08 November 2019

Family Tree Disaster-Recovery Tips

When the worst happens, your obsession with thoroughness will pay off!

Nothing makes me more depressed or more angry than a computer problem. It could be a hardware upgrade, a software upgrade, or network issues. These problems make me scream and curse more than anything in the world.

I'm going through this depression and anger now because of my family tree.

My software, Family Tree Maker, announced an update to the program last May, so I pre-ordered it. I got the update in late September. My favorite thing about Family Tree Maker is being able to synchronize all my edits to my tree on Ancestry.com. I want my latest and greatest finds to be there for relatives and DNA matches to see.

When they launched the software update, there was a known problem with Ancestry.com. They said we could synchronize our trees with Ancestry…probably. But, if a sync failed, we shouldn't try again until we got the "All clear".

I did have a couple of successful syncs, but then it failed. So I waited. And waited. On November 6 the company issued a patch and said it was OK to sync.

It was pretty amazing that they could track the problem to one person.
It was pretty amazing that they could track the problem to one person.

Not for me. After struggling for a while, I started a chat with their support staff. Amazingly, they isolated the problem. My file got corrupted at one specific person in my large family tree. Their advice was to:
  • Delete this one person from my family tree on Ancestry.com
  • Download a new GEDCOM from my online tree (which was way out of date)
  • Restore my Family Tree Maker file from this GEDCOM
  • Attempt to synchronize again.
That worked. My desktop and online trees are once again synchronized. But now my tree has 22,420 people instead of 22,500 people.

I have to restore 80 missing people manually. And possibly a lot of individual facts. I'll do it with the help of the last GEDCOM I made from my Family Tree Maker file before this mess started.

The best tool for restoring the 80 missing people is the free program, Family Tree Analyzer. I can use it to open the last GEDCOM of my 22,500-person family tree. Then I can go to the Individuals tab and make sure it's sorted by the first column: IndividualID.

At the bottom of the list of individuals, are the most recent people I added before the crash. I will work my way up from the bottom, restoring the people and facts I've lost.

Having documentation and good tools can help you recover from a family tree disaster.
Having documentation and good tools can help you recover from a family tree disaster.

I'll re-sync my tree after I restore every 20-or-so people.

This will get me back up to my full amount of 22,500 people. But I am worried about individual facts I may be losing. Recently I've been finding and adding missing birth dates to people in my tree. But I didn't attach their document images. I have a feeling I'll have to start that project over.

I did download a synchronization failure report from Family Tree Maker. It's 62 pages long, showing recent additions, deletions, and changes. That may be helpful.

Earlier this week I was giddily finding death records for some of my 5th great grandparents. With that info, I was able to add several 6th great grandparents to my tree. But in my excitement, I didn't crop and add the death record image to the person in my tree. So I can't look at my folder of document images to re-create what's missing. (Sadly, I was planning on going back for those documents today!)

But there's a bright side. As I discovered the names of those 6th great grandparents, I added them to my grandparent chart. That means I can:
  • Look at the name of a recently added ancestor in Family Tree Analyzer who's my 6th great grandparent.
  • Find them in my grandparent chart. That'll tell me who they married and who is their child…the one who's my 5th great grandparent.
  • Find the death record again, and add it to the tree.
This mess raises a bunch of questions:
  • How many daily backups should I keep? I've been keeping 4 or 5, and I make a full backup after each work session. Maybe I'll keep a few more.
  • Do I need to keep a log of what I do during each session? I'm often doing one thing in particular. I may be tracking down missing birth or death records. Or cleaning up source citations. I could write that in a log.
  • Should I check for errors using Family Tree Analyzer more often, like weekly or monthly? I could do it on Sundays—my normal computer backup day. If nothing turns up after a few weeks, I may relax and do it monthly.
So what's the moral of this tale of woe?
  • Document what you're doing.
  • Track what you've found and what you were looking for.
  • Back up your file a lot!
This is my first family tree crisis, and I don't want it to happen again. Luckily, I'm in decent shape because of my digital "paper trail". I'm grateful for all my extra documentation steps.

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05 November 2019

How a Research Timeline Helps You Spot Gaps and Problems

When you have very little to go on, a timeline can keep your genealogy research firmly on track.

I'm working on a family that's from a town that's new to me. I've never researched anyone in this place before. I'm starting this search with only a couple of undocumented facts.

What can I do to create an accurate, thorough sense of this family's history?

I started gathering documents for the husband and wife who had come to America from Italy. They were born in the 1860s.

I found their marriage document. Then I used their ages at that time to find their birth records. But the husband's birth record says he married a different woman on a particular date.

Your family tree software may provide a timeline of facts so far.
Your family tree software may provide a timeline of facts so far.

It's wonderful when they add that detail to a birth record. But this sure seemed like a problem. He married this other woman only one year before he married the woman I knew about—the mother of his children. Unless there was something sneaky going on, the first woman had to have died within a year of their marriage.

I had a hard time finding her death record. I found myself veering into the wrong years. (I still don't like how Family Search throws so much in one folder.) So I searched for and found the births of the 3 daughters who came to America with their mother.

When I did find a death record for the first wife, I misread the date! I wrote it down as 1908…ten years later than she should have died.

That was the moment I knew I needed a timeline. This isn't my usual style, but I renamed all the files I'd found to begin with the year. Now they're in my working folder sorted by date. Looking at the files names, I made a chronological list of the main event from each document. For example:
  • 1863 birth of Giovanni Marino
  • 1865 birth of Maria Viola (Giovanni and Maria are the couple who came to America.)
  • 1897 marriage of Giovanni Marino and Elena Russo (the mystery woman!)
  • 1898 marriage of Giovanni Marino and Maria Viola
  • 1899 birth of Giovanni and Maria's 1st daughter
  • 1901 birth of Giovanni and Maria's 2nd daughter
  • 1904 birth of Giovanni and Maria's 3rd daughter
  • 1905 ship manifest for Giovanni Marino going to New York
  • 1908 death of Elena Russo (That turned out to be the wrong date.)
  • 1911 ship manifest for Maria Viola and her 3 daughters following Giovanni to New York
With this timeline, I knew for sure the 1908 death of wife #1 needed an explanation. I'd already looked at her death record twice. I knew this was the same Elena Russo who married Giovanni Marino in 1897. She had the same parents and the same husband.

Discovering the facts out of order made it a little confusing. Who was this mystery woman?
Discovering the facts out of order made it a little confusing. Who was this mystery woman?

I decided to look for marriage banns for Giovanni and Maria in 1898. I found them, and they said wife #1 was dead. OK, so Giovanni wasn't a polygamist. I'm glad of that.

Only on my 3rd inspection of Elena's death record did I see my mistake. The year is 1898 (milleottocento novantotto) not 1908 (millenovecento otto). Embarrassing! I was starting to wonder if the eldest of Giovanni's 3 daughters belonged to his 1st wife. Between her age and her similar name (Annaelena), it seemed possible. But her 1899 birth record put that idea to rest.

The timeline helped me spot the problem and work to investigate and correct it.

I couldn't find Elena Russo's birth record despite checking a bunch of possible years. So now I'm trying to extend the timeline back another generation. Giovanni and Maria's birth records tell me their parents' names and approximate ages. I can go after their records.

I may never write down a formal research plan or keep a research log. But from now on, when I'm studying one family in particular, a timeline is a total must.

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01 November 2019

How to Use Your Personal Genealogy Database

If you think my latest project is crazy, allow me to prove you wrong.

I shamelessly told you about my latest obsession. I'm renaming all the files in my collection of Italian vital records. By adding the name of the person its about to the file name, I create a searchable database on my computer.

I still need to rename the death files from 1845–1858, which I'll complete this weekend. But I wanted to show you an example of how well this ambitious plan pays off.

I opened my family tree and focused on my dad's ancestors. Seventy-five percent of his ancestors came from the town I'm working on, Colle Sannita, Italy. I had to climb a few generations because the "younger" ancestors died at a time when I have no death records.

As my first subject, I'm choosing my 5th great grandmother Orsola Mascia. I know Orsola was born in 1770 because I found records for 5 of her children that helped me set her age. And I know she married my 5th great grandfather Giuseppe d'Emilia. But I don't know when Orsola died or who her parents were.

Let's see what we can do about that.

I have a main folder on my computer for the town of Colle Sannita. Inside that are 225 folders of birth, marriage, and death records sorted by year. Starting at the town's folder, I enter the name Orsola Mascia in the folder's search box and press enter. I get 8 results. A small number is easier to sift through, so I'm happy with that.

A quick search on my computer instantly found my 5th great grandmother.
A quick search on my computer instantly found my 5th great grandmother.

You can see from these results that the best matches are at the top. Exact matches come first. As you go down the list, you'll see that some results contain "Orsola" and "Mascia", but not together.

This is an important point. You can do an exact search by adding quotation marks ("Orsola Mascia"). But what if her full name was Orsola Maria Mascia? I wouldn't get the right results. So I always keep the search a bit looser.

When I double-click the first result, I'm hoping to see that she's married to Giuseppe d'Emilia. He's my 5th great grandfather.

And it is her! My file renaming project is paying off. I learned that:
  • Orsola Mascia died on 4 March 1838 in Colle Sannita.
  • She was 66 years old and also born in Colle Sannita.
  • Her parents were Saverio Mascia and Prudenzia Zeolla.
  • Her parents were both dead before this date. I know that because I see the word "fu" before their names. That means was, as in, this was her father, but he's dead now. (See "How to Read an Italian Death Record".)
What a victory! I found the names of another set of my 6th great grandparents: Saverio and Prudenzia. (Cue the Beatles' "Dear Prudence".) Because of Orsola's birth year, I know they were born no later than the mid 1740s.

This key record was hiding in a batch of files...until I renamed it.
This key record was hiding in a batch of files...until I renamed it.

Now that I've made this discovery—and so easily!—let's walk through all the steps I need to take next.
  • Add the new facts to Family Tree Maker:
    • Add Orsola's place of birth, and her date and place of death.
    • Add her parent's names and estimated birth year (25 years before Orsola was born) and death dates of "Bef. 4 Mar 1838".
  • Get the document image ready for Family Tree Maker.
    • Crop the image in Photoshop and save it to my FamilyTree/Certificates folder.
    • Right-click the cropped file on my computer and choose Properties. Then add a title and description to this image's details. The description includes the exact URL where anyone can find this document online. (For more detail, see "How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images".)
    • Drag the image into Family Tree Maker. It retains and displays the facts I added.
    • Since it's my only document for Orsola, I'll make it her profile image.
  • Make note of this find in my Document Tracker. I record every document in my family tree in one Excel file.
  • Add her parents to my grandparent chart. Her Ahnentafel number is 133, so her father and mother are 266 (double hers) and 267 (double hers + 1), respectively. This tells me exactly where to put her parents in the grandparent chart. (See "3 Things to Do with Ahnentafel Numbers".) Download a grandparent chart for your family tree. It's color-coded for your 4 grandparents and includes Ahnentafel numbers.

My newly found 6th great grandparents now take their place in my grandparent chart.
My newly found 6th great grandparents now take their place in my grandparent chart.

That was big. A breakthrough! I'm eager to search more of my ancestors with missing dates and parents.

If your people are from a small town, and you can find vital records, go get 'em! I hope you'll have as much success as I know I will.

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29 October 2019

This Genealogy Project Has 2 Hidden Benefits

Dive into your ancestral hometown's documents for extra benefits.

I'm really letting my genealogy freak flag fly lately. A few weeks ago I started an ambitious project to help my research. And it's paying off wildly!

Take a deep dive and become an expert in your ancestral town.
Take a deep dive and become an expert in your ancestral town.

I'm creating a searchable database of everyone who lived in my paternal Italian hometown. (During a large span of time.) First I downloaded all the available records to my computer. Now I'm renaming each vital record image to include the name of the person in it.
  • Each birth record's file name now includes the name of the baby.
  • Each marriage record's file name includes the bride and groom's names.
  • I'm still working through the death record images to add the name of the person who died to the file name.
I don't know how many thousands of vital records from the town are on my computer. They span from 1809–1942. There are gaps. Birth records end in 1915, and there are no marriage or death records between 1860–1931.

But in those thousands of records are the clues I need to piece together my extended family. Let's say I find a birth record for a relative. I've already documented the baby's father's family. But I don't know who the mother's family is. It says she is Angela Basile and her father's name is Giovanni. I can go to my folder of all the town's records and search for "Angela Basile". Then I can open the results to find one who's the right age and has a father named Giovanni. Most of the time I can make a positive ID. It's fantastic.

When the file names include proper names, you can use your computer to search everything in a second.
When the file names include proper names, you can use your computer to search everything in a second.

Here are 2 major things you can learn by taking a deep dive into your ancestor's hometown.

1. Names of People and Places

Overcome bad handwriting. When you're familiar with your towns' last names, you can recognize them despite bad handwriting. So many times when I couldn't read a name, I figured it out because I knew what to look for.

The same goes for street names. I record exactly where someone was born, if it's on their birth record. I'm so familiar with these records, I can recognize street names easily.

An unfamiliar name. You'll also know when a last name doesn't belong. I have one ancestor named Francesco Saverio Liguori. Based on the vital records, the only people in town named Liguori are his children. That made me wonder if he was from another town. On a hunch, I searched a neighboring town for his 1813 birth record, and I found him! That helped me go back 2 more generations in his family.

Travel companions. When you know all the town's names, you'll recognize them when they're with your ancestor on a ship manifest. Or when they show up next door to your ancestor in a new country.

2. Naming Customs

Carefully examining all the town's documents can teach you about local naming customs.

Foundlings. In my town in the 19th century, abandoned babies were not uncommon. Almost no woman kept and raised her out-of-wedlock baby. The custom was for the mayor to give the baby a name. They sometimes used unusual first names from mythology. But most first names were common to the town, like Maria Teresa or Giovanni.

But last names were different. These names didn't exist in the town. If a foundling boy grew up to have children, the kids took on the made-up name. This is how some new names were first introduced into the town.

Baby-naming conventions. The FamilySearch.org wiki explains baby-naming conventions in your ancestor's culture. In Italy, the rule is to name the 1st baby boy after its father's father, the 2nd baby boy after its mother's father.

When you have 12 kids, though, you need to get creative. Was the baby born on a saint's feast day? Use the saint's name. Is a name popular in town lately? Use that name.

Nicknames and shortened names. A person's death record might use a slightly different name than their birth or marriage record. On their death record you're more likely to see the name they were commonly known as. My 2nd great grandfather Francesco Saverio Caruso may have gone by the name Saverio. I can count on his birth and marriage records to have his full, proper name. But his death record may be from someone reporting that "Saverio Caruso" died.

When you get used to it, spotting the names and renaming the files can go quickly.
When you get used to it, spotting the names and renaming the files can go quickly.

People with multi-part names often went by only one. I'm sure my 6th great aunt, Maria Catarina Colomba Martuccio, wasn't called Maria Catarina Colomba. When I find her death record, I may learn that everyone called her Catarina.

I know we can't all download our town's vital records. You may not have discovered where your family came from. Or their hometown's records might have been destroyed.

But you can apply this name-study to census records, too. Pay attention to the names of the families living near your ancestor in each census. Are you seeing some family names repeat from census to census? Were members of that family born in the same place as your ancestor?

What about immigration records? The ship manifest for your ancestor may have little useful information. But check the names of the people surrounding your ancestor. Do their names match the people living near your ancestor in the new country? They could be relatives from the old country.

This week I'll try to complete my file naming project for Colle Sannita's death records. The act of renaming the files helps me learn the last names and street names from this town.

How I wish I'd been able to do this while my Colle Sannita-born grandfather was still alive.

Be sure to see the follow-up to this article which shows exactly how you can benefit from this project.


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25 October 2019

Is a Family History Mistake Holding You Back?

Myths, mistakes, and fuzzy facts can hold back your family tree research.

Is your brick wall based on one completely wrong "fact"? What if you only hit that wall because you started with a family history mistake?

Here are 3 types of mistakes that can hamper your research.

Unrelated Celebrities

My ex-in-laws said their great uncle was Edward Smith, captain of the Titanic. That led to lots of genealogy problems. I was trying to place my ex's great grandfather (Walter Smith) in the same location as the ill-fated captain. They were brothers, after all.

Then I made a surprising discovery. Captain Smith never had a brother!

Without this myth muddying up the waters, I was able to find out where Walter Smith came from. And it had nothing to do with the captain.

You may think you have a reliable source. But some memories are not facts.
You may think you have a reliable source. But some memories are not facts.

Mistaken Identity

Decades ago, my brother was writing a college paper about our family history. Grandpa told him our great grandmother's (Grandpa's mother-in-law's) last name was Ferrara. There was no reason to doubt Grandpa, and no one else to ask.

But Grandpa was mistaken. In 2003 my aunt told me the last name was Caruso. If not for that, I'd never have gotten anywhere on that branch of my family tree.

I put my family tree on Ancestry.com with my great grandmother listed as Maria Rosa Caruso. That attracted the attention of a relative I didn't know. She was working on her husband's family tree. She found my tree and realized her husband and I were 2nd cousins. We share a set of great grandparents: Pasquale Iamarino and Maria Rosa Caruso.

This cousin-in-law gave me the clue I needed to research a common name like Caruso. She said Maria Rosa Caruso was from Pescolamazza, Italy. When that town wasn't on the map, I discovered that it changed its name to Pesco Sannita. At last I could build that part of my family tree.

Once I had her true maiden name and hometown, the brick wall disappeared.
Once I had her true maiden name and hometown, the brick wall disappeared.

Not Quite the Right Place

In 2004, my great aunt Stella repeated something I'd heard ever since I was a child. Our family came from 2 places in Italy: Pastene and Avellino.

Over time I found that Pastene is a small hamlet in a larger town called Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. When my great aunt Stella's parents came to America in 1899, they came from Sant'Angelo a Cupolo.

OK, so the family was from Pastene. But what about Avellino? That was a problem for 2 reasons:
  • If both of Aunt Stella's parents were from Pastene, who was from Avellino?
  • Avellino is both a city and a much larger province. Where in Avellino were my people from?
I kept Avellino in the back of my mind until I found the World War II draft registration card for my 2nd great uncle. He went by "Sam" in America, but his name was Semplicio Saviano. My great uncle Sam was the older brother of my great grandmother.

Sam's World War I draft registration card didn't even say what country he was born in. But his World War II card, recorded when he was a 65-year-old man, showed his town of birth.

It's misspelled as Tofo, Avillino. In reality, he was born in Tufo, a small town in the province of Avellino.

Finally a piece of evidence to support this bit of passed-down history. I later found Uncle Sam's 1877 birth record from Tufo, and that of an older brother my family didn't know about. (He died as a child.)

Then I found what may be the reason the family said they were from Avellino, not Tufo. My 2nd great grandmother (Uncle Sam's mother) was from another town in Avellino. She was born in, and married my 2nd great grandfather in Santa Paolina, Avellino.

Without the right location, it can be nearly impossible to find some ancestors.
Without the right location, it can be nearly impossible to find some ancestors.

It all came full circle when I read the 1871 marriage papers for my 2nd great grandparents.

My 2nd great grandmother Vittoria was born in Santa Paolina. Her husband Antonio was born in Pastene. I still find all this unusual:
  • Antonio was born in Pastene, Benevento.
  • He married Vittoria in Santa Paolina, Avellino, in 1871. It's a 30-minute drive today from Pastene to Santa Paolina. Imagine doing it on a horse, or in a mule-drawn cart. How did that happen?
  • Antonio and Vittoria had a baby girl in Santa Paolina in 1872 who died right away. The they moved about 15 minutes away (by modern transportation) to Tufo. Two of Vittoria's brothers lived there.
  • They had 2 more children in Tufo in 1875 and 1877.
  • Then they moved to Pastene! There they had 4 more children from 1879–1887.
  • In 1898, they took all but one of their surviving children to settle in New York City once and for all.
My great grandparents followed the next year.

It was a long, strange trip for my 2nd great grandfather. From Pastene to Santa Paolina to Tufo to Pastene to the Bronx. It was all a brick wall until I found Uncle Sam's draft card.

Here's what I want you to do. Look at one of your brick walls. Are your facts based on less-than-solid evidence? If one of your assumptions is wrong, does everything else fall apart?

Make sure the foundation of that brick wall is solid. You may find a mistaken, misunderstood, or missing fact underneath it all. If you pull that mistake out, will your brick wall come crumbling down?


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22 October 2019

How to Inject New Life into Your Genealogy Research

Break out of your genealogy rut by choosing a new-to-you research path.

Do you ever get a little bored by your genealogy research? Are you so deep into one branch that you're ignoring the rest of your family tree?

Pick a new branch to liven things up. Here are 3 ways to find a new dead end to explore:
  • Look for the blanks in your grandparent or ahnentafel chart.
  • Color-code your direct ancestors (in Family Tree Maker) to see where each line ends.
  • Create ancestor charts that include blanks for the missing generations. Those blanks will help you spot the holes.
Now pick a branch you haven't spent much time on. That'll freshen things up.

I've decided to research a branch from an Italian town I haven't explored—Apice. I learned from my 3rd great grandmother's death record that she was born there.

My 3rd great grandmother was Rufina Zullo. Her daughter, my 2nd great grandmother, came to America the year Rufina died—1898. That's a little sad and makes me want to go further on Rufina's branch of my family tree.

Here's what I'll do.

1. Gather Research Documents

I'll download the Apice vital records to my computer. If you're lucky enough to have your ancestral towns' records online, download them all. Find out how to use the Antenati Italian archives and download the records. Check that page's comments for a program that can download from Family Search.

Figure out what you know and when and where you should look.
Figure out what you know and when and where you should look.

2. Label the Related Images

I'll mark the image files that have last names from this branch. The last names of Rufina Zullo's great grandparents were Zullo, Trancuccio, Montenigro, and Lomaglio. I learned these names from the death records of Rufina's parents.

When I find a death record with 1 of those 4 names, I'll rename the image file name to include the deceased's name.

You'll never wonder where you saw that one file if you rename it and make it searchable.
You'll never wonder where you saw that one file if you rename it and make it searchable.

By renaming the images, I'm creating a searchable database of Apice vital records on my computer. Of course, as I'm renaming the files, I'll keep an eye out for the 4 exact people I want to find:
  • Saverio Zullo
  • Angela Montenigro
  • Biase Trancuccio
  • Angela Lomaglio
It's important to have that list of 4 names in front of me the whole time. I need to pounce whenever I see those names.

And may I say, Oof! This town's records are hard to read. I'm searching for the shape of those 4 names and ruling out names that can't possibly be them.

Many of the vital records for Apice don't have an index. That's why it's so important to download the whole collection. It's infinitely faster to click through the files on your computer than online.

3. Focus on the Right Timeframe

I'll target my searches to the logical years when these 4 ancestors may have died. All I know so far is that 2 died before their son did on 28 Dec 1844, and 2 died before their daughter did on 22 Aug 1837. I know this because their parents were dead when my 4th great grandparents died.

4. Examine the Results

Now comes the tricky part. I found an 1816 death record for a Saverio Zullo. That's the name of my 5th great grandfather. How can I tell if this is "my" Saverio Zullo? Let's look at the facts:
  • The son of my Saverio Zullo was born in 1789. I'm using an estimated birth year for Saverio of 25 years before 1789, or 1764. I don't know when he was really born.
  • The Saverio Zullo who died in 1816 was 80 years old. So he was born in 1736. It's completely possible that he could have had a child in 1789 when he was 53 years old. That is, as long as his wife was a few years younger than him.
  • The 1816 death record does not say if 80-year-old Saverio was married or widowed. It only mentions his parents' names: Giuseppe and…geez…I think Libera Carese but I can't be sure yet.
I'll rename this image file and keep searching.

A few documents later I find an Angela Montenigro. This is the name of my Saverio Zullo's wife. If it is her, she is a good age to have had a child in 1789. This entire town doesn't include the name of the deceased's spouse on the death record! So I'll rename this image, too. If I search every year and never find another Saverio Zullo or Angela Montenigro, then these are probably my 5th great grandparents. I may not be 100% sure, but I can be reasonably sure.

It's also important that I keep viewing this town's records to get familiar with the names there. Angela Montenigro's mother seems to be Berardina Lavorano. If I see "Lavorano" a few more times, written clearly, I'll know that's the correct name.

In the end, I'll have marked the documents for siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles of my 3rd great grandmother. That's what I like to do—piece together extended families. That is my never-ending, never boring jigsaw puzzle.


Genealogy research is never done. That's why so many of us have been at it for years. If you find yourself in a rut, look for that unexplored branch. Can you take it back another generation or two? Think how much that can juice-up your family tree research!

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18 October 2019

3 Reasons To Do Your Own One-Name Study

How much more can you learn by researching one family name at a time?

There's an organization called the Guild of One-Name Studies based in London. Its members study one last name and its variations over time and geography. Maybe that's more interesting for some cultures than others. I looked for my Italian surnames—even the most common one I have—and found none.

That's why I'd rather do my own version of a one-name study. Here's why I think you should do the same.

You Can Connect With Your DNA Matches

Earlier this month I wrote about the benefits of focusing on one genealogy goal at a time. Concentrating on one goal shuts out all the noise and distractions. If you stick to the goal, you'll get better results.

One of my 2019 genealogy goals is to "enter every Pozzuto baby from Colle Sannita into my family tree". I have tons of vital records from my grandfather's town of Colle Sannita on my computer. I'm going through them year by year, stopping each time I find a birth record for a baby with the last name Pozzuto. Then I enter that baby into my family tree.

Labelling my files lets me search for any name. Adding the xxxxx's show me who isn't in my family tree yet.
Labelling my files lets me search for any name. Adding the xxxxx's show me who isn't in my family tree yet.

Keeping my focus on one name builds more families faster. And the more Pozzuto families I build, the easier it is to figure out my relationship to my Pozzuto DNA matches.

As I focus on Pozzuto, I keep thinking about which name I want to do next. Should I do my own last name of Iamarino? Whichever name I choose, I'm going to make a ton of progress.

You Can Find Forgotten Relatives

I searched Ancestry.com for every person named Saviano who died in the Bronx, New York. It was a very specific search for the exact name and the exact place. Saviano is the maiden name of my great grandmother. Her father was my first ancestor to leave Italy and come to America. He settled his family in the Bronx.

Restrict your searches to one last name, not one person, for more discoveries.
Restrict your searches to one last name, not one person, for more discoveries.

There were 14 people listed with deaths ranging from 1906–1947. Of the 14, one was news to me. Luigi Saviano was one year old when he died in 1911. And I don't know who he is. Who were his parents?

I have two 2nd great uncles named Saviano who had children in the Bronx. Neither one could have been Luigi's father because:
  • he had another baby at about that time, and
  • I have close cousins who know about every member of those families.
I also have two 3rd great uncles named Saviano. Their sons might have been Luigi's father, but I don't know enough about them. Did they come to New York? This gives me a new set of Saviano relatives I need to research.

Searching for distant Saviano relatives may uncover cousins my living relatives never knew.

You Can Better Understand Your Roots

I have a PDF of a book on Italian last name origins. It's perfect for anyone with Italian roots. (You can download it from archive.org.) Here's part of what it says for my last name:

Iamarino is absolutely rare and seems to originate from Colle Sannita (Benevento, Italy)…it could derive from a combination of the names Gianni and Marino).…In Colle Sannita, Iamarino has been registered since 1588 as a last name belonging to several local families.

Woo hoo! I'm authentic Colle Sannita.

The book says my name of Saviano is rare, too. And for my name Pilla, it says:

It seems to derive from the medieval name Pilla, present in the area between Benevento and Foggia, but absolutely not used elsewhere. Based on registers of the church in Colle Sannita (Benevento, Italy) the name Pilla is one of the oldest in the area. It has been registered there since 1588, and is still present.

Rock on, Pilla.

You can search for your name origin for free on Google Books. Go to books.google.com and enter a search term (last names, German names, Irish names, etc.). Then restrict your results to only "Free Google eBooks". I found:
Be sure to search archive.org, too. That's where my Italian last name book came from.

What can you learn about the last names of your ancestors? The history behind your many family names may surprise you.

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.

15 October 2019

3 Steps to Identifying Certain DNA Matches

Have too many DNA matches? Follow these steps to pick off the easier ones.

You may have a ton of DNA matches to figure out. Don't get overwhelmed. What I'm about to describe should help you solve a good number of your DNA matches.

For some others, you'll have to contact the person for more information. For still others, the connection may be too distant for either of you to figure out.

Remember: The more developed your tree, the better your chance of identifying your DNA match.

Let's get started.

1 Sort Your DNA Matches by Closeness

How you find your closest matches depends on your DNA testing site.
  • Ancestry DNA lists your matches in order of closeness by default. My list begins with my parents (who I tested), a 1st cousin, 2nd–3rd cousins, 3rd–4th cousins, etc.
  • FamilyTreeDNA, where I uploaded by raw DNA results from Ancestry, lists my matches in a table with the closest matches on top. If they're not listed in order for you, click the top of the "Shared cM" column to sort the list from largest to smallest. (A cM is a centimorgan—a measure of how much DNA you share.)
  • GEDmatch, where I also uploaded my raw DNA, has a "One-To-Many DNA Comparison Result" that lists matches by "Total cM".
  • Other testing sites, like 23andMe, will have a way for you to see your matches that gives priority to the closest matches.

See what's available and choose which DNA match you want to solve first.
See what's available and choose which DNA match you want to solve first.

2 Consult a Relationship Chart

With your closest DNA matches at the top of the list, pick the first one you can't identify. How many cMs do you share with this match?

Start by looking up all your possible relationships. Use this consanguinity chart showing possible relationships based on shared cMs. (Consanguinity means "close relationship or connection".) Pay attention to the number in the gold-colored box in each square of the chart. That's the number of cMs. (This chart is very helpful, too.)

If your match has no family tree available, you're stuck for now. You'll have to contact and share information with your match. Let's look at how this process works on Ancestry when your match has included a family tree.

3 Look at the Family Trees

If you have your DNA online and haven't posted a decent-sized family tree, you're a part of the problem. No one can figure out their exact connection to you. Your genealogy website can't make an educated guess. Worried about privacy? Put your effort into adding facts for your older generations. I want to know who your great grandparents were.

I have a match called T.H. who has a small tree. Ancestry says T.H.:
  • shares 35 cMs with me
  • is in the range of 4th–6th cousin
  • is on my father's side (This is the benefit of making your parents test.)
Before going to T.H.'s family tree, I checked the consanguinity chart. With 35 shared cMs, this DNA match could be my:
  • 3rd cousin once removed
  • 2nd cousin 3 times removed
Notice the consanguinity chart and Ancestry have different estimates of our relationship. Here's a tip. On Ancestry, click the little letter i next to your estimated relationship. Or click the relationship itself, if it's a link. You'll see all your possible relationships. For T.H., the highest possibilities are 4th cousin or 3rd cousin twice removed.

This helps you gauge how far up your tree to look for your connection.

T.H.'s family tree on Ancestry has 5 people, and 3 are private. That's as disappointing as can be. But her grandparents, the only unmasked names, are familiar. Her grandfather has my maiden name.

That's all I can learn from T.H.'s family tree. So I'll turn to my tree.

Her grandparents are already in my family tree. This was a big branch I met many years ago in Canada. It turns out T.H. is already in my family tree, too! Now I can add a note to her name on my DNA match list. From now on, I'll know I've identified her as my 5th cousin once removed. (Quite far from the estimates!)

Many times you'll have only the slimmest family tree to work with. I have 3 DNA matches that are like the golden ticket to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Ancestry says they match both my father and my mother. Of the 3, one has no tree. The second has a tree with only herself. The third has a tree with 228 people, but only one Italian name. (I'm only Italian.)

If you recognize names from your ancestral hometowns, it helps with your DNA matches.
If you recognize names from your ancestral hometowns, it helps with your DNA matches.

I recognize this last name as being from my grandfather's hometown of Colle Sannita. My DNA match's ancestor Americanized his first name from Donato to Dan, but I found him. His 1896 birth record says his parents were Francesco Zerrillo and Libera Piacquadio.

Using my Italian document collection, I extended Donato Zerrillo's tree 4 generations. On some branches I went even further than that. But there's no connection to me that doesn't involve a marriage or an in-law.

This is the real lesson of your DNA matches. Each one takes research to solve. If you're lucky and find someone like me in your match list, you could gain a windfall of ancestors. But most of your matches will leave the work up to you.

Take another look at your DNA match list. Are there easier ones you can knock off? Look for a high number of cMs and a match with a family tree. Look for last names you recognize. When you've finished the easy ones, you can sharpen your genealogy research skills on the rest.

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.

11 October 2019

2 Ways to Find the Loose Ends in Your Family Tree

You know all those things you left unfinished in your tree? No you don't.

With so many branches in your family tree, how can you find all the loose ends? How can you find every spot where you didn't finish searching for facts?

I have countless branches in my family tree. That's what happens when you piece together everyone who ever lived in your ancestral hometowns. Researching one of my grandfather's towns added 15,000 people to my tree. And now I'm working on the other grandfather's town.

Sound crazy? Think of it this way. I'm so familiar with every family name and street name from my grandfather's towns that the worst handwriting doesn't slow me down a bit. Plus, I had to work out every relationship in town to take Grandpa's branch back to the 1690s.

The whole time I was working on his town, I was dreaming of doing the same for all my ancestral towns. But before I add another 15,000 Italians to my family tree, I want to take the time to tie up some loose ends.

Here are 2 great ways to quickly see which birth, marriage, and death facts you're missing. These are loose ends you may be able to tie up.

1. Use Your Family Tree Software

I use Family Tree Maker, so you'll have to see how you can do this in your program. The idea is to sort your index of people by birth date, death date, or marriage date.

If you're reasonably sure of the year, you can search for the exact date.
If you're reasonably sure of the year, you can search for the exact date.

In Family Tree Maker, your index of people is probably showing names and birth dates by default. If so:
  • Click the pull-down menu next to the word "Sort"
  • Choose "Birth Date"
  • Scroll through your index and look for estimated or incomplete birth dates
If you want to look at Marriage Dates or Death Dates instead:
  • Click the icon to the right of "Index" that looks like 3 vertical bars
  • Choose "Marriage Date" or "Death Date"
  • Click the pull-down menu next to the word "Sort"
  • Choose "Marriage Date" or "Death Date"
  • Scroll through your index and look for estimated or incomplete dates
With the list sorted, you'll easily see where you have:
  • an estimated date (such as "Abt 1818"), or
  • an incomplete date (such as "1836" or "May 1817").
On my computer I have vital records from my ancestral Italian hometowns for a certain range of years. If someone from one of my towns has "1863" as their birth date, I should be able to find their birth record. Then I can change the birth year to an exact date. Loose end tied up!

2. Use Family Tree Analyzer

If your family tree software doesn't have an easy sort feature, or your tree exists only online, have no fear. The must-have free program Family Tree Analyzer has got you covered.

Launch Family Tree Analyzer and:
  • Load your latest GEDCOM file
  • Click the Individuals tab
  • Click the top of the "BirthDate" or "DeathDate" column to sort the facts
  • Scroll through the list and look for estimated or incomplete birth or death dates
To examine marriage dates in Family Tree Analyzer:
  • Click the Facts tab
  • Select all "Relationship Types"
  • Select only the "Marriage" fact
  • Click the "Show only the selected Facts for Individuals…" button
  • In the new window that opens, click the top of the "Fact Date" column to sort by marriage date
  • Scroll through the list and look for estimated or incomplete marriage dates
You may find that you have a long list of incomplete dates. Whenever I have a big task to do, I like to whittle it down by going after the easy stuff. Pick that low-hanging fruit and shorten that list as much as you can.

If your family tree software can't handle this project, Family Tree Analyzer can.
If your family tree software can't handle this project, Family Tree Analyzer can.

For this project, I would first work on the dates that are a bit more certain. "1818" is more certain than "Abt 1818". I must have a source for that "1818", but the "Abt 1818" is an educated guess or guestimate.

Tackle the missing months and dates first. Then you can work on the harder-to-find estimated dates.

You won't find them all, so don't beat yourself up about it. But I'm sure you can shorten that list of loose ends. Most of them are loose simply because that wasn't your focus at the time.

For instance, let's say I was entering an exact marriage date for a couple. The marriage documents included birth records for the bride and groom. That gave me a source for each of their parents' birth years. Because I was focused on the marriage facts, I didn't take the time to chase after the parents' birth records. The result is 2 loose ends.

Before you begin your next research project, take some time to see what you've overlooked. Go back and tie up as many loose ends as you can. Those exact dates will help your research in the future.

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.