Tuesday’s Tip: Why Assumptions Are The Devil Of Research


My on again, off again relationship with genealogy is almost six years old, and after all the research I have conducted, I am still regularly discovering that you should never assume you have uncovered everything about a person.

Assumptions are the absolute devil of research. If you think you’ve got it all then you are willingly admitting to ignorance. I learn this lesson over and over again, but still, I prove myself wrong every time.

A Couple Of Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Make Assumptions

1) You don’t actually have all the sources you need to research an individual’s life, and you cannot access them yet. (Never say never.)

2) New sources that you never knew existed have suddenly appeared online.

3) You uncover something new about an ancestor that changes EVERYTHING about the research you’ve done on everybody connected to them.

4) You didn’t read a document properly in the first place. (This one is a big one. Been there, done that, a hundred times.)

Case Study: Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, Confederate POW

This case study presents examples of 2) and 4) of how you can make assumptions, and be completely wrong, based on actual evidence you have collected.

Most recently, I did a double take on some research I conducted on my husband’s third great-grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow. In an earlier article I showed off all the evidence I had collected on his prisoner of war experience as a confederate in the Civil War.

Little did I know that I was missing a key piece in his journey from being captured, to his imprisonment in Rock Island Prison, Illinois.

I have been reconstructing our family trees on Ancestry, trying to eliminate circumstantial evidence, and blatantly incorrect connections that other Ancestry members have made in their tress, from our own tree.

In doing this, I started taking a deeper look at the records I had found on Fold3. To my surprise I discovered new documents showing how Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow went from being in White County, Arkansas to Rock Island, Illinois.

Benjamin Stringfellow De Valls Bluff AR                   Benjamin Stringfellow Little Rock AR

He was captured by the Union on 14 August 1864 in White County Arkansas. It seems he was immediately brought to De Valls Bluff, which is a city now part of Prairie County. De Valls Bluff had become a key Union supply port after they took control from the Confederates in 1863.

Benj Frank Stringfellow Benjamin Franklin StringfellowBen F Stringfellow

On 20 August 1864, Benjamin was confined at Military Prison, Little Rock, Arkansas. He was then taken to the Military Prison in Alton, Illinois. He remained there until 7 December 1864, before finally being transferred to Rock Island Prison.

I still haven’t managed to find out exactly why he was captured in White County, Arkansas. While that is nearby De Valls Bluff, there wasn’t any skirmishes or battles that happened on the day he was captured in that area of the state. Another mystery to solve!


Motivation Monday: Tips on building your family tree without using ancestry websites


Sophia Loren

In the beginning the tree is incredibly easy to climb, and the information almost seems to fall from the sky into your hands. But as you climb further, the distance between the branches grows, the leaves begin to thicken, and suddenly it’s difficult to assess the best direction to continue your climb. At this point is seems better to give up, rather than risk making a mistake and damaging the information you have already so carefully gathered. Perhaps it is better to pass the information along to the next generation, and they can begin the climb where you left off with a clear mind and fresh exhuberance.

Heavy genealogical research can often lead to fatigue and frustration. Having worked on my own family tree for years now those magical moments of discovery become few and far between. Finding a new fact, or adding a new ancestor to the tree, requires a great deal more time than it used to and to be honest it can get very tedious. As a genealogist you will spend a lot of time alone, digging through repositories, libraries, ancestry websites and message boards. So for the last couple of months I took a little hiatus from heavy record hunting to rediscover the original reasons I picked up researching long-lost ancestors. I learned some valuable lessons that I want to share with other experienced genealogists who may be stuck in a similar rut.


Somewhere between learning the names of my great-great-great grandparents and discovering that one of them was a foundling I forgot that one of the best parts of genealogical research is to listen to the people who are still alive. It’s so easy to get carried away with information that can be found in records, about people who have been long gone, that the purpose of genealogical research can be forgotten.

Building the story of your family should always be most detailed with the people that you knew personally. Your siblings, your parents, your grandparents, and all those connected to them, have endless stories to tell. Why are you wasting your time prowling through records on Family Search when you could be interviewing your mother about the time she left the place she was born, got on a boat, and went to a country she had only ever heard people talk about? We are so lucky to have the internet, and books that it’s easy to forget that mass international travel and immigration is a very new novelty in the history of humanity. Purchasing all of our groceries rather than growing them in our backyard is another.

Photo published by the National Australia Archives as part of their 'Faces of Australia' exhibition.

Photo published by the National Australia Archives as part of their ‘Faces of Australia’ exhibition.

While I am guilty of not spending my time wisely I have learned, and continue to be aware of the fact, that I have gaping holes in my research. My family history shines best in the number of names it bears, but not in the details of the lives behind those names. Those of you who have followed my blog will probably question this because I have published a few posts about my ancestors’ immigration movements and travel. These are great to have, but I think they still fall into a category of detached research. Much of the information I have gathered did not come from the original source. Unfortunately I do not have access to my mother’s parents, because they died before I was born. I do, however, have access to many other people who have experienced the journey from Italy to Australia and it is their stories that should fill the pages of my family history book.

My goal from this day forward will be to listen carefully to the stories I am told. I will also put my journalism skills to good use and interview the people that have stories to tell. (Everyone!) And to tell anybody who hopes to embark on the ancestry research journey to begin with interviewing before they try to delve through records.

(Warning: People may experience the same event in the same place, date, time and position as another person, but that does not mean that they share the same memories. Sometimes it’s just a different interpretation of events. Other times we forget things, and fill these memory holes with imagined details. It can be funny, but it can also be dangerously misleading for your research. Take on the detached demeanor of a journalist and question everything. Just because your cousin thinks your great-aunt is an illegitimate love child because she is the only one in the family who had red hair, does not mean that your great-grandmother had an affair and bore an illegitimate child.)

Obviously there is only so far that you can go to obtain first-hand information. The frailty of our human condition dictates that we only live for a short amount of time, and in that time, usually encounter only two generations before us. So, once you have interviewed everybody that you are related to, how can you fill your family history with more than just names, dates and places?


I may have taken a break from record searching but that doesn’t mean I stopped reading! It did, however, mean that I had more time to open my mind to other researching possibilities. In these things called history books there are countless tales and first-hand accounts of events and living conditions in the very places where our ancestors lived. If, like me, you don’t have scandalous, criminal, educated, rich or royal ancestors, you will have to be satisfied with information recorded by other people’s ancestors. We may never know what our great x6 grandfather was thinking when he moved from one small town to another, but we could learn that he may have done so because like others at the time there was a lack of work in his town of birth, and a new farm in the new town.

Look far and wide for these books. They don’t just reside in your library. In fact, leave your local library as your secondary source, and look on google books first. You’ll find information about places that you never thought would have been on the map, let alone worthy of an entire chapter in a book written in the 1600s.


Two Russian soldiers reading an American corporal’s “Yank” magazine (1944).

Organization & Citation

One of the things that you learn once you have accumulated a lot of records is that you are bursting at the seams with screenshots on your desktop, family trees at various stages of your research are published on several ancestry websites, and you have more photos of documents than photos of your ancestors. You also have absolutely no idea how to organize everything and why don’t they make family tree books that let you put information on your great x10 grandparents? I haven’t solved the issue of organization, but I do know something that I wished I had known at the beginning of my research: You must CITE everything!

I know I can trust my information and dates because I have gathered them, and I do not wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to genealogical facts. I have, and probably will again, realize that the ancestors I thought were attached to my tree, in fact do not belong to me and are actually just people with the same names as my true ancestors. I will not keep fake information just because so-and-so’s record shows that they had an amazing 10 children and lived in a castle. But what if people who come after me try to follow my line of research? And come across the same mistake but assume that my un-cited but carefully researched information is wrong, because they too make the mistake of thinking that so-and-so is our ancestor? I will not be around forever, but I hope that my research will continue onward into the next generation. I would hate to make them waste time correcting my mistakes, or worse still, taking my research for granted and assuming that all I have recorded is 100% correct. The only true way to prove to my descendants, and others, that my research is trustworthy is to cite my research as if it is being graded and published in a literary journal. Citations are boring, but they are about as important as a birth record, if you don’t know where it came from, how do you know it’s legitimate? Cite, cite, cite, then double-check that your citations are easy to read, accurate and searchable. If you can’t retrace your steps nobody else will either.

Take a break. Have fun.

I really don’t want to end on a boring citation mantra. Genealogy research is a profession, but for most people it’s just a hobby. Whether you earn money researching, or just want to learn some fun facts about the origin of your family, have fun! The more time you spend on it, the harder it will get, but the driving force behind the research is a thirst for knowledge and the satisfaction of finding out the truth. In the end, we are all made of flesh and bone and our descendants went through hardships and joys to bring us to life.

This was written and brought to you from a cabin in the woods at 4am.

Travel Tuesday: Australian Immigrant Passenger Lists

Ellis Island’s website has become a wonderful and famous resource for finding your immigrant wannabe American ancestors. Not only can you find out what country your family originated from, but you are also able to learn intimate details about your ancestor’s hair color, eye color etc. But what if your family did not immigrate to the United States? What if they got on a ship that sailed to another English-speaking immigrant built country? Australia also has passenger list records, that are actually not too difficult to find, but you may need to pay a little bit of money to get them.

Up until yesterday, I had not found my Italian immigrant grandparents on a passenger list to Australia. I’m not even sure if I ever looked for them. Perhaps I did but it was only on an archive website that had very little online access to records. In the past I have probably complained about how Ancestry is only a useful website if you have ancestors who were and are Americans. I have been proved wrong. Ancestry.com is the place I found the passenger lists that my grandparents names are listed on. Unfortunately they do not have the kinds of details that the passenger lists to Ellis Island had, but they are a great resource nevertheless. I had already known the year’s of their immigration, thanks to papers I found at the National Archives, but I had not know the exact dates, which is something that is invaluable to my family’s genealogy story.

Below we have the passenger list for Giuseppe Sulfaro, my grandfather, who arrived in Australia on the 24 April, 1951. He arrived through Fremantle, Western Australia, then took the ship onward to Sydney where he disembarked and probably took a train to get up to North Queensland. He immigrated to Australia alone.

Giuseppe Sulfaro Australia Arrival Passenger List.

The next passenger list has details of my grandmother, Maria Sulfaro (Stagno), who arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia on 19 January 1956 with her children. They also continued on the ship to Sydney and took a train up to Innisfail, Queensland.

Maria Stagno Australia Arrival Passenger List

Resources: Australian Passenger Arrivals List 


Coraweb has a list of links to sites that feature passenger arrivals to Australia from 1852.


The National Archives of Australia should be your first stop in trying to find your ancestors arrival in Australia. Not only do they hold a plethora of records, they also have an Index to Passenger Arrivals between 1921-1949.


Ancestry is also a vital resource for these passenger arrival lists. Most European immigrants to Australia arrived through the Fremantle port in Western Australia. They hold records from 1897 to 1963.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow: The Forgotten Confederate Civil War Soldier

Since my last post I have been quite busy going through the requirements to get my certification from BCG. I finally completed the client report, which took almost 2 months, and have now progressed onto compiling a three-generation narrative genealogy. I love researching Italian records, but sometimes when you’re doing something for “work”, you just want to do something for fun. So in the last couple of days I wandered back into American genealogy and specifically into my husband’s family tree.

I have probably mentioned this before, but Ancestry.com is both an asset and an absolute nightmare. I don’t think there is a better resource than Ancestry if you want to research your American family tree, but there should be a disclaimer for stupidity and novice behavior completely destroying the reliability of every hint that you see. People WILL add nonsensical things to their tree, just to forcibly create connections between themselves and royalty or other notable historical figure, and it drives me crazy. Unfortunately this has happened with research previously completed for my husband’s family tree. I am determined to untangle this mess. Rant over.

I was able to discover a very interesting figure in the Stringfellow family tree, that I believe only one other person on Ancestry was able to find, and it certainly wasn’t someone that my family has previously discovered. (So it’s only a semi-new discovery.)

His name is Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, a seemingly common name in the United States and in the Stringfellow family that I am concerned with researching. This Benjamin, is my husband’s great-great-great grandfather. Finding records for BF Stringfellow was a little confusing at first, because most people researching him came to the conclusion that he was born in Georgia, which is what it says on the Arkansas 1860 Federal Census. However, coming to this conclusion is premature. In the Georgia 1850 Federal Census, Benj Stringfellow, married to an Almarinda Stringfellow, is listed as being born in Tennessee.

1850 Federal Census. Georgia. Benj Stringfellow and Almarinda Stringfellow.

1850 Federal Census. Georgia. Benj Stringfellow and Almarinda Stringfellow. Year: 1850; Census Place: District 29, Fayette, Georgia; Roll: M432_69; Page: 37A; Image: 82 (Ancestry.com)

Are these two Benjamin Stringfellows the same person? Yes, I believe they are. Here’s why: On the 1860 census, we do not get any names for the wife and children of “B H Stringfillen”, however, we are given their first initials. “M” Stringfellow, is his wife.

1860 Federal Census. Arkansas.

1860 Federal Census. Arkansas. B H Stringfellow and M Stringfellow. Year: 1860; Census Place: Kentucky, White, Arkansas; Roll: M653_52; Page: 960; Image: 488; Family History Library Film: 803052 (Ancestry.com)

There is a marriage record from Georgia for Benjamin F Stringfellow and Marinda Priestley in 1849. While circumstantial, the evidence points to Benj Stringfellow and Almarinda being the same as those who married in 1849, and with the same names and initial, to be the same as those in the Arkansas census. I believe Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow was born in Tennessee, moved to Georgia and then finally moved to Arkansas.

record-image (21)

Marriage Record for Benjamin Stringfellow and Marinda Priestly

While in Arkansas Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow was enlisted as a private to fight for the confederates in the Civil War. It is not known how long he served or where exactly he fought. He was in Livingston’s Company, in the 10th Regiment Arkansas Infantry. He was captured by the Union on 14 August 1864 in White County, Arkansas and sent to Rock Island Prison in Illinois on 8 December 1864.

Civil War Prisoner of War Records, 1861-1865 for Benjamin Stringfellow. Ancestry.com. Civil War Prisoner of War Records, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.

Civil War Prisoner of War Records, 1861-1865 for Benjamin Stringfellow. Ancestry.com. Civil War Prisoner of War Records, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.

Benjamin Franklin's name on the Prisoner of War Record Sheet.

Benjamin Franklin’s name on the Prisoner of War Record Sheet.

The conditions at this prison were very poor. It was built in mid 1863 and was not fully completed when it started taking prisoners by the end of that year. Temperatures were below 0, sanitation was poor, and although a hospital was built, and sewers installed in the spring of 1864, malnutrition and scurvy continued to kill prisoners in droves. (Census Diggins) Unfortunately Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow died from pneumonia on 16 December 1864, just 8 days after his imprisonment. After the war the prison was completely destroyed. The graves of confederate soldiers who died there now fills the space where it once stood.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow’s plot 1680 can be found in the Rock Island Arsenal Confederate Cemetery in Rock Island, IL.


“1680 B. Stringfellow Livingston’s CO. 10 ARK. REG. G.S.A”, Find A Grave.

grave 2

“Confederate Cemetery. December 9, 1863. June 11, 1865. Rock Island Arsenal.” Find A Grave.


Military Service Record, page 1. "Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas", The National Archives, Record Group 109, State of Arkansas, Roll 0016. Images taken from Fold3.

Military Service Record, page 1. “Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas”, The National Archives, Record Group 109, State of Arkansas, Roll 0016. Images taken from Fold3.

Military Service Record, page 2. "Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas", The National Archives, Record Group 109, State of Arkansas, Roll 0016. Images taken from Fold3.

Military Service Record, page 2. “Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas”, The National Archives, Record Group 109, State of Arkansas, Roll 0016. Images taken from Fold3.

Military Service Record, page 3. "Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas", The National Archives, Record Group 109, State of Arkansas, Roll 0016. Images taken from Fold3.

Military Service Record, page 3. “Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas”, The National Archives, Record Group 109, State of Arkansas, Roll 0016. Images taken from Fold3.

Military Service Record, page 4. "Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas", The National Archives, Record Group 109, State of Arkansas, Roll 0016. Images taken from Fold3.

Military Service Record, page 4. “Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas”, The National Archives, Record Group 109, State of Arkansas, Roll 0016. Images taken from Fold3.

Military Monday: Translating Italian Military Documents (Liste Di Leva & Liste d’Estrazione)

Every day is a learning curve when it comes to genealogy. Today I was lucky enough to receive a document from the Archivo Di Stato Di Catania. I wrote to them on March 8th so I only waited 17 days for a reply, which I think is a great turnaround. This document was the Liste d’Estrazione for my great-grandfather Francesco Rapisarda.

What is a Liste di Leva?

Military records in Italy are an invaluable resource for researchers of italian ancestors. From 1865 onwards, the liste di leva (List of eligible men to serve in the military) comprised of all young men born in Italy. They were required to serve in or register for the military service. The list was compiled by the towns who sent a list of all the living males who had reached eighteen years of age. These lists hold great pieces of information that will assist you in learning about the appearance of your ancestors, their parent’s names and whether they served in the military, were ineligible due to their health or were deserters. (Having immigrated to another country or literally not appeared for their health examination.) Those who deserted could be arrested for draft evasion if they illegally immigrated to another country or legally immigrated without their entire family. The production of the Liste di Leva stopped in 1923 with only the Liste d’Estrazione remaining in its place.

What is a Liste d’Estrazione?

When a male became eligible to serve in the military at age twenty-one, the draft board (consiglio di leva) would examine the man’s health to determine whether he was in physical condition to perform the duties required of him in training and service. Health was not the only reason for exemption. The third or fourth son of a family with sons who had already served in the military were in many cases exempted, particularly if they were the sole surviving son. The kind of information available in the Liste d’Estrazione (Lists of Extraction) included: the man’s name, his parent’s names, his residence, his date and place of birth, his occupation, the results of the physical examination, or if the draftee had immigrated before his examination they would note the date and destination of his travel.

Below are some examples of the Liste d’Estrazione. Click to enlarge:

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 3.57.59 PM

Liste d’Estrazione of Francesco Rapisarda. Aged 35 years. Father Salvatore, Mother Giovanna Muri. Born 19 December 1887. Unable to read or write. Occupation: Contadino (Farmer).

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 3.58.14 PM

Height: 159.5cm tall. Chest: 84cm. Skin Color: Brown. Hair Color: Castag (abbrv. Castagno) Chestnut. Eye Color: Castag (abbrv. castagno) Chestnut. Teeth: Sano (Healthy). Decision after examination: Abile arruolatu 1 categ. richiesta non evere distretta alle 2. Able and enlisted. Requested not to be moved to district 2.


Paolo Sulfaro. Son of Giuseppe and Giuseppa Sulfaro. Born 24 October 1882 in Giardini. (Mistake. He was actually born in Messina.) Occupation: Contadino (Farmer). Unable to read or write. Height: 154cm, Hair color: costag (costagno, chestnut), forma (form of hair) lisci (straight), eye color: neri (black), skin color: bruno (brown), dentatura (teeth): sano (healthy), Chest: 76cm.  Riformato per deficienza del perimetro toracico ed oligoemia. (Cent. 76) Addi 11- 5 -1916 Gia informato e precettati classe 1882. rimandato al li 1 dicembre 1916 perche all’estero. 23 – 12 – 1916 Abile arruolato in prima categoria quale rimandato al 1 Dicembre 1916 perche all’estero. Translation: (Reformed to deficiency of the thoracic perimeter and oligemia. (76-centimeters) Addi 11-5 -1916 Already informed and conscripted class 1882. Postponed to December 1, 1916 because abroad. 23 – 12- 1916 Able, enrolled in the first category which postponed to December 1, 1916 because abroad.

Other Records

There are other military records available that provide information on an ancestors who served in the military. These include the Registro dei Fogli Matricolari (Draftee Curriculum of Service Record), Foglio di Congedo Illimitato (Discharge Records), and Registro di Ruolo (Service Records).

An example of a Discharge record of a soldier who died in WW1 is shown below. It include information on the person’s recruitment, services, promotions and other changes matriculation of the time period between from when they were called to military service, to the date of absolute discharge or in this case death. Click to enlarge:


Paolo Sulfaro. Enlisted in 1916, went missing in battle in 1917. Was awarded a medal of merit in 1920.

The Highs and Lows of Genealogy

It’s so easy to get swept away by genealogy research in the beginning. Everything is new, and usually the success of finding your relatives is high. The records are fairly recent, after all, and you can’t believe how easy researching your family is. Why would anybody be lazy enough to hire a professional genealogist? Well… hate to burst your bubble newbie genealogist, but things don’t remain that simple. In fact they get so insanely difficult that before you know it, your breakthroughs reduce to only a few a year. The further back you look for records, the harder it is to find your ancestors.

I am no exception to this rule. I have spent the better part of the past year struggling desperately to find the elusive records I need with very little help from communes. (Why won’t you reply to my emails?!) But sometimes you just have to take a little break, a breath, have a hot chocolate, wait a a week or two and suddenly a breakthrough! (Also ordering some microfilms and using the National Archives of Australia database helps.)

I have a couple of breakthroughs to share with you today. While you may not be particularly interested in what I found, it may be of use to other researchers who are like me – no longer a beginner and entering the thick waters of their researching career.

Last week I received a few emails letting me know that my three microfilms had finally arrived at my closest Family History Center. I had a whole list of people that I was hoping to find in these microfilms, but I didn’t want to spend all day squinting at microfilms. If you have not used microfilm readers before, you won’t know how utterly frustrating machines they can be, but how completely essential they are to family research. I have used many different microfilm machines in the past year and they all vary in quirks and assets. The one at my Family History Center was the best that I have come across so far – despite a few hiccups.

His name is Geronimo. The microfilm reader has a name? Yes, that’s the name the volunteers at the Family History Center have given it. I really have no idea why they named it Geronimo. Was it after the prominent leader of the Bedonkohe Apache who fought against Mexico and the United States for their expansion into Apache tribal lands for several decades during the Apache Wars? I don’t know. But anyway, the microfilm reader Geronimo was a great asset to me in my research.

Rather than squinting at a projection of the microfilm on a board, it was on a computer screen, and not only that it allowed me to print what I saw! I really, really, valuable asset to a genealogist who wants to keep records of their findings. Unfortunately it takes Geronimo a long time to allow us to print from him. It took about 10 tries, he would get all riled up and then shut down. Thank you so much to the ladies at the Family History Center in Bentonville, Arkansas. You are so helpful.

Anyway, during my research I was able to find at least 5 records! That is a huge milestone to any genealogist on any given day. While some were simply proof of the dates that I had already found on FamilySearch, others were a completely new record that allowed me to add new data to my Family Tree. Microfilms are a really great resource, if you have a Family History Center nearby, because you are not limited to the records online and you don’t need to make expensive trips to Utah or wherever your family came from. (Italy, for example.) That is not to say, however, that I don’t envy those who live in Salt Lake City. I am very jealous. But I plan on making a research trip sometime in the future so that will be helpful.

My second breakthrough happened only a couple of days ago. This time it came from thinking outside of the box. While growing your family tree with names and dates is probably the biggest pleasure I have from genealogical research, it should not be the only thing you do. It is important to find out a little bit about your ancestors lives if you can. So this time I looked very recently into my family tree, at my maternal grandparents and their immigration to Australia. About two months ago I ordered records from the National Archives of Australia who supposedly had information on my ancestors from their application to immigrate, their life in Australia and their naturalization. I am excited to share some of these documents below. But first I want to say that I paid $20 to receive these documents, which can be rather a lot of money when you are ordering microfilms and paying for Ancestry website subscriptions. I paid it in any case and I am so glad I did! I received over 100 pages of scanned original documents with all correspondence letters between government officials, and and my grandparents, painting a detailed picture of their immigration from Italy to Australia. I cannot publish them all on this blog because: 1. It wouldn’t be of great interest to all of my readers, 2. The documents collectively create a 32mb file so it would take you forever to load this page in the first place, and 3. There is information about ancestors who are still alive today. Privacy is always essential in genealogy.

The documents below are the highlights of the package of documents:

giuseppe sulfaro birth record

My grandfather, Giuseppe Sulfaro’s, birth record.

Giuseppe Sulfaro Medical Examination

The medical examination they conducted on Giuseppe Sulfaro when he was applying to go to Australia for work. You can probably read it, but if you notice in the vision he had only 5/10 vision in both eyes without glasses.

Letter written by somebody (probably not Giuseppe Sulfaro) but signed by Giuseppe as application to become a naturalised Australian citizen.

Letter written by somebody (probably not Giuseppe Sulfaro) but signed by Giuseppe as application to become a naturalised Australian citizen.

Giuseppe Sulfaro's Naturalisation Record

Giuseppe Sulfaro’s Naturalisation Record

Maria Sulfaro Denied Naturalisation

Maria Sulfaro Denied Naturalisation on the basis that she does not know English and has no desire to learn the language or become a part of the Australian society.

maria sulfaro naturalisation

Maria Sulfaro is later naturalised after subsequent application and interview.

Travel Tuesday: Taormina

After a short break, I am back to share some photos and my experience from my visit to Taormina, perhaps the most perfect little town in Italy. Taormina is located on the top of a hill that overlooks Giardini-Naxos. My family and I took a short bus ride that somehow manages to make the twisty, narrow turns up the hill, to the top where a short walk will take you into the cobbled streets of Taormina. We visited in the summer of 2012, and it was packed with tourists. While the ships dock in Giardini, the tourists flock up to Taormina where its historical buildings, touristy shops and superb view that casts a shadow over Giardini’s many assets. Take a look at a few pictures and read some historical facts below:

taormina5 taormina2taormina7 taormina1 taormina10 taormina4taormina9

After strolling through the shops and streets, you can take a little cable car down to Isola Bella, a nature reserve with stunning beaches, that you have to pay to visit.

taormina11taormina12taormina8taormina3The views going up from Giardini with the bus and back down are also stunning:

taormina6On a second trip to Taormina within the same week, my mother and I went exploring through Taormina’s cemeteries to see if we could find any of our ancestors. I only could assume that Giuseppe and Giuseppa Sulfaro were born and died in Taormina at that point. They actually were born in Curcuraci, Messina and died in Giardini. (Although we never found their final resting places, probably because they have since been built over.)

A Few Interesting Facts

Taormina is actually older than Giardini-Naxos. The area surrounding the present-day Taormina was inhabited by the Siculi, an Italic tribe, in the Iron Age, before the Greeks arrived on the Sicilian coast in 734 BC to found Naxos. It was originally called “Tauromenion”. As with all of Sicily, Taormina was inhabited by many different cultures over its existence. 

During the 19th century, Taormina became a popular tourist resort. Some famous visitors included: Oscar Wilde, Nicholas I of Russia, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Nietzsche, Richard Wagner and many others.

Ancestors who lived in Taormina

Of all my ancestors it seems that only the Sterrantino’s came from Taormina, although I am sure the many ancestors who migrated to Giardini made trips to Taormina. Rosario Sterrantino, born on November 3rd, 1822 in Taormina was baptised in the parish of Taormina Abbate Castorina. (I have made several searches for this place but haven’t been able to find anything.) Please click on the image below to see a larger version of Rosario Sterrantino’s birth record.

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Rosario Sterrantino is my great-great-great grandfather. The line goes like this Me > Mother > Giuseppe Sulfaro > Gaetana Sterrantino > Pasquale Sterrantino > Rosario Sterrantino.

Rosario’s father was Pasquale Sterrantino. I assume he was born in Taormina also but I do not have any records to prove this. Rosario’s mother was Giuseppa Lo Giudice. She was born in Taormina and died in Giardini. Rosario also died in Giardini, on the 12th of December 1872. He left behind his wife Angela Casabianca and 5 known living children.

Wedding Wednesday: Giuseppe Sulfaro & Maria Stagno’s 71st Wedding Anniversary

If they had lived, my grandparents Giuseppe Sulfaro and Maria Stagno would have celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary this Friday on the 14th of March. They only reached their 27th wedding anniversary before Maria died in 1970. Unfortunately we don’t have any wedding photos. But as I have described in earlier posts my Mum and I were lucky enough to go visit the church where they were married in Giardini-Naxos and even take a look at their church marriage record. But first check out this super sweet photo of my mother with her parents.

mum nonna and nonno

Giuseppe Sulfaro, my mother and Maria Stagno

Giuseppe and Maria were married in the local church Santa Maria Raccomandata. According to tradition the bride’s father was supposed to be present for the marriage. He is not listed as one of the witnesses, but it is almost certain that Ignazio Stagno was there, as their mothers may have been. The only person who would not be there is Paolo Sulfaro, Giuseppe’s father who had died before he was even born. You can take a look at their full marriage record below.

It was also standard practice for intention of marriage be posted three times before a couple was married. For Giuseppe and Maria their first marriage intention was published on the 28th of February. Between this day and the 13th of March another two would have been published. This allows time for any family members, friends, or people in the public to protest a marriage before it occurs.

marriage record maria giuseppe sulfaro

This is a look at what the church may have looked like on the inside at the time they were married:

phoca_thumb_l_chiesaQuite a difference from today!

IMG_8308The following picture is what the Santa Maria Raccomandata looks like on the outside today:

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Travel Tuesday: La Città di Messina and the Tragic Life of Maria Fraumeni

Yesterday I wrote about Paolo Sulfaro who was born in a town called Curcuraci, a village of the city of Messina. Today I want to share my experience in visiting the city of Messina. This is particularly important to me because Messina is actually the home city of my maternal line. At least as far as I have researched.

Maria Fraumeni, daughter of Francesco Giovanni Fraumeni and Mattia Sceglieri was born in Messina on the 22nd of June 1862. Maria’s life is something of a tragedy. While I cannot know her well enough from the records I have found, her life paints a picture of despair that is reminiscent of many women for her time period. Maria married Filippo Bellino on the 7th of July, 1883. With him she had 7 children, of which, only one daughter survived. Most of the babies died within a few days of birth. Filippo died on the 17th of August 1890. Two years later she married my great-great grandfather Paolo Musarella. With him she had four children, of which, two survived. One of them being my great-grandmother Margherita Musarella. In all she lost at least 8 children. It is possible that more children died and I have not yet find their records. While she had these children in Giardini, I feel like it is important to share some pictures of the city where she was born. I do not know whether her parents were born in Messina also, but I hope to find this information out soon.

I visited Messina with my family in July 2012. We took a train from Giardini-Naxos into Messina.

giardini train

train giardiniMessina is the third-largest city in Sicily. It was founded by Greek colonists in the 8th century BC, and originally called Zancle. Since that time Messina has been owned and inhabited by many different cultures. From the Mamertines, and Goths to Byzantine Empire, Arabs, a couple of Norman brothers, King Richard I (the lionheart). It is also thought that Messina may have been the harbour from which the black plaque entered Europe, given its close proximity and dealings with Genoese ships coming from Crimea and Caffa. Messina looks more modern than other Italian cities because it has been devastated by two large earthquakes, which destroyed much of their ancient architecture. It also suffered damage from the 1943 air bombings from the Allied Forces in WW2. That all being said, Messina is filled with stunning architecture, buildings and history.

In the images below you will see pictures of statues, and other architectural adornments scattered throughout Messina. You will also see the Bell Tower and Astronomical Clock. (Orologio Astronomico) It is the bell tower of the Messina Cathedral. Every day at 12 o’clock in the afternoon it comes to life. There is a lion, which waves a flag and roars, a cock crows out, Dina and Clarenza, the heroines of Messina at the time of the Sicilian Vespers, take turns ringing the bell, and Jesus pops out of the tomb for instant resurrection.  After they do their show, a rendition of Ave Maria plays throughout the piazza. I didn’t get a brilliant photo of it, but in the third image below you can see the astrological clock. You can also see a view of Messina’s harbour. From there we did a return trip on a hydrofoil to San Giovanni, a small Calabrian city on Italy’s mainland.

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Matrilineal Monday: What 23andMe Told Me About My DNA

DNA, genetics, whatever you want to call it, is a really complicated scientific field. About a year ago I was genetically tested by 23andMe. The wonderful thing about getting this done is that it’s easy and it tells you a lot more information about where your family came from than you will ever be able to find through the old-fashioned paper trail of records and documents.

By now most people following this blog will know that I am very conservative about naming people who are living. This is as it should be because only the individuals themselves can give approval for the things I write about them, and given that they are living and breathing on this earth, they can write their own stories. But when it comes to my ancestors who have died, I feel like it is my duty, as a family historian and genealogist, to keep their memories alive. Personally I want to be remembered after my physical form has ceased to exist. Not only that, but I want things about me to be passed on to further generations. Whether they be through my children, my cousins, my siblings, or even strangers. The only way I can do this is by sharing things about myself. So this Matrilineal Monday will be about myself, and the line of females who have gone before me.

If you just want to see the results and don’t want to know how DNA and all that stuff works scroll down until you see a sub-heading called “Results”!

Scientific Explanation

The way that genetic testing works when you’re a girl is that you can only find out your maternal haplogroup which makes up your mitochondrial DNA. Huh? What is she talking about? I hear you. And because I am not scientifically inclined I’m going to let 23andMe explain this to you.

“Small structures called mitochondria reside in every cell in your body. Within each of these structures is a tiny circular genome. We call the DNA of this genome “mitochondrial DNA” or “mtDNA” for short.”

Taken from 23andMe.

Taken from 23andMe.

“Unlike the rest of your genome, mtDNA is only passed on from mother to child; mtDNA inheritance is “maternal,” tracking your ancestry through your mother, your mother’s mother, your mother’s mother’s mother, and so on.” (23andMe)


Taken from 23andMe

So, when we talk about maternal haplogroup, we are only talking about what we have inherited directly from the earliest known woman in our ancestry. We have other ancestors of course, such as your father’s mother, and your mother’s father’s mother. But your mitochondrial DNA does not have this information.

Males who have their DNA tested on 23andMe and other DNA testing companies are able to find out both their paternal haplogroup and maternal haplogroup because they carry the Y chromosome and the mitochondria. The Y chromosome is the paternal opposite of the mitochondria, or in other words, it was passed on from father to son as far back as scientists have discovered.  If you are a female you can get this information from a brother, your father, your father’s brothers or male cousins born to your father’s brothers.

If you are lucky and your extended family are really interested in finding out their DNA and helping you out you can find out some of the other lines of DNA that you carry. For example the son of your mother’s brother will have the Y chromosome DNA information for your mother’s father, or your grandfather. He will also have the mitochondria information for your mother’s mother, but you will already have this information from your own DNA test. Girls aren’t useless! You can find out your paternal grandmother’s mitochondria DNA by getting your father’s sister or father’s sister’s daughter’s test results. This can be very confusing! If you’re interested in learning more about it I advise you to watch some of the video 23andMe have on Youtube. Or googling the key scientific terms I have listed here.

I want to note, however, that our DNA does not only come from the mitochondria and Y chromosome. You inherit DNA from both of your parents, and they were made up of DNA from their parents and so on. You are made up of a rich mix of DNA, some dormant, some active, that make up who you are.

I could go on and on explaining DNA and how it works but honestly, I’m not a scientist and the results are far more interesting than the logistics, so here we go.

The Results

Ancestry Composition – Standard View

What you see below is a chart of my ancestry composition, or in other words, what percentage of my DNA comes from the 31 populations in the world. The results for this analysis is from DNA I received from all my ancestors on both my paternal and maternal sides. The results show where my ancestors lived 500 years ago, before mass human migration through ocean-crossing ships and airplanes.

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As you can see from the chart above, I am made up of 56.8% Italian, with the rest being scattered across non-specified European, middle eastern and a tiny part East Asian & Native American. The results can be changed by toggling with the composition. I can make my results more conservative or more speculative. What does this mean? The information given to me is based on the results of others who have had their DNA tested. The more people who have their DNA tested, the more accurate our results will become. This is the only real way scientists can learn about what DNA cells mean. Comparison.

What you see below is the chromosome view of my results: It shows what parts of my chromosomes I have inherited from my ancestors and where they came from. If you look at my 16th chromosome you can see that orange dot that shows my East Asian inheritance. Some of the lines are white, or have spaces. This means that they cannot be accurately determined. When I change my results to speculative, they are filled with more blue, showing that there is a greater likelihood of my ancestors coming from Southern Europe, in particular, Italy. Which sounds about right!

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Ok so that’s my basic ancestry composition! Now let’s take a look at what I inherited from my mitochondrial DNA. Remember: This DNA is inherited from my mother, her mother before her, and her mother and so on. From my ancestral research, I know that if DNA testing had been around when my great-great grandmother Maria Fraumeni was alive, she would have the exact same results as I do. As would her daughter, my great-grandmother Margherita Musarella. And would my grandmother and my mother.

Maternal Lineage

I learned that our haplogroup was H8. You can see the locations of haplogroup H8 circa 500 years ago, before the era of intercontinental travel.

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  • Haplogroup: H8, a subgroup of H
  • Age: greater than 30,000 years
  • Region: Near East, Central Asia
  • Example Populations: Kazakhs, Arabs
  • Highlight: Unlike most other branches of H, haplogroup H8 is virtually unknown in Europe.

“Haplogroup H, the parent of H8, originated in the Near East and then expanded throughout Europe after the peak of the Ice Age. But H8 was a relatively ancient offshoot of H that arose about 30,000 years ago, before the Ice Age’s peak, and moved east into central Asia. Today it is most common in that part of the world.” (23andMe)

History of Haplogroup H

“Haplogroup H is the most common in Europe, reaching peak concentrations along the Atlantic coast. Although its origins are unclear, the haplogroup rose to prominence during the Ice Age, when Europe was blanketed by glaciers and its population squeezed into a handful of ice-free refuges in Iberia, Italy, the Balkans and the Caucasus.

Several branches of haplogroup H arose during that time, and after the glaciers receded most of those branches played a prominent role in the repopulation of the continent. With the subsequent spread of agriculture and the rise of organized military campaigns, the haplogroup achieved an even wider distribution. It is now found throughout Europe and at lower levels in Asia, reaching as far south as Arabia and eastward to the western fringes of Siberia.”

Ancient Roots

“H6 and H8 are among the oldest subgroups of haplogroup H, tracing back to present-day Turkey and Syria about 30,000 years ago. Subsequent migration carried the two branches eastward to the Altay Mountains of Central Asia, where both – especially H6 – are common among speakers of Altaic languages such as Kazakh, Altay and Mongolian.”

Neanderthal Ancestry

Another awesome thing that you can find out is what percentage Neanderthal you are.

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Health Results

23andMe also has an awesome health feature but at the moment they cannot give these results due to FDA regulations. In the future they may resume this service. I was one of the lucky ones who got my DNA tested before they stopped the health results. I won’t publish them all because there are hundreds. But to give you an idea, it tells you what diseases you may be predisposed to, the likelihood of my getting breast cancer or Alzheimer’s. It also predicts, based on your DNA, what colour eyes you have and even your blood type! Check some of mine out below:

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If you have a look it says that I would likely be lactose intolerant which is not the case. But that does not mean I don’t carry the gene. So perhaps one of my descendants will be lactose intolerant. As always, with all health concerns, just because a website tells you that you are not likely to get cancer, doesn’t mean that this is the case. They base the results on comparisons to others with similar DNA to yours. There are other factors to health, such as how you eat and exercise and where you live, and a million other things. This is probably why the FDA has concerns about 23andMe’s health results.

In any case the ancestry results are the most fascinating to me. I wish I could convince my relatives to contribute a sample of their DNA so that I might learn things about my other ancestors, but it’s a personal choice and totally okay if they are unwilling. I would absolutely recommend genealogists to get tested and see their results. While you will probably never be able to trace your family back that far (unless you are descended from royalty) it’s a great thing to learn without having to trawl through records! This post has sounded rather like a 23andMe advertisement, so a quick shout out to other DNA testing services: Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, and National Geographic. There are others out there too. Google around.

P.S. If you’re scientifically inclined and I made a huge mistake in some of my explanations please, please correct me! I won’t be offended. I just want to educate and encourage others🙂