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?"

10 January 2023

How to Tell if a Hint is Any Good

I never cared about Ancestry hints. That why I have them turned off when I'm working on my tree in Family Tree Maker. But last year I helped out another genealogist by adding to a few research trees she had on Ancestry. That's when I saw the value of hints.

They're a real time-saver! Say you're piecing together the life of someone you don't know. If they have a bunch of documents in their hints, that's where I'd want to look first.

But you never want to accept hints blindly and add them to your family tree. Think of them as nothing more than a possible match. They could be wrong, you know. Each one is there for you to check out.

It's your job to examine each hint and figure out if it matches your family.

A Well-Timed Hint

I grew up with about ten 1st and 2nd cousins on my mom's side of the family. One of these cousins recently asked for access to my online Ancestry tree. I warned her that:

Larry died shortly after my 1st child was born in 1989. It came as a shock to me, and a terrible loss. In recent years I've tried to learn about his family, but I never had enough details to get anywhere.

When I viewed my tree online to see what my cousin was about to see, I found something new. There were a couple of green Potential Father and Potential Mother hints for Larry. In fact, there were 9 hints for him. The first was the 1950 census I'd been unable to find on my own.

Sometimes I laugh at potential parent suggestions. But this time, the hints were gold.
Sometimes I laugh at potential parent suggestions. But this time, the hints were gold.

Now that I had confirmation for a handful of Larry's facts, I started looking into his father. I soon found an unsourced family tree that had several generations of Larry's family. But was this information right?

Is This Hint Any Good?

Larry's grandparents came from Italy. That meant I could verify those unsourced names and dates. I used the online Italian vital records website, Antenati, and searched the right town.

I confirmed and added to the family's names and dates. I got the correct spelling for the family name. (See Look Past the Misspellings to Find Your Ancestors.) Plus I found many more names and dates specific to Larry's paternal line. I wouldn't have trusted any of these names or facts from a hint or a tree without seeing the documents for myself.

How to Harvest a Hint

After many years of ignoring hints, I'm now open to exploring them. When you have a lack of information, as I did for Larry's family, the right hints can push you onto the right path. But you must confirm that it's the right path by doing the research for yourself.

When you look at a hint:

  1. Make sure it doesn't contradict something you know for sure. Is the person born in a state or country that's impossible for your person? Are they the wrong age by a long-shot?
  2. Examine all the documents and see if any don't fit with the others. The one hint that referred to Larry as a lawyer was absolutely not my cousin. I know what he did for a living. Take a look at 3 Ways to Tell If That Hint is No Good.
  3. See which documents your favorite website offers you for this person. This gives you more data points to compare. Some documents may not fit in, especially when compared to those that do.

Documents are critical. ("Pics or it didn't happen!") You need to see and verify the facts for yourself. That's why you must fully research hints that come from unsourced family trees.

It's up to you to confirm whether a hint is putting you on the right path. And if it is, the race is on!

My cousin was hoping to tie a particular last name to her family. When I found her grandparents' NYC marriage certificate, I had the answer. The bride's mother had the last name we were looking for.

That's a perfect example of a fact I wouldn't believe or accept without seeing the document for myself.

I hope you find hints that set you on the right research path. Just remember, they may be way off base.

03 January 2023

Your Genealogy Mission for 2023

Which genealogy projects do you expect to work on in 2023? I was hoping to complete a big project in 2022, and I thought I had it all wrapped up. Then I found I had a bit more to do. (As of this writing, I have finished!)

I'm eager to get this piece done so I can dive into the next big thing. It's a continuation of my main theme—connecting everyone from my ancestral hometowns. In 2022 I published an inventory of every available vital record for Colle Sannita. That's my paternal grandfather's town. (See "How to Create Your Ancestral Hometown Database.") These documents are available on Italy's Antenati website, but they aren't all searchable.

Anyone searching the web for "colle sannita searchable vital records" will find my file. It shows the name of every person captured in the town's vital records. The file has links to Antenati web pages where you can see the documents for yourself. (See "How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.")

Besides that very helpful inventory of documents, I did a crazy thing last year. I connected everyone from those 38,000+ documents in my Ancestry family tree. Blood or marriage connects the whole town, with very few exceptions.

I see this as my legacy—my contribution to Italian genealogy.

On New Year's Eve, I was finishing up my inventory of vital records for my other grandfather's hometown, Baselice.

I thought I was about to finish, but I found some work still to do on 1932–42 deaths and marriages. Once I finish and publish the inventory, I'll work everyone from Baselice into my family tree, too. (Most of them are already there because of one of my first big genealogy projects. See "Why I Recorded More Than 30,000 Documents.")

Set yourself up for the most enjoyable year of genealogy!
Set yourself up for the most enjoyable year of genealogy!

This ongoing project motivates me every single day. It's my full-time job. A job I love. As I work through one town, all I can do is think about which town I want to do next!

Make Progress on More than One Track

When you have more than one big project to do, shake off any boredom by having another task to jump to. Fitting everyone from Baselice into my family tree will take a long time. I may feel bogged down at times.

I can keep up my energy by shifting to another town once in a while. Three of my other towns' vital records are almost ready to go into their own inventory spreadsheet. Two other towns of mine need me to finish renaming the files.

All my towns' vital records are on my computer, but mass-downloads don't seem to be possible anymore. I have them stored in separate folders by town, by year, and by type (birth, death, marriage). My file name format for the vital records is the full name of the person who was born or died, followed by their father's first name. For example, the first document image in the "1809 births" folder for the town of Circello is:

1 Angelo Antonio Maria Ianesso di Nicola.jpg

This is the 1809 birth record for Angelo, the son of Nicola. The word "di" means "of" in Italian. It's used to show someone's father's name. Naming conventions in many cultures lead to having a bunch of people in town at the same time with the same name. It saves confusion if you add a father's name to distinguish one Antonio Bianco from another.

The #1 in the file name is the document number in a book. That'll be very helpful if a descendant of Angelo finds his name in my published inventory some day. They'll be able to find the right document easily.

For marriage records, my file names don't include fathers' names—only the full name of the groom and bride. It would be too confusing to see a marriage document with a name like:

1 Vito Aufolisi di Giovanni & Elisabetta Cerrone di Giuseppe.jpg

That looks like it could be an image with 2 birth records or 2 death records.

Stay Open to Sudden Breakthroughs

Of course, there will always be other smaller projects to distract you from your more lofty goals. That's OK. Go with the flow! This past weekend I finally had a breakthrough on my 2nd cousin's father's family. When my cousin asked me if she could access my family tree, I was sorry to tell her that her dad's family isn't in there at all.

Then I saw an Ancestry hint that finally opened his family up to me. I'm hoping to find his grandfather's Italian birth record to give to my cousin.

Get ready for your best year of genealogy yet!
Get ready for your best year of genealogy yet!

This is Much More than a Hobby

Two weeks ago I suggested you look back at your family tree work in 2022 and see where it leads you in 2023. (See "It's Time to Wrap Up Your Genealogy Year.") You may not have a grand scheme in mind. But I'll bet you learned what works, what doesn't work, what makes you happy, and what's a total bore. Whichever projects work well and make you happy should get top priority.

Here are a few examples of smaller projects I've suggested in the past. Which ones look enjoyable to you?

  1. Trim the waste out of certain document images. See "How to Improve Your Digital Genealogy Documents."
  2. Share your tree with those who are interested. See "5+ Ways to Share Your Tree with Family."
  3. Research fallen soldiers from your town. See "Fallen Soldier Memorials Inspire a Research Project."
  4. Scan and safeguard your precious family photos. See "It's Time to Organize All Your Family Photos."
  5. Make a trivia game of your family tree. See "Share Your Family History in a Fun New Way."
  6. Fill in your Ahnentafel chart. See "3 Things to Do with Ahnentafel Numbers."
  7. Document a cemetery that means something to you. See "The Genealogy Project You Bring Home from Vacation."

I know I'll be happy, productive, and entertained by my genealogy work in 2023. Don't you agree that being productive at something you love is a big key to happiness? I used to feel that way about my job. Now that I'm retired, I'm sticking to my same schedule and working on my true passion. And I never get interrupted by stupid conference calls!

I'd love to hear from you. Where do you think 2023 will lead you in your family tree work?