Showing posts with label errors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label errors. Show all posts

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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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?

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.


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 11, 2018

3 Tricks for Better Genealogy Search Results

When your family won't turn up, try some tricky searches.

How many times have you searched for your relative in a set of documents and found nothing? Or maybe you found a ton of results that looked like junk to you.

There's a good chance that the search results are bad because the transcription was bad. Did the volunteer transcriber have trouble reading the bad handwriting? Did they enter dramatically wrong data into the system?

Your search is doomed to fail, right? Not necessarily.

If you use partial searches, related searches and detailed searches, you may find your family.

1. Partial searches

It was common for our ancestors to have a first name and a middle name. But how were they identified on the census form? Did the person providing the information know them by their middle name only? Or by an adopted name in their new country?

Try leaving their first name out of your search completely. Fill in their age and place of birth, but use only their last name.

Try the opposite, too. I had more luck finding my grandfather on a census with only his first name of Adam. The census-taker wrote his last name in a way I hadn't expected.

Simplify your search. Toss out the extras, and your results may improve.
Simplify your search. Toss out the extras, and your results may improve.
2. Related searches

When a family is tough to find, look at the kids. The particular combination of children's names in this family can be the key to finding them.

Do a search that includes all the kids' names. Leave off the last name and let the search focus on finding those kids together.

You can also try using the husband and wife's first names only. That combination may be what does the job.

3. Detailed searches

I'm having trouble finding my great grandfather's naturalization papers. His name often causes me problems. His given name was Pasquale Iamarino, but on some documents he is Patsy Marino. Or a combination of those names.

So I searched using his exact birth date. I didn't find him. I also searched using his birth year and town of birth, but no name.

His naturalization isn't showing up yet. But, I once found his wife's brothers on ship manifests by searching for their last name and town of birth only.

Here's an example using Pasquale Iamarino. I did a general search of all categories on I entered only his last name, his town of origin and his exact year of birth.

The results were terrific. In fact, they include one new result that I never expected to find. It's the claim ID for his railroad retirement pension. I'll have to buy a copy of it from the National Archives at Atlanta (why there?), but this is brand new information.

So many misspellings, but the results are all for my great grandfather.
So many misspellings, but the results are all for my great grandfather.
My dad says Pasquale may have had black lung disease from years of cleaning out the furnace of coal-burning train engines. He had to retire early on disability. This pension claim may tell me a lot more about what happened to him.

Also, the Suggested Records in the right column of my results are very impressive! Despite all the spelling variations, that exact birth year seems to have done wonders for my search. All those records belong to my great grandfather.

The point is to experiment. Don't give up if the results don't look promising. All these genealogical records are a gigantic database. You may need to slice and dice that database to get past bad transcriptions and misspellings.

Give it a try the very next time you don't get the results you want. Do a partial search, add in related names, or toss out the names and plug in specific facts.

Working on your family tree is a big puzzle. Clever searches are yet another piece of the puzzle.

Don't get frustrated. Get clever.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

How to Find Errors in Your Family Tree

Update: Family Tree Analyzer is now available for Mac.

The mission of this blog is to encourage genealogists to improve their family trees. To fortify your family tree means to:
  • Use the best sources for your facts.
  • Locate as many pieces of documentation as possible.
  • Analyze your tree for errors and fix them.
  • Add thorough, consistent, provable facts throughout your tree.

This one report shows me how many great grandparents I've found for my family tree.
This quick report lets me see the oldest direct ancestors in my tree.

The more your tree grows, the harder it can be to find its errors. Maybe you added lots of facts when you were first building your tree and didn't add any sources. Maybe you borrowed from someone else's tree and later realized they were wrong. Or maybe you accidentally transposed the numbers in a bunch of birth years.

Family tree errors can happen to a professional genealogist as well as an excited newcomer.

How can you find the errors when your tree is big and you've been working on it for years? How do you find a handful of needles in a haystack?

Reporting Software

Reporting tools can point out all kinds of family tree errors, showing you exactly where to jump in and start fixing.

I've written about the free software tool called Family Tree Analyzer (FTA) twice this year. (See Why You Should Be Using the Free "Family Tree Analyzer" and Run This Genealogy Report To Help Clean Up Your Dates to download the software and see what it's about.)

Get the latest version from the source: Go to the Software.Informer website for free GEDCOM analyzers that work on Mac or Windows.
I knew I'd barely scratched the surface of what FTA can do. Now I'm using it to identify a variety of errors I can fix in my family tree.

The first step is to run your family tree software and export a standard GEDCOM file. This is the agreed-upon standard that makes your family research transportable and sharable.

Then run FTA and import your GEDCOM. The first thing you'll see is a long summary of the types of facts found in your tree. My favorite part is this list:
  • Direct Ancestors: 189
  • Blood Relations: 1,451
  • Married to Blood or Direct Relation: 541
  • Related by Marriage: 12,452
Click the Data Errors tab. You might see a long list of errors. Some are more important than others, so click the Clear All button. Now click to select one type of error, such as Birth before father aged 13.

My tree has nearly 20,000 people, and I discovered the majority of them in old Italian vital records. Some of the documents had errors. Others had conflicting information. In tons of cases, I had no age or birth year for parents, so I chose to make them 25 years older than their oldest child.

For Maria Giuseppa Verzino, shown in this error report, I have evidence that she was born in 1799. But her father Paolo has a birth year of "About 1791".
An example of an error report showing something that's easy to fix.
Error report for seriously under-aged fathers.

I try to be very consistent in my family tree. Whenever I see "About" for someone's birth year, I know that I subtracted 25 from the birth year of the person's oldest child. But maybe I found more of their children later. Maybe when I found Maria Giuseppa and her birth year of 1799, I forgot to update her parents' birth years. Maria Giuseppa probably has a sibling born in 1816. When I recorded that sibling, I subtracted 25 from 1816 and marked the parents as being born "About 1791".

This is easy for me to fix. I can go to Paolo Verzino in my tree and see if I've found any children born before Maria Giuseppa in 1799. If not, Paolo and his wife's birth years should be updated to "About 1774".

That's one less needle in the haystack of errors.

Now uncheck that error and select another one, like Marriage after death. I have one of these errors. My family tree says that Giuseppe Antonio delGrosso was married on 11 December 1859. But I have his death recorded as "Before Dec 1859". That needs to be looked at.

Work Through the Errors

You can work your way through the errors and correct them one by one.

FTA contains a lot of tabs and menus. Click them to see what may be useful to you. The Facts tab can show all of your direct-line ancestors in a list. Choose only Direct Ancestors in the Relationship Types section. Then choose any fact, such as Birth. Click Show only the selected Facts for Individuals.

The resulting table shows me at a glance that I've identified two sets of my 9th great grandparents born in the early 1600s! I can click any column to sort by relationship, last name, date of birth, etc.

That isn't an error to fix, but it is a way to double-check my ancestor chart where I'm keeping a list of all direct-line ancestors. (See How to Visualize Your Ancestor-Finding Progress.)

So take a break from finding new ancestors, and make the time to fix the errors in your family tree. After you've fixed a bunch of them, export a new GEDCOM. Open it in Family Tree Analyzer and see how much shorter your errors lists are.

Fixing errors is every bit as important as finding that missing census file or death record.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Case Study on "How Is That Possible?"

Here's a lesson that supports my earlier post, "How Is That Possible?" When my recent post about Italian marriage records led me to discover a mistake I had been making, I spent three solid days correcting my tons of such records in my enormous family tree.

The work was tedious, but after a while I realized that this change I was making—reclassifying certain dates as "marriage license" rather than "marriage"—provided the answer to a question that had come up a number of times.

I had quite a few men (these are small-town Italian men in the 1800s) who had gone through the process of posting their intention to marry a woman and then seemed to marry her, but went through the same process with another woman a month later.

What was going on? Divorce was not a thing, and the first woman had not died. In fact, I had proof that the first woman then went through the process with another man and married him.

Once I learned that they had not gotten married, but had merely obtained consent to marry, it became clear: The first couple intended to marry but something prevented the marriage. Each of them was then paired with someone else whom they did marry.

I feel this corrected and more logical information makes my family tree even more solid. So I ran Family Tree Maker's built-in error report and uncovered a page full of birth date discrepancies. Some people had two birth dates from conflicting resources, while others had an original placeholder date that had been superseded by documented facts. So I was able to clean up all of the errors.

I even figured out and fixed the error I highlighted in How Is That Possible? where I had two Michele Leone's with the same birth date. The date belongs to my grandfather's first cousin; the other Michele Leone is a more distant relative born a different year.

Now I'm itching for other discrepancies to fix!

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Case Study on "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Here's a lesson that supports my earlier post, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" I have one branch of my family where the information was pretty scant. In fact, I never knew my great grandmother's maiden name was Caruso until the eve of my first trip to Italy—the trip that sparked my interest in genealogy. Later I heard from a distant cousin named Michael who was very interested in the Caruso family tree and shared a great deal of first-hand information with me.

As with any information I receive without documentation, I set about proving all of the facts Michael had shared with me, and in doing so, I learned quite a bit more facts.

My great grandmother, Maria Rosa Caruso, had at least four older brothers, all of whom came to upstate New York in the very early 1900s. Giuseppe came here first because each of this brothers' ship manifests says they were joining their brother Giuseppe at 827-829 Canal Street, Elmira, New York.

Maria Rosa's ship manifest was the hardest to find, and even after finding it, I was not sure it was the right Maria Rosa Caruso for quite some time. The manifest has some facts that are correct for her (born in 1880 or 1881 in Pescolamazza, and coming to join her brother Giuseppe), but it also has facts that do not work.

The manifest says she was married as of July 1906, but that doesn't work because I have her November 1906 marriage certificate from Hornell, New York. It also says her final destination is Addison, New York. While that is not terribly far from Elmira, or even Cameron, New York, which is another place her brother Giuseppe lived, I have no facts putting any members of this Caruso family in Addison. There is an address beneath her brother Giuseppe's name, but it appears to say "236 Bore". I can't make anything out of that.

I kept returning to this 1906 ship manifest and finally noticed something very important. Where the manifest shows an "m" for married, in a much lighter color there is an "S" for single overwriting the "m". (See the far-right side of the image.) So it was an error.

That left me with the troubling town of Addison. But in a web search today I discovered that Addison was the end of a particular railroad line that connected with the New York Central Railroad. So there is a good possibility that Maria Rosa had her ticket from New York City to Addison and then had to get on the Erie Railroad to get to her brother. At that time, Giuseppe lived in Cameron, New York, on a street parallel to the railroad tracks where he worked. I can see a railroad line on Bing Maps that runs from Addison to Cameron. And on her marriage certificate, Maria Rosa lists her residence as Cameron.

Now I feel as if the 1906 ship manifest finally makes sense. And this illustrates how important it is to gather as many provable facts as possible about your ancestor and their entire family.

Monday, January 16, 2017

How Is That Possible?

They say the "unexamined life is not worth living". I say the "unexamined family tree is not worth publishing"!

Check Your Facts

Occasionally you need to analyze your family tree to see if anything looks illogical. Your family tree software may alert you if you’ve entered facts that are impossible, such as a woman giving birth when she’s a little girl or after she’s dead. But it won't alert you if your facts show a person living in two different states at the same time.

Don't leave impossible facts in your family tree.

A common name in my family,
but 2 with the same birth date?
Recently I was adding census data to my family tree. One set of facts said the wife came to America two years before her daughter.

If this were true, it would mean she left her infant daughter in Italy, came to join her husband in America, and didn’t send for her baby for another two years.

That's highly unlikely and can only be proved or disproved by finding the mother and daughter’s immigration records.

These types of logic errors are what I frequently find in other people’s family trees—a big reason why I never accept someone else's research without seeing the documentation. Many times, these errors are difficult to spot and difficult to solve.

I like to put a bookmark on people with a logic error so I can quickly see where more investigation is needed.

See what type of reporting features your software may have. Whatever tools you can use, your tree will benefit from a logic scrubbing.

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