Finding Your Sicilian Ancestors: Details, Details!

April 2013

  census    While perusing individual census listings, note the township, county and state where the census was taken. You can contact churches, courthouses or public offices in those localities for other records: naturalization, birth, death or marriage records, etc.

US Census questions varied over the years. Here are some that were asked in 1920.

Address: Be sure to distinguish between house number (address) and the sequence number indicating the order in which the census was taken. Street names and house numbers allow location of the actual property where your ancestor lived, and can help to find nearby churches, cemeteries, local funeral homes, schools, etc., where other records about your ancestors may exist.

Name: Remember that to search on-line or digitized census records by name, you may have to use innovative or imaginative spellings of the name. Usually the head of household’s given name and surname are listed, with only given names for the rest of the family.

Relationship to head of family: Study the family members’ names and relationship to the head. A woman with a different surname than the head may be listed as “mother-in-law”, thus giving you the “maiden” surname of the wife of the head of household. When a surname listed for a “daughter” is different from that of the head, it’s probably the married surname of the daughter.

Sex: Errors here are not uncommon. Young children with “foreign-sounding” names may have been attributed the wrong gender. So your grandfather Andrea may have been incorrectly listed as a girl, or your aunt Carmen as a boy! Use census information as a guide, not as gospel.

Age: The person’s age at last birthday. Infants’ ages may be given as years and fractions: 27/12 means the child was two years and seven months old at the time. The date when the census was taken is at the top of the page, and by subtraction, a year of birth can be calculated. Don’t be surprised if ages on the census are different than what was recorded elsewhere.

Marital status, including that of children, helps confirm previously found information. Year of immigration and country of birth help in locating passenger manifests, which may list town of birth. Notes reading al, pa, and Na stand for ‘alien’, ‘papers applied for’, and ‘Naturalized’.

Occupation is noted on the 1920 census, and also on many passenger manifests. Matching a person’s name, year of birth, occupation and year of immigration, as given on a census, with the information on a manifest can corroborate that the records are for the same person.

Make note of the other names on the census, neighbors of your ancestor. They may be his relatives or friends, and research on their backgrounds may unveil otherwise unknown information about your ancestor, or ways to find it.

The censuses prior to 1920 and those subsequent provided essentially the same information, with some variation. The 1900 census, rather than giving a person’s age, lists the month and year of birth, while the 1910 and 1930 censuses list “Number of Years Married” or “Age at First Marriage”, from which you may determine whether the couple was married in the US, or before they came here, aiding in the search for a marriage record.

Censuses, especially those of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, carry meaningful data about our immigrant ancestors, and are a valuable source of information for researchers.

Angelo Coniglio

…….. The Lady of the Wheel
Angelo Coniglio
Angelo Coniglio
Angelo F. Coniglio is a retired civil engineer and university adjunct professor. Today Angelo is a genealogy researcher and author of the historical novella The Lady of the Wheel, set in 1860s Sicily. Details on the book and information on ordering can be found at For genealogy questions, Coniglio may be contacted at Coniglio is a proud son of parents who emigrated to America from Serradifalco one hundred years ago. He has traced his family, as well as his wife's, back seven generations to the early 1700's, and each and every one was Sicilian. See his history of Sicily at Order the paperback or the Kindle version at

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    This website is intended to complement, in part, the article appearing above concerning the US Census in 1920 by Mr Coniglio. I am presenting prints of the immigrant ships, immigration arrival websites and relating arrival information to be gleaned from ships’ manifests and US government archives. If anyone has any further questions please feel free to make your requests known to me here in the Times of Sicily ( Peter Timber

  2. To whom it may concern, I am trying to find my family history, I know nothing of it, all I know is that my families last name used to be D’Angelini and that we originated from Sicily other than that I know nothing oh and yes to my knowledge me and my younger brother are the last of our bloodline, so if someone could help me I would be most grateful

  3. Joseph:

    What is your father’s name? What was your grandfather’s name? Who told you the surname was D’Angelini, and that they came from Sicily? If you can answer those questions, it may be possible to help.

    D’Angelini means “son of the little angels”, and was probably a name given to a foundling. See for information on the fate of abandoned children.

    • My late fathers name is Ricci Angel My grandfathers name whom I have never met was Fred Angel I believe and my father told me that our family had originated from Sicily that is all I know, now I did tell my father that I wanted to change my last name back to the original and he said “you don’t want to do that” and nothing further was said about it.

  4. Joseph:

    Your question is typical of some who want to research their ancestry but believe they “know nothing about it.” The key is to put down everything you DO know (for example you DID know your father’s and grandfather’s names!): the names of all the ancestors you know of; where and when they lived while alive; when (even if approximate) they lived and died; names of their siblings, children and spouses, and so on. A researcher must know more than “my family name was such-and-such” in order to properly investigate. I’ll contact you privately so that you can give me all you REALLY know.

  5. To Ricci Joseph Angel, son of Ricci Angel – if you are still looking for family, please contact me. I am your late father’s second wife and can tell you quite a bit about his family as well as your half-siblings.

    Carlene C. Johnson

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