27 July 2021

Which Genealogy Documents Are You Missing?

Working on your family tree gets more exciting each time you discover something new. Maybe you discovered your great grandfather's brother and followed his paper trail. Maybe you went off on interesting tangents and built out several branches. Once your new discoveries run their course, you may find your family tree is a lot bigger.

How do you get back on track? How can you make sure you collect every available document for everyone in your family tree?

For me, the answer is simple. My document tracker is a 4,870-line spreadsheet that shows each document I've added to my family tree. It lists people from my tree in alphabetical order—but only people for whom I have documents. (Download a document tracker file you can use for yourself.)

This inventory of which genealogy documents you have and which you need will help you make your family tree more complete. (Never finished, but more complete.)
This inventory of which genealogy documents you have and which you need will help you make your family tree more complete. (Never finished, but more complete.)

Most of my documents are very old Italian vital records. I do something special for those lines in the document tracker.

  • If I've added all available documents for a person to my tree (birth, marriage(s), and death), I color their line green. That tells me that person is complete.
  • In a completed person's "Need to find" column, I enter n/a for not applicable.
  • If I can't get one or more of a person's vital records because they aren't online, I color their line blue.
  • In an incomplete person's "Need to find" column, I enter what is missing, like this:
    • out of range: birth
    • out of range: marriage
    • out of range: death

Lately I've been working to make my collection of Italian vital records searchable. Since they are searchable, I should be able to complete all my Italians' "Need to find" columns.

This is such a fulfilling task! The documents are waiting for me to get them and add them to my family tree. So why wouldn't I chase them down?

I started at the top of my document tracker, but for now, I'm focusing only on those Italian documents. I'll skip over all the people with U.S. or other documents.

One at a time, I search my computer (using a free PC program called Everything) for a person. The document tracker tells me which documents I'm missing. Now I can definitively say if a person was born, married, or died "out of range" of the online documents. And if I find a missing document, I crop it in Photoshop and add it to both my family tree and my document tracker. I also create a source citation for each fact I learn from each document.

So many lines are now colored either green for complete or blue for out of range. Some day, if I gain access to church records, I may find many of the out of range documents. My document tracker will make it easy to see which church records I want.

This level of completeness makes me really happy. I always have a bunch of genealogy projects going on at the same time. One involves identifying all my relatives from one town, Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy. For that fast-paced project, I'm adding facts only, not documents or citations. Not yet.

Diego was born out of range of available genealogy documents, but I know I found all that's available.
Diego was born out of range of available genealogy documents, but I know I found all that's available.

Right now I want to work through my document tracker, filling in the blanks. Then I'll start adding documents and sources for my Santa Paolina people.

In my first two days of finding missing documents, I added 75 document images to my family tree. Unfortunately, there is a problem with Ancestry.com right now. No one can synchronize their Family Tree Maker file with Ancestry. I don't want to add tons of facts and documents until I get synchronized again. But I can collect and crop the images I need, and save them to add to my tree later.

If your family tree isn't too big, you can go person-by-person and see what you're missing. You may even want to create and fill in your document tracker at the same time.

My family tree has more than 30,500 people right now. I'm so glad I created my document tracker when I had less than 1,000 people. If your tree is too big to consider doing a person-by-person check, keep things close to you. Examine only your direct ancestors to see what's missing. Then branch out to the siblings of your direct ancestors.

Also, each time you view a person in your tree, for whatever reason, take note of what they're missing. As long as you're working on them, you may as well go all the way and search for everything you need.

Yes, those genealogy tangents are fun! But don't forget to double back and fill in the blanks for a more complete family tree.

20 July 2021

How to Find Value in Your Distant DNA Matches

My DNA matches are very out of balance. My paternal-side matches outnumber my maternal-side matches by more than 2 to 1. To make up for the big difference, I need to squeeze out the value of these matches to benefit my family tree.

My tree contains about 15,000 people (I kid you not) from my mother's father's hometown of Baselice. That's a result of a years-long project where I documented thousands of vital records in a text file. Then I worked the people into my family tree. Thanks to Italy's Antenati website, I have access to the rest of the town's records through 1942.

On Saturday I published a text file and an Excel file with names and links to more than 8,600 Baselice vital records. I've done the same for a few of my other ancestral towns, including Santa Paolina, Avellino.

Having done all this work, I'm as ready as I'll ever be to fit Mom's DNA matches into my family tree.

A Familiar Name

As I scroll down my list of maternal-side DNA matches, I see one with a last name I think I know. It looks like an Americanization of the name Ricciardelli. This name comes from Santa Paolina. That's the hometown of one of my 2nd great grandmothers.

My DNA match's 3-person tree turns out to be all I need. (I didn't see that coming.) The tree consists of her, her father, and her grandfather, Michele Ricciardelli. A quick search for her father shows me that his parents, Michele and Vincenza, are already in my family tree. Michele Ricciardelli is my 3rd cousin 3 times removed. When I add Michele's son and granddaughter to my tree, I see that my match is my 5th cousin once removed.

That was unexpected! My DNA match's 3-person family tree was all I needed to easily connected her to my extended family.
That was unexpected! My DNA match's 3-person family tree was all I needed to easily connected her to my extended family.

I'll add a note to my DNA match list and choose another one to explore.

Another match has the name Ricciardelli in his family tree, too. He also has another name from the same town—Stanziale. I should be able to place this young man in my family tree.

As I view his tree, I see his 3rd great grandparents are in my family tree already. But their connection to me is not close at all. Each one has an in-law relationship to my 5th great uncle. I needed more facts.

I found my match's 2nd great grandparents' marriage documents and added the facts to my family tree. While I can't find a blood relationship with this DNA match, I can see a DNA connection. His 2nd great grandmother's sister married my 5th great uncle. The descendants of both sisters would share some DNA.

Since his tree has 2 generations of private, unnamed family, I won't add him to my family tree. But I made a detailed note on Ancestry DNA about how we may share DNA.

Another Familiar Name

I want to explore one more match whose grandmother Carmela was born in Santa Paolina. Carmela and her parents are not in my family tree. I'm sure I can find their connection by searching the documents.

The Santa Paolina documents, searchable on my computer, helped me place Carmela in my tree. But once again, there is no direct relationship. I'll go ahead and add as many facts as I can about this family. Maybe future research will show a closer relationship.

I've been building my own massive vital records database. Finding my DNA matches' relatives is a slam dunk.
I've been building my own massive vital records database. Finding my DNA matches' relatives is a slam dunk.

It looks as if my ancestors' neighbors and in-laws have descendants who have DNA-tested. And we share a small amount of DNA. Yes, I wish I had more and closer matches from my maternal side. But I can use my DNA matches to piece together extended families and see how far they've come.

Don't overlook the value of your 4th–6th cousin matches. They can extend your dead ends and open up new relationships.

13 July 2021

How to Crunch Your DNA Numbers

I watched an excellent online course about data visualization. (Nerd!) In a nutshell, the presenter explained the pros and cons of different types of charts. Which one are easier to understand? Which answer your questions?

Naturally, I spent the whole time thinking how to use these ideas for genealogy.

My first thought was DNA results. Ethnically, my parents and I are all Italian. Their ancestors all came from a very small area of Italy. I've traced all their lines back to the late 1600s, and no one moved. Not until 1899 did we start to become American.

Our 3 DNA test results have changed over time as the database grew and algorithms improved. I would like to see how each of my parents influence my DNA, and how we all compare to one another.

An Excel spreadsheet is a very simple way to generate all kinds of charts. First I entered some basic information.

  • Mom, Dad, and I are the 3 rows in the spreadsheet.
  • We each have 3 DNA ethnicities, so these are the 3 columns in the spreadsheet:
    • Southern Italy
    • Greece & Albania
    • Northern Italy

For each of us, I entered our percentage of each of the 3 ethnicities.

These 4 charts show the same information. But which one best answers the question at hand?
These 4 charts show the same information. But which one best answers the question at hand?

To create a chart based on data, select all the data in your table, including the names of the rows (Mom, Dad, Me) and columns. (Click your mouse in the top left cell, A1, and drag your mouse to the bottom right cell.)

With the data selected, go to Excel's Insert menu. In the Charts section of the tool ribbon, click in the lower right corner to See All Charts. On the new window that opens, click the All Charts tab. Now you can click through lots of options to see a preview using your actual data.

When you select a type of chart, it will appear on your spreadsheet. You can click and drag that chart anywhere on the page. Once you click a chart, you can click the paintbrush icon to change the style of colors. And you can give it whatever title you choose.

Based on the online course I watched, I chose 4 types of charts with different qualities. Each one shows how my DNA compares with that of my parents.

1. In the Custom Combination chart (top left in the image above), my parents (green and blue bars) have similar DNA. The yellow line (representing me) shows that I have:

  • a touch more Southern Italian DNA than either of my parents
  • a good deal more Greek/Albanian DNA than either of my parents
  • a good deal less Northern Italian DNA than either of my parents

This is a good chart because it clearly shows what I wanted to know: how do I compare to Mom and Dad?

2. The 100% Stacked Column chart (top right in the image above), we see a different visualization. But there's bit less clarity. You can't see from this chart that I have more Southern Italian DNA than my parents. But you can see that I have a lot more Greece/Albania, and a ton less Northern Italy.

3. The Scatter Chart with Straight Lines and Markers (lower left in the image above), is clearer than chart 2. You can see that I have:

  • the most Southern Italy, but not by much
  • the most Greece/Albania, by a decent amount
  • the least Northern Italy, by a lot

Strangely, the ethnicities don't appear on this chart.

4. The Clustered Bar chart (lower right in the image above) . This is a better comparison of the 3 of us than charts 2 or 3. Why?

  • You can see how we "stack up" to one another in each of the 3 ethnicities.
  • The percentages are pretty easy to see.

Chart 1, the Custom Combination chart, is the best choice to answer my initial question. When I first created this chart, the bars were me and mom, and the line was dad. Then I realized that when you're choosing the type of chart to create, you can set who gets the line and who gets the bars.

Before I created these charts, I had to keep switching DNA results on Ancestry to get an idea how we 3 compared. It was a revelation to me that I wound up with more Southern Italy and Greek/Albanian DNA than my parents.

You can easily compare your DNA to that of one or many DNA matches. Which questions do you want to answer?
You can easily compare your DNA to that of one or many DNA matches. Which questions do you want to answer?

If you don't manage multiple DNA tests, don't worry. You can create charts comparing yourself to as many of your Ancestry DNA matches as you want. When I view my 1st cousin as my DNA match, I can click Ethnicity to see his percentages. How interesting! He has a lot more Northern Italy than I do, but he has no Greek/Albanian at all.

Imagine charting a group of your DNA matches' ethnicity percentages in a spreadsheet. What might you learn from charting the data? What do you want to learn?

06 July 2021

Prepare to Walk Along Your Ancestors' Streets

I love having access to tens of thousands of vital records from my ancestral hometown. Some of the birth records from Colle Sannita, Italy, helped prepare me for my visit to the town in 2018. I was able to walk along the street where my great grandfather was born. In another town, I found the house where my great grandmother died.

European towns seem ancient to my American sensibilities. But they do change street names sometimes. Some streets in the old documents aren't on today's map. When I enter some addresses into Family Tree Maker, it can't find the street and puts the map pin almost anywhere. I hate that!

On my 1st trip to Grandpa's town, I thought I'd see my name on a doorway. Now, finally, I am prepared to walk in his footsteps.
On my 1st trip to Grandpa's town, I thought I'd see my name on a doorway. Now, finally, I am prepared to walk in his footsteps.

I needed to update the non-existent addresses in my family tree to current-day street names. I want to be able to go to the places my ancestors lived when I return to Italy. After thinking about this for a while, I realized I had the perfect resource.

In 2007 I posted a message on an Italian ancestry message board. The man who answered me was an historian from my Grandpa Iamarino's hometown. He told me that Iamarino was one of the earliest names from the town of Colle Sannita. He also said he was writing a book about the town.

Fast forward to today. I have his book about Grandpa's town sitting on my desk at all times. The heart of the book is a 1742 town census. I've managed to add many of the 560 households from that time to my family tree.

There's plenty more to the book. It's written in Italian, so I've added many Post-It Notes to the pages for future translation.

The other day I sent a message to the author. I asked him how I can find out the current names of old streets in the town. He told me I'd find the answers in his book. I opened my copy and found one of my Post-It Notes. "This tells where to find the old street names," I had written.

It was exactly what I needed. This passage mentions all the streets and neighborhoods listed in the 1742 census. Then it explains where to find those streets and neighborhoods today.

I've discovered so much about my Colle Sannita family through vital records and this book. Over and over, one neighborhood seemed to always hold relatives of mine. Its name was li Tufi. Sometimes Strada (street) li Tufi, sometimes Via (also street) Tufi. Each time I saw li Tufi I thought, "Oh, they're my people for sure."

But there is no mention of anything named Tufi on a modern map of Grandpa's hometown.

That's why this book, "Colle Sannita nel 1742," is the most important book I own. I learned that the former li Tufi is a neighborhood of three parallel streets near the center of town. They renamed the ancient streets for the first king of Italy:

  • Via Calata Vittorio Emanuele (calata means descent)
  • Via Vittorio Emanuele
  • Via Gradoni Vittorio Emanuele (gradoni means steps)

This is major news to me! It means I can walk these streets on my next visit. I expect to feel weak in the knees. (And not just because it's hilly.)

Leave yourself notes as you learn the current name of your ancestors' ancient roads.
Leave yourself notes as you learn the current name of your ancestors' ancient roads.

Next I needed to update the streets in Family Tree Maker so the program would place them on the map. I had to keep track of my changes to avoid future confusion.

I used the Plan tab in Family Tree Maker. I made a new, high-priority task for each street with a name change. (Choosing "high-priority" keeps the items at the top of the list.) I can check these items whenever I'm adding another birth or death record for an old street name.

The format of these task items is very simple:

  • old street name = new street name

For example, li Tufi = Via Vittorio Emanuele. (It's actually three streets, but I decided to split the difference.)

After pulling information from the book, I still had six old street names that are no longer in the town. While these six didn't exist in 1742, they did exist throughout the 1800s. I asked the author, and he told me what I needed.

To update street names in our ancestral towns we need a modern reference to the historical town. I encourage you to seek out any written history of your ancestral hometowns. Do not let a foreign language stop you. You can find the street names you need by eye. Then use Google Translator to understand what the book says.

With this type of update to your ancestral addresses, you may be able to someday walk where they walked.