22 February 2022

Using Color to Understand Your Family's Last Names

I have zero regrets about my time-consuming family tree research. The countless hours spent downloading and renaming every available vital record? Worth it. All the spreadsheets for tracking my projects? Worth it. I see the benefits of my work every day.

Why Use Color-Coding?

My latest project (and it's a whopper!) makes me realize how much I love the color-coding feature of Family Tree Maker. It's been around for at least 2 years, and I borrowed the idea to use on 2 of my favorite genealogy spreadsheets:

In Family Tree Maker (FTM), I wanted a visual way to distinguish my 4 main branches—1 for each grandparent. Choosing each grandparent one at a time, I:

  • clicked the Color Coding button
  • assigned a color to the grandparent and their direct ancestors:
    • yellow for my paternal grandfather
    • pink for my paternal grandmother
    • green for my maternal grandfather
    • blue for my maternal grandmother
See if your family tree software has a color-coding/tagging function and start reaping the benefits.
See if your family tree software has a color-coding/tagging function and start reaping the benefits.

Now I can see right away if someone in my family tree is my direct ancestor. And I can see which of my grandparents descends from them. Better still, since Dad's parents were 3rd cousins, I have a bunch of double ancestors. They're recognizable because they have both yellow and pink colors.

Other Uses for Color-Coding

It makes sense to use the same colors in my other charts because then I know exactly who's who.

In my grandparent/Ahnentafel chart, I filled in all the numbers and colors ahead of time. (You can download one for free.) Having the numbers in place made it very simple to put a newly found ancestor's name where it belongs. And the colors keep my branches straight. That's very important when I have so many repeated last names in my tree.

When it comes to my double ancestors, I enter them in two places in the Ahnentafel chart, and I give them a blended color. They are orange, a combination of yellow and pink.

You can expand the color-coding concept to your other family tree tools.
You can expand the color-coding concept to your other family tree tools.

In my surname chart, I added a tally to show how many times each of the 115 last names appears among my direct ancestors. The winner is the name Zeolla belonging to 17 of my direct ancestors.

Then I added color blocks to show which branch(es) contains each name. Some names belong to only one branch. That's the case for all but one name on my maternal grandmother's line. Except for one, all her ancestors' last names are unique to her branch of my family tree. Three of my ancestral surnames, including Zeolla, belong on 3 of my branches. Several other names belong on my 2 paternal branches.

Reaping the Benefits

I mentioned above that my latest project is a whopper. It's the big one. The one I've been working up to for years. And it could take me years to complete. But I'm absolutely loving it!

Two weeks ago I wrote about my plan for this project (see "Laying the Foundation for a Solid Family Tree"). Ever since then I've been adding about 100 relatives to my tree each day. It has been amazing. I'm reviewing every vital record from Grandpa's hometown and finding missing details, like:

  • exact dates for births, deaths, and marriages
  • parentage that proves 2 same-named people are the same person
  • early deaths that connect to a family from the town's 1742 census.

It's wildly rewarding. In 2 weeks I've completed all the records for 1809–1816. That doesn't sound like much, but it's the vital records for 2,730 people. Even though I'm only up to line 2,504 in a 38,351-line spreadsheet, I'm chomping at the bit to move on to another town.

As I go through the records, adding and updating people, I may find that a person's previously unknown parents are already in my tree. When I add the child and see their ancestors' color-coding, I'm thrilled! I've taken someone who was a dead end and turned them into my true cousin.

Three weeks ago I wrote about "How to Find the True Cousins in Your Family Tree." My true cousin count was 6,095. Since then I've added many more. Each day I'm turning relationships like "1st cousin 3x removed of husband of aunt" into actual blood relatives. It's so gratifying.

The only other color-coding I'm using in Family Tree Maker is purple for DNA matches. What other types of relationships would you color code?

15 February 2022

Take These Steps to Be Ready for the 1950 Census

When they release the 1950 United States Census on April 1st, will you be ready to find your family? It will take a few weeks for the collection to be fully indexed and searchable. But don't let that stop you.

With very little trouble, you can create a list of who you want to search for. Then you can prioritize your list and use an online tool to tell you where to look.

Create Your Search List

Once again, it's Family Tree Analyzer to the rescue. Here are the steps I followed to create my list of 1,045 people who may be in the 1950 U.S. census:

1. Export a GEDCOM file from your family tree. Your family tree software or the website where you keep it should have this option.

2. Launch Family Tree Analyzer and open your GEDCOM file.

3. Click the Main List tab, then choose Individuals to Excel from the Export menu at the top.

This saves the file in CSV format. I find it's better to save the CSV file in your spreadsheet software format. For me, that's Excel. This will give you more functionality and let you save your formatting, like column widths.

You can delete several columns for simplicity. All you really need is:

  • Forename
  • Surname
  • BirthDate
  • BirthLocation
  • DeathDate
  • RelationToRoot

4. Sort the data by the BirthLocation column, then hide (or delete) the lines for anyone who didn't live in the USA. Make this column nice and wide so you can see the country.

This step took a while for me because I have about 36,000 people in my family tree who never came to America.

Keep your immigrant ancestors in mind. I realize I've hidden the lines for my grandfathers and my great grandparents. I know I won't forget them, but I will put their lines back in.

Follow these few steps today and be completely ready for the upcoming release of the 1950 U.S. census.
Follow these few steps today and be completely ready for the upcoming release of the 1950 U.S. census.

5. If you hid the non-U.S. lines, copy the entire worksheet to a new, blank worksheet. The hidden lines will not copy. If you deleted the lines, go to step 6.

6. Sort the data by the BirthDate column, then hide (or delete) the lines for anyone born before 1850 and after 1950.

7. Sort the data by the DeathDate column, then hide (or delete) the lines for anyone who died before 1950.

8. If you hid the out-of-range lines in step 7, copy the entire worksheet to a new, blank worksheet. The hidden lines will not copy. If you deleted the lines, go to step 9.

Now you have a list of all the people in your family tree who may be in the 1950 census.

9. Sort the data by the RelationToRoot column so you can focus on your closest relatives first.

When they release the census and you start your search, you can hide or delete lines as you find people. I'm going to add a new column to my spreadsheet where I can put an X when I've found someone.

Find the Neighborhood Before the Index is Ready

I know I want to find my parents first. They made their first appearance in the 1940 census, so now I want their families in 1950.

To find the right set of census pages to scour for their families, follow these steps:

1. Go to stevemorse.org and select Unified 1880-1950 Census ED Finder from the US Census menu.

2. See what address you have for the family in the 1940 census and enter that on the stevemorse.org website.

I'll set the State to New York, the County to Bronx, the City or Town to Bronx. Then I'll enter the House Number 260, and choose East 151st Street from the pull-down list. Next I'll click the "see google map" button to view this address on the map. You need this so you can see what the surrounding streets are.

3. Select the nearest cross or back street from the pull-down menu. Repeat this step as needed.

4. Look beneath the street names you've chosen. You'll see how much you've narrowed down the possible enumeration districts.

Don't wait for the 1950 census to be indexed. Use this tool to go to the right set of pages.
Don't wait for the 1950 census to be indexed. Use this tool to go to the right set of pages.

In my case, my mom's family will be in one of two enumeration districts. I can easily go through them page-by-page when the images are available. In fact, since the majority of my relatives lived right there, I'll be on the lookout for any familiar names.

So you see, with very little effort, you can be ready for the April 1st release date. You'll have your list, and you'll have your priority people. The best thing about this spreadsheet is it'll help make sure you don't overlook anyone.

Be thankful we're getting access to 1950 in 2022, at the end of the 72-year privacy period. People in the U.K. just got access to their 1921 census!

08 February 2022

Laying the Foundation for a Solid Family Tree

You can't skip a generation while building your family tree. You can't find your 3rd great grandparents without your 2nd great grandmother's name. That's why rule #1 of creating a new family tree is, "Start with what you know." You enter yourself, your parents, your grandparents. By doing so, you're starting the foundation of your family tree.

Census records, ship manifests, and draft registration cards were all I needed to build my U.S. family tree. Then I got hungry for more. More relatives, more generations. To expand my family tree further back in time, I needed "old-country" records.

Today my family tree just topped 37,000 people stretching back to the late 1600s. Are they all my blood relatives? No. In fact, last week I explained how to tally up your different relationships. I had just over 6,000 blood relatives in my family tree.

An audit of vital records from Grandpa's hometown proves how I'm related to everyone!
An audit of vital records from Grandpa's hometown proves how I'm related to almost everyone!

Who are the other 31,000 people in my tree, you ask? They are in-laws and in-laws' in-laws from my part of Italy. Ironically, I wrote a popular article years ago about who to cut out of your family tree. One of my main rules on who to cut involves in-laws. I add only the parents of an in-law to my family tree and no one else. Take my 1st cousin as an example. Her spouse is in my tree, of course, but I'm not going to research him. I'll add his parents, and that's all.

But for me, the in-law rule does not apply to my Italian nationals. When I reviewed vital records from one ancestral hometown, one thing became clear. Everyone in town had some relation to everyone else. The town was a bit isolated, so intermarriage of families happened over and over again.

If you have deep roots in a place where people stayed put for centuries, this is likely true for you, too.

I expanded my family tree with thousands of townspeople. It seemed there was almost no one in the vital records who didn't have a connection to me. I mentioned this to my husband who wondered, "How many people would be in your tree if you did add them all?" After telling him I couldn't even guess, I wondered what I could do to find the answer.

Reviewing Every Record

For my hometowns, I made spreadsheets of the names of people in every available vital record. What if I added a column and marked who's in my family tree?

Since my tree is so broad already, I'm starting my tally with the earliest records, beginning in 1809. My spreadsheet has a line item for each image downloaded from the Antenati website. I'm adding a number in the new column to show who is in my tree.

Some images have more than one document, so the number of people depends on the image. A two-page marriage image has two pairs of brides and grooms. If both couples fit into my tree, I score that line as 4 for 4 people. If only one couple fits, I score it as 2. A two-page birth image counts as 2 if both babies fit into my tree. I'm not counting the parents because they're going to have a lot of kids.

The tally is more about ensuring that I fit in everyone I can. The sum of these numbers isn't going to be a true count of who went into my family tree. Someone may be counted several times. They're born, they marry (maybe a few times), and they die. They're going to rack up a few numbers, but they're only one person.

What I really want to spot is the people in the documents who can't fit into my family tree. I'm making these people visible by highlighting their lines in yellow. As I scroll down the spreadsheet, any line without yellow tells me those people and their facts are in my tree. As my tree grows, I can always double back and re-check the yellow-highlighted lines. These people may fit into my family tree later.

Proving My Theory

The results so far are fantastic. As I check each document, many of the people are already in my tree. If not, then their parents are in there, and I can now add the child. The people I can't fit are usually from another town or my town's aristocrats. I come from pure peasant stock, so none of my people were marrying into the upper class.

A broad and solid foundation to your family tree may support your entire ancestral hometown.
A broad and solid foundation to your family tree may support your entire ancestral hometown.

I love the idea of checking the vital records one-by-one. Sometimes I capture a child who died young. Their death record may be the only chance for them to get into my tree. The best outcome is when I find proof that two people in my family tree with the same name are actually the same person. This exercise, which I've only just begun, has given me the proof I needed to merge a bunch of people together.

I'm seeing plenty of interest out there in One-Place Studies—investigating everyone in town to see how they fit together. This is what I've been doing for more than 10 years. Now I'm being methodical about it. As I review each vital record, it reminds me that the answers to many questions are out there. I don't want to overlook any of the clues.

Make sure your family tree has a solid foundation. Climb up each generation carefully. Then expand to your ancestors' siblings. Add their spouses, their spouses' families, and so on. With a broad foundation, you can piece together entire towns. Now you've created something of value to yourself, and to thousands of other people.

01 February 2022

How to Find the True Cousins in Your Family Tree

I've been on a genealogy rampage lately—but in a good way. I'm tapping into my enormous database of vital records from my ancestral hometowns. And I'm using it to add about 100 people a day to my family tree.

Everyone from my ancestors' hometowns can fit into my family tree somehow. But right now, I'm going after my distant cousins. Here's how I'm doing it:

  • I pick one of my direct ancestors, like a 4th great grandfather.
  • I locate every one of their children.
  • I find out who each child married, and I search for their children.
  • I keep searching for children's children until I reach the end of the available vital records.

It's a blast to add whole families to my tree that some distant cousin is going to find through an Ancestry hint.

What happens when you research your ancestors siblings? Your family tree grows to include hundreds or thousands of blood relatives.
What happens when you research your ancestors siblings? Your family tree grows to include hundreds or thousands of blood relatives.

With all this recent growth, as of this writing, I have 36,434 people in my tree. Many of them have crazy relationships to me. Like step-father of the son-in-law of the 2nd great uncle of my great aunt's husband.

Now that I'm concentrating on blood relatives, I wondered how many of each type of cousin I've located. How many 1st cousins 3 times removed have I found? How many 3rd cousins 4 times removed?

To find out, I exported a current GEDCOM from my Family Tree Maker file. (Make sure you are the root person in your GEDCOM file.) Then I opened it with Family Tree Analyzer. I clicked Main Lists to see a spreadsheet view of everyone in my family tree. Then I clicked the Export menu at the top of the program and chose Individuals to Excel.

In one second flat, I had a spreadsheet with all the facts and people from my tree! I opened the file and sorted it by the RelationToRoot column. Then I filtered out any blank relationships, hiding them from view. (Family Tree Analyzer doesn't include crazy relationships like the one I mentioned above.)

Use Family Tree Analyzer to instantly export all your family tree facts to a spreadsheet. Then sort and filter to see how many types of cousins you've found.
Use Family Tree Analyzer to instantly export all your family tree facts to a spreadsheet. Then sort and filter to see how many types of cousins you've found.

Now I can click with my mouse and pull it down to select relationships of the same kind. Then I can see at the bottom of the spreadsheet how many rows I've selected. Here's what I have.

I'm using an abbreviation below that I learned from another genealogist. C means cousin and R means removed, so 1C3R is a 1st cousin 3 times removed.

# of First Cousins in my family tree:

  • 1C–5
  • 1C1R–30
  • 1C2R–108
  • 1C3R–97
  • 1C4R–190
  • 1C5R–259
  • 1C6R–166
  • 1C7R–65
  • 1C8R–10

# of Second Cousins in my family tree:

  • 2C–44
  • 2C1R–172
  • 2C2R–29
  • 2C3R–193
  • 2C4R–439
  • 2C5R–339
  • 2C6R–114
  • 2C7R–15

# of Third Cousins in my family tree:

  • 3C–101
  • 3C1R—112
  • 3C2R—116
  • 3C3R—556 Whoa!
  • 3C4R—485
  • 3C5R—179
  • 3C6R—29

# of Fourth Cousins in my family tree:

  • 4C–18
  • 4C1R–21
  • 4C2R–215
  • 4C3R–361
  • 4C4R–205
  • 4C5R–44

# of Fifth Cousins in my family tree:

  • 5C–16
  • 5C1R–86
  • 5C2R–159
  • 5C3R–70
  • 5C4R–44

# of Sixth Cousins in my family tree:

  • 6C–19
  • 6C1R–28
  • 6C2R–16
  • 6C3R–20

# of Seventh Cousins in my family tree:

  • 7C–9
  • 7C1R–6
  • 7C2R–3

# of Grand Aunts and Uncles in my family tree:

  • grandaunts and uncles–14
  • 1st great grandaunts and uncles–46
  • 2nd great grandaunts and uncles–68
  • 3rd great grandaunts and uncles–103
  • 4th great grandaunts and uncles–89
  • 5th great grandaunts and uncles–77
  • 6th great grandaunts and uncles–77
  • 7th great grandaunts and uncles–9

# of Great Grandparents in my family tree:

  • 1st great grandparents–8
  • 2nd great grandparents–16
  • 3rd great grandparents–31 only 1 missing!
  • 4th great grandparents–53
  • 5th great grandparents–84
  • 6th great grandparents–108
  • 7th great grandparents–72
  • 8th great grandparents–20
  • 9th great grandparents–5

I love seeing this breakdown of my people. I'm astonished to learn that I've identified three of my seventh cousins twice removed. The only thing keeping me from finding 8th cousins is a lack of records. But I'm psyched to keep adding more and more cousins. And their spouses. And their spouses' families.

You say you don't venture beyond your direct ancestors? These cousins are your people, too. Does everyone ask you if you've finished your family tree yet? Tell them you have several hundred cousins still to find. And their spouses. And their spouses' families. Tell them this is one puzzle that's never finished!