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?


  1. I am jalous! The registers in my Italian town in the province of Bergamo start only in 1866 on Antenati. That is more than 50 years after yours. Is there anything else than Antenati and FamilySearch to look at that I have missed? Annick H.

    1. Damn! I went here looking for possible church records, but they also start in 1866: https://www.italianparishrecords.org/search-by-region/lombardia

      My main towns on Mom's side of the family start in 1861. It makes me sad and angry.

    2. Thanks for checking. At least I now have a new link that I can check from time to time, to see, if thinks improve when more archives are published on line.