Friday, December 29, 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!

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, December 26, 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?

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, December 22, 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!

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, December 19, 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 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 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.

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.

Cousin Chart, showing how two people are related.
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?

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, December 15, 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.

Better graphic cards make 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.

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, December 12, 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?

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, December 8, 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.

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, December 5, 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.
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.

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, December 1, 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 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 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.

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.