Showing posts with label organization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label organization. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Plowing Through My 2019 Genealogy Goals

It isn't to late to set some goals for the year. Set reachable goals and reap the benefits.

Goals give you a purpose and direction. It can be fun to let your genealogy research lead you wherever it wants. But goals lead to more productive research.

I set 7 genealogy goals for 2019. The first 3 are finite goals. They aren't "I hope I can discover…". They are "do this task until it's finished".

Here's where I stand with my first three 2019 Genealogy Goals:

1. Log the first five years' worth of birth records from each town into spreadsheet

This one is done! I want to create a digital, searchable database of every key fact from 1000s of documents. I downloaded birth, marriage, and death records from my 6 ancestral Italian towns. They start in 1809, and some go into the 1940s.

Because it's an insanely big project, I broke off a chunk—5 years of birth records—to encourage myself to get into it. I'd already transcribed a good amount of the 1809–1813 births, so this wasn't an accurate test of how long the whole project will take.

But the benefits are real. After I finish the next 2 goals, I want to work on the 1814–1818 birth records. That eagerness to continue is exactly what I was shooting for.

2. Search for all missing census forms in my document tracker

Dive in and start those goals. Look what I found in 3 sessions.
Dive in and start those goals.
Look what I found in 3 sessions.
I'm going through the alphabetical list of people in my document tracker spreadsheet. I'm focusing on which names have a missing census form in their "Need to find" column.

Right now I'm into last names beginning with C, and it's been a very satisfying three days. I've added a lot of missing documents to my family tree.

Sometimes while searching for a census form, I can't help but see the death record or marriage index that I was missing. So I'll grab those while I'm at it, too.

The important thing to remember is to stick to your process and handle each document carefully. My routine when finding a new document image is to:
  • Crop it in Photoshop if needed.
  • Rename it using the style I've developed. My file naming rules make it easier to find any document.
  • Add it to the family tree record of each person named on the document. That means each family member on the census form gets a copy of the census sheet in Family Tree Maker.
  • Add each fact and the source citation to each person. Each family member will get a Residence fact based on the census image. Those with a job will get an Occupation fact, too. And all facts get the proper source citation. Other facts can include immigration year, naturalization year, birth and marriage years.
  • Update my document tracker spreadsheet. This is my inventory and to-do list rolled into one. It's important that I keep it accurate.
One thing I decided after starting this goal was to be reasonable. If several search techniques don't get me the census I need, I will move on. The important thing is to make a good effort.

You can add notes and a title to every document image you collect.
You can add notes and a title to every document image you collect.
3. Enter every Pozzuto baby from Colle Sannita into my family tree

I started this goal last year. A DNA analysis method pointed me to a specific last name from my grandfather's hometown. Someone with this name is highly likely to be a direct ancestor for both my parents. Their DNA says they are 4th to 6th cousins. My true goal is to find my parents' connection by analyzing these babies.

I'm working my way through my downloaded collection of vital records from Grandpa's town, adding each of these babies to my tree. I add their parents and try to ID their grandparents. If they aren't connected to anyone in my family tree yet, I give them a profile picture that says "no relationship established". If I find their connection later, I'll be sure to remove their relationship graphic.

It's still January, and I'm having an insanely productive genealogy year already. I plan to bounce between goals 2 and 3 to avoid boredom. That'll make me feel like I'm accomplishing more, too.

It's still January, and it's only January. Have you set your 2019 Genealogy Goals?

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Friday, October 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

But in 2017 they began digitizing everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

How to Back Up Your Family Tree Files Automatically

This one decision is my biggest genealogy time-saver.

Last December I wrote my list of genealogy goals for 2018. I'm making progress, but at least 2 of my goals will spill over to next year's list.

My genealogy files are backed up  instantly, automatically.
My genealogy files are backed up
instantly, automatically.
That's why I'm so happy, week after week, about my decision to back up my family tree files automatically. Well, automatically and also manually, because two backups are better than one.

There are free storage options and paid storage options. I'll list several of them below, but first: Automation.

I've decided to use my Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage for my genealogy files. All my files are still stored locally on my computer. But they're mirrored and continuously backed up to OneDrive.

Continuously backed up means:
  • My document tracker spreadsheet is always saved on my computer and the cloud.
  • Each census sheet or birth record I download to add to my tree is backed up to the cloud at the same time.
  • When I work in Family Tree Maker and make a backup file, the tree and the backup are also saved on my computer and the cloud.
I don't have to take an extra step to back them up. But, I also have an external, 1 Terabyte drive. Once a week I look at all my genealogy folders on my computer, sorting them by date. I copy anything with a newer date than my last backup to the external drive.

My OneDrive files, accessible to me online, anywhere.
My OneDrive files, accessible to me online, anywhere.

It's fast, efficient and safe. Plus, having your files online, in your password-protected storage area, means you can access your files from anywhere.

I like syncing a portion of my computer with OneDrive because the files are still on my computer. They'd still be there even if I had no internet access.

Here are several options for online storage that you can use:

OneDrive

I'm a monthly subscriber to Microsoft Office 365. I need it for work, and the cost is low enough that I'll keep subscribing even after I've retired. My subscription includes 1 Terabyte of storage space. Even with all my genealogy files on OneDrive, I'm only using a tiny portion of my Terabyte—about 182 GB. You can get 5 GB of free storage space or 50 GB for $1.99/month. Visit OneDrive to learn more.

Google Drive is another automatic backup option.
Google Drive is another
automatic backup option.
Google Drive

You can also use your free Google account for automatic backup. Google Drive lets you synchronize folders with your online storage space automatically. It works with your Windows or Mac computer, and your Android or iOS device. Google Drive gives you 15 GB of storage for free. For $1.99/month, you can buy 100 GB of storage. Visit Google Drive to learn more.

iCloud

Do you have an iPhone or iPad? If so, you have 5 GB of iCloud storage. You can access it from your computer as well as your devices. That's not a lot of space, but you can pay for more storage. The cost depends on your country and how much space you want. Visit iCloud to learn more.

Dropbox

Free storage with Dropbox is limited to 2 GB. You can buy 1 Terabyte of online storage space for $9.99/month. I like to use Dropbox for file sharing. I've posted fill-in-the-blanks census sheets there and other PDFs to share with specific people. Visit Dropbox to learn more.

Your Internet Provider

If you have an internet connection in your home, your service provider may offer you some free storage space. Check with your provider.

You can see that the paid plans are very competitive with each other. With OneDrive, I'm basically paying for that 1 Terabyte and getting Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more for free.

No excuses now. Even if you split your files among different free storage spaces, it's time for you to create your back up plan.


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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

How to Make Your Genealogy Research More Complete

"What? I never downloaded the 1940 census for my great uncle? Which other families haven't I gathered documents for?"

A Crisis With a Silver Lining

An 1899 birth record for my ancestor.
An 1899 birth record for my ancestor.
I've written several times about my "document tracker" spreadsheet (see links at the bottom of this article). I use it to keep an inventory of every document image I've attached to someone in my tree. It's alphabetical by last name and has a column for each major type of document or fact. Birth, immigration, marriage, census, draft card, death, etc.

One of my 2018 Genealogy Goals is to "Fill in the 'Need to find' column" on my spreadsheet. That involves looking at which documents I've gathered for someone and listing what is still missing. For example, if I have the 1910, 1930 and 1940 census for a person, the 1920 census belongs in my "Need to find" column.

I hadn't spent much time on that, even though we're well into July. And then something went wrong. I noticed when I tried to re-sort the spreadsheet by the Person's Name column, a group of lines were being selected. It looked as if Excel was going to sort only those lines.

I use Excel every day on the job. I've never seen this happen before. I avoided sorting that day, but I guess I made a bad sort another day. This weekend I discovered the error. When I looked to see if I'd added the 1871 marriage record to my 2nd great grandfather's line, I saw all the wrong information!

It seems as if a lot of lines are off by one, containing dates for the person above them. The spreadsheet has 1,685 lines. I need to check them all!

Polishing that Silver Lining

Since I noticed this terrible problem while looking at my Saviano family, I decided to start there on line 1,464. I checked each line against Family Tree Maker to see which data belonged to whom.

To do this I clicked the Person tab, and then the Media tab in FTM. As a rule, I label all media items beginning with their date so they sort chronologically.

I label each person's media files beginning with the date. Now they display in chronological order.
I label each person's media files beginning with the date. Now they display in chronological order.
I've recently gotten into the habit of adding "cert." to my spreadsheet when I have an actual certificate image. For example, in the Birth column it may say "1846 (cert.)". So I thought, why not add the person's birth year when I'm sure of it but have no document? I'll know there's no image because it doesn't say "cert." Those birth years are really helpful for telling my five Antonio Sarracino's apart!

And while I was checking each person's documents, I completed their "Need to find" column. As I finished each line, I gave the row a light green color. Now it's plain to see which lines I've checked.

I'm fixing any alphabetical-order errors manually to avoid future problems. When I add a new person, I'll have to insert a new line where their name belongs.

My document tracker spreadsheet holds my inventory and provides my task list.
My document tracker spreadsheet holds my inventory and provides my task list.

Two Birds with One Stone

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is, but there's a big payoff. As I'm working through the lines of the spreadsheet, certain things tempt me. I discovered I was missing an immigration record for my cousin's great grandparents. I noted that in the "Need to find" column, but then I decided to go get it. I found it on Ancestry.com. I put the date in the immigration column for both the husband and the wife, and took it out of the "Need to find" column.

Then I found people from Avellino, Italy, who were missing their birth records. The Avellino records became available last week! So I downloaded and added their birth records.

If not for this exercise, I wouldn't have realized I had Avellino people in need of documents.

The ultimate goal is to have all the lines verified and shaded green, and the "Need to find" column empty. That'll mean I've tracked down every major document I can for each person.

And if I can't find that 1940 census for my great uncle, at least I've got the ultimate short-list of what I need to find.

We all get side-tracked by lots of things. We're working with a new cousin to firm up our information. We're using new document collections to find lots more ancestors. We're trying to create trees to share with our family.

This exercise can get you focused on what you've left unfinished. I'm more motivated than ever to work on my document tracker spreadsheet. If you give it a try, I think you'll be happy you did.

Note: Be sure to read the follow-up article about using free Family Tree Analyzer for some of these tasks. Use This Tool to Discover Family Tree Insights.


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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

How to Tame Your Jumble of Genealogy Leads

As time passes, you'll find you have more genealogy leads than you can follow. More irons in the fire than you can tend to.

It's getting to be overwhelming, right?

Hold on a sec. Take a breath and think about why you're researching your family tree. If you expect to reach the finish line one day, take a look around you. Genealogy hobbyists work on their trees for the rest of their lives.

And we love that!

Don't let the amount of leads—or the amount of brick walls—stop you from loving this hobby. It's the searching, the leads, and the discoveries that give us the joy. Every step of the process IS the fun.

A well-organized email collection will help you follow genealogy leads.
A well-organized email collection
will help you follow genealogy leads.
Now that you've got your attitude adjusted, let's get busy managing all those leads.

If you've loaded your tree on any public genealogy website, and if you've got your DNA results out there, too. You're going to have people contacting you.

People are contacting me in two ways: messaging me on Ancestry.com and emailing me.

When I exchange messages on Ancestry, we typically move the conversation to email so we can share files.

My emailbox becomes my storehouse of genealogy leads. The key is to organize your email.

Manage Your Files Logically

I have email in my Microsoft Outlook file going back as far as the year 2000. If I might need something again, I put it in a folder.

I have a genealogy folder. Within that are folders for my ancestral hometowns: Baselice, Colle Sannita, Pastene. Within the town folders are folders for last names from the town. And within those folders are emails from people with a connection to that name.

If sorting by town of origin doesn't work for you, sorting by the family name may be better.

The important part is, if you've saved your email conversations, you can return to them when you're ready to do the research. You can search your email at your genealogy folder level and find that conversation from a few years ago.

Keep your genealogy leads organized.
Keep your genealogy leads organized. And keep on keeping them.
As of this moment, workers are uploading vital records from my "missing" ancestral hometown of Santa Paolina. Hurray!! I've already downloaded (find out how you can do this, too) and started processing the records from 1809–1865. I'm eagerly awaiting the post-1865 files.

Now that I'm able to document that one branch of my family I couldn't get to before, it's time to go back to my email folders. It's time to reconnect with my leads for that portion of my family tree. And because I'm so ridiculously organized, I can find those leads in a heartbeat.

If you're an office worker in the business world, you're used to organizing your email. You need to be able to find what you need when you need it.

But are you being that efficient with your genealogy email? Isn't it time to tame all those messages to make them usable?

P.S. If you've got leads with no email trail, either:
  • create a series of genealogy folders on your computer, each containing a simple text file with necessary information, or
  • create one text or Word document with all the notes.
It's easy to search for anything when you've got it typed out and on your computer.

Don't let those once-hot leads slip away from you!


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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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Friday, March 9, 2018

4 Ways to Make Big Genealogy Progress When You Have Little Time

You've seen the memes. Genealogists would rather spend every moment working on their family trees than, say, eating, sleeping or dealing with people.

Got a little time? You can make real genealogy progress.
It doesn't take a ton of time to
make real genealogy progress.
Do you have the luxury of 100% free time? I don't either!

Don't worry. You can still make significant progress on your family research in short bursts of time.

Have about an hour after the dinner table is cleared? That'll do. Have some free time in the late afternoon before the family gets home? That's great! Are you an early riser? It's genealogy time!

Arm yourself with a list of tasks and a progress chart, and a small window of time can yield big genealogy progress. Here are some examples.

1. Choose a Specific Ancestor from your Grandparent Chart

Last night I was too exhausted to spend much time on genealogy. So I chose a specific ancestor from my "grandparent chart".

The chart shows me exactly which direct-line ancestors I've identified, and which ones I haven't. (See "How to Visualize Your Ancestor-Finding Progress".)

I chose one ancestor from the chart whose parents were missing. I found him in my tree to see what I knew about him. Then I examined his children's marriage records to see if they contained the names of their grandparents.

In the short amount of time I had (before I fell asleep at the keyboard), I added a few marriage document images to my tree. I can pick up where I left off when I have another chunk of time.

2. Improve as Many Source Citations as You Can

I have a few items on my Task List in Family Tree Maker that involve making my tree better. One task is to replace some of my weaker sources with strong ones.

For example, I received some relatives' information from a distant cousin. That's not very scientific. I'm happy to have the information, but I need to verify it with proof. (See "Trade Up to Better Family History Sources".)

So, when I have some time, I can go to these people in my tree and do the legwork. I can replace the "a cousin told me" source citation with more concrete facts and documents. That's a great use of time.

3. Enhance Your Tree's Document Images with Facts and URLs

Ever since I discovered this trick, it's been a must-do task for me. Before I attach a downloaded document image (vital record, census sheet, ship manifest, etc.) to my family tree, I add facts to the image itself.

You can add a descriptive title and comments to an image's properties. Many or all the facts will be pulled into your family tree file. (See "How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images".)

Each time I have a new document to add to my tree, I edit its properties. I include a descriptive title, the name of its source and the URL it came from. Once I add it to my family tree, all I need to edit there is the date field and the category.

4. Create or Update Your List of All Gathered Documents

I'm a strong believer in keeping a spreadsheet inventory of my found documents. My document tracker contains more than 1,500 names of people in my tree, and each document I've found for them. (See "Track Your Genealogy Finds and Your Searches"

When I have some time, I can choose someone in my tree, like my grandfather. I can see exactly which documents I have for him, and which are missing. In his case, I have his:
  • 1902 birth certificate
  • 1920 ship manifest
  • 1927 naturalization papers
  • 1930 and 1940 census
  • 1992 death certificate
There are only three important documents I would like to find for him:
  • His 1928 marriage to my grandmother
  • His 1959 marriage to my step-grandmother (I do have a record of their marriage license)
  • His 1958-or-so trip back to Italy—his one and only trip home since arriving in New York in 1920.
My document tracker makes it very easy to see what I can search for when I have some time.

Don't worry about not having countless hours to spend working on your family tree.

By spending a little time on your family tree more frequently, you will see true progress. You'll feel a sense of accomplishment. And you'll know your family tree—your legacy—is better and stronger than it was yesterday.


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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

These 4 Simple Rules Will Improve Your Genealogy Research

I created this blog with a single thought:

If we amateur genealogists follow some basic rules, our family trees will be so much better.

I listed out the primary keys to high-quality genealogy research:
  1. Know exactly where your people are from
  2. Analyze each document carefully before attaching it to your tree
  3. Cite your sources as you go
  4. Develop a strong, logical system of document-naming and filing
Let's take a look at how you can put these keys to work for you today.

Know Exactly Where Your People Are From

If you don't know exactly which town your ancestor was born in, you can't find their birth record. You may not find their marriage record. You might download records from a genealogy site and never know they're for the wrong person.

naturalization papers provide many key facts
My late step-grandmother's naturalization papers told me her story.
Look for evidence of the town of origin right away. It may be on military records, a passport application or naturalization papers. Knowing that town, you can now reject hints pointing to someone from the wrong place.

Analyze Each Document Carefully Before Attaching it to Your Tree

My tree has so many people with the same name. My grandfather had two first cousins. All three of them were named Pietro Iamarino.

So before you attach a record to your tree—even if you think it's such a unique name—analyze all the other facts. Does everything about this record make sense for your ancestor? Or are there too many facts you know don't match your person?

Keep some basic logic in mind. A dead woman can't give birth or get married. A woman can't give birth to two babies a month apart. A man can't become a father more than nine months after he dies.

Cite Your Sources As You Go

You can add facts to your images.
You can add facts to your images.
When we begin this genealogy hobby, we're excited by each new name and date we find. And, oh, those ship manifests and census forms! They couldn't make us any happier.

It's common to grab those facts and documents and forget about citing your sources. "It's the 1930 census. Isn't that good enough?"

No, it isn't. Picture this: One day you realize your uncle lived on the same street as your grandmother. You can't find him in a search. If you could just get back to her census form online, you're sure your uncle would be on the next page. If only you'd recorded some facts and a URL.

Put a stake in the ground today. Going forward, you're going to add citation info to each fact and document you add to your family tree.

And then spend a few weekends cleaning up your early work. Make that tree better.

Develop a Consistent System of Document-naming and Filing

Develop your logical filing system.
Develop your logical filing system.
At the start of my research, I developed some rules:
  • My computer's FamilyTree folder contains a sub-folder for each type of document:
    • census forms
    • vital records
    • city directories
    • draft cards
    • ship manifests
    • naturalization papers, etc.
  • Each file name follows the same format. Generally, it's LastnameFirstnameYear.jpg. Since I keep all vital records in one folder, they are more specific: LastnameFirstnameBirthYear.jpg or LastnameFirstnameDeathYear.jpg.
  • Census records are named for the head of household: LastnameFirstname1930.jpg. This is true of a ship manifest containing a whole family, too: LastnameFirstname1922.jpg.
When I learn something new at work, I try to apply it to my genealogy hobby. For example:
  • I work with Excel all day long. So I catalog my thousands of genealogy records in a single spreadsheet.
  • I store work files on OneDrive so I can access them from another computer. Now I store my tens of thousands of Italian vital records in a OneDrive folder so it's backed up instantly.
Be smart, logic and efficient in your hobby. You'll still have all the fun you want, but you'll leave behind a priceless legacy: Your impeccable family tree.

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Friday, January 5, 2018

Start Your Rainy-Day Genealogy List

All genealogists have their top goals in mind. Trace their ancestors to the old country. Discover their great grandmother's maiden name. That's a given.

And I hope you've created your list of genealogy goals for the new year.

But now's a good time to create a rainy-day genealogy list. That's your list of leads you need to follow up on. It's those unexplored family relations you want to better understand. It's the mysteries you'd love to solve.

First, choose an obvious place to keep your list—a place where you won't overlook it, and you'll definitely see it a lot. How about the task list of your genealogy software? A notebook where you jot down facts as you find them? Or a text file on your computer desktop?

Next, look for breadcrumbs you've left for yourself in the past. For instance, ancestry.com has a shoebox feature. When I'm searching for an ancestor and see a document for someone interesting, I can put it in the shoebox for later.

Today I'm looking at a ship manifest in my shoebox for a woman named Giuseppa Sarracino who's married to Carmine Pastore. I have reason to believe she is the woman in a family photo given to me by my aunt. I've already found six babies born in Italy to a couple with the very same names.

Did I discover the woman on the right on a ship manifest?
This Pastore-Sarracino family is going on my rainy-day genealogy list right now.

Your list will help keep you from forgetting these interesting tidbits. When the day comes that you're frustrated with the genealogy goal you're working on, your rainy-day list could be the fun distraction you need!

Where will you start looking for your forgotten genealogy leads? Besides my ancestry.com shoebox, I have handwritten notes in different notebooks. When I go through those notebooks, I'm sure I'll find other leads that need my attention.

When I first started researching my family history, all I had was the Ellis Island website. I began filling a notebook with every immigrant who had a last name I knew or came from an Italian town I knew. Some of them made it into my family tree, but others are waiting impatiently in that notebook.

What if some of them are my overlooked blood relatives?

It's a brutal January in New York state this year, and tons of other places. You're bound to have a snow day or two. Wouldn't you like to use a snow day to explore something on your rainy-day genealogy list?


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Friday, December 15, 2017

Moving Your Family Tree to a New Computer

The last time, I wrote about how important it is to be ready for the sudden loss of your computer. You must be prepared to move your genealogy files if your computer is about to die. And sure, you'll have to move non-genealogy files, too.

I'm lucky that my 4-year-and-8-month-old computer gave me warning that it was on its last legs. Every program I tried to run was unresponsive. I had to move on to new technology.

My new laptop arrived two days ago, and I began installing my most important software:
  • Microsoft Office
  • Adobe's Photoshop, DreamWeaver, and Acrobat
  • Quickbooks
  • Some specialty software I need for work
  • Family Tree Maker
Family Tree Maker can fix this problem for me.
A tool to fix the problem.
When I launched Family Tree Maker on my new machine for the first time, I was surprised that it displayed my media files. I have 2,634 images attached to people in my tree. They are mainly census forms, ship manifests, and photos.

I was surprised to see them because the file structure on my new computer is different. I'm storing all my genealogy images on the "E" drive, which is enormous.

It turns out I made a bad choice when I first began using FTM in 2003 or so. The program asked me if I wanted to save media files in the family tree file, or link to their location on the computer.

I figured that saving the media in the file would make the file way too big. So I linked to them instead.

I knew I couldn't move files around or rename the files or folders. They would become unlinked if I did. I accepted that, and I never changed anything.

Imagine my face two days ago when I realized all my media was now unlinked!

Thankfully, Family Tree Maker has a fix for this. I hope your family tree software does, too. If you're not sure, check your software's website or click the Help menu to see what it says about media files.

In Family Tree Maker, I clicked the Media menu and chose Find Missing Media. This brought up a window showing the long, long list of my 2,634 missing media items.

FTM is getting me out of a jam.
"Click to search manually"? No thanks.
In the right column, labelled Attach, there's a choice between Attach a Copy and Attach a Link. I'd always chosen to attach a link before. Here was my chance to bring a copy of every single media item into my Family Tree Maker file.

Sure, my family tree file is going to be much fatter than it used to be. But I've got a 1 terabyte hard drive now, so who cares?

The process is very simple, but as I write this, it's still running.

All I had to do was click to Select All, make sure the Attach column was set to Copy, and click Search. Immediately, I saw that the program found my files on my new E drive. So it's working! It's more than halfway done, and progressing nicely.

Better graphic cards make working on your family tree easier.
I would have been pretty upset if I had to locate the 2,634 images one at a time! But let this be a lesson to you. If you plan to move your family tree to a new computer, and your file doesn't contain all the images, pull them in now.

And here's a nice benefit to upgrading that computer. Aside from it being faster, I've got a really high-resolution screen. So I'm able to see so much more of my family tree at a glance than before.

At this point, my house contains more obsolete computer equipment than it should. But genealogy is a high-tech hobby. It pays to have good tools for the job.


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