28 June 2019

It's Time to Tame Your Family Photos

Set your goals and dive into this photo scanning and filing project.

I may not always follow my own rules.
I may not always follow my own rules.
I have a confession to make. I may have bragged a bit recently about my super-tidy document image filing system. It is foolproof, and I do swear by it. (See "4 Important Steps for Each New Document".)

But there is one area where I've fallen flat on my face: Photographs of relatives. Not document images, but photos. I can never find the one I want when I want it.

Here's how I got myself into such a mess.

Bad Profile Photos

My husband gave me Family Tree Maker as a birthday gift in 2002. I thought a profile photo measuring 72 pixels wide by 80 pixels high was the best fit. That's very tiny! I should have been using any square photo and letting the software display it in that small box.

In the updated program, all these years later, those tiny photos aren't clear. They're stretched to fill the space. They look like low-resolution photos.

Every time I notice one of those undersized, blurry profile photos, it bothers me. I know I've got to do something about it.

You know how sometimes you know you're doing it wrong, but you just keep doing it?
You know how sometimes you know you're doing it wrong, but you just keep doing it?

Save it for Later

Ancestry.com has a feature called a Shoebox. I haven't used it much, but I like the idea. If you find something you think you need, but you're not ready to do the work, you can put it in the Shoebox. Hopefully you'll remember to go back to it another time.

I decided to have a shoebox on my computer. I created a folder on my desktop called "gen docs". Whenever I come across a document I might need, or a family photo I might want to add to my tree, I put it in that folder.

Now my gen docs folder has 17 filled sub-folders and 52 loose items. It has census forms, city directory pages, ship manifests, naturalization papers, research I did for friends, and so much more.

It's safe to say my virtual shoebox is overflowing. I need to dig in and deal with these items.

That feeling when you plan to get to it soon, but years have come and gone.
That feeling when you plan to get to it soon, but years have come and gone.

Not in the Family Tree

When I'm not shoving photos into my gen docs folder, I usually stick to my plan of:
  • naming the file for the main 1 or 2 people in it, LastnameFirstnameEventYear.jpg
  • adding a title and description to the image file's properties
  • storing it in my FamilyTree/photos folder.
But some of the images in the photos folder are not named properly. I've got mom&grandma.jpg, MomDadWedding.jpg, DadAuntLil.jpg, and so on.

Each of these photos needs to go through the process above so I can add it to my family tree.

I've got my digitized family photos in too many locations. I've lost track of them all. There's a folder called "Oct 2011 scans". That dates back to when I moved near my parents and scanned my mom's photo albums. Did I forget to do anything with them?

It's quite the mess.

So what am I going to do about it?
  • Replace those tiny profile images. Re-scan the best photo I have of the person, crop it into a square head shot, and make that their profile image.
  • Check the file names of photos in my FamilyTree/photos folder. Make sure they follow my file-naming system so I can find any photo when I need it.
  • Add images to my tree. I never meant for my gen docs folder to get so full. I have to attach these photos to my family tree.
  • Better organize my non-family tree photos. I've done a good job organizing my vacation photos. They're in folders named for the vacation (Finger Lakes Aug 2016, France-Italy Sept 2015, etc.). Most have sub-folders for the different towns we visited on that vacation. But I've got to do something about the more vague folder titles, like "old photo album" and "so miscellaneous".
  • See if I still need to scan anything in my old family photo collection. I'll evaluate them, name them properly, and put them where they belong.
This is a project I've been saving for the right weekend. Now that I've got a firm plan, this is going to happen.

Are you neglecting your family photo collection?

25 June 2019

3 Ways to Tell If That Hint is No Good

A hint is only a suggestion. It isn't how you build your family tree.

I rarely look at hints for my family tree.

That's so me, of course. Not trusting anyone to do the job the way I want it done. I know which facts I'm missing. I'd rather search for them myself, thank you.

If you look at hints, and other people's family trees, how do you decide which facts to accept and which to ignore? How do you know that hint belongs in your family tree?

First of all, don't take anything for granted. Carelessly accepting a hint could add a branch to your family tree that has no relationship to you at all.

It's your job to evaluate the hint. These 3 basic rules will help you swat away the hints that are no good for your tree.

Follow these 3 basic rules to figure out if a hint is worthless.
Follow these 3 basic rules to figure out if a hint is worthless.

1. Does the Birth Year Make Sense?

I have a family in my tree that must be related to me. But I haven't found the proof. They came from my great grandparents' tiny hometown in Italy. The patriarch, Angelo, settled in a small Pennsylvania town with my cousin. Angelo has the same last name as that cousin's grandmother—my 2nd great grandmother.

Because I have no proof, these possible family members are in my tree sporting a big blue profile image. The image says No Relationship Established. (See "How to Handle the Unrelated People in Your Family Tree".)

Feel free to use this image.
I've been collecting a decent amount of documents for this family. I have Italian birth records, ship manifests, and U.S. censuses.

This Pennsylvania family does belong to a person I found who has them in his family tree.

But he made a big mistake with them. Angelo, the patriarch of the family, was born in 1849 and married in 1878. He and his wife Teresa had children in:
  • 1879
  • 1882
  • 1884
  • 1885
  • 1890
That's all fine. But this person gave Angelo 2 more children by another mother. They were born in 1881 and 1899. Compare those years to the list above.

Is it logical that Angelo married in Teresa 1878, had a baby in 1879, then had a baby with an unnamed woman in 1881? Then he went back to his wife Teresa and had kids in 1882, 1884, 1885, and 1890? And he returned to the unnamed woman to have a baby in 1899?

Those hints aren't as smart as you are. You can make a timeline.
Those hints aren't as smart as you are. You can make a timeline.

No. It is not logical. When I checked my own family tree for these 1881 and 1899 babies, I saw the problem.

Their father was not Angelo. He was Michelangelo. Michelangelo was Angelo's brother! His wife was Marianna. The 2 babies' birth records say their parents were Michelangelo and Marianna. Not Angelo and Teresa.

But let's assume this person didn't see those babies' birth records. Maybe he figured Angelo was a nickname for Michelangelo. That's not uncommon.

But a timeline of all the children should have told him these 2 were not Angelo's children by another woman.

Their birth years did not make sense for Angelo. A timeline would show that.

Pay attention to the birth year when you review a hint.

2. Does the Location Fit Your Family Tree?

Someone added my great grandfather Giovanni to her tree. He does not belong there. She added him and some of the documents I attached to him:
  • His 1850 birth record from the town of Baselice, province of Benevento, Italy
  • His 1881 marriage record to my great grandmother Marianna in Baselice
  • His 1942 death record from Baselice that shows he's the widow of Marianna
This person made my Giovanni the father of a man with a different last name. From a different region of Italy.

Her tree has several other impossible facts, like siblings born in 1836 and 1918. (Let that sink in.) Clearly this is someone who isn't proceeding with any care at all. (See "3 Ways to Keeps Strangers Out of Your Family Tree".)

That's not you.

You wouldn't take a man whose documents show he was born, married, had 5 children, and died in one part of the country, and make him the patriarch of a family from a different region. You wouldn't make him the father of a man (whose birth year you don't even know) who has a different last name.

You know how families worked in the 1800s.

Pay attention to the location.

3. Do the Family Members Work for Your Tree?

I had a hint for a woman in my tree named Irene. I knew very little about her. She's the mother of my 2nd cousin's husband, and I have this in-law policy.

If you're an in-law who hasn't asked me to research your family, I'm only recording facts about your parents. Not your siblings. Not your grandparents.

I was open to finding birth and death facts for Irene. I decided to look at the hint so I could tell you about it.

The hint was a link to the Find A Grave website where I saw Irene's obituary. The basic facts seemed right. But I wasn't willing to accept these facts yet. Not until I saw the proof in the obituary:
  • her husband's name
  • her maiden name
  • my 2nd cousin and her husband's names
All the names were a perfect fit. Only then was I willing to record her birth and death dates in my family tree.

Pay attention to the names of the family members.

We all make mistakes in our family tree from time to time. We make typos, click the wrong thing, or go too far on a hunch. But there's no excuse for ignoring glaring mismatches in dates, places, and names.

Now that you know what to look for—and what to look out for—you can handle your hints like a pro.

21 June 2019

4 Important Steps for Each New Document

I want you to slow down and do it right the first time. It's your legacy!

Hurray! You found a 1940 census form you needed for your grandmother's first cousin with his wife and son.

How many steps do you need to take before moving on to something else? If you don't want to have any regrets later on, you should take all 4 steps below. What kind of regrets are we talking about?
  • Working to find that census again in the future, going to add it to your tree, and realizing it was there all along.
  • Thinking a relative died before the census date, then seeing you forgot to add their census facts.
Census documents are only one type of genealogy image you're going to want for your family tree. But the census is one of the most important documents, so it's a good example.

Follow these 4 steps each and every time you find a new census document for your family tree.

Genealogy is a journey. You can't take a journey without taking steps.
Genealogy is a journey. You can't take a journey without taking steps.

Step 1. Rename and Store the Image

Download the census sheet and name it for the head of household. My preferred format is LastnameFirstnameYear. Examples are:
  • AkiyamaTomoko1940.jpg
  • BlancatoSebastiano1920.jpg
  • ColabellaCarmella1925.jpg
File your document image away immediately. My system is logical and simple. Each of my census images goes right into the "census forms" folder.

Step 2. Annotate the Image

Add metadata to the image file itself. Metadata are the key facts you need to know about this document.

The way you do this on a Windows computer is to:
  • Right-click the image and choose Properties.
  • Click the Details tab.
  • Fill in the Title field with a descriptive caption for the image.
    For example, "1920 census for Sebastiano Blancato and family". Start with the year and each person's images will sort themselves chronologically.
  • Fill in the Comments field with all the details about the location and source of this image:
    • the lines numbers the family is listed on
    • the name of the document collection
    • the image's URL
    • the enumeration district, sheet number, and any other page-specific info
If you fill all that in, there's no mistaking—or forgetting—the source of this image.

Step 3. Add the Image and Facts to Your Family Tree

Attach the image to the head of household in your family tree. Now pull out all the facts you can.
  • Record a Residence fact for the head of household. "12 Jan 1920, 260 East 151st Street, Bronx, Bronx County, New York, USA."
  • Record an Occupation fact for the head of household. "19 Jan 1920, building painter in Bronx, Bronx County, New York, USA."
Everyone who lived in that household needs the facts on their census sheet.
Everyone who lived in that household needs the facts on their census sheet.

Now add the same image and Residence fact to each family member listed in that census. You don't have to attach another copy of the image to each person. The image is there, so share it with each person in the household.

See who else in the household has a job, and give them an Occupation fact.

Search for other facts that matter to you:
  • Does it say how long the couple has been married? If so, figure out their marriage year and use this census as your source.
  • Does it say when they immigrated?
  • Are they naturalized?
  • Is someone widowed?
  • Is anyone living with them who's not in the immediate family?
  • Is the wife's family in the same building?
These are all good facts to record.

Step 4. Keep Track of What You Found

Let future-you know you've got this image. I record all my found documents in a spreadsheet I call my document tracker. In the Census column, I add the year of this newly found census image to each member of the household. If I don't do this immediately, my inventory will be unreliable.

Do this as you go, and it isn't such a chore. It's worth it.
Do this as you go, and it isn't such a chore. It's worth it.

Now, Make it a Routine

If you take your time, get into this groove, and follow all the steps, you'll only handle each census image once. You'll have everything perfectly documented from the start. You'll greatly reduce your own human error. You'll save yourself from searching for documents you've already got.

I follow these rules for each type of document image I find.

If it's a birth record, I add the baby and all their facts (birth date, baptism date, birth address). I make sure I have the correct names for the parents. I decide if the parents' ages in this new document are more reliable than what I currently have for them. I add their occupations if they're included.

If it's a marriage record:
  • I record the dates of their marriage banns, license, and marriage, if available.
  • I record the bride and groom's birth dates, their parents' names and ages.
  • I note any occupations and addresses.
  • I add a title and description to each image before putting it in my family tree.
  • I attach all documents to the groom and share them with the bride.
  • Finally, I add a notation to my document tracker for both bride and groom.
When I've been adding documents to my tree all day, following all these rules, it takes quite a bit of time. When it's getting late, and I'm only able to add one more document before calling it quits, I have to steel myself. I know how important it is to the quality of my family tree that I do it right—and do it thoroughly—the first time.

Is your document-processing routine fortifying your family tree?