogy research is a matter of figuring out what the information you already have tells you, so you have to figure out what you "know" so far. For example, you will probably need to calculate (or guess) how old someone was when he lived in a certain place, roughly how old he or she was at the time of marriage, or how old the parents were when each child was born. This is so when you start looking at records you can recognize your relative when you come across him. It all depends on what information you are starting with, but your analysis will tell you what to look for, and where to look. Sometimes, it gets to this - What question does this information answer?
Here's what I mean. You find your immigrant family in the 1900 New York census, and both the husband and wife listed their place of birth as Italy. That means that they emigrated by the date the census taker came around. So you could narrow your search for their immigration records to 1900 and before. But now you have another question - did they marry in Italy and come over here, or meet and marry here? And if they were both 18 years old at the census taking, they may have come to the US by themselves, or traveled with their parents. So when you look at ship manifests, don't forget to look at who came from the same town as your relative. Our immigrant relatives often came in groups, but not always as families.
If these relatives had a 7 month old child in the 1900 census, then the marriage date would likely have been at least a year before 1900. Now you have an approximate date for a marriage. What if her mother was living with them in the census? It's likely she was a widow, which tells you her father died in 1900 or before.
Now, what if they don't show up in the 1910 NY census? Well, they moved. So then you need to figure out where they went (this is where the family stories can help). It really is detective work, it is not always easy, and I don't believe everyone is suited to it. But if you get hooked, there is almost no greater thrill than figuring something out or getting a piece of information that fits into your puzzle.
Start Your Search
In general, you will need to find US census records for your family members, as well as immigration and naturalization records if your relatives were not born here. Whether you need research from here or overseas, your very best resource will be the Family History Centers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (link is below). Here is information on why members of this religion research their ancestors: Why family history?
Research Links to get
Here are some excellent resources on how to start searching for your relatives. I am assuming that you are looking for ancestors from Italy or Sicily, since this is the emphasis of my webpage, and is probably how you landed here. So while some of these are general, many are specifically for searching in Italy. Good luck!
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
This group has extensive genealogical records and experienced staff. Once you have compiled the information above, go to your nearest Family History Center. You can also search for your ancestors at this website!
Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
"NARA is an independent Federal agency that helps preserve our nation's history by overseeing the management of all Federal records."
NARA Genealogy Page
This link explains what information is available and how to obtain it.
NARA Genealogical Information
Links to other genealogical resources on the Net.
Island Online Immigration Records
If your family member emigrated to the US between 1892 and 1924, you should be able to find the ship manifest listing your relative on this searchable website. 24 million arrival records are online. Ship manifests are a tremendous resource. Depending on the year (ship manifests varied over time), the ship manifest can list all this information: Person's name, age, marital status, health, physical description, last town of residence, name of living relative in home country, final destination point in the US, name and address of friend or relative the person was initially staying with in the US.
This free genealogy system has tons of resources - databases to search, state and county resources such as local genealogy societies and census records, as well as world-wide information. Spend some time becoming familiar with what this system has to offer.
Cyndi has compiled over 100,000 genealogy links - ethicity, country and state. This is another site to become familiar with.
place to begin your genealogy for any nationality
This site has nice information for how to start your research.
Lots of links, including how to find your Italian town and how to write for records.
Search for your current-day surname distribution in the United States
Search for your current-day surname distribution in Italy
surname database searches
Includes searches in many countries (like telephone white pages)
collection of potentially useful tools to aid the Italian-American researcher
The fine gentleman who created this website has a collection of excellent resources for Italian genealogical research. You will need these!
By Trafford Cole. I do not own this book, but know of so many people who swear by it that it would probably be a good purchase when getting started.
This site has thousands of message boards for surnames and localities. You might find a cousin here.Unless you have a great concern about contacting people over the internet, email people who are researching the same names or the same locality as you. I have met many, many "cousins" (all very nice, by the way) by emailing every person who might have a connection with my family. The internet is a tremendous resource for this.
A very helpful collection.
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Page layout and excellent taste copyright (c) 1999 - 2001 by Janna Trevisanut.