28 November 2023

4 Rules for the Names in Your Family Tree

I've been on a rampage this year, adding thousands of people to my family tree. Once I discovered that everyone in my ancestral hometowns had a connection, I set out to prove it. Each town's vital records (1809–1942 with gaps) added at least 20,000 documented people to my family tree. (Discover the Lessons Learned from My One Place Study.)

The documents come from Italy's Antenati website. Thank you, Italy! Find out how to harvest the Antenati website for your Italian family tree.

During this journey I've learned a lot about the first and last names in my towns. I realized that I've developed 4 rules that make it easier to manage my 23,073 families. (That number comes from the powerful and free Family Tree Analyzer and my latest GEDCOM file.)

Here's a look at 4 naming rules to use in your own family tree.

Follow these simple naming rules to avoid errors and confusion.
Follow these simple naming rules to avoid errors and confusion.

1. Use Birth Names

The best way to record any person in your family tree is by their birth name. If you have their birth or baptism record, then you know what name their parents chose. We all knew my grandmother as Mary Leone, but Leone is her husband's name, not hers. And Mary is an Americanization of her given name—which is different than the name she claimed was hers! Her birth record calls her Maria Carmina Sarracino, so that is the name I recorded in my family tree.

Why record a woman in your family tree with her husband's last name when you know her father's last name? When you view her, it's plain to see who she married.

It's important to use original last names so all the siblings in a family unit show the same name. Anything else looks like a research blunder.

2. Use Original Spelling

I have examples from my ancestral hometowns where the spelling of a last name changed over time. The name:

  • Esci became Iesce
  • diRuccia became Ruccia
  • Cifaldi became Gifaldi
  • Italian names ending in an o later ended in an i.

Since my family tree covers many generations, I use the original last name for continuity. Then, since the name may change over time, I note this in an easy-to-find place. In Family Tree Maker, I use the description field for a person's birth fact to note alternative spellings. (Don't overlook this important feature to leave research breadcrumbs in your family tree.)

Many times a person will use a first name variation during their life. That causes problems when you're searching for the children of a particular couple. If the father was born Domenico but goes by Giandomenico as an adult, you may overlook his children.

In these cases I make 2 kinds of notes in that birth fact description field:

  1. For the father, Domenico, I'll type "aka Giandomenico"
  2. For their child, I'll type that their "father is called Giandomenico on their birth record"

These notes have bailed me out time and again when I find a vital record that doesn't seem to fit.

Because I researched all the town's records that I know people named Gifaldi were the descendants of people named Cifaldi. To make sure I found every family member, I changed my inventory to show only the original spelling.

3. Record But Don't Use Name Variations

On a similar note, if someone's vital record uses a different spelling of their name, I'll note that fact, too. I record the Esci children whose vital records say Esce, Iesce, or Iesci as Esci. But I add a note to the description field saying, "Her last name is Iesce on her birth record."

This happens with first names, too. A woman born as Concetta is Maria Concetta on her death record. During review, that may look like I made a mistake. So I put a note in the description field of the death fact saying, "She is called Maria Concetta on her death record." This assures me that I did my careful research, and there is a discrepancy in the documents.

I leave her name as Concetta, but understand that she may be Maria Concetta on the birth records of her children. And I'll note that for each child.

4. Expand Searches to Include Name Variations

You must take all the name variations into account when you're searching for records. I've created my own extraordinary database of the vital records of my ancestral hometowns. I've named each record image with the subject's name and their father's first name. That way, I can easily search for all the children of a particular man.

But what happens when that man's first name has variations? It's simple. You have to search for all the logical variations. A man named Giambattista at birth may be listed on his children's birth records as:

  • Giambattista
  • Gianbattista
  • Giovambattista
  • Giovanbattista
  • Giovanni Battista
  • Giovanni
  • Battista

When a father has a compound name that has variations, I search for all possibilities. In this case, I can search for children with the right last name and a father whose first name begins with "Gi." (I'll search for Battista alone as a second search.) Then I can view the results, checking for Giambattista's wife's name, their ages, etc.

Remember these 4 key points.

One huge benefit to my quest to get entire towns into my family tree is name familiarity. I can:

  • spot a spelling variation
  • decipher the worst handwriting, and
  • identify an out-of-towner in an instant.

That's because I know all the names in my towns. I know their original spellings and their common variations.

How familiar are you with the names from your ancestral hometowns? Are your naming styles causing confusion?

21 November 2023

4 Best Ways to Learn from Your DNA Matches

I've had tons of success identifying and learning important facts from my DNA matches. Here are 4 articles featuring the most successful methods to use.

I left one article off this list: "Use Color-Coding to Solve Mystery DNA Matches." This otherwise powerful technique doesn't work with endogamous families like mine. But it's well worth a look if your tree is not endogamous.

Endogamy is the practice of marrying within your own culture, ethnic group, town, etc., for centuries. This "muddies" your results. Different branches of your family tree will have very similar DNA.

These 4 articles represent the best ways to work with your DNA matches to fortify your family tree.

Are you getting all you can from your DNA matches? These 4 methods can really help.
Are you getting all you can from your DNA matches? These 4 methods can really help.

1. 3 Key Steps to Identify a DNA Match

This article explains how to figure out your mystery DNA match by:

  • Looking at your shared DNA matches.
  • Searching their trees for familiar last names. (Notice I said familiar names, not your name.)
  • Doing their research for them (but it's actually for you).

It's a method you can repeat over and over with positive results.

2. Digging Into a DNA Match's Family Tree

This article is a practical case study that expands on the article above. Don't waste your time on matches with no family tree or a useless family tree. Find matches with at least a couple of generations to their trees and search for a solid entry point. Find out how you can do this with your DNA matches.

3. Why Care About Your DNA Matches?

Your very distant DNA matches can still add value to your family tree. You may not know what became of your 2nd great grandfather's brother, but your distant cousin may. Here's how you can use your DNA matches to find lost relatives and missing families.

4. How to Use DNA Matches to Go Beyond Vital Records

I have a completely insane family tree—and not for the reason you may be thinking. My ancestors came from isolated towns, intermarrying like crazy. That means I can find some connection to everyone from each town. I'm using the Antenati website to piece together my connection to everyone from my towns. I have 72,000 people right now, and I'm far from done.

The only problem is, lots of documents are not available. In my towns, there are no death or marriage records from 1861–1930, births end in 1915, and there's nothing after 1942. The great value of DNA matches is that their personal knowledge can bridge that document gap. I especially love it when their trees can prove that two people already in my tree married one another. I had no way to know that, but now I do!

Follow this simple method and harvest the relationships you never knew existed.

I've had so much success with the Antenati website that it'd take pre-1809 church records for me to go any further. Now and then I choose a few more DNA matches to explore. The hope is that someday I'll find a distant cousin who has already seen those old church records!

14 November 2023

Top 5 Favorite Genealogy Projects

The Fortify Your Family Tree blog focuses on constructive ways to improve your family tree. These 5 genealogy projects have gotten the most attention from you, the readers.

Take a fresh look at these 5 genealogy projects and see which ones are right for you at this point in your research.

Take another look at the 5 most popular genealogy projects from Fortify Your Family Tree.
Take another look at the 5 most popular genealogy projects from Fortify Your Family Tree.

1. 3 Things to Do with Ahnentafel Numbers

The Ahnentafel numbering system is an excellent way to see which ancestors you've found and which ones you're missing. This article contains a free downloadable chart that I use for tracking my ancestors. I can see, for instance, that I'm missing one of my 3rd great grandparents, and I've found 5 of my 9th great grandparents.

2. How to Create a 'Book of Life' for Your Relatives

I have a cousin who's very interested in our family history. So, for an milestone birthday, I made her a 'Book of Life' like the ones you see on the PBS program "Finding Your Roots." It's easy to do and gets a tremendous reaction. This article shows you exactly how you can create a book of life.

3. How to Share Your Family Tree Research with Relatives

I was reluctant to share my family tree with all the cousins because it wasn't fully researched yet. But one cousin convinced me to do so. I distributed 40 large posters to the heads of all the families, and everyone loved it. This article offers a few creative ways to share your research with your family.

4. 7 Days to a Better Family Tree

Here's an explanation of 7 different ways you can greatly improve your family tree. I suggest you spend a nice long session on each item. You may not complete them in 7 consecutive days, but that's fine. In the end, your research will be more complete and your family tree will have more consistency.

5. 5 Steps to Writing Your Ancestor's Life Story

Sometimes we don't try to tackle certain projects because we expect they'll be too tough. This article breaks down the process of writing your ancestor's life story into 5 steps. Taken one at a time, they're not the least bit overwhelming. Give it a try!

Thank you for visiting this blog and spending your valuable time. I reap the benefits of applying skills I learned at work to my family tree. And now that I'm retired, this weekly blog *is* my job.

07 November 2023

How to Get Useful Answers to Your Genealogy Questions

I'm a long-time user of the Microsoft Bing search engine rather than Google. Bing is promoting its AI Chat feature to give you an easy-to-read summary of your search results.

I decided to enter some genealogy questions into the chatbot. It summarizes it answers from several sources, which it cites so you can dive deeper into the answers.

Question 1

First I asked a question that I know is a mystery to many researchers of Italian family history. I asked, "How long are bodies kept buried in an Italian cemetery?" Many people expect to go to Italy and find all their ancestors in the cemetery of their hometown. They're disappointed when they get there.

The chatbot answered:

In Italy, the length of time a body is kept buried in a cemetery depends on the type of burial. If the deceased is buried in an individual tomb, the plot can be leased for between 10 and 50 years, after which the lease can be renewed. If the deceased is buried in a communal burial ground, the remains are exhumed after only ten years. If the municipality needs space, after 20 years from the burial, the corpse can be exhumed, and the remains are put in a smaller box and then into a recess in the wall or in the family tomb, if some member of the family requests it; otherwise, the remains are put in the ossuary.

Follow-up question: "What is an ossuary?"

Answer: An ossuary is a container or room in which the bones of dead people are placed. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary. The word “ossuary” comes from the Latin word “ossuarium,” which means “a container for bones”.

I learned about this on my trips to my ancestral hometowns. The cemetery keeps a small footprint because they continually reduce each body's space. And the ossuary room in my maternal grandfather's hometown is quite a sight to see!

Ask detailed genealogy questions, and a chatbot gives you the results in a conversational style.
Ask detailed genealogy questions, and a chatbot gives you the results in a conversational style.

Question 2

Next I asked, "What are the child-naming customs in different countries?" The answer was long and didn't cover any countries I can use. It's better to make your question more specific. I'm curious, "What are the child-naming customs in Latin countries?"

The chatbot answered:

Naming a child is a special moment for parents, and it can be influenced by various factors such as religion, culture, and family traditions. Here are some examples of child-naming customs from Latin countries:

  • Argentina: In Argentina, it is common for children to take their father’s surname as their last name. However, it is not uncommon for children to have both their mother’s and father’s surnames.
  • Brazil: In Brazil, it is common for children to have two given names, with the first name being the most important. The second name is often the mother’s maiden name or the father’s surname.
  • Chile: In Chile, children are given two surnames, the father’s surname followed by the mother’s surname. It is also common for children to have two given names.
  • Colombia: In Colombia, children are given two surnames, the father’s surname followed by the mother’s surname. It is also common for children to have two given names.
  • Mexico: In Mexico, children are given two surnames, the father’s surname followed by the mother’s surname. It is also common for children to have two given names.
  • Peru: In Peru, children are given two surnames, the father’s surname followed by the mother’s surname. It is also common for children to have two given names.

The part I wanted to confirm, because I was never sure, is that double last names from these countries are typically the father's last name then the mother's last name.

Question 3

A friend mentioned that a woman in her family tree became a widow, and then married her father-in-law. I wondered if that made their child the man's daughter and granddaughter, but not by blood, of course.

So I asked the chatbot a related question, "Are first cousins allowed to marry?"

In the United States, 19 states say, "Sure! Go ahead," while a few make it a criminal offense. Since I deal in Italian research, I was more interested in the second part of the chatbot's answer:

In general, the Catholic Church does not allow first cousins to marry. According to canon 1091.2, marriages are invalid up to and including the fourth degree. First cousins, therefore, cannot marry in the Church.

Digging a little deeper, I found that "the fourth degree" refers to first cousins. Now I'm wondering if I have anyone in my tree who somehow got around that rule.

Then, for the sake of this article, I asked, "Is chat bot one word or two?" It's one: chatbot.

Your Turn

I intend to keep this method in mind for future genealogy questions. What questions would you like to ask the chatbot? Do you have cultural questions about your ancestors' countries? Do you suspect an illness swept through their town during certain years? Are you curious about their marriage customs?

Leave a comment with questions you found helpful to your understanding of the people in your family tree.