Family Chronicle: The how-to-guide to tracing your ancestors published Marianne’s article in the March/April 2013 issue of their magazine. Below is the article that they had included in their publication. www.familychronicle.com
The Italian Genealogical Group published Marianne’s article in their September 2013 newsletter as well as on their website www.italiangen.org.
The Sault Ste. Marie & District Branch Ontario Genealogical Society published Marianne’s article in their September 2013 newsletter.
Solving family mysteries and understanding family dynamics fuels my genealogical research. Establishing a timeline helps create an accurate depiction of an ancestor’s past, but also represents an obstacle we all encounter. I am a second generation Canadian-Italian and discovering the whereabouts of Pietro Perri, my Calabrian grandfather, for a two-month period in 1910 eluded me for years. This article outlines the six steps that solved this family mystery.
Step One: Start With What You Know
I was alive when my grandfather died on July 22, 1971 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada and could therefore validate the last date in his timeline. My late father had informed me my grandfather was born in Calabria, southern Italy; details, however, were scant. After my father’s death, a cousin gave me an old Italian document he’d discovered among his late father’s belongings. I do not speak or read Italian; nevertheless, by studying documents from Italian genealogical reference books, I determined it a copy of my grandfather’s birth extract. Birth extracts are vital records from the town of an ancestor’s birth and I deciphered the text by referring to lists of genealogical keywords from reference books. I confirmed my grandfather’s birth in Casenove, Decollatura, Catanzaro, Calabria on October 27, 1891 to Luigi Maria Perri and Maria Concetta Gigliotti and established the first date in his timeline!
Step Two: It’s In The Math
According to my late father, my grandfather had landed at Ellis Island, New York, taken the train to Sault Ste. Marie, been hired as a labourer at The Algoma Steel Corporation, met my grandmother and married her in 1915. My father had no emigration information so I searched the passenger records at ellisislandrecords.org and learned that Pietro Perri had left Naples, Italy on the Princess Irene steamship and arrived at Ellis Island on April 7, 1910.
After my father’s death, I inherited my grandfather’s Certificate of Naturalization. According to Library and Archives Canada, www.collectionscanada.ca/genealogy, people born in Canada were British subjects until the Canadian Citizenship Act of January 1, 1947. In order to qualify for citizenship from May 5, 1910 to June 6, 1919, a three year residency period was required. The document confirmed Pietro Perri’s naturalization by the Dominion of Canada on June 11, 1913 and I concluded he’d arrived in Sault Ste. Marie by June 11, 1910.
I’d added dates to my grandfather’s timeline but a mathematical calculation detected a two-month gap. Where had my grandfather gone after disembarking at Ellis Island and before coming to Sault Ste. Marie?
Step Three: Go Back To The Beginning
Genealogical research is not a linear process and, like many, mine has become more targeted and comprehensive over time. The amount of information is continually growing and I consulted other resources such as ancestry.ca, familysearch.org and immigrantships.net to solve this family mystery. Since it had been years since I’d first investigated ellisislandrecords.org, I also decided to review my initial findings and scour the site again. I discovered new information on a passenger list and added March 25, 1910, the date my grandfather left Naples, Italy and began his transatlantic ocean voyage, to his timeline. More importantly, however, I learned that my grandfather’s final destination upon disembarking at Ellis Island, New York had not been Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada as my father believed, but Carbondale, Pennsylvania, USA.
Step Four: Find The Threads
1890 to 1920 marked a period of massive Italian immigration, and my grandfather was among the millions of unskilled peasants who left in search of a better life. Many gravitated to Sault Ste. Marie because of jobs in its steel industry; the same was the case for Carbondale, my research informed me, due to its coal plants and railroads. Was this the reason my grandfather had indicated Carbondale as his final destination? Had he secured a job as an unskilled worker there? He’d been a labourer at The Algoma Steel Corporation so the thread seemed feasible. What genealogical resource could substantiate this fact?
Step Five: Look At The Bigger Picture
A census is a picture of a country on a specific day and according to allcensusrecords.com and Researching American Census Records by Scott Andrew Bartley, the USA had conducted a federal census in April 1910. My grandfather had landed at Ellis Island on April 7, 1910, so I searched the census records on ancestry.ca and located him in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. I discovered that on the enumeration date of April 30, 1910, my grandfather had been a boarder in a house owned by Anthony Gellis located in Carbondale, Ward Two, Lackawanna, Pennsylvania, and employed as a labourer in the coal mines. I’d filled in the gap!
Step Six: Put It All Together
Genealogical research does not follow an established pattern. Quests to solve family mysteries take different paths; all, however, require commitment to an often lengthy and frustrating process. Finding the missing pieces of information needed to establish my grandfather’s timeline resulted in a multi-prong approach that included consulting relatives, examining vital records and exploring various internet sites. The chart below outlines the completed timeline for my grandfather. Though it demanded years of work, knowing more about my grandfather’s past has made the effort worthwhile.
My Grandfather’s Timeline
Establishing a timeline can solve family mysteries and reveal surprising facts about your past. After all, I never anticipated my genealogical research would inform me that I was a coal miner’s granddaughter. What will you discover about yourself?
Sources: Italian Genealogical Reference Books
Nelson, Lynn. A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your Italian Ancestors. Betterway Books. 1997.
Russo Adams, Suzanne. Finding Your Italian Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide. Ancestry Publishing. 2008.