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.