A year or two ago, I got an e-mail from someone in America who was carrying out a research into his brother-in-law’s Italian ancestry. By pure coincidence, the man’s family came from the small Piedmontese village of San Marzano Oliveto, where my very own great-grandmother was born in 1895 (and which she then left to start a new, and all-too-brief existence, in New York City). That same person told me that he was researching some surnames which may have ties with my own family. Now, although we have not established a link, he did share with me one important source of information which I had completely disregarded in my previous research.
FamilySearch has, quite literally, millions and millions of documents from all over the world which are now at anyone’s disposal on their website. Among them are civil records of San Marzano Oliveto covering the crucial years of 1866 to 1910. Roughly speaking that covers the years when my great-grandmother’s parents were growing up and having children, all of whom are now recorded online. But it is not only birth records that can be viewed. You can also view and download marriage records, banns, death certificates and even cittadinanze, or citizenship records.
Of course, having only a limited period to check makes it impossible to build a family tree many generations prior to the birth of my own great-great-grandfather Pietro, who, having been bon in 1859, is not recorded on civil records online. So, how else can be build a tree when we have such a limited time-frame?
The answer is fairly simple – use the other records you have at hand by applying a bit of logic. If Pietro was born in 1859, there is a fairly good chance his parents died after 1866, when he would have been a small child. It took me a while until I actually found the death certificates of his father (1887) and his mother (1903), and while doing so, I also came across the death of a younger brother in 1884 and the deaths of countless relatives. Rather usefully, death certificates in Italy mention the names of the deceased’s parents – bingo, yet another generation to add to my tree!
Marriage records are of course very handy too, because they will usually hold the names of the bride and groom’s respective parents. Not only will you gather handy information about the newlyweds (what was their profession, were they widowed beforehand, were they living in the same place…) but you will also establish definitive links with those parents you unearthed through death records – remember that one record is no guarantee of accuracy, and names, surnames and identities could easily have been confused by an inattentive registrar.
So, if you are stuck with your family tree and cannot travel to the place where your ancestors came from, remember to check online sources regularly for changes and updates, and to share those findings with those contacts who may have an interest in the same geographical area.