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  • Download a new GEDCOM from my online tree (which was way out of date)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.

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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.

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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.

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.