The Can of Worms: Part One

In a previous blog post I wrote about Francesca Sancetta’s journey back to Sicily when her mother passed away in Brooklyn.  Since I wrote that post, I’ve managed to dig up some more details about the family, especially the other children, and perhaps some maternal cousins as well.  And as you will see, the can of worms has officially been opened.

Rosa Tarantola, my g-g-grandmother, was born in 1867 to Vincenzo Tarantola and Francesca Calmana.  I believe she was most likely from the area around Salaparuta in Trapani Province on the western end of Sicily.  She immigrated to Brooklyn, NY, sometime around 1893, most likely bringing a child or two with her when she came.  There is some evidence that her husband, Guiseppe Sancetta, may already have been in Brooklyn, but since I have yet to find any immigration or US census records for the family, it’s a bit of a guess either way.

They settled in Brooklyn and had at least 4 more children before Rosa’s untimely death in 1905 from “consumption”, or more likely TB.  Amazingly, I have a copy of her hand-written death certificate, which states that she was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn.  And I also had a copy of a birth record for her daughter Jennie that comes from St. John’s the Evangelist in Brooklyn, so I had a couple of places to start searching.

After my extensive searches online were proving fruitless, I knew that I would need to employ some more old-fashioned techniques to kick start the research on this family.  So I got on the phone and called St. John’s.  I gave them the information I had on the family, including Rosa’s maiden name.  A few days later I received a rather excited  phone message from the woman at the church saying not only had she found four birth records for the children of Giuseppe and Rosa, but she had also found a bunch of Tarantola birth records as well from the same time frame.  Would I like her to send those as well?  Well OF COURSE I would!

I soon had a fat little envelope in my hands with a bunch of hand-copied records.  Included were the Sancetta birth records of:

  1. Francesca in 1892 (check)
  2. Vincenzo in 1894 (check)
  3. Rosalie in 1901 (who?)
  4. Carmelo in 1903 (who now?)

I sat there and sort of stared at these records for a bit.  Then I grabbed my records and started to take look.  The children’s names I know for Sancetta family are:

  1. Giovanni (John)
  2. Maria (Mary)
  3. Francesca (Frances)
  4. Vincenzo (James)
  5. Jennie
  6. Tom

So my suspicions were already that some of the children were not born in America, it seems to be confirmed by the lack of records for John and Mary, the two eldest children.  I had a suspicion already that John was not a US Citizen because I knew that he was made to serve in the Italian Army, while the other two brothers were not, perhaps due to their citizenship status?  A question for the future.  And Mary, who stayed in the US and was potentially married already when her mother died, is still a bit of a mystery but it would make sense that she also was not born here, and was able to stay because of her marriage.  So that’s another question for the future.

So, moving on: right away I suspected that Carmelo must be our Tom as the year of the birth on the certificate matched my record for Tom.  Perhaps Tom was his baptismal name or a name he chose for himself after he came back to America?  When I plugged in Carmelo instead of Tom on his Ancestry entry, up popped that little hint leaf and bam!  I had the 1930 and 1940 census records appear and I knew it had to be him.  Plus, I remembered I had a picture of a young man that was sent to my g-grandmother “with love from your brother” in Sicily.  The name signed on the picture was “Carmelo”.  Bingo.  Carmelo is who we knew as Tom.

But now I’ll get to the can of worms: Who was Rosalie?  Is she my g-grandmother?  Is it possible that the random stories I had heard over the years were all coming together now to point out the truth?  Were Rosalie and Jennie the same person?  My heart skipped a beat with excitement and…dread.

The reason I had a feeling of dread is that if Rosalie and Jennie are the same person, then the date of her birth, 1901, does not compute for me.  Jennie married her husband, Frank Natole, in 1909.  And their first child, Angeline, was born in 1910.  If Rosalie and Jennie are the same person, then the first child would have been born before she 10 years old!  While this is possible, it is (I sure hope) likely NOT the case.  I do know that Jennie was much younger than her husband, but this seems extreme.

I want to stop here and say one thing:  I am not going to sugar coat what I find to be true.  This entire situation warrants more investigation, but I realize that it can be painful to some if we find out that she was as young as the birth certificate says she may be.  I am personally hoping to find strong proof that she was older, but I know that times were different then and, however unsavory for our modern day morals to accept, this kind of thing did happen.

So, here is some of the evidence I have for both sides.  First, and scarily enough, there was a story that when my grandparents called “back East” to tell the Sancetta family of the death of Jennie in 1959, the family did not know her as Jennie, but rather as “Rose”.  It could be that someone has a story confused here, but that is what I have been told.  If, going by the Carmelo/Tom example, the family knew her as Rose perhaps it was because Rose was her middle, or confirmation, name.  Vincenza would be a legit family name and can be Anglicised to “Jennifer” or Jennie.  However, it can go the other way too and perhaps her real name was Rose Vinzenza (Jennie).

Second, Jennie herself never knew when her birthday was.  For some legal reason, she needed to get a birth record for herself from St. John’s, but she never was sent the correct record.  They kept sending her her brother Vincenzo’s certificate with the name changed to “Vincenza”, perhaps because she was telling them her name in Italian was Vincenza.  And I had the same exact trouble when I attempted to find a birth certificate for her as well.  Additionally, my grandmother tells me that my grandfather used to say Jennie’s children teased her for “getting married when she was 10”.  Which does not bode well for Rosalie being a different person.

Third, the wedding photo.  I was told that Frank and Jennie married in 1909 and I have a wedding photo that shows them as a young couple.  Jennie looks young here, there is no doubt.  But to me at least she looks to at least be a young teenager.  She was always a tiny woman, just 4’9″ tall when my grandmother knew her.  Her husband was much taller.  If she was as young as is possible, then they did an excellent job of making her look more like a young adult than a child.  Judge for yourself:

Frank Natole and Jennie Sancetta

Frank Natole and Jennie Sancetta


Now there are a couple of possibilities here that I’ve thought of, which of course I will need to research further.  One idea is this photo was taken later than I think, and perhaps they did not marry as early as I have been told.  This does not solve the problem of the first child being born in 1910 though.  Another idea is perhaps Jennie married Frank later and the first two children were from a previous relationship.  Or, perhaps they were married after some of the children had already been born?  Protocol of those days would probably frown heavily on that.  And to be honest I cannot see that being the case.  The trouble is this: I still do not have a marriage record for them, and I do not have clear proof of Jennie’s age at marriage.  And until I do I cannot possibly know what happened more than 100 years ago.

What’s next?  Well, besides the marriage record, I need to see if I can find any record of a confirmation for Jennie.  I actually didn’t mention something that is important: Jennie moved in with her sister Mary Sancetta Iacono when the rest of her family departed for Sicily.  I am unsure if the family moved to Minnesota right away or stayed in Brooklyn for a time.  I do know that the photo above was taken in Minneapolis, so it seems that they had moved here by at least 1909.  So if there was a chance that Jennie was confirmed it would most likely have been in Minnesota.  That’s a big “if” of course.  Also, I still have to find the birth certificates for all of Frank and Jennie’s children to confirm their birth dates and parents.  Feelings aside, what is important to me is that I knew all but one of Jennie’s children, and when asked they all said they loved their mother to no end and she was a loving and wonderful person.  And as I dig through that can of worms, that is what I will keep close to my heart.

Next time: What did I discover in the Tarantola records I received, what did I find at the cemetery and what new can of worms was opened?  To be continued…


Given and Chosen Names: The Kornbergs

As some of you may have guessed, I live in the Frozen North.  And up here we have something called “January” which is usually a mix of freezing temperatures, low humidity, and lots and lots of snow.  I prefer at this time of the year to think of my homeland as a “White Desert”.  And this January has more than lived up to the reputation.

Even though it’s now halfway through February, the White Desert still persists, and I find that I have little to no motivation to do any genealogy work.  But, even in this lull, I did find out some interesting things about my Scandinavian great-great-grandparents.  And I’ve discovered that just because you think you know someone’s name in your family tree, you may still come across a surprise or two when you’re doing research.

The Kornbergs

My great-great-grandparents are known to me as Hannah Olsdotter and Gunder Kornberg.  Now, if you know anything about the Swedes and Norwegians, you know that they had very different naming conventions than we do today.  Hannah’s last name is a combination of the first name of her father, Ole, and the Swedish word for “daughter”.  Now, I’m not exactly sure how to spell her last name, Olsdotter comes from a sign I saw in the American Swedish Institute.  But maybe she spelled it “Olesdatter”, “Olesdottir”, “Olsdatter”…you can see why this becomes a problem.  I have yet to find any record of her before she was married because of her strange last name, a name that up here is rather common, and spelled various ways.

Gunder Kornberg is an entirely different matter along the same vein.  We know that his last name in Norway was not Kornberg.  But I have no idea what his name really was!  Kornberg may have come from a farm, his profession, some random change made when he came to America, perhaps through Ellis Island or Boston.  I have yet to find his immigration record.  This may be because the name on the ship manifest and the name he took in America could be completely different.  Top that by the census records I’ve found that state that his date of immigration was anything between 1879 and 1890.  Well, you can bet I’ll keep looking but so far he’s been another dead end.

Now, I do some faith that year of their marriage is accurate since almost all the census records point to the year as 1887.  But I’m not sure where they were married.  My grandmother thinks they were married here, but I have yet to find a record that corresponds.  I’m not sure if they were married in Minnesota, in Wisconsin, or somewhere else in the US.  I’m hoping that perhaps the record is just not yet digitized and it will magically appear one day in my Ancestry account, or on the Minnesota History Center website.

Another thing I do know is that, after they were married and had two children, they took the family back to Norway for a “visit”.  Gunder apparently wanted to stay there, but Hannah put her foot down and they did eventually come back here (good thing they did or I would not exist!).  While they were away, their third child, Howard, was born in 1892 either on the ship to Norway, or in Norway itself.  Ever the comedian, my grandmother says Howard used to love to say how he “remembered Norway so clearly” even though he was just an infant when he was there.  Since I know that the next child, Alma Florence, was born in Minnesota in 1894, so they must have come back here between 1892 and 1894.  But…can I find a record?  Not yet.  Very, very frustrating indeed.

Which takes me to the next item (or back to it): Census records.  In Minnesota there were Territorial Censuses taken in 1895 and 1905, along with regular US census records.  So far I have not been able to spot them on the 1895 census.  In the 1900 census they show up under the name “Cornberg”.  In 1905, the same spelling.  And in 1910 they switch over to the “Kornberg” spelling.


So, what do I do now?  Start searching for variations of Cornberg!  Cornberg, Cronberg, Cornberger, Corn.  And what do I find?  Nothing more.  *sigh*

BUT, and here’s where everything starts to get even more strange, I do start getting hits on birth records for the family.  Do they have the same names as they do on the censuses?  NO.  Edward, it turns out, was born “Einer Oliver Kornberg” on 11 Jun 1888 in Minnesota, with parents named as Gunster and Hanna.  And Alma Florence?  Was born as “Emily Vendla Cornberg” on 8 Sept 1894 in Minnesota, parents are listed as Gunder and Hanna Cornberg.  Why didn’t the family continue to call these two children Einer and Emily?  No clue!  Census records show them as Edward and Alma going forward.  This may be a mystery I never solve.

I haven’t yet found the other children.  I’m dying to see what their names were though!  Was my g-grandmother Edith really “Edna”?  Was Leonard really “Lars”?  Well, that remains to be seen.

OK, but I digress.  I write about this today to demonstrate how strange genealogical research can be, and how you absolutely have to keep your eyes open for things that do not seem to fit at first.  And also be ready to hit dead ends with grace.  While I have been frustrated for years by this family, I’ve also been rewarded by being patient and waiting for the right record to come along.  Gunder and Hannah, Einer/Edward and Emily/Alma were real people who lived real lives, regardless of their names.  They live in my grandmother’s memory, as well as in mine because she told me about them.  And I know someday I will finally discover their origins and know where my family came from in Norway and Sweden.  I just need to have a little patience.  And luck.  And patience.

Clutter in the Family Tree

I wanted to post a quick hello to my followers old and new, and assure you that I have not dropped off the map.  I’m currently in the middle of some pretty exciting research into my Sicilian and Czech lines respectively, and hope to have some good information to share about these latest adventures.

In the meantime, here’s something to think about while I’m off in research mode: Clutter in the Family Tree.

When you are a new family tree researcher, or perhaps even after years of research experience, it is sometimes tempting to enter some information into your tree that you’re just not quite sure about.  You hope someday you’ll return to clean it up, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t always happen.  If you’re anything like me, you’re guilty of this.  And it’s bad.  And I’ll tell you why.

Clutter in the family tree is the same as in your home.  In my house every flat surface has something on it.  It’s almost as if I cannot leave a flat surface bare!  If I don’t stay on top of it, the flat surface soon hosts a pile of mail, shopping bags, kitty toys, mittens (it gets cold where I am baby!).  Soon when I come home I can’t find a spot to set down my purse!  And I really need to set that purse down because it is heavy!  And necessary!  And proven to be the real deal!  And it’s cute!  It has proven itself to be worthy of a flat surface to rest upon.

The same principle applies to your family tree.  If you allow the clutter to accumulate, soon you will not be able to find a flat surface to set the correct information on.

I have this issue in my own tree.  A long time ago I put down the name of a woman who I thought was my ancestor’s husband.  Soon I added children to the marriage because I knew they were her children but not really sure if they were his.  Now, going back it turns out that this woman was not married to my ancestor at all!  And now I have managed to put this bad information into my own tree, but also am truly not sure where else this bad information may have been posted!  It is going to take a heroic effort to clean up this “pile” of bad information.  And unlike some who may just let it be, I feel the obligation to go back and try my best to correct this bad data as best I can.  What a mess.

Now that I’m more experienced, do I still allow clutter to be added to my tree?  I try not to, but certainly I am guilty of wanting to add people or connections to my tree that may not be proved.  But now what I do is I create an “alternate” tree starting with the clutter and when I confirm that this is correct, I can add it back into my main tree.  And my main tree is hopefully, going forward, the source of my truth on the subject.

When in doubt, do not add.  Leave names, dates, places, anything blank until you have proven the fact to yourself through good primary sources and good research.  It’s OK to leave a blank surface.

Oh, and go clean off your kitchen table while you’re at it.