Friday, August 17, 2018

The Single Best Technique for Reading Old Genealogy Records: Immersion

You may have started dabbling in genealogy years ago or months ago. Think back to the first documents you found for your family. What was the toughest hurdle for you?

For most people, it's the handwriting—and for some of us, the handwriting in a foreign language.

Do not let that slow you down! Every day I see people requesting document translations in Facebook genealogy groups. And there are always people ready to jump in to help. I'm one of them.

But we don't type out the translation because we're fluent in the other language. Or because we were raised to read and write in an old-fashioned style.

No. We can read and understand these birth, marriage and death records, census forms, ship manifests and more because we swim in them every day.

I've written articles about understanding foreign-language documents before. You'll find them at the bottom of this article. Much like "The Blues Brothers", I'm "on a mission from God." My mission: To throw you into the old-fashioned and foreign handwriting water and show you that you can swim!

Ten years ago this document was a ball of confusion. No it's all painfully obvious to me.
Ten years ago this document was a ball of confusion. No it's all painfully obvious to me.

A few days ago I realized the power of the immersion technique. I was hunting through some very old email I'd saved, trying to find the source document for some people in my tree. In a 10-year-old email, I found an 1886 parish marriage document for someone with my maiden name.

My reply to the email surprised me. I asked my friend, "Why are there so many names on this document? What does it all mean? Who are they all?"

As I look at the document now, it's perfectly obvious who they all are. They are the groom and his parents, the bride and her parents, and the witnesses.

Why was I confused by that? The answer is simple. Ten years ago I hadn't seen any 19th-century Italian marriage documents. Now I've viewed and transcribed thousands of them.

Familiarity is the main thing you need. You do not need to know the translation for each word on the page. You need to know the key words for things like:
  • born
  • died
  • son/daughter
  • husband/wife/widow
  • dates/numbers
Below are 4 articles with links to resources for helping you understand those old documents.

The single best technique for reading old genealogy documents is to expose yourself to lots and lots of them. Looking for your 2nd great grandmother's birth record? Look at the other documents before and after hers. Use them to help you figure out that one word or letter you cannot decipher.

You'll also see for yourself which names are common in the town. After you see it written 10 times, that difficult last name becomes so easy to pick out.

The obstacle of foreign languages and old-fashioned handwriting will disappear.

Use the tools available to you. Spend time looking closely at similar documents. Familiarity is your best teacher. You can do this!


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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

This Genealogy Report Shows You What's Missing

How would you like a tool that shows you exactly which census forms you haven't found for each person in your family tree?

Sound like a time-saver? You'd better believe it is. Let's take a look at the Census Report tool in the free software program, Family Tree Analyzer (FTA). (See their website for the free download and their Facebook page for support.)

This is a simple process of (1) open file, (2) run report, (3) work with your results.

Before You Start
An approximate birth year and country of birth will give you the best results.
An approximate birth year and country of birth will
give you the best results.
Learn from my experience and get better results:
  • Enter an estimated birth date for everyone in your tree. When you don't know someone's date, make them about 25 years older than the oldest child you've found for them. There's a big difference when searching for someone born in 1850 vs. 1900.
  • Enter a country of birth and death whenever possible. Say you've researched several generations of a family and they stayed in one area. If someone's children never emigrated, assume the person was born and died in that country. Add a note that this is not verified.

Now the FTA Census Report will be much smarter and you'll need to do very little editing of your Census Report.

Open Your Data File

Once you install FTA, all you need is your tree's latest GEDCOM file (see the definition). Check your software's File menu for an Export option. If your tree is on Ancestry.com, but not on desktop software, go to your Tree Settings online. Find the green Export tree button. Some websites believe in one shared tree. That means you don't have full control of your tree, and you cannot download a GEDCOM. The control freak in me can't imagine going that route.

Note: This program is not available for the Mac yet. So put the program and your GEDCOM on a thumb drive, and go visit someone else's PC.

Launch FTA and open your GEDCOM file.

Run the Census Report

To run a report showing which census records you're missing:

Make 2 selections, and click to run the report.
Make 2 selections and click "Show Missing from Census" to run the report.
  1. Click the Census tab at the top.
  2. Check the boxes for the Relationship Types you'd like to include in your report:
    • Direct Ancestors
    • Blood Relations
    • Related by Marriage
    • Married to Blood or Direct
    • Unknown
  3. Choose a census report from the Census Date menu. You'll find:
    • UK Censuses from 1841–1911
    • the UK National Register of 1939
    • Ireland Censuses for 1901 and 1911
    • US Federal Censuses from 1790–1940
    • Canadian Censuses from 1851–1921
    • Scottish Valuation Rolls from 1865–1925
  4. Click the button labelled Show Missing from Census. Your report will open in a new window.
Your report is ready to export to Excel.
Your report is ready to export to Excel. Notice the status line at the bottom of the report. You can double-click an entry from this report view to go to FamilySearch and find the census you're missing.
FTA is smart. It knows if someone in your tree was alive and living in the right country for a particular census. By default, it doesn't search for anyone over the age of 90, but you can change that.

Now that you have the report, click the Excel icon at the top of the report window. Save the file to your computer in the default CSV (Comma-Separated Values) format. Now go back to step 1 and repeat the process for each census year you need.

Analyze Your Results

Now it's time to work with the data. I found a small number of people who didn't belong in this report. So before you start working through people one line at a time, let's check a few things.

To work with your report more easily, hide the spreadsheet columns you don't need right now. To hide a column, click the letter at the top of the column, like G. This will select the whole column. Then right-click the selected column and choose Hide from the menu.

The most important columns to keep visible are:
  • CensusName (a married woman's maiden name is in parentheses)
  • Age
  • BirthDate
  • BirthLocation
  • DeathDate
  • DeathLocation

The first people I'll look for have a birth location and death location in another country. I see only a couple of people who match this description. The first one is a familiar name: Domenico Sarracino. I know he never came to America, so I can remove him from this report.

Next I want to remove everyone with an unknown birth and death date. I know that in my family tree, these are most likely relatives of relatives. I might know nothing beyond their names. They shouldn't be my focus, so I'll remove them from my spreadsheet.

Finally, I'll sort the entire spreadsheet by the CensusName column. Now I can scroll through the names and remove duplicates. I found about 15 people who appeared to be duplicates with the same name and birth date.

One more step. For each name in the spreadsheet, I'll check their entry in my family tree. I quickly spot some more who I know never came to America.

The reason FTA doesn't know they never left Italy is that my birth and death dates don't always say they were born or died in Italy. I didn't want to make that assumption, but now I think I'd better. When it's a safe assumption, I'll put in the country and add a note that this is not confirmed.

More lines deleted.

Now I have a list of 120 people who need me to find them in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. That may sound like a lot of people, but my family tree has almost 20,000 people. It's about 0.6% of my total tree. That sounds manageable. And finding those missing census forms will make my tree that much more valuable.

I'm ready to begin searching for those census sheets. I'll whittle down my list as I go, keeping track of my progress. Then it's on to the census reports for 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940.

Go Fill in the Blanks

Now you're ready to make targeted searches for those missing census sheets. Family Tree Analyzer is a must-have if you want to make your family tree your legacy.

Want a cheap thrill? When you're done, create a new GEDCOM and run the report again. Look at your results!


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Friday, August 10, 2018

6 Ways to Add Another Generation to Your Family Tree

When you started building your family tree, you may have known only your 4 grandparents' names. What fun it is each time you discover a relative's parents' names. You've added another generation to your tree!

Here are 6 places to look for the names of that previous generation. Some may surprise you.

1. Census Sheets

Look closely at each member of your relative's household in each census. You may find the Head of Household's mother, father, mother-in-law, or father-in-law living with the family. The best find is the male head of household's father-in-law. Now you've got the wife's maiden name!

2. Draft Registration Cards

If your male relative was single and the right age, his draft registered card may name his father or mother as his nearest relative. In this example, Tony Jr. is not his real name—it's Anton Jr. But this card is evidence that he is, in fact, named after his father.

The draft registration card for a single man may give you his mother or father's name.
The draft registration card for a single man may give you his mother or father's name.

I'd heard stories about "Uncle Anton" from my mother-in-law. When I found this card, I realized his father's name was Anton, too.

3. Ship Manifests

If your ancestor emigrated during a particular span of years, you're lucky. Their ship manifest may include a column labelled, "The name and complete address of nearest relative or friend in country whence alien came."

Your relative may give the name of their spouse. But an unmarried traveler may name their father or mother.

Your immigrant ancestor's ship manifest can tell you their hometown - and their parent's name.
Your immigrant ancestor's ship manifest can tell you their hometown—and their parent's name.

You may not understand this scribble, but this is my grandfather Adamo naming his father Giovanni as the relative he's leaving in his town of Baselice.

4. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

A while ago I found a collection on Ancestry.com called "U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1935-2007".

If your relative worked in the United States after the 1935 founding of the Social Security Administration, they should have Social Security records. Hopefully you're already familiar with the SSDI—the Social Security Death Index. That can give you dates and places of birth and death.

But the Applications and Claims Index can give you much more! With some luck, you can learn the decedent's father's name and their mother's maiden name.

Plus, if you're looking up a female relative by her birth date, you can learn her married name.

5. Passport Applications

If your relative was a U.S. citizen going to another country at a certain time, they needed a passport. These applications can be a treasure trove. And you even get a photo.

Here's some of what you might learn about your relative:
  • birth date and place
  • address
  • occupation
  • father's name, birth date or age, birthplace and address
  • wife's name
If the applicant is a married woman, you'll get details about her husband rather than her father.

A passport application provides lots of names, dates and places you need.
A passport application provides lots of names, dates and places you need.

This example is from a relative named Walter Smith. It provides birth dates and countries for Walter, his wife Elizabeth, and his father George. It also says when he sailed from Liverpool to the U.S., and on which ship. The next page has photos of Walter and Elizabeth.

That's some valuable info when you're researching a guy named Smith!

6. Vital Records

Of course all genealogy fans want to find their ancestor's birth, marriage and death records. Keep in mind that:
  • The parents' names on a birth record should be pretty reliable. But either parent may be using a nickname rather than their true, full name.
  • All information on a death record is obviously supplied by someone other than the person who died. What if the decedent is an 85-year-old who was born in another country? Will their child, who's supplying the information, know the correct spelling of their grandparents' names? What if they never even met those grandparents?
  • If the couple getting married is pretty young, you can have more confidence in how they list their parents' names. (The "nickname" rule still applies.) But if the couple is older—2 widows getting remarried—the information is more likely to have an error.
  • If your couple got married in the same little town where they were born and raised, the clerk writing the names is more likely to get them right.

The lesson to take away is this: Don't give up on that previous generation if you can't get your relative's vital records. You have 5 other types of records to find, each of which can help you fortify your family tree.


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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

5 Things to Learn from Your Ancestor's Yearbook

My father-in-law, center, as a tough 17-year-old student.
My father-in-law, center, as a tough
17-year-old student.
I hope your ancestors weren't like me. In high school I didn't join any clubs, and I played no sports. My yearbooks won't tell you much about me. Except that I'm a nerd because I was in the National Honor Society.

When my husband (the former high school track star) told me about all the sports his father Ben played, I wanted to find Ben's yearbook. So I searched Ancestry.com and found the 1934 yearbook from Sanger High School in California. That was the year Ben's older brother Abe was a senior, Ben was a junior, and their brother Bill was a freshman.

If you can find your ancestor's high school yearbook, here are 5 key things to look for.

1. Which Sports They Played

I found photos of all 3 brothers on different teams:
  • Abe played basketball and ran track.
  • Ben played basketball, ran track, and played football.
  • Bill played basketball and ran track.
Their faces in each sports photo told me a lot, too. Ben looked determined and angry—nothing like the kind man I knew. Abe looked confident and pleasant. Bill looked sweet and shy.

2. Which Clubs They Joined

Bill grew up to be an accountant, so we weren't surprised to find him in the Scholarship Society and the Latin Club. But finding Abe there with his little brother in the Latin Club was a surprise. We think Ben was too busy with sports to pick a club.

My husband's uncles, Bill and Abe, standing together in the back row of the Latin Club.
My husband's uncles, Bill and Abe, standing together in the back row of the Latin Club.
Maybe your ancestor was in all the school plays. Does that match what you know about them?

3. Who Their Friends Were

In my own high school yearbook the seniors included a quote or a few words. My words seem like utter nonsense. But if you read what everyone wrote, it becomes clear who my closest friends were. We all used the same bizarre phrases.

Look at the candid photos, too. If you find your ancestor goofing around with some other students, try to find them in a class photo and identify them.

4. What Ambitions They Had

In some yearbooks, seniors will write what their plans are. They may say where they're going to college and what they'll study. Maybe they're joining the military. Or they may say which trade or profession they're about to start.

Will you be surprised by what your ancestor was planning to do?

5. What Their Community Was Like

My father-in-law's yearbook includes advertisements from several local businesses. The names of the businesses and their owners reflect a variety of ethnicities. Yet they don't match what I see in the student photographs.

The Sanger High School students in 1934 were about 45% Japanese, 20% Armenian, and a mix of English, Irish and Scandinavian. Of course I spotted the one Italian kid.

My husband's Uncle Abe and father Ben on a pretty short basketball team.
My husband's Uncle Abe and father Ben on a pretty short basketball team.
It may tell you something about your ancestor if you learn they were in a small minority. Or that they were part of a large group.

More than all these facts, it's the photos I'm thrilled by. I love having so many never-before-seen photos of my father-in-law and 2 of his brothers as teenagers.

If you can access Ancestry.com, search for their "U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1990" collection. There's also Classmates.com and other sites that may have what you need.

Ancestry has 3 of my father's Bronx, New York, yearbooks, and now I know he was in the school band with my godfather—his future wife's 1st cousin. How cool a discovery is that?


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Friday, August 3, 2018

A Genealogy Challenge You'll Love

The 1st good clue in my challenge: naturalization papers.
The 1st good clue in my challenge:
naturalization papers.
What if a simple genealogy challenge could:
  • Show you how good your genealogy skills are?
  • Help you connect with a new friend?
  • Teach you some new research tricks?
Would you accept it?

A Challenge Arises

The other day a woman reached out to me longing to know about her lost Italian roots. Her grandfather Matthew had given up his Italian name to blend into American society. After Matthew and his wife divorced, their children had very little contact with either of their parents.

The woman who wrote to me loved her grandfather, but knew nothing about his origins. She offered me the few clues she had, and asked if I could help.

Challenge Accepted

When an assignment comes my way in life or at work, I like to take a peek at it and figure out how hard or easy it might be. Many times this quick peek hooks me. I'm interested, and I'm making progress. So I dive in and get to work. That's exactly how I began this challenge.

Here are the few facts I had:
  • Mattio d'Arcangelo was born in 1900 to Valentino and "Ginny"
  • He married Evangeline McElroy and owned a shoe company in Boston
  • His children, Eleanor and Robert, were given Mattio's adopted last name of Matthew.
  • Mattio and Evangeline divorced.
I wasn't getting anywhere searching Ancestry.com for Mattio. I switched to searching for his father, Valentino. I thought his distinctive name would make him easier to find.

Right away I found naturalization records for Valentino d'Arcangelo. I scoured the information, but I had no proof yet that this was the father of Mattio. His naturalization papers did not mention any family members. But they did include his exact birth date.

That May 10, 1873 date helped me match him to other records for Valentino d'Arcangelo. I found a Massachusetts marriage registry book showing the January 12, 1900, Haverhill, Massachusetts marriage of:
  • Valentino d'Arcangelo, age 26, a shoemaker from Italy, son of Mattio d'Arcangelo and Maria Porrea, and
  • Giovannina d'Arcangelo, age 25, from Italy, daughter of Raffaele d'Arcangelo and Felice Subrizio.
There was a good chance Giovannina is the real name of Mattio's mother "Ginny". But I needed more proof.

This 1910 census provides 2 great aunts and a great uncle.
This 1910 census provides 2 great aunts and a great uncle.
I found the 1910 census for Haverhill, and there they were. A family of 6: Valentino and Giovannina (now called Jenny or Jinny), and their children Mattio, Assunta, Pastiano and Mary. Mattio was born in Massachusetts, but his younger sister was born in Italy. The census taker crossed out Massachusetts for Assunta, and wrote in Italy.

A 1902 ship manifest supports the idea of the family returning to Italy for a while. In November 1902 Valentino is returning to America—to Haverhill—without his family. Giovannina and her first 2 children must have returned at a later date.

I found out from the manifest that Valentino was from the town of Bisegna in the province of L'Aquila. Unfortunately, there are no birth records available online for Bisegna after 1866.

I went on to find Valentino as a widower in the 1920 census. A death index shows he died in 1942.

I wanted some more documentation for Mattio—my new friend's grandfather. I saw that his memorial on Find-a-Grave has his name as Matthew F. Matthews. When I couldn't find him in the 1930 census, I looked for his wife Evangeline, and his kids Eleanor and Robert.

Mattio d'Arcangelo, aka Francis Matthews.
Mattio d'Arcangelo, aka Francis Matthews.
I found them living in Needham, Massachusetts, but the head-of-household was Francis Matthews. That memorial with the middle initial F. turned out to be a good clue.

They were a family unit in 1930. But in 1932, Evangeline McElroy Matthews remarried right there in Needham. I went back to the 1920 census to discover Evangeline's parents. That family of 4 consisted of:
  • Robert the father
  • Evangeline the mother
  • Evangeline the daughter, and
  • Robert the son!
I'd discovered quite a bit in one sitting. Mattio's granddaughter was just about in tears.

Your Challenge

Here are 3 ways you can find a genealogy challenge:
  1. Join any genealogy group on Facebook. Every day people ask for help. They may list some of their ancestors' names and dates and ask how to find out more about these people.
  2. Got DNA? You may belong to websites that suggest DNA matches to you. I read about an avid genealogist who is researching and building trees for all his DNA matches so he can figure out their connection.
  3. Maybe you have a friend who's mildly interested in your genealogy hobby. Help get them hooked by starting their tree for them. Ask for some basics about their parents and grandparents: names, dates and places.
Use the clues, your genealogy resources and skills and see how much you can find. Be careful not to make assumptions. Let the facts point you in the right direction.

Document everything you find clearly and thoroughly. List the facts in chronological order and show where each fact came from. Provide this person with the facts and the documents you've found.

Imagine that you are a professional genealogist, and do the best work you possibly can.

Once you've tackled this challenge, you may want to take a fresh look at your family's brick walls!


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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

How Are Your 2018 Genealogy Goals Coming Along?

My father-in-law, Ben Ohama, crushing it on the track, leading the pack.
My father-in-law, Ben Ohama, crushing it on the track,
leading the pack.
It's nearly August already! How are you doing with your 2018 genealogy goals?

Last December I encouraged you to set some genealogy goals. The point was to help push yourself to work on or finish important genealogy tasks.

So how are you progressing? It isn't too late to hack away at those goals.

Here's my own list of 2018 goals. Let's look at how I'm doing and see if that can inspire you.

1. Create a Weekly Backup Plan

Genealogy email folders are part of my backup plan.
Genealogy email
Done! But it is ongoing. Each Sunday I consult my list of file types to back up. I've only missed a couple of weeks, but at this very moment, my files are 100% backed up.

My list contains some non-genealogy files:
  • My Microsoft Outlook email file (which has tons of genealogy information)
  • My bank and credit card statements and QuickBooks files
  • My 3 latest Family Tree Maker complete backup files
  • All the genealogy document images I've collected since my last backup
I back up my files to a neat little external, 1 terabyte Seagate drive and to OneDrive by Microsoft. I get a free terabyte of space there because I subscribe to Microsoft Office Online.

2. Find My Parents' Connection

When I uploaded my raw DNA to GEDmatch.com, I discovered that my parents are 4th or 5th cousins. Boy, did that leave them with their mouths hanging open.

My goal is to find their connection. Somewhere there is a pair of 5th or 6th great grandparents that they share. I haven't found the connection yet, but I am actively working on it.

I'm going through the vital records from their ancestors' neighboring hometowns and building out their families. I'll find that connection eventually. I just hope I'll find it while they're still alive to laugh about it.

3. Log the Antenati Documents Into a Master Spreadsheet

I feel like I talk about this every day. If you don't know or you have no Italian ancestors, Antenati is a website with TONS of Italian vital records. The word antenati means ancestors.

Using a free software program called GetLinks by Carlos Leite, I've downloaded to my computer every available vital record from each of my Italian ancestors' hometowns:
  • Baselice, Circello, Colle Sannita, Pastene, Pescolamazza, and Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in the province of Benevento
  • Santa Paolina in the province of Avellino
I have—easily—several hundred relatives in those records. Sometimes I search the documents for someone in particular. Sometimes I go year by year searching for every baby born to a particular couple.

But I really want to record the facts from all the records in a spreadsheet. I've completed several years' worth of records. It makes searching for someone so much easier.

A sliver of my ambitious master file of tons of vital records.
A sliver of my ambitious master file of tons of vital records.
Someday, when it's all done, I can share the results and benefit everyone else who's a descendant of these towns.

So, I'm actively working on it, but I can't finish it in 2018.

4. Fill in the "Need to Find" Column on My Document Tracker

A near-disaster with my "document tracker" spreadsheet has forced me to make a ton of progress on this goal.

Last week I wrote about a screw-up in my master spreadsheet where I keep track of every document image or date I gather for someone in my tree. I took full advantage of a glitch in the file to make progress with my 4th genealogy goal.

Line-by-line, I'm examining my document tracker. I'm comparing each person's line in the spreadsheet to their documents and facts in Family Tree Maker. I'm filling in all the columns, and determining what's missing.

My spreadsheet of everything I've found, and everything I need, helps guide my research efficiently.
My spreadsheet of everything I've found, and everything I need, guides my research efficiently.
I'm adding the missing facts to the "Need to Find" column. Then I give the person's entire row a green background color to make it clear I've examined that person.

I'm not following alphabetical order because I'm also working on goal #5. I have completed my review of the letters A through C (that's last names) and S through Z. I've done all my Leone relatives and my Iammucci relatives. Those areas contain some of my closest relatives.

I'm making progress and absolutely will complete this in 2018.

5. Replace Family History Center Photos with Antenati Document Images

Around 2008, before the Antenati website and FamilySearch.org made the Italian vital records available online, I ordered microfilm of the vital records from my maternal grandfather's hometown.

I viewed every record from 1809 to 1860 on nasty old microfilm viewers at Family History Centers in Philadelphia and Poughkeepsie, New York.

The Philadelphia Family History Center had one computer that read microfilm. When it was available, I could grab JPEG files of the documents I wanted the most. In Poughkeepsie I had to take iPhone photos of the projected images. Those are awful. They're dark, fuzzy, and show the texture of the surface on which the image is projected.

This dramatic before-and-after comparison makes it clear why I need those high-res documents from Antenati.
This dramatic before-and-after comparison makes it clear why I need those high-res documents from Antenati.
My goal is to replace all the crummy iPhone photos with high-resolution images from the Antenati site.

I'm making headway on goals 4 and 5 at the same time by focusing on the families from the town I researched on microfilm. I can replace those bad images, fill in the blanks for those people on my document tracker, and make double the progress.

It's August-eve. We're seven twelfths of the way through 2018. That's about 58%. I believe my goals are at least 58% complete.

But I'm not taking my foot off the gas pedal. I need to keep on track and keep that finish line in sight.

Now it's your turn. And it's not too late in the year to begin! Which genealogy tasks are most important to you this year?

How are you doing?


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Friday, July 27, 2018

4 Age-Related Rules for Building Your Family Tree

4 logical rules to help you with your family tree.
Do you have a set of standard rules you follow when working on your family tree?

Some common sense rules can steer you away from people who have no place in your tree. There will always be lots of exceptions to these rules. But having them as your foundation will help guide you in your research.

Let's focus on rules related to a person's age. Here are 4 rules for you to consider.

1. Age at First Marriage

Depending on where and when your ancestors lived, you may find a pattern. If you can look at a bunch of marriage documents from your ancestor's town, notice the brides' and grooms' ages.

What was the customary age to marry?
What was the customary age to marry?
Setting aside the widows and widowers who are remarrying, how old are the couples in general? Let's say you find a lot of people getting married between the age of 23 and 27. Take note of that! That's probably the customary age for marrying in that town at that time.

To put this rule into action, imagine you've found an ancestor's birth record. Now you'd like to find his marriage record. You can jump ahead 25 years (or whatever age the evidence tells you) and start looking. You may have to check a bunch of years, but you also may get lucky pretty quickly.

Note: If you're finding some ridiculously young brides and grooms, like ages 12 through 16, look at the details. Are their parents all alive? Many times a terribly young daughter is married off if her parents have died and her grandfather wants someone to provide for her.

2. Age When Children Were Born

You can estimate the mother's age based on local customs.
You can estimate the mother's
age based on local customs.
Forget about men. They can make babies practically forever. But women have a limited amount of years during which they can possibly have a baby.

Being practical, the women in your family tree were probably capable of having a baby from age 16 to about age 48. You can expect your ancestor to have had her first baby as soon as one year after her marriage. And she most likely continued having babies every couple of years until she was too old.

To put this rule into action, be very skeptical of adding a baby in your family tree to a mother who's more than 48 years old. (The poor woman!) Some family tree software will alert you if you're giving a woman a baby she wasn't likely to have had.

3. Age at Immigration

When did your foreign-born ancestor immigrate to your country? Depending on the era, it may have been a difficult journey of two weeks to two months or more.

I can't imagine how awful that was. On my last 9-hour flight home from Italy I thought I was going to die of discomfort and lack of sleep. When I saw the movie "Brooklyn" about a 1950s journey from Ireland to America, I felt that I, too, would have been throwing up. A lot.

To put this rule into action, figure on your ancestor making that journey no later than their 40s. In my tree, most of the men who came to America to work came in their 20s when they were able-bodied. If they brought their families over, they did it in their 30s or 40s.

My 2nd great grandparents and a cousin were pretty old for this journey.
My 2nd great grandparents and a cousin were pretty old for this 1898 journey.
If you don't know when your ancestor came over, start by looking at the years they were in their 20s.

4. Age at Death

This is the simplest age-related rule. Don't expect your ancestor to have lived more than 100 years.

Maybe you've got fabulous genes and have an ancestor who lived to be 115. But in general, you'll probably find it unusual to have an ancestor who lived that long.

To put this rule into action, look at the average age of death in your ancestor's town during their lifetime. If no one else is living beyond their 70s, your ancestor probably didn't live beyond their 70s.

Use that knowledge to narrow down the years when your ancestor may have died.

Don't forget to look at your ancestor's children. Their marriage documents can tell you if their parents are alive or dead at the time.

These are pretty logical rules. You can make them more scientific by learning all you can about the place where your ancestor lived.

Make logic work for your family tree!

When you look closer, you can find:

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

4 Key Places to Discover Your Ancestor's Hometown

The exact address where my grandfather was born in Italy.
The exact address where my grandfather was
born in Italy.
When my in-law's father died, she knew nothing about his family but his parents' and his sister's names. I offered to build her family tree. With only a few names and the states where they lived, I was able to add several generations to her tree.

It wasn't hard because they'd lived in America for so many generations. Census records offered a way to trace the family's moves from state to state.

But only a few groups of people have lived on the same continent since before recorded history. At some point, everyone else immigrated.

To trace your family back to another country, you must find out exactly where they came from. Once you find that town name, you'll know where to search for birth, marriage and death records.

Here are 4 of the best places to find your ancestor's hometown.

1. Ship Manifests/Immigration Records

The later your ancestor came to your country, the better. Before the 1890s your ancestor's ship manifest may tell you only their home country. A later immigration record can give you that important hometown.

While researching my great grandmother Maria Rosa Caruso, a cousin said Maria Rosa mentioned her Italian hometown often. She called it "Pisqualamazza".

My great grandmother's hometown, seen on her immigration record.
My great grandmother's hometown,
seen on her immigration record.
Unfortunately, there is no such town. My research was at a standstill. So I searched for anyone named Caruso coming to New York from a town that sounded like "Pisqualamazza".

And I found it. My great grandmother's 1906 ship manifest shows it, and the transcription on Ancestry.com helped me read it. My great grandmother's Pisqualamazza was Pescolamazza!

When I found no such town on a map, I Googled it. Pescolamazza changed its name to Pesco Sannita in 1948, so my great grandmother knew it by its old name.

2. Draft Registration Cards

My great aunt told me our Saviano family was from Avellino, but that's not specific enough. Avellino is both a city and a province with many towns. I was stuck.

It was my 2nd great uncle's World War II draft registration card that changed everything. He was 64 years old in 1942, but he still had to register. Thank goodness. Because, despite 2 spelling errors, I learned he was born in Tufo, Avellino. I looked at an online map to find the correct spelling.

This 1942 draft registration card gave me the exact location I needed.
This 1942 draft registration card gave me the exact location I needed.
Shortly after that discovery, I found his 1877 Tufo birth record, and that of his older brother none of my cousins had ever heard of.

3. Naturalization Papers

My grandfather came to America in 1920 at the age of 18. He first went to live in Newton, Massachusetts, where his uncle lived. Then he went to work in Western Pennsylvania where he applied to become a U.S. citizen.

His "declaration of intention" papers include his hometown of Colle Sannita, Italy, and his birth date—which is not what we thought it was. Knowing his hometown, I was able to get his 1902 birth record from the Italian archives. This confirmed that he was born on October 8, just like it says on his declaration of intention.

Naturalization papers can provide birth dates and places -- sometimes for an entire family.
Naturalization papers can provide birth dates and places—sometimes for an entire family.
4. Passport Applications

It's always a thrill when you can find your ancestor's passport application, complete with a photo. My cousin Attilio Sarracino's passport application confirmed that he was born in New York. But his father, Carmine, lived in Pastene, Italy.

There may be typos, but a passport application provides solid information you need.
There may be typos, but a passport application provides solid information you need.
Members of this family went back and forth between Italy and America a couple of times. I found a record of Attilio's 1907 U.S. birth in Pastene, Italy's 1909 register book. They needed him on the record books because his family was planning to stay in Italy and raise him.

Finding these documents helped me make sense of family lore. "Pisqualamazza" wasn't a place. "Avellino" was too vague. And there are 2 towns (Pastene and Pastena) with families named Sarracino!

Before you dive into a new collection of foreign vital records, find all the domestic records. Make sure you know your ancestor's hometown so you don't end up chasing documents that aren't there.


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Friday, July 20, 2018

Use This Tool to Discover Family Tree Insights

There's a new version of Family Tree Analyzer—the must-have genealogy software program from Alexander Bisset. This free program offers almost unlimited insights into your family tree. It also helps you find problems so you can fix them and fortify your family tree.

I've installed it on my Windows 10 computer and imported my up-to-date GEDCOM file. Let's take FTA for a spin.

This is the program I wanted to create. Mr. Bisset has done it expertly.
This is a free genealogy toolbox. A big, big toolbox!
Please visit FTA's Facebook page for announcements and help with using the program. To find the latest download link, see the FTA website. The program runs on Windows; a Mac version is currently in development.

There's so much genealogy goodness to explore! Let's start with a very appealing table view of your entire database of people. Here are a few of the valuable insights you can learn from the program's Main Lists tab.

Insight #1: Your Ancestors' Jobs

On the Main Lists tab, click to sort by the Occupation column.

On the Main Lists tab, click the Occupation column header.
On the Main Lists tab, click the Occupation column header.
I recently learned that my 2nd great grandfather was a shoemaker when he married. That's a surprise. He wasn't a shoemaker when my great grandmother was born. I wonder how many shoemakers are in my family tree.

My ancestors are all from Italy, so I record shoemakers as "calzolaio (shoemaker)". If I scroll down to the letter C in the alphabetical list of Occupations, I see the TON of shoemakers in my family tree. I also see they're mostly from one town. That's a lot of shoemakers for one town, even when you consider the span of these relatives' birth years.

Quickly find the errors hiding in your family tree.
Now you can quickly find the errors hiding in your family tree.
That's nice to see, but here's something much more useful.

Click the Occupations tab to see all the jobs you've entered for people in your tree. I immediately see errors in the first 2 lines. There are addresses where the job title should be. By double-clicking this bad entry, I see it's attached to a man named Vincenzo.

Now I can go to Family Tree Maker to correct this error. Sure enough, I accidentally entered an address and left out his occupation.

Wonderful! I can scroll through the Occupation list in FTA to find typos, untranslated Italian words, or other errors to fix. This is just the kind of "assist" we can all use.

Insight #2: Your Progress, By the Numbers

On the Main Lists tab, scroll to the right to find the Ahnentafel column. Click it once to sort by this column, then again to reverse-sort the column.

Ahnentafel comes from a German word meaning "ancestor table". Each of your direct ancestors has a number in the Ahnentafel system. You are #1. After you, each man in your tree has an even number (your father is #2) and each female an odd number (your mother is #3).

I asked you to reverse-sort your Ahnentafel column for the maximum "wow" factor. Your earliest direct-line ancestor will be the first person in the list. In my results I see four 9th great grandparents at the top of the list with really high numbers! 2691, 2690, 2689 and 2688.

See how far you've gotten in your family history research.
Here's an easy way to see how far you've climbed up your family tree.
Notice the RelationToRoot column a few to the left of Ahnentafel. Here you'll see how many of each level of grandparent you've found. I've found a bunch of 7th and 8th great grandparents, and even more 6th great grandparents.

As I scroll down the numerical list, I can also see where Ahnentafel numbers are missing. In fact (this is exciting!), the lowest-numbered ancestor whose name I don't know is #59, one of my 3rd great grandmothers.

You can use this Ahnentafel view to zero in on the missing relatives you most want to find.

These are two very important insights to help you fortify your family tree. And that's only the tip of the iceberg! I'll explore some more of FTA's useful tools in upcoming articles. Even if you don't have the FTA program, I know you'll find inspiration in these articles.

You owe it to yourself to try this program! My hat's off to Mr. Bisset for having written the program I could only imagine.


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