27 February 2024

5 Ways to Find Loose Ends in Your Family Tree

After fitting 95% of the people from 3 of my ancestral hometowns into my family tree, I was eager for more. Now I'm working on a town I expected to be a problem. This town was part of the Papal State, owned by the church itself. They didn't keep civil records before 1861. (See "Becoming Italian Was a Long, Hard Journey.") I figured I'd never get very far since there are no vital records for my 3rd great grandparents and above.

But I found a couple of entry points. Two spouses of my closest relatives had families I could search for in the documents. Before I knew it, I was adding between 100 and 300 people a day to my family tree. For each of those spouses:

  • I found their birth record and recorded the facts.
  • Added their parents.
  • Found all their siblings.
  • Documented the families of the siblings' spouses.

It adds up fast.

Things got so hectic that I worried about dropping the ball. Did I follow up on all the marriages I discovered? Did I forget to find someone's father's birth record? Did I miss anyone because of a name variation?

That's when I started thinking about these 5 ways to find the loose ends in your family tree. You can use these methods to find the avenues you left unexplored.

Sometimes tying up a loose end in your family tree can break down that brick wall.
Sometimes tying up a loose end in your family tree can break down that brick wall.

Online-only trees won't give you the sorting tools you'll need. If that's your case, download a GEDCOM file of your tree and open it in desktop family tree software or in Family Tree Analyzer (see "This Genealogy Report Shows You What's Missing").

1. Sort by Birth Date

Sort the people in your family tree by birth date. Before you go any further, everyone in your tree needs at least an estimated year of birth. The bigger your tree, the more important this is. Scroll to the bottom of your list of people. If anyone has no date at all, give them an estimate. Here are my rules for choosing an estimated birth year:

  • If you know their spouse's birth year, give them about the same year (e.g., Abt. 1924).
  • If you know the year either of their parents was born, make them about 25 years younger than the younger parent.
  • If you know the year their eldest child was born, make them about 25 years older than that child.

Now look at your list for incomplete and estimated dates. Think about the resources you might use to fill in those dates. The majority of my tree came from Italy or the Bronx. I know I can find:

  • Bronx birth records for 1872–1873, 1876, 1888–1891, and 1895–1909.
  • Bronx death records for 1898–1948.
  • Bronx marriage records for 1898–1937.
  • Italian birth records (for most of my ancestral towns) for 1809–1915 with some gaps.
  • Italian death records and marriage records (for most of my ancestral towns) for 1809–1860 and 1931–1942.

If you found some of your relatives in one record collection, see which other years are available. You may have people in your tree that you can locate in that record collection.

You know the primary locations in your family tree. Check online again to see which vital records are available to you.

2. Sort by Death Date

I have tons of people in my family tree with no death date at all. They're easy to spot when you sort your list of people by death date. As I mentioned, most of my Italian towns don't have death records available for 1861–1930. But I also have lots of people who died in the United States, and for some, I have only a partial or estimated death date. It's time to pick these people out of the list and give them a fresh search. Maybe a new database has the answers we need.

3. Sort by Marriage Date

When I sorted the people in my family tree by marriage date, I saw a long list of people with "1813" as their marriage date. I double-checked the Italian website (Antenati) to make sure those records are missing. (See "How to Make the Best of the New Antenati Website.") What I found online makes me think the Antenati team doesn't know they made a mistake. They have the combined 1813–1814 birth records labeled as marriage records.

I'll focus on Americans in my tree and search for 20th- and 21st-century marriage dates. My sons have some English ancestors whose marriages I can search for, too.

4. Sort by Missing Names

Recently I mentioned that I record unknown first names and last names as a blank (_____). That's 5 underscores. This is a tip from Ancestry's chief genealogist, Crista Cowan. (See "These Tips Find Missing Maiden Names.") I can sort my list of people by first name or last name and all the blanks are at the top of the list. When I did a fresh search for everyone missing a last name, I cut the list roughly in half.

There may be record collections that are newer than the last time you searched for these people. Give them another search.

5. Keep a Running List

This is something I don't do often enough. Now I see how critical it can be.

On my 4th day of adding hundreds of people to my family tree from one Italian town, I got overwhelmed. As I'm searching for siblings or children, I leave open the record of anyone who needs more research. Usually that's a birth record with a marriage annotation in the column. I leave the document open until I research the spouse and their family from that marriage note.

Using this method, one person (like Vincenzo's wife) can keep me on the hunt for hours.

On Friday at 5 p.m., I was getting tired of the research and wanted to pack it in for the day. But I had at least a dozen documents open, each needed a lot more research. The only way to keep from losing my place was to make the following list of leads to follow next time:

  • add Angelo Michele Barricelli's family (husband of Marta Maria Salerno)
  • add Filomena dePierro's family (wife of Giuseppe Vinciguerra)
  • add children of Nascenzio Vinciguerra and Angela Gaudino
  • add Maria Carmela Santucci's family (wife of Agostino Gaudino)
  • add Anniballo Iscaro's family (husband of Rosa dell'Oste)
  • add Caterina Pasquarelli's family (wife of Martino dell'Oste)
  • add Maria Saveria deFiore's family (wife of Michelangelo delNinno)
  • get military record for Alvino Alfonso Salerno, born 1887, died in WWI
  • get military record for Gennaro Repole, born 1889, died in WWI

Those two World War I deaths came to my attention because of a note on their child's birth record. I did download the 2 Italian military records (see "Free Italian Military Records for WWI and WWII"). But the other 7 lines represent a ton of people who belong in my family tree.

I can't stress the importance of this list enough.

As you work through the first 4 ways to find loose ends, keep a simple running list of what you need to do next. Let's say I'm working on "add children of Nascenzio Vinciguerra and Angela Gaudino." It looks as if they have 6 kids, and some have a marriage noted. Let's say I'm in the middle of it when my research gets interrupted. This is when it's very important to add notes to your running research list. I'll have to add the names of the kids whose in-laws are still in need of research.

If your family tree is somewhat small, you can spend time on each family unit and seek out what's missing. But my tree is way beyond that. Currently boasting 76,611 people, I can't hope to make every single family complete. I can do it for my closer relatives, but not for everyone.

If you have any other methods for finding people in need of research, please let me know in the comments.

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.