Friday, February 27, 2015

Italian Foundling Surname 'la Casasanta'

Records showing various surnames for Maria
I've been doing a lot of research on my Italian branch recently and came across a perplexing situation in which I couldn't determine why one of my ancestors was seemingly going by two different surnames, and sometimes both together.

My 4th great grandmother was being listed alternately on Sulmona, Italy records for her children as Maria Fasciano, Maria la Casasanta, and Maria la Casasanta Fasciano. One even said "la Casasanta alias Fasciano." So what was her maiden name? Fasciano? la Casasanta? Or both? Why would she have an alias? I knew they were all the same woman, and not a case of her husband having two wives with the name Maria (which wouldn't be impossible in general because practically every female from this town was named Maria) because of the timeline in which the names appear and the records which listed both names. I have come across a lot of people in my tree who were given the middle name of their mother's maiden name, but in these cases, it was always just a middle name, it was never used on it's own as a surname like I was sometimes seeing in this case. So although I kept 'la Casasanta' in mind as potentially Maria's mother's maiden name, I was hesitant to commit to that idea and kept searching.

Unfortunately, Maria was born and married before the online records from Sulmona begin, and I have yet to find her death record (still searching). But I did notice that on her husband's death record, a Venanzio Fasciano is listed as one of the registrants of the death and upon closer inspection, it mentioned that he was the brother-in-law of the deceased - i.e., Maria's brother!

Record of Venanzio's birth naming his father
So then I was feeling pretty confident that her maiden name was Fasciano and la Casasanta must have been her mother's maiden name. But I go searching for more info on Venanzio just to be sure, and because in general, I want find out their parents names anyway. I find Venanzio's marriage record and a copy of his birth record in with the supporting documents for his marriage, which say his father's name is Saverio la Casasanta "alias" Fasciano, and mother's name is Maria Loreto del Rinto. Huh? So it's not the mother's maiden name, but it actually came from the father's original name who appears to have gone by the alias Fasciano? Why would he do that?

Well, I decided to Google the name and couldn't really find anything out but on a whim I popped it into Google translate, mainly because I knew Casa means House and, I thought Santa meant Holy. And I was right: it means Holy House. Like a church.

And that's when I started noticing that while browsing through the indices of the earliest records, 9 times out of 10 when I saw the surname la Casasanta, it was paired with "Unknown parents". In other words, I think infants who were abandoned at a church (aka, a foundling) would often be given the surname "la Casasanta", literally meaning "the holy house". My speculation now is that either Saverio or his father was abandoned at a church and given this surname, but Saverio also went by Fasciano to avoid the stigma of either his father or himself having obviously been abandoned at birth. If it was his father who was abandoned, Fasciano might be Saverio's mother's maiden name, which he took as an alias. Otherwise, I have no idea where Fasciano came from but you can be sure I will keep digging.

Example of someone named 'la Casasanta' whose parents are unknown

I still don't know why, of Saverio's children, one went only by Fasciano and the other by both names, sometimes together, sometimes alternately but at least I now know what the name la Casasanta means and why someone would choose to go by an alias. Unfortunately, it also probably means that at some point I'm going to hit a dead end with this branch, but hopefully I still have a lot more find.

UPDATE: I have since found Saverio's death record which says his parents were unknown. So Saverio was a foundling and the name Fasciano was either chosen at random or could also have come from the family who raised him, if they approved of him using their name. However, the lack of Fascianos in the Sulmona records suggest there was no other family in Sulmona with the name Fasciano. So it may have chosen at random to avoid the stigma of being a foundling, or to avoid confusion among so many other people with the name la Casasanta.

For more info on other foundling names, check out's article on the matter.

Resource: State Archives of L'Aquila

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Post-1922 Philadelphia Inquirer and Fulton History

Update Feb 09, 2017: Since posting this almost 2 years ago, has since added the Philadelphia Inquirer covering the years 1860-2017, but to access it, it requires the more expensive "Publisher Extra" subscription. Only Fulton History offers it for free (1860-1963) and for access to the Philadelphia Inquirer pre-1860, only offers it back to 1829.

As all genealogists know, newspapers can be a valuable resource, especially for obituaries. And as many Philadelphia researchers may know, the Philadelphia Inquirer is available at, but for a price, and only up to 1922. Equally, there's some Philly papers available at, and even some available for free at, but none of them go beyond 1922. There is one Philly paper listed at called Checkerboard which is from 1943-1977, but this may have been niche paper since I can't find any information about it. What if you're looking for an obituary from more recently than 1922? Well, you basically have two options, one online and one offline.

Your offline option is to use Chronicling America's newspaper directory, which provides a listing of holdings of nearly every newspaper up to present times. If none of the holdings are near you, you might be able to ask your library if they can order a microfilm copy of it for you.

But there is one online option and those who are familiar with it's website will understand why I'm hesitant to recommend it: Fulton History. It's free, it's digitized, and it supplies the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1860 to 1963. What's the catch? It's not user friendly so unless you already have a specific date in mind, it's not easy to find what you're looking for. If you do have a specific date, you can find PDFs to download of the Philadelphia Inquirer here. If not, there are instructions and tips on using the search engine found in the FAQ/Help section. If the person you're looking for had a unique name, you may get lucky by just typing their name into the search engine. But if you need to narrow it down to the Philadelphia Inquirer, you can do so by using these instructions:
Q. How can I just search one newspaper issue instead of the hundreds that are here? I'm getting way to many hits. A. Solution - The newspaper titles are also indexed. Use this command.... Filename contains and The title of the Paper or part of the title of the paper in the search window along with what you are searching for (you must know how the Newspaper title was entered when I scanned it... look in the index to see the way it is displayed...). 
Here is a sample Using The Boolean search type I want to search just the Newspapers from Buffalo NY for a murder trial and a person called perraton and I know it happened some time in the late 1920s or early 1930s "murder trial" and "perraton" and (Filename contains (Buffalo NY)) and (Filename Contains (1927~~1934))

Here is an example on how to search on one specific newspaper title( I will use Syracuse NY Post Standard in this example) for a range of dates (I will use 1904 through 1920) for a person named john Green and you not sure if he was using a middle initial........ First change to a Boolean search type then enter the following in the search box (ignore the quotes)  “Syracuse NY Post Standard 1904~~1920 and john w/1 Green”
The words you have written is your instruction to the search engine to find only the newspapers that have the title  Syracuse NY Post Standard and only the years 1904 (the ~~ [tilde symbol] means range of dates) through1920 and with the word john and within 1 character of the word Green ...
Boolean searching is very powerful but you must spend the time and learn how to use it. You will find a comprehensive guide for Boolean searches later in this section.

As you can see, it's still not very easy to follow. The Philadelphia Inquirer was indexed as 'Philadelphia PA Inquirer' so using the Boolean option from the drop down menu next to the search field, your search would have to look exactly like this:
"Smith" and (Filename contains (Philadelphia PA Inquirer))
You can remove the name Smith and put in whatever name you're looking for inside the quotes - first and last name or just last - but the rest of it, including the quotes, the word 'and', plus the parentheses all have to be the same for it to work. If you want to also narrow down the year range, it should be:
"Smith" and (Filename contains (Philadelphia PA Inquirer)) and (Filename contains (1923~~1963))
Obviously, adjust the year range as you need to. And again, use the Boolean search.

You also have to keep in mind that these were very probably indexed with OCR - optical character recognition - which means it was done by a computer identifying the shapes of letters and numbers. Naturally, this is very subject to error and you can wind up with an index where a capital letter 'I' or a lower case 'l' gets mistaken for the number 1. As such, you may not always be able to find the person you're looking for if their name was index in a way that doesn't even match the phonetic search (an option you can tick under the search field). So when possible, it's best to manually search the PDFs instead of using the search engine.

Good luck!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Italian Research: One Mystery Solved

Maria D'Amore 1887 Birth in Polizzi Generosa,
mentioning her unmarried parents
I had been stuck at a brick wall for a while on my Italian branch, mostly because so few Italian records are available online, at least for the regions most of my research is in. One of these brick walls was my 2nd great grandfather, Agostino D'Amore. According to family members, he was born in Sulmona, Italy on Aug 13, 1846 and as a solider, was stationed in Pachino, Sicily where he met his wife, Rosaria, and had children with her. However, his passenger list into the United States said he was born in Pachino. I decided to have a look for his birth record in Sulmona anyway, since those records are actually available online from the Italian National Archives.

I searched Sulmona's births from 1844-1848 without finding him so then I began thinking he was actually born in Sicily. First of all, it turns out that he did not meet his wife in Pachino. His wife was born in Polizzi Generosa, where their first child, Maria, was also born so I checked Polizzi's birth records (found online at for Agostino thinking maybe he was born there too, but with no luck. I also searched for his marriage to Rosaria in Polizzi in the few years before the birth of their first child with no results. Puzzled, I finally got a translation of Maria's birth record (I know enough about Italian records to extract names and dates but that's about it) and what it told me was very surprising but totally explained the problems I was having. Maria had been born out of wedlock. That explained why I couldn't find a marriage record for Agostino and Rosaria before Maria's birth!

Agostino D'Amore and Rosaria Potestio
marriage in Pachino, 1891
It also named Agostino's occupation as Carabinieri, Italian National Police. So there was some truth to the family stories. I also knew that the rest of their children had indeed been born in Pachino so sometime after Maria was born and before their next child was born, they had moved from Polizzi to Pachino. I began to become concerned that Agostino and Rosaria had never actually married but just lived in a common law marriage. After all, if they left Polizzi for Pachino to escape the scandal of having a child out of wedlock, it would have been easy for them to show up in Pachino claiming they were already married and no one would be the wiser. I had looked for the marriage in Polizzi after Maria's birth but still not found it. But I really needed a marriage record because it would tell me where Agostino was born. On his children's birth records, it only listed where he was residing at the time, not his birth location. And his death certificate from Pennsylvania didn't specify anything more than Italy.

So I crossed my fingers and ordered the microfilm for Pachino marriages during this time period because they aren't available online anywhere. I had little hope of finding it - I'd convinced myself they never married and I would never find out where Agostino was born. I also ordered the film which included Pachino births for the period he was born in hopes that his passenger list had been correct and I would find him here, even if I didn't find his marriage record. And when the films came in, I checked the births first because I had more hope of finding that than the marriage.

How wrong I was! I didn't find his birth in Pachino but I did find their marriage! Turns out they married Jan 1, 1891, about six months prior to the birth of their second child. To me, this seems to suggest that their society might have accepted one "mistake" by having a child out of wedlock but two? No, it was time to get married, and quickly because Rosaria would be starting to show soon!

Agostino D'Amore's 1849 Birth in Sulmona
Finally, the marriage record told me that Agostino had indeed been born in Sulmona, just as I originally thought! So why hadn't I found his birth record in Sulmona? Because he was born in 1849, and I'd stopped looking at 1848. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I could have avoided this whole fiasco by just searching a wider year range. However, that might have meant that I wouldn't have gotten the translation that told me their first child was born out of wedlock, an interesting little tidbit. So sometimes my stupidity has a silver lining!

My other reason for wanting to find a marriage or birth record for Agostino was to figure out his parent's names. On his death certificate, his father is listed as something that looked like Dibero or Libero and his mother was listed as "Nana", which was clearly not her name but just what her grandchildren called her. With Agostino's birth and marriage records finally found, it told his father was Liberio D'Amore and Maria Majorano. From there, I managed to search the Sulmona records to find Libero and Maria's parents and even some of their grandparents. Finally, I got past that brick wall!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Genealogy Myths

I've already discussed in the past about the myth of "My family name was changed at Ellis Island", as well as the one about how most people in history married in their teens, but I thought it might be useful to go over some other common myths associated with genealogy as well.

1. The Family Crest/Coat of Arms
I see many people adding family crests to ancestor's in their tree but the fact is, there is no such thing (sorry, Mom). A crest or coat of arms (technically two different things but I'll leave that one for now) is given to an individual by the Crown and only that individual or their descendants in the direct male line are entitled to use it. And since not everyone with the same family name is descended from that one person who was probably granted their coat of arms in medieval times or later, not everyone with the same family name is entitled to use the crest. Unless you've done the research and traced your direct lineage back to the person who was granted that specific crest, then it probably has nothing to do with your particular family. Of course, there's no crest/coat of arms police who are going to come after you to posting it to your tree, but to me, it's like attaching the wrong record to someone in my tree.

This is also the reason why you might find more than one crest for the same family name. If different individuals with the same name were granted a crest/coat of arms (and they might be a part of the same family, they might not), there will be more than one crest associated with that name. For my maiden name, there's at least six or seven different crests I could pick from, but I have no evidence my ancestors were associated with any of them.

The idea of everyone having a family crest was created during Victorian times to sell personalized letterheads with your family crest on them, and the practice continues to this day with companies selling all kinds of products branded with your personal family crest. People are so taken with this myth, I've even seen some who have had their so-called family crest tattooed on them. Let's hope they never read this, huh?

College of Arms FAQ
Crest (Heraldy)

2. The term Pennsylvania "Dutch" is a corruption of the German word for Germans "Deutsche".
An understandable common misconception given the similarity of the words but it's untrue regardless. Lots of people like to point out how the Pennsylvania Dutch are not actually Dutch but German. This is true, within the context of the current usage of the word Dutch to mean people from the Netherlands. But in the past, "Dutch" was a much more vague term that did not necessarily apply only to people from the Netherlands, it also included people from Germany and Switzerland, especially those from along the Rhine, as many Pennsylvania Dutch were. The Rhine River is mostly in Germany but also parts of the Netherlands and Switzerland. Since the term Pennsylvania Dutch was coined in colonial times, it makes sense that the more generic term for people from a range of Germanic lands was used and it has simply stuck, despite the fact that the term "Dutch" now more specifically refers to people from the Netherlands (or, if you're Joey from Friends "the make believe place where Peter Pan and Tinkerbell come from").

Wikipedia addresses this with the following:
The origins of the word Dutch, a borrowing from Middle Dutch, ultimately go back to Proto-Germanic, the ancestor of all Germanic languages, *þeudiskaz (meaning "popular/vernacular", as opposed to Latin); akin to Old Dutch dietsc, Old High German diutsch, Old English þeodisc, all meaning "(of) the common (Germanic) people". As the tribes among the Germanic peoples began to differentiate, its meaning began to change. On the continent *þeudiskaz evolved into two ways: Diets (meaning "Dutch (people)" (archaic/poetic)[3] and Deutsch (German, meaning "German (people)"). At first the English language used (the contemporary form of) Dutch to refer to any or all of the Germanic speakers on the European mainland (e.g., the Dutch, the Frisians and the various Germans). Gradually its meaning shifted to the Germanic people they had most contact with, both because of their geographical proximity, but also because of the rivalry in trade and overseas territories: the modern Dutch of the Netherlands. 
The word Dutch is also sometimes interpreted as a corruption of the Pennsylvania Dutch endonym Deitsch, which is itself a local variant of the modern German endonym Deutsch, meaning German. This folk etymology is however not supported by the historical record.
And cites it's sources as the following: (English) and Etymologisch Woordenboek van het Nederlands (Dutch) entries "Dutch" and "Diets".
Fogleman, Aaron Spencer (1996). Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717-1775. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 197. ISBN 978-0812215489. "The term "Dutch," often considered a corruption of "Deutsch", which means German, was actually not a corruption at all. It was a legitimate, well-known term used by the English in the early modern period to describe the people who lived along the Rhine. The "Low Dutch" came from the area of the present Netherlands, while the "High Dutch" came from the area of the middle and upper Rhine."
3. I have a royal/Native American ancestor.
It's not impossible, some people can legitimately trace links to such claims. And there is something to be said about pedigree collapse and the idea that all European descendants are descended from Charlemagne. But when it comes to genealogy, we're talking about traceable ancestors here, and we need reliable documents to prove descent from a particular member of the royal family or Native American. There are many bogus tree links into royal families out there, as well as many false stories about Native American ancestors. Even going back to colonial times, genealogy was riddled with fake claims to royalty, especially in the south, as detailed in Family Life in 17th- and 18th-Century America (Family Life through History) by James M. Volo, Dorothy Denneen Volo:
To maintain the integrity of the family structure, the female relatives would gather to trace the family tree from long before the rise of the Stuart kings. Intermarriage between second and third cousins was promoted to strengthen the connections within the extended family. Nowhere else in colonial American was the status of an extended family of cousins more closely followed or revered.

Yet few in the southern master's social class actually had aristocratic roots, and for some of the gentry, the need to maintain a large body of servants was greatly intensified by the lack of blood ties to some genuine form of royalty. Planters with an English heritage might claim their descent from the Cavaliers of the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. No mere followers of the Stuart kings, their planter ancestry might be derived from dukes, earls, knights, and loyal squires who had ridden at Nasby. This claim helped the planters to define themselves in historically acceptable terms. There were enough southern families with legitimate family trees of this sort-the Lees, the Fairfaxes, and the Randolphs, for instance-to maintain the "truth" of the wider fiction.
4. I possess this old photograph of my x-times great grandparent, therefore I own it and anyone who attaches a copy of it to their tree is "stealing" from me.
Unfortunately, possession is not always nine tens of the law. The truth is that unless either you or one of your ancestors who died less than 70 years ago took the photo, it is not yours. The copyrights of photographs are retained by the photographer for the duration of their life and for 70 years after their death. Upon their death, the copyright ownership is transferred to either their next of kin or whoever they might name in their will (and so on to the next generation if necessary). So unless it was a family snapshot that grandpa took of mommy (or your ancestor also happened to be a professional photographer), you probably don't own the copyright and if it's been less than 70 years since the death of the photographer who did take it, you may actually be the one breaking copyright laws. If it's be more than 70 years since the death of the photographer, the copyright has expired and the photo is actually in the public domain, so no one owns the copyright.

In the genealogy world, it's unlikely the descendant of the photographer would come after you for posting a photograph taken by their ancestor. They would have to know that this particular photo of your ancestor was taken by their ancestor who died less than 70 years ago, and be able to prove it in court. However, it is technically possible and more importantly, ethically, if one is going to get on a high horse about other people "stealing" photos from them, one better be absolutely sure they are not accidentally breaking copyright laws themselves first!

More info at The Legal Genealogist.