Showing posts with label breadcrumbs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label breadcrumbs. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations

Your family tree is not reliable without sources. Don't let creating sources intimidate you.

When you started your genealogy research, were you noting the source of each and every fact? Or were you so happy to find grandma in the 1920 census that you rushed off to find her in the 1930 census?

Create your source citations by copying a few bits of information.
Create your source citations by copying a few bits of
No one is going to trust your family tree if it has no sources. If you're ignoring your sources because it's too complicated or you don't know where to begin, let's make it easy.

As of today, my family tree has 19,464 people, about 2,900 document images, and just 242 sources. That's because I believe in having the source be general:
  • The name of the collection
  • What it contains
  • Where to find it.
Where I get specific is on the document image or fact notation:
  • Title of document image: 1910 census for Timothy Kinney and family
  • Date of document: 23 Apr 1910
  • Where to look: lines 28–29
  • Collection: Columbia Township, Columbia City, Whitley County, Indiana census enumeration district 143, supervisor's district 12, sheet 8A
  • Image number: image 15 of 18
  • Exact URL:
Here's how you can easily create your general source citations and specific image and fact notations.

1. Find the Document or Fact Again

Can't find grandma in the 1920 census again? Aha! That's the main reason you must make note of your sources. Try to find an easy one to start with.

2. Copy the Exact Name of the Collection

Simple reference notes keep the family tree software uncluttered.
Simple reference notes keep the
family tree software uncluttered.
If your source is a national census, a passport application, or a passenger list, it's part of an official document collection. Put the exact title of the document collection in your source citation.

I like to use the same title as my reference note in Family Tree Maker because it's nice and short, easy to understand, and doesn't take up a lot of room.

3. Copy the Root URL of the Website or the Name of the Repository

Think of this as the address where the document collection lives. It may be, the New York State Library or Write down the basic URL or building name.

4. Copy the Recommended Citation Detail and Text

Document collections found on a website or in a book will usually give you a suggested description or "source citation". Take the suggestion.

5. Copy the URL of the Collection

Let's say the document collection you're using is the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. And let's also say you're accessing it on Go to the main page of the collection. This is the search screen for the collection. Or, if you find the collection in the website's catalog, it's the link that's in the search results.

From this URL, you can search for and find every 1930 census fact and document image in your family tree.

That's the basics of source citations! That wasn't so tough, was it? But there's one more thing to do. And it's going to take you longer.

Link to your general source, but pack all the specifics into the document image.
Link to your general source, but pack all the specifics into the document image.
6. Add More Specifics to the Document Image or Fact

How many census, ship manifest, draft registration card and birth record images do you have in your family tree? I have about 2,900.

Do you want your family tree to be your incredibly valuable legacy? Don't skimp on the details. All your document images need individual, more specific notations.

Yes, it's a big task! I devoted time to annotating my 513 census images earlier this year. I'm making sure I add all the details each time I add a new document of any kind to my tree. But my next task is to annotate my 337 ship manifest images. Work your way through, one type of document at a time. You'll get there.

Here are some facts to include:
  • Descriptive title
  • Date on the document
  • Document category (census, immigration, military, vital record, etc.)
  • Document collection title, and specifics from the page
  • Image number if it's part of a set
  • Exact URL of the image online
This level of detail makes my work easy to verify. Even without an subscription, the breadcrumbs are there. You can find the document in another repository.

Creating or fine-tuning your basic source citations should not scare you. Stop putting it off. Tackle them in groups and it will go quicker:
  • census sources
  • passenger list sources
  • military records, and so on.
You'll be the envy of every genealogy hobbyist you know!

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Friday, January 5, 2018

Start Your Rainy-Day Genealogy List

All genealogists have their top goals in mind. Trace their ancestors to the old country. Discover their great grandmother's maiden name. That's a given.

And I hope you've created your list of genealogy goals for the new year.

But now's a good time to create a rainy-day genealogy list. That's your list of leads you need to follow up on. It's those unexplored family relations you want to better understand. It's the mysteries you'd love to solve.

First, choose an obvious place to keep your list—a place where you won't overlook it, and you'll definitely see it a lot. How about the task list of your genealogy software? A notebook where you jot down facts as you find them? Or a text file on your computer desktop?

Next, look for breadcrumbs you've left for yourself in the past. For instance, has a shoebox feature. When I'm searching for an ancestor and see a document for someone interesting, I can put it in the shoebox for later.

Today I'm looking at a ship manifest in my shoebox for a woman named Giuseppa Sarracino who's married to Carmine Pastore. I have reason to believe she is the woman in a family photo given to me by my aunt. I've already found six babies born in Italy to a couple with the very same names.

Did I discover the woman on the right on a ship manifest?
This Pastore-Sarracino family is going on my rainy-day genealogy list right now.

Your list will help keep you from forgetting these interesting tidbits. When the day comes that you're frustrated with the genealogy goal you're working on, your rainy-day list could be the fun distraction you need!

Where will you start looking for your forgotten genealogy leads? Besides my shoebox, I have handwritten notes in different notebooks. When I go through those notebooks, I'm sure I'll find other leads that need my attention.

When I first started researching my family history, all I had was the Ellis Island website. I began filling a notebook with every immigrant who had a last name I knew or came from an Italian town I knew. Some of them made it into my family tree, but others are waiting impatiently in that notebook.

What if some of them are my overlooked blood relatives?

It's a brutal January in New York state this year, and tons of other places. You're bound to have a snow day or two. Wouldn't you like to use a snow day to explore something on your rainy-day genealogy list?

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Add Proof and a Breadcrumb to Family Tree Documents

Has this ever happened to you? You're taking a look at the ship manifest you saved for your ancestor. You had a hard time finding this manifest because your ancestor's name was so badly transcribed.

Suddenly, you realize there's someone on the first line with a last name you know. You need to see who that person is travelling with.

The people you need to see are on the previous page. How can you find that page online again?
We collect so many documents. Can you return to where you found them?

A Shortcut for Difficult Searches

Here are three options:
  • Perform a search for someone else on the image you have in front of you. Choose someone whose name is written very clearly, and include the first names of the relatives travelling with them.
  • If your relatives' names are written incorrectly, search for the names exactly as they're written.
  • If the top of the ship manifest includes the ship name, the arrival date, and the port of arrival, you can search page-by-page through that particular arrival of that ship.

These tips apply to census forms, too. If you can't find the page again by searching for your relative, search for the easiest-to-read name on the page.

And you can use the information on the top of the census sheet to find the collection that will contain that page.

Search in Vain No More

I'm working on a project that will:
  • Help me instantly find online any document I've downloaded: a ship manifest, census sheet, draft registration card, etc.
  • Allow other genealogists to view my source documents in place, retrace my steps, and see for themselves if my facts can be trusted.

My Family Tree Maker file contains about 2,400 document images. That doesn't count my photographs of people or tombstones.

I'm making my way through each media item, one at a time. I'm adding every important fact and the original web address of the image to its notes.

This annotation lets me—or anyone—return to the original file easily.

I started with census forms. I try to stick to a format that includes:
  • the lines numbers on which you'll find the family from my tree
  • the town, county and state
  • the enumeration district, supervisor's district, assembly district, block number, page or sheet number
  • the number of the image in the collection, such as image 2 of 45
  • the URL of the original file so I—or other researchers—can return to it

It's an ambitious project. I completed all 623 of my census images before I realized I should include the image number and the web address. So now I'm going through them again, finding each one online to record those two facts. I'm up to 1930, so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Next I'll annotate my 332 ship manifests. Then my 563 birth, marriage, and death records. But I have tons of downloaded Italian vital records I haven't yet added to my tree!

It takes a special kind of devotion to fortify your family tree and make it the best it can be.

But I'm trying.

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Friday, June 2, 2017

How to Use a Paper Trail to Recreate Your Ancestor's Life

Maybe I remember a long drive from New York to Ohio to visit my great grandparents when I was five. Maybe I have a single image in my mind of great grandma's kitchen. But that's it.
Pasquale Iamarino

Before I began researching my family tree, I knew next to nothing about my great grandfather Pasquale Iamarino—or Patsy Marino, as he was known. He lived in Ohio and worked for the railroad. Nothing more.

Genealogists enjoy piecing together our ancestors' paper trails and mapping out their locations. If we're lucky, we can wind up with enough facts to bring our ancestors back to life in a way.

Italian church records from the 1880s told me that Patsy and my other paternal great grandfather were second cousins. A ship manifest told me that Patsy came to America at age 20, heading first to his uncle in New York City.

Four years later, in 1906, he was working for the Erie Railroad in Steuben County, New York. In the rail yard he must have met the Caruso brothers who came from a neighboring town in Italy.

By late 1906 he married the only sister in the Caruso family, in Hornellsville, New York. Hornellsville was a boom town at that time, achieving city status that year, thanks to the railroad.

The Erie Shops and Roundhouse, Hornellsville, New York
When my grandmother was born in 1908, Patsy and his little family lived at 95 Front Street—a short walk from the railroad station.

Between 1910 and 1914 Patsy moved to Albany and continued working as a railroad laborer.

Then, suddenly, in 1918 Patsy registered for the draft in Youngstown, Ohio. Perhaps he had to move to keep his job.

He was a boilermaker for the Erie Railroad, working in the railroad roundhouse in the 1920 and 1930 census.

City directories show him on Dearborn Street in Girard, Ohio in the early 1930s. This is the same house I feel as if I remember.

By 1940, at the age of 58, Patsy retired. I'm closing in on 58 and wish I could retire! But my dad recently told me that Patsy had to retire because of lung issues. Did all those years as a boilermaker give him something like black lung disease?

Patsy on Dearborn Street
According to the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, "Railroad Boilermakers service and repair locomotives, and manufacture parts, including hundreds of items used every day in the railroad industry. They also perform welding on tracks and general maintenance work."

With today's worker safety rules, a boilermaker probably isn't at any risk of lung disease. But something incapacitated Patsy in his fifties. He lived to be 87 years old.

During his long retirement, Patsy enjoyed tending to his garden and his roses at the house on Dearborn Street. I wish I could remember him.

Friday, May 26, 2017

How to Run Your Genealogy Research Like Clockwork

Years ago I thought if I broke up my housework into smaller tasks, I'd be more likely to get it all done. Wash the laundry on Monday, clean the bathrooms on Tuesday, change the sheets on Wednesday—like that.

I found out a strict schedule doesn't work if you don't want to do the tasks!

But what if this schedule consisted of things you basically love to do—like all things genealogical?

Imagine you have two hours you can carve out of most days—say one hour early in the morning and one hour right after dinner.

If you apply yourself to specific tasks, think of the steady growth your strong and accurate family tree will see!

My challenge to you (and to myself) is to develop a Family Tree Calendar and use it to push yourself toward a better and better body of research.

Here are some suggested tasks to work in one-hour sprints:
  • Make an inventory of what you've collected. I keep a spreadsheet with columns for things like birth, death and marriage records, census forms, draft cards, etc. And I have one person on each line. This one document shows me what I have and what I need.
  • Organize your documents into folders. Hopefully you've got some sort of a system going, but think about how you can improve it in a way that makes it crystal clear what is where.
  • Annotate the documents you store in your family tree software. Your software probably lets you add notes to a file you've attached to an ancestor. Think about the family historian who will come after you. Annotate the documents in a way that would let anyone else find them the same way you did.
  • Find the missing documents for one nuclear family. Use your inventory of documents you've collected, focus on one family, and try to locate the missing documents. Tie up those loose ends.
  • Use a tool to analyze the flaws in your tree. Family Tree Analyzer is one such tool that will show you errors you didn't realize were there. How many can you resolve in one hour?
  • Fill in the missing GEDCOM facts. When you do locate a census sheet for a family, do you add the residence, date, and occupation facts for each member of the household?

Even if there are some tasks you truly don't enjoy (like beefing up your source citations), going at it for one uninterrupted hour can't hurt you.

Make a plan and use it to keep yourself on course. I've been known to wander off on many a tangent, documenting a very distant family simply because the information was there for the taking.

That's fine—but save the tangents for the weekend or other free time.

Try this: Spend one month treating your research like a paid job, and see how far you can go!

Let me know how you do. And tell me which tasks you added to your list!

And if you're a big fan of organization, read my Work in Batches to Strengthen Your Family Tree.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

How Do I Get There From Here?

Have you ever looked at a document in your family tree, let's say a census sheet, and realized you also need a family that lived on the same block? How do you get back to that census collection online (so you can see the surrounding pages) when all you have is the one document you saved?

You can look at the top of a census sheet and gather enough information to help you get to the general area where you want to look. For example, this 1930 census sheet is from Girard City, Trumbull County, Ohio, enumeration district 78-45, sheet 16B.

Top of a census sheet

With those facts I was able to use to easily drill down to the right link, containing 36 images. Because I knew it was sheet 16B, I was able to go right to image 32 and find the exact page I wanted. I can then go page by page to look for a related family that I believe lived nearby.

Searching for a particular census

But it isn't always that clean and easy. The top of the census sheet might be hard to read or the information incomplete.

Other documents are harder to rediscover, such as a ship manifest. This is the top of my grandfather's ship manifest from 1920.

A ship manifest with no ship name

It tells me that he arrived in New York on 29 November 1920, but what was the name of the ship? I can find a particular ship arriving on a particular day on, but if more than one ship arrived on that day, I may have a lot of images to look at.

To allow myself—and anyone who feels they may have a connection to my tree—to rediscover any of my saved documents, I add enough detail to the image in Family Tree Maker to make that search easy.

For a census sheet I indicate the line numbers to look at, the city, county and state, the enumeration district, sheet number, and image number, which can be a real time-saver.

Adding enough details to enable anyone to locate the original

When I decided to add this information, I spent a whole weekend updating every census sheet in my tree. Now I simply add the information the moment I add the new image. It's a practice that will pay off, and absolutely fortifies your family tree.

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