The first time I uncovered a mystery, I had just come home from the hospital (see: “Comas Come With Gifts: A Case of Misdiagnosis Continued”). I turned on my computer to find an e-mail from a distant cousin named John. This was before Facebook and before I was on Ancestry. Communication between relatives was limited to visits, phone calls, letters and e-mails (imagine that!) At that time, all of my information came from interviewing relatives and the few documents that my mother had in her possession. This e-mail from John gave me a clue that he and I needed to solve a mystery.
John, me, and my sister, Rosemary:
My uncle had told me that his mother, my grandmother, had visited her “cousins” in the 1960’s. These “cousins” were John’s grandparents. What I didn’t know, was if John’s grandparents were her first cousins or more distant cousins. If they were her first cousins, that meant that John’s great-grandfather, Giuseppe Sconzo, and my great-grandmother, Marianna Sconzo Noto (the widow of Antonino Noto, who had died in 1912), were siblings, rather than cousins. This information is needed in order to properly connect our families while mapping out our family trees. Accompanying that e-mail was an old photograph of men in top hats from about 1913. It was taken at the wedding of one of Giuseppe’s sons. John had identified most of the men in the picture. The man who was seated in the first row, furthest to the left, was identified as Agostino Noto, brother of Giuseppe’s wife, Francesca Noto.
With the information that John’s great-grandmother was a Noto, the picture revealed that Giuseppe and Marianna were siblings. Let me explain, I knew that Agostino Noto was the brother of my deceased great-grandfather, Antonino Noto. I suddenly remembered a conversation that I had had with my Aunt Mary who had since passed away. In the conversation, she had told me that a Noto brother and sister had married a Sconzo sister and brother. So this picture, connecting both families, with the existance of Agostino Noto, seated along with all the Sconzo men, proved that not only was John’s great-grandfather, Giuseppe, the brother of my great-grandmother, Marianna, but that John’s great-grandmother, Francesca, was also the sister of my great-grandfather, Antonino.
I remember seeing an image in my mind of our ancestors jumping up and down for joy in heaven. They must have been so excited to see that we had finally figured it out. Finding this connection didn’t change any facts, the facts were the same whether if we discovered them or not. But the satisfaction I felt at having solved this mystery, especially when I had come so close to death and might possibly not have returned home to see this e-mail and photograph, was bordering on euphoric. Let’s just say that this discovery hooked me on ancestry research. Yes, I was already trying to map out the family tree, but at this moment it became more of an obsession than a hobby. It was 2002 and it was much harder to find information then. It took years to do what we can now do in minutes.
With the documentation available on-line through censuses, birth, marriage, and death certificates, military records, etc., we can see that, sometimes, family memories are not always accurate. But piecing the puzzle together with the memories and the documents, combining that information with information gathered by other branches of the family tree that are reunited through Facebook, and most recently, with the ability to document DNA and find family through genetic matching, has propelled the art of mapping the family tree into the stratosphere.
My family tree now includes 4,179 individuals. Although I enjoy discovering new family members and branches, my most rewarding work ends in not just names, but stories of who they were. When I uncover the mysteries, I uncover the stories, and when I write those stories, our ancestors can “live” for generations to come.
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy