Showing posts with label Family Tree Maker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Family Tree Maker. Show all posts

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Basics of a Well-Crafted Family Tree

If genealogy were a race, we'd all lose! Take the time to do it right.

We all know how exciting it is. You finally found that one document you really need for your family tree!

Let's say it's a census form that tells you an immigration year. You're so eager to find that ship manifest that you skip the details. You enter only part of the new information from the census form. You plan to come back and do it the right way. But what if you never do?

If you don't harvest this information now, you may never do it.
If you don't harvest this information now, you may never do it.
That census form may have a bunch of children to add to your family. Or it may have the wife's maiden name. But you might forget you have all those facts waiting for you.

No matter how much that next document is calling you, it's time for some discipline. Doing things the right way, every time, will give you a better family tree. It will help you avoid making mistakes.

Take the time to process each new document as you find it. If it's a census form, record the birth year, address, and occupation (if there is one) for each member of the household. Attach the image of the census to each person in your tree who's on that page.

Being thorough, and following 4 basic guidelines, will give you a well-crafted family.

1. Consistency

Choose a style and stick to it. This will make your tree more professional, and make you more proud of your work.

Names. Do you want to put last names in CAPITAL LETTERS? Then do it each time. I prefer to record everyone's given name. My great grandfather was known as Patsy Marino in America, he's Pasquale Iamarino in my tree. You can record the "also known as" facts separately.

Dates. Countries around the world use different date formats, so try to be more universal. I find that DD Mon YYYY is clear. 29 Jul 1969. 01 Jan 1856. Choose your style and be consistent.

Places. Family Tree Maker is great about suggesting proper place names as you type. If an old address doesn't exist anymore, I like to enter it how it was.

I'm consistent in using the word "County" in my U.S. addresses. I find "Hampton, Elizabeth, Virginia, USA" to seem like a confusing list of names. But Hampton, Elizabeth County, Virginia, USA makes so much more sense. (Note: "County" doesn't appear in this Family Tree Maker view, but it's there in each person's facts.)

Be consistent in how you enter your facts, and you'll reap the benefits.
Be consistent in how you enter your facts, and you'll reap the benefits.
2. Sources

Don't skip them! When you return to work on a particular family 3 years from now, you're not going to know where you got your "facts" from. How reliable are they? Should you start from scratch?

Record your sources immediately. It doesn't have to be hard. See "6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations".

3. Documents

Capture an image of every document you find for your people. Attach them to the right people in your tree. Annotate the images with information about them and where they came from. See "Add Proof and a Breadcrumb to Family Tree Documents".

If you follow the pattern you create, you'll always enter information the right way.
If you follow the pattern you create, you'll always enter information the right way.
4. Logic

I have a new term I want to trademark. GeneaLOGICAL™. We all need to have our logical hats on when we're doing genealogy. Your software program may be able to help with that. It can alert you when you've attached a baby to a man who's been dead more than 9 months, or a girl who's under 13 years old.

If you aren't using software that can alert you to problems, be on your toes. Did you attach a baby to its grandfather instead of its father? Did you attach the baby to the wrong couple with similar names? See "Organize Your Genealogy Research By Choosing Your Style".

So take your time. Be complete, consistent, and logical. That next document isn't going anywhere, and you want your tree to be ready for it.

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Friday, February 15, 2019

4 Types of Family Tree Errors Only You Can Find

Place names are a big challenge in your family tree. Can you improve yours?

I'm working on a new family tree project that I hope to share with you soon. My goal is to create visualizations of my family tree like you've never seen before.

I'm preparing the data for this project, going through long spreadsheets almost one line at a time.

But I discovered something along the way. In fact, I discovered lots of things: errors that no software tool can find for me. They're human errors that are obvious only to the human that made the errors. Me!

What I had was a very long list of every address or state or country in my family tree, and each name associated with it. As I scrolled through the list, I saw my mistakes: I had people associated with places I know they've never been.

It's easy to click the wrong suggested place. Time to find those errors.
It's easy to click the wrong suggested place. Time to find those errors.
1st Error Type: Wrong Selection

Family Tree Maker is great about suggesting place names as you type. Each time I start to type "Italy" I see the next suggestion is a place called Italy Cross in Canada. And I did it. I accidentally associated two 18th century Italians with Italy Cross, Canada by mistake. I made a similar mistake with a couple that lives in Argentina. Who even knew there was a place called Argentina, Alajuela, Costa Rica?

2nd Error Type: What Was I Thinking?

I had another man from Pennsylvania associated with Hamilton, Bermuda. It's marked as a departure, citing the New York Passenger Lists as a source. But there's no date, no image, and no travel companion. It seems like a complete mistake. And since this man is the father of an ex-in-law, I'm deleting the whole fact.

3rd Error Type: Inconsistency

I also spotted a style error. My standard for U.S. addresses is to spell out the word County. For example: 328 Superior Street, Youngstown, Mahoning County, Ohio, USA. In the long list of places in my family tree, I saw a couple scroll by that were missing the word County. It may not be a big deal, but I'd rather have it be right.

The people are gone, but their addresses linger on.
The people are gone, but their addresses linger on.
4th Error Type: Stragglers

While looking for an example of a place name missing the word County, I found another type of error. An address belonging to no one. It probably belonged to someone who used to be in my tree. But I've decided to limit the scope of some far-flung branches. Because I deleted a lot of people, I may have a bunch of straggling place names like 17 Halls Heights Avenue.

To find these types of errors in your family tree, you can start by browsing the list of places you've used. Family Tree Maker has a Places tab. RootsMagic has a Place List. I don't use FamilySearch, but I don't see a lot of control options there.

Do any places stand out as being odd to you? I ran the Family Tree Maker Place Usage Report to generate a list, but it doesn't include places that have no people associated with them.

Add this task to your Rainy Day Genealogy List or your I'm Bored Genealogy List. It's another effort that'll make your family tree that much stronger.


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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

3 Rules for Naming Digital Genealogy Documents

These 3 logical rules will add tons of value to your family tree and every document in it.

I'm a natural-born organizer. My strict computer file organization is easiest to see in my thousands of genealogy image files. Thanks to my 3 rules for naming and storing digital genealogy files, I can locate the original copy of any image in my tree in seconds.

It's worked so well, that what happened to me on Sunday was shocking. I was following my rules, but the correct filename was already taken.

It seems I have 18 people in my family tree named Giuseppantonio Pozzuto. Two were born in 1814. When I tried to save an image file as PozzutoGiusappantonioBirth1814.jpg, my computer asked if I wanted to overwrite the existing file. No, I didn't.

To get around the problem, I added Giuseppantonio's father's name to the file name: PozzutoGiuseppantoniodiDonatoBirth1814.jpg. I use "di" as shorthand. In Italian, it tells us Giuseppantonio is the son of Donato.

That's the first time my genealogy file naming rules hit a snag. Ever. That tells me it's a solid method.

Here are the rules:

1. Folder-Naming Format
  • Keep your genealogy files in one top-level folder. I named mine FamilyTree. It's synchronized with OneDrive, and I make a weekly manual backup, too.
  • In your main folder, create a separate folder for each major type of document you'll collect. Name them as simply as possible so you'll never forget what's in each one. For example:
    • census forms
    • certificates (for birth, marriage, and death records)
    • city directories
    • draft cards
    • immigration (for ship manifests)
    • naturalization
    • passports
    • photos
    • yearbooks
  • Make as many folders as you need. Now everything is centralized.
Simple, logical file folder names remove any confusion.
Simple, logical file folder names remove any confusion.

2. Image-Naming Format

Inside each of your folders, follow a consistent, simple format.
  • For census files, the format is LastnameFirstnameYear.jpg, using the name of the head of household. Example: KinneyJames1920.jpg
  • For ship manifests, the format is LastnameFirstnameYear.jpg. But:
    • When there are 2 sheets to a ship manifest, the format is LastnameFirstnameYear-p1.jpg and LastnameFirstnameYear-p2.jpg.
    • When there are 2 people on the manifest, you have a choice. Either duplicate the file, 1 for each person, or double-up the names. Example: BaroneNicolinaPetriellaDomenico1891.jpg.
  • For draft registration cards, the format is LastnameFirstnameWW1.jpg or LastnameFirstnameWW2.jpg. These cards have 2 sides, so they need page numbers. Example: MaleriEnsoWW2-p1.jpg and MaleriEnsoWW2-p2.jpg.
I keep all vital records together in one certificates folder. Because they're together, they need more detail in their file names. Why don't I separate them into birth, marriage, and death folders? I prefer being able to see every vital record for a person in one place. It's a personal preference.

The simple rule for certificates is LastnameFirstnameEventYear.jpg. Double up names for marriages, and use page numbers when needed. Examples:
  • BasileGiovanniBirth1911.jpg
  • BasileGiovanniPillaAssunta1stMarriageBanns1933.jpg
  • BasileGiovanniPillaAssunta2ndMarriageBanns1933.jpg
  • BasileGiovanniPillaAssuntaMarriage1933-p1.jpg
  • BasileGiovanniPillaAssuntaMarriage1933-p2.jpg
  • BasileGiovanniDeath1942.jpg
Having separate folders helps you avoid problems with duplicate file names. I have a census image named IamarinoPietro1930.jpg and a city directory image named IamarinoPietro1930.jpg. But because they're kept in different folders, there is no conflict.

Always follow the same pattern when naming your document image files.
Always follow the same pattern when naming your document image files.

3. Image Comments

You can add important facts to an image file when it's in a folder or in your family tree software. Take the long view. When you return to a file years later, or when someone takes over your genealogy research, these extra facts will be worth a fortune.

In your file folder, right-click an image, choose Properties and click the Details tab. (I'm not a Mac person, so I don't know what your choices will be.) Add a plain-language title and detailed comments. When you import the image into your family tree software, your added facts will come along.

I give my images the exact title I want to see in Family Tree Maker. I lead with the year so the images are listed chronologically. It's a very simple format: Year, type of document, person. Example: "1911 birth record for Giovanni Basile".

You can add a lot to the Comments field of the image's Details tab. I add enough detail so anyone can find the original source of this image. Example: lines 12-15; 1940 United State Federal Census; Connecticut > Fairfield > Bridgeport > 9-97; supervisor's district 4, enumeration district 9-97, ward of city 8, block 421, sheet 12A; image 24 of 33; https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/2442/m-t0627-00532-00508

I don't add a date to the image's Details tab because it can't accept the date format I use in my family tree: 5 Feb 2019. Instead, I add the event date to the document image within Family Tree Maker.

These 3 rules have served me well. I hope they'll help you avoid confusion, find files easily, and fortify your family tree.


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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Plowing Through My 2019 Genealogy Goals

It isn't to late to set some goals for the year. Set reachable goals and reap the benefits.

Goals give you a purpose and direction. It can be fun to let your genealogy research lead you wherever it wants. But goals lead to more productive research.

I set 7 genealogy goals for 2019. The first 3 are finite goals. They aren't "I hope I can discover…". They are "do this task until it's finished".

Here's where I stand with my first three 2019 Genealogy Goals:

1. Log the first five years' worth of birth records from each town into spreadsheet

This one is done! I want to create a digital, searchable database of every key fact from 1000s of documents. I downloaded birth, marriage, and death records from my 6 ancestral Italian towns. They start in 1809, and some go into the 1940s.

Because it's an insanely big project, I broke off a chunk—5 years of birth records—to encourage myself to get into it. I'd already transcribed a good amount of the 1809–1813 births, so this wasn't an accurate test of how long the whole project will take.

But the benefits are real. After I finish the next 2 goals, I want to work on the 1814–1818 birth records. That eagerness to continue is exactly what I was shooting for.

2. Search for all missing census forms in my document tracker

Dive in and start those goals. Look what I found in 3 sessions.
Dive in and start those goals.
Look what I found in 3 sessions.
I'm going through the alphabetical list of people in my document tracker spreadsheet. I'm focusing on which names have a missing census form in their "Need to find" column.

Right now I'm into last names beginning with C, and it's been a very satisfying three days. I've added a lot of missing documents to my family tree.

Sometimes while searching for a census form, I can't help but see the death record or marriage index that I was missing. So I'll grab those while I'm at it, too.

The important thing to remember is to stick to your process and handle each document carefully. My routine when finding a new document image is to:
  • Crop it in Photoshop if needed.
  • Rename it using the style I've developed. My file naming rules make it easier to find any document.
  • Add it to the family tree record of each person named on the document. That means each family member on the census form gets a copy of the census sheet in Family Tree Maker.
  • Add each fact and the source citation to each person. Each family member will get a Residence fact based on the census image. Those with a job will get an Occupation fact, too. And all facts get the proper source citation. Other facts can include immigration year, naturalization year, birth and marriage years.
  • Update my document tracker spreadsheet. This is my inventory and to-do list rolled into one. It's important that I keep it accurate.
One thing I decided after starting this goal was to be reasonable. If several search techniques don't get me the census I need, I will move on. The important thing is to make a good effort.

You can add notes and a title to every document image you collect.
You can add notes and a title to every document image you collect.
3. Enter every Pozzuto baby from Colle Sannita into my family tree

I started this goal last year. A DNA analysis method pointed me to a specific last name from my grandfather's hometown. Someone with this name is highly likely to be a direct ancestor for both my parents. Their DNA says they are 4th to 6th cousins. My true goal is to find my parents' connection by analyzing these babies.

I'm working my way through my downloaded collection of vital records from Grandpa's town, adding each of these babies to my tree. I add their parents and try to ID their grandparents. If they aren't connected to anyone in my family tree yet, I give them a profile picture that says "no relationship established". If I find their connection later, I'll be sure to remove their relationship graphic.

It's still January, and I'm having an insanely productive genealogy year already. I plan to bounce between goals 2 and 3 to avoid boredom. That'll make me feel like I'm accomplishing more, too.

It's still January, and it's only January. Have you set your 2019 Genealogy Goals?

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Friday, January 18, 2019

3 Reasons Why Transcribing Every Document Is Not Crazy

I'm transcribing an enormous collection of vital records for my genealogy research. Here's why I'm not nuts for doing so.

If your ancestors came from a small town, there was most likely a ton of intermarriage going on. And it's very possible that families stayed in one town for hundreds of years. Some may have moved to the next town to marry.

Because my roots are almost entirely in 5 little towns there, I've begun an ambitious project.

This massive project will connect me to thousands of relatives.
This massive project will connect me to thousands of relatives.
I discovered a software app that let me download massive collections of birth, marriage, and death records from my towns to my computer. (See "How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives".)

Here's how I've been using these document images so far.

First, I located the vital records for my closest ancestors: my grandfathers, all my great grandparents, and their parents. I put these images in my family tree software.

Next, I began searching for other babies born to my ancestors. I put their facts and documents images in Family Tree Maker, too.

Then, I started sifting through one town's birth records, pulling out all the babies with a particular last name. This is an exercise that I hope will lead me to a missing link. I need to find the one married couple who are the reason why my parents share DNA. (See "The Leeds Method May Have Solved a Big Family Puzzle".)

The thing is, I know there are countless relationships to me waiting to be discovered. That's why I want to put each image's facts into a searchable, sortable spreadsheet. Each time I discover a relative, I put that image in my tree and color the spreadsheet line green. That lets me know I've already found that relationship.

Yesterday I completed one chunk of this project. It was a reasonable amount of work—not overwhelming. That feeling of accomplishment has me excited to do more. It was one of my 2019 Genealogy Goals: to enter the first 5 years' worth of births from each town into my spreadsheet. (See "How to Set Realistic Genealogy Goals for 2019".)

After typing the names, dates, and places from 1,000s of documents into an Excel file, I realized 3 powerful benefits to this seemingly insane project.

1 Name Recognition

What do you mean, you can't read this?
What do you mean, you can't read this?
My husband can't understand how I can read these handwritten, 1800s Italian vital records. But going over every document teaches you:
  • which family names are common in the town
  • which given names are commonly found together (Nicola Domenico, Maria Antonia, Francesco Saverio)
  • what the street names were (and maybe still are) in this town
With repetition, even if the quality of the document or the handwriting are awful, you'll recognize names in a heartbeat.

2 Spotting Familiar "Faces" As You Type

Excel has an AutoComplete feature that's proving very helpful. As I enter several years' worth of birth records, couples are going to show up, having another baby every couple of years. Thanks to AutoComplete, as I begin typing the father or mother's name, I can see that I've entered their name before.

Sometimes I may be unsure of a name. There's could be a blotch on the page, or ink may be bleeding through from the other side. But as I start typing, the name I'm about to type appears in AutoComplete. That's a confirmation that I was making the right choice.

3 Lightning-Fast Searches

I saved the best for last.

Normally, to find a particular person, I have to look at the files for each year. I go to each year's index and try to find the name I need.

But with all the facts—names, dates, ages, occupations, addresses—in a spreadsheet, searches are faster than any genealogy site's search function. No online connection needed.

Imagine being able to find, in one search, each document where your great grandfather is:
  • the baby
  • the groom
  • the father of the baby
  • the decedent
My spreadsheet inventory of all my ancestral towns will be the single greatest genealogy database for ME. What can you build for your family tree research?

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Friday, December 28, 2018

It's Time to Make Your Family Tree Clear and Consistent

How can you find and fix genealogy inconsistencies? And which style should you choose? Read on.

Have you always recorded facts in your family tree in the same way? Or did you do it one way when you first started, and figure out a better way later?

Being consistent is important to the long-term future of your precious genealogy research. If you leave behind an inconsistent family tree, your work will cause more questions than answers.

It can be hard to stick to a format when you can't work on your tree that often. Make some style decisions now, and you can continue creating your lasting legacy.

Three Examples of Choosing Consistency

1. Fact Types

Recording a deceased relative's Social Security Number can be helpful. Say you find a document for a person with the same name, but a different SSN. That number can prove a document does or doesn't belong to your relative.

I wasn't consistent when I started this hobby. Sometimes I used the SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER fact in Family Tree Maker, and sometimes I used the SSN ISSUED fact. But the SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER fact makes more sense. You can record the number as well as the date and place where it was issued.

Yesterday I:
  • located each SSN ISSUED fact in my tree
  • added the date and place to the SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER fact
  • deleted the SSN ISSUED fact.
2. Immigration Details

The first records I collected for my family tree were ship manifests. Nearly every one of my ancestors passed through Ellis Island. Recording all these immigration facts is very important to my family history.

At first I used only the IMMIGRATION fact type, recording the date and place of arrival with a note about the ship name. Then I realized I could record the date they left Italy, too. That's written on the manifest.

But I had to make another choice. I can choose ARRIVAL, DEPARTURE, EMIGRATION and IMMIGRATION as fact types. Which should I use? A more experienced friend suggested I use EMIGRATION and IMMIGRATION for a person's first trip to their new country. I'd save DEPARTURE and ARRIVAL for:
  • Pleasure trips, like a honeymoon or vacation, or
  • Return trips, like visiting the old country to see your parents or bring back the rest of your family.
I made my choice and updated my fact types. I added in the missing emigrations or departures, too.

3. Names, Dates and Places

If you're using a decent family tree program, you can select how you want to display these types of facts.

Your family tree software should give you the option to choose how to present your data.
Your family tree software should give you the option to choose how to present your data.
People's Names

Some genealogists choose to display everyone's last name in all capital letters. I don't want to do that because I have many names that begin with a small letter, like deBellis. I don't want to lose sight of that.

Some people choose to display a woman's married name rather than her maiden name. I don't want to do that because:
  • my female Italian ancestors kept their maiden name for life, and
  • which name do you use for a woman who married more than once? The last name that relates to you, or the final husband's name, even if he's nothing to you?
Dates

Working for an international company made me aware of writing simply and clearly. Avoid local phrases and use international dates. In the United States we're used to the Month/Day/Year format (12/28/2018). But some countries use the Day/Month/Year format (28/12/2018). Others prefer Year/Month/Day (2018/12/28).

Think of how many dates can be misunderstood by someone in another country. Is 5/4/2019 May 4th or April 5th? It depends on where you live.

To avoid confusion in my family tree, I use DD Mon YYYY, as in 28 Dec 2018. Any English-language speaker will understand this, and many Romance-language speakers will understand it, too. Their month names aren't so different from ours.

Places

For a long time I wouldn't let Family Tree Maker "resolve" addresses or place names for me. For one thing, I thought it was silly to put "USA" at the end of a New York City address. Where else do you think New York City is?

As time went by and my tree's international members outnumbered the Americans, I decided adding "USA" wasn't a bad idea.

But one difference I've stuck to is county names. Leaving out the word "County" can lead to confusion. What if you have only the name of the county someone lived in, and not the town? Will that be clear? So rather than Beaver, Pennsylvania, USA, I'll enter Beaver County, Pennsylvania, USA.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure it's easy for anyone to understand, and stay consistent.

Finding and Fixing Your Inconsistencies

What brought this to my attention was a free program I've written about several times: Family Tree Analyzer. (Now available for Mac users.) When I ran the program and opened my family tree's GEDCOM file, I saw a few things on the main screen that I didn't like:
  • Found 14 facts of unknown fact type SSN ISSUED
  • Found 13 facts of unknown fact type OTHER
  • Found 1 facts of unknown fact type RELEASED
This free program will uncover inconsistencies in your family tree.
This free program will uncover inconsistencies in your family tree.
I wanted to find these facts and change them. I discovered an option in Family Tree Maker to Manage Facts from the Edit menu. I chose a fact type, clicked Data Options and saw a list of every person using that fact type. I visited each of these people in my tree and made adjustments.

The fact type OTHER turned out to be something I did because I didn't know how to characterize these facts. Each person using OTHER had been in the Japanese-American prison camps of World War II. These particular facts were the dates they were incarcerated and released. I changed each of these entries to use my custom fact type, Internment.

One man named Luigi was using the RELEASED fact type. This was the date they released him from quarantine on Ellis Island. Because it was a medical quarantine, I switched to the MEDICAL CONDITION fact type.

For other types of changes, you may be able to use Find and Replace within your family tree software. Be careful. Before you click OK to make a global change, think about what else might change.

If you're changing a county name, is there a person with that name? Will their name change from John Sullivan to John Sullivan County?

Running Family Tree Analyzer showed me a Find and Replace blunder I'd made. I messed up some Italian last names that are the same as Italian occupations. Everyone named Canonico became "canonico (member of the clergy)". Oh boy. I fixed this with some careful one-at-a-time finding and replacing.

Even if you're not thinking of your genealogy hobby as your legacy, think about your own sanity. If you don't work on your tree for a while, how many of these inconsistencies will make you say, "What was I thinking?"


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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

How to Make Custom Family Trees for the Holidays

On Friday I watched a presentation by a woman who creates one-of-a-kind family tree charts. (You can see it now.)

Her designs inspired me to work on a special family tree design for my sister-in-law. We're going to her place for a party soon. My husband is making a traditional Japanese dish they grew up with. And me? I'm carrying the bottle of wine.

Now I'm thinking, why not give her a keepsake she'll treasure? I can create a custom family tree chart for her. Wouldn't this be a unique and heartfelt gift for someone on your gift list? (If you answered "no", see How to Share Your Family Tree Research with Relatives.)

I don't own a separate program for making family tree charts. I have only what's built into Family Tree Maker. But after seeing that online presentation, I want more than Family Tree Maker can offer.

Imagining the Family Tree Chart

I'm envisioning a tree with my father- and mother-in-law in the center, his family to the left, and her family to the right. I'd like to add some photos and more details for special memories.

Now I need to figure out a good format to use. One where I can have design freedom.

Earlier in my career I had a lot of desktop publishing experience. I created brochures and newsletters for big companies. But now I design web pages, not print pages.

What software do I have that I can use for this? Microsoft Publisher comes free with my Office 365 subscription, but I've never used it. I launch it and start looking at templates. When I type in "family tree", Publisher offers me a PowerPoint template.

That can work. I've done some design in PowerPoint when I needed to produce PDFs for my current company.

I open up the PowerPoint family tree template, and it looks like this:

This family tree is a free PowerPoint template.
This family tree is a free PowerPoint template.

I can use these elements to make the type of tree I have in mind.

Print Considerations

Before I go any further, I have to think about how I'll print this tree. My husband has access to a plotter at work with a 24" maximum width. He'll be more than happy to print a chart for his sister.

You may not have access to someone's plotter at the office. But you should have some nearby commercial options. The first time I printed a big family tree, it was 2 feet wide and 5 feet long. I had 40 copies printed at Kinko's (now called FedEx Office Print & Ship Center) and gave them out to all the cousins.

Your local FedEx, Staples or UPS store can take your digital file and print it out on a big plotter. Check with them for their requirements and size limitations.

Design Time

Start by looking for inspiration. Watch the video linked at the top of this article, Google family tree charts, or check Pinterest. You're bound to find something you like.

I want to include my in-laws' wedding photo and any photos I have of their parents. I want to make room for my late father-in-law's 5 siblings and my late mother-in-law's 7 siblings.

I begin by changing the page size in my PowerPoint file. I copy the tree format, then flip the copy so I wind up with a bow-tie tree format. I take out the template's colors and go with grayscale. Here's how my template looks now:

You can duplicate and move pieces of the template to create what you want.
You can duplicate and move pieces of the template to create what you want.

I want to add some more space at the bottom for photos and captions. But first, I can fill in all the names I have. Here's how it looks with a tall stack of my in-laws' siblings in the center:

I used an unusual format to accommodate lots of siblings.
I used an unusual format to accommodate lots of siblings.

The template comes with a sample paragraph. I add some formatting to the paragraph so I can use it to add captions to the photos I'll choose.

I find a generic Japanese landscape photo to use as the background of my sister-in-law's tree. I fade it way back and push it to the bottom layer. All the text boxes and photos are in front of the image, so it doesn't interfere with anything. Here's my final product:

The final product didn't need a plotter. It fit on an 11"x17" sheet of paper.
The final product didn't need a plotter. It fit on an 11"x17" sheet of paper.

With the holidays upon us, it's best not to get too caught up in what's missing from the tree. Focus instead on the personalized touches you can add that will make your loved one so happy. Those touches can include:
  • A special family photo
  • Their parents' marriage certificate
  • A war hero's military record
  • A picture of the family home
Which family tree chart do you want to create first?

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My Genealogy Jigsaw Puzzle: DNA Matches and Vital Records

Like any big puzzle, it helps to start with the edges and find pieces that fit one another.

Last time, I told you about a DNA color-clustering method. It shows you visually how you're connected to your DNA matches. This method, and the online tree of a crucial DNA match, showed me where I need to focus. Right down to a specific last name.

You see, my parents share DNA. This was a surprise to them, and I'm eager to be able to show them exactly which set of ancestors they share.

I'm focusing on the last name Pozzuto in the town of Colle Sannita, Italy. There were a lot of people in town with that name. And they must have been distinct families, because a high number of men married women with the same name.

I began by looking at the parents of one key DNA match, both named Pozzuto. The tree is not well sourced, and much of the information comes from my 97-year-old DNA match herself.

I have 77 people in my tree with this last name, but that's not enough pieces for this puzzle.
I have 77 people in my tree with this last name, but that's not enough pieces for this puzzle.
I turned to the massive collection of Italian vital records that I have on my computer. When you've got all your ancestral town's documents on a local drive, research is fast and easy. (Find out how you can download a collection like mine.)

I've been trying to confirm the names and birth dates of the people on both sides of the Pozzuto-Pozzuto tree. I find a person's birth record, then try to find their father's birth record and their grandfather's birth record. The goal is to identify someone who is already in my tree with a blood relationship.

After adding several people to my tree this way, I realized something. I have a cousin in Italy who's about my age and is named Pozzuto. His mother's side of the family is related to my father's side of my family. So his being a Pozzuto is a coincidence.

But…I've always thought he looks like my cousin on my mother's side of my family. What if this cousin, related to my dad but with a resemblance to my mom, is the key?

I started digging into the little bit of information he'd given me about his father. I quickly found his father's parents' 1932 marriage documents. I learned my cousin's grandparents' names and kept going until I had some of his great grandparents' names.

But I couldn't tie this Pozzuto family to that of my DNA match. Time for a new strategy.

Last summer I read about a genealogist's massive effort to build out family trees for everyone in his DNA match list. I think the Pozzuto family is my key. Why not put together every Pozzuto family sitting in my collection of vital records?

That's how I built a tree of 15,000 people from my maternal grandfather's hometown. I took the information from each vital record and entered people into a Family Tree Maker file. I placed babies with their parents. I found the parents' marriage records and gave them their parents. After a while, all the families fit together.

These are some of the files I've identified with this name so far. Lots more work to do!
These are some of the files I've identified with this name so far. Lots more work to do!
I'm going to pick a year, like 1860, and find each Pozzuto baby born in the town. I'll put them in my tree and give them my "no relationship established" marker (find out why that's important). As I go from year to year, I'll find babies that are siblings to the babies I found earlier. I'll build each family.

This will take lots of hours, but I'll wind up grouping together Pozzuto families. Some of them will be people I have in my tree already. Eventually I will find a direct line to my DNA match.

Still, that's not the goal. I need to find someone in that gene pool who married someone with a last name from my mother's side of the family.

All my ancestors came from neighboring towns. The prospect of marrying someone from the next town is very real. I've seen it. I'm eager to find a girl from Colle Sannita who married a guy from either Baselice or Pastene (most likely).

It's exciting to have all those documents waiting for me to read them. The answers are there! I simply need to dig and dig until I find them.

Can you do this with your ancestors' towns and your DNA matches?


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Friday, November 9, 2018

5 Steps to Writing Your Ancestor's Life Story

You've got the raw materials. Now let's shape them into a remembrance of your ancestor.

Have you ever thought of writing about your family history? Do you have an ancestor who's interesting enough to write a whole book about, but you don't know where to start?

It's very possible you haven't started because the whole project seems too big.

Your tree on Ancestry.com has a LifeStory view.
Your tree on Ancestry.com has a
LifeStory view.
Let's end that problem here and now. Stop thinking of your ancestor's story as a book. Don't even think about it as a short story.

Break things down to 5 simple steps and watch the project take on a life of its own. To show you this simple process, I'll use my grandfather Adamo Leone as an example. Since he was a World War I veteran, this is good timing.

Step 1: Gather Basic Facts

I've gathered almost every major document possible for my grandfather. Only his naturalization papers are missing. I'll start this process by looking at this facts chronologically.

In my Family Tree Maker software I can view a timeline of every recorded fact. On Ancestry.com I can view his "LifeStory".

No matter how you view your collected facts, this is where you'll begin. Use whatever word processing software you prefer. Put your ancestor's name at the top and start a bulleted list using the simple format of Date: Event.

Family Tree Maker has a nice timeline view. Does your software?
Family Tree Maker has a nice
timeline view. Does your software?
Copy the main facts, in order, into your outline. Try to use complete sentences, but don't worry about making things perfect. If you're inspired to add a sentence or two to describe something about a fact, go right ahead.

Step 2: Add Historical Context

My grandfather fought in World War I and was a prisoner of war in Austria for a year. I've gathered facts about the battle where he and 300,000 other Italian soldiers were captured. Earlier this year I went to Italy and photographed his Italian military record. That document is packed with dates I can add to his timeline.

I'll add the name and date of his battle. I'll add the dates of his imprisonment. I'll add the time he spent recuperating before returning to New York.

I'll add some facts I've gathered about the places he worked or owned a shoe store.

In short, I'll try to paint a picture of what was going on in my grandfather's life and in the world.

Step 3: Add Documents and Photos

You don't want to make your file too big to share. So don't add every document you've collected to this file.

There's probably no one who cares as much about every single census record as you do. Be conservative as you add images to your ancestor's life story.

Place some photos and document images where they belong in the timeline.

When you break it down, writing your ancestor's story can be pretty easy.
When you break it down, writing your ancestor's story can be pretty easy.
Step 4: Personalize Facts with Basic Details

Now that you've got so many facts listed in chronological order, it won't be hard to make them more fun to read.

Go through all the facts one by one. Add words to make more complete sentences. Add details that you know from memory or from family stories.

For instance, when my grandfather had his own shoe repair store, he once made shoes for the famous actress Gloria Swanson. She was only 5’1” tall and had tiny feet. She wore a size 4 shoe. Sometimes he would make sample shoes for her. If there were any that she didn’t want, Adamo brought them home to his wife, Mary. No matter how tiny the sample shoes were, she would cram her feet in there and wear them proudly. Eventually he stopped bringing them home, maybe because he saw how much pain they caused his wife.

Step 5: Add Memories

Step outside of your list of dates. After all the facts, start writing some of your personal memories about your ancestor. If you're too young to remember them, ask your parents or older relatives for their memories.

When I think about my grandfather, I mostly think about when I was a little girl—even though I was 28 when he died.

I remember being in my grandfather’s house for every holiday. The house was actually an apartment building. He and my grandmother lived upstairs, and my great grandparents lived downstairs. As kids, we were running up and down those stairs all the time. My grandfather would take a chair and sit in the hall outside his apartment. All he ever said, in Italian, was something that sounded like "sorda sord". I understood it to mean "quiet down, stop running, behave". Now I think he was saying "sotto, sotto", short for sottovoce: whisper or quiet down.

Put each story in a separate paragraph. Once you're done, arrange those paragraphs in chronological order as best you can.

Now all you need is an ending. It may be a quote from the person or a quick summary of their life.

My grandfather was a quiet man who always had a smile on his face. He loved his family and his life in his adopted country. How I wish I could have him with me when I've gone to visit his hometown in Italy. But, of course, I do feel his presence when I'm there.

You can complete a life story for one ancestor in a single day. Where and how will you share them? Consider:
  • saving the file as a PDF so it's easy to share
  • adding the file to your family tree
  • printing the file to create a booklet to give to your interested relatives
  • publishing the contents on your blog or your Facebook page.
Several years ago I went to a seminar about writing your ancestor's story. I was focusing on my great grandfather. But I never wrote his story. I didn't know how to dive in.

But now I've created this story about my grandfather so easily. (Here's how it turned out.) There's nothing to stop me from doing the same for:
  • my great grandfather
  • my other grandfather
  • my parents
  • and anyone else for whom I've collected enough facts.
What's stopping you?


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Friday, September 14, 2018

One Report, Endless Possibilities for Improving Your Family Tree

Update: Family Tree Analyzer is now available for Mac.

Go to ftanalyzer.com to download Family Tree Analyzer for free.
Family Tree Analyzer
It's always fun to create an up-to-date GEDCOM from my family tree and get the latest insights from Family Tree Analyzer.

I've written about this free PC-based program several times now (see links at the bottom of this article). Today let's look at how you can use its Main Lists tab to produce an all-in-one report.

First, your family tree software should have an export option. You can use the export option to create a GEDCOM. If you keep your family tree online only, and not in desktop software, you've given up some control of your family tree. Ancestry.com lets you export a GEDCOM from your online tree, but other sites, like FamilySearch.org, do not.

Second, there are other ways to do what I'm about to describe besides using Family Tree Analyzer. But to me, this program is the best way to do it. (Do a Google search for "convert GEDCOM to spreadsheet".)

Now let me show you what you can do with an all-in-one report from Family Tree Analyzer.

After loading your GEDCOM in Family Tree Analyzer, click Main Lists.
After loading your GEDCOM in Family Tree Analyzer, click Main Lists.
Launch Family Tree Analyzer and open your most recent GEDCOM file. The software will analyze your GEDCOM for several facts.

When it's finished, click the Main Lists tab. With the Individuals tab clicked, you'll see a table containing every person and fact in your tree!

Click the Export menu at the top of the program window to generate a "csv" file. This is a file you can open with any spreadsheet software, like Excel.

Excel gives you tools to sift, sort and manipulate the data any way you like. But I don't want to turn this into a long Excel tutorial. If you don't know how to filter and sort your contents, here's a good, short YouTube video. Jump ahead to 1:44 and watch until 2:24. Short and sweet.

In your spreadsheet, choose a Fact Type (column E) to filter by, such as Occupation. Now click Excel's Sort button and sort by Fact Comment (column H).

Now you have:
  • a simple view of all the occupations in your family tree
  • an alphabetical list of what you typed in for the description.

I'd like to do 2 things with the occupation descriptions:

1. Fix Errors. I can scroll down the list and scan for typos. In the image below, you can see there's an address instead of an occupation. I can fix that. In my family tree software, I'll go to the person named in columns B and C. It turns out I'd entered an address for the place of work, but left out the word "dentist" for these 2 men.
A filtered, sorted spreadsheet of your family tree facts simplifies a lot of tasks.
A filtered, sorted spreadsheet of your family tree facts simplifies a lot of tasks.

2. Complete My Job Translations. Most of my genealogy research work is in Italian documents. I thought it was cool to enter a person's occupation in Italian, so I made a separate translation list for my own use. But one day I realized there's a Find and Replace function in Family Tree Maker. So now I'm including the English translation in parentheses, like this: "calzolaio (shoemaker)".

Family Tree Maker is smart enough to make suggestions as I type in a field. So if I type "calz", it suggests "calzolaio (shoemaker)".

But I'll bet I overlooked a lot of jobs when I did my find and replace. This spreadsheet helps me find those untranslated Italian words, like agrimensore, benestante, eremite, and so on. Now I can finish this translation task and make my family tree more valuable for myself and others.

Let's pick another Fact Type.
  1. Click the Filter button at the top of column E.
  2. Click Select All to make every fact type available again.
  3. Click it again to uncheck the whole list.
  4. Now click to select the Birth fact type and click OK.
  5. Click the Sort button and sort by Fact Location, column G.
Scroll down through the alphabetical list of all the birth locations. Do you see a lot of blank locations toward the bottom? In a recent article (see "5 Clean-up Tasks to Improve Your Family Tree"), I explained the value of having approximate birth dates and places in your tree. It can give you better hints and search results.

For example, I have a man named Salvatore Martuccio who was born in about 1873. I don't want to see a hint for finding him in the 1880 census in America when he and his family were always in Italy. So I need to add Italy as his place of birth. I think I know which town he was born in, but I have no documentation. So I'll keep it loose and say he was born in Italy.

This spreadsheet makes it easier to find facts—and missing facts—so I can finish my clean-up tasks.

Here's another idea. I'll filter the Fact Type column by Immigration and sort by Fact Comment. When I first started recording immigration facts in my family tree, I used this format:

Arrived aboard the [ship name] with [wife, children, brother, etc.] to join [person's name and relationship] at [address].

Then I realized I could use the Emigration fact type to say:

"Left on the [ship name] to go to [destination city]."

With the ship name in the emigration or departure field, I could shorten my immigration or arrival description to:

"Arrived with [wife, children, brother, etc.] to join [person's name and relationship] at [address]."

I can use this filtered and sorted spreadsheet to find all the descriptions I want to edit in Family Tree Maker. Hurray! More work to do!

I'd like you to think of this method as a way of seeing everything that's hidden from plain sight in your family tree. Work on what's important to you. No matter how much you decide to correct, improve or simplify, you'll wind up with a better, stronger, more reliable family tree.

So filter, sort, and see how much you can accomplish!


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