28 February 2020

Sorting Out a Confusing Mess in Your Family Tree

When you find a big error in your family tree, examine all facts carefully.

While I was improving my source citations this week, I spotted a problem in my family tree. My cousin Silvio Saviano was no longer related to me.

How did Silvio's relationship to me change? As I dug into the facts in my tree and on Ancestry, I saw the problem. Silvio's father was Luigi, but I "gave" him to the wrong Luigi!

Without enough records for my little town, it was easy to confuse the 2 Luigi's.
Without enough records for my little town, it was easy to confuse the 2 Luigi's.

I have been writing and rewriting this article for 2 full days. I kept finding contradictory information. In the end, the solution was quite a surprise to me.

Here's how confusing it is.

  • My great grandmother was a Saviano. She came from a small village that has only 653 residents today. It's safe to say that every Saviano living there in the 19th century is my relative.
  • This town's unusual history means there are no available birth records before 1861. And no marriage or death records before 1931.
  • My mom knew Silvio Saviano and his family when she was growing up. She knew them as cousins.
  • Some of Silvio's U.S. records say his father was Luigi. There is no mention of his mother.
  • In the town's available records, there are 2 men named Luigi Saviano born in the 1850s. That's based on the birth records of 16 children they had between them from 1878 to 1899.
  • The Luigi born in 1858 is my 3rd great uncle. I have his 1938 Italian death record, and it names my 3rd great grandparents as his parents. Uncle Luigi stayed in Italy.
  • The Luigi born in 1852 did come to America. So did at least 4 of his 11 children. I found U.S. death records for Luigi and 3 of his children.
  • Only 1852 Luigi had a son named Silvio.
Silvio never gave the same birth date twice. Since I wanted him to belong to my 3rd great uncle Luigi, I figured he was born the year there are no records: 1895.

Sorting Out a Tangled Mess

After examining all the documents, it became clear that Silvio was NOT the son of my 3rd great uncle. He was the son of the other Luigi.

Do you have a confusing twist of same-named people in your family tree? It may help you to see how I came to realize which Luigi was the father of Silvio.

I know from his birth record that Silvio was born on 9 Oct 1896 to Luigi Saviano and Maria Grazia Guarente. He is the only Silvio Saviano in the town's available vital record collection.

It's hard to imagine, but our ancestors weren't always sure of their birth dates.
It's hard to imagine, but our ancestors weren't always sure of their birth dates.

Here's what I found in America:
  • 1912 ship manifest with Luigi Saviano (age 60) and his son Silvio (age 15). The manifest clearly says that father and son are from Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. It says Luigi leaves behind a brother Giuseppe in Italy. That brother Giuseppe came to America in 1898. Either I have the wrong Giuseppe Saviano in 1898, or he went back to Italy.
  • 1917 World War I draft registration card for Silvio. It gives his birth date as 16 Oct 1895 and his address as 253 East 151st Street, Bronx, New York.
  • Two military transport manifests (31 Jul 1918 and 21 Apr 1919). Both mention his brother Joseph living at 630 Morris Avenue, Bronx, New York. That's around the corner. And Silvio does have a brother Giuseppe who came to America.
  • 30 May 1918 petition for naturalization. This was my red herring. It gave his birth date as 12 Oct 1895. But it says he has lived in South Carolina since 1900. When I found another Silvio Saviano who became a citizen in Tennessee, I knew I had to delete this document.
  • 17 November 1918 New York newspaper listing Silvio as severely wounded. His address is 630 Morris Avenue. His World War II draft registration card corroborates this. It says he has a "scar on left wrist and bullet scar on calf of right leg."
  • 1920 military service record. This index card, unfortunately, uses the same birth date as the southern Silvio: 12 Oct 1895. It gives his address as 630 Morris Avenue and says he was inducted in New York City. It says he was "slightly" wounded on 12 Sep 1918 ("severely" is smudged out). It also says he was overseas from 31 Jul 1918 to 21 Apr 1919, which fits the military transport records exactly. It's good except for that pesky birth date.
  • 1925 census. Silvio and his wife and 3 kids are living at 599 Morris Avenue. His kids' names are the ones my mom knew and grew up with. He's still an alien, which further rules out those 1918 naturalization papers.
  • 1930 census. Silvio and family are on a different street nearby. He is finally a citizen. But it says he arrived in 1901. I do have a 1901 ship manifest for his father Luigi and 2 of his siblings. But not Silvio. Luigi had been detained while waiting for my 2nd great uncle, Semplicio Saviano. On the ship manifest Luigi calls Semplicio a relative. On the detainee list, he calls him his nephew. But he is not his nephew!
  • 1942 World War II draft registration card, mentioned earlier. Silvio and his wife Mary are at another Bronx address,and his birthday is 9 Oct 1896. That is the very first time Silvio's birth date on a U.S. document actually matches his Italian birth record. It was only when I got to this last document that I realized the truth. Silvio is not the son of my 3rd great uncle.
I can't prove his relationship to me. But I can try to find the missing pieces. Luigi came to New York with 2 of his children, Maria and Giuseppe, in 1901. He made another trip in 1912—as a 60-year-old man—and brought back only his son Silvio. Luigi died in the Bronx in 1916 as a widower. Did his wife die in Italy? Is that why Luigi went back to fetch his youngest child, 15-year-old Silvio? When did Silvio's other sister Letizia come to America? She married and had a baby in the Bronx in 1905, dying 5 days later of complications. Her death record says she arrived in 1901. (I just realized she is not my only Letizia Saviano, and both died the same way!)

I need more immigration records. So far, they're eluding me. I'll bet Luigi is my 2nd great grandfather's 1st cousin, but I may never be able to prove it. For now I'll give the whole branch my blue "No Relationship Established" profile image and move on.

The lesson here is to stop what you're doing when you find a big error. You may forget about it and make more mistakes as a result. Take a step back and be objective. Examine all the facts you have, and then search for more.

So…who's all messed up in your family tree?

25 February 2020

Combine these Genealogy Projects for a Richer Family Tree

Work smarter by combining your genealogy projects wherever you can.

Have I overloaded you with family tree cleanup projects? I know I can't keep up. Let's take a look at some of these projects with 2 goals in mind:
  • Choose which projects you really want to get done, and
  • See how you can combine 2 or more tasks and work smarter.
1. Create a Direct Ancestor List with Ahnentafel Numbers

See "Overwhelming Clean-up Task? Start With Direct Ancestors." Add a custom fact field to hold each direct ancestor's Ahnentafel number. If you can, give each of your 4 branches an identifier. In Family Tree Maker you can color-code a person and all their ancestors. I've given a different color to each of my 4 grandparents and their direct ancestors.

Now I can instantly spot the more than 290 direct ancestors in my tree. This was a one-day project. The color-coding took a minute. Finding and adding each ancestor's Ahnentafel number took an hour or two.

Check your Grandparent Chart for the Ahnentafel number. Don't have one? That's another project you can do in a day.

Whenever you have an overwhelming project to do, take care of your direct ancestors first. That's a lot less to bite off and a great start.

2. Create Your Elder Scroll

Here's a natural project combination point. See "Make Your Own 'Elder Scrolls'." That custom Ahnentafel field from project #1 makes it easy (in some software) to create a custom report. List your direct ancestors (starting with you) in Ahnentafel order. Include each person's name and birth date. Print it out and tape the sheets together, end-to-end. That's your Elder Scroll.

If you've done project #1, you can do project #2 quickly. This is a fun project with a result you can hold in your hands.

3. Get Your "Shoebox" Items into Your Tree

See "How Many Genealogy Gems Are You Sitting On?" Sometimes I see a photo of a relative on Facebook or in a cousin's online family tree. I save the image and keep it in my "gen docs" folder and in the "photos" sub-folder. Apparently I've been doing this with all kinds of family tree documents for years.

When working on a project to add photos to my tree, I had to switch gears and build the man's family tree.
When working on a project to add photos to my tree, I realized I had to find the man's whole family.

This weekend I gave my virtual shoebox some attention. I started with census sheet images for people who I thought should be my relatives. Years later, I've built my family tree out so much that voila! Those people are in my tree now! I'm winnowing down my gen docs folder, but it's big.

4. Process All Facts and Documents for a Person at Once

Here's another project combination point. See "Make Smarter Progress on Your Family Tree." I was working on photos in my virtual shoebox, trying to place them in my family tree. When I got to one family portrait, I realized I hadn't documented the family of the father in the portrait.

So while I was there adding his photo, I went after his birth record and added his parents. His father fit into another family unit that was in my tree already. His mother needed more work.

I found her 1850 birth record. Then I found her parents' marriage records. I added each new vital record to my tree with source citations for each fact.

5. Write Your Ancestors' Life Stories

See "Which of Your Ancestors Has the Best Life Story?" When you're working on nearly any of the other projects, you can combine it with this one. Let's say you realize you have a ton of documents and facts for one of your ancestors. There aren't many holes left to fill.

This would be a great time to pull together the timeline of that ancestor's life story. You family tree software can help you by displaying that timeline. How would you tell this person's story? What family anecdotes can you add to bring this ancestor to life?

It can help to break the task into chunks. Capture their timeline of events in a Word document. Later add a couple of photos. Then add in some family stories.

6. Fully Document Your Ancestor's Entire Community

I don't know which other countries make this so easy. But if you have Italian family, you may be able to download your ancestral hometown's records. I did. See "3 Steps to My Ultimate, Priceless Family Tree."

I'm approaching this collection in a few ways, making progress on each of them:
  • Rename each file to include the name of the subject. Then the whole collection becomes searchable on my computer.
  • Add each document's main facts to a spreadsheet. This helps with searches and will be shareable with other descendants of the towns.
  • Go through that spreadsheet line-by-line to see who can fit into my tree. Then get them in there.
My renamed files make it so easy to locate a record and build out a family. In project #4 above, I realized I didn't have any documentation on the ancestors of the man in the family portrait. So I searched my computer for his name, found his birth record, and kept going up and up his family tree.

This project benefits everything else I do.

7. Choose a Ripe DNA Match and Pursue the Connection

By "ripe" I mean a DNA match with a decent family tree. See "Can't Connect to Your DNA Match? Keep Trying."

I like to revisit my unsolved, ripe DNA matches once in a while. There's a chance that my other projects wound up adding a connection to a DNA match.

I'm trying to keep all my projects moving.

Decide which projects matter to you. Start doing any one of them with the others always in mind. Don't be afraid to go off on a tangent if it means you'll make progress on another project.

Keep track of where you left off on any one project, take care of that tangent, and come back to where you left off. Keep making valuable progress on your family tree—your legacy.

And happy birthday to George Harrison! He isn't gone. Shut up.

21 February 2020

Overwhelming Clean-up Task? Start With Direct Ancestors

This source citation clean-up task is so rewarding, it won't bog you down.

You may remember I recently had a disaster with my family tree software. While synchronizing my Family Tree Maker file with my Ancestry.com tree, the file got corrupted. The only cure was to download my Ancestry tree as a new FTM file.

That blew up my "simple sources" system. Ancestry stores the source information differently than Family Tree Maker. It fed my sources back in a most un-simple way. That forced me to rethink my sourcing process. I had to step up and commit to improving my method.

And I'm glad I did. The bulk of my tree consists of 17th and 18th century Italians. I'm very lucky to have access to high-quality images of many of their vital records. Cleaning up how I cite these sources means I can do the following.

Copy the Source Wherever it Applies

Say I'm working on my 6th great grandfather, Giuseppe Iamarino. His son's 1815 marriage documents included Giuseppe's 1792 death record. I can create a source citation for Giuseppe's death that:
  • provides a link to his death record
  • says where to find the original (in his town's 1815 marriage records)
  • includes the image itself in the citation
Plus, his death record is my only source for the names of his parents, my 7th great grandparents. So I can copy the source for Giuseppe's death date and use it as the source for each of his parents' names.

It's all a simple copy-and-paste job.
It's all a simple copy-and-paste job.

That's a big improvement over what I was doing. My "simple source" system meant a lot of sharing. For example, everyone with a fact from the 1930 U.S. Federal Census shared the same source. In my family tree, you had to view the notes on a document image to see exactly where it came from.

Last night I found a new document for my grandfather, Pietro Iamarino. It's his World War II draft registration card that was not online before. So I made a new source citation for this card and used it for:
  • Grandpa's 15 Feb 1942 home address
  • Grandpa's work address in 1942 (I knew he was working for a costume jewelry company, but now I know where!)
  • Grandma's shared 15 Feb 1942 home address (Her name is on the card.)
Now anyone viewing my family tree online can see the:
  • title
  • citation detail
  • document image, and
  • the exact link to the document online.

It works for any document you found online.
It works for any document you found online.

An Efficient Shortcut

Here's a new tip I want to share with you today. I've got more than 23,000 people in my tree. Fixing all the citations is a monumental task. So I want to take care of my direct ancestors first. All 293 of them.

Here's how I'll get that done efficiently. While making my Elder Scroll, I created a filter in Family Tree Maker. The filter lets me display only my direct ancestors in the index of people. (See how I used Ahnentafel numbers to show only my direct ancestors.)

It's easy to work my way down that alphabetical list, caring for each person's source citations one at a time. I don't have to worry about missing someone.

If I can get through all my direct ancestors in a few sessions, it'll all be worthwhile.
If I can get through all my direct ancestors in a few sessions, it'll all be worthwhile.

And it's really satisfying. There are lots of cases where I only know someone died "Bef. 10 Aug 1812" because his grandson's 1812 birth record says that his father's father is dead. That connection (fact to source) was getting lost. But now I can go to the grandson, create his birth source citation, and make it the source for his grandfather's death.

Now, I'm not recommending you have a family tree software catastrophe. But I am encouraging you to think about how to make your sources better. Think about the day when your grandchild inherits all your research. Or about the DNA match who's looking at your tree to figure out your connection. How believable will your facts be?

The more traceable your facts are, the more professional your family tree is. And that's been my mission for 3 years. I want you to fortify your family tree—and have fun while you're doing it.

18 February 2020

Can't Connect to Your DNA Match? Keep Trying

I've got my super-charged database ready to help crack those connections.

It was my day off. And there isn't anything I'd rather do with my free time than work on my family tree. But where to begin?

After a quick look at GEDmatch, I decided I wanted to finally figure out why John is my DNA match. And my dad's match, too.

You see, my dad has 1st cousins I've visited in Italy. Their mother was my grandfather's sister Assunta. So Dad and I are blood relatives on their mother's side. But John is on their father's side. He is their father's brother. How am I related to their father's family?

I've built out my cousins' father's tree (and their Uncle John's) far and wide. His roots are in my grandfather's town where everyone is related somehow.

But all the people in John's family tree were related to me only through my Great Aunt Assunta's husband. How frustrating! Where was the hidden connection?

With extra determination, I finally found my connection to an unusual DNA match.
With extra determination, I finally found my connection to an unusual DNA match.

Be Methodical

I began by viewing John's ancestors. Right away I saw a hole. I didn't have his maternal grandmother's birth date or ancestors. Another relative had a family tree showing her birth date as 6 Nov 1867, so I got straight to work.

My ace in the hole is my amazing database of Italian vital records. I've got all available records from my grandfather's hometown sitting on my computer. Plus, I renamed each image to include the name of the document's subject. Now I can search my computer for any name from the town.

Once I located John's grandmother Maria's birth record, I began working on her parents. Over and over I found death records for ancestors that gave me their parents' names. It was working so well that I identified all 8 of Maria's great grandparents. Only 1 of the 8 was a dead end.

Leave No Stone Unturned

As I found new ancestors, I used the Relationship Calculator in Family Tree Maker. Each new person was still related to me only through my Great Aunt's husband's family. No blood relation.

At this point I worried that my day off had been a bust. It was still fun, but I didn't get what I wanted. So, of course, I kept searching.

Again and again I went back to John and climbed each of his branches till I found a dead end. For each dead end, I searched for a death record that would tell me the names of the next generation.

Late in the day, I was looking at an ancestor named Vincenzo Mascia. I needed his parents' names, but he was too old for his marriage record to be available. (Records begin in 1809.) But Vincenzo's 1st wife died. He remarried within the range of my collection of marriage records.

In his marriage documents I found his birth record with his parents' names, Giorgio and Giulia. And there was his father Giorgio's 1812 death record. That had his parents' names, Domenico and Caterina.

Before typing Giorgio's parents' names into my tree, I did what I always do. Check to see if they're in my tree already. I held my breath because these parents were born in the late 1600s. I was way up there. And I did have a Domenico Mascia who was about the right age. Before I hovered over his name to see who he married, my heart skipped a beat. He had a yellow circle next to his name in the person index. That means he is my direct ancestor. Yellow means he's a direct ancestor of my father's father.

When I hovered over Domenico's name I gasped. His wife was the Caterina Paolucci I was hoping for. Domenico and Caterina are my 7th great grandparents, and I had climbed John's family tree to find them. They are his 5th great grandparents.

Consult the Charts

So I whipped out my relationship chart. I'd found something similar online once, but decided to make my own, which is much easier to use. Since Domenico and Caterina are my 7th great grandparents and John's 5th great grandparents, he and I are 6th cousins twice removed. John and my dad are 6th cousins once removed.

Download your own: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ksvp08b99pzk9hl/relationship-calculator.xlsx?dl=0
Download your own: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ksvp08b99pzk9hl/relationship-calculator.xlsx?dl=0

Ancestry DNA estimated that John and I (and John and my dad) were 4th–6th cousins. Well, there you go!

This finding was a long time coming. I've been collaborating with John's daughter-in-law since 2017 trying to figure this out. Ironically, while John is my 6th cousin twice removed, his wife is my 5th cousin twice removed. I was working on her ancestors this past Sunday.

I've got a ton of work yet to do on this branch. I was so excited with my progress that I entered all the facts, but I have to go back and add the documents and source citations to my tree.

I hope I've inspired you to keep at it when you can't find the connection to your DNA match. Use all your resources and keep pushing forward. You never know which path will help you solve the puzzle.

14 February 2020

How Many Genealogy Gems Are You Sitting On?

Are you guilty of ignoring the tips and leads you stashed away? I am.

Years ago I put a folder on my computer desktop called "gen docs". It was a handy place to stash anything that:
  • I hadn't added to my family tree yet, or
  • belonged to someone who wasn't in my tree yet.
I even took the time to organize this stash with sub-folders for the different document types.

Then I moved the folder to another folder that's automatically backed up to cloud storage. That's keeping it safe. (See "How to Back Up Your Family Tree Files Automatically".) But since it's not staring me in the face anymore, it's been out-of-sight, out-of-mind for a long time.

I'm sure there are a ton of genealogy gems in that folder. Things like:
  • photos of relatives I found online
  • draft cards for men who weren't connected to me, but may be connected now
  • vital records I photographed from microfilm (badly)
  • the flight record for my Uncle Johnny who crashed and died in World War II
There's so much in that folder that past-me thought would be important to future-me. And I'm sure she was right.

This is what happens when you have a "deal with it later" folder.
This is what happens when you have a "deal with it later" folder.

Aside from this jam-packed folder (I'll bet that phrase doesn't translate well), I also have my earliest genealogy research. It's a school notebook I filled with facts taken from ship manifests I saw on the Ellis Island website 16 years ago. It's hard to believe I ever did something so non-digital. I wish now it was a Notepad file. And I have the college paper my brother wrote about our family history in the 1970s. That paper has some stories that came straight from our grandparents. I need to capture all those gems!

What about you? What gems have you been tucking away to deal with later? Do you have death certificates you never scanned? An audio interview you never transcribed? (Guilty!) Photos you meant to digitize?

I know we like to forge ahead in our genealogy hobby. We're eager to search through the newest database. We want to try another software package that shows a lot of promise. We want to focus our energy on that brick wall.

But past-you has already laid the foundation of your family tree. What if the clue you need to break through your brick wall has been sitting in your collection all this time?

I challenge you today to a project I'm beginning right now. Go through your old notes, files, and collections. You know more about your family now than you did back then. Take a close look at each scrap of information past-you set aside and make a decision.

These documents should have gone straight into my family tree. No more procrastinating.
These documents should have gone straight into my family tree. No more procrastinating.

Does it belong in your family tree?
  • If yes, scan it, crop it, type it, and get it in your family tree. Now.
  • If no, put it in another folder and make note of why you kept it and why it isn't in your family tree.
I'm starting this project by dealing with one sub-folder at a time. The "legal docs" folder has things like the sale of my grandfather's house in 1990. The "funeral cards" folder has pictures of these mementos I need to enhance in Photoshop. The "Missing Flight" folder has Uncle Johnny's flight record that I keep forgetting to put into my family tree.

There's no telling what I'll find in my stash that may:
  • answer age-old questions
  • establish unknown connections, or
  • add a missing piece to one relative's life story.
So, yes, I challenge you and me both. Stop forging ahead for a couple of days and clean up the trail of evidence past-you created. Then tell me what genealogy gems you've discovered.

11 February 2020

Is This the End of DNA Matches?

The industry is reporting layoffs as the DNA kit surge reaches its peak.

Should genealogy fans worry about the future of DNA tests? Ancestry cut 6% of its staff. 23andMe cut 14%. MIT Technology Review says more than 26 million people submitted DNA ancestry kits, with a huge spike since 2017. There was such a rapid increase of kits in the last 2 years, it's surprising to read about these staff cuts.

Whoever is in your DNA match list today, you shouldn't expect a tremendous increase in the future. And the reason so many of your DNA matches have no tree or don't answer you is simple. They aren't interested. The kit was a gift, they went along with it, they saw their pie chart and said, "So what?"

This past weekend I worked on one of my 2020 Genealogy Goals. I tried to figure out my connection to someone in my DNA match list who had a family tree. I've figured out a lot of them already. I spent my time working on a 4th cousin who'd reached out to me on Facebook a while back.

I know the connection is there, but missing documents are keeping it secret.
I know the connection is there, but missing documents are keeping it secret.

I told her that her grandmother's maiden name was my grandmother's maiden name. She was Concetta Sarracino. I found Concetta's 1887 birth record in my vital record collection. I found her 2 siblings, her parents, her aunt and uncle, 3 grandparents, and 1 great grandparent.

Free to use.
Free to use.
But none of them tied into my family tree. The Sarracino family is from a town with records that don't go back before 1861. I tried to find any loose threads that might tie me to this loose branch. Concetta came to America with her husband and 3 children. I have their ship manifest. Her 1st cousin Angelo was already in New York City. I built out his part of the family, too.

Now I've got dozens of people in my tree, closely related to my DNA match. But their profile pictures are my "No Relationship Established" graphic. Once again, I had to put this branch aside and hope for a future breakthrough.

As I was about to quit playing with my family tree for the day, someone sent me a message on Ancestry. My family tree kept coming up in her search results over and over. She gave me a handful of names, and I went to her tree.

While her family names are clearly from my grandfather's hometown, she is not in my match list. But she is in my dad's match list. It's a distant relationship. Between the DNA and those last very familiar names, I wanted to know more.

In her family tree I saw 2 last names that are important in my family tree: Pozzuto and Zeolla.

These 2 names seem to hold the hidden DNA connection between my mother and father. I've been trying to find my parents' distant cousin connection by adding those names to my family tree. Last year I added every Pozzuto baby from my vital records collection to my family tree. This year's goal is to add every Zeolla baby.

This past weekend I found that I am connected to this DNA match's great grandmother. I can't see her 1875 birth record because that year is missing from the records collection. But I have her parents' and siblings' records. Filomena Zeolla, born in 1875, is my 3rd cousin 4 times removed.

That doesn't help me figure out my parents' DNA connection. But it does extend my family tree into an area I couldn't reach before. I had no way to know about Filomena because there are no 1875 birth records. I had no way to know she had married a Pozzuto who has a huge branch in my family tree.

Because of this DNA match, I realized I'd attached her grandfather to the wrong parents. Their names were almost identical. I had no way to know!

And this is the importance of DNA matches' trees to me. I don't expect to discover many close relatives. Years ago my family tree (not my DNA) attracted my 3rd cousin to me. I knew nothing about her ancestor—my great grandfather's sister. But now I've built out my 2nd great aunt's branch of the family and extended them into America.

I need my distant cousins' family trees to find out what happened to relatives who scattered across America—or stayed in Italy.

If you want to find long-lost family through DNA, don't despair about the DNA-test market. There are still millions of family trees online and other research that can connect you to 3rd and 4th cousins.

It's the people trying to find their birth parents' who have the most to lose as this DNA-kit fad winds down. On the flip side, more people are afraid to test because they might learn their mom and dad aren't their birth parents.

So, should genealogy fans worry about the future of DNA tests? For most of us, the answer is no. There are still 26 million DNA kits out there. And your DNA match list was never meant to replace genealogy research.

Still, you should reach out to those matches while they still have a shred of interest.

07 February 2020

Make Your Own 'Elder Scroll'

This fun project produces a list of your ancestors by Ahnentafel number.

I'm amazed by your response to my April 2019 article titled "3 Things to Do with Ahnentafel Numbers". As I'm writing this, you have read that article 6,019 times. It looks as if a carved-in-stone numbering system for your ancestors has wide appeal.

You see, there is a specific, unwavering pattern for numbering your ancestors. You are #1. After you, all male ancestors have an even number, all female ancestors have an odd number. Your father is #2. Each person's father is double their number. So your father's father is double his #2, or #4. And every male ancestor's wife is his number + 1. So your mother is #3, her father is #6, and her mother (his wife) is #7.

I created an Excel spreadsheet (free to download and use) with an Ahnentafel number as a placeholder for each of your ancestors up to your 10th great grandparents. I update my copy of the spreadsheet each time I discover a new ancestor. And because of the numbering system, I know exactly where to place the new ancestor in my spreadsheet.

Today I want to create a numbered list of all my direct ancestors. I want it sorted by their Ahnentafel number, and I want it to include each person's name and birth date.

This list (a 17-page PDF file) is my Elder Scroll. I'm calling it that as a joke and a nod to the video game of the same name.

Here's how I did it.

1. Make a Custom Ahnentafel Field

I use Family Tree Maker software to build my tree. On the main Person screen, you can customize what you see in the right column. For example, you can have Birth, Death, and Marriage Facts in that column. I also placed Baptism and Immigration there. My ancestors' Italian birth records usually have their baptism date. So I need to have that field handy. And I like to see at a glance which of my ancestors came to America.

I had room for another field, so I created a custom fact called Ahnentafel. (To do this, choose to add a fact to a person, but instead of choosing a fact type from the list, click to add a custom fact.) It has only a description field (no date or place field) that will hold only the person's number. Then I clicked Customize View on the main Person view to include the Ahnentafel fact. (Be sure to see my screen captures.)

After creating a custom fact type, add it to  your main person view.
After creating a custom fact type, add it to  your main person view.

2. Apply a Filter

Family Tree Maker has a new feature I haven't used until now. You can create a custom filter to narrow down the index of individuals to only those you want to see. I created a filter to show only my direct ancestors. I gave my direct ancestors a color code in the past. That color shows in my index list, so it's easy to see who is my direct ancestor.

This filter shows only my direct ancestors, color-coded by branch.
This filter shows only my direct ancestors, color-coded by branch.

3. Fill in All Ahnentafel Numbers

With this filter in place, I can use my down arrow key to look at each person in this filtered index. As I do so, my eyes are resting on the Ahnentafel field. If it's blank, I look up the person in my grandparent chart and fill in their Ahnentafel number in Family Tree Maker.

I continue doing this until every direct ancestor has a number. But I have a twist. My paternal grandparents were 3rd cousins, so they have shared ancestors. Those "double ancestors" have 2 Ahnentafel numbers:
  • one as Grandpa's ancestor
  • one as Grandma's ancestor
I chose to write those as "64 and 80", for example. That's my 4th great grandfather—twice.

4. Create a Custom Report

Finally, I create a custom report. In Family Tree Maker, this is in Person Reports, then Custom Report. My report includes:
  • only my direct ancestors and me (292 people)
  • everyone's Ahnentafel number
  • everyone's name
  • everyone's birth date
I set the report to sort people by their Ahnentafel number.

The result is a list of all my direct ancestors, in order. I can't wait to show it to my parents. We never knew anyone's names beyond my great grandparents. Now I've identified a handful of my 7th great grandparents.

You may think of other ways to create a custom report with a different custom fact.
You may think of other ways to create a custom report with a different custom fact.

Imagine you've printed out your elder scroll. You taped the pages together end to end, and rolled them up…like a scroll. Now, imagine you bring that scroll to the next family gathering. You unfurl it and amaze your relatives. Go on, give it a try!

04 February 2020

What to Do When Your Family Tree Is Stuck

See how working around your missing ancestors can lead to useful facts.

The sad truth of genealogy research is this: Sometimes the documents you need will not be there for you. A disaster destroyed the vital records for your town. Or they were never recorded. And there were no local newspapers when your townspeople were illiterate.

I'm facing this now as I try to help a client get further back in his family tree than his living ancestors can recall. I'm also facing it for myself. I have a branch from a town with missing records. I can't go as far back as I want to.

When the documents aren't there for you, what can you do?

Imagine you want to walk down a main path in New York's Central Park. But you can't go directly from where you are (the William Shakespeare statue) to your destination (the Bethesda Fountain). The path is blocked. What can you do? You can follow some of the other paths. It's a longer route, but eventually you'll get where you want to go.

When the straight path is not possible, take advantage of other avenues.
When the straight path is not possible, take advantage of other avenues.

And that's how you can make progress in your family tree. When the documents you want are blocked, go around.

I want to learn the name of my 2nd great grandmother Maria Luigia Muollo's mother. Maria Luigia was born in about 1843. Her birth record is not available. I even sent a professional researcher to the town church, but they didn't have a lot of records. The town just shrugged it off, or so it seems.

But I have a plan to get around this blockage. I'm examining available records for everyone in town with her last name. It might help to find someone around her age who had the same father's name. It would be fantastic to find her death record. But I've discovered she was still alive in 1902 when she reported the birth of her grandchild (my grandmother's 1st cousin Vincenzo). Now I know she died during the years when no death records are available.

I'm continuing to look at everyone named Muollo in this little town. I'm piecing together their families. I'm hoping to find the connection between separate family units. It's a roundabout path, and I may get lost. But much like Central Park, I know the views will be worth it.

I found his grave before I knew who he was. Now his birth record gives me a big clue.
I found his grave before I knew who he was. Now his birth record gives me a big clue.

At the same time, I've got this client in mind. I can't seem to find records for his direct ancestors. But I'm hunting down every document for people with the right last names. One death record may be all I need to add another generation to his family tree.

Keep this in mind when you're frustrated by your brick wall. You can't seem to get through it after all your trying. But have you tried to go around it? Have you investigated what's near it? Try to fill in some of the surrounding blanks. You may get lucky after all.