30 October 2020

3 Principles for Building and Sharing Your Family Tree

Where do you build your tree? On your computer? On a website? Both? Please tell me it isn't on paper only.

I believe I lucked into the best situation. My husband gave me the Family Tree Maker computer software program for my birthday in 2002. When my tree was small, I'd duplicate my work on Ancestry.com, adding people and attaching documents. It was a tedious process, and my online tree was never fully up to date. But I wanted people to be able to find it.

Years later Ancestry wised up. They made it so you could synchronize your Family Tree Maker tree with your online tree. (They owned the FTM program at that time.)

Then I came to realize these 3 principles for building and sharing your family tree.

Principle #1: Share Your Family Tree

If you share your work, think of all the distant cousins you may help.
If you share your work, think of all the distant cousins you may help.

For years I've been able to build my desktop tree and sync it with the tree I display on Ancestry.com.

My enormous online tree is what my DNA matches see. It's how distantly related strangers find their ancestors in my tree. Having a good online tree is critical to connecting with relatives and learning more about your ancestors.

There's a man whose family comes from the same small Italian town as my 2nd great grandmother. Because he found my tree online, he wrote to me. He continues to send me links to documents for people in my tree. Together we're building the families of Santa Paolina, and looking for our own relationship.

If you don't put your research online, you won't have these unexpected collaborations.

Principle #2: Control Your Family Tree

If you let anyone edit your family tree research, much of your work may be wasted.
If you let anyone edit your family tree research, much of your work may be wasted.

I built a small tree on Ancestry for my friend once. At first I liked the experience. It was easy to add people and link to their documents as sources.

Then things got a bit screwy. I've seen this on other people's trees, and now I know isn't their fault. It's all too easy for a person to become duplicated. Then you have multiple lines connecting husbands and wives. Maybe one child belongs to one man and the other kids belong to the duplicate man.

I'm embarrassed by that tree. It looks as if I made a newbie mistake.

That's why I love the extraordinary control I have over my family tree in my desktop software. I can, for example, change an address in one place and see the change everywhere I've used it. This happened with a street name in my grandfather's town. In old documents, the street name looks like Costapagliaia. That's fun to say. It ends in ya-ya.

But a distant cousin from the town told me I had the second-to-last letter wrong. It's Costapagliara. And I confirmed that spelling in a book I bought about the town.

Thankfully, in Family Tree Maker, I can change the spelling in one place, and the correction reaches every usage. On Ancestry, each use of the address is stored separately.

I need complete control of my own family tree. Don't you?

Principle #3: Own Your Family Tree

Put your name on there because you're proud of the fine research you've done.
Put your name on there because you're proud of the fine research you've done.

That brings me to the idea of shared, one-world family trees. It's a nice concept, to connect the whole world. But are you going to trust that every wannabe genealogist out there isn't going to ruin your work?

FamilySearch.org has a shared tree concept. I see people complaining about it all the time. Someone messed up their tree, and now they have to go put back all the correct facts. That's crazy.

I uploaded my tree to Geni.com once. Big mistake. I can't even delete the thing! I get emails from people wanting me to update individuals in my tree. Unfortunately, at that time, I had about 600 people from my sister-in-law's tree in my own. I'm never going to do any more work on that branch.

I wanted to delete the branch, but I'd have to do it one person at a time. And other Geni users have staked a claim to some of them. Now, whenever someone asks me about that branch, I let them take over management of the person. It's like, "Here! Go on and leave me out of it."

I deleted my sister-in-law's family from my desktop/Ancestry tree. I exported them to a separate tree, just for her.

My family tree is the grandest, most detailed thing I've ever created. I won't allow anyone to mess that up. I am the master of my family tree research. I will maintain full control of my nearly 26,000 people. And I will share my uneditable tree for the benefit of others.

Do you care about your genealogy research, but won't pay for an Ancestry subscription? Get a limited subscription when it's on sale. Upload your tree to benefit yourself and others. For me, it's well worth the full subscription.

Your work is too important to:

  • keep it to yourself. Let the world see and benefit from your research.
  • let a website mess it up. Use a computer program for full control.
  • let other people mess it up. Prevent others from altering your family tree.

Wouldn't you agree?

27 October 2020

How Do You Define Your Ultimate Genealogy Goal?

After 18 years of building my family tree, my true goal became clear last week.

That delay isn't because I'm indecisive or slow to focus. My genealogy goal appeared after a long evolution.

Many of us begin by wanting to know more about:

  • our great grandparents
  • our first immigrant ancestors
  • where our family came from
  • how our people got from there to here

Others are searching for their unknown birth parents. Or trying to prove passed-down family stories. For instance, we though my sons were the descendants of the brother of the captain of the Titanic. We shared that fact with people all the time. Then I learned Captain Smith had no brothers. It was all inexplicably wrong.

I started out wanted to know more about the 25-or-so cousins in a photo with my mom on her wedding day. After that I wanted to find my roots in Italy.

What will your ultimate genealogy goal be? My original inspiration was a large family photo. Now my purpose has evolved.
My original inspiration was a large family photo. Now my purpose has evolved.

The urge to learn about my Italian ancestors kicked into high gear when I went to Italy in 2003. When I returned to Italy in 2005, I finally met several cousins. One in particular gave me lots of details about my great grandmother and her many siblings.

But it was the Family History Center resources that opened the floodgates. I found out I could order and view microfilmed vital records at an LDS Church near me. For about 5 years, I documented the 1809–1860 records from one grandfather's town of Baselice. I published my findings online for other descendants of the town. I became an expert on last names from Baselice.

I longed to do the same research for my other grandfather's town. But my work made it too hard to visit a Family History Center anymore. (Note: The microfilm program has ended, but see what FamilySearch has available for your ancestral hometown.)

Fast-forward to 2017 when many of my ancestral Italian hometowns' records came online. No more driving 30 minutes to view poor-quality microfilm. Now amazing-quality documents were online. Clear, zoomable, downloadable. I was in heaven.

I expanded my family tree dramatically. I had the documents to show who my ancestors and their siblings married. I could follow their children and grandchildren. The documents begin in 1809, but marriage records can reach further back. They may contain the death records of the bride and groom's parents and grandparents.

Those early death records have helped me identify 6th, 7th, and 8th great grandparents. To identify Italian ancestors born in the late 1600s, without access to church records, is amazing!

But how did I decide on my ultimate genealogy goal? It started when I wrote about measuring your family tree research progress. I saw that 3 of my 8 great grandparents came from one town. Most of my roots and most of my DNA come from Colle Sannita, the birthplace of my uncommon maiden name, Iamarino.

I've only recently realized my calling. My ultimate genealogy goal. But I've been feeling it in my bones for years.
I've only recently realized my calling. My ultimate genealogy goal. But I've been feeling it in my bones for years.

I'm still eager to explore the records from my other ancestral towns. But Colle Sannita always calls out to me the loudest. I have the documents, the process, and the ability to create the single greatest, broadest, best-documented Colle Sannita family tree available.

That's my goal now. Yes, I will work on my other towns, too. But I will keep pouring my time and love into Colle Sannita. And I'm well on my way.

Our shared love of genealogy keeps us going. Finding new branches, forgotten stories, and DNA matches pulls us in different directions. Each direction is fun and has its value. But our research may also lead us somewhere unexpected.

It led me to identify so strongly with Grandpa Iamarino's hometown that I'm willing to spend all my time documenting townspeople from 300 years ago.

Having an ultimate goal can keep you focused. When you have only a little bit of time to spend on your family tree, your goal tells you how best to spend it.

For instance, I'm now working my way through the 1809 Colle Sannita marriages. I can place nearly every couple in my family tree. But I'm going further. I'm stretching them as far back as the records allow. And I'm finding and following their children.

I feel happier and more fulfilled by having this genealogy goal.

Your ultimate genealogy goal may also take a long time to evolve. Think about which parts of the process make you the happiest. Does a particular branch of your family tree speak to you the loudest? And which goal will benefit countless other researchers for a long time to come?

What will your goal be?

23 October 2020

4 Cornerstones of Genealogy Research

We all know the classic first rule of starting your family tree. "Start with yourself." Think back to your earliest genealogy research, and I'll bet you have a list of do's and don'ts.

I got interested in genealogy the year before my wedding. We were planning a honeymoon in Italy, and I had visions of finding distant cousins on my travels. (I didn't.) All I knew for sure was my grandfathers' hometowns, and that my maternal grandmother's family came from either Pastene or Avellino.

I filled a notebook with facts from ship manifests on the Ellis Island website. I pieced together families on squares of paper, laying them out on the floor. That looked stupid, I'm sure. So my husband bought me a 2002 version of Family Tree Maker software. It came with a basic subscription to Ancestry.com.

Now I had access to census sheets. They helped me piece together my grandmother's generation in New York City. I discovered Grandma's grandfather was my first immigrant ancestor. I finally learned his branch's town of origin from a ship manifest: Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. "Pastene," which I'd heard from my grandmother and great aunt, is a hamlet in the town of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. Finally, I could find it on a map!

Learning the exact place of origin for Grandma's parents was so important. I realized it's a cornerstone to family tree building.

Cornerstone #1. Learn your ancestor's town of origin before going any further.

You see, I'd been going down the wrong path trying to find Grandma's Sarracino ancestors in Pastene. There's another town called Pastena (a one-letter difference) with a big Sarracino family. After adding the Pastena Sarracinos to my tree, I learned they were all the wrong family.

I struggled to find the hometown of my dad's maternal grandmother, too. A cousin-in-law who found me on a message board in 2006 knew my great grandmother. She often mentioned her town, calling it (phonetically) "pisqua-la-matzah."

Try finding that on a map! Here's how I figured it out. I searched Ancestry's immigration records for anyone named Caruso from a town that might be "pisqua-la-matzah." I found some from Pescolamazza. That's it! My great grandmother had to be from Pescolamazza. But it isn't on the map.

A quick search told me the town changed its name after World War II from Pescolamazza to Pesco Sannita. That is on the map, and it's a beautiful town. I've visited it twice.

The more research I did, the more record images I had piling up on my computer. That's when I realized the 2nd cornerstone of genealogy research.

Family tree research can get out of control in a hurry. Get organized now to lay a solid foundation.
Family tree research can get out of control in a hurry. Get organized now to lay a solid foundation.

Cornerstone #2. Follow logical and consistent document organization.

At first, I put every new document I found into one family tree folder on my computer. Rookie move. How would I know if a file with "1920" in its name was an ancestor's 1920 census or a 1920 ship manifest?

So I created sub-folders for each type of document I was collecting, including:

  • census forms
  • certificates (vital records)
  • draft cards
  • immigration
  • passports

Then I adopted a file-naming format that makes it easy to find everything I have for a person:

  • For census forms: LastnameFirstnameCensusYear. The name is the head of household.
  • For vital records: LastnameFirstnameEventYear. The Event is Birth, Marriage, or Death. Marriage documents get both the groom's and bride's names, like BiancoAntonioCarusoMariaMarriage1818.
  • For draft cards: LastnameFirstnameWW1 or WW2.
  • For ship manifests: LastnameFirstnameYear. I could have included Immigration before the year, but sometimes it's travel, not immigration. If multiple people are traveling, I use the name of the eldest or head of family.

This system works well for me. However, there were too many times when I downloaded a terrific new record, only to find out I had it already. I needed some sort of cheat sheet to keep from doing that again.

Cornerstone #3. Track what you have and what you need.

I created a document tracker spreadsheet. Each column is a different type of genealogy document. Each row is a different person. The last column lists the documents I still need to find for each person.

I think every nationality has the problem of too many people with the same name. I distinguish same-named people in my document tracker by including their father's name.

While I was cruising along, super organized, DNA came into the picture. We're all frustrated when a good DNA match has no family tree to view. But it's just as frustrating when their trees have no sources. They're completely unreliable.

I never want anyone to doubt my family tree. And that leads us to the final cornerstone of genealogy.

Cornerstone #4. Add sources or your family tree is worthless to others.

I support the facts in my family tree with detailed sources and links to the original documents. I'm on my way to having the best family tree on earth for my ancestral hometowns.

If you don't know your ancestor's hometown, ignore that family tree that seems so promising. If those people are from the wrong town, they're not your family.
If you don't know your ancestor's hometown, ignore that family tree that seems so promising. If those people are from the wrong town, they're not your family.

I had these 4 cornerstones in mind when I started this blog in January 2017. If you go back to the beginning, you'll see I outlined them in the first few articles. Each one comes from experience. It would have been better if I knew them from day one. And that's why I spend so much time on this blog. I want to encourage other genealogists, no matter where they are in their journey.

How solid is your family tree foundation?

20 October 2020

How to Use Proper Genealogy Style

If you always format names, dates, and places properly, you may be a Family Tree Fashionista. And that's a good thing!

Let's take a look at the Big Three. How do you record Names, Dates, and Places in your family tree?


Entering names in your family tree is such a hot-button issue. People have strong feelings about their chosen style.

Maiden Names. I'd estimate my 25,718-person family tree is 95% Italian. Since Italian women keep their father's last name for life, it would be crazy to list them by their married name. That simply is not their name.

As someone who has legally had 3 last names in my life:

  • You don't want to call me by my ex-husband's last name.
  • I'll always answer to my husband's last name.
  • I definitely identify as my father's last name. I even have it as a vanity license plate.

Since a woman's maiden name is on her birth, marriage, and death certificates, you've got to list her by her maiden name. That's who you're documenting. Let the marriage facts you enter tell you her married name. Let the family tree layout tell you who she married.

There shouldn't be any debate about how to record names in your family tree.
There shouldn't be any debate about how to record names in your family tree.

Case. I have lots of Italian names beginning with a lower case d', di, de, or del. Putting those last names in all capital letters would be destructive. How would you know if the name DELGROSSO is spelled delGrosso, DelGrosso, or Delgrosso? You wouldn't.

Name at Birth. I'm careful to preserve each person's name at birth. I was adding the 1819 marriage documents for a couple to my family tree. The bride was Antonia Piacquadio. That's the name on her birth/baptism record, and on her marriage papers.

The groom's case is a little different. On the marriage papers, he's Luigi d'Agostino. Then I saw his 1798 birth record. His full name at birth was Luigi Maria Vincenzo Michelangelo d'Agostino! I will preserve Luigi's full name because that's what makes him unique.


Genealogy research isn't isolated to one country or one language. Your date format needs to be universal.

Years ago, I interacted with people from around the world as part of my job. I realized how important it is to use a date format that can't be misunderstood. If you're an American, you'd write my son's birth date as 5/6/1989. To you and me, that means May 6th.

But in Europe, 5/6/1989 is the 5th of June. My kid would get his birthday gift really late, wouldn't he?

To avoid this confusion, enter dates in your family tree in this format: 6 May 1989. It's the date, the 1st 3 letters of the month (Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec), and the 4-digit year. In many languages, the 3-letter month abbreviations are similar. It's a safe bet that someone who speaks another language would understand 6 May 1989.

If you use Family Tree Maker, go to the Tools menu and click Options. Then click the Names/Dates/Places tab. You can tell the software how to display your dates, no matter how you type them. Consistency is important for the very reason that my other son's birth date is 12/10/1992. Is that December 10th or the 12th of October?


The proper style for place names (the exact words vary by country) is City, County, State, Country. In Italy it's Comune, Province, Region, Country.

To me, American place names can look confusing when you list all it together like that. Monsey, Rockland, New York, USA. I adopted a slight variation that is now supported by Family Tree Maker when I let it resolve place names.

I add the word County. I feel that Monsey, Rockland County, New York, USA is clearer.

An Italian example would be my grandfather's town: Baselice, Benevento, Campania, Italy. Seeing the complete place name makes it clear to anyone exactly where you're talking about.

Consistency of place names, down to the street address, offers benefits to your family tree research.
Consistency of place names, down to the street address, offers benefits to your family tree research.

A woman online said she wanted to remove the USA from the end of all her American place names. I don't know why, but I recall I didn't use USA early on. It seemed so obvious. All my people were from New York. Everyone knows where New York is.

But as my tree grew, it became clear that I should use the proper naming convention. When you enter place names properly, Family Tree Maker does a nice job of rolling them all up in a list. You can select a country, then a state, province, or region, and continue down to a specific address to see everyone who was there.

Proper style ensures that your family tree will live on and be helpful even when you're gone. Make sure you're working on it for future generations. Make it speak the same "language" generations from now.

16 October 2020

Make Your Genealogy Documents Speak Volumes

Census sheets, ship manifests, birth, marriage and death records. These are the documents that bring your ancestors to life. Without them, you have no tangible evidence for your extended family.

The digital documents I collect are the heartbeat of my family tree. And I spend a good deal of time processing and caring for them.

My goal today is to get you thinking about how you handle your digital documents. What can you do to be more efficient? More thorough? More careful? More importantly, how can you make your family tree more valuable?

Careful work pays off in the form of a highly reliable family tree.
Careful work pays off in the form of a highly reliable family tree.

Note that I have very few paper documents, and I've scanned them all into digital files. You won't find anything about color-coded binders and folders on this blog.

I have a vast collection of meticulously annotated, logically filed, safely backed-up documents. I make a habit of putting each new digital document through a series of steps. After downloading the digital document, I:

  1. Name the file in my usual style, which is most often LastnameFirstnameEventYear. For example, MartuccioMariaDeath1801.jpg. Note: I name census sheets and ship manifests for the head of the household or the traveling group.
  2. Crop the image in Photoshop to remove excess background or an unneeded facing page. Many old Italian birth and death records have 2 or more records in an image.
  3. Enhance the contrast so the document is easier to read, if necessary. Photoshop has a few good controls for this.
  4. Add a title and description to the document file's properties. These 2 field carry over when I drag and drop them into Family Tree Maker. I follow a pattern like this:
    • Title: 1801 death record for Maria Martuccio
    • Description: From the Benevento State Archives [followed by the exact URL of the image]
  5. Attach the image to the appropriate person(s) in Family Tree Maker. I turn the earliest image I have into a person's profile image.
  6. Create a source citation for each fact in the document.
  7. Add a notation to my document tracker spreadsheet so I know I've got this document.
  8. Keep the image file in a special folder, waiting for my weekly backup of all new files.
  9. Move the file to its final destination in my collection of digital family tree folders.
Annotated images tell you exactly where they came from.
Annotated images tell you exactly where they came from.

Yes, it's a lot, but it all serves my goal: To have the best family tree as a resource for anyone with roots in one of my ancestral hometowns. I want to be the absolute go-to family tree because of how carefully I document every fact in my tree.

Consider these ideas for your family tree document handling and care:

What do you say? Is your family tree—your legacy—worth doing right?

13 October 2020

3 Steps to Solving DNA Matches

When I figure out my exact connection to a DNA match, I add a note to them on Ancestry. These notes are visible as I scroll down my list of matches. I used some color-coding dots, too. A green dot means I figured them out.

I have to scroll down far into the 4th–6th cousin range to find an unsolved DNA match with a tree.

Mark up your DNA match list with colors and notes for greater efficiency.
Mark up your DNA match list with colors and notes for greater efficiency.

There are 3 basic steps to figuring out these matches. This is going to make it sound super-easy. Once in a while, it is.

1. Search their family tree for familiar names.

I'm so familiar with my ancestral hometowns, I can look at a last name and tell you which of my towns it's from. If a DNA match has a tree showing no Italian last names, there's no obvious way for me to connect.

That's the situation with one match with a very small tree. I think his unnamed grandmother is his Italian ancestor, but I don't know who she is. I researched his Irish-American grandfather. But I couldn't find him marrying an Italian-American woman.

Let's assume, though, that you do see a last name or two you recognize.

2. Find a birth or marriage record for their ancestor.

If you can't find anything that connects your DNA match's people to your people, save them for later. Leave yourself a note that you tried and failed to find the connection.

When I couldn't find an Italian connection to the DNA match I mentioned above, I looked at our shared DNA matches. This is a very helpful feature on Ancestry DNA.

A quick look at our shared matches tells me my relationship to this guy with an Irish name is on my mother's side. I took a look at one shared match and realized her original last name is from one of my towns. That ties these matches to my 2nd great grandmother Vittoria. She alone came from a different town than the rest of my family.

3. Use your research and their tree to get a match into your tree.

The shared match whose name I recognize has a tree that includes her grandfather. But he was born later than the available vital records.

Once again, I turned to shared DNA matches. There I found a woman whose full name I recognize. I wrote to her years ago, and she told me the proper spelling of the last name. I'd only seen it once at that point, and it had been hard to read.

It was high time I worked this woman, who'd been helpful to me in the past, into my family tree. Her 7-person family tree includes her 2 sets of grandparents.

If you've read this blog before, you remember me. I'm the nut who downloads all the vital records from my ancestral towns and spends an eternity renaming the files. When the file names include the person's name, all the records are searchable on my computer. I searched for and found this match's paternal grandmother's birth record. In the margin is the date she married my DNA match's paternal grandfather. There's no doubt I have the right person.

I need to trace both grandparents back further, using the vital records I've renamed. I'll keep going until I find some sort of connection to myself.

To quote Bugs Bunny, "Well whaddya know? The stuff woiks." I found the connection quickly. This DNA match is my 3rd cousin 3 times removed (3C3R). Her 2nd great grandfather is my 5th great grandfather.

All I ask of my DNA matches is a little bit of a family tree I can investigate.
All I ask of my DNA matches is a little bit of a family tree I can investigate.

Once you can work a DNA match into your tree, you'll see their exact relationship to you. Be sure to add a note to this person in your match list, stating the relationship. I like to use abbreviations like 5C2R for 5th cousin twice removed, or 3C1R for 3rd cousin once removed. I saw a genealogist on Twitter using that abbreviation and loved it. It's short and unmistakable.

I'll continue picking off as many of the shared DNA matches as I can. If I keep figuring out our shared DNA matches, I may find my connection to the match with the Irish name. The connection may be in one of their trees.

Figuring out a DNA match is like a fishing expedition. Wait, no. I went along with a fisherman once, and it was an endless amount of waiting around. This is more of a hunting and tracking expedition without the weapons.

I track my DNA match's ancestors, following their path until I've got them in my sights. Then they become family. Yeah; that's my kind of hunting expedition. What genealogy fan doesn't enjoy that?

09 October 2020

Revisit Your Genealogy Journal Often

You may not have 417 blog articles that document your family tree research plans. You may not write down your theories, or the steps you took to make new discoveries. But I do.

I've written so many articles that I can re-read them and have no memory of the big discoveries they describe. It's clear I need to revisit my past ideas and make good on their promise.

My advice is that you start keeping a genealogy journal. It can be handwritten or in something like OneNote, if that's your preference. It can even be a plain text file, which is my choice. Whichever you choose, Keep Track of Your Genealogy Theories and Tasks. And revisit your journal often.

You got to keep track of your family tree discoveries. Revisit your genealogy journal often.
You got to keep track of your family tree discoveries. Revisit your genealogy journal often.

I try to do a bit of work on my family tree every day, and I spend the weekend tackling big research projects. All too often I can't find the time to follow my own advice to you, like:

I have so many open family tree research projects, I'm never at a loss for something interesting to do. But I would like to finish some of them!

Weekend is coming. How will I spend those hours of research time? Two recent projects are calling out to me the loudest:

  1. Imagine a Register of Your Entire Ancestral Hometown. I have a book detailing every single person in Grandpa's hometown in the year 1742. I want to work them all into my family tree. (The whole town's related.) I know I can finish my first pass this weekend. I'm up to household 343 out of 560. About one-fourth of them will be easy to place in my tree.
  2. Be More Thorough with Your Family Tree. I began looking at every person in my family tree with my maiden name, Iamarino. That's a lot of people. For each one, I'm searching their hometown's vital records for their missing documents. I'm completing each person as much as I can. I'm marking in my document tracker which documents I've found, and which are not available.

OK, it looks as if I've got my weekend genealogy plan. I'll work my way through that book, making sure I find any available records for each person I add to my tree.

Then next week I'll continue fully documenting every Iamarino in my family tree. I'm up to those with a first name of Giuseppe.

How can you make good on your past genealogy promises to yourself? Your genealogy journal would answer that question.

06 October 2020

What Was it Like When Your Ancestors Lived Here?

We watched "I Love Lucy" so much when I was a kid that my family still speaks in phrases from the show. One favorite comes from Lucy imitating Ricky mispronouncing "soak up some local color." It sounds like "sock up some lockel collar."

Whenever a member of the family is going on a trip, we tell them to "sock up some lockel collar." We can't go anywhere in 2020. So why not use a free online newspaper to get the "lockel collar" of the town I call home?

You can do this, too. Start at a Wikipedia page listing online newspaper archives from around the world. Many are free. Many are on the Fulton History website you may know, but others are not found there.

I went straight to the New York state newspapers and chose my Hudson Valley region. That led me to Hudson River Valley Historical Newspapers.

What if we search old newspapers for our ancestor's town instead of their name?
What if we search old newspapers for our ancestor's town instead of their name?

In the 12 March 1909 edition of the "Kingston Daily Freeman" is a story about a church less than 5 miles from my home.

The headline is "THE DEVIL IN CHURCH." I'm intrigued. This is a very small chapel within steps of a main road near the border of Fishkill, New York.

The article reads as follows:

"While holding prayer meeting in a small churh [sic] at Wiccoppe [sic], near Hopewell Junction, Dutchess county, the congregation was startled by the appearance of a figure clad in black wearing horns and a black mask and a pitchfork held in his hands. One of the members made a grab for the masker but he ducked out into the street and disappeared. The affair has stirred up a great scandal in the village."

What did he do? Hop on a Model-T motoring by?

Next I searched for my town in a paper called the "Rockland County Journal." I grew up in Rockland County, and it's an hour away from me now, across the Hudson River. I chose the earliest article in the results, from 20 March 1875.

I've lived in a lot of towns without knowing details of their past.
I've lived in a lot of towns without knowing details of their past.

An article called "Bridging the Hudson" talks about some critical infrastructure in my area. There's a National Park near here called the Walkway Over the Hudson. It's a former railroad bridge turned into a walking and biking path. They completed the railroad bridge in 1889. Following a fire, they closed and abandoned it. Finally, they rebuilt it for pedestrians in 2009, and it's very popular.

The article says Boston merchants wanted New York to build the bridge. Boston is a 3-hour drive from me, and more than 4 hours from New York City. There is no other railroad bridge across the Hudson between here and New York City. The lack of a crossing isolated Boston merchants from the rest of the country.

Boston appointed a committee that, 14 years later, resulted in the bridge's completion. It also recommended the completion of a road from my little town to the city of Poughkeepsie. That's where the bridge is. That road, Route 9, is now the main artery connecting every town from here to Poughkeepsie. It's a 12-mile strip of:

  • every franchise in America
  • retail stores
  • medical offices
  • hotels
  • restaurants
  • businesses, and
  • banks.

I always complain that I can't find my ancestors in newspapers. They weren't big businessmen. They weren't socialites. I haven't even found an obituary. And in Italy where they came from, most people were illiterate in the 1890s when my people left.

That's why we genealogists may find it useful to learn about our ancestors' hometowns. We may not find their names, but we may find their neighbors. I have one branch that lived in Western New York state. Their little town is ripe for newspaper exploration.

What local news can you find that had an impact on your family?

02 October 2020

A Safety Net for Reckless Family Tree Building

How ironic. Last time, I encouraged you to slow down and be more thorough in your family tree building. I'm having terrific results practicing what I preached. I've been checking every person in my tree with my maiden name. I'm gathering their missing documents. I'm fixing their sources. I'm updating my document tracker. It's awesome.

Then I thought I'd better have a quick look for new DNA matches. Next thing you know, I get swept into a marathon session of finding their ancestors, and working them into my tree.

By the time I came up for air, I'd added basic facts for about 30 people to my tree. Without any sources! Most of the people will be easy to fix. I entered their birth or marriage dates, so I can get their documents cropped and placed in my tree. The documents will help me make strong source citations.

Some of the names and facts rely on my DNA match's tree. I have no documentary proof yet. For them, I'll make a note in my tree and point to my DNA match's family tree online.

I finally stopped this feverish family building when I realized I had no idea how many people I'd added to my tree. How would I retrace my steps when I'd been jumping around among a few DNA matches?

Luckily, I recently learned something new about Family Tree Maker. Maybe this feature has always been there—hiding in plain sight. When you open your tree file in FTM and you're on the Plan tab, there's a place to create a task list. What I never noticed is that there's another tab next to Tasks called Change Log.

Does your genealogy program have this safety net?
Does your genealogy program have this safety net?

The Change Log lists up to 1,000 of the most recent changes you made to your tree, and it timestamps each action. Right now I can see each action for the past 4 busy days. That's fine—I only need to see what I did today.

I printed the change log to a PDF. Now I can accurately and fully retrace my steps. I'll give each person their birth, marriage, and death records. I'll add a detailed note for facts that came from my DNA match's tree.

Almost a year ago, I made it a habit to save the "Sync Change Log" each time I synchronize my FTM tree to Ancestry.com. Much like the Change Log, this PDF details everything I did since my last sync.

Those files will save the day if something goes wrong with your synchronization or your file. The Sync Change Log is an option you'll see shortly after you begin the sync process. See "Log" below.

Make family tree safety a top priority. Start with an external hard drive.
Make family tree safety a top priority. Start with an external hard drive.

Speaking of family tree safety, I make a full backup of my family tree file during and after each session. The backup files are very big because my tree is so large. I move them to an external hard drive each week during my Sunday computer backup routine. The sync log files are very small.

My safety routine is this:

  • Backup: Make a full backup of the family tree, media files included.
  • Compact: Close the family tree file, but not the software program. Compact the file (see the Tools menu), being sure to check "Perform extended analysis". Repeat, if needed, until the compact process reduces the file size by 0%.
  • Sync: Open the family tree again and click Sync Now.
  • Log: The Sync Change Log window shows you how many people, media, and citations you've changed. Click the View / Print Details button. This opens a file showing your changes since the last sync. Choose to Export As PDF, close the window, and continue the sync.
  • Close: Give your tree a few moments after the sync is complete to process any media files. Then close the file before exiting the program.
  • Backup: Make it a routine to back up all your family tree files to a safe location, like an external hard drive or two.

That's about as safe as you can be. After an unexplained sync crash last November, I made sure to be as careful with my family tree as I possibly can. Are you safeguarding your hard work?