5 Steps to Begin Researching Your Ancestry – Part 2

Step 2: Start with what you Know

Welcome back to Part 2 of my 5 Steps to Begin Researching your Ancestry.    By now I assume you have a rough idea of your goals which you created when writing out your plan. If you haven’t done this step yet you really should in order to keep focused.

Polito-MacchioneStep two involves charting everything you know (or think you know) starting with yourself and working backwards.  You need to start looking for any local or easily accessible information before attempting overseas research.  Create or print an ancestral chart using whatever information you know to fill it in.   The one on the left shows what I started with when I began researching my MacchionePolito line 10 years ago, which wasn’t much.  Since my my parents are both living I called my mom to find out what she knew.  She agreed to let me borrow her box of documents and pictures which I tediously copied and printed on my home printer.  Had the Flip Pal been available back then I would have used that instead!

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Documents such as  birth, marriage or death certificates, citizenship papers and immigration records are great resources in forming a timeline of events and can be crucial to your research.  Even if you don’t have a specific date for an individual you do have a rough starting point of when an event may have occurred.  Keep in mind that the closer to an event the record was issued, the more accurate that information will be.  An example would be a birth record.  If you have a copy of an original birth record, dated closest to that birth than it would be the most accurate record for that event therefore considered a primary source.  A death certificate would be considered a primary source for a death but it can also be a secondary source if it refers to a date of birth listed – unless the person reporting the death was also present at the birth (in a case of a child this could be a parent).  Each document, paper, record or picture found can have a purpose so don’t count anything out!

Interview Living Relatives

One of the most useful things I did when I started researching is to interview relatives.  I called and visited so many of our families and asked so many questions that I was afraid no one would answer my calls anymore!  I know many who suggest you record conversations during such interviews but that didn’t work for me.  I did however carry several copies of family group sheets and asked our families to fill them out during family events.   To be honest, not one member of either mine or my husbands families, including cousins ever refused to fill one out.  In fact, many requested copies of anything I found so that their children would also know about their family history.  In any case, use whatever method of interviewing you feel comfortable with and works for you.

Don’t Assume Anything – Confirm All Information

FrancescoNow you have all this information that people have told you which has to be right so you’re ready to go right?  Wrong!!  You NEED to CONFIRM EVERYTHING you’ve been told no matter how sure you are that it’s the truth.   I was always told my paternal grandmothers name was Caterina and she was born and died in Locri.  When I first looked for her I didn’t bother to check through the papers I had scanned months earlier as I had been concentrating primarily on my maternal line originally.  I retraced my steps and charted what I knew, then looked through my sources and found a memory card of her death.  I discovered her given name was actually Domenica Caterina and she was born in Gerace Marina but died in Locri (which until 1934 Locri was a hamlet of) and as it grew the name changed to Locri.  My paternal grandfather also went by the name of Bruno and he passed away in Locri and the male first born in our families were named after him.  Because of the Italian ‘naming’ tradition everyone swears by (first son in a family named after the paternal grandfather, etc.) I had no reason to doubt this.  You can imagine my surprise when I found his name listed as Francesco on his death certificate! I also learned that although he died in Locri he was originally from the nearby town of Ardore.  Had I not found this I would have repeated the same mistake I made when I searched for my grandmother.  I later learned that many of my ancestors, as well as residents in the towns I researched went by their middle or nicknames so double check and confirm everything!

Now What?

Well you have your starting point and without perhaps realizing it you have already been researching your ancestry! The next step is to use the internet and see what you can find.  I have listed some great resource links on Calabria Exchange and Gente websites which you may want to look through. You might also want to consider investing in a few books which are essential to researching your Italian roots.  Two of my favourites (yes I spelled that right – I’m from Canada) are Italian Genealogical Records: How to Use Italian Civil, Ecclesiastical & Other Records in Family History Research by Trafford Cole and Genealogists Guide to Discovering Your Italian Ancestors: How to Find and Record Your Unique Heritage by Lynn Nelson.

Next: Step 3:  Paper vs Digital

**Full disclosure: Article may contain affiliate links for which I may receive a small compensation for if purchases are made to help keep this site running.


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