28 August 2020

Here's Your Family Tree Progress Report

The world is a chaotic mess, so let's focus on something positive. How's your family tree coming along? How's your progress report looking?

Well, how can we measure our progress in piecing together the names that make us who we are?

I've been measuring my progress by keeping my grandparent chart up to date. I've had a lot of success finding more 6th great grandparents lately. I've focused hard on searching for their names. Each time I find one, I open my grandparent chart. I figure out their Ahnentafel number and add the new name in the proper place.

It's a manual process, for sure. Sometimes I'll count the blank spaces and note how many names are missing for a generation.

Today I found a fast and accurate way to see which ancestors I have and how many I'm missing. Never underestimate the power of Family Tree Analyzer. It's a free program I've written about several times, and it has a ton of useful features.

Family Tree Analyzer gives you an instant progress report.
Family Tree Analyzer gives you an instant progress report.

First you need to export a new GEDCOM file from your family tree software or website. (A GEDCOM is a text file with all the facts in your family tree.) Open your GEDCOM with Family Tree Analyzer. (I just found out you can drag and drop your file onto the program window!) Then go to Reports on the top menu bar and choose How Many Directs Report. The report opens a table showing how many people you've found in each generation.

I have a total of 343 directs named in my family tree. I've got myself and my 2 sons, 2 parents, 4 grandparents, and on and on. My report goes all the way up to 2 pairs of 9th great grandparents. At first I thought something was wrong with the count of 4th great grandparents. I know I'm missing 9 of the possible 64, but this report showed 11 missing. Then I remembered my paternal grandparents were 3rd cousins. I've got repeat ancestors!

As you view your report, keep these totals in mind. Here's how many ancestors everyone has:

  • 4 grandparents
  • 8 great grandparents
  • 16 2nd great grandparents (I've found them all)
  • 32 3rd great grandparents (I've found 31)
  • 64 4th great grandparents (I've found 53)
  • 128 5th great grandparents (I've found 84)
  • 256 6th great grandparents (I've found 100)
  • 512 7th great grandparents (I've found 31)
  • 1024 8th great grandparents (I've found 7)
  • 2048 9th great grandparents (I've found 4)
  • 4096 10th great grandparents

The number of ancestors doubles each generation, and it really adds up! Click any line in the report to see a new chart with details about each person in that category. For example, I clicked the 6th great grandmother line. That showed me the names of the 50 6th great grandmothers I've identified. FIFTY!

In my case, it's easy to see which ancestral hometown is dominant in my ancestry.
In my case, it's easy to see which ancestral hometown is dominant in my ancestry.

I can see these women were born between about 1690 and the mid 1700s. That's way before the available vital records from Italy. I found their names in the marriage or death records of their children or grandchildren.

Sometimes there's no proof of an early ancestor's town of birth. I mark them as Italy. I'm sure of that. But once I get down to my 5th great grandparents, I can find proof. I know some were born in:

  • Apice
  • Baselice
  • Circello
  • Colle Sannita
  • Pescolamazza
  • Sant'Angelo a Cupolo, and
  • Santa Paolina.

Click the BirthLocation column in your Family Tree Analyzer report to sort the list. You'll see how many ancestors came from the same town. In an earlier article I counted my ancestors by town and found that a third of my ancestry comes from one town. This report makes that so easy to see.

Each time I find another direct ancestor, they go right into my grandparent chart with their Ahnentafel number.
Each time I find another direct ancestor, they go right into my grandparent chart with their Ahnentafel number.

Your progress report can help focus your attention on a particular branch. I have a roadblock on half of my blue branch (my maternal grandmother). Apart from that, I want to press on finding those 5th and 6th great grandparents.

But first, I'll finish clearing out my genealogy closet. When you focus on one project, you can make tremendous progress.

25 August 2020

Organize Your Genealogy Closet: A Challenge

I have a folder on my computer called "gen docs." When I find something that may belong in my family tree, but I'm short on time, I toss it in gen docs. The folder got so full, I added a sub-folders to categorize it all.

I always mean to go back and deal with these document images and photos. But it never happens.

That's why I'm issuing this genealogy clean-up challenge to me and to you. This week, make it a priority to deal with your own miscellaneous stash of genealogy items. They may be on your computer, in a physical file drawer, or in that Ancestry.com dustbin called the Shoebox.

Think of it like cleaning out your closet. You might sort your clothes items into:

  • Trash
  • Donate/Sell
  • Keep

It's simpler for genealogy items. They're going to be either:

  • Delete immediately or
  • Place in family tree immediately

Last week I discovered I'd duplicated part of my gen docs folder by mistake. I found a smaller version of the folder in another part of my computer. Some of the items were duplicates, and others weren't.

It's time to straighten this out!

I randomly jumped in by opening a folder called passport applications. I found a 2-page document I'd labelled as no_relation_PillaMichele1922-p1.jpg and -p2.jpg. I thought maybe now I know whether or not he's a relative.

Page 1 of the application showed me Michele's exact birth date and town. So I checked my family tree. Surprise! Michele is my 4th cousin twice removed. And his passport application is already in my family tree, along with 12 other documents. Michele was born in my grandfather's hometown in Italy and came to live in the Bronx, New York. He left quite a paper trail.

I can delete the entire passport applications folder from my gen docs collection.

I'm horrified that I never added these treasures to my family tree. Now's the time.
I'm horrified that I never added these treasures to my family tree. Now's the time.

Next I opened a census folder and found a sub-folder called "don't remember why." You know that isn't good. It means that when I categorized it all into sub-folders, I already didn't know why I had saved something.

One turned out to be a 1930 census that included my childhood dentist as a little boy. Why?? I hated that guy. He traumatized me for decades. That gets destroyed right now. The other mystery census is for an Italian family in western New York state. Their last name is vaguely familiar, but it isn't in my big family tree at all. Now it's trash.

There was another sub-folder called "Oliveri clues." The folder held a 1930 and 1940 census for a couple who may be the parents of my grandfather's cousin Lina's husband, Vincenzo Oliveri.

Sometime after I saved these files, I created an in-law rule for my family tree. I do not fully document the family of a distant in-law like this. I am interested in documenting cousin Lina's husband, Vincenzo Oliveri. But I won't go beyond his parents. And I won't do very much work on his parents.

I learned his parents' names from Vincenzo and Lina's 1919 marriage certificate. On closer inspection, these are 2 different families in 1930 and 1940. And it's unlikely they'd live in Brooklyn when their son lives in the Bronx.

Because of my in-law rule and the uncertainty, these saved documents are trash.

This is a one-of-a-kind document that was lost on my computer.
This is a one-of-a-kind document that was lost on my computer.

I'm continuing to examine saved documents and make judgment calls. My family tree has developed a lot since I saved many of these documents. My collection of Italian vital records has improved, too. I made them searchable by renaming each document image to include the name of the person in the document. That's helping me rule these gen docs in or out.

The point is to deal with these saved items right now. No more waiting. No more leaving them sitting there so long that you have no idea why you saved them.

I challenge you to spend a genealogy session or two dealing with your saved items. Take another look at the documents you stashed somewhere. If they belong in the "Place in family tree immediately" pile, do so! If they belong in the "Delete immediately" pile, then free up that space right away.

Past You definitely thought there was a reason to keep these things. Present You needs to follow through. You may find some gems in your genealogy closet.

21 August 2020

Don't Miss Out on Your Ancestors' Culture

We've all met them. The guy who spent an hour on Geni.com and claimed to be a descendant of Eric the Red. The woman who clicked into one family tree and boom! She brought her family back to the time of the Roman Forum.

If you expect it to be that quick and easy to build your family tree, you may have been mislead by TV commercials. And if a foreign language and detective work make you give up, you're missing out!

Take the time to get familiar with your ancestors' genealogy documents. You'll find cultural gems hiding between the lines. There are tools to help you with that foreign language. You will get better with practice. And along the way, you'll be learning about your ancestors' culture.

As a kid, I learned about 1940s American culture from Bugs Bunny cartoons. I learned lots of weird British phrases from Monty Python's Flying Circus. I was there for the comedy, but I was learning much more.

Now genealogy research is teaching me about my ancestors' Italian culture centuries ago.

In 2008, when I began reading Italian vital records from the 1800s, it was all new to me. I had to learn the Italian words for the months and all the numbers. The documents spell out the years and days. They don't say June 15, 1868; they say mille ottocento sessantotto, quindici di giugno.

I had to learn a handful of Italian words to get started: born and died, husband and wife, marriage, deceased, and so on.

Once I mastered those foreign words, I began to notice how they recorded some events. Like the abandoned babies. Only the midwife knew who the mother was, and the mayor could give the baby a made-up name. Sometimes a mother left her baby on someone's doorstep. It's like something out of an old movie.

My 5th great grandfather found a naked baby on his doorstep. The mayor named her Maria Giuseppa.
My 5th great grandfather found a naked baby on his doorstep. The mayor named her Maria Giuseppa.

Then I learned it was perfectly normal to remarry 2 months after your first spouse died. A widower, like my 2nd great grandfather Nicoladomenico, might marry a much younger woman and keep having children. Nicoladomenico's 2nd wife, my 2nd great grandmother, was his daughter's age. Perfectly normal.

I learned that each marriage required the presentation of certain documents:

  • the bride and groom's birth records
  • the 2 times they publicly posted their intention to marry, with no objections
  • the death records for any of their deceased parents
  • the death records for their grandfathers, if their fathers were dead

That last part—the death records of their grandfathers—is the only way to find a record of a death before 1809 when church records are not available. (1809 is when they began keeping civil records in this part of Italy.) This past week I've been taking advantage of that practice.

I needed to find the death record of my 5th great grandfather, Gioacchino Tricarico. There was no other way to learn his parents' names. I knew he died before 1809 because there was no death record for him in the civil records.

To find his death record, I needed to find a marriage record for his grandchild. But the grandchild needed to marry after their father (Gioacchino's son) had died. I searched their town's civil records to learn the names of all his grandchildren. Then I searched the marriage indexes year by year, until I found a granddaughter who married in 1855.

The Italian tradition was for the bride's (or groom's) parents to give permission for his child to marry. If their father was dead, the grandfather could give permission.

There needed to be a reason for the missing permissions. So they included the death records of the bride or groom's father and grandfather.

This may be the single best thing about Italian marriage records. In the 1855 marriage records, I found the 1808 death record of my 5th great grandfather. I learned the names of his parents, my 6th great grandparents: Tommaso Tricarico and Orsola Antonelli.

Knowing how my ancestral hometowns kept their records helps me make unusual discoveries.
Knowing how my ancestral hometowns kept their records helps me make unusual discoveries.

I've also learned from studying these documents that:

  • A bride and groom often lived in the same neighborhood. There's a good chance their families owned adjacent land, and their marriage was an alliance for the strength of both families. That stood out even more when I saw the matchy-matchy pairings of children with similar names. Francesco married Francesca. Giovanni married Giovanna. It happened too often to be a coincidence. I guess it was better than flipping a coin. And who even had a coin?
  • When a bride and groom came from different towns, they had to publicly post their intention to marry in both towns. They often married in the bride's town and lived in the groom's town. The groom was more likely to have a house or land in his town.

There are always exceptions to the rules. My 2nd great grandparents bucked the rules. Antonio from Sant'Angelo a Cupolo moved to Colomba's town when they married. I've been studying documents from her town of Santa Paolina. It seems her family was better educated, had better professions, and owned vineyards. It must have made more sense for Antonio to move to Colomba's town.

But this family kept rewriting the rules. Two of Colomba's brothers moved to the next town, Tufo. Tufo is famous for its vineyards to this day. My 2nd great grandparents followed the brothers to Tufo after their 1st baby died. They lived there long enough to have 2 sons. When one son died, the family of 3 moved back to Antonio's hometown. After having a few more kids, Antonio became my 1st ancestor to come to America.

As I went back further, I found that Colomba's mother came from another town called Apice. Colomba's parents married in Apice, but lived in Santa Paolina. This bolsters my idea that Colomba's family was more well-off than others.

So what's your rush? Do you really want a family tree that someone else put together? Someone who may have done a careless job? Or do you want to appreciate your ancestry? Do you want to know how they made a living, and why they emigrated? Do you want to try to understand their sorrow when child after child died in infancy?

Don't rush through your family tree building. Learn, experience, and savor the day-to-day culture of your ancestors. It's the history of you.

18 August 2020

Improving on the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer

I'm not a fan of colorization. As a college film student, I learned to appreciate the clarity and beauty of black and white images. When Turner Classic Movies began colorizing old movies, I was horrified.

Now MyHeritage.com has an amazing Photo Enhancer. You may have seen other genealogy fans sharing their results. I still bristled at the colorization, but some of their results looked very realistic.

I decided to give the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer a try. Note that I do not have a paid account with MyHeritage. You can do this with a free account.

What struck me right away was the mind-blowing clarity. I've been a Photoshop user since before it was Photoshop. (Does anyone remember Aldus PhotoStyler?) Photoshop has sharpening tools that work well. But I can't come close to the magic that MyHeritage has harnessed.

I was ready to embrace colorization to gain that sharpness—if I could get good color results. What I'm finding is that the tool overdoes the color. It's too saturated and un-lifelike. But I can fix that in Photoshop.

Because I need Photoshop for my work, I pay a $10.80/month subscription fee. You can go to the CNET website to search for low- or no-cost photo editing tools.

MyHeritage Photo Enhancer sharpened and colorized my grandfather's photo; I edited the color.
MyHeritage Photo Enhancer sharpened and colorized my grandfather's photo; I edited the color.

I have this World War I-era photograph of my grandfather and his buddies. I ran it through the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer and got tremendous clarity. But the men's faces were too orange and their gray uniforms looked purple.

I used Photoshop's Color Balance and Hue/Saturation tools to adjust the photograph. I wanted the uniforms to look gray and the faces lifelike.

Always work from a copy of the colorized photo so you can compare the before and after.

The MyHeritage tool brought this photo to life! I took the redness out of great grandmom's face.
The MyHeritage tool brought this photo to life! I took the redness out of great grandmom's face.

There's also a powerful Healing Brush tool in Photoshop. I've had great luck using it to remove scratches, creases, stains, and tears in old photos. It makes decisions about what should be in that spot by looking at what's nearby. I restored a whole section of wallpaper in a photo of my grandfather with the Healing Brush.

Whether you use Photoshop or another program, these free Photoshop tutorials can teach and inspire you. Wouldn't you love to fix those one-of-a-kind, precious family portraits?

14 August 2020

Get into a Groove to Fortify Your Family Tree

We each have the ability to be thorough, organized genealogists. But we don't always have the time.

I'm going to show you my multi-step process (accent on the multi). I follow this routine for each document image I add to my family tree.

First, let me explain what prompted me to write about how I get my genealogy groove on.

I found 4 notes in my genealogy task list that I wrote a long time ago. These notes list details about birth records I need to add to my family tree. The notes include the person's name, birth date and place, and the URL of the document image.

When I compared the notes to my tree, I realized I had added the facts to each person, but not the birth record images. I must have been in a hurry that day.

Now that I'm looking at those notes again, it's time to complete each task and delete those notes from my task list. Here's what I need to do for each one (deep breath):

  1. Go to the birth record stored on my computer. I have tons of Italian vital records downloaded from the Antenati website. I file them in nesting folders by province, town, and year/type of record.

    When you add to your task list, be specific so you can complete the task.
    When you add to your task list, be specific so you can complete the task.
  2. Crop the image and boost its contrast in Photoshop if needed. Export the cropped image to my "working" folder. This makes my in-progress images easy to find.

  3. Edit the properties of the image file to include a title and comments. The title might be "1835 birth record for [Full Name]". The comments might be: "From the Benevento State Archives: [full URL of original image]". These facts stay with the image and get pulled into my family tree program.

    Adding information to the image itself helps in your tree and when you share the file.
    Adding information to the image itself helps in your tree and when you share the file.
  4. Attach the image to the right person in Family Tree Maker and make it their profile image. (I don't have photos of my ancestors beyond most of my great grandparents.)

  5. Edit its properties to include the date on the document. Note: I don't put the date in the file's properties because it doesn't carry over into my software.

    Not only do the image's facts get pulled into your tree, you can use them to create a source citation.
    Not only do the image's facts get pulled into your tree, you can use them to create a source citation.
  6. Select a document category. (I save birth, marriage, and death records as "Vital Records".) This may be a Family Tree Maker thing only.

  7. Add each fact provided by the document to the person. That may include their full name, birth date, baptism date, place of birth, etc.

  8. Add a source citation to each of these facts. The URL I attached to the image is critical to the source citation.

  9. Add mention of this document to my Document tracker. I add a line to my spreadsheet for this person, if they aren't already in there. If I have an 1835 birth record image, I'll add this to the Birth column: "1835 (cert.)". The "(cert.)" tells me I have an image of the certificate. It isn't a fact pulled from somewhere else. It's the actual birth certificate.

  10. Move the image from my "working" folder to my "certificates" folder. It sits there until I do my weekly computer backup. After the Sunday morning backup, I move it to the right sub-folder of "certificates". I have so many certificates that I break them up into alphabetical groups.

OK, now I see why I didn't have time to do this when I found the records.

Despite all the steps, I'm happy to do each one. I know that when I'm done, I'm completely done, with no loose ends dangling. It's all a matter of getting into a groove, making each step a part of your routine, and enjoying the results.

Pressed for time? You can either:

  • Leave yourself a detailed note in your task list, or
  • Get that document as far as your "working" folder (step 2 or 3) and come back to it later.

Think of yourself as a genealogy manufacturing production line. You are cranking out a piece of perfection.

11 August 2020

Keep Track of Your Genealogy Theories and Tasks

I like to work from text-file task lists. I started doing this in my corporate job so I can easily re-prioritize my to-do list. If a task has a deadline, its line begins with the due date: AUG 11, AUG 25, etc. I keep those items in order so I never miss the deadlines.

This blog is about using business sensibilities and efficiencies in your genealogy research. So it makes perfect sense to use the task list idea in your family tree work.

There's no need for special software, although many of you may use Evernote or OneNote. You only need a text editor, like Notepad on a Windows computer or TextEdit on a Mac. I use Notepad++ because I can have a bunch of files open at once and include some HTML code when I need to.

Use your task list to keep track of:

  • Where you left off with a search for an ancestor.
  • Your theory about a particular ancestor and where you might find them.
  • A problem you're trying to solve, like an unreadable last name or conflicting birth dates.
  • Your progress on any of your annual genealogy goals.
  • Links to online pages that may be helpful to you, and a note about why.
  • Reference books you want to find or buy.

For each line item, it may help you to type last names in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Once you have several entries, you can organize them by type, or by branch of your family tree.

Keep a running, constantly updated list of what you're working on in your genealogy research.
Keep a running, constantly updated list of what you're working on in your genealogy research.

Here's an example. I found an unusual 1809 death record for my 5th great grandfather, Vincenzo Liguori. I found it in the 1840 marriage documents of his grandson, my 3rd great grandfather. The problem is:

  • The document doesn't actually say he died in their hometown of Circello
  • It doesn't mention his parents or wife…only his son, my 4th great grandfather
  • It isn't included in the 1809 death records.

I need to find another version of the document in another set of marriage records. I'm missing the names of Vincenzo's grandchildren born before 1809. (Civil record keeping began in 1809 in my part of Southern Italy.) I need to search marriage records for anyone with the name Liguori.

I added this line to my task list:

  • Did Gregorio LIGUORI [Vincenzo's son] & Apollonia Grazia Caruso have a child before 1809? Search Circello marriages starting in 1825 for other Liguori children. (I'm up to 1841.)

The end of that line item tells me where I left off. That's critical to your task list.

Here's another example. My 5th great grandmother Francesca d'Andrea is a dead end. I don't know when she died or who her parents were. I think she came from Pesco Sannita because I see the name d'Andrea on lots of documents from that town. I started looking for people who might be her siblings.

I added this line to my task list:

  • Francesca d'ANDREA's parents may be Giuseppe and Rosa Salamone or Antonio and Vincenza Orlando. That's based on other d'Andrea death records. Search for supporting marriage documents. (Not started.)

Finally, I've been working on a branch of my family tree with the last name Consolazio from Santa Paolina. My closest Consolazio relative is my 2nd great grandmother. I've been renaming the town's vital records files to include the names on the documents. Then I'm trying to fit all the people named Consolazio into my family tree.

I added this to the task list:

  • I'm up to 1828 births reviewing CONSOLAZIO records.

Keep your task list open each time you sit down to work on your family tree. Consult it often. When you finish a task, add a note to the right person in your family tree, explaining how you learned this fact.

The notes in your task list are great reminders of what you've already done to solve a problem. Re-reading these notes may trigger that "aha!" moment and help you finally solve that puzzle.

07 August 2020

Solving 2 Problems to Find My 6th Great Grandparents

Don't stop your research too soon if the documents aren't crystal clear.

My last article convinced me to make a pair of 5th great grandparents my #1 genealogy priority. I needed to find their Italian death records so I could learn the names of 4 more of my 6th great grandparents.

As I began my search, I realized I had already located what might be both their death records in 1816.

The problem was, neither death certificate mentions the deceased's spouse. I needed to prove I had the right death records. He, 80-year-old Saverio Zullo, had a very common last name in their little town. She, 63-year-old Angela Montenigro, had a very uncommon last name. The town's vital records show there may have been only one Montenigro family in town when she was born. (Their age difference may mean Saverio had kids with his 1st wife.)

Before I set out to prove these were the right documents, I had another problem. The clerk in town at the time had awful handwriting. I cannot read the last names of my newfound 6th great grandmothers!

I kept track of my steps as I solved these 2 problems.

It isn't time to rejoice yet. These documents aren't definitively my 5th great grandparents.
It isn't time to rejoice yet. These documents aren't definitively my 5th great grandparents.

Problem #1: Prove the 1816 Death Records Are for My Ancestors

Here is everything I did to determine if I had the right death records:

I searched the town's marriage records before and after 1816, looking for my 5th great grandparents' children.

  • In 1814, their son Saverio married, and his parents were still alive.
  • In 1815, their daughter Berardina married, and her parents were still alive.
  • In 1817, their son Carlo married, and his parents were dead!

Hurray! Only a genealogist is this happy to see that someone's parents have died.

The marriage records suggest Saverio and Angela died between 1815 and 1817. That supports the two 1816 death records as belonging to my 5th great grandparents.

There may be more proof, though. I searched more marriage records, hoping for a rewritten version of their death records. So far, I've gotten up to 1835 in this search. The supporting marriage documents for these years are mostly missing. But eventually I should find more complete marriage records for their grandchildren. Those records may include a rewritten version of Saverio Zullo's death record.

In the meantime, I was anxious about the other problem with the 1816 death records. What did those documents say?

I used several methods to figure out the bad handwriting in my 5th great grandparents' death records.
I used several methods to figure out the bad handwriting in my 5th great grandparents' death records.

Problem #2: Figure Out My 6th Great Grandmothers' Last Names

Figuring out the last names of Saverio and Angela's mothers took a lot more work. Here's what I did:

  • I took my best guess on each letter in the last names. I compared the writing to the other words in the document, and in other documents written by the same clerk. It was clear that neither name had any ascending letters (b, d, f, t, etc.) or descending letters (also f, g, p, etc.). That helped me rule out many possible names.
  • I wrote down the possible letter combinations. I'm familiar with the common last names in this town from having examined so many vital records. These were not common names from the town.
  • I checked a few resources for the name variations I'd written down.
    • For Italian descendants, the Cognomix website shows where to find a last name in Italy today.
    • You can also search for a name on the Italian White Pages website.
    • I checked my digital copy of a book exploring the origins and variations of Italian last names. (Search online for name origins in your ancestral country.)
    • You can search for a last name on FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com to see where people with that name come from.
  • I searched the town's records again for more documents with the 2 mysterious last names. I compared these to my original document. The clerks wrote the names a bit differently each time.
  • I searched for, and found, a sibling for my 5th great grandmother Angela Montenigro. This document gives me another look at my 6th great grandmother Berardina's last name.
  • The 1816 death records are missing an index. But the index for the year Angela's sister died gives me another look at Berardina's last name.

I took all these steps before making a decision. The evidence shows Saverio Zullo's mother, my 6th great grandmother, was Livia Carosa.

Angela Montenigro's mother, my other 6th great grandmother, was Berardina (sometimes Berarda):

  • Lavorana,
  • Laverono, or
  • Lavorino

It's still not clear which version is correct. But I did narrow it down. I'll continue to search for every Montenigro in town, and anyone with a last name that looks like Lavorana, Laverono, or Lavorino. For now, I'll choose which variation to use and add my 4 new 6th great grandparents to my family tree.

Soon I'll move on to my #2 genealogy priority. That is to find my 8 missing 6th great grandparents from the town of Circello, Italy. I'm so thankful for the Italian Antenati website and all the vital records!

Don't give up when a sloppy, indefinite document is all you have. There are so many tools you can use.

04 August 2020

How to Decide Where to Put Your Research Effort

With so many juicy genealogy leads, what should be my priority? If I never had to work, or cook or clean or eat or sleep, I wouldn't need to make this decision.

A few distant relatives have been writing to me from different branches of my family tree. When that happens, I shift gears and work on their branch until I come to a conclusion.

Because of these shiny genealogy objects, I've been bouncing around from:

  • Most of Dad's side, working my way through an amazing reference book about their hometown.
  • My paternal grandmother's maternal side, connecting myself to a cousin in Western Australia.
  • My maternal grandmother's maternal grandmother's side (that's my 2nd great grandmother), collaborating with a distant cousin from that town.

All this bouncing around made me wonder—am I putting my effort in the right places? I've done an enormous amount of work on some of my 7 ancestral hometowns. Should I be working on different towns?

Let's turn this into a game of percentages and let the numbers point us in the right direction.

My family origins are pretty homogeneous. My 8 great grandparents came from 4 neighboring towns in Italy. Once you get to my 3rd great grandparents, a few more towns enter the mix.

Let your ancestors help you set your genealogy research priorities.
Let your ancestors help you set your genealogy research priorities.

We each have 32 3rd great grandparents. Looking only at them in my family tree, I can see how many of the 32 came from each of my 7 ancestral hometowns. I can divide that number by 32 for a percentage of my genetic makeup. Here are my 7 towns, ranked by percentage of my 3rd great grandparents:

  • 11 come from Colle Sannita: 34.34%
  • 8 come from Baselice: 25%
  • 6 come from Sant'Angelo a Cupolo: 18.75%
  • 4 come from Pesco Sannita: 12.5%
  • 1 comes from Apice: 3.125%
  • 1 comes from Circello: 3.125%
  • 1 comes from Santa Paolina: 3.125%

The bottom 3 towns are a small percentage of my origin, but they could be easy to tackle.

In Apice, for example, I've identified half of my 8 6th great grandparents. All were born in the early 1700s. I may find their death records included in their descendants' marriage records. Those documents should tell me their parents' names.

You may still need to build your tree wide to find those missing ancestors.
You may still need to build your tree wide to find those missing ancestors.

Completing Apice wouldn't yield a big percentage of my ancestry. But it should be a reasonably quick task. The same is true for Santa Paolina and Circello. There are lots of vital records available for these 3 towns.

At the other end of the spectrum is Colle Sannita, which makes up more than a third of my family tree. More than a third of me! Next comes beautiful Baselice, which is a quarter of me. And I happen to look just like my great grandmother from Baselice.

The percentages justify the insane amount of time I spend on my Colle Sannita ancestors. It's not only the birthplace of my maiden name; it's very much in my bones.

Then again, when faced with a large task, I always chip off the easy parts first. It's my mental trick to keep me going. When I'm shoveling snow in our driveway, I never commit to doing the whole job in one session. I bargain with myself. I say, "I'll just make a path for one car." And when that's done, and I'm still feeling fine, I say, "I'll just widen that path and clean up the edges."

One bit at a time, I trick myself into doing the whole job. But I never made a commitment. So this bargaining side of me wants to pick off the bottom 3 towns in my list first. I need to find:

  • 4 6th great grandparents from Apice.
  • 8 6th great grandparents from Circello.
  • No 6th great grandparents from Santa Paolina, but 10 missing 7th great grandparents.

I need to tackle those. Looking at my 12.5% town of Pesco Sannita, I need 12 of my 16 6th great grandparents. I haven't spent a lot of time on this town. I'll bet those names are waiting for me.

My next highest town (Sant'Angelo a Cupolo) doesn't have records available before 1861. I don't expect to go back any farther than I have. As for Baselice, that was my "gateway" genealogy town. I spent 5 years viewing the 1809–1860 vital records on microfilm and piecing together families. While there are ton more recent vital records available to me now, I don't think I can go any higher in my family tree; just wider.

There. I've found my priorities, in this order:

  1. Find the 4 missing 6th great grandparents from Apice.
  2. Find the 8 missing 6th great grandparents from Circello.
  3. Search my Santa Paolina records to complete that set of 7th great grandparents. (I've been renaming my collection of vital records to include the name of the person in the document. Game-changer!)
  4. Find the 12 missing 6th great grandparents from Pesco Sannita.
  5. Return to my Colle Sannita book that details the 560 families living there in 1742.

You may set your priorities in a different way. I'll bet you thought I'd go for the highest percentage town first. You didn't know how much I love doing the easy stuff first.

I feel great about this plan. Instead of trying to split my time among the towns, I have specific goals.

You may have hometowns that are almost impossible to research. That will influence your plans. Those towns may call out to you most strongly, but don't let them stop the rest of your progress. So…what are your percentages?