29 October 2019

This Genealogy Project Has 2 Hidden Benefits

Dive into your ancestral hometown's documents for extra benefits.

I'm really letting my genealogy freak flag fly lately. A few weeks ago I started an ambitious project to help my research. And it's paying off wildly!

Take a deep dive and become an expert in your ancestral town.
Take a deep dive and become an expert in your ancestral town.

I'm creating a searchable database of everyone who lived in my paternal Italian hometown. (During a large span of time.) First I downloaded all the available records to my computer. Now I'm renaming each vital record image to include the name of the person in it.
  • Each birth record's file name now includes the name of the baby.
  • Each marriage record's file name includes the bride and groom's names.
  • I'm still working through the death record images to add the name of the person who died to the file name.
I don't know how many thousands of vital records from the town are on my computer. They span from 1809–1942. There are gaps. Birth records end in 1915, and there are no marriage or death records between 1860–1931.

But in those thousands of records are the clues I need to piece together my extended family. Let's say I find a birth record for a relative. I've already documented the baby's father's family. But I don't know who the mother's family is. It says she is Angela Basile and her father's name is Giovanni. I can go to my folder of all the town's records and search for "Angela Basile". Then I can open the results to find one who's the right age and has a father named Giovanni. Most of the time I can make a positive ID. It's fantastic.

When the file names include proper names, you can use your computer to search everything in a second.
When the file names include proper names, you can use your computer to search everything in a second.

Here are 2 major things you can learn by taking a deep dive into your ancestor's hometown.

1. Names of People and Places

Overcome bad handwriting. When you're familiar with your towns' last names, you can recognize them despite bad handwriting. So many times when I couldn't read a name, I figured it out because I knew what to look for.

The same goes for street names. I record exactly where someone was born, if it's on their birth record. I'm so familiar with these records, I can recognize street names easily.

An unfamiliar name. You'll also know when a last name doesn't belong. I have one ancestor named Francesco Saverio Liguori. Based on the vital records, the only people in town named Liguori are his children. That made me wonder if he was from another town. On a hunch, I searched a neighboring town for his 1813 birth record, and I found him! That helped me go back 2 more generations in his family.

Travel companions. When you know all the town's names, you'll recognize them when they're with your ancestor on a ship manifest. Or when they show up next door to your ancestor in a new country.

2. Naming Customs

Carefully examining all the town's documents can teach you about local naming customs.

Foundlings. In my town in the 19th century, abandoned babies were not uncommon. Almost no woman kept and raised her out-of-wedlock baby. The custom was for the mayor to give the baby a name. They sometimes used unusual first names from mythology. But most first names were common to the town, like Maria Teresa or Giovanni.

But last names were different. These names didn't exist in the town. If a foundling boy grew up to have children, the kids took on the made-up name. This is how some new names were first introduced into the town.

Baby-naming conventions. The FamilySearch.org wiki explains baby-naming conventions in your ancestor's culture. In Italy, the rule is to name the 1st baby boy after its father's father, the 2nd baby boy after its mother's father.

When you have 12 kids, though, you need to get creative. Was the baby born on a saint's feast day? Use the saint's name. Is a name popular in town lately? Use that name.

Nicknames and shortened names. A person's death record might use a slightly different name than their birth or marriage record. On their death record you're more likely to see the name they were commonly known as. My 2nd great grandfather Francesco Saverio Caruso may have gone by the name Saverio. I can count on his birth and marriage records to have his full, proper name. But his death record may be from someone reporting that "Saverio Caruso" died.

When you get used to it, spotting the names and renaming the files can go quickly.
When you get used to it, spotting the names and renaming the files can go quickly.

People with multi-part names often went by only one. I'm sure my 6th great aunt, Maria Catarina Colomba Martuccio, wasn't called Maria Catarina Colomba. When I find her death record, I may learn that everyone called her Catarina.

I know we can't all download our town's vital records. You may not have discovered where your family came from. Or their hometown's records might have been destroyed.

But you can apply this name-study to census records, too. Pay attention to the names of the families living near your ancestor in each census. Are you seeing some family names repeat from census to census? Were members of that family born in the same place as your ancestor?

What about immigration records? The ship manifest for your ancestor may have little useful information. But check the names of the people surrounding your ancestor. Do their names match the people living near your ancestor in the new country? They could be relatives from the old country.

This week I'll try to complete my file naming project for Colle Sannita's death records. The act of renaming the files helps me learn the last names and street names from this town.

How I wish I'd been able to do this while my Colle Sannita-born grandfather was still alive!

Be sure to see the follow-up to this article which shows exactly how you can benefit from this project.

25 October 2019

Is a Family History Mistake Holding You Back?

Myths, mistakes, and fuzzy facts can hold back your family tree research.

Is your brick wall based on one completely wrong "fact"? What if you only hit that wall because you started with a family history mistake?

Here are 3 types of mistakes that can hamper your research.

Unrelated Celebrities

My ex-in-laws said their great uncle was Edward Smith, captain of the Titanic. That led to lots of genealogy problems. I was trying to place my ex's great grandfather (Walter Smith) in the same location as the ill-fated captain. They were brothers, after all.

Then I made a surprising discovery. Captain Smith never had a brother!

Without this myth muddying up the waters, I was able to find out where Walter Smith came from. And it had nothing to do with the captain.

You may think you have a reliable source. But some memories are not facts.
You may think you have a reliable source. But some memories are not facts.

Mistaken Identity

Decades ago, my brother was writing a college paper about our family history. Grandpa told him our great grandmother's (Grandpa's mother-in-law's) last name was Ferrara. There was no reason to doubt Grandpa, and no one else to ask.

But Grandpa was mistaken. In 2003 my aunt told me the last name was Caruso. If not for that, I'd never have gotten anywhere on that branch of my family tree.

I put my family tree on Ancestry.com with my great grandmother listed as Maria Rosa Caruso. That attracted the attention of a relative I didn't know. She was working on her husband's family tree. She found my tree and realized her husband and I were 2nd cousins. We share a set of great grandparents: Pasquale Iamarino and Maria Rosa Caruso.

This cousin-in-law gave me the clue I needed to research a common name like Caruso. She said Maria Rosa Caruso was from Pescolamazza, Italy. When that town wasn't on the map, I discovered that it changed its name to Pesco Sannita. At last I could build that part of my family tree.

Once I had her true maiden name and hometown, the brick wall disappeared.
Once I had her true maiden name and hometown, the brick wall disappeared.

Not Quite the Right Place

In 2004, my great aunt Stella repeated something I'd heard ever since I was a child. Our family came from 2 places in Italy: Pastene and Avellino.

Over time I found that Pastene is a small hamlet in a larger town called Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. When my great aunt Stella's parents came to America in 1899, they came from Sant'Angelo a Cupolo.

OK, so the family was from Pastene. But what about Avellino? That was a problem for 2 reasons:
  • If both of Aunt Stella's parents were from Pastene, who was from Avellino?
  • Avellino is both a city and a much larger province. Where in Avellino were my people from?
I kept Avellino in the back of my mind until I found the World War II draft registration card for my 2nd great uncle. He went by "Sam" in America, but his name was Semplicio Saviano. My great uncle Sam was the older brother of my great grandmother.

Sam's World War I draft registration card didn't even say what country he was born in. But his World War II card, recorded when he was a 65-year-old man, showed his town of birth.

It's misspelled as Tofo, Avillino. In reality, he was born in Tufo, a small town in the province of Avellino.

Finally a piece of evidence to support this bit of passed-down history. I later found Uncle Sam's 1877 birth record from Tufo, and that of an older brother my family didn't know about. (He died as a child.)

Then I found what may be the reason the family said they were from Avellino, not Tufo. My 2nd great grandmother (Uncle Sam's mother) was from another town in Avellino. She was born in, and married my 2nd great grandfather in Santa Paolina, Avellino.

Without the right location, it can be nearly impossible to find some ancestors.
Without the right location, it can be nearly impossible to find some ancestors.

It all came full circle when I read the 1871 marriage papers for my 2nd great grandparents.

My 2nd great grandmother Vittoria was born in Santa Paolina. Her husband Antonio was born in Pastene. I still find all this unusual:
  • Antonio was born in Pastene, Benevento.
  • He married Vittoria in Santa Paolina, Avellino, in 1871. It's a 30-minute drive today from Pastene to Santa Paolina. Imagine doing it on a horse, or in a mule-drawn cart. How did that happen?
  • Antonio and Vittoria had a baby girl in Santa Paolina in 1872 who died right away. The they moved about 15 minutes away (by modern transportation) to Tufo. Two of Vittoria's brothers lived there.
  • They had 2 more children in Tufo in 1875 and 1877.
  • Then they moved to Pastene! There they had 4 more children from 1879–1887.
  • In 1898, they took all but one of their surviving children to settle in New York City once and for all.
My great grandparents followed the next year.

It was a long, strange trip for my 2nd great grandfather. From Pastene to Santa Paolina to Tufo to Pastene to the Bronx. It was all a brick wall until I found Uncle Sam's draft card.

Here's what I want you to do. Look at one of your brick walls. Are your facts based on less-than-solid evidence? If one of your assumptions is wrong, does everything else fall apart?

Make sure the foundation of that brick wall is solid. You may find a mistaken, misunderstood, or missing fact underneath it all. If you pull that mistake out, will your brick wall come crumbling down?

22 October 2019

How to Inject New Life into Your Genealogy Research

Break out of your genealogy rut by choosing a new-to-you research path.

Do you ever get a little bored by your genealogy research? Are you so deep into one branch that you're ignoring the rest of your family tree?

Pick a new branch to liven things up. Here are 3 ways to find a new dead end to explore:
  • Look for the blanks in your grandparent or ahnentafel chart.
  • Color-code your direct ancestors (in Family Tree Maker) to see where each line ends.
  • Create ancestor charts that include blanks for the missing generations. Those blanks will help you spot the holes.
Now pick a branch you haven't spent much time on. That'll freshen things up.

I've decided to research a branch from an Italian town I haven't explored—Apice. I learned from my 3rd great grandmother's death record that she was born there.

My 3rd great grandmother was Rufina Zullo. Her daughter, my 2nd great grandmother, came to America the year Rufina died—1898. That's a little sad and makes me want to go further on Rufina's branch of my family tree.

Here's what I'll do.

1. Gather Research Documents

I'll download the Apice vital records to my computer. If you're lucky enough to have your ancestral towns' records online, download them all. Find out how to use the Antenati Italian archives and download the records. Check that page's comments for a program that can download from Family Search.

Figure out what you know and when and where you should look.
Figure out what you know and when and where you should look.

2. Label the Related Images

I'll mark the image files that have last names from this branch. The last names of Rufina Zullo's great grandparents were Zullo, Trancuccio, Montenigro, and Lomaglio. I learned these names from the death records of Rufina's parents.

When I find a death record with 1 of those 4 names, I'll rename the image file name to include the deceased's name.

You'll never wonder where you saw that one file if you rename it and make it searchable.
You'll never wonder where you saw that one file if you rename it and make it searchable.

By renaming the images, I'm creating a searchable database of Apice vital records on my computer. Of course, as I'm renaming the files, I'll keep an eye out for the 4 exact people I want to find:
  • Saverio Zullo
  • Angela Montenigro
  • Biase Trancuccio
  • Angela Lomaglio
It's important to have that list of 4 names in front of me the whole time. I need to pounce whenever I see those names.

And may I say, Oof! This town's records are hard to read. I'm searching for the shape of those 4 names and ruling out names that can't possibly be them.

Many of the vital records for Apice don't have an index. That's why it's so important to download the whole collection. It's infinitely faster to click through the files on your computer than online.

3. Focus on the Right Timeframe

I'll target my searches to the logical years when these 4 ancestors may have died. All I know so far is that 2 died before their son did on 28 Dec 1844, and 2 died before their daughter did on 22 Aug 1837. I know this because their parents were dead when my 4th great grandparents died.

4. Examine the Results

Now comes the tricky part. I found an 1816 death record for a Saverio Zullo. That's the name of my 5th great grandfather. How can I tell if this is "my" Saverio Zullo? Let's look at the facts:
  • The son of my Saverio Zullo was born in 1789. I'm using an estimated birth year for Saverio of 25 years before 1789, or 1764. I don't know when he was really born.
  • The Saverio Zullo who died in 1816 was 80 years old. So he was born in 1736. It's completely possible that he could have had a child in 1789 when he was 53 years old. That is, as long as his wife was a few years younger than him.
  • The 1816 death record does not say if 80-year-old Saverio was married or widowed. It only mentions his parents' names: Giuseppe and…geez…I think Libera Carese but I can't be sure yet.
I'll rename this image file and keep searching.

A few documents later I find an Angela Montenigro. This is the name of my Saverio Zullo's wife. If it is her, she is a good age to have had a child in 1789. This entire town doesn't include the name of the deceased's spouse on the death record! So I'll rename this image, too. If I search every year and never find another Saverio Zullo or Angela Montenigro, then these are probably my 5th great grandparents. I may not be 100% sure, but I can be reasonably sure.

It's also important that I keep viewing this town's records to get familiar with the names there. Angela Montenigro's mother seems to be Berardina Lavorano. If I see "Lavorano" a few more times, written clearly, I'll know that's the correct name.

In the end, I'll have marked the documents for siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles of my 3rd great grandmother. That's what I like to do—piece together extended families. That is my never-ending, never boring jigsaw puzzle.

Genealogy research is never done. That's why so many of us have been at it for years. If you find yourself in a rut, look for that unexplored branch. Can you take it back another generation or two? Think how much that can juice-up your family tree research!

18 October 2019

3 Reasons To Do Your Own One-Name Study

How much more can you learn by researching one family name at a time?

There's an organization called the Guild of One-Name Studies based in London. Its members study one last name and its variations over time and geography. Maybe that's more interesting for some cultures than others. I looked for my Italian surnames—even the most common one I have—and found none.

That's why I'd rather do my own version of a one-name study. Here's why I think you should do the same.

You Can Connect With Your DNA Matches

Earlier this month I wrote about the benefits of focusing on one genealogy goal at a time. Concentrating on one goal shuts out all the noise and distractions. If you stick to the goal, you'll get better results.

One of my 2019 genealogy goals is to "enter every Pozzuto baby from Colle Sannita into my family tree". I have tons of vital records from my grandfather's town of Colle Sannita on my computer. I'm going through them year by year, stopping each time I find a birth record for a baby with the last name Pozzuto. Then I enter that baby into my family tree.

Labelling my files lets me search for any name. Adding the xxxxx's show me who isn't in my family tree yet.
Labelling my files lets me search for any name. Adding the xxxxx's show me who isn't in my family tree yet.

Keeping my focus on one name builds more families faster. And the more Pozzuto families I build, the easier it is to figure out my relationship to my Pozzuto DNA matches.

As I focus on Pozzuto, I keep thinking about which name I want to do next. Should I do my own last name of Iamarino? Whichever name I choose, I'm going to make a ton of progress.

You Can Find Forgotten Relatives

I searched Ancestry.com for every person named Saviano who died in the Bronx, New York. It was a very specific search for the exact name and the exact place. Saviano is the maiden name of my great grandmother. Her father was my first ancestor to leave Italy and come to America. He settled his family in the Bronx.

Restrict your searches to one last name, not one person, for more discoveries.
Restrict your searches to one last name, not one person, for more discoveries.

There were 14 people listed with deaths ranging from 1906–1947. Of the 14, one was news to me. Luigi Saviano was one year old when he died in 1911. And I don't know who he is. Who were his parents?

I have two 2nd great uncles named Saviano who had children in the Bronx. Neither one could have been Luigi's father because:
  • he had another baby at about that time, and
  • I have close cousins who know about every member of those families.
I also have two 3rd great uncles named Saviano. Their sons might have been Luigi's father, but I don't know enough about them. Did they come to New York? This gives me a new set of Saviano relatives I need to research.

Searching for distant Saviano relatives may uncover cousins my living relatives never knew.

You Can Better Understand Your Roots

I have a PDF of a book on Italian last name origins. It's perfect for anyone with Italian roots. (You can download it from archive.org.) Here's part of what it says for my last name:

Iamarino is absolutely rare and seems to originate from Colle Sannita (Benevento, Italy)…it could derive from a combination of the names Gianni and Marino).…In Colle Sannita, Iamarino has been registered since 1588 as a last name belonging to several local families.

Woo hoo! I'm authentic Colle Sannita.

The book says my name of Saviano is rare, too. And for my name Pilla, it says:

It seems to derive from the medieval name Pilla, present in the area between Benevento and Foggia, but absolutely not used elsewhere. Based on registers of the church in Colle Sannita (Benevento, Italy) the name Pilla is one of the oldest in the area. It has been registered there since 1588, and is still present.

Rock on, Pilla.

You can search for your name origin for free on Google Books. Go to books.google.com and enter a search term (last names, German names, Irish names, etc.). Then restrict your results to only "Free Google eBooks". I found:
Be sure to search archive.org, too. That's where my Italian last name book came from.

What can you learn about the last names of your ancestors? The history behind your many family names may surprise you.

15 October 2019

3 Steps to Identifying Certain DNA Matches

Have too many DNA matches? Follow these steps to pick off the easier ones.

You may have a ton of DNA matches to figure out. Don't get overwhelmed. What I'm about to describe should help you solve a good number of your DNA matches.

For some others, you'll have to contact the person for more information. For still others, the connection may be too distant for either of you to figure out.

Remember: The more developed your tree, the better your chance of identifying your DNA match.

Let's get started.

1. Sort Your DNA Matches by Closeness

How you find your closest matches depends on your DNA testing site.
  • Ancestry DNA lists your matches in order of closeness by default. My list begins with my parents (who I tested), a 1st cousin, 2nd–3rd cousins, 3rd–4th cousins, etc.
  • FamilyTreeDNA, where I uploaded by raw DNA results from Ancestry, lists my matches in a table with the closest matches on top. If they're not listed in order for you, click the top of the "Shared cM" column to sort the list from largest to smallest. (A cM is a centimorgan—a measure of how much DNA you share.)
  • GEDmatch, where I also uploaded my raw DNA, has a "One-To-Many DNA Comparison Result" that lists matches by "Total cM".
  • Other testing sites, like 23andMe, will have a way for you to see your matches that gives priority to the closest matches.

See what's available and choose which DNA match you want to solve first.
See what's available and choose which DNA match you want to solve first.

2. Consult a Relationship Chart

With your closest DNA matches at the top of the list, pick the first one you can't identify. How many cMs do you share with this match?

Start by looking up all your possible relationships. Use this consanguinity chart showing possible relationships based on shared cMs. (Consanguinity means "close relationship or connection".) Pay attention to the number in the gold-colored box in each square of the chart. That's the number of cMs. (This chart is very helpful, too.)

If your match has no family tree available, you're stuck for now. You'll have to contact and share information with your match. Let's look at how this process works on Ancestry when your match has included a family tree.

3. Look at the Family Trees

If you have your DNA online and haven't posted a decent-sized family tree, you're a part of the problem. No one can figure out their exact connection to you. Your genealogy website can't make an educated guess. Worried about privacy? Put your effort into adding facts for your older generations. I want to know who your great grandparents were.

I have a match called T.H. who has a small tree. Ancestry says T.H.:
  • shares 35 cMs with me
  • is in the range of 4th–6th cousin
  • is on my father's side (This is the benefit of making your parents test.)
Before going to T.H.'s family tree, I checked the consanguinity chart. With 35 shared cMs, this DNA match could be my:
  • 3rd cousin once removed
  • 2nd cousin 3 times removed
Notice the consanguinity chart and Ancestry have different estimates of our relationship. Here's a tip. On Ancestry, click the little letter i next to your estimated relationship. Or click the relationship itself, if it's a link. You'll see all your possible relationships. For T.H., the highest possibilities are 4th cousin or 3rd cousin twice removed.

This helps you gauge how far up your tree to look for your connection.

T.H.'s family tree on Ancestry has 5 people, and 3 are private. That's as disappointing as can be. But her grandparents, the only unmasked names, are familiar. Her grandfather has my maiden name.

That's all I can learn from T.H.'s family tree. So I'll turn to my tree.

Her grandparents are already in my family tree. This was a big branch I met many years ago in Canada. It turns out T.H. is already in my family tree, too! Now I can add a note to her name on my DNA match list. From now on, I'll know I've identified her as my 5th cousin once removed. (Quite far from the estimates!)

Many times you'll have only the slimmest family tree to work with. I have 3 DNA matches that are like the golden ticket to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Ancestry says they match both my father and my mother. Of the 3, one has no tree. The second has a tree with only herself. The third has a tree with 228 people, but only one Italian name. (I'm only Italian.)

If you recognize names from your ancestral hometowns, it helps with your DNA matches.
If you recognize names from your ancestral hometowns, it helps with your DNA matches.

I recognize this last name as being from my grandfather's hometown of Colle Sannita. My DNA match's ancestor Americanized his first name from Donato to Dan, but I found him. His 1896 birth record says his parents were Francesco Zerrillo and Libera Piacquadio.

Using my Italian document collection, I extended Donato Zerrillo's tree 4 generations. On some branches I went even further than that. But there's no connection to me that doesn't involve a marriage or an in-law.

This is the real lesson of your DNA matches. Each one takes research to solve. If you're lucky and find someone like me in your match list, you could gain a windfall of ancestors. But most of your matches will leave the work up to you.

Take another look at your DNA match list. Are there easier ones you can knock off? Look for a high number of cMs and a match with a family tree. Look for last names you recognize. When you've finished the easy ones, you can sharpen your genealogy research skills on the rest.

11 October 2019

2 Ways to Find the Loose Ends in Your Family Tree

You know all those things you left unfinished in your tree? No you don't.

With so many branches in your family tree, how can you find all the loose ends? How can you find every spot where you didn't finish searching for facts?

I have countless branches in my family tree. That's what happens when you piece together everyone who ever lived in your ancestral hometowns. Researching one of my grandfather's towns added 15,000 people to my tree. And now I'm working on the other grandfather's town.

Sound crazy? Think of it this way. I'm so familiar with every family name and street name from my grandfather's towns that the worst handwriting doesn't slow me down a bit. Plus, I had to work out every relationship in town to take Grandpa's branch back to the 1690s.

The whole time I was working on his town, I was dreaming of doing the same for all my ancestral towns. But before I add another 15,000 Italians to my family tree, I want to take the time to tie up some loose ends.

Here are 2 great ways to quickly see which birth, marriage, and death facts you're missing. These are loose ends you may be able to tie up.

1. Use Your Family Tree Software

I use Family Tree Maker, so you'll have to see how you can do this in your program. The idea is to sort your index of people by birth date, death date, or marriage date.

If you're reasonably sure of the year, you can search for the exact date.
If you're reasonably sure of the year, you can search for the exact date.

In Family Tree Maker, your index of people is probably showing names and birth dates by default. If so:
  • Click the pull-down menu next to the word "Sort"
  • Choose "Birth Date"
  • Scroll through your index and look for estimated or incomplete birth dates
If you want to look at Marriage Dates or Death Dates instead:
  • Click the icon to the right of "Index" that looks like 3 vertical bars
  • Choose "Marriage Date" or "Death Date"
  • Click the pull-down menu next to the word "Sort"
  • Choose "Marriage Date" or "Death Date"
  • Scroll through your index and look for estimated or incomplete dates
With the list sorted, you'll easily see where you have:
  • an estimated date (such as "Abt 1818"), or
  • an incomplete date (such as "1836" or "May 1817").
On my computer I have vital records from my ancestral Italian hometowns for a certain range of years. If someone from one of my towns has "1863" as their birth date, I should be able to find their birth record. Then I can change the birth year to an exact date. Loose end tied up!

2. Use Family Tree Analyzer

If your family tree software doesn't have an easy sort feature, or your tree exists only online, have no fear. The must-have free program Family Tree Analyzer has got you covered.

Launch Family Tree Analyzer and:
  • Load your latest GEDCOM file
  • Click the Individuals tab
  • Click the top of the "BirthDate" or "DeathDate" column to sort the facts
  • Scroll through the list and look for estimated or incomplete birth or death dates
To examine marriage dates in Family Tree Analyzer:
  • Click the Facts tab
  • Select all "Relationship Types"
  • Select only the "Marriage" fact
  • Click the "Show only the selected Facts for Individuals…" button
  • In the new window that opens, click the top of the "Fact Date" column to sort by marriage date
  • Scroll through the list and look for estimated or incomplete marriage dates
You may find that you have a long list of incomplete dates. Whenever I have a big task to do, I like to whittle it down by going after the easy stuff. Pick that low-hanging fruit and shorten that list as much as you can.

If your family tree software can't handle this project, Family Tree Analyzer can.
If your family tree software can't handle this project, Family Tree Analyzer can.

For this project, I would first work on the dates that are a bit more certain. "1818" is more certain than "Abt 1818". I must have a source for that "1818", but the "Abt 1818" is an educated guess or guestimate.

Tackle the missing months and dates first. Then you can work on the harder-to-find estimated dates.

You won't find them all, so don't beat yourself up about it. But I'm sure you can shorten that list of loose ends. Most of them are loose simply because that wasn't your focus at the time.

For instance, let's say I was entering an exact marriage date for a couple. The marriage documents included birth records for the bride and groom. That gave me a source for each of their parents' birth years. Because I was focused on the marriage facts, I didn't take the time to chase after the parents' birth records. The result is 2 loose ends.

Before you begin your next research project, take some time to see what you've overlooked. Go back and tie up as many loose ends as you can. Those exact dates will help your research in the future.

08 October 2019

Why All Siblings Are Critical to Your Family Tree

Marie's branch was a dead end until I found one ancestor's siblings.

I've been sharing genealogy discoveries with Janet for a long time. Her in-laws are from my grandfather's town in Italy. Her father-in-law saw my photo of my Italian cousins. They were his nieces!

We realized right away that his brother's wife was my great aunt—my grandfather's sister. Janet and I pieced together many generations of her father-in-law's family tree.

But there was more to the story. Her mother-in-law Marie is a solid DNA match to my father and me. I was eager to figure out our connection. But Marie's tree hit a dead end at her great grandparents.

Here were the problems we faced:
  • Her great grandfather and great grandmother had very common names for this town.
  • We weren't positive when they were born. Our only clue was from the birth record of one of their children.
  • They married too late for us to find their marriage documents online.
Yesterday I made up my mind to punch through this brick wall. I needed to find more of this couple's children—more of Marie's grandmother's siblings. Each additional birth record might give me the clues I needed to go further.

Here's what I did.

Marie's great grandparents were Giovanni and Maria. (That's right. "John and Mary"!) They had Marie's grandmother when they were more than 40 years old. It's only GeneaLOGICAL™ that they would have had some children before her. (Also see "Finding the Siblings Your Ancestor Never Mentioned".)

The first sibling I found was Marie's grandmother's older brother, Francesco. He was born 8 years earlier than her in 1874. In 1874, the birth records in this town were not a fill-in-the-blanks form. This left room for more details.

What I found on his birth record were both of his grandfather's names. That's a fantastic find!

If I didn't look for all their children, I'd never have broken through this brick wall.
If I didn't look for all their children, I'd never have broken through this brick wall.

Now I knew that Giovanni's father was Giuseppe, and Maria's father was Donato. Plus, this record was 8 years earlier than Marie's grandmother's birth record. So it had more reliable ages for Giovanni and Maria.

That's an important concept when you're researching people from a century or more ago. People didn't always know their correct age. You and I have to give out our full birth date every time we see a doctor. But back in the day, someone might not know their age. So, the older the genealogy record, and the younger the person, the more likely they are to remember their age. If you don't have their birth record, their marriage record probably has the right age.

I searched all the birth records in a span of years. I found the only Giovanni with the right last name and a father named Giuseppe. And I found the only Maria with the right last name and a father named Donato.

Probably their first-born child, Francesco's birth record had the extra clues I needed.
Probably their first-born child, Francesco's birth record had the extra clues I needed.

As luck would have it, their parents were already in my family tree. The key to the whole thing was that one sibling's birth record that had both grandfathers' names on it.

I kept piecing together several of Marie's ancestors, with the help of a few sibling records. At last, I found our true relationship. Marie went from being the wife of my 1st great aunt's brother-in-law, to my 5th cousin twice removed. She and Grandpa are 5th cousins.

I've gone all-out researching each of my grandfather's hometowns. In their small towns, everyone is related in some way. I have some families with 8 to 12 children. Each of the children is critical! You never know when their record will have the facts you need to break through your brick wall.

04 October 2019

When to Use Estimates in Your Family Tree

Estimates in your tree can help you avoid mistakes. See where they belong.

Family Tree Analyzer is a wildly useful, free program for genealogists. Each time I run it, I find something else I want to do with it.

Here's what I'm going to do with Family Tree Analyzer today.

This free tool offers countless ways to find the errors or missing info in your family tree.
This free tool offers countless ways to find the errors or missing info in your family tree.

A while ago, I created a policy to follow with my family tree. Every individual in my tree needs to have an estimated birth year and at least a country of birth. If I don't know when someone was born, I can:
  • give them about the same birth year as their spouse
  • subtract 25 from the year their oldest known child was born
  • add 25 to their younger parent's age
Enter an estimated age in your family tree as "about" whatever year. Family Tree Maker, the genealogy software program I use, automatically abbreviates about as "Abt". Your software may handle this automatically, too.

Note: Whenever I enter an estimated date, I do not add a source. That way I know my own policy is the only source.

With an estimated age in your tree, you won't set someone born "Abt 1800" as the parent of someone born in 1920. It can also help you decide which of the 13 men named "Giovanni Pozzuto" in your tree is the one you're looking for. (And that's not counting all my Giovannantonio Pozzutos!)

Adding each person's likely country of birth and death is helpful, too. It can prevent a mix-up between a family that came to America and one that never left their mother country.

Family Tree Analyzer (FTA) makes it easy to see who in your family tree is missing a birth year and country. First, go to ftanalyzer.com to download the latest PC or Mac version. Launch the program and open your newest GEDCOM file. (I just realized you can drag and drop your GEDCOM into the FTA window!)

Once FTA loads your file, click the Main Lists tab. You may see a lot of empty fields in the BirthLocation and DeathLocation columns. In the BirthDate column, look for the word UNKNOWN.

Family Tree Analyzer helps you find everyone in your tree with no birth date—not even an estimate.
Family Tree Analyzer helps you find everyone in your tree with no birth date—not even an estimate.

I've been on a roll lately, adding dozens and dozens of babies from my grandfather's hometown to my tree. So I have more than 22,000 people in my family tree. To make this task easier with such a big tree, I can click any column name in FTA to sort the results.

If I click the BirthDate column, all my UNKNOWNs group together. I'm happy to see I have only 11 of them. Those are usually people I added in a hurry, or while the dog was begging me for peanut butter. I can check all 11 people in my family tree and calculate their estimated birth year. It didn't take long for me to apply my rules and give each of the 11 people an estimated birth year and country.

Next, if I click the BirthLocation column in FTA, all the blank fields group together. Oh no. I've got tons and tons of blank birth locations.

When it comes to adding an estimated country of birth or death, there may be times when you want to keep it blank. Was the oldest child in a family born before or after the parents migrated? If you're not sure, you should leave it blank. Otherwise you might think you shouldn't look for that child on a ship manifest.

That's why I made another policy for the estimated birth or death country. If it's before 1850, I feel safe in assuming my relatives were born and died in Italy. There wasn't a lot of trans-Atlantic migration going on at that time. And my hometowns are so remote, and were so poor, that taking a ship somewhere wasn't an option then. I can assume my Angela Bianco—born in 1772 and died in 1836—was only ever in Italy. I may not be positive which town she was born in, but I feel sure it was in Italy.

Adding these unsourced estimates can help you avoid errors. And it tells FTA not to look in the Canada, Ireland, US, or UK Census for someone who was born and died in another country.

My own list of empty places of birth is overwhelming. It's something I've been more careful about recently. And I fix it each time I find someone with a blank location. Family Tree Analyzer is a good motivator for me to do a better job with so many aspects of my family tree. What can it show you today?

01 October 2019

Look Over Here! How to Focus for Better Genealogy Results

The genealogy journey is fun. Being efficient makes it fun AND productive.

We all multi-task. Sometimes it's the only way to do the many things we need to do. But when it comes to genealogy, you'll gather more facts and documents if you focus.

Focus on the task at hand. Don't get distracted by what you see along the way. You can make a quick note to come back for that other shiny object later. But for now, do what you're there to do.

Here are 3 examples of how and why you need to keep your focus.

One Name Only

Last weekend I wanted to make progress on one of my 2019 genealogy goals. On my computer I have tons of vital records from my ancestral Italian hometowns.

My 2019 goal is to add every "Pozzuto" baby from one town to my family tree. Why Pozzuto? Because that last name has DNA matches to both my mom and my dad.

The birth records stretch from 1809–1915, and I was up to 1841.

Recently I've been renaming these thousands of files to include the name of the person(s) in the record. For example, I renamed the file

101577322_00004.jpg to
101577322_00004 Teofilo Mascia di Antonio and Salvatore Celestino Pugliese.jpg

With renamed files, I can use Windows File Manager to search for any name. This is fantastic when I need to find out who or when someone married. (Note: I keep the number in the file name so I can easily find the link to the original image online.)

Then I thought, instead of renaming files and moving on, why not ID the Pozzuto babies as I rename the files? So that's what I did. As I rename a file and find a Pozzuto baby, I add them to my tree. In practically no time I renamed every birth record from 1841–1847, stopping for each Pozzuto baby.

I added 36 more Pozzuto babies to my family tree! For now, I ignored every file with my maiden name or my direct ancestors' names. They will be there when I need them. Focus is what's getting this goal done.

Leave that other information alone for now. Focus on your current goal for better results.
Leave that other information alone for now. Focus on your current goal for better results.

Follow That Family

Earlier this year I finished another of my 2019 genealogy goals. I keep a spreadsheet of each document I add to my family tree. (I call it my document tracker.) The last column has a list of what I'm missing for a particular person. It lists the census years I need, their immigration record, marriage date, death, etc.

My goal was to search for each missing census listed as "need to find" on my document tracker.

I accomplished this goal by staying focused. I went through my document tracker's alphabetical list of people. I searched for, and usually found, the missing census forms. I noted them on the spreadsheet, and moved on to the next family.

Even though I still can't find some census sheets, I found most of them. And my goal was carefully worded for success. "Search for all missing census forms in Document tracker." That focus kept me on-task and got the job done.

Clean This One Spot

There are so many cleanup tasks you can do to your family tree. It's only natural that you'd develop a style after spending some time doing this crazy hobby. Then you want to go back and make your earlier work match your style.

I came up with a style of adding very detailed notes to the document images in my tree. If it's a census sheet, I start with:
  • the line numbers to look at
  • the proper title of the document
  • a bunch of facts, including:
    • supervisor's district number
    • enumeration district number
    • sheet number, etc.
  • the image number, like "image 16 of 947"
  • the URL
  • the source citation (copied from the online collection where I found it)
By focusing on census sheets only, I was able to add all these facts to every census image in my tree. I gather every bit of that information each time I save a new image. But the cleanup task was for older documents I saved before I got so careful.

One of my 2020 genealogy goals will be to beef up and standardize the notes on every ship manifest image in my tree. I'm good at adding all the facts now, but I wasn't so good in the beginning. If I focus on only that task, I'll get it done faster.

Keep the focus on one task to improve your consistency and efficiency.
Keep the focus on one task to improve your consistency and efficiency.

Each time I sit down to work on my family tree, I choose a task. I might pick an item from my annual genealogy goals list. I might click away at a cleanup task. Or I might pick someone at random and search for their missing documents.

No matter which family tree task you choose to work on today, focus on that task! Ignore the other interesting things that pop up. (Or make a quick note and move on.) Stay focused, and at the end of the day you'll find you've gotten a lot further than you expected.