14 March 2023

Use Color-Coding to Solve Mystery DNA Matches

Last week's article on sorting your DNA matches by grandparent branch was a big hit. Thank you for reading it! Since that DNA exercise was so popular, I've got another one for you. This is especially helpful for those of you whose parents have not DNA tested.

This color-coding exercise comes from a RootsTech presentation by Diahan Southard. It's called, "Shared Matches—The only DNA tool you will ever need."

Choose a Goal No Further Back than a 3rd Great Grandparent

My goal for this exercise is to find descendants of my unknown 3rd great grandmother. All I know is she married Antonio Muollo in the tiny hamlet of Pastene in Italy. To do this, I'll choose the closest match I know who descends from each of my 4 pairs of 1st great grandparents. These should be people who you've already fit into your family tree. Southard calls these cousins your Best Known Matches, or BKMs.

For each BKM, click to view them and find the list of your shared matches. (The location of this list depends on your DNA website.) These are people who match both you and the BKM. Create a color-code on your DNA website for each of your 1st great grandparent pairs. Give the right color to all the shared matches of each BKM. Give it to your BKM from that branch, too.

Divide your DNA matches with this color-coding system and watch all the pieces fall into place.
Divide your DNA matches with this color-coding system and watch all the pieces fall into place.

You can go a step further and give that color to the shared matches of everyone in your BKM's shared match list.

Without using my parents or reusing any BKMs, here are my closest tested cousins for each branch. They're strong matches with longest segments of shared DNA between 35 and 86 cMs.

BKMs by 1st great grandparents branch:

  1. Iamarino/Caruso—June 1C1R, 441 cM match, longest segment 51 cM
  2. Iamarino/Pilla—Jessica 3C1R, 168 cM match, longest segment 65 cM
  3. Leone/Iammucci—Nicky 1C, 79 cM match, longest segment 86 cM
  4. Sarracino/Saviano—Christine 2C, 308 cM match, longest segment 35 cM

If that list is confusing, it's because my father's parents were both named Iamarino. They were 3rd cousins.

Use Color-Coding to Filter Your Matches

Next, I'll go back to my main match page and filter my list by only my Sarracino/Saviano branch. The goal is to separate them by my 2nd great grandparent couples. I'll use another color to divide the Sarracino-only matches into a 2nd great grandparent group called Sarracino/Muollo. And I'll divide the Saviano-only matches into a 2nd great grandparent group called Saviano/Consolazio. It's the Sarracino/Muollo group that can help me break through my Muollo brick wall.

Here are the BKMs I chose for my 2nd great grandparent branches:

  1. Sarracino/Muollo—Mary, 191 cM match, longest segment 51 cM
  2. Saviano/Consolazio—Teresa, 2C1R, 157 cM match, longest segment 35 cM
  3. Iamarino/Zeolla—another Teresa, 125 cM match, longest segment 65 cM
  4. Pilla/Liguori—Nicole, 59 cM match, longest segment 25 cM
  5. Iamarino/diPaola—Keith, 2C, 232 cM match, longest segment 51 cM
  6. Caruso/Girardi—Daniel, 2C, 229 cM match, longest segment 42 cM
  7. Leone/Pisciotti—Anne, 3C, 97 cM match, longest segment 71 cM
  8. Iammucci/Bozza—none! There's only my mother and 1C Nicky.

You May Find Some Surprises

Diahan Southard said this exercise can point out the endogamy in your family tree. Endogamy is when generations of families keep intermarrying. That leaves you with multiple relationships to people. And it's very common in the small, somewhat isolated hill towns that were home to all my ancestors.

I see endogamy right away because my only 1C who's tested, my maternal 1st cousin, is somehow a match to my father. He's a very distant relation to my Dad. They share only 11 cMs in one segment. They each have ancestors from bordering towns, so there are lots of ways they may connect. But I'll probably never find the answer.

If you don't have endogamy, this process should work extremely well for you. You'll wind up with a long list of matches who must belong to a particular branch of your family tree. They've probably been mystery matches because they have no tree or no familiar names.

As a shortcut, I took Southard's advice and looked at Ancestry's ThruLines® for Muollo branch descendants. There's only one, aside from my 1C and my mom. She's my 3C1R, and she looks remarkably like me. It's possibly she has some Muollo in her ancestry, but she seems to be only on the Sarracino side. If there is a Muollo descendant in my matches, they don't have a public family tree. Still, I will circle back and examine my shared matches with my lookalike 3C1R.

With the Muollo branch at an impasse, I turned my attention to my Consolazio ancestors. My 2nd great grandmother was a Consolazio from the town of Santa Paolina. Many people from that town intermarried with people in the neighboring town of Tufo. And my Tufo vital record collection needs a lot more research.

I chose as my BKM Lynda, my 3C3R, 30 cM match, with a longest segment of 19 cM. I know exactly where she belongs on the Consolazio branch. I marked her and our shared matches with the color for my Consolazio/Zullo branch.

Harvest Your Mystery Matches

Looking at these matches, I moved onto the next step, which is Southard's mantra, "Do genealogy!" I'll choose a shared match with a decent family tree and expand it until it reaches a branch of my tree.

I was digging into one match with a Consolazio family in his tree, but they were from the wrong town. I researched them anyway, and they did, in fact, have roots in my Consolazio town of Santa Paolina. That's a good lesson right there. Don't count someone out because their closer ancestors come from a place you don't know. Dig deeper!

Expert Diahan Southard offers this incredible method for finding exactly the DNA matches you need. I can't praise this method highly enough.
Expert Diahan Southard offers this incredible method for finding exactly the DNA matches you need. I can't praise this method highly enough.

When I did the genealogy, this match whose close family was from another town turned out to be my 3C2R. Our longest shared DNA segment measured 20 cM, which is now very logical.

Our common ancestors are my 4th great grandparents, Gaetano Consolazio and Colomba Ricciardelli. Our shared roots go very deep in Santa Paolina. I color-coded all our shared matches as Consolazio/Zullo.

In the past I marked one of our shared matches as "Consolazio NOT from Santa Paolina." Now I knew I needed to dig into her family tree to bring her roots back to my town. And I did it! I found our connection, which was a mystery before today. She's my 4C1R, and we share the same ancestors—Gaetano Consolazio and Colomba Ricciardelli.

I'd marked another shared match as "lots of Santa Paolina names." Today's exercise brought him to my attention again. Almost instantly, I saw a way into his tree. His grandfather is already in my family tree, but there isn't a cousin connection. When I researched his grandmother, I found our connection. Now this mystery match is my 5C1R.

This is really working! Diahan Southard hit the nail on the head in her presentation. She said, "Stop looking at shared last names, and start looking at shared matches. Then, do genealogy."

This method can solve a ton of your mystery DNA matches. Give it a try!

07 March 2023

This Spreadsheet Sorts DNA Matches By Branch

If it's at all possible, get your close relatives to take a DNA test that you will manage. Choose someone from your maternal and paternal sides. If you can't test your parents, how about a half-sibling or a 1st cousin? Once they've tested, get ready to see all your DNA matches in a new light.

I'm so glad my parents agreed to take a DNA test. At first I asked them to test so I could more easily see which one of them was related to my DNA matches. Now AncestryDNA is doing that for us with their SideView™ feature. I figured I didn't need this feature. But I was wrong.

While watching videos from RootsTech 2023, one big thing dawned on me. You see, my parents are on each other's match lists. After so much digging, I'm sure they don't have a common ancestor who lived before the late 1700s. But I never thought to look at my parents' SideViews.

Looking at SideView from My Parents' Perspective

The result was pretty exciting. When I looked at Dad in Mom's match list, I saw:

  • their relationship falls in the 4th–6th cousin range
  • they share 37 cMs
  • their longest segment of shared DNA is 14 cMs
  • Dad is on Mom's paternal side of the family

That last item is great news because Mom's maternal side of the family dead ends too early. That ancestral hometown was a Papal State in Italy, so it didn't keep civil records before 1861.

When I looked at Mom in Dad's DNA match list, they still shared 37 cMs with the longest segment measuring 14 cMs. But, unfortunately, SideView shows Mom as Unassigned. Ancestry says this could mean there isn't enough information to assign Mom to one of Dad's parents. Your Unassigned matches may get updated in the future, so keep checking.

Analyzing DNA Matches in a New Light

It was Kelli Bergheimer's RootsTech presentation "DNA Misconceptions" that inspired today's project. I created a spreadsheet to compare my DNA matches' relationship to each of my parents and me.

I started by adding the names of my DNA matches in column A of a spreadsheet. I went from the top of the list down to my 44 cM matches. After 44 cMs my matches fell into the Distant Family category. I noted:

  • how many cMs we shared
  • whether a match is on my maternal side, paternal side, both sides, or unassigned

Then I went through each of my parents' match lists. I captured their matches down to a 44 cM match. If their match wasn't already in my list, I added a new line to the spreadsheet. I checked each of our lists for everyone in column A, noting shared cMs and which side of the family.

When all your maternal DNA matches are on Mom's list, and all your paternals are on Dad's list, you know you've found a cousin.
When all your maternal DNA matches are on Mom's list, and all your paternals are on Dad's list, you know you've found a cousin.

Next I used colors to show where Mom and I shared a match, where Dad and I shared a match, and where all 3 of us shared a match. In those cases, I added the length of our longest segment of shared DNA with the match in cMs. (If you use AncestryDNA, click your match's number of shared cMs to see what is the longest length.)

I found 10 matches that only Dad has, and 7 matches that only Mom has. All 17 had a strong number of shared cMs. It's possible I share an amount of DNA with them that's too small to make my list. There were no matches in my column that didn't match either Mom or Dad. That qualifies them as true matches and not false positives.

Are Your Matches Really in Your Family Tree?

Kelli Bergheimer speaks about IBD (Identical By Descent) vs. IBS (Identical By State) matches. IBS is also called IBC (Identical By Chance). An IBD match is definitely family—a true cousin. This is someone who fits in your family tree. An IBS/IBC match may or may not be a true cousin. They may share DNA with you because their ancestors' roots are planted so close to yours. And that's one way this spreadsheet helps you understand your matches.

If my parent(s) and I share a match with a good number of cMs, I can be confident that person is a true cousin. I did a bit of research on this concept, and the following numbers vary a bit from place to place. But here's the basic idea.

If the *longest segment* you share with a DNA match is:

  • 12 cM or more, you're almost surely true cousins
  • about 10 to 12 cM, there's a 90% chance you're true cousins
  • between 8 and 10 cM, there's a 50-50 chance you're true cousins
  • between 6 and 8 cM, there's less than a 50% chance you're true cousins
  • smaller than 6 cM, there's about a 10% chance you're true cousins

Even if you are true cousins, your most recent common ancestor (MRCA) may be too far up your tree to identify. Your odds of finding that MRCA get better and better when you and your match share a segment of 30 cMs or more. If you share a segment of about 16 to 30 cMs, you've got about a 50% chance of finding that MRCA. Any lower and the odds are slim to none. (My parents' longest segment is 14 cMs.)

The message is clear. Don't beat yourself up if you can't identify a match who shares a longest segment of less than 16 cMs with you.

Practical Ways to Use This Spreadsheet

I love this spreadsheet because it can tell me which of my 4 grandparents' lines connect me to a DNA match. I added a column next to the matches' names showing which grandparent(s) is the connection:

  • Adamo for Mom's paternal matches
  • Mary for Mom's maternal matches
  • Pietro for Dad's paternal matches
  • Lucy for Dad's maternal matches
  • various combinations to cover double matches and unassigned matches
Use your parents' AncestryDNA SideView™ to assign a match to one or more grandparents' branches of the family tree.
Use your parents' AncestryDNA SideView™ to assign a match to one or more grandparents' branches of the family tree.

This creates a sort of cluster when you sort your spreadsheet by the grandparent column. In my case, if Grandma Mary is their only connection to me, and they aren't a very strong match, I may not find our MRCA. (Again, that's because Mary's line dead ends too early.) If Grandpa Adamo is their only connection, I know they have roots in his hometown of Baselice, Italy. And sometimes a match's last name reassures me that my spreadsheet is correct.

What About Your Closest Tested Relatives?

Getting back to my parents matching each other—I went to DNA Painter to use the Shared cM Project 4.0 tool. I entered the total number of cMs my parents share: 37. The tool says that pedigree collapse or endogamy can affect the results. There's a good chance I have one or both of those things in my family tree. All my ancestors came from a small string of neighboring Italian towns.

Putting pedigree collapse or endogamy aside, my parents have:

  • a 50% chance of being 5th, 6th, or 7th cousins, along with several other relationships in that range
  • a 19% chance of being half 3rd cousins or 3rd cousins once removed
  • an 18% chance of being 4th cousins or half 3rd cousins once removed
  • a 10% chance of being half 2nd cousins or 2nd cousins once removed

Based on my extensive family tree, I'm confident my parents are 5th, 6th, or 7th cousins. All I can do hope that their towns' church records go public some day so I can dig into the early 1700s.

If you have very close relatives who've DNA tested, try this type of DNA analysis for yourself. I'm excited to be able to figure out my lower matches who have a stronger connection to one of my parents than to me.

28 February 2023

Exploring a New Feature You Didn't Know You Need

Last week I discussed using the Manage Facts feature of Family Tree Maker to add or remove custom facts. (See "How to Add or Delete Custom Facts in Your Family Tree.") That led me to explore what else is hiding in that Edit menu.

You may have received an email from Family Tree Maker about a free update recently. In the email they highlighted new capabilities in the Manage Relationships tool. (You can read a list of all that's new in FTM 24.2.)

Fix Broken Relationships

They said you may find couples in your family tree listed with an Unknown relationship. And it's through no fault of your own. I decided to test out this new feature. Here's how you can do it:

  • Open your tree in FTM, click the Edit menu, and choose Manage Relationships toward the bottom of the list.
  • In the Manage Relationships window, the Show relationships menu defaults to Spouse.
  • Click Spouse, then click Couple to open up a list of choices.
  • The 2 choices that should interest you the most are Unknown and Unknown with a Marriage fact. Start by clicking Unknown.
  • You'll see a list of every couple in your tree with an Unknown marriage status.
  • You can choose to Select All or you can click each person you know should have a Spouse relationship.
  • Once you've made your selections, you can change them all to Spouse at once. First make sure that at the bottom you see Change selected relationships to this type: Spouse. Then click the Apply button and it's done.
This new feature fixes a hidden family tree problem quickly and easily.
This new feature fixes a hidden family tree problem quickly and easily.

I realized as I looked through my list of names that some of the couples should say divorced. Make note of their names because you must change them to Spouse before you can mark them as divorced. (To change their status to divorced, go to an individual's Person tab, look at the Relationships view, and change Spouse - Ongoing to Spouse - Divorced.)

Next, follow the same steps, but choose Unknown with a Marriage fact in the Spouse > Couple list. In my results list, I saw some divorced couples. I had to make note of them, set their relationship to Spouse, then visit each couple to mark them as Spouse - Divorced.

There's a good chance these errors happened while synchronizing your FTM tree with Ancestry.

Manage Even More

Back on the FTM Edit menu, choose Manage Repositories near the bottom. Here you can add, edit, replace, or delete the repositories you created to use with your source citations. Click the Usage button for any repository to see its usage. You'll see a list of how many times it's used—no other details.

You know how to get around in your family tree software. But you can always use a shortcut.
You know how to get around in your family tree software. But you can always use a shortcut.

In my case, I found one repository that I'm not using anymore. The Usage button confirmed that it's not in use in my tree, so I deleted it.

The same is true if you choose Manage Sources. But I find it easier to manage your sources from the Sources tab at the top of the FTM window.

One other interesting feature I found on the Edit menu is Edit Person. First navigate to any person of interest. Try clicking the Home button and choosing yourself. Click Edit > Edit Person (or the shortcut, the F3 key). A single window gives you quick access to every fact, note, and media item you've attached to that person.

This is a nice way to view a timeline for the person. Yes, you can see this timeline on any individual's Person tab. But if you need to confirm something quickly, the Edit Person (F3) option is a time saver. Maybe you're wondering if you added a citation to your 2nd great grandmother's 1920 census facts. You'll see that in this window. And you can edit any fact right there in the window.

Finally, the Edit menu has a Find Duplicate People option. I gave up on this after a few moments because my tree has 57,136 people, and far too many of them have the same name. But it may prove useful for you.

If you've been wondering about any other menu option in Family Tree Maker, I highly recommend the Facebook group Family Tree Maker Users. Administrator Nanci Crisp is a marvel. She has created a series of illustrated tutorials explaining absolutely everything to you. Once you've joined the group, click the Guides tab to see all the tutorials.

If you're using another type of family tree software, be sure to check Facebook for a user group. I bet you'll find that someone else has already asked your question and gotten the solution.

21 February 2023

How to Add or Delete Custom Facts in Your Family Tree

I'm still busy making every source citation in my family tree complete and consistent. (See "Take the Time to Improve the Sources in Your Family Tree.") It's been so rewarding! Revisiting the documents and families tied to each citation shows me where I need more research. Sometimes it reminds me of past discoveries or problems.

One citation I reviewed was unique for my family tree. I realized I had a decision to make. I needed a custom fact type to handle a convict in the family.

You can create your own custom fact types in 3 steps with FamilyTree Maker. Your software should have this option, too.
You can create your own custom fact types in 3 steps with FamilyTree Maker. Your software should have this option, too.

This one citation covered 3 images and facts belonging to a man name Frank. Frank's brother married my husband's aunt, and I'd forgotten about my past discovery. Frank committed an unspeakable crime and was sentenced to 7 years in prison.

  • He went to San Quentin State Prison on 18 June 1942 at the age of 21.
  • He was transferred to the prison in Chino, California, a year later.
  • He was released on 18 March 1947 with parole.

How would you enter these dates in your family tree? It seems I assigned these dates to a fact type I made up—Internment. But that custom fact type is for Japanese family members the U.S. shipped off to the middle of nowhere during World War II.

I needed another fact type for Frank, so I created one called Imprisonment. Right now, only Frank uses this fact type, but I'm still reviewing my family tree.

Identifying Custom Fact Types

I wondered if I'd used Internment for other non-internment facts. To find out, I exported a new GEDCOM file and opened it with Family Tree Analyzer (FTA). On the Main Lists tab of FTA, I clicked the Custom Facts tab.

FTA showed me 7 custom fact types used in my tree:

  • Ahnentafel—I think this fact type should be part of the GEDCOM standard. I use it to identify all my direct ancestors.
  • AKA (Also Known As)—for entering nicknames. This is standard in Family Tree Maker, but FTA doesn't recognize it.
  • Event—this is so generic. Too generic.
  • Imprisonment
  • Internment
  • Passport Application
  • Visa—some ship manifests include facts about travel visas.

While looking at this table in FTA, you can double-click any row to see who is using this fact type.

Don't know if you have any custom fact types in your tree? Use Family Tree Analyzer to spot them.
Don't know if you have any custom fact types in your tree? Use Family Tree Analyzer to spot them.

I had one person using a fact type called Event. What the heck was that? I double-clicked the row to see the name, then I went to the person in my tree. Ironically, the Event was another man's prison stay. I guess I've struggled with how to categorize jail facts before. I switched this fact type from Event to Imprisonment.

There were 6 people with a custom fact type of Visa. Were these all visa applications for travelers? I double-clicked the Visa row, saw the names, and checked them out in my tree. Each one was a tiny entry pulled from a ship manifest. Obviously I don't add this fact to my tree routinely since there are only 6. But I'll leave them there in case these documents become available some day.

The 2 Passport Application facts were appropriate, but I know I have more than 2 passport applications. I'll bet I forgot I created a custom fact type for them!

The fact type that interests me most is the 35 people using the custom AKA fact type. I don't want to use AKA anymore. I've already started using a different style of recording name variations.

If they call someone by a different name on one census, I note it in the description field of their Residence fact for that year. My Aunt Elsie is a good example. I knew her all my life. I'm the baby she's holding in her profile photo in my tree. It came as a big surprise to discover her given name wasn't Elsie. It was Agnes! She's first called Elsie in the 1940 census, so that's where I've placed the name Elsie. It's in the description field of her 1940 Residence fact: "She is called Elsie."

Want to change how you record certain facts? Family Tree Maker can show you exactly where to find them.
Want to change how you record certain facts? Family Tree Maker can show you exactly where to find them.

I've reviewed my 35 uses of the AKA fact type and dealt with them all in the proper description field.

This is what's nice about reviewing all your citations at once. You can bring every fact you've ever added to your tree up to your current standards.

Add or Delete Custom Fact Types

To add a new fact type in Family Tree Maker:

  • Click the Edit menu and choose Manage Facts.
  • In the Manage Facts window, click New to create a new fact type.
  • Type in a descriptive fact label so you'll understand what it is. The program will create its short label and 3-letter abbreviation automatically.
  • Choose whether to share the fact (like a marriage fact), or give it only to an individual.
  • Choose what you intend to fill in. Do you want to have a date and place or only a description? You can even make this fact private by default.
  • Click OK.

Now when you want to use this type of fact, you'll find it in the Add fact drop-down menu.

To delete an unused custom fact type in Family Tree Maker:

  • Click the Edit menu and choose Manage Facts.
  • In the Manage Facts window, select the fact type and click the Delete button.
  • Click Yes to confirm, and the fact type is gone.

Uh oh. I'm seeing something for the first time in the Manage Facts window. You can select any fact type, click the Data Options button, and see a list of every fact you've assigned to that fact type. To my surprise, this method finds another 36 people using AKA. I need to update them with my new style.

As I was writing this article, Family Tree Maker released a free update affecting the Manage Relationships option on the Edit menu. (Find out everything new in this version 24.1 release.) I haven't explored any of the Manage options before because I had the wrong idea of what they were. Now I know what to write about next week.

14 February 2023

Unraveling the Story of My So-Called Cousin

Reviewing the 841 pages of censuses in my family tree has been rewarding. I've been working to clean up all my census source citations (see "Take the Time to Improve the Sources in Your Family Tree"), and it feels like I'm visiting with families I know.

For example, take the 1930 census for my grandmother's uncle Semplicio Saviano. This was the year he had a family of 3 living with him, bringing the total number of people living in his apartment to 11. The husband in that family of 3 is Patsy Ferro, and he's listed as Semplicio's nephew. But he isn't his nephew.

This mystery has been with me for a while. I must have blogged about Patsy before, because a reader named Annette wrote to me about him in 2021. She gave me a few clues about Patsy and his family. But I didn't get very far.

Finding New Clues

Last week the censuses had more to offer on this mystery. In 1940, Patsy and his wife and daughter are once again living with my Saviano relatives. Uncle Semplicio had a ton of children, and in 1940 four of them are living in the same apartment as in 1930. Patsy and his family are each listed as cousins of Semplicio's sons and daughters. But that's not true.

Of course I had to check out the 1950 census for this Saviano family. I finally found something that ties in perfectly with the story Annette told me in her 2021 email. In 1950, Patsy Ferro is the head of household, living a few doors away from his 1930 and 1940 apartment building. His wife is with him, but his daughter recently married and moved away.

Annette said that on her deathbed, Semplicio's wife asked Patsy to look after her children. She died in 1926 and Patsy did as she asked. In 1950, two of the Saviano children are living with him and his wife, listed as cousins. Mind you, they aren't children. These two Savianos are 34 and 40 years old and single.

Is There a Connection?

The question remained, though. How did my relatives know Patsy? Patsy and his wife and daughter were born in the town of Baselice, in the Italian province of Benevento. My Saviano family lived far enough from Baselice that they would never have met Patsy back home. Even Semplicio's wife was born too far from Baselice to know Patsy. But they were paesan since they all came from the province of Benevento.

Three families appeared in my family's home census after census. Who they were supports my theory about my family.
Three families appeared in my family's home census after census. Who they were supports my theory about my family.

I checked more censuses for the apartment building Semplicio co-owned with my great grandfather, Giovanni Sarracino. Patsy wasn't there in 1910 and 1920, but so many people were!

I remember this building from my childhood. There were 4 apartments, and 2 belonged to my family when I was a kid. They were "railroad apartments"—each room led straight into the next like the cars of a train. There was no hallway. You entered into the kitchen, which led to the next room, which led to the next room, which led to the master bedroom. No privacy for anyone.

But in 1920, according to the census, these 4 apartments held 5 families totaling 39 people! Three of the families are members of my extended Saviano family. The other 2 had names I recognize from the Benevento province: Campanile and Cardone. They're also in the building with my family in the 1910 and 1915 censuses. Who are they?

Was This a Pattern?

Suddenly I remembered my 2nd great grandfather, Antonio Saviano. The only photo I have of him shows him lying in his coffin in 1925 (see "1925 Death Photo Holds a Clue to My Ancestor's Life"). He's wearing a ribbon on his lapel which seems to represent an Italian mutual aid society. This group of immigrants helped other Italian immigrants thrive in their new country.

Maybe my Saviano and Sarracino relatives opened their homes to their paesan. I researched the Cardone family from the building and found some enticing details:

  • Husband Francesco Cardone came from San Nicola Manfredi, Benevento. This town is NEXT DOOR to Sant'Angelo a Cupolo, the home of my Saviano and Sarracino families.
  • When Francesco's wife (Maria Mirto) and daughter arrived, they called Sant'Angelo a Cupolo their hometown.
  • Francesco and his wife had their first American-born child in 1906. I found his birth certificate. They lived in my family's building, and the Mrs. lists her maiden name as Maria Mirda Sarracina. Sarracina? Is this a nod to my great grandfather Giovanni Sarracino?

At the end of the day, my so-called cousin Patsy Ferro is in my family tree. Not because he's my Uncle Semplicio's nephew. He isn't. And not because he's my cousin. He isn't. He's in there because he and his wife were born in Baselice, my grandfather Leone's hometown. (Grandpa Leone is no relation to the Savianos except by marriage.) I've found that 90% of the people born in Baselice have a family relationship (see "Why I Recorded More Than 30,000 Documents").

I'm missing key pieces in both Patsy's and his wife's family trees. Until I can fill in those gaps, their closest relationship to me is through my 2nd great grandfather Leone's first wife. So that's no good.

What's the lesson here? Take a closer look at your family's census records. Are there families living with or near them, census after census? Is it a coincidence, or is there a hidden connection? You're the family-history investigator. Start digging!

07 February 2023

Report Finds Marriage Mishaps in Your Family Tree

Anytime you do a lot of work on your family tree, it's a smart idea to let Family Tree Analyzer have a look at it. This free software seems to offer me a new way to dissect my GEDCOM file each time I use it. And I've been doing a lot of work on my tree recently.

Last week I finished perfecting the citations in my family tree for these sources:

  • 1851 England Census
  • 1861 Census of Canada
  • 1861 England Census
  • 1871 England Census
  • 1880 U.S. Federal Census
  • 1881 England Census
  • 1891 England Census
  • 1900 U.S. Federal Census
  • 1901 England Census
  • 1905 New York State Census
  • 1910 U.S. Federal Census
  • 1911 England Census
  • 1915 New York State Census
  • 1920 U.S. Federal Census
  • 1925 New York State Census

That adds up to 944 citations shared among family members found on the same census. Before I fixed them, a few sources had more than 700 citations each due to a catastrophic sync failure with my tree on Ancestry.com. I've given up trying to sync, but by next year I'll upload a clean version of my tree using a new tree name. I won't sync with it once it's uploaded.

Time for a Quick Check-Up

After all that editing, I wanted to see what Family Tree Analyzer (FTA) thinks of my latest GEDCOM file.

My GEDCOM Stats in FTAnalyzer had a strange line item telling me my family tree had some errors. Here's how you can find and fix them.
My GEDCOM Stats in FTAnalyzer had a strange line item telling me my family tree had some errors.

When you open your GEDCOM in FTA, you get a summary screen filled with basic facts about your tree. This time, I spotted something unusual. FTA said I had 4 lone individuals listed as single families. I needed to find them and see what was going on.

I found them by doing something I hadn't tried before. Usually I click FTA's Main Lists tab which opens to the Individuals tab. This lists everyone in your tree. But this time I clicked the Families tab next to the Individuals tab. I scrolled way to the right and found a column called Family Size. I sorted the data in that column from A to Z, putting all the families with a size of 1 at the top of the list. To my surprise, there were 41 families of 1.

5 Types of "Marriage Problems"

I opened my Family Tree Maker file and found each person from the FTA list, one-by-one. These "families of 1" fell into the following categories:

  1. An unwed parent whose child's name you know from their birth record. In these cases, there's nothing you need to do. It really is a single-person family with a child.
  2. Someone you meant to delete from the file but overlooked. Before you delete them, delete any of their citations or images. And detach them from an Unknown Spouse* if necessary.
  3. Someone whose parents you deleted because you don't want to trace their family. (That's my in-law rule in action.) You may need to detach them from unknown parents. Otherwise leave them be.
  4. Someone with a marriage date but no spouse. Take the time to search for the source of this incomplete fact and add their spouse. I've found Italian birth records with a marriage date, but no spouse's name!
  5. A complete mystery, unattached to anyone, who you may as well delete.

*Unknown Spouse—As I worked through the list of 41 people, I found that many had an Unknown Spouse attached to them. Even babies who died young had these mysterious spouses. To see the unknown spouse in Family Tree Maker, go to a person's detail page. Then click Relationships rather than Facts or Timeline. If there is a partial marriage fact, delete it. Then detach the individual from their unknown spouse. Now the phantom spouse is gone from your file.

How many of these lurkers are hiding in your family tree? Here's how to find and eliminate them.
How many of these lurkers are hiding in your family tree? Here's how to find and eliminate them.

When I finished dealing with the 41 people with a family size of 1, I exported a new GEDCOM. Then I opened it in Family Tree Analyzer. Now I have 9 people with a family size of 1 because I made the decision to keep each of them. (Almost all are single parents.) The initial message from FTA saying I had 4 lone individuals listed as single families is gone.

This week I'll tackle my 1930, 1940, and 1950 U.S. Federal Census citations. Then I want to jump straight to the passenger lists of people coming through Ellis Island. Most of the immigrants in my family tree arrived in New York, so this is an important source to whip into shape. Then I'll continue working through my sources in alphabetical order.

After that, I have to deal with my countless Italian document citations. That's fine—I've wanted to work on those for a long time.

How Healthy is Your Family Tree?

If you've been working on your family tree for a while, you've no doubt gotten better at it with practice. That means your earliest work isn't as good as it should be. In my case, I know that censuses and ship manifests for my closest relatives are what I added first. And I'm fixing them as I work my way through my citations.

How did you begin your family tree? Were you searching for certain types of documents  first, like me? Did you begin with an inherited tree that someone else created? Take a look at the different reports FTA can offer you, such as:

31 January 2023

Take the Time to Improve the Sources in Your Family Tree

Last week I had to swear off synchronizing my Family Tree Maker file with my tree on Ancestry. (See "A Major Family Tree Change to Fix an Ongoing Problem.") Too many failed syncs made it impossible to go on. In facts, those failed syncs did more damage to my desktop tree than I knew. I'm determined to see this as an opportunity to improve my family tree.

During my corporate life, I always hated when a boss would call a pain-in-the-butt project an "opportunity." An opportunity to improve our website. An opportunity to improve our support for the sales team. It wasn't an opportunity for workers like me who had countless hours of grunt work ahead of us. You can't sugar-coat that burden.

Yet here I am calling this problem an opportunity to improve the source citations in my family tree.

Failed syncs of my Family Tree Maker file left me with tons of splintered and unlinked source citations.
Failed syncs of my Family Tree Maker file left me with tons of splintered and unlinked source citations.

There were 2 things I now know happened to my desktop tree with each failed sync:

  1. My tree no longer recognized some addresses. This was plain to see and easy enough to fix. I viewed each bad address in the Places tab of Family Tree Maker and made a few clicks. If you use FTM, see the company's instructions for standardizing locations.
  2. My tree split my shared source citations into a bunch of identical citations. That's because an Ancestry tree sees each citation differently than FTM. Many citations weren't linked to anyone at all. These may be leftovers from people I deleted without first deleting their citations. Thousands of duplicate citations were increasing my tree's file size dramatically.

I've had a project on my radar to update citations for documents found on the Italian Antenati portal. The links in my old citations don't work anymore because of a huge change to the Antenati website. Spelling out the town, year, and document number would make each record findable—even if that website changes the links again. But it's a huge task.

Develop a Format and Stick to It

When I saw the mess my U.S., Canada, and U.K. source citations were in, I knew what I had to do. It was time to improve my oldest citations and make them match my current style.

For example, I'm looking at the 1920 U.S. Federal Census document image for my husband's ancestor. These days I like to add a ton of detail to the document image's description. But this early find says only:

lines 48-50; Honolulu City, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, enumeration district 45, sheet 11B; image 22 of 138

That's pretty helpful, but my newer format is better. The citation should say this:

lines 48-50; 1920 United States Federal Census; Hawaii Territory > Honolulu > Honolulu > District 0045; Honolulu City, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, enumeration district 45, sheet 11B; image 22 of 138


Source Citation:
Year: 1920; Census Place: Honolulu, Honolulu, Hawaii Territory; Roll: T625_2036; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 45

Source Information:
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Original data: Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. (NARA microfilm publication T625, 2076 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

To be clear, I'm putting that extra long citation into the properties of a document image. When I drag the image into FTM, all that info comes along for the ride. Then I use everything from the URL down to populate the source citation for this document's facts. Let me dissect that format so you can follow my logic.

  • lines 48-50 — This tells me and anyone who sees my copy of this document on Ancestry where to look on the page. This goes for ship manifests, too.
  • 1920 United States Federal Census — This is the name of the record collection that has this document.
  • Hawaii Territory > Honolulu > Honolulu > District 0045 — When you look at the document on Ancestry, this is the detail shown at the top of the screen.
  • Honolulu City, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, enumeration district 45, sheet 11B — These details can help locate this document on or off Ancestry.
  • image 22 of 138 — This tells you exactly which image to go to in the collection on Ancestry.
  • https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/114577201:6061 — The URL points to this record (not the document image) on Ancestry. This URL also contains the Source Citation and Source Information I add beneath the URL. I used to link to the image on Ancestry.com. But it's more useful to link to the record page.

This style includes enough detail so anyone can find the image—even without a link or an Ancestry account. And I attach the image to the Media tab of the citation itself. That's something I didn't know was possible until a few years ago.

Once I finish a citation, I copy and paste it to each family member in the census. And I can delete the duplicate copies each failed sync generated.

How to Check All Your Source Citations

I started this process by looking at the Sources tab in Family Tree Maker. There's a long list of all my sources on the left, in alpha-numeric order. Each one contains lots and lots of citations I can improve and share with each family member. In the end I'll have a neat, perfect list of citations with no duplicates.

As long as there's a mess to clean up, why not make the source citations in my family tree live up to my standards?
As long as there's a mess to clean up, why not make the source citations in my family tree live up to my standards?

Each time I delete a ton of duplicate or unlinked citations, my tree's file size gets smaller. Amazingly, my FTM file went from 4 gigabytes on my failing laptop to 360 megabytes on my new computer. I'm still in shock.

I look forward to uploading my improved, streamlined GEDCOM file to Geneanet.org. I'll overwrite the version that's there, rather than synchronize it. I want anyone who sees that tree to find usable links to every bit of evidence I have for a person.

Once I finish my long list of U.S., Canada, and U.K. citations, I'll figure out how to tackle those obsolete Antenati citations.

Even if you haven't suffered damage to your family tree, revisiting your earliest citations is worthwhile. Have a look at them and see how many you're happy with. Bringing them all up to your standard will fortify your family tree.

24 January 2023

A Major Family Tree Change to Fix an Ongoing Problem

After 2 gigantic genealogy headaches, I've decided to quit stressing and change course. Genealogy Headache #1 is about this blog.

Trying to Cater to Everyone

A day or two before last week's article, I changed the blog's design. Why? Because it wasn't working well on mobile devices. The moment I published, I knew I had a big problem. The new design was missing important elements that I needed back.

Immediately after publishing (6 a.m. New York time), I searched for a new design. I made changes on the fly, possibly disrupting my readers. I do apologize for that. Since then I've been working my way through my 543 blog articles to make all the images work well on mobile devices. They're all finished now.

It's all been a nightmare, during which I had to settle into a new computer. And that brings me to Genealogy Headache #2.

Hitting the Limits of Technology

Last March I bought a new laptop because my 5-year-old one was threatening to die. But the new one turned out to be under-powered. It was OK (not great) for most things. But it was the worst for running Family Tree Maker. This month I stopped making excuses for its bad behavior. I demoted it to my "travel laptop" and bought a high-powered tower computer.

It took hours to get situated—transferring files, re-installing some programs, adjusting preferences. Once it was all ready, I ran Family Tree Maker and made a couple of changes. It behaved wonderfully. I closed it and the automatic backup happened in a fifth of the time it used to take. Finally I was ready to try to sync my file with my Ancestry tree.

Each step of the sync process was going amazingly fast! I was holding my breath in anticipation. And then…it failed. Worse, it told me my file was corrupt and not repairable. That meant I'd have to download my tree from Ancestry, fix it in Family Tree Maker, and try again.

This happened to me about 3 years ago (according to my old blog articles). Downloading the tree from Ancestry undid all my carefully crafted source citations. I don't want to do that again! I've put up with all this because only Ancestry lets you change your tree offline and synchronize it online. Plus, Ancestry has the best user interface for displaying a tree. Hands down.

Another Approach to Sharing a Family Tree

The reason I'm so keen to share my constantly-updated family tree is distant cousins. My tree is a treasure for anyone with ancestors from my ancestors' towns in Italy. My tree on Ancestry has 57,096 people. At least 53,000 are from a small area of Italy, and they date back to the late 1600s.

Now I've got a new idea. I'll let my Ancestry tree and DNA tests continue to attract distant cousins. But what if I put my tree on another website and swap out the old GEDCOM for a new one every few months? Forget all that stress from failed syncs!

Problem: How to display my family tree without letting anyone change it AND update the entire file anytime I like.
Problem: How to display my family tree without letting anyone change it AND update the entire file anytime I like.

After weighing the options, I'm going with Geneanet.org. With a free membership, I can upload a GEDCOM, and after I've made a lot of updates, I can re-upload a GEDCOM. I'm not uploading documents, but I've got them all here. If someone contacts me about their branch, I'm more than happy to share every bit of my research.

I chose Geneanet based on these important features:

  1. No one else can edit my tree! That's paramount.
  2. I don't have to build my tree on their site; I can upload a GEDCOM.
  3. I can upload a new GEDCOM later and overwrite the current family tree.
  4. I can share my updated tree with whomever I want.

Geneanet happens to be free, but that wasn't a top priority. You can pay a very reasonable price for a premium subscription, but I don't need what it offers.

Now I can go hog-wild editing my Family Tree Maker file without worrying about the next failed sync. I'm sure many of you are happy with your methods. Perhaps:

  • your family tree is small enough that an Ancestry sync never fails
  • you'd rather die than pay Ancestry a dollar when FamilySearch is free
  • you don't want to share anything online because "that's how they get ya!"
  • you don't mind letting any jamoke with web access rewrite your research.

I'm going to enjoy using Family Tree Maker with my new computer's speed. I'll keep on adding everyone from my ancestral towns who fits. I'll ignore my tree on Ancestry until someone writes to me and wants to know more. And hopefully Google will stop emailing me about my blog's mobile issues.

While I didn't upload my documents to Geneanet, I'm thrilled to see it makes all my sources available as proof.
While I didn't upload my documents to Geneanet, I'm thrilled to see it makes all my sources available as proof.

17 January 2023

Pluck the Stragglers Out of Your Family Tree

I love when someone finds their family in my online tree and contacts me. Last week I heard from a new-found 4th cousin.

More often our connection is distant—cobbled together through the relatives of in-laws. I had this type of connection last week, too. A woman found her grandmother in my tree and wanted to know what else I could tell her.

I told her everything came from the 1920 census and a few New York City death certificates. But I had nothing else to offer.

In fact, as I wrote in my reply, she shouldn't be in my family tree at all. I explained that her grandmother's sister married a man named Celentano. That man's uncle married my grandmother's 1st cousin, Consiglia Sarracino.

I knew from the names Celentano and Sarracino that this was some of my earliest family tree research. When I started, I followed every possible thread for my American cousins.

I used censuses to stretch out the Celentano family as far as I could. And then I built out the families of the people who married into the family. That's how her grandmother wound up in my tree.

Enforcing the In-Law Rule

It wasn't until much later in my genealogy life that I created an in-law rule:

I will not add anything to an in-law's profile beyond their facts and their parents' facts UNLESS my cousin asks me to research that family.*

*This rule does not apply to my Italian research where entire towns are inter-related.

Establish a rule to keep your family tree on the path you want.
Establish a rule to keep your family tree on the path you want.

How many other far-flung in-law branches are still in my family tree? How can I find them in my enormous file?

I explored Family Tree Analyzer software for a while, but it wasn't a shortcut. Maybe there is no shortcut.

Stragglers in my tree would come from my parents' and grandparents' generations. Those are the people I would have found in my early census searches.

Most of my close cousins are from my maternal grandmother's family. In my earliest days, I would have spent time on the families of Grandma's aunts and uncles, the Saviano family.

This is a manageable group to work with. Grandma had only 3 Saviano aunts or uncles who lived long enough to marry and have children.

Uncle Semplicio

As a little girl, my mom was afraid of her great uncle Semplicio. He was an older man with one eye. He literally lived in a closet next to her apartment for a while.

Long ago I met someone online with a connection to Semplicio's wife Giovina. With his encouragement, I built an enormous tree for Zia Giovina. Once I decided to follow my in-law rule, I cut out every relative but Zia Giovina's parents.

Looking in Family Tree Maker, I see families for 3 of Semplicio and Giovina's children. I can view each family to see if I need to delete anyone. Nope. Everyone was following the in-law rule.

Aunt Filomena

My grandmother's aunt is an example of going out of my way to document an in-law. But I want it this way. One of her grandsons is very interested in our family history, and he helped me with it.

Plus, Filomena's husband came from a town very close to Filomena's Italian hometown. There may be a family tie somewhere in their past!

Uncle Raffaele

Uncle Raffaele died long before I was born, but his wife Lucia was sometimes at family gatherings. My brother and I knew her and Aunt Filomena as "Zee Loo Gee" (Zia Lucia) and "Zee Vulla Men" (Zia Filomena). We never saw Zee Vulla Men without Zee Loo Gee.

I have extended families for Raffaele and Lucia's children in my family tree. Clicking through to view them all, I found only one in-law family I should delete. I do want to preserve the research, but not in my main tree. I'll follow my own advice and export this group of people to a new tree before deleting them from mine. (See "How to Export and Delete Branches from Your Family Tree.")

Exporting the 46-person branch was easy, but it didn't seem to capture the media files. I'll do that myself. My document tracker file will help me see which media files belong to this batch of people.

Deleting the branch was tricky. There wasn't one ancestor whose descendants capture the whole group. Instead, I worked my way through the families, noting all their media files. Then I viewed a family tree chart for each group and deleted them from my family tree.

I made sure all the right media files were no longer in my main tree, and I exported a new GEDCOM from Family Tree Maker. A GEDCOM is a text file that follows a standard format that any family tree software can understand. I opened the GEDCOM with Family Tree Analyzer to see if I missed anyone. Would FTA find unrelated people from this branch still in my family tree?

If your family tree is big, Family Tree Analyzer can narrow it down to certain types of names for you.
If your family tree is big, Family Tree Analyzer can narrow it down to certain types of names for you.

Here's how to check:

  • Launch Family Tree Analyzer and open your latest GEDCOM.
  • Go to the Main Lists tab to see everyone in your tree on the Individuals tab.
  • To exclude close family and true cousins from this search:
    • Scroll to the right to find the Relation to Root column.
    • Click the arrow button at the top of the column to open a small window.
    • Unclick Select All, then click to select only the blank field at the top of the list.
    • Click the Filter button to close the small window.
  • Scroll all the way left to find the Surname column.
  • Click the arrow button at the top of the column and choose Sort A to Z.
  • Browse the shorter list for the last names you don't want to find.

Success! I didn't find anyone who wasn't supposed to be there. Now I can backup and save my Family Tree Maker file.

But I'm not really done, of course. I have some cousins through my paternal grandmother, and her mother had a bunch of brothers. I can run through this same process with that branch and a few others.

Should You Do This, Too?

The main reasons for going through this export/delete process are:

  • to stop misleading people into thinking you're their blood relative
  • to stop spending time on branches that aren't the focus of your family tree
  • to conserve computer resources.

Plus, I don't like it when I see a name in my tree index and think, "Who on earth is that?"