Showing posts with label spreadsheet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spreadsheet. 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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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Plowing Through My 2019 Genealogy Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, October 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

But in 2017 they began digitizing everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Friday, September 14, 2018

One Report, Endless Possibilities for Improving Your Family Tree

Update: Family Tree Analyzer is now available for Mac.

Go to ftanalyzer.com to download Family Tree Analyzer for free.
Family Tree Analyzer
It's always fun to create an up-to-date GEDCOM from my family tree and get the latest insights from Family Tree Analyzer.

I've written about this free PC-based program several times now (see links at the bottom of this article). Today let's look at how you can use its Main Lists tab to produce an all-in-one report.

First, your family tree software should have an export option. You can use the export option to create a GEDCOM. If you keep your family tree online only, and not in desktop software, you've given up some control of your family tree. Ancestry.com lets you export a GEDCOM from your online tree, but other sites, like FamilySearch.org, do not.

Second, there are other ways to do what I'm about to describe besides using Family Tree Analyzer. But to me, this program is the best way to do it. (Do a Google search for "convert GEDCOM to spreadsheet".)

Now let me show you what you can do with an all-in-one report from Family Tree Analyzer.

After loading your GEDCOM in Family Tree Analyzer, click Main Lists.
After loading your GEDCOM in Family Tree Analyzer, click Main Lists.
Launch Family Tree Analyzer and open your most recent GEDCOM file. The software will analyze your GEDCOM for several facts.

When it's finished, click the Main Lists tab. With the Individuals tab clicked, you'll see a table containing every person and fact in your tree!

Click the Export menu at the top of the program window to generate a "csv" file. This is a file you can open with any spreadsheet software, like Excel.

Excel gives you tools to sift, sort and manipulate the data any way you like. But I don't want to turn this into a long Excel tutorial. If you don't know how to filter and sort your contents, here's a good, short YouTube video. Jump ahead to 1:44 and watch until 2:24. Short and sweet.

In your spreadsheet, choose a Fact Type (column E) to filter by, such as Occupation. Now click Excel's Sort button and sort by Fact Comment (column H).

Now you have:
  • a simple view of all the occupations in your family tree
  • an alphabetical list of what you typed in for the description.

I'd like to do 2 things with the occupation descriptions:

1. Fix Errors. I can scroll down the list and scan for typos. In the image below, you can see there's an address instead of an occupation. I can fix that. In my family tree software, I'll go to the person named in columns B and C. It turns out I'd entered an address for the place of work, but left out the word "dentist" for these 2 men.
A filtered, sorted spreadsheet of your family tree facts simplifies a lot of tasks.
A filtered, sorted spreadsheet of your family tree facts simplifies a lot of tasks.

2. Complete My Job Translations. Most of my genealogy research work is in Italian documents. I thought it was cool to enter a person's occupation in Italian, so I made a separate translation list for my own use. But one day I realized there's a Find and Replace function in Family Tree Maker. So now I'm including the English translation in parentheses, like this: "calzolaio (shoemaker)".

Family Tree Maker is smart enough to make suggestions as I type in a field. So if I type "calz", it suggests "calzolaio (shoemaker)".

But I'll bet I overlooked a lot of jobs when I did my find and replace. This spreadsheet helps me find those untranslated Italian words, like agrimensore, benestante, eremite, and so on. Now I can finish this translation task and make my family tree more valuable for myself and others.

Let's pick another Fact Type.
  1. Click the Filter button at the top of column E.
  2. Click Select All to make every fact type available again.
  3. Click it again to uncheck the whole list.
  4. Now click to select the Birth fact type and click OK.
  5. Click the Sort button and sort by Fact Location, column G.
Scroll down through the alphabetical list of all the birth locations. Do you see a lot of blank locations toward the bottom? In a recent article (see "5 Clean-up Tasks to Improve Your Family Tree"), I explained the value of having approximate birth dates and places in your tree. It can give you better hints and search results.

For example, I have a man named Salvatore Martuccio who was born in about 1873. I don't want to see a hint for finding him in the 1880 census in America when he and his family were always in Italy. So I need to add Italy as his place of birth. I think I know which town he was born in, but I have no documentation. So I'll keep it loose and say he was born in Italy.

This spreadsheet makes it easier to find facts—and missing facts—so I can finish my clean-up tasks.

Here's another idea. I'll filter the Fact Type column by Immigration and sort by Fact Comment. When I first started recording immigration facts in my family tree, I used this format:

Arrived aboard the [ship name] with [wife, children, brother, etc.] to join [person's name and relationship] at [address].

Then I realized I could use the Emigration fact type to say:

"Left on the [ship name] to go to [destination city]."

With the ship name in the emigration or departure field, I could shorten my immigration or arrival description to:

"Arrived with [wife, children, brother, etc.] to join [person's name and relationship] at [address]."

I can use this filtered and sorted spreadsheet to find all the descriptions I want to edit in Family Tree Maker. Hurray! More work to do!

I'd like you to think of this method as a way of seeing everything that's hidden from plain sight in your family tree. Work on what's important to you. No matter how much you decide to correct, improve or simplify, you'll wind up with a better, stronger, more reliable family tree.

So filter, sort, and see how much you can accomplish!


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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, January 30, 2018

How I'm Methodically Finding My Missing Ancestors

I spent this past weekend hunting. For people. For a few of my missing fifth great grandparents.

And I found them!

Because I write this blog twice a week, I've gotten very focused on how I do things. I'm filling in my Grandparent Chart ancestor by ancestor by following my own advice.

Let me show you how I'm methodically adding the names of missing ancestors to my family tree.

Step One: Have Resources Ready to View

I've downloaded a massive number of vital records, waiting for me to review.
My collection of documents.
Your resources might be online genealogy sites or microfilm at a library.

If your ancestors were Italian, their town's vital records might be on the Antenati website. If so, I hope you've used the GetLinks program to download all the records to your computer. (See Collect the Whole Set!)

I have vital records from my Italian ancestral hometowns on my desktop. I'm processing these thousands of images in a couple of ways:
  • One-by-one I'm typing their facts into a spreadsheet database.
  • I'm choosing someone from my family tree to pursue—going after their birth, marriage and death records.
It's important to have my family tree software open as I go through the images. I can check out any familiar name to see if they're a relative.

Step Two: Crop and Add Facts to Images
add facts directly to images, and they'll be pulled into your family tree software
Annotating images.
When I find a document for someone who belongs in my family tree:
  • I rename the image file so it's easy to find again.
  • I drag the image into Photoshop to crop it and save it with its final name in my folder of vital records.
  • I right-click the image and choose Properties, and then the Details tab. Here I can annotate the images and enter the title as I want it to appear in my family tree. For example, "1811 birth record for Maria Vincenza Liguori". In the Comments section, I enter the URL where the image exists online.

Step Three: Add Images and Facts to Tree

always add all the details you can to an image in your family tree
Adding more details to images.
I drag the annotated image into my family tree software. I edit its properties there, adding the date of the event. I add the facts to the person in my tree, too. In some cases, the document has other names—parents and spouses—that I can add to my tree.

I like to set the most important image I have for a person as their profile picture. This is helpful when I'm looking at the family view. I can see at a glance that I've already found someone's birth record, for example.

Step Four: Update Index of Images

keeping an inventory of what you've found can save you lots of time
Adding newly found documents to my Document Tracker spreadsheet.
I make a quick update to my Document Tracker. This is the spreadsheet that acts as my inventory of documents I've added to my family tree.

Step Five: Add New Ancestor Names to Grandparent Chart

this ancestor chart (you can download a blank version) shows exactly who you have and who you're missing
My Grandparent Chart keeps track of my ancestor-finding progress.
If a document gives me the name of a direct-line ancestor I was missing, I add them to my Grandparent Chart.

Step Six: Add New Last Names to My Surname Chart

Can you keep all your ancestors' last names in your hear? No? Try building this list.
My surname list.
I found five new names this weekend of my 5th great grandparents. But only one had a brand new last name for my family tree. So I added d'Andrea to my list of 70 direct-line last names.

I may be methodical, but I can work on a whim, too. Sometimes I choose a year and start documenting the vital records in my spreadsheet. If that leads me to a brand new ancestor, I'm thrilled!

Other times I begin with my Grandparent Chart and choose a target. Which missing ancestor do I want to find?

That's how I found one particular set of 5th great grandparents this weekend. I'd discovered a 4th great grandmother named Apollonia Caruso.

I love that name. I can't see or hear the name Apollonia without thinking of "The Godfather, Part II."

But I didn't know her parents' names. She married before 1809—the year the Italian civil record keeping began.

I found her children's birth records, but they don't include her parents' names. So I found her son, my 3rd great grandfather Francesco Saverio Liguori's 1840 marriage records.

Apollonia had died by then. Her death record should have been included. Instead, there was a long letter explaining that she had died, but no one could remember when! The town clerk couldn't find her death record because he didn't know where to look.

I decided to do his job and find her death record.

This story deserves a separate blog post, so let's just say I found her death record, and much more! I'll tell you how I did it next time.

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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!

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

How to Run Your Genealogy Research Like Clockwork

Years ago I thought if I broke up my housework into smaller tasks, I'd be more likely to get it all done. Wash the laundry on Monday, clean the bathrooms on Tuesday, change the sheets on Wednesday—like that.

I found out a strict schedule doesn't work if you don't want to do the tasks!

But what if this schedule consisted of things you basically love to do—like all things genealogical?

Imagine you have two hours you can carve out of most days—say one hour early in the morning and one hour right after dinner.

If you apply yourself to specific tasks, think of the steady growth your strong and accurate family tree will see!

My challenge to you (and to myself) is to develop a Family Tree Calendar and use it to push yourself toward a better and better body of research.

Here are some suggested tasks to work in one-hour sprints:
  • Make an inventory of what you've collected. I keep a spreadsheet with columns for things like birth, death and marriage records, census forms, draft cards, etc. And I have one person on each line. This one document shows me what I have and what I need.
  • Organize your documents into folders. Hopefully you've got some sort of a system going, but think about how you can improve it in a way that makes it crystal clear what is where.
  • Annotate the documents you store in your family tree software. Your software probably lets you add notes to a file you've attached to an ancestor. Think about the family historian who will come after you. Annotate the documents in a way that would let anyone else find them the same way you did.
  • Find the missing documents for one nuclear family. Use your inventory of documents you've collected, focus on one family, and try to locate the missing documents. Tie up those loose ends.
  • Use a tool to analyze the flaws in your tree. Family Tree Analyzer is one such tool that will show you errors you didn't realize were there. How many can you resolve in one hour?
  • Fill in the missing GEDCOM facts. When you do locate a census sheet for a family, do you add the residence, date, and occupation facts for each member of the household?

Even if there are some tasks you truly don't enjoy (like beefing up your source citations), going at it for one uninterrupted hour can't hurt you.

Make a plan and use it to keep yourself on course. I've been known to wander off on many a tangent, documenting a very distant family simply because the information was there for the taking.

That's fine—but save the tangents for the weekend or other free time.

Try this: Spend one month treating your research like a paid job, and see how far you can go!

Let me know how you do. And tell me which tasks you added to your list!

And if you're a big fan of organization, read my Work in Batches to Strengthen Your Family Tree.

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

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Case Study on "Haven't I Seen You Before?"

This post is about the importance of being fully organized and supports my earlier post, "Haven't I Seen You Before?". I've seen countless articles about how best to file your paper documents and binders and photos, but I have extremely few paper documents. They're in one folder.

On the other hand, I have thousands of digital documents—primarily jpg files. Early on, when I was going gangbusters and grabbing hundreds of census sheets, ship manifests, draft registration cards, and more, I realized it could be difficult to get back to the right jpg file very easily.

So here's what I did:
  1. I named each file using a standard naming convention such as LastnameFirstnameYear.jpg. For a census sheet or a ship manifest containing a whole family, I used the name of the head of household, such as SavianoAntonio1898.jpg.

  2. I placed each type of document into a folder with an unmistakable name, such as census, draft registration, immigration, certificates (that's for birth, marriage and death).
  3. When I import a jpg into Family Tree Maker software, I fill out the properties window as much as possible. I use a standard title (e.g., "1898 immigration record for Antonio Saviano and family"), enter the date on the document (in my preferred standard of day (numerical) month (first 3 letters) year (4 digits)), and click the checkbox for the type of file (including vital record, photo, military, census). Finally, in the description section I state which line number(s) to look at, and enough details to allow anyone else to find the original document themselves (such as the name of the collection, the roll number, and image x of xx on ancestry.com). Sometimes this is handy for me to have, too. For example, if I have a family that I think lived on the same block as another family, but they're not showing up in a census search, I can retrace my steps to the first family's census sheet and start paging through until I find the other family.

  4. documenting an image's properties
    I created my super handy document tracker spreadsheet (download one for yourself) and update it every time I find a new document. Each line has one person on it, lastname first so I can easily sort them all alphabetically. The columns are for the different types of documents, like censuses and ship manifests. Each time I add a new jpg, I mark the proper column with the document's year. So if I have the 1910 and 1920 census for someone, both of those years go in their line, and it's obvious that I do not have 1930. I currently have 1,380 lines, but I think I haven't added the tons of people documented in my Basélice research project.

  5. Every so often I copy these files to another location, like my own website server. I don't have to recopy them all—I just have to upload the ones dated after my last backup.
If you can get this organized, you will find it easier to gather more complete information on families, and your tree will be fortified by excellent sources.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Haven’t I Seen You Before?

It can be fun to follow a genealogy lead online and begin gathering facts and downloading documents as fast as you find them.

But beware. If you’re not well organized, you may discover that the terrific documents you spent an hour downloading are documents you already had!

My Family Tree Research Secret Weapon

That’s why I like to keep my “cheat sheet” open whenever I’m looking at information.

My document tracker shows me what I have and what I'm missing in my family tree.

I have a spreadsheet I call my Document Tracker. It has one person on each line and columns for the types of documents or facts I collect. The columns include birth, baptism, marriage, immigration, death, censuses, military, and more.

Whenever I'm investigating someone, I take a glance at that person in my alphabetical spreadsheet. Instantly I know what I have and what I need to find. No more wasted or duplicated effort.

To be thorough, I save the image of a census document and name it for the head of household and the year (e.g., IamarinoPietro1940.jpg). Then in my family tree software I attach it to each member of the household. Finally, I note it on each person’s line in my Document Tracker spreadsheet.

Now I can see which census years I've found for a father and each of his children as they move on to their own households.

This spreadsheet also helps you see what is missing for anyone in your family tree, such as the 1920 and 1940 census, or a World War II draft registration card.

Use your document tracker to focus on exactly what you need to locate. Think how much that will improve your productivity and fortify your family tree.