The Pedigree Chart

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Fra Noi is introducing its exciting new format this issue, and I am proud to be a part of the new era!

One of the new perks for this column is that you can visit the new Fra Noi web site and actually see some of the documents and web pages I describe. So this is a golden opportunity to make the column more helpful by showing you what to do instead of just describing.

So now seems as good a time as any to get you started with your Italian genealogy from the ground up. I know not everyone who reads Fra Noi is interested in their roots, but even if you do not plan to dig any further, this is a good exercise for you and will make you think about your family.

Genealogy is a very simple art. You record what you know, and you determine what you do not know. Then you go out and find what you don’t know. This sounds like a seminar I once attended about acquiring wealth. The presenter said, “So, first, you need a million dollars.” I guess he got his million by getting us to attend his seminars!

Anyway, your first step is to write down what you know. Whether you are 100 percent Italian, half-and-half, or 2 percent on the wife’s side, the procedure is the same. It would be disorganized to just start writing names and dates down in a list. The best way to see what you know and what you need to know is to create a pedigree chart. (for a downloadable pdf, click here)

As you can see, the pedigree chart looks like an NCAA or World Cup bracket. You start with your own name as the World Cup winner! Fill in your date of birth, place of birth, date of marriage, place of marriage. Your place in the bracket connects to two new places, your father and mother. The father is always on the top bracket and the mother on the bottom bracket. Fill in your father’s name, his date of birth, place of birth, date of marriage, place of marriage, date of death and place of death if applicable. Now fill out the same information for your mother, but you do not need to repeat the marriage information. If you do not know the exact date of birth, you can write an estimated year of birth and a question mark. For any piece of information you do not know, write your best guess and a question mark. Later on, you need to look at the chart for all the question marks on it, and these are the pieces of information you need to find first.

The pedigree chart continues on. Your father has two parents. Fill in their details the same way. Your mother has two parents. Fill in their details as well. Now you have to fill in four more sets of parents. These are the parents of your grandparents. You may not even know their names. This is ok.

You may know less about your grandparents than you do about your parents. That’s ok. Do not let this bother you. That is the whole point of genealogy. You determine what you need to know and then use the tools I describe in order to find that information. You know yourself best of all, and you know less and less about older generations. That is normal. Even when you have done genealogy for 20 years, you will still know more about the most recent generations than you do about the oldest generations.

For right now, do not fill in additional details on the chart. For example, if your grandmother was widowed and remarried, do not write it on this first chart. Also, limit your information to the actual bloodlines. I know you may have a grandfather who was the only “Pop” you knew, but he was your grandma’s second husband. If he is not the blood grandfather, do not write him on this chart, even if he is the only grandpa you grew up with.

Well you have reached the end of the chart. Each of the people at the far right also has a set of parents, but we do not need to worry about them yet. One reason people give up on genealogy is that they try to do too much too soon. I recommend that you focus on small, specific goals. When you have more experience, you can try to save time by looking for many pieces of information at once.

You now have a one-sheet list of the closest people who helped to create you! It is easily portable to take with you to family get-togethers to ask other relatives if they can help with any of the question marks. Next month, we will start with some basic techniques on how to find certain kinds of information and make your pedigree chart complete!

Write to Dan at and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject line.

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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