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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

April 18, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Going Back to Italy

Q: I know my grandmother came over from Italy to Ellis Island. I know she changed her name to Irene. But, I am unable to find when she arrived exactly. My father is deceased and my aunt and uncles are in their eighties and do not seem to remember any information. I have tried the Ellis Island web sight and searched under Russo (her maiden name) and Paolino (married name). I was able to find out that her sister, Liva, and niece, Maria Giuseppa Paolino, brother-in-law, Andrea Paolino, and her mother, Maria Lucia DiPalma, all came over December 23, 1919 on the Patria. (My grandfather's brother, Andrea, married my grandmother's sister, Liva. He made several crossing that I found). I do know that my grandfather preceded her to America. He arrived on the America Sept. 27, 1913 at 18 years old. I know that: she was born December 5, 1894 in Atella (Potenza) Italy. Her parents were Joseph Russo and Maria Lucia DiPalma. I have tried the National Archive's ship passenger arrival records but they have no record of her. I'm just looking for some help with direction. For example: If I use the letter from in Italian and want to request her birth records, who do I send the request to? -- N

A: It is always possible that your grandmother did not come through Ellis Island when she arrived in the United States. Many of us us forget that there were other ports into which immigrants were streaming while Ellis Island was in operation. It is possible that your grandmother came through Baltimore or Philadelphia. If you haven't checked these ports, you should.

When using's form letter to request genealogical information from an institution, you will need to supply some information. Some of that information comes from what you shared here, basically the name of the individual, and the date and place of the event. There are some other pieces of information, namely the record type and the relationship, that you should provide in Italian that are not supplied in the form letter.

Generally, you can state the relationship as "my ancestor." In Italian, this would be either mio antenato for a male ancestor or mia antenati for a female ancestor. The major record types you would be requesting are a birth record (l'atto di nascita), marriage record (l'atto DI matrimonia) or a death record (l'atto DI morte).

When writing to the commune of Atella, you would need to address the envelope with the following address:

Egregio Sindaco
Commune DI Atella
85020 Atella Potenza

While I supplied you with the zip code here, you may find the site I Codici DI Avviamento Postale Italiani (Italian Zip Codes) helpful for looking up other zip codes as your research takes you further into Italian records. To use this site, you must first select the correct region, which in the case of Atella is Basilicata. Then, select the link under the province and you will find a list of the communes with the appropriate zip code.

Australian Research

Q: My family has been in Australia since the mid 1800ís. I have found many sites and a lot of information on U.S. web sites but nothing on Australian web sites about Australian people. Do you know of any web sites that may be of a help for me? -- Toni

A: While it is true that there seems to be more information available to those researching their roots in the United States, there are in fact a number of sites devoted to Australian research. If you haven't done so already, you will want to visit Cyndi's List - Australia and New Zealand. This section of Cyndi's List includes links to general genealogy sites devoted to Australia and New Zealand, and then also includes sections on Libraries, Archives, Military Records, and different record types. If you haven't visited this site, you will want to check it out.

Another avenue to turn in searching for information on Australian research would be the WorldGenWeb Project. Divided into regions, one of which covers Australia, this volunteer effort has been making information available for researchers all over the world. You will find the Australian section at AustraliaGenWeb.

If you have been looking for records on Australian ancestry here at, this could explain why you feel there isn't much available. While you'll find a lot of useful information about researching in Australia, little has been published online through any of the American commercial services when it comes to Australian records. Most of what you will find will be available through volunteer avenues or through groups specific to Australia.

Prison Becoming a Professional Genealogist

Q: I am interested in a possible career in genealogy. Would you have any advice on how to get started? I would love to take some courses and have a degree, etc., but I don't know where to begin. Any suggestions would be appreciated. -- Alison

A: While anyone can "hang out their shingle" and call themselves a professional genealogist, those who succeed in the profession are those who take a pride in their work and in their own education. They do this by attending conferences and by taking various online, independent study, and other course offerings.

To begin, you'll want to look into joining the Association of Professional Genealogists. They have an impressive roster of professionals and their publication is always full of useful information on all aspects of running a genealogical business, not just on things to consider when doing the research for clients.

Ideally before becoming a professional, you should have a good number of years of experience doing your own genealogy. Personal experience combined with professional education (for example, classes and learning institutes) will make you a better researcher and a greater asset to your clients.

Finally, it is a good idea to undertake the certification process made available through the Board for Certification of Genealogists. By reading their roster, you may find that you are familiar with others who have completed, and passed, the certification process.

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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