Genealogical Research: Is there a Method to the Madness? YES
In my just completed series The Case of the Mystery Birth Certificate I started with a mystery and I just kept going down rabbit holes, searching for more puzzle pieces to help solve the mystery. I wrote the posts in real time as I worked so you can somewhat see the process. I decided it might be helpful to really dissect the research to see if it might be helpful to others. I did not use a methodical approach where I wrote a research question and then plotted each resource I would consult, rather I did what I usually do—I followed my nose. [Note: If you haven’t read the four short blog posts you should do that now before I give it away]
At the end if you want to just jump ahead I will tell you the salient points at the BOTTOM of this post. I am going to explain my process but I am also going to lists resources I checked at the end. So here is the rough chronology. My 2nd cousin who owns the diary of our shared great grandmother sends me scans of the diary on August 9th. [I had previously received the first half from him and that part is transcribed.] Over the next few days I skim some of the pages and come across the birth certificate and wonder what it is about. About the same time I happened to be working on researching my great grandmother’s whereabouts and making a chronology of where she lived when. This took me to a conversation with a distant cousin an genealogical friend which led to websites that have San Francisco City Directories. And I was able to locate the MOSIER clan in 1914-1918; not listed in 1919; 1920-1925; missing in 1926; 1927-1929; 1930 not listed etc. So I set my sites on finding Franco Giralamo and he was not listed in any of the years. That’s when I discover the birth certificate was wrong and her father was Giralamo FRANCO by searching for her mother Laura CRAVIOTTO.
In this particular circumstance I was looking for “opportunity.” I run into this a lot especially when working with adoptees or NPE’s (not Parentage Expected). You can’t generally make a child without opportunity, which means proximity. So in order to discover why my great grandmother had the birth certificate of someone completely unrelated in her diary, my first thought was to locate where they may have been together and that led to San Francisco. So back to those City Directories looking for Giralamo FRANCO. I only found him in one in 1920 in San Francisco. Here’s what my timeline looks like:
- 1886 Giralamo FRANCO b. Murialdo, Savona, Italy
- 1907 Angelo CRAVIOTTO immigrates (Laura’s father) from Calice Ligure, Savona, Italy
- 1910 Giralamo FRANCO Immigration (lists Cora DAMICO as sister)
- 1911 Eugene DAMICO City Directory gardener, Corbett Ave SF
- 1911 Carlo FRANCO Immigration (Giralamo brother) lists Giralamo & his address as 204 Alemani Ave SF
- 1913 Laura CRAVIOTTO Immigration
- 1914 Marriage Laura CRAVIOTTO & Giralamo FRANCO in San Francisco living on Corbett Ave SF
- 1915 Draft Registration for Gerlamo FRANCO 27th St & Stanford Heights SF
- 1920 Giralamo FRANCO City Directory, gardener 27th St & Stanford Heights SF
- 1921 Yolanda Rosa FRANCO birth in St Helena, CA
- 1923 Angelo CRAVIOTTO ( Laura’s brother) City Directory gardener, 27 Stanford Heights SF
- 1924 Giuseppe FRANCO (Giralam’s brother) lists Giralomo’s address as Corbett Ave SF
- 1930 Census Giralamo FRANCO St Helena-Calistoga Hwy, St Helena
- 1933 Article lists Giralamo’s address as Dunk’s St, Colma employed at several dairy ranches (his death)
- 1938 & 1939 Saint Helena Star articles mention the FRANCO children involved in 4H in Saint Helena but from San Francisco!
- 1940 Census Laura FRANCO (widow) Dunk’s St, Colma
Please note in the above list only ONE of the records is a census. I cannot find him in the 1910 Census. Note that records of friends and family often give an address for Giralamo. Note that only one listing in 1920 in the City Directories for San Francisco although he was there much of the time. YOU MUST LOOK AT ALL SORTS OF RECORDS TO DETERMINE WHERE SOMEONE LIVED and WHEN. Some of these records will NOT be for the person in question. Also note the patterns. On this map from 1915 you can see that Corbett, Stanford Heights and 27th Ave are at the same spot!
Period MAPS are VERY, VERY IMPORTANT! Always try to find a map as close to the time frame in question as you can. Giralamo FRANCO was killed by a drunk driver at the safety zone of the interurban streetcar at the intersection of San Mateo Ave and San Pedro Rd in Colma. Let’s look at the map.I have highlighted Dunks St. where the FRANCO family lived and the intersection where Giralamo was killed.
My great grandmother Lulu and the FRANCOs did not live in reasonable proximity at any time. That was a dead end. So I was back to square one after a week of research that included interviewing my neighbors, online research, and in person research at my local library. And in the end the answer came about because I was inventing stories that might have made PROXIMITY possible. One was that as a produce vendor Lulu got to know Laura FRANCO but the second one came as I was writing the first. Lulu’s health was not good—what if she came to St. Helena for her health. What if she and Laura were convalescing at the same time. That caused me to revisit the diary and find that they were indeed in St. Helena at the same time. This was consistent with the level of intimacy that having the birth certificate suggests. Now I have thought why didn’t I go directly back to the diary? I think that was a bit of serendipity that allowed for a much more complete story. So the final point is RABBIT HOLES should be welcomed. Even when they don’t inform your current research they generally educate you in other ways—which may become relevant later on in your research.
GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH MAXIMS
- Look for OPPORTUNITY & PROXIMITY.
- Look not just for your ANCESTOR but relatives and friends for clues.
- Look far beyond CENSUS to all Records that may have places your ancestor lived and when. Just because you can’t find them in a census or a City Directory it doesn’t mean they weren’t there. My list above proves that.
- Create a timeline.
- Consult multiple sources for the same record. They are indexed differently and search engines are different. You may be able to find a record at one source and not another.
- Period MAPS are VERY, VERY IMPORTANT! Always try to find a map as close to the time frame in question as you can.
- Finally trust your OWN process. Follow your hunches, venture down rabbit holes. You never know where they might lead.
- City Directories for San Francisco
- Ships Passenger Lists
- Draft Registration Cards
- Rumsey Historical Map Collection
- My Heritage
- Google (targeted searches)
- Local paper archives via Local Library
- Marriage Records
- Birth Records
- Social Security Death Records
- In person Local Histories and references at Saint Helena Library
- My great grandmother’s diary
- My neighbors
Kelly Wheaton Copyright 2021 All RIghts Reserved