Showing posts with label genealogy best practices. Show all posts
Showing posts with label genealogy best practices. Show all posts

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.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How to Understand Your Ancestors' Marriage and Remarriage Customs

Figuring out marriage customs can help you avoid making mistakes in your family tree.

Have you noticed that people today are getting married many years later than they used to? Years from now, genealogists will examine records and notice that shift.

Are you paying attention to the marriage facts and figures for your ancestors? 

Age at First Marriage

Get familiar with the customs in the towns you're researching. While paging through marriage documents looking for your ancestors, take a look at the ages of the other brides and grooms.

In my ancestors' towns, all tightly arranged in Southern Italy, I saw the commonalities:
  • first-time brides and grooms were usually very close in age to one another
  • first marriages before the age of 22 were less common
  • first marriages after the age of 28 were less common
Based on these facts, I decided to use 25 as my magic number. Twenty-five was the average age at which people in my towns were having their first baby. They'd get married at 24, and have their first baby at 25.

Don't know when they were born? A smart estimate will help your family tree.
Don't know when they were born? A smart estimate will help your family tree.
Why does that matter? If you don't know the ages of someone's parents in your family tree, you can assume they are "about 25 years" older than the oldest child you've found.

Adding "born about 1850" to the parents in your tree can help you understand who you're working with. It can stop you from even thinking about attaching them as the parents of someone born in 1920—even if they seem to have the right names.

Remarriage: How Soon and How Old/Young?

The people in my towns in 19th century rural Italy didn't stay single for long after their spouse died.

This is when you remember that most people didn't marry for love. So, 4 months after the death of their spouse, they're engaged to someone else. Can you imagine that today?

But it was a hard life. A man needed a woman to cook for him and raise his children. He would choose a younger woman (with more life to her?) and continue having children. A woman needed a man for support. She would choose a man with property or livestock or a good job. It was vital to their lives.

Before I figured this out, I was shocked to find that my 2nd great grandparents had a huge age difference. He was 46 when he married my 23-year-old 2nd great grandmother.

My first reaction was "ewww!" As I continued digging, I found his other children, his first marriage and his first wife's death. His new bride was born the same year as his eldest child. Were they childhood playmates? (Again, ewww!)

I found that my 2nd great grandmother's father died just 4 months after her marriage. Did they know he was dying? Did she need to marry to help support her mother?

Knowing what I know now, this big age difference wouldn't have shocked me. I would have assumed he was a widower and searched for his first wife.

My grandfather in America.
My grandfather in America.
I like to think of my grandfather as a perfect example.
  • He married in 1927 at the age of 25.
  • He was widowed at the age of 52.
  • He remarried at the age of 57.
  • They were too old for children, but they needed each other.
  • He was widowed again at the age of 84.
  • Marriage would have meant sharing his lifetime's fortune, but he did choose to live with a woman. (Despite not liking her cooking.)
If some of these norms hold true where your ancestors came from, be on the lookout for more marriages.

Families Intermarrying

My great grandfather and his brother married two sisters who lived close by. The two married couples lived across the street from one another for the rest of their lives. And when I say "across the street" I mean a few paces across the dirt path the mules followed.

I can imagine that the brothers' family (the Iamarino's) and the sisters' family (the Pilla's) each owned a parcel of land. Maybe their lands were literally across the mule path from one another.

But it gets better. Two more Pilla sisters—it was a big family—married two brothers from the Paolucci family. They all lived nearby. Maybe the Paolucci family had another parcel of adjacent land. It's a bunch of marriages of convenience working to twist my family tree into a wreath.

Marriages between families may have happened multiple times.
Marriages between families may have happened multiple times.
It's helpful to have an understanding of the marriage customs in the place you're researching.

Oh, and be sure to find out if divorce existed in your place of research. Legally, there was no such thing in Italy until 1970—following a mandatory 5-year separation! Because of that, I know that a 45-year-old woman in an 1880 Italian marriage document is probably a widow. And her husband may have died only months before.


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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations

Your family tree is not reliable without sources. Don't let creating sources intimidate you.

When you started your genealogy research, were you noting the source of each and every fact? Or were you so happy to find grandma in the 1920 census that you rushed off to find her in the 1930 census?

Create your source citations by copying a few bits of information.
Create your source citations by copying a few bits of
information.
No one is going to trust your family tree if it has no sources. If you're ignoring your sources because it's too complicated or you don't know where to begin, let's make it easy.

As of today, my family tree has 19,464 people, about 2,900 document images, and just 242 sources. That's because I believe in having the source be general:
  • The name of the collection
  • What it contains
  • Where to find it.
Where I get specific is on the document image or fact notation:
  • Title of document image: 1910 census for Timothy Kinney and family
  • Date of document: 23 Apr 1910
  • Where to look: lines 28–29
  • Collection: Columbia Township, Columbia City, Whitley County, Indiana census enumeration district 143, supervisor's district 12, sheet 8A
  • Image number: image 15 of 18
  • Exact URL: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7884/31111_4328284-00540/7066655
Here's how you can easily create your general source citations and specific image and fact notations.

1. Find the Document or Fact Again

Can't find grandma in the 1920 census again? Aha! That's the main reason you must make note of your sources. Try to find an easy one to start with.

2. Copy the Exact Name of the Collection

Simple reference notes keep the family tree software uncluttered.
Simple reference notes keep the
family tree software uncluttered.
If your source is a national census, a passport application, or a passenger list, it's part of an official document collection. Put the exact title of the document collection in your source citation.

I like to use the same title as my reference note in Family Tree Maker because it's nice and short, easy to understand, and doesn't take up a lot of room.

3. Copy the Root URL of the Website or the Name of the Repository

Think of this as the address where the document collection lives. It may be ancestry.com, the New York State Library or familysearch.org. Write down the basic URL or building name.

4. Copy the Recommended Citation Detail and Text

Document collections found on a website or in a book will usually give you a suggested description or "source citation". Take the suggestion.

5. Copy the URL of the Collection

Let's say the document collection you're using is the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. And let's also say you're accessing it on ancestry.com. Go to the main page of the collection. This is the search screen for the collection. Or, if you find the collection in the website's catalog, it's the link that's in the search results.

From this URL, you can search for and find every 1930 census fact and document image in your family tree.

That's the basics of source citations! That wasn't so tough, was it? But there's one more thing to do. And it's going to take you longer.

Link to your general source, but pack all the specifics into the document image.
Link to your general source, but pack all the specifics into the document image.
6. Add More Specifics to the Document Image or Fact

How many census, ship manifest, draft registration card and birth record images do you have in your family tree? I have about 2,900.

Do you want your family tree to be your incredibly valuable legacy? Don't skimp on the details. All your document images need individual, more specific notations.

Yes, it's a big task! I devoted time to annotating my 513 census images earlier this year. I'm making sure I add all the details each time I add a new document of any kind to my tree. But my next task is to annotate my 337 ship manifest images. Work your way through, one type of document at a time. You'll get there.

Here are some facts to include:
  • Descriptive title
  • Date on the document
  • Document category (census, immigration, military, vital record, etc.)
  • Document collection title, and specifics from the page
  • Image number if it's part of a set
  • Exact URL of the image online
This level of detail makes my work easy to verify. Even without an ancestry.com subscription, the breadcrumbs are there. You can find the document in another repository.

Creating or fine-tuning your basic source citations should not scare you. Stop putting it off. Tackle them in groups and it will go quicker:
  • census sources
  • passenger list sources
  • military records, and so on.
You'll be the envy of every genealogy hobbyist you know!


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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

3 Housekeeping Tasks for a Professional-Quality Family Tree

No rubber gloves necessary. Family tree housekeeping uses no rags, cleansers or mops.

I don't enjoy cleaning my house. The dog's gonna mess it up in no time anyway. But I will make time for family tree housekeeping. Unlike my house, my beautifully polished family tree will stay pristine forever. Don't you want your family tree to be your legacy? Can you imagine the joy of the relative who inherits your amazing family history research?

Most of us jump into this genealogy hobby all excited, grabbing names and documents left and right. We learn more and get more professional about it as we go. But there's a good chance our earlier work doesn't live up to our current standards.

Here are 3 important family tree housekeeping tasks you can do while you're watching something boring on TV.

1. Add breadcrumbs and links to your documents

Your family tree should have lots of images of:
  • census sheets
  • ship manifests
  • draft registration cards
  • vital records
In your family tree software, add all the important facts into the description. It's a lot more efficient to do this at the moment you first add an image to your tree. (Try to make that a habit.)

Add facts to each document in your family tree.
Add facts to each document in your family tree.
But you need to go back to those older document images. Add enough facts to allow anyone to retrace your steps and prove you're right.

I like to add:
  • the line numbers containing your people
  • the name of the document database
  • the image number if it's one of many
  • the web address (URL)
Let's say you add the URL of the document on ancestry.com. What if someone without a subscription needs to know more? What if the URL changes? Add enough detail to help someone find it somewhere else.

2. Upgrade your sources

How many times have you kicked yourself for not writing down where you found a particular fact?

Make a habit of creating good, reliable sources each time you add a new type of image to your family tree. All the unsourced facts and images in your tree need your attention.

When you find a fact online or in a reference book, look for a description of the document collection. You can copy the citation detail and citation text for the collection from its source. That may be a page on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, or in a book.

Add enough facts to your source to make it official and retraceable.
Add enough facts to your source to make it official and retraceable.
There's no need to go overboard. I don't have a separate source for each document or fact, because I would have more than 3,000 sources. I have one source for the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, for example. The source includes the URL to the collection, a description and citation. Each 1910 census image includes the URL to that specific page. And each fact taken from a 1910 Census links to the one source.

3. Standardize your place names

My parents lived a block apart as kids. So my early family tree research focused on their Bronx, New York, neighborhood. Nearly every family lived on numbered streets, with very similar addresses. After a while I realized I needed some consistency. I decided to spell everything out with no abbreviations:
  • 221 East 151st Street, Bronx, New York, USA
  • 237 East 149th Street, Bronx, New York, USA
  • 615 West 131st Street, Bronx, New York, USA
Once I standardized the addresses, my Family Tree Maker software offered me suggestions. I'd type "237" and it would immediately suggest "237 East 149th Street, Bronx, New York, USA". It's a great time-saver.

I love it when I start to type an address, and the suggestion shows I've got another relative living there.

This orderly arrangement of addresses makes it easy to see which relatives lived near one another.
This orderly arrangement of addresses makes it easy to see which relatives lived near one another.
I also like to use my software's ability to locate each address on a map. Every address is neatly arranged. I can drill down by country, state or region, county or province, town and address. For each address, I can see the list of people I've associated with the address.

If your tree has only a few thousand people, you might tackle these housekeeping tasks in a weekend. If you've gone wild and have 19,000 people like I do, it's more of a challenge. But set aside time now and then. Chip away at it. You can get this done.

In the end, you'll have a high-quality tree that will show genealogy newcomers how it's supposed to be done.


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

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

5 Clean-up Tasks to Improve Your Family Tree

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

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

1. Add Approximate Birth Dates

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

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

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

2. Fill in Probable Country of Birth/Death

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

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

3. Include Details for All Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

3 Top Safety Tips for Your Family Tree Data

Results of Following Genealogy Best Practices, Part 3

This is the third article in a series about the benefits of following genealogy best practices. (Read about more genealogy best practices in part 1 and part 2.)

Be careful out there
Last November my 5-year-old computer started misbehaving. I couldn't risk losing all my genealogy data and business assets, so I acted quickly. I secured my data and made multiple backups while I waited for my new computer to arrive.

Five months later, I'm faithfully sticking to my data-safety plan. I hope this will inspire you to do the same before disaster strikes.

1. Stick to an Easy Back-Up Plan

To make sure my family tree research is protected, I created a simple back-up plan. Each Sunday I run down my short list of which files to back up to which location. Here's the entire list, just to prove how simple it is.

LAST BACKUP 4/15/2018
  • Back up to OneDrive:
    1. (automatic) Antenati files
    2. (manual) E:\FamilyTree
  • Back up to external drive:
    1. C:\Users\diann\Documents\Quickbooks
    2. C:\Users\diann\Documents\Outlook Files
    3. E:\ everything EXCEPT FamilyTree
I have two main backup locations: a 1 terabyte external drive and 1 terabyte on the Microsoft cloud (OneDrive). That's a lot of space. A lot of space.

My OneDrive folders are backed up automatically.
My OneDrive folders are backed up
automatically.
I subscribe to Microsoft Office 365 because I need it for work. The cloud storage is free with my subscription. You can use free or paid cloud storage from Apple (if you have an iPhone), Google, Dropbox and other providers.

I love how the folders I name as OneDrive folders are continuously updated on the cloud. I don't have to save a spreadsheet as I'm working on it. And if I rename files or folders, that's synchronized with the cloud version. No effort needed.

The thousands and thousands of Italian vital records I've downloaded from the Italian genealogy archives site (Antenati) are always backed up to the cloud. So are my various genealogy tracking spreadsheets.

What I update manually are the document images I've added to my family tree. I also copy my complete Family Tree Maker file, its automatic backup, and my 2 most recent manual backups there. Once a week I simply drag the newest files to my cloud storage.

The rest of my backup list shows me the few locations of files to copy to my external drive. By sorting my file folders by date, I can see what's new and complete all my backups in about five minutes.

2. Take Advantage of Free Cloud Storage

I've already explained how I'm using my 1 terabyte of Microsoft OneDrive. Don't have that? Try a search for "free cloud storage providers".

Note: I don't keep anything on the cloud that's personal. My email and financial records are not there. Only publicly available genealogy documents are there. So don't be paranoid and brush off this idea.

Take a look at Google Drive and Dropbox. If you don't want to pay for storage, you can combine different free spaces. If you spell that out in your backup list (like mine above), you'll always know what goes where.

3. Keep Track of Your Genealogy Records

I believe strongly in keeping an inventory of the documents I've attached to people in my family tree.

I've also got a complex spreadsheet where I'm documenting the thousands of vital records from my ancestors' 5 Italian hometowns. I've got an ancestor spreadsheet listing the name and Ahnentafel number of each direct ancestor whose name I've discovered. Plus I've got a list of Italian words for occupations and their English translations. (See How to Handle Foreign Words in Your Family Tree.)

Anything you need to reference regularly, need to keep track of and want to keep updated, you can store on the cloud. Then you've always got a safety backup.

To safeguard your genealogy treasure, make these steps a habit. Decide which files belong where. Designate a day each week to make a manual backup. If you can remember to brush your teeth each day, you can remember to practice these safety tips.

Be safe out there.


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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

How to Build a Broad Family Tree and Unite Strangers

Results of Following Genealogy Best Practices, Part 1

A year and a half ago I didn't know I had a genealogy philosophy. That after years of working on my family tree, I'd developed sure-fire methods I rely upon. When I realized how crucial these methods are to my family tree, I decided to blog about it.

Now I'm putting my own philosophy to the test. Today let's take a look at one method I write about a lot.

Collect All the Documents

Documenting a whole town uncovers hidden relationships.
A tiny sampling of the Leone's
from my grandfather's hometown.
I believe in examining every available vital record from your ancestor's town. The benefits of this method are unbeatable.

First you'll need to find out if records from your ancestral hometown are available. They may be on FamilySearch.org or you may need to visit the collection in person. If you're Italian like me, you may find your town's documents on the Antenati website.

You may find the language and handwriting tough on documents from a different country. That problem can almost entirely disappear as you go through many, many documents.

Several years ago I set out to gather information from every vital record from my grandfather's hometown of Baselice, Italy. I visited my local Family History Center countless times to scroll through the microfilmed documents from 1809 through 1860.

I realized the only way to know who my relatives were was to document everyone.

It took me years! I sat there with a computer in my lap and typed the information I saw. I developed an efficient shorthand so I could go home with my text file and record everyone in Family Tree Maker. The result: a town-wide tree of almost 16,000 people, more than 10,000 of which had a connection to me by blood or marriage. (See Families of Baselice.)

You see, in the 1800s, people couldn't travel as easily as we do today. They married someone in town. The same families intermarried a number of times. Everyone was related!

I began posting my enormous town tree on several websites. To this day, people with roots in that town are contacting me and adding 4 or 5 generations to their own family trees.

Here's how going through an entire town's records can help you:

Name recognition

In small towns, or city neighborhoods, you'll see a lot of the same names repeated. You wouldn't believe how fast I got at typing names like Mariantonia, Michelarcangelo, Lapastoressa and Gianquitto because of the repetition.

But speed isn't the benefit. It's knowing the town's names so well that you can read them no matter how bad the handwriting or how damaged the document.

Language comprehension

I see lots of people on Facebook asking others to interpret old records because they don't understand Italian. They don't know yet that you don't have to speak the language to understand the names, dates and facts on a vital record.

The more foreign-language records you view, the more that language becomes second nature. You'll learn the words for born, married, died, spouse, all the numbers and months of the year. And you'll know where on the document to look for them.

Scope of relationships

When I started looking at Baselice records, I was searching for anyone named Leone. Right away I realized I couldn't tell how any of them were related to me unless I spread out. I had to find other children born to the couple I learned was my great grandfather's parents. Then I had to see who those other children married. And then I went back more generations.

It was documenting everyone that gained me 10,000 relatives. And that's why my tree continues to find delighted Baselice descendants to this day.

Today I can download those Italian records to my computer. The clarity blows those ancient microfilm projectors out of the water. So I am doing for my other ancestors' towns what I did for Baselice. In one weekend I added 4 generations to my cousin's tree. It was amazingly easy.

So I will continue to recommend you don't stay on the straight and narrow path of your direct-line ancestors. Your family tree has an endless amount of rich data to gain by spending time with all the documents you can find.


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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

4 Ways to Decide Where to Spend Your Family Tree Research Time

That's a lot of branches.
Yeah, I've got a lot of branches to work on.
The more time you spend at this exciting adventure we call genealogy, the more branches your family tree has.

Your parents form two branches. Your grandparents form four branches. And if you've been lucky, your great great great grandparents form 32 branches.

Thirty-two branches! On my paternal grandfather's branch, I've identified the names of four of my 9th great grandparents. That gives me several hundred branches to explore.

Oh dear. I think I need to lie down a moment.

So how do you decide where to focus your energy when you sit down to work on your family tree?

Here are four tactics you can use to focus your family research for better results. Better results equals more enjoyment!

1. Choose an Ancestor with Special Meaning to You

Marianna Iammucci, born 1 Jan 1856 in Baselice, Benevento, Campania, Italy
Marianna Iammucci
I have a photo of my great grandmother Marianna Iammucci, and it is striking how much I look like her. Once I found her 1856 birth record, I wanted to find all her siblings and work my way up her family tree. I've used available vital records to work back to my 6th great grandfather, Giovanni Iammucci, born about 1698. To go any further on the Iammucci branch, I think I'd need access to very old local church records in Latin.

2. Choose Your Most Stubborn Brick Wall

You may be sick of banging your head against that brick wall, but document everything—thoroughly. Document what you have found, which facts are uncertain, and where you've looked. This can help you get a more focused research plan when you're:
  • taking advantage of a professional consultation session at a genealogy event
  • deciding to hire a pro.
3. Focus on a Surviving Relative's Branch

Don't squander the chance to learn names and places and stories from an elderly family member. I got my first taste of genealogy when I brought my first baby to visit my grandmother. I asked Grandma to tell me about her family because there was a family tree page in my son's keepsake baby book.

Years later, genealogy became my full-fledged obsession of a hobby. Then I found my notes from that conversation with Grandma. Everything she'd told me was correct, and now I had a bunch of documents to prove it all. Make good use of your priceless resources while you can.

4. Exhaust Available Resources

Many of my ancestors' names are waiting for me in my collection of downloaded Italian records. You may have found one or more of your ancestral hometowns' records on the Antenati website. (Learn How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.) Or you may have a different resource from wherever in the world your ancestors were born.

Whatever place-specific resource you have access to, harvest it! Search for your people generation by generation. Search for siblings' births. Search for marriages and deaths. Uncover every fact the collection holds for your family tree.

Last week I downloaded every available vital record from the town of Circello, Italy. I've known for a long time that this is the town next to my paternal grandfather's town. I also knew it's the town my uncle's family came from. But that research was on the back burner.

Then I discovered a few things that made Circello more important to me than ever:
  • My 3rd great grandfather, who married and died in my grandfather's town, was born in Circello.
  • My uncle by marriage, whose ancestors are from Circello, is in some way related to my father by blood. This discovery comes from several DNA tests.
  • I've met two people with Circello ancestors who share some last names with me.
Now it's important to me to build out my uncle's family tree, and explore the trees of the two people I've met. My goal is to connect as many people as possible. Exhausting the records from Circello may connect us all.

I still enjoy following tangents now and then. I'll fill out a distant relative's branch because it's easy and interesting. But it's more fulfilling to focus on one area—breaking your way through generation after generation.

Do you have different techniques you use to focus your research? Please share them in the comment section below.


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Friday, March 23, 2018

4 Ways to Fit Genealogy into Your Busy Day

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

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

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

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

1. Work on One Person

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

2. Stop Ignoring Sources

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

3. Get Consistent

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

4. Add Value to Documents

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

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

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

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

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Friday, March 16, 2018

How to Turn a Hunch into Facts for Your Family Tree

I rarely come up with a hypothesis about my family tree. An idea that might be the truth. But this week I formed a logical theory.

A theory gives you some facts to work with when you have little or none. Then you can do the work to prove your theory true or false.

Here's an example for you. See if this can apply to your family tree research.

Work through the details of your theory to prove it true or false.
Work through the details of your theory to prove it true or false.
In 2008 I discovered the location of several of my third cousins outside Pittsburgh. Soon after my discovery, my husband and I were heading to Pittsburgh for his cousin's wedding. The stars aligned, and my newfound cousin invited me to her home on the day of a big family party.

One of my third cousins is very interested in genealogy. She and I worked together for weeks to build out her portion of the family tree. She gave me facts and photos, and I gave her an amazing tree to print out.

One fact she provided didn't sit right with me. It was her grandmother's name. The family knew her as Louise Villnaci deBellis.

Since she was born in Italy, I was sure her given name was Luisa, not Louise, but that's no big deal.

The part that bothered me was her middle name. Villnaci? That's not a proper Italian name. And it isn't a middle name. Something was wrong there.

Fast forward ten years. Now I have the Antenati (ancestors) website that offers Italian birth, marriage and death records dating back to 1809. I've downloaded every record for my ancestral hometowns.

One of my towns is Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in the province of Benevento and it's smaller hamlet of Pastene. That's where my grandmother's first cousin Giuseppe—Luisa's husband—came from. I began to notice in those records that deBellis was a bit common and Villanacci was a bit common.

Aha! Villanacci. That's a proper Italian name. Surely that's what "Villnaci" was supposed to be.

So I figured Luisa deBellis' "middle name" was Villanacci. That makes sense.

But the concept of a surname as a middle name doesn't fit this period in Italy. So where did Luisa's Villanacci come from?

Luisa was born in 1895, and of course that one year is missing from the Antenati records. Searching records around 1895, I found a baby born to Luigi deBellis and Luigia Villanacci.

Ooooh. Now that sounds like a theory! What if Luisa, who left her family to come to America, wanted to make sure her descendants didn't forget the Villanacci name? What if she was holding onto her mother's last name to preserve it?

Based on my theory that Luisa was the child of Luigi deBellis and Luigia Villanacci, I went through the records to find all their children:
  • Maria Carmela, born 1881
  • Assunta, born 1882
  • Filomena, born 1884
  • Saverio, born 1886
  • Carmine Vincenzino, born 1888
I found no other children for this couple, but they could have had Luisa in 1895.

On most of her children's birth records, Luigia Villanacci's father's name is Angelantonio. Luigia was born around 1862, so I found her birth record on 14 February 1862. Her father was Angelantonio and her mother was Maria Maddalena Sarracino.

Bonus! Luisa's husband—my grandmother's first cousin—was also a Sarracino. It's a small town. I found one sister for Luigia Villanacci named Mariassunta, born in 1864, and their grandfather was Giuseppe Villanacci.

So that is my theory. That "Louise Villnaci deBellis" was Luisa deBellis, born to Luigi deBellis and Luigia Villanacci.

Now, to prove it. Without her birth record!

Where would you begin?

I've added the five children above, Luigi and Luigia, and Luigia's parents and sister to my tree. I included a note that this is a theory under investigation.

I did that yesterday, and today Ancestry.com gave me a hint. It's for Filomena deBellis, the possible sister of Luisa deBellis. Filomena came to America, married Vincent Ragognetti.

I know she's the right Filomena because her Social Security Application and Claims Index names her parents, Luigi de Bellis and Luigia Villanacci. And it calls her Filomena Ragognetti. In the 1925 New York Census, Filomena is in Manhattan with her husband Vincent and their three kids. In 1939 Filomena died in the Bronx.

This is how I will prove or disprove my theory. Now, I could buy Luisa's death or marriage record online and hope they give her parents' names.

But first, I can search for every possible fact about the five people I think are her siblings. Maybe one of them will have a document that ties them to my Luisa.

Luisa married Giuseppe Sarracino in Manhattan in 1918. Maybe she lived with one of her siblings before her marriage. Maybe her immigration record will mention her mother's name.

This is how you can turn a theory into facts.

Take a look at one of the dead-ends in your family tree. Someone for whom you have no parents, no immigration record, no siblings. Can you form a theory?

Maybe it's a theory based on facts from their hometown. Or maybe it's a theory based on where they lived and those who lived near them.

Pick your theory apart, fact by fact. Verify everything you can. Add to the puzzle. Prove or disprove parts of your theory.

Investigating everyone around your ancestor can unlock their mysteries.


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