27 April 2018

Bringing in Your Genealogy Harvest

Each time you explore a new branch on your family tree, you're sowing seeds that may take years to sprout. Then, one day, it's harvest time.

Yesterday a rich and bountiful crop was suddenly ready, waiting for me to gather it all in.

Do you know that feeling? The moment you realize a dead end is about to connect to the rest of your tree in a meaningful way?

meeting my cousins in 2005
This is me with our mutual cousins in
Colle Sannita in 2005.
This new breakthrough is going to keep me busy for quite a while. I know this family has a bunch of connections to me.

A long-time reader of this blog reached out to me yesterday with her own breakthrough. She'd been studying my tree on Ancestry.com and knew her husband and I had lots of last names in common.

More importantly, we had a small ancestral town in rural Italy in common: Colle Sannita. It's very hard to have roots in that town and not be somehow related. Oh, and by the way, her husband and my dad are a DNA match.

As I began to dig into this new lead, all the last names were important to me. But one captured my immediate attention. I'd seen this name, Polcini, in the town's vital records I downloaded from the Antenati website. It was always in the back of my mind that my grandfather worked for a man named Polcini in the Bronx in the 1930s and 40s. This man lived in his apartment house.

On one of my computer monitors I clicked through my Colle Sannita birth records. I was locating birth records for the Polcini siblings whose names my new contact had given me. On another monitor I opened my family tree software and went straight to my grandfather's 1940 census.

Imagine my "small world" feeling. The 1891 birth record for Damiano Polcini on one screen matched my grandfather's next door neighbor on the other screen! The birth record included his wife's name, and there she was on the census, too.

But that was the tip of the iceberg. My new contact told me where she thought her husband's family fit into my tree. After a little exploration, I discovered an important connection.

One of the Polcini siblings was the grandmother of a distant cousin I met in Canada many years ago. That cousin had given me lots of names to fill out his branch of the tree, but no hard facts. I had zero documentation for his family. Yet.

In one evening, I found lots of hard facts to support my connection to my Canadian cousin.

But hold up. The Polcini side of my new friend's family wasn't even the possible blood connection to my dad and me. I was so excited to find that one sibling in my dad's 1940 census that I hadn't explored the more urgent connection.

You see, my new friend's husband is related to me through the cousins I'm going to visit in Italy in a couple of weeks. They are my father's first cousins, though closer in age to me. I'm related to them through their mother.

But now, it looks as if I'm related to them through their father, too!

Does this hobby make your head feel like it's going to explode sometimes? I expect to put in a short work day today because I must figure out this connection.

The seeds I've planted by going far out on many branches of my family tree are sprouting. And just as the trees are budding outside my window, my family tree is producing new connections.

Isn't this why we never grow tired of this hobby?

24 April 2018

Our Ancestors Hoped for a Better Life

It's hard to imagine how difficult life was for our ancestors hundreds of years ago. Mine lived in rural Southern Italy where there was no industry or luxury. Each town had a barber, a shoemaker, a shopkeeper. But most people were simple farmers.

Italian birth record for Speranza Maria Esposito
Speranza Maria was born of an "unknown union"
on 13 May 1803.

Hundreds of people died each year—even in these small towns. Families struggled to survive.

With their life-and-death struggles in mind, it's easier to understand how people remarried within months of their spouse's death.

That was a hard thing for me to imagine at first. But as I documented more and more people from one such town, I saw the same pattern over and over. I found dozens of people who had married more than twice.

Let's take a look at Speranza Maria Esposito. Speranza was born in 1803 to genitori ignoti—parents unknown. The midwife delivered the baby and reported it to the mayor. They named her with the traditional last name for such babies: Esposito. Loosely translated it means without a spouse.

At age 21, Speranza married Mario Nicola Basile and had four children all of whom died in infancy. Their 14-year marriage must have been hard on them, burying four babies. Mario died before his 40th birthday.

As a young widow and with no family, what could Speranza do? This was not the time or place for independent women.

Less than two years after her husband Mario's death, Speranza married Pasquale Ferro. Pasquale was a 40-year-old recent widower with one surviving child, aged 10. Together they had one baby girl, Mariarosa, who also died in infancy. Three years later, Pasquale died, leaving behind a 14-year-old daughter from his previous marriage.

Speranza went another four years before marrying Filippo Colucci. He was a 43-year-old recent widower with a nearly-grown daughter and a teenage son. They married in May 1848. Speranza died in October 1848, childless. She'd married three times, widowed twice, and given birth five times.

Do you know what the name Speranza means? It means Hope. I'm sure Speranza hoped for a better life than the one she got.

Her last husband, Filippo, also married a third time, less than two years after Speranza died. He and his third wife Annamaria Pisciotti had three children. This was also Annamaria's third marriage. The children survived.

Speranza's three marriages
Speranza married three times. Each time she must have hoped for a better life.

It was a hard life. A man needed a woman and a woman needed a man to survive. To care for one another as best they could.

Seeing so many cases of multiple marriages helped me understand my grandfather's final days in New York City. When my grandmother died in 1954 my grandfather was 52 and in good health. He had a long life ahead of him.

He lived with my parents for a few years, but months before I was born, he married a spinster. Sadie was 56 years old and childless. When she died in 1986, Grandpa still had decent health and needed a woman to care for him. He chose to stay in his neighborhood and spend his time with a widow who cooked for him and made him happy.

In Grandpa's case, he had choices. He chose not to live with his daughter, who had opened up her home to him. He chose not to marry a third time. But a man still needed a woman, and a woman still needed a man to survive.

Be sure to consider the time and place when you make unexpected discoveries about your ancestors.

20 April 2018

Create a Digital Map of Your Family History

I've been in love with the aerial view in Google Maps for years. I've created different collections of map pins, like all known addresses for my grandfather. Everywhere I visited during my 2015 trip to France and Italy. The dozen or so places I've lived.

Now I'm creating an itinerary map for my next visit to my ancestors' hometowns in Italy. And I'll have it with me on my iPhone.

Create Your Portable Family History Map

First, you need a free Google account. Sign into that account and go to www.google.com/maps on your computer. You can look up virtually any address, town or place of business in the world and click to stick a pin in it.
Save any location to your personal map list
Click any spot or place-name to save it.

I have a reservation at Hotel Antiche Terme in the city of Benevento. I found it on the map and clicked it. (Apparently it has two names, which may be good to know when I get there.) Then I can click SAVE to keep this location.

Choose what you want to do with this place.
Choose what you want to do with this place.

Now I have a few options. I can simply make the location a favorite, put a flag or a star on it, or save it to a list. I've created a different list for each of my ancestral hometowns.

Here's my list so far for Benevento. It includes my cousin Vincenzo's wonderful pizzeria where I met him in 2005. It includes the State Archives of Benevento—the absolute godsend that has given me all the records from all my towns. I plan to go there to find my grandfather's military records. And it includes the hotel where I'll be staying.

In my ancestors' towns I've saved the locations of the cemeteries, the piazzas, the churches, and the homes of the cousins I'll visit. I'm going to buy an international plan for my iPhone while I'm in Italy (not expensive at all). With that plan, I'll be able to open the Google Maps app on my phone and access my saved locations.

One of my personal lists.
One of my personal lists of places to go.

In my paternal grandfather's hometown of Colle Sannita, I need to see the church of St. George the Martyr (la Chiesa di San Giorgio Martire). So that's on my map. A couple of streets away are two addresses where my ancestors lived (I suspect one is a pile of rubble now). I plan to use the app to guide me as I walk from the church to these locations. I can snap photos of these places and upload them to my personalized map later.

My personal collections of map pins will be accessible to me wherever I go.

Add Places to Your GPS

My husband bought a map of Italy for our GPS device because we'll be renting a car for a few days. He asked me to mark some of my destinations in the GPS as favorites. "Put your cousin Maria's house in there," he said. "She's so far in the middle of nowhere, I don't have a real address for her," I replied.
Pinpointing a hard-to-find location.
Pinpointing a hard-to-find location.

But you can add a precise location to your GPS using longitude and latitude coordinates, so that's what I did. Here's how.

I've studied the aerial and street view of my grandfather's town so many times I can find my cousin Maria's house by sight. I visited her there 13 years ago, and I still remember her describing her horrible garage as a landmark. Yes, the house is far from town, but I found it. If I click to put a pin in it, Google Maps gives me some information about that location.

The information says the name of the town, shows a little image, and includes the GPS coordinates. If I click those numbers, I can:
  • add a label to this place
  • save it in my list of places
  • see those coordinates nice and big so I can punch them into my GPS.
Now I can easily find two of my cousins' homes and not worry about getting lost where there are barely any road markers.
Longitude and latitude coordinates tell your GPS exactly where to go.
Longitude and latitude coordinates tell your GPS exactly where to go.

Whether you're planning a real trip, want to share your collections with your family, or want to "walk" your ancestors' streets in Google Street View, these map collections are a must-have for any genealogist.

17 April 2018

3 Top Safety Tips for Your Family Tree Data

Results of Following Genealogy Best Practices, Part 3

This is the third article in a series about the benefits of following genealogy best practices. (Read about more genealogy best practices in part 1 and part 2.)

Be careful out there!
Last November my 5-year-old computer started misbehaving. I couldn't risk losing all my genealogy data and business assets, so I acted quickly. I secured my data and made multiple backups while I waited for my new computer to arrive.

Five months later, I'm faithfully sticking to my data-safety plan. I hope this will inspire you to do the same before disaster strikes.

1. Stick to an Easy Back-Up Plan

To make sure my family tree research is protected, I created a simple back-up plan. Each Sunday I run down my short list of which files to back up to which location. Here's the entire list, just to prove how simple it is.

LAST BACKUP 4/15/2018
  • Back up to OneDrive:
    1. (automatic) Antenati files
    2. (manual) E:\FamilyTree
  • Back up to external drive:
    1. C:\Users\diann\Documents\Quickbooks
    2. C:\Users\diann\Documents\Outlook Files
    3. E:\ everything EXCEPT FamilyTree
I have two main backup locations: a 1 terabyte external drive and 1 terabyte on the Microsoft cloud (OneDrive). That's a lot of space. A lot of space.

I subscribe to Microsoft Office 365 because I need it for work. The cloud storage is free with my subscription. You can use free or paid cloud storage from Apple (if you have an iPhone), Google, Dropbox and other providers.

I love how the folders I set as OneDrive folders are continuously updated on the cloud. I don't have to save a spreadsheet as I'm working on it. And if I rename files or folders, that's synchronized with the cloud version. No effort needed.

My OneDrive folders are backed up automatically.
My OneDrive folders are backed up automatically.

The thousands and thousands of Italian vital records I've downloaded from the Italian genealogy archives site (Antenati) are always backed up to the cloud. So are my genealogy tracking spreadsheets.

What I still update manually are the new document images I've downloaded and added to my family tree. I also copy my complete Family Tree Maker file, its automatic backup, and my 2 most recent manual backups there. Once a week I simply drag the newest files to my cloud storage.

The rest of my backup list shows me the few locations of files to copy to my external drive. By sorting my file folders by date, I can see what's new and complete all my backups in about five minutes.

2. Take Advantage of Free Cloud Storage

I've explained how I'm using my 1 terabyte of Microsoft OneDrive. You don't have that? Try a search for "free cloud storage providers".

Note: I don't keep anything on the cloud that's personal. My email and financial records are not there. Only publicly available genealogy documents are there. So don't be paranoid and brush off this idea. You can do it safely.

Take a look at Google Drive and Dropbox. If you don't want to pay for storage, you can combine different free spaces. If you spell that out in your backup list (like mine above), you'll always know what goes where.

3. Keep Track of Your Genealogy Records

I believe strongly in keeping an inventory of the documents I've attached to people in my family tree.

I've also got:
  • a complex spreadsheet where I'm documenting the thousands of vital records from my ancestors' 5 Italian hometowns
  • an ancestor spreadsheet listing the name and Ahnentafel number of each direct ancestor whose name I've discovered
  • a list of Italian words for occupations and their English translations. (See How to Handle Foreign Words in Your Family Tree.)

Anything you need to reference regularly, need to keep track of and want to keep updated, you can store on the cloud. Then you've always got a safety backup.

To safeguard your genealogy treasure, make these steps a habit. Decide which files belong where. Pick a day each week to make a manual backup. If you can remember to brush your teeth each day, you can remember to practice these safety tips.

Be safe out there.

13 April 2018

Results! Hiring a Professional Genealogist

I finally did it. I hired professional genealogists to do what I can't: find my ancestors' records in a church in Italy.

Chiesa di Santa Marissima del Rosario, Pastene, Italy
My ancestors' church

For one full week I tried not to think about the two genealogists who were visiting the tiny hamlet where my ancestors lived.

And then came the results. Eleven high-resolution images of documents dating back to 1803. The images were numbered one to eleven, and a PDF file gave me a brief explanation of what they were.

Anxiously, I opened up my family tree and went to my grandmother's family. Her parents (last names Sarracino and Saviano) came from this little hamlet called Pastene. I've been there and visited the cemetery. I've viewed the town countless times on Google Earth. It's a long, thin string of houses and an old church. That's it.

Examining the Results

With my family tree on one monitor, I started going through the new images on another.

#1 The 1873 marriage record for Giovanni Saviano, the brother of my great great grandfather Antonio. I would have liked to learn the bride's mother's name, but this type of record includes no parents.

#2 The 1842 marriage record for Giovanni's and Antonio's parents, my 3rd great grandparents, Raffaele Saviano and Grazia Ucci. This confirms two facts for me:
  • my great great grandfather Antonio was their first-born child
  • my 3rd great grandmother's name was not Maria Grazia as I'd suspected, but Grazia.
#3 The 1864 marriage record for my great great grandparents Giuseppe Sarracino and Maria Luigia Muollo. One of my goals was to learn Maria Luigia's mother's name, but it is not there. It did tell me that my estimated birth year for one of their sons is almost certainly wrong.

Those are all great facts even though they don't provide what I really wanted: parents' names.

The rest of the documents had me puzzled. I wasn't quite sure who I was looking at. My family tree documents that Giuseppe Sarracino's (from document #3) father was Antonio. But was this him?

#4 The 1821 marriage record for Antonio Sarracino and Vincenza Perrella. Vincenza was from another town. Is he my Antonio?

#5 The 1826 marriage record for Antonio Sarracino and Anna Maria Muollo. Wait, what? I'm still not sure who's who.

#6 through #11 are records of households in the town. The church wrote these lists of the "souls" in their town, but to a genealogist, they're basically a census. OK, here we go.

1803: A husband and wife and their deceased parent's names. They have one son named Antonio Sarracino, age 4. So far, technically, this could be my 3rd great grandfather Antonio Sarracino. He's about the right age. But that's not proof.
1803 church record for Domenico Sarracino's household
1803 church record for Domenico Sarracino's household

1816: The same family with two more daughters.

1823: The same family, but now the mother has died, and Antonio's wife from document #4, Vincenza Perrella, has also died.

1827: Now Antonio no longer has his sisters with him. He has his father, the widower, and his new wife, Anna Maria Muollo from doument #5. They have a new baby named Teresa.

1827 church record for Domenico Sarracino's household
1827 church record for Domenico Sarracino's household

1833: The same family members plus two more children for Antonio and Anna Maria: Giovanni and Mariagrazia.

You know, I'm still not sure exactly what I've got here!

The last document. 1837: Antonio has a household of six people now. His father is not there and may have died. His children are all still alive. Teresa. Giovanni. Mariagrazia. And a new baby: Giuseppe Sarracino.

1837 church record for Antonio Sarracino's household
1837 church record for Antonio Sarracino's household. The youngest baby is my great great grandfather.

That's it! This is in fact the family of my great great grandfather Giuseppe Sarracino. Back up a minute. Now that I know who this family is, let's take a closer look at all the details.

From these six household lists, I've learned the names of:
  • My great great grandfather Giuseppe's three older siblings.
  • His mother's name and her parent's names. Those are my 4th great grandparents Francesco Saverio Muollo and Grazia Cimino.
  • His father's parents' names: Domenico Sarracino and Teresa Mastroberardino. They're also my 4th great grandparents.
  • Domenico and Teresa's parents' names. Those are my 5th great grandparents: Giovanni Sarracino, Rosaria Santangelo, Domenico Mastroberardino and Maria Tufo.
What an incredible revelation! The lack of civil documents for this town had me stuck. But these simple lists found in the church records brought me back three generations. This is something I can't imagine doing on my own. In this remote little town, my broken Italian wouldn't get me very far.

Now I am absolutely planning to go into that church on my upcoming visit to Italy. Simply standing there, knowing the names of many generations of my ancestors who were baptized and married there, will move me to tears.

So what's next? My researchers tell me there is a central church archive that may help me with my Saviano branch.

In the meantime, I have the names and ages of two new great aunts and a great uncle. There's a good chance that inside the Pastene records I've downloaded to my computer I will find their children. The records for those children may tell me more about their mother's Muollo ancestors.

The quest continues!

10 April 2018

You Can Read Foreign-Language Genealogy Records

"I don't understand the language" is not an excuse. You can find the facts you need on a foreign-language vital record.

The reason why you can is the format. Official records from your ancestor's town are usually written on a pre-printed form, or in a standard style. In most cases, it isn't hard to find the keywords: born, died, father, daughter, the twenty-third of May 1859. Find these words and you'll find the facts you need for your family tree.

Understand the Form or Format

As usual, I'm going to focus on Italian documents. That's where all my non-English document experience is.

Here are two examples of the basic formats you may find.

When you know which words to look for, it gets so much easier.
When you know which words to look for, it gets so much easier.

On this 1813 birth record (download a larger version), the handwriting is easier to read than the pre-printed words. The basic format includes:
  • Document number
  • Date
  • Town official's name and town name
  • Keyword: comparso. Look for the word comparso (appeared). It's followed by the name of the person reporting this event. Let's call them the declarant because they are declaring a baby was born. On a birth record, the declarant is usually the father of the new baby, but it may be the midwife or a close relative. You should see their age (di anni), profession (professione), and where they live (domiciliato).
  • On this document, the next section is a paragraph that follows a format. It says on this day of this month at this time in the home of the declarant was born a baby to him and his legitimate wife. The sentence may include the baby's mother's name, age and profession. The sex of the baby is written as masculine (maschio) or feminine (feminina).
  • The name given to the baby
  • The names, ages and professions of two witnesses who are familiar with this family
  • Signatures (or a mark, if a person is illiterate), including that of the mayor.
My takeaways from this birth record? Antonio Iamarino was born on 3 April 1813 to Giorgio Iamarino, a 21-year-old farmer, and his wife Pietronilla Cocca, age 20. They lived on Strada li Tufi in my grandfather's town of Colle. One of the witnesses has the same last name as the baby's mother. He may be a relative.

Here's a harder type of record. It may look intimidating, but when you know what to look for, it isn't so scary.

This is not a pre-printed form. But the keywords will help you along.
This is not a pre-printed form. But the keywords will help you along.

This document, written in 1820, was part of a set of marriage documents (download a larger version). It says that on 15 March 1810 Maria Viola died. She was the daughter of Gregorio and Angela Caporaso. She was the wife of the late Pietro Iamarino and 60 years old.

On a free-form document like this, start with dates. Then look at names and words for birth, death, baptism and relationships.

The key to breaking into this document is the word marzo (March) in the fourth line. The sentence begins, "A quindici marzo mille otto cento e dieci". If you study the numbers a little for the language you need, you'll recognize this as a date. It says "On 15 March 1810".

Immediately after the date is a name, Maria Viola. Then there's another keyword: figlia, meaning daughter. So the next names are her parents. Then we see moglie, meaning wife. So Maria was the wife of the next name, Pietro Iamarino who has died previously (the word fu tells us this).

Unless you're viewing a document with no idea where it came from, you have some context to help you. If you found this document, you'd know it's related to Francesco Saverio Iamarino whose parents were Pietro Iamarino and Maria Viola. The context will help you understand the document.

Locate the Keywords and the General Words

There is probably no better genealogical language resource than FamilySearch.org. You need an account to use this website, but it is free to join. The following pages offer the keywords for vital records and their English translation.
The pages above also offer the words for days, months, numbers and general words found on genealogy records. Get familiar with the language you need. It'll help you understand even more of the document. And when you're stuck on a word, try Google Translate. It may help you make sense of things.

Also check the language pages for other links to help you with handwriting, explain naming patterns in certain cultures and more.

Note: Bad handwriting or a low-quality image is a tougher challenge, but not impossible. Compare the difficult word to other words and letters on the document. If you think one letter in your problem word is a capital T, for example, compare it to another capital T in a word that is clearer to you.

I've read thousands of Italian vital records. I learned the Italian keywords quickly. I got used to the old-fashioned handwriting. Most of the time the important facts are very easy for me to understand.

You can do this! Get familiar with the important words. Find them in your document. Make sense of the facts.

Don't let your ancestor's language—the one you never learned—stop you from building your family tree.

06 April 2018

How to Be Better at Genealogy than at Your Job

Results of Following Genealogy Best Practices, Part 2

Last time I wrote about the priceless benefits of documenting an entire town. Today I'm focusing on another pillar of my genealogy philosophy. It can help you produce a valuable family tree.

Stick to Your Organization Style

I'm a terrific on-the-job learner. I've become a whiz at organization and efficiency. I like to apply best practices from my work life to my genealogy life.

Here are my top organization and documentation techniques. They've become second nature, and they make my tree stronger every day.

Do what's logical for you and what you think will be logical to your genealogy research heir.

The short version of what's to follow is this:
  1. Categorize: create high-level folders to hold your documents
  2. Recognize: name your files so they say what they are
  3. Annotate: add metadata to the image files themselves
  4. Find: add source citations to your facts right away
  5. Track: Keep an inventory of every document you've found
Categorize: Consistent Folder Structure

create logical, high-level folders
Early in my genealogy days, I began downloading and saving document images on my computer. I created a main FamilyTree folder with sub-folders for the major types of documents:
  • census forms
  • certificates (birth, marriage and death)
  • draft cards
  • immigration
I added more folders as necessary: naturalization, applications, passports. The combination of my simple file folder structure and file naming discipline makes it easy to click my way to a particular document. I don't have to search my computer or wonder if I'm overlooking the file.

Recognize: Logical File Naming

name your files in a way that makes their content clear
For me, the best way to name any image was this format:
  • last name
  • first name
  • type of document (only necessary in my "certificates" folder)
  • year
  • if needed, the file name includes -p1, -p2, -v1, -v2 to distinguish between files that should have the same name
Here's an example from my census forms folder:
  • AusterJacob1920.jpg
  • AusterJacob1925.jpg
  • AusterJacob1930.jpg
  • AusterJacob1940.jpg
I make a habit of naming census files for the head of household. In Jacob Auster's case, these file names are crucial because Jacob used a different first name each time!

These examples from my certificates folder show me all I have for someone at a glance:
  • PisciottiLuigiBirth1825.jpg
  • PisciottiLuigiPecoraAngelamaria1stMarriageBanns1848.jpg
  • PisciottiLuigiPecoraAngelamaria2ndMarriageBanns1848.jpg
  • PisciottiLuigiPecoraAngelamariaMarriageLicense1848.jpg
  • PisciottiLuigiPecoraAngelamariaMarriage1848.jpg
It looks like I need a death record for Luigi Pisciotti.

Annotate: Useful Image Annotation

annotate your images with metadata
As soon as I download an image, I crop it in Photoshop, name it according to my style and save it in the proper folder. Then I right-click the file, choose Properties and click the Details tab. I fill in the empty Title and Comments fields. Whatever I put there stays with the image file.

For the Title, I enter exactly what I want to see in Family Tree Maker, like "1825 birth record for Luigi Pisciotti". In the Comments field I include the URL where anyone can find the original file. If it applies, I'll include the line number(s) of interest.

When I add the image to Family Tree maker, it imports those two fields.

Anyone finding a common ancestor in my tree on Ancestry.com also sees those important image details. To learn more, see How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images.

Find: Thorough Source Citation

create detailed source citations to add to your facts
I like my source citations to be simple. For all the census years, I name the citation as simply as "1930 U.S. Census". Most other sources I name exactly as they appear on Ancestry.com. For example, "New York, Index to Petitions for Naturalization files in New York City, 1792-1989".

But in the Citation detail field I add the description of the document collection, taken right from the source. Example: "Ancestry.com. New York, Index to Petitions for Naturalization filed in New York City, 1792-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007."

In the Citation text field, I copy more information from the source. Example: "Soundex Index to Petitions for Naturalization filed in Federal, State, and Local Courts located in New York City, 1792-1989. New York, NY, USA: The National Archives at New York City."

The important thing is to add a source to each fact as you enter it. Adding a birth date? Attach the source. Adding an address? Add the source. Immediately. To learn more, see Trade Up to Better Family History Sources.

Track: Sanity-saving Document Inventory

While this last item is important to me, some of you may think it's nothing but extra work. I keep a single spreadsheet of each document I've attached to someone in my family tree.

here's everything I've collected on one person

If I'd opened that spreadsheet this morning, I wouldn't have bothered downloading a 1907 marriage record for a cousin—because I already had it! You can't keep all these facts in your head. A document tracker keeps you from wasting your time. Plus it shows you what you're missing. To learn more, see Track Your Genealogy Finds and Your Searches.

Next time you download a document image for your family tree, think CRAFT. If you've already got your category folders created, think RAFT (picture actor George Raft flipping a coin). Recognize means name your files in a way that helps you recognize what they are in the future. Annotate means add details to the properties of each image so it makes sense even out of context. Find means add a source citation to each fact so you can find where it came from. Track means update your inventory so you'll always know what you've found.

03 April 2018

How to Build a Broad Family Tree and Unite Strangers

Results of Following Genealogy Best Practices, Part 1

A year and a half ago I didn't know I had a genealogy philosophy. That after years of working on my family tree, I'd developed sure-fire methods I rely upon. When I realized how crucial these methods are to my family tree, I decided to blog about it.

Now I'm putting my own philosophy to the test. Today let's take a look at one method I write about a lot.

Collect All the Documents

Documenting a whole town uncovers hidden relationships.
A tiny sampling of the Leone's
from my grandfather's hometown.
I believe in examining every available vital record from your ancestor's town. The benefits of this method are unbeatable.

First you'll need to find out if records from your ancestral hometown are available. They may be on FamilySearch.org or you may need to visit the collection in person. If you're Italian like me, you may find your town's documents on the Antenati website.

You may find the language and handwriting tough on documents from a different country. That problem can almost entirely disappear as you go through many, many documents.

Several years ago I set out to gather information from every vital record from my grandfather's hometown of Baselice, Italy. I visited my local Family History Center countless times to scroll through the microfilmed documents from 1809 through 1860.

I realized the only way to know who my relatives were was to document everyone.

It took me years! I sat there with a computer in my lap and typed the information I saw. I developed an efficient shorthand so I could go home with my text file and record everyone in Family Tree Maker. The result: a town-wide tree of almost 16,000 people, more than 10,000 of which had a connection to me by blood or marriage. (See Families of Baselice.)

You see, in the 1800s, people couldn't travel as easily as we do today. They married someone in town. The same families intermarried a number of times. Everyone was related!

I began posting my enormous town tree on several websites. To this day, people with roots in that town are contacting me and adding 4 or 5 generations to their own family trees.

Here's how going through an entire town's records can help you:

Name recognition

In small towns, or city neighborhoods, you'll see a lot of the same names repeated. You wouldn't believe how fast I got at typing names like Mariantonia, Michelarcangelo, Lapastoressa and Gianquitto because of the repetition.

But speed isn't the benefit. It's knowing the town's names so well that you can read them no matter how bad the handwriting or how damaged the document.

Language comprehension

I see lots of people on Facebook asking others to interpret old records because they don't understand Italian. They don't know yet that you don't have to speak the language to understand the names, dates and facts on a vital record.

The more foreign-language records you view, the more that language becomes second nature. You'll learn the words for born, married, died, spouse, all the numbers and months of the year. And you'll know where on the document to look for them.

Scope of relationships

When I started looking at Baselice records, I was searching for anyone named Leone. Right away I realized I couldn't tell how any of them were related to me unless I spread out. I had to find other children born to the couple I learned was my great grandfather's parents. Then I had to see who those other children married. And then I went back more generations.

It was documenting everyone that gained me 10,000 relatives. And that's why my tree continues to find delighted Baselice descendants to this day.

Today I can download those Italian records to my computer. The clarity blows those ancient microfilm projectors out of the water. So I am doing for my other ancestors' towns what I did for Baselice. In one weekend I added 4 generations to my cousin's tree. It was amazingly easy.

So I will continue to recommend you don't stay on the straight and narrow path of your direct-line ancestors. Your family tree has an endless amount of rich data to gain by spending time with all the documents you can find.