27 December 2022

Top Ten Genealogy Articles of 2022

When I publish a new genealogy article each Tuesday, I try to find topics to make everyone happy. For my final article of 2022, let's take a look at the 10 most popular articles from this year.

Here are the most-read articles of 2022 in reverse order.

Number 10: Your Family Tree Checkup/Tune-up List

When I find a new document for my family tree, I follow all the steps to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Number 9: How to Make Your Own Genealogy Correspondence Database

Make all your past genealogy correspondence easy to find. Create a categorized database of all your messages.

Have you missed any of the top 10 articles from Fortify Your Family Tree?
Have you missed any of the top 10 articles from Fortify Your Family Tree?

Number 8: Genealogists Can Find Shocking Family Stories

My cousin never knew his grandmother's story. He only knew there were 2 boys who looked like twins. When I pulled the whole story together, it was a complete shock to him and me.

Number 7: Using Color to Understand Your Family's Last Names

Color coding lets you see right away if someone in your family tree is your direct ancestor. And you can tell which of your grandparents descends from them.

Number 6: How to Find the True Cousins in Your Family Tree

You can use the free Family Tree Analyzer tool to identify all the blood relatives in your tree. Find out how many 3rd, 4th, 5th and more distant cousins you've added.

Number 5: Why DNA Matches Appear Closer Than They Are

If your people came from small or remote towns, you may have more than one relationship to a DNA match. Multiple relationships can make them appear to be a closer cousin than they are.

Number 4: Simple Tips for Understanding Italian Marriage Records

This series of articles will help you understand Italian vital records. And you don't need to speak Italian.

Number 3: How DNA Can Help Find Your Ancestral Hometown

If your DNA matches know their ancestral hometowns or match the population there today, it's clear. Your people must have come from the same area.

Number 2: How to Make the Best of the New Antenati Website

Learn how to adapt to the latest design of the Italian Antenati website and make the very best of it. It's a treasure trove for those with Italian ancestry. Not speaking Italian shouldn't scare you away!

Number 1: 7 Days to a Better Family Tree

The next 7 days you decide to work on your family tree, pick one of these goals and work on only that one thing. No distractions allowed.

The purpose of this blog is to help you create a more professional family tree. That's why many articles are about finding errors, and improving citations and images. DNA is a popular topic. With my knowledge of Italian genealogy, Italian document articles widely read, too.

In 2023, I'll try to find new ways to engage you with tips, lists, and helpful spreadsheets. I'm open to suggestions. Just leave a comment or drop me a line. Thanks so much for reading!

20 December 2022

It's Time to Wrap Up Your Genealogy Year

I haven't created a list of next year's genealogy goals since 2020. I stopped because my techniques and my true mission kept evolving.

The best example of this is what happened after I finished this 2019 genealogy goal:

  • Log 5 years' worth of birth records from each of my ancestral hometowns into spreadsheet.

I completed that goal, but my next project made my 2019 effort useless. The purpose of logging those 5 years of documents was to make it easier to search for any one person.

But I found an infinitely better method. And it was much easier to completely finish than adding to the spreadsheet. I renamed thousands of Italian vital record image files to include the name of the person and their father.

Let your 2022 genealogy accomplishments pave the way for your 2023 successes.
What's the next logical step to take in your genealogy journey?

For example, here's how I renamed the 2nd birth record of 1809 in one of my towns:

2 Pasquale Maria Cernese di Giovanni.jpg

The baby is Pasquale Maria Cernese (Maria is a common middle name for Italian baby boys), the son of Giovanni Cernese. With all the files renamed this way, I can easily search for all the children of Giovanni Cernese at once. I can run the Windows program called Everything and type in:

"Cernese di Giovanni

That'll show me a list of every possible child of Giovanni Cernese. My work is now a database that I share with other descendants of my towns.

I've explained this, my secret weapon, many times before. This time, it's a prime example of why I stopped setting annual genealogy goals. Instead, I'm constantly working on my tree and imagining how I can make the most of all that data.

So instead of making a 2023 Genealogy Goals List, let's look back for a moment. Let's take stock of our 2022 genealogy accomplishments. Then we can wrap up our genealogy year and dream up what comes next. I'll start. In 2022:

As 2022 ends, I'll finish renaming the vital records from my other grandfather's hometown—Baselice. Then I'll be ready to piece together every Baselice family in my tree. And I'll publish my database for other descendants of the town to use.

One big goal is nearly finished, clearly paving the way for my next big genealogy project.
One big goal is nearly finished, clearly paving the way for my next big genealogy project.

Unless a new idea strikes me, I'll move on to another one of my ancestral hometowns. For me, that's what genealogy is all about. I'm claiming every last drop of my heritage.

What were your genealogy accomplishments in 2022? Where will that work lead you in 2023?

13 December 2022

Don't Get Over-Ambitious with Your Family Tree

Recently I wrote about how I ripped 25,000 obsolete source citations out of my family tree. I did it in one place: the Sources tab of Family Tree Maker. And despite being such an enormous change, I had no problems.

It cut my tree's file size in half. I needed that! And I synchronized my tree with the one on Ancestry.com successfully. No problems at all.

That success made me a bit too bold. Recovering from my next decision took 4 days. And I still have a lot of collateral damage to fix, but nothing devastating.

NOTE: Before you tell me how much better your family tree software is, it can't do what FTM can do. Only this software lets me work on my tree on my computer and regularly synchronize my work with my public tree on Ancestry.com. My family tree needs to be shared!

Pushing that Button

I was happily updating source citations for vital records from 1809. I have a few hundred of them in my family tree. I need to update them because the Italian vital record website (Antenati) changed the URLs of every document. I began to notice along the way that attached to each Italian "repository" in my tree was an old URL. And each old URL does not work. That's no good.

Then I went and did a crazy thing. I did a search and replace for the bad part of the URL. As I clicked Replace, I quickly saw how massive a change this was. This one little edit affected thousands of media, citations, and people.

But I'd had good luck before, so maybe it'd all be fine.

As I clicked Replace in Family Tree Maker, I quickly saw how massive a change this was. Undo! Undo! Alas, it was too late.
As I clicked Replace in Family Tree Maker, I quickly saw how massive a change this was. Undo! Undo! Alas, it was too late.

It wasn't. I started the sync process at 2:30 in the afternoon. Occasional status reports said my edit affected about 7,000 people, 5,000 media files, and 10,000 source citations. Then the progress reports ended. It was simply "analyzing changes" for hours. I set my computer not to go to sleep, and I went to bed.

When I checked my still-running computer in the morning, there were 2 messages:

  • Family Tree Maker lost its internet connection, causing the sync to fail.
  • FTM had identified 55 people with discrepancies, and it asked me how to handle them. I clicked "overwrite with information from FTM," but with the interrupted internet connection, it was too late.

I had to compact my file again, which takes about 90 minutes. Then I tried to sync again. It still failed. But it went a long way before calling it quits. It appeared to update all the citations, media, and people, but I guess it didn't finish.

I had to go to Plan B. I opened my backup file from just before the doomed search and replace. I began the sync process again. That meant that even this older file was vastly different than my online tree. Much like the last time, the process took 12 hours, and despite promising status reports, it failed.

I closed my file and compacted it, deciding to chat with FTM support in the morning. Brandon at FTM found that one (only one!) of my 57,114 people had gotten corrupted. He advised me to make note of her facts and delete her from my Ancestry tree. Then he said to close and compact my file again before attempting to sync.

This time it worked. I did the ill-fated search and replace on Friday afternoon. I was finally synchronized and ready to go late Sunday morning.

The Aftermath

The back-and-forth between FTM and Ancestry during the failed syncs broke several things. Now that my family tree is synchronized with Ancestry again, here's what I need to fix in my file:

  • Lots of unrecognized addresses. I need to delete several of them because the people who lived there are no longer in my tree. But the rest belong in my tree. I can fix these for one person and choose to correct the error everywhere the address is found. I'll fix them as I spot them.
  • 7,500 uncategorized media. Luckily I can select bunches at a time and categorize them at once. I fixed them in a few minutes. Media categories don't carry over to Ancestry.com, so these changes were not involved in my next sync.
  • A small number of missing media. I have to retrieve them from my computer. Not a problem.
  • Some marriage citations split in two: one citation for him and another for her. But they all have the correct updated URL that started this whole mess!
  • Some people have duplicated facts—name, sex, birth, etc. I'll fix them as I find them.
A recent success with a big change to my family tree made me a bit cocky. Now I'm paying the price.
A recent success with a big change to my family tree made me a bit cocky. Now I'm paying the price.

That's what broke because of my sync woes. I've started to revisit the hundreds of 1809 source citations I updated at the end of November. But I won't fix them all in one session.

Lessons Learned

I've learned these lessons before! But I got cocky and need a reminder.

  • Don't make huge changes all at once, no matter how lucky you feel. Handle big changes in smaller chunks.
  • Save and compact your file after you finish one type of change, or a moderately sized batch of changes. Then,
  • Sync your file before moving on to another type of big change.

My problem is that I work on my family tree full time. I make a ton of changes every day. I suppose as long as those changes don't affect 7,000 people, 5,000 media files, and 10,000 source citations, I might be alright. Onward!

06 December 2022

Which Side the Cousin Falls On is Key

It's always great when someone who writes to you about your family tree turns out to be a distant cousin. They'll usually say, "My great grandfather is in your family tree. How are we related?"

It always takes a little work before I can answer that question. First I find their ancestor in my family tree and see their relationship to me. Then I add my new cousin to my tree—without knowing the names of their parents or grandparents—to see our relationship.

That ends now. A few years ago I shared a spreadsheet I called a relationship calculator. (Download your copy.) Its main use is to help you name your exact relationship to a descendant of one of your ancestors.

For instance, when I go to Italy I visit my Dad's first cousins. Their grandparents were my great grandparents. If I want to know my relationship to my cousin's grandchild, I can use the relationship calculator. I am the great granddaughter of Francesco Iamarino, and my cousin's grandchild is his 2nd great grandchild. That makes the youngster my 2nd cousin once removed (2C1R). The spreadsheet makes that clear.

What if we look at the same spreadsheet in a different way? This time I want to find my relationship to the great grandchild of a particular cousin in my family tree.

Once you find which cell matches a particular cousin, you'll see your relationship to all their descendants.
Once you find which cell matches a particular cousin, you'll see your relationship to all their descendants.

I'm randomly choosing Antonio Pilla from my family tree. Born in 1878, Antonio is my 2nd cousin 3 times removed (2C3R). Let's pretend his great granddaughter wrote to me asking how we're related.

Step 1 of 2. Find the Right Cell

"2nd cousin 3 times removed" is in 2 different cells of the relationship calculator:

  • once in relation to my 1st great grandparent (column E row 11), and
  • once in relation to my 4th great grandparent (column H row 8).

That means I need to understand how I'm related to Antonio Pilla. Our relationship chart on Ancestry.com shows a connection through my Francesco Iamarino. He's my great grandfather. That means Antonio Pilla is my 2C3R found in column E row 11 of the relationship calculator.

Step 2 of 2. Count the Generations

The rest is a snap. Antonio is my 2C3R from column E row 11, and I want to see my relationship to his great granddaughter. All I have to do is move down column E three rows:

  1. move down one row for Antonio's child
  2. move down a second row for Antonio's grandchild
  3. move down a third row for Antonio's great grandchild.

Now I'm at column E row 14 which reads "2nd cousin 6 times removed" (2C6R).

"No kidding, Einstein," you say. "Your 2C3R plus 3 generations equals your 2C6R."

That's right…except when it isn't. And now I finally see why that simple math works only some of the time. It depends on which side of the yellow line your relationship falls on.

The updated relationship calculator (see the link above) has a diagonal string of cells highlighted in yellow. Each yellow cell is a full-cousin relationship: 1st cousin, 2nd cousin, 3rd cousin, etc.

Same type of cousin. One to the left and one to the right of the yellow line. Which side the cousin falls on is everything!
Same type of cousin. One to the left and one to the right of the yellow line. Which side the cousin falls on is everything!

Antonio Pilla fell into cell E11, and that's to the left of the yellow line. But what if my relationship to him was the 2C3R found in cell H8—to the right of the yellow line? You can see that the great granddaughter of a man in cell H8 would be my 5th cousin! The progression would be:

  • Antonio 2C3R
  • his child 3C2R
  • his grandchild 4C1R
  • his great grandchild 5C

That's what's been driving me nuts. I couldn't understand why simple math didn't always work. The key is that yellow line.

Maybe you're able to figure out relationships in your head. But as you've seen, you've got to get past one big wrinkle: the yellow line.

Now I can stop putting temporary, unnamed people in my family tree just to figure out a relationship. The answer was right there all along in the relationship calculator!

29 November 2022

How to Export and Delete Branches from Your Family Tree

Last week I cut my Family Tree Maker file size in half with one move. (See "When Is a Genealogy Harvest Too Big?") The file was impossibly big at more than 7 gigabytes. Quickly removing more than 25,000 obsolete source citations cut the file size in half.

My project to document my ancestral hometowns will make my family tree grow so much more. That's why I decided to make more cuts.

I'm going to export some in-law and distantly related branches out into their own family trees. Years ago I decided to limit in-law branches. I said I would not document anyone but the parents of a relative's spouse. I wouldn't include that in-law's siblings or grandparents—only their parents. (See "When to Cut a Branch Off Your Family Tree.")

But I had one exception to the rule. If my cousin asked me to research their spouse's family, I went all-in.

That rule gets adjusted today. I will research my cousin's spouse if asked. But I'll do it in a separate Family Tree Maker file. Leave my master family tree file out of it.

Three exportable branches came to mind:

  1. My great granduncle Semplicio's wife's family. She came from a huge family that was so easy to document. A relative of hers encouraged me to continue the work. But that are so many people and documents, and they have no relation to me. I'll export them to a separate tree.
  2. My 1st cousin's wife's family. My cousin asked me to document his wife's family. But she is continuing this project herself. I'll export them to a separate tree.
  3. My distant cousins who emigrated to Brazil and had 100 years' worth of descendants. After years of longing for my distant cousin's book on the Brazilian branch, I finally received it. What an amazing work she produced! But I can't get documents for the Brazil-born family members, so it's a dead end. I'll export them to a separate tree.

I also have a lot of people who we know are cousins, but there aren't enough Italian vital records to prove it. I don't want to pull them out, but I may. I can always pull them back in if more documents arise.

Exporting the Branch

I'm starting this process with a 3.846 gigabyte Family Tree Maker file containing 57,831 people. Let's pull out great granduncle Semplicio's wife's family and keep only her and her parents.

I began by going to her in my family tree and choosing File > Export. I selected her name, Giovina Renza, and clicked Ancestors. Many of her siblings' families are in my family tree. To capture them, I checked the box for Include ancestors' descendants.

I excluded the descendants of Giovina and my great granduncle Semplicio. Those people are my cousins. I had to consult my family tree on Ancestry.com to make sure I didn't miss any of my cousins and their spouses. That left 97 people to export to Giovina Renza's family tree. I clicked Apply then OK to export the group, making sure to include all their related document images.

3 steps to help you safely preserve and delete an unwanted branch of your family tree.
3 steps to help you safely preserve and delete an unwanted branch of your family tree.

Deleting Only the Right People

Now things were going to get tricky. I wanted to delete all the right people from my main family tree. I went to Family Tree Maker's company page to find the best method for deleting a branch from your family tree. It was surprising.

The best way to delete the branch is to use Family Tree Maker to create a chart including all the right people. Then there is an option to Delete From File either Selected Persons or All Persons in Chart. (This doesn't work with Relationship charts or Pedigree charts.) To keep Giovina, her parents, and all their documents, I'll have to delete branches within the chart one at a time.

I went to the oldest Renza in my tree, Giovina's grandfather, and created a descendant chart. I found Giovina in the chart so I could make sure to keep her. Then I deleted the descendants of her aunts, uncles, and siblings. To do this, I:

  • Selected the eldest member of a family unit, then
  • Right-clicked to choose Select Person and All Descendants and Spouses.

This highlighted a large group of people that I made sure did not include those I want to keep. I right-clicked any highlighted person and chose Delete From File > Selected Persons. Up popped a list of the people to delete. After again making sure my cousins weren't in there, I clicked OK, then I clicked Delete.

The process took a couple of minutes and gave me a progress report part of the way through. It read, "Persons remaining to be deleted: 22." Then 13, 11, 10, 9, and done. The chart regenerated, and that group of people was gone.

I repeated the process carefully 4 more times. In 3 cases I had to delete people individually. Either they had no descendants or their descendants included Giovina. Now I had only what I wanted: Giovina, her parents, and her descendants who are my cousins.

Taking Care of Associated Media Files

Next I went to the Media tab of Family Tree Maker to check that:

  • Giovina had her pre-marriage immigration record and all her census forms
  • Her father had his birth record and even his census forms where his now-deleted son was the head of household.
  • Her mother had all her document images.

When I looked only at my collection of census files, I spotted one for a now-deleted Paul Renza. I clicked to see the details, and sure enough, the document was linked to no one. That means I'll have to find and delete any orphaned document images myself.

To do this, I opened my exported Family Tree Maker file for the Renza family in a new window. It contains all the appropriate documents. I can compare the two Family Tree Maker files side-by-side to make sure I delete all the right ones from my main file.

The Renza branch removed 92 people from my family tree. When I finished removing the other 2 branches in my list, I had removed 714 people from my family tree!

With a slimmed-down tree, I can continue adding my 18th- and 19-century cousins from Italy. That is my focus and my purpose. I'm eager to get back to it once International Genealogy Loose Ends Month is over.

22 November 2022

When Is a Genealogy Harvest Too Big?

Note: The problems I described in this article were entirely my laptop's fault. I replaced it after 9 months of needless suffering.

Halfway through International Genealogy Loose Ends Month I faced up to a big problem. (See "Make November Genealogy Loose Ends Month.") My Family Tree Maker file is too bloated with 57,827 people. It can take 3 hours for me to compact the file, which is an important maintenance step. I have to leave my computer running overnight so my files can upload to the cloud.

Something's got to give!

Early last week I was fixing existing images in my family tree—not adding new ones. I edited every World War I and II draft card to crop out the black space. I love the results! (See "How to Improve Your Digital Genealogy Documents.") I replaced bad images with good ones of a smaller file size. That's a worthwhile task, and I planned to move on to bad census images next.

Then I remembered a loose end from earlier this year. The New York City Municipal Archives released vital records for the city's boroughs, and I have tons of relatives from the city.

You've hit the jackpot in vital records for your family tree. Can you accept them?
You've hit the jackpot in vital records for your family tree. Can you accept them?

In my family tree, whenever possible, I used the NYC vital record indexes on Ancestry.com to note certificate numbers. For example, my grandmother was born in the Bronx in 1899. In the description field for her birth, I added "Bronx birth certificate #3072." I did that for every birth, marriage, and death record from the city when possible. (See the "Day 5" section of "7 Days to a Better Family Tree.")

This past week I spent a day gathering 172 documents from the Municipal Archives' website. The most efficient way to tackle this task was to use the latest GEDCOM file exported from my family tree.

I opened my GEDCOM in a text editor and searched for:

  • Bronx birth certificate
  • Bronx death certificate
  • Bronx marriage certificate

…doing that for Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens as well. The certificates are downloadable as PDFs, but I can export the certificate from Acrobat as an image. Two-page certificates export as two images. Now I have 172 PDFs plus 309 document images!

With my Family Tree Maker file already struggling under its own weight, I'm not about to add 309 images to it. Holy cow, that would take forever anyway.

Instead, I know I have the information available whenever I need it. I can create a source citation for each certificate that includes a link to the PDF. This way, anyone who finds their relative in my tree on Ancestry can get the document for themselves.

Sticking to the True Goal of My Family Tree

I began thinking of what I could do next without adding more documents to my tree.

My family tree's goal is to help people with ancestors from any of my ancestors' hometowns. It has names, dates, and places for TONS of people. But most of those facts have no sources or documents.

To add value to my tree, I can build useful source citations that include a link to the original documents. I don't have to add the documents themselves.

But before I build my missing source citations, I have another, really big loose end. Many years ago I documented my Grandpa Leone's entire hometown of Baselice, Italy. I did this by viewing microfilmed vital records (1809–1860) at a local Family History Center. It took me about 5 years to do. (See "Why I Recorded More Than 30,000 Documents.")

All those countless facts have well-crafted but useless source citations. Why is that? Because they cite the microfilm number you would need to order from a Family History Center. And they ended their microfilm program a few years ago.

Source citations can become obsolete. I know. I had 25,000 of them in my family tree. Here's the format for the updated citations.
Source citations can become obsolete. I know. I had 25,000 of them in my family tree. Here's the format for the updated citations.

Today all the documents I was citing are available on Italy's free Antenati website. (See "How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.") It would be fantastic to rid myself of these 25,000 bad source citations and create usable ones to replace them.

In fact, I'm going to delete every one of the outdated citations in one fell swoop. Then I'll work on adding good citations. I can go to the Sources tab in Family Tree Maker and rip out all the bad source citations at once. They're gone now. The process was scary, but all is well. And it cut my 7GB file size in HALF!!

Wrapping Up "Loose Ends Month"

I'll close out November by creating or improving source citations for documents and facts already in my family tree. Then I'll return to my previous project which documents the town of Baselice after 1860.

It's been a tremendous experience focusing on loose ends this month. I'm so excited by all I found. I don't know about you, but I'd like to dedicate one week a month to genealogy loose ends. Who knows? There may come a time where everything is all tied up.

Yeah, right!

15 November 2022

How to Improve Your Digital Genealogy Documents

I've been having such a productive month tying up loose ends in my family tree and in my genealogy tasks. I discovered lots of emigrants from my ancestral Italian hometowns. Then I gathered and added tons of documents for these people, including:

  • ship manifests
  • naturalization papers
  • draft cards
  • censuses
  • death records
  • family members

It felt great to "finish" these people as much as I can. And I know the descendants I added to my family tree will help me identify DNA matches.

These people were all leads I found in my Ancestry.com shoebox. I followed through on every saved lead—more than 100—until they were all gone. And I searched for every available document I could find for each person in the shoebox.

I downloaded so many new documents during the past two weeks! But I wanted to switch things up. For my next cleanup task, I wanted to avoid downloading anything new.

That's when I remembered my unfinished work with the 1950 U.S. Federal Census. That project fits the bill. Here are my current and next genealogy loose ends to tie up. I'll bet you can relate to these.

Recent Document Collections

Two critical document collections to come out recently are the 1950 U.S. census and the 1921 U.K. census. Have you downloaded and documented the most recent census forms for your family?

I've had a folder of 50 or more 1950 census forms on my computer since their release. Now, finally, I've cropped and renamed the images. I've also added the source information to each file's properties. They're 100% ready to add to my family tree.

Working on a ton of census documents in one sitting keeps you consistent with your source citations.
Working on a bunch of census documents in one sitting keeps you consistent with your source citations.

And I know what I'll do right after that's completed.

Image Enhancement

One of my pet peeves is a ton of black space at the edges of different genealogy records we can download. You wouldn't want to print that document, would you? It'll suck up all your printer's black ink or toner.

You can get rid of that waste by using photo editing software.

You also shouldn't tolerate document images that are either too light or too dark to read. You can fix those problems before you add the images to your family tree.

In recent years I've made a habit of fixing documents as best I can before putting them in my family tree. But I have lots of older documents in my tree that need improvement. One great example is World War I draft registration cards.

Don't keep all that awful black space that comes with some genealogy documents? Crop it out!
Don't keep all that awful black space that comes with some genealogy documents? Crop it out!

There's almost always a thick black border around the image. And there's a huge black space between side one and side two of the draft card. Now I make sure to fix all that, but I have older draft cards I want to go back and replace.

To fix these draft card images:

  • Surround and select the left-hand card and move it to the top left corner of the image.
  • Surround and select the right-hand card and move it beside the left card.
  • Crop the image and adjust the contrast if needed.

Take a look at your digital document collection. I'll bet you can find a lot that need improvement.

If you know you can fix this genealogy documents, what's stopping you?
If you know you can fix this genealogy documents, what's stopping you?

These two tasks will keep me busy during this 3rd week of International Genealogy Loose Ends Month. I'm sure along the way I'll find more tasks I've been meaning to tackle. What about you?

08 November 2022

Loose Ends Month: Week 1 Successes

Last week I declared November to be International Genealogy Loose Ends Month. (See Make November Genealogy Loose Ends Month.) But first I needed 3 days to tie up a different kind of genealogy loose end!

Once I was free to start, I had my sights set on my Ancestry.com shoebox. There were 15 screens full of saved items dating back to 2007! I started with the oldest ones and immediately realized I had some treasures there.

He's Been Waiting All This Time

One of the oldest items was a ship manifest for a 19-year-old man with my maiden name: Iamarino. He was traveling with his mother, and they came from my Grandpa Iamarino's hometown. That meant they should be in my family tree.

I launched Family Tree Maker and looked for a Giuseppe Iamarino of the right age. He needed to have a mother named Libera Paolucci. There was only one choice. What a shock it was to see his photo there in my tree! You see, several months ago my dad sent me a link to a 2020 obituary for a man in Florida with our last name. He asked me if I could figure out his relationship to us, and I did. He was my 4th cousin twice removed.

Now I know when he came to America and that his parents were here, too. He started as an obituary. Now I know his whole family.

Your own notes from the past may lead to a treasure trove of documents for your family tree.
Your own notes from the past may lead to a treasure trove of documents for your family tree.

A Chance to Update Source Citations

There were a bunch of older items in my Ancestry shoebox that I'd already placed in my family tree. I decided to update the sources for those items before deleting them from my shoebox. They were so old that I'd used a very simple source citation style that I don't use anymore. I went ahead and updated each source to my new, much more specific style. (See Step-by-Step Source Citations for Your Family Tree.)

I skipped over a few older shoebox items, saving them for the end of this process. I know I can place those items in my family tree, but they need a bit more research first. For example, there's an item for a man with the last name Luciano. He isn't in my tree yet, but he was born in my other grandfather's town, so I know I can fit him in.

Follow up on your past hunches and you may discover there was more to a cousin than you ever knew.
Follow up on your past hunches and you may discover there was more to a cousin than you ever knew.

Then I spent an entire day gathering U.S. documents for my 3rd cousin 3 times removed, Giovanni. He was born in Grandpa Iamarino's hometown, and I never knew he left Italy. There were a ton of documents for him, including:

  • censuses
  • naturalization papers
  • military papers, including draft registration cards and veterans benefit applications
  • a death certificate

I built his entire U.S.-born family, some of whom may lead me to connect to DNA matches. How sad it was to learn that he died from injuries sustained in a terrible car crash. And how weird that in 1961 they called it a telegraph pole, not a telephone pole, that his car crashed into.

There Was More to His Story

Another distant cousin came to America and completed the citizenship process in 1931. For some reason he went home to Italy in 1932—and died! I already had his Italian birth and death records, and since he never married, I thought that was all there was. Now I know he came to America, following his father, to earn money. Then he decided to become a citizen, and did so.

Unfortunately I'll never know what went wrong in that last year of his life. Was he badly injured on the job? Did he become ill and want to see his mother again? That one old shoebox item filled out his life in a very unexpected way.

Picking Up a Dropped Stitch

Right now I'm working on the newest items in my shoebox. I saved them recently when I didn't feel like finishing my research on that family that day. They are ancestors of my husband's 1st cousins, all from Liverpool, England. My husband told his cousins that maybe I could connect them to the Beatles or the royal family. I doubt it, but I'll give it a try.

I'll need about another week to empty out my Ancestry shoebox. What's next? I may pull out my old notebook of ship manifest entries for people I haven't yet placed in my family tree. The notebook is from my earliest days of genealogy. Back then I wrote down the facts for anyone with a last name from my close family. Now I can figure out who everyone is.

Let me know how your International Genealogy Loose Ends Month is going. What surprises did you find? What will you tackle next?

01 November 2022

Make November Genealogy Loose Ends Month

Every day of the year seems to be National [something very specific] Day. National Checklist Day. National Candy Corn Day. November 1st is World Vegan Day. I propose we make November International Genealogy Loose Ends Month. Let's devote this month to finding and tying up loose ends in our family trees.

It's not unusual to focus on one branch of a family tree, or a big file organization project. Believe me, I know. I recently finished a two-year project to fit my Grandpa Iamarino's entire hometown into my family tree. And now I'm busy working on my Grandpa Leone's hometown.

But I know there are lots of loose ends in both my family tree and my genealogy research in general. I have people in my tree whose parents I haven't identified. I have a notebook full of very promising ship manifests listing people who should be in my tree. I have a virtual shoebox on Ancestry that I never look at.

Let's put a pin in our current research obsessions and clean up our trail of loose ends. This November let's make loose ends our top priority.

You know all those family tree details you meant to go back and add? This is the best month to get it done.
You know all those family tree details you meant to go back and add? This is the best month to get it done.

Here's the plan. Go through your different resources looking for missing information:

1. Notebooks

Do you keep any handwritten or digital notebooks while you're researching? I have an old notebook from my earliest days of genealogy research. I wrote down facts from tons of ship manifests I found online containing key names from my family tree.

A long time ago I went through the notebook and highlighted every entry that is in my Family Tree Maker file. But what about the rest? They need another look now that my family tree has grown so much.

Do you have a notebook or folder filled with potential leads?

2. Charts

If you track your findings in a spreadsheet, a binder, or a chart you hang on the wall, look it over for loose ends.

My document tracker shows me each document I need to find for each person before I can "close the book" on them. Before my recent mega-project, I checked my document tracker line-by-line to find those missing documents. I left off halfway through last names beginning with C. That's not very far at all.

What documentation do you have that needs your attention?

Your own documents can show you the loose ends in your family tree. This month, see how many of them you can tie up.
Your own documents can show you the loose ends in your family tree. This month, see how many of them you can tie up.

3. Unattached Items

How many family photos have you collected but not attached to your family tree? Maybe you haven't scanned them yet. If you don't have a flatbed scanner (they're not expensive), there are phone apps that can capture and perfect your photos. But please don't capture the photo at an odd angle or under glass with a reflection spoiling the image.

Do you have any folders, either paper or digital, with goodies you've found but haven't dealt with yet? If you have an Ancestry.com account, how's your shoebox looking? Mine has more than 99 items in it stretching back many years. Boy oh boy. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

What items have you put on the back-burner? This month, give them the attention they need.

4. Family Tree Index

My family tree may be a tad bigger than yours with 57,749 people. (Oh my God!) If yours isn't that huge, you can more easily view your list of people and look for holes you might be able to fill.

If you keep your tree on Ancestry, click Tree Search and choose "List of all people." I'm sure other family tree websites have a similar feature. Or, if you work in desktop family tree software as I do, your index is right there for you.

Check your index for people who are missing an exact date of birth. What research can you do to discover that birth date? Your family tree software may let you sort your index of people by their birth, death, or marriage date. Who do you see in the list whose dates you may find with some more research?

This second look will help you tie up loose ends you planned to get to later. Later is now!

5. Go Home

Go to the home person in your family tree, which is probably you. Make sure everyone from you through your 24 second great grandparents is fully documented. When they're done, work on all their children. Start with your own children, if you have any, then your siblings and their families, 1st cousins, 2nd cousins, etc.

Give everyone the once-over and see what you can add to make your family tree stronger.

Come on. Let's make International Genealogy Loose Ends Month a reality!

25 October 2022

Why Care About Your DNA Matches?

I haven't tried to contact a DNA match in quite a while. If they're 5th cousins or closer and have a family tree online, I've identified them. I'm good.

For more distant cousins, I like to take a look at their family trees. These matches are too distant to want to hear from me. But I can reap the benefits of their personal knowledge of their close ancestors.

Your DNA matches may be the only way to learn what became of your grand aunts, grand uncles, and cousins.

No matter where your people come from, you don't have access to all the vital records. People will slip through the cracks of those missing records. That's when you should turn to your DNA matches.

Finding that Lost Relative

Let's say you have no idea what became of your great grandmother's sister, Maria. Your great grandmother emigrated, leaving her sister behind. You don't know if Maria married, who she married, or where she died.

All it takes is a recognizable name or two, and you can tap into the family tree of your distant DNA match.
All it takes is a familiar name or two, and you can tap into the family tree of your distant DNA match.

That's where a DNA match can save the day. It's frustrating that so many DNA test-takers don't post a robust family tree. But if they name their grandparents, you can get some traction.

Start by searching for last names you know in a match's tree. AncestryDNA makes this very easy with their "Surname in matches' trees" box. Do any of your matches include that long-lost great grand aunt Maria's last name?

Use your DNA match's family tree to learn about their ancestors. Then do your own research:

  • Get their immigration or naturalization papers.
  • Follow them in the census or directories.
  • Is there a connection to your family?
  • Dig until you find the proof you need.

Piecing Together Extended Families

Growing up, I never heard anything about my great grandmother Maria Caruso's brothers. And I never knew that her husband, my great grandfather Pasquale Iamarino, had a sister. Thanks to DNA matches, I can name the extended families of those grand aunts/uncles. My DNA matches' small family trees helped me fill in lots of blanks.

Those missing vital records can drive you crazy! But to your distant DNA match, they're just Grandma and Grandpa.
Those missing vital records can drive you crazy! But to your distant DNA match, they're just Grandma and Grandpa.

Why not be the solution to someone else's brick wall? Be sure to include at least your great grandparents in your DNA family tree. And make it public!

As you view your DNA matches, know that a match with as little as a 5–7 person family tree can help you. But you are the researcher; your match is only a clue. Be a genealogy detective and use your matches to find the answers.

18 October 2022

How to Crunch the Numbers on Your Family's Names

How many different last names did I find while doing my One Place Study of Colle Sannita, Italy? That's what one blog reader wanted to know. I had no idea.

Create the List of Names

Let's launch Family Tree Analyzer and open a GEDCOM file. My latest GEDCOM file has 57,620 people, mostly from Italy.

With Grandpa's entire town in my family tree, what can I learn about all those last names?
With Grandpa's entire town in my family tree, what can I learn about all those last names?

After trying a few options, I decided to export the list of all individuals to a spreadsheet. First I sorted the individuals by place of birth. Then I deleted all the rows for people born outside of my 7 ancestral hometowns. My Italian hometowns are:

  • Apice
  • Baselice
  • Circello
  • Colle Sannita
  • Pesco Sannita
  • Sant'Angelo a Cupolo
  • Santa Paolina

Divide the Names by Town

I added 7 tabs to my Excel file, one for each town. As I sifted through the places of birth, I moved people from my 7 towns onto the appropriate spreadsheet tab.

There are tons of people in my family tree without a known birthplace. These are generally people born before their town kept vital records. If I know their place of death, and their last name comes from the town, I moved them to that town's tab.

I wound up tossing more than 11,000 people because I have no proof of their place of birth or death.

By the way, if someone has an easier way to tally the last names in your family tree by town, let me know!

Analyze the Data

Next, I sorted the names on the 7 town tabs alphabetically and deleted all the columns except Surname. Then I clicked "Analyze Data" on the right side of Excel's Home tab. Excel offered different ways to see the data and display the results.

This gave me exactly the results I wanted. My family tree contains 260 distinct last names from Colle Sannita. Also, there are more people named Martuccio than any other name. That's ironic since only 5 of my direct ancestors are Martuccios.

Excel comes through like a champ, offering analysis of your family tree.
Excel comes through like a champ, offering analysis of your family tree.

If it's hard to believe I found 260 last names in one small town, and 310 in another, there's a reason for that. According to an article by Silvia Donati on ItalyMagazine.com, Italy has more last names than any other country in Europe. (See https://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/interesting-history-italian-last-names.)

In my ancestral hometowns, people with the same last name are most likely related somehow. This is especially true when families lived in the same town for many centuries.

Visualize the Data

As a companion to the Excel data, I created a word cloud of Colle Sannita last names. I simply pasted my list of names into wordclouds.com, choosing the map of Italy as a shape. But as you can see, it didn't make Martuccio bigger than the other names.

How many names from your ancestral hometown are in your family tree?