28 December 2018

It's Time to Make Your Family Tree Clear and Consistent

How can you find and fix genealogy inconsistencies? And which style should you choose? Read on.

Have you always recorded facts in your family tree in the same way? Or did you do it one way when you first started, and figure out a better way later?

Being consistent is important to the long-term future of your precious genealogy research. If you leave behind an inconsistent family tree, your work will cause more questions than answers.

It can be hard to stick to a format when you can't work on your tree that often. Make some style decisions now, and you can continue creating your lasting legacy.

Three Examples of Choosing Consistency

1. Fact Types

Recording a deceased relative's Social Security Number can be helpful. Say you find a document for a person with the same name, but a different SSN. That number can prove a document does or doesn't belong to your relative.

I wasn't consistent when I started this hobby. Sometimes I used the SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER fact in Family Tree Maker, and sometimes I used the SSN ISSUED fact. But the SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER fact makes more sense. You can record the number as well as the date and place where it was issued.

Yesterday I:
  • located each SSN ISSUED fact in my tree
  • added the date and place to the SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER fact
  • deleted the SSN ISSUED fact.
2. Immigration Details

The first records I collected for my family tree were ship manifests. Nearly every one of my ancestors passed through Ellis Island. Recording all these immigration facts is very important to my family history.

At first I used only the IMMIGRATION fact type, recording the date and place of arrival with a note about the ship name. Then I realized I could record the date they left Italy, too. That's written on the manifest.

But I had to make another choice. I can choose ARRIVAL, DEPARTURE, EMIGRATION and IMMIGRATION as fact types. Which should I use? A more experienced friend suggested I use EMIGRATION and IMMIGRATION for a person's first trip to their new country. I'd save DEPARTURE and ARRIVAL for:
  • Pleasure trips, like a honeymoon or vacation, or
  • Return trips, like visiting the old country to see your parents or bring back the rest of your family.
I made my choice and updated my fact types. I added in the missing emigrations or departures, too.

3. Names, Dates and Places

If you're using a decent family tree program, you can select how you want to display these types of facts.

Your family tree software should give you the option to choose how to present your data.
Your family tree software should give you the option to choose how to present your data.
People's Names

Some genealogists choose to display everyone's last name in all capital letters. I don't want to do that because I have many names that begin with a small letter, like deBellis. I don't want to lose sight of that.

Some people choose to display a woman's married name rather than her maiden name. I don't want to do that because:
  • my female Italian ancestors kept their maiden name for life, and
  • which name do you use for a woman who married more than once? The last name that relates to you, or the final husband's name, even if he's nothing to you?
Dates

Working for an international company made me aware of writing simply and clearly. Avoid local phrases and use international dates. In the United States we're used to the Month/Day/Year format (12/28/2018). But some countries use the Day/Month/Year format (28/12/2018). Others prefer Year/Month/Day (2018/12/28).

Think of how many dates can be misunderstood by someone in another country. Is 5/4/2019 May 4th or April 5th? It depends on where you live.

To avoid confusion in my family tree, I use DD Mon YYYY, as in 28 Dec 2018. Any English-language speaker will understand this, and many Romance-language speakers will understand it, too. Their month names aren't so different from ours.

Places

For a long time I wouldn't let Family Tree Maker "resolve" addresses or place names for me. For one thing, I thought it was silly to put "USA" at the end of a New York City address. Where else do you think New York City is?

As time went by and my tree's international members outnumbered the Americans, I decided adding "USA" wasn't a bad idea.

But one difference I've stuck to is county names. Leaving out the word "County" can lead to confusion. What if you have only the name of the county someone lived in, and not the town? Will that be clear? So rather than Beaver, Pennsylvania, USA, I'll enter Beaver County, Pennsylvania, USA.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure it's easy for anyone to understand, and stay consistent.

Finding and Fixing Your Inconsistencies

What brought this to my attention was a free program I've written about several times: Family Tree Analyzer. (Now available for Mac users.) When I ran the program and opened my family tree's GEDCOM file, I saw a few things on the main screen that I didn't like:
  • Found 14 facts of unknown fact type SSN ISSUED
  • Found 13 facts of unknown fact type OTHER
  • Found 1 facts of unknown fact type RELEASED
This free program will uncover inconsistencies in your family tree.
This free program will uncover inconsistencies in your family tree.
I wanted to find these facts and change them. I discovered an option in Family Tree Maker to Manage Facts from the Edit menu. I chose a fact type, clicked Data Options and saw a list of every person using that fact type. I visited each of these people in my tree and made adjustments.

The fact type OTHER turned out to be something I did because I didn't know how to characterize these facts. Each person using OTHER had been in the Japanese-American prison camps of World War II. These particular facts were the dates they were incarcerated and released. I changed each of these entries to use my custom fact type, Internment.

One man named Luigi was using the RELEASED fact type. This was the date they released him from quarantine on Ellis Island. Because it was a medical quarantine, I switched to the MEDICAL CONDITION fact type.

For other types of changes, you may be able to use Find and Replace within your family tree software. Be careful. Before you click OK to make a global change, think about what else might change.

If you're changing a county name, is there a person with that name? Will their name change from John Sullivan to John Sullivan County?

Running Family Tree Analyzer showed me a Find and Replace blunder I'd made. I messed up some Italian last names that are the same as Italian occupations. Everyone named Canonico became "canonico (member of the clergy)". Oh boy. I fixed this with some careful one-at-a-time finding and replacing.

Even if you're not thinking of your genealogy hobby as your legacy, think about your own sanity. If you don't work on your tree for a while, how many of these inconsistencies will make you say, "What was I thinking?"


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25 December 2018

Gearing Up for All Your New DNA Matches

How many people do you think are opening a DNA kit today?

Not everyone finds their DNA makeup or their ancestry intriguing.

My relatives in Italy barely know about anyone beyond their great grandparents. An Italian man told me he couldn't understand why Americans and Australians were so interested in their ancestry.

Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!
Don't you think it's logical that people from America, Canada or Australia would be curious? These are countries of immigrants. And, more importantly, immigrants who started arriving relatively recently.

If you're from Italy, your ancestors probably lived in the same area for the last 500 years. Maybe before that there were some immigrants from northern Europe or the Middle East.

But it's a rare American whose roots in this country stretch back 399 years to the Mayflower. Personally, I had not a single root in America until the 1890s. Before they came here, they were all in southern Italy.

I started my genealogy hobby by finding the 1915 and 1920 ship manifests for my grandfathers. Of course I'm curious about who they left behind in Italy!

If you're giving or receiving a DNA kit today, here are some articles that can be a real help to you:

Making Sense of Your DNA Results

How are you going to feel if your ethnicity is nothing like you expected?

When DNA Says You're Related, You Determine How

Are you ready to collaborate with your DNA matches? You never know who you'll find.

Free DNA Analysis Finds Kissing Cousins

Now that you have your DNA, upload it to other websites for other kinds of results. I discovered a ridiculous fact about my parents from my DNA.

Collaborating with Your DNA Matches

Doing the research, working with your DNA matches, can lead to exciting new branches to explore.

The Leeds Method May Have Solved a Big Family Puzzle

With this method, I think I found the needle in a haystack that will solve the puzzle of my parents' shared DNA.

If you're not giving or getting a DNA kit this Christmas, thousands of others are. How many of them will be your match?

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21 December 2018

Which Global Map is Best for Genealogists?

Don't rely on one mapping tool when there are a few excellent ones.

I'm the oddball who searches on Bing instead of Google. I love Bing's features (a daily image and top news stories). Plus I rack up points to swap for $5 Amazon gift cards.

As a genealogist, I wondered which of these free map systems is better:
So I tested them side by side.

I chose to explore a small island in Italy where my uncle was born. I don't know the name of the street where his family lived, but I wanted to have a look around town.

When you enter a place name in both Google Maps and Bing Maps, there is a left panel with information. Both offer some quick facts about the place from Wikipedia. Google Maps offers photos, Street View or panoramic pictures. Bing Maps seems more interested in helping you travel to this destination. They offer info on places to stay and things to do. Note: Google Maps has that information, too, but it takes an extra click to get to it.

When searching for places where my ancestors lived, I want clear images, street names and a street-side view. For this location, the tiny island of Ponza, Italy, Bing Maps came up way short. You can see by these side-by-side comparisons that Bing's images are not clear and it's missing some street names.

Comparing Bing Maps and Google Maps side by side was eye-opening.
Comparing Bing Maps and Google Maps side by side was eye-opening.

Google Earth Pro is a downloadable program, but you can launch it from a website, too. It offers the same image detail as Google Maps, but it adds a topographical component. You can see if the town is flat, mountainous, or in a valley. (It is available for Windows and Mac. Go to their website for more information and to download.)

To test the level of detail each tool can give you, I zoomed in on a church in the town. I went all the way to street level and Bing Maps was the clear loser—for this location. It could not zoom in very far on the church and street view was not available at all. Google Maps and Google Earth Pro gave me the same streetside view of the church. But Google Earth Pro also gave me the lay of the land.

I did more side-by-side comparisons using 3 houses I've lived in: one in Pennsylvania and two in New York. Once again, Bing's overhead view didn't get very close to my house, and it was a bit fuzzy. Google lets me zoom in all the way until it switches to street view. Google Earth Pro also lets me get really close, and adds a more 3D quality.

It may seem like a slam-dunk to you that Google Maps is the clear winner, with Google Earth Pro coming in second for its topographical view. But I always check both Google and Bing. You will find cases where an address doesn't exist in one map, but it does exist in the other.

Bing has one terrific feature important to a genealogist. It shows the county name. I can put in a street address, and at the top I see "United States - PA - Bucks Co. - Upper Southampton Township."

This feature is one reason why I always go to both maps.
This feature is one reason why I always go to both maps.

As a genealogist, you owe it to yourself to bookmark Google Maps, bookmark Bing Maps, and install Google Earth Pro. Happy virtual travels!


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18 December 2018

How to Make Custom Family Trees for the Holidays

On Friday I watched a presentation by a woman who creates one-of-a-kind family tree charts. (You can see it now.)

Her designs inspired me to work on a special family tree design for my sister-in-law. We're going to her place for a party soon. My husband is making a traditional Japanese dish they grew up with. And me? I'm carrying the bottle of wine.

Now I'm thinking, why not give her a keepsake she'll treasure? I can create a custom family tree chart for her. Wouldn't this be a unique and heartfelt gift for someone on your gift list? (If you answered "no", see How to Share Your Family Tree Research with Relatives.)

I don't own a separate program for making family tree charts. I have only what's built into Family Tree Maker. But after seeing that online presentation, I want more than Family Tree Maker can offer.

Imagining the Family Tree Chart

I'm envisioning a tree with my father- and mother-in-law in the center, his family to the left, and her family to the right. I'd like to add some photos and more details for special memories.

Now I need to figure out a good format to use. One where I can have design freedom.

Earlier in my career I had a lot of desktop publishing experience. I created brochures and newsletters for big companies. But now I design web pages, not print pages.

What software do I have that I can use for this? Microsoft Publisher comes free with my Office 365 subscription, but I've never used it. I launch it and start looking at templates. When I type in "family tree", Publisher offers me a PowerPoint template.

That can work. I've done some design in PowerPoint when I needed to produce PDFs for my current company.

I open up the PowerPoint family tree template, and it looks like this:

This family tree is a free PowerPoint template.
This family tree is a free PowerPoint template.

I can use these elements to make the type of tree I have in mind.

Print Considerations

Before I go any further, I have to think about how I'll print this tree. My husband has access to a plotter at work with a 24" maximum width. He'll be more than happy to print a chart for his sister.

You may not have access to someone's plotter at the office. But you should have some nearby commercial options. The first time I printed a big family tree, it was 2 feet wide and 5 feet long. I had 40 copies printed at Kinko's (now called FedEx Office Print & Ship Center) and gave them out to all the cousins.

Your local FedEx, Staples or UPS store can take your digital file and print it out on a big plotter. Check with them for their requirements and size limitations.

Design Time

Start by looking for inspiration. Watch the video linked at the top of this article, Google family tree charts, or check Pinterest. You're bound to find something you like.

I want to include my in-laws' wedding photo and any photos I have of their parents. I want to make room for my late father-in-law's 5 siblings and my late mother-in-law's 7 siblings.

I begin by changing the page size in my PowerPoint file. I copy the tree format, then flip the copy so I wind up with a bow-tie tree format. I take out the template's colors and go with grayscale. Here's how my template looks now:

You can duplicate and move pieces of the template to create what you want.
You can duplicate and move pieces of the template to create what you want.

I want to add some more space at the bottom for photos and captions. But first, I can fill in all the names I have. Here's how it looks with a tall stack of my in-laws' siblings in the center:

I used an unusual format to accommodate lots of siblings.
I used an unusual format to accommodate lots of siblings.

The template comes with a sample paragraph. I add some formatting to the paragraph so I can use it to add captions to the photos I'll choose.

I find a generic Japanese landscape photo to use as the background of my sister-in-law's tree. I fade it way back and push it to the bottom layer. All the text boxes and photos are in front of the image, so it doesn't interfere with anything. Here's my final product:

The final product didn't need a plotter. It fit on an 11"x17" sheet of paper.
The final product didn't need a plotter. It fit on an 11"x17" sheet of paper.

With the holidays upon us, it's best not to get too caught up in what's missing from the tree. Focus instead on the personalized touches you can add that will make your loved one so happy. Those touches can include:
  • A special family photo
  • Their parents' marriage certificate
  • A war hero's military record
  • A picture of the family home
Which family tree chart do you want to create first?

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14 December 2018

How Much Can Your Learn from Your Relative's Obituary?

A well-written obituary can tell you so much about a relative's descendants.

I am in awe of professional genealogists like Megan Smolenyak. She finds the living descendants of long-lost military servicemen so their remains can be returned to the family.

Living descendants are hard to find! Let's say you're looking at a family in the 1940 U.S. Census with lots of little children. Unless the boys' names are very unusual, how can you be sure where they are today? And what about the girls? How can you find them if they married? What are their names now?

The only tool I have—one that can be incredibly helpful—is a long, detailed obituary.

Do you know how many names and facts you can learn from a well-written obituary?

Imagine the deceased is your mother's third cousin. You don't know what became of her, who she married or who her kids are. Let's take a closer look at everything there is to learn from a detailed obituary.

The following is a real obituary. I've changed every single name and place to protect the family's identities. The obituary text is in black and my notes are in reddish brown.

Let's examine this obituary and put together a family tree based on the facts presented.

Joan G. Ericson Logan passed away on December 13, 2018 at the age of 96. [Ericson is her maiden name; Logan is her married name.] She was the oldest of seven children born to the late Howard B. and Grace Ann Ericson on April 15, 1922 in Jefferson City, MO. [That's a packed sentence! We have Joan's birth date and place, her parents' names, but not her mother's maiden name, and the facts that she has 6 younger siblings. We know her father is dead, but it doesn't specifically say her mother is dead, although that may be what was meant.]

Joan graduated from Jefferson City High School. She received her B.S. degree in Education from Logan State College. Then attained further studies at Indiana University, majoring in school librarianship. [We now have the names of 3 schools where Joan may be found in yearbooks, school newspapers, or other records.] Joan's teaching career, which included English, band, choir and elementary school librarian, spanned over 33 years in the State of Missouri. After retiring from the Logan Public School System, she went on to become a 9-year volunteer in the Ashcroft College Library System where she received the Volunteer of the Year Award in 2003. [We know where she was working, geographically. As a volunteer, we may expect to find her in several local newspaper articles. There was almost certainly a 2003 newspaper article about her being named Volunteer of the Year.]

Joan united with Mr. Anthony Mark Nelson, Sr. and to this union [Were they married? This seems like an unusual way to say it.], one son was born, Anthony Mark Nelson, Jr. (deceased). [We can look for an obituary for Anthony Mark Nelson, Jr. some time before Joan's death.] Anthony, Jr. married Darlene Stanton, a high school classmate and to this union, 3 children were born. [This time it says they were married, even though it's using that "union" word again. Knowing his wife's name, we can look for a marriage announcement.]

Subsequently, Joan met and married Mr. James Emery Logan, Sr. while students at Logan State College. To this union [See what I mean? This time it does say they were married.], one son was born James, Jr. He married Angela Marie Thompson and to this union 4 children were born. [Here's another marriage announcement to look for.]

Joan was a lifelong member of the United Methodist Church in Jefferson City. She served as the church pianist, organist, coordinator of the annual Christmas and Easter presentations. She was especially proud when James, Jr. was ordained as a United Methodist Elder. [Between Joan's extraordinary involvement and her son being an elder, this church definitely has information to offer about this family. Church newsletters and other publications could be very helpful to telling this family's history.]

Joan was preceded in death by her siblings, Henry, Howard, Andrew and Anthony Ericson. [We've already learned that these siblings were younger than Joan, but we now know we can look for their death records.] She leaves behind to cherish her memory two siblings Anna Elena Worthington [Anna Elena may be widowed or divorced since she has a different last name, but no husband's name is given.] and William (Irene) Ericson [William is Joan's brother and Irene is his wife. While it seems odd, this is how it's done. The spouse who is not the blood relative is mentioned in parenthesis.]; a son, James Emery Logan, Jr. (Elaine), grandchildren: Fred Nelson [the Nelson grandchildren should belong to Joan's first son Anthony Mark Nelson, Jr. and his wife Darlene Stanton.], Edgar (Maryann) Nelson and Victoria Nelson, James Emery Logan, III (Colleen), Valerie T. Simpson (Tyler) [Valerie was a Logan, and this tells us she married Tyler Simpson.], Christian F. Logan (Elizabeth) and Jacklyn Logan, 12 great grandchildren, 1 great great grandchild and a host of nieces and nephews.

That was a LOT of information. We can build a family tree from this information, plugging in the facts we have. We'll make some guesses for birth years. My rule of thumb is to estimate that a husband and wife are about the same age, they had their first child at age 25, and the children were born 3 years apart. An estimation like this will put your people's ages in the right ballpark. Your research will be a little easier when you have a rough idea of their ages.

Now, with a basic tree, we can search for all these names and find hard facts.

This tree is made entirely from information in the obituary.
This tree is made entirely from information in the obituary.
If Joan were your distant cousin, how happy would you be right now?

When the day comes that you're asked to write an obituary for a loved one, like your parent, how many genealogy clues will you include for future generations to discover? Don't skimp on the details.

Maybe it's time to let your immediate family know what you'd like your obituary to say.


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11 December 2018

3 Tricks for Better Genealogy Search Results

When your family won't turn up, try some tricky searches.

How many times have you searched for your relative in a set of documents and found nothing? Or maybe you found a ton of results that looked like junk to you.

There's a good chance that the search results are bad because the transcription was bad. Did the volunteer transcriber have trouble reading the bad handwriting? Did they enter dramatically wrong data into the system?

Your search is doomed to fail, right? Not necessarily.

If you use partial searches, related searches and detailed searches, you may find your family.

1. Partial searches

It was common for our ancestors to have a first name and a middle name. But how were they identified on the census form? Did the person providing the information know them by their middle name only? Or by an adopted name in their new country?

Try leaving their first name out of your search completely. Fill in their age and place of birth, but use only their last name.

Try the opposite, too. I had more luck finding my grandfather on a census with only his first name of Adam. The census-taker wrote his last name in a way I hadn't expected.

Simplify your search. Toss out the extras, and your results may improve.
Simplify your search. Toss out the extras, and your results may improve.
2. Related searches

When a family is tough to find, look at the kids. The particular combination of children's names in this family can be the key to finding them.

Do a search that includes all the kids' names. Leave off the last name and let the search focus on finding those kids together.

You can also try using the husband and wife's first names only. That combination may be what does the job.

3. Detailed searches

I'm having trouble finding my great grandfather's naturalization papers. His name often causes me problems. His given name was Pasquale Iamarino, but on some documents he is Patsy Marino. Or a combination of those names.

So I searched using his exact birth date. I didn't find him. I also searched using his birth year and town of birth, but no name.

His naturalization isn't showing up yet. But, I once found his wife's brothers on ship manifests by searching for their last name and town of birth only.

Here's an example using Pasquale Iamarino. I did a general search of all categories on Ancestry.com. I entered only his last name, his town of origin and his exact year of birth.

The results were terrific. In fact, they include one new result that I never expected to find. It's the claim ID for his railroad retirement pension. I'll have to buy a copy of it from the National Archives at Atlanta (why there?), but this is brand new information.

So many misspellings, but the results are all for my great grandfather.
So many misspellings, but the results are all for my great grandfather.
My dad says Pasquale may have had black lung disease from years of cleaning out the furnace of coal-burning train engines. He had to retire early on disability. This pension claim may tell me a lot more about what happened to him.

Also, the Suggested Records in the right column of my Ancestry.com results are very impressive! Despite all the spelling variations, that exact birth year seems to have done wonders for my search. All those records belong to my great grandfather.

The point is to experiment. Don't give up if the results don't look promising. All these genealogical records are a gigantic database. You may need to slice and dice that database to get past bad transcriptions and misspellings.

Give it a try the very next time you don't get the results you want. Do a partial search, add in related names, or toss out the names and plug in specific facts.

Working on your family tree is a big puzzle. Clever searches are yet another piece of the puzzle.

Don't get frustrated. Get clever.


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07 December 2018

3 Ways to Prove Your Family Tree is Correct

You may not trust someone else's family tree, but you can stand behind your facts. Right?

Every now and then you're going to find a very intriguing hint. From what you can see, it looks like it's your family. It's got a lot of names you're missing. You get a little excited.

Then you realize this potential jackpot of a family tree has no sources. No documents. They haven't even capitalized all the proper names. This is not a carefully crafted family tree.

Excitement over.

This sad story should motivate you to fortify your family tree. Make your tree be the exciting find that keeps on giving.

Here's how other genealogists are going to know your family tree is the real deal. It's extremely well-crafted. These 3 things will prove to anybody that your family tree is correct.

If your tree has this much solid evidence, who could doubt you?
If your tree has this much solid evidence, who could doubt you?

1. Official Documents

Gather and add to your tree as many government-issued documents as possible. Whatever country your ancestor is from, their government will have created certified-reliable documents, including:
  • birth records
  • census forms
  • marriage records
  • death records
  • citizenship papers
  • military records
  • passports
Other official records don't come from a government:
  • ship manifests
  • church baptism records
  • school yearbooks
  • city directories
  • newspapers
The last 3 might be the most likely to have errors, but they can provide supporting evidence.

What aren't official are stories passed down through the generations, family bibles, and my brother's college project to write about our family history. (Sorry, Jay.) You've got to strive for those official documents.

2. Official Sources

Lots of times you can't find an official document or an image of a document to support a fact. A good example is the "last place of residence" listed on the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). That's a fact you want to put in your family tree, but you haven't got any document.

That's when it's important to record the source of the fact. You can find details about the source wherever you're viewing it. If it's a website like Ancestry.com, there is a detailed description of the source. If you're in the archives looking at microfilm, the film's box or the beginning of the reel will hold some information.

What's most important is to capture the accurate name and origin of the source. "U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014; Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File."

Then capture something more specific to your ancestor. My late step-grandmother's SSDI listing has an additional source citation: "Number: 081-07-1687; Issue State: New York; Issue Date: Before 1951".

If someone's tree has that level of documentation, are you seriously going to doubt them?

3. Supporting Sources

I spend tons of time going through Italian civil records, piecing together my ancestors' families. I love it when an ancestor's official birth record has annotations in the column. Those notes may include their marriage date and place, spouse's name, and their death date.

That's official and corroborating evidence.

Do your best to gather all a person's documents, and you'll find that you have supporting sources, too. A mother's maiden name on your ancestor's death record is not reliable. But if it matches the name on your ancestor's birth and marriage records, it is very reliable.

Make Your Tree Provable

If you've been reading this and thinking, "I'm not sure I can prove my tree is correct," you've got some work to do:
  • Start replacing your sketchier sources with more official ones. Some of my sources are "my cousin told me." That might be fine if your cousin told you "this person's nickname was Baldy." But if the facts are important, track down an official source or an official document.
  • Try to get as many documents as you can for your people. This way you'll have supporting evidence that says, "Yes, he was born on this date in this place. It says so here, here and here." Find each major, available document for the people in your tree and close the book on them.
  • Be consistent in how you record dates and names. Your online tree should show each person's full name. If you're not using software that automatically formats your dates, take the time to type them in the same style.
Hopefully you're thinking your tree is in pretty good shape. If so, keep these ideas in the back of your mind. The next time you're reviewing someone in your tree, think about how you can make their facts more bulletproof.

Make your family tree be exactly the type of tree you'd love to find as a hint!

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04 December 2018

Closing the Book on One Family at a Time

Follow along as we figure out what's needed to "finish" documenting my grandmother's family.

It's time to work closer to home. Complete your closest families' documents.
It's time to work closer to home.
Complete your closest families' documents.
Last time I talked about 4 keys—4 things to focus on that will make you a better genealogist. One of them was "finishing" your research on individual families.

There's never going to be an end to the things you can learn about any given family in your family tree. But you can "close the book" on getting copies of their major documents.

You'll find this exercise more meaningful if you stick to your closest relatives. I'll choose my paternal grandmother Lucy, her brothers (Mike and Frank), and her parents (Pasquale and Maria Rosa).

The head of this family unit was my great grandfather Pasquale Iamarino. He was born in Italy, came to America in 1902, lived in New York and Ohio, and died in 1969.

I've had a lot of luck finding Pasquale's documents. (See "How to Use a Paper Trail to Recreate Your Ancestor's Life".) I have his:
  • 1882 birth record from Italy and his baptismal record from the church
  • 1902 ship manifest when he came to New York City
  • 1905 New York State census
  • 1906 marriage certificate with my great grandmother
  • 1908 Hornell, NY, directory
  • 1910 Federal census and 1915 New York State census
  • 1918 World War I draft registration card
  • 1920 and 1930 censuses when the family lived in Ohio
  • 1931–1935 city directories from Ohio
  • 1940 census
  • 1942 World War II draft registration card
  • 1969 death certificate from the state of Ohio
That's a pretty good haul! But there is a major piece of documentation I've never found for Pasquale. His naturalization papers.

The 1910 census calls him an Alien. The 1920 census says he had filed his naturalization papers. The 1930 census says he is a naturalized citizen. I can narrow it down further with his WWI draft registration card. In September 1918 he was a Declarant.

He began the citizenship process by September 1918, but did he file his papers in New York? He lived in Albany in June 1915, and he was an Alien on the 1915 state census. Or did he file his papers when he moved to Ohio?

I have a theory that Pasquale moved from New York to Ohio for a better opportunity with the railroad. Maybe the Erie Railroad preferred that he become a citizen.

It's a good bet that Pasquale filed his papers in the court nearest to Girard, Ohio, outside Youngstown.

My great grandfather's documents: so close to complete.
My great grandfather's documents: so close to complete.
That's one set of papers I need. What about the rest of this family of five?

For my great grandmother, Maria Rosa, I have her:
  • 1880 birth record from Italy
  • 1906 immigration record
  • 1906 marriage certificate
  • 1910–1940 censuses
  • 1931–1935 city directories from Ohio
  • 1970 death certificate
According to the 1940 census, she never became a citizen. I don't expect to find any other documents for her.

Since she doesn't seem to have become a citizen, my great grandmother's documents are complete.
Since she doesn't seem to have become a citizen, my great grandmother's documents are complete.
I'm missing my grandmother Lucy's birth and death records. Recently I solved the mystery of her missing birth record. I found her in a birth index with a misspelled last name and no first name. Now I have the document number and the wrong last name (Merino). I should be able to order that from New York, and I can order her death certificate from Ohio.

For my grandmother's brothers, my great uncle Mike and great uncle Frank, I have each census and lots of facts. As for their vital records, I have all the dates, but I don't have certificates of their births, marriages and deaths. I don't know about you, but I pay to get certificates only for my closest relatives. My dad loved these, guys, but I'm afraid I never met them.

So, the final tally of what I need before I can "close out" this family:
  • Pasquale's naturalization papers, probably from Ohio
  • Lucy's birth certificate from New York
  • Lucy's death certificate from Ohio
I'm ashamed of myself for not having purchased my grandmother's 1954 death certificate. Somehow I overlooked it. And I'm even more ashamed that I never before figured out when my great grandfather became a citizen. (It still doesn't come up in a search.)

This is exactly why I'm encouraging us all to go back to basics. Look at the families closest to you—each of your grandparents' families for starters. Figure out what's missing:
  • What can you find online?
  • What will you have to send away for?
  • What can you find on a genealogy road trip?

Take a day off from one of your distant-cousin-searches and come closer to home. Find the missing pieces for your closest relatives. Then share what you've learned with your family.

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