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(Finally) working well with others

I am an only child. My parents were had the foresight to realize that they did not need more than one of me! As an only child, I became very self-sufficient, or at least self-dependent. So my social skills are a mess and I don’t delegate very well … among other flaws. In high school and college, when I had to work on a project in which team participation was required, I was either the person who rode other people’s coattails, or the person who took charge and did all the work. No in-between for me. My report cards, those that have survived the decades, usually do NOT say “works well with others.”

It is a good thing I got into genealogy, which for the most part is a hobby that does not rely on a team of people to work together. This is a good thing, because since it is a labor of love, there is no good way to motivate a bunch of other people to do some work and report back to me on a deadline. (“Labor of love” is a phrase translated from the Latin for “you don’t get paid for it!”) So my nearly 30 years of research has been mostly my own work. I am very grateful to a number of people who have contributed to the project over the years, but for the most part they contributed to my work as a barter to exchange information with me.

Recently I have been reviewing my tree and I see many empty branches. Since I am researching the descendants of my ancestors, I run into a lot of people from Triggiano who married someone from a nearby town, and they had no children in Triggiano or Chicago. Their descendant line basically vanishes at that point. Most likely they had children in the nearby town, or came to America and settled elsewhere, but I have not made the effort to track down the children of this family and take the line to the present day.

I can take the difficult road of guessing where they had their children and working generation by generation down the line (this is “take charge and do all the work” guy) but because it is difficult, especially if the family descends to a place where the records are not readily available, I often push such projects to one side. There is another way to find these descendant lines, and it involves my “rides other people’s coattails” persona.

Recently, I made the great leap forward and upgraded my Family Tree Maker to the latest version. I was reluctant to do this because they were about to go out of business a few years ago, and then were bought by a company no one had heard of, so I thought the software was in its death throes and I might not be able to get support. Anyway, I did upgrade and found that Family Tree Maker links to uploaded family trees in both Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org. As you work on a particular record, it will search behind the scenes and show you that someone else has a tree that quite possibly links to the person in question!

This is a chance to collaborate on the research by not only finding the tree data on line, but more importantly to contact the researcher and find out if they have resources you need. Now I will speak for Italian researchers and tell you straight up that there are not a lot of Italian family trees on-line this way, but it is well worth the effort to look. I would mark a field in your family tree software to say that I had searched Ancestry and/or Familysearch for this family (ancestors and descendants) on November 9th 2019 and found nothing. Or that I had searched and found something. If I find a record that is a direct match, but is missing some details, I find that it is worth contacting the tree owner and let them know I have information they need. This can pay off in two ways. Firstly, the on-line tree may be out of date, and the tree owner may have new data that could help me. Secondly, I can help the tree owner and make a contact that could be a collaborator in the future. Most genealogists are used to not receiving replies to their contacts with other researchers, and it is easy to presume they won’t be helpful. But a lot of folks don’t have the same dedication we do, and they just may not pay attention to these requests for information due to other priorities. I find that if I offer data to someone, they might me more likely to answer my request.

I did a lot more collaborating when it was more difficult to do, before family tree software linked to major databases filled with thousands of family trees. It is so much easier now. Maybe my next report card will say, “has improved working with others.”

If you have any stories of finding major breaks in your research through contacting other researchers, please send to italianroots@comcast.net. Thanks!

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.