Showing posts with label facts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label facts. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

When Documents Disagree, Get More Documents

Mo' documents, mo' proof. When researching a distant relative, supporting evidence is a must.

When you're going out on a limb of your family tree that isn't quite yours, it's easy to make mistakes. You have no personal knowledge of this branch. How will you know if the census taker made a mistake? Or if the death certificate informant was wrong?

How can you avoid putting bad information in your family tree?

Your best option is to gather every available scrap of evidence. Some facts will contradict each other. What if 3 documents say one thing and the 4th says another? Are the 3 sources reputable? Could the 4th source contain a human error?

Here's an example I found yesterday.

I'm working on one of my 2019 Genealogy Goals. I'm going line-by-line through my document tracker spreadsheet. Each time I find a U.S. census noted in a person's "Need to find" column, I'm searching for it. My goal is to do a "reasonably exhaustive search" for every missing U.S. census in my family tree.

After a productive weekend of searching, I was up to the name Foster in my alphabetical list of almost 2,000 names.

Elvia Foster was born in 1884 and married my ex-husband's grandmother's uncle. A 1916 Michigan marriage register was my only source of information for Elvia. The register lists the parents of the 32-year-old bride as Albert and "Unknown".

Poor Elvia needed more documents badly. Here's what I learned from several searches:

Go after every major document so you can see the whole picture.
Go after every major document so you can see the whole picture.

1. 1910 United States Federal Census

I found a 1910 census with an "Elva" Foster. She was from the right state (Michigan), but her father is Alfred J. Foster, not Albert. Her mother is either Lillie or Nellie. So I started looking for Elvia (or Elva) after her marriage.

2. 1920 United States Federal Census

In 1920 "Elvah" was still in Michigan, married to James Kinney. Their ages and places of birth supported the 1910 census information. I saw that she was a bookkeeper in a casket company. That's helpful. The 1910 census I'm not so sure about shows Elva Foster working as a bookkeeper in a cabinet company. Caskets are sort of cabinets…

But something caught my eye. Listed right above the Kinney family in the 1920 census are Alfred J. and Nellie L. Foster. The Fosters have one son with them: Everitt born in 1899. I checked that 1910 census again. There is a son listed as E. Lesley born in 1900. Taken together, these are good reasons to believe these Fosters are Elvia/Elva/Elvah's family.

Be careful not to overlook another part of the family.
Be careful not to overlook another part of the family.

3. 1930 United States Federal Census

In 1930 James and Elva are living in the same house as in 1920, but the Fosters are gone. Elva has worked her way up to office executive at the casket factory. Her husband James has changed careers. He's now a cabinet maker at a furniture factory. Maybe Elva's father, a carpenter, taught James a thing or two.

4. 1940 United States Federal Census

In 1940 James and Elva are still at the same address. There are no Fosters nearby. They're getting on in years. Elva has retired and James is in another industry.

5. 1900 United States Federal Census

I did one more search for an earlier census. The 1900 census lists Alfred J. Foster as James A. Foster. His year and place of birth agree with the other censuses. His wife is again listed as Nellie L., and Everitt or E. Lesley is now Lesley E. Pick a name, dude!

Luckily there was one more entry: Alfred's mother-in-law. She's listed as Elizabeth Beaumont, widow. So Nellie's maiden name must be Beaumont, right?

Normally I'd say "Yes…most of the time." But this was not enough data to be sure Nellie was a Beaumont. What if her mother had remarried?

6. Death Records

Since I had all the censuses I needed for Elva, I wanted to search for her death date. If I could find that, she would be complete in my document tracker. I'd have all the major documents I wanted.

Here's where I got really lucky. A Michigan death record and a Find-a-Grave link appeared at the top of my search results. The Michigan death record provides her birth date, town of birth, and death date. It confirms that her father was Alfred James Foster. It tells me why her mother was called Nellie: her given name was Cornelia. But Nellie's full maiden name is Cornelia Leona Peck, not Beaumont.

On the Find-a-Grave website, someone added photos and detailed information about the Foster family. Nellie's father was named Peck. Her mother (Elizabeth Beaumont from the 1900 census) had the maiden name Blackford. Hey! That's the name of a boarder living with the Foster family in the 1900 census.

Sure enough, Elizabeth Blackford did marry twice. Her first husband was John Peck, father of Nellie. Her second husband was Frederick Beaumont.

I'm not going to go any further on documenting the Foster family. They're way too unrelated to me. My policy is to capture the names of an in-law's parents. But I'm not going to add Nellie's siblings or parents. All I wanted to do was confirm Nellie's maiden name.

Now I have lots of data on Elva (that's the spelling that's used the most) Foster Kinney. There's nothing more I need to find on such a distant in-law.

Finding and processing the documents mentioned here took less than 2 hours (see "How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images"). Now my tree, shared on Ancestry.com, has the right names for James Kinney's wife and her parents.

This example shows why I encourage you to keep an inventory of the documents you have and the ones you're missing.

Those missing documents may completely change the facts in your family tree.

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, December 14, 2018

How Much Can Your Learn from Your Relative's Obituary?

A well-written obituary can tell you so much about a relative's descendants.

I am in awe of professional genealogists like Megan Smolenyak. She finds the living descendants of long-lost military servicemen so their remains can be returned to the family.

Living descendants are hard to find! Let's say you're looking at a family in the 1940 U.S. Census with lots of little children. Unless the boys' names are very unusual, how can you be sure where they are today? And what about the girls? How can you find them if they married? What are their names now?

The only tool I have—one that can be incredibly helpful—is a long, detailed obituary.

Do you know how many names and facts you can learn from a well-written obituary?

Imagine the deceased is your mother's third cousin. You don't know what became of her, who she married or who her kids are. Let's take a closer look at everything there is to learn from a detailed obituary.

The following is a real obituary. I've changed every single name and place to protect the family's identities. The obituary text is in black and my notes are in reddish brown.

Let's examine this obituary and put together a family tree based on the facts presented.

Joan G. Ericson Logan passed away on December 13, 2018 at the age of 96. [Ericson is her maiden name; Logan is her married name.] She was the oldest of seven children born to the late Howard B. and Grace Ann Ericson on April 15, 1922 in Jefferson City, MO. [That's a packed sentence! We have Joan's birth date and place, her parents' names, but not her mother's maiden name, and the facts that she has 6 younger siblings. We know her father is dead, but it doesn't specifically say her mother is dead, although that may be what was meant.]

Joan graduated from Jefferson City High School. She received her B.S. degree in Education from Logan State College. Then attained further studies at Indiana University, majoring in school librarianship. [We now have the names of 3 schools where Joan may be found in yearbooks, school newspapers, or other records.] Joan's teaching career, which included English, band, choir and elementary school librarian, spanned over 33 years in the State of Missouri. After retiring from the Logan Public School System, she went on to become a 9-year volunteer in the Ashcroft College Library System where she received the Volunteer of the Year Award in 2003. [We know where she was working, geographically. As a volunteer, we may expect to find her in several local newspaper articles. There was almost certainly a 2003 newspaper article about her being named Volunteer of the Year.]

Joan united with Mr. Anthony Mark Nelson, Sr. and to this union [Were they married? This seems like an unusual way to say it.], one son was born, Anthony Mark Nelson, Jr. (deceased). [We can look for an obituary for Anthony Mark Nelson, Jr. some time before Joan's death.] Anthony, Jr. married Darlene Stanton, a high school classmate and to this union, 3 children were born. [This time it says they were married, even though it's using that "union" word again. Knowing his wife's name, we can look for a marriage announcement.]

Subsequently, Joan met and married Mr. James Emery Logan, Sr. while students at Logan State College. To this union [See what I mean? This time it does say they were married.], one son was born James, Jr. He married Angela Marie Thompson and to this union 4 children were born. [Here's another marriage announcement to look for.]

Joan was a lifelong member of the United Methodist Church in Jefferson City. She served as the church pianist, organist, coordinator of the annual Christmas and Easter presentations. She was especially proud when James, Jr. was ordained as a United Methodist Elder. [Between Joan's extraordinary involvement and her son being an elder, this church definitely has information to offer about this family. Church newsletters and other publications could be very helpful to telling this family's history.]

Joan was preceded in death by her siblings, Henry, Howard, Andrew and Anthony Ericson. [We've already learned that these siblings were younger than Joan, but we now know we can look for their death records.] She leaves behind to cherish her memory two siblings Anna Elena Worthington [Anna Elena may be widowed or divorced since she has a different last name, but no husband's name is given.] and William (Irene) Ericson [William is Joan's brother and Irene is his wife. While it seems odd, this is how it's done. The spouse who is not the blood relative is mentioned in parenthesis.]; a son, James Emery Logan, Jr. (Elaine), grandchildren: Fred Nelson [the Nelson grandchildren should belong to Joan's first son Anthony Mark Nelson, Jr. and his wife Darlene Stanton.], Edgar (Maryann) Nelson and Victoria Nelson, James Emery Logan, III (Colleen), Valerie T. Simpson (Tyler) [Valerie was a Logan, and this tells us she married Tyler Simpson.], Christian F. Logan (Elizabeth) and Jacklyn Logan, 12 great grandchildren, 1 great great grandchild and a host of nieces and nephews.

That was a LOT of information. We can build a family tree from this information, plugging in the facts we have. We'll make some guesses for birth years. My rule of thumb is to estimate that a husband and wife are about the same age, they had their first child at age 25, and the children were born 3 years apart. An estimation like this will put your people's ages in the right ballpark. Your research will be a little easier when you have a rough idea of their ages.

Now, with a basic tree, we can search for all these names and find hard facts.

This tree is made entirely from information in the obituary.
This tree is made entirely from information in the obituary.
If Joan were your distant cousin, how happy would you be right now?

When the day comes that you're asked to write an obituary for a loved one, like your parent, how many genealogy clues will you include for future generations to discover? Don't skimp on the details.

Maybe it's time to let your immediate family know what you'd like your obituary to say.


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, November 30, 2018

4 Keys to Make You a Better Genealogist

Even 1 key will get you going. All 4 might unlock a ton of treasure.

If you could pick only one, which of these family tree accomplishments would make you a better genealogist?
  1. Perfecting your file, folder and document ORGANIZATION
  2. Cleaning up your FACTS AND SOURCES and doing them right from now on
  3. "FINISHING" your research on individual family groups
  4. SHARING your findings with relatives
Let's take a look at each one so you can decide. And once you do choose one, you've got your 2019 Genealogy Goals in your sights.

They're not just shiny objects. They are the heart of solid genealogy.
They're not just shiny objects.
They are the heart of solid genealogy.
Organization

How quickly can you locate your maternal grandparents' 1940 census document? Your great grandfather's ship manifest? Your great uncle's World War II draft registration card?

If you don't know exactly where to look and exactly how you would have named the file, you may need an organization upgrade.

Create your organization style, and stick to it. Almost from the beginning, I decided:
  • how I wanted to name my document images and
  • how I wanted to organize those images in file folders.
I'm 99.8% digital; so little paper that it's in one manila folder.

I name my folders, all within my FamilyTree folder, for the type of document:
  • census forms
  • certificates (that's all birth, marriage and death records)
  • city directories
  • draft cards
  • immigration
  • passports, etc.
I name my document images for the person (or head of household, if it's a census) and the year: LastnameFirstnameYear. The file names can get very long for a marriage, where I include both the groom's name and the bride's name, plus the year. But then the file name is very descriptive.

This system has worked incredibly well for me ever since I started this crazy hobby.

Facts and Sources

As you work on your family tree year after year, you may find you do things differently than you did before. Hopefully you're doing them better than you did before.

If you want others to recognize your family tree for the good work it is, fix your facts and sources.

Revisit your earliest work and put in the sources you skipped in your excitement. (See 6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations.) Add annotations to your document images within your family tree. (See How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images.)

Finishing

Yes, I know all the jokes and memes. Genealogy is never finished.

But you can finish gathering all the known documents for a given family. Pick a particular nuclear family—like your grandparents, your mother and her siblings.

You can finish your search for their:
  • census forms
  • birth, marriage and death records
  • immigration records
  • military records
Your family tree probably has lots of nuclear families you didn't finish working on. Why not finish searching for their key documents now?

As you "finish" each family unit, you can consider moving on to this next goal.

Sharing

Imagine your mother and her family again. You've got as many documents for that family as you can get.

This would be the perfect time to create a booklet or a scrapbook about them. Write their story, based partly on the documents and facts you've collected. Put something together and share it with your loved ones.

I wrote a brief life story for my grandfather recently, and it made my mother incredibly happy. (See 5 Steps to Writing Your Ancestor's Life Story.)

If one or more of these ideas hits home for you, why not make it happen in 2019? I haven't finished annotating my document images (Facts and Sources), so I definitely want to do that. I'm also very eager to finish some families, or at least finish gathering all the census forms that I'm still missing.

I want us all to be better, more thoughtful and accurate genealogists. These 4 keys can definitely put you on your way.

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, November 9, 2018

5 Steps to Writing Your Ancestor's Life Story

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

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Gather Basic Facts

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

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

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

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

Step 2: Add Historical Context

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

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

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

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

Step 3: Add Documents and Photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 5: Add Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Do These 3 Things Before You Add Another Name to Your Family Tree

Put that person's facts down! You don't know where they came from.

I'll never forget the time someone took my grandfather and added him to their family tree. They didn't care that my grandfather was born in a different town and province than their family. They weren't concerned that his last name—Leone—is practically the Smith of Italy. They just took him and my grandmother!

That's actually one reason why I started this blog. I want us all to be more professional in our genealogy hobby. Do your research with care and skill, and your family tree won't be riddled with non-relatives.

I'll admit I've been guilty of accidentally adding non-relatives to my family tree. It tends to happen when I'm way out on a limb, gathering facts for a 3rd cousin's husband's mother's family. When you get into that level of not-my-people territory, you have no family lore and memories to guide you.

It's too easy to add a man with the right name and the right hometown—even though you haven't proven he's the right guy.

To avoid adding the wrong people to your family tree, set these unbreakable ground rules.

Shaky leaf hints for my grandmother revealed trees that copied from me before I had the facts right.
Shaky leaf hints for my grandmother revealed trees that copied from me before I had the facts right.
#1 Find the Documentation Yourself

A shaky leaf or someone else's tree is nothing but a lead. Promise yourself you will look at the hint or tree, jot down the facts, and seek proof on your own. Find the census forms, ship manifests and draft registration cards yourself. Weigh those documents yourself. Decide if the person belongs in your family tree for yourself.

Remember: The person whose tree you're looking at may be newer to genealogy than you are.

#2 Don't Ignore Contradictory Information

Let's say you found a woman named Mary Bianco in someone else's tree as a search result. Some of her facts match the Bianco family in your tree. She has the right last name, her father has the right first name, and she lives in the right town.

Is that enough to add her? No, it isn't. Examine all the facts about her.
  • Does she have the right first name, or is it a variation of what you expected?
  • Does her mother's name match the family you have?
  • Are her siblings' names right?
  • Is she the right age?
  • Was she born in the right place?
If some of her facts don't match the family you want to add her to, stop a moment. You need to prove or disprove her relationship to your family with more research.

Can you find her in other documents? Let's say you have her with a Bianco family in the 1900 census. But her mother's name seems wrong.

Search for this family with the wrong mother in another census year. You may find this is a different family than yours. They have similarities, but other documents prove they're the wrong family. Not your family.

You just saved yourself from making a big mistake.

#3 Make Note of Your Sources

If you're using an unofficial source, make careful notes!
If you're using an unofficial source, make careful notes!
You may decide you totally believe someone else's tree. You recognize the author's name. The woman you're researching is the tree owner's grandmother. You really want to add "Mary Bianco" to your tree.

If you're feeling confident enough to add her, add the source to your tree, too. Note that these facts came from "The Bianco Family Tree". Capture the URL of the tree.

If Mary Bianco is important to you, someday you may add better, stronger sources for her name, birth and other facts.

Imagine for a moment that you hired a professional genealogist. Would you still want to pay his fee if one of his sources was "Mary Bianco's granddaughter's tree"?

Allow me to harp on one of my favorite themes again. Your family tree is your legacy. Make it as valuable as possible!


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, September 28, 2018

How to Find Official Sources for Family Facts You Just Know

Imagine your grandchild inherits your family tree. How reliable will the information be for your generation?

Marriage registers, yearbooks, newspaper clippings...these are official sources for your living relatives.
Marriage registers, yearbooks, newspaper
clippings…these are official sources for your
living relatives.
I don't need a document to tell me I was born in Mother Cabrini Hospital in New York City. Or that I was baptized in Our Lady of Pity Church in the Bronx. (Both gone now, by the way.)

But years from now, if my grandchild wants to carry on my genealogy work, what proof will they have for facts about me, my siblings and my cousins?

Everyone says to start your tree with yourself and the facts you know. Then you move on. Finding census forms, draft registration cards, death records and so much more. But have you returned to yourself and your generation to find proof for your facts?

Your Own Documents

You should have your own birth certificate in your possession. I even have my baptismal certificate, along with two marriage certificates.

I need to scan those documents and put them in my family tree. (For the worriers: You can mark individual images as private in Family Tree Maker. Hopefully in your software, too.)

Of course, I'm not going to ask my brother and my cousins to let me scan their birth certificates. So what do you do?

Public Records Index

On Ancestry.com you can access volumes 1 and 2 of the U.S. Public Records Index, 1950–1993. The information in these databases comes from a combination of:
  • telephone books
  • post office change-of-address forms
  • other public documents.
In my experience, the birth dates given in these collections are often wrong. For me, an entry might say I was born on the 1st of the month instead of the 24th. But it generally has the right year.

So, when all else fails, a public records source proves the person in your tree existed:
  • by their name
  • in a specific place
  • in a specific range of time.
Newly Released Indexes

It pays to watch social media for genealogy news. That's where you can learn about groups like Reclaim the Records. They're on a mission to get access to the genealogical and archival data we genealogists want so much.

They've scored tremendous wins, particularly for New York and New Jersey documents. But they're also working to release data from many U.S. states.

Thanks to them, I've found documentation for several events, including:
  • my parents' marriage license
  • my grandfather's 2nd marriage license
  • my and my close cousins' births
  • my grandmother Lucy's birth
Seeing the index of New York births, I finally found my grandmother's birth certificate number.
Seeing the index of New York births, I finally found my grandmother's birth certificate number.
Lucy's birth record has eluded me for years. Now I know her New York State birth certificate number is 60968. On the index she has no first name and a badly misspelled last name. No wonder I couldn't find her certificate! It's definitely her because my father has always known she was born on 10 Dec 1908 in Hornell, New York.

Newspapers

I haven't found much historical information on my family in the newspapers. But I'm constantly finding references to my brother in newspapers. His career has always had a big public relations aspect to it. So any search for Iamarino brings up my brother. I found his North Carolina marriage announcement that way.

Proof of a modern-day marriage may be found in the bride's hometown paper.
Proof of a modern-day marriage may be found in the bride's hometown paper.
You may have more luck searching for your family. Think about all the events you could search for when it comes to your contemporary relatives:
  • birth, marriage and death announcements
  • public relations announcements for various professionals
  • graduating class lists
Your facts and your closest, living relatives' facts may not be your top priority. But documenting these things you've known all your life:
  • your mom's birth date
  • your brother's middle name
  • your aunt's home address
…will go a long way toward strengthening your legacy.

Set aside some time to find documents or public sources for your own nuclear family. Some day your grandchild may thank you from the bottom of their heart.


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, September 14, 2018

One Report, Endless Possibilities for Improving Your Family Tree

Update: Family Tree Analyzer is now available for Mac.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Genealogy: Where Endless Searching is Part of the Fun

All last week I was looking forward to my three-day weekend. I would have so much fun with non-stop genealogy!

Chasing genealogy facts is this much fun.
©The Simpsons
Saturday was great. I identified more than 200 people in my family tree who were not connected to me. These are families I think belong to me, but I haven't yet found the connection. And I also found 11 people to delete from my tree.

I attached one image to each of these people so I could find them again anytime. (See How to Handle the Unrelated People in Your Family Tree, and be sure to read my comments at the end.)

Sunday was full of distractions. Once things settled down, I got productive. I documented in a spreadsheet every 1810 marriage from my Grandpa Iamarino's hometown.

I'm documenting births, marriages and deaths to meet two of my genealogy goals for 2018 (see What Are Your Genealogy Goals for 2018?):
  • Log my downloaded documents from the Antenati website into a spreadsheet.
  • Find my parents' connection (our DNA says they're distant cousins).

I hope these early Italian vital records contain the ancestors my mom and dad have in common.

Yesterday I had a wonderfully productive day documenting these towns. I'm using a time-saving, productivity-boosting technique that you can use, too.

I record the basics from each document. When I find someone I need, I fill in
all the facts and put them straight into my family tree.
A Tip for Large-Scale Research Projects

I have thousands of vital record images from my ancestral Italian hometowns on my computer (and backed up in two places). Now I have to harvest them for family tree information.

Slogging through one year of marriage records for one town, as I did on Saturday, is very slow and tedious. If I weren't obsessed, I'd have given up.

Then I realized I can find the juiciest documents faster by using this method:
  • Open up your family tree software.
  • Go through an image collection, such as one year's marriages, one at a time. Enter the most basic information for each document into your data spreadsheet. This could be nothing more than the document number and the names and ages of the bride and groom.
  • When you see a last name of interest, check your family tree. Are the bride or groom in your tree already? How about their parents?
  • When you find a match, even if it's a distant match, examine that document. Enter all its facts into your spreadsheet.
  • If this document belongs in your family tree, put the facts and image into your tree now.

I followed this method yesterday with Photoshop open, too, so I could crop the images before putting them into my tree.

Thanks to this more efficient method, I completed the 1811 and 1812 marriages. All the basic information from these hundreds of documents is in my spreadsheet. Plus, the 10 or so marriages including my maiden name of Iamarino are now in my family tree.

Oh, and I had one more document open. That was my document tracker where I keep my up-to-date inventory of every document image I've placed in my family tree. (See Track Your Genealogy Finds and Your Searches.)

I can see it now. I can see how I'm going to spend nearly every waking moment when I hit retirement age. This passion for genealogy gives us all a reason to live to at least 100. We'll never be finished with our genealogy research. But the search is very much part of the fun.

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Trade Up to Better Family History Sources

Check your list of sources. Which ones aren't certified reliable?
Reliable sources make a reliable family tree.
No offense to my third cousin once removed, but I can do better. If my family tree has facts whose only source is my cousin, that's not good enough.

Hearsay—even if it's someone's first-hand knowledge—is not a reliable, reproducible source for your family research.

That's why I'm on a mission to verify every fact in my tree that has a person or someone's online tree as my source. They're good leads, and I appreciate them tremendously. But without evidence, they are only leads. I need to find proof.

Clean-Up Makes Your Family Tree More Reliable

I've been scrubbing my family tree in a bunch of ways lately.
  • For every census form in my tree, I added complete details and a link to where to find it online. (Ship manifests are next!)
  • I cleaned up every address in my family tree to have a consistent format and take advantage of Family Tree Maker's address verification.
  • I attached every census form or ship manifest in my tree to each person named in the document.
  • I beefed up my source citations with more information and weeded out duplicates.
Now I'm going after imperfect sources. I started by picking two sources that are far from bulletproof. I'm not happy at all with one large branch from Virginia that relies on (a) someone else's tree and (b) "One World Tree" as its sources.

Two collections on Ancestry.com have a lot to offer this branch. I found Virginia marriage listings and death certificates for several people. I added the two Virginia source citations to the facts and removed the sources I don't find as valuable.

Now It's Your Turn to Trade Up

Some sources carry much more weight than others.
My reliable sources.
You, too, can fortify your family tree by using the most reliable sources. First, see if your family tree software can show you a list of all the sources you've created or attached to people in your tree.

Family Tree Maker lets me view my sources in a few ways, including by repository. The repository tells others where you found this fact.

I added the Repository (ancestry.com, familysearch.org, etc.) to each source citation that's from a website. I added the New York City Municipal Archives as a repository, too. That's where I went to see lots of birth, death, and marriage records for myself.

I can also view the complete alphabetical list of source titles in use in my family tree. That list shows me which sources I want to replace with something better. When I select a questionable source, like One World Tree, I can see exactly which facts are using it as their source.

If you have FTM, or your family tree software acts in a similar way, look for sources that come from another person's tree or a name. (When the source is a cousin, I name it to make that clear, e.g., "Joseph Collins, my cousin".) While you may believe your cousin, other genealogists have no reason to!

Start working through those facts. Search for a recognized, reliable source to back up your cousin's information. You can keep your cousin's name there if you want to, or put their name in your notes.

An online tree is not a good source. It's just a lead for you to investigate.
Zero in on sources that don't carry much weight and trade up to better ones.
The goal is to make every fact in your family tree provable.

Trade up to more reliable sources and you will fortify your family tree.


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

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.


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.