27 April 2021

Quick and Easy Family Tree Backup Routine

I love my daily routines. I pack a ton of accomplishments into each morning. That sense of fulfillment pushes me to stay disciplined.

Being a disciplined genealogist leads to a stronger family tree. While others are sleeping late on a Sunday morning, I'm sticking to my routine:

  • Catching up on household income and expenses, and
  • Backing up all my family tree files

My simple backup plan is so quick and easy, I have to share it with you.

The key elements are (1) good organization of your files, (2) a checklist, and (3) a "what's new" folder. Here's how I keep my family tree files safe each Sunday morning.

External storage drives keep coming down in price. Don't short-change your family tree files.
External storage drives keep coming down in price. Don't short-change your family tree files.

The File Structure

As soon as I began this all-consuming genealogy hobby, I realized I needed to organize my digital files. That includes:

  • Naming each document image file in a consistent way (basically, LastnameFirstnameEventYear.jpg)
  • Placing each document image file in the right folder:
    • draft registration cards in the draft cards folder
    • census pages in the census forms folder
    • ship manifests in the immigration folder
    • Family Tree Maker and GEDCOM files in the FTM-GED files folder
    • vital records in the certificates folder, etc.

Yes, I could have some better folder names, like "vital records" instead of "certificates". But changing them now would mean having to change them on my backup drives. So I'll stay with what I've got. (Take a deeper dive into file naming and organization.)

The "What's New" Folder

My certificates folder must have 15,000 or more images in it. That's unmanageable. So I split it into 8 roughly equal folders based on the first letter of the file name. Now, inside my certificates folder are sub-folders with names like A-C, D-H, I-L, etc.

Each Sunday, having to check all 8 folders for what's new was a hassle. That's when I created a sub-folder in certificates called working. That's where I keep documents in progress.

Here's how I manage my tons of vital records now:

  • I gather files and prepare them for Family Tree Maker:
    • I crop them in Photoshop and enhance the contrast
    • I add a title and description to the file's properties. These carry over into Family Tree Maker. (Find out how to add details to your image files.)
    • I drag them into my family tree, adding each file to the right person
  • Once a file is in my tree, I drag it to the certificates folder
  • I drag non-vital records (ship manifests, censuses, etc.) into my DON'T FORGET TO BACK UP THESE folder. Keeping these files separate helps me make sure I file them in the right place.
  • On backup day, everything new is in my certificates folder (not the lettered sub-folders) and DON'T FORGET folder, ready for me to back up and file away. My certificates is my "What's New" folder.
Keep new files in a holding area so they're ready and waiting for your weekly backup.
Keep new files in a holding area so they're ready and waiting for your weekly backup.

The Backup Checklist

As a safeguard, I keep a short backup checklist in a file that's always open on my computer. Here's what it says:

  • Back up to OneDrive: (automatic) Antenati files, Blog files, FamilyTree
  • Back up to Seagate Drive:
    • C:\Users\diann\Documents\Outlook Files
    • Desktop\timesheets.xlsx (put in income folder)
    • E:\, $$Finances, FamilyTree (sync logs, GEDCOMs, Iamarino Media)

My FamilyTree folder gets backed up to the OneDrive cloud automatically. (Find a suitable cloud drive for your files.) This makes the files accessible from all my devices and keeps them safe. My document image files are already in the cloud, but I keep them on my 2 external drives, too, for extra protection.

The Devices

I have a 1 terabyte Seagate external drive I use for my weekly backups. It mirrors the folder structure on my computer.

Recently I bought a 2 terabyte Seagate external drive because if the first drive goes bad, I want to be protected. The new drive came with software to simplify my routine. I plug in the drive, launch the software, and it finds all the new or updated files in the folders I specify. Then it backs them up for me. It's so simple.

If you stick to any routines at all, you can stick to a weekly backup routine for your family tree files. If you aren't adding to your family tree each week, double-check your "what's new" folder and your list anyway. If nothing is new, get on with your day.

I get so much done in one week, a computer disaster without a recent backup would break my heart.

Are you willing to risk your genealogy research?

20 April 2021

Spring Cleaning for Your Family Tree

I found them sitting there in the "family tree" folder on my computer. Eight Italian vital records and a couple of U.S. immigration records that did not belong there. It was clear I'd cropped the images and made them ready for my family tree. Then I must have dragged them into the wrong folder.

What else had I misfiled or left unfinished? My main family tree folder is where I keep things I plan to work on later. These files didn't belong there.

If you started your genealogy research journey a while ago, you know more now than you did then. You've made breakthroughs on some of your lines. You've discovered new resources along the way.

It's time to use your growing knowledge and resources to clean up past mysteries.

Give your old files and notes a fresh look with more experienced eyes. For instance, in my main folder are two files I purposely left there until I learned more. One is an 1893 ship manifest featuring the last name of my 2nd great grandmother: Consolazio. I labelled the file ConsolazioPaolina1893, but who was Paolina?

How many family tree mysteries can you solve now that you know more?
How many family tree mysteries can you solve now that you know more?

Thanks to the vital records from the Consolazio hometown (Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy), I now know she is my 2nd great grandmother's sister. This ship manifest gives me the names of two of her children and tells me they were bound for Orange, New Jersey.

Looking at that 1893 manifest, I recognize other Santa Paolina last names: Dato, Bruno, Morrone, Maiorano, Stanziale. The record doesn't include hometowns, but my research tells me who's from Santa Paolina. There are two Consolazio families on the manifest, and I'll bet I can work both into my family tree now.

Also in my main family tree folder is an 1886 church record sent to me by a friend. It's a marriage between two people with my two grandfathers' last names. It turns out he is my 3rd cousin 5 times removed and she is my 4th cousin 3 times removed.

Also in that catch-all folder is a list of people who died in the 1805 earthquake in my Grandpa's hometown. In the past, I've tried to place these people in my family tree. A handful were already there, but I had no idea they'd died in the earthquake. One is my sixth great aunt. In this text file I left myself a note saying "DOWN TO HERE," signaling where I should pick up and continue my search.

How many tasks like these have you left unfinished? How many notes and documents have you tucked away for later? How many have you completely forgotten about?

I use Family Tree Maker software to build my tree. There is a Tasks feature that lets you record what you need to do for a particular person. As more and more documents become available, it's important to revisit these tasks. See what you can do about them.

I also use the Bookmarks feature in Family Tree Maker. Whenever I add an important note to a person, a note I want to make sure I don't lose, I give them a bookmark. These bookmarks a visible in the index of all people, so they're easy to spot.

These notes are handy when I'm wondering why a person's trail has gone cold.

Make sure your "why I did this" notes are easy to find in your family tree.
Make sure your "why I did this" notes are easy to find in your family tree.

Dig Into Those Dusty Crevices

To give your family tree a spring cleaning, check your:

  • Computer files. Do you see any files on your computer that are not where they belong? The files in my Family Tree folder belong in my immigration and certificates folders. I'll check my family tree to make sure these images are in there. Then I can file them away properly.
  • Paper files. Many family tree researchers keep extensive paperwork in binders. (Not me.) Do you have a pile of papers somewhere, waiting for your attention? Divide and conquer!
  • Notes. You may use a program like EverNote or a paper notebook to record your research notes. Can you solve any of those mysteries now?
  • Family tree. Have you recorded notes and tasks in your family tree software? I'll bet you can solve some of them now. You may simply need to give them another look.

I've spent the past week filling in the holes in my family tree. It was surprising how many facts were only a search away. I found missing last names, missing birth and death dates, and missing marriages. It was so satisfying!

I know you'll feel a great sense of accomplishment when you tie up some of your loose ends. And along the way, you may figure out a better way to keep these notes so they don't get buried again. Find a method that works best for you, then stick to it!

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.

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: