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.