27 December 2022

Top Ten Genealogy Articles of 2022

When I publish a new genealogy article each Tuesday, I try to find topics to make everyone happy. For my final article of 2022, let's take a look at the 10 most popular articles from this year.

Here are the most-read articles of 2022 in reverse order.

Number 10: Your Family Tree Checkup/Tune-up List

When I find a new document for my family tree, I follow all the steps to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Number 9: How to Make Your Own Genealogy Correspondence Database

Make all your past genealogy correspondence easy to find. Create a categorized database of all your messages.

Have you missed any of the top 10 articles from Fortify Your Family Tree?
Have you missed any of the top 10 articles from Fortify Your Family Tree?

Number 8: Genealogists Can Find Shocking Family Stories

My cousin never knew his grandmother's story. He only knew there were 2 boys who looked like twins. When I pulled the whole story together, it was a complete shock to him and me.

Number 7: Using Color to Understand Your Family's Last Names

Color coding lets you see right away if someone in your family tree is your direct ancestor. And you can tell which of your grandparents descends from them.

Number 6: How to Find the True Cousins in Your Family Tree

You can use the free Family Tree Analyzer tool to identify all the blood relatives in your tree. Find out how many 3rd, 4th, 5th and more distant cousins you've added.

Number 5: Why DNA Matches Appear Closer Than They Are

If your people came from small or remote towns, you may have more than one relationship to a DNA match. Multiple relationships can make them appear to be a closer cousin than they are.

Number 4: Simple Tips for Understanding Italian Marriage Records

This series of articles will help you understand Italian vital records. And you don't need to speak Italian.

Number 3: How DNA Can Help Find Your Ancestral Hometown

If your DNA matches know their ancestral hometowns or match the population there today, it's clear. Your people must have come from the same area.

Number 2: How to Make the Best of the New Antenati Website

Learn how to adapt to the latest design of the Italian Antenati website and make the very best of it. It's a treasure trove for those with Italian ancestry. Not speaking Italian shouldn't scare you away!

Number 1: 7 Days to a Better Family Tree

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.

The purpose of this blog is to help you create a more professional family tree. That's why many articles are about finding errors, and improving citations and images. DNA is a popular topic. With my knowledge of Italian genealogy, Italian document articles widely read, too.

In 2023, I'll try to find new ways to engage you with tips, lists, and helpful spreadsheets. I'm open to suggestions. Just leave a comment or drop me a line. Thanks so much for reading!

20 December 2022

It's Time to Wrap Up Your Genealogy Year

I haven't created a list of next year's genealogy goals since 2020. I stopped because my techniques and my true mission kept evolving.

The best example of this is what happened after I finished this 2019 genealogy goal:

  • Log 5 years' worth of birth records from each of my ancestral hometowns into spreadsheet.

I completed that goal, but my next project made my 2019 effort useless. The purpose of logging those 5 years of documents was to make it easier to search for any one person.

But I found an infinitely better method. And it was much easier to completely finish than adding to the spreadsheet. I renamed thousands of Italian vital record image files to include the name of the person and their father.

Let your 2022 genealogy accomplishments pave the way for your 2023 successes.
What's the next logical step to take in your genealogy journey?

For example, here's how I renamed the 2nd birth record of 1809 in one of my towns:

2 Pasquale Maria Cernese di Giovanni.jpg

The baby is Pasquale Maria Cernese (Maria is a common middle name for Italian baby boys), the son of Giovanni Cernese. With all the files renamed this way, I can easily search for all the children of Giovanni Cernese at once. I can run the Windows program called Everything and type in:

"Cernese di Giovanni

That'll show me a list of every possible child of Giovanni Cernese. My work is now a database that I share with other descendants of my towns.

I've explained this, my secret weapon, many times before. This time, it's a prime example of why I stopped setting annual genealogy goals. Instead, I'm constantly working on my tree and imagining how I can make the most of all that data.

So instead of making a 2023 Genealogy Goals List, let's look back for a moment. Let's take stock of our 2022 genealogy accomplishments. Then we can wrap up our genealogy year and dream up what comes next. I'll start. In 2022:

As 2022 ends, I'll finish renaming the vital records from my other grandfather's hometown—Baselice. Then I'll be ready to piece together every Baselice family in my tree. And I'll publish my database for other descendants of the town to use.

One big goal is nearly finished, clearly paving the way for my next big genealogy project.
One big goal is nearly finished, clearly paving the way for my next big genealogy project.

Unless a new idea strikes me, I'll move on to another one of my ancestral hometowns. For me, that's what genealogy is all about. I'm claiming every last drop of my heritage.

What were your genealogy accomplishments in 2022? Where will that work lead you in 2023?

13 December 2022

Don't Get Over-Ambitious with Your Family Tree

Recently I wrote about how I ripped 25,000 obsolete source citations out of my family tree. I did it in one place: the Sources tab of Family Tree Maker. And despite being such an enormous change, I had no problems.

It cut my tree's file size in half. I needed that! And I synchronized my tree with the one on Ancestry.com successfully. No problems at all.

That success made me a bit too bold. Recovering from my next decision took 4 days. And I still have a lot of collateral damage to fix, but nothing devastating.

NOTE: Before you tell me how much better your family tree software is, it can't do what FTM can do. Only this software lets me work on my tree on my computer and regularly synchronize my work with my public tree on Ancestry.com. My family tree needs to be shared!

Pushing that Button

I was happily updating source citations for vital records from 1809. I have a few hundred of them in my family tree. I need to update them because the Italian vital record website (Antenati) changed the URLs of every document. I began to notice along the way that attached to each Italian "repository" in my tree was an old URL. And each old URL does not work. That's no good.

Then I went and did a crazy thing. I did a search and replace for the bad part of the URL. As I clicked Replace, I quickly saw how massive a change this was. This one little edit affected thousands of media, citations, and people.

But I'd had good luck before, so maybe it'd all be fine.

As I clicked Replace in Family Tree Maker, I quickly saw how massive a change this was. Undo! Undo! Alas, it was too late.
As I clicked Replace in Family Tree Maker, I quickly saw how massive a change this was. Undo! Undo! Alas, it was too late.

It wasn't. I started the sync process at 2:30 in the afternoon. Occasional status reports said my edit affected about 7,000 people, 5,000 media files, and 10,000 source citations. Then the progress reports ended. It was simply "analyzing changes" for hours. I set my computer not to go to sleep, and I went to bed.

When I checked my still-running computer in the morning, there were 2 messages:

  • Family Tree Maker lost its internet connection, causing the sync to fail.
  • FTM had identified 55 people with discrepancies, and it asked me how to handle them. I clicked "overwrite with information from FTM," but with the interrupted internet connection, it was too late.

I had to compact my file again, which takes about 90 minutes. Then I tried to sync again. It still failed. But it went a long way before calling it quits. It appeared to update all the citations, media, and people, but I guess it didn't finish.

I had to go to Plan B. I opened my backup file from just before the doomed search and replace. I began the sync process again. That meant that even this older file was vastly different than my online tree. Much like the last time, the process took 12 hours, and despite promising status reports, it failed.

I closed my file and compacted it, deciding to chat with FTM support in the morning. Brandon at FTM found that one (only one!) of my 57,114 people had gotten corrupted. He advised me to make note of her facts and delete her from my Ancestry tree. Then he said to close and compact my file again before attempting to sync.

This time it worked. I did the ill-fated search and replace on Friday afternoon. I was finally synchronized and ready to go late Sunday morning.

The Aftermath

The back-and-forth between FTM and Ancestry during the failed syncs broke several things. Now that my family tree is synchronized with Ancestry again, here's what I need to fix in my file:

  • Lots of unrecognized addresses. I need to delete several of them because the people who lived there are no longer in my tree. But the rest belong in my tree. I can fix these for one person and choose to correct the error everywhere the address is found. I'll fix them as I spot them.
  • 7,500 uncategorized media. Luckily I can select bunches at a time and categorize them at once. I fixed them in a few minutes. Media categories don't carry over to Ancestry.com, so these changes were not involved in my next sync.
  • A small number of missing media. I have to retrieve them from my computer. Not a problem.
  • Some marriage citations split in two: one citation for him and another for her. But they all have the correct updated URL that started this whole mess!
  • Some people have duplicated facts—name, sex, birth, etc. I'll fix them as I find them.
A recent success with a big change to my family tree made me a bit cocky. Now I'm paying the price.
A recent success with a big change to my family tree made me a bit cocky. Now I'm paying the price.

That's what broke because of my sync woes. I've started to revisit the hundreds of 1809 source citations I updated at the end of November. But I won't fix them all in one session.

Lessons Learned

I've learned these lessons before! But I got cocky and need a reminder.

  • Don't make huge changes all at once, no matter how lucky you feel. Handle big changes in smaller chunks.
  • Save and compact your file after you finish one type of change, or a moderately sized batch of changes. Then,
  • Sync your file before moving on to another type of big change.

My problem is that I work on my family tree full time. I make a ton of changes every day. I suppose as long as those changes don't affect 7,000 people, 5,000 media files, and 10,000 source citations, I might be alright. Onward!

06 December 2022

Which Side the Cousin Falls On is Key

It's always great when someone who writes to you about your family tree turns out to be a distant cousin. They'll usually say, "My great grandfather is in your family tree. How are we related?"

It always takes a little work before I can answer that question. First I find their ancestor in my family tree and see their relationship to me. Then I add my new cousin to my tree—without knowing the names of their parents or grandparents—to see our relationship.

That ends now. A few years ago I shared a spreadsheet I called a relationship calculator. (Download your copy.) Its main use is to help you name your exact relationship to a descendant of one of your ancestors.

For instance, when I go to Italy I visit my Dad's first cousins. Their grandparents were my great grandparents. If I want to know my relationship to my cousin's grandchild, I can use the relationship calculator. I am the great granddaughter of Francesco Iamarino, and my cousin's grandchild is his 2nd great grandchild. That makes the youngster my 2nd cousin once removed (2C1R). The spreadsheet makes that clear.

What if we look at the same spreadsheet in a different way? This time I want to find my relationship to the great grandchild of a particular cousin in my family tree.

Once you find which cell matches a particular cousin, you'll see your relationship to all their descendants.
Once you find which cell matches a particular cousin, you'll see your relationship to all their descendants.

I'm randomly choosing Antonio Pilla from my family tree. Born in 1878, Antonio is my 2nd cousin 3 times removed (2C3R). Let's pretend his great granddaughter wrote to me asking how we're related.

Step 1 of 2. Find the Right Cell

"2nd cousin 3 times removed" is in 2 different cells of the relationship calculator:

  • once in relation to my 1st great grandparent (column E row 11), and
  • once in relation to my 4th great grandparent (column H row 8).

That means I need to understand how I'm related to Antonio Pilla. Our relationship chart on Ancestry.com shows a connection through my Francesco Iamarino. He's my great grandfather. That means Antonio Pilla is my 2C3R found in column E row 11 of the relationship calculator.

Step 2 of 2. Count the Generations

The rest is a snap. Antonio is my 2C3R from column E row 11, and I want to see my relationship to his great granddaughter. All I have to do is move down column E three rows:

  1. move down one row for Antonio's child
  2. move down a second row for Antonio's grandchild
  3. move down a third row for Antonio's great grandchild.

Now I'm at column E row 14 which reads "2nd cousin 6 times removed" (2C6R).

"No kidding, Einstein," you say. "Your 2C3R plus 3 generations equals your 2C6R."

That's right…except when it isn't. And now I finally see why that simple math works only some of the time. It depends on which side of the yellow line your relationship falls on.

The updated relationship calculator (see the link above) has a diagonal string of cells highlighted in yellow. Each yellow cell is a full-cousin relationship: 1st cousin, 2nd cousin, 3rd cousin, etc.

Same type of cousin. One to the left and one to the right of the yellow line. Which side the cousin falls on is everything!
Same type of cousin. One to the left and one to the right of the yellow line. Which side the cousin falls on is everything!

Antonio Pilla fell into cell E11, and that's to the left of the yellow line. But what if my relationship to him was the 2C3R found in cell H8—to the right of the yellow line? You can see that the great granddaughter of a man in cell H8 would be my 5th cousin! The progression would be:

  • Antonio 2C3R
  • his child 3C2R
  • his grandchild 4C1R
  • his great grandchild 5C

That's what's been driving me nuts. I couldn't understand why simple math didn't always work. The key is that yellow line.

Maybe you're able to figure out relationships in your head. But as you've seen, you've got to get past one big wrinkle: the yellow line.

Now I can stop putting temporary, unnamed people in my family tree just to figure out a relationship. The answer was right there all along in the relationship calculator!