Showing posts with label research plan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label research plan. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

When Documents Disagree, Get More Documents

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

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

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

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

Here's an example I found yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

1. 1910 United States Federal Census

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

2. 1920 United States Federal Census

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

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

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

3. 1930 United States Federal Census

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

4. 1940 United States Federal Census

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

5. 1900 United States Federal Census

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

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

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

6. Death Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 14, 2018

This Genealogy Report Shows You What's Missing

Update: Family Tree Analyzer is now available for Mac.

How would you like a tool that shows you exactly which census forms you haven't found for each person in your family tree?

Sound like a time-saver? You'd better believe it is. Let's take a look at the Census Report tool in the free software program, Family Tree Analyzer (FTA). (See their website for the free download and their Facebook page for support.)

This is a simple process of (1) open file, (2) run report, (3) work with your results.

Before You Start
An approximate birth year and country of birth will give you the best results.
An approximate birth year and country of birth will
give you the best results.
Learn from my experience and get better results:
  • Enter an estimated birth date for everyone in your tree. When you don't know someone's date, make them about 25 years older than the oldest child you've found for them. There's a big difference when searching for someone born in 1850 vs. 1900.
  • Enter a country of birth and death whenever possible. Say you've researched several generations of a family and they stayed in one area. If someone's children never emigrated, assume the person was born and died in that country. Add a note that this is not verified.

Now the FTA Census Report will be much smarter and you'll need to do very little editing of your Census Report.

Open Your Data File

Once you install FTA, all you need is your tree's latest GEDCOM file (see the definition). Check your software's File menu for an Export option. If your tree is on Ancestry.com, but not on desktop software, go to your Tree Settings online. Find the green Export tree button. Some websites believe in one shared tree. That means you don't have full control of your tree, and you cannot download a GEDCOM. The control freak in me can't imagine going that route.

Launch FTA and open your GEDCOM file.

Run the Census Report

To run a report showing which census records you're missing:

Make 2 selections, and click to run the report.
Make 2 selections and click "Show Missing from Census" to run the report.
  1. Click the Census tab at the top.
  2. Check the boxes for the Relationship Types you'd like to include in your report:
    • Direct Ancestors
    • Blood Relations
    • Related by Marriage
    • Married to Blood or Direct
    • Unknown
  3. Choose a census report from the Census Date menu. You'll find:
    • UK Censuses from 1841–1911
    • the UK National Register of 1939
    • Ireland Censuses for 1901 and 1911
    • US Federal Censuses from 1790–1940
    • Canadian Censuses from 1851–1921
    • Scottish Valuation Rolls from 1865–1925
  4. Click the button labelled Show Missing from Census. Your report will open in a new window.
Your report is ready to export to Excel.
Your report is ready to export to Excel. Notice the status line at the bottom of the report. You can double-click an entry from this report view to go to FamilySearch and find the census you're missing.
FTA is smart. It knows if someone in your tree was alive and living in the right country for a particular census. By default, it doesn't search for anyone over the age of 90, but you can change that.

Now that you have the report, click the Excel icon at the top of the report window. Save the file to your computer in the default CSV (Comma-Separated Values) format. Now go back to step 1 and repeat the process for each census year you need.

Analyze Your Results

Now it's time to work with the data. I found a small number of people who didn't belong in this report. So before you start working through people one line at a time, let's check a few things.

To work with your report more easily, hide the spreadsheet columns you don't need right now. To hide a column, click the letter at the top of the column, like G. This will select the whole column. Then right-click the selected column and choose Hide from the menu.

The most important columns to keep visible are:
  • CensusName (a married woman's maiden name is in parentheses)
  • Age
  • BirthDate
  • BirthLocation
  • DeathDate
  • DeathLocation

The first people I'll look for have a birth location and death location in another country. I see only a couple of people who match this description. The first one is a familiar name: Domenico Sarracino. I know he never came to America, so I can remove him from this report.

Next I want to remove everyone with an unknown birth and death date. I know that in my family tree, these are most likely relatives of relatives. I might know nothing beyond their names. They shouldn't be my focus, so I'll remove them from my spreadsheet.

Finally, I'll sort the entire spreadsheet by the CensusName column. Now I can scroll through the names and remove duplicates. I found about 15 people who appeared to be duplicates with the same name and birth date.

One more step. For each name in the spreadsheet, I'll check their entry in my family tree. I quickly spot some more who I know never came to America.

The reason FTA doesn't know they never left Italy is that my birth and death dates don't always say they were born or died in Italy. I didn't want to make that assumption, but now I think I'd better. When it's a safe assumption, I'll put in the country and add a note that this is not confirmed.

More lines deleted.

Now I have a list of 120 people who need me to find them in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. That may sound like a lot of people, but my family tree has almost 20,000 people. It's about 0.6% of my total tree. That sounds manageable. And finding those missing census forms will make my tree that much more valuable.

I'm ready to begin searching for those census sheets. I'll whittle down my list as I go, keeping track of my progress. Then it's on to the census reports for 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940.

Go Fill in the Blanks

Now you're ready to make targeted searches for those missing census sheets. Family Tree Analyzer is a must-have if you want to make your family tree your legacy.

Want a cheap thrill? When you're done, create a new GEDCOM and run the report again. Look at your results!


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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, July 3, 2018

6 Building Blocks of Genealogy Research, Part 1

These are the building blocks of a strong family tree.
Six months ago I wrote about my general approach to genealogy research. Let's look at the specific building blocks that can make anyone a productive and efficient family tree researcher.

I don't want to short-change any of these concepts, so this article is in two parts. You'll find a link to part 2 at the bottom of this article.

1. Spell Out Your Goals

Did you make your list of genealogy goals for 2018? I made a list that I look at anytime I feel like I'm searching for documents without a specific goal.

Sometimes it's fun to go off on research tangents. But it's far more rewarding to focus on a goal and make real progress. Your goals might be to:
Come back to your goals again and again and whittle down the list.

2. Cast a Wide Net

I spent five years making trips to my local Family History Center. I ordered microfilm (it's available online now) from my maternal grandfather's hometown in Italy. I knew nothing beyond his parents' names, so I wanted to find out more.

I soon realized I couldn't tell who was related to me unless I pieced together all the families. So at the center I typed the data from each birth, marriage and death record. At home I entered it all into Family Tree Maker. In the end, I had a tree with 15,000 people. More than 10,000 of them had a connection to me.

Cast a wide net to capture all your ancestor's siblings and their children.
Cast a wide net to capture all your ancestor's siblings and their children.
If you don't want to go that far, at least gather all your ancestor's siblings. Say you find your 3rd great grandmother's birth record. Now you know your 4th great grandparents' names. Next you can search the surrounding years for babies born to the same couple.

Find those siblings and you can begin to identify your ancestor's close cousins. You're going to want those names when you're reviewing your DNA matches.

3. Take Advantage of Software


A small piece of my priceless vital record collection.
Here's a small piece of my priceless
vital record collection.
There are a lot of talented programmers out there creating free genealogy software. I finally gave up trying to write my own program when I found Family Tree Analyzer. This program takes the germ of an idea I was playing with and puts it on steroids. You can run reports, correct errors, and slice-and-dice your family tree in a bunch of ways.

And thank goodness I found GetLinks. Using GetLinks, I easily downloaded thousands and thousands of vital records from 7 of my ancestral hometowns in Italy.

Don't do things the hard way when other genealogy whizzes have created a solution for you.

Please continue to part 2 of this article. I get into the nuts and bolts of my genealogy philosophy with 3 more building blocks.

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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, 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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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Resolution You'll Want to Keep

On Christmas evening I followed my own advice. I created a list of 7 genealogy goals for 2018. (See What Are Your Genealogy Goals for 2018?.)

They're a little rough and fuzzy to start. But my plan is to fine-tune and prioritize them before January 1st.
Make 2018 the year your family tree blossoms.
Make 2018 the year your family tree blossoms.
  1. Create a weekly backup plan for my computer
  2. Find my parents' common ancestors
  3. Log my downloaded Antenati documents into spreadsheet
  4. Fill out the "Still to find" column on my document tracker
  5. Verify the upstate New York railyard story and the Agostino fight stories
  6. Find out my great grandfather's position in his local Italian-American society
  7. Figure out the Muollo family's connection to my Sarracino family
If you haven't yet created your 2018 list of genealogy goals, let me explain my thought process for my list. Reading this should help you find your most important goals.

Backup Plan

I transitioned to a new computer this month, so having a perfect backup plan is top-of-mind. (see Prepare Your Family Tree for Your Computer's Demise.) I'm thinking about writing a little Java program to identify which files are new as of a particular date. Then I can copy only those files. If I can write a handy program, I'll be happy to share it with you.

Connect My Parents

I've gotten DNA tests for myself and my parents. One test tells me my parents are distant cousins! (See Free DNA Analysis Finds Kissing Cousins.) AncestryDNA backs this up because mom and dad are in each other's match list. I need to find the set of great grandparents that connects them.

Log Italian Vital Records

Everyone researching Italian ancestors needs to know about the Antenati website. (See Collect the Whole Set!) I've downloaded all available documents from my four ancestral hometowns. If I log the critical facts from each vital record, I can piece together extended families.

Document Tracker

Sometimes I'll use my document tracker to complete the set of documents for a family. For instance, my spreadsheet shows me at a glance which documents I've found for each person. If it's obvious that I'm missing a couple of census years, I can focus on finding them. It will help my research if I fill in my "Still to find" column. If I do that, I can spend a day finding every missing 1940 census for my tree.

Family Lore

I have a couple of unproven family stories that will take a lot of research to prove or disprove. I have so little to go on. Maybe you have some family legends you can research in 2018. They may involve newspaper research or some other research that you can't do from home.

Personal History

They buried my great grandfather wearing a ribbon from an Italian-American society. (See 1925 Death Photo Holds a Clue to My Ancestor's Life.) I want to find out more. It seems to me he may have held an esteemed position in the society. The Bronx Historical Society has told me they can't help. I need to find more resources.

Tie Up Loose Ends

I have a family named Muollo in my family tree with no connection to me. I suspect they're related, but I have to find the proof. My great grandfather Giovanni Sarracino's mother was a Muollo. My great uncle, Giuseppe Sarracino, settled in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, at the same time as Gennaro Muollo from his hometown. This year, I want to find the connection between Gennaro Muollo and me.

I have never made a New Year's resolution. Since childhood I'd heard that New Year's resolutions were always broken. Quickly. So I never bothered.

But a New Year's Genealogy resolution is an entirely different thing. This resolution—this genealogy goal list—will keep me focused. I expect to have a very productive year of family tree research in 2018.

How about you?

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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, October 17, 2017

Track Your Genealogy Finds and Your Searches

Ten years ago I needed to take control of my family tree digital files. I had a growing collection of census forms, draft registration cards, vital records, and more.

I'd already settled on my preferred way of saving these files:
  • A folder for each type of document
  • A naming convention that groups a person's documents together:
    • LastnameFirstnameYear for a census or ship manifest (I use the head of household's name for a census.)
    • LastnameFirstnameBirthYear for a birth record
    • LastnameFirstnameWW1 for a draft registration card, etc.

But my well-named image files, sitting in all those different folders, didn't show me the big picture.

How could I see at a glance every document I have for a particular ancestor? And how could I quickly see which documents are missing?

Use the Technology You Know

That's when I turned to my old pal, Microsoft Excel.

For years I'd been using Excel spreadsheets on the job. I tracked progress on large-scale projects. I built formulas to show an accurate cross-section of the content on a website I manage. I kept tabs on my freelance hours for invoicing.

So why wouldn't I use Excel to create a genealogy research inventory?

My genealogy "document tracker" has 1540 lines right now. I have one person on each line. There are columns for each type of document I collect. The last column gives me space to note what's missing.

For example, for one of my grandmother's cousins, the "To find" column contains this:
  • 1915 census
  • 1920 census
  • 1925 census

One Spreadsheet Tells the Whole Research Story

Now it's time to get even more value out of my document tracker.

I've been looking at sample research logs on different genealogy sites. A research log is a disciplined way for you to note:
  1. What you're searching for (the 1930 census, a WWII draft registration card, etc.)
  2. Where you searched (National Archives, State Library, Ancestry.com, etc.)
  3. How you searched (by first name only, browsing through the whole census district, etc.)
  4. Your thoughts on what to try next

here's how you can get more value out of a genealogy spreadsheet
A new worksheet lets me attach research notes to
anyone in my family tree.
The research logs I found were much more complicated than I wanted. For starters, I'm satisfied with the list above.

So I've added a second sheet to my document tracker Excel file and named it Research Notes. The first column is for the person's name. I added four more columns to match the four items in my list.

How to Start Using Your Research Notes

The next time I'm trying to find a specific document—like the elusive 1940 census for the Raffaele Saviano family—I'll add a line to the new Research Notes worksheet.

I might note that I tried searching for the family using only their first names. And that I used Americanized versions of their Italian names. I'll add that I tried this on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

When I'm ready to call it quits for the moment, I'll add a note about what I think I should try next.

Finally—and this is a cool Excel trick—I'll add a link from this research note to Raffaele Saviano's line on the first worksheet where all of his documents are listed. And I'll add a link from there back to his line on the new Research Notes worksheet.

My favorite thing about linking between the sheets is this: You can reorganize the lines on either worksheet and not break the links. You can sort them, add new lines in the middle, do whatever you need to do, and the links will still work.

Here's how to create a link between the two worksheets in a single Excel spreadsheet file:
  • Make a mental note of which line number holds your ancestor on your new Research Notes worksheet. For example, I have Raffaele Saviano on line 2.
  • Click the empty cell where you want to add the link. You'll want to devote a column to these links. In my example, I'll go to Raffaele Saviano's line (1327) on my Facts worksheet and click in the empty "Link to Notes" column.
  • On the Insert toolbar or ribbon, click Link and choose Insert Link.

  • Click to select the name of your new research notes worksheet.

  • In the field labelled "Type the cell reference" it may say "A1" by default. Change it to A2, or A and whichever line number you need to link to.

  • Click OK and you'll see your link.

Now make a mental note of the line number for this ancestor on the Facts worksheet. Go to the Research Notes worksheet and link back in the same way.

Click the links to see them work.

Now you can have all of these facts at your fingertips. It's 100% searchable, sortable, and update-able. Download a sample spreadsheet to build on.

My favorite thing about Excel: I know it can do a million more things I haven't even thought of yet.

For more detail on the "document tracker", see:

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