Showing posts with label digitization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label digitization. Show all posts

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, November 13, 2018

It's Crunch Time for Your 2018 Genealogy Goals

Take another look at your family research goals for the year. What will you do differently with your 2019 goals?

I had the day off from work Monday. You know what that means, don't you?

Genealogy time!

I decided I would try to complete an item from my list of 2018 Genealogy Goals. That item was to "Fill in the 'Need to find' column on my document tracker." My document tracker is a spreadsheet noting each person with document images in my family tree.

There's a column for major items: birth, immigration, marriage, censuses, naturalization, death, and several more.

The last column is where I make note of which major documents are missing. If a person's census column contains 1910, 1920 and 1940, then the 1930 census belongs in the 'Need to find' column.

Since I was giving attention to all 1,686 lines in the spreadsheet, I thought it'd be a good time to get more detailed.

Your family tree probably has a lot of identical and similar names, too.
Your family tree probably has a lot of identical and similar names, too.
First, since so many people in my tree have the same name, I added their father's name in parentheses after their name: Lebrando, Alfred (son of Amedeo).

Second, I filled in everyone's birth year, followed by "cert." if I have an image of the birth certificate. I use the word certificate only for birth, marriage and death certificates. Everything else is a document.

Third, I put in other dates that I have reason to think are right, even though I have no document. Thinks about immigration. A census form will tell you someone's immigration year. But without the ship manifest, that's nothing more than a clue. When I do have the manifest, I enter "1909 (doc.)" for "document".

After a few hours (with plenty of interruptions), I completed this 2018 genealogy goal. For 2019, I'll set another reachable goal, like trying to find every missing census form in the 'Need to find' column.

The moment I finished this goal, I checked my list for what else I could do. I spent the rest of the day working on "Replace microfilm photos with digital document images". A few years ago, I had to view my Italian's ancestors' civil records on microfilm. Sometimes I photographed the microfilm viewer's surface as it projected a dark, blurry, awful image.

My next goal is to replace the poor-quality document images with good ones.
My next goal is to replace the poor-quality document images with good ones.
Now the same microfilm is available online in gorgeous, sharp, bright, high resolution. My goal is to replace the dark iPhone images (about 200 of them) with the great images I've already downloaded to my computer.

And when I add the improved images to my family tree, I make sure they're noted in my document tracker.

Soon it'll be time to make my 2019 Genealogy Goals official.

Here's what I've learned about annual goals over the course of this year.
  1. Your goals should include grunt work. Choose tasks you need to do to make your research better. But make sure you have a good chance of finishing during the year. Filling out my document tracker was grunt work. And I finished it.
  2. Your goals should include projects with a definite ending. Last week I wrote a nice biography of my grandfather. I want to write more of them for about 10 of my ancestors. That's got a definite end. I know I can do that. Keep your projects to a manageable size.
  3. Your bigger goals should be broken into chunks. One of my goals for 2018 was to log the info from those thousands of downloaded Italian records into a spreadsheet. That's too big a goal. So next year I'll break off a chunk I think I can finish. Like, "Log all the birth records from Colle Sannita" (my grandfather's hometown).
  4. Save things you may not be able to finish in a year for your Genealogy To-Do List. One of my goals this year was "Find my parents' connection". DNA tells me they're about 4th cousins. I've been trying to find their connection, but nothing so far. That's not a good item for the goal list. It's leaving me feeling disappointed.
Here are 2 things I'd like you to think about now.
  1. What goal can you possibly finish in the next 6 weeks?
  2. What grunt work, tasks or chunks of a bigger project should you put on your list of 2019 Genealogy Goals?


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Friday, October 19, 2018

3 Ways to Find Your Ancestors in a Huge Pile of Documents

You've downloaded thousands of vital records from your ancestor's birthplace. How do you find your people in all those files?

My genealogy research changed dramatically in 2017. I decided to put my U.S.-based research on hold. Why? Because a new door opened wide. Now I have access to my ancestors' birth, marriage and death records in the old country.

Finally! I'm able to take my great grandparents back many, many generations. So far, I've discovered the names of:
  • 4 of my 8th great grandparents
  • 7 of my 7th great grandparents
  • 34 of my 6th great grandparents
  • about half of my 128 5th great grandparents
And I will discover many more.

A brief explanation: FamilySearch.org ended their microfilm program. They used to send rolls of microfilm to your local Family History Center. You could visit these rolls during your center's limited hours and view them on antiquated machines.

But in 2017 they began digitizing everything.

Earlier, I spent 5 years viewing microfilmed vital records from my grandfather's hometown. I typed all the important facts into a laptop. Suddenly those thousands of records are available as high-resolution images online. Free! And so are records from the towns of all my ancestors. You can find them on FamilySearch and on an Italian website called Antenati (ancestors).

I started viewing images from my grandfather Iamarino's town and downloading them. One by one. It was going to take forever!

Then I learned about a simple program called GetLinks. This program runs on any type of computer. It's compatible with FamilySearch and Antenati. For a full explanation and a link to the program, see How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.

Now I have well-organized image files from all my ancestors' hometowns. They range in time from 1809 to as late as 1942. But they include rewritten documents of births and deaths from the 1700s. That's how I've found such early ancestors.

Simplify your search by organizing your downloads.
Simplify your search by organizing your downloads.

I'm limited to documents written as early as 1809 only because it's Italy. If your ancestors are from other countries, you may find much older records on FamilySearch.org.

So let's say you've downloaded thousands of images containing oh-so-many of your ancestors.
  • How do you find your people?
  • How can you efficiently pull out the people and facts you need? 
  • What's the best way to find your needles in those haystacks?
I'm approaching my 8 haystacks (individual Italian towns) in 3 different ways. You might choose one or two, or want to do them all.

1. Most time-consuming; best long-range pay-off

I'm typing the facts from each document into a spreadsheet. In the end, I'll have an easily searchable file. Want to locate every child born to a particular couple? No problem. Want to find out when a particular 4th great grandparent died? No problem.

But it is slow-going. I've completed about 6 years' worth of birth, marriage and death records for one town. I return to this project when I'm feeling burned out on a particular ancestor search and want a more robotic task to do.

There is another benefit to this method. Spending this much time with the documents has made me very familiar with the names in my ancestors' towns. I can recognize names despite the awful handwriting. And when a name is completely unfamiliar, I often discover that the person came from another town.

A well-organized spreadsheet is best for making records searchable.
A well-organized spreadsheet is best for making records searchable.

2. Takes a few extra seconds; pays you back again and again

Whenever I find a particular record, I like to edit the name of the image file to include the name on the document. If it's an image of a single birth record, I add the baby's name to the end of the file name. If the name is common, I also add the baby's father's name. (I use the Italian word "di" as a shorthand for "son of" or "daughter of".) If it's an image of 2 birth records or a marriage record, I'll add both names to the file name.

The benefit of renaming the files comes later. When you're making another search in the future, the renamed file can save you time. You can either spot the name you're looking for, or use the search box in that file folder. You can even use the search box at a higher folder level.

Imagine you're looking for my grandfather's name, Pietro Iamarino. You can search his entire town at once and let your computer find every file you've renamed to include "Pietro Iamarino".

When I began downloading the files, I renamed each file containing anyone named Iamarino. Now I can always find the Iamarino I want. Quickly.

Adding people's names to the file names makes the collection searchable.
Adding people's names to the file names makes the collection searchable.

3. Efficient, fast and fruitful; makes you want to come back

To my mind, this is the most important lesson. You'll be more efficient at finding what you need in this massive amount of files if you put blinders on.

Search with a tight focus. Ignore the people in the index with your last name. You'll get back to them. But at this moment, when you're searching for someone in particular, don't look at anyone else. Zero in on that one name and complete your search.

Use this focused approach and find your ancestors faster. The moment you find them, rename the file and get that person into your tree.

My many folders of vital records hold countless discoveries for me. But I've found that choosing one family unit and searching only for them is highly effective. Here's an example.

I've found the birth record of a particular 2nd great grandparent. I know their parents' names (my 3rd great grandparents), but I don't know when they married or their exact ages. I'll search the surrounding years for more babies born to this couple. Now I'm putting together their family. I'm also trying to identify which is the eldest child. Now I can search a year before the eldest child's birth for the couples' marriage. There I can find their ages, and possibly see a rewritten copy of their birth records.

With that set of marriage records and my 3rd great grandparents' birth records, I've now discovered the names of 2 sets of my 4th great grandparents. And if they weren't born too early, I may be able to find their birth records, too!

Having built out one family unit as far as I can, I'm even more eager to pick a new family to investigate. Sometimes I'll choose a family with a dead end, and work to find that missing piece of the puzzle.

Which method will work best for you? Or will you combine all 3 as I'm doing?


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Sunday, September 24, 2017

How to Share Your Family Tree Research with Relatives

It's time to create your family history books.
Maybe you started recently, or maybe you've been at this genealogy business for years. Either way, you've learned a lot about your ancestors.

You gathered tons of facts—births, marriages, deaths—and piled up a bunch of evidence. You've got ship manifests for your immigrant ancestors. Census records for everyone born before 1940. So much material that no one else in your family knew.

How are you sharing all this family history with your relatives?

About 10 years ago, I was still fairly new to family tree research. One cousin encouraged me to create a large-format tree to share with my fellow Saviano & Sarracino descendants. I told her, "I've got so much more to find!" She said, "There will always be more to find, but you need to share what you have."

I created a 2-foot by 5-foot family tree starting from my great great great grandparents. It goes all the way down to the present day (as of 2007 or so). I went to Fedex Kinko's to have 40 copies printed, which I gave to the heads of the many families on the tree.

At that point, everyone from my mother's side of the family knew what I was doing for fun. I became the go-to family historian.

But that big poster was all I ever created and distributed. And it is barely the tip of the tip of the iceberg (not a typo).

What about the rest of it? How do I share with my relatives the fact that our shared ancestor moved several towns away to marry his wife. Then they moved to the next town. Then they went back to his hometown. And finally they came to America with all their surviving children.

How do I let my father's side of the family know that our great grandfather and his brother married two sisters. How do I show them the many trips to America our great grandfather made before retiring in Italy.

Giving your relatives access to your online tree isn't good enough. We might love that pedigree view, but where are the stories? Where is my particular grandfather's timeline?

We genealogists have an obligation to document our work in meaningful ways. Then we must share that documentation with our cousins, aunts and uncles, siblings, and more distant relatives.

What to Share

No matter what format you use, you need to create family history books. First divide up your family into logical groups, such as:
  • your mother's mother's relatives
  • your mother's father's relatives
  • your father's mother's relatives
  • your father's father's relatives

If your large family demands more subsets than these, spell those out, too. But each of your grandparents is a great place to start.

There will be some overlap. My first cousins—my mother's sister's children—are as interested in our grandmother as our grandfather. So they will want two of my books. But my second cousins have no relation to my maternal grandfather. It's the other book they'll want.

In my case, my other first cousins—my father's sister's children—get only one book. Why? Because our shared grandparents were third cousins. It doesn't make sense to make two books out of what's ultimately one family.

Try thinking of your family story like a Hollywood movie. My two grandfathers came from neighboring Italian towns and wound up living one block apart in the Bronx, New York. What a marvelous coincidence! Unknowing neighbors in Italy, their children attended the same school in the Bronx and later married one another.

That would be a great movie story of parallel lives finally uniting. That's a story to tell in chronological order.

Now consider what you'd like to include in each book. Here are some ideas:
  • Standard genealogy charts and reports—family group sheets and small trees, such as the parents and many siblings of your grandmother
  • Vital records—images of the birth, marriage, and death records you've found, and the facts from the documents you don't have in paper or image form
  • Timelines—focus on a specific individual and list his major life events in a timeline format. Include some historical facts to give more meaning to his life. For instance, I'll want to mention the start of World War I because of its profound effect on my grandfather.
  • Immigration records—ship manifests and naturalization papers. If you're lucky, you may have a passport photo to share.
  • Stories—either summarize parts of an individual's life in narrative form, or share an in-depth story that fascinates you
  • Photos—your relatives may love seeing a family tombstone as much as you do. Include old family photos that some relatives haven't seen.
  • Sources—include footnotes documenting the source of your facts. A generation from now, a young relative who wants to continue your work will bless you for eternity.
  • Table of contents and index—your relatives will keep your book and look at it now and again. Make it easy to find exactly what they want to find. Tip: Word and other software can create a table of contents and index automatically.

How to Create the Book

If you aren't using family tree software, this is going to be a very tough job. But if you are using family tree software or you have your tree on a genealogy website like Ancestry or FamilySearch, things are easier.

Your first step after deciding which books you need to create, is to find a central figure in your story. For instance, in my maternal grandmother's book, I would focus on her maternal grandfather. He was my first ancestor to leave Italy and come to America. I think there's a very interesting story there.

With your central figure chosen, create a large tree of that person's ancestors and descendants. Or create trees of smaller groupings, such as his direct ancestors and only his children.

Create trees that will give the most value to the relatives you want to share your book with.

Now gather your documents for this person: birth, marriage, immigration, census, death, and so on.

Examine your family tree's facts and documents for this person. As you write out their timeline of events, do any stories present themselves?

Does research tell you they emigrated due to religious or political persecution? Was there an earthquake that destroyed their town?

Have you discovered your ancestor's first marriage and other children you never knew about? There's an interesting story!

Your family tree software may have the ability to create a book with the pieces you've assembled. If not, you can put those pieces together in Word or a desktop publishing program.

Anything you can digitize—documents, trees, stories, even video or audio recordings—you can include in a Word document.

How to Share the Book

If your document is far too large to email, put it online and share its location with your relatives. You can use cloud storage that's free.

If your document doesn't contain any video or audio, consider having it printed at a local shop or a large store like Staples. You can burn your big book file to a CD-ROM and bring it to the store for printing.

Several online services will turn your work into a hard-covered book. That might cost you lots of money if you need lots of copies.

This is not an endorsement, but go to Bookemon.com, and you can view sample family history books. You can borrow ideas from their contents and layouts. They also have inexpensive templates and a book price calculator.

You know how I didn't want to print my family tree 10 years ago because I'd only just begun? That's the beauty of a strictly digital family history book.

You can update, correct, and add to the book at any time. Then give your relatives a link to the "latest edition".

Look at you! You're a genealogist, an author, and a publisher!


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Friday, September 15, 2017

How to Create Your Ancestral Hometown Database

I've seen many family tree researchers get ecstatic when they discover their ancestor's hometown records are online.

For me, this moment came when I learned about the Italian website, Antenati. It has birth, marriage and death records for my four ancestral towns in Italy. Other genealogists are finding their ancestor's records on FamilySearch.org.

That's a lot of records!
How do you know what's in them?
A free computer program makes it easy to download these digitized records from both FamilySearch.org and the Antenati site. It's written in Portuguese, but don't let that worry you. I've written several times about using these records and the program. See:
If you've downloaded documents from your ancestral hometown, you may have hundreds or thousands of images on your computer.

Now what?

If you're looking only at each year's index and finding what you know you need, you're missing the boat. And that boat is overloaded with your ancestors!

My recommendation: Make a spreadsheet database of every important fact in each document.

My database-in-progress for several towns' birth, marriage and death records.
What's the point? With a spreadsheet of facts, you can sort an entire town's birth records by last name. If you sort by last name and father's name, you will see all the children born to your ancestor.

There will no doubt be ancestors in your spreadsheet that you never knew existed.

Here are 5 steps to creating your ancestral hometown database from your downloaded files:
  1. Examine the records for the fields you want to capture. For example, birth records may contain the baby's name and birth date; father's name, age and occupation; mother's name and age; their address; and the baby's baptism date. Death records will contain different facts, and so will marriage records.
  2. Create columns in your spreadsheet to hold all the facts. I keep birth, death and marriage records on different sheets in my Excel file so they can have different column headings.

    TIP: The best way to be able to sort your records by date is to keep the year, month and day in separate columns.
  3. Enter information from the documents into your spreadsheet. This takes time, but I found shortcuts as I did this last night.
    • I went through one year's birth records, entering only the baby's name into the spreadsheet. I put the baby's last name in one column and first name in another. (I record parents' names as last-name-first to help with sorting.)
    • On my second pass through the records, I entered the birth and baptism dates.
    • On my third pass, I entered the mother and father's information.
    Why is this better? I was always looking in one specific spot on the page for the information I wanted. It felt faster than going one document at a time, picking out facts from all over the page.
  4. Sort the data by any column to uncover hidden facts. You may find an unknown sibling. You may find that a man had several wives over the years. You may find that a family moved from one part of town to another.

    See Dr. Daniel Soper's YouTube channel for tips on using Excel. Many tips will apply to other spreadsheet software.
  5. Share your database! Years ago I documented the facts from the vital records for my grandfather's hometown. I gathered these facts while sitting at a microfilm viewer in a Family History Center, so I used a simple text file. You can't sort a text file, but at least you can search it. I shared this file, as well as a GEDCOM for the whole town, with other descendants of that town.

    Your spreadsheet can be a valuable resource to other family tree researchers. Once you're done, I encourage you to share it everywhere you can think of.
I completed two years of records while watching the Yankees slaughter the Orioles last night. I expect to get much further tonight because of the shortcuts I found.

When you have your database, find an appropriate Facebook group or the like, and put the data out there. Genealogy is a collaborative sport!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Are You Overlooking Your Family Tree Discoveries?

What if the you from several years ago could talk genealogy with the you of today? Do you think the two of you could help each other out?

You're probably thinking that you've got so much more experience in family history now. You could teach so much to the past you. You could set her on the right course. You could tell her everywhere she's making genealogical mistakes.

But guess what? Past you has a lot to offer today's you, too. Past you holds some keys to your family tree that today's you has completely forgotten.

Today, past me and present me had a surprising collaboration. Here's what happened.

it's important to digitize your notes as well as your family tree documents
Digitizing death and marriage records is one thing. But notes are just as important.
When I went to Italy in 2005, I brought a notebook. It contained useful Italian phrases and facts I'd gathered about my closest ancestors.

My family tree was very small at that time, and I didn't have many documented facts. My plan was to use the few facts I had to explain who I was to the cousins I was about to meet.

In the same notebook, I jotted down details from three cemeteries I visited in my ancestral hometowns. My husband took photos of graves, and I wrote the facts in my notebook. When I was able to visit with cousins, I wrote down a few details they were able to share.

How I wish I'd taken better notes! But I was afraid of looking rude by paying more attention to my notebook than to my cousins.

Take Time to Collaborate With Yourself

This morning I read that old travel notebook and compared it to my family tree and the cemetery photos.

Past me, who'd scribbled all those notes, wound up providing present me with clues I didn't know I had! For example, my cousin Gennaro said his sister Maria had moved to New York City with her husband and four sons. I'd written down phone numbers for two of the sons, but I never called them.

Using the names of Maria and her sons, I found documentation for them on Ancestry.com. Maria and at least two of her sons became U.S. citizens. I knew I had the right people because they all had the same address between 1967 and 1971.

I learned that Maria and two of her sons died not long ago. And I had never contacted them because past me forgot to tell present me that their phone numbers were in that notebook. I missed my chance.

your scribbled notes should be typed and stored on your computer so you can use them in your genealogy research
My Italian cheatsheet alongside cemetery notes.
This is a strong argument for digitizing everything you gather in your family tree research. Scan your official documents. Enter their facts into your family tree.

This is true for notebooks, loose notes, and recorded conversations, too. Preserve the information and make it searchable by typing it into your word processing software.

I don't want to throw out my 2005 travel notebook, even though my dog chewed it as a puppy. But it would be a terrible mistake to leave it in paper form only.

What Should You Re-read Today?

Next, past me is going to share old immigration notes with present me. When I took those notes, I didn't know if the people were related to me or not. I only knew that they had the right last names, so I wrote their facts down in a notebook.

We'll see if present me can make a breakthrough with that old, forgotten information.

To paraphase a TV ad campaign, "What's in your closet"?