Showing posts with label citations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label citations. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Your All-in-One Family Tree Clean-up List

Use this checklist of 7 tasks to scrub your family tree clean.

I want to help you make your family tree better and more professional. That's why I've been writing these genealogy articles twice a week for more than two years.

Today we'll look at 7 types of family tree clean-up tasks. Together they can improve your tree in so many ways.

1 Names

Does every name in your family tree meet your standards?
  • Maiden names. It's a genealogy best-practice to record women using their maiden name. Let them have their own identity.
  • Unknown names. When you haven't discovered someone's first or last name, consider recording it as _____. This makes it clear you haven't yet filled in that blank. Credit for this goes to Ancestry.com expert Crista Cowan. I used to use the word "Unknown", but someone misunderstood that. They thought I meant no one ever knew this name. As if the person was living under an assumed identity.
  • Names only. Some people will record a person's name as Grandma Johnson, or Jane Dad's great aunt. If you put notes on people's names, you're not helping relatives and DNA matches to find you.
  • More than one name. I insist on recording everyone's birth name. I'll add other names (nicknames, Anglicized names, and legal name changes) as a second name fact.

2 Places

Make sure the place names in your tree follow a consistent style. Family Tree Maker organizes your place names when they're written the right way. It's easy to click a country, then a state or province, then a town, and find a place. And with a click you'll see every name associated with a place.


Once I saw how nicely Family Tree Maker organizes place names, I cleaned them all up.
Once I saw how nicely Family Tree Maker organizes place names, I cleaned them all up.

3 Media Files

Remember when you first got started in genealogy? I know I was downloading census sheets and ship manifests as fast as I could find them.

All those media files need a facelift. And it will make them believable and valuable as evidence of your ancestor. Here's how I mark up each document image in my family tree:
  • Write a caption. Start with a year to force media items to display in date order. Make it clear what each document is.
  • Add the date. Documents will almost always have an exact date on them. Add this to the date field.
  • Choose a category. Family Tree Maker lets me pick a category from their list, or add custom categories. Now I can sort my thousands of media files by type.
  • Describe everything about the document image. I add enough information to allow myself or anyone else to find the original image again. That includes line numbers on the page, a description of the document collection, and a URL.
  • Add a note. There is a notes tab for each media item in Family Tree Maker. You can type any information in there. Maybe you need to record who you wrote to to get this image.

4 Sources

I like to keep my sources simple. But I've been adding more and more detail to them.

I use a simple title, like "1900 U.S. Federal Census". A short title doesn't clutter up the person view in Family Tree Maker.

I copy the citation details and citation text from the collection. For example, for the 1900 U.S. Federal Census:
  • The citation detail is:

    Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.
  • The citation text is:

    United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.
  • The web address where you find those details and can search this collection is:

    https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7602
Having a neat, tight list of sources makes them easy to maintain and make better.
Having a neat, tight list of sources makes them easy to maintain and make better.
I like that I can click any source in my tree and see every person and fact that's associated with it. I have a goal to get rid of secondary sources—like other people's trees. I need to replace them with primary sources. My source list makes it easy to find the facts I need to work on.

For more on this topic see 6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations.

5 Filing

People seem to worry a lot about their document filing systems. Don't overthink it. Keep it simple and logical. Remember that you may pass your work on to a loved one some day.

What's logical to me is a folder for each main type of document:
  • census
  • draft cards
  • ship manifests
  • birth, marriage, and death certificates, etc.
I name my files, in general, LastnameFirstnameYear. Here are some of my file names:
  • RignaneseMatteoNaturalization1944-p1.jpg
  • CiottiMariaTeresaConcettaBirth1848.jpg
  • CoccaAngeloAntonioMontaganoMariaBenedettaGenerosa1stMarriageBanns1833.jpg
  • LucarelliGirolamoWW1.jpg
Because I follow a pattern, it's easy to see what a document is.


6 Backups

How fatal of a heart attack would you have if all your genealogy research disappeared?

Spread things out, but keep them at hand. Use your computer drive, external drives and cloud storage.

Make a backup plan for your genealogy files and stick to it. Remember that two backups are better than one. Many of my files synchronize to my cloud storage the moment they change. For everything else, I make a backup every Sunday morning. Without fail.


7 To-Do Lists

It seems like everyone has their favorite way of keeping to-do lists. Post-It Notes, a special notebook, EverNote. I'm fond of keeping a single text file open on my computer all the time. It's called Notebook.txt. That's where I have my:
  • Genealogy To-Do List
  • 2019 Genealogy Goals List
  • List of important families to work on
  • List of files and folders to back up each Sunday
  • and more
I don't care how you do it, but find a way to keep track of :
  • what you want to do next
  • what you were doing when you stopped for the day
  • what you'd like to do when you have the chance.
For more on this topic see Start Your Rainy-Day Genealogy List.

That was a lot. And it's a lot of work. But chip away at these ideas and your family tree will grow stronger from your effort.

Make these tasks into a to-do list and tackle it one bite at a time. It's worth it.

Please take this 3-question survey to help me make this content better for you. Thank you!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

5 Clean-up Tasks to Improve Your Family Tree

Stop! Don't add another person to your family tree until you read this.
  • How you ever looked at facts in your tree and not known where they came from?
  • Have you seen hints that made no sense for your person at all?
  • Did you ever need to find a document online again, but you couldn't because it was so hard the first time?
You can solve these problems and more. And you'll make your tree more professional and reliable at the same time.

These 5 clean-up tasks will improve your search results and fortify your family tree. And, in some cases, restore your sanity.

1. Add Approximate Birth Dates

In my family tree of 19,709 people, I have about 250 with a blank birth field. How can I expect a good search result if there's nothing to say which century they were born in?

For instance, in my tree there's a woman named Angelina Tedesco. But, was this Angelina born in 1920? 1840? 1780? That makes an enormous difference in a search.

Both parents are missing birth years. I'll subtract 25 years from their oldest child's birth year.
Both parents are missing birth years. I'll subtract 25 years from their oldest child's birth year.
I follow these rules for adding an approximate birth year:
  • If I have a birth year for the spouse (say, 1915), I give this spouse the same year (Abt. 1915—Abt. is short for About).
  • If I have birth years for a set of parents, I give all their children an approximate birth year 25 after the younger parent's birth. For example, if a man was born in 1920 and his wife in 1930, I'll mark all their children as Abt. 1955.
  • If I have a couple's marriage year, I'll mark their children as being born about the following year.
Granted, they weren't all born the same year, and I could easily be off by 10 or 15 years for some. But "Abt. 1955" will avoid any comparisons to someone born in the 1800s.

2. Fill in Probable Country of Birth/Death

I get tired of U.S. Federal Census hints for people I know never came to America. I can solve that by adding Italy as their country of birth and death even though I have no documented proof.

I'll be cautious about assuming everyone died in Italy. But if their children died in Italy, it's highly likely they did, too. And if I haven't added a source, I'll know this is an assumption.

3. Include Details for All Images

Lots of my relatives lived near one another in the Bronx, New York, from about 1900 to the 1960s. So, when one family is hard to find in the census, it pays to locate another family and keep turning the page.

But what happens when the family whose census you have was nearly impossible to find? Their name was so mangled and the transcription was awful. You can't even find them again!

You can avoid that hassle. Add notes to each document image when you find it. Make a note of how the name was transcribed (if it's dead wrong) and the URL where you found it.

Enough detail makes your documents retraceable.
Enough detail makes your documents retraceable.
Here's a great clean-up task—especially if you are sharing your family tree. Go back and add details to all the document images you've collected.

If you do one category at a time (census, ship manifest, draft registration cards, etc.), you'll be more consistent in how you annotate them.

Because my addresses are consistent, I can see  everyone associated with any given address.
Because my addresses are
consistent, I can see everyone
associated with any given address.
4. Make Place-names Consistent

When my ancestors were living in the Bronx, their streets had names like E. 150th St., Morris Ave., and Van Nest. I had so many families living nearby that many were on the same street or in the same apartment building.

Being consistent in how I type the addresses makes it easy to see when I have multiple families in the same building. Family Tree Maker starts suggesting places as I type. It makes suggestions based on what I've typed before.

If the program suggests the right address as soon as I type the house number, I know I have someone living else there. So I spell out each address consistently:
  • 260 East 151st Street, Bronx, New York, USA
  • 562 Morris Avenue, Bronx, New York, USA
  • 234 Dearborn Street, Girard, Trumbull County, Ohio, USA
  • Via Casale, 36, Colle Sannita, Benevento, Campania, Italy
5. Be Consistent with Sources

I admit it. Professional genealogists will tsk-tsk my sourcing style. But we can all agree you've got to include a source that allows someone to find a document or fact again and verify it.

I use a simple style for my sources. I don't want my Person view in Family Tree Maker cluttered up with 10 lines of text for each source. So the text that displays is brief:
  • 1860 U.S. Federal Census
  • 1861 Census of Canada
  • 1861 England Census
Or I use the full, exact title of a database on Ancestry.com:
  • New York, Naturalization Records, 1882-1944
  • Ohio Births and Christenings Index, 1800-1962
  • U.S., Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1914-1966
An example of a simple source note. This matches the database name on Ancestry.com.
An example of a simple source note. This matches the database name on Ancestry.com.
But I add more detail in the Sources tab of Family Tree Maker. In the Citation detail field, I'll copy the citation details from Ancestry.com. For example, for that last Passenger and Crew Lists database, the citation detail is "Ancestry.com. U.S., Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1914-1966 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016."

In the Citation text field, I add a bit more info from Ancestry, like "Sources vary by state: http://search.ancestry.com/search/dbextra.aspx?dbid=60882".

I don't often use the Web address field. But if there is a single URL that's the best place to find a source, that's where it belongs.

Finally there's a Reference note field. This is where I put the brief text I want to see on the Person tab. It almost always matches the title I used, like "U.S., Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1914-1966".

I don't want to have a unique source for each document. I'd have 3,244 sources! That why I put the exact URL and details on the image document itself (see #3 above).

My source is more generic. My image is completely specific.

An example of a more complete source citation.
An example of a more complete source citation.
Today I'm tackling my people with no birth year. While I'm there, I'm also adding Italy as the birth and death place for my 19th century and earlier relatives. I've already annotated my 544 census documents, but I need to finish my ship manifests. Then I'll move on to draft registration cards and the rest. I'm already pretty confident in my place names and sources.

It's a lot of work, but aren't you doing this to find and preserve your history? Isn't it worth doing well?

These are 5 clean-up tasks you can tackle. Make a start on each one so you can develop your style and be consistent. The longer you put it off, the more of a chore it becomes.


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Friday, April 6, 2018

How to Be Better at Genealogy than at Your Job

Results of Following Genealogy Best Practices, Part 2

Last time I wrote about the priceless benefits of documenting an entire town. Today I'm focusing on another pillar of my genealogy philosophy. It can help you produce a valuable family tree.

Stick to Your Organization Style

I'm a terrific on-the-job learner. I've become a whiz at organization and efficiency. I like to apply best practices from my work life to my genealogy life.

Here are my top organization and documentation techniques. They've become second nature, and they make my tree stronger every day.

Do what's logical for you and what you think will be logical to your genealogy research heir.

The short version of what's to follow is this:
  1. Categorize: create high-level folders to hold your documents
  2. Recognize: name your files so they say what they are
  3. Annotate: add metadata to the image files themselves
  4. Find: add source citations to your facts right away
  5. Track: Keep an inventory of every document you've found
Categorize: Consistent Folder Structure

create logical, high-level folders
Early in my genealogy days, I began downloading and saving document images on my computer. I created a main FamilyTree folder with sub-folders for the major types of documents:
  • census forms
  • certificates (birth, marriage and death)
  • draft cards
  • immigration
I added more folders as necessary: naturalization, applications, passports. The combination of my simple file folder structure and file naming discipline makes it easy to click my way to a particular document. I don't have to search my computer or wonder if I'm overlooking the file.

Recognize: Logical File Naming

name your files in a way that makes their content clear
For me, the best way to name any image was this format:
  • last name
  • first name
  • type of document (only necessary in my "certificates" folder)
  • year
  • if needed, the file name includes -p1, -p2, -v1, -v2 to distinguish between files that should have the same name
Here's an example from my census forms folder:
  • AusterJacob1920.jpg
  • AusterJacob1925.jpg
  • AusterJacob1930.jpg
  • AusterJacob1940.jpg
I make a habit of naming census files for the head of household. In Jacob Auster's case, these file names are crucial because Jacob used a different first name each time!

These examples from my certificates folder show me all I have for someone at a glance:
  • PisciottiLuigiBirth1825.jpg
  • PisciottiLuigiPecoraAngelamaria1stMarriageBanns1848.jpg
  • PisciottiLuigiPecoraAngelamaria2ndMarriageBanns1848.jpg
  • PisciottiLuigiPecoraAngelamariaMarriageLicense1848.jpg
  • PisciottiLuigiPecoraAngelamariaMarriage1848.jpg
It looks like I need a death record for Luigi Pisciotti.

Annotate: Useful Image Annotation

annotate your images with metadata
As soon as I download an image, I crop it in Photoshop, name it according to my style and save it in the proper folder. Then I right-click the file, choose Properties and click the Details tab. I fill in the empty Title and Comments fields. Whatever I put there stays with the image file.

For the Title, I enter exactly what I want to see in Family Tree Maker, like "1825 birth record for Luigi Pisciotti". In the Comments field I include the URL where anyone can find the original file. If it applies, I'll include the line number(s) of interest.

When I add the image to Family Tree maker, it imports those two fields.

Anyone finding a common ancestor in my tree on Ancestry.com also sees those important image details. To learn more, see How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images.

Find: Thorough Source Citation

create detailed source citations to add to your facts
I like my source citations to be simple. For all the census years, I name the citation as simply as "1930 U.S. Census". Most other sources I name exactly as they appear on Ancestry.com. For example, "New York, Index to Petitions for Naturalization files in New York City, 1792-1989".

But in the Citation detail field I add the description of the document collection, taken right from the source. Example: "Ancestry.com. New York, Index to Petitions for Naturalization filed in New York City, 1792-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007."

In the Citation text field, I copy more information from the source. Example: "Soundex Index to Petitions for Naturalization filed in Federal, State, and Local Courts located in New York City, 1792-1989. New York, NY, USA: The National Archives at New York City."

The important thing is to add a source to each fact as you enter it. Adding a birth date? Attach the source. Adding an address? Add the source. Immediately. To learn more, see Trade Up to Better Family History Sources.

Track: Sanity-saving Document Inventory

While this last item is important to me, some of you may think it's nothing but extra work. I keep a single spreadsheet of each document I've attached to someone in my family tree.

here's everything I've collected on one person

If I'd opened that spreadsheet this morning, I wouldn't have bothered downloading a 1907 marriage record for a cousin—because I already had it! You can't keep all these facts in your head. A document tracker keeps you from wasting your time. Plus it shows you what you're missing. To learn more, see Track Your Genealogy Finds and Your Searches.

Next time you download a document image for your family tree, think CRAFT. If you've already got your category folders created, think RAFT (picture actor George Raft flipping a coin). Recognize means name your files in a way that helps you recognize what they are in the future. Annotate means add details to the properties of each image so it makes sense even out of context. Find means add a source citation to each fact so you can find where it came from. Track means update your inventory so you'll always know what you've found.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

4 Ways to Fit Genealogy into Your Busy Day

If you don't have some time, make some time...for genealogy.
Don't stress about it. Do your
genealogy in stolen moments.
Does this sound familiar? You haven't worked on your genealogy in a while because you're busy at your new job. Or your kids had the flu. Or you haven't had a weekend to yourself in months.

It's easy to postpone your family history research, even though you love it so much. But if you put it off, your research plans are no longer fresh in your mind. It gets harder and harder to pick up where you left off. You can feel as if you're not getting anywhere.

You can break that cycle! By carving out even the smallest amount of time each day, or several days a week, you can keep your head in the game.

Here are 4 things you can do in a small block of time that will strengthen your family tree research.

1. Work on One Person

Choose one family member that's of great interest to you and look at their timeline of facts. What's missing? Do you need to find a birth record, death record, military record? Choose one type of record and do an online search. Important: Make note of where you searched and where you plan to search. Then you can pick up where you left off next time. (See Where Did Grandpa Come From?)

2. Stop Ignoring Sources

Take a look at your source citations. Are they good enough to be useful when someone has inherited your family tree research? Work your way through and improve them. If you tackle them alphabetically, it'll be easy to make a note of where you stopped so you can continue the next time. (See Trade Up to Better Family History Sources)

3. Get Consistent

Are you consistent in the way you record facts? Would you rather record last names in all capital letters? Do you wish you'd started with a different date format (I like DD Mon YYYY)? Choose one item and work your way through correcting or changing them. This can be an enormous task if you have several thousand people in your tree. But won't the consistency make your work so much better? (See Organize Your Genealogy Research By Choosing Your Style)

4. Add Value to Documents

Look at your media collection. You may have photos of people and lots of images of documents. Does each image, on its own, contain facts that make it more valuable? I've gone through each of my hundreds and hundreds of census images and annotated them. People borrow my images from my Ancestry.com tree all the time. They're getting a lot of information about where the image came from and which line numbers to look at. (See Who's Borrowing Your Family Tree?)

These are tasks that don't demand you spend several uninterrupted hours. If you're disciplined and take research notes, you can make progress on the big picture each day. In small blocks of time.

So where will you find that small block of time? You could:
  • wake up a few minutes earlier each day
  • give up one TV show you don't care that much about
  • bring your laptop or tablet with you when you're waiting to pick up the kids or see the doctor. Or while you get someone else to clear away the dinner dishes for a change.
Genealogy is a fascinating, time-consuming hobby that we love. But don't think of it as requiring six hours at a time.

With some planning, you can keep up your momentum and make progress. You only have to try.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

It's Time to Revisit & Improve Your Earliest Family Tree Research

It's not your best work.

No offense, but the well-meaning work you did when you first began your family tree needs your attention.

an Ellis Island certificate for my grandfather's arrival in the USA
Ellis Island's website was my first resource.
When I first began playing around with genealogy, the only resource I had was the free Ellis Island website. There I found my two grandfathers' ship manifests when they came from Italy to New York.

Then I searched for any immigrants named Iamarino or Leone from the same towns as my grandfathers. I jotted down their details in a leftover school notebook. When all those pages of notes became unmanageable, I bought an early version of Family Tree Maker and began building my family tree.

"Start with what you know." That's the advice every expert gives to a beginning genealogist. So you enter details about your immediate family. You spread out to the great aunts and uncles you knew as a child.

Then your family finds out you want to be the family historian. They give you details and tell you old stories. You add names and wedding dates and soon you're adding in the third cousins you never met.

If you've been learning and improving your techniques as you go, the assumptions and downright errors you made in your earliest days of family tree research might make you want to cringe.

Don't worry. But don't ignore your newbie mistakes, either.

Make a plan to revisit and evaluate what you did when you began your family tree. Here's how.

1. Find Supporting Documents for What You Know
  • Start with your closest relative born before 1940. That might be yourself, your parent, or your grandparent. This person should be recorded in the 1940 U.S. Federal Census.
  • Look at the information you put in your family tree because you just know it. You've always known it. It might be your mom's maiden name or the address of the house your grandfather lived in.
  • Now find this person in the census and see which facts you can verify with this official record.
  • Broaden your search beyond the census to include vital records: birth, marriage and death records. See how many facts you can support with hard evidence.

You may find that you had some facts wrong. Or, if your facts were good, now you have the evidence to back it up.

2. Look for Obvious Errors
  • Use your family tree software to examine a family listing—parents and all their children—for a family that's very close to you.
  • Choose a family with children born before 1940 so you'll be able to find documents for them. For example, you might start with your maternal grandparents' nuclear family.
  • Look closely at the birth dates you've given to every family member. Is the mother too young or too old to have had any of those children? Are any of the children's birth dates too close together?
  • Now find this family in every different census year that applies. Do the reported ages in the censuses support your information? Can the censuses help you resolve any errors you think you've spotted?
Over time, you may have added details to individual family members without looking at the bigger family picture for errors.

3. Weed Out Your Mistakes
  • Examine one family grouping at a time and work your way systematically through the parts of your tree that are closest to you. You could begin by focusing only on your direct line ancestors: your father's father's family, your father's mother's family, your mother's father's family, your mother's mother's family. Then move to your great aunt's and great uncle's families.
  • Check the details you've entered for each person in each of these family units. Doesn't anything seem like it no longer fits?

    For example, I found a Social Security Death Index (SSDI) record for a woman with the same name as my grandmother's first cousin. That record gave me an exact birth date and death date that I attached to this cousin. It was only when I found official Italian birth records for three of her brothers that I realized she couldn't possibly have been born on the date I found on the SSDI record. That record didn't belong to her.
    a two-second glance told me I had a big error in this family grouping
    Can you spot the obvious error in this family view?

    To fix this error, I removed the erroneous dates. Then I found a record that wasn't available until recently. Her Social Security benefits application record gave me my cousin's actual death date and place. It gave me her age at death, which matched my newly estimated birth year for her.
  • When you find what you think are more accurate facts, search for as many pieces of evidence as you can.

    For example, let's say your great uncle's given name is different than what you always called him. If you find his original name in one census, try to find it in other census years, naturalization papers, a ship manifest, or wherever you can.
Finally, document your sources for each bit of new, better information you find. Future you will thank you. And the next family historian will thank you, too.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Divide and Conquer Your Family Tree Research Tasks

Is your family tree research stuck? Are you so overwhelmed by certain tasks that you're avoiding them? Is a brick wall stopping all other progress?

You can overcome these genealogy blues with a simple plan.

Divide and Conquer

These brief spurts of activity will be as healthy for your family tree as a brief sprint is for your heart.
  • Work on those tedious tasks in simpler chunks.
  • Avoid your brick wall and forge ahead with another branch of your family tree.
  • Narrow your focus and score some big gains.
This method will keep you productive and happy with your genealogy hobby. And you'll be learning along the way.
"Fix all my source citations" is an overwhelming roadblock. "Fix my 1930 census source citations" is something you can tackle!

Make Cleanup Projects Less Intimidating

Are you avoiding adding source citations to your family tree? Is the size of the project scaring you away? Break the big task into smaller pieces. Set aside chunks of time to devote to the task, and keep track of your progress.

Don't let the overall task overwhelm you. Think of it as "today I'll start adding citations to all of my 1940 census tasks". Get as far as you can in the time you've decided to spend.

Hopefully you'll either be eager to move on to the 1930 census, or eager to come back tomorrow and finish up 1940.

Piece by piece you will tackle the task.

One Bad Branch Shouldn't Spoil the Tree

Are you getting nowhere with one pesky branch of your tree? Leave it alone for a while.

Focus on another branch and document the daylights out of it! Find every piece of supporting evidence you possibly can. You'll have an excellent example of how well you can do this. Your branch will be impeccable.

Plus, working on perfecting an easier branch will teach you about certain resources and documents. It may inspire you to take a different approach to your brick wall branch.

Need some more inspiration?

Now go get 'em!