Tag: Family History

Faces of NextGen: Meet Ariana Fiorello

Ariana Fiorello, 22, Massachusetts

What five words would you use to describe yourself? Passionate. Adventurous. Sympathetic. Linguistic. Fluid.

Why genealogy? Simple answer, it chose me. I was adopted just six weeks after birth. I attended schools where family projects were important. We had to do pedigree charts and Punnett squares to analyze genetics. While most kids in my class could use themselves or were solid lines on their family trees, I was a dotted line. I had many questions, but not answers. It was not until my senior year of high school that I would get to ask the questions I had been longing to ask. When I connected with my biological parents–who are not together–I learned so much. I learned so much about them and my birth. I also learned about my ancestors, and those are the stories that truly fascinated me. I had never felt connected to my African American heritage. I was raised by a single Italian American woman, who tried her best to submerge me in the African American culture, but couldn’t quite do so. At the end of the day she was Italian and we celebrated the Italian way. I now get the best of both worlds, and I love both cultures. I am a part of both. However, genealogy taught me that genealogy is not just about blood, it also about those who love and care for you and are your family. To me this is an important factor that I want to instill in some of my clients who are adopted or who don’t know who their biological parents are. Our adoptive families are our families. Those ancestors are important because without them, we would not be with the parents that we know to be mom or dad.

What’s the coolest discovery you’ve made? The coolest discovery that I have made has to do with my own personal genealogy. While sifting through some census records, I began to notice one ancestor of mine whose parents stood out. In each census record for my fourth great-grandfather, Harry Batiste, his parents were recorded as having been born in Africa. Harry’s own birth continued to fluctuate between Louisiana, Mississippi, and Africa, but his parents’ never wavered. This was a cool discovery because I was able to conclude that his parents were born in Africa, making my fourth great grandfather the closest direct ancestor that I could document back to the “motherland” of Africa. Through further research, DNA, I was able to confirm a great percent of my DNA comes from West Africa. 

What are you working on this week? While I am currently working on my book, I am also preparing to apply for the Board of Certification for Genealogists. I am studying up and making sure I have everything I need so that I can be confident and comfortable with my application choice. I am also looking into ICAPGen and am considering which region and specialty to focus on. I have many specialty interests, but I want to go in with the one I have “perfected” in a sense.

What’s the number one secret to your success in genealogy? The number one secret to my success in genealogy is passion. Genealogy is truly my passion. I don’t do it because I have to. I do it because I want to. It is something I love to do and I enjoy the looks on others faces when I divulge something new and interesting, whether it is good or bad. I don’t do genealogy for the money. I do it for the personal. I take pride in learning more about the ancestors who paved a way for me. I feel fulfilled when I can give people a sense of belonging and purposes. Genealogy is personal, but also global and I like that it connects us in unique ways.

What superpower would you want to help you uncover your family history? If I could have one superpower that would help me uncover my family history, it would be the power to automatically know maiden names. This would help me because I usually get stuck with women who marry. Sometimes there are no documents providing the maiden name, which then makes continuing the research a bit difficult. I’d also like to be able to apply this tool to others. When doing research for clients sometimes it is easier to know maiden names, especially when some clients know very little aside from their parents or grandparents.

What are we most likely to find you doing when you’re not researching family history? When I’m not researching family history, I’m usually writing about it. I am currently working on a memoir about how genealogy has affected my own life. In 2016, through writing about my genealogy, an adopted sibling reached out to me. Things went a bit crazy, and we are all still learning and processing the events that took place. Hopefully soon I will be done and will have the book published for others to read and learn from our experience.


The NextGen Genealogy Network is made up of young genealogists with diverse backgrounds, interests, and experiences. Faces of NextGen showcases a different member of our community each month. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming feature, simply complete our questionnaire and submit a selfie.

Faces of NextGen LIVE! Meet Mike Quackenbush

The NextGen Genealogy Network’s Faces of NextGen LIVE! is a new feature hosted by Education Coordinator Eric Wells. In this recorded interview, get to know Mike Quackenbush, a young genealogist from Ontario, Canada:

Want to say hello to your fellow young genealogists during a fun and informal interview with Eric? Let us know at info@tnggn.org.

Don’t forget to bookmark our YouTube Channel to keep up with the latest on Faces of NextGen LIVE!

Remembering Granny: When Secondary Sources Become Primary

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of guest posts highlighting the ways in which intergenerational connections have inspired young genealogists. To learn more about how the NextGen Genealogy Network encourages young genealogists to build connections between all generations, see the NextGen Connection Challenge


Often in family history research, we get caught up in names, dates, and places of people we never knew, but this time in my searching I found more about a connection I had to someone I knew well.

I remember growing up that my Granny, Dorothy Marie (Verbeke) Smith, was into genealogy. Unfortunately, she had died before I became deeply involved in the field myself. We never really got the chance to talk about our shared family history while she was alive. I do recall her occasionally telling stories around the dinner table about the struggles her father (my great grandfather) went through as a recent Belgian immigrant trying to start a new life in America. I was young, so I listened intently, but I never thought to write any of these stories down. I did eventually get a copy of her genealogy binder after her death, but it was mostly filled with names and dates and didn’t have any deeper details of our ancestor’s lives.

Recently, I was looking up her obituary, and when I typed her name into Google, I noticed among the search results a page that is very familiar to me from working on genealogy for others: Ancestry.com’s RootsWeb mailing list archiver. These pages are collections of mailing lists and exchanges between researchers working on particular surnames and family lines. They often provide hints, though some more useful than others, about shared ancestors and family legends. Typically, when coming across these pages through frantic Google searching of surnames and their spelling variations, I am very cautious about the information found within. These are, after all, secondary sources, and most things don’t usually provide citations other than an occasional reference to a vital record or paper tucked away in a courthouse. In fact, I spend a lot of time trying to debunk the family myths that these sites can perpetuate.

This time, however, on my screen, I saw my own granny’s old email address associated with many of these posts on RootsWeb. While her married name was common, her maiden name, Verbeke, revealed her Belgian heritage and she posted frequently looking for leads on this family in Watervliet, Belgium.

Reading through these posts, I learned about alleged family rivals between my Verbeke ancestors and the family my great grandmother eventually married into. She recounts her successes in borrowing microfilm from the Family History Library and struggles with ordering a vital record from Springfield, Illinois. From these secondary sources, I was able to learn firsthand about her quest to trace her Belgian roots. I am thankful I can now have this insight about her research even though we can never talk about it in person. These pages became primary sources that document her life and her hobby that also help me connect with her after her death through our shared enthusiasm for genealogy.

This experience was also a good reminder of how important it is to connect with older family members and document their stories the next time you see them. Something as simple as making a recording on your smartphone while talking to relatives can create new primary sources about your family’s past to preserve for future generations.


Kristin Britanik is a genealogist and digitization professional based out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At her day job, she is in charge of digitization at the Andy Warhol Museum. Previously, she worked in archival digitization for Ancestry.com and was a researcher at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. She writes on her blog at deepgenes.com.

Faces of NextGen LIVE! Meet Melanie McComb

The NextGen Genealogy Network’s Faces of NextGen LIVE! is a new feature hosted by Education Coordinator Eric Wells. In its first recorded interview, get to know Melanie McComb, a young genealogist from New York:

Want to say hello to your fellow young genealogists during a fun and informal interview with Eric? Let us know at info@tnggn.org. Don’t forget to bookmark our YouTube Channel to keep up with the latest on Faces of NextGen LIVE!