Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.

Annual conference teaches best tech practices

I haven’t taken a trip for genealogy purposes for some years. I used to go to Salt Lake City for one week a year to do research on microfilm, but now that those films are available on FamilySearch.org, I don’t need to spend the money to fly and stay at a hotel anymore. However, I did fly to SLC for a conference called RootsTech, which is a huge gathering of genealogists and computer tech people. Unlike conferences hosted by the Federation of Genealogical Societies or the National Genealogical Society, which are designed to link up local genealogy groups and train …

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To grow your family tree, start with the roots

Last month, we discussed how the Italian naming traditions can be used to help create the entire family tree more easily.  You can guess the names of grandparents and search for marriages of people with the correct first names without even knowing them from an official document, just because they have grandchildren with those names. Also you can tell which children were alive and when, based on how the later children were named. We also started talking about stillbirths, mostly because they fill out the family and you can then say that you have a complete family tree. When I …

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Why are so many people in our family named Joseph?

We always talk about the “old days” when we followed traditions the family held onto, mostly in reference to food, family gathering, religious practice etc. These are all a great part of our family history, but they don’t help us with our genealogy research. Some of those traditions are so ingrained that they are never talked about. They just “are.” One of the areas of ‘tradition’ we look at as genealogists is the way our Italian families named their children. Even if we grow up Italian and choose to not research the family tree, if we see a chart made …

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Where and how to dig up naturalization petitions

Last month we were looking for the town of birth of our ancestor using American records, for those of us who may not know the exact small town our Italian ancestors came from. We were able to use one search method on FamilySearch to simultaneously find the naturalization records and passenger lists. Last month I showed you: www.familysearch.org, “search”, “records”, “type”, “immigration and naturalization.” Let’s start with the difficulties of looking for naturalization petitions. As I mentioned last month, there’s no guarantee your ancestor became a citizen. As I forgot to mention last month, there may be no petition for …

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How to track down your Italian towns of origin

Many Fra Noi readers were born in Italy, or their parents were. They have the easy task of knowing what town the family came from. And then there are the rest of us. When I was much younger, my Polish grandmother told me that her family came from Krakow and my Italian grand-aunt told me that her family came from Bari. Both were close, but no Toscano cigar! Neither one realized that you need to know the actual small town your family came from to adequately conduct genealogical research. The nearby big city is not good enough. Italy managed its …

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Exploring FamilySearch.org’s Research Wiki

Before the internet, people at a local bar would argue about who hit more home runs, Willie Mays or Willie McCovey. Since there was no place to look up the answer, the winner would be the guy who had the hardest punch! Once we had internet access on smart phones, we go to Wikipedia and settle the factual debate without anyone getting a bloody nose. Genealogy methods are not as clear cut as looking up sports statistics, but FamilySearch.org has an entire section of the web site dedicated to looking up how to research a particular locality, small or large. …

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A decennial gift

Genealogists get a gift once a decade. Every ten years, the federal government takes the census, and 72 years later they release the full results to the public for use in genealogy research. Most people only remember the census as the time when the government asks us how many toilets we have etc. Most of us will probably not live long enough to see those census returns 72 years later. But last year we were given our decennial gift: the 1950 U.S. Census. When I started genealogy in the 1990s, there was basically no internet, and the census records certainly …

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Before they tied the knot

Last month, I explained how our ancestors married people from their town of birth a large percentage of the time. This was a byproduct of transportation difficulties, and the custom of arranged marriages, among other reasons. So before entering the once-indissoluble state of Holy Matrimony, a series of documents were assembled to verify that the marriage would be legitimate and could not be challenged. One type of document was the marriage banns, known in Italy as the pubblicazioni. These were used to tell the town that these two people wanted to marry (or their parents wanted them to marry), and …

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All in the family

I grew up in an era when our parents had their friends and we would refer to them as “Aunt” or “Uncle.” Later in life, we discovered they were not related to us. It was a little like when we discovered Santa Claus was just Dad in a red coat and a beard. I never asked my folks why they insisted I call them Auntie Virg and Uncle Bill. I was also surprised how many of my Dad’s colleagues at his job were Aunties and Uncles. When it came to family, nobody was my Aunt or Uncle unless they were …

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Why can’t I find a record?

We are very lucky to have Italian roots, for many reasons. From the point of view of researching one’s family tree, the major advantage of working with Italian records is that so many of them exist, are usually quite accurate, and can be acquired without flying all the way to Italy. Imagine how difficult it would be if the only way you could get a copy of your grandfather’s birth record from Italy would be to fly to Italy and go to the civil records office and request one. They won’t give you a “copy.” Instead, they give you a …

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