by: COURTESY PHOTO - De Carlos great-grandmother Anastasia Cervenka sits on the right with daughter Olga on her lap among other family members at an outing to Central Park. Did your family move west via the Oregon Trail? Or, like Forest Grove resident Lois Williams’ father, Elof Gustav Anderssen, arrive from Sweden by ship in Boston and take the train out west?

I knew my own family came to New York and Ohio from Italy, Bohemia (the Czech Republic), England and Wales. My New York-born father met my Ohio-born mother at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio during World War II. I only ended up coming to Oregon after my daughter and son-in-law moved here.

I was lucky. My cousin, Jack Cervenka, who still lives in New York, had traced the Czech roots back several generations. He had old photos to inspire me and names of towns — Marianski Lazne, which was famous for its hot springs, and Umonim.

My great-grandmother’s name was Anastasia, he informed me. How regal.

My father was estranged from his own father most of my life. He claimed the family came from northern Italy. I fantasized about a trip that started in the Italian Alps, where my ancestors came from, and traveling south. Then my grandfather said, no, his parents were Sicilian. He mentioned three different Italian names before he died. Which one was right? To me, it was a brick wall, and I gave up.

Hitting a brick wall is not unusual in genealogy searches, said Keith Pyeatt of Forest Grove. To get through that wall, detective-like skills are necessary. Pyeatt and his wife Darlene, have honed those skills, and know all the available resources.

They’ll teach a workshop called “How Deep are your Roots?” on March 15.

I told Pyeatt about the three Italian names. In a couple of hours, he called me. Marantona Di Carlo had been married twice. Every name was correct.

Even with his expertise, Pyeatt took a wrong fork in the road. There were two John de Carlos born in New York in 1898. But it didn’t take Pyeatt long to get back on the right track. Within a few days, he presented me with U.S. and New York state census records and the ship passenger list my Italian great-grandmother had arrived on.

John’s parents were born in Sicily, where, coincidentally, Keith Pyeatt had spent time as a missionary. I could see the actual towns my family came from using Google Earth and images, he suggested. Using addresses from the U.S. census records, I could see neighborhoods in New York. Since then, I’ve spent hours looking at winding streets in Sicily and stunning architecture in Marianski Lazne.

As I let go of romantic notions it became clear that I’d be more likely to find horse thieves than royalty. Still, there were some nice surprises, including my mother’s paternal grandfather, Thomas Clark “Parson” Nicholson, who was a professional baseball player in the late 1800s.

It turned out I had relatives on that side of the family doing some digging, too — E. Michael McCardel of Ohio even has a baseball card featuring our common ancestor.

Williams has also been digging into her family history, and found out her father came to the United States 1906 when he was just 19 years old. He arrived in Astoria, on Oct. 25, on a train from Boston.

Williams said her father always remembered the date because it was the same day the ship, Peter Iredale, ran ashore on the Clatsop Spit and was abandoned. He kept in touch with relatives in Sweden, writing letters that were kept. Several years ago, a cousin from Sweden sent the letters to Lois and her sister.

And me? I’m still dreaming about a trip to Italy. I’ll start in Sicily and take the train to Prague before heading to Staffordshire, England.

Recently, Darlene Pyeatt took participants through her own family history, showing how names were sometimes spelled differently on census records — or even changed. A little digging showed the death of a spouse and the subsequent marriage to a neighbor. With birth dates, location and names of children to verify the lineage, Darlene was able to follow the thread that would have been a substantial obstacle to me.

Records that used to require a trip to the courthouse can now often be found online. The Pyeatts offer a list of tips when searching census records:

n Always view the original record, whether a digital image online or a microfilm. Transcription and indexing errors occur for various reasons such as difficult-to-read handwriting, faded ink and damaged pages.

n Perform the same search using different websites including, and Each was created from different databases and they yield different results.

n Search by surname only or by given name only.

n Focus on unusual names.

n Reverse the order of surname and given name. Census enumerators occasionally transposed names.

n Increase the geographic search area. Ancestors are sometimes found living in unexpected places.

n When you find a person of interest on a census page, check the page before and after. Other family members may live nearby.

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