Helpful Tips In Researching Your Family Tree


There are many reasons for researching your family tree:

1. You want your great, great, great, grandchildren to know their family blood line

2. You want to preserve your family heritage

3. You want to find out more about yourself

As for me, all three aspects applied, but I had two strikes against me:

1. I was born second generation Italian/American, therefore most of my relatives I didn’t even know

2. I only had my father to rely on for family information

Both sets of my grandparents passed away before I was 12, my mother passed when I was 15, and the only one left was my father who was 85 years old. When you are young seldom do you think of asking about your family tree, or pertinent information like: “What was my great grandfather's name?” Yet, here I am at 43 trying to selvage any and all information I can in order to learn more about my family, a family that branches far into Italy on both sides.

Hopefully, though this article I can help you obtain the maximum amount of documentation in your U.S. searches, teach you how to apply note taking skills in finding accurate information, and show how to obtain more information about your family through the documentation found, which can help you in your overseas search.

So you wish to search out your family tree? What is the next step?


1. Talk to anyone in the family and gather any and all information you can find. Valuable information such as birth dates, names, maiden names, and stories. That’s right, stories, you will later see in this article how stories can help you identify your search. Start a notebook of all information that you can refer back to later in your search. You might not wish to research your family now, but later you or your children may and there is no better time like the present to gather said information.

As for me, I only had my father and like I said he was 85 years old. One thing I have learned about the elderly is that their short-term memory may not be as sharp, but their long-term memory is outrageous! They can’t remember calling you 15 minutes ago, but they can quote off Longfellow’s Hiawatha without a glitch. One can not ask for a better historian than the elders of the family. Thus, get together with your family, no matter what the age, and gather the information before it becomes unattainable.

Now you have your research, what’s next?

Obtaining Results:

Here is the daunting part….

There are many search engines available that can assist you in your family search, some are free while others charge a fee. Whichever avenue you choose, and you may choose both as I did, make sure you have your notebook of family information available for it will simplify and identify all your searches. Plug in the name, birth date, and/or region of the person you wish to search out. In my situation I chose my grandfather, since he was the last person I knew of from Italy. Please don’t get discouraged if when you research nothing or very little information turns up. Let me show you some of the tricks I have applied in searching for documentation.

1. Try different spellings.

As we all know, it is everyday people that enter the information from these documents into our family search engines. They have the task of having to read all these handwritten documents, deciphering the spelling, and entering the data. So, in other words, what is truly an “A” in a name, may look like an O or S to them. Think of the many different combinations: M’s can look like N’s, V’s can look like U’s, it can go on and on. Then again, “back in the day” maybe the person who wrote out the document misspelled the name. Either way you look at it, it makes searching difficult.

Here is a good example:


In the this document I was searching for my grandfather, Donato Macchia, which I typed as Donato Machis. Why? Because a common mistake in misreading or entering information via computer would be entering only one C instead of two or possibly misreading the handwritten A as an O or S. You can see at the top of the document the last name was misspelled when you compare it to the name at the bottom of the document. The name at the bottom is the proper name. How do I know this is my grandfather, for believe it or not there is more than one Donato Macchia out there, here is where the story telling part of your research comes in. In line #11 of this document it asks, "What military service have you had?"

It was written: Infantry, 3 years, in Italy. In the stories I gathered from my father, my grandfather did indeed serve in the infantry for 3 years, in Italy, 1914, and he did live in Gary. This document was for the U.S. Registration, in 1917…Yikes, you mean my grandfather served in Italy, than came to the United States and had to register for the military here? Was this man ever NOT fighting in a war, poor guy. But, as you can see searching possible misspelling or misread entries, can turn up some valuable information, and knowing some stories can help identify that person.

Put it this way, have you ever said to yourself, “I will remember that till the day I die!” Well, guess what, you will. Don’t disregard the stories you hear from your elders as just gibberish for the stories they tell were remembered for a reason, reason enough for you to write down.

Here is another example of storytelling identifying records:

So many times family members would say, “Look I found grandma’s immigration records!” But, since I knew her immigration story I was able to identify that the records they held were incorrect and were indeed the wrong person, although they carried the same name. How? In the story I heard my grandmother sailed along with her sister to the U.S., yet her sister’s name did not appear on the same ship’s list and the date shown as my grandmother’s birth date was incorrect. Later I found the accurate documentation showing her sister’s name and my grandmother’s name on the same ship list, as well as the proper birth date. So you see, there can be more than one person that bares the same name. Verify your records otherwise you can be researching inaccurate information leading you in directions you don’t want to go.

Once you locate a true verifiable document, search the document over for other information which can be used in other searches.

A good example of this is in the same document shown above. This document shows Monta Cista Italy as my grandfather’s birth place on line #5 (I may be reading it wrong for I can not locate this region of Italy, therefore I will have to resort to different spellings once again), but regardless of my reading ability, in all the immigration records pertaining to my grandfather it shows Avilleno as his place of birth. I have been searching throughout Avilleno for my grandfather’s baptism papers, which may supply me with the name of my great grandmother, yet I couldn’t find anything. Now I may have another lead.

I already obtained my great grandfather’s name from my grandfather’s immigration records. For in those records it asks “Name a relative from whence you came” to which it was handwritten: Father -Diminico Macchia, and I was able to verify this record through storytelling as well.  My father mentioned that when his father came to the states he moved in with his brother Chris and in this particular immigration record it asks “Who are you visiting?”, which it states “With brother Chris at….”

Once you verify that what you have is truly a valid record, search it out for other information which can further your search options. Now, you may think, hey this is common sense. But believe it or not I have found my grandfather’s documentation in more than one family tree, and after contacting these individuals did they finally realize there mistake, a mistake that costed them many hours of fruitless searching in a family line that wasn’t even theirs. But hey, for me it was nice, it was like having understudies doing the research for me. Ok that’s mean….but you get my point, right?

Now, I am at the point of searching for baptism records in Italy. I hear you must obtain these records from parishes within a certain region. Once I find a baptism record that bares my grandfather’s name, birth date, and lists the father as Dominico Macchia, I’m home free, I would have located my great grand mother’s name! The search results can be endless.

Right now, I have to settle for what I can get for my father passed away recently. Thankfully I had the foresight to visit and gather as much information as possible from him, be able to research and verify records through him, and most of all have the memories of our visits. This information will now be handed down to future generations, information that could have been lost forever, information I wish to keep alive.

Once I locate an easy way of obtaining or viewing oversea records I will be writing another article advising you of the same. Until than, good luck in your search, and remember the four important aspects of researching your family tree: Obtain information from family, Search family engines using different spellings, Verify your records, and Obtain more information by reading those documents.


Comments 2 comments

Canadian Rose profile image

Canadian Rose 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Good article - I enjoyed reading it! I see that you have a tree on Ancestry. There is another one there that lists a Domenico Natale Macchia, born in 1855, married to a Bonaventura Bruno, no birth date given. Their daughter Angela Marie Macchia, born Mar 23 1887 in Avellino, Italy married Rosario Bellino (1887-1983) and died in Waterbury, New Haven, Connecticut on July 30, 1949. Would this be your family?

smarty2pop profile image

smarty2pop 5 years ago Author

Thank you Canadian for your help, unfortunately my great grandparents never came to the states, therefore I don't think that is my great grandfather. But, it wouldn't hurt taking a look, right? One never knows, it's like a treasure hunt.

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