22 November 2022

When Is a Genealogy Harvest Too Big?

Halfway through International Genealogy Loose Ends Month I faced up to a big problem. (See "Make November Genealogy Loose Ends Month.") My Family Tree Maker file is too bloated with 57,827 people. It can take 3 hours for me to compact the file, which is an important maintenance step. I have to leave my computer running overnight so my files can upload to the cloud.

Something's got to give!

Early last week I was fixing existing images in my family tree—not adding new ones. I edited every World War I and II draft card to crop out the black space. I love the results! (See "How to Improve Your Digital Genealogy Documents.") I replaced bad images with good ones of a smaller file size. That's a worthwhile task, and I planned to move on to bad census images next.

Then I remembered a loose end from earlier this year. The New York City Municipal Archives released vital records for the city's boroughs, and I have tons of relatives from the city.

You've hit the jackpot in vital records for your family tree. Can you accept them?
You've hit the jackpot in vital records for your family tree. Can you accept them?

In my family tree, whenever possible, I used the NYC vital record indexes on Ancestry.com to note certificate numbers. For example, my grandmother was born in the Bronx in 1899. In the description field for her birth, I added "Bronx birth certificate #3072." I did that for every birth, marriage, and death record from the city when possible. (See the "Day 5" section of "7 Days to a Better Family Tree.")

This past week I spent a day gathering 172 documents from the Municipal Archives' website. The most efficient way to tackle this task was to use the latest GEDCOM file exported from my family tree.

I opened my GEDCOM in a text editor and searched for:

  • Bronx birth certificate
  • Bronx death certificate
  • Bronx marriage certificate

…doing that for Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens as well. The certificates are downloadable as PDFs, but I can export the certificate from Acrobat as an image. Two-page certificates export as two images. Now I have 172 PDFs plus 309 document images!

With my Family Tree Maker file already struggling under its own weight, I'm not about to add 309 images to it. Holy cow, that would take forever anyway.

Instead, I know I have the information available whenever I need it. I can create a source citation for each certificate that includes a link to the PDF. This way, anyone who finds their relative in my tree on Ancestry can get the document for themselves.

Sticking to the True Goal of My Family Tree

I began thinking of what I could do next without adding more documents to my tree.

My family tree's goal is to help people with ancestors from any of my ancestors' hometowns. It has names, dates, and places for TONS of people. But most of those facts have no sources or documents.

To add value to my tree, I can build useful source citations that include a link to the original documents. I don't have to add the documents themselves.

But before I build my missing source citations, I have another, really big loose end. Many years ago I documented my Grandpa Leone's entire hometown of Baselice, Italy. I did this by viewing microfilmed vital records (1809–1860) at a local Family History Center. It took me about 5 years to do. (See "Why I Recorded More Than 30,000 Documents.")

All those countless facts have well-crafted but useless source citations. Why is that? Because they cite the microfilm number you would need to order from a Family History Center. And they ended their microfilm program a few years ago.

Source citations can become obsolete. I know. I had 25,000 of them in my family tree. Here's the format for the updated citations.
Source citations can become obsolete. I know. I had 25,000 of them in my family tree. Here's the format for the updated citations.

Today all the documents I was citing are available on Italy's free Antenati website. (See "How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.") It would be fantastic to rid myself of these 25,000 bad source citations and create usable ones to replace them.

In fact, I'm going to delete every one of the outdated citations in one fell swoop. Then I'll work on adding good citations. I can go to the Sources tab in Family Tree Maker and rip out all the bad source citations at once. They're gone now. The process was scary, but all is well. And it cut my 7GB file size in HALF!!

Wrapping Up "Loose Ends Month"

I'll close out November by creating or improving source citations for documents and facts already in my family tree. Then I'll return to my previous project which documents the town of Baselice after 1860.

It's been a tremendous experience focusing on loose ends this month. I'm so excited by all I found. I don't know about you, but I'd like to dedicate one week a month to genealogy loose ends. Who knows? There may come a time where everything is all tied up.

Yeah, right!

15 November 2022

How to Improve Your Digital Genealogy Documents

I've been having such a productive month tying up loose ends in my family tree and in my genealogy tasks. I discovered lots of emigrants from my ancestral Italian hometowns. Then I gathered and added tons of documents for these people, including:

  • ship manifests
  • naturalization papers
  • draft cards
  • censuses
  • death records
  • family members

It felt great to "finish" these people as much as I can. And I know the descendants I added to my family tree will help me identify DNA matches.

These people were all leads I found in my Ancestry.com shoebox. I followed through on every saved lead—more than 100—until they were all gone. And I searched for every available document I could find for each person in the shoebox.

I downloaded so many new documents during the past two weeks! But I wanted to switch things up. For my next cleanup task, I wanted to avoid downloading anything new.

That's when I remembered my unfinished work with the 1950 U.S. Federal Census. That project fits the bill. Here are my current and next genealogy loose ends to tie up. I'll bet you can relate to these.

Recent Document Collections

Two critical document collections to come out recently are the 1950 U.S. census and the 1921 U.K. census. Have you downloaded and documented the most recent census forms for your family?

I've had a folder of 50 or more 1950 census forms on my computer since their release. Now, finally, I've cropped and renamed the images. I've also added the source information to each file's properties. They're 100% ready to add to my family tree.

Working on a ton of census documents in one sitting keeps you consistent with your source citations.
Working on a bunch of census documents in one sitting keeps you consistent with your source citations.

And I know what I'll do right after that's completed.

Image Enhancement

One of my pet peeves is a ton of black space at the edges of different genealogy records we can download. You wouldn't want to print that document, would you? It'll suck up all your printer's black ink or toner.

You can get rid of that waste by using photo editing software.

You also shouldn't tolerate document images that are either too light or too dark to read. You can fix those problems before you add the images to your family tree.

In recent years I've made a habit of fixing documents as best I can before putting them in my family tree. But I have lots of older documents in my tree that need improvement. One great example is World War I draft registration cards.

Don't keep all that awful black space that comes with some genealogy documents? Crop it out!
Don't keep all that awful black space that comes with some genealogy documents? Crop it out!

There's almost always a thick black border around the image. And there's a huge black space between side one and side two of the draft card. Now I make sure to fix all that, but I have older draft cards I want to go back and replace.

To fix these draft card images:

  • Surround and select the left-hand card and move it to the top left corner of the image.
  • Surround and select the right-hand card and move it beside the left card.
  • Crop the image and adjust the contrast if needed.

Take a look at your digital document collection. I'll bet you can find a lot that need improvement.

If you know you can fix this genealogy documents, what's stopping you?
If you know you can fix this genealogy documents, what's stopping you?

These two tasks will keep me busy during this 3rd week of International Genealogy Loose Ends Month. I'm sure along the way I'll find more tasks I've been meaning to tackle. What about you?

08 November 2022

Loose Ends Month: Week 1 Successes

Last week I declared November to be International Genealogy Loose Ends Month. (See Make November Genealogy Loose Ends Month.) But first I needed 3 days to tie up a different kind of genealogy loose end!

Once I was free to start, I had my sights set on my Ancestry.com shoebox. There were 15 screens full of saved items dating back to 2007! I started with the oldest ones and immediately realized I had some treasures there.

He's Been Waiting All This Time

One of the oldest items was a ship manifest for a 19-year-old man with my maiden name: Iamarino. He was traveling with his mother, and they came from my Grandpa Iamarino's hometown. That meant they should be in my family tree.

I launched Family Tree Maker and looked for a Giuseppe Iamarino of the right age. He needed to have a mother named Libera Paolucci. There was only one choice. What a shock it was to see his photo there in my tree! You see, several months ago my dad sent me a link to a 2020 obituary for a man in Florida with our last name. He asked me if I could figure out his relationship to us, and I did. He was my 4th cousin twice removed.

Now I know when he came to America and that his parents were here, too. He started as an obituary. Now I know his whole family.

Your own notes from the past may lead to a treasure trove of documents for your family tree.
Your own notes from the past may lead to a treasure trove of documents for your family tree.

A Chance to Update Source Citations

There were a bunch of older items in my Ancestry shoebox that I'd already placed in my family tree. I decided to update the sources for those items before deleting them from my shoebox. They were so old that I'd used a very simple source citation style that I don't use anymore. I went ahead and updated each source to my new, much more specific style. (See Step-by-Step Source Citations for Your Family Tree.)

I skipped over a few older shoebox items, saving them for the end of this process. I know I can place those items in my family tree, but they need a bit more research first. For example, there's an item for a man with the last name Luciano. He isn't in my tree yet, but he was born in my other grandfather's town, so I know I can fit him in.

Follow up on your past hunches and you may discover there was more to a cousin than you ever knew.
Follow up on your past hunches and you may discover there was more to a cousin than you ever knew.

Then I spent an entire day gathering U.S. documents for my 3rd cousin 3 times removed, Giovanni. He was born in Grandpa Iamarino's hometown, and I never knew he left Italy. There were a ton of documents for him, including:

  • censuses
  • naturalization papers
  • military papers, including draft registration cards and veterans benefit applications
  • a death certificate

I built his entire U.S.-born family, some of whom may lead me to connect to DNA matches. How sad it was to learn that he died from injuries sustained in a terrible car crash. And how weird that in 1961 they called it a telegraph pole, not a telephone pole, that his car crashed into.

There Was More to His Story

Another distant cousin came to America and completed the citizenship process in 1931. For some reason he went home to Italy in 1932—and died! I already had his Italian birth and death records, and since he never married, I thought that was all there was. Now I know he came to America, following his father, to earn money. Then he decided to become a citizen, and did so.

Unfortunately I'll never know what went wrong in that last year of his life. Was he badly injured on the job? Did he become ill and want to see his mother again? That one old shoebox item filled out his life in a very unexpected way.

Picking Up a Dropped Stitch

Right now I'm working on the newest items in my shoebox. I saved them recently when I didn't feel like finishing my research on that family that day. They are ancestors of my husband's 1st cousins, all from Liverpool, England. My husband told his cousins that maybe I could connect them to the Beatles or the royal family. I doubt it, but I'll give it a try.

I'll need about another week to empty out my Ancestry shoebox. What's next? I may pull out my old notebook of ship manifest entries for people I haven't yet placed in my family tree. The notebook is from my earliest days of genealogy. Back then I wrote down the facts for anyone with a last name from my close family. Now I can figure out who everyone is.

Let me know how your International Genealogy Loose Ends Month is going. What surprises did you find? What will you tackle next?