29 December 2020

Harvesting Clues from Your DNA Matches

My DNA matches continue to disappoint me. After ignoring them for a while, I decided to browse through my new matches. I filtered my Ancestry DNA results to show only unviewed matches with a family tree.

I quickly viewed and dismissed about a dozen of them. What good is your tree if it has 3 people? Or if you include only living, unnamed people?

At last I found someone I could latch onto and research. His family tree contains only 6 people including himself. But I knew I was looking at ancestors with ties to my mother's side. That set my expectations on what to look for.

This is why I always say you've got to learn the last names from your ancestral hometowns. I looked at this skimpy tree and saw only 2 last names: d'Onofrio and Ferro. I knew from experience that those names come from my maternal grandfather's hometown.

I searched the vital records I have on my computer for the town of Baselice. I was looking for Leonardo d'Onofrio born in 1913 and Maria Addolorata Ferro born in 1912. I found both their birth records! I felt lucky because the birth records end in 1915, and some years are missing.

If you can find one or two of your DNA match's ancestors, you're in! Do the #genealogy research your DNA match can't seem to do.
If you can find one or two of your DNA match's ancestors, you're in! Do the genealogy research your DNA match can't seem to do.

These are, without a doubt, the right people. Each one's birth record has a note in the margin saying they married the other in 1937. I have their marriage records, too.

With their documents open on one monitor, I launched Family Tree Maker on another. Would I be able to place them in my family tree? My DNA match is a 4th to 6th cousin. It may take some work to make the connection.

My first step was to check my family tree for the bride and groom—my DNA match's parents. They are not in my tree, but I can search the town's vital records for their parents. Hopefully I'll find a place where they fit.

I started with the groom's mother, Maria Teresa Pettorossi. I found her birth record in 1870. It named her parents and each of their fathers. That helped me positively ID her parents, who were already in my tree. Now I had a relationship to these people. But it wasn't a blood relationship.

I continued searching for each parent and seeing if they fit into my family tree. Because I spent 5 years piecing together the families of the town of Baselice, these new people all have a place. Unfortunately, their relationships to me are all through marriage. There was a lot of intermarrying in this somewhat isolated hill town. I'll bet I'm a 4th to 6th cousin of everyone from Baselice.

The best part of this exercise is how it's filling in missing marriages. There are tens of thousands of vital records available for this town. But the marriage records end in 1860 and pick up again in 1931. If I follow the children and grandchildren of the 1850s babies in my tree, I can figure out who they married.

I always intended to figure out missing marriages this way. This new DNA match is a good reason to start.

Because this is "my" town, i added several generations in a heartbeat.
Because this is "my" town, I added several generations in a heartbeat.

There is one person in this family group I can't positively identify. I need an Angelamaria Petruccelli born in about 1851. There were 2 babies with that name born a few months apart, and I can't be sure which is the right one.

Because of that uncertainty, I can't go any further. As of now, this DNA match has at least 6 different relationships to me. But each one involves a marriage somewhere up the line.

Don't be too disappointed if you can't find a meaningful relationship to a distant DNA match. Focus on your closer matches. Then use the more distant ones to fill in some gaps in your own family tree. Take the facts they know from oral history, and back them up with documents.

22 December 2020

Your Ancestor's Location is Critically Important

Q: What's a top reason why people mistakenly put OUR relatives in THEIR family trees?

A: They're not looking at a map.

The first time I saw this happen, someone put my grandfather in her family tree. She took him and gave him different parents, different siblings, and a different wife. MY grandfather! It's not as if his last name was so uncommon that he must belong in her tree. You can find the name Leone in every part of Italy.

You owe it to your genealogy research to learn about:

  • the place where your ancestors lived, and
  • what was happening when they lived there.

Take a look at Germany, Poland, and Prussia in the first half of the 20th century. The borders kept moving. Which country was it when your ancestor was born?

Carefully consider the location when reviewing a promising family tree search result.
Carefully consider the location when reviewing a promising family tree search result.

Research shows that my Italian ancestors barely moved an inch until the 1890s. Remember that woman who stole my grandfather? If she had looked at a map, she would have seen that he was born hours away from his incorrect parents and siblings.

He's not your man, my friend.

Now, I have seen some people from my ancestral hometowns move—to the next town. If a young man met and agreed to marry a young woman from a town or two away, one of them had to move.

It was common for the couple to marry in the bride's town. That's where you should look for the marriage records. But they often lived and raised a family in the groom's town. That's because he was more likely to inherit land and a home.

Check to see if your ancestral town's marriage records include marriage banns. Those are a public notice of the intention to marry. If so, look at the banns in the groom's town. These documents may tell you where the bride comes from, if you don't know. In all the Italian marriage records I've seen, the banns do not have their own index, so you have to page through them. Only the actual marriage records have an index.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course. In 1840 when my 3rd great grandfather married my 3rd great grandmother, he moved to her town. But check the map! His town borders her town. They may have lived a short walk apart.

Don't expect your early ancestors to move hours away for the birth of one baby, then go home for the birth of the next. Keep in mind that transportation at the time may have been a mule and a cart. And great grandpa wasn't getting a corporate job transfer.

How times have changed! My parents are from the Bronx, New York, but my dad was born in Ohio. Their first 2 kids were born in Virginia. Then I was born in New York City but spent no more than 6 months of my life there, and not all at once. My family's many moves would shock and dismay our ancestors.

My ancestors stayed close to home. How close to home? Everyone from my 1st to my 8th great grandparents lived and died in neighboring towns. My roots are all from the "Sannio" area of the Campania region of Italy. Many of my family names are still found in the same towns.

Which of these tools will work best for finding your ancestors on the map?
Which of these tools will work best for finding your ancestors on the map?

That brings me to a set of tools I want to share with you. I consult the Cognomix website all the time. I enter an Italian last name in the search box, and I can see every region, province, and town where that name is found. Not only that—it tells how many families with that name you can find in each region, province, and town.

Here are a handful of tools that show last name distribution in different countries:

If you find a search result that looks promising, look up that person's town on Google Maps or whatever you use. Is the town anywhere near the place where your ancestors lived? Was anything happening at that time in history that might have caused your family to move? Was there an earthquake or epidemic?

If your family stayed put for generations, and this search result lived hours away, keep searching. He's not your man.

15 December 2020

How to Break Through to New Generations

I spent the last 2 weekends building a family tree for a woman who was stuck at the 1st great grandparent level.

I identified the names of EIGHTEEN of her 5th great grandparents. What a rush! It was all thanks to a ton of available vital records for her ancestral Italian hometowns.

Each time I found a new generation, I thought about what I could do to find their parents' names. It struck me that you could make a flowchart of the process—a series of Yes or No questions to tell you where to look next.

Let's see what that would look like. Say you know your immigrant great grandparents' names. You believe you know their birth dates, and you have an idea which town at least one of them came from. (This was the case for my client.)

What do you do next? Start by trying to prove your ancestor's birth date and hometown.

Nothing makes me happier than a set of marriage documents for my 2nd, 3rd, or 4th great grandparents.
Nothing makes me happier than a set of marriage documents for my 2nd, 3rd, or 4th great grandparents.

Can you find their immigration record? If they arrived at the right time, their ship manifest may have their hometown and a parent's name.

Can you find their naturalization papers? These may include their exact date of birth, their hometown, and their father's name.

Can you find their marriage record in their new country? This may include both sets of parents' names.

Can you find their official birth record from their hometown? This may include:

  • their father's name and age at the time
  • their father's father's name
  • the street where they lived
  • their mother's name and age at the time
  • their mother's father's name

They included a father's name to distinguish a person from someone else in town with the same name.

If you found this record, you get to level up! You've reached the 2nd great grandparent level, and you may have a name or 2 from the 3rd great grandparent level.

How can you discover all your 3rd great grandparents on this branch?

Can you find the marriage record of your 2nd great grandparents? This will name all your 3rd great grandparents. It may tell you their ages at the time. It may include the names of their fathers, or their dates of death.

Can you find the death record for a deceased 3rd great grandparent from the marriage record? That should tell you the names of their parents—your 4th great grandparents.

Can you find the marriage record of your 3rd great grandparents? This should name your 4th great grandparents, and may give you a name or 2 of your 5th great grandparents.

If the records are available, you can climb generation after generation of your family tree.
If the records are available, you can climb generation after generation of your family tree.

Don't Climb Too Fast

Beware of jumping from one ancestor's vital record to their parent's birth record. Let's say you find a birth record with a name that matches your 3rd great grandfather. How can you be sure he's your ancestor? Maybe someone else in town had the same name. That's all too common.

If that birth record doesn't say he later married the name you know for your 3rd great grandmother—you can't be sure you have the right person. You don't want to climb a stranger's family tree, do you?

The logical progression for climbing the tree when you have one ancestor's birth record is to:

  • Find their parents' marriage record. These provide solid information about the earlier generation. You may have to scour several years before you find their marriage.
  • Or find their death records. These will name their spouse (so you know it's the right person) and their parents.

Beware of errors, misspellings, and slightly wrong ages. Keep your mind open to name variations. "Teresa" on someone's death record may be "Maria Teresa" on her own vital records.

Don't overlook the awesome extras that may come with marriage records, at least in Italy. The associated documents may include:

  • the bride and groom's birth records
  • any of their parents' death records
  • their paternal grandfather's death records

The reason for the death records is to prove that a parent is unavailable to consent to the marriage. And if your father was dead, they would want his father to provide consent. So you needed to prove everyone had died.

What a joy it is for us to find their death records. I love it when a marriage is in the sweet spot: Late enough to include the extra records, but early enough to have death records from the 1700s.

Proceed carefully:

  • Rely heavily on marriage records for fuller information.
  • Use death records only when they include the name you already know for the deceased's spouse.
  • Turn to birth records if you already know both their parents' names, or you see their marriage written in the column.

Make no assumptions. Those lead to the types of errors we all hate to find on other people's online family trees.

One final note on marriage records: Pay attention to the town of birth. A bride and groom may come from different towns. In this case, the couple may marry in the bride's town, but live and raise a family in the groom's town. Why? Because the groom is more likely to inherit land and a home.

One birth record said the baby's father was born in this town, but its mother was born in another town. That told me to search the mother's town for this couple's marriage. And that's exactly where I found it.

With care, and the availability of records, you can build up a branch of your family tree several generations in one weekend. I did!

08 December 2020

Inside My Digital Genealogy Toolbox

I do some genealogy work every single day. First I decide what I'm in the mood to do. Then I take out whichever tools I need for the task.

Here are some of my typical family tree-building tasks and the tools I need to complete them.

File Renaming

This is a foundational task that improves everything else I do. I don't know about other countries, but Italy has a massive amount of vital records online.

All my ancestors came from a handful of neighboring towns in Southern Italy. Each town has a large collection of birth, marriage, and death records. I've downloaded tens of thousands of record images to my computer.

When I want an easy task—one I can do while half-watching TV—I start renaming the image files. If it's a birth record, I rename the file to include the baby's name and their father's same.

Now this record (and tons of others) is searchable on my computer. Including the father's name in the title makes it easier to find exactly the person I need.

Tools Required:

  • GetLinks for downloading a ton of records easily
  • File Explorer (Windows) for storing and renaming the images
  • Photos (Windows) for viewing the images and zooming in for clarity
  • Karen's Directory Printer for creating a text file of every file name in a set of folders. When I finish a town, I'll publish a searchable list of every available vital record for others to use.
I rarely write anything down when I can type it. These pencils are a metaphor for keeping all your genealogy tools in tip-top shape.
I rarely write anything down when I can type it. These pencils are a metaphor for keeping all your genealogy tools in tip-top shape.

Filling in the Blanks

When I want to take advantage of all that file renaming, I start filling in missing facts.

With all those renamed vital records, I can find missing birth dates for my family tree. I can sort the index of my Family Tree Maker file by Birth Date and look for people with an incomplete date of birth.

The Italian vital records for my towns begin in 1809. So, for this task, I'll scroll down to people born in 1809. I can look for anyone without a complete birth date. Then I'll search my renamed files with a wonderful program called Everything. I'll review the search results, double-clicking an entry to view the image. I'll keep going until I find this person.

Now I can enter their birth date into Family Tree Maker and add their baptism date and street name, if available.

I started at 1809. I'm up to 1850. When I've tackled all the missing birth dates, I can sort the index by death date or marriage date. If there are records available for that year, no fact can hide from me.

Tools Required:

  • Family Tree Maker for seeing what's missing
  • Everything–a fast, powerful search tool that can find any name among my renamed files
  • Photos (Windows) for viewing the images
A couple of new additions to my genealogy toolbox were hand-picked for my most ambitious family tree projects.
A couple of new additions to my genealogy toolbox were hand-picked for my most ambitious family tree projects.

Fitting a Piece into the Puzzle

When I'm ready to ready get down to business, this task is the entire ball of wax. The Holy Grail. It will fulfill my wish to create the ultimate family tree for people with roots in Grandpa's hometown.

A long time ago, I started entering facts from vital records into a spreadsheet. My 2019 genealogy goal was to enter the facts from the first 5 years of birth records for each of my ancestral towns. I wish I'd gotten more done, but it's very time-consuming. I'm glad I have those first 5 years.

Now I'm going line-by-line, hoping to find a place in my family tree for everyone in the town. I'm nearly finished with the 1809 births. Then I'll work through the 1809 marriages and deaths.

It's amazing how many people have a place in my tree. Here are the steps I'm following with the 1809 births:

  • Search my Family Tree Maker file for the baby. I may have them already. If so, I make that line in the spreadsheet green.
  • If I don't find them, I search for their parents. In most cases, I have the father birth year because his age was on the birth record. If I find the right married couple, I can add their baby to my family tree.
  • If I can't find the parents in my tree, I search my vital record collection. If I can find the marriage or death of either parent, I'll know who their parents were. If they're already in my tree, I can add this family unit to my tree.

In most cases, I can fit that 1809 baby in my tree. Sometimes the baby is a blood relation, like 1st cousin 6 times removed. Other times the relationship is crazy-distant. If there's any connection, I want them. It serves my purpose of documenting the entire town.

If the baby fits in my tree, I:

  • crop and enhance the vital record image in Photoshop
  • rename the image file in my standard format
  • add a title and source citation to the image's properties
  • add the baby, their facts, and the image to Family Tree Maker
  • file the image away
  • add a line to my document tracker spreadsheet for the baby and this birth record

But wait. There's more. Why not search for the marriage or death of this child? I've had cases where one 1809 baby led to multiple marriage records and a death record. I've added dozens of people and documents stemming from one baby.

This project is the be-all and end-all. It is my gift to Grandpa's town.

Tools Required:

  • Excel for storing and reviewing facts from each vital record
  • File Explorer (Windows) for adding details to the images
  • Photos (Windows) for viewing the images and zooming in for clarity
  • Family Tree Maker for adding the new documents and facts
  • Everything for finding any name among my renamed files
  • Photoshop for cropping the images and improving the contrast and readability

Each of these projects is so routine to me that I automatically launch all the tools I need for the task.

Is your genealogy toolbox lacking? Or is it up to every challenge?

01 December 2020

These Genealogy Projects Can Chase Away the Boredom

Would you get bored with your genealogy research if you were at it for 8 hours a day?

Last Friday was my first vacation day of 2020. As obsessed as I am with genealogy, I have a corporate job that keeps me away from it. The day after Thanksgiving was my first day off that wasn't a national holiday. At last I was able to spend hours on end doing genealogy!

If you have the time, and you want to make progress on your family tree, there's a secret to keep it from getting tedious. Projects.

If you have a variety of genealogy projects to work on, you won't get bored. You may be thinking, "If you're bored, stop doing genealogy." Sacrilege, I say!

Here are my favorite projects I turn to whenever genealogy is becoming a chore.

Before I go on, here's a programming note: I've been publishing a new article each Tuesday and Friday for 4 years. I've published 432 articles! This labor of love has taken over my life, so I'm dropping it down to once a week. I'll publish a new article each Tuesday, starting today.

Fit Everyone into My Tree

My family tree is going to be THE resource for any descendant of my grandfather's hometown. I've got tens of thousands of the town's vital records beginning in 1809. And I have a book that documents everyone who lived there in the year 1742.

I'm laying a solid foundation by fitting people from the 1809 vital records into my tree. In some cases I can connect them to people who were alive and documented in 1742.

Here's how it worked this long weekend:

  • Check an 1809 birth record to see if the baby is already in my family tree.
  • If not, check my tree for the parents.
  • If none of the people are in my tree, search my extensive database of the town for them.
  • Other records, like the death records of the parents, usually help me place them in my tree.
  • Then I can add the baby and search for their marriage or death records.

The whole process can take a long time, but I added dozens of townspeople to my tree for each 1809 baby.

Using all my tools, I can fit nearly the whole of Grandpa's town into my family tree.
Using all my tools, I can fit nearly the whole of Grandpa's town into my family tree.

Share My Research Database

I have all the town's available vital records on my computer. I've renamed them to include the subject(s) of the document. For example, "007853875_00496.jpg" is the first 1809 birth record. I renamed it "007853875_00496 Carmine Pasquale d'Agostino di Giuseppe.jpg" because it's the birth record of Carmine Pasquale d'Agostino, the son of Giuseppe. Keeping the number in the file name helps me tie it back to the file's original location online.

Now I can search for ANYBODY on my computer with a program called Everything. My plan is to share this amazing database with anyone with roots in the town. Before I do so, I need to finish renaming the extra documents that come with a marriage. These can include:

  1. the groom's birth or baptism record
  2. the groom's father's death record
  3. the groom's grandfather's death record
  4. the groom's mother's death record
  5. the groom's first wife's death record
  6. the bride's birth or baptism record
  7. the bride's father's death record
  8. the bride's grandfather's death record
  9. the bride's mother's death record
  10. the bride's first husband's death record

What a treasure trove! The only problem is, I haven't renamed ALL the files. I still need to do this for the marriage records from 1834 through 1860. I'll get there soon enough.

If I get bored with fitting each baby into my tree, I keep on renaming these marriage documents.

Once each vital record has a name, I can make the whole town searchable for other descendants.
Once each vital record has a name, I can make them all searchable for other descendants.

Fill in Missing Dates

One quick-shot project is to find exact dates of birth when all I have is a year. This happens when I have a birth record that includes one or both parents' ages. I can say, for example, that the father was born in 1830.

If I sort the Family Tree Maker index by birth year, it's easy to see all the people with missing birth records. Then I can use the Everything program to search for and fill in their missing birth dates. On Thursday I was up to people born in 1830. Now I'm up to 1850.

Pick Up a Forgotten Genealogy Goal

Each December I write down specific genealogy goals for the new year. Then 2020 happened. I tried to keep up with my 2020 goals in January and February. But when everything fell apart in March, I had bigger things to worry about.

Now I've settled into a groove (a deep groove that led me to take one day off this year). I can always look at my goals and pick whichever one interests me at the moment.

Return to An Old Research Thread

I like to work off lists that I type into a text program. I do this for my corporate job, and it works so well that I use it for genealogy, too.

To that end, I have a text file named Notebook filled with genealogy information. It tells me where I left off on my marriage document renaming project. It has my genealogy goals for the last few years. It has a list of rainy-day genealogy tasks, like "sort out my photos and add more to my family tree." It also has research notes, like: "Did Gregorio Liguori and Apollonia Grazia Caruso have a child before 1809? Search the Circello marriages starting in 1825 looking for other children. (I'm up to 1843.)"

There are details on projects I've completely forgotten. But each one is something I can turn to if I get bored with whatever I'm doing.

You can always make progress on your genealogy research. Even if you can't visit that library you need, there are tons of ways to fortify your family tree. What excites you today?