Showing posts with label sources. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sources. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Your All-in-One Family Tree Clean-up List

Use this checklist of 7 tasks to scrub your family tree clean.

I want to help you make your family tree better and more professional. That's why I've been writing these genealogy articles twice a week for more than two years.

Today we'll look at 7 types of family tree clean-up tasks. Together they can improve your tree in so many ways.

1 Names

Does every name in your family tree meet your standards?
  • Maiden names. It's a genealogy best-practice to record women using their maiden name. Let them have their own identity.
  • Unknown names. When you haven't discovered someone's first or last name, consider recording it as _____. This makes it clear you haven't yet filled in that blank. Credit for this goes to Ancestry.com expert Crista Cowan. I used to use the word "Unknown", but someone misunderstood that. They thought I meant no one ever knew this name. As if the person was living under an assumed identity.
  • Names only. Some people will record a person's name as Grandma Johnson, or Jane Dad's great aunt. If you put notes on people's names, you're not helping relatives and DNA matches to find you.
  • More than one name. I insist on recording everyone's birth name. I'll add other names (nicknames, Anglicized names, and legal name changes) as a second name fact.

2 Places

Make sure the place names in your tree follow a consistent style. Family Tree Maker organizes your place names when they're written the right way. It's easy to click a country, then a state or province, then a town, and find a place. And with a click you'll see every name associated with a place.


Once I saw how nicely Family Tree Maker organizes place names, I cleaned them all up.
Once I saw how nicely Family Tree Maker organizes place names, I cleaned them all up.

3 Media Files

Remember when you first got started in genealogy? I know I was downloading census sheets and ship manifests as fast as I could find them.

All those media files need a facelift. And it will make them believable and valuable as evidence of your ancestor. Here's how I mark up each document image in my family tree:
  • Write a caption. Start with a year to force media items to display in date order. Make it clear what each document is.
  • Add the date. Documents will almost always have an exact date on them. Add this to the date field.
  • Choose a category. Family Tree Maker lets me pick a category from their list, or add custom categories. Now I can sort my thousands of media files by type.
  • Describe everything about the document image. I add enough information to allow myself or anyone else to find the original image again. That includes line numbers on the page, a description of the document collection, and a URL.
  • Add a note. There is a notes tab for each media item in Family Tree Maker. You can type any information in there. Maybe you need to record who you wrote to to get this image.

4 Sources

I like to keep my sources simple. But I've been adding more and more detail to them.

I use a simple title, like "1900 U.S. Federal Census". A short title doesn't clutter up the person view in Family Tree Maker.

I copy the citation details and citation text from the collection. For example, for the 1900 U.S. Federal Census:
  • The citation detail is:

    Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.
  • The citation text is:

    United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.
  • The web address where you find those details and can search this collection is:

    https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7602
Having a neat, tight list of sources makes them easy to maintain and make better.
Having a neat, tight list of sources makes them easy to maintain and make better.
I like that I can click any source in my tree and see every person and fact that's associated with it. I have a goal to get rid of secondary sources—like other people's trees. I need to replace them with primary sources. My source list makes it easy to find the facts I need to work on.

For more on this topic see 6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations.

5 Filing

People seem to worry a lot about their document filing systems. Don't overthink it. Keep it simple and logical. Remember that you may pass your work on to a loved one some day.

What's logical to me is a folder for each main type of document:
  • census
  • draft cards
  • ship manifests
  • birth, marriage, and death certificates, etc.
I name my files, in general, LastnameFirstnameYear. Here are some of my file names:
  • RignaneseMatteoNaturalization1944-p1.jpg
  • CiottiMariaTeresaConcettaBirth1848.jpg
  • CoccaAngeloAntonioMontaganoMariaBenedettaGenerosa1stMarriageBanns1833.jpg
  • LucarelliGirolamoWW1.jpg
Because I follow a pattern, it's easy to see what a document is.


6 Backups

How fatal of a heart attack would you have if all your genealogy research disappeared?

Spread things out, but keep them at hand. Use your computer drive, external drives and cloud storage.

Make a backup plan for your genealogy files and stick to it. Remember that two backups are better than one. Many of my files synchronize to my cloud storage the moment they change. For everything else, I make a backup every Sunday morning. Without fail.


7 To-Do Lists

It seems like everyone has their favorite way of keeping to-do lists. Post-It Notes, a special notebook, EverNote. I'm fond of keeping a single text file open on my computer all the time. It's called Notebook.txt. That's where I have my:
  • Genealogy To-Do List
  • 2019 Genealogy Goals List
  • List of important families to work on
  • List of files and folders to back up each Sunday
  • and more
I don't care how you do it, but find a way to keep track of :
  • what you want to do next
  • what you were doing when you stopped for the day
  • what you'd like to do when you have the chance.
For more on this topic see Start Your Rainy-Day Genealogy List.

That was a lot. And it's a lot of work. But chip away at these ideas and your family tree will grow stronger from your effort.

Make these tasks into a to-do list and tackle it one bite at a time. It's worth it.

Please take this 3-question survey to help me make this content better for you. Thank you!

Friday, January 11, 2019

10-Minute Genealogy Tasks You Can Do

With these options, you can get a lot of genealogy research done in 10-minute blocks here and there.

Some more sleep would be nice. But I've been getting up really early each morning with one goal in mind: Do something productive.

Two mornings a week, posting this blog is the only thing I do. On the other mornings I try to see how many genealogy tasks I can complete before it's time to get dressed for work. It turns out, there are a lot of genealogy tasks you can do when you have only 10 minutes or so. Here are my top 5.

1. Search for a Missing Document
No commitments! See how much you can get done in only 10 minutes.
No commitments! See how much you can get done in
only 10 minutes.

First, pick a common type of document, like a ship manifest or a census.

Next, choose a particular family from your tree that's missing that document. Even if you've searched and failed to find it before, try again. Use the different search tricks (see 3 Tricks for Better Genealogy Search Results), like searching for the family by their first names only.

Even if you gave up on finding this missing document long ago, indexing systems can change. The document may become easier to find. Last month when searching for something else, I found my grandparents' 1925 New York State census sheet. Somehow, it had never come up in all my years of doing family tree research.

2. Scan Paper Documents and Photos

You may have some paper birth, marriage and death records in folders or binders. If you don't have a digital copy too, you can't add the document to your family tree software.

Gather a bunch of these paper documents and scan them as high-resolution images. No scanner? Your phone or digital camera will do.

No matter which device you use, take the document out of its shiny sleeve or glass frame. If you're not scanning, take the picture straight on and avoid shadows. There's a handy app called CamScanner that straightens out your image and makes it the best it can be.

3. Fill in Missing Sources

Some of the earlier facts in my family tree came from family members. That's really not reliable.

Revisit the branches someone else told you about or helped you with. Search online for documentation and reliable sources for as many of these facts as you can. Then add those new sources to your tree. (See 6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations and Trust But Verify Your Relative's Family Tree.)

4. Annotate Your Images

Have you ever tried to re-find a census sheet online because you need to see the next page? It isn't always easy to find a document again. A misspelling may have made it tough to find the first time. Imagine having to go through that again.

Save yourself the aggravation and ensure the long-term provability of your facts. Add enough information to the document images in your family tree to allow you, or anyone, to find the original file again. Include the collection it's from, the microfilm reel number, the page number, the image number, the URL. The more facts you include, the more traceable the document will be.

For instance, I added the following note to the image properties of a ship manifest. When you attach notes to the image file, you'll import the notes into your family tree along with the image.

1957 travel record for Silvio Tagliamonte and Lillian Iamarino
lines 4-5; New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957; Roll — T715, 1897-1957 — 8001-8892 — Roll 8854; image 716 of 1197
https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7488/NYT715_8854-0716


5. Put Odds and Ends into Your Tree

Ancestry.com has a feature called a Shoebox. It's a place to save items you may need, but right now you're not sure you need. I have a similar way of saving things I gather. I have a folder on my computer called "gen docs". It has sub-folders for photos, census forms, ship manifests, and much more.

If you have a catch-all system too, your 10-minute task is to start digging into it. Annotate the image files and add them where they belong in your family tree.

Are you a morning person? Clear-headed and ambitious. Or are you a night owl? Ready to conquer the world while everyone else is in bed.

Whatever time of day your brain is locked in and ready to go, choose one of these tasks. How far will you get in 10 minutes?

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

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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Friday, November 30, 2018

4 Keys to Make You a Better Genealogist

Even 1 key will get you going. All 4 might unlock a ton of treasure.

If you could pick only one, which of these family tree accomplishments would make you a better genealogist?
  1. Perfecting your file, folder and document ORGANIZATION
  2. Cleaning up your FACTS AND SOURCES and doing them right from now on
  3. "FINISHING" your research on individual family groups
  4. SHARING your findings with relatives
Let's take a look at each one so you can decide. And once you do choose one, you've got your 2019 Genealogy Goals in your sights.

They're not just shiny objects. They are the heart of solid genealogy.
They're not just shiny objects.
They are the heart of solid genealogy.
Organization

How quickly can you locate your maternal grandparents' 1940 census document? Your great grandfather's ship manifest? Your great uncle's World War II draft registration card?

If you don't know exactly where to look and exactly how you would have named the file, you may need an organization upgrade.

Create your organization style, and stick to it. Almost from the beginning, I decided:
  • how I wanted to name my document images and
  • how I wanted to organize those images in file folders.
I'm 99.8% digital; so little paper that it's in one manila folder.

I name my folders, all within my FamilyTree folder, for the type of document:
  • census forms
  • certificates (that's all birth, marriage and death records)
  • city directories
  • draft cards
  • immigration
  • passports, etc.
I name my document images for the person (or head of household, if it's a census) and the year: LastnameFirstnameYear. The file names can get very long for a marriage, where I include both the groom's name and the bride's name, plus the year. But then the file name is very descriptive.

This system has worked incredibly well for me ever since I started this crazy hobby.

Facts and Sources

As you work on your family tree year after year, you may find you do things differently than you did before. Hopefully you're doing them better than you did before.

If you want others to recognize your family tree for the good work it is, fix your facts and sources.

Revisit your earliest work and put in the sources you skipped in your excitement. (See 6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations.) Add annotations to your document images within your family tree. (See How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images.)

Finishing

Yes, I know all the jokes and memes. Genealogy is never finished.

But you can finish gathering all the known documents for a given family. Pick a particular nuclear family—like your grandparents, your mother and her siblings.

You can finish your search for their:
  • census forms
  • birth, marriage and death records
  • immigration records
  • military records
Your family tree probably has lots of nuclear families you didn't finish working on. Why not finish searching for their key documents now?

As you "finish" each family unit, you can consider moving on to this next goal.

Sharing

Imagine your mother and her family again. You've got as many documents for that family as you can get.

This would be the perfect time to create a booklet or a scrapbook about them. Write their story, based partly on the documents and facts you've collected. Put something together and share it with your loved ones.

I wrote a brief life story for my grandfather recently, and it made my mother incredibly happy. (See 5 Steps to Writing Your Ancestor's Life Story.)

If one or more of these ideas hits home for you, why not make it happen in 2019? I haven't finished annotating my document images (Facts and Sources), so I definitely want to do that. I'm also very eager to finish some families, or at least finish gathering all the census forms that I'm still missing.

I want us all to be better, more thoughtful and accurate genealogists. These 4 keys can definitely put you on your way.

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

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!


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

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

3 Housekeeping Tasks for a Professional-Quality Family Tree

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

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

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

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

1. Add breadcrumbs and links to your documents

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

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

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

2. Upgrade your sources

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

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

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

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

3. Standardize your place names

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

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

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

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

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


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Friday, October 5, 2018

Do These 3 Things Before You Add Another Name to Your Family Tree

Put that person's facts down! You don't know where they came from.

I'll never forget the time someone took my grandfather and added him to their family tree. They didn't care that my grandfather was born in a different town and province than their family. They weren't concerned that his last name—Leone—is practically the Smith of Italy. They just took him and my grandmother!

That's actually one reason why I started this blog. I want us all to be more professional in our genealogy hobby. Do your research with care and skill, and your family tree won't be riddled with non-relatives.

I'll admit I've been guilty of accidentally adding non-relatives to my family tree. It tends to happen when I'm way out on a limb, gathering facts for a 3rd cousin's husband's mother's family. When you get into that level of not-my-people territory, you have no family lore and memories to guide you.

It's too easy to add a man with the right name and the right hometown—even though you haven't proven he's the right guy.

To avoid adding the wrong people to your family tree, set these unbreakable ground rules.

Shaky leaf hints for my grandmother revealed trees that copied from me before I had the facts right.
Shaky leaf hints for my grandmother revealed trees that copied from me before I had the facts right.
#1 Find the Documentation Yourself

A shaky leaf or someone else's tree is nothing but a lead. Promise yourself you will look at the hint or tree, jot down the facts, and seek proof on your own. Find the census forms, ship manifests and draft registration cards yourself. Weigh those documents yourself. Decide if the person belongs in your family tree for yourself.

Remember: The person whose tree you're looking at may be newer to genealogy than you are.

#2 Don't Ignore Contradictory Information

Let's say you found a woman named Mary Bianco in someone else's tree as a search result. Some of her facts match the Bianco family in your tree. She has the right last name, her father has the right first name, and she lives in the right town.

Is that enough to add her? No, it isn't. Examine all the facts about her.
  • Does she have the right first name, or is it a variation of what you expected?
  • Does her mother's name match the family you have?
  • Are her siblings' names right?
  • Is she the right age?
  • Was she born in the right place?
If some of her facts don't match the family you want to add her to, stop a moment. You need to prove or disprove her relationship to your family with more research.

Can you find her in other documents? Let's say you have her with a Bianco family in the 1900 census. But her mother's name seems wrong.

Search for this family with the wrong mother in another census year. You may find this is a different family than yours. They have similarities, but other documents prove they're the wrong family. Not your family.

You just saved yourself from making a big mistake.

#3 Make Note of Your Sources

If you're using an unofficial source, make careful notes!
If you're using an unofficial source, make careful notes!
You may decide you totally believe someone else's tree. You recognize the author's name. The woman you're researching is the tree owner's grandmother. You really want to add "Mary Bianco" to your tree.

If you're feeling confident enough to add her, add the source to your tree, too. Note that these facts came from "The Bianco Family Tree". Capture the URL of the tree.

If Mary Bianco is important to you, someday you may add better, stronger sources for her name, birth and other facts.

Imagine for a moment that you hired a professional genealogist. Would you still want to pay his fee if one of his sources was "Mary Bianco's granddaughter's tree"?

Allow me to harp on one of my favorite themes again. Your family tree is your legacy. Make it as valuable as possible!


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

Friday, September 7, 2018

How to Decide Who to Cut from Your Family Tree

It's Time to Give a Whole New Meaning to 'Trimming the Tree'

In my newbie genealogy days it was a ton of fun to find people in the census. I'd trace a family through the years. I'd add names and facts and build out the family with glee.

Before long, I had 8 generations of my great uncle's wife's family. I don't know my great uncle's wife. I never met my great uncle! I had no plans to do any research for this family. And I had borrowed a lot of the people from other trees.

Why keep these hastily recorded people in my tree? I want my tree to be more professional than that.

I've written here before about lopping 600 or so people from my tree. Their only connection to me was my brother's wife. So I carefully separated them all out into their own tree for my sister-in-law.

Now it's time to prune more people who don't belong. This will improve the value of my family tree.

I deleted my great uncle's wife's ancestors one at a time. I checked first to see if they had a document image attached to them. If so, I detached the image, deleted it from Family Tree Maker's media collection and from my folders. Then I deleted the person, their spouse and children.

I did this carefully so I wouldn't leave any detached people floating in my family tree file.

That was a good family to delete. They had little or no documentation. I didn't know anything about them. They were not my people.

Here are some ways to decide who to cut from your family tree.

Where Did These People Come From?

Start by scanning your tree for a name you don't recognize. Can you find their connection to you? If the relationship is absurdly distant, maybe you should cut their branch.

Take a look at your source information for them. Did you find these facts yourself, or did they come from someone else's tree? Do you have good sources? No sources?

If the sourcing is unreliable or non-existent, maybe you should cut their branch . Give it some thought before cutting. Do you think you might ever be sorry about your decision?

The way I see it, if the names didn't have good documentation, they weren't worth much to my family tree anyway. If I did want to build out that branch, I'd rather start from scratch and do it based on evidence.

What Can These People Offer My Family Tree?

The sources in my family tree start out very simple and straightforward.
There are some very unofficial 
sources hiding in my tree.
With more than 19,000 people, my tree has tons of ridiculously distant relatives. Picking a person at random, I find she's the mother-in-law of the wife of the father-in-law of the husband of the sister-in-law of my 2nd great grandfather. In short, she's related to me through the 1st wife of my 2nd great grandfather.

She's not my relative, but I'm keeping her. I've met a few people online who are related to my great grandfathers 1st wife. Plus, my ancestors in their little Italian towns were basically all related by blood or marriage. That's kinda my thing. That's what my tree is all about: finding all the ties that bind these towns together.

Because that's my thing, I'm not deleting any of my 18th- and 19th-century Italians.

Look for Strange Sources

Looking at my long list of sources in my family tree software, I see a few unofficial sources. They're named for the family tree I looked at when adding people to my tree.

These days I avoid looking at other people's trees, but I used to follow leads.

One of these family tree sources is attached to 22 facts. This might be a branch I should cut.

I'll choose someone from the list of 22 facts and use Family Tree Maker's Relationship Tool to see their relationship to me. Of course. They're related to my 2nd great grandfather's 1st wife again! A couple of generations of the family are in my ancestral hometown, and then they came to New York state.

Family Tree Maker shows me every facts associated with a particular source.
Family Tree Maker shows me every fact
associated with a particular source.
Instead of deleting this branch, I'm going to flag the descendant who was born in America. I want to replace as many "Somebody's Family Tree" sources as possible with official sources.

Round Up the Out-Laws

Have you put together a branch for your cousin's husband, only to have your cousin divorce her husband? Do you care about keeping that branch?

My new policy is to keep only the parents of in-laws. I have exceptions, of course. I've had fun building out my 1st cousin's wife's tree. (I'm a sucker for Italian ancestors!)

Here's what I'd suggest to you. Give some thought to what you want from your family tree. If you're doing this just for the fun of it, then set your own rules and have a blast!

If you're more like me, and you've found a true passion in your tree, focus on that. Are you working toward applying to the Sons or Daughters of the America Revolution? Are you trying to map out our ancestors' migration paths so you can follow in their footsteps? Are you trying to fill your living room wall with a cool display of your immediate ancestors?

Whatever you hope to achieve…
  • cutting the fat
  • improving the sources and
  • deciding where to focus
will make your family tree stronger.


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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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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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