It's just you and WiFi for a week. Which genealogy tools are mandatory?
What are your must-have family tree-building tools? I'm talking about the indispensable items you'd have to have if you were cut off from everything else for a week.
|Get ready to hit the road or run to the panic room. Grab your genealogy toolbox!
Here's what's in my genealogy toolbox.
When Visiting an Archive
I've visited the New York City Municipal Archives because the bulk of my family comes from the Bronx. I've visited the New York State Archives in Albany. And the archives for the province of Benevento in Italy. I spent 5 years viewing microfilm at my local Family History Centers.
The most important tools for those genealogy field trips were:
1. Blank forms
I wanted to view as many vital records as possible for my extended family. Before my visit to the NYC Municipal Archives, I created forms in Word for key facts from a vital record. I printed out a small stack of birth, marriage, and death forms to bring along. I filled in the blanks each time I found a relative's document. (This idea belongs to my research buddy Dawn Fulton.)
2. A USB flash drive
At the New York State Library and Archives, I wanted to look up an event from my childhood in the newspaper. When I found 2 articles about it, I was able to save the articles as PDFs. But I had to have a flash drive with me.
3. My iPhone's camera
While viewing microfilm at a Family History Center, I took some awful images with my iPhone. They were awful because (a) the microfilm viewer was a thousand years old, and (b) I couldn't avoid the iPhone's shadow. But they were better than nothing.
That camera is just the thing when visiting cemeteries. And I had it with me on my one-of-a-kind visit to see my grandfather's military record in Italy.
4. A laptop with a text editor
For 5 years I sat in dark rooms viewing microfilmed vital records. To make the most of my time there, I kept a laptop open in my lap beneath the table and typed everything I saw. For each document I used abbreviations to capture the facts. Man did I get fast at typing Italian names. Here's a sample:
-Rosaria Colucci b 16 jun 1815 to Michele di Giuseppe 30 and Mariarosa di Pietrantonio Izzo 25 bap 17 jun 1815
That means Rosaria Colucci was born on 16 Jun 1815. Her father Michele (son of Giuseppe) was 30 years old. Her mother Mariarosa Izzo (daughter of Pietrantonio Izzo) was 25 years old. The baby was baptized on 17 Jun 1815.
At first I was fitting people right into Family Tree Maker. But I could go dramatically faster by typing the basics there, and fitting families together at home.
When Visiting a Cemetery
In 2012 I visited the Bronx cemetery where practically my entire family is buried. It was my 1st visit, and I was with a cousin who knew exactly where to find our people. So cousin Joseph was indispensable that day.
When I returned in 2017, I found my grandparents using landmarks. They're close to a corner and a fence. But I couldn't find my great grandparents and their family. And I'd never found my other grandfather.
After searching for a while, I pulled out my iPhone and opened the Ancestry app. I remembered that after my 1st trip to this cemetery, I made a note of the section, range, and grave numbers. That did the trick! The Ancestry app was indispensable because I'd made note of the grave locations.
That day I also visited the cemetery office to ask where to find my grandfather. It was the first time I'd seen his grave since we buried him in 1992. Now I keep a text file on my phone with a list of family members' grave locations.
At My Desk
I have lived on a keyboard since 1983. It's second nature for me to do everything on my computer. This is where I have the bulk of my genealogy tools. Any decent research session will involve a few of these tools.
- Family Tree Maker. It's the only family tree software I've ever used. No regrets.
- Ancestry.com. This is where I keep my public tree, work with DNA matches, and do my searches.
- My downloaded Italian vital records. These are not on Ancestry and some are not on FamilySearch. I downloaded my ancestral towns' records from the Italian Antenati (ancestors) website.
- My document tracker. My most used spreadsheet is where I keep track of every document I add to my tree (download your own copy).
- GetLinks. This image-downloading tool from a Portuguese-speaking programmer is a game changer. Without it, I'd still be downloading my Italian records, one at a time.
- Photoshop. You can improve a lot of bad document images by adjusting their brightness and contrast. I like to crop out the excess, too.
- Family Tree Analyzer. Once in a while your family tree needs a checkup. This free program has a host of tools for finding the mistakes you never knew you made.
- My database of town records. I'm entering the basic facts from my vital record collection into a spreadsheet. It makes it so easy to find out if, for example, Francesco Bianco and Maria Caruso had another baby I didn't know about. Adding more records is always on my annual list of genealogy goals.
- My grandparent chart. I open up this spreadsheet each time I learn another direct ancestor's name. My chart (download one for yourself) includes placeholders with each ancestor's Ahnentafel number. The chart is also color-coded for your 4 grandparents' different branches.
- My surnames list. This spreadsheet is an alphabetized list of my direct ancestor's last names only. I've got 84 of them so far—all Italian.
- My relationship calculator. I made this chart to help figure out the likely relationship of a DNA match. You can download your copy of this file, too.
- My chart of Italian occupation translations. There was a page online long ago with a long list of Italian occupation words. Like, calzolaio means shoemaker. I grabbed those translations and added in several more that I know from my ancestral towns. It's handiest to me when I can't make out all the letters. I can scan my chart looking for a similar word.
Now I want you to add your comments at the bottom of this article. I'm sure you're using tools I haven't yet realized I need. And I'll bet you have tools for other types of research trips. Like, I have a digital audio recorder I can bring along to record conversations with my relatives. What are your favorite genealogy tools?