09 August 2022

Another Way to Find Errors in Your Family Tree

I've added so many people to my family tree this year! I synchronized my Family Tree Maker (FTM) file with Ancestry on Sunday morning. It said I'd added 310 people the day before. That's a new record! I decided it was time for a thorough error check.

FTM has a built-in error report, and I wanted to compare it to that of Family Tree Analyzer. The differences surprised me. The second listing I saw on my FTM error report was for Harold Gibbons. He had a duplicate birth fact that Family Tree Analyzer didn't see.

When I took a look at Harold Gibbons in my tree, I saw both 22 Sep 1899 and 26 Sep 1899 listed as his birth date. One date came from an index of New York City births. The other came from a World War I draft registration card.

The birth index said Harold's 1899 Manhattan birth certificate number was 37387. The NYC Municipal Archives has digitized their vital records, and they're available online. So I checked to see when Harold, my cousin Rod's uncle, was really born.

This report gives a different account of the errors—or possible errors—in your family tree.
This report gives a different account of the errors—or possible errors—in your family tree.

When I saw his birth record, his name showed my first problem. The certificate says Harold T. Gibbons. (Why didn't they spell out his middle name?) The WWI draft registration card I'd saved for him says Harold Patrick Gibbons.

I checked the parents on the birth certificate to see if they were a match. Yes: John Gibbons and Lillian Lanigan are the parents I expected to find. The certificate shows the date of birth as 26 Sep 1899—that agrees with the NYC birth index, but not the WWI draft card.

Now I knew that draft card belonged to another man. Ironically, I had researched the wrong Harold's place of work. I even included a photograph of the building and a description of the business.

I deleted the draft card, building photo, and the facts for the wrong Harold. Now the right Harold's birth certificate is there to document his date and place of birth.

And that was only the first item I checked from the error report.

How to Create Your Error Report

If you use Family Tree Maker:

  • Click the Publish tab at the top of the program.
  • Click Person Reports in the left column and choose Data Errors Report.
  • Click Create Report, then click Cancel to make some enhancements:
    • Choose to include All individuals.
    • Click the first button under Data Errors Report Options to open the Errors to Include dialog box. I chose to deselect two choices:
      • Spouses have the same last name (so what?)
      • Marriage date missing (that's because the document is not available)
  • Close the dialog box, click Generate Report, and wait.

Be patient if you have a big family tree. Go have some tea and cookies.

Family Tree Maker has a built-in error report that may surprised you with its findings.
Family Tree Maker has a built-in error report that may surprised you with its findings.

My report showed a ton of duplicate marriage bann errors, but that isn't an error. I always record two marriage banns for marriages in Italy. That's their marriage process. I wanted to remove these entries from my report. I needed a spreadsheet. I clicked the Share button in the top right corner of Family Tree Maker and chose to Export to CSV file.

Open your CSV file with any spreadsheet software and sort it by error type. Then delete any lines with errors you know you don't need to fix. Then jump in and start checking errors. Delete each line you review/fix, and whittle down the number of errors to check.

If your list is really long, don't get upset. Some items will be non-errors. For example, I see I have a bunch of possible duplicate names. Some documents list a person by different names, and we want to note that. I expect to keep those.

I'm actually happy to see a group of errors that look like this:

Possible duplicate event: Name
Possible duplicate event: Sex
Possible duplicate event: Death
Possible duplicate event: Birth

These duplicates happened in 2019 when my FTM file suffered a disaster. I fix these duplicates whenever I see them, but now, finally, I can get rid of them all.

Use the error report in your family tree software and find mistakes you never knew were there.

02 August 2022

Genealogy Obsession Pays an Unexpected Dividend

I'm obsessed with my massive genealogy project. Connecting everyone from my ancestral hometowns is all I want to do! I've improved my process along the way, and today my tree has 50,000 people. (See my more efficient technique below.)

When I write about this project, some people say, "I wish I could do that, but the vital records aren't available." Others say they're now doing the same thing, and all the connections are astonishing.

How many people from one town are somehow related? It's not just an obsession. It's a legacy.
How many people from one town are somehow related? It's not just an obsession. It's a legacy.

Building an 18th–20th Century Foundation

When I add a person to my tree from the 1880s–1900s, I know they're someone's grandparents. That made me realize my project makes it easier to figure out my connection to distant DNA matches.

If you have a DNA match with a very small family tree, you may not see much more than their grandparents' names. I used to make an effort with these matches but not get very far.

Now I'm in a much better position to figure out my connection to a DNA match's grandparents. This weekend I scrolled through my match list, looking for those I hadn't figured out.

Simple notes make it easy to navigate your DNA match list.
Simple notes make it easy to navigate your DNA match list.

One after another, I found their recent ancestors in my tree, and I saw our connection. I add notes to my matches that appear on the main DNA match list on Ancestry. I can scroll down the list and see who needs more research. This weekend I added new notes, like this:

  • his 1G Maddalena Iamarino is my 3C3R, common ancestors are my double 5Gs Giovanni Iamarino and Libera Pilla
  • 5C thru shared 4Gs Giuseppantonio Basile and Maria Maddalena Tedesco
  • 3C descendant of Antonio Pilla and Angelina Iarossi, common ancestors are my 2Gs Gennaro Pilla and Maria Giuseppa Liguori
  • her 1G Gennaro Finella is my 3C3R, common ancestors are my 5Gs Giuseppe d'Emilia and Orsola Mascia

Some matches helped me see which of my distant cousins came to America and who they married.

My all-consuming genealogy project is bearing useful fruit!

Letting the Documents Lead the Way

Here's an overview of my process and how I made it work even better.

I started with my Grandpa Iamarino's hometown of Colle Sannita. Vital records for the town are available online on the Antenati website (see "How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives"). They have:

  • Birth, marriage, and death records from 1809–1860 except for 1859 deaths and marriages
  • Birth records from 1861–1904 except for 1875
  • Birth records from 1910–1915 except for 1911
  • Death and marriage records from 1931–1942 except for 1939 deaths

That's a total of 225 types of records and more than 38,000 document images.

My first step after downloading all the files was to:

  • view each document and
  • rename the jpg file with the name(s) of the subject(s).

An image named 007853875_00496.jpg now contains the names of a baby and its father:

007853875_00496 Carmine Pasquale d'Agostino di Giuseppe.jpg

The father's name ("di" means of in Italian) lets me search for all the children of any man, like Giuseppe d'Agostino. I can use a free program called Everything to search my computer for "d'Agostino di Giuseppe. (See "My Secret Weapon for Finding Relatives".)

This file-renaming process is the basis for building an entire town's family tree.
This file-renaming process is the basis for building an entire town's family tree.

The file renaming process alone was quite a task! I renamed more than 38,000 image files for this town (and tons more for my other towns). Then I was ready for the BIG project.

I created a spreadsheet with the name of each file. I go line-by-line, viewing each document again, and trying to fit the person or people into my family tree. If they fit, I mark it in my spreadsheet. And if they don't fit, I mark that, too.

I went through several years' worth of documents this way. One problem came up again and again. Some townspeople went by their middle name, making them hard to find each time they had another baby. So I made a change to the process.

If I'm adding an 1865 baby to a couple, I'll mark it on the spreadsheet. But before moving to the next line, I'll search for every other baby belonging to this couple. And if their kids' birth records have a marriage notation, I'll search for their spouses. And I'll add any of their kids. Then I'll return to the next line in my spreadsheet.

This way, couples using unexpected first names won't stump me each time they have another baby. It saves so much time when I complete their families all in one go.

Another problem I overcame was searching for a set of parents only to discover their baby is already in my tree. That was a wasted search. Here's how I fixed that problem. Before I begin another year's documents, I sort my Family Tree Maker index by birth, marriage, or death year. Then I compare the spreadsheet to the index and mark off the people I already have.

Because I complete entire families at one time, each new year I review is already 75% complete.

At this moment I'm up to the 1868 births. I have 64 folders left to go out of the 225 available. When I add 20th-century people to my family tree, it gets easier to connect with more DNA matches.

When I do get to the bottom of the spreadsheet, I'll make one more pass. I'll re-review the people I couldn't fit into my family tree. They tend to fall into 5 categories, and I want to mark them as such:

  • "Out-of-towners" who happened to have a baby or die in Grandpa's town.
  • "Old people" who died too early for me to know who their children were, or to have their parents in my tree.
  • "Too-common names"—This is usually the only child of a couple I can't ID because so many townspeople had the same names.
  • "Foundlings" who died without marrying.
  • "Possibilities"—These are people I may be able to fit into my tree after I've gone through all the documents.

About 95% of the people found in those 38,000+ document images have a connection to me. Towns in this area kept largely to themselves because travel between them was hard. And all my roots are in this area. I'll bet I can reach the same 95% connection rate with documents from my other ancestral hometowns.

Well, my retirement is fully booked. I'm in my happy place every single day. Where are you?

26 July 2022

An Easy Way to Rid Your Family Tree of Typos

Two weeks ago I explained how I use standardized comments in my family tree file. (See "How to Overcome a Town Clerk's Errors.") If a death record uses the wrong last name for the mother, I use a standard comment. In the description field for the death fact, I enter "Her mother's last name is _____ on her death record."

This shows I'm aware of the error, and I've made sure I've attached this fact to the right person.

One benefit of standardized comments is your family tree software's type-ahead feature. As you begin typing, your software will suggest what you might be about to type. It can save you from having to type the whole phrase.

Spotting Your Typos

That type-ahead feature tends to point out your past mistakes, though. You won't know where you made that typo, but you'll know it's lurking somewhere in your family tree.

There was one place where I kept seeing a past error. I knew the error came from a search-and-replace I did long ago. You see, I'd been entering people's occupations in my tree in Italian for all my Italian nationals. Then it dawned on me that I should include the English translation in parentheses, too.

One search-and-replace error had to do with the Italian word for priest—sacerdote. Somebody in my tree was something called a priest participant, or sacerdote participante. So search-and-replace turned his occupation into "sacerdote (priest) participante." Each time I add another priest by typing "sac," that error taunts me.

Finding Out Who Has the Typo

Now I know how easily I can fix these typos when I spot them. Your family tree's GEDCOM file is the quickest, easiest way to find and fix any typing errors.

Next time you see a typo in any field, use your GEDCOM file to find the culprit.
Next time you see a typo in any field, use your GEDCOM file to find the culprit.

A GEDCOM is a text file that uses a standard format any family tree program or website can read. No matter where you build your tree, you can export a GEDCOM.

I opened my GEDCOM file in my favorite text editor and searched for the mistaken priest entry. I found that it happened only once, and it was easy to see which of the 48,853 people in my tree had this error. Next I opened my Family Tree Maker file and went to Benedetto Giampieri's occupation note. I changed "sacerdote (priest) participante" to "sacerdote participante (priest participant)."

Now I'll never see that error again.

Other Uses for the Process

This process came in handy last week. When I add a marriage date to a couple in my tree, and that date came from his, her, or both their birth records, I use one of these standardized comments in the description field:

  • From his birth record.
  • From her birth record.
  • From both their birth records.

Before I decided on which exact phrase to use, I used a couple of variations. Those variations kept showing up as I typed "from his bi," "from her bi," or "from both." I was sick of seeing the variations that had no period, an extra space, or an extra word.

The only way I could see who in my tree was using those variations was to search my GEDCOM. A marriage comment poses an extra challenge in your GEDCOM file. You won't see the names of the bride and groom anywhere near this comment. You'll see their ID numbers instead.

If you see lines like this in your GEDCOM:

0 @F193@ FAM
1 HUSB @I485@
1 WIFE @I986@
1 MARR From both their birth records.
2 DATE 19 FEB 1900

…go up to the top of your GEDCOM and search for either his ID (@I485@) or hers (@I986@). That'll show you the name of the bride or groom. Then you can go into your family tree to correct the typo you found.

One of my most common typos happens when I don't take my finger off the shift key soon enough. Then I wind up with names like GIovanni, FIlomena, GIuseppe. It happens to me all the time! Now I know I can search my GEDCOM for these misspellings and others, like DOmenico, GIorgio, VIncenzo, and more.

Do you see your past mistakes when you begin typing in your family tree? Are you prone to certain kinds of typos like I am? Let your GEDCOM help you find and eradicate your mistakes forever.