Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pasquale Ursino -- Pedigree and Family Members

Pasquale Ursino from Catania, Sicily
During the Thanksgiving break, I was able to research my Sicilian family history and fill in more dates, and add more people to my great-grandfather's family group.

So far I have found that my great-grandfather had nine brothers and sisters.  He was also married twice and had at least two children with his first wife and at least five with his second wife.  He ended his years with my great-grandmother who he was unable to marry because she was not allowed to obtain a divorce from her husband.  My great-grandparents had four children together, and one can see they gave their children the surname belonging to my great-grandmother's husband in order to make them "legitimate" (see picture of immediate family below).  This was a secret my grandmother guarded very carefully for many years -- Sicilian society was very strict in her day.  My great-grandmother had also had four children (one died young) with her husband before living with my great-grandfather.

Overall, my great-grandfather had several children that died young.  In fact, I was quite sad to see he lost three children with his second wife and that they had died 1-3 years after birth.  He had also lost one child with his first wife.  Also sad was the loss of his first wife -- she was only 27 years old.  I was not able to learn the cause of her death.

I also learned that before marrying his first wife, my great-grandfather was in the navy or merchant marine.  His father had been a career sailor as had his grandfather, so this must have seemed a logical career for him as well. However, my great-grandfather was no longer a sailor when he married his first wife and is listed in many records as "industrioso," "magazziniere," and other similar descriptions. 

Finally, I was also able to add a generation to my tree by finding two sets of his great-grandparents (fourth great-grandparents to me), and I found several death dates to add to the profiles of his family members as well.

My great-grandfather's pedigree
Pasquale's immediate family
Street Addresses for Pasquale Ursino
Strada Cutelli (1863)
Strada della Statua (Largo Statua, 36) (1865-1877)
Via Sorrentino (1881)
Via Cutelli (1883)
Via DiGiuliano (1889)
Via DiStefano, 70 (1891)
Via DiStefano, 37 (1892)
Via Misterbianco, 43 (1897)
Via Fischetti, 57 (1899)
Via Ventimiglia, 157 (1902)
Via Opificio, 25 (1907)
Via Celeste, 110 (1909)
Via Consolazione, 81 (1914)

Some of the addresses above still exist today, but some streets seem to have been renamed.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jumping the Pond -- Lesson 3

Before searching records overseas, you will probably have to first research records in the U.S. A good place to begin is with census and naturalization records. Such records are offered for free on or with a subscription on You can also search Familysearch for information on where to locate naturalization records for your particular state or region of the U.S.  You can learn about regional National Archives or State Archives that house the records you need, or you might be able to order a microfilm from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Start with census records before researching naturalization records. You can locate your immigrant ancestor in the 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses, which recorded information regarding year of immigration and citizenship status.

Tip: Learn what the abbreviations on the census stand for. For example, AL= alien, PA= papers were filed/pending, and NA= naturalized citizenship. Also, start with the latest census and work your way back.  Information might vary from census to census.

Once you have a good idea on when your ancestor was naturalized, use the year or range of years to search for naturalization papers.

The naturalization papers will more than likely tell you the exact town/location your ancestor emigrated from to the U.S. If your ancestor's naturalization record does not divulge the information you are looking for, then check the records of other family members.

Once you have an idea of the year of immigration, check the passenger lists or ships' manifests for more information. Don't focus only on the immigration year, though. Some people I have researched returned to the home country for a visit, so you might find more than one passenger record. The more recent records will have more information about where your ancestor was headed. They will usually have a town of birth listed and the name of a relative in the country of origin. Don't forget to see if your ancestor traveled with a relative because there may be information associated with the relative that provides more information. By the way, passenger records are being indexed by Familysearch, but you can also find records with a subscription to or for free at

That's it for now! Stay tuned for more ways to search the town and country of origin so you can jump the pond.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Veteran's Day

This is in honor of all the men and women who have served their countries in times of peace and war.  Here are some who are related to me:

Brother, Kevin. He also served in the first Gulf War.

Several of my grandmother's brothers and cousins were known as "the boys in the woods" in Norway and can be found among the men above.  They resisted the German occupation (WWII) in Norway mostly by planning and carrying out sabotage missions.

My grandfather having a lazy moment during his military service in Norway.  This picture was probably taken around 1922.

My grandmother's brother Giuseppe Napoli from Catania, Sicily, was lost at sea when his ship sank on 18 March 1918 during WWI.    

My fourth great-grandfather, Andreas Petterson Rörberg, from Tanum, Vastra Gotalands, Bohuslän, Sweden served in the Swedish military for 31 years.

And there are more...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Jumping the Pond -- Lesson 2

In most cases, finding the exact location your ancestor came from is essential to finding records overseas.  If you don't know the town your great-grandparents came from, you will have to look in North American records first.  But what if you have done it all and you still don't know the exact town your ancestor lived in before emigrating to the U.S.?

Finding the exact town your ancestors came from may require expanding your research a bit.  First of all, many people emigrated together and moved to the same towns/neighborhoods in the U.S.  So keep in mind that the answer may not come from a record but from learning the history of great-grandma's neighborhood.  Sometimes, even the streets were named after familiar places in the country of origin.  Visit a local museum or contact a local historical society.  You should also visit or research the town's cemetery because there may be headstones with information regarding home-country origins, and there might be a trend.  Overall, chances are that if the community was a clustered settlement of people from the same town in Italy or Ireland, that you will find a useful trail to follow. 

Tip: if you don't find the town of origin in your ancestor's records, or the history of the U.S. community he moved into, try the neighbors' records!

So let's assume you have exhausted your ancestors' records and you still have no clue of the exact location they once called home. How can you research the neighbors' history?

1) U.S. census records -- find out who lived next door to great-grandpa.
2) Naturalization records might have a friend who vouched for your ancestor when he sought citizenship.
3) Probate records -- who witnessed the will? Who made the estate inventory?
4) Cemeteries -- who was buried next to your ancestor?
5) Church records -- who were the godparents or marriage witnesses?
6) City directories -- look for common surnames or occupational trades.

Pick a few friends and neighbors of your ancestor and research their naturalization records!  If you are lucky, there will be a town in common and the trail will be hot once more.

Stay tuned for the next post on how to specifically research U.S. records to help find the town of origin for your ancestor.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Genealogy Lessons on Jumping the Pond-- Lesson 1

Recently, I went to a family history conference at my local family history center.  One of the seminars I attended was on researching Irish ancestors -- I am not Irish by the way.  I am not a beginner, so it was pretty basic information for me. The seminar focused on researching in the U.S. first, which was nothing new for me; however, it was new to many in the audience who had some very basic questions, and I realized how much a beginner really needs to learn.  Therefore, inspired by the presenter, Randolyn, at the Apex Family History Center in NC, I decided to promote the information she gave and add in my tidbits by starting this new series.  When we get to actually "jumping the pond," then it will mostly be solely based on my experiences.

Lesson #1

Location, location, location.  Jumping the pond and researching records in your country of origin will most likely not be possible unless you figure out where exactly your ancestor lived.  You will probably need to know the exact town, county, parish, etc. People who try to find an ancestor at the country level will hit a brick wall, and usually the first lesson is that what may seem like a unique name and surname in the U.S. is often very common in the country of origin.  So how do we begin our search?

Start with what you know!

1) Fill out a pedigree chart.  Begin with yourself and fill out your parents', your grandparents', and great-grandparents' information.  Include information on siblings, if you know it.

Tip: Many beginners make the mistake of focusing only on direct family lines, but in fact, records for siblings of grandparents or great-grandparents may have the tidbit of information you cannot find in the records belonging to your direct ancestor.  

2)  Interview your family members, starting with the oldest members first.  If I had a dime for every time I wished I had interviewed my grandparents or their siblings before they died, I'd be rich by now.
  • Videotape or record them, if you can.  
  • Ask about marriages, deaths, births, traditions, immigration/emigration stories.  
  • If you google "family history interview questions" you will find several links to help identify the best questions to ask.
  • Go through family albums and record your family members' memories.  
  • If friends or neighbors are available, ask them questions as well.

So get started, and stay tuned for Lesson #2.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Searching for Graves at Bryn Kirkegård

A few months ago, I searched the Norwegian Gravminner database to see if Bryn Kirkegård (Baerum, Akershus) cemetery records had finally been uploaded.  To my delight, I found that the records were available and searchable.  Immediately, I looked for the name "Jordbærhaugen" to see if there were any graves I was not aware still existed.  "Jordbærhaugen" is a rare name in the area, belonging to one farm, and as of the mid-1800's my ancestors have lived there.  I did in fact find my great-great grandparents, Jonette and Olaus, listed in the database with the precise location of their graves (numbers 4 and 5 in section 004).  Surprisingly, the database did not say the graves were "slettet" or deleted.  In Norway, once graves become too old and are not supported financially, the plots are recycled.  In this case, Olaus died in 1915 and Jonette died in 1922, so the removal of the headstones was to be expected.  But one can always hope.  Furthermore, my father had no recollection of his mother visiting her grandparents' graves, and he believed they could no longer be in existence.

Olaus and Jonette Jorbaerhaugen are located next to the church
Luckily, my friend and previous president of the Oslo/Akershus Chapter of the DIS-Norge/Norwegian Genealogy Society, Laila Christiansen, offered to investigate for me.  She contacted the church office and was helped by a very nice lady.  Apparently, the church records needed some updating, and there were several names listed in the church database for the same plots.  She searched for the people who were currently leasing the grave plots, but they were on vacation.  She then went to the site to look for herself and saw that my great-great grandparents' headstones were no longer there.  The headstones belonged to a family that is not related to me.

In the end, all is not lost!  Olaus and Jonette may no longer have a marker at the cemetery, but I am pretty sure their remains were never moved.  Next time I visit Bryn Kirke, I can at least visit the area of their resting place.

Thank you, Laila, and thank you Bryn Kirke for your help.  I really appreciate it.

Laila also blogged about the experience, so please check out her piece since it has more facts and general information about the burial database.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Norwegian Probate Materials

When doing research into your Norwegian family tree, don't forget probate-related materials!  You can uncover a wealth of information such as dates of death, surviving spouse, surviving children and location, property, heir(s), and liabilities.  To find digitized probate materials (skannet skiftemateriale), click here.  Select the county and judicial district; for example, choose Akershus County and Bærum Lensmannskontor.  For "Protocol" select the one you wish -- for example, death registrations or Dødsfallsprotokoll.  A list of record books and appropriate dates will appear.  Click on a link and begin your search.  

Here is an example of a death registration for my gg-grandfather, Olaus Kristensen Jordbærhaugen. The record is the second one of the list (or the only one if looking at the screenshot below rather than following the provided link). The record shows what property he had: 8 cows, two horses, and farm equipment.  Son, Anton Jordbærhaugen, did become the new lessee of the Jordbærhaugen farm.  All his siblings are listed, including their whereabouts.  For example, my two great-uncles who left for America are also listed, one in North Dakota and the other in Canada.  

A screenshot of the record is below.

Happy hunting!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Italian Genealogy Records Online

Oh Familysearch, how I love you.  They have been adding images of records online from around the world on an almost-daily basis, and the collection is amazing.  There are millions of Italian records alone to research from the comfort of your couch.  Records included were originally on microfilm, and they have also added records that were never before available on microfilm.  By the way, thank you Familysearch for those records I desperately needed from Mineo and Palagonia.  I was so happy to see they existed!  And by the way, these records are ALL FREE!

One development has arisen, however, regarding the online records.  Due to agreements with original record custodians, some images on Familysearch are not available to view from the comfort of your home.  You either have to be a member of the LDS Church or you must view the records at your local LDS Family History Center.  The Italian records that fall into this category are the ones that have "Stato Civile" in the record title. Luckily, there aren't too many in this category, but it is annoying when you want access, and you have to wait.  But it turns out, one can still view the records online rather than have to run over to the Family History Center.

I recently discovered that the images are available for online viewing at the Italian archive site, Antenati, which has a partnership of some kind with Familysearch, and I assume they are the original "Stato Civile" record custodians.  Click on "Sfoglia i Registri" and put in the data you want.  At the moment, the "Stato Civile" records available are from Cuneo, L'Aquila, Mantova, Messina, and Napoli.  Hit "Cerca" after you have entered your specifications.  A list of records will appear and click on "Apri" to open the group.  You will then be able to open images.  You WILL NOT be able to download these, however, but you can search and then go to your Family History Center to download from Familysearch.

For all other Italian records, enjoy the nice online collection on Familysearch from your home, and also download as you wish -- FOR FREE.  I keep saying that, but it is so nice considering my other genealogy expenses.  Happy hunting.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ellen Hansdatter Christopherson (1822 - 1899) - Find A Grave Memorial

Ellen Hansdatter Christopherson (1822 - 1899) - Find A Grave Memorial

Click above to see the new memorial I created on for my ggg-grandmother -- Ellen Hansdatter, also known as Ellen Christopherson in the U.S.A.  I am a first generation American, but I discovered a few years ago that I had a ggg-grandmother who had converted to Mormonism and come to the U.S. (as well as three of her children). Her other children remained in Norway -- one of them was my gg-grandmother.  My line in Norway stayed Lutheran, and I never knew I had any relationship to Mormons in my family, so this was very interesting.  This story is an example of why genealogy is so fascinating!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Nonno and the Istituto Salesiano di San Gregorio

Vincenzo Dibennardo, ca. 1918. 

In past blog posts, I have shared translations of my grandfather’s diary, written during the school year of 1915-1916 – his fourth year of high school.  He was a boarding student at the Istituto Salesiano di San Gregorio, hoping to become a novice and enter the priesthood.  My nonno was born in 1900 and lost his mother two days before his ninth birthday.  In those days, it was unusual for a man to raise children on his own, and my grandfather did not have any living grandparents.  My great-grandfather must have felt that the best solution was to send my grandfather to the Salesian boarding school, where he could still visit occasionally, and where his son with receive a first-class education.  Furthermore, my grandfather had an aunt who was the Mother Superior of the Salesian order of nuns and could look out for him.  I am not sure if she was related to my grandfather on his mother’s side or his father’s side.  Her name was Sister Filomena (Suor Filomena), but nuns often take on new names, so it is likely her birth name was another. 

I have determined from my grandfather’s diary that he spent four years at San Francesco di Sales in Catania but then moved to the Salesian Institute of San Gregorio in 1915 due to San Francesco di Sales becoming a hospital for those wounded in WWI.  In fact, my grandfather often visits his former institute in the diary and describes some of the wounded. 

Some genealogical research goals that I have had are to visit both Salesian institutes to see if they have any records left from when he was a student at either school, and also to research his aunt, Sister Filomena.  Unfortunately, I could not go to Sicily this summer, but my parents are visiting relatives there, right now, and they have promised to do some of the legwork for me.  I have worked hard with my mother to transcribe Nonno’s diary and publish it in book form with scans of the original pages of his diary so I could donate the books to each institute (and share with my relatives).  My parents will have to donate the book for me, and maybe they will receive information in exchange.  My grandfather was only 15 when he wrote the diary, and he is so descriptive of life as a student in the Salesian schools, and of the teachers and priests, that I feel it would be of historical interest to the schools.  I am also working on a translation of the diary, and I hope to create a new edition of the book that will include the Italian transcription as well as the English version.

Entrance to the Salesian school in San Gregorio
The other day, my parents visited the Istituto Salesiano di San Gregorio.  I received some pictures from them, which were wonderful.  They spoke to the director of the institute who also showed them the school – where my grandfather would have eaten his meals; where he would have visited with his father the few times he appeared at the school in the diary; the church (attached to the school) where he would have attended Mass, as he often describes; etc.  The director was given one of the published books I created, and when he saw the picture inside-- of my grandfather dressed as a novice-- he recognized exactly where the picture was taken.  In fact, it was taken at the school, in the garden.  My parents and relatives were taken to the spot and took pictures there as well.  That was the highlight of their visit for me!  The bad news was that there are no more old records.  Apparently, they disposed of them one or two years ago.  This is extremely upsetting, and I don’t know why they couldn’t have been preserved somehow, but the director said they are in bad financial shape and hoping to be able to stay open, so perhaps it was a financial decision. I just hope the other school hasn’t destroyed its records.  I guess we’ll find out when my parents visit in the next few days.

My relatives in the same spot that my grandfather took his picture in 1918 (see above).

The area where my grandfather's picture was taken is in the school's garden (above).
This attached chapel is where my grandfather attended the Masses he describes in his diary.

Where my grandfather would have eaten his meals.
The school hallway
Another view of the garden and the old well below

Friday, May 25, 2012

Find your Norwegian Great-Grandmother on your Smartphone

The Norwegian Archives have made an App available for download onto your iPhone or Android.  The App allows you to search for your ancestors in records before 1910.  I tried it and found several ancestors, mostly in the 1910 census.  They are continuing to improve the records available to search with the App.  It is free.  Make sure you try different spellings of the names you search since records vary quite a bit.  Click here.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Family Tree Thursday

My family tree has several ancestors with estimated dates for events, depending on the determining document at hand.  The goal, however, is always to continue searching for records that provide exact dates of birth, death, etc. and revise any missing or estimated data.  In this post, I will discuss two recent date revisions.

One of the mysteries I wanted to solve for a long time was the exact date my Sicilian great-grandmother, Agrippina Marianna Strano, died.  I guessed she had died somewhere between 1902 and 1912 because my grandfather, Vincenzo Dibennardo, had a sister that was born about two years after him, and he had lived at a religious boarding school during his youth/adolescence.  By reading my grandfather's diary, written during the scholastic year of 1915-1916, I learned he had already spent at least 4 years of his life away from home, among a Salesian order of priests.  This put his mother's death date around 1911.

A few weeks ago, I was finally able to update the death date for Agrippina Strano. Previously, her date looked like her parents' in the picture below -- "Abt. 1911." When I located her death record, I learned that she died in her hometown of Mineo, at Via Sotto Tamburino, number 16, on 13 November 1909. She died two days before my grandfather's ninth birthday.

Agrippina Strano died two days before my grandfather's ninth birthday

Agrippina died in one of these homes seen in the Google "street view" picture below

I also recently made an update on my Swedish line.  My fifth great-grandfather, Petter Olsson, had a year of birth without an exact date and month. 

Thomas Alexius Haugen is my great-grandfather on my paternal line.  Thomas and his father, Emil, were born in Norway.  Emil's father was born in Sweden.  I have traced this line farther than what is shown here, but more precise records need to be found.  As part of the process of finding more precise data and sourcing the tree, I found the birth record for my fifth great-grandfather (below), Petter Olsson.  He was born in Nästegård Farm in Tanum Parish on 13 November 1758.  His parents (not shown in picture above) were Olof Nilsson and Anne Pehrsdotter.  Death date search is next!

Thanks for reading!  I plan on blogging more again, so please look out for future posts.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Amanuensis Monday -- Nonno Enzo's Diary -- December 8 and 10, 1915

Vincenzo Dibennardo (1900 - 1982)
He joined the Salesian order but
never completed the journey to

Here is the next translated entry from my grandfather's diary, written in Sicily when he was 15 - 16 years old. 

                                                     8 December -- Wednesday

Morning. Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The novices are very happy; for the first time, they have worn the clerical garments, and it is one of the most beautiful days of their lives. The function was held in our chapel at 9:30 in the morning.

Also present were young men from the oratory, some of whom have entered the Order of San Luigi Gonzaga.

The cooperatives - Coworkers of the Truth - were also there and received a medal by the inspector for steadfastness in their will. But what remains imprinted in my mind is the substitution of the novices: Riceri, Bonfante, Furmari, Bologna, Rodino, Vagliarini.

The inspector, one by one, removed the garb they wore and substituted them with clerical clothing while saying: Induato, Domine, novum hominem here secundum Democreatus east justizia et Santitate veritatis. Amen.

I could not restrain the tears from falling for that function to which I so wanted to go and take part with those lucky young men but, oh Lord, the day will also come for me: Fiat voluntas Sua. Later, we all walked in a procession to the Church of the Immaculate, and along the way I cried; I cried with heart... Here we attended to Mass and the sermon of the Catechist, Don Mattia, who greatly moved me with his touching words.

After, we returned and went to lunch.

Night. Assembly.

At 5 o'clock in the evening, we entered the theater hall and sat in our seats.

The band director, Don Morri, gathered together his musicians and had them play a beautiful march that seized our applause. Afterward, my professor, Don Bologna, began the introduction to the assembly, as it was called in the program; but it was really a speech that lasted a bit too long. It was succeeded by various young men, whom together did nothing but exalt the beauty of the Madonna and discuss her excellent qualities.

Once the various sermons of my companions came to an end, a Jesuit priest said a few closing words.

Don Morri closed the wonderful day with a march, and all ended to our regret.

                                                                                      10-12-915 (10 December, 1915). Friday.

This morning we had just completed three quarters of an hour of school when the Director came to announce: Those of you who want to put on clerical garments for the funeral of Mr. Salvatore Di Bella, go with the novices who will be so good as to lend them to you.

I rejoiced greatly, launching myself to full speed, and in a few jumps arrived in the room of the novices where I lingered with Riccioli who let me try one of his robes; but alas, it was too short. I, however, did not dismay and tried one belonging to Vagliarini, but it was a bit long. I overlooked this and descended quickly to the sacresty where I slipped on the surplice.

Shortly after, the others were ready, and we all went into the parish to hear the Mass of the dead. After, we ambled outside in a single line, each holding two candles as we headed to the cemetery. The hearse held us back, while ahead was a carriage with four horses.

During the procession, we recited the Rosary, De Profundis, Miserere...

Having arrived at the cemetery, the deputy mayor of San Gregorio recited some facts about Mr. Salvatore Di Bella.

Afterward, we returned to the school, and when I took off the clerical garb, my heart crashed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday -- Death Record of Carmelo Di Bennardo (1864-1925)

My great-grandfather's death record was found in Familysearch's NEW browsable online images of Catania, Caltagirone, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1861-1941, town of PALAGONIA.  Unfortunately, this record does not say how he died, but it does say he died on 2 February 1925 at his home in Via Carlo Alberto (no house number given).  His second wife, my grandfather's stepmother, is named -- Vincenza Tannelli.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday -- Findagrave Memorial for Martin Christopherson is a wonderful site to find graves.  If you are lucky, someone has already added your ancestor to the site.  If not, you can add the memorial for your ancestor.  Findagrave is a site that depends on volunteers to provide information and pictures of gravestones.  Check out the memorial I put up yesterday for my great-great grandmother's brother, Martin Christopherson.  Click on the link below!