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Researching Family Trees


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Many people travel to their "old country" to find information about their relatives. I did a roots trip to Ireland in 1992 with Steve, my father, his brother, and my brother to see the village where my dad and his brother grew up. I have also traveled to London when my grandad was still alive to see where my mother's family lived.

Recently I joined Ancestry.com to create family trees for Steve and me. I've never had much interest in all this but it has really attracted my attention now after two different friend suggested I look into it. The whole process was made easy for me because @susan (an Ancestry master! and one of the friends who suggested this for me) did most of the research and work for me. Now I am reviewing it and filling in a few blanks where I can.

Right now I am working on Steve's tree because I am very interested in Jewish history. His family is from Ukraine and his great-grandfather moved to Canada in the late 1800s, followed by his wife and children, which included Steve's grandfather.

Interestingly Susan found that one of her father's close friends is related to me on my Irish side!

I know that @Valerie and @BryanS do research for people with southern Italian heritage. They gave me some pointers about research in general.

I am building my trees on Ancestry.com which you have to pay for. But when you are done, you can cancel your paid membership and use your free membership to view trees (or so I think). It is a complicated system but once you get use to it you see how much great information they have.

I've also looked at Familysearch.org which is free. And JewishGen.org which is mostly free.

https://www.ancestry.co.uk/account/profile/08be657b-0006-0000-0000-000000000000 - this links to my page. You have to be a member to see it.



Is anyone else doing family tree research?


100+ Posts
I've done some in fits and starts but I keep running into a wall with my grandfather's birth information. My mother's family were frequent and practiced liars so we're not sure what among the things we were told was actually true.

I had a weird but memorable experience several years ago while doing some research in Naples. We had the handwritten record of my great grandparents' civil marriage but nothing on their church wedding. I decided to visit the office of the archivist of the Diocese of Naples to see what I could find.

I wrote out what I "knew" to be true and brought a copy of the civil record, then I wrote down my questions in Italian (I spoke/understood very little Italian at the time) and presented myself, without an appointment, at the entrance to the Diocesan buildings. The security guard came out to greet me and I rattled off my rehearsed spiel. He understood and responded which, of course, I didn't understand at all. He tried again. At this point I did understand he was telling me to come back on Monday or Tuesday of the following week and I was able to tell him that I was leaving town the next day for a week in the Cilento.

I didn't understand much of his response, other than something about going to the Cilento with his parents when he was a child. For some reason, either that story or my pitiful face, he called the archivist and asked her to meet with me, even though it wasn't a day when they saw members of the public. She agreed and he ushered me outside and directed me to walk between two buildings until I reached a courtyard, she would meet me there.

It was a really long walk, there were no other people that I could see but I could hear voices talking inside the buildings. Every few minutes I would turn and look back and the guard was still there, waving at me to keep going. I finally found the courtyard and there she was, cigarette hanging out of her mouth, looking very, very bored. The whole thing was very Felliniesque.

We went inside to a gorgeous room that must have been a chapel at one point, it was full of parish registers with dates from the 1700's and 1800's. She took my information and disappeared, I sat there alone for about twenty minutes wondering what I should do if she never came back.

When she did return she asked me some questions I could answer, then one I could not understand. She spoke no English so she called a friend, told her what she needed, then handed the phone to me so the friend could translate.

After all that she asked me for 10 euros. I gave it to her and she showed me out.

Everyone I told that story to after I got home laughed and said I'd been taken but I figured that even if I never heard from them I got more than 10 euro worth of entertainment.

As it turned out, about a month later a big envelope arrived in the mail. I had asked for the marriage information for my great grandparents, which was in the envelope. The bonus was that she included three more generations of weddings going back to 1812, all in the same parish church.

I still don't have birth information on my grandfather and I'm beginning to suspect that something really hinky was going on. One of these days I'm going to hire someone to do a birth records search in Naples.


100+ Posts
As Pauline mentioned, I do genealogy research. It was fun working on both Pauline and Steve's trees and it was a BIG surprise finding out she is related to a good friend of my dad's.

I started doing genealogy research in the mid 1980's. It was slow going for many years before everything was online. Lots of trips to libraries and Family History Centers. Since I retired 7 years ago, I have had much more time to work in my genealogy and have made tons of new discoveries.

My family history is pretty diverse. My dad's side is from Ireland, Scotland, England, and possibly Wales. Because of this, I knew just where to look for records for Pauline's Irish side. My dad's side also includes a few Mayflower passengers as well as many other ancestors arriving soon afterwards, so I've discovered that I am related to quite a few well known people. I joke that it's like 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon. At one point I decided to see if I really was related to him. He has direct ancestors who lived in the same area where my ancestors were living back in the 1600's but no luck... BUT I did discover that I am related to his wife, Kyra Sedgewick! So that means I am also related to his children... pretty close to 6 degrees!

My mom's side is Italian/Jewish. I started my research back in the 80's specifically to find out where my Jewish great grandmother was from. All I knew was Russia. Finding that info took me longer to discover then finding info on all my other lines of my family. At this point, I have narrowed my great grandmother's origins down to Grodno, which was part of the Russian Empire when she lived there but is now part of Belarus. My great grandfather's family is from an area not far from where Steve's family is from in Ukraine. At the time my great grandfather lived there, it was part of Galicia in the Austro-Hungarian Nation. My only hint when I started researching was Austria! DNA testing helped me find a few relatives who then gave me more info to help me put together this side of my family. Spending some time at the Family History Center in Salt Lake City a couple of years ago, the genealogy mecca for family research, was also a big help. I learned how to find info in the JewishGen records and also learned quite a bit on researching other areas of interest for my family history. Knowing how to use the JewishGen records made it easier to find many of Steve's family members.

My Italian side is from the Avellino area, mainly Montefalcione and Lapio. My favorite records to research are the Italian records. It's as close as I can get to Italy these days and I get to practice some Italian. The handwriting is the big challenge though in some of these records! I took a day trip to Montefalcione back in 2000. This was only my 2nd trip to Italy, back when I knew very little Italian and before I discovered most of my family roots in that area. I hired a driver and although Lapio is not very far from Montefalcione, he was only willing to drive to once place. I wrote about my visit here. I am now up to 99 comments, the majority related to genealogy from this town. It's crazy! Back when the internet was young, if you googled Montefalcione, this blog post was one of the top hits - first page on Google! I also did a post on Lapio and that was also a top hit post on Google.

Ellen, that is a great story! I'm amazed that they sent you all that info! What year was that? I'm so jealous that you were able to spend time in that room with all of those records! I would be happy to try to search for your grandfather's birth record. Most or maybe all of the Napoli records are online. Send me a private message with the info you have for your grandfather. Here's the link to the Italian Records website. It's a bit of a learning curve and most records are not digitized indexed so you can't just put in a name. Many years are handwritten indexed though so it maybe be possible to find him. In a big place like Napoli, it would take a while to look page by page IF the year he was born was not indexed but it can be done.

If anyone is interested in searching Italian records - here's a good tutorial on the new Antenati website. They changed everything recently so the tutorial is very helpful even if you have knowledge using their older website.

I am also happy to answer any questions about Ancestry and the Family Search websites and other genealogy questions.



100+ Posts
I would love some help, I really don't know where to go to get started.

And I absolutely know what you mean about the handwriting, it took forever to figure out what the letters on the civil marriage record were before trying to translate the meaning.

I was surprised when I saw the Ancestry DNA results how much Scotland figures into my background. I knew that my father's mother had emigrated to New York from Glasgow, but there must have been a lot more on both sides of my family to add up to the numbers I'm seeing. I managed to get my poor mother to spit into the tube shortly before her death so I have her profile as well, but not my father's.

In fact, the very small amount of Italian ancestry in our DNA is one of the mysteries. My mother's paternal grandparents emigrated in the late 1800's from Naples. It's been a struggle to find actual records of entry, we found hers (with an infant child) but not his. He had left Italy for work in Cuba, gone back to Italy, and eventually wound up in the States. We suspect he went back to Cuba first but we don't know and can't prove anything. I would not be surprised to learn that he entered and stayed illegally.

So was the infant she arrived with my grandfather? Was it another child that died? Was it someone else's child? Did she keep and raise that child (with little/no Italian DNA) as her own? We'll probably never know but it's an interesting and very personal mystery to contemplate.

I will reach out Susan, I'd love some help and direction about what to do next.


100+ Posts
Genealogy research is like working on a complex puzzle...lots of pieces and you need to figure out where/if they fit!

Remember that all of these online websites (Ancestry.com, familysearch.org, etc.) and DNA results are tools to help in your research but there is a LOT of wrong information on shared online trees. They can be hard to find sometimes, but actual original documentation is the best way to verify you have the correct details.

- Susan, thanks for the shout-out on the Rootstech 2022 video on the Antenati website. :)


1000+ Posts
I am also happy to answer any questions about Ancestry and the Family Search websites and other genealogy questions.
Hello Susan - both you and Ellen mention the use of DNA testing. How exactly does this work? I suppose all use of DNA is voluntary/with permission, and is very helpful for understanding living connections. But how far back can this help?


100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Yes, I've done family research since I was 15!
Back then , all the older Grannies and Great Aunts and Uncles were still alive; and I wrote to as many as I could to get information, which I then put into a family tree that I drew on the back of a huge Bonnie and Clyde movie poster.
Still have that. :)
When the Internet came into being, I joined Ancestry and Roots Web, and found so much information it was hard, and still is, to make sense and order of it all.
Bryan is right about not copying verbatim from other people's trees...very often they are incorrect.
I have got back as far as the 1300's on my Dad's Scottish side.
There was a great uncle 14 generations back who was hung, drawn and quartered for his part in the killing of Lord Darnley, one of Mary Queen of Scots' husbands.
My Dad's sister , my favourite Aunt, said "What do you want to know all that stuff for...we were all peasants!"
On my Mum's English and Irish side, there was much poverty, and many were in and out of the WorkHouse in the London and Kent area at the turn of the 20th Century.
I did my DNA though Ancestry, and found many connections to the Scottish side, but not one on the English side.
I figure there were adoptions, children given away, deaths, etc.
It is mystifying.
I have found a first cousin I did not know about, and we keep in touch, and a half cousin too.

Once you start researching...be prepared to go down many rabbit holes, and spend many hours on this!
It's a great hobby for winter days.

If you have Scots' ancestry, and are going to be in Edinburgh; make an appointment at this place.

You can book an entire day for a fee, and get access to every known piece of documentation in Scotland.
It's amazing, and so interesting.
I did it a few years ago.

Maybe some of us on here are distantly related!


100+ Posts
Ellen, very happy to help. Send me a private message when you get the time and we can try to figure this out.

Funny you mention Scotland. My mom passed away before I was able to get her tested, but I did test my aunt (her sister). Ancestry has her ethnicity as 3% Scottish on her Italian side. I have been able to trace all of my Italian direct ancestors back to the 1700s/early 1800s (all from the Avellino area of Italy), which is 6-8 generations for my aunt (except 1 brick wall stuck at 5 generations). The Scottish ethnicity for her seems very questionable unless some Scottish guy sailed to Southern Italy in the late 1700's? I also have my aunt's DNA results on MyHeritage and there is no Scottish ethnicity as part of her DNA results there. My ethnicity is much more Jewish on Ancestry and much more Italian on MyHeritage. DNA ethnicity info results are just an estimate and constantly change as they get larger reference populations to compare to. Although the big hype from these companies is to find out your ethnicity, the real value is in helping with DNA research.

Joe, DNA testing is an option you can choose by purchasing a kit and then sending it in to get your results. Many companies do this testing. Most do autosomal DNA testing - which generally produces matches going back 5-7 generations. We each inherit 50% of our DNA from each parent. You can also opt to keep your info private (although I believe matches will still show up but no personal info will accompany your results unless you use your real name on your account for your DNA info). You can also delete your account after getting your results and matches to you will no longer show up.

I was very leery about doing DNA testing for quite a while but someone in my local genealogy group finally talked me into doing it. Best thing I've done to advance my genealogy research. As Bryan mentions, it is one more tool to help with genealogy research. A DNA match with usually at least 8cm in common is pretty accurate as a match (I have some DNA matches with 6-7 cm that I have confirmed with sources to back up our matches). Just remember that a DNA match does not mean every ancestor that person has in their tree once you determine your common ancestry line is correct. You match that specific person but not necessarily the generations further back if the tree you are looking at is not accurate.

Here's a blog post I found that explains DNA testing results and Centimorgan (cm) info.

Bryan, omg! I didn't realize that was you until now! BRAVO! That was a great tutorial. I've been using Antenati for a few years but still learned a few new tips from your tutorial. I've sent this video to many friends doing Italian genealogy research.

Also thank you Bryan and SMJ for bringing up how important sources are in genealogy research and how other trees can be wrong. One person sees something that is incorrect in another tree or a hint that is not accurate, adds it to their tree and then 20 trees copy this incorrect info!

For example, a relative of mine who basically just copies other trees and adds every hint that pops up, put a marriage of 2 dead ancestors - lived/died in Montefalcione in the 1800's with the same names as a couple marrying in New York in the early 1900's in their tree and then other trees copied this info! Even thrulines (a DNA tool in Ancestry) can be wrong.

SMJ, Scotland's People records have helped me solve a couple of brick walls. It's a great resource! I only wish there was more info for the person before having to purchase a view of the actual record. How I would love to spend a day at this place in person!


100+ Posts
Just to add some further information to what Bryan wrote, here is a link to an interesting article from Consumer Reports.



10+ Posts
Fascinating! Every few years, my cousins and I talk about doing genealogy research (on my mother's side) but we never get very far. I've tried looking in JewishGen and Ancestry, but have yet to try the DNA testing though this thread may be the motivating factor! long story short, my great grandfather emigrated to Worcester in the early 1900's (before 1905) and then part of the family moved to the Boston area. He was a widower with 6 sons, who married a widow with 4 sons and together they had 2 sons. Thought I had a great clue when one of my cousins said my grandmother's family was from "Kovno Kabernya" in Lithuania, so I was thinking of a small shtetl like in Fiddler, but turns out all that means is in the municipal area of Kovno/Kaunas, which is a little larger than Anatevka :~).


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I ordered a DNA test today. I would love to get one for Steve but he is not interested. I am looking forward to seeing if I am more than just English and Irish! A friend of mine did a DNA test and found out she is an incredible mixture of European nationalities, Mexican, South American and even from India. Her son in law from Russia, on the other hand, is 99% Russian and 1% Finnish!

This illness that I have, Giant Cell Arteritis, is common in Scandinavians. One lecture I watched by an doctor in Norfolk said that is a great place to study GCA since many people are related to the Vikings who conquered that part of England at one time.


100+ Posts
I've done a lot of this over the last 30 years, ever since I was working very near the central records office for BMD in England. I knew a fair bit of what my parents had told me about their immediate families, but that only went so far back, after which it was a matter of entertaining (or not) stories.

In those days, it was a question of visiting actual paper archives for just about anything, but even so, I managed quite a lot, especially once the internet could start pointing me in the direction of the right archives. A few days in the Scottish Records Office pulled up a lot of information back to the eighteenth century (earlier than that, and I was lost in a maze of thousands of people with very similar names); delving into the National Archives tracked down a lot of the military records for various ancestors on my father's side, and the indenture papers for an eighteenth-century forebear's apprenticeship as an attorney (still some mysteries there, as I can't be sure when or where he was born). It took several trips to different local archives to track down one particular line, but in the end, by using a spreadsheet to record and sort all the people with the right (fortunatey not too common) name in and around the area, I managed to get them into family groups, and assuming conventions for naming children after grandparents (and there weren't too many alternatives anyway), I could get a line back to Tudor times, in and around the same pair of villages either side of the Kent/Sussex boundary.

Once the contents of archives themselves went online, that opened up new possibilitiies, One of these was to discover various embarrassing stories about an older brother of my grandmother (that she never liked anyway), who turns out to have been a real "wrong 'un", finally going to jail for fraud. Another discovery was that one of those entertaining stories (that there was some "wrong side of the blanket" relationship in Jamaica way back) had more than a germ of truth. That apprentice attorney had a long-standing relationship with a woman of obviously mixed race (and I'm not entirely clear about his origins either) - so two or three generations back from him, it turns out I am descended from both a slaver and one of his victims.

Which, by the way, didn't turn up when I did a DNA test (not with Ancestry). Of course, that far back it would be only a tiny contribution to my DNA, but it underlined that what they tell you about "where you're from" is highly limited. It depends on exactly what they're comparing your DNA with, and how that information is organised and classified. How complete is their database in relation to the distribution of DNA around the world? Is their classification only in terms of where you'd find this or that genetic marker nowadays? Can that tell you anything significant in terms of your ethnicity (however you define it) and your cultural heritage(s)?


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I could get a line back to Tudor times, in and around the same pair of villages either side of the Kent/Sussex boundary.

With Steve’s tree I found that both sides of his family were from what is now eastern Ukraine and western Poland. I’ve been reading a bit about these areas - Galicia and Podolia. The great grandfathers on both sides immigrated to Canada (Toronto) in the late 1800s. It really is fascinating.


100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Yes, it does make searching a lot easier if you have some unusual names in your family.
We had 6 generations of William Jones'.
Try sorting those out!!!!


10+ Posts
As Pauline mentioned, I do genealogy research......

If anyone is interested in searching Italian records - here's a good tutorial on the new Antenati website. They changed everything recently so the tutorial is very helpful even if you have knowledge using their older website.

I am also happy to answer any questions about Ancestry and the Family Search websites and other genealogy questions.

Susan, the tutorial looks very good and I wonder if you would be willing to answer a couple of questions? I have tried to research my family a little, but without success. My Dad's family is from the Emilia area of Emilia Romagna, and my Mom's is from the Lunigiana area of Tuscany. I used the Ancestry DNA test several years ago and they continue to provide updates, which is interesting. It has identified the home of my ancestors accurately from where my family described their origins. It does not provide any information about population migrations from the distant past etc.


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My DNA results are in. No surprise. I am Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh, and a bit of Scandinavian. My father was from a town near Galway, Ireland and my mother from London.

This vasculitis that I have (GCA) is thought to originate in Scandinavians. Thanks for that DNA!



100+ Posts
Hi Fedina,

I apologize for not replying. I must have missed your message. Ancestry DNA sometimes indicates regions but I don't think it will provide information about population migrations from the distant past etc. I've seen some of this info on the show, Finding Your Roots. You might be able to get further info by uploading your DNA info onto GEDmatch. I've added my DNA results there but the site is pretty technical and much of the info you search for on that site is still confusing to me.

Do you know the exact town names in the Emilia and Lunigiana areas? That would be your starting point to find records for your family. Otherwise, you would have to do a search in multiple town records. A definite year of birth, marriage or death would narrow it down a bit if you do end up searching multiple towns. Would anyone in your family know the names of the towns? I was fortunate to find the town names of my great grandparents origins through a marriage record. A death record may also give this info though. Feel free to send me a private message and I'll see if I can point you in the right direction with the info you have.


Forums Admin
This is something that is confusing to me about DNA and ancestry. Why do people in North America not have US or Canadian ancestry? Some people have been in North America for many generations.

I’ve been messaging with @BryanS about this and I just don’t understand the reason. He said all our genetic backgrounds are from somewhere before our relatives came to North America. But didn’t mankind first form in Africa? Why don’t we just see our African roots? Humans moved from Africa to Europe, but then moved to North America.

Do Native Americans show their groups in their DNA?


100+ Posts
Why do people in North America not have US or Canadian ancestry?

A very good question. It all depends on the categories the company concerned chooses for its taxonomy. You might think that what weighs heaviest with them is the knowledge that their clientele is mostly from USA/Canada in search of origins from elsewhere (but I couldn't possibly comment ).

There's no absolute authoritative taxonomy or allocation to geography, let alone cultures: you need to check the small print about their definitions. My assumption is that they're looking at the present-day distribution of DNA outside the USA and Canada (and how complete are their databases on that?)

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