22 November 2022

When Is a Genealogy Harvest Too Big?

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?

11 October 2022

A Random Search Led to a Detailed Life Story

While figuring out a new DNA match, I found her great grandfather's 1903 ship manifest. His last name told me he came from my grandfather's town of Colle Sannita. I even have a copy of his 1884 Italian birth record in my family tree.

But his immigration record itself was an amazing find. Of the 30 lines on the page, 25 are men from the same town. Now that I've finished my One Place Study of Colle Sannita, I'm perfectly positioned to ID these 25 men. My colossal family tree should contain each one of them.

The beauty of following through on this one ship manifest is that it will add data points to 25 cold trails.

Let's examine one of the more fruitful searches to see how much we can learn from this random find.

Your person is likely to have travelled with others from their hometown. Don't overlook other members of your family tree.
Your person is likely to have traveled with others from their hometown. Don't overlook other members of your family tree.

Subject: Onofrio Zeolla

The clues from the 1903 ship manifest include:

  • He is 33 years old
  • He is married
  • He is joining his brother-in-law Nicola Palmiero in Adamsburg, Pennsylvania

When I looked for him in my family tree, there was only one good choice. Onofrio, born in 1870, is my 2nd cousin 3 times removed. Since his wife's last name was Callara, I checked his sisters to see if one had married a Nicola Palmiero.

Yes. His sister Maddalena married Nicola Palmiero. They had 2 children before he left for Pennsylvania.

I know Onofrio and his wife had at least 7 children between 1896 and 1914. I noticed I'd left a standard note on the 1903 birth of his daughter. It says, "Her father was in America when she was born." This fact comes from a note on the daughter's birth record.

Knowing that I'd found the right Onofrio Zeolla, I searched for any other U.S. records he may have left behind.

I found another ship manifest from March 1909. Onofrio went to join his cousin Giorgio Zeolla in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. Sure enough, a note on the September 1909 birth record of his son Angelo says his father was in America when he was born.

I found Onofrio's name listed on his eldest son Michele's U.S. World War I draft registration card. (Michele is Italian for Michael.) He was born in Colle Sannita in 1896. In 1918 Michele was working at the U.S. Cast Iron Foundry in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. His draft card has a unique note written in the center. It says, "Wants to go soon." So Michele was not planning to stay in America. Like his father, he came here only to earn some money to keep his family afloat.

Searching for one man, I wound up constructing the lives of his eldest son and grandson.
Searching for one man, I wound up constructing the lives of his eldest son and grandson.

But did Michele ever go home? I found his 1952 Pennsylvania death certificate. He was 55 years old, married, and still working at a foundry in Scottdale.

Clearly Michele needed more research. I found:

  • His 1913 arrival in the U.S. at age 17. He was joining his uncle Giorgio Zeolla in Connellsville, Pennsylvania.
  • His 1918 U.S. Army service card. He was a Private, honorably discharged on 13 Dec 1918. I guess he wanted to go home but never did.
  • His 1934 application for veteran's compensation. This wonderful find lists his wife's maiden name, and their son Nicholas. He was the informant on Michele's death certificate, but it didn't say his relationship. This document has both his parents' names; his mother is missing from his death certificate.
  • His 1942 U.S. World War II draft registration card. He and his wife Edith live in Scottdale.
  • His 1952 veterans burial card. A photo of his gravemarker lists his military rank and unit proudly.
  • His 1930, 1940, and 1950 censuses. Michele, his wife and son are living with his wife's parents in Scottdale each time.

I searched for more about Michele's son Nicholas. He graduated Scottdale High School in 1944 where he played in the band. He served in the U.S. Army Air Force, signing up immediately after graduation. He's buried in a military cemetery. He and his wife Margaret married in Nevada and honeymooned in Mexico.

I began with nothing but birth records for my Italian townspeople. Then a single ship manifest took me on a journey through their lives in America. And there are 24 other townsmen on that ship manifest!

04 October 2022

Lessons Learned from My One Place Study

Last week I finished the biggest genealogy project I've ever imagined. My blog posts tell me I began this One Place Study 2 years ago.

The idea was to work every available vital record from Grandpa's hometown into my family tree:

  • Births, marriages, and deaths from 1809–1860
  • Births from 1861–1915 (with 6 years missing), and
  • Marriages and deaths from 1931–1942.

That adds up to more than 38,300 documents!

Why did I start such a big project? I believed I could connect 95% of the people in those Colle Sannita records by blood or marriage. And I did! My ancestors came from small hill towns. Before modern roads, people stayed put and married their neighbors. That connected everyone.

The moment I finished my project, I felt adrift at sea. I tackled a small project, then I jumped right into the same project for my other Grandpa's town of Baselice.

With the Colle Sannita records behind me, I reflected on lessons learned from the project. These will help me as I work on my other ancestral hometowns.

Have a Broad Foundation

Before starting a One Place Study like this, 3 things are essential:

  1. Access to vital records from the town.
  2. A broad family tree of your relatives from the town.
  3. Lists. It's a tremendous help to create lists to work from. Page through the birth records for a year (or the index) and make a list of the names. I like to do this in one big spreadsheet.

Tons of my ancestral hometowns' vital records are available on the Antenati website. And I'm eternally grateful.

Set yourself up for One Place Study success with lists of available vital records.
Set yourself up for One Place Study success with lists of available vital records.

Lessons Learned

Before I began, my family tree already spread far beyond my cousins. While gathering cousins from the Italian vital records, I routinely added:

  • Who each cousin married
  • Each cousin's spouse's family
  • The spouses and children of everyone I added to my family tree.

That gave me the broad foundation I needed for this One Place Study. Here's what I learned over the course of the project:

See Who You Already Have

Before working through the records, sort your family tree by birth date, marriage date, or death date. Consult your list of names for that year (see "Lists" above), and tick off any who are already in your tree.

Do a Reasonably Exhaustive Search

If you can't place someone in your tree at first, expand your search. Was one of the parents listed by a nickname? If you still can't place them, mark that on your list, too.

Go through the List a Second Time

After you've reviewed all the records, you may find that some problems are now solved. Go through those unplaced records again. I was able to place about 25% of the people I skipped over the first time.

Some Documents Contain Errors

Sometimes the clerk will write down a wrong name. Or a parent may change the name they use. My great grandmother was born Marianna, but she's called Mariangela on later records.

Another Italian researcher told me that sometimes they refer to a woman by her mother's maiden name. I have no idea why, but I have seen this happen. Now I know to look for it when something doesn't add up.

When I'm sure I know who someone is, but there's an error on their vital record, I note it prominently in my family tree.

Leave Yourself Breadcrumbs

I had a lot of fun following the documents wherever they led me. Let's say I'm adding a child to a couple in my tree. While I'm there, I look for all the kids from that family. If some have a marriage notation on their birth record, I find the spouse. Then I add the spouse's family. This can go on for quite some time, and you can get lost.

Leave breadcrumbs so you can make your way back where you started. I did this by keeping the documents open until I finished with them. If a birth record contains a marriage note, I leave it open until I finish adding the spouse and their family. When all documents are closed, I can go back to where I left off in my list.

Highly visible notes in my family tree explain discrepancies found in vital records.
Highly visible notes in my family tree explain discrepancies found in vital records.

Keep a Map Website Open

There will be place names you can't read. Maybe someone who died in your town was born in another. But what does it say? Or maybe there's a street address, but it's very unclear to you.

Try to find the correct spelling by looking at Google Maps or Bing Maps. Bing Maps does a much better job of naming every little street in my ancestral hometowns. When I'm unsure of spelling, I crawl the map until I find it.

Enjoy the Journey

There will be times when you're not in the mood for a big project. And times when you feel driven to complete a year before calling it quits for the day. Do what makes you happy at that moment.

If I start to feel like this is tedious, I switch to a related project. For instance, in the 1900s, many people from my town married people from the next town—Circello. If I needed a break, I'd go work on my list of Circello vital records for a while.

Final thoughts. I was able to mass-download the vital records from my towns a long time ago. Since then, Antenati and FamilySearch have worked to prevent mass downloads.

But I started this type of project before anything was online. I was viewing bad quality microfilm at a local Family History Center a couple of days a week. I sat there with a laptop in my lap and typed the basics for each record. My shorthand looked like this:

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

That means a baby named Pasquale Maria Cernese was born on 1 Apr 1809 to 35-year-old laborer (that's bracciale) Giovanni Cernese, the son of Saverio, and Battista Colucci, the daughter of Giovanni. That information was all I needed to build a 10,000-person family tree of that town. So you can do this project by accessing the vital records on Antenati or FamilySearch.

If you do this, share your work! I share my lists of vital records from my towns on my website. Plus, my gigantic family tree is public on Ancestry. Share the genealogy wealth!

27 September 2022

Share Your Family History in a Fun New Way

As I sat down to watch the Yankees game and wait for Aaron Judge to make history, two things caught my eye:

  • Baseball statistics on the TV screen
  • My Trivial Pursuit® games on my bookshelf

Then it hit me. What if I combined baseball cards and Trivial Pursuit cards family tree style?

Baseball cards have a picture of the player and the name of his team on the front, and a bunch of statistics on the back. My Trivial Pursuit Simpsons Edition cards have a character image on the side that faces the player. On the other side are the questions to ask, and their answers.

So imagine this. Our Ancestor Trivia Cards will have two sides:

  • The side facing the player features the shape and name of the ancestor's state or country of birth.
  • The other side has the ancestor's:
    • photo, if you have one, or a generic silhouette
    • name and basic facts: date and place of birth, marriage, and death
    • name(s) of spouse(s)
    • name(s) of child(ren)
    • occupation

Add a sentence that captures something special about the ancestor. Was he the mayor of his town? Did she lose several children in infancy but raise several more? I have an ancestor who was a rebel against the unification of Italy, and died in a skirmish.

Imagine a set of trivia cards featuring your ancestors! Here's a new genealogy project for your whole family.
Imagine a set of trivia cards featuring your ancestors! Here's a new genealogy project for your whole family.

To make a real game of it, ask your relatives to guess who you're describing as you feed them one fact at a time. If they don't want to play, let them go through the cards to find an ancestor whose facts interest them. Then tell them everything you know about that ancestor.

Here's a Microsoft Word template (or a Google Docs template) you can use to make your Ancestor Trivia Cards. Print on card stock or a heavier-than-usual paper stock. Print the front of the cards, then turn the paper over and print the back of the cards.

Wikipedia is a good resource for an image of the shape of your ancestor's state or country of birth. You can do a Google search for different silhouettes or outlines of a man and woman. I found a website called pixabay.com that has graphics you can download for free. You'll find choices that evoke different periods of time and different physical qualities.

Start with your closest ancestors so your relatives will be able to play the game. Then go ahead and make cards for the ancestors who've inspired you with their stories.

Use your Ancestor Trivia Cards to memorialize important members of your family tree.

*Trivial Pursuit is a registered trademark of Hasbro.

20 September 2022

9 Steps to Really Safeguard Your Family Tree

Ever since I quit my day job, I've been spending all day, every day building my family tree. When you're adding 200 people to your tree a day, you've got to make sure not to lose any of your work.

That's why I developed an iron-clad routine so I'll never lose a day's work. I follow this routine without fail. It's a long list, but when you make something a habit, the steps move right along.

This list assumes you're using desktop family tree software. I cannot imagine building your tree only online. I want that data on my computer, in my control at all times. Don't you?

Here's my obsessive-compulsive routine. I should be this careful with everything in my life.

Together, these 9 steps make your family tree as safe as you can imagine.
Together, these 9 steps make your family tree as safe as you can imagine.

Throughout the Day:

1. Save the Change Log

When it's time for a break, I take advantage of a Family Tree Maker feature I learned about last year. When you click the Plan tab in FTM, you'll see 2 tabs: Tasks and Change Log. Change Log is a list of your last thousand changes.

Click the printer icon to save the list as a PDF. The name of my family tree file is Iamarino, my maiden name, so I save this file as "temp Iamarino Change Log.pdf." Each time I save it, I overwrite the previous version.

2. Make a Backup

Since I make a few backups throughout the day, I add a letter to the end of each file's name:

  • Iamarino_2022-09-20a.ftmb
  • Iamarino_2022-09-20b.ftmb
  • Iamarino_2022-09-20c.ftmb
  • Iamarino_2022-09-20d.ftmb

Once I make the final backup of the day, I delete these interim files. But if disaster strikes my file in the middle of the day, I can rely on my latest backup.

You may have overlooked these important family tree maintenance and backup options.
You may have overlooked these important family tree maintenance and backup options.

At the End of the Day:

3. Export a Full GEDCOM

This is a new step for me. After a long day's work, why wouldn't I generate my latest and greatest GEDCOM file? As the days go by, I keep only the 2 most recent GEDCOMs on my computer.

An up-to-date GEDCOM means you're always ready to:

  • upload it to a new website
  • search it for text you need to find
  • open it in different software.

4. Make a Final Backup

Now it's time for the final backup of the day. This one has no letter added to it: Iamarino_2022-09-20.ftmb. You may want to include media in this backup. I had to stop doing that because backups with media for my 55,000-person tree were about 18 gigabytes each. It took forever!

5. Compact Your File

When you add or edit anything on your computer, the new data could be stored anywhere on the drive. Family Tree Maker lets you compact your file to make it run more efficiently. After adding 200 people, I want to clean up the data storage.

You can compact your tree with your FTM software open, but your tree file closed. I prefer to do it this way to avoid potential errors. Next, exit FTM and let it generate another backup: Iamarino_AutoBackup.ftmb.

With my FTM file closed and compacted, I can delete any earlier backups I made that day.

6. Sync the Day's Files with the Cloud

I keep my family tree files on my computer and on Microsoft OneDrive. When I'm done for the day, I turn on OneDrive to upload my new files to the cloud. Note: Do not keep your working FTM file on the cloud. That is, don't work on a file that is also synchronizing with the cloud. Keep the file on your hard drive, then put a copy on the cloud.

The Next Morning:

7. Sync the Tree with Ancestry.com

An early morning sync with your Ancestry tree gives the best results. Website traffic in your region is going to be lighter early in the morning than any other time of day. If you're a night owl, consider syncing very late at night.

8. Save the List of Changes

During the sync process you can save the list of changes that FTM is about to upload to Ancestry.com. I keep these dated PDF files for a few weeks. They're very small files, so there's no harm in keeping them a while.

  • FamilySyncChangeLog 2022-09-17.pdf
  • FamilySyncChangeLog 2022-09-18.pdf
  • FamilySyncChangeLog 2022-09-19.pdf
  • FamilySyncChangeLog 2022-09-20.pdf

At the End of the Week:

9. Copy All Files to External Drives

This is my Sunday morning ritual. I sync my tree and copy the most important files on my computer to 2 different external hard drives. Plus they're on the OneDrive cloud. Because, you know, obsessive-compulsive.

Now that I've written it out, nine steps sounds positively insane. But your genealogy work is priceless! It's worth your time to protect your files like a mama bear protects her cubs. How safe are your files?

13 September 2022

3 Key Steps to Identify a DNA Match

Wouldn't it be great if they made everyone who took a DNA test post a family tree? We want your family at least up to your great grandparents. That's only 15 people, and the living people will be private.

We'd all have an easier time of figuring out our DNA matches if we could see their great grandparents. That's why I'm hopeful when a DNA match's family tree shows a double-digit person count.

I figured out 2 new DNA matches today by following 3 key steps. Now, it doesn't always work out. And I skip right over any match with no tree or a single-digit tree. But if they have a decent tree, these steps can lead straight to the solution.

1. Check Shared Matches to Isolate a Branch

Which DNA-testers do you and your match have in common? Seeing familiar names here can tell you which branch your match fits into. For example, if shared matches include Dad's maternal cousins, they belong on Grandma Lucy's line.

It helps a lot to know you're looking for family members from a particular branch of your family tree.

Your shared DNA matches can pull your focus to a particular branch of your family tree.
Your shared DNA matches can pull your focus to a particular branch of your family tree.

For one of the matches I solved, there were only 4 distant matches in our shared list. But 3 of the 4 had last names from a town on Mom's maternal side of the family. Right off the bat, I knew our connection came from the town of Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy.

2. View Their Tree for Familiar Names

My Santa Paolina match has a tree with 16 people. I noticed she's only Italian on her mother's side. I'm nothing but Italian, so that's all I need to investigate.

Her mother's maiden name was not familiar to me, but her grandmother's name did ring a bell. My match's grandmother was a deSpirito, the daughter of Felice deSpirito. I was pretty sure deSpirito is a Santa Paolina name.

Having taken steps 1 and 2, I'm very confident this DNA match has roots in Santa Paolina. My connection to the town is only through my 2nd great grandmother and her paternal family. We're off to the races!

3. Research Their Family to Find the Connection

My DNA match's tree says her grandmother was born in 1889. That told me her Italian birth record should be available online. As it happens, I've downloaded and renamed every available Santa Paolina vital record. They're searchable on my computer with a desktop search program called Everything. I typed in my match's grandmother's name and found her birth record!

While the grandmother and her parents were not in my family tree, their ancestors were. I searched the town's records to build out this family tree branch. Now I know my DNA match's grandmother is my 3rd cousin 3 times removed. My match is my 5th cousin once removed.

The other DNA match I figured out today is a shared match with my Dad and my maternal 1st cousin Nick. Nick and Dad are DNA matches, and both have roots in one town. All the shared matches for this DNA match point to my paternal town of Colle Sannita, Benevento, Italy.

This DNA match is Italian only on her father's side. I recognized one last name immediately. It's a name that has morphed into 2 or 3 spellings in America.

Her family tree has 67 people, so brava to her. I checked out her father's line and saw a few Italian document images that she'd borrowed from my family tree. That's a good sign!

This DNA match has obviously seen my family tree and cashed in on my research.
This DNA match has obviously seen my family tree and cashed in on my research.

When I went to her ancestors in my own family tree, I saw that her 3rd great grandfather is my 4th great uncle. His brother is the great grandfather of my paternal grandmother Lucy.

So where is the connection to my maternal 1st cousin Nick? As I looked at these people in my family tree, I found my answer. My DNA match's 3rd great grandfather married Nick's 1st cousin 4 times removed. I saw this because of the color-coding in my Family Tree Maker file.

Color-coding your family tree is like planting seeds you'll harvest later.
Color-coding your family tree is like planting seeds you'll harvest later.

My DNA match shares ancestors with me through my paternal grandmother Lucy. And with my maternal cousin Nick through his father's side. I know exactly where this match belongs in my family tree.

As I said, things won't always work out. But you can set yourself up for lots of DNA success stories if you:

  1. Check shared matches
  2. View their tree
  3. Research their family

How many DNA mysteries can you scratch off your list now?