30 November 2021

Put More Logic in Your Genealogical Research

When I'm adding people and facts to my family tree, I can feel my mind racing. I'm running through a decision tree to decide the next step.

What's a decision tree? It's a series of questions where each answer tells you which way to turn. I follow this type of path without realizing it. Let's take a look at this process and see how you can best apply it to your family tree research.

Fix an Illogical Birth Year

There's a man named Donato in my family tree with an estimated birth year of 1715. He had two children with an estimated birth year of 1790. Making babies at age 75 is definitely pushing it, even though Charlie Chaplin did so at age 73.

How would you figure out whether his age estimate is a mistake? Here's my thought process:

  • In my family tree, Donato has an exact date of death in 1792. Let's take another look at that death record to see if it states his age.
  • I have several versions of the death record, and each one says he was 57 years old.
  • That would mean Donato was born in 1735, not 1715.

Does that work? Let's keep going through the logic.

  • I have two wives for Donato. Is it possible that I combined two different men with the same name? Let's check each copy of his death record.
  • No, I did not combine two men. One copy of his death record mentions both his wives by name.
  • Donato's estimated birth year matches that of his first wife Anna, but where did it come from? Let's look at their family.
  • My family tree has two children for Donato and Anna. It says they were born in 1740 and 1765. The 1715 estimate is 25 years earlier than their first child Teresa's 1740 birth year. That's my usual formula—25 years before the first child's birth is the estimated birth year.
  • Is 1740 the correct birth year? Let's look more closely at Teresa.
  • Teresa's husband was born in 1759 and they had a son in 1793. It's ridiculous to think she had a baby at age 53 with a man 19 years her junior.
  • Where did I get her 1740 birth year? I have an 1800 death date for Teresa, so let's look at the death record.
  • Aha! Teresa died in 1825, not 1800. I've never seen such a blatant error in my tree! Her 1825 death record says she was 65 years old.
  • Now I know Teresa was born in 1760, not 1740. That means her parents' birth year estimate should be about 1735 (1760-25).

Donato's death record is logical after all. It says he was born in 1735, and that what the logic says, too. Problem solved!

When the data in your family tree makes no sense, get more data!
When the data in your family tree makes no sense, get more data!

Narrow Down a Missing Death Date

Not all death records are easily available to us. When that happens, you can use logic to narrow down the death to a range of years. Here's the example of my 2nd great uncle Filippo Caruso.

  • I have Filippo's 1868 birth record from their hometown in Italy.
  • This helped me find him coming to America in 1903 to join another brother, Giuseppe, in Elmira, New York.
  • I found him living with Giuseppe in both the 1910 and 1920 censuses in northern Pennsylvania. I needed to keep following Filippo through time.
  • In the 1930 and 1940 censuses he is living with another brother, Nicola, in Hornellsville, New York.
  • The date of the 1940 census with Filippo is 24 April 1940. What happened next?
  • The Catholic church in Hornellsville has a lot of my Caruso relatives in its graveyard. Naturally, I discovered this after I made a trip to see the town!
  • The Find a Grave website has a photo of Filippo's grave that says 1868–1940. That means he died soon after the 1940 census.
  • Since I don't have Filippo's exact death date, I have to estimate his death date. I have it written as "Bet. 24 Apr–31 Dec 1940" because he was alive for the census, but dead by the end of the year.

Filippo's exact death date was unknown to me. But the big websites update record collections all the time. I went to Ancestry.com to see if the New York Death Index might contain Filippo. And it does! Now I know my 2nd great uncle died on 2 Sep 1940. My estimate was right, but this is much better.

Don't forget to repeat your search for missing records every six months or so.

After you track down every possible genealogy document for someone, it's time to check for newly available information.
After you track down every possible genealogy document for someone, it's time to check for newly available information.

Find a Missing Birth Date

I like to sort my Family Tree Maker file by Birth Date and work on someone whose exact birth date I don't know. For this example, I'll choose Anna Maria Basile. All I know about her right now is:

  • She married Angelo Zeolla.
  • They had a daughter in 1830 when Anna Maria was supposedly 26 years old.

The logic I've gained from Italian vital records tells me that based on her age, I should be able to find her marriage records. That will tell me her birth date and her parents' names. I should be able to find more of her children, and I may find her death record, unless she died after 1860. I say that because I know that available death records for Anna Maria's hometown end in 1860.

Here's the logic I'll follow:

  • I'll search the Italian records for the marriage of Angelo Zeolla and Anna Maria Basile.
  • Yes! I found their marriage documents in 1826. I learned Angelo and Anna Maria's exact birth dates and their parents' names.

Both sets of parents were already in my family tree. Once I connected Anna Maria to her parents, I saw that she's my 1st cousin 6 times removed.

To learn more about Anna Maria, I'll search for more of her children. Here's the process:

  • I found their first child in 1827. Now I know which street Anna Maria lived on with her husband.
  • On her third child's birth record, I found that Anna Maria's family moved to a different street in town.
  • The couple had their last child in 1847.
  • Neither Anna Maria nor Angelo died before 1860 when the available death records end.

How else can I narrow down when Anna Maria died? There is one other possibility. Anna Maria's oldest children could have married before 1860. Based on one child's marriage records, I know Anna Maria and her husband were alive in December 1853. I followed all her children and couldn't get any more facts about Anna Maria or her husband.

Using logic to search for the answers turned a random name into a true cousin.
Using logic to search for the answers turned a random name into a true cousin.

The more you use census forms, ship manifests, vital records, etc., the more you learn. Think about how each document can help you the next time you have a question. Then use logic to do all you can to find the answer.

23 November 2021

Discover Your Ancestral Hometown's History

My earliest family tree breakthroughs came from municipal websites. I was impressed, 15 years ago, by how many small towns in Italy had an information-packed website. Today, you may find a website for almost any town or township anywhere in your country or your old country.

I remember being very interested in my most recently discovered ancestral hometown. I went to the town's website and decided to send an email to the webmaster. To my delight, he wrote back to me with documents for the births and marriage of my great grandparents.

With the explosion of interest in ancestry, town webmasters may not be so generous today. They'd be overrun by requests!

Still, there's a lot you can learn by finding these town websites. My favorite thing to do with Italian town websites is search for their history (storia) page. Here's what I learned about one hometown: Sant'Angelo a Cupolo.

  • The name of the town comes from (a) their patron saint, Michael the Archangel, shortened to Sant'Angelo; and (b) the fact that it sits up on a hill, or dome (cupolo). So, it's the town of St. Michael the Archangel which sits up on a hill.
  • The first mention of the town is in a document from the year 1065!
  • The most sacred landmark in their neighborhood is the statue of the Madonna del Rosario. The name of the church where my ancestors were baptized and married is Santa Maria Santissima del Rosario. The statue must be inside the church.
  • The convent I saw on a distant hill on my first visit to the town dates back to 1775. That means every ancestor I can name also saw that building up on the hill.
  • The typical dishes of the town are tagliatelle, cecatielli, fusilli, stuffed peppers, and tripe (eww).
  • The main religious holidays for my great grandparents' neighborhood are the feasts of San Biagio and San Giuseppe (the name of their piazza).
Your ancestral hometown website can give you a taste of what it's like to live there, and how it was for your ancestors.
Your ancestral hometown website can give you a taste of what it's like to live there, and how it was for your ancestors.

There's also information that's important to people who live in the town today:

  • Photographs of the town.
  • The town's elected officials. You may recognize some last names.
  • Local businesses.
  • Resolutions and ordinances.
  • Local organizations.
  • Places of worship.

Whoa! That last fact may have helped solve a long-standing mystery about my 2nd great grandfather, Antonio Saviano. I have a 1925 photo of him in his coffin, and there is a ribbon pinned to his jacked. It's hard to read, but it seems to match the name of the church in one of the town's neighborhoods. Maria Santissima delle Grazie translates to holy Mary of the graces. Maybe Antonio was a supporter of the church from his new home in the Bronx.

Let's try a U.S. town now. I lived in Southampton, Pennsylvania, for many years. Like many U.S. town websites, Southampton offers:

  • A way to reach its different administrative departments.
  • Meeting minutes from the town council.
  • A calendar of upcoming events.
  • The town's history, which began in 1685—ancient by U.S. standards.
  • Historic photos.
  • A list of townsmen who fought in the Revolutionary War. Very cool!
Hometowns across the United States are highly likely to have a website featuring a bit of their history.
Hometowns across the United States are highly likely to have a website featuring a bit of their history.

If you don't know much about your ancestors' hometowns, it'll be a real treat to browse their websites.

What if your town doesn't have a website? My family tree contains the town of Spondon, Derbyshire, England. When I searched, I didn't find a town website for Spondon. What I did find is a bunch of websites providing some of the same information as the town websites.

  • Wikipedia can give you the town's statistics and history.
  • The FamilySearch.org wiki also has information about the town. Plus you get a list of the town's documents available on FamilySearch.
  • You can find photos and maps for your town in your search results.
  • Scour those search results for more insights into the town.
An image search for your ancestors' hometown may show you landmarks from their time.
An image search for your ancestors' hometown may show you landmarks from their time.

I want to make sure my future visits to my ancestral hometowns happen on one of their feast days. That way, I'll have the chance to see many more townspeople than I have before. Find out about your town's attractions and their history before you visit. Or search for photos and feel as if you're there.

Give it a try!

17 November 2021

How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives

Updated on 30 May 2022. Be sure to read Tip 4!

I was in a panic when the Italian genealogy website, Antenati, changed completely on November 15, 2021. But I'm here to help you cope.

First, the bad news:

  • The new site does not allow us to easily save a high-resolution image of a document. But users are smart. Someone figured out an easy solution, and I will share it with you.

Here are 5 tips for using the new Antenati portal.

Tip 1: Use the Site's Improved Search Function

The homepage of the Antenati site has a slightly different URL than before: https://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it. The first thing you'll see is a search form. Click the Italian flag at the top right of the page, if you like, to translate this search form to another language. I always leave it on Italian because it isn't a lot of words.

You can use this search form to quickly get to a particular town. Type the town's name in the first box (Località), click the yellow-highlighted suggestion, and click the Cerca (Search) button.

The Antenati group is always working on indexing vital records so you can search for a person. Instead of the default "Cerca nei registri" (search in the registers), choose "Cerca per nome" (search for a name). Enter a first name, last name, town, and year (click the down-arrow on those last two for more options).

I searched for my grandfather, born in Colle Sannita in 1902. Antenati has indexed the person's name, both their parents' names, and their date of birth, death, or marriage. It's pretty impressive.

You can click the view button for any search result to go to a page of text. Then click what will not appear to be a link, but is. It'll be beneath the word Atti, and when you hover your mouse over the words, for example, "Atto di nascita 10 Ottobre 1902," you can click that link. You'll find yourself on the exact page of the document you wanted.

There are 3 ways to see all the page numbers and get around the register.
There are 3 ways to see all the page numbers and get around the register.

Tip 2: Find a Province, Time Period, and Town

If you prefer the old method of drilling down to your town, you can still do that. In the top menu of the website, click "Esplora gli Archivi" or Find the Archives. I don't find the map helpful, but scroll below it to see the good-old alphabetical list of provinces.

Click your province of choice to go to its landing page. You'll find two buttons:

  • Cerca nei registri (Search the registries) gives you a list of all the registers for the town. You can sort these from oldest to newest, or vice versa. Click the Vedi il registro (View the register) button for any book you want. You'll now be in a register viewer, able to turn the pages of the book.
  • Esplora i fondi (Explore the fonds—not a typo) is closer to the old format. I'll warn you now that you're better off with the first button to search the registries. But if you want to see the old way, click the button to see the three time periods, now displayed in alphabetical, not chronological, order:
    • Stato civile italiano—the latest time period, usually from 1866 on. These are the years after Italy became a unified republic.
    • Stato civile napoleonico—the earliest time period, usually from 1809 through 1815. These are the years when Napoleon was in charge.
    • Stato civile della restaurazione—the middle time period, usually from 1816 through 1865. These are the years after Napoleon, but before Italy became one country.
  • Click a time period, then choose your town. And whaddaya know? You're right back where you were when you clicked Cerca nei registri. That was a waste of time. So maybe the new site helps us get where we want to go faster.

Tip 3: See Thumbnails or Pick a Page to View

At first glance, it seems as if you can only page your way through a register one image at a time. If that's the case, imagine paging through a 100-page book to get to the index pages.

Luckily, there are several other ways to get around. Start by looking at any page of a register. Then:

  • Method 1: Click the icon to the top right of the viewing area that's meant to look like a window. Change your view from Singolo to Galleria. New as of 30 May 2022: In most or all cases you will see a true thumbnail of what the pages look like. Hopefully this will roll out to more areas.
  • Method 2: Same as above, click the icon at the top right, but this time, click Right. (Why is that in English?) Now you have a scrollable list on the right with all the page numbers. You can click any one of them.
  • Method 3: Click the hamburger menu the 3 stacked horizontal lines). Then click the third icon down that looks like five stacked lines of different lengths. Now you can see a list of all the page numbers. Or you can choose to see them as thumbnails.

Click any page number to go where you want to go.

Tip 4: Saving a Record's URL and High-Res Image

This section is new as of 30 May 2022.

The Antenati site no longer gives us a button to download a high resolution image of the document we want. But here's a solution for you.

Start by going to the page you want within any register book. As you click from page to page, you should notice that the last section of the URL (after the last slash) in the address bar of your web browser changes with each page. Copy that last section and paste it into this template URL that you will keep in a safe place, replacing only the word TARGET:


For example, I'm looking at a document and the URL ends in 5K6QgbP. If I paste that into my template URL, replacing the word TARGET, I get https://iiif-antenati.san.beniculturali.it/iiif/2/5K6QgbP/full/full/0/default.jpg. If you click that link you'll see the document all by itself. You can click the image to enlarge it. And you can right-click and save that wonderful high-resolution image.

This may seem like a pain, but wow is it easier than the method I was using!

Hang in there, my Italian researchers. The Antenati site was never the easiest in the world anyway. I've heard that some towns now have more recent documents than they did before. Today I learned that my uncle's town is finally online, and I can expand his family tree!

16 November 2021

Look Back to See How Your Genealogy Hobby Is Going

If you spend any time on social media, you've seen them. The before-and-after images with the words "how it started" and "how it's going." Usually the joke is that things are not going very well at all.

What if we apply the same idea to our family tree research? How it started for me was a 1989 conversation with my Grandma Leone and a hand-drawn tree of her family. How it's going is a family tree with 32,000 people from all my grandparents' hometowns.

Then I had a conversation with my Grandpa Iamarino. He told me a bit about his sisters. I'd known nothing about them! Now my family tree has his sisters, their children, and generations of their husbands' ancestors.

"How it started" was a 1989 conversation and a scrap of paper. "How it's going" is a treasure trove of documents and family history.
"How it started" was a 1989 conversation and a scrap of paper. "How it's going" is a treasure trove of documents and family history.

Fast-forward to 2002 when my husband-to-be and I were planning our honeymoon in Italy. I wanted to know more about where my ancestors came from. I started with the EllisIsland.org website. I found ship manifests for my two grandfathers. When I noticed that everyone named Iamarino came from one town (Colle Sannita), I took out a notebook. I filled tons of pages with facts about every Iamarino emigrating from Colle.

My husband bought me Family Tree Maker software with a subscription to Ancestry.com. He thought it was time I graduate from the slips of paper I was laying out on the floor to simulate a family tree.

"How it started" was a notebook filled with info from ship manifests. "How it's going" is a collection of 505 digital manifest images.
"How it started" was a notebook filled with info from ship manifests. "How it's going" is a collection of 505 digital manifest images.

I did indeed graduate. I found my extended family in the census records. Not a single one of my ancestors had come to America before 1890. Our roots here are still so shallow.

My next how it started / how it's going began in about 2006. I learned I could visit a Family History Center at a local church to view microfilm of Italian vital records. For five years, I viewed and documented EVERY vital record (1809–1860) from my Grandpa Leone's hometown of Baselice. I chose his town because I knew almost nothing about his family.

I started this project by finding his parents' birth records in 1850 and 1856. Now I knew their parents' names.

The only way to know my relationship to other Leones in town was to piece together all the families. So I brought my laptop to the Family History Center and typed a line in a text file for each record. Here's an example:

  • Pasquale Maria Cernese b 1 apr 1809 to Giovanni di Saverio 35 (bracciale) and Battista di Giovanni Colucci

That's a birth record for Pasquale Maria Cernese, born on 1 April 1809. His father was Giovanni Cernese, a 35-year-old laborer, and the son of Saverio Cernese. His mother was Battista Colucci, daughter of Giovanni Colucci.

"How it started" was viewing barely-legible vital records by appointment. "How it's going" is a family tree more than 32,000 strong.
"How it started" was viewing barely-legible vital records by appointment. "How it's going" is a family tree more than 32,000 strong.

With this type of shorthand, I created a text file that's 29,864 lines long. After each long session at the microfilm viewer, I'd go home and try to work everyone into a Family Tree Maker file. I found a connection to about 15,000 people from the town.

During the entire five-year process, I was yearning to do the same for my Grandpa Iamarino's town. But the visits to the center were a pain. Then, everything changed in 2017. The Italian government published digitized vital records for tons of towns online. Now I can see clear images of the vital records I'd struggled to read on crappy microfilm viewers. Plus, the records don't end in 1860. They go way, way beyond.

And Grandpa Iamarino's hometown vital records are online for me, too! As are my great grandmother Caruso's hometown records. My Grandma Leone's parents' town has very few records online, but they are helpful. And when I discovered two other towns where I have roots, I found their vital records online, too.

Much to my horror, the Italian website completely changed their format today, making it seemingly impossible to download a high-resolution image of your ancestor's document. This stinks! UPDATED: How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.

For my research, how it started is the five years of squinting at microfilm with a computer in my lap. How it's going is my searchable database of records from my Italian hometowns. And a family tree of more than 32,000 people that's been growing by almost 100 people a day lately.

Why so much growth? Because how it started was asking Grandma and Grandpa about their siblings. How it's going is piecing together the thousands of unions from my ancestors' towns. For instance, I can find the marriage records for my 3rd great grandparents. Then I can find the births of all their children, who their children married, and which kids they had. It adds up fast.

It helps my cause that all my people came from such a tiny footprint on the Italian map. In 2005 my cousins showed me the exact spot where Grandpa Iamarino's house once stood. They pointed out that I could see Grandpa Leone's town in the distance.

A man from one of my towns could meet and marry a woman from one of my other towns. In fact, my 3rd great grandfather Francesco Liguori did just that. He lived in Circello—my one real connection to that town. But he married a woman from the neighboring town of Colle Sannita. They had eight children in Colle, introducing his last name to the town. And that meant I had to explore Francesco's extended family in the Circello vital records.

How did your interest in your family tree start? Think back on your origin story and then ask yourself, "How's it going?"

09 November 2021

4 Problems You Can Fix with Family Tree Analyzer

Want to find mistakes you didn't know you made in your family tree? Launch the free software called Family Tree Analyzer. Export a GEDCOM file from your family tree software or the website where you keep your tree. Then open the GEDCOM in Family Tree Analyzer.

When your file is open and processed, you'll see a screen full of facts about your family tree. For instance, my tree has 326 sources, 31,775 people, and 11,494 families. Wow! Next comes a breakdown of everyone's relationship to me, the home person in the family tree:

  • Direct Ancestors: 411. Uh oh. Last week I counted 403 direct ancestors. Did I miss eight, or are those my double ancestors? (My paternal grandparents were 3rd cousins with shared ancestors.)
  • Descendants: 2. Hi, kids.
  • Blood Relations: 4,802. That's a lot of blood.
  • Married to Blood or Direct Relation: 1,877. These are the immediate in-laws.
  • Related by Marriage: 19,283. Yup, my ancestral hometowns were full of intermarriage.
  • Linked through Marriages: 5,225. I go off on a lot of tangents.
  • Unknown relation: 175. I carry some unrelated people because I know there's a connection somewhere. But 175 seems high.

I had another reason for launching Family Tree Analyzer today. But right now I have two potential problems to investigate:

  • The number of direct ancestors.
  • The number of unknown relations.

To find out more about these issues, click the Main Lists tab to open the very useful Individuals table.

Problem 1: The Number of Direct Ancestors

As you scroll to the right in the Individuals table, you'll find a column labelled Relation to Root. Start with "2nd great grandfather." This takes a lot of scrolling in a big family tree. You'll find your 1st great grandparents under "great grandfather" and "great grandmother."

Even custom facts you create can be used and checked with Family Tree Analyzer.
Even custom facts you create can be used and checked with Family Tree Analyzer.

In my case, I need to see if any of my great grandparents are missing their custom fact I called Ahnentafel. I use this custom fact in Family Tree Maker to view only my direct ancestors in the index. That's how I counted 403 of them.

To see if the extra people are my double ancestors, I'll look for missing Ahnentafel numbers. I realize this is specific to my tree because of the Ahnentafel field. You may want to scan the list for misidentified people.

And, in fact, I didn't miss any of my direct ancestors. The difference in the number of direct ancestors must be because of my double ancestors.

Problem 2: The Unknown Relations

Going back to the Individuals table, scroll to the right and click the top of the Relation column to sort the table. Scroll down to the bottom to find all the Unknowns. Then scroll to the left to see their names.

In my case, I recognize a ton of the Unknowns. (see "How to Handle the Unrelated People in Your Family Tree.") They're related to a cousin Silvio whose exact relationship I can't determine. It's a dead end because of a lack of records from Silvio's hometown. So, here he sits in my tree, with a ton of direct relations, unrelated to me.

Next in the list I see a family group that I found in a 1742 census of my grandfather's hometown. But I never found their connection to me. I did a quick search of the tens of thousands of vital records on my computer for one member of this family. I found his death record! Now I can merge the two men named Gregorio Alderisio in my tree. His death record proves the connection by including the name of his wife and both parents, and his age at death.

That one death record converted 11 unrelated people in my family tree to distant cousins.

I found another family group that's unrelated to me, and I can't remember why I put them in my tree. I'll have to investigate further and decide if I should remove them. With Family Tree Analyzer, it's easy to find them when I'm ready to solve the problem.

Problem 3: Comments + Time = Discrepancies

The reason I wanted to see this report today is to find discrepancies in descriptions within my family tree. I'm thinking of how I type in different occupations for people.

Here's an unexpected way to find and fix inconsistencies in your family tree.
Here's an unexpected way to find and fix inconsistencies in your family tree.

I'll sort the Individuals table by the Occupation column. My tree has tons of Italian job titles followed by an English translation in parentheses. Sometimes I see a multi-word job title that has an error. I want to find those in the list. Then I can see which people it's attached to, and go fix it in my family tree.

I found a few entries that must be what I call "Search and Replace victims." A long time ago, I decided to add an English translation to the Italian job titles. To do this, I used the search and replace function of Family Tree Maker. You have to be very careful with search and replace. You may wind up changing something you didn't want to change. And, of course, I'm scanning for typos in the English job titles.

Now I can go to these people in my tree and fix their occupation entries.

Problem 4: Unused Sources

Before we leave Family Tree Analyzer, there's one other thing to check. We've been looking at the Main Lists / Individuals table. Click Sources, two tabs to the right of Individuals. Now click to sort by the last column, FactCount. Do you have any sources in your family tree that are showing a zero fact count? I have five, so I want to investigate.

After taking a look at these sources in my family tree, I deleted four, but one actually had three uses. I don't know why it was in the list.

There's no end to the fixable problems you can discover using Family Tree Analyzer. Make it part of your routine to export a GEDCOM, say, once a quarter, and examine your tree with Family Tree Analyzer. It's a valuable safety net for your family history research.

02 November 2021

This 3-Step Backup Routine Protects Your Family Tree

Are you fairly active in your genealogy research? Here's one routine you must follow. Make it a habit, and all your digital documents will be safely stored and backed up.

Step 1. Start With a Working Folder

My backup routine got so much easier when I started using a working folder. This computer folder (literally named "working") is where I put files I'm actively working on.

Let's say I download a census image from Ancestry.com. I put it in my working folder and begin to process it:

  • Crop the image in Photoshop and use the "Export As" function to reduce the file size. (My favorite new trick. See illustration in this article.)
  • Right-click the image and choose Properties so I can add a title and description to the file.
    • The title begins with the year of the document. Like "1882 birth record for Pasquale Iamarino." That way, the documents arrange themselves chronologically in Family Tree Maker.
    • The description contains everything needed to make a solid source citation.
  • Drag and drop the image into Family Tree Maker, attaching it to the right person.
  • Create the source citation to use for each fact learned from the document. The I share the image, facts, and citation with anyone else mentioned (as on a census).
  • Add a notation about the new file in my document tracker spreadsheet so I know what I have for this person.
Use a system like this to improve how you handle and safeguard your family tree image files.
Use a system like this to improve how you handle and safeguard your family tree image files.

Step 2. Move Files to a Holding Area

Now that I'm finished with this file, I no longer need it in my working folder. I can move it to a holding area (another folder) where it will sit until I backup all my files.

As you may know, I work with Italian vital records more than any other type of document. So I named my holding area folder "certificates." (As in birth, death, and marriage certificates.)

The idea is to hold your new documents in one place until you're ready to follow your backup routine. Once backed up, you can move the files to their final destination.

Here's how the process evolved for me. I have so many thousands of vital records that my certificates folder was hard to use. If I wanted to sort them by date, it took a long time to process.

If you use Photoshop for your family tree image files, this trick is an absolute game changer.
If you use Photoshop for your family tree image files, this trick is an absolute game changer.

So I divided my certificates into eight batches:

A–C, D–H, I–L, M–O, Pa–Pi, Po–R, S–Y, and Z.

I name my files using a "LastnameFirstnameDocument-typeYear" pattern. I have a ton of family names that begin with P and Z. These breaks work out to be roughly even amounts of files in each folder.

That's when I realized a working folder would help me, so I created mine right in my certificates folder. But yours can be anywhere.

Finally, I added a folder to hold non-vital records until they are ready to backup. To make sure I didn't overlook this folder, I named it "DON'T FORGET TO BACK UP THESE."

Your folder names and locations can be whatever works best for you. You'll want (1) a folder to work in, and (2) a holding area for finished files.

Step 3. Stick to a Weekly Backup Routine

I don't know when I became such a big fan of routines, but I've been running my life like clockwork quite happily. One of my routines is Sunday morning bookkeeping and file backup.

My bookkeeping is obsessive, but it has served me well since I first moved out of my parents' home. Once that's done, I plug in my two external hard drives. One is set to automatically create a backup of new files from folders I selected. I added this step to cover me if my older external drive fails.

The other external drive uses a manual process. I drag and drop new files from a list of specific folders into matching folders on the external drive. These files include:

  • PDF bills and statements
  • QuickBooks files
  • Microsoft Outlook files, and more.

Finally, it's time to back up all my family tree files. I drag and drop my Family Tree Maker files, which can take a while because of their size. Then I open my holding area folder ("certificates" for me) on my computer, and its mate on the external drive. I grab a few files and drag them to the appropriate sub-folder on my external drive, and then on my computer. This moves the files out of the holding area and into their final destination.

Then I go into my "DON'T FORGET TO BACK UP THESE" folder. I have to determine what each file is so I can drag them to the proper folder on my external drive and my computer. I'll drag and drop all the census files, then all the draft cards, all the ship manifests, etc.

When I'm done, my holding folder has no loose files in it. My files are stored on two external drives. Plus my family tree files get backed up to OneDrive automatically.

All housekeeping chores get harder if you wait too long. Even if you aren't a very active genealogy researcher, you have plenty of files you need to protect.

So tell me. Which day of the week works best for you?