09 August 2019

Make Your Digital Genealogy Documents Searchable

Who needs a search engine? Your computer is a search engine!

I'm constantly bouncing all around in my genealogy research. One day a person with my last name mentions their grandparents' birth dates. Another day a DNA match reaches out to me looking for our shared ancestors.

I need a quicker way to search for these connections.

One of my genealogy goals this year is to enter the details from thousands of Italian vital records into a spreadsheet. Then I can use Excel to search for a particular man's name and find the one who's married to the right woman. Or I can find all the babies born to a particular couple.

I've done a chunk of that work, but it's going to take years to complete.

Luckily, I found a faster method I can use in the meantime. Now that I've somehow become a "morning person", I'm using the evenings for an easier genealogy task. It's not exactly a no-brainer, but it is simple. And the benefits are really big.

This can apply to you, too, even if you don't have a huge collection of vital records on your computer.

Don't worry where you filed that document. Your computer knows where it is.
Don't worry where you filed that document. Your computer knows where it is.

Whenever you're not quite up to serious family tree research, but you have your hands free, you can do this, too.

Rename your digital genealogy files to include the name(s) of the primary person.

I'll bet you've done that with census sheets, ship manifests, and other documents.

But did you realize you can search for any and all of a particular person's files on your computer at once?

This will really help you when you need to:
  • answer a question from a new possible relative
  • find the marriage record for a new person you added to your family tree
  • figure out if the "Pasquale Iamarino" in this document is the same as the one in that document
I was especially happy to see how smart the search function can be. For instance, if I search for "Mary Murphy", but her full name is "Mary Jane Murphy", I'll still find her.

If I had any doubt about the value of renaming my files, one search washes all doubt away.
If I had any doubt about the value of renaming my files, one search washes all doubt away.

To save tons of time on future document searches, I've been renaming files like a madwoman.

At night, with the Yankee game on TV, I open my collection of Italian vital records. I've renamed every marriage record image from 1816–1860 to include the names of the bride and groom.

That means I can search at the town-folder level to find a marriage between any particular couple. A search for "Antonio Martuccio Maria Maddalena Paolucci" delivers their 1849 marriage record. Instantly!

The benefits are so important that I'm excited to rename more and more files. Plus, doing this makes me an expert on the names that come from each town. While renaming one file I thought to myself, "the groom must be from my other grandfather's town". And I was right.

Is your genealogy document collection named so it's searchable?

06 August 2019

Untangling Our Twisted Family Relationships

Build your DNA match's family tree until you find the true relationship.

This article took a sharp turn from where it started. I thought I discovered an easy way to figure out your connection to a confusing DNA match.

And it is a good method. But then I realized the confusing DNA match I was looking at didn't have a direct line to me. It took a marriage to make the connection. Her 1st cousin 2x removed married my 4th cousin 3x removed.

And maybe that's where our shared DNA comes from.

Click Your Way to a Common Ancestor

Here's what I found. While it didn't work on this DNA match, it did reveal a blood relationship between my great aunt and her husband.

Originally I thought my DNA match was directly related to my great aunt's husband Donato. To see if Donato had a blood relationship to me (not just an in-law relationship), I went to Family Tree Maker. The software displays your relationship to the selected person clearly.
  1. I clicked Donato's parents one at a time to see their relationship to me.
  2. His mother Colomba is my 4th cousin 3x removed. A blood relative.
  3. I clicked Colomba's parents to see their relationship to me. Her mother Maria is my 3rd cousin 4x removed.
  4. I clicked Maria's parents to see the relationship description. Her father Vitangelo is my 2nd cousin 5x removed.
  5. I clicked Vitangelo's parents. His father Pietro is my 1st cousin 6x removed.
  6. Pietro's father Vitangelo is my 6th great uncle.
  7. Finally, Vitangelo's parents are my 6th great grandparents, Liberatore Pozzuto and Libera Zeolla.
My 6th great grandparents are both Donato's and my great aunt's 4th great grandparents. With a shared pair of 4th great grandparents, my aunt and uncle were 5th cousins.

Are unknown relationships hiding in plain sight in your family tree?
Are unknown relationships hiding in plain sight in your family tree?

Follow the Evidence

You're going to find that many of your DNA matches have posted a small, sparse family tree. (That's better than the matches with no tree.) Use their tree as a guideline only. Do the research yourself and try to prove what you see in their family tree.

This particular DNA match caught my attention recently. She was borrowing names and documents from my family tree and a distant relative's tree. I wanted to figure out who she is. Her tree on Ancestry.com seems to be facts she knows personally:
  • her parents' names and birth dates
  • her grandparents names and birth dates
  • as many siblings as she knows for her parents and grandparents
Her family names tell me we're related through my paternal grandfather's hometown. Ancestry says she's about a 3rd or 4th cousin to my father and a 4th to 6th cousin to me.

Believe Nothing Without Proof

I wrote down her parents', grandparents', and great grandparents' names. Only a few had birth years included.

Then I opened my collection of vital records from my grandpa's hometown. Her parents were born too recently for my document collection, so I searched for their parents.

Bit by bit I added verified names and dates to my tree. I attached birth and marriage records as evidence. No one had a direct connection to me yet. But something had to be there.

When I found the 1866 birth record of my DNA match's mother's father's mother, a funny thing happened. The parents happened to be a couple I'd added to my family tree the day before!

Coincidentally, Libera and Giovanni are the parents of my DNA match's great grandmother. Now my DNA match was firmly rooted in my family tree. But it's one of those wacky "1st cousin 2x removed of wife of uncle of husband of 1st great aunt of" me relationships.

I thought we were related through the marriage of my great aunt and uncle. That's why I examined Donato's direct ancestors and found he was his wife's 5th cousin.

If that DNA match is distant, you're gonna need a bigger tree.
If that DNA match is distant, you're gonna need a bigger tree.

Always Look for More

Oh, these small Italian hill towns. They're infuriating and amazing at the same time. Everyone is related in some way. Donato, who married my great aunt, is related to me in his own right.

Family Tree Maker's relationship tool says Giovannangela, my grandfather's sister, is all these things to her husband Donato:
  • wife
  • 1st cousin of his brother-in-law, Pietro Iamarino
  • sister-in-law of his 1st cousin 1x removed, Donato Paolucci
  • 5th cousin
Actually, Family Tree Maker isn't displaying the 5th cousin relationship. It's as if it's throwing up its hands and saying "whatever".

Now that I've figured out how to follow the blood relationship, I can revisit more DNA mysteries. But be warned! It's easy to get lost. You may find you can't wrap your head around it. It helps to take notes along the way.

Can you find your DNA match's connection by climbing their family tree?

02 August 2019

Adding Family Branches from Another Hemisphere

We used to look for our name in local phone books. Now we simply go online.

I could happily spend every day piecing together my ancestors. For the rest of my life!

On any given day, there's nothing else I'd rather do. It's addictive in a way that's good for your brain. It's your own personal jigsaw puzzle.

Last weekend I started working through my collection of Italian vital records. I want to review each one and see if it fits into my family tree.

I went through every birth and death record from my grandfather's town of Colle Sannita for 1809 and 1810. Most of the people had a connection in my tree! A baby's parents were already there. A deceased person's relatives were already there. So I added the new facts and document images to my family tree.

It's a wildly time-consuming project, and I couldn't love it any more.

Sometimes, though, a bright, shiny object will appear and distract you.

Can you see yourself in the faces of people from your homeland?
Can you see yourself in the faces of people from your homeland?

The object that distracted me on Monday was a photograph of Filomena, born in Colle Sannita in 1896. I don't know how else to say it. I loved her instantly. She brought out all my childhood feelings of love for my grandparents and their siblings.

The woman who posted the photo of Filomena lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She said she was eager to learn about her beloved grandmother's family, but can't seem to get anywhere. She needed help.

Immediately, I opened up my collection of Italian vital records. I found Filomena's 1896 birth record. Unfortunately, her parents were not in my family tree. But I'm connected to at least 90% of the town. Surely I could find a connection.

Would you have helped this woman? Knowing there was a good chance she was your distant relative, and knowing that you had all the documents. Wouldn't you help?

I jumped at the chance. She and I began chatting on Facebook. I kept combing through the vital records.

Filomena's mother's last name was Cerrone. I have a 3rd great grandmother, plus her father and grandfather, named Cerrone. They were from Colle Sannita, but there weren't a lot of Cerrone families in the town.

When I couldn't find a birth record for Filomena's mother, I looked one town away in Circello. My 3rd great grandfather—the one who married my Cerrone 3rd great grandmother—was from Circello. It seemed like a good place to look.

Sure enough, I found the 1870 birth record for Filomena's mother in Circello. I kept digging into each side of her family, in Colle Sannita and Circello. I located siblings for the last person I found. I worked my way back to their parents' marriage. That gave me another generations' names.

I've added 48 of Filomena's ancestors to my family tree so far. The whole branch is still disconnected from me, which is shocking.

I'm building this extended family, detached, in my family tree. Hopefully the connection will come.
I'm building this extended family, detached, in my family tree. Hopefully the connection will come.

I must keep going! Filomena's Cerrone grandfather, for example, had 6 siblings. I must have marriage records on my computer for them. There's a very good chance a Cerrone sibling married someone already in my tree.

I'm eager to find the connection and open up an endless resource for my new friend in Argentina. Our ancestors traveled far from home. Their town's descendants share deep, common roots. And genealogists know how to honor those roots.

I'll leave you with a challenge today. Search Facebook for a group dedicated to your ancestor's hometown. You may find vintage photos, important connections, and distant cousins.

Will you find a fellow genealogist in the group? Together you can spread your shared roots further and further around the world.

I'm eager to get back to my pet project, but first, I need Filomena to be my relative!