25 May 2021

How to Find the Stragglers in Your Family Tree

I'm living in my 16th home, so I know a thing or two about moving. To lighten the load before you pack, you sort your stuff into three categories: keep, sell, or throw away.

We can use a similar rule on our family trees. I generated a list of unrelated people in my family tree. I fit each person into one of three categories: research, keep, or delete.

This started when a Family Tree Maker user asked how to find the loose (unrelated) people in her family tree. One person answered "Family Tree Analyzer" without an explanation. I launched my copy of the program and answered with these instructions:

Family Tree Analyzer is a free program that can analyze your tree in many ways. Export a GEDCOM from your tree and open it with Family Tree Analyzer. Once it's open, click the Main Lists tab and view the Individuals tab (the first tab). Scroll to the right to find the Relation column and click to sort by it. The "Unknowns" are your loose people.

I did this and exported my full list of people to a spreadsheet. Then I sorted and deleted everyone who did have a relationship to me.

Take a fresh look at the unrelated people in your family tree.
Take a fresh look at the unrelated people in your family tree.

Now I had a spreadsheet of all the unrelated people in my family tree. I set out to categorize them as research, keep, or delete. I added a new column to my spreadsheet with the heading "Reason." As I worked my way down the list of alphabetized names, I added the reason they're in my tree.

For example, I had dozens of disconnected people with the last name Asahina. They're in my tree because of an undocumented connection to my husband's Ohama family. In the "Reason" column, I gave each of these people "Asahina" as the reason they're in my tree.

Other people are in my tree because my family says they are cousins, but the documents don't exist. I gave them a last name as a "Reason." They are either Saviano (my great grandmother's maiden name) or Sarracino (my great grandfather's name).

Now that everyone in the list had a particular reason to be there, I sorted the spreadsheet by the reasons.

  • Some people were from my grandfather's hometown. I worked with vital records to figure out their connection. I had lots of success and deleted them from the spreadsheet.
  • A couple of families were in the published 1742 census for my grandfather's town. I did some research, but I couldn't find a bridge between the civil records and 1742. I decided to keep these 12 people anyway.
  • There were a few families of three: two parents and a baby. I searched for more of their children. Unfortunately, all the children died young. Without a marriage to build on, I could not connect this small family to anyone else. I deleted them from my family tree and the spreadsheet.
  • When it came to the Asahina family, my own notes for two different people gave me the connection I was seeking. The story is, an Ohama family gave one of their babies to a childless cousin. As shocking as that sounds, it's a Japanese tradition. My own father-in-law was nearly given away! In the Ohama family, I'd entered a baby named _____ Asahina with a note saying, "this is the baby they gave away." In the Asahina family, I had attached a note to a woman named Masa Asahina. "A distant cousin says Masa is the Ohama baby given to the Asahina family." Hurray! I merged _____ Asahina with Masa Asahina, connecting the entire family. I removed them from my spreadsheet of unrelated people.
  • I tried again to connect a Saviano clan to myself. The family says they are cousins, and I have no doubt of that. But their hometown didn't keep civil records before 1861. Their church records are lacking, too. I added some new documents and facts, but they are still loose in my tree. I will keep them there.

My family tree still has 161 unrelated people I've chosen to keep. Twelve are from the 1742 census of Grandpa's town. The rest are from the town without documentation. I'm OK with that. They all have a now-documented reason for being in my family tree. I'll be on the lookout to see if any distant cousins know more about them than I do. So far, they don't.

In the end, I researched everyone in the list to some extent, deleted a bunch, and kept 161 people. And that's how you sort out and lighten the load before you move on to more research.

If you use Family Tree Maker, use these settings to find the unrelated people in your family tree.
If you use Family Tree Maker, use these settings to find the unrelated people in your family tree.

Someone else had a different answer to the "how to find loose people" question. They recommended Family Tree Maker's Kinship Report. With 29,000+ people in my tree, the report takes about 30 minutes to run, and it's 979 pages long. I can export to a spreadsheet by clicking Share, Export to CSV. Then, in Excel, I can filter the results to show only the "Unrelated" Relationship.

I recommend you go with Family Tree Analyzer for quick, useful, effective results. Then get moving and sort out your people.

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18 May 2021

Sorting Out a Hot Mess in Your Family Tree

It all started with Angela. When I landed on her in my 29,000-person family tree, I noticed I had her death date, but not her parents' names. She died in April 1809—about a month after my part of Italy began keeping birth, marriage, and death records.

I pulled up her death record. I found her parents' names and added them to my family tree. Then I saw a bigger problem with her father, Pasquale. His facts were a hot mess.

I found two versions of Pasquale's 1799 death record:

  • in his son Angelo's 1815 marriage documents
  • in his grandson Pasquale's 1853 marriage documents

In both versions of the death record, Pasquale is the son of Tommaso Cocca and Angela Gentile. That's fantastic because Tommaso and Angela are in the town's 1742 census. (The census is captured in a book called "Colle Sannita nel 1742" by my friend, Dr. Fabio Paolucci.) In both death records Pasquale's wife is Costanza Iamarino. I knew two of Pasquale and Costanza's children: Angela (born in 1776 per her death record) and Angelo (born in 1795).

But here's the problem. In my family tree, I had also identified Mariangela Iamarino as Pasquale's wife. That couple had two children in 1771 and 1773.

A note in my family tree made me wonder if he really had married both Mariangela and Costanza. Here's my note:

"Pasquale's death record (from his granddaughter Carmina Cocca's 1837 marriage documents) says he died on 2 Jul 1795, was the son of Giambattista Cocca and Pietronilla Vignogna, and was married to Mariangela Iamarino. I believe I've combined 2 men."

Finding More Facts to Sort Out the Mess

Now that I've stumbled upon this Pasquale mess again, it's time to set things straight.

The first thing to do is look at the 1795 death record in Carmina Cocca's marriage documents. In all, I found three versions of Pasquale's 1795 death record, but only one included his age at death.

Two different death records, with two different wives, made it clear I'd merged two men.
Two different death records, with two different wives, made it clear I'd merged two men.

The available facts make it clear I accidentally merged two Pasquale Cocca's into one. So how do I separate them while maintaining each man's facts?

If I could duplicate Pasquale in Family Tree Maker, I could remove the wrong facts, spouses, and kids from each man. Since there is no duplication option, I'll make a note of each fact that belongs to the Pasquale who died in 1795:

  • He married Mariangela Iamarino
  • They had 3 children: Giambattista, Donata, and Maria Maddalena
  • I now know he died in 1795 and his parents were Giambattista Cocca and Pietronilla Vignogna

Separating the Families Carefully

To avoid losing sight of Mariangela and her children, I'll follow these steps:

  1. Select each of the children and detach them from Pasquale, but not from Mariangela Iamarino.
  2. Select Mariangela and detach her from Pasquale.
  3. Create a new Pasquale Cocca as Mariangela's husband and father of her children.
  4. Add this new Pasquale's death date and his parents' names.

With all the facts and steps in front of me, I can fix this mess without missing anything. I'll remove that very important note and bookmark from the other Pasquale Cocca, too.

Now I've given Mariangela and her children their very own Pasquale Cocca. When I added his parents, I found that they, too, are in the 1742 census. I used the census to add Pasquale's paternal grandfather and his two older siblings. Since Pasquale is not listed in the 1742 census, I know he was not born in 1740, as his death record says. I'll give him a birth date of Abt. 1743.

Don't Assume You'll Remember These Things

I'm so grateful I left myself a note about Pasquale.

The Bookmarks feature of Family Tree Maker is an important way to keep your notes visible.
The Bookmarks feature of Family Tree Maker is an important way to keep your notes visible.

When I add a note in Family Tree Maker, I give the person a bookmark. Seeing that bookmark in the list of all people lets me see there's something about this person I need to know. Once I solve a problem, I remove the note and the person's bookmark.

If there's a hot mess in your family tree, gather as many facts as you can. Pay attention to the discrepancies. Take careful notes so you can undo your errors and set things straight.

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11 May 2021

Use What You Know to Break Down a Brick Wall

When you've been swimming in old Italian vital records for as long as I have, you learn a lot of little tidbits. Using those tidbits, I broke through a brick wall last week.

I finally got past one of my 5th great grandfathers. Once I found exactly the right record, I shot straight up his paternal line to my 8th great grandparents!

It was one heck of a process, and I'm so glad I stuck with it.

Since you may not know all the tidbits I've learned along the way, I thought it'd be helpful for me to list them for you. These facts are true of Italian vital records and some church records. Some of these facts should apply to other countries' vital records as well.

  1. Italian women keep their father's last name for life. There is no "maiden name" and "married name." There's one name. If they boarded a ship to emigrate, they used their one-and-only last name.
  2. Birth records may include the name of the baby's grandfathers and if they're alive or dead. If it says di and a name, the grandfather is alive. If it says fu and a name, the grandfather is dead.
  3. Death records name the deceased's parents and spouse, and whether they are alive or dead. But, if a person died in another town, the people there may not know the names all the deceased's parents and spouse. And if a man died quite early, his death record may say that he is married, but not give his wife's name.
  4. An Italian marriage requires the consent of the bride and groom's parents. If a parent is dead, a grandfather may consent. If everyone's dead, there needs to be proof. So, the marriage records can include:
    • Bride and groom's birth or baptism record, possibly with their parents' ages at the time. Note: The earlier in someone's life their age is stated, the more reliable it is.
    • Bride and groom's mother's death record, if she's dead at the time of the marriage
    • Bride and groom's father's death record, if he's dead at the time of the marriage
    • Bride and groom's grandfather's death record, if parent and grandfather are both dead
    • Bride and groom's previous spouse's death record. Note: There was no divorce in Italy until 1970, but widows usually remarried quickly.

Last week I noticed that my Grandma Lucy's line had a dead end at my 5th great grandfather, Antonio Zeolla. I've done tons of work to make every vital record from Antonio's town searchable. So why didn't I know when he died or who his parents were?

Building out all of Antonio's children and grandchildren was the key to finding his ancestors.
Building out all of Antonio's children and grandchildren was the key to finding his ancestors.

I did know Antonio was still alive in 1817. I learned that from his wife's death record.

  • If the deceased's spouse is dead, the document says they were the vedovo di or vedova di, followed by their late spouse's name. Vedovo/a di means widow of.
  • If the deceased's spouse is alive, the document says they were the marito di or moglie di, followed by their spouse's name. Marito di means husband of. Moglie di means wife of.

I searched for an Antonio Zeolla who was the widow of Andreana Piacquadio (my 5th great grandmother). There was no widow of Andreana. Had Antonio remarried? In 1817 when Andreana died, the couple had 2 very young children. Antonio should have remarried.

But I couldn't search for the marriage of an Antonio Zeolla. That's a common name in the town of Colle Sannita, and I wouldn't know if I'd found the right man. If he remarried at the right time, the documents would include Andreana's death record. I searched for that. But he didn't remarry at the right time.

I knew what I had to do.

I had to find all of Antonio and Andreana's children and their marriage records. But Antonio was still alive when his children married.

Antonio's grandchildren's marriage records would include his death if they married:

  • after their parent had died, and
  • after Antonio had died.

I began identifying his grandchildren and searching for their marriages.

At last I found what I needed. In 1850, Andreana Zeolla got married. She was the daughter of Antonio's eldest son. Luckily for me, When she married, both her father and grandfather were dead. After hours of searching, I found Antonio's death record from 1848. I learned his parents (my 6th great grandparents) were Marco Zeolla and Donata Tedesco.

It took his granddaughter's marriage to positively identify Antonio's death date and second wife. Then I found even more.
It took his granddaughter's marriage to positively identify Antonio's death date and second wife. Then I found even more.

The 1848 death record says Antonio was the widow of a different woman. It's clear from the context that this is the Antonio I was looking for. His second wife is the reason I couldn't find him.

Now I knew he had remarried Lucia Piacquadio, so I found his 1819 marriage documents. Those documents held an even bigger treasure for me.

When Antonio remarried, both his father and grandfather were dead. Hurray, right? I learned that:

  • my 6th great grandfather Marco Zeolla died in 1791
  • he was the son of Antonio Zeolla and Angela Iacobaccio, my 7th great grandparents
  • my 7th great grandfather Antonio Zeolla died in 1764
  • he was the son of Marco Zeolla and Fioribella diRuccia, my 8th great grandparents!!

While this method doesn't always lead to this much success, you mustn't overlook it. When you can't find the document you need, work around it. A family member—one you haven't found yet—may be the key to help you break down that brick wall.

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04 May 2021

Your DNA Matches Hold Hidden Clues

"How can DNA help me build my family tree?" I see this question online all the time. People who haven't taken a DNA test are wondering if it's worth the price.

I can see their point, can't you? If they care about only their own ancestry, they may not care about finding their 5th cousin 3 times removed.

Here's why DNA matches are important to any genealogy researcher: The facts you discover in their trees can fill in the blanks in your tree.

For example, I was looking at a DNA match in the 4th–6th cousin range. He has Irish Ancestry on his father's side, and Italian ancestry on his mother's side. His Italian grandparents, with familiar last names, were all I needed to begin my search.

His info was a little vague. But I found his grandmother's birth record in the vital records from my Grandpa's hometown. I love it when the Italian birth records include a note about who this baby grew up to marry. But this person, Liberantonia deMatteis, had no such note.

Your DNA test buys you access to an endless amount of clues for your family tree.
Your DNA test buys you access to an endless amount of clues for your family tree.

Searching for his grandfather, I found 2 possibilities in the Italian records. Without that marriage notation, I couldn't be sure which was the right person.

I turned to Ancestry.com, hoping to find the couple's immigration record for more clues. Instead, I found a more detailed family tree owned by a relative of my DNA match (same Irish last name). Her family tree confirmed that I had found the right grandmother for my DNA match. And it pointed out a crucial error in the first tree. His name wasn't Pasquale, it was Innocenzo. With that clue, I found the birth record for my DNA match's grandfather.

I already know more about my DNA match's Italian ancestry than he does.

Without this DNA match to Innocenzo and Liberantonia, I would have passed them by. Knowing there's a connection, I must climb each of their trees to find our relationship.

I've put in the work to make finding ancestors easy as can be.
I've put in the work to make finding ancestors easy as can be.

It took me about 3 hours to find a true relationship to my DNA match, but it was fun. His grandmother is my 5th cousin twice removed, so my DNA match is my 7th cousin.

His grandmother's mother was the key to our multi-faceted relationship. I climbed her father's side of the family 5 generations to reach my 6th great grandparents Saverio and Angela. But I also climbed her mother's side of the family 5 generations to reach my double 6th great grandparents Giuseppe and Maria.

Does that make us triple 7th cousins? We do have a 4th–6th cousin DNA relationship.

Not all DNA test-takers are actively building their family trees. That's why they don't answer us when we write to them. Rather than write to this DNA match, I will update my public family tree with his relatives.

Some day, if he's interested, he'll stumble upon my tree and be amazed at all the generations I've found for him. In the meantime, this helps me in my quest to connect everyone with roots in my ancestral hometowns.

If you're one of the DNA skeptics, know that your matches can give you helpful clues, whether they know it or not.

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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.