05 June 2020

How to Tie Up Loose Ends in Your Family Tree

Here's how my combo of genealogy tools is tying up a long list of loose ends.

I'm ready to place almost every 19th century inhabitant of Grandpa's town into my family tree. Then it's on to each of my other ancestral hometowns.

Here's how I'm bringing all my obsessive processes together in one genealogical symphony.

Get yourself armed with knowledge and ready to find the documents you're missing.
Get yourself armed with knowledge and ready to find the documents you're missing.

Instrument 1: Vital Records

I've downloaded vast collections of Italian vital records from my ancestors' hometowns. They're arranged on my computer by province, then by town. For each town I have individual folders for:
  • each year's birth records
  • each year's death records, and
  • each year's marriage records.
This simplifies searching.

Instrument 2: File Naming

It didn't take as long as you'd think to rename each image file, adding the subject's name. This is a birth record image containing 2 facing pages: 101577262_00006.jpg. I want to keep that number because it identifies the URL of the original file online. But I want to add the names of the 2 babies shown in the image. So I renamed the file 101577262_00006 Donato Petoscello & Maria Carmela Basile.jpg.

When the last name is important in my family, I include the subject's father's name. That helps me locate the right document faster. For example, 101577262_00020.jpg became 101577262_00020 Maria Teresa Pozzuto di Francesco & Giuseppantonio Zeolla di Giovanni.jpg. The "di" is Italian for "child of" and a handy shorthand.

Instrument 3: Document Tracker

As my family tree grew, I wanted an easy way to see which documents I had and didn't have for any given person. I made a document tracker spreadsheet. It's part of my process to record each document I find in the spreadsheet.

I labelled the last column "Need to find." That's where I keep list which documents I'm missing for each person in the list. It doesn't include everyone in my tree—only those with a document I found.

Instrument 4: Everything

This PC program is my new genealogy secret weapon. (Mac users may want to try NeoFinder.) It gives me Everything I need to locate any re-named document image on my computer.

Conducting the Orchestra

My process is this:
  • Go through my document tracker, focusing on names from my grandfather's town.
  • Find people who are missing a vital record: birth, marriage, or death.
  • Search for the missing document with the Everything program.
  • If found, add the document to the family tree and mark it as complete in the document tracker.
  • If not found, mark it as "out of range" in the document tracker.
Here's an example:

Prepare for your search by gathering the necessary clues.
Prepare for your search by gathering the necessary clues.

  • Angelo Rosario Gregorio Basile was born in Colle Sannita on 1 Oct 1876. I have his birth record. He married twice. A clerk wrote the marriage dates and his wives' names on his birth record. Both marriage records (1896 and 1919) are out of the range of available records. It's his death record I want to find.
  • Experience tells me his death record will not have his full name: Angelo Rosario Gregorio Basile. I need to know which name he used. I have the 1933 marriage record for his daughter. It says her father is Angelo Basile, and he's still alive. So I need a death record for an Angelo Basile who died in 1933 or later. (The death records in the collection end in 1942.)
  • I use my new favorite program, Everything, to search for "Angelo Basile". I sort the results by the Path column so I can look only for a death record between 1933 and 1942.
  • There are 3 choices. The first one is no good because his father is Donato. I'm looking for the son of Giovannantonio.
  • The next death record, from 1940, is Angelo Basile, the son of Luigi. That's the wrong man.
  • The final death record, from 1941, is Angelo Basile, the son of Giovanni (gasp!). His mother was Maria Franza. And his 2nd wife was Angelamaria Basile. This is, in fact, the death record I needed for Angelo Rosario Gregorio Basile.
  • Now I can:
  • Then I can update Angelo in my document tracker. His final note is "out of range: marriages" because they are not available. I hope they will be in the future. If this were his last missing document, I would put "n/a" in his "Need to find" column.
This victory inspires me to continue down the list. Combining (1) renamed vital record files, (2) the Everything program, and (3) my document tracker, I'll close the book on everyone from this town. Eventually.

If you aren't as obsessive about your entire ancestral town as I am, read on.

If you decide to use a document tracker, you'll know what you have and what you're missing for everyone in your family tree. In 2019 I searched for missing census records for all the Americans in my family tree. That focus helped me close the book on many families.

Go through your people alphabetically or by document type. Search for every missing census sheet or ship manifest or draft registration card. Take the time to do another search, and you'll have several successes.

I'm obsessed with my Italian towns, so I'm focusing on one town at a time. I will document all my towns, given enough time. And that, my friends, is my symphony of genealogy tools reaching its crescendo.


  1. Once again I say, "You are amazing!" How long have you been doing genealogy? I believe you need to be obsessive to be really good at genealogy. Did you grow up speaking Italian or did you teach yourself?

    1. Thank you! My tree is growing so fast now, thanks to this method. I began in genealogy in 2002 and made up my own methods as I went. I did not grow up speaking Italian. My family pronounced their Italian words so differently that when I studied Italian in college, I realized I didn't know what my elders had been saying. I've studied Italian a number of times -- always before a trip to Italy. Viewing thousands upon thousands of Italian vital records makes them easy to understand. I recommend getting very familiar with number and month words. They're crucial.

  2. You mention "out of the range of available records". Can you specify those dates? Are they the same for all Italian records? It seems that some records are just not online and I wonder if I have to write the church. My grandmother was born in 1893 in Montefalcone del Sannio, Campobasso, Molise, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1921 and is listed as Married. Where should I look for their marriage record, her hometown or Soleto, Lecce, Puglia, where my grandfather was born? Their first child, who emigrated with my grandmother, died shortly after arriving in the U.S. and the ship's manifest lists Soleto as where she was born in 1920, and I haven't been able to locate her birth record either. These are both small towns, should I be looking in the nearest big cities, or are these dates just not available yet?

    1. Those are great questions. The "out of range" dates will vary by town, but for my Southern Italian towns, in general, there are no available marriage or death records from 1861 to about 1931, no birth records after about 1915, no records at all after 1942, and civil record keeping began in April 1809.

      Most of the time a couple will marry in the bride's town but live and raise their family in the groom's town. It makes sense that the groom is more likely to have land and a house for the couple to live in. Remember, though, that even if they marry in her town, they still have to publish their marriage banns in his town.

      The records are arranged online (on Antenati or FamilySearch) by town, so you wouldn't look at the nearest big city.

      I think the records you want are "out of range". I don't have personal experience writing to a parish for records, but if you did that, you'd have to be as specific as possible. They're not going to spend an hour trying to find your ancestor for you.

      I hired a pair of Italian researchers to help me with a dead end. They got a few church records for me. When I visited the town, I couldn't even get in the church. It's such a small hamlet, the person who had the keys wasn't home.

    2. Sometimes a person's marriage info is written in the column of their birth record. Did you find her 1893 birth record on the Antenati site? http://dl.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/v/Archivio+di+Stato+di+Campobasso/Stato+civile+italiano/Montefalcone+nel+Sannio/Nati/1893/

  3. I am going to start learning Italian number and month words, baby steps, right? Sadly, I was not raised around my father's family so Italian is Greek to me. I just started searching my father's side of the family this year and learned I am eligible for dual citizenship. I would have started this journey years ago had I known this, but I have added it to my bucket list nonetheless. I have learned a lot from reading your posts and want to thank you for sharing your knowledge!

  4. Thank you for the gold mine of information, it is so helpful! I am going to look again for my grandmother's birth record and perhaps find her marriage info with the link you provided. If I don't find it I will look into contacting the church. I have a cousin that married an Italian that I met once (they live in another state), I will ask for her help in writing the letter. Thank you again! Lisa Toma Music

  5. Well well well, the link you provided took me straight to my grandmother's birth record and lo and behold her marriage info was handwritten on the document as well!! Jackpot!! Thank you so much!! :)

    1. Awesome!!! I love it when the marriage is in the column. For many, many ancestors, that's the only way to find out who they married and when.

  6. This is amazing - I don't know why I never thought to download the images! I'm glad I found someone just as obsessive as I am about this!
    I'm starting with my first town, downloading stuff on Ancestry. I had a question about how you name your files - the older records, pre-1875, are hand-written and don't follow the same template as the later ones, so a lot of times records span two images. How do you handle that when you're naming the files?

    1. Hi, Jill. It's a wonderful obsession. I name the 1st page of a marriage record with the couples' names, like ConsolazioBeniaminoAufieroPetronillaMarriage1844.jpg. The 2nd page gets "-p2" after the year. In many cases there are additional pages to which I add -p3 and -p4.