20 February 2024

4 Ways to Safeguard Your Digital Family Tree

Imagine starting up your computer to add a new baby cousin to your family tree. But all you see is a File Not Found error. Nooooo! Panicked doesn't begin to describe how sick you feel.

I'm someone who curses a blue streak in the face of computer problems. I can't describe the pain in my head and stomach at these times. That's why I take extreme precautions with my digital family tree files. (And many other types of computer files, too.)

To avoid disaster, here are 4 crucial ways you can safeguard your digital family tree files. Get started before disaster strikes!

Keep your family tree safe in a virtual vault with these 4 methods.
Keep your family tree safe in a virtual vault with these 4 methods.

1. Take advantage of cloud storage

Important! Your desktop family tree program should NEVER open your cloud-stored files. The cloud will try to update your file while you have it open, and corrupt your file. This happened to me.

You must open the file from a computer folder that does NOT get backed up to the cloud automatically. When you're done for the day, close your file and exit your software. Then you copy the family tree file and paste it into a folder that does get backed up automatically. Also, make sure your family tree software stores its own copy of every image you put in your tree. Don't point to their location if that location is a cloud folder; let the software make its own copy.

I use Microsoft Outlook for email, and Outlook will not let me work with a mailbox file that's on the cloud. My backup routine includes exiting Outlook and copying the file to a cloud location. This is true for other programs, too.

With that understood, you should use a cloud storage program for your non-active files. My Family Tree folder contains sub-folders for the types of documents I gather. These include:

  • ship manifests
  • censuses
  • vital records
  • naturalization papers
  • draft cards
  • and so much more.

These images are separate from those Family Tree Maker stores in your tree's media folder. (The media folder must not be on the cloud.)

I use Microsoft OneDrive because it comes with my subscription to Office 365. An added benefit of any cloud storage is that I can access any of my cloud files from my travel laptop.

To decide which cloud program is right for you, read "How to Back Up Your Family Tree Files Automatically."

2. Copy files to external drives often

Decades ago a client told me kept copies of his important information in 3 places. One of those places needed to be offsite in case of fire.

My cloud storage is the offsite location. My important files are on my desktop computer, of course. Plus I make a weekly backup to 2 one-terabyte external drives.

Each Sunday morning I back up my family tree, financial, and email files to these external drives. If you work on your tree a lot, a weekly backup is so important. I've had days where I added hundreds of people to my tree. I don't want to lose that much work!

To read about my backup routine, see "This 3-Step Backup Routine Protects Your Family Tree."

3. Export a GEDCOM after each session

I used to export a GEDCOM file from Family Tree Maker only when I wanted to do something in Family Tree Analyzer. Then I realized the value of always having an up-to-date GEDCOM. Now I export one at the end of each day's Family Tree Maker session. (You can export a GEDCOM from your online-only tree, too.)

When I'm done for the day, I export a GEDCOM and make 2 kinds of backup files: one with and one without all the media. My tree is so big that a backup with media is about 12 gigabytes, so I only keep 2 full backups and delete any older ones.

GEDCOM files use an industry-standard format. You can open it with any family tree software or upload it to a family tree website. It's so easy to export one, why wouldn't you do it after every session?

To see my full backup process, read "9 Steps to Really Safeguard Your Family Tree."

4. Publish your family tree in more than one place

A while ago I had a series of mishaps while trying to sync my Family Tree Maker file with Ancestry.com. Then MacKiev improved the FTM sync function dramatically. So I'm back to syncing every morning.

But when I had these problems, I stopped syncing my FTM tree with Ancestry for quite a while. I found another website, Geneanet.org, where I could overwrite my tree each day with a new GEDCOM. This now serves as a public-facing backup for my family tree. And it puts more international eyes on my research, too. The one thing I haven't been able to manage is to upload all my document images to Geneanet. The instructions don't seem to work for me, and I don't see how they make sense.

I won't put my family tree on any site that lets other people try to "collaborate" with or overwrite me. I made the mistake of putting my tree on Geni years ago. Each time someone wants me to update a person on Geni, I relinquish ownership of that person. (They're always people from a huge branch I lopped off years ago.)

To understand how and why to use Geneanet, see "A Major Family Tree Change to Fix an Ongoing Problem."

If you love genealogy, the loss of your research files would devastate you. Get busy and safeguard your digital family tree files today.

13 February 2024

These Tips Find Missing Maiden Names

Last weekend I cut my list of missing maiden names in half. It was exhilarating! I use Crista Cowan's method and mark missing names in my family tree with _____ (5 underscores). That makes it easy to find everyone who's missing a name. They're all at the top of the alphabetical list of names.

By the way, if you're using a woman's married name in your tree because you don't know her maiden name, STOP IT. The tree already tells you who she married.

I did a new search for each person in my tree with a missing last name. You may be thinking, "I already searched for them." Don't let that stop you from trying again. There are new records available, and new family trees to give you the hints you need.

Let's look at the best places to find those missing maiden names.

Her maiden name is missing from your family tree…for now.
Her maiden name is missing from your family tree…for now.

Hiding in Plain Sight

In "5 Ways to Find Your Female Relative's Married or Maiden Name," we looked at how 5 types of records can lead to that missing name. (Read it now for details.) Every search you do may include these types of records in the results. Be sure to follow through on all the leads.

Sources Get Expanded

A month after I started this blog in 2017, I wrote about a tremendous maiden name. (See "This Expanded Resource Provided an Elusive Maiden Name.") The Social Security Applications and Claims Index helped me unlock my 2nd great grandmother Caruso's branch of the family tree. While searching for her brother Giuseppe, I found 3 different transcriptions of his mother's maiden name:

  • The Social Security Applications and Claims Index called her Gilardo.
  • Another record index called her Girandiu.
  • His death certificate Americanized her last name to Gerard.

When I repeated the 3 versions aloud, it made me think of then-Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Girardi! Could that be her name? A search of immigration records told me that the name Girardi does come from my Caruso hometown. And then the Antenati website came online! I found everything I needed and took Maria Rosa Caruso's branch of the family tree back 5 generations.

Search Using Her Married Name

Another article, "6 Places to Find Your Ancestor's Maiden Name," adds immigration records, passport applications, and naturalization papers to the list of missing name resources. Be sure to read that article for helpful hints.

Naturalization papers helped me find a man's missing first name this weekend. And a lot more! His wife was my relative (Maria Luigia Sarracino). Her mother's Bronx death certificate said Maria Luigia's married name was deMatteis. But I had no information on her husband at all.

It seems Mr. and Mrs. deMatteis each filed separately for their U.S. citizenship. On her papers, I saw his first name was Pietro. Hurray! Now, where did he come from? His naturalization papers had very specific facts, including:

  • his birth date
  • the couple's marriage date
  • the names and birth dates of their 4 children.

Using his date of immigration, I found his ship manifest and learned his hometown. That let me go get his Italian birth record.

Then I realized I could search for the couple's marriage record. (I used the Search By Name feature on the NYC Municipal Archives website.) When I found it, I couldn't believe my eyes! The female witness to the marriage was my great aunt, Stella Sarracino! The bride lived across the street from my Sarracino family.

Is this the clue I've been waiting for? Is Maria Luigia Sarracino my great grandfather's 1st cousin? It's certainly possible. If she is, then I now know the name of my only missing 3rd great grandparent: Giuseppa Torrico. I don't know if any records can prove this for sure, but I'll keep searching.

I'm sure you're missing maiden names in your family tree. The extremely early names may be lost forever, but the rest are out there somewhere. Take the time to give them each a new, comprehensive search.

06 February 2024

5 Cleanup Projects to Fortify Your Family Tree

A weird thing happened when I finished a massive genealogy project. I felt lost! I didn't know how I wanted to spend my genealogy time, so I bounced around from task to task.

Then I found a cleanup project in my to-do list that kept me productive and happy. I may dive into another big project, but until then, here are 5 cleanup projects to fortify your family tree.

Have a little time to spend on your family tree? Choose a task with big impact.
Have a little time to spend on your family tree? Choose a task with big impact.

1. Chase Down Exact Dates

I'm sure you have people in your family tree who are missing an exact birth date, marriage date, or death date. Use one of the two methods described in "2 Ways to Find the Loose Ends in Your Family Tree" to locate fuzzy dates. Then take the time to seek out as many exact dates as possible. It may be that you forgot to follow through and get those dates in the past.

2. Follow Through on Family Tree Leads

You may have a ton of genealogy papers on your desk in a to-do pile. Or a box full of old photos in the closet. Or a computer folder full of all sorts of family tree items waiting for your attention.

We put off dealing with items like these because they seem overwhelming. Don't you agree? But what if you break the process into manageable chunks that won't take a ton of time? When cleaning out a closet, they tell you to separate everything into 3 piles: keep, donate, throw away.

Why not apply that mentality to your genealogy leads? Start by organizing them into:

  • Items that need more research. (Keep, and act on them.)
  • Items that you thought were important but turned out not to fit in your tree. (Throw away.)
  • Items that should go in your family tree right now. (Put them where they belong!)

For the inspiration you need to make this happen, read "How Many Genealogy Gems Are You Sitting On?"

3. Categorize All Your Genealogy Correspondence

I've been using Microsoft Outlook for email for at least 20 years. When I move to a new computer, I bring my massive Outlook file along—with all the old emails I'd decided to keep.

But my Outlook file is too fat, so I've been reviewing very old emails and deleting lots of them. I realized this is a good time to cut a lot of old genealogy-related messages by moving the facts to a spreadsheet. We don't need to keep every word of a conversation. Find out how to make the most of your correspondence by reading "How to Make Your Own Genealogy Correspondence Database."

4. Get Those Source Citations Done!

An awful mishap with my Family Tree Maker file led me to fix every source citation in my family tree. It was a huge task, but I'm so happy with the results. Now I'm careful to create a solid source citation for each fact or image as I put them into my family tree.

Once you've cleaned up your backlog, you'll be eager to do everything the right way going forward. Here's a detailed look at how to tackle your backlog and create "Step-by-Step Source Citations for Your Family Tree."

5. Cut the Fat Out of Downloaded Images

For the last few days I've been enjoying a cleanup project that's reducing the size of my Family Tree Maker file. I'm cropping the big black borders out of the census images I've downloaded from Ancestry. And while I'm at it, I'm reducing the size of the image from up to 6,000 pixels wide to a standard of either 50% of the original width or 2,000 pixels wide. (Do a test first to make sure the standard size you choose doesn't lose too much clarity.) The file sizes get smaller, and my tree becomes more manageable. Too see my process, read "How to Improve Your Digital Genealogy Documents."

Once I finish the census files I'll tackle the ship manifests. I love this project—I just couldn't seem to make enough time for it in the past.

Think of these cleanup tasks as a way to always be productive and keep from getting bored. Go on now and improve your family tree.

30 January 2024

Top 5 Uses for the Free Family Tree Analyzer

Family Tree Analyzer (FTA) is a free and powerful program from Alexander Bisset (see ftanalyzer.com). FTA has so many features that I've written about individual uses for the program many, many times. If you haven't tried it yet, here's a taste of the top 5 ways FTA can improve your family tree.

Family Tree Analyzer has unlimited abilities, and it's free.
Family Tree Analyzer has unlimited abilities, and it's free.

1. Finding accidental duplicates

Your family tree may have hit a software glitch. You may have clicked the wrong fact type in a menu. Or you may have gotten a little loopy during a late-night genealogy session. No matter what the cause, FTA can find all your accidental duplicates. To create your list, read "Let Family Tree Analyzer Find Your Duplicates Duplicates."

2. Finding missing source citations

Source citations help you as much as they help someone else viewing your family tree. How can you be sure of a fact when you can't remember where you found it? FTA can give you a list of all the unsourced facts in your family tree. You can create a list that ignores certain facts you don't want to source. For instance, I don't add a source for someone's sex.

Now that I've finished an all-consuming genealogy project*, I'm working on my missing citations. To find out how to do this, read "Catch and Fix Your Missing Source Citations."

* I finished my 6th (and possibly last) complete index of every available vital record for my ancestral Italian hometowns. They're free to download at www.forthecousins.com.

3. Finding inconsistencies in your family tree

No matter how long you've been at it, there will be inconsistencies in your family tree. Unless you're working at it day in and day out, you're bound to forget how you recorded a certain type of fact in the past.

I've always been an advocate for consistency. To me, consistency is a sign of good quality control. That's why I investigated some oddities FTA found when it opened my GEDCOM file. You can simply scroll down the Main Lists/Individuals table to spot wording that stands out. Sort by different columns and scroll on through. To find out what to look for, read "It's Time to Make Your Family Tree Clear and Consistent."

4. Finding all kinds of errors

No one wants their work to be messy, but it happens. If you'd like to find and fix your errors, here's a deeper dive for you. Take a look at all you can do by reading "One Report, Endless Possibilities for Improving Your Family Tree."

5. Finding missing details you need to research

Have you ever discovered a new treasure trove of genealogy documents? Nothing could be more exciting! Sometimes we add people and facts so fast that we overlook our mistakes. That's why we need FTA as our safety net. Find out how to use the program to point out all those missing facts by reading "How to Plug the Holes in Your Family Tree."

No matter where you are in your genealogy journey, FTA offers so many ways to improve the value of your family tree. It needs to be in your genealogy toolbox.

23 January 2024

3 Key Signs a Family Tree is Wrong

When you find your relatives in a stranger's family tree, it means one of two things:

  1. You've discovered a new branch of your own family tree, or
  2. They made a mistake and put your relatives where they don't belong.

When that stranger is also your DNA match, you hope they're right. It's up to you to see if their family tree is reliable or riddled with errors.

Here are the 3 key signs that separate fact from fiction.

Don't pull that family tree into your own. You don't know where it's been!
Don't pull that family tree into your own. You don't know where it's been!

1. Their family is from the wrong place

Giuseppe Nicola Mascia was born on 9 Oct 1794 in Colle Sannita, Italy. I know this because his baptism record is included in his 1826 marriage papers from Colle Sannita. I have vital records that tell me his and both his wives' names, birth dates, and parents' names. I have birth records for his 8 children, born between 1815 and 1835.

One of my DNA matches has Giuseppe Nicola Mascia, born on 9 Oct 1794, in their family tree. But things quickly go wrong.

  • They say Giuseppe was born on that date in Deliceto, a town 80 miles away from Colle Sannita.
  • They have the wrong parents and siblings for Giuseppe. I have documents for the correct people.
  • They have Giuseppe's first wife and kids but the wrong second wife and kids. Theirs overlap with the dates of the real second wife and kids.

What can we make of all this? Since the people in their tree are from a town 80 miles away, they're a different family. I'll bet they saw a hint for "Giuseppe Nicola Mascia" from my tree and pulled him and his first wife and kids right in. They were wrong to do so. They didn't check the facts.

You must know your locations and time period! In the early 1800s, people from my grandfather's town of Colle Sannita stayed put.

For a better understanding of the importance of place, see Location and Mobility in "4 Keys to Italian Genealogy."

2. Their dates don't add up

In the same person's family tree, they added another couple from my tree even though the dates don't work. My couple, Nicola Giuseppe Mascia and Angelica delVecchio, married in 1818 and had 7 kids in the town of Baselice.

This person brought Nicola and Angelica into their tree along with 4 of their 7 kids. They documented the fact that this couple married on 30 May 1818 in Baselice. Then they added FIVE other children who were born in Deliceto (50 miles away) between 1804 and 1814. In 1804, Nicola was 15 and living in Colle Sannita, and Angelica was 12 and living in Baselice.

The dates do not work. They contradict logic and the documented facts. I found the 1812 birth record for one of the misplaced kids in Deliceto. His parents were Mattia Mascio and Maria Farollo of Deliceto. Someone didn't do their own research.

Does your family tree have dates that can't be right? You can fix them. Find out how in "How to Find Errors in Your Family Tree."

3. Birth locations are vague

I find so many family trees where it's clear they don't know where their people came from. To spot them, look for great grandparents with only a country as their place of birth. They'll also be missing a full birth date.

That's fine—either they haven't done their research yet or they've hit dead-ends. But that country without a town is a red flag when I see they've put people from my towns into their family tree.

If they don't know where their people came from, how can they assume my people are their people? When I spot this type of borrowing from my tree, I check their direct ancestors. If I can't find a strong possibility of a connection to my towns, I disregard the entire tree.

Are you still missing your ancestor's hometown? Here are "4 Key Places to Discover Your Ancestor's Hometown."

Key Points to Remember

Everyone is in a different place on their family tree journey. Since you're reading this blog, I know you wouldn't pull another family tree into yours without proof. But if you're browsing through DNA matches' trees hoping for a breakthrough, keep an eye out for these 3 key signs a family tree is wrong.

16 January 2024

7 Free Genealogy Map Projects

Mapping your ancestors' locations can help you better understand their stories. It can help you answer some lingering questions. And it may be the best way to get your relatives interested in your genealogy research.

Here are 7 free genealogy map projects you're sure to enjoy.

These 7 free genealogy research map projects add value and interest to your family tree.
These 7 free genealogy research map projects add value and interest to your family tree.

1. A Virtual Drive-by of Your Ancestors' Hometown

Looking at a regular map-view online or on paper does nothing to give you a feel for your ancestors' hometown. But if you sit at your desk and "drive" down the streets, you'll get a more accurate impression of the place. Honestly, I could do this for hours. Read "How to Visit Your Ancestral Hometown at Your Desk."

2. Create a Genealogy Vacation Itinerary on Your Phone

The last time I visited my dad's first cousins in Italy, the GPS led us a bit astray. We couldn't find the house. So I took out my iPhone, opened up my customized map, and saw exactly where to turn. Imagine having your map of family locations with you on your phone for your next trip to their town. Read how to "Create a Digital Map of Your Family History."

3. Mapping Places That Are No Longer There

I'd always heard that my ex-mother-in-law didn't know if her family was German or Polish. In her family's documents, I saw them identified as Prussian, Polish, German, and West Prussian. The difference was the time-period of each document and what was happening in Europe. With a bit a research, I created an overlay map that places the family firmly in Poland. Find out how in "Finding Ancestral Homelands That Are No Longer There."

4. Find New Clues by Mapping Every Location

My great grandfather Giovanni has a lot of mystery about him. Most intriguing to me is his business relationship with a local brewery in the Bronx. This part of his life is entirely lost in family lore. But, by mapping his every address and digging into the history of the brewery, I came up with a theory. See how this can help your research by reading "Mapping Your Ancestors Can Answer Questions."

5. Get More Precise With Addresses

When I saw how many addresses weren't mapped correctly in Family Tree Maker, I found a way to make them more precise. Find out how to "Pinpoint Important Places in Your Family Tree."

6. Find Clusters by Mapping Every Location All at Once

I used a combination of free software tools for this project. It showed me graphically how clustered together all my direct ancestors were. It's astonishing—especially when my closest relatives are now spread all over the United States. See how to create a detailed map of everyone in your family tree in "Where Will Your Roots Map Take You?"

7. Bring Your Ancestry Home With a Map for the Relatives

You spend so much time enjoying your family research. But do your close relatives know what you've discovered? I found out my 1st cousin didn't know that his grandmother came from the same town as my grandfather. So I knew I had to give him a visual. This project uses Google Maps to plot all the ancestors of your closest cousins. It's a real eye-opener for your relatives. Find out how to make it interactive in "Make an Easy Ancestral Map for the Cousins."

09 January 2024

21 Genealogy Tools I Can't Live Without

There have been only two times when I used paper and pen to record genealogy information:

  1. While visiting relatives and asking them questions.
  2. When I first began this hobby with nothing but the Ellis Island website.

I'm digital by nature. As a child of IBM, I owned my first PC in 1985, and earned a living on computers since 1983. I can barely hold a pen anymore. And I do not have folders full of genealogy printouts or binders of any kind.

I work on my family tree every day, and I do every speck of the work on my computer. In fact, in my list of tools below you'll find only one paper book. That's because it's uniquely indispensable to my family tree.

Here are my 21 crucial genealogy tools:

Set yourself up for family tree success by having your essential genealogy tools close at hand.
Set yourself up for family tree success by having your essential genealogy tools close at hand.

1. Family Tree Maker. My daily genealogy sessions begin with Family Tree Maker. It's the only family tree software I've ever used. I've tried a few others but they pale by comparison. If you build and keep your family tree online only, you're missing out on so many robust features. My 2 favorite Family Tree Maker features are the relationship calculator and the locations list. Plus, I can sync my work with my tree on Ancestry for the benefit of distant cousins. See "Comparing Family Tree Programs Is an Eye Opener."

While I'm working in Family Tree Maker, these are the spreadsheets, websites, and book I refer to most often.

Document Searches

2. Ancestry.com. If you're serious about this hobby, 87 cents a day for Ancestry.com isn't extravagant. Ancestry is my go-to for document searches. I love how the advanced search can pull in facts about the person I need from my Ancestry tree. It saves a lot of typing. I also use AncestryDNA and manage 4 kits.

My family tree has mostly Italians. Their documents are not on Ancestry, but on Antenati (see #6 below). Ancestry is perfect for all my American relatives.


3. Bing Maps. I consult online maps every time I add an address to my family tree. I find that Bing Maps is better at naming every little street in my ancestral Italian hometowns. And I love how it always shows you the county/province the location is in.

4. Google Maps. I often switch from Bing Maps to Google Maps to get a closer view of a building. Google's Street View is a treasure. I also love Google Earth for creating wonderful family tree projects. Find your best options in "Which Global Map is Best for Genealogists?."

New York-Specific

5. New York City Municipal Archives. My ancestors didn't start coming to America until the 1890s, and they all came to New York. The majority lived in the Bronx in New York City. I was beside myself with joy when the New York City Municipal Archives put its vital records online.

I've downloaded 172 high-quality birth, death, and marriage certificates for my family tree. Thanks, New York! Find out how to locate your ancestors' NYC vital records.


6. Antenati. When Italy decided to put digitized copies of their vital records online, my life changed. Before that, I didn't know the names of any of my 2nd great grandparents. Now my family tree has 75,000 people going back to the 1600s. That's a very big deal for an Italian! Try it yourself. Read "How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives."

7. Familysearch.org. Sometimes Italian vital records not on Antenati are available on Familysearch. I also rely on the list of Latin genealogy words found in the Familysearch Wiki.

8. Italian place names. When I can't read a town name on a document, I go to Comuni-Italiani.it to find it and make sure I'm spelling it correctly.

9. Italian surname map. The Cognomix website helps you see if you're spelling an Italian last name correctly. Italy has more last names than any European country. To get the spelling right, and make sure the name actually comes from the town you think it comes from, this site is key.

10. Italian parishes. When I'm lucky enough to find a birth or baptism record that names the church, I like to place it on the map. But many times the handwriting is tough to decipher. The Parishes in Italy website helps you figure out that spelling and get a street address.

11. Italian military records. Luckily for me the province of Benevento has placed many documents online. If a soldier from Benevento died in World War I or II, you can download his military record. I've downloaded 148 of them. Find out how to download "Free Italian Military Records for WWI and WWII."

They crammed these military records with details. I had to go to the Benevento archives in person to see my grandfather's record because he lived. The amount of detail shocked me. And I finally learned which POW camp they held him in, and that he was there for a solid year!

12. "Colle Sannita nel 1742" (a book by Fabio Paolucci). This 1742 census of Grandpa's town helped me find more generations of my family tree. I have ancestors named in this book who were born in the 1600s. It's been remarkable to be able to fit so many of these 1742 households into my tree. This book never leaves my desk.


I resented all the spreadsheets I had to maintain for my job, but they're oh so valuable for genealogy. I created or adapted these 3 spreadsheets that you can download for yourself.

13. Ahnentafel spreadsheet. Each of your direct ancestors has an ID number. You are number 1. Use this spreadsheet to keep track of who you've identified and see who you're missing. Download your own spreadsheet by reading "3 Things to Do with Ahnentafel Numbers."

14. Relationship chart. I especially like this spreadsheet when I'm trying to figure out a DNA match. If they're the grandchild of my 4th cousin 3 times removed, I can use this chart to put a name to our relationship. Download yours.

15. Document tracker. When I noticed a cousin's 1924 marriage certificate on Ancestry, I went to my document tracker to see if I needed it. I did! The document tracker is a quick way to see which documents you have and which you need for anyone in your family. Download one for yourself.

Other Software

16. Photoshop. I spent my career creating websites and printed material. I've been using Photoshop since before it was Photoshop. (Anyone remember Aldus PhotoStyler?) Now I use Photoshop for genealogy documents and blog images. I straighten, crop, enhance the contrast, and resize each document image before it goes in my tree. You can use any photo editor, but you should fix those images before you place them in your tree. See 6 Steps to Make Your Family Tree 10 Times Better.

17. OneDrive. There are a bunch of cloud services available for backing up your important files. Because I subscribe to Microsoft Office 365, I get tons of OneDrive cloud storage. Each evening when I'm finished with Family Tree Maker, I make a backup and copy the latest files to OneDrive. On Sunday mornings I also copy my latest files to two external hard drives. Choose your best cloud storage option. Important: Do not open your family tree file from the cloud. You must open the file on your hard drive or all hell will break loose. It happened to me.

18. Family Tree Analyzer. I discovered some new benefits to this software in its map feature, which I'll write about in the future. For now, see "Report Finds Marriage Mishaps in Your Family Tree."

Other Websites

19. Shared cM Project for DNA. Whenever I'm trying to figure out a new DNA match, this graphic on the DNA Painter website is a big help. Find out your expected relationship based on your number of shared centimorgans (cMs).

20. Cause of Death decoder. Have you ever tried to read the doctor's cause of death on a death certificate? It's enough to make your eyes hurt. But if that death certificate has a code number in the cause of death area, you're in luck. This website will help you see in plain, neatly typed letters why your great uncle Harry died.

21. SteveMorse.org. The One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse have tons of uses, but I have one favorite. It tends to come in handiest every 10 years when I need to track down census sheets manually. If the census isn't yet indexed or your family's name is misread, Steve Morse's census tools can help you find them. Find out more in "Try This Tool to Find a Missing Census."

I may have a lot of windows and tabs open at any given time, but I wouldn't want to give up any of these genealogy tools.

02 January 2024

5 Tips to Use When Genealogy Documents Disagree

I don't worry too much when two documents' facts disagree with one another. That's because I can apply these 5 tips to overcome the discrepancies. And so can you!

When genealogy documents disagree, these 5 tips help you figure out what's wrong and what belongs in your family tree.
When genealogy documents disagree, these 5 tips help you figure out what's wrong and what belongs in your family tree.

1. Gather as Many Documents as Possible

Imagine you're piecing together a family from their town's vital records. You notice the husband seems an awful lot older than his wife when one of their kids was born. How can you find out if his stated age is reliable? The answer is more documents.

Search for all the children and check his stated age on their birth records. If only one record has the unlikely age, then that record is in error.

For an in-depth example, read "When Documents Disagree, Get More Documents."

2. Trust Earlier Documents More

I spend most of my research time in the 1800s. People back then didn't have to fill out forms all the time like we do today. Many of them couldn't even write their own name. So it's completely understandable that they may not have known their birth date.

If a woman gets 10 years younger when her fifth child is born, it's because no one knows her age. The town clerk writing the birth record asked the husband how old his wife is. Do you think he really knows?

He's far more likely to know his wife's age when their first child is born. By the time the last child is born, he hasn't got a clue. That's why it's safer to believe the earliest document to mention her age.

3. Expect Some Human Error

Italian marriages in the mid-1800s generated a lot of documents. These include rewritten copies of the bride and groom's birth records. But sometimes they're the wrong record. It's most likely a human error on the part of the town clerk.

In nine errors out of 10, the clerk included the birth record of an older sibling with the same name who died as a baby. Last week I found an 1840 marriage that included a birth record for the wrong man entirely. He had the right name, but he came from a different family!

You can imagine how the clerk's error could mess up a lot of people's family trees. That's why you need to document the bride and groom's entire families. You'll know the baby born on such-and-such a date died a year later. Then you can assume it's the next child with the same name who's getting married.

To learn how to use Italian marriage documents, read "The Italian Genealogy Goldmine: 'Wedding Packets'."

4. Understand Name Usage and Evolution

It's not uncommon for a person to use their middle name rather than their first name. It's also not uncommon for the spelling of a last name to change over time.

I've seen countless babies born with multiple names who go by only one of those names. Maria Teresa uses the name Teresa. Nicola Antonio goes by Antonio. You must stay open to these possibilities. Don't rule out a document because you know he was born Nicola Antonio and this record says Antonio. Look at the big picture. What other facts can help you confirm that Antonio is really Nicola Antonio?

The spelling of a last name can evolve or change completely. My grandmother and her siblings had the last name Sarracino. Somehow the whole family lost an R and became Saracino by 1940. Some names lose their prefix over time. For instance, the name diRuccia became Ruccia. And it's common for people to make their name less ethnic in their adopted country. (It didn't happen at Ellis Island!)

When you see a last name change, look at the first names and ages. Are they the same as the family with a somewhat different last name? That's a handy tip when you find a bad transcription or a last name written incorrectly on a document.

5. Know Which Documents Are More Reliable

Because I spend countless hours viewing vital records, I've noticed trends. Many of my ancestral hometowns provide access to death records from 1931–1942. I've found that the deceased's age on these records is highly reliable. I'll bet that that during this time a clerk verified the person's age instead of taking somebody's word for it.

I've also found that a bride and groom's age on their marriage document is quite reliable. That comes in handy if you don't have access to their birth records. The reasons for this improved accuracy may be:

  • They're still young enough not to have forgotten how old they are.
  • Even if we don't see the documents, the town checked their birth records before performing the marriage.

In more recent times, I've seen a variety of names applied to myself. After 2 marriages, I've had 3 last names, and they're all misspelled constantly. I get mail with 2 different middle initials, and I have no middle name! Then there's my first name with its made-up spelling. My entire name is rarely spelled the right way.

If a genealogist is trying to research me in the distant future, good luck to them! It's going to take a whole lot of documents to make sense of my name alone.

Put these 5 tips to use and keep them in mind when you're researching your family tree.