30 August 2019

This DNA Reference Site Solved a Mystery

Watch me solve a DNA mystery right before your eyes. I'm still in shock!

Is your DNA match list driving you crazy? I have so many matches I haven't figured out yet. It's time to look for help.

Here's my recommendation: Bookmark the Wiki of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG). There's so much to learn…so much you don't even know you don't know.

Autosomal DNA

I see people tossing around genetic terms all the time, and I don't know what they all mean. Take "haplogroup". I don't know which haplogroup I belong to. With a little bit of searching on Ancestry, I found that my Ancestry DNA test does not include my haplogroup. Whew! At least there's a good reason why I don't know my haplogroup.

Ancestry DNA looks at your autosomal DNA because everyone has that. It isn't restricted to only male ancestry or only female ancestry. That means you can potentially connect to more relatives with an autosomal DNA test.

Go to the Autosomal DNA page on the ISOGG Wiki and you'll see that several other well-known companies also offer an autosomal DNA test. You'll find a video on that page that gives you a quick background on how to make sense of your list of DNA matches.

The video includes a breakdown of how much DNA you should share with a parent, sibling, 1st cousin, 1st cousin once removed, etc. There are several charts available to help you make sense of the number of centiMorgans you share with your DNA matches. Here's a good one from Family Tree UK.


Let's talk about centiMorgans. That's the "cMs" your DNA site says you share with your DNA matches. Here's a simple—and wildly handy—way to see the percentage of DNA you share with someone. On the ISOGG Wiki page for centiMorgans it says to take the number of cMs you share and divide it by 68. That sounds crazy, doesn't it? 68?

I went to my DNA match list and picked my father. We share 3,441 cMs. Guess what that is when you divide it by 68? It's 50.6%. Bingo, he's my dad-o. My mom and I share 3,482 cMs. That works out to 51.2%. No wonder I look more like her.

I have a 1st cousin who has DNA-tested. As 1st cousins, we should share about 12.5% DNA. Using the "divide by 68" rule, he and I share 11.66% of our DNA. Definitely a 1st cousin.

This is how Ancestry DNA and other sites determine your approximate relationship to someone. Applying that rule, let's look at 2 of my most intriguing DNA match mysteries.

Mom's DNA Match

Mary is a match to my mom and me. She has no family tree online, so I wrote to her. Mary and mom's shared cMs work out to about 3.6%. Consulting the Family Tree UK chart, they could be:
  • 1st cousins twice removed, or
  • 2nd cousins
That's pretty close. After writing to Mary, I learned her DNA test gave her the news that her father wasn't her father. She told me the last name of her birth father, and I recognized it right away. That name comes from my maternal grandmother's parents' hometown in Italy. It's a small town, so I'm familiar with most of the names there.

My mission now is to help Mary by finding her connection to my great grandparents. Then, at least, I can give her a family. There aren't a lot of records available from that Italian town, but if I start pulling out everyone with her father's last name, I should be able to build something.

Dad's DNA Match

Linda is a DNA match to my dad and me and shares our last name. I wrote to her and her information was confusing. She said her grandmother was Rosaria Iamarino, but that must be her married name. She said her family has some roots in Argentina. Ancestry DNA estimates that my dad and Linda are 1st or 2nd cousins.

How can we not know our relationship?

In some DNA cases, you may simply need to look at your tree in a logical way.
In some DNA cases, you may simply need to look at your tree in a logical way.

Turning back to the "divide by 68" rule, Linda and my dad share 5.47% of their DNA. That's an in-between percentage that doesn't fall nicely onto the Family Tree UK chart. But there's a good chance Linda is my dad's 2nd cousin twice removed or so.

Looking at the shared last name of Iamarino, my grandpa had no brothers. And even though my grandmother was also an Iamarino, her brothers are legally named Marino. (Some crazy clerical error.) That means Linda's Iamarino grandfather may be the child or grandchild of one of my father's great uncles—one of the brothers of 1 of his 2 Iamarino grandfathers.

And now my brain hurts.

Maybe a visual aid will help. I'll look at dad's 2 grandfathers in my family tree: Francesco and Pasquale Iamarino.

Pasquale Iamarino had only one brother, and he died as a toddler. That rules out my dad's mother's side of the family.

Francesco Iamarino had 2 brothers. Giuseppe emigrated to the Bronx and stayed there for the rest of his life. My dad remembers him. Teofilo seems to have stayed in Italy. But something strikes me. I know Teofilo's son Gennaro moved to Argentina. And, oh boy, his son has a wife named Rosaria!

When I saw this couple's photo, I remembered something crucial. Argentina!
When I saw this couple's photo, I remembered something crucial. Argentina!

I learned this in January because Rosaria's daughter, my 3rd cousin Maria, contacted me from Argentina. As I look through our online conversation from January, Maria did say her brother lives in America.

Wow, the visual aid really helped. Linda's father should be my 3rd cousin. And now my Argentinian 3rd cousin Maria has confirmed it!

The Ancestry DNA estimate was only a bit off. Linda (my 3rd cousin once removed) is my dad's 2nd cousin twice removed. (OMG! That was my guess above.) She and her father are going into my family tree right now. I've just figured out this mystery, right before your eyes!

It's entirely possible Linda has some extra cMs in common with me because of my convoluted, complex relationship to her grandmother Rosaria's family.

Learn from this wild experience. An expert resource or two, and some logical, brain-numbing thinking, can solve your longstanding DNA mysteries too.

27 August 2019

Step Out of Your Genealogy Comfort Zone

Getting pretty good at genealogy? Try working with a new set of records.

I tend to write this blog about what I'm doing in genealogy at the moment. It's a great system, actually. I have to play around in genealogy every day to keep the blog going.

What I'm doing right now is stretching my skills by helping other people with their family trees. I specialize in Italian ancestry. So I'm offering to:
  • locate Italian vital records
  • translate them, and
  • piece together families for my customers.
If you've been working on your own family tree for a while, you're probably in your genealogy comfort zone. You're locating government documents from your own country, like:
  • census records
  • immigration and naturalization records
  • vital records
  • military records, and more
The documents are often very similar, so you get comfortable with them. You know where to look on a census sheet for the head of household's occupation. You know where to look on a death record for the names of the deceased's parents.

Things can get so easy they start to bore you. There's a lot more to genealogy.
Things can get so easy they start to bore you. There's a lot more to genealogy.

Now imagine suddenly diving into a pool of different documents. They can be so…different. It can throw you off your genealogy game a bit.

All my ancestors came from neighboring towns in Italy. Each town's birth, marriage, and death records are pretty similar to one another. I know exactly how to handle my towns' documents and extract what I need from them.

But in different regions of Italy, the pre-printed forms can vary a lot. The father's name on a birth record may not be where I expected. The baby's name may be written very large (that's great!) or small and blended into the paragraph (harder to spot).

What I'm finding right away is that we can learn and adapt quickly.

I hope you'll get ambitious and start to explore a branch of your family tree you haven't touched before. You may find that documents from their country are different than what you're used to.

Don't get worried. All you need to do is get settled in. Here are the 2 main tips for dealing with dramatically different documents.

1. Learn Some of the Language

If you're going to gather documents from a new country, you need to learn a handful of words in their language. I'll be working with all Italian documents, but eventually I may need to learn the dreaded Latin.

Whenever you need to dig into foreign-language documents, you must learn the keywords.

Say you're viewing a birth record. You need to know the words for born, husband, wife, the days of the week, months of the year, and numbers. Memorize those months and numbers. FamilySearch.org offers a list of all the important keywords in a bunch of languages. See What Language Barrier?

You can do this!

You've learned so much already. Stretch yourself and see how much more you can master.
You've learned so much already. Stretch yourself and see how much more you can master.

2. Recognize the Key Facts

When I'm looking at a really old Italian document, it's all hand-written. There is no pre-printed, easy-to-read form. But I don't get overwhelmed. I find a key fact and dive right in.

A very old birth record often begins with details about the volume where you can find the record. It may include the beginning and ending dates covered by that volume. I don't need all that.

The first thing I look for on an old birth record is the word comparso. That means appeared. The recorder of the document is saying so-and-so appeared before me, the mayor or town official.

The person who appeared is either the father of the new baby or the midwife. In rare cases it's the grandfather of the baby or another relative. But by and large, it's the baby's daddy. So I find comparso and read what follows. It should be a name and an age. If it's a man's name, like Antonio delGrosso, and he's about 28 years old, that sure sounds like he's the father. If he's 68 years old, I'll check to see if he's the grandfather.

Now that I found that important entry point, it's easier to decipher what's next. I expect to find:
  • when the baby was born
  • the mother's name
  • whether she is "Antonio delGrosso's" legitimate wife
  • the baby's given name.
If the birth record format for a particular town is different than my towns, I know I can adjust. I like to page through the documents, looking for a particular last name. I keep my eyes only in the part of the page where it says a name after the word comparso.

I can flip through the documents, looking at that one spot, and stop only when I see the name I want. Only then will I read the rest of the document.

If you have a multi-ethnic background, you may have dabbled in a few countries already. But I'll bet a lot of you haven't ventured outside your own country yet. Don't be afraid! You can get used to anything.

Step out of your genealogy comfort zone and expand it. It's not hard once you get settled in.

23 August 2019

How to Find Your Connection to a Distant Relative

It may happen at any time. And when it does, you should drop everything.

One of the best things about keeping my family tree on Ancestry.com is the mailbox. At any given moment, I can get a message from a possible cousin.

It's like Christmas Day each time I get a new message. Will this person help me find a missing piece of my genealogy puzzle? I pay attention to each message and treat it seriously.

Last week I heard from a woman I was about to contact. I noticed she was a DNA match to both my dad and me. And I saw her borrowing census forms I'd saved to my family tree. We quickly established that her ancestors once lived up the block from my parents in the Bronx. And we both have roots in Colle Sannita, Italy.

Yesterday I heard from another woman who may not have taken a DNA test. But Ancestry informed her that she and I had shared ancestors. Her 3rd great grandparents were in my tree.

Look beyond the face-value relationship. There may be more to it.
Look beyond the face-value relationship. There may be more to it.

The relationship is hard to wrap your head around, but her people are tied to my 2nd great aunt's husband. And he happens to be the great grandson of my double 4th great grandparents. (See 3 Ways to Find Double Ancestors in Your Family Tree.)

There are no suitable words for these crazy relationships. Let's just say her people are my people.

I dropped everything and got to work. Her 2nd great grandfather was not in my family tree. So, using her online tree for clues, I found his 1829 birth record in my collection of vital records. Then I found his son Giuseppantonio's 1854 birth record.

My new contact's family tree says Giuseppantonio married a woman born in the next town, Circello. Luckily, I have ancestors from Circello. So I have all the available Circello vital records on my computer, too.

I found his wife's 1850 birth record and saw that her mother's name was Petriella. That name has a lot of significance to me. It's my 1st cousins' last name, and it's the last name of some of our DNA matches.

Working on the family tree of a possible cousin can net you a lot more relatives.
Working on the family tree of a possible cousin can net you a lot more relatives.

This Petriella married in Circello in 1842. I harvested as much information from her marriage as possible, including:
  • Her 1819 birth record
  • Her father's 1838 death record
  • Her grandfather's 1821 death record
  • Her husband's 1817 birth record
  • His father's 1839 death record
  • His grandfather's 1790 death record
  • The full set of marriage records, including:
    • publication of their intention to marry
    • permission to marry
    • the date they married in church.
Each time I found a new name, I glanced at my new contact's tree to see if my information agreed with hers. It did, but my document collection lets me go much further back in time.

An unexpected relationship is made clear with some color-coding.
An unexpected relationship is made clear with some color-coding.

I'll continue exploring the documents and adding facts to my family tree. My new contact saved me from hitting a dead end with this particular family. I might never have known that Giuseppe married a girl from the next town and had several children there.

Now I can keep on building that family. I can follow them across the ocean to (of course) the Bronx. And I may make even more connections to distant relatives. That's what you've got to do to find that connection.

At this moment, my family tree has 21,761 people. And that's after I cut out and stopped documenting American in-laws.

Do you want to find your connection to distant cousins? Stretch out your branches as far as possible.

If you're keeping your family tree to yourself, you're missing out on tons of opportunities.

20 August 2019

Consistency Makes Your Family Tree More Professional

Be consistent with facts in your family tree for a professional result.

I'm surprised you've stuck with me. Some of my genealogy suggestions seem like a lot of work. And they are. But if you're building your family tree out of true interest, you'll want to do it right.

I've asked you to add details to your document images. To download entire towns full of vital records. To use spreadsheets to document and track everything.

Since I didn't get much push-back on those tedious projects, I hope you'll be open to this idea: Consistency.

In my day job, I'm a website content producer. I've always thought consistency gives any website credibility. If a website says one thing on one page, and something different on another, the company doesn't look professional.

Now imagine you're visiting someone's family tree. If they use a different address format for everyone, for example, their work looks unprofessional. Would you trust someone with a half-mowed, weed-filled, messy yard to be your landscaper? Do you trust someone with an inconsistent family tree to be your source?

Lately I've noticed 3 areas where I want to be more consistent:
  • job titles
  • addresses
  • immigration descriptions
Let's see what I can do about it.

There are a few ways to see if you're being consistent in your family tree.
There are a few ways to see if you're being consistent in your family tree.

Job Titles

In Family Tree Analyzer, I can see a list of every occupation I've recorded in my family tree. If you haven't downloaded the free Family Tree Analyzer program, go there now. You're missing out.

Launch Family Tree Analyzer and open your latest GEDCOM file. Go to the Main Lists / Occupations window.

Granted, you'll have different job titles because they were like that on the source document. But, did you make any typos?

If you find an entry you don't like and want to change, double-click it to see which person(s) has this job title. Make the edit in your family tree software.

All my ancestors alive before 1898 were born in Italy. So I have a ton of Italian-language occupations in my family tree. Using Find and Replace in Family Tree Maker, I added an English translation to each Italian job title. For instance, "pastore (shepherd)".

I noticed a few translations where the Find and Replace messed me up because it was a multi-word job title. Massaro means steward or farm manager and pastore means sheep farmer. But a massaro di pecore is a sheep-farm manager. I wound up with a job title that says "massaro (steward or farm manager) di pecore (sheep farmer)".

With Family Tree Analyzer, I can spot these boo-boos and fix them in Family Tree Maker.


I like to add the word "County" to U.S. place names. It's a personal choice, but I think "241 North Road, Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York, USA" is clearer than "241 North Road, Poughkeepsie, Dutchess, New York, USA".

Whichever format you prefer, be consistent. Scan the list of locations in Family Tree Analyzer's Locations tab or the Places tab of Family Tree Maker. Does anything glaring jump out at you?

Having a blueprint for recording certain facts makes it easy to be consistent.
Having a blueprint for recording certain facts makes it easy to be consistent.

Immigration Descriptions

I first started building my family tree by searching the Ellis Island website. Then I bought Family Tree Maker and came up with a format for immigration descriptions. It went like this:

Arrived aboard the [ship name] [with whichever relative(s)] to join [person] at [address].

But I had to change that format after a while. You see, I started recording each person's departure date from Italy as an Emigration fact. That's the day the ship left the port of Naples. In the Emigration fact's description field in Family Tree Maker, I use this format:

Left for [port city] on the [ship name].

I like that format. But since the Emigration fact includes the ship name, I don't need to repeat it in the Immigration fact. From then on, my Immigration fact follows this format:

Arrived [with whichever relative(s)] to join [person] at [address].

Whenever I notice the old format I fix it. But it'd be great to see a list of all these facts and work to correct them. The best way I've found to review all the immigration facts is to open my GEDCOM file in a text editor.

I can search for "IMMI" and keep pressing the F3 key to see the next one and the next one. When I see one I want to change, the person's name will be a few lines up. Then I can switch to Family Tree Maker and make my edit.

Think about your own style and habits when working on your family tree. Is there anything you changed along the way? Should you go back to the older facts and make them match? I would, but I didn't win the Miss Consistency crown for nothing.

If you want to tackle any particular fact-type, opening your latest GEDCOM is a good idea. Remember to make updates to your tree, not the GEDCOM file.

I wish people wouldn't say they want to trash their family tree and start over. Don't throw away your work. Fix it. And polish it with consistency. Look how professional you are!

16 August 2019

3 Ways to Find Double Ancestors in Your Family Tree

Double ancestors reduce your allotment of direct ancestors.

In 2007 an historian from my grandfather's town gave me an ancestry surprise. My paternal grandparents were 3rd cousins.

Sure, I knew my grandparents had the same last name. My grandmother was born in New York. But I knew her father came from my Italian-born grandfather's hometown. But even Grandpa didn't seem to know the exact relationship. Or else he never wanted to tell us.

Two of my 3rd great grandfathers were brothers. That means their parents, Francesco and Cristina, are my double 4th great grandparents. They, and all their direct ancestors, appear twice in my pedigree chart.

This is what's known in genealogy as pedigree collapse. My grandfather Pietro married his 3rd cousin Lucy. They shared a set of 2nd great grandparents. So, instead of having 64 4th great grandparents (as we're all allowed to have), I have 62.

The amount of ancestors you have doubles for each generation. So we're all allowed 128 5th great grandparents. But because of double ancestors, I have 124 5th great grandparents. Notice the number of double ancestors also doubles with each generation. I have 2 double 4th great grandparents, and 4 double 5th great grandparents. I have 8 double 6th great grandparents, and so on.

There may be double ancestors hiding in your family tree. Here are 3 ways to find them.

1. Check Your Family Tree Chart

Your family tree, online or on your desktop, may point out your double ancestors.
  • If you use Family Tree Maker, click the Publish tab and generate a Vertical Pedigree Chart for yourself. You may see some people in a dotted-line border. These are people who appear in your family tree twice because they're related to you in two important ways.
  • If you use MyHeritage.com, look for people in your family tree with a red circle and "x2". This means this person is in your tree 2 times. They're related to you in 2 ways.
  • As much as I dislike Geni.com, it also points out your double ancestors with a green "x2" in the lower left corner of a double ancestor.
  • If all else fails, create a pedigree chart (direct ancestors only) and look for repeated people.
Check your family tree for hints that you have double ancestors.
Check your family tree for hints that you have double ancestors.

2. Color-Code Your Ancestors

This is how I'm using the relatively new color-coding feature in Family Tree Maker. I gave each of my 4 grandparents a unique color: yellow, pink, green, blue. This lets me see at a glance which branch any direct ancestor belongs to.

I find this to be the best and easiest way to spot double ancestors. So far, I have double ancestors on my father's side of the family tree only. The Iamarino family is from a small town in Italy. They had a good number of cousins marry, as well as siblings marrying siblings.

My double ancestors show up in the Index panel with 2 overlapping color dots. In the tree view, each double ancestor's color bar is split to show half yellow and half pink. The colors show they are the direct ancestors of my grandfather (yellow) and my grandmother (pink).

Color dots in the index and color bars in the tree view tell me which branch, or branches, an ancestors belongs to.
Color dots in the index and color bars in the tree view tell me which branch, or branches, an ancestors belongs to.

3. Use Ahnentafel Numbers

Each of your direct ancestors has a very specific, unique number. The Ahnentafel numbering system follows a strict pattern. Run your Ahnentafel report from Family Tree Maker. Or do it manually (here's how). You may find that some of your ancestors qualify for 2 different Ahnentafel numbers.

I've created a color-coded ancestor spreadsheet with an Ahnentafel number in each cell. (Download one for yourself.) You can enter your ancestors into the chart and discover your dual-number ancestors.

On my ancestor spreadsheet, I'm giving double ancestors a blended color. Since Grandpa is yellow and Grandma is pink, I make their shared ancestors orange.

There's a strict method as to who gets which Ahnentafel number. They can help you find double ancestors.
There's a strict method as to who gets which Ahnentafel number. They can help you find double ancestors.

As they say in every sales pitch, "But wait! There's more."

These 3 techniques cannot show you your double cousins. My grandfather's paternal uncle married his maternal aunt. Their children are Grandpa's double 1st cousins.

This is the type of thing you'll find by accident, and it may confuse you at first.

My great grandfather was Francesco Iamarino. He had a brother Teofilo. Francesco married my great grandmother Libera Pilla. His brother Teofilo married Libera's sister Filomena. That created an extra joining of 2 families. The children of Teofilo and Filomena were my grandfather's maternal 1st cousins and paternal 1st cousins. Double cousins.

I've met relatives in Canada and in Italy who knew about the 2 brothers marrying 2 sisters. It was not unusual at all. Nearly everyone in my ancestral towns married someone who lived right nearby. If one merger of the Iamarino and Pilla families was a good thing, why not 2 mergers?

Going through vital records from Grandpa's town, I found another double wedding. On 20 December 1852, Damiano Marino and his sister Libera Marino married Rosa Zeolla and her brother Giovanni Pasquale Zeolla.

That was a very practical wedding. It's like the line in Hamlet: "Thrift, thrift, Horatio, the funeral bak'd-meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables." In other words, if you're gonna combine these 2 families, you may as well do it with 1 wedding feast and save money.

Can you find any pedigree collapse in your family tree? Do you think the marrying cousins knew they were cousins?

13 August 2019

7 Genealogy Projects We All Need to Do

Have you ever given someone genealogy advice, and not followed it yourself?

This is my 297th blog article in 2½ years. I publish twice a week. To keep up with that schedule, I spend time each day working on my family tree. Then I write about whatever I've been doing.

If I'm working to connect with a DNA match, I write about that. If I'm developing a system for naming and tracking my files, I write about that. If I discover a useful website, I write about that.

But with all the writing, I rarely get a chance to complete the projects I recommend for you. This is a recap of some of my favorite recommendations that I wish I had time to complete. Which ones appeal the most to you?

We all need to take another look at our earliest genealogy work and make improvements. I still have some unofficial sources I want to replace with better sources and images. I have some facts that came from the family tree of a distant relative. That's not good enough. I need to find a reliable source.

I liked this idea enough to write about it again in Trade Up to Better Family History Sources.

Imagine the look on your future descendant's face when she finds your collection of family history books.
Imagine the look on your future descendant's face when she finds your collection of family history books.

One of my biggest desires as a genealogist is to find the best way to share what I've found with my relatives. This article describes how to create a family tree book you can share. Imagine presenting a book to everyone at a family reunion.

I covered this idea again in 5 Steps to Writing Your Ancestor's Life Story, and the very popular article, How to Create a 'Book of Life' for Your Relatives.

I've been really good about following this advice. But my older documents need my attention. If you add facts to the properties of your digital documents (like census sheets, ship manifest, etc.), you'll never wonder where they came from. And you'll be able to get right back to their source.

Annotate your image the moment you get it. You'll never forget where you found it.
Annotate your image the moment you get it. You'll never forget where you found it.

Yes, we need to replace unofficial sources with official ones. But we also need sources for the modern-day facts we just know. For example, I was baptized in a church in the Bronx, New York. The only source for that fact is my baptismal certificate. I could scan and add it to my family tree. I could add my birth certificate, too. But if you're adding documents for anyone who's living, make the images private. They're mainly there for you.

One of the genealogy goals I set for 2019 (and completed) helped me close the book on some families. "Closing the book" means finding all the documents you're missing for a family. For example, think of your great uncle. Do you have every census record for him? Do you have all his immigration and naturalization papers? His birth, marriage and death records? What about documents for his children?

When you have all the documents, you can "close the book" on that family.

When I wrote about the funeral cards I'd collected for some relatives, my cousin texted me photos of a ton more. Funeral cards serve as evidence for death dates. And sometimes they can say more—or have a photo. I still need to clean up the images my cousin sent me and place those funeral cards in my family tree.

A "Book of Life" isn't meant for celebrities only. Make them for your family.
A "Book of Life" isn't meant for celebrities only. Make them for your family.

I started dealing with my family photos, but I have a long way to go. They're stored in too many folders on my computer. That makes it hard to find the exact one I want. I've got to name and file them properly. Then I've got to double-check that I've scanned all the old photos my mother left with me when she moved. Finally, I have to make sure they get into my family tree.

09 August 2019

Make Your Digital Genealogy Documents Searchable

Who needs a search engine? Your computer is a search engine!

I'm constantly bouncing all around in my genealogy research. One day a person with my last name mentions their grandparents' birth dates. Another day a DNA match reaches out to me looking for our shared ancestors.

I need a quicker way to search for these connections.

One of my genealogy goals this year is to enter the details from thousands of Italian vital records into a spreadsheet. Then I can use Excel to search for a particular man's name and find the one who's married to the right woman. Or I can find all the babies born to a particular couple.

I've done a chunk of that work, but it's going to take years to complete.

Luckily, I found a faster method I can use in the meantime. Now that I've somehow become a "morning person", I'm using the evenings for an easier genealogy task. It's not exactly a no-brainer, but it is simple. And the benefits are really big.

This can apply to you, too, even if you don't have a huge collection of vital records on your computer.

Don't worry where you filed that document. Your computer knows where it is.
Don't worry where you filed that document. Your computer knows where it is.

Whenever you're not quite up to serious family tree research, but you have your hands free, you can do this, too.

Rename your digital genealogy files to include the name(s) of the primary person.

I'll bet you've done that with census sheets, ship manifests, and other documents.

But did you realize you can search for any and all of a particular person's files on your computer at once?

This will really help you when you need to:
  • answer a question from a new possible relative
  • find the marriage record for a new person you added to your family tree
  • figure out if the "Pasquale Iamarino" in this document is the same as the one in that document
I was especially happy to see how smart the search function can be. For instance, if I search for "Mary Murphy", but her full name is "Mary Jane Murphy", I'll still find her.

If I had any doubt about the value of renaming my files, one search washes all doubt away.
If I had any doubt about the value of renaming my files, one search washes all doubt away.

To save tons of time on future document searches, I've been renaming files like a madwoman.

At night, with the Yankee game on TV, I open my collection of Italian vital records. I've renamed every marriage record image from 1816–1860 to include the names of the bride and groom.

That means I can search at the town-folder level to find a marriage between any particular couple. A search for "Antonio Martuccio Maria Maddalena Paolucci" delivers their 1849 marriage record. Instantly!

The benefits are so important that I'm excited to rename more and more files. Plus, doing this makes me an expert on the names that come from each town. While renaming one file I thought to myself, "the groom must be from my other grandfather's town". And I was right.

Is your genealogy document collection named so it's searchable?

06 August 2019

Untangling Our Twisted Family Relationships

Build your DNA match's family tree until you find the true relationship.

This article took a sharp turn from where it started. I thought I discovered an easy way to figure out your connection to a confusing DNA match.

And it is a good method. But then I realized the confusing DNA match I was looking at didn't have a direct line to me. It took a marriage to make the connection. Her 1st cousin 2x removed married my 4th cousin 3x removed.

And maybe that's where our shared DNA comes from.

Click Your Way to a Common Ancestor

Here's what I found. While it didn't work on this DNA match, it did reveal a blood relationship between my great aunt and her husband.

Originally I thought my DNA match was directly related to my great aunt's husband Donato. To see if Donato had a blood relationship to me (not just an in-law relationship), I went to Family Tree Maker. The software displays your relationship to the selected person clearly.
  1. I clicked Donato's parents one at a time to see their relationship to me.
  2. His mother Colomba is my 4th cousin 3x removed. A blood relative.
  3. I clicked Colomba's parents to see their relationship to me. Her mother Maria is my 3rd cousin 4x removed.
  4. I clicked Maria's parents to see the relationship description. Her father Vitangelo is my 2nd cousin 5x removed.
  5. I clicked Vitangelo's parents. His father Pietro is my 1st cousin 6x removed.
  6. Pietro's father Vitangelo is my 6th great uncle.
  7. Finally, Vitangelo's parents are my 6th great grandparents, Liberatore Pozzuto and Libera Zeolla.
My 6th great grandparents are both Donato's and my great aunt's 4th great grandparents. With a shared pair of 4th great grandparents, my aunt and uncle were 5th cousins.

Are unknown relationships hiding in plain sight in your family tree?
Are unknown relationships hiding in plain sight in your family tree?

Follow the Evidence

You're going to find that many of your DNA matches have posted a small, sparse family tree. (That's better than the matches with no tree.) Use their tree as a guideline only. Do the research yourself and try to prove what you see in their family tree.

This particular DNA match caught my attention recently. She was borrowing names and documents from my family tree and a distant relative's tree. I wanted to figure out who she is. Her tree on Ancestry.com seems to be facts she knows personally:
  • her parents' names and birth dates
  • her grandparents names and birth dates
  • as many siblings as she knows for her parents and grandparents
Her family names tell me we're related through my paternal grandfather's hometown. Ancestry says she's about a 3rd or 4th cousin to my father and a 4th to 6th cousin to me.

Believe Nothing Without Proof

I wrote down her parents', grandparents', and great grandparents' names. Only a few had birth years included.

Then I opened my collection of vital records from my grandpa's hometown. Her parents were born too recently for my document collection, so I searched for their parents.

Bit by bit I added verified names and dates to my tree. I attached birth and marriage records as evidence. No one had a direct connection to me yet. But something had to be there.

When I found the 1866 birth record of my DNA match's mother's father's mother, a funny thing happened. The parents happened to be a couple I'd added to my family tree the day before!

Coincidentally, Libera and Giovanni are the parents of my DNA match's great grandmother. Now my DNA match was firmly rooted in my family tree. But it's one of those wacky "1st cousin 2x removed of wife of uncle of husband of 1st great aunt of" me relationships.

I thought we were related through the marriage of my great aunt and uncle. That's why I examined Donato's direct ancestors and found he was his wife's 5th cousin.

If that DNA match is distant, you're gonna need a bigger tree.
If that DNA match is distant, you're gonna need a bigger tree.

Always Look for More

Oh, these small Italian hill towns. They're infuriating and amazing at the same time. Everyone is related in some way. Donato, who married my great aunt, is related to me in his own right.

Family Tree Maker's relationship tool says Giovannangela, my grandfather's sister, is all these things to her husband Donato:
  • wife
  • 1st cousin of his brother-in-law, Pietro Iamarino
  • sister-in-law of his 1st cousin 1x removed, Donato Paolucci
  • 5th cousin
Actually, Family Tree Maker isn't displaying the 5th cousin relationship. It's as if it's throwing up its hands and saying "whatever".

Now that I've figured out how to follow the blood relationship, I can revisit more DNA mysteries. But be warned! It's easy to get lost. You may find you can't wrap your head around it. It helps to take notes along the way.

Can you find your DNA match's connection by climbing their family tree?

02 August 2019

Adding Family Branches from Another Hemisphere

We used to look for our name in local phone books. Now we simply go online.

I could happily spend every day piecing together my ancestors. For the rest of my life!

On any given day, there's nothing else I'd rather do. It's addictive in a way that's good for your brain. It's your own personal jigsaw puzzle.

Last weekend I started working through my collection of Italian vital records. I want to review each one and see if it fits into my family tree.

I went through every birth and death record from my grandfather's town of Colle Sannita for 1809 and 1810. Most of the people had a connection in my tree! A baby's parents were already there. A deceased person's relatives were already there. So I added the new facts and document images to my family tree.

It's a wildly time-consuming project, and I couldn't love it any more.

Sometimes, though, a bright, shiny object will appear and distract you.

Can you see yourself in the faces of people from your homeland?
Can you see yourself in the faces of people from your homeland?

The object that distracted me on Monday was a photograph of Filomena, born in Colle Sannita in 1896. I don't know how else to say it. I loved her instantly. She brought out all my childhood feelings of love for my grandparents and their siblings.

The woman who posted the photo of Filomena lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She said she was eager to learn about her beloved grandmother's family, but can't seem to get anywhere. She needed help.

Immediately, I opened up my collection of Italian vital records. I found Filomena's 1896 birth record. Unfortunately, her parents were not in my family tree. But I'm connected to at least 90% of the town. Surely I could find a connection.

Would you have helped this woman? Knowing there was a good chance she was your distant relative, and knowing that you had all the documents. Wouldn't you help?

I jumped at the chance. She and I began chatting on Facebook. I kept combing through the vital records.

Filomena's mother's last name was Cerrone. I have a 3rd great grandmother, plus her father and grandfather, named Cerrone. They were from Colle Sannita, but there weren't a lot of Cerrone families in the town.

When I couldn't find a birth record for Filomena's mother, I looked one town away in Circello. My 3rd great grandfather—the one who married my Cerrone 3rd great grandmother—was from Circello. It seemed like a good place to look.

Sure enough, I found the 1870 birth record for Filomena's mother in Circello. I kept digging into each side of her family, in Colle Sannita and Circello. I located siblings for the last person I found. I worked my way back to their parents' marriage. That gave me another generations' names.

I've added 48 of Filomena's ancestors to my family tree so far. The whole branch is still disconnected from me, which is shocking.

I'm building this extended family, detached, in my family tree. Hopefully the connection will come.
I'm building this extended family, detached, in my family tree. Hopefully the connection will come.

I must keep going! Filomena's Cerrone grandfather, for example, had 6 siblings. I must have marriage records on my computer for them. There's a very good chance a Cerrone sibling married someone already in my tree.

I'm eager to find the connection and open up an endless resource for my new friend in Argentina. Our ancestors traveled far from home. Their town's descendants share deep, common roots. And genealogists know how to honor those roots.

I'll leave you with a challenge today. Search Facebook for a group dedicated to your ancestor's hometown. You may find vintage photos, important connections, and distant cousins.

Will you find a fellow genealogist in the group? Together you can spread your shared roots further and further around the world.

I'm eager to get back to my pet project, but first, I need Filomena to be my relative!