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

Friday, December 7, 2018

3 Ways to Prove Your Family Tree is Correct

You may not trust someone else's family tree, but you can stand behind your facts. Right?

Every now and then you're going to find a very intriguing hint. From what you can see, it looks like it's your family. It's got a lot of names you're missing. You get a little excited.

Then you realize this potential jackpot of a family tree has no sources. No documents. They haven't even capitalized all the proper names. This is not a carefully crafted family tree.

Excitement over.

This sad story should motivate you to fortify your family tree. Make your tree be the exciting find that keeps on giving.

Here's how other genealogists are going to know your family tree is the real deal. It's extremely well-crafted. These 3 things will prove to anybody that your family tree is correct.

If your tree has this much solid evidence, who could doubt you?
If your tree has this much solid evidence, who could doubt you?

1. Official Documents

Gather and add to your tree as many government-issued documents as possible. Whatever country your ancestor is from, their government will have created certified-reliable documents, including:
  • birth records
  • census forms
  • marriage records
  • death records
  • citizenship papers
  • military records
  • passports
Other official records don't come from a government:
  • ship manifests
  • church baptism records
  • school yearbooks
  • city directories
  • newspapers
The last 3 might be the most likely to have errors, but they can provide supporting evidence.

What aren't official are stories passed down through the generations, family bibles, and my brother's college project to write about our family history. (Sorry, Jay.) You've got to strive for those official documents.

2. Official Sources

Lots of times you can't find an official document or an image of a document to support a fact. A good example is the "last place of residence" listed on the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). That's a fact you want to put in your family tree, but you haven't got any document.

That's when it's important to record the source of the fact. You can find details about the source wherever you're viewing it. If it's a website like Ancestry.com, there is a detailed description of the source. If you're in the archives looking at microfilm, the film's box or the beginning of the reel will hold some information.

What's most important is to capture the accurate name and origin of the source. "U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014; Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File."

Then capture something more specific to your ancestor. My late step-grandmother's SSDI listing has an additional source citation: "Number: 081-07-1687; Issue State: New York; Issue Date: Before 1951".

If someone's tree has that level of documentation, are you seriously going to doubt them?

3. Supporting Sources

I spend tons of time going through Italian civil records, piecing together my ancestors' families. I love it when an ancestor's official birth record has annotations in the column. Those notes may include their marriage date and place, spouse's name, and their death date.

That's official and corroborating evidence.

Do your best to gather all a person's documents, and you'll find that you have supporting sources, too. A mother's maiden name on your ancestor's death record is not reliable. But if it matches the name on your ancestor's birth and marriage records, it is very reliable.

Make Your Tree Provable

If you've been reading this and thinking, "I'm not sure I can prove my tree is correct," you've got some work to do:
  • Start replacing your sketchier sources with more official ones. Some of my sources are "my cousin told me." That might be fine if your cousin told you "this person's nickname was Baldy." But if the facts are important, track down an official source or an official document.
  • Try to get as many documents as you can for your people. This way you'll have supporting evidence that says, "Yes, he was born on this date in this place. It says so here, here and here." Find each major, available document for the people in your tree and close the book on them.
  • Be consistent in how you record dates and names. Your online tree should show each person's full name. If you're not using software that automatically formats your dates, take the time to type them in the same style.
Hopefully you're thinking your tree is in pretty good shape. If so, keep these ideas in the back of your mind. The next time you're reviewing someone in your tree, think about how you can make their facts more bulletproof.

Make your family tree be exactly the type of tree you'd love to find as a hint!

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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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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 Ancestry.com 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!


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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Using First Names as Evidence of Family Relationships

If you don't have at least 10 people in your family tree with the exact same name, you may be new to genealogy.

Many cultures follow specific baby-naming conventions—but not always. For example:
  • name your first-born son after his paternal grandfather
  • name your first-born daughter after her paternal grandmother
  • name your second-born son after his maternal grandfather
  • name your second-born daughter after her maternal grandmother
My paternal grandparents followed this convention. They named my father and his sister after their paternal grandparents. My mother's family did not follow the rules. If they had, my grandmother and I would both be named Mary Louise.

For help with your ancestors' child-naming customs, follow these links:
If I've left out your ethnicity, try a Google search including the ethnicity and "naming customs" or "naming conventions".

Here's an example of an Italian couple who followed the rules, but put a slight twist on them.

Giorgio and Maria followed the naming rules closely, but not perfectly.
Giorgio and Maria followed the naming rules closely, but not perfectly.
Giorgio and Maria named their first son and daughter after Giorgio's parents, Onofrio and Lucia. They named their second daughter after Maria's mother, Concetta.

But their 2nd through 5th sons were not named after Maria's father, Francescantonio. Instead, 3 of those sons had the Antonio part of Francescantonio in their name:
  • Giovannantonio
  • Giuseppantonio
  • Antonio
You can use your ethnicity's naming customs to help you place a person in a particular family.

Let's say you have a man named Pietro Iamarino. (I have 11 of them in my family tree.) You don't have his birth or death record yet, so you can't confirm his parents' names. But 1 or 2 of his children's birth records call him Pietro, son of Giuseppe.

Now you know he belongs to a father named Giuseppe. But I have 10 Giuseppe Iamarino's in my family tree! Of course I need a Giuseppe who's about the right age to be Pietro's father, but what if I have a few of those? (I do.)

When I examined the facts about my right-aged Giuseppe Iamarinos, one man stood out.

This family makes sense, but I had to track down birth records to prove it.
This family makes sense, but I had to track down birth records to prove it.
Giuseppantonio Iamarino was born in 1819 and married in 1840. That fit with Pietro who was born around 1848. Plus, Pietro named his first son Giuseppantonio—not Giuseppe.

But that is not proof. It's an educated guess at this point. So I attached Pietro to Giuseppantonio, but I added a bookmark and a note to Pietro to remind myself that I needed to prove this relationship. The proof came later when I found Pietro's 1848 birth record.

Use caution when you're piecing together ancestors' families from hundreds of years ago. Naming conventions can offer strong clues—clues that lead to a theory. But the names themselves are not the proof you need.

Use these naming customs to form your theory. Then prove it.

Keep searching for that proof and avoid making a mess of same-named, misplaced people in your family tree.


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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Trust But Verify Your Relative's Family Tree

"Trust, but verify" is a translation of an old Russian proverb that reminds you to find the truth for yourself. It's particularly useful when applied to genealogy.

Here are some situations where "trust, but verify" should pop into your head:
  • A relative gives you their family tree with no sources.
  • A stranger's online family tree seems like it may connect to yours.
  • An elder tells you a bunch of family facts they remember from decades ago.
You may trust the relative or the elder, but you've got to verify their work.

How to Handle Unsourced Names and Dates

Use an image to alert you to unsourced facts in your family tree.
Use an image to alert you to
unsourced facts in your family tree.
You welcome the new information. You're excited to have it. But take steps to mark this new set of names and dates as unsourced. Some options for marking this content are:
  • Add a bookmark to each unsourced person in your family tree software.
  • Add a profile image to each unsourced person, such as this graphic that says "No sources".
  • Create a source citation using the name of the person who shared the information with you.
  • Attach no source at all. Personally, I've been very diligent about attaching sources. If I find people in my tree without a source attached, I know someone handed those people to me.
This step to identify unverified information can save future-you a big headache.

The moment you receive a batch of new information, add it to your genealogy to-do list. You need to put some research time into proving or disproving these unsourced facts.

Think how satisfying it'll be when you can replace an individual's "no sources" graphic with an image of their birth record.

How to Figure Out the Facts

Eleven years ago a man named John saw my For the Cousins website and emailed me. He's part of a large group of Italian immigrants and their children in Niagara Falls, Canada. They all came from my paternal grandfather's hometown in Italy.

Four months later, my aunt and I flew up to meet this Italian enclave at their annual dinner party. I brought a big family tree printout with me. As I met and talked with many of the people, they shared lots of names and relationships with me. Together we added branches to my tree.

Eleven years is a long time, but now I have all the available vital records from my grandfather's hometown on my computer. This past weekend, while looking at my family tree for a new section to explore, and I found the Canadian branch.

Adding birth records as a person's photo show the proof.
Add a person's birth record as their photo so you know you have the proof.
I began with John from Canada's grandparents. I found birth records, parents' names, wedding dates, and death dates. I attached each document I discovered to the person in John's family tree. Now I had trusted, verified sources.

Sometimes a birth record will include marriage names and dates.
This 1887 birth record includes
names and dates for 2 marriages.
Here are a few pointers when working with someone else's tree:
  • Expect some names to be slightly different. If your contact's tree comes from family sources, they may remember their "Uncle Antonio". But his birth record may show his given name was:
    • Michelantonio
    • Giovannantonio
    • Giuseppantonio or
    • Nicolantonio.
  • Check a person's parent's names in the tree to decide if you've found the right birth record. If both mother and father match, you've probably found either the right person's birth record or that of a sibling. Is the birth year what you expected?
  • Look for marriage data in the margin of birth records. This is more common on more modern birth records. It's less often found on very old records. Sometimes this annotation is exactly what you need to be sure you've found the right person.
The best surprise in this branch is that John from Canada is related to a set of my cousins through their father. I'm related to them through their mother.

But knowing this small town's high rate of intermarriage, I'm sure I'll find I'm related to John in half a dozen ways!

As I search for more connections, I'm gathering vital records and fortifying my family tree.


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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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Friday, January 12, 2018

How to Handle the Unrelated People in Your Family Tree

Update: Family Tree Analyzer is now available for Mac.

They probably belong in your family tree, right? Those families with your name, from your town. You have every reason to believe they're related to you.

But you haven't found that connecting ancestor yet.

So you've got these disconnected families floating in your family tree file. They sit there, waiting for you to find the connection.

How easily can you find those families you added long ago, so you can work on finding out more about them?

Here's a solution I hope you'll try.

A graphic like this helps you find disconnected people in your family tree.
Use an image like this to identify unattached
people in your family tree at a glance.
I've written three times in the past about a software program called Family Tree Analyzer. I was astonished when I discovered this free program. It does exactly what I'd been struggling to write a program to do. But it does it better than I could ever have done. And it does much more than my program ever would have done.

Get the latest version of the program at http://ftanalyzer.com (for Windows only at this time). You may need to uninstall the previous version before you can install this one.

Here's the feature I want you to look at. First, export a current GEDCOM file from your family tree software. Then run Family Tree Analyzer and import the GEDCOM.

Click the second tab, labelled Individuals, to see a line for every person in your tree. Go all the way over to the Relation column and click it to sort your people by their relation to you.

You'll see:
  • Blood relations
  • Relations by marriage
  • Direct ancestors
  • People married to your direct blood relations
  • The root person (presumably you), and finally,
  • Unknown
These are the people in your tree who are not attached to you—whether by accident or on purpose.

If you can print to a PDF file, go ahead and print this relation-sorted view. You can refer to it again and again, taking advantage of the search function of the PDF file. Don't print to paper! It's going to be a lot of pages. Mine is 1,358 pages.

Click back to the first tab for a second; the one labelled Gedcom Stats. Beneath the "Loading file" messages you'll see how many of each type of relationship you have. My file says:

Direct Ancestors : 189
Blood Relations : 1456
Married to Blood or Direct Relation : 543
Related by Marriage : 12480
Unknown relation : 4959

That last number, 4,959 unknown relations, comes as a big shock to me. That's a lot! How many families have I collected on speculation? Further inspection shows me that very distant, convoluted relations are labelled Unknown. That includes father-in-law of cousin of sister-in-law of me.

Now you've got the list of unrelated people. Forgive me, but I can't remember where I heard this next tip. I wrote it in a notebook that makes me think I saw it on a YouTube genealogy video. And I subscribe only to Ancestry.com's Crista Cowan, so this tip may belong to her.

Here it is: Create a graphic image (or borrow mine from this article) that says something like "No Relation". Attach this image to each person on your list of unknown relations from Family Tree Analyzer. Make it their profile picture.

Now, the unrelated people will be easily visible. Better yet, in Family Tree Maker I can select an image from my tree's image library and see a list of who it is attached to.

The goal now is to focus on these unrelated families. Do the legwork. Find out all you can about them, keeping an eye open for that missing link to you.

After some research, you may decide to remove some unrelated people from your family tree.

And one day, you may find that your "No Relation" people, are no more!


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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Who's Borrowing Your Family Tree?

Each time I log into ancestry.com, I see a short list called "Recent Member Connect Activity". It shows me when someone has saved one of my images to their own tree.

Most of the images in my family tree are census forms, ship manifests and vital records. I downloaded most of them from Ancestry and attached them to my tree.

I don't mind if someone grabs those images for their own use. But I do like to see if I agree with them.

One woman borrowed my grandfather's immigration record and turned him into her uncle. He was not her uncle. That careless theft of my grandfather is the motivation for my blog. I want us to be more careful, methodical and scientific in our genealogy research.

One of today's "Recent Member Connect Activity" notifications is a possible missing link for me.

If this person has done his research well, we are third cousins once removed.
You see, my AncestryDNA match list includes a man called Lou. The same Lou borrowed some of my images. Maybe he had extra time during the holidays to work on his tree. Ancestry.com analyzed our trees and determined we are third cousins once removed.

My next step is to see for myself that his mother really is part of my Leone family. I'll do this by taking the basic information from his public tree and tracking down the proof on my own.

For example, I'll search for documents showing her parents' or siblings' names. If I find that proof, then I will agree with Lou.

At that point, I will contact him so we can work together. If he's correct, he will provide me with a new branch. I've documented my Leone family back about eight generations. So if this works out, Lou has a shipload of ancestors to import from my family tree.

People who don't want to pay for genealogy subscriptions seem to dislike Ancestry.com. But their constant advertising has exploded the number of people enjoying genealogy.

The more people there are working on their tree, the more people we have to share our finds with, and to gain from.

Whichever service you use, be sure to reach out to others and learn from each other.


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

Friday, December 22, 2017

What Are Your Genealogy Goals for 2018?

Is your family tree research more productive when you focus on one person? Or do you happily follow leads and create new branches all the time?

You can fortify your family tree by filling in the blanks for your closest relatives. Then you can move on to those tempting new branches.

If you have a few moments to yourself this holiday season, think about your specific genealogy research goals for the new year. Working your way down your list of specific goals will make your tree stronger, faster.

Here are some suggestions for creating your genealogy goals for 2018.

My grandparent chart shows me exactly who's missing.
My grandparent chart shows me exactly who's missing.
Find Specific Ancestors

Create a chart or spreadsheet of your direct-line ancestors to see which sets of great grandparents are missing. See How to Visualize Your Ancestor-Finding Progress for a spreadsheet you can use.

My grandparent chart showed me that I needed the most work on my mother's mother's family. When I saw how much further I'd gotten with every other branch of my tree, I decided to focus on Grandma's line. I made great strides! See Today I Demolished My Family Tree's Only Brick Wall.

Your chart can show you where your tree needs the most work. Your goal might be "Find my 4th great grandparents in my paternal grandfather's line."

My document tracker shows me which documents I have and don't have.
My document tracker shows me which documents I have and don't have.
Fill in What's Missing

A few years into my genealogy research, I had a big collection of downloaded documents: census forms, ship manifests, draft registrations cards, and more. My filing system is very logical, so I can find what I need in a heartbeat.

But with such a big collection, it was hard to know if I was busy searching for something I had already. See Haven't I Seen You Before?

My document tracker spreadsheet gives me a quick way to see what I have for a person and what I'm missing.

Another of your goals for 2018 could be to "Find every missing 1940 census for the people in my tree."

Request Official Documents

I wish every document I needed for my family tree were online. But sometimes you've got to request a marriage certificate from the state, or buy a copy of a death certificate from the Department of Health.

If some of your ancestors died not so long ago, it's unlikely you'll find their death records online. You've got to find out how to order a copy from the state where your ancestor died.

I wanted a copy of my grandfather's 1992 death certificate to learn his exact cause of death. My brother, my cousins, and I knew it was two types of cancer, but we weren't sure which types. As his direct descendants, we thought we should know.

Since my grandfather died in New York City, I had to request a copy in a certain way. If he'd died somewhere else in New York state, or in another state, I would have had to follow a different procedure.

P.S. They did not send me his full death certificate, so I still don't know his official cause of death.

Your goal for 2018 might be "Get copies of birth, marriage and death records for my grandparents and great grandparents."

Confirm or Debunk Family Lore

I have two pieces of family lore that are so vague, I may never be able to confirm or debunk them.

One story says that my great grandfather's brother, Agostino, left the Bronx and moved to Chicago because he was involved in a fight that left a man dead.

I can try to pinpoint when he left the Bronx, and then search newspapers for a story about a man dying in a big brawl.

Another story says that my great grandfather Pasquale left New York and moved to Ohio because of an injury. He and his brothers-in-law worked for the railroad. One of the men let his son into a restricted area. The boy did something stupid and lost a few toes in an accident. To avoid getting fired, they packed up and moved.

The men continued working for the railroads. I suspect the railroad in Youngtown, Ohio, needed workers. They may have gotten an incentive to go work there.

But if the story were true, there might be some documentation of the boy with the missing toes.

Newspaper research could be what you need to confirm or debunk your family stories. Your goal might be "Find proof for my cousin's claim about our ancestor."

Aim for five or six goals that will provide the most bang for your research buck. If you achieve these goals, imagine how much family tree research you will accomplish in 2018!

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Trade Up to Better Family History Sources

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

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

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

Clean-Up Makes Your Family Tree More Reliable

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

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

Now It's Your Turn to Trade Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Friday, October 20, 2017

Add Proof and a Breadcrumb to Family Tree Documents

Has this ever happened to you? You're taking a look at the ship manifest you saved for your ancestor. You had a hard time finding this manifest because your ancestor's name was so badly transcribed.

Suddenly, you realize there's someone on the first line with a last name you know. You need to see who that person is travelling with.

The people you need to see are on the previous page. How can you find that page online again?
We collect so many documents. Can you return to where you found them?

A Shortcut for Difficult Searches

Here are three options:
  • Perform a search for someone else on the image you have in front of you. Choose someone whose name is written very clearly, and include the first names of the relatives travelling with them.
  • If your relatives' names are written incorrectly, search for the names exactly as they're written.
  • If the top of the ship manifest includes the ship name, the arrival date, and the port of arrival, you can search page-by-page through that particular arrival of that ship.

These tips apply to census forms, too. If you can't find the page again by searching for your relative, search for the easiest-to-read name on the page.

And you can use the information on the top of the census sheet to find the collection that will contain that page.

Search in Vain No More

I'm working on a project that will:
  • Help me instantly find online any document I've downloaded: a ship manifest, census sheet, draft registration card, etc.
  • Allow other genealogists to view my source documents in place, retrace my steps, and see for themselves if my facts can be trusted.

My Family Tree Maker file contains about 2,400 document images. That doesn't count my photographs of people or tombstones.

I'm making my way through each media item, one at a time. I'm adding every important fact and the original web address of the image to its notes.

This annotation lets me—or anyone—return to the original file easily.

I started with census forms. I try to stick to a format that includes:
  • the lines numbers on which you'll find the family from my tree
  • the town, county and state
  • the enumeration district, supervisor's district, assembly district, block number, page or sheet number
  • the number of the image in the collection, such as image 2 of 45
  • the URL of the original file so I—or other researchers—can return to it

It's an ambitious project. I completed all 623 of my census images before I realized I should include the image number and the web address. So now I'm going through them again, finding each one online to record those two facts. I'm up to 1930, so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Next I'll annotate my 332 ship manifests. Then my 563 birth, marriage, and death records. But I have tons of downloaded Italian vital records I haven't yet added to my tree!

It takes a special kind of devotion to fortify your family tree and make it the best it can be.

But I'm trying.


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