Showing posts with label genealogical proof standard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label genealogical proof standard. Show all posts

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!

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Friday, August 3, 2018

A Genealogy Challenge You'll Love

The 1st good clue in my challenge: naturalization papers.
The 1st good clue in my challenge:
naturalization papers.
What if a simple genealogy challenge could:
  • Show you how good your genealogy skills are?
  • Help you connect with a new friend?
  • Teach you some new research tricks?
Would you accept it?

A Challenge Arises

The other day a woman reached out to me longing to know about her lost Italian roots. Her grandfather Matthew had given up his Italian name to blend into American society. After Matthew and his wife divorced, their children had very little contact with either of their parents.

The woman who wrote to me loved her grandfather, but knew nothing about his origins. She offered me the few clues she had, and asked if I could help.

Challenge Accepted

When an assignment comes my way in life or at work, I like to take a peek at it and figure out how hard or easy it might be. Many times this quick peek hooks me. I'm interested, and I'm making progress. So I dive in and get to work. That's exactly how I began this challenge.

Here are the few facts I had:
  • Mattio d'Arcangelo was born in 1900 to Valentino and "Ginny"
  • He married Evangeline McElroy and owned a shoe company in Boston
  • His children, Eleanor and Robert, were given Mattio's adopted last name of Matthew.
  • Mattio and Evangeline divorced.
I wasn't getting anywhere searching for Mattio. I switched to searching for his father, Valentino. I thought his distinctive name would make him easier to find.

Right away I found naturalization records for Valentino d'Arcangelo. I scoured the information, but I had no proof yet that this was the father of Mattio. His naturalization papers did not mention any family members. But they did include his exact birth date.

That May 10, 1873 date helped me match him to other records for Valentino d'Arcangelo. I found a Massachusetts marriage registry book showing the January 12, 1900, Haverhill, Massachusetts marriage of:
  • Valentino d'Arcangelo, age 26, a shoemaker from Italy, son of Mattio d'Arcangelo and Maria Porrea, and
  • Giovannina d'Arcangelo, age 25, from Italy, daughter of Raffaele d'Arcangelo and Felice Subrizio.
There was a good chance Giovannina is the real name of Mattio's mother "Ginny". But I needed more proof.

This 1910 census provides 2 great aunts and a great uncle.
This 1910 census provides 2 great aunts and a great uncle.
I found the 1910 census for Haverhill, and there they were. A family of 6: Valentino and Giovannina (now called Jenny or Jinny), and their children Mattio, Assunta, Pastiano and Mary. Mattio was born in Massachusetts, but his younger sister was born in Italy. The census taker crossed out Massachusetts for Assunta, and wrote in Italy.

A 1902 ship manifest supports the idea of the family returning to Italy for a while. In November 1902 Valentino is returning to America—to Haverhill—without his family. Giovannina and her first 2 children must have returned at a later date.

I found out from the manifest that Valentino was from the town of Bisegna in the province of L'Aquila. Unfortunately, there are no birth records available online for Bisegna after 1866.

I went on to find Valentino as a widower in the 1920 census. A death index shows he died in 1942.

I wanted some more documentation for Mattio—my new friend's grandfather. I saw that his memorial on Find-a-Grave has his name as Matthew F. Matthews. When I couldn't find him in the 1930 census, I looked for his wife Evangeline, and his kids Eleanor and Robert.

Mattio d'Arcangelo, aka Francis Matthews.
Mattio d'Arcangelo, aka Francis Matthews.
I found them living in Needham, Massachusetts, but the head-of-household was Francis Matthews. That memorial with the middle initial F. turned out to be a good clue.

They were a family unit in 1930. But in 1932, Evangeline McElroy Matthews remarried right there in Needham. I went back to the 1920 census to discover Evangeline's parents. That family of 4 consisted of:
  • Robert the father
  • Evangeline the mother
  • Evangeline the daughter, and
  • Robert the son!
I'd discovered quite a bit in one sitting. Mattio's granddaughter was just about in tears.

Your Challenge

Here are 3 ways you can find a genealogy challenge:
  1. Join any genealogy group on Facebook. Every day people ask for help. They may list some of their ancestors' names and dates and ask how to find out more about these people.
  2. Got DNA? You may belong to websites that suggest DNA matches to you. I read about an avid genealogist who is researching and building trees for all his DNA matches so he can figure out their connection.
  3. Maybe you have a friend who's mildly interested in your genealogy hobby. Help get them hooked by starting their tree for them. Ask for some basics about their parents and grandparents: names, dates and places.
Use the clues, your genealogy resources and skills and see how much you can find. Be careful not to make assumptions. Let the facts point you in the right direction.

Document everything you find clearly and thoroughly. List the facts in chronological order and show where each fact came from. Provide this person with the facts and the documents you've found.

Imagine that you are a professional genealogist, and do the best work you possibly can.

Once you've tackled this challenge, you may want to take a fresh look at your family's brick walls!

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 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 (,, 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, November 3, 2017

Using All Your Tools to Build a Better Family Tree

If you've been enjoying this genealogy hobby for a while, you may have more tools, skills, and knowledge at your fingertips than you realize.

The other day my cousin asked me to track down his grandfather's uncle Pietro who died in World War I.

Suddenly I realized how many online resources I have. I went straight to an Italian website that lists fallen World War I soldiers.
An Italian website lists the fallen soldiers of World War I. This one happens to be an American soldier born in Italy.
Was this the fallen soldier I was looking for?

My cousin's grandfather confirmed that the record I found was the right soldier. Now I had the all-important name of his hometown in Italy (Riace) and Pietro's father's first name (Cosimo).

Until now, I knew this family's province, but not their town of origin.
Finding out your ancestor's hometown
is critical.
I jumped over to the Antenati website of vital records from Italian towns. Hurray! The town of Riace is there.

I felt as if my years of research, my knowledge of Italian, and my long list of genealogy website bookmarks had a greater purpose now. They had the power to help others.

It can be tough to research a family when you don't have first-hand knowledge of them. I'd tried before to build this family's tree, but I'd made a mistake and hit a dead-end. I needed my cousin's grandfather to tell me, "yes, that is my uncle".

What do professional genealogists do? How do they go on if they don't have a relative available to confirm important facts?

Here's what I could have done, and what you can do, too.

Work With What You Have

I could have started with that brief record of the fallen soldier. At first, I assumed he was not our man because I thought Pietro's father's name was Ilario, not Cosimo. But it's a good idea to work with the record you have. See if you can prove or disprove any of it.

Based on that record, I could have looked in the archives of the town of Riace for his birth. Ironically, the fallen-soldier record shows the wrong birthdate for him. But he is in the 1891 index of births. He was born on 9 January 1891.

Compare Your Findings to What You Do Know

Using his birth record, I could have looked for evidence that lined up with what I knew about this family. And his birth record does have what I needed.

Pietro's mother's maiden name was Niceforo. That's a fact I had all along. It was part of the scanty information I'd been told before. If Pietro's birth record showed a mother with any other last name, I would have no confidence that he was the right man.

But there she was. Anna Maria Niceforo was this soldier's mother. With both parents' names confirmed, I could search for all of their babies and see if they had any of the names I knew. And they did!

Build on Your Newly Found Facts

My new list of sibling names helped me find the ship manifest for my cousin's grandfather's mother, Teresa. I learned she'd been held in detention, kept briefly in the hospital because of "tremor of hands". She'd left behind her father Cosimo in Riace, and was to be released to her brother Domenico in Brooklyn.

That's the proof I needed. I had the birth record for her brother Domenico. Later I found Pietro's military record card on It said that Domenico in Brooklyn was the person informed of the soldier Pietro's death on 5 October 1918.

Don't Rule Out Less-than-Perfect Search Results

This brief military record holds a clue to this soldier's final battle.
His date of death also tells us which battle he died in.
You might overlook a search result because it isn't a perfect match to your family member. I was ready to toss aside that soldier's record because I didn't recognize his town name or his father's name. But he was the right man.

And Teresa's ship manifest was a bear to find. Ancestry's search only brought me to the page listing detainees. That didn't tell me her age, hometown, or her father's name. I had to comb through the 901-image collection to find the rest of her information.

I had to have her main ship manifest entry to know that I had the right person. And it was worth the trouble.

Now go out there and use your family research super powers for good!

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Online Course Takes Your Family History to the Next Level

Note: The sale on this course ends Oct. 26, 2017. To get the lower prices, go to I am not affiliated with that site. I get nothing out of this. But I really do recommend it.

Would you like to jumpstart your genealogical research?

I found a great way for you to advance to a higher level—whether you're somewhat new to family tree research or you've been at it for a long time.

Learning is more fun when you love the subject matter.
There's always more to learn.
Once in a while I get a catalog in the mail from a company called The Great Courses®. The catalog is like a glossy magazine, and it's interesting to browse through.

The latest catalog had a genealogy course to offer: Discovering Your Roots: An Introduction to Genealogy by Professor John Phillip Colletta. I read the description, and I felt it covered several areas I'd like to learn more about.

I bought the online version so I can watch the 15, half-hour lessons at my computer and at my leisure. The cost was only $22.95—not as much as I might spend to go to a two-hour genealogy seminar.

This low price is a huge sale. The regular price for watching the course on your computer is $169.95. If you go to the website to read about this course you'll see the full price. There's a red tab on the page advertising a 70% off sale—the drastic price reductions are a regular thing. Keep checking back to see when you can score the same deal I did.

My first ancestor left Italy to come to America in 1890. I have no ancestors who fought in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, or the War of 1812. Only one or two fought in World War I. So I have little or no direct experience with early military records and pension records.

That's one area where I know I have a lot to learn. But what is there that I don't know I don't know?

Professor John Phillip Colletta is an interesting and enjoyable speaker. He weaves fascinating tales of ancestors while explaining how to use genealogy resources. He takes individual facts from the census, a ship manifest, or a military record to tell a richly detailed story of that ancestor's life.

The Great Courses'® online learning is far better than I'd hoped for.
This great course gives you a genealogy
education you'll enjoy tremendously.
You can't help but be inspired to discover a fuller history of your own ancestors.

If you take this course, you'll learn about specific websites and how they can help you with your family tree. You'll learn where to go for specific resources. You'll find out about records, maps, and techniques that may be completely new to you.

This is not a dry overview of how to research your family tree. These lessons are engaging stories that will inspire you while teaching you:
  • How to interview older relatives to get the best results
  • What you can find in a library that you can't find online
  • Everything you can learn from ship manifests, military records, and naturalization records
  • How to use the Genealogical Proof Standard to fortify your family tree
  • Which documents you can find at the state or county level
  • How to tell your ancestor's life story through creative writing
  • How to create an account of your family history you can share
  • What you need to know to research ancestors from another part of the world

So, if you're new to genealogy, this course can help you become a knowledgeable genealogist in a few hours.

If you focus your searches on specific records—like census forms and ship manifests—this course can give you a much broader grasp of genealogy research techniques.

If you've been at this family tree hobby for years, you can still gain a lot from this course. I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

The Great Courses. ©The Teaching Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

How to Build a Professional-Quality Family Tree

I began writing this blog to encourage other genealogy hobbyists to take their family trees to a new level. My first several articles focus on the basics of a reliable, valuable family tree:
  1. Gather multiple pieces of evidence for each fact. People make mistakes. It could be the census taker or the person providing information for someone's death certificate. Because of human error, one piece of evidence does not make proof.
  2. Cite your sources. It's critical to be able to retrace your research steps. If you cite your source for a fact as the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, give the location right down to the sheet number, and provide a link to where you found it online, it's reproducible. If it's reproducible, it's more reliable.
  3. Analyze your facts for discrepancies. My family tree has many people with the exact same name. I found a situation where I gave the same birth date to two different men with the same name. I needed more investigation to fix the error.
  4. Ensure you're recording facts for the right person or people. For example, are you sure the census form you're looking at is for the specific family you think it is?
  5. Research historical events as they pertain to your ancestor. One of my ancestor's hometown changed its name after World War II. If I hadn't discovered that, I wouldn't have been able to visit the town years ago. And I wouldn't be able to find the town's vital records today.

It all boils down to this: You've got to do the legwork. Do not trust information that falls into your lap. Use someone else's tree, for example, as a series of leads for you to investigate.
The New York City Municipal Archives at 31 Chambers Street in downtown Manhattan. It's the Taj Mahal of research for New York City families.

How Professional Genealogists Work

Professional genealogists follow a standard of proof to deliver accurate research to their customers. Maybe you've seen references to the Genealogical Proof Standard.

Let's look at how the five elements of this standard can improve your family tree research.
  1. Conduct a reasonably exhaustive research. This goes back to my first point above of gathering multiple pieces of evidence. It also involves conducting searches that may not yield any results. For example, let's say you expected to find a family at a particular address in the 1930 census, but they're not there. To be thorough, you may need to go through every page in that census. If you still haven't found them, you may need to check out the surrounding enumeration districts.
  2. Maintain complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each piece of information. This was my second point above. You want to make your steps retraceable and show the quality of the sources. For example, the 1930 U.S. Census seems more reliable than "my cousin's father". Citing your sources can also show how many sources you've used. Several excellent sources make a fact very reliable.
  3. Test your information. This relates to my third point above about analyzing your family tree for discrepancies. If you find an error, you may need to test the validity of one of your sources.
  4. Resolution of conflicts among evidence items. This would be the logical conclusion to your analysis of discrepancies. When you resolve a discrepancy, make a note about the steps you took, and why you made your decision.
  5. A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion. When you resolve a discrepancy or find something in your tree that you don't have a lot of confidence in, make notes. I like to flag questionable facts in my family tree by adding a bookmark (a feature in Family Tree Maker) and a note. This alerts me to facts with a lower level of confidence so I can treat them with the proper amount of faith.
You may not have the funds to hire a professional genealogist. You may prefer to do the work yourself because the hunt is what makes it so enjoyable.

But if you can adopt these practices, you can have a professional-quality family tree.