Tarentum genealogist unearths family roots for herself, others

| Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

On a trip to Ireland, a tourist may want to kiss the Blarney Stone. When in Italy, a visitor may want to spend time in one of its famed piazzas.

But not Louise Stanzione.

When visiting those countries, she was excited about the prospect of delving into town archives and strolling through old cemeteries.

That's because the Tarentum genealogist wanted to dig deep into family history. When she did, she hit upon valuable information and made priceless connections.

“It enabled me to live,” she said of the journey.

As the president of the Tarentum Genealogical Society for about six years and a charter member of the group, Stanzione has been a part of efforts to collect family history resources and share that knowledge with the public since the society was founded three decades ago.

Stanzione has also volunteered to be part of classes at Highlands Middle School, where she helped students research their own family history.

“I started early enough to know you have to go to the primary source for some of this stuff,” she said. “There's a lot of legwork involved.”

That legwork began in the 1970s with efforts to hunt down information about her great-grandfather, William Bradley. According to family lore, the Brackenridge resident was part of a Civil War unit with a notable member — a terrier named “Dog Jack”. Researching at Pittsburgh's Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, she discovered her grandfather was in a different unit. Her pursuit of the past, of course, didn't stop there.

Stanzione helped to build up the genealogical society, which, she notes, offers access to some very good historical resources. Among them are records available to those in the greater Pittsburgh region only through the society's collection and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's main location in Oakland.

“There are some items in our collection where they have one copy and we have the other,” she said, adding that in a few cases, the society may own the only copy of a book or record around.

The group doesn't only house resources, such as death records, microfilm newspaper archives and maps. Its members also do research for those curious about the past and, with other local genealogical groups, host an annual conference at New Kensington's Clarion Hotel.

Her efforts evolved into a part-time position at the Community Library of Allegheny Valley branch in Tarentum, which houses some of the genealogical society's collection.

“The study of genealogy cannot be separated from the study of local history,” she said. “In America, it is the rare immigrant family that stayed in the location where they arrived.”

Reasons why they left their countries, she added, were cultural, agricultural, business-related and political. When returning to her family's own European origins in 2011, Stanzione connected with the past.

In Ireland, a record keeper shared with Stanzione a fascinating item, the lease of Patrick Byrne, her earliest-known Irish ancestor. The extensive document was handwritten on sheepskin.

In Italy she discovered that descendants of her family still lived in the house where her grandfather, Luigi Falleroni was born. There, she even got the chance to pick grapes with distant relatives in their vineyard.

Satisfied with her own search, Stanzione is happy to help others take the first steps of their own genealogy journeys.

“I saw everything I wanted to see,” she said. “And now I just like helping people do this stuff so they can get a big kick out of it like I did.”

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