17 March 2020

Taking the Time to Take Care of Our Own

With so many family tree projects to tackle, a combo plan may work best.

While I'm in isolation, I'm turning my attention to my closer relatives. Sure, they lived in Italy in the 1800s. But those are the souls I live with day in and day out.

In past articles I've written about dozens of projects to clean up, beef up, and improve your family tree. Some of my favorite ongoing projects are:
There can never be enough hours in the day for me to complete these tasks. At least, not until I give up my corporate job.

But this past weekend I had a revelation. I was going line-by-line through my spreadsheet of vital records from my ancestral town of Colle Sannita. I was up to 1812 birth records. For each new baby, I check my family tree to see if I have the parents already. If I do, I add the baby, its facts, and the birth record. Of course I give it a source citation in my newly adopted style. I also add the baby to my document tracker. And I make the whole line green in the vital records spreadsheet. Green tells me this document is in my tree.

I can juggle all my family tree projects while working only on close relatives.
I can juggle all my family tree projects while working only on close relatives.

I was adding lots of babies. In some cases, I already had the baby, but not the birth record. And in some of those cases, I knew who they married and when. But I hadn't added the document to my tree yet.

When I found people missing documents, I finished them off. This took quite a bit longer, but it was worth the time to do it right.

And that's when I had my revelation. With limited time, wouldn't it be better to focus on my closer relatives and take a holistic approach? I can combine many of my different projects in one, starting with my great aunts and uncles.

You see, when my source citations broke, I developed a better way of handling them. Then I decided to fix the citations for my direct ancestors first. I have about 290 (n) great grandparents (n=1st through 9th). So I did that. I enhanced the source citations for my direct ancestors.

Now I want to move on from there. I knew exactly where I wanted to focus first: my Grandpa Leone's relatives. Why him? Because his relatives come from the town of Baselice. I documented that entire town by viewing vital records on microfilm. For 5 years I visited a Family History Center. I looked at each record, typing my own shorthand into a text file on my laptop.

Since the source of all those facts was one of several rolls of microfilm, I have tons of citations that are useless now. You can't get the microfilm anymore. But all those documents and more are accessible on the Italian Antenati website.

So my holistic approach goes like this.

I began with my grandfather's 4 siblings. For each one I:
  • Fixed their source citations. I deleted the old microfilm sources and created new ones based on the Antenati URL of their vital record.
  • Added missing documents. If I knew when and whom they married, but I hadn't added the documents, I added the documents.
  • Renamed each document image I looked at until I found the one I needed. When I rename the file, I keep its identification number and add the name of the person in the document.
  • Fixed the citations of their spouses and children. I have cases where a man's occupation fact comes from the birth record of his child. So, to cite my source for his job, I had to go to the child and cite my source for their birth. Then I copied that citation and pasted it to the dad's occupation.
  • Made the spreadsheet line green if I added a birth record that was in my town spreadsheet.
  • For any new documents, I added a notation in my document tracker spreadsheet. For many of the people I work on this way, I get to put an n/a in the "Need to find" column. That feels great.
Soon I began climbing the Leone family tree. I had done my great grandfather's wife and children and then his siblings. Then it was time to move on to his father. My 2nd great grandfather had lots of siblings and half-siblings. I was creating a source citation for the birth of his half brother Giovanni Leone. I noticed that I had him marked as having died in another town in 1864. I'm not sure where that fact came from, but I didn't have his death record.

I checked the Antenati website for 1864 death records for the town of Aversa. That's more than a 2-hour car ride from Giovanni's hometown of Baselice. Imagine how long a trip it was before cars and highways. Why was he there? I knew the date of his death, so it was easy to find the actual death record. I saw the word celibe after his name, so I knew my half 3rd great uncle Giovanni Leone had never married. He was 51 years old with no occupation. Most of the Italian death records I've seen say the person died in his own house, or in his father's house. This one says he died in the Reale Stabilimento dei Matti. I needed my Italian friend to confirm what I thought. And it does mean what I'd feared. Giovanni died in the insane asylum in the city of Aversa.

The fate of my half 3rd great uncle Giovanni Leone was a shocker.
The fate of my half 3rd great uncle Giovanni Leone was a shocker.

With a bit of research I learned this establishment used caring, humane methods. There was no harsh treatment of the inmates. Maybe Giovanni's family sent him that far away because it was the kindest thing they could do for him.

Poor Giovanni's fate is a silver lining to this holistic approach. By sticking to closer relatives and tying up loose ends, I made this sad discovery. Instead of wondering why Giovanni left town and never married, I now know exactly why.

In the end, this approach means I'll make slower progress on my individual projects. But I'll make deeper, more complete, and more meaningful progress on my blood relatives.

How can you combine your family tree projects into more fulfilling genealogy research sessions?

1 comment:

  1. Now that I am at home instead of the office I was thinking I would watch some Genealogy programs from the Roots Tech conference and the 24 hour Legacy website genealogy marathon and work on my tree. I recently moved which was a huge project. On Ancestry I add the URL to the record in the Antenanti so I can reference the document from the person's facts. This URL does not download to the Family Tree Maker software but it is an easy way to reference the document.