08 October 2019

Why All Siblings Are Critical to Your Family Tree

Marie's branch was a dead end until I found one ancestor's siblings.

I've been sharing genealogy discoveries with Janet for a long time. Her in-laws are from my grandfather's town in Italy. Her father-in-law saw my photo of my Italian cousins. They were his nieces!

We realized right away that his brother's wife was my great aunt—my grandfather's sister. Janet and I pieced together many generations of her father-in-law's family tree.

But there was more to the story. Her mother-in-law Marie is a solid DNA match to my father and me. I was eager to figure out our connection. But Marie's tree hit a dead end at her great grandparents.

Here were the problems we faced:
  • Her great grandfather and great grandmother had very common names for this town.
  • We weren't positive when they were born. Our only clue was from the birth record of one of their children.
  • They married too late for us to find their marriage documents online.
Yesterday I made up my mind to punch through this brick wall. I needed to find more of this couple's children—more of Marie's grandmother's siblings. Each additional birth record might give me the clues I needed to go further.

Here's what I did.

Marie's great grandparents were Giovanni and Maria. (That's right. "John and Mary"!) They had Marie's grandmother when they were more than 40 years old. It's only GeneaLOGICAL™ that they would have had some children before her. (Also see "Finding the Siblings Your Ancestor Never Mentioned".)

The first sibling I found was Marie's grandmother's older brother, Francesco. He was born 8 years earlier than her in 1874. In 1874, the birth records in this town were not a fill-in-the-blanks form. This left room for more details.

What I found on his birth record were both of his grandfather's names. That's a fantastic find!

If I didn't look for all their children, I'd never have broken through this brick wall.
If I didn't look for all their children, I'd never have broken through this brick wall.

Now I knew that Giovanni's father was Giuseppe, and Maria's father was Donato. Plus, this record was 8 years earlier than Marie's grandmother's birth record. So it had more reliable ages for Giovanni and Maria.

That's an important concept when you're researching people from a century or more ago. People didn't always know their correct age. You and I have to give out our full birth date every time we see a doctor. But back in the day, someone might not know their age. So, the older the genealogy record, and the younger the person, the more likely they are to remember their age. If you don't have their birth record, their marriage record probably has the right age.

I searched all the birth records in a span of years. I found the only Giovanni with the right last name and a father named Giuseppe. And I found the only Maria with the right last name and a father named Donato.

Probably their first-born child, Francesco's birth record had the extra clues I needed.
Probably their first-born child, Francesco's birth record had the extra clues I needed.

As luck would have it, their parents were already in my family tree. The key to the whole thing was that one sibling's birth record that had both grandfathers' names on it.

I kept piecing together several of Marie's ancestors, with the help of a few sibling records. At last, I found our true relationship. Marie went from being the wife of my 1st great aunt's brother-in-law, to my 5th cousin twice removed. She and Grandpa are 5th cousins.

I've gone all-out researching each of my grandfather's hometowns. In their small towns, everyone is related in some way. I have some families with 8 to 12 children. Each of the children is critical! You never know when their record will have the facts you need to break through your brick wall.

04 October 2019

When to Use Estimates in Your Family Tree

Estimates in your tree can help you avoid mistakes. See where they belong.

Family Tree Analyzer is a wildly useful, free program for genealogists. Each time I run it, I find something else I want to do with it.

Here's what I'm going to do with Family Tree Analyzer today.

This free tool offers countless ways to find the errors or missing info in your family tree.
This free tool offers countless ways to find the errors or missing info in your family tree.

A while ago, I created a policy to follow with my family tree. Every individual in my tree needs to have an estimated birth year and at least a country of birth. If I don't know when someone was born, I can:
  • give them about the same birth year as their spouse
  • subtract 25 from the year their oldest known child was born
  • add 25 to their younger parent's age
Enter an estimated age in your family tree as "about" whatever year. Family Tree Maker, the genealogy software program I use, automatically abbreviates about as "Abt". Your software may handle this automatically, too.

Note: Whenever I enter an estimated date, I do not add a source. That way I know my own policy is the only source.

With an estimated age in your tree, you won't set someone born "Abt 1800" as the parent of someone born in 1920. It can also help you decide which of the 13 men named "Giovanni Pozzuto" in your tree is the one you're looking for. (And that's not counting all my Giovannantonio Pozzutos!)

Adding each person's likely country of birth and death is helpful, too. It can prevent a mix-up between a family that came to America and one that never left their mother country.

Family Tree Analyzer (FTA) makes it easy to see who in your family tree is missing a birth year and country. First, go to ftanalyzer.com to download the latest PC or Mac version. Launch the program and open your newest GEDCOM file. (I just realized you can drag and drop your GEDCOM into the FTA window!)

Once FTA loads your file, click the Main Lists tab. You may see a lot of empty fields in the BirthLocation and DeathLocation columns. In the BirthDate column, look for the word UNKNOWN.

Family Tree Analyzer helps you find everyone in your tree with no birth date—not even an estimate.
Family Tree Analyzer helps you find everyone in your tree with no birth date—not even an estimate.

I've been on a roll lately, adding dozens and dozens of babies from my grandfather's hometown to my tree. So I have more than 22,000 people in my family tree. To make this task easier with such a big tree, I can click any column name in FTA to sort the results.

If I click the BirthDate column, all my UNKNOWNs group together. I'm happy to see I have only 11 of them. Those are usually people I added in a hurry, or while the dog was begging me for peanut butter. I can check all 11 people in my family tree and calculate their estimated birth year. It didn't take long for me to apply my rules and give each of the 11 people an estimated birth year and country.

Next, if I click the BirthLocation column in FTA, all the blank fields group together. Oh no. I've got tons and tons of blank birth locations.

When it comes to adding an estimated country of birth or death, there may be times when you want to keep it blank. Was the oldest child in a family born before or after the parents migrated? If you're not sure, you should leave it blank. Otherwise you might think you shouldn't look for that child on a ship manifest.

That's why I made another policy for the estimated birth or death country. If it's before 1850, I feel safe in assuming my relatives were born and died in Italy. There wasn't a lot of trans-Atlantic migration going on at that time. And my hometowns are so remote, and were so poor, that taking a ship somewhere wasn't an option then. I can assume my Angela Bianco—born in 1772 and died in 1836—was only ever in Italy. I may not be positive which town she was born in, but I feel sure it was in Italy.

Adding these unsourced estimates can help you avoid errors. And it tells FTA not to look in the Canada, Ireland, US, or UK Census for someone who was born and died in another country.

My own list of empty places of birth is overwhelming. It's something I've been more careful about recently. And I fix it each time I find someone with a blank location. Family Tree Analyzer is a good motivator for me to do a better job with so many aspects of my family tree. What can it show you today?

01 October 2019

Look Over Here! How to Focus for Better Genealogy Results

The genealogy journey is fun. Being efficient makes it fun AND productive.

We all multi-task. Sometimes it's the only way to do the many things we need to do. But when it comes to genealogy, you'll gather more facts and documents if you focus.

Focus on the task at hand. Don't get distracted by what you see along the way. You can make a quick note to come back for that other shiny object later. But for now, do what you're there to do.

Here are 3 examples of how and why you need to keep your focus.

One Name Only

Last weekend I wanted to make progress on one of my 2019 genealogy goals. On my computer I have tons of vital records from my ancestral Italian hometowns.

My 2019 goal is to add every "Pozzuto" baby from one town to my family tree. Why Pozzuto? Because that last name has DNA matches to both my mom and my dad.

The birth records stretch from 1809–1915, and I was up to 1841.

Recently I've been renaming these thousands of files to include the name of the person(s) in the record. For example, I renamed the file

101577322_00004.jpg to
101577322_00004 Teofilo Mascia di Antonio and Salvatore Celestino Pugliese.jpg

With renamed files, I can use Windows File Manager to search for any name. This is fantastic when I need to find out who or when someone married. (Note: I keep the number in the file name so I can easily find the link to the original image online.)

Then I thought, instead of renaming files and moving on, why not ID the Pozzuto babies as I rename the files? So that's what I did. As I rename a file and find a Pozzuto baby, I add them to my tree. In practically no time I renamed every birth record from 1841–1847, stopping for each Pozzuto baby.

I added 36 more Pozzuto babies to my family tree! For now, I ignored every file with my maiden name or my direct ancestors' names. They will be there when I need them. Focus is what's getting this goal done.

Leave that other information alone for now. Focus on your current goal for better results.
Leave that other information alone for now. Focus on your current goal for better results.

Follow That Family

Earlier this year I finished another of my 2019 genealogy goals. I keep a spreadsheet of each document I add to my family tree. (I call it my document tracker.) The last column has a list of what I'm missing for a particular person. It lists the census years I need, their immigration record, marriage date, death, etc.

My goal was to search for each missing census listed as "need to find" on my document tracker.

I accomplished this goal by staying focused. I went through my document tracker's alphabetical list of people. I searched for, and usually found, the missing census forms. I noted them on the spreadsheet, and moved on to the next family.

Even though I still can't find some census sheets, I found most of them. And my goal was carefully worded for success. "Search for all missing census forms in Document tracker." That focus kept me on-task and got the job done.

Clean This One Spot

There are so many cleanup tasks you can do to your family tree. It's only natural that you'd develop a style after spending some time doing this crazy hobby. Then you want to go back and make your earlier work match your style.

I came up with a style of adding very detailed notes to the document images in my tree. If it's a census sheet, I start with:
  • the line numbers to look at
  • the proper title of the document
  • a bunch of facts, including:
    • supervisor's district number
    • enumeration district number
    • sheet number, etc.
  • the image number, like "image 16 of 947"
  • the URL
  • the source citation (copied from the online collection where I found it)
By focusing on census sheets only, I was able to add all these facts to every census image in my tree. I gather every bit of that information each time I save a new image. But the cleanup task was for older documents I saved before I got so careful.

One of my 2020 genealogy goals will be to beef up and standardize the notes on every ship manifest image in my tree. I'm good at adding all the facts now, but I wasn't so good in the beginning. If I focus on only that task, I'll get it done faster.

Keep the focus on one task to improve your consistency and efficiency.
Keep the focus on one task to improve your consistency and efficiency.

Each time I sit down to work on my family tree, I choose a task. I might pick an item from my annual genealogy goals list. I might click away at a cleanup task. Or I might pick someone at random and search for their missing documents.

No matter which family tree task you choose to work on today, focus on that task! Ignore the other interesting things that pop up. (Or make a quick note and move on.) Stay focused, and at the end of the day you'll find you've gotten a lot further than you expected.