23 May 2017

Work in Batches to Strengthen Your Family Tree

Do you want to make your family tree accurate, reliable, and highly credible? There are many things you can do:
  • Add descriptions to your images.
  • Be consistent with addresses.
  • Cite your sources accurately.
  • Choose a style and stick with it.
I know it can seem overwhelming—especially if you started your tree long ago or you can only work on it now and then.

But if you divide and conquer your tasks, working in batches, you'll see real and valuable progress. If you gang-up your tasks, you'll save time and gain consistency.

Here's what I mean.

Add Descriptions to Images

Step through each image in whichever family tree software you use, focusing on one type of image at a time.

In Family Tree Maker, I can sort my images by type (because I clicked a checkbox to categorize each one). Now I can go one-by-one through each census form image, for example, and include important information. I've chosen to note which lines a family is on, and everything you'd need to find the original image:
  • town, county, state
  • enumeration district, city ward, assembly district
  • page number and image number if it's part of a set
  • a URL on ancestry.com or familysearch.org.

Great annotations make your facts reproducible and verifiable.
Great annotations make your facts reproducible and verifiable.

Be Consistent with Addresses

Your family tree software may help you validate a place name when you are typing. Take advantage of that feature if you have it.

Otherwise choose a style for entering place names, verify them on Google Maps, and stick with your style. I prefer to include the word County in my U.S. place names. I think it seems confusing (especially to non-Americans) to have something like "Monsey, Rockland, New York". That's why I consistently use this format: "Monsey, Rockland County, New York".

Entering the address shows me exactly where my great grandparents lived.
Entering the address shows me exactly where my great grandparents lived.
Cite Your Sources

This will be blasphemy to some of you, but I do not like excessively long citations for the sources of my facts. I use a short format each time:
  • 1930 U.S. Federal Census
  • 1915 New York State Census
  • New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

There isn't any question which collection I'm citing. Plus I put the full description and unique link on the image's notes.

No matter what format, do include your sources. It's absolutely key to the strength and reliability of your data.

Be Consistent in Everything

Do you always use the same date format? I prefer dd-Mon-year (24 Sep 1959) because you should understand it no matter where you're from.

Do you always capitalize last names? I don't, because I think you lose something with compound names like McCartney or deBlasio. But stay consistent.

Do you always spell out every word in an address? I do because I feel it leaves no room for misinterpretation.

For example, my mother was born at 260 East 151st Street, Bronx, New York. If your native language were not English, E. 151st St. would be more challenging than East 151st Street.

Do you have a preferred style for descriptions of immigration facts? That may seem like an awfully granular thing to call out, but I like to add specific information to these descriptions. Here's my format:

For each ship manifest I record the date the ship left as an Emigration fact (for a person's first voyage) or a Departure fact (for subsequent voyages). In the description I follow this format:
"Left for [destination city] on the [ship name]."
Then I record the date the ship reaches port as an Immigration fact (for a person's first voyage) or an Arrival fact (for subsequent voyages). In that description field I follow this format:
"Arrived [with which relatives] to join [which relative] at [address], leaving his [relative] in [hometown]."
Now think about your family tree. Where do you feel your data needs the most care? Is it your sources? Images? Particular facts?

Pick one and dive in. Work your way through as many people as you can in one sitting to ensure absolute consistency. Make notes about the style decisions you've made so you can stick to them.

By picking one type of task and working hard to plow through it all, you will see overall improvement in your tree.

That accomplishment should inspire you to pick your next subject and get busy strengthening your family tree. Then you'll be ready to grow your family tree bigger and better.


  1. very good advice and do it from the start, because otherwise you will have a huge amount of people to change to the constant theme or style

  2. Kayleen, I agree it's best to work out your style from the beginning, but if you haven't, don't let that stop you. I recently learned I'd made a mistake regarding the different steps involved in an Italian wedding. And I have thousands of Italian weddings. But I did go through them all and change the classification of one of the dates. While I was there, I changed the wedding facts to include the address of the church itself.

  3. I have the men in a particular family all mixed up because of the old nemesis - the same first names. So this will help me sort through and add narrative info and data as I work. Thanks.

    1. Oh, it's loads of fun being Italian. They have 5 names between them! On the plus side, I am extremely familiar with every possible name in my ancestral hometowns.

  4. My maternal trail is mostly of French origin. Tradition is to name a son with his father's name. I've now added a jr. to the son's name. Now I can find both father & son without confusion.

    1. I hope you agree that picking a task and running with it as you did can be easier and a lot more efficient. Keep up the good work!