13 April 2021

How to Plug the Holes in Your Family Tree

Bringing a photo of my great grandmother Maria Rosa to life motivated me to do a ton of genealogy work.

I have all the available vital records from her Italian hometown on my computer. I worked hard to rename each file with the name of the subject. Looking at my Family Tree Maker file, I searched the records for all my great aunts and uncles on Maria Rosa's line. (I use a free program called Everything to locate any name in my collection of renamed vital records. It's the best tool you've never heard of.)

For each new great aunt and uncle who married, I added:

  • their spouse's name, birth date, and parents.
  • their marriage date and place.
  • all the couple's children.

I sped up the process by adding all the facts to my family tree without the document images and their citations. I can go back and add those as needed, thanks to my process and the Everything program.

I added several hundred people from Maria Rosa's hometown to my tree in no time! I see this monumental task as the ultimate "Cousin Bait". I must be adding connections to other genealogy fans' and DNA matches' family trees.

Fixing a Hole

Working this fast can lead to gaps. I may go far up a bride's family tree and forget to go back to the groom. I thought I'd better do a spot check and look for the research holes I'd left behind.

Enter Family Tree Analyzer (FTA)—the best software for finding and fixing errors in your tree. And it's free.

Here's how to use FTA to find those information holes:

  • Export a GEDCOM from Family Tree Maker (or wherever you build your family tree) and open it in FTA.
  • Go to the Main Lists tab of FTA and see the first tab, Individuals. This shows all the facts in your tree.
  • Click the BirthDate column to sort all your people by this date. Instead of blanks, you'll see the word UNKNOWN.
  • Go to any person with the UNKNOWN birth date in your family tree. You should see that you are, in fact, missing their birth date.
If you still can't find their birth date, you must give each person an estimated birth year.
If you still can't find their birth date, you must give each person an estimated birth year.

Everyone in your family tree needs at least an estimated birth year. You're bound to have lots of people with the same name. An estimated birth year will prevent you from adding a 17th century father to a 19th century child.

I have a few rules for choosing an estimated birth year:

  • If you know when their first spouse was born, mark them as being born about the same year. (Abbreviate "about" as Abt in your tree.)
  • If this makes a woman much too old to have given birth to her children, adjust her estimated age down. You shouldn't make her more than 45 years old or so when she had her last child.
  • If you know when their first child was born, estimate them to be 25 years older than the child.
  • If you know when their parents were born, estimate them to be 25 years younger than their younger parent.

Finding More Holes

After fixing your unknown birth dates, go back to Family Tree Analyzer. Sort the Individuals list by DeathDate. Of course, lots of people in your family tree are still alive. You may have tons of UNKNOWN listings, many of which you are correct to leave blank.

I found it helpful to sort by the LifeSpan column. At the bottom of the list I have lots of people with a lifespan of 110 years or more. That means I haven't searched for and found their death records.

Thanks to the online Italian vital records, I can find a death record for most relatives born in the late 1700s. I'll choose a few from the list in FTA and search with Everything to fill in some holes.

But Wait! There's More

If you've been a careful genealogist and don't have a ton of missing dates, here's something else to try.

Sometimes a name is missing only because you haven't done the right search yet.
Sometimes a name is missing only because you haven't done the right search yet.

Sort your FTA Individuals list by Forenames. How many first names are you missing? (Note: I record missing names as an underline: _____, so that's what I see in FTA.)

I have a 1st cousin twice removed named Maria Pilla who was born and married in Italy. She and her family came to America, and I found several U.S. records for them. But I never found her husband's first name. After a quick search for Maria Pilla, I realized I had their 1941 marriage record sitting on my computer. Now I know his first name and birth date, his parents' names, and that his mother was my 4th cousin 3 times removed.

Then, of course, there are the UNKNOWN Surnames. These may be all the women whose maiden names you haven't found. Let this list encourage you to give them another search.

Family Tree Analyzer is a great safety net.

If you're a busy genealogist, schedule a weekly checkup day with Family Tree Analyzer. It's available for PC and Mac at ftanalyzer.com. I'm inspired each time I launch it. You will be, too.

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Let Me Build Your Italian Family Tree

If you want to find all your Italian ancestors but you need help, let's talk! Find out more at Italian Ancestry Services.

06 April 2021

Family Tree Fun for Computer Geeks

I started a project in 2019 and said I would share it with you soon. It was harder than I thought, so I put it aside until now. The results are interesting to see.

The geeky background is this:

  • In Family Tree Maker, I exported my latest GEDCOM file
  • In Family Tree Analyzer (free), I imported the GEDCOM and exported a spreadsheet of all facts
  • In Power BI Desktop (free), I imported the spreadsheet and built different views of my data

A few minutes into reviving this project, I noticed a friend's blog post on a similar topic. He showed all the pie charts he generated from his family tree on MyHeritage. I have only the most basic tree on that website, so I got back to work in Power BI Desktop.

In Power BI Desktop, I created graphs showing:

1. Last name occurrences in my family tree from most to least. Most of the last names in my tree (currently with 27,900 people) come from one town. That's no surprise. Years ago I pieced together my Grandpa Leone's town using 1809–1860 vital records. I added 15,000 people to my family tree.

I also see big numbers for last names from Grandpa Iamarino's town. The name Pozzuto is in the #1 position by far. That's because I made an effort to fit every last Pozzuto from the vital records into my tree. My maiden name is in 10th place because I've spent time pushing to find my closest Iamarino relatives.

Do you know what are the most common names in your family tree? This tool can tell you.
Do you know what are the most common names in your family tree? This tool can tell you.

2. First name occurrences in my family tree from most to least. My family is 100% from southern Italy, from the region called Campania. I'll bet the most common first names in my family tree are almost the same as other Campania family trees.

The most common first names in my family tree are:

  • Giuseppe
  • Angelamaria
  • Giovanni
  • Antonio
  • Francesco
  • Domenico
  • Pasquale
  • Maria

3. Birth locations plotted on a world map. The Power BI software plotted every birth location from my family tree on a map. I love zooming into southern Italy to see how centralized my Italian ancestors were. Draw a straight line from the Bay of Naples to the spur of the Italian boot, and that's where my DNA comes from.

Almost any type of family tree data can be plotted to give you the big picture.
Almost any type of family tree data can be plotted to give you the big picture.

4. Ahnentafel numbers from 1 to 2,691. I created a chart using a custom field in my GEDCOM called Ahnentafel. (Each of my direct ancestors has their Ahnentafel number in this field in Family Tree Maker.) I put the numbers on both the X and Y axis of a scatter plot for an interesting visualization of the gaps.

I know almost all my direct ancestors up to Ahnentafel number 748. Then there's a sprinkling from 999 to 1,392. Finally, I have a gigantic gap with two stragglers at 2,136 and 2,691. It's exciting to see my progress this way.

5. Number of children per marriage. I made a pie chart for the number of children in every marriage in my family tree. More than a third of my marriages have only one child. I'll bet I'm missing a ton of kids. That sounds like something to work on. About a quarter of the marriages in my tree have between 4 and 14 kids!

What do you think is the average number of children per family in your family tree?
What do you think is the average number of children per family in your family tree?

6. Drill-through by type of data. I'm familiar with this type of chart, but I never thought of using it for genealogy. I started with every individual in my family tree. Then I broke them down by last name. Then I broke each last name down by first name. I followed that with birth location, birth date, marriage date, and death date.

It may not be the most useful tool, but it is cool. I can choose any last name in my tree, then a first name and a birth place. I can click each one to see which facts I have in my tree.

This drill-through chart lets you follow anyone in your family tree through a series of events.
This drill-through chart lets you follow anyone in your family tree through a series of events.

For instance, I can click my name of Iamarino, and then the most common first name of Antonio. Now I see all the locations where an Antonio Iamarino was born. Next I'll click the town name (Colle Sannita) where I have 7 Antonio Iamarinos. Next comes the birth dates of the 7 men. I clicked each one until I found an Antonio for whom I have all the basic facts: birth, marriage, and death dates.

If you'd like to see statistics for your family tree, you can:

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Let Me Build Your Italian Family Tree

If you want to find all your Italian ancestors but you need help, let's talk! Find out more at Italian Ancestry Services.