29 November 2019

Using Documents to Imagine Your Ancestor's Job

Next time you complain about work, think about your hard-working ancestor.

Do you know where your ancestor worked? You may know their occupation. You can find that on a census sheet or ship manifest.

But do you know exactly where they worked? What was the name of the company? What did the company do? What did your ancestor do for them?

A search for the place where Grandpa worked delivered photos of the factory floor.
A search for the place where Grandpa worked delivered photos of the factory floor.

Start by taking another look at their draft registration card. In the USA, men were registered during World War I and World War II even if they were to old to fight "over there". These draft registration cards can be a treasure trove. You will learn:
  • their exact birth date
  • their home address on the registration date
  • the name of their nearest relative (often a wife or mother)
  • their physical description
  • what their signature looked like
You may learn:
  • The town where they were born
  • The name of their occupation
  • The name and address of the place where they worked
If your ancestor was a farmer, you may find the address of the farm. If they worked in a factory, you may find the name and address of the company. You can Google the company and try to learn something about your ancestor's workplace.

I was looking at my grandfather's cousin Giovanni's draft registration card. I discovered he worked at the same company as my Grandpa.

Grandpa's cousin was always a step or two ahead. His draft card gave me an important clue.
Grandpa's cousin was always a step or two ahead. His draft card gave me an important clue.

Giovanni was 9 years older than Grandpa. He came to America twice before Grandpa made his one and only trip to America in 1920. Like Grandpa, Giovanni traveled from southern Italy to Cherbourg, France, to get on a ship. Giovanni's 2nd trip to the U.S. was only one month before Grandpa's voyage.

Giovanni went straight to Pennsylvania where he worked for the National Tube Company.

Grandpa came to America a single man. His first stop was in the Bronx, New York, where his Uncle Giuseppe lived. He went north almost immediately to Newton, Massachusetts, where his Uncle Antonio lived. He worked at a bakery shop.

I'll never know why he didn't stay in the Boston area. Maybe the money wasn't very good. Whatever the reason, Grandpa followed Giovanni to work for the National Tube Company.

On 28 Jan 1924, Giovanni filed his petition for naturalization. Grandpa did the same 12 days later. Giovanni became a citizen on 19 Oct 1926. Grandpa's citizenship came through 4 months later.

Grandpa's year of birth dropped him into a sweet spot. He wasn't in America (or old enough) for the World War I draft. And he was too young to be included in the World War II "old man's registration". So there is no draft registration card for him.

Cousin Giovanni's card tells me that National Tube Company was on First Street in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania. So I Googled it to learn about the place where my relatives worked.

I had no clear idea what a tube was. But a photo taken shortly before Grandpa worked at the factory makes it clear. A steel tube is a pipe (duh). A long, seamless pipe. They used pipes in the oil industry or waterworks.

The company where Grandpa worked is gone, but the factory still stands.
The company where Grandpa worked is gone, but the factory still stands.

After working in this factory, Grandpa went to Youngstown, Ohio. He moved into the home of his father's 2nd cousin and soon married his landlord's daughter Lucy. She was his 3rd cousin, and my grandmother.

In Ohio Grandpa worked for the Carnegie Steel Company and then the railroad. He became sick and tired of the filthy work. The story in the family is that Grandpa said his job "stinks on the ice."

A few years later he moved his young family to the Bronx. They stayed with his Uncle Giuseppe until Grandpa got a job and an apartment. For the rest of his working life, Grandpa was a stone setter for a jewelry manufacturer.

Imagine how much easier it was! Setting stones at a workbench instead of whatever he was doing in the steel mills and railroad.

And that's the point. Thanks to a little research, I can imagine what his days were like in the National Tube Company. It sure adds a new dimension to the "stinks on the ice" story.

What documents have you found with the name and address of your ancestor's job? Have you researched the company yet?

26 November 2019

5 Steps to Take When Your Ancestor's Name is Unreadable

Can't read your ancestor's name? Look around. You'll find it somewhere else.

Imagine finding the clue that will lead you to the maiden name of your 4th great grandmother. You're so excited! You can finally break through to another generation!

You found the name of your 3rd great grandfather in a death index. At least, you think it's him. You'll know for sure when you see the death record itself.

The death record should have the name of his wife—your 3rd great grandmother. Seeing her name will confirm that you've got the right death record. You know his father's name already. The only thing you don't know is his mother's full name.

What happens when you can't read the name?!
What happens when you can't read the name?!
You've found the document number and date of death in the index. Now you have to page through and find the document.

And there it is! You know this is your 3rd great grandfather because his wife's and father's names are what you expected.

Holding your breath, you rest your eyes on the prize: your 4th great grandmother's full maiden name.

WHAT DOES IT SAY? Oh no, you can't read the handwriting at all!

Don't panic. All is not lost. There are a few things you can do to figure out her name. Follow these 5 steps to make sense of that precious name:

1. Make an Educated Guess or Two

Take your best guesses. Write down a few options. You're bound to be pretty sure of some letters and completely unsure of others. What variations of a name can you make using the letters you know and changing the letters you don't know?

2. See What Looks the Same

With these variations in mind, review the entire index. Look at all the entries for any name that looks like the one you need. Go to those documents for another view of the name. Do you think you can rule out or rule in some variations?

3. Expand Your Search

If you don't find any good names, check the index for a few others years. Take a look at all types of documents for the town around this time.

4. Collect More Evidence

Go to Ancestry or FamilySearch and enter your variations of the name, one at a time. Do any variations give good results? If you get results that come from the same town, that's now your #1 guess.

5. Put it to the Test

Search for your top-performing guess in and around your ancestor's town. This may help you find possible relatives. It may even lead to document with a clearly written version of your 4th great grandmother's name.

My 3rd great grandmother's same didn't make sense…until I found her death record.
My 3rd great grandmother's same didn't make sense…until I found her death record.

I've had several cases where I finally found a name I needed for so long, only to be unable to read it. There was my 3rd great grandmother, Rufina Zullo. The first time I saw it, I thought it said Cenzullo. In the small town where she lived, there were many people named Cenzullo or Censullo. So I thought Rufina's last name was one of these.

Sound far-fetched? Well, there was another woman in town named Rubina Cenzullo. I was mixing them up without realizing it.

But I kept digging, looking for other mentions of my Rufina. Her 1898 death record finally solved the problem. She came from another town! That's why no one else in this town had her name. When I found her birth record in the other town, I knew once and for all that her name was Rufina Zullo.

I couldn't break through until I figured out her Anglicized, badly misspelled name.
I couldn't break through until I figured out her Anglicized, badly misspelled name.

My 2nd great grandmother, Maria Luigia Girardi, was another problem. I hadn't been able to find my great grandmother's birth record, so I didn't know her mother Maria Luigia's last name. I kept searching.

It was a death record and an indexed record for my great grandmother's brother that gave me some clues. A transcription of his mother's name was absolutely not Italian. It seemed French: Gerordiu. Then I found my great uncle's death certificate. It Americanized his mother's name to Marie Gerard.

I thought about those 2 variations for a moment. Gerordiu and Gerard. I was thinking, "How can I make that name Italian?" Then it hit me. Girardi!

So I did an Ancestry search for immigration records with the last name Girardi. I tightened up the search by adding in the hometown I needed: Pescolamazza, Italy. I got quite a few results.

Shortly after I decided Girardi was most likely the name, I gained access to vital records from the town. That's when I found out for sure that:
  • My great grandmother's mother was Maria Luigia Girardi.
  • Maria Luigia was born in Pescolamazza on 10 Nov 1840.
  • The Girardi name was in the town at least as far back was the 1760s. That's when my 5th great grandfather Giuseppe Girardi was born.
  • I'm not related to baseball manager Joe Girardi. (His family is from northern Italy.)

Get as familiar as possible with the names from your ancestral hometowns. Familiarity is a tremendous help. I spend so much time poring over old vital records from my grandfathers' towns that bad handwriting does not slow me down anymore.

I hope the next time you're totally stuck on a name you'll try these 5 steps to help figure out your ancestor's name. Be sure to see "How to Read Names on Badly Written Vital Records."

22 November 2019

How Does Your Ancestry Color Your Holiday Table?

Your ethnic heritage has specific tastes and textures. Are they on your table?

Something flashed across my computer screen yesterday that I didn't know. It said the pumpkin is native to North America. That makes pumpkin pie an appropriate dish for American and Canadian Thanksgiving.

The first Thanksgiving featured the food they could harvest at that time and in that place. That included squash, corn, berries, and animals including turkeys, pigs, and deer. And there were some foods you won't see on a North American Thanksgiving table, like lobsters and eel!

Aside from these foods, do you celebrate with food from your cultural past? I know the pilgrims didn't eat lasagna or eggplant parmigiana. But I can't imagine a Thanksgiving or Christmas without them.

You've learned so much about your family's background. Why not show that background on the dinner table?
You've learned so much about your family's background. Why not show that background on the dinner table?

Time goes by, and many of us are a few more generations removed the from homeland. Food becomes the most visible part of our cultural identity. For example, people often ask my husband if he can speak Japanese. But the only words he knows are food names.

Other than calling a dish towel a mappina, and knowing a few colorful curse words, my sons' strongest connection to their Italian heritage is the food. I regret not having passed on more Italian culture to my half-Italian boys. But I know why it happened. During their early childhood we didn't live near any of my family. We spent the holidays with their father's side of the family. The food was always traditionally American. There was turkey, ham, corn, potatoes, cranberries, apple pie, and pumpkin pie. The only thing I can remember that had roots in their cultural background was English toffee.

When my kids were 9 and 12 years old, I finally brought them to an amazing feast at my cousin's house. At last, there were the Italian dishes I'd been missing for so long. Skip forward several years to when my parents lived near me. My mom made lasagna, eggplant, or both for every single holiday meal. And pasta with meatballs and sausage. And Italian cookies. And we had espresso with a shot of Anisette after the meal.

I didn't know, as a child, that Strega is a product of my ancestors' province.
As a child I didn't know that Strega is a product of my ancestors' province of Benevento.

That all felt so right to me. And isn't this a perfect way to begin talking about genealogy with your family?

There's still time for you to bring back some of your cultural traditions this holiday season. Your family may have assimilated so much that past culture is nearly gone. Bring it back and celebrate it this season.

Do you have a few childhood favorites in mind? If not, Google "traditional holiday meals from _____". Fill in the blank with the country (or countries) of your ancestors.

As genealogists, we should and do honor our past. Don't forget to bring the best parts of that past into our lives today.

19 November 2019

5 Ways to Get Your Family to Talk Genealogy

Why not talk about your favorite subject this holiday season? Genealogy!

How much better would it be to talk about genealogy at the holiday table than topics that make people angry?

The trick is simple: Give your friends and family something they can relate to before their eyes glaze over.

Here are 5 ways to tailor your message of genealogical obsession to the audience.

1. Speak to the Puzzle Fans

Genealogy has a lot in common with puzzles. You can solve them, but they take a lot of reasoning, logic, and effort. Does someone enjoy jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, word searches, or Sudoku? Speak to them.

Tell them how genealogy is like the world's biggest puzzle. It's always exciting to complete a section. But the goal is personal. The end result is a complete picture of your family.

Ask them to imagine a puzzle that big and personal. Then tell them about some of the mysteries you've solved. Or the ones you're still working on.

2. Lure in the History Buffs

Is there someone in the group who loves watching war movies? They probably love talking about their experiences, whether they were in the service or stayed at home.

Tell them about your ancestors' draft registration cards and military records. I have a newspaper clipping saying a cousin was wounded in action. And another saying my uncle was killed in action. I even have the eyewitness reports about his final mission and how his bomber was shot down. There's a You Tube video interviewing an old man who saw the plane go down when he was a little boy.

Get them to tell their stories, and find ways to relate them to the genealogy documents you've found.

The history buff will appreciate what you've learned about the soldiers in the family.
The history buff will appreciate what you've learned about the soldiers in the family.

3. Give Reasons to Be Thankful

Your friends and family may be thankful that their parents made a better life for them. But chances are, they don't know much about their earlier ancestors.

I can tell my family a lot they didn't know. Our great grandmother was 5 months pregnant when she took a 3-week voyage to America in 1899. I can tell them that she'd already lost her first child. And I can tell them that she had 3 other siblings we never knew about because they died so young.

Tell them how your genealogy research explains why your ancestors left their homeland.

4. Satisfy the Curious

My mother loves all things Italian. That makes her curious about the Italian names and hometowns of our ancestors. I can lure her in by telling her the background to one of her favorite stories.

When she was born in New York City, her immigrant father declared her name "Mariangela". My grandmother, who was still recovering from the birth, later said, "Oh no you don't. It's Maryann."

The story had always been that Mariangela was the name of my grandfather's mother. But my research changed that story. There was a Mariangela who was my great grandmother's older sister. But she died as a baby. My great grandmother's name was Marianna.

That's ironic, because it's even closer to Maryann and would have been a better choice.

But I also found that Marianna often went by the name Mariangela. That's the name she used on the birth records of her children. So, it's possible that my grandfather didn't even know her given name was Marianna.

Genealogy makes the story even better.

It took genealogy research to learn the truth about my mother's namesake.
It took genealogy research to learn the truth about my mother's namesake.

5. Educate the Non-believers

There will be people at any gathering who think DNA tests are a waste of money. "I know I'm half German and half English. Why should I pay money to see a pie chart?"

You can explain that people buy DNA tests for lots of reasons besides their ethnic pie chart. DNA testers can:
  • Find unknown cousins anywhere in the world (There are so many people with my last name in Brazil.)
  • Discover an unexpected relationship (My parents share DNA!)
  • Connect with not-so-distant cousins (I found and met a 3rd cousin who lives a few miles from me.)
And some DNA testers can find a genetic reason for ailments and personality traits.

How many holiday visitors can you turn on to genealogy this season? Even if you don't convert anyone into an amateur genealogist, the conversation will be a lot more enjoyable for you. Happy holidays!

15 November 2019

2 Ways to Give Your Family Tree a Checkup

Don't wait for an annual checkup for your family tree. Do it often.

Have you added any people to your family tree lately? Have you added or changed any facts? Then it's time for a checkup.

Even when you think you're being extra careful, mistakes can happen. Why not spend a few minutes every 2 months or so to find and fix your slip-ups? The things you forgot and the goofs you made will surprise you.

Here are 2 ways to give your family tree a checkup. You'll feel more confident about your tree after you've fixed some errors. You'll feel even more confident if you don't find any errors!

1. Run Family Tree Analyzer

The free Family Tree Analyzer program gives you one-stop shopping for all kinds of errors. Launch it, load your latest GEDCOM file, and click the Data Errors tab.

Check all the boxes to find these errors:
  • Birth dates that are:
    • after the person's death
    • more than 9 months after their father died, or any time after their mother died
    • before either of their parents were 13 years old
    • after their mother turned 60 years old
  • Death dates that are:
    • after their burial (yikes)
    • after they were 110 years old or more
  • Marriage dates that are:
    • after the bride or groom's death
    • before the bride or groom turned 13 years old
Give your family tree a quick checkup with the powerful error finder in Family Tree Analyzer.
Give your family tree a quick checkup with the powerful error finder in Family Tree Analyzer.

You may have what I call legitimate errors. For instance, I do have some babies who were born before one of their parents was 13. In one case, when I looked in my family tree, I found a note saying "The mother was 12 years old." That's more of an "unlikely" than an "impossible" feat.

I also have a baby born almost 11 months after his father died. But that's what the birth record says. I have a note wondering about the man who reported the baby's birth. Is it possible he was the real father?

If seeing all the errors at once is too much, click one checkbox at a time, and resolve or look into those errors.

2. Check Your Family Tree Software

The only family tree software I've ever used is Family Tree Maker. I hope that you're using desktop software for your family tree, and not keeping it only online. Building your tree online doesn't give you the same level of control. And you'll miss out on lots of features.

Every once in a while I check a few of the tabs in Family Tree Maker for errors. This time around I found several place-name errors. I'll bet they got messed up when I had a failed synchronization with Ancestry.com. But they were an easy fix.

In Family Tree Maker, look at these tabs:
  • Check Media for images that are:
    • uncategorized
    • missing a caption, date, or other information
  • Check Places to find any that are not properly categorized
  • Check Sources to find any that have no facts associated with them
Each tab in Family Tree Maker gives you a different way to find errors.
Each tab in Family Tree Maker gives you a different way to find errors.

If you give your tree regular checkups, your errors should be minor. Of course, your first checkup may be a bit of a shocker.

Make this a routine and keep your family tree healthy and hearty.

12 November 2019

Work in Sprints to Strengthen Your Family Tree

If you work flat-out on only one task, you'll do it better and faster.

I started this blog almost 3 years ago with one idea. Encourage people to use business practices to make their genealogy research more professional. I think I've inspired a lot of you to treat your research more seriously.

Today let's look at a business practice that Information Technology (or IT) teams use. In a word: sprints.

You know what an athlete who runs a short distance at maximum speed is, right? A sprinter. A few years ago IT teams began using the term "sprints" to mean that they work together on one project for, say, 2 weeks. That's all they work on, giving it their full attention.

Sprint to the finish, keeping your focus on ONE genealogy task.
Sprint to the finish, keeping your focus on ONE genealogy task.

They find that removing all other distractions helps them do their best work on any one project. And this is true for us, too. Here's an example.

I keep a list of things I want to do to improve my family tree. I call it my "rainy-day genealogy list." Can you relate to any of these?
  • transcribe my taped interview of Mom and Dad
  • sort out my photos and add more to my family tree
  • review my old notebook of Ellis Island entries for people I need
  • review my brother's college genealogy paper for more facts from Grandpa
  • file away everything that's in my temporary "gen docs" folder
  • add details to all my ship manifest images
  • search for documents for all the people with partial birth and death dates
I started working on the last item this past weekend—and only that item. I'm treating it like a sprint, which means I'm giving it all my focus and working through it completely.

What I do is sort the list of people in my tree by birth date. My tree is 90% Italians from the 19th century, and I have vital records from their towns starting in mid-1809.

In one sitting, I went through everyone I'd marked as born in 1809 through 1814. I searched for their birth record. Some were born in another town, so I went online to find their birth records.

And with that total focus, I solved most of them. At least 2 or 3 times I found that a person in my tree with a missing birth date was really someone else in my tree with a birth date. I needed to merge them, and then everything fits.

Tackle the problem one chunk at a time until it's through.
Tackle the problem one chunk at a time until it's through.

I've done this in the past with another limited project. I wanted to add full details to each census record image in my family tree. I created a format to use, and went through every single census image in my family tree's media tab. It took more than one sitting, but I got it done. Now, if someone finds my census image on Ancestry, they can follow the link to the original document.

Do you ever sit down to work on your tree with no specific goal in mind? I'll bet you're more likely to get bored that way.

If, instead, you pick one goal to work on, and give it your full attention, you'll get energized. You'll feel excited that you're getting through that goal. You'll have to hold yourself back from all the other goals you know you can finish.

Now, make yourself a short list of limited goals you want to achieve for your family tree. They should be specific ("add a census sheet image to each member of the family"), not open-ended ("see if I'm descended from royalty"). Pick one goal and make a commitment. You're going to work only on that goal and see it through to completion.

If it helps you, set a deadline. But only do that if that's what you need to light a fire under yourself. Personally, I get energized by seeing myself work through the pile. When I progress through the years of people with missing birth dates, that is my inspiration. When I work through all my ship manifest images to add missing details, I'll get excited when the bottom of the list is in sight.

Do whatever works for you, but take it seriously. Think of yourself as that sprinter on the track. Give it all you've got and set your new personal best.

If genealogy is your passion, you can strengthen your work in sprints. Tackle that backlog of tasks so you can move on to new discoveries.

08 November 2019

Family Tree Disaster-Recovery Tips

When the worst happens, your obsession with thoroughness will pay off!

Nothing makes me more depressed or more angry than a computer problem. It could be a hardware upgrade, a software upgrade, or network issues. These problems make me scream and curse more than anything in the world.

I'm going through this depression and anger now because of my family tree.

My software, Family Tree Maker, announced an update to the program last May, so I pre-ordered it. I got the update in late September. My favorite thing about Family Tree Maker is being able to synchronize all my edits to my tree on Ancestry.com. I want my latest and greatest finds to be there for relatives and DNA matches to see.

When they launched the software update, there was a known problem with Ancestry.com. They said we could synchronize our trees with Ancestry…probably. But, if a sync failed, we shouldn't try again until we got the "All clear".

I did have a couple of successful syncs, but then it failed. So I waited. And waited. On November 6 the company issued a patch and said it was OK to sync.

It was pretty amazing that they could track the problem to one person.
It was pretty amazing that they could track the problem to one person.

Not for me. After struggling for a while, I started a chat with their support staff. Amazingly, they isolated the problem. My file got corrupted at one specific person in my large family tree. Their advice was to:
  • Delete this one person from my family tree on Ancestry.com
  • Download a new GEDCOM from my online tree (which was way out of date)
  • Restore my Family Tree Maker file from this GEDCOM
  • Attempt to synchronize again.
That worked. My desktop and online trees are once again synchronized. But now my tree has 22,420 people instead of 22,500 people.

I have to restore 80 missing people manually. And possibly a lot of individual facts. I'll do it with the help of the last GEDCOM I made from my Family Tree Maker file before this mess started.

The best tool for restoring the 80 missing people is the free program, Family Tree Analyzer. I can use it to open the last GEDCOM of my 22,500-person family tree. Then I can go to the Individuals tab and make sure it's sorted by the first column: IndividualID.

At the bottom of the list of individuals, are the most recent people I added before the crash. I will work my way up from the bottom, restoring the people and facts I've lost.

Having documentation and good tools can help you recover from a family tree disaster.
Having documentation and good tools can help you recover from a family tree disaster.

I'll re-sync my tree after I restore every 20-or-so people.

This will get me back up to my full amount of 22,500 people. But I am worried about individual facts I may be losing. Recently I've been finding and adding missing birth dates to people in my tree. But I didn't attach their document images. I have a feeling I'll have to start that project over.

I did download a synchronization failure report from Family Tree Maker. It's 62 pages long, showing recent additions, deletions, and changes. That may be helpful.

Earlier this week I was giddily finding death records for some of my 5th great grandparents. With that info, I was able to add several 6th great grandparents to my tree. But in my excitement, I didn't crop and add the death record image to the person in my tree. So I can't look at my folder of document images to re-create what's missing. (Sadly, I was planning on going back for those documents today!)

But there's a bright side. As I discovered the names of those 6th great grandparents, I added them to my grandparent chart. That means I can:
  • Look at the name of a recently added ancestor in Family Tree Analyzer who's my 6th great grandparent.
  • Find them in my grandparent chart. That'll tell me who they married and who is their child…the one who's my 5th great grandparent.
  • Find the death record again, and add it to the tree.
This mess raises a bunch of questions:
  • How many daily backups should I keep? I've been keeping 4 or 5, and I make a full backup after each work session. Maybe I'll keep a few more.
  • Do I need to keep a log of what I do during each session? I'm often doing one thing in particular. I may be tracking down missing birth or death records. Or cleaning up source citations. I could write that in a log.
  • Should I check for errors using Family Tree Analyzer more often, like weekly or monthly? I could do it on Sundays—my normal computer backup day. If nothing turns up after a few weeks, I may relax and do it monthly.
So what's the moral of this tale of woe?
  • Document what you're doing.
  • Track what you've found and what you were looking for.
  • Back up your file a lot!
This is my first family tree crisis, and I don't want it to happen again. Luckily, I'm in decent shape because of my digital "paper trail". I'm grateful for all my extra documentation steps.

05 November 2019

How a Research Timeline Helps You Spot Gaps and Problems

When you have very little to go on, a timeline can keep your genealogy research firmly on track.

I'm working on a family that's from a town that's new to me. I've never researched anyone in this place before. I'm starting this search with only a couple of undocumented facts.

What can I do to create an accurate, thorough sense of this family's history?

I started gathering documents for the husband and wife who had come to America from Italy. They were born in the 1860s.

I found their marriage document. Then I used their ages at that time to find their birth records. But the husband's birth record says he married a different woman on a particular date.

Your family tree software may provide a timeline of facts so far.
Your family tree software may provide a timeline of facts so far.

It's wonderful when they add that detail to a birth record. But this sure seemed like a problem. He married this other woman only one year before he married the woman I knew about—the mother of his children. Unless there was something sneaky going on, the first woman had to have died within a year of their marriage.

I had a hard time finding her death record. I found myself veering into the wrong years. (I still don't like how Family Search throws so much in one folder.) So I searched for and found the births of the 3 daughters who came to America with their mother.

When I did find a death record for the first wife, I misread the date! I wrote it down as 1908…ten years later than she should have died.

That was the moment I knew I needed a timeline. This isn't my usual style, but I renamed all the files I'd found to begin with the year. Now they're in my working folder sorted by date. Looking at the files names, I made a chronological list of the main event from each document. For example:
  • 1863 birth of Giovanni Marino
  • 1865 birth of Maria Viola (Giovanni and Maria are the couple who came to America.)
  • 1897 marriage of Giovanni Marino and Elena Russo (the mystery woman!)
  • 1898 marriage of Giovanni Marino and Maria Viola
  • 1899 birth of Giovanni and Maria's 1st daughter
  • 1901 birth of Giovanni and Maria's 2nd daughter
  • 1904 birth of Giovanni and Maria's 3rd daughter
  • 1905 ship manifest for Giovanni Marino going to New York
  • 1908 death of Elena Russo (That turned out to be the wrong date.)
  • 1911 ship manifest for Maria Viola and her 3 daughters following Giovanni to New York
With this timeline, I knew for sure the 1908 death of wife #1 needed an explanation. I'd already looked at her death record twice. I knew this was the same Elena Russo who married Giovanni Marino in 1897. She had the same parents and the same husband.

Discovering the facts out of order made it a little confusing. Who was this mystery woman?
Discovering the facts out of order made it a little confusing. Who was this mystery woman?

I decided to look for marriage banns for Giovanni and Maria in 1898. I found them, and they said wife #1 was dead. OK, so Giovanni wasn't a polygamist. I'm glad of that.

Only on my 3rd inspection of Elena's death record did I see my mistake. The year is 1898 (milleottocento novantotto) not 1908 (millenovecento otto). Embarrassing! I was starting to wonder if the eldest of Giovanni's 3 daughters belonged to his 1st wife. Between her age and her similar name (Annaelena), it seemed possible. But her 1899 birth record put that idea to rest.

The timeline helped me spot the problem and work to investigate and correct it.

I couldn't find Elena Russo's birth record despite checking a bunch of possible years. So now I'm trying to extend the timeline back another generation. Giovanni and Maria's birth records tell me their parents' names and approximate ages. I can go after their records.

I may never write down a formal research plan or keep a research log. But from now on, when I'm studying one family in particular, a timeline is a total must.

01 November 2019

How to Use Your Personal Genealogy Database

If you think my latest project is crazy, allow me to prove you wrong.

I shamelessly told you about my latest obsession. I'm renaming all the files in my collection of Italian vital records. By adding the name of the person its about to the file name, I create a searchable database on my computer.

I still need to rename the death files from 1845–1858, which I'll complete this weekend. But I wanted to show you an example of how well this ambitious plan pays off.

I opened my family tree and focused on my dad's ancestors. Seventy-five percent of his ancestors came from the town I'm working on, Colle Sannita, Italy. I had to climb a few generations because the "younger" ancestors died at a time when I have no death records.

As my first subject, I'm choosing my 5th great grandmother Orsola Mascia. I know Orsola was born in 1770 because I found records for 5 of her children that helped me set her age. And I know she married my 5th great grandfather Giuseppe d'Emilia. But I don't know when Orsola died or who her parents were.

Let's see what we can do about that.

I have a main folder on my computer for the town of Colle Sannita. Inside that are 225 folders of birth, marriage, and death records sorted by year. Starting at the town's folder, I enter the name Orsola Mascia in the folder's search box and press enter. I get 8 results. A small number is easier to sift through, so I'm happy with that.

A quick search on my computer instantly found my 5th great grandmother.
A quick search on my computer instantly found my 5th great grandmother.

You can see from these results that the best matches are at the top. Exact matches come first. As you go down the list, you'll see that some results contain "Orsola" and "Mascia", but not together.

This is an important point. You can do an exact search by adding quotation marks ("Orsola Mascia"). But what if her full name was Orsola Maria Mascia? I wouldn't get the right results. So I always keep the search a bit looser.

When I double-click the first result, I'm hoping to see that she's married to Giuseppe d'Emilia. He's my 5th great grandfather.

And it is her! My file renaming project is paying off. I learned that:
  • Orsola Mascia died on 4 March 1838 in Colle Sannita.
  • She was 66 years old and also born in Colle Sannita.
  • Her parents were Saverio Mascia and Prudenzia Zeolla.
  • Her parents were both dead before this date. I know that because I see the word "fu" before their names. That means was, as in, this was her father, but he's dead now. (See "How to Read an Italian Death Record".)
What a victory! I found the names of another set of my 6th great grandparents: Saverio and Prudenzia. (Cue the Beatles' "Dear Prudence".) Because of Orsola's birth year, I know they were born no later than the mid 1740s.

This key record was hiding in a batch of files...until I renamed it.
This key record was hiding in a batch of files...until I renamed it.

Now that I've made this discovery—and so easily!—let's walk through all the steps I need to take next.
  • Add the new facts to Family Tree Maker:
    • Add Orsola's place of birth, and her date and place of death.
    • Add her parent's names and estimated birth year (25 years before Orsola was born) and death dates of "Bef. 4 Mar 1838".
  • Get the document image ready for Family Tree Maker.
    • Crop the image in Photoshop and save it to my FamilyTree/Certificates folder.
    • Right-click the cropped file on my computer and choose Properties. Then add a title and description to this image's details. The description includes the exact URL where anyone can find this document online. (For more detail, see "How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images".)
    • Drag the image into Family Tree Maker. It retains and displays the facts I added.
    • Since it's my only document for Orsola, I'll make it her profile image.
  • Make note of this find in my Document Tracker. I record every document in my family tree in one Excel file.
  • Add her parents to my grandparent chart. Her Ahnentafel number is 133, so her father and mother are 266 (double hers) and 267 (double hers + 1), respectively. This tells me exactly where to put her parents in the grandparent chart. (See "3 Things to Do with Ahnentafel Numbers".) Download a grandparent chart for your family tree. It's color-coded for your 4 grandparents and includes Ahnentafel numbers.

My newly found 6th great grandparents now take their place in my grandparent chart.
My newly found 6th great grandparents now take their place in my grandparent chart.

That was big. A breakthrough! I'm eager to search more of my ancestors with missing dates and parents.

If your people are from a small town, and you can find vital records, go get 'em! I hope you'll have as much success as I know I will.