29 December 2017

First-Year Genealogy Highlights

I can recommend this approach for your genealogy hobby:

Treat it like a business.

My approach to genealogy has taken me very far.

That does not mean you'll stop enjoying it. And you won't find it becoming a burden. Treating your family tree research like a business means you'll reach new heights. You'll make big discoveries faster than ever before.

One year ago I started this blog with a single thought. "If genealogists were more businesslike, there'd be more high-quality family trees out there."

I started publishing Fortify Your Family Tree to promote best practices. My goal was to help fellow genealogists improve their family trees.

The bonus for me is that I am spending much more time on my own family tree so I have topics to write about.

As a first-year recap, here are the articles at the core of my "treat it like a business" philosophy. Plus, here's a list of my most popular articles.

The Fortify Your Family Tree Philosophy
  1. Know exactly where your people came from
  2. Document your research thoroughly
  3. Examine every available document
  4. Step back and judge your work objectively
Most Popular Articles
  1. Free Resource Lets You Plot Family Tree Locations
  2. How to Create Your Ancestral Hometown Database
  3. Work in Batches to Strengthen Your Family Tree
  4. How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives
  5. How to Share Your Family Tree Research with Relatives

I've had big breakthroughs this year. I look forward to another year of working on my tree and writing to inspire your research. Thank you for reading!

26 December 2017

A Resolution You'll Want to Keep

On Christmas evening I followed my own advice. I created a list of 7 genealogy goals for 2018. (See What Are Your Genealogy Goals for 2018?)

They're a little rough and fuzzy to start. But my plan is to fine-tune and prioritize them before January 1st.
Make 2018 the year your family tree blossoms.
Make 2018 the year your family tree blossoms.
  1. Create a weekly backup plan for my computer
  2. Find my parents' common ancestors
  3. Log my downloaded Antenati documents into spreadsheet
  4. Fill out the "Still to find" column on my document tracker
  5. Verify the upstate New York railyard story and the Agostino fight stories
  6. Find out my great grandfather's position in his local Italian-American society
  7. Figure out the Muollo family's connection to my Sarracino family
If you haven't yet created your 2018 list of genealogy goals, let me explain my thought process for my list. Reading this should help you find your most important goals.

Backup Plan

I transitioned to a new computer this month, so having a perfect backup plan is top-of-mind. (See Prepare Your Family Tree for Your Computer's Demise.) I'm thinking about writing a little Java program to identify which files are new as of a particular date. Then I can copy only those files. If I can write a handy program, I'll be happy to share it with you.

Connect My Parents

I've gotten DNA tests for myself and my parents. One test tells me my parents are distant cousins! (See Free DNA Analysis Finds Kissing Cousins.) AncestryDNA backs this up because mom and dad are in each other's match list. I need to find the set of great grandparents that connects them.

Log Italian Vital Records

Everyone researching Italian ancestors needs to know about the Antenati website. (See Collect the Whole Set!) I've downloaded all available documents from my four ancestral hometowns. If I log the critical facts from each vital record, I can piece together extended families.

Document Tracker

Sometimes I'll use my document tracker to complete the set of documents for a family. For instance, my spreadsheet shows me at a glance which documents I've found for each person. If it's obvious that I'm missing a couple of census years, I can focus on finding them. It will help my research if I fill in my "Still to find" column. If I do that, I can spend a day finding every missing 1940 census for my tree.

Family Lore

I have a couple of unproven family stories that will take a lot of research to prove or disprove. I have so little to go on. Maybe you have some family legends you can research in 2018. They may involve newspaper research or some other research that you can't do from home.

Personal History

They buried my great grandfather wearing a ribbon from an Italian-American society. (See 1925 Death Photo Holds a Clue to My Ancestor's Life.) I want to find out more. It seems to me he may have held an esteemed position in the society. The Bronx Historical Society has told me they can't help. I need to find more resources.

Tie Up Loose Ends

I have a family named Muollo in my family tree with no connection to me. I suspect they're related, but I have to find the proof. My great grandfather Giovanni Sarracino's mother was a Muollo. My great uncle, Giuseppe Sarracino, settled in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, at the same time as Gennaro Muollo from his hometown. This year, I want to find the connection between Gennaro Muollo and me.

I have never made a New Year's resolution. Since childhood I'd heard that New Year's resolutions were always broken. Quickly. So I never bothered.

But a New Year's Genealogy resolution is an entirely different thing. This resolution—this genealogy goal list—will keep me focused. I expect to have a very productive year of family tree research in 2018.

How about you?

22 December 2017

What Are Your Genealogy Goals for 2018?

Is your family tree research more productive when you focus on one person? Or do you happily follow leads and create new branches all the time?

You can fortify your family tree by filling in the blanks for your closest relatives. Then you can move on to those tempting new branches.

If you have a few moments to yourself this holiday season, think about your specific genealogy research goals for the new year. Working your way down your list of specific goals will make your tree stronger, faster.

Here are some suggestions for creating your genealogy goals for 2018.

My grandparent chart shows me exactly who's missing.
My grandparent chart shows me exactly who's missing.

Find Specific Ancestors

Create a chart or spreadsheet of your direct-line ancestors to see which sets of great grandparents are missing. See How to Visualize Your Ancestor-Finding Progress for a spreadsheet you can use.

My grandparent chart showed me that I needed the most work on my mother's mother's family. When I saw how much further I'd gotten with every other branch of my tree, I decided to focus on Grandma's line. I made great strides! See Today I Demolished My Family Tree's Only Brick Wall.

Your chart can show you where your tree needs the most work. Your goal might be "Find my 4th great grandparents in my paternal grandfather's line."

My document tracker shows me which documents I have and don't have.
My document tracker shows me which documents I have and don't have.

Fill in What's Missing

A few years into my genealogy research, I had a big collection of downloaded documents: census forms, ship manifests, draft registrations cards, and more. My filing system is very logical, so I can find what I need in a heartbeat.

But with such a big collection, it was hard to know if I was busy searching for something I had already. See Haven't I Seen You Before?

My document tracker spreadsheet gives me a quick way to see what I have for a person and what I'm missing.

Another of your goals for 2018 could be to "Find every missing 1940 census for the people in my tree."

Request Official Documents

I wish every document I needed for my family tree were online. But sometimes you've got to request a marriage certificate from the state, or buy a copy of a death certificate from the Department of Health.

If some of your ancestors died not so long ago, it's unlikely you'll find their death records online. You've got to find out how to order a copy from the state where your ancestor died.

I wanted a copy of my grandfather's 1992 death certificate to learn his exact cause of death. My brother, my cousins, and I knew it was two types of cancer, but we weren't sure which types. As his direct descendants, we thought we should know.

Since my grandfather died in New York City, I had to request a copy in a certain way. If he'd died somewhere else in New York state, or in another state, I would have had to follow a different procedure.

P.S. They did not send me his full death certificate, so I still don't know his official cause of death.

Your goal for 2018 might be "Get copies of birth, marriage and death records for my grandparents and great grandparents."

Confirm or Debunk Family Lore

I have two pieces of family lore that are so vague, I may never be able to confirm or debunk them.

One story says that my great grandfather's brother, Agostino, left the Bronx and moved to Chicago because he was involved in a fight that left a man dead.

I can try to pinpoint when he left the Bronx, and then search newspapers for a story about a man dying in a big brawl.

Another story says that my great grandfather Pasquale left New York and moved to Ohio because of an injury. He and his brothers-in-law worked for the railroad. One of the men let his son into a restricted area. The boy did something stupid and lost a few toes in an accident. To avoid getting fired, they packed up and moved.

The men continued working for the railroads. I suspect the railroad in Youngtown, Ohio, needed workers. They may have gotten an incentive to go work there.

But if the story were true, there might be some documentation of the boy with the missing toes.

Newspaper research could be what you need to confirm or debunk your family stories. Your goal might be "Find proof for my cousin's claim about our ancestor."

Aim for five or six goals that will provide the most bang for your research buck. If you achieve these goals, imagine how much family tree research you will accomplish in 2018!

19 December 2017

Free DNA Analysis Finds Kissing Cousins

You can download your DNA data.
Download your DNA to use elsewhere.
When you order your DNA test, you should have the option to download your raw DNA file from the company's website.

You can submit that raw DNA file to other websites for a different analysis. For example, after attending a genealogy seminar featuring Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, I paid a small fee to submit my raw DNA to FamilyTreeDNA.com. She suggested that if you submit your DNA to multiple sites, you're more likely to find relatives.

My FamilyTreeDNA analysis was similar to what AncestryDNA told me. The percentages were different, but it wasn't far off. I like AncestryDNA better because it pinpoints my origins as "Southern Italian" and not just "Southeast Europe".

This section says my parents are related.
This section tells me my parents are related!

I looked for more sites to analyze my DNA and found that I could create a free account on Gedmatch.com. Look for "Raw DNA file Uploads" in the "File Uploads" section of the page. Follow the steps to submit the ZIP file of your raw DNA to Gedmatch.

You'll get a "kit number" once your DNA is analyzed. Keep that number handy. Now you're ready to try out a handful of tests. Look in the "DNA raw data" column of the "Analyze Your Data" section of the main page.

Today let's focus on "Are your parents related?" Click that test name and enter your kit number. On the results page, you'll see each of your chromosomes. Color-coding shows how many segments they have in common. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for a conclusion.

My test says, "This analysis indicates that your parents are probably distantly related." Up at the top of the page, my Chromosome 2 shows my largest DNA match, measuring 7.6 Centimorgans.

I decided to run a quick test to help verify these results. I know that my father's parents were third cousins. So his raw DNA should also show that his parents were related, but my mom's DNA should not show a relationship between her parents.

Gedmatch passed my test. It did show that my dad's parents were related, but my mom's were not. My dad's DNA has two chromosomes with a significant match. The results also showed that his parents were more closely related than my parents.

My test gives me good confidence in this parent-relationship test overall.

My parents are in each other's DNA match list!
That face you make when your dad is
in your mom's DNA match list.

Once I learned my mom and dad are related, I went back to AncestryDNA to see if dad shows up in mom's DNA match list, and mom shows up in dad's.

They do!

My mom's DNA match list has my dad as her 4th cousin. More specifically, the results point to high confidence that they are 4th–6th cousins. A standard cousin chart tells me that if they're 4th–6th cousins, they share a set of 3rd–5th grandparents.

Cousin chart showing how two people are related.
Cousin Chart, showing how two people are related.

My own ancestor chart (see How to Visualize Your Ancestor-Finding Progress) shows me how many of my parents' 3rd–5th grandparents (my 4th–6th grandparents) I've identified. So far, I have not found my parents' common ancestors.

My ancestors all came from a few neighboring towns in rural Italy. I visited those towns. My one grandfather's town is so close to my other grandfather's town that I could see one town from the other.

I think at some point, a man from one of their towns married a woman from the other.

Thanks to this free, secondary analysis of my DNA, I have a purpose. I must find out exactly how my parents are related!

What secrets are locked in your DNA?

15 December 2017

Moving Your Family Tree to a New Computer

The last time, I wrote about how important it is to be ready for the sudden loss of your computer. You must be prepared to move your genealogy files if your computer is about to die. And sure, you'll have to move non-genealogy files, too.

I'm lucky that my 4-year-and-8-month-old computer gave me warning that it was on its last legs. Every program I tried to run was unresponsive. I had to move on to new technology.

My new laptop arrived two days ago, and I began installing my most important software:
  • Microsoft Office
  • Adobe's Photoshop, DreamWeaver, and Acrobat
  • Quickbooks
  • Some specialty software I need for work
  • Family Tree Maker
Family Tree Maker can fix this problem for me.
A tool to fix the problem.

When I launched Family Tree Maker on my new machine for the first time, I was surprised that it displayed my media files. I have 2,634 images attached to people in my tree. They are mainly census forms, ship manifests, and photos.

I was surprised to see them because the file structure on my new computer is different. I'm storing all my genealogy images on the "E" drive, which is enormous.

It turns out I made a bad choice when I first began using FTM in 2003 or so. The program asked me if I wanted to save media files in the family tree file, or link to their location on the computer.

I figured that saving the media in the file would make the file way too big. So I linked to them instead.

I knew I couldn't move files around or rename the files or folders. They would become unlinked if I did. I accepted that, and I never changed anything.

Imagine my face two days ago when I realized all my media was now unlinked!

Thankfully, Family Tree Maker has a fix for this. I hope your family tree software does, too. If you're not sure, check your software's website or click the Help menu to see what it says about media files.

In Family Tree Maker, I clicked the Media menu and chose Find Missing Media. This brought up a window showing the long, long list of my 2,634 missing media items.

FTM is getting me out of a jam.
"Click to search manually"? No thanks.

In the right column, labelled Attach, there's a choice between Attach a Copy and Attach a Link. I'd always chosen to attach a link before. Here was my chance to bring a copy of every single media item into my Family Tree Maker file.

Sure, my family tree file is going to be much fatter than it used to be. But I've got a 1 terabyte hard drive now, so who cares?

The process is very simple, but as I write this, it's still running.

All I had to do was click to Select All, make sure the Attach column was set to Copy, and click Search. Immediately, I saw that the program found my files on my new E drive. So it's working! It's more than halfway done, and progressing nicely.

A better graphics card makes working on your family tree easier.
A better graphics card makes
working on your family tree easier.

I would have been pretty upset if I had to locate the 2,634 images one at a time! But let this be a lesson to you. If you plan to move your family tree to a new computer, and your file doesn't contain all the images, pull them in now.

And here's a nice benefit to upgrading that computer. Aside from it being faster, I've got a really high-resolution screen. So I'm able to see so much more of my family tree at a glance than before.

At this point, my house contains more obsolete computer equipment than it should. But genealogy is a high-tech hobby. It pays to have good tools for the job.

12 December 2017

Prepare Your Family Tree for Your Computer's Demise

The computer graveyard
Two of our dust-collectors we keep to run one program.
Planned obsolescence. That's why your appliances don't last forever. If they made a computer that ran forever, they'd have no repeat customers!

When the day comes that your computer will not start—and that day is coming—what will worry you the most? Is it the loss of your family tree files?

Don't put yourself in that position!

Disaster Strikes

On Saturday I spent a few hours working in Family Tree Maker. I was beginning to add detailed notes to each of the 363 ship manifest images I've collected. I'd already done this for my 637 census sheet images. (See Add Proof and a Breadcrumb to Family Tree Documents.)

On Sunday I turned on my computer to continue to fortify my family tree.

But my computer did not start. Instead, a message said it was repairing my hard drive! I left it alone for hours, but it never got further than 38% through the repair process.

Was this the end of my beloved Toshiba laptop? As recently as two weeks ago I said, "I don't care if this computer is almost four years old. I absolutely love it, and I have no complaints at all." But last week it was refusing to multi-task. Sometimes I had to force it to reboot.

Will You Be Ready?

With the help of the Emergency Recovery Disk I'd created last January, I was able to access my hard drive.

Immediately I began copying files to a 1 terabyte external hard drive. I last updated that backup drive in March (bad girl!), so I had lots of newer files to add.

Now my backup drive has every one of my collected genealogy documents and a few backups of my trees.

Next, I took a look at the tons of programs installed on my computer. I was most concerned with the programs I paid for and that I rely on so heavily for work and play.

I sent an email to the Family Tree Maker people. I asked how to move the program—which I had downloaded rather than buying a CD-ROM—to my future computer. They were very quick to respond with the simple steps.

I continued sifting through my computer files. I copied my most recent collection of bookmarks and passwords. I copied my Microsoft Outlook file. It contains genealogy correspondence going back more than 10 years! I checked out how to move my Office programs, Adobe programs, and QuickBooks onto my new computer. I'm all set.

Better Times Ahead

My new computer arrives tomorrow. Since Sunday I've kept my Toshiba awake (the poor thing) so I can continue using it and accessing my files.

This is a wake-up call we all need to hear. Do you have your disaster plan in place for your family tree?

08 December 2017

Becoming Italian Was a Long, Hard Journey

The history of Italy is one of conquest, invasions, and turmoil. If you identify as all-Italian (although you were born somewhere else) expect to find a smorgasbord of ethnicities in your DNA.

The Papal States of Italy
For more history, see Understanding Italy.

By the late 1700s, Italy the Visigoths, Attila the Hun, the Lombards, and many more had attacked Italy. The pope was getting a little tired of the commotion. He convinced the Frankish King Pepin to kick out the invaders. Pepin then donated all of Italy to the pope and his successors.

That's how the Papal States came to be:
  • Kingdom of Sardinia
  • Republic of Genoa
  • Republic of Venice
  • Duchy of Palma
  • Duchy of Modena
  • Grand Duchy of Tuscany
  • Kingdom of Sardinia
  • Kingdom of Sicily

Months ago I published an article titled What's Napoleon Got To Do With Italy? to explain how each Italian town collected vital records in the 1800s.

In 1796, Napoleon was on a tear, conquering as much of the world as possible. He defeated his enemies, kicking Austrian and Spanish rulers off the Italian peninsula. By 1809, Napoleon controlled all of Italy.

That's why we're so lucky to have birth, marriage, and death records available to us starting in 1809. Napoleon ordered the creation of these vital records.

Even better, they defeated Napoleon in 1813, but the record-keeping continued.

Italian hero Giuseppe Garibaldi
Giuseppe Garibaldi.
One tough cookie.
After his defeat, our ancestors were back in a state of turmoil. They lost the northern parts of Italy Austria. The southern parts were Papal States once again. But no one was happy.

Do you have any ancestors who were born in Italy around May 1860? That's when all hell broke lose. During an uprising, Giuseppe Garibaldi kicked out foreign forces and took back Italy.

Now Garibaldi has streets and piazzas named for him throughout the land.

The kingdoms and duchies of Italy began their unification process. Lucky for us, because now we get to visit "Italy" instead of the Kingdom of Sicily or the Republic of Venice.

If you have Italian ancestors and haven't visited the Antenati website, you must! It's a treasure trove for genealogists. Here are some instructions and success stories:

If you have visited the site and did not find your ancestral hometown, check the News page regularly. You'll be the first to know when new records are added.

05 December 2017

Why Genealogists Treasure Each Family Member

I know exactly when it happened. When I became that person who cries over a sappy TV commercial. Who can't hold back her own tears when someone else is crying. It was when I lost a close family member to a tragic accident when she was a toddler.

This little boy's spirit is imprinted on his siblings, my cousins.
This little boy's spirit is imprinted on his siblings, my cousins.
I've added thousands of ancestors to my family tree by documenting every family in my ancestors' small Italian hometowns. That means I've entered death records for lots and lots of babies. Each one breaks my heart!

This doesn't describe every genealogist. But I suspect you feel an emotional connection to the relatives in your family tree.

Think about your favorite genealogy TV shows. Doesn't each one showcase a heart-wrenching connection to previously unknown ancestors?

Isn't that genuine emotional connection a part of the human condition? And isn't it the reason we do our family research?

I went to a funeral yesterday, and his death was a tragic loss for everyone gathered there. I want to focus on all that went into creating the man I knew. His ancestors, their emigration from Italy, their struggles to raise their families and carry on.

We are, as genealogists, paying tribute to the lives of each one of our ancestors. We're enriching our own spirits as well as those of our cousins.

You're discovering all the ancestors who made you exactly the person you are today. You're paying tribute to the people who touch your heart each time you see their names.

And if you think that's a waste of time, you don't know what family is.

01 December 2017

Our Ancestors' Work Conditions

My ancestors came to America to escape poverty and earn money for their families. There was no work for young men in their hometowns.

When they came to America, industries were growing and needed men for hard labor. Some of my ancestors worked in coal mines or for the railroads. My great grandfather developed black lung disease, forcing his early retirement.

When World War I began, some industries had to change their ways. Long before Rosie the Riveter, women employees kept things running. Businesses also relied more on black workers.

Between December 1917 and March 1920, the government consolidated our railroads under the United States Railroad Administration.

This was a big deal. Independent, competing railroad companies now joined forces for efficiency. A year earlier, President Woodrow Wilson pushed through an act ordering railroads to limit their workers to an eight-hour work day. The workers were about to go on strike.

Now he had to avoid strikes and ensure the smooth flow of goods across the country. Wages went up, but they went up a lot more for senior employees than lower-paid employees.

In September 1918, two months before the war ended, the Secretary of the Treasury wrote a report to the president about the progress of the United States Railroad Administration.

Two facts in this report are very surprising for 1918.

The U.S. government recommended paying women the same wages as men...in 1918!
This is from the Federal U.S. government in 1918!
The government recognized the importance of women workers. Imagine that! While they protected women from jobs "unsuited to their sex", they paid them "the same wages as men engaged in similar work".

The U.S. government recommended paying black men the same wages as white men...in 1918!
Again, this is 1918!

The government recognized the importance of black workers. I don't know which of these facts is more shocking for 1918. The Secretary of the Treasury believed that "equal pay for equal service without respect to sex or color" was an act of justice.

This seems so enlightened for 1918.

After World War I, the Railway Administration Act returned the railroads to private ownership. Maybe that's why one railroad worker in my family tree was "off on strike" from July to September, 1922.

This man's service record is marred by one strike.
I'm guessing the privately-owned railroads weren't so dedicated to keeping the workers happy.

Most of my women ancestors worked at home, sewing. At least they avoided the sweatshops and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City.

We're doing better than our ancestors on working conditions. But the fact that the government recommended equal pay for all in 1918 makes you wonder when and how that stopped.

28 November 2017

How to Find Errors in Your Family Tree

Update: Family Tree Analyzer is now available for Mac.

The mission of this blog is to encourage genealogists to improve their family trees. To fortify your family tree means to:
  • Use the best sources for your facts.
  • Locate as many pieces of documentation as possible.
  • Analyze your tree for errors and fix them.
  • Add thorough, consistent, provable facts throughout your tree.

This one report shows me how many great grandparents I've found for my family tree.
This quick report lets me see the oldest direct ancestors in my tree.

The more your tree grows, the harder it can be to find its errors. Maybe you added lots of facts when you were first building your tree and didn't add any sources. Maybe you borrowed from someone else's tree and later realized they were wrong. Or maybe you accidentally transposed the numbers in a bunch of birth years.

Family tree errors can happen to a professional genealogist as well as an excited newcomer.

How can you find the errors when your tree is big and you've been working on it for years? How do you find a handful of needles in a haystack?

Reporting Software

Reporting tools can point out all kinds of family tree errors, showing you exactly where to jump in and start fixing.

I've written about the free software tool called Family Tree Analyzer (FTA) twice this year. (See Why You Should Be Using the Free "Family Tree Analyzer" and Run This Genealogy Report To Help Clean Up Your Dates to download the software and see what it's about.)

Get the latest version from the source: http://ftanalyzer.com. Go to the Software.Informer website for free GEDCOM analyzers that work on Mac or Windows.
I knew I'd barely scratched the surface of what FTA can do. Now I'm using it to identify a variety of errors I can fix in my family tree.

The first step is to run your family tree software and export a standard GEDCOM file. This is the agreed-upon standard that makes your family research transportable and sharable.

Then run FTA and import your GEDCOM. The first thing you'll see is a long summary of the types of facts found in your tree. My favorite part is this list:
  • Direct Ancestors: 189
  • Blood Relations: 1,451
  • Married to Blood or Direct Relation: 541
  • Related by Marriage: 12,452
Click the Data Errors tab. You might see a long list of errors. Some are more important than others, so click the Clear All button. Now click to select one type of error, such as Birth before father aged 13.

My tree has nearly 20,000 people, and I discovered the majority of them in old Italian vital records. Some of the documents had errors. Others had conflicting information. In tons of cases, I had no age or birth year for parents, so I chose to make them 25 years older than their oldest child.

For Maria Giuseppa Verzino, shown in this error report, I have evidence that she was born in 1799. But her father Paolo has a birth year of "About 1791".
An example of an error report showing something that's easy to fix.
Error report for seriously under-aged fathers.

I try to be very consistent in my family tree. Whenever I see "About" for someone's birth year, I know that I subtracted 25 from the birth year of the person's oldest child. But maybe I found more of their children later. Maybe when I found Maria Giuseppa and her birth year of 1799, I forgot to update her parents' birth years. Maria Giuseppa probably has a sibling born in 1816. When I recorded that sibling, I subtracted 25 from 1816 and marked the parents as being born "About 1791".

This is easy for me to fix. I can go to Paolo Verzino in my tree and see if I've found any children born before Maria Giuseppa in 1799. If not, Paolo and his wife's birth years should be updated to "About 1774".

That's one less needle in the haystack of errors.

Now uncheck that error and select another one, like Marriage after death. I have one of these errors. My family tree says that Giuseppe Antonio delGrosso was married on 11 December 1859. But I have his death recorded as "Before Dec 1859". That needs to be looked at.

Work Through the Errors

You can work your way through the errors and correct them one by one.

FTA contains a lot of tabs and menus. Click them to see what may be useful to you. The Facts tab can show all of your direct-line ancestors in a list. Choose only Direct Ancestors in the Relationship Types section. Then choose any fact, such as Birth. Click Show only the selected Facts for Individuals.

The resulting table shows me at a glance that I've identified two sets of my 9th great grandparents born in the early 1600s! I can click any column to sort by relationship, last name, date of birth, etc.

That isn't an error to fix, but it is a way to double-check my ancestor chart where I'm keeping a list of all direct-line ancestors. (See How to Visualize Your Ancestor-Finding Progress.)

So take a break from finding new ancestors, and make the time to fix the errors in your family tree. After you've fixed a bunch of them, export a new GEDCOM. Open it in Family Tree Analyzer and see how much shorter your errors lists are.

Fixing errors is every bit as important as finding that missing census file or death record.

24 November 2017

Time-Management Tips for Genealogists

Make these four lists and you will fortify your family tree.
The first item: Make This List!

You have so many tasks on your genealogy to-do list. So many threads to follow and weave together.

How can you manage your genealogy research so you're
  • always making progress and
  • never dropping the ball?
The answer seems like a contradiction. It's a combination of concentration, flexibility, focus, and spontaneity.
  • Concentration to stay on-task and set aside temptations that don't help you with your goal.
  • Flexibility to jump from one branch to another when a cousin asks for your expertise.
  • Focus to complete large tasks that need to get done.
  • Spontaneity to respond to a potential relative and collaborate on their research.
Making progress on each of these tasks helps you make strides in your family tree research.

Here are some time-management tips to keep you on track so you never feel overwhelmed by the hobby you love.

Set High-Level Goals

Make a list of the most important goals for your research. At a high level, what do you want to accomplish?

For example, DNA testing tells me that my parents are 4th to 6th cousins. One of my top goals is to find that set of 3rd to 5th great grandparents they share. In all the research I do from now on, finding that couple has to be my top goal.

You may have a handful of high-level goals. Put them all in a list and glance at it each time you sit down to do more research.

Break Big Goals into Easier Chunks

Your list of high-level goals can seem like a pie-in-the-sky fantasy, and not something you can do. Break each goal down into logical, manageable chunks. These individual tasks will look more realistic. And achieving each one will get you closer to that high-level goal.

For example, I keep a chart of every direct-line ancestor I've identified. (See How to Visualize Your Ancestor-Finding Progress.) The chart contains a good number of my parents' 3rd to 5th great grandparents. To achieve my high-level goal of finding my parents' connection, I can:
  • Work to identify more great grandparents, one set at a time. I have tons of Italian vital records I need to search through.
  • Examine the last names of the great grandparents I have identified. Do I recognize any names on Dad's side as belonging on Mom's side?
  • Check the marriage records for some of these couples. My ancestors all come from neighboring towns in Italy. Do any of these couples have a husband or wife who was born in one of those towns but married in another? The out-of-towner may be connected to another branch in my family tree.
Keep a Task List

In addition to your high-level goals and each goal's individual tasks, you have plenty of other work to do on your family tree. You may need to:
  • Clean up your source citations.
  • Annotate the images in your tree.
  • Attach documents, like census forms, to each person in your tree who's named in the document.
  • Find sources for facts in your tree that you forgot to document.
  • Gather the documents that are missing but you know you can find if you keep trying.
  • Untangle and fix the mistakes you know are in your tree.
For this list, you need to put aside your flexibility and spontaneity for a stretch of time. Focus on completing or making significant progress on one of these important tasks. You know your family tree will be better for the effort. You want to get these tasks out of the way. So whenever possible, put your blinders on and get to it.

Keep a Contact List

Is your family tree online? Have you had a DNA test? If so, you may have had people contact you trying to find a connection. Make a list of these contacts and a description of their family details.

I have people who are trying to find a connection based on one last name, or one ancestral hometown. If I have that list handy, I can contact them when I make a new discovery.

Don't lose track of those potential relatives.

Here's your challenge:
  1. Write down your high-level goals. These will change over time. You may add a bunch more before you cross any off your list.
  2. Break down each high-level goal into the steps that can help you achieve those goals. Keep the list updated. Each time you learn something new, this list may change.
  3. Examine your family tree and write a list of the clean-up tasks you've been meaning to do someday. The more you do, the more valuable your tree becomes.
  4. Go through your email and online contacts with fellow genealogists. Did someone write to you three years ago about a brick wall you just broke wide open? Get back to them! Maybe you're related and can give each other's tree a big boost.
Finally, do what works best for you. Some people like a hand-written or printed list. Some like post-it notes on their computer monitor. I'm the type who'll go totally digital. Lately I've added tasks to my tree so they're the first thing I see when I launch Family Tree Maker.

Your hours of family tree research are your legacy. Make your family tree a thing of beauty. Like tending a garden, the more work you put into it, the better the harvest.

22 November 2017

Celebrating My Peasant Ancestors

The church where my ancestors were baptized and married.

It happened again. One of those well-produced ancestry TV shows we all love traced not one, but two actresses back to European royalty.

Is that what it takes to be an actress? Royal blood?

I've gone pretty far back in my ancestry. I know the names of some of my sixth great grandparents on two lines, fifth great grandparents on another line, and fourth great grandparents on the fourth.

They're all from poverty-stricken southern Italy. They're from five rural, tiny, neighboring towns.

And the majority of them worked the land to grow their food and feed their small amount of livestock.

I come from peasants.

My grandmother's first cousin, Vincenzo Sarracino, never left our ancestral hometown of Pastene, Italy.
This Thanksgiving I'm not making any fancy food. I'll stay true to my roots and make simple, real food.

And I'll make sure my sons know where their roots grow the deepest. We'll toast our ancestral province of Benevento.

Celebrate your heritage this holiday. Share some of your more interesting findings with your family. Be proud of where and who you come from.

Happy Thanksgiving!

17 November 2017

When DNA Says You're Related, You Determine How

I've gotten Ancestry DNA tests for myself, my parents, and my husband. If you've been tested or you're thinking about it, expect to do some work.

My DNA ethnicity estimate is different than either of my parents'
The DNA match results will clearly show who is your parent, child, or close cousin. If you don't know your biological parents or close cousins, this may be big news for you.

But if your DNA matches are labelled as possible 3rd or 4th cousins, or 6th to 8th cousins, it's your job to find the relationship.

Your match may have posted their family tree. If so, you may recognize a 3rd or 4th cousin by the names in their tree.

If they haven't posted a family tree, you can write to them to ask about the relationship. Give them a link to your tree, or mention some of your surnames and places of origin.

Recently a woman contacted me, saying her mother's DNA was a match to my mother's DNA. After two messages back and forth, we realized exactly who each other was. But we'd never met. Now we have met, and we brought together our mothers for a third cousins' reunion.

My people are generally from a very concentrated area of Italy.
Yesterday another woman contacted me saying her father-in-law is a distant DNA match to my father. We traded several emails trying to figure out exactly which Iamarino ancestor the two men share.

But she and I must do the legwork to figure it out. We realized our two trees may have a mistake because of an error in an Italian vital record we've both seen. We're each trying to make the correct Pietro Iamarino fit firmly into our tree. Hopefully we'll figure out the facts and find that exact shared ancestor.

An even more exciting DNA task lies ahead of me. Gedmatch.com analyzed my DNA and told me my parents are related! Sure enough, Ancestry DNA says they are 4th to 6th cousins. That means they share a set of 3rd to 5th great grandparents.

I've made great progress on my parents' family histories, but I haven't found that link. I wasn't looking for it before! Matching up their 3rd to 5th great grandparents seems within my reach.

My parent's ancestors came from 4 neighboring towns in a province of Southern Italy. My research shows a lot of marriages connecting these towns. The idea that one of his ancestors and one of her ancestors married is not the least bit surprising.

Finding your DNA match is a pretty reliable lead, but still a lead. Don't expect the connection to be handed to you. It's up to you to follow the lead and find a new set of relatives for your family tree.

14 November 2017

Finding New Cousins on Facebook

Have you ever heard of "trolling for cousins" or "fishing for cousins"?

You can use social media like Facebook to find distant cousins. These cousins may have the key to a family tree branch that has you stumped.

There's nothing sinister about it. It's a simple way of gaining an introduction and making a new connection.

The idea is to post a bit of family history that will interest the cousins you know. Tag those cousins in your post and ask a question.

If they don't have the answer, they may tag their cousins from the other side of their family. Engage those cousins in the conversation. Share what you know, and ask them for any details they can offer.

Example 1

Found by accident, I recognized the names on this gravestone.
Found by accident, I recognized the names!
This week I posted a photo I took of a tombstone. It contains several names I knew—the names of my distant cousins' grandmother's family. Her family is not related to me, but they came from my parents' neighborhood. My dad remembers her fondly. I'm very interested in them, so I've documented them in my family tree.

But there was one name on the tombstone I didn't know. Luckily, one of the cousins I tagged reached out to her cousin from her grandmother's family. He had lots of answers for me, and his elderly mother gave him even more information to share.

Example 2

A while ago I used Google Street View to capture an image of the house in Italy where my grandfather was born. I posted it in a Facebook group dedicated to my grandfather's hometown. My goal was to see if anyone knew who lives there now.

My grandfather's house still stands.
My grandfather's house still stands.

I mentioned my grandfather's last name of Leone. Someone responded that no one with that name lives in town anymore. I replied using the name of a Leone cousin I know, saying that he lives nearby. Then I listed out the names of his siblings. These were names he told me years ago when we first me online.

Two of the siblings I mentioned responded, saying "Here I am!" in Italian. Now I have two more connections to my grandfather's town. I'd like to try to meet them when I visit again.

Facebook is still a place for those dog and baby photos, and that's great! At no other time in history has it been this easy to reconnect with old friends and find unknown relatives.

Remember: Treat any genealogy facts you learn on Facebook, or from someone's own mouth as leads. It's up to you to find the documents that prove the names and dates you may learn from a cousin's cousin.

What documents or photos do you have that someone else can help you better understand?