09 August 2022

Another Way to Find Errors in Your Family Tree

I've added so many people to my family tree this year! I synchronized my Family Tree Maker (FTM) file with Ancestry on Sunday morning. It said I'd added 310 people the day before. That's a new record! I decided it was time for a thorough error check.

FTM has a built-in error report, and I wanted to compare it to that of Family Tree Analyzer. The differences surprised me. The second listing I saw on my FTM error report was for Harold Gibbons. He had a duplicate birth fact that Family Tree Analyzer didn't see.

When I took a look at Harold Gibbons in my tree, I saw both 22 Sep 1899 and 26 Sep 1899 listed as his birth date. One date came from an index of New York City births. The other came from a World War I draft registration card.

The birth index said Harold's 1899 Manhattan birth certificate number was 37387. The NYC Municipal Archives has digitized their vital records, and they're available online. So I checked to see when Harold, my cousin Rod's uncle, was really born.

This report gives a different account of the errors—or possible errors—in your family tree.
This report gives a different account of the errors—or possible errors—in your family tree.

When I saw his birth record, his name showed my first problem. The certificate says Harold T. Gibbons. (Why didn't they spell out his middle name?) The WWI draft registration card I'd saved for him says Harold Patrick Gibbons.

I checked the parents on the birth certificate to see if they were a match. Yes: John Gibbons and Lillian Lanigan are the parents I expected to find. The certificate shows the date of birth as 26 Sep 1899—that agrees with the NYC birth index, but not the WWI draft card.

Now I knew that draft card belonged to another man. Ironically, I had researched the wrong Harold's place of work. I even included a photograph of the building and a description of the business.

I deleted the draft card, building photo, and the facts for the wrong Harold. Now the right Harold's birth certificate is there to document his date and place of birth.

And that was only the first item I checked from the error report.

How to Create Your Error Report

If you use Family Tree Maker:

  • Click the Publish tab at the top of the program.
  • Click Person Reports in the left column and choose Data Errors Report.
  • Click Create Report, then click Cancel to make some enhancements:
    • Choose to include All individuals.
    • Click the first button under Data Errors Report Options to open the Errors to Include dialog box. I chose to deselect two choices:
      • Spouses have the same last name (so what?)
      • Marriage date missing (that's because the document is not available)
  • Close the dialog box, click Generate Report, and wait.

Be patient if you have a big family tree. Go have some tea and cookies.

Family Tree Maker has a built-in error report that may surprised you with its findings.
Family Tree Maker has a built-in error report that may surprised you with its findings.

My report showed a ton of duplicate marriage bann errors, but that isn't an error. I always record two marriage banns for marriages in Italy. That's their marriage process. I wanted to remove these entries from my report. I needed a spreadsheet. I clicked the Share button in the top right corner of Family Tree Maker and chose to Export to CSV file.

Open your CSV file with any spreadsheet software and sort it by error type. Then delete any lines with errors you know you don't need to fix. Then jump in and start checking errors. Delete each line you review/fix, and whittle down the number of errors to check.

If your list is really long, don't get upset. Some items will be non-errors. For example, I see I have a bunch of possible duplicate names. Some documents list a person by different names, and we want to note that. I expect to keep those.

I'm actually happy to see a group of errors that look like this:

Possible duplicate event: Name
Possible duplicate event: Sex
Possible duplicate event: Death
Possible duplicate event: Birth

These duplicates happened in 2019 when my FTM file suffered a disaster. I fix these duplicates whenever I see them, but now, finally, I can get rid of them all.

Use the error report in your family tree software and find mistakes you never knew were there.

02 August 2022

Genealogy Obsession Pays an Unexpected Dividend

I'm obsessed with my massive genealogy project. Connecting everyone from my ancestral hometowns is all I want to do! I've improved my process along the way, and today my tree has 50,000 people. (See my more efficient technique below.)

When I write about this project, some people say, "I wish I could do that, but the vital records aren't available." Others say they're now doing the same thing, and all the connections are astonishing.

How many people from one town are somehow related? It's not just an obsession. It's a legacy.
How many people from one town are somehow related? It's not just an obsession. It's a legacy.

Building an 18th–20th Century Foundation

When I add a person to my tree from the 1880s–1900s, I know they're someone's grandparents. That made me realize my project makes it easier to figure out my connection to distant DNA matches.

If you have a DNA match with a very small family tree, you may not see much more than their grandparents' names. I used to make an effort with these matches but not get very far.

Now I'm in a much better position to figure out my connection to a DNA match's grandparents. This weekend I scrolled through my match list, looking for those I hadn't figured out.

Simple notes make it easy to navigate your DNA match list.
Simple notes make it easy to navigate your DNA match list.

One after another, I found their recent ancestors in my tree, and I saw our connection. I add notes to my matches that appear on the main DNA match list on Ancestry. I can scroll down the list and see who needs more research. This weekend I added new notes, like this:

  • his 1G Maddalena Iamarino is my 3C3R, common ancestors are my double 5Gs Giovanni Iamarino and Libera Pilla
  • 5C thru shared 4Gs Giuseppantonio Basile and Maria Maddalena Tedesco
  • 3C descendant of Antonio Pilla and Angelina Iarossi, common ancestors are my 2Gs Gennaro Pilla and Maria Giuseppa Liguori
  • her 1G Gennaro Finella is my 3C3R, common ancestors are my 5Gs Giuseppe d'Emilia and Orsola Mascia

Some matches helped me see which of my distant cousins came to America and who they married.

My all-consuming genealogy project is bearing useful fruit!

Letting the Documents Lead the Way

Here's an overview of my process and how I made it work even better.

I started with my Grandpa Iamarino's hometown of Colle Sannita. Vital records for the town are available online on the Antenati website (see "How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives"). They have:

  • Birth, marriage, and death records from 1809–1860 except for 1859 deaths and marriages
  • Birth records from 1861–1904 except for 1875
  • Birth records from 1910–1915 except for 1911
  • Death and marriage records from 1931–1942 except for 1939 deaths

That's a total of 225 types of records and more than 38,000 document images.

My first step after downloading all the files was to:

  • view each document and
  • rename the jpg file with the name(s) of the subject(s).

An image named 007853875_00496.jpg now contains the names of a baby and its father:

007853875_00496 Carmine Pasquale d'Agostino di Giuseppe.jpg

The father's name ("di" means of in Italian) lets me search for all the children of any man, like Giuseppe d'Agostino. I can use a free program called Everything to search my computer for "d'Agostino di Giuseppe. (See "My Secret Weapon for Finding Relatives".)

This file-renaming process is the basis for building an entire town's family tree.
This file-renaming process is the basis for building an entire town's family tree.

The file renaming process alone was quite a task! I renamed more than 38,000 image files for this town (and tons more for my other towns). Then I was ready for the BIG project.

I created a spreadsheet with the name of each file. I go line-by-line, viewing each document again, and trying to fit the person or people into my family tree. If they fit, I mark it in my spreadsheet. And if they don't fit, I mark that, too.

I went through several years' worth of documents this way. One problem came up again and again. Some townspeople went by their middle name, making them hard to find each time they had another baby. So I made a change to the process.

If I'm adding an 1865 baby to a couple, I'll mark it on the spreadsheet. But before moving to the next line, I'll search for every other baby belonging to this couple. And if their kids' birth records have a marriage notation, I'll search for their spouses. And I'll add any of their kids. Then I'll return to the next line in my spreadsheet.

This way, couples using unexpected first names won't stump me each time they have another baby. It saves so much time when I complete their families all in one go.

Another problem I overcame was searching for a set of parents only to discover their baby is already in my tree. That was a wasted search. Here's how I fixed that problem. Before I begin another year's documents, I sort my Family Tree Maker index by birth, marriage, or death year. Then I compare the spreadsheet to the index and mark off the people I already have.

Because I complete entire families at one time, each new year I review is already 75% complete.

At this moment I'm up to the 1868 births. I have 64 folders left to go out of the 225 available. When I add 20th-century people to my family tree, it gets easier to connect with more DNA matches.

When I do get to the bottom of the spreadsheet, I'll make one more pass. I'll re-review the people I couldn't fit into my family tree. They tend to fall into 5 categories, and I want to mark them as such:

  • "Out-of-towners" who happened to have a baby or die in Grandpa's town.
  • "Old people" who died too early for me to know who their children were, or to have their parents in my tree.
  • "Too-common names"—This is usually the only child of a couple I can't ID because so many townspeople had the same names.
  • "Foundlings" who died without marrying.
  • "Possibilities"—These are people I may be able to fit into my tree after I've gone through all the documents.

About 95% of the people found in those 38,000+ document images have a connection to me. Towns in this area kept largely to themselves because travel between them was hard. And all my roots are in this area. I'll bet I can reach the same 95% connection rate with documents from my other ancestral hometowns.

Well, my retirement is fully booked. I'm in my happy place every single day. Where are you?

26 July 2022

An Easy Way to Rid Your Family Tree of Typos

Two weeks ago I explained how I use standardized comments in my family tree file. (See "How to Overcome a Town Clerk's Errors.") If a death record uses the wrong last name for the mother, I use a standard comment. In the description field for the death fact, I enter "Her mother's last name is _____ on her death record."

This shows I'm aware of the error, and I've made sure I've attached this fact to the right person.

One benefit of standardized comments is your family tree software's type-ahead feature. As you begin typing, your software will suggest what you might be about to type. It can save you from having to type the whole phrase.

Spotting Your Typos

That type-ahead feature tends to point out your past mistakes, though. You won't know where you made that typo, but you'll know it's lurking somewhere in your family tree.

There was one place where I kept seeing a past error. I knew the error came from a search-and-replace I did long ago. You see, I'd been entering people's occupations in my tree in Italian for all my Italian nationals. Then it dawned on me that I should include the English translation in parentheses, too.

One search-and-replace error had to do with the Italian word for priest—sacerdote. Somebody in my tree was something called a priest participant, or sacerdote participante. So search-and-replace turned his occupation into "sacerdote (priest) participante." Each time I add another priest by typing "sac," that error taunts me.

Finding Out Who Has the Typo

Now I know how easily I can fix these typos when I spot them. Your family tree's GEDCOM file is the quickest, easiest way to find and fix any typing errors.

Next time you see a typo in any field, use your GEDCOM file to find the culprit.
Next time you see a typo in any field, use your GEDCOM file to find the culprit.

A GEDCOM is a text file that uses a standard format any family tree program or website can read. No matter where you build your tree, you can export a GEDCOM.

I opened my GEDCOM file in my favorite text editor and searched for the mistaken priest entry. I found that it happened only once, and it was easy to see which of the 48,853 people in my tree had this error. Next I opened my Family Tree Maker file and went to Benedetto Giampieri's occupation note. I changed "sacerdote (priest) participante" to "sacerdote participante (priest participant)."

Now I'll never see that error again.

Other Uses for the Process

This process came in handy last week. When I add a marriage date to a couple in my tree, and that date came from his, her, or both their birth records, I use one of these standardized comments in the description field:

  • From his birth record.
  • From her birth record.
  • From both their birth records.

Before I decided on which exact phrase to use, I used a couple of variations. Those variations kept showing up as I typed "from his bi," "from her bi," or "from both." I was sick of seeing the variations that had no period, an extra space, or an extra word.

The only way I could see who in my tree was using those variations was to search my GEDCOM. A marriage comment poses an extra challenge in your GEDCOM file. You won't see the names of the bride and groom anywhere near this comment. You'll see their ID numbers instead.

If you see lines like this in your GEDCOM:

0 @F193@ FAM
1 HUSB @I485@
1 WIFE @I986@
1 MARR From both their birth records.
2 DATE 19 FEB 1900

…go up to the top of your GEDCOM and search for either his ID (@I485@) or hers (@I986@). That'll show you the name of the bride or groom. Then you can go into your family tree to correct the typo you found.

One of my most common typos happens when I don't take my finger off the shift key soon enough. Then I wind up with names like GIovanni, FIlomena, GIuseppe. It happens to me all the time! Now I know I can search my GEDCOM for these misspellings and others, like DOmenico, GIorgio, VIncenzo, and more.

Do you see your past mistakes when you begin typing in your family tree? Are you prone to certain kinds of typos like I am? Let your GEDCOM help you find and eradicate your mistakes forever.

19 July 2022

An Unusual Find Triggers Historical Research

I spent last Sunday jumping from one genealogy document to another. I had no research plan in mind. Instead, I let the documents lead the way.

In the 1933 death records of Colle Sannita, Italy, I found several pages of text about one man. Antonio Paolucci was my 4th cousin 3 times removed, born in 1887. As I studied the pages, looking for familiar Italian words, I struggled to find a date of death.

A few phrases started to come together. In World War I, Antonio served in the 1st "bersaglieri" regiment—an infantry corps of sharpshooters. The documents say Antonio's mother Carmela is his beneficiary; his father Nicola is already dead.

One date and place kept repeating: 28 October 1915, Castelnuovo Carsico. Antonio fought in a battle on that date and was never seen again. This document says Antonio is presumed to have died in that battle. It took 18 years for the army to make this declaration and give Antonio's mother her compensation.

I noticed the title on one page: "Sentenza di presunta morte di Paolucci Antonio." That's a declaration of the presumed death of my distant cousin Antonio.

It took all these pages to explain what happened to Antonio. And I still had to do a ton of research.
It took all these pages to explain what happened to Antonio. And I still had to do a ton of research.

Search Engines, Maps, and Translators

At this point I knew that cousin Antonio was an elite soldier lost in battle. But where is the place they called Castelnuovo Carsico? There are a few towns in Italy with Castelnuovo in their name, but I couldn't make anything of Carsico. I wondered if this was what they were calling a town in another country. Castelnuovo means new castle. Were they fighting in a town with a name that also translates to new castle?

When I typed "Carsico" into Google Translate, it translated to Karst. Aha! I remember Karst from my earlier World War I research. The Italian Army fought battles on the Karst Plateau in today's Slovenia, on the Italian border. Someone else in my family tree died in battle there. He was my 2nd cousin 3 times removed.

To try to locate the October 1915 battle, I used Wikipedia to learn about the Third Battle of the Isonzo. This battle happened at the right time, in October and November 1915. And it happened near the Italian town of Gorizia. Is there a town near Gorizia and the Karst Plateau with a name that translates to new castle?

Using Google Translate again, I found that Novi Grad is Slovenian for new castle. But the town of Novi Grad is much too far east of the Karst Plateau. We know that country borders were very fluid, and Slovenia may not have been Slovenia then. So I tried other languages. In German, the translation is Neues Schloss, but again, that town is much too far away. There's a Slovakian translation of Nový Zámok and a Czech translation of Nový Zámek; both are too far away.

I wish we could all use the in-country place names instead of translations!

My past research helped me find the place where my cousin must have died in battle.
My past research helped me find the place where my cousin must have died in battle.

Stitching the Facts Together

Another website about the 1st Bersaglieri Regiment mentions Gorizia, Italy. I took a closer look at it on the map and found both a castle and a World War I museum. Each one is a short walk away from the Slovenian border.

The Gorizia Castle is on high ground overlooking Slovenia. What a perfect place to position your battalion of sharpshooters. But this medieval castle is not new.

At the northern edge of the castle, the map shows a "road" called Galleria Bombi. But it isn't a road. It's a tunnel that stretches from the main piazza of Gorizia to the border of Slovenia. I thought it meant "bomb tunnel," but it's named after Giorgio Bombi, an Italian politician and mayor of Gorizia. During the war, they may have used the tunnel strategically.

Gorizia Castle's website says it was reduced to a pile of rubble during the war. Italy didn't rebuild it until the 1930s. Antonio Paolucci's declaration of presumed death is from 1933. Could they have called the newly rebuilt Gorizia Castle the Castelnuovo?

I did find one website that places the 1st Bersaglieri Regiment at Castelnuovo in "Gorizzo." The timeline matches up. All the evidence I've found, when taken together, tells me that my cousin died in battle at Gorizia, Italy.

I've made this journey a few times now, learning about battles that claimed my relatives. I also learned about one battle that made my grandfather a POW for a solid year. My 28-year-old cousin Antonio was at least 12 hours away from home, sent into battle because of his shooting skills. I'm glad I can symbolically lay him to rest, pushing in that map pin at the place where he fought for his country.

I started the day with some aimless genealogy research. I ended it with a full-blown story about my cousin Antonio.

12 July 2022

How to Overcome a Town Clerk's Errors

Some of the mistakes I'm seeing on vital records are shocking. No one's perfect, of course. But you'd like to think the clerk recording a birth record got the facts right.

As I work my way through the vital records from Grandpa's hometown, I'm uncovering lots of errors. The errors fall into a few main categories:

  • Wrong date. Sometimes you'll see a February 30th slip in there. Other times the date of birth is a day after the date they wrote the document. Not possible.
  • Wrong first name of parent. People with multiple names may go by any one of them. A Giuseppe Nicola Bianco may call himself either Giuseppe or Nicola. I have to keep that in mind when I try to find this person in my tree. But I've seen my ancestor Saverio called Francesco when Francesco was never part of his name.
  • Wrong last name of mother. I've had trouble placing a baby in my tree when their mother's last name is wrong on the birth record. I try to verify the right name with the child's death record or the births of their siblings.
  • Wrong ages for parents. This is far too common and not the clerk's fault. Before you had to state your birth date regularly, people didn't know exactly how old they were. They're generally in the right ballpark, but sometimes they're way off.
  • Wrong last name for baby. This has tripped me up a few times. Somehow the parents' names are correct on the birth record, but the baby's last name is an error.
  • Spelling variations. I know my ancestral hometowns, so I know the typical spelling variations to watch out for. Iamarino becomes Marino. Iavasile becomes Basile. Iazeolla becomes Zeolla. These names are sometimes interchangeable.
We want to take vital records as gospel, but human error will always find a way in. Here's how to handle these errors in your genealogy research.
We want to take vital records as gospel, but human error will always find a way in. Here's how to handle these errors in your genealogy research.

How to Know What's Correct

As I've mentioned so many times that you're sick of reading about it, I'm working my way through ALL the vital records for Grandpa's hometown. At least 95% of the people can fit into my family tree somehow. As I build out every single family, these errors become plain to see.

The other day I began going through the 1854 birth records. I found one baby, and when I finally located her parents (there was a name error), I saw my note. It seems I'd already found this baby's death record and entered that date. But I couldn't find the baby's birth record (because of the name error). For a birth fact, I had a calculated year based on the age at death, and one of my standard notes in the description field. "Birth record not found."

Now I know why I couldn't find the birth record. The document had an error. But by process of elimination, I know know that the birth record with the error can only belong to this person.

How to Record the Errors

I've made a habit of adding a standard line of text to explain the error. I put this text in the description field of the fact with the error. For example:

  • If a birth record has the wrong last name for the baby's mother, I enter: His mother's last name is Marino on his birth record.
  • If a death record uses a different first name for a person, I enter: She is called Mariangela on her death record.

If documents provide competing facts, I add a bookmark to the person and a more detailed note. For example, Italian marriage records can include the death record of the groom's grandfather. Many times I've found that it's the wrong record. Right name, wrong guy. But sometimes it's a different date, and it isn't clearly another guy. This calls for a note.

With a broader knowledge of your ancestor's town, you can see past the human error in vital records.
With a broader knowledge of your ancestor's town, you can see past the human error in vital records.

Rules to Keep in Mind

If you get familiar with the people of your ancestral hometown, a lot of things will become clear to you.

  • People didn't always go by their given name.
  • People didn't know how old they were.
  • People's names can get really messed up.
  • If a person died in another town, that town's clerk may have no idea who the deceased's family members are. Or how old they are. It's not like they were carrying a driver's license or had an In Case of Emergency contact on their cellphone.

If you're familiar with the last names in town, you'll be ready to search for a Basile when you can't find a Iavasile. And if you know how the vital records work, you won't rely on a person's stated age unless you see:

  • their birth record, or
  • their marriage record for which they had to supply their birth record.

Human errors can be so frustrating to your genealogy research. I know I feel better about my choices when I leave a note to point out the discrepancy. If new evidence comes up and proves I made a wrong choice, it's good to see that note and understand how it came to be.

In fact, this falls more into my own human error, but I want to share it. For my ancestral hometowns, the marriage records end in 1860. After that, the clerk usually wrote a marriage notation in the column of the birth record. As I enter a baby into my family tree, I add their future spouse's name and their marriage date. In the description field I enter either, "From her birth record" or "From his birth record." When I find the right spouse's birth record, I change the description to "From both their birth records." That's a nice confirmation when there is no marriage record.

The other day I found that I'd made a wrong assumption about a groom. When I found the right groom, with the same exact name, I had a dilemma. But then I saw my note. For the wrong groom's marriage fact, it said only "From her birth record." Now that I'd found the groom with the matching marriage notation, I knew for certain that the other guy was wrong. I detached him from the bride and her kids.

Remember that mistakes happened a lot. Examine as many records from the town as possible to get a feel for the names and make these errors stand out. And develop your own standard language to let future you know why you did what you did.

05 July 2022

How to Find What's Missing from Your Family Tree

One morning I had the idea of "finishing" one family unit in my tree at a time. Finishing them means locating and adding every document I know is missing. I thought I'd take a look at the hints on Ancestry.com and compare them to what my Document Tracker says I'm missing.

The first family in my alphabetical Document Tracker is the Abbate family. I found the 1898 marriage certificate for Francesco and Mary Abbate I'd been missing. It gave me their parents' names and their Manhattan addresses. I added the certificate image and its source citation to all the associated facts. I added "1898 (cert.)" to the marriage column of my Document Tracker for both Francesco and Mary. That tells me I have the certificate image in my family tree.

But Francesco Abbate is the father-in-law of the 1st cousin once removed of the wife of my 1st cousin! No offense to my 1st cousin's lovely wife, but I'd like to spend this effort a little closer to home.

I wondered how many families were in my enormous family tree. When I opened my latest GEDCOM file in Family Tree Analyzer, it said I have:

  • 46,600 individuals
  • 15,472 families
  • 9,587 blood relations

Woof! Where do I start? The answer has to be with my parents. I know I downloaded their 1950 censuses, but I haven't added them to my tree yet. What else can I find for them before moving on to their parents?

If you focus on one document-type at a time, you'll be more efficient and consistent in how you capture facts for your family tree.
If you focus on one document-type at a time, you'll be more efficient and consistent in how you capture facts for your family tree.

You may be wondering why on earth I haven't added their 1950 censuses to my family tree. When they released the census, but Ancestry hadn't yet indexed it, I downloaded 44 images. Then I held them until I could use Ancestry's source citation and link. I haven't gotten back to it yet, but the images are ready and waiting for me.

A Generation-at-a-Time Process

So let's start. Look at your parents. What documents and records can you still find that belong in your family tree?

  • Do you have every census they appear in?
  • Do you have birth, marriage, and death records?
  • Do you have yearbooks and directories?
  • Do you have key photos and mementos, such as a wedding invitation?

I tracked down my dad's 1950 census on Ancestry. I added a correction to the family's last name. It was off by one letter. Now I have the source citation I need for the document image I saved months ago. Dad was on line 2 of his census page, meaning they asked him extra questions at the bottom of the page. I learned that he was in his first year of college in 1950, and he was not working while he studied.

I love how specific this census is. It says his family lived at 562 Morris Avenue. But it also says they're on the 4th floor (which I knew) in apartment 16 (which I didn't know). I'm adding "4th floor, apartment 16" to the description line of the 1950 residence fact for my dad and his family.

Now my dad's 4-person family has their 1950 census images and source citation. I added the 1950 census to my Document Tracker for all 4 people.

Once you've finished your father, how will you proceed? You can stay in that generation and finish gathering your mother's documents. Then go up a generation, gathering everything for each of your grandparents. Will you spread out to gather documents for the siblings of each generation? How soon will this process spiral out of control? My mind is reeling already.

A More Manageable Process

Instead of plodding through every level of my family, one-by-one, I have another idea. What got me started on this whole project was a random hint featured on my Ancestry homepage. It was the immigration record for someone in my family tree.

I opened my Document Tracker with the idea of locating all my immigration records. That's what brought me to Francesco Abbate.

An up-to-date document tracker is your best friend when trying to "finish" a family unit in your family tree.
An up-to-date document tracker is your best friend when trying to "finish" a family unit in your family tree.

What if we pick one type of document and concentrate on nothing else? Don't you think that will be productive? When I look at the list of all my hints on Ancestry, there's a unique category for the 1950 census. I can click that to see only those hints and work my way through them.

You can sort this list of hints by last name or first name, or choose to see the most recent. If you sort by last name, you'll see families grouped together. That makes the most sense because you're going to pick off whole families at a time.

As you work your way down the list, be sure to add your new finds to your Document Tracker. As you do so, take a look in your tree at each person you're adding. Make note of which other documents you have for them, and which you're missing.

When you've finished locating one type of document, like the 1950 census, move on to another type. You can tackle:

  • other census years
  • immigration records
  • naturalization papers
  • vital records, and more.

Through repetition, you'll get better at creating source citations. You'll make a habit of adding new finds to your Document Tracker.

If you've been busy with a brick wall for a while, this project will make you feel great about your amazing progress.

28 June 2022

How to Master the Unrelated People in Your Family Tree

I remember how the first group of people in my family tree became disconnected. My mom wanted to know how her cousin Jean was her cousin.

Jean and Mom lived in the same Bronx neighborhood and knew each other as cousins. Jean's maiden name was Saviano, and that was Mom's grandmother's maiden name.

As I pieced together Jean's paternal branch, everything seemed fine. When I realized I didn't know who her 3rd great grandfather was, the connection fell apart. And without available records from their hometown in Italy, I had no way to find our true connection.

Some of my other disconnected groups are families built on speculation. I believe I can find their connection some day, and I want to hold onto what I've learned.

Today's project is an easy way to identify every person in your family tree who is not related to you. We'll find them, tag them, justify them, and make them easy to find again with a click.

The best way to identify your unrelated people is with the free program Family Tree Analyzer. Here's what to do:

  • Export your latest GEDCOM file and open it in Family Tree Analyzer.
  • Click the Main Lists tab to see a table of everyone in your tree.
  • Scroll over to the right to the Relation column.
  • Click the little arrow next to the word Relation. Then choose to display only the UNKNOWN relationships.
  • Scroll left to the Surname column.
  • Click the little arrow next to the word Surname and choose to Sort A to Z.
FTA finds every disconnected person in your family tree. In a few steps, you can totally own them.
FTA finds every disconnected person in your family tree. In a few steps, you can totally own them.

I'm starting out with 242 unrelated people in my 45,684-person family tree. I know that 25 people named Saviano are in this list because of cousin Jean, and I want to keep them. A lot of Saviano's came to America from their tiny Italian hamlet of Pastene. They are cousins for sure. It's a lack of vital records from Pastene that's keeping me from finding our common ancestors.

What I want to do today is:

  • Make sure I want to keep all these hangers-on. It's possible I can let some of them go.
  • Identify them visually in my Family Tree Maker file. I'll use my "No Relationship Established" profile picture and a red color-code. That way I'll see the moment a marriage record turns a group of stragglers into relatives.
  • Create a filter in Family Tree Maker so I can easily see only my unrelated people.
  • Add a note to explain why I'm keeping them. I'll use a few standard notes:
    • Related to Saviano branch (This is important for spouses and parents not named Saviano.)
    • Related to Sarracino branch (This is my great grandfather's name, from the same tiny hamlet.)
    • Related to Muollo branch (Same hamlet/same story!)
    • Expect to find connection (That's based on my current mega-project.)
    • "Colle Sannita nel 1742" (This is a priceless book detailing every family in Grandpa's hometown that year. I hope to connect to everyone in the book.)
"No Relationship Established" graphic.
Borrow this!

I've made a habit of putting important notes like this in the description field of a person's birth fact. It's always right there for me to see when I view a person in Family Tree Maker. That's where I'll put the notes I listed above.

If you build your tree online, use tagging and filtering options to reach this goal.

With my "unrelated" filter in place, I can turn my attention to this group of people at any time. I can spend a day searching for U.S. documents that may solve the problem of missing Italian documents.

There was one extended family from my Pastene with no connection to anyone else. When I put them in my tree, I must have thought they had a connection, and it fell apart, too. I'm going to delete this group from my family tree. There were a few others who had no place in my tree either.

The results?

  • Now I have 201 people in my family tree with no documented relationship to me.
  • They're all there for a reason, and now those reasons are in plain sight.
  • I can use my new Family Tree Maker "Unrelated" filter at any time to focus on this group of people and try to connect them.
  • Anyone seeing my family tree on Ancestry will know that I don't know my connection to these people.
With this profile image and a red color-code, I'll know the moment an unrelated branch becomes connected in my family tree.
With this profile image and a red color-code, I'll know the moment an unrelated branch becomes connected in my family tree.

To create my new "Unrelated" filter, I had my Family Tree Analyzer list of unrelated people on one screen, and Family Tree Maker on the other. I included everyone from the list in the filter.

It's a big improvement for me to be able to identify my stragglers so easily. It's plain to see that most of them are relatives from one town, the only town throwing up brick walls for me. The rest are people I hope to connect. They're on my radar as I go through every available vital record from my ancestral hometowns.

This project is a one-time investment of your time that can pay off for you again and again.

21 June 2022

How to Fix Bad or Missing Source Citations

Regular spot-checks are a great way to see where your family tree needs your attention. Today I checked one type of source citation in my family tree to see what needs improvement.

I randomly chose the source title "New York, U.S., State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1794-1943." (That's the database title on Ancestry.com.)

The value of thorough source citations is clear. Each one you create properly is a victory.
The value of thorough source citations is clear. Each one you create properly is a victory.

I used to create a generic source citation for many types of documents. For example, each U.S. Census year, NY naturalization records, ship manifests, and so on. Then I'd attach the generic citation to every fact that came from that source. But that didn't help to prove the facts.

Now that I know better, I like to do it right and make individual citations with all the specific facts.

The only way to turn these generic source citations into proper citations is one at a time. I have 30 NY naturalization citations, and 23 of them are generic. Here's what I'll do for each one:

As I view my source citations, I'll go to the person attached to a generic citation.

I'll check the document image to see if I've saved the specific details about this source. If I did save the facts, I can use them to build the new source citation. If I didn't save the facts, I need to search for this person's naturalization record online again.

Storing details in the document image notes is a terrific genealogy practice.
Storing details in the document image notes is a terrific genealogy practice.

These days I make a habit of storing all the citation details with the associated image. But I didn't always do it that way. This first image has:

  • a caption beginning with the year
  • a date from the document
  • a document category
  • some facts about the image, including its image number, database name, and URL.

That's a good start. I can return to that saved URL and view its source information. What I want to add to this image is this:

Source Citation:
National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, DC; NAI Title: Index to Petitions for Naturalizations Filed in Federal, State, and Local Courts in New York City, 1792-1906; NAI Number: 5700802; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: RG 21

Description: Vol 022 3 May-6 July 1905

Source Information:
Ancestry.com. New York, U.S., State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1794-1943 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

Now I have everything I need to make a customized source citation for the facts tied to this document. I'll work my way through the list, updating and customizing the generic citations.

When you first began this obsessive hobby, I'll bet you weren't as careful as you are today. There will always be citations we can improve. For me, fixing citations mostly means customizing generic citations. But there will be plenty of places where there's no citation at all.

Start by:

  • Picking a category, like naturalization
  • Viewing your document images
  • Checking the person attached to each image.

Do their source citations show your best work?

Fully detailed source citations that include the document image in question are highly valuable.
Fully detailed source citations that include the document image in question are highly valuable.

The key to any overwhelming task is to divide and conquer. I'm starting with NY Naturalizations because I don't have a ton of them. I tend to pick off smaller items so I can shorten my overall to-do list. I know I'm tricking myself, but it works for me.

You can also start with your closest relatives and fan out. Or tackle all your direct ancestors and then pick off entire families, one at a time.

Your family tree software or website should have source citation templates. Let these templates help you understand what you need to fill in. Wherever you found the document image, the source citation information should be there.

I like to add line numbers to my census form and ship manifest citations so I know exactly where to look. And so does anyone visiting my tree. The idea is to add enough detail that anyone can retrace your steps and find the same information.

My family tree is rapidly closing in on 45,000 people. Due to special circumstances (see How Do You Define Your Ultimate Genealogy Goal?), most of my people have no source citations. But following this method, I can clean up all the citations for my U.S.-born people.

It's all a matter of making it a priority and diving in!

14 June 2022

7 Days to a Better Family Tree

Each week I offer advice on how to fortify your family tree. But because my pet genealogy project is so massive and enjoyable, I rarely make the time to follow my own advice.

Today I'm offering a method that'll help us make noticeable progress on our family tree goals. The idea is simple. 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.

With any of these items, keep track of where you left off so you can return to complete the job.

Here are some of the tasks I've been ignoring for a while. What would you add to, or substitute in this list?

Day 1: Create charts to show you who's missing.

When I wanted to search for the eldest ancestors on any given line of my family tree, I created a fan chart. This showed me exactly which set of ancestors to focus on. See "Search the Treetops to Focus Your Genealogy Research."

Or make your Ahnentafel chart to see how many direct ancestors you've found, and who's missing. See "How to Visualize Your Ancestor-Finding Progress."

Spend a day trying to find those missing direct ancestors in your family tree.
Spend a day trying to find those missing direct ancestors in your family tree.

And of course there's the priceless (and free) Family Tree Analyzer. See "How to Plug the Holes in Your Family Tree" and learn how to use FTA to focus on who and what your family tree is missing.

Day 2: Go after missing censuses.

When they released the 1950 U.S. census in April, I got busy. I searched for and downloaded documents for my closest relatives. Then I moved on to higher priority projects.

We can gather missing censuses more thoroughly if we stick to a plan. My plan hinges on my document tracker. It's a spreadsheet where I mark down every document image I've saved to my family tree. (Download a copy for yourself at the bottom of "Why Use a Genealogy Document Tracker?")

When your document tracker is ready, you can see which census years are missing. Scan your tracker to see which families you have in the 1940 census that you need to find in the 1950 census.

Still having trouble locating some families? See "Try This Tool to Find a Missing Census" and adjust for 1950.

Day 3: Digitize and organize your family photos.

I was doing a nice job of enhancing, labeling, and storing my digitized family photos. (See "It's Time to Tame Your Family Photos.") Then it got away from me.

We should all have digitized versions of our physical photographs. Scanners are not expensive, but you can do a decent job with your cellphone, too. But please take the photo out of its frame or sleeve so there's no reflection or glare. And take the photo straight-on, not at a distorted angle.

Read the steps I take with digitized photos in "How to Improve Old Photos and Genealogy Documents." Once your digitized files are in shape, "It's Time to Organize All Your Family Photos." Pick a storage strategy for both physical and digitized photos. Make sure they're safe, and that you can find the ones you want easily.

Day 4: Add well-crafted source citations.

My family tree is a beast. I have 44,000 people, most of whom are Italians from the 1700s and 1800s. Because I'm adding up to 300 Italians a day, I'm skipping their source citations. "Sacrilege!" you say. Not really. I know I can easily find my source for any facts on these people. I'll add them if someone is interested in a branch.

But that should not be true for anyone from the 1900s or later. In my tree, those are the Americans with a good amount of documentation. In "Taming a Tangle of Source Citations," I detailed my process for making high-quality source citations.

The best way to tackle this goal is one document type at a time. For example, I can view the media gallery in Family Tree Maker and choose to see only the census forms. Then I can see which ones need improvement and do the work.

Find the documents and facts in your family tree that need a proper source citation.
Find the documents and facts in your family tree that need a proper source citation.

Day 5: Search for missing vital records.

One of my favorite new resources is a treasure for my Bronx-based family. The New York City Municipal Archives finally made their vital records available online. And it's free. My family settled in the Bronx in 1898 and stayed there. There's so much for me to harvest from the Archives' website.

I began downloading these records by searching my tree for the notes I'd made. When I know the document number for someone's vital record, I add it to the details of that fact. (Ancestry.com indexes often include the document number.)

Finding the document number, place, and year can lead you to the vital records you need.
Finding the document number, place, and year can lead you to the vital records you need.

To be thorough, I could start with my 2nd great grandfather, Antonio Saviano. He's my first immigrant ancestor. If I go through his descendants one-by-one, I'll see exactly who needs a document from the Archives' site.

Or I could scan the birth column of my document tracker. The Archives' site says they have:

  • Bronx birth certificates ending in 1909
  • Bronx death certificates through 1948
  • Bronx marriage certificates ending in 1937.

The years vary for the different boroughs of NYC.

If I filter my document tracker to show people who fall into those years, I can find their certificates one at a time. For your family tree, there will be other resources to search. It's a matter of finding the people, and performing that search.

Day 6: Categorize your DNA matches.

DNA websites offer tools to help you label your DNA matches and add notes. On AncestryDNA, I created 6 categories I can add to any match:

  • Both sides, because some matches are related to both my parents
  • Father's side, for people connected only to Dad and me
  • Mother's side, for people connected only to Mom and me
  • Figured out, for matches I've identified
  • Needs work, for matches I should be able to figure out, but somehow cannot
  • Extremely low match, for people I wanted to preserve when Ancestry was cutting out matches below 9cMs or so.

Adding these categories and notes, helps me understand who I'm looking at. At any time, I can view particular categories. I like to regularly view only my unviewed matches to see who's new. I know exactly who one of them is, so I'll add him to Mother's side with a note. He's my 3C1R.

Day 7: Check your notes for unfollowed leads.

I'm sure everyone who works on their family tree keeps notes somewhere. A paper notebook, OneNote, a text file, or a pile of papers. Save day 7 to re-read your saved notes. Do some notes no longer apply? Throw them away. Can you complete other tasks because new document collections are available? Go do that!

What gem of a lead did you leave for yourself, and forget about? See "How Many Genealogy Gems Are You Sitting On?"

Now all that remains is to follow through and do this! Yes, I'm saying that to myself as much as to you.

07 June 2022

Finding Fallen Soldiers in Your Family Tree

With more than 43,000 people in my family tree, I'm bound to have lots of loose ends. A lack of vital records is usually to blame.

Today I decided to find my Italian relatives who died in World War I. If you have Italians in your family tree, you can search for their name or hometown. Start at https://www.cadutigrandeguerra.it/CercaNome.aspx.

Before you click away, this article covers more than Italy!

I began with my grandfather's hometown of Colle Sannita since I've been doing a ton of research there. The town lost 96 of their men in World War I. The second man on the list is a perfect example of a loose end.

I knew that a man named Agostino Basile had married Orsola Marino in 1908 because her birth record says so. But I didn't know anything about him. This website led me to a page showing the details of Agostino's military service. It included his birth date, so my first step was to find that record and see who his parents were. His birth record also mentions his 1908 marriage to Orsola Marino.

The website tells me Agostino was in the 47th infantry. He died of his wounds in combat in an area called Carso. When I looked into that, I found it's a region on the border of Italy and today's Slovenia. Italy lost thousands of men in this general area during the war.

When vital records don't tell you the end of the story, military records may have the answer.
When vital records don't tell you the end of the story, military records may have the answer.

Agostino is no longer a loose end. Now I know he died 8 years after marrying Orsola, who is my 3rd cousin 3 times removed. Her birth record also says she married another man in 1923—seven years after her 1st husband died. I wonder if it was a long time before Orsola knew Agostino was dead.

There's also a website to help you find Italian soldiers who died in World War II. Scroll way down the page at https://dimenticatidistato.com/elenco-nazionale-caduti-per-comune-di-nascita to find a list of provinces. Click yours to open a PDF that's divided by town.

To find casualty lists from other parts of the world, go to the FamilySearch wiki and type "world war i casualty" into the search box. The search results include:

  • The United States
  • Hungary
  • Bavaria
  • Germany
  • Czechia
  • Poland
  • East Prussia
  • and a ton more, including individual counties in the U.S.

Follow the links on each page to see what types of documents and information are available.

One resource gives you access to tons of international military records.
One resource gives you access to tons of international military records.

Whichever resources are the best fit for your family tree, bookmark them right away. I have another 94 men to look into from the Colle Sannita casualty list alone. And I've got a bunch of ancestral hometowns I want to explore next.