By James W. Petty
Mary sat back from her computer in frustration. Her grandfather didn’t just die; he disappeared. Her family had always been so secretive about their past. When she was a little girl and had asked for family stories, or where her ancestors had come from, the subject was quickly changed, or she was informed that it was impolite to ask such questions. She had the impression that someone in her past had been less than perfect. Now, she was finding that her ancestors seemed to be hiding from her as well.
The wunderkind of family history today is the Internet. Or is it? Rumor has it that there are “all encompassing” databases on the web that you can access for free that will give you your complete family tree – just like a pedigreed registered dog. Or so the myth goes about online family tree research.
Unfortunately, there is more fiction present on the Internet than documented fact. And the genealogy consumer must beware and be prepared to learn in-depth research skills for himself, hire a professional genealogist, or go down the primrose path. But, from a professional point of view, it is a most valuable tool that if you know how to use it and understand its limitations. Then you can get the most out of what we call Happy Hunting on the Imperfect Road of Internet Genealogy.
Recently my wife, Mary, had the following research experience while helping a frustrated novice inquirer who wanted to find “some names for temple work” and thought she could just pop on the “net” and find her family tree. Much to her chagrin, no such database existed, so Mary decided to spend some time with her to see what could be found.
During an online free research session that turned out to be a very technical 40-hour-online search, they gleaned some truth from the rocky road’s chips and gems and some new names and historical data have been added to the inquirer’s pedigree. To do so meant knowing about reputable research websites to search, how to use their database resources, understanding their limitations and interpreting the discoveries.
We have provided here a report of our findings and how we did the research – for those who want to see what we used to hike the family tree via the Internet. For the reader’s convenience we have blended Mary’s experience with the inquirer’s and called the inquiring researcher “Mary.”
But, before we start, please keep in mind the following. These tips will make the journey more pleasurable and profitable.
Professional Genealogy Insider Tips for Internet Family Tree Research
- Buyer Beware! Genealogical and historically relevant material is available on the Internet but does not come with the Good Housekeeping Seal of guaranteed documented truth.
- The beginning researcher should stick with record-based sites for doing online research. These include sites such as Ancestry.com; Heritage Quest.com; and Family Search.org. But remember their records and indexes are only as accurate as the competency of those providing the information on the records and their indexers.
- Genealogical database indexing is done by imperfect people. Remember that what you know will shape how you view and search for information. You have to be willing to think in terms of all the mistaken ways something can get put onto a record and then be indexed when you are ready to search for and find those elusive lost relatives.
- Internet research can easily fill all the hours you have to spare and then some, as you hunt for the answers to the mysteries of your family tree. You must be a real good detective to make sense of what you uncover and you must be willing to endure many, many, many unsuccessful searches. Family tree research is about spending lots of time in the records, a willingness to develop technical research skills and having a mind that loves solving puzzles.
- Leave the 21st century behind when you are looking at records of the past.
- Be sure to make copies, and document everything you discover, so you can keep track of what you find. Make a paper copy of every record you search that contains your family – you will refer to it over and over again in your Internet searches. Be sure to make a copy of where you found it! And attach this tracking information to the record so you can find it again.
- If you have a jump drive, you can save your copies there for later printing.
- Make copies of the record template where available – especially on Ancestry.com for such records as census and military records – so you will know what questions they had to answer, noting that the questions and answers can often vary due to the record, the census year, the census taker, the responder, and the data indexer’s ability to read, decipher and interpret the information.
- Information included on a record can vary and conflict with what you know and what you learn about a person or a family.
- Records created about an individual over the course of his or her lifetime can radically vary from record to record.
- Ages can vary and conflict.
- Spellings can vary and conflict.
- Sex can change from record to record.
- Note military service or lack of.
- Race can be an issue and it can be wrong.
- Family traditions and stories need to be proven with documentation.
- Do collateral searches for other family members to find your lost ancestor.
- Occupations are valuable for tracking people through time in the records that have conflicting information.
- Keep track of where your family lived, noting what street they lived on as they can often stay in the same area for years or even pass the family home onto new generations. As inevitable conflicting information will show up on other records pertaining to the family, this may help you find someone whose name or age, etc., has been lost in the database indexing or even in the original creation of the record, or through marriage.
- Ancestry.com is free through your local Family History Center or the Salt Lake Family History Library. But a year’s subscription to access their website will be cheaper in gas and time and a whole lot more fun!!!!
- Study how to use Ancestry – wild card searches really can open up your potential for success.
- Learn the differences between Ancestry’s Ranked, Exact, Soundex and Advanced searches.
- Remember there is more to Ancestry than census records.
- After you spend hours in Ancestry.com, go to FamilySearch.org and see what resources are available from the Family History Library for you to use at your local Family History Center or available online.
- FamilySearch.org is the best free genealogy site out there on the Internet – even though much of its database has been created by family tradition submission.
- The Family History Library has made a tremendous contribution to helping everyone who comes to their FamilySearch.org website and to their library system through their vast online and onsite genealogical, historical, and educational resources.
- If you have trouble finding something on Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org, see if your local library can give you free access to Heritage Quest.com. This is an excellent genealogy subscription site that is only available through libraries and societies.
- Googling in all its variations is a great way to find interesting tidbits about your family on the Internet.
The Mechanics of a Hunt
Now we are ready to see a hunt in action!
In the beginning, Mary had very little information to go on. She had last seen her mother when she was a little girl, and her father had long since passed out of her life. Mary knew her mother and father’s names. And that her grandfather Joe Lurgio of Chicago had worked in the theater.
Because all of the family were now gone and no one was available to give more details, only a few oral family traditions had been passed down that could be used to pursue research to find the hoped-for family temple names. She had heard the stories that his wife, Edna, had the same last name as a town in Utah, possibly called Layton, and her mother’s name was something like Maude Spencer.
Because she was unable to travel to Chicago where her family had lived – or to go anywhere, for that matter – Mary stayed home to travel by computer with the World Wide Web to help her with the search. Because there was no one around who could share memories of her people, she had to push forward on her own in the only way available – googling her way on the Internet and using Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.
But as soon as she began searching the “web,” she found the hunt confusing and daunting. She couldn’t just type in “Lurgio” and find her family history. Nobody had created a certified registered documented and authenticated family tree for her family. It didn’t exist! Mary would have to discover and document her own pedigree in order to find names for the temple.
This search for her true ancestry would strain at all of her known ideas about her family. It would require her to be willing to go way outside of her comfort zone to accept the imperfectness of Internet Research to discover her family on the inaccurate road of historical and genealogical records created by and for her ancestors. She put herself right into that sketchy uncertain path of Internet records and databases and searches as though she were a member of the lost family. Lurgio was an uncommon name in America, and she would have to discover her origins name by name, and event by event.
Beginning with Ancestry.com, Mary found her grandfather Joseph Lurgio in only one census on the Internet. In 1920, he appeared with his wife Edna and their daughter June, on Princeton Avenue in Chicago, Illinois; and then after that date, he was gone.
According to the 1920 census record, “Joe” Lurgio, who worked for a theatrical company, was born in Illinois in 1887, and his parents hailed from Italy. His wife Edna at 23 was also in the theater. She was born in California in 1897, and her parents were from New York and Utah. The census shows that little June Lurgio was born in Oklahoma in 1916.
Research was made more difficult because of the time period. There was no online birth record for mother June in Oklahoma, and vital records in Illinois where her grandfather was born, or California, the state where her grandmother came from, didn’t begin keeping statewide registration until after 1900. This made precious little to go on.
The search turned to finding any Lurgio families in the United States. Grandpa Joseph had been born in Illinois in 1887, according to the 1920 Illinois Federal Census, so there must have been Lurgio families around in 1900 or 1910, even on back to the later quarter of the 19th century. The Internet revealed only four Lurgio families in the country in 1910 in Ancestry’s censuses, and of these, only the family of Frank Lurgio resided in Chicago. There was no sign of Joseph.
The 1900 Census identified only one family by that name in that year in Chicago, the family of widow Angela Lurgio. Angela in 1900 was 42 years old, born June, 1857 in Italy, residing on Clark street with four children, Crazista age 16, Guiseppo 10, Pasquale 7, and Angelina, age 3 years. It appeared that there was no Joseph, but Mary knew these were Italian names and that Joseph, is Guiseppo. Here is a possibility for her Grandpa.
It was noted that Pasquale translates to Charles and Crazista – well, that is possibly a creation of her parents or the census taker. It may have been a misspelling of the name Graziata (or Grace, as it might be called in English). Collateral research could shed some light on this family member, which might add corroborating information about the Lurgio family.
Copies were made of all the searched records along with copies of the blank census forms for 1870-1930 that Ancestry provides for future research use.
The search turned again to 1910, where only the family of Frank Lurgio had been found before. This time Mary used a “wild card” search and looked for all variations of names in the Chicago area beginning with the letters “Lur*”. Quite a few names popped up, and among these was the name of Angelino Luregi.
This was a male widower, age 52, which put him close in age to the Angela Lurgio listing that had appeared in the 1900 Census. He also lived in the same census ward as Angela had. When Mary went to the actual record, she found three children, Charles, age 21, Joseph, 19, and Angelina, age 14, living with him. The ages were differed slightly from the 1900 record, but when Mary looked at the 1910 record, they were living on the same street, Clark St. as listed in the earlier census.
This new source also showed that Angelino was the mother of three living children, whereas the census in 1900 indicated that six of Angela’s eight children were living. Angelino was really Angelina and the census taker just misspelled her name.
The key, however, was in the occupations. In 1910, Joseph Luregi was an actor in a five-cent theatre. Grandpa Joseph in 1920 was also employed in the theatre. This looked like it was the same family, but that the census taker had not understood the name or information given by the family.
Mary next looked at the U.S. World War I Draft Registration, which took place in 1917 and 1918. Joseph and Charles Lurgio would have been just the right age. A search of that index on the computer revealed their papers. Joe Lurgio, a theatrical supervisor in Chicago, Illinois, stated that he was born in Chicago on January 26th, 1888. In 1917, he was living with his mother, his wife, and a three-month-old child. He was short, slender, and had brown eyes, and dark brown hair. A similar search for Charles Lurgio, revealed a Charles D. Lurgio in Toledo, Ohio, who was born in Chicago, Illinois, on Jan. 6, 1892. He was short, stout, with brown eyes, and black hair; and was working at the St. Valentine’s Theatre. There is that theater connection again!
Angela Lurgio wasn’t found in the 1920 Census, but in 1930 she possibly appeared in the 29th Ward of Chicago, Illinois, as Angelina Lurgio, age 74, in the home of Tony and Rose Cortese, her daughter. Also in the home were the Cortese children, Anthony, Angelina, Rose, Frank, and Lillian. Further research would have to be done to confirm that this Angelina is Joe Lurgio’s mother.
A Google search turned up an interesting tidbit on an Italian research site where the great grandchildren of Angelina Lurgio wrote about their ancestors Rosario and Carmela (Lurgio) Pullano, who settled in Chicago after their marriage. Carmela’s parents were Cataldo and Angelina (Calabrese) Lurgio, who came to American around 1880 from Oliveto Citra, Salerno, Italy.
While none of this is documented, interestingly enough, documentation was found in the 1900 Illinois Federal Census showing Rosario and Carmela living on Clark Street, right next door to the widow Angelina Lurgio and her four children. Records tracing this family from the Federal Illinois 1900-1930 Censuses have been copied to show how misspellings and varying ages made for many searches until the possible links were found. A further search of the World War I Draft Registration showed numerous Lurgio men living in the Chicago area who were native to Oliveto Citra, Salerno, Italy. Again, more research needs to be done to more clearly document all of these relationships, but the Internet has shown some very fascinating clues and possible family ties.
Interest moved to Edna Layton, the wife of Joseph Lurgio. Census searches were made but were negative. Mary turned to the FamilySearch.org site on the Internet. This is the official site for the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a free source for data files, and resource guides.
Searching for Joseph Lurgio, she was surprised to discover an entry for her grandfather as the husband of Edna Maude Layton, of Sevier Co., Utah. The family record, which had been submitted to the site by a niece of Edna Layton Lurgio, noted that Edna was born August 4, 1892, in Richfield, Sevier Co., Utah, the daughter of Edgar N. Layton and Maude Spencer.
Edna was married to Joseph Lurgio, and also to Julian W. Shafer. She died June 4, 1949, in California. The family record stated that Edgar Layton was born about 1867, but his birthplace and parents were unknown. He married Maude Spencer on Nov. 15, 1891 in Piute Co., Utah. She was born October 11, 1869, in Manti, Utah, to Franklin Spencer and Sarah Jane Dodd.
Besides Edna, Edgar and Maude had two other children. Son Edgar Layton died at birth on August 6, 1901. Daughter Ila Galetta Layton was born June 1, 1898, in Richfield, Utah. She was married twice, to a Mr. Pinkerton, and to Victor Hugh Knapp. Maude died April 5, 1902, while her children were still young. What a treasure trove in Family Search.org!
Mary was thrilled. Even though this was all undocumented (or family-submitted research), pieces to her family puzzle were coming together, and her history was growing. But the Internet has limitations, and Mary was reaching that point. Edgar and Maude did not appear on the 1900 Census with their two young children. Dozens of searches were made using all manner of approaches to find the family in Utah census records, but nothing worked. In 1910, Mary discovered Ila Layton living in Provo, Utah with her widowed grandmother, Sarah Jane Spencer. Also living with Sarah was her granddaughter Edna, but Edna, age 17, was listed as the wife of Henry Ivie, age 19. Here was a new marriage for Edna, prior to her marriage to Joe Lurgio.
Hunting on the Internet for her family had proven to be an imperfect road to follow. Names were often misspelled in documents, and also incorrectly entered into the online indexes. Records were incomplete, and tying families from one record to another was often based on incomplete data, that provided unsure footing. Family lineages were presented without any source information, and contained errors and contradictions. Nevertheless, the Internet was opening new pathways for Mary’s family history. She just needed to use additional records to document and accurately extend her family lines. But that would be on another hunt or two or three.
The imperfect road of internet research was grinding to a halt for Mary. To go further she would need to have research done in Chicago, and Utah. Vital records, births, marriages, and death records and immigration and naturalization records all needed to be searched, and these were not online. Probate records (wills and administrations, and guardianship records) needed to be examined to learn what happened to Joseph Lurgio’s father, and Edna’s father. The Internet didn’t provide that information. City directories needed to be examined, and property records might help connect families together. Church records, Catholic registers in Chicago, and LDS sources in Utah could provide details about the Lurgio and Layton and Spencer families.
The Internet, whether for Mary, or anyone else, is simply a resource. It is a marvelous new means for discovering many useful and important records to explore, establish and verify the family tree. Often cost and expense is required, because money is needed to develop and operate good websites.
In many cases the best websites are also business opportunities in the genealogy field. If they provide useful information and resources, the money spent can be considered money well spent. These websites provide indexes, and datafiles that save researchers many hours and hours of searching; and they often open up new opportunities that were never previously available for genealogists.
For instance, a person can now, in the touch of a few buttons, locate all of the people in America by his surname in a census record. One can also discover many other relatives by searching back to a common ancestor, without ever having corresponded with them before.
Exciting days are ahead for the Internet. Great new collections and datafiles will be added, making research easier and more complete. The imperfect road will be graded, curbed, and covered with asphalt, so to speak, as new records and systems are developed to aid genealogists in their studies. But it will take time to grow and expand, and in the meantime we recognize and use the Internet for what it can provide, and then look to other resources to help us achieve our research goals. Happy Hunting – the best is yet to be!
2006 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.