26 December 2023

3 Projects Make Your Genealogy Document Images Perfect

My 74,000-person family tree has one major difference from most family trees. It connects everyone who lived in three of my ancestral hometowns during a long span of time. These small towns had so much inter-marriage that everyone in town had a connection.

I'm able to build this family tree, and continue to do so, because the towns' vital record images are online. (Grazie mille, Portale Antenati!) These vital record images are the puzzle pieces that connect everyone in town.

Because it's such a huge project, I needed to enforce certain standards. These standards add value to every document image in my family tree. Deciding on, and sticking to your own set of standards will save you any doubt or confusion. And it all turns your genealogy research into a true legacy.

Here are 3 projects to help you perfect the way you handle your genealogy document images.

Find the best rules and tips for naming and annotating the document images in your family tree.
Find the best rules and tips for naming and annotating the document images in your family tree.

Project One: 3 Rules for Naming Digital Genealogy Documents

Most of us seem to run into the same problem when we first get into genealogy. How do I organize all these files? I hadn't gotten too far in my document gathering before I realized I needed a system of organization.

Years later, these 3 rules for naming genealogy document images still work like a charm. Click the link above to see which methods you'd like to adopt for your own family tree research.

Project Two: Add Proof and a Breadcrumb to Family Tree Documents

Sometimes you need to return to the online version of a document you downloaded. You may realize there's a potential relative on the next page who you need to see. You may discover you forgot to download the second page of a ship manifest.

Each time I download a document image for my family tree, I follow these rules to show exactly where it came from. I also went back and filled in the missing information for every document already in my family tree. Now it's a habit, and it makes my family tree much better.

Project Three: 6 Steps to Make Your Family Tree 10 Times Better

My goal for this blog is to encourage more professional family tree building. I do this by applying business skills to genealogy. This article helps you follow a step-by-step process for handling your document images.

Imagine if every family tree you found online used a detailed, thorough process like this!

As I write this, I'm finishing up another document image project. It uncovers valuable hidden clues in a vital record collection. I was lucky enough to be able to mass-download several towns' worth of vital records some time ago. Currently I'm renaming all the marriage records for the Italian town of Circello.

Italian marriage documents can include:

  • birth records for the bride and groom
  • death records (if appropriate) for their mothers
  • death records (if appropriate) for their fathers and grandfathers

These extra records are not in an index. You must view the files. And lots of them are not covered in the vital records that began around 1809.

As I rename the images, I discover the names and parents' names of men who died in the mid-1700s. That's amazing hidden information!

If you're serious about genealogy, I hope you'll do the most perfect job you can with your family tree. Here's to a productive year of genealogy in 2024!

19 December 2023

5 Free, Easy-to-Use Family Tree Charts

With the holiday season upon us, I know you don't have a lot of time to devote to genealogy. But I wanted to put these charts in your hands. Here are 5 free family tree charts/templates you can come back to when you're ready to dive in.

1. A Color-Coded Ahnentafel Chart

Look in this article for the revised Ahnentafel spreadsheet: "How to Visualize Your Ancestor-Finding Progress." The colors and pre-filled numbers will help you instantly see which branches of your family tree need more research.

2. A Multi-Generation Relationship Calculator

Understanding your relationship to a distant cousin (maybe a DNA match) can make your head spin. Here's a spreadsheet that makes it clear what to call your relationship based on your common ancestor. Look for the link that says, "You can download my chart for yourself" in this article: "This Chart Finds Hidden Relationships in Your Family Tree."

These 5 free family tree charts belong in your genealogy toolbox!
These 5 free family tree charts belong in your genealogy toolbox!

3. A Five-Generation Fill-in-the-Blanks PDF Chart

I never write anything by hand that I can type instead. That's why I created this Acrobat PDF file that lets you type in the names to create a five-generation family tree chart. Click the link that says, "Download the Direct Ancestor Chart PDF" in this article: "Free 5-Generation Fill-in-the-Blanks Form."

4. An Easy Family Tree Template from Microsoft Excel

I use Excel in my family tree research every day and in lots of ways. Did you know Microsoft Excel includes a free family tree template? Take a look at how you can make quick work of a custom family tree in this article: "Free and Easy-to-Use 4-Generation Family Tree Chart."

5. Five-Generation Template Keeps New Research on Track

I made this Excel template to use when I'm researching families that don't belong in my own family tree. At first I was keeping running lists of what I'd found and where I searched. Then I made this template and saved myself a ton of trouble. Find the link at the bottom of this article: "This New Template Charts 5 Generations."

I'll give you another great collection next week to wrap up the 7th year (holy cow!) of this blog. Happy holidays!

12 December 2023

How to Batch Process Your Genealogy Documents

I spent 24 years coding websites before I retired. Now I apply those job skills to genealogy. I was faster than my colleagues because I found ways to be more efficient.

This past weekend I added 114 military records to my family tree. I would have doubled that number, but the website they come from dies every day at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. (Do they unplug the router when they go home?)

These records include a ton of facts about each soldier, but the key facts I'm after are when, where, and how he died. Adding each of these invaluable records to my family tree has many steps:

  1. Search for the soldier on the website (in this case, it's the website of the Benevento State Archives in Italy).
  2. View his page of details and download a PDF with the record image.
  3. Extract the image from the PDF. (This is a function of Adobe Acrobat.)
  4. Edit the image in Photoshop for top quality and a consistent image size (1500 pixels wide).
  5. Create a source citation from a template I created.
  6. Add the citation and a title to the image's document properties and drag it into Family Tree Maker.
  7. Create the death fact for the soldier, add the same source citation, and attach the image to it.
  8. Add the date of death and a category (Military) to the image.

Now do that 113 more times.

At first, I didn't realize the site was crashing at 2:00 each day, so I was working as if it might crash at any moment. To borrow a computer programming term, I started batch-processing the military records.

You'll be faster, more efficient, and more professional with this genealogy document-handling method.
You'll be faster, more efficient, and more professional with this genealogy document-handling method.

Real batch processing means one computer program automates a series of tasks over and over. In this case, I suppose I'm the computer, running the 8 steps above on soldier after soldier. Doing it this way ensures that:

  • All my military record document images have consistent quality.
  • All the source citations for these records follow the same format.
  • None of the 8 steps are skipped.

For this project, I have one more ace in the hole. The website has these documents for every man from the Benevento Province who died in World War I. First I made a list of every document for each of my ancestral hometowns. From these lists I created one spreadsheet of 274 soldiers. That tells me exactly who I'm searching for each time. I added a column where I can mark which documents are now in my family tree.

I came up with a way to cram in as many documents as possible before the site crashes each day. I search for and open the summary pages of 6 soldiers in different tabs. I immediately download each man's PDF file and label them consistently. For example, AutoreGiuseppe1875MilitaryRecord.pdf. That's last name, first name, year of birth, military record.

Next, with the 6 tabs still open, I open each PDF file one at a time and extract the images. I use an old version of Abobe Acrobat Pro where the command for this is File > Export > Image > JPEG. Then I drag and drop all the images into Photoshop. For each one, the process is this:

  • Image > Auto Color. For some reason, the documents all look very yellow. Auto Color makes the paper white, the ink black, and the rubber stamps blue. That's how they looked when I saw several of them in person.
  • Image > Auto Contrast. This makes the ink a bit darker and the paper a bit whiter.
  • Export As. Here I can reduce the file size by entering a consistent image width of 1500 pixels.

Now I have 6 document images waiting for their source citations. The details for the citations are on the 6 open tabs in my web browser. Here's the format I'm using:

From the Benevento State Archives, military records, fallen soldiers; register #75, record #4292, class #1893

When I went to the archives to see my grandfather's record, all I needed was the register number, record number, and class number. These are the critical facts.

The first URL in the citation is the page that's open in those 6 tabs. The second URL (found on that page) is for the PDF itself. The register and record number are on the page, and they're also part of the PDF's URL. The class # is the soldier's year of birth.

One at a time for the 6 open tabs, I:

  • Find the soldier in my tree and add his death fact.
  • Create the source citation and put it in the image's file properties.
  • Drag the image into Family Tree Maker and make it his profile picture unless he has a better one.
  • Add the source citation to the death fact and attach the image to it.
  • Add the date of death and a category to the image.

When you batch process any type of document in this way, you achieve a level of professionalism. As you're doing it, you'll find yourself getting into a groove that lets you move faster through the steps. Once those steps become familiar, you can process a group of documents faster than you ever imagined.

My master spreadsheet contains 105 men who probably aren't in my family tree. Yet. They came from towns I haven't completely documented. (To see what I mean, read "How to Create and Share Your Ancestral Town Database.") That means I should have 55 more military records to add using this batch process. I'm sure I can get that done in one or two more sessions using this method. (In fact, I finished in one session!)

Keep batch processing in mind when you're tracking down any type of document. When the NYC Municipal Archives put their vital records online, I downloaded so many documents. I created a citation template and fixed each image's color, contrast, and size. This added a ton of value to my New York City ancestors. Here's another look at the idea: "Step-by-Step Source Citations for Your Family Tree."

Imagine the consistency you can achieve if you handle all your census records this way. Or ship manifests. Or newspaper clippings. Think through your process for each document type, including what to add to your family tree. Go through it step by step, then repeat for all the same types of documents. Now you've done some truly professional genealogy work.

05 December 2023

4 Keys to Italian Genealogy

I've learned so much by spending countless hours immersed in Italian vital records. If you're new to Italian genealogy research, I can save you those countless hours.

Here are the 4 keys to help you build your Italian family tree.

1. Location and Mobility

To find Italian vital records, you must know where your people came from. Not all records are searchable in one convenient form. And without the town name, you can't be sure you've found your person or someone with the same name. Records are stored by town name and held in the provincial capital's archives. The town name is your first hurdle. Read "4 Key Places to Discover Your Ancestor's Hometown."

Until the 1890s, most Italians stayed in or near their hometown for generations. It isn't as if a man could meet a woman who lived hours away and marry her. You must expect that your ancestral couples lived in the same town or neighboring towns. There were no highways and travel wasn't easy.

When a couple from different towns married, they were likely to marry in the woman's town but live in the man's town. A man could inherit property, so they lived in the man's home—which may include other members of his family.

Tip: If your couple married in Italy, expect them to have been born in the same town or neighboring towns.

Here's your crash course in Italian genealogy documents. Use these 4 keys to build your family tree.
Here's your crash course in Italian genealogy documents. Use these 4 keys to build your family tree.

2. Language Is NOT a Barrier

There's no reason on earth to let the Italian language stop you from reading a vital record. The documents follow standard patterns. And you don't need to translate every single word. What you want to find are:

  1. Names don't need translation. They are exactly what you see in the document. There's no reason you can't spot the name you're looking for in a document.
    • If a last name is hard to decipher, type what you think you see into the Cognome box on the Cognomix website. As you type, you'll see suggestions of actual names. Once you click Cerca (Search), you'll see where you can find that name in Italy. https://www.cognomix.it/mappe-dei-cognomi-italiani
    • Another option: Type a last name into Ancestry and FamilySearch to see suggestions.
  2. Place names (both town names and street names) don't need translation.
    • If you found your document on a genealogy website, the website should tell you the town name.
    • If you received the document another way, the town name is on the document. Look close to the top of the document, often after the words Comune di (town of).
    • If the comune name is hard to read, use this alphabetical list of Italian towns and try to match what you see. http://en.comuni-italiani.it/alfa
    • Street names may no longer exist in your ancestral town. But if you want to have a look, use Bing Maps rather than Google Maps. It has more street names than Google in Italian towns. https://www.bing.com/maps
    • Some street names begin with the word Contrada. A contrada is more of a neighborhood name. It can be a large area with only one road running through it. That road name will usually be the Contrada name. These are easiest to find on the map because they're well outside the town center.
  3. Dates do need translation, but there is one terrific resource to help you out. The FamilySearch Wiki has month names, numbers, and other key genealogical word translations. https://www.familysearch.org/en/wiki/Italian_Genealogical_Word_List
    • On most Italian vital records, you'll see numbers written out in longhand, not numerals. That includes years. With practice, seeing mille ottocento ventiquattro instead of 1824 is no problem.
    • Vital records begin with the date someone wrote the document. That means the event may have happened earlier. On a birth record, look further down for the (often pre-printed) words nel giorno (on the day) and del mese di (of the month of). If you see nel giorno sette del mese di Gennaro, you'll know the person was born/died on the 7th day of January. (Check the FamilySearch Wiki linked above for numbers and months.)
    • Birth records often have a separate column for the baptism. This may include a church or parish name. You can look up a church name by location using this website: https://italia.indettaglio.it/eng/parrocchie/parrocchie.html. You may get the street address of the church, too.
      • The baptism column can be confusing because it can have up to 3 dates. Look for the earliest date, and that's the baptism. The format: On this date(1) the church notes that on this date(2) we recorded that on this date(3) we baptized this baby. Wacky, yes, but look for the earliest date.
    • Marriage records often have a separate column, too. In the smaller column you'll find the date and place of the church wedding. It's often later than the date at the top of the main column. I record the main column's date as the marriage license. On this date, the couple was married in the civil sense. Afterward, they married in the church.

3. Where to Find the Facts

We've just explored the different types of names, dates, and places you'll find on vital records. Now let's dive deeper so you know exactly what to expect to find. The standard forms used in your ancestral towns will change over time, but the basics are the same. (In my towns, the 1866–1873 documents are all in longhand. That's why it's important to know what to expect.)

  • Birth records. The basic format is:
    • On this date, before the mayor (look for the word Sindaco) of this town, appeared (look for the word comparso) FATHER of baby (and maybe his father's name), age, profession, residence (look for the word domiciliato) to present a baby (bambino is a boy, bambina is a girl).
    • Next, sometimes written entirely in longhand, you'll see MOTHER of baby, age, profession. The word moglie (wife) tells you that the father and mother are legally married.
    • Next is the date of birth (nel giorno _____ del mese di _____), followed by the baby's name.
    • Look for a baptism date in a separate column or sometimes written briefly in the margin.
  • Marriage records. These begin the same way as a birth record, with the date, mayor, and town. Then comes the important stuff:
    • After the word comparsi, look for GROOM's name, age, place of birth (nato in), profession, and residence.
    • The groom's parents come after the words figlio di (son of). You'll find his father's name, occupation, and residence, and if he's dead, you'll see the word fu (was) before his name. Then you'll find his mother's name, sometimes her profession, and her residence. If you're very lucky, you'll get the parents ages and maybe their dates of death.
    • Next comes the BRIDE whose name comes after the word e (and). Look for her age, place of birth, and residence.
    • After the words figlia di (daughter of), look for her parents in the same format as the groom's parents above.
    • Look for the date and place of the church wedding in a separate column.
  • Death records. After the date of the document, the mayor's name, and the town name, death records usually list 2 witnesses. You can look for familiar last names or relationship words (avo=grandfather, zio=uncle), but there may be no relationship. The important facts begin after the witness information.
    • Look for the words che nel giorno (that on the day). What follows is the day and month of death.
    • If it says é morto(a) nel(la) casa propria, you know this person died in their own home (casa propria). Use these words as a clue to the person's gender if you're unsure. Morto nel casa propria means it's a male. Morta nella casa propria means it's a female.
    • If you don't see the words casa propria, they died somewhere else—like in someone else's house. Don't let that extra name of the homeowner confuse you. If it starts with nel casa di (in the house of) then the following name should be the homeowner, followed by the deceased's name.
    • Look for the deceased's name written in longhand. It may also say they were the husband (marito) or wife (moglie) of the following name.
    • Next look for the deceased's age (di anni _____), place of birth (nato di _____), profession, residence, and their father and mother's names, professions, and residence.

For diagrams showing where to find the facts on Italian vital records, see:

Unless there's a handwritten paragraph after that, then you've found the facts you need. Sometimes an extra paragraph will explain important facts such as:

  • The father didn't report the birth because he was ill, out of the country, or he died on this date.
  • The child in this birth record married this person on this date. This is a treasure written in some empty space on a birth record.
  • The baby's birth was legitimized by the marriage of its parents on this later date.
  • This man died leaving several minor children, and here are their names and ages.

If you see a long handwritten paragraph on your document, look for keywords like:

  • matrimonio (marriage)
  • morto (death)
  • figli minori (minor children)
  • ammalato (ill)
  • lontano dal paese (far from the country)

Use the FamilySearch Italian Genealogical Word List and Google Translate to see if you've found useful information or standard boilerplate.

4. Naming Conventions

Different cultures have different standards for what to name the baby. Keep in mind, these could be more guidelines than rules. Many of my own ancestors completely ignored the naming conventions. In general:

  • The first male is named after his paternal grandfather.
  • The second male is named after his maternal grandfather.
  • The first female is named after her paternal grandmother.
  • The second female is named after her maternal grandmother.

But here are more naming conventions to look for:

  • If a baby is born after their father dies, the baby is named after the father. A baby girl may receive a female version of her father's name, such as Francesca if her father was Francesco.
  • Say a person becomes a widow and then remarries. Their next child is named after the deceased spouse. This is a good way to confirm that you've found the remarriage of a particular man or woman.
  • When a child dies, the parents usually give the next child of the same sex the same name as the deceased child. You may find birth records for 2, 3, or 4 siblings with the same exact name. If you do, then you can assume each one died before the same-named sibling was born. This comes in handy if death records are not available.

Tip: A set of marriage documents may use the birth record of a same-named deceased sibling. This is just human error.

In my towns, I've seen families wait until baby-boy #4 before using the paternal grandfather's name. And many families never get to the 4th grandparent's name. This may be a regional practice since all my ancestors came from neighboring towns. Maybe the naming rules were less strict there. Keep an open mind and don't rule someone out because they don't have the name you'd expect.

When you find a marriage record and the groom came from another town, search that town for their kids. Any time you learn your person's parents' names, you can expand your search. You can search for the previous generation's birth, marriage, and death records, if the years are available. Read "How I Tracked Down My 4th Great Grandmother's Parents."

That's the beauty of Italian vital records. Each one you find for someone in your family tree can lead to more and more generations. You now have the keys. As long as records are available for your towns, there's no stopping you.