Hitting a familysearch speed bump

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FamilySearch.org-LogoI have spent the past month going through the Cook County marriage index on Familysearch.org. My parents think I should go out and date more!

At any rate, the Cook County marriages are indexed on familysearch, and on Ancestry.com, and on cyberdriveillinois.com up to 1900. Familysearch will allow me to search by groom or bride easily. Or so I thought.

I have raved in at least a couple of columns about how you can search for Giuseppe Rossi and find Joseph Russo thanks to new search technologies. I have to amend that slightly. After spending the last month looking for many couples, I have found that the new technology doesn’t seem to substitute “a” for “o” and vice versa. It may not sound like it, but that’s pretty big deal when looking for Italian surnames.

I have a lot of couples in my files who might have married in Italy, or might have married in Chicago. A few married in other cities, but most of the people from my ancestral villages came through Chicago first before their children moved away to warmer climates. I can usually tell which country they married in by finding the family in the census. The census gives the country or state of birth for each person. So when I look for a family, I find that the oldest children were born in Italy, it’s a good 99% chance their parents married in Italy. If the oldest children were born in Illinois, then all bets are off. The parents could have married in Italy and came here and had their children here. If the husband or wife is born here, chances are they married here. So far I have not seen any couples from the early part of the 20th century where the bride was born in Italy and the groom in Illinois. Usually it is the other way around.

If I know that the bride and groom are from different provinces or regions, they were usually marrying here. But when you first search for a couple, you might not know her birthplace yet. So far there are some Italian records on familysearch but a lot more Cook County. So I figure I’ll search for these couples here and deal with Italy later. I have had a terrible time getting an index entry to list both surnames with the correct spelling, or even one out of two names. I had to search using the following method, which hopefully will help you if searching for any ethnic surnames, not just Italian. For this example, we are looking for Giuseppe Abbinante and Lucrezia Menolascina.

1) Under “Type”, only check “Marriage” so you don’t get cluttered with a lot of other records.

2) Type the correct groom surname, then click “Spouse” and type the correct bride surname. (It doesn’t matter if you search groom-bride or bride-groom. Either works. So you can search for Surname Abbinante and Spouse Surname Menolascina.

3) If you can’t find them with correct spellings, try the shorter of the two surnames. Under “spouse”, get rid of the surname and just put the first name. Abbinante is slightly shorter so search for Surname Abbinante and Spouse first name Lucrezia.

4) If that doesn’t work, delete the surname and search for that person’s first name. Delete the other first name and put the surname in. Search for first name Giuseppe, Spouse surname Menolascina.

5) If that doesn’t work either, click “Marriage” and put in the tightest range of years that you can, based on what you know. For the location, type “Illinois” if you’re getting too many search results from around the country. Get rid of both surnames and just search first name for the groom, and first name for the bride under the “Spouse” section. In other words, just search for Giuseppe and Lucrezia in Illinois for 1910-1913. Use the year the first child was born as the last year in the marriage year range.

When possible, put an “a” where the “o” is and try again. Put “o” where the “a” is and try again.

You have no idea how many times I was searching for just first names. And once in a while, I found my couple getting married in Lake County, Indiana! Huh?? There were years where Indiana marriage laws were more lenient than Illinois marriage laws, and people would elope to Indiana to speed things along. This didn’t happen very often with Italian couples, whose parents did not approve of such behavior! But it doesn’t hurt to check Indiana when all else fails.

The Cook County marriage licenses are big pages with big handwriting, and yet they are spelled incorrectly or transcribed incorrectly way too often. Obviously it is easy to mistake an “a” for an “o” and vice versa, so it would seem logical to write the search routine to find exact spellings first, then spellings with one vowel out of place next. Nope! Doesn’t seem that way. I had to do a lot of searches for the exact spelling with a/o exchanged, and found quite a few that way. I have a lot of Carbonara relatives, and when they changed the spelling to Carbonar”o”, suddenly I couldn’t find them.

I was so excited writing about how great the search routines had become, and then they don’t allow for “a”/”o” exchange? Well, as I said in a previous column, there was a time when you had to only use perfect spellings, and try different perfect spellings until you guessed correctly. So this is still an improvement. But it is good to know how to work around the technology so you get the maximum benefit.

If you have any questions, send me an e-mail at italianroots@comcast.net and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject line. Have fun!

About 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.

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