- Posts for genealogy techniques tag
Ernesta Maddalena Bergamasco
Transcripts vs. Original Records

It seems I’m on a roll with sharing my thoughts in 2020! As it turns out, I’m also on a roll with finding Italian records. You see, I have two “sets” of Italian ancestors, both maternal. My mom’s parents each have one Italian parent. And those Italian parents are from completely opposite “ends” of Italy.

This year, my focus is on my mother’s mother’s – or Nana’s – family. We have some neat photographs of my great-great grandparents, Bartolomeo Giovanni Michele Galfré and Ernesta Maddalena (Pedemonte) Bergamasco. There is also a fantastic family history my Aunt Espezzia put together with two of her sisters. However, there are tidbits of misinformation in the family history, and it’s still only part of the story of the Galfré and Bergamasco families.

After two solid weeks of research, I’ve learned so many new things that none of us knew, like the fact that my great-great grandma Ernesta had 3 sisters we weren’t aware of, and that her parents actually weren’t married until after they’d already had 8 children together. Thus, Ernesta often went by her mother’s surname, Pedemonte. After her parents married, she then went by either her father’s surname of Bergamasco or her husband’s surname of Galfré, but only in U.S. records.

Furthermore, her mother was previously married to a man named Giacomo Spiazzi and Ernesta’s eldest siblings were Spiazzis. We’d also been told that Ernesta had an uncle who was a bishop. Well… I’ve yet to find such a person, but through her half-brother Bartolomeo Spiazzi, she’s the aunt of Catholic theologian Raimondo (born Aurelio) Spiazzi.

Of course, all this research has involved digging deep into Italian records, using a combination of the FamilySearch catalog to find non-indexed records and the Antenati website, for those records to which FamilySearch currently restricts access.

Here’s a small reminder about why genealogists always strongly recommend you look for an original record or image of the original, instead of relying on transcriptions.

Transcriptions can be handy, but incomplete, such as this one for the birth of one of my distant uncles from the Italy, Imperia, San Remo, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1805-1910 database on FamilySearch:

Name: Vittorio Galfrè
Event Type: Birth
Event Date: 20 Oct 1895
Event Place: San Remo, Imperia, Italy
Gender: Male
Father’s Name: Bartolomeo Galfré
Certificate Number: 402

I’m glad FamilySearch has this available, however they currently restrict access to the image of the actual record. Fortunately, the Antenati has the record, which looks like this:

Nati (birth) of Vittorio Galfre, 20 October 1895, San Remo, Imperia, Liguria, Italy.

Why is the actual handwritten birth record superior? For starters, my Uncle Vittorio’s birth record shows that his father (my great-great grandfather Bartolomeo) was 30-years-old and worked as a porter. From what we understand, he worked at the train station in Ventimeglia.

This record also tells you Vittorio was a “gemello” or twin. His brother, Emanuele, is on the next page. I’m sorry to report that both Vittorio and Emanuele died as infants. This seemed to also be a sad trend with their mother’s mother, who had twins, one of whom died in infancy.

Another interesting tidbit is that Vittorio’s parents, my great-great grandparents, weren’t yet married! As I mentioned, the same thing occurred with Ernesta’s parents. They took a good 20 years after her birth to finally marry one another.

I hadn’t yet located a marriage record for Bartolomeo and Ernesta over weeks (actually years) of researching. Now I knew why. They weren’t married in 1894, as we were told. I’d also put a great deal of time into trying to find a marriage record for them in their native towns/villages of Cuneo and Moneglia, respectively.

Now that I knew they were married sometime after the birth of the twins in 1895, I decided that perhaps they were married in San Remo, simply because of this record. After all, how far might they have gone between 1895 and 1896, when their next son was born, also in San Remo? Not far, it turns out, because I found their marriage in San Remo within about 30 minutes of finding the images of the birth records for their 3 sons born in Italy.

I never would have known from the transcription that Bartolomeo and Ernesta weren’t yet married. Thanks to the original image, I was able to refocus my efforts and find what I was looking for!

Navigating the FamilySearch Catalog | Our Prairie Nest
Navigating the FamilySearch Catalog

While we know FamilySearch is one of the best free genealogy resources available, most people aren’t making the most of what they have to offer. If you’re going to FamilySearch.org and searching from there, let me show you what you’re missing out on and how to dig deeper!

Start with the Catalog Search

Many of FamilySearch’s records are not accessible from the front page search, so how do you access them? Go straight to the Catalog and input a location. For example, I’m interested in probate records for Woodstock, Windsor County, Vermont. As you type in the village, town, or city of interest, you will get a menu of possibilities:

Select the country, region, state or province, and city, town, or village that’s applicable to your search, and click the blue Search button. You will get a list of available records. Some will be microfilm-only and some will be online databases. Click the small gray arrow to the left of each category to see what’s available:

Click the record set to dig deeper. At the top, you’ll see the title of the film and what’s (probably) on it, the film number, and other pertinent information. Make note of this either on your research log/spreadsheet or wherever you track your research. This ensures that you A. don’t duplicate your work by returning to the film or database again and again and again and B. that you have a full source citation if you do find something in the collection.

The picture of the camera tells you this database is accessible online, so it’s time to get searching!

When you click the camera for the record set you want to browse, it will bring you directly to the images. Each set is organized differently, so you might have to get a feel for the best way to navigate through it. In this instance, the set is alphabetized and I want to jump straight to a specific name, so I’ll probably experiment with inputting an image number to move around more quickly, rather than clicking through image by image.

I want both this record and the one immediately preceding it, so I choose the download option to save the image:

Now that I have the probate docket on the 2 individuals I was seeking, I want the actual probate file. It’s time to go back to the Catalog search page. However, instead of searching for Woodstock, I’m going to look for holdings for Windsor County. Why? Because probate courts in New England are on the county level. As you can see, I have 3 different options here:

Unfortunately, the record set I need to view has a little key above the camera, which means I can’t access at home. However, I may access it by visiting a Family History Library (FHL) or FHL Affiliate Library. The two FHLs closest to me have odd hours, so I can either try to work around their schedules or another option is to visit the Omaha Public Library, which happens to be an affiliate, and view these databases:

I haven’t struck out entirely, though, because I’ve been able to access a treasure trove of Italian records from home in the meanwhile, records that aren’t available from the FamilySearch.org main search page!

What have you been looking for that you haven’t found from the main search page? Try the catalog page and you might be pleasantly surprised!

Genealogy Goals | Our Prairie Nest
Genealogy Goals

In January of 2019, I put out the declaration that 2019 would be the year I found Great-Great Grandma Emma. After 26 years of searching for her place of birth without luck, that was a pretty bold thing to say. Especially since I did everything wrong in 2019. Here’s what we can all learn from my mistakes:

Set a Specific Goal

“Finding” my great-great grandmother meant, to me, answering… um, about a bajillion unanswered questions. While it mostly came down to wanting to know where she was born, I wasn’t specific about that. “Finding” someone is hardly a goal in genealogy, because we’re always seeking someone or something, a fact, a story, proof, looking to fill in gaps in someone’s life… It’s a lot to do and take in, so having a well-articulated goal can help you focus your efforts. Um, something else I didn’t do.

Focus Your Efforts

If you have a specific goal or objective, it’s so much easier to focus your efforts. Otherwise, we might approach our research in a haphazard manner and waste time and energy. That specific goal will allow you to narrow your focus to the places you need to look – certain cities or towns, repositories, and more. How are you going to keep track of all of that, though?

Have a Plan

I didn’t have a plan for Emma. Beyond my bold statement to anyone who happened to read it, I was operating on sheer stubbornness. That can be fun for a little while, but it’s not productive in the long run. A plan based on your goal will go so much further.

Where have you looked? Where do you think you should look next? What records have you obtained? Which records are still out there? Whether you’re a spreadsheet person, listmaker, or plan in some other way, do craft something that allows you to make notes or check off a task. Finally, make sure you’re sticking to the plan with some accountability.

Track Your Efforts

Accountability doesn’t have to be public, such as with blogging or social media posts. Though that can be fun and add an extra layer of motivation, the real accountability should be to yourself. The beauty of having a plan is that you can also add a tracker to check off the things you accomplish, make notes on what you found or didn’t find, and keep track of the dates of research, repositories visited or databases searched, and more.

Don’t do what I did with my great-great grandma, which was basically throwing something at the wall and seeing if it stuck. That’s not the most logical or efficient way to get things done. Did it work? Heck yeah, it did! On December 4, a little discovery based on a suggestion from a NEHGS Research Consultation led to me cracking the case wide open on December 13, 2019! Somehow, I did it. I met my unspecific, unfocused, unplanned goal with a couple weeks to spare before the end of the year.

Would I suggest the same route for you or myself again? Maybe, if you’re feeling adventurous. 😉 So much in family history research seems to come down to timing and/or serendipity, anyway. But I’d like to think that we can help those things along with a little smart productivity.

Breaking Down a Brick Wall Part 3 | Our Prairie Nest
Breaking Down a Brick Wall: Part 3 (finale)

If you’ve read through Part 1 and Part 2, I’m sure you’re wondering what happened next. At least, I hope you are…

When I saw the burial record for Margaret Murphy with Emma A. Shaw as the person who’d purchased the plot, I couldn’t contain my excitement. But I would have to over the next 5 days, as we traveled to visit my lovely in-laws, went to a convention with some fellow geeks, and then home again.

Once we settled back into our routine, it took a couple of days before I was ready to delve back into my research. On December 11, I got to work, but what the heck was I even looking for, now? I did a bit of researching in circles that night, and then told myself to open Melanie’s notes and recommendations, my Emma timeline, and refocus.

From Burial to Probate

If Margaret had passed away and Emma purchased her plot, along with a second plot (not sure yet if it remains reserved or is occupied and, if so, by whom), wouldn’t Margaret have some kind of probate? Of course, she would. Even if it wasn’t extensive and she was poor, as possibly evidenced by the fact that she’d died in the City Hospital, there would be something.

With renewed focus, I dug into the images-only collection of the Suffolk County Probate Index on FamilySearch and immediately found 2 possible cases. There were 2 different administrations for a Margaret Murphy who died in the county in 1890. One of them might be the Margaret I was looking for.

Next, I went into the Suffolk County Probate Docket and that is where I found her case. Of course, I downloaded every single pertinent record image as I went. I opened a second browser tab, so I could go through the docket, volume by volume and page by page, to read through Margaret’s actual probate file.

Finding Emma Again!

First, I found that Emma A. Shaw of Middleborough had stepped up as administratrix, as a “sister of the deceased” and “only next of kin.” If this was true, my Guysborough theory did not hold water, because Laurence Murphy of Guysborough from that particular Murphy family lived until at least the 1901 Canadian Census. If Emma was the last of Margaret’s family, then they must have come from a completely different family.

Also, if this was true that Emma and Margaret were sisters, they could not be the daughters of Patrick and Mary (Fraser) (Lowry) Murphy of Guysboro, because Margaret was born about 1842-1848. Emma was born about 1861-1863. With an age difference like that, their mother had to be quite young in 1842 or thereabouts, and middle-aged by 1861 or so. The Mary Murphy of Guysborough was born about 1806. No way did she have a child at the age of 55-57, sometime from 1861 to 1863.

Still, there was another aspect to my Guysborough theory, and that was that the Emma Murphy found in the 1871 Census wasn’t the daughter of Patrick and Mary, but a granddaughter through one of their daughters. It was still a possibility, albeit now a slim one, with Emma claiming in legal records that Margaret was her sister. I just needed to either prove or disprove a connection. I needed, in good old-fashioned terms, a smoking gun.

Reading on through the probate file, I found that Emma chose not to fulfill the responsibilities of administratrix (no reason was given) and someone else, an Edward Jenkins, was appointed. He did his duties… and then, something marvelous happened.

A Red-Hot Smoking Genealogical Gun…

There was, indeed, another family member who stepped up. Perhaps this person had seen the notice run in the Boston Globe. Perhaps the administrator also ran the notice in another newspaper, but didn’t mention that publication in the probate file. Either way, Margaret and Emma were not alone in this world.

Laurence Murphy, a brother of the deceased, of Guysboro, Nova Scotia, appeared. He petitioned that Edward Jenkins continue to act as administrator of the estate on February 2, 1891:

Emma and Margaret belonged to the Guysborough, Nova Scotia Murphys!

After that, the property in which Margaret and Emma had purchased half shares together was sold and, it appears, Emma’s life continued to move on without her maternal family.

And thus, I’d found the document that tied it all together, wrapping my theory up as nice as you please in lovely paper, with a pretty bow on top. The one family that had any chance of fitting, did!

A Revised Timeline of Facts

But who was Maggie to Emma? Sister? Aunt? Perhaps even mother?

Aunt, for sure, as Laurence was Emma’s uncle, and their sister – Eliza – was Emma’s mother. Emma was an illegitimate child, born to Eliza Murphy (daughter of Patrick Murphy and Mary Ann [Fraser] [Lowry]) of Manchester, Guysborough, Nova Scotia, and Francis Wallace of Port Mulgrave, Guysborough, Nova Scotia. She is likely the Emma Ann Wallace found in St. Ann, Guysborough, Parish Records, Book 2, Baptisms: 1861-1863.

Emma’s gravestone gives a date of birth as February 14, 1861, but that means she was 1 1/2 when she was baptized. Not knowing Catholic baptismal traditions, I take the birth date with a grain of salt, as I always have.

By the 1871 Canadian Census, Emma was age 10 and residing with Nicholas and Johanna (Marah/Marr) Flavin. The Marah and Murphy families seemed to have some connection, because Margaret “Maggie” Murphy’s 1844 baptism was sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Laurence Marah. Johanna (Marah/Marr) Flavin and Laurence Marah/Marr were siblings.

On October 4, 1879, at the age of at least 16, Emma was one of the sponsors for the baptism of James Gregory Cleary. This coincides with the 1930 Census) stating that her first marriage occurred at the age of 16. She wasn’t married just yet by this date, but could have been married shortly thereafter.

From October 4, 1879 to Emma’s marriage to Erastus on November 17, 1888 remains a blank. While Emma is unaccounted for over 9 years, that’s simply fertile ground for more discovery – when she first married, when she came to the United States, supposedly started or was involved with running a store in the Boston area, and then ultimately settled in Middleborough.

She conceived my great-grandfather, Harrison Clifford Shaw, by mid- to late -August of 1888 in order for him to be born on May 9, 1889. DNA, in this instance, has proven our connection to our Shaw ancestors in Carver, Massachusetts, so I have no doubt that Erastus is the father of Emma’s one and only known living child.

After that, Emma’s life appears pretty straightforward. She married, her son was born, and she moved forward with her life. Other than 1910 court case where she was charged with assault against a neighbor over a land dispute (she sure was a feisty one!), Emma’s existence appeared to be as normal as any other. But the life she left behind in Nova Scotia as an illegitimate child might have been far from wonderful.

I still want to know her story and wish I could talk to her face to face. That can’t happen, but I feel like I have at least a little more insight into her life with these discoveries.

Now, if only we could find that elusive photo of Emma that supposedly exists…