Friday, September 15, 2017

How to Create Your Ancestral Hometown Database

I've seen many family tree researchers get ecstatic when they discover their ancestor's hometown records are online.

For me, this moment came when I learned about the Italian website, Antenati. It has birth, marriage and death records for my four ancestral towns in Italy. Other genealogists are finding their ancestor's records on

That's a lot of records!
How do you know what's in them?
A free computer program makes it easy to download these digitized records from both and the Antenati site. It's written in Portuguese, but don't let that worry you. I've written several times about using these records and the program. See:
If you've downloaded documents from your ancestral hometown, you may have hundreds or thousands of images on your computer.

Now what?

If you're looking only at each year's index and finding what you know you need, you're missing the boat. And that boat is overloaded with your ancestors!

My recommendation: Make a spreadsheet database of every important fact in each document.

My database-in-progress for several towns' birth, marriage and death records.
What's the point? With a spreadsheet of facts, you can sort an entire town's birth records by last name. If you sort by last name and father's name, you will see all the children born to your ancestor.

There will no doubt be ancestors in your spreadsheet that you never knew existed.

Here are 5 steps to creating your ancestral hometown database from your downloaded files:
  1. Examine the records for the fields you want to capture. For example, birth records may contain the baby's name and birth date; father's name, age and occupation; mother's name and age; their address; and the baby's baptism date. Death records will contain different facts, and so will marriage records.
  2. Create columns in your spreadsheet to hold all the facts. I keep birth, death and marriage records on different sheets in my Excel file so they can have different column headings.

    TIP: The best way to be able to sort your records by date is to keep the year, month and day in separate columns.
  3. Enter information from the documents into your spreadsheet. This takes time, but I found shortcuts as I did this last night.
    • I went through one year's birth records, entering only the baby's name into the spreadsheet. I put the baby's last name in one column and first name in another. (I record parents' names as last-name-first to help with sorting.)
    • On my second pass through the records, I entered the birth and baptism dates.
    • On my third pass, I entered the mother and father's information.
    Why is this better? I was always looking in one specific spot on the page for the information I wanted. It felt faster than going one document at a time, picking out facts from all over the page.
  4. Sort the data by any column to uncover hidden facts. You may find an unknown sibling. You may find that a man had several wives over the years. You may find that a family moved from one part of town to another.

    See Dr. Daniel Soper's YouTube channel for tips on using Excel. Many tips will apply to other spreadsheet software.
  5. Share your database! Years ago I documented the facts from the vital records for my grandfather's hometown. I gathered these facts while sitting at a microfilm viewer in a Family History Center, so I used a simple text file. You can't sort a text file, but at least you can search it. I shared this file, as well as a GEDCOM for the whole town, with other descendants of that town.

    Your spreadsheet can be a valuable resource to other family tree researchers. Once you're done, I encourage you to share it everywhere you can think of.
I completed two years of records while watching the Yankees slaughter the Orioles last night. I expect to get much further tonight because of the shortcuts I found.

When you have your database, find an appropriate Facebook group or the like, and put the data out there. Genealogy is a collaborative sport!


  1. I've used a similar spreadsheet for years. One thing I do differently is that I put the ages of the parents in a separate column, then in another column, calculate their estimated date of birth using a formula subtracting the age column for the document year column.

    1. Doh! Now I have to add a few more columns, but I love this idea.

  2. Thanks for your post. I did something similar for the Antenati records for families from Montecorvino Rovella that might be related to me. It's available at I added different worksheets for the different types of records: Napolenico, Restaurazione, and Civile with the Nati, Morti, and Matrimoni records on separate worksheets. It may be helpful for people researching families such as Vassallo, Conte, Salerno, Lupo, Leo, Trezza, Marmora, Di Vece, Chieffo, Buoninfante, etc.

    1. Don, thanks for your comment! I just realized I'm not getting notifications of new comments, so yours was sitting unnoticed for a month. I apologize. Your spreadsheet has a lot in common with mine. It makes me feels less crazy for working on mine. :-)

  3. I salute your ambition and determination! I think it will pay big dividends for you.

    On FamilySearch, do you ever use the Export Results button when you're viewing the list of records that a search has returned? I confess that I haven't -- but SHOULD -- for downloading an XLS spreadsheet of the results. It wouldn't have the exact same columns that you use, but I think you could use it as a skeleton and add in the additional columns.

    I keep meaning to use the feature to create a checklist of records that I need to view and then add my comments about what I found. Maybe today I shall!

    1. Thanks, Marian! That sounds like a good tip. As a long-time subscriber, I've barely scratched the surface with FamilySearch, but it looks like it's gotten better and better.

  4. A friend who does Italian research says that FamilySearch has a lot of Italian records in image form. I checked the catalog for "Italy, sant'angelo a cupolo" and didn't find anything, but there of lots of other towns that are there, and they are adding things continuously. I don't do Italian research myself, but possibly there are also regional record collections that would interest you. You can type in your place names here to see what's in the catalog for them:

  5. I should mention that you'll need to get a (free) account and sign in when you are ready to look at the records themselves. (This is a new requirement from about a year ago.)

    1. Hi, Marian. Yes, anyone who's interested in family history would be crazy not to have a FamilySearch free membership. I have downloaded all available records from Sant'Angelo a Cupolo and its hamlet, Pastene, from the free Antenati website. I'm only lately getting into the habit of checking FamilySearch, too.

  6. If doing research other than Italian, does this report (and others listed) work?

    Run This Genealogy Report To Help Clean Up Your Dates

    1. Absolutely! My articles give mainly Italian examples because my ancestry is all Italian. But Family Tree Analyzer ( uses the genealogy GEDCOM standard to help you improve your family tree in many ways.


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