Monday, December 31, 2007

The Greatest Genealogical Find Ever . . .

The GeneaBlogie staff is a bit under the weather today, this last day of 2007. Nonetheless, I'm as excited as a kid at Christmas (Christmas? It's only 359 days away!). I'm awaiting the imminent delivery of The Greatest Genealogical Find Ever.

What possibly could be The Greatest Genealogical Find Ever?

Here's the story: as long as I have been aware of my extended family, I've known that my mother's sister Grace was not my grandmother's child. Rather, she was my grandfather's daughter and she had been raised by his mother in Louisiana after he left there for Kansas City in about 1920.

For years, I asked family members, "Who was Aunt Grace's mother, and what became of here?" The reply always was, "We don't know." Then there was a family story that Grandpa Eddie, Grace, and Grace's mother had intended to move to Chicago when Grace was an infant. As the story goes, Grace's mother died en route to Chicago from Shreveport, either in an accident or from some mysterious malady aboard a train.

In the last four years that I've seriously been studying genealogy, I've discovered many interesting and some surprising things about my family. But truth be known, little of this holds much emotional satisfaction for family members. Though intellectually interested, they actually care little about how many generations back I can trace the family or whether we're related to this famous person or that one. This is not to say that their smiles when I relate the latest discovery are disingenuous. Not at all. But what holds the greatest emotional satisfaction for them (and, indeed, I suspect for the families of many genealogists) are the discoveries of facts that solve (and salve) mysteries within living memory, the effects of which have burned so deeply that the nerves of the soul have been numbed.

Such discoveries are, as far as family is concerned, more important than any other sort of discovery.

The identity and fate of Grace's mother is just such a discovery. For my mother and her siblings, it may as well be The Greatest Genealogical Find Ever.

Every family has something that would qualify as The Greatest Genealogical Find Ever. Many families have more than one.

Grace was well-loved by her siblings and nieces and nephews. She passed away in February 2002, likely not knowing the identity of her mother.

I recently located a copy of Grace's birth certificate and today I'm waiting to receive a certified copy. It will be The Greatest Genealogical Find Ever for me (for the time being).

What's your version of The Greatest Genealogical Find Ever?


One Of Many said...

My personal Greatest Genealogical Find Ever was discovering a link between my tree and descendents of a Sicilian noble who opened the way to all the blue bloods of Europe.

My research in the parish records of my home town Attard came to an end when I reached the oldest registries available, bearing records of events that happened in the 1580s. Moreover, in the first twenty years after the Council of Trent, which decreed the necessity of the marriage banns before the wedding and thus the keeping of such records, it was not required to mention the father of the person involved and thus not very easy to continue the search further.

A couple of years later I was considering transcribing the research that I had made so far when I came across the MaltaGenealogy site which has listings of descendants of Maltese nobles, going even further back than the 1580s and even linking to european royalties in some cases. I thus decided to see if any of my oldest findings would link to any of these descendants. The only possible link at that time was a certain Gusmano Debono who had a son called Angelo Debono. On the site, under the De Vaccaro descendants, I found a Gusmano Debono, son of an Angelo Debono. Since it was customary to name the son after his grandfather, I had high hopes that it was the same Gusmano. Looking at my research I realised that I had not managed to find my Gusmano Debono's wedding (within which his parents would have been mentioned, thus confirming that his father WAS Angelo Debono).

So, on the next occasion, which was a Friday, I went to Attard to make another attempt at finding Gusmano's marriage to Isabella Azzopardi. Since last time I had not succeeded in finding him, I based my search on his wife, whose name Isabella was quite unpopular at the time. This search proved fruitful, with one dilemma: Gusmano was listed as Azzopardi not Debono. I looked at the details of the event, and he was listed as "Gusmano fil. qdam Angelo et Caterina Azzopardi" - meaning " Gusmano son of the late Angelo and Caterina Azzopardi". Now, I had come across this phenomenon before: sometimes, when the father is dead, the mother is listed with her MAIDEN name. Moreover, the record I was looking at was a transcription of the original, making a second mistake in transcription possible. So, my theory was this: Gusmano was listed as Azzopardi based on his mother's maiden name, not on his father's surname. But this was just my theory, an optimistic theory wanting to link to the noble De Vaccaro.

There was only one way to prove my theory: find Gusmano's birth record, so I set to the task. I was afraid his birth would have been too early to be recorded (he was married in 1601) but I was lucky: I found his birth record on the 5th page of the first volume of births! PHEW!

Was I correct?

Cosma Debono son of Angelo Debono and Caterina born on 27th September 1582....

I was of course very happy that my research had led to some interesting findings. I began filling in ancestry charts with the new ancestors - only to discover that along the way, there were marriages into other noble families - amongst them the Vassallos (my mother is a Vassallo). Following that link I discovered more ancestors, and more links, and more ancestors, until I reached 1175 when the Vassallo family married into the House of Savoy. There were no links here but I was sure I could find the Savoy family tree on the Internet. There followed a weekend of exhilarating research filling in over 60 ancestral charts full of royal ancestors, amongst whom Count Roger of Sicily, William the Conqueror and Charlemagne.

Thomas MacEntee said...

Great post - and an inspiration for my own similar post:

It seems this as turned into some sort of "meme" since many genea-bloggers are posting on the subject recently.


Thomas MacEntee

Bill West said...

Hey Craig!
Great idea. I posted my response
over on my blog. But as I said there, it's my greatest so far since the greatest will be when
and if I break down my John Cutter
West brick wall.

Bill West

Smallest Leaf said...

Thanks for the post and for the inspiration to write my own in reply to your question. My hope for a great genealogical find is called Three-generation-old questions about a coal miner's life and is posted over at Small-leaved Shamrock

Lee said...

This is a great post and a great question. Hmm...

My aunt would probably say our greatest find so far is the "true" story behind the death of her grandfather William Lee Turner. She had heard rumors of how he died, but no one in the family could (or, would) confirm the tales.

But for myself, I don't think I've found it yet. Mind you, I have found some great stuff, but nothing that *I* would say rates as "the greatest genealogical find ever."

I'll keep you posted though...;-)