04 October 2022

Lessons Learned from My One Place Study

Last week I finished the biggest genealogy project I've ever imagined. My blog posts tell me I began this One Place Study 2 years ago.

The idea was to work every available vital record from Grandpa's hometown into my family tree:

  • Births, marriages, and deaths from 1809–1860
  • Births from 1861–1915 (with 6 years missing), and
  • Marriages and deaths from 1931–1942.

That adds up to more than 38,300 documents!

Why did I start such a big project? I believed I could connect 95% of the people in those Colle Sannita records by blood or marriage. And I did! My ancestors came from small hill towns. Before modern roads, people stayed put and married their neighbors. That connected everyone.

The moment I finished my project, I felt adrift at sea. I tackled a small project, then I jumped right into the same project for my other Grandpa's town of Baselice.

With the Colle Sannita records behind me, I reflected on lessons learned from the project. These will help me as I work on my other ancestral hometowns.

Have a Broad Foundation

Before starting a One Place Study like this, 3 things are essential:

  1. Access to vital records from the town.
  2. A broad family tree of your relatives from the town.
  3. Lists. It's a tremendous help to create lists to work from. Page through the birth records for a year (or the index) and make a list of the names. I like to do this in one big spreadsheet.

Tons of my ancestral hometowns' vital records are available on the Antenati website. And I'm eternally grateful.

Set yourself up for One Place Study success with lists of available vital records.
Set yourself up for One Place Study success with lists of available vital records.

Lessons Learned

Before I began, my family tree already spread far beyond my cousins. While gathering cousins from the Italian vital records, I routinely added:

  • Who each cousin married
  • Each cousin's spouse's family
  • The spouses and children of everyone I added to my family tree.

That gave me the broad foundation I needed for this One Place Study. Here's what I learned over the course of the project:

See Who You Already Have

Before working through the records, sort your family tree by birth date, marriage date, or death date. Consult your list of names for that year (see "Lists" above), and tick off any who are already in your tree.

Do a Reasonably Exhaustive Search

If you can't place someone in your tree at first, expand your search. Was one of the parents listed by a nickname? If you still can't place them, mark that on your list, too.

Go through the List a Second Time

After you've reviewed all the records, you may find that some problems are now solved. Go through those unplaced records again. I was able to place about 25% of the people I skipped over the first time.

Some Documents Contain Errors

Sometimes the clerk will write down a wrong name. Or a parent may change the name they use. My great grandmother was born Marianna, but she's called Mariangela on later records.

Another Italian researcher told me that sometimes they refer to a woman by her mother's maiden name. I have no idea why, but I have seen this happen. Now I know to look for it when something doesn't add up.

When I'm sure I know who someone is, but there's an error on their vital record, I note it prominently in my family tree.

Leave Yourself Breadcrumbs

I had a lot of fun following the documents wherever they led me. Let's say I'm adding a child to a couple in my tree. While I'm there, I look for all the kids from that family. If some have a marriage notation on their birth record, I find the spouse. Then I add the spouse's family. This can go on for quite some time, and you can get lost.

Leave breadcrumbs so you can make your way back where you started. I did this by keeping the documents open until I finished with them. If a birth record contains a marriage note, I leave it open until I finish adding the spouse and their family. When all documents are closed, I can go back to where I left off in my list.

Highly visible notes in my family tree explain discrepancies found in vital records.
Highly visible notes in my family tree explain discrepancies found in vital records.

Keep a Map Website Open

There will be place names you can't read. Maybe someone who died in your town was born in another. But what does it say? Or maybe there's a street address, but it's very unclear to you.

Try to find the correct spelling by looking at Google Maps or Bing Maps. Bing Maps does a much better job of naming every little street in my ancestral hometowns. When I'm unsure of spelling, I crawl the map until I find it.

Enjoy the Journey

There will be times when you're not in the mood for a big project. And times when you feel driven to complete a year before calling it quits for the day. Do what makes you happy at that moment.

If I start to feel like this is tedious, I switch to a related project. For instance, in the 1900s, many people from my town married people from the next town—Circello. If I needed a break, I'd go work on my list of Circello vital records for a while.

Final thoughts. I was able to mass-download the vital records from my towns a long time ago. Since then, Antenati and FamilySearch have worked to prevent mass downloads.

But I started this type of project before anything was online. I was viewing bad quality microfilm at a local Family History Center a couple of days a week. I sat there with a laptop in my lap and typed the basics for each record. My shorthand looked like this:

-Pasquale Maria Cernese b 1 apr 1809 to Giovanni di Saverio 35 (bracciale) and Battista di Giovanni Colucci

That means a baby named Pasquale Maria Cernese was born on 1 Apr 1809 to 35-year-old laborer (that's bracciale) Giovanni Cernese, the son of Saverio, and Battista Colucci, the daughter of Giovanni. That information was all I needed to build a 10,000-person family tree of that town. So you can do this project by accessing the vital records on Antenati or FamilySearch.

If you do this, share your work! I share my lists of vital records from my towns on my website. Plus, my gigantic family tree is public on Ancestry. Share the genealogy wealth!

27 September 2022

Share Your Family History in a Fun New Way

As I sat down to watch the Yankees game and wait for Aaron Judge to make history, two things caught my eye:

  • Baseball statistics on the TV screen
  • My Trivial Pursuit® games on my bookshelf

Then it hit me. What if I combined baseball cards and Trivial Pursuit cards family tree style?

Baseball cards have a picture of the player and the name of his team on the front, and a bunch of statistics on the back. My Trivial Pursuit Simpsons Edition cards have a character image on the side that faces the player. On the other side are the questions to ask, and their answers.

So imagine this. Our Ancestor Trivia Cards will have two sides:

  • The side facing the player features the shape and name of the ancestor's state or country of birth.
  • The other side has the ancestor's:
    • photo, if you have one, or a generic silhouette
    • name and basic facts: date and place of birth, marriage, and death
    • name(s) of spouse(s)
    • name(s) of child(ren)
    • occupation

Add a sentence that captures something special about the ancestor. Was he the mayor of his town? Did she lose several children in infancy but raise several more? I have an ancestor who was a rebel against the unification of Italy, and died in a skirmish.

Imagine a set of trivia cards featuring your ancestors! Here's a new genealogy project for your whole family.
Imagine a set of trivia cards featuring your ancestors! Here's a new genealogy project for your whole family.

To make a real game of it, ask your relatives to guess who you're describing as you feed them one fact at a time. If they don't want to play, let them go through the cards to find an ancestor whose facts interest them. Then tell them everything you know about that ancestor.

Here's a Microsoft Word template (or a Google Docs template) you can use to make your Ancestor Trivia Cards. Print on card stock or a heavier-than-usual paper stock. Print the front of the cards, then turn the paper over and print the back of the cards.

Wikipedia is a good resource for an image of the shape of your ancestor's state or country of birth. You can do a Google search for different silhouettes or outlines of a man and woman. I found a website called pixabay.com that has graphics you can download for free. You'll find choices that evoke different periods of time and different physical qualities.

Start with your closest ancestors so your relatives will be able to play the game. Then go ahead and make cards for the ancestors who've inspired you with their stories.

Use your Ancestor Trivia Cards to memorialize important members of your family tree.

*Trivial Pursuit is a registered trademark of Hasbro.

20 September 2022

9 Steps to Really Safeguard Your Family Tree

Ever since I quit my day job, I've been spending all day, every day building my family tree. When you're adding 200 people to your tree a day, you've got to make sure not to lose any of your work.

That's why I developed an iron-clad routine so I'll never lose a day's work. I follow this routine without fail. It's a long list, but when you make something a habit, the steps move right along.

This list assumes you're using desktop family tree software. I cannot imagine building your tree only online. I want that data on my computer, in my control at all times. Don't you?

Here's my obsessive-compulsive routine. I should be this careful with everything in my life.

Together, these 9 steps make your family tree as safe as you can imagine.
Together, these 9 steps make your family tree as safe as you can imagine.

Throughout the Day:

1. Save the Change Log

When it's time for a break, I take advantage of a Family Tree Maker feature I learned about last year. When you click the Plan tab in FTM, you'll see 2 tabs: Tasks and Change Log. Change Log is a list of your last thousand changes.

Click the printer icon to save the list as a PDF. The name of my family tree file is Iamarino, my maiden name, so I save this file as "temp Iamarino Change Log.pdf." Each time I save it, I overwrite the previous version.

2. Make a Backup

Since I make a few backups throughout the day, I add a letter to the end of each file's name:

  • Iamarino_2022-09-20a.ftmb
  • Iamarino_2022-09-20b.ftmb
  • Iamarino_2022-09-20c.ftmb
  • Iamarino_2022-09-20d.ftmb

Once I make the final backup of the day, I delete these interim files. But if disaster strikes my file in the middle of the day, I can rely on my latest backup.

You may have overlooked these important family tree maintenance and backup options.
You may have overlooked these important family tree maintenance and backup options.

At the End of the Day:

3. Export a Full GEDCOM

This is a new step for me. After a long day's work, why wouldn't I generate my latest and greatest GEDCOM file? As the days go by, I keep only the 2 most recent GEDCOMs on my computer.

An up-to-date GEDCOM means you're always ready to:

  • upload it to a new website
  • search it for text you need to find
  • open it in different software.

4. Make a Final Backup

Now it's time for the final backup of the day. This one has no letter added to it: Iamarino_2022-09-20.ftmb. You may want to include media in this backup. I had to stop doing that because backups with media for my 55,000-person tree were about 18 gigabytes each. It took forever!

5. Compact Your File

When you add or edit anything on your computer, the new data could be stored anywhere on the drive. Family Tree Maker lets you compact your file to make it run more efficiently. After adding 200 people, I want to clean up the data storage.

You can compact your tree with your FTM software open, but your tree file closed. I prefer to do it this way to avoid potential errors. Next, exit FTM and let it generate another backup: Iamarino_AutoBackup.ftmb.

With my FTM file closed and compacted, I can delete any earlier backups I made that day.

6. Sync the Day's Files with the Cloud

I keep my family tree files on my computer and on Microsoft OneDrive. When I'm done for the day, I turn on OneDrive to upload my new files to the cloud. Note: Do not keep your working FTM file on the cloud. That is, don't work on a file that is also synchronizing with the cloud. Keep the file on your hard drive, then put a copy on the cloud.

The Next Morning:

7. Sync the Tree with Ancestry.com

An early morning sync with your Ancestry tree gives the best results. Website traffic in your region is going to be lighter early in the morning than any other time of day. If you're a night owl, consider syncing very late at night.

8. Save the List of Changes

During the sync process you can save the list of changes that FTM is about to upload to Ancestry.com. I keep these dated PDF files for a few weeks. They're very small files, so there's no harm in keeping them a while.

  • FamilySyncChangeLog 2022-09-17.pdf
  • FamilySyncChangeLog 2022-09-18.pdf
  • FamilySyncChangeLog 2022-09-19.pdf
  • FamilySyncChangeLog 2022-09-20.pdf

At the End of the Week:

9. Copy All Files to External Drives

This is my Sunday morning ritual. I sync my tree and copy the most important files on my computer to 2 different external hard drives. Plus they're on the OneDrive cloud. Because, you know, obsessive-compulsive.

Now that I've written it out, nine steps sounds positively insane. But your genealogy work is priceless! It's worth your time to protect your files like a mama bear protects her cubs. How safe are your files?