03 January 2020

How to Set Unofficial, No-Deadline Genealogy Goals

What are your go-to genealogy tasks when you need to keep things simple?

Your unofficial genealogy goals may be unwritten and have no deadline. But you still want to get them done some day.

I can work on my unofficial goals without much concentration. I can work on them when I'm not feeling well or I'm half-heartedly watching TV.

Here are the 4 unofficial genealogy goals I turn to, depending on my mood. See if they make you think of something you'd like to work on.

1. Replace Certain Sources

I spent years visiting a Family History Center to view microfilmed vital records. I typed the facts from thousands of documents into a text file on my laptop computer. Then I entered them into a Family Tree Maker file.

I gave each fact a source based on the roll of microfilm. For instance:

Source title: 1848–1853 - Baselice, Italy, Births, Marriages, Deaths
Repository: www.familysearch.org
Citation detail: Nati, morti, notificazioni, processetti, matrimoni 1848-1853
Citation text: Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007850709?cat=565057
Reference note: 1848–1853 - Baselice, Italy, Births, Marriages, Deaths

But you can't order microfilm anymore. And these records are not available on familysearch.org. They are available on the Italian genealogy site called Antenati. So now I want to change the source citation for thousands of facts.

I could leave them alone, but these obsolete sources are bugging me.
I could leave them alone, but these obsolete sources are bugging me.

When I want to work on this goal, I:
  • choose a person linked to the old source
  • replace all the old microfilm sources with my preferred Antenati source citation.
I whittled one of the sources down from 1,300 facts to 800 facts on New Year's Eve. Remember: Citing your sources doesn't have to be hard.

2. Rename Vital Record Images

I want to make better use of the thousands of downloaded Italian vital records on my computer. In 2019 I renamed every single document image from one of my ancestral towns. Each file name now includes the name(s) of the subject(s) of the document. That makes everyone in the town searchable on my computer.

My unofficial goal #2 is to rename the files from my other towns. I'm gonna have the best genealogy resource ever!

3. Find Missing Dates

When I don't know someone's birth date, I follow these rules:
  • If I know their spouse was born in 1900, I mark their birth as Abt. 1900.
  • If I know their eldest child was born in 1900, I mark their birth as about 25 years earlier, so, Abt. 1875.
  • If I know one of their parents was born in 1900, I mark their birth as 25 years later, so, Abt. 1925.
Following this practice, everyone in my tree has at least an estimated birth year. My unofficial goal #3 is to find a documented birth date to replace each estimate.

Sorting my people by birth date, I can search for missing birth records on my computer.
Sorting my people by birth date, I can search for missing birth records on my computer.

Thanks to unofficial goal #2 above, I can search my computer for any name from the town of Colle Sannita. The process is to:
  • Sort the Family Tree Maker index by Birth.
  • Focus on the years available in my document collection.
  • Search my records for the name of everyone from Colle Sannita with an estimated birth year.
I'm up to people born "Abt. 1830." I can see that 2 people with an "Abt. 1830" birth date are husband and wife. I can search for their marriage record and find out everything I need to know about them.

It turns out they married in 1857, so I have the records! They include parents' and grandparents' death records. I discovered that the husband in this couple was already in my tree. I simply need to merge "Abt. 1830" Giovanni Iacobaccio with 20 Feb 1827 Giovannangelo Iacobaccio. And I'll add all the facts from the couple's marriage documents.

One good search and BOOM! Instant generations discovered.
One good search and BOOM! Instant generations discovered.

Later I can sort the index of individuals by Death or Marriage and search for those missing dates.

4. Find a Home for Documents

I've been entering the facts from my collection of vital records into a spreadsheet. I can share that database with anyone who has roots in some of my towns.

Unofficially, I want to review what I've entered and see which documents fit into my family tree.

I've reviewed Colle Sannita birth records (1809–1812) and death records (1809–1810). At least half of the documents are now placed in my Family Tree Maker file. This process helps make my tree more solid and complete.

The whole process is very rewarding. So are all these tasks.

For my job as a website producer, I keep a digital notebook of HTML code snippets I need often. I keep it and a to-do list file open all day long. It works well for me, so I started a text file for genealogy notes. That's where I keep track of my genealogy tasks and their progress.

Do what works best for you. You may prefer to write in a paper notebook or print out your to-do lists. Not me. You can't copy and paste a handwritten note. And I hate to waste paper. So I keep my text files on my computer, open all day in different tabs of my preferred text editor. They're backed up to the OneDrive cloud, and I make a 2nd weekly backup to an external drive.

Get into the habit of leaving yourself notes about where you left off. Make a note of how you searched for a person's birth date, but you couldn't be sure which of 2 babies is the right one.

Pick away at these unofficial tasks when you're not in the mood for a full research session. Or work on them when you don't have a lot of time, but you want to get something done. If you chip away at these and all your other goals, imagine how much you can get done by 2021.

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31 December 2019

Here Are My 6 Genealogy Goals for 2020

Start thinking about which family tree tasks you want to complete in 2020.

It's time to set your 2020 Genealogy Goals. First, keep in mind that these should be stress-free goals. If you can't get to one or can't finish a couple, so be it. You can try again next year.

The point is to encourage yourself to complete a few helpful family tree tasks. When you complete one, you should feel recharged and ready to tackle another goal.

I had the most success with the 2019 goals that I kept limited, manageable, and possible. That's why some of my 2020 genealogy goals are going to be continuations of my 2019 goals.

Goal #1: Five Times Two

Enter the facts from 5 years of death and marriage records (for each of my Italian ancestral hometowns) into a spreadsheet.

Last year I kept my goal limited to 5 years of birth records for each town. It went so fast that I'm doubling it this year. In the end I'll have the most awesome database I can share with anyone who has roots in my towns. (If I live so long!)

Adding to this genealogy database was helpful last year, so I'm doubling my efforts.
Adding to this genealogy database was helpful last year, so I'm doubling my efforts.

Goal #2: Gimme All the Babies


Enter all Colle Sannita births for babies named Zeolla into my family tree.

Last year I entered all the babies born in the town of Colle Sannita named Pozzuto. Those 2 last names—Pozzuto and Zeolla—are important to my family tree. There are people with those names who are DNA matches to both my mother and my father. If I gather all the people with those names, I may figure out my parents' DNA relationship.

Two last names are important to my family mystery; I'm collecting them all.
Two last names are important to my family mystery; I'm collecting them all.

Goal #3: Show Me Yours, I'll Show You Mine

Each month choose at least 1 DNA match (with a family tree) and figure out their relationship to me.

Our DNA match lists grow all the time. This goal will make a dent in my match list. And if I find that 1 a month is too little, there's no reason I can't do more.

Goal #4: Papers, Please

Search for every missing WWI and WWII draft registration card listed in my Document Tracker.

Last year's goal was to search for every missing census form in the "Need to find" column of my document tracker. And hopefully find them. That took a while to finish. The draft registration cards should be much faster. If I finish early I can start searching for missing ship manifests.

Draft registration cards can give you crucial genealogy facts.
Draft registration cards can give you crucial genealogy facts.

Goal #5: Once Upon a Time

Write a brief life story for each of my direct ancestors with enough data.

I turned my maternal grandfather's facts and documents into his life story. But I haven't written any more stories. I can at least write a life story for my paternal grandfather and my 2 great grandfathers who lived in America. I don't know as much about the women in the family, but I can still write something from their perspective.

Last year I had 7 goals. I had no luck completing 3 of them, but I did try. That failure helped me understand how to craft better genealogy goals. I did complete 3 of them, and I never got to the last one. Technically, I should carry that one over, so…

Goal #6: Gimme More Babies

Enter all Sant'Angelo a Cupolo births for babies named Muollo into my family tree. And find documents for the one who emigrated to Burgettstown, Pennsylvania.

This is a smaller town with fewer documents available, so I should be able to finish this goal this year.

What will your goals be? Remember to break a bigger goal into reasonably sized chunks. Don't give yourself more work than you can handle.

Use your goals to get you closer to whatever it is you want to achieve. Choose tasks that will make you happy when they're done. Never forget this is all for your enjoyment. Now, go get busy!

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27 December 2019

7 Steps to Perfect Family Tree Document Placement

Do it right the first time and you'll never need to come back and fix it!


Today let's break down my entire process for putting a document image into my family tree. I like to do it so thoroughly that everything is as perfect as I could ever want it to be.

It comes down to 7 steps. That sounds like a lot, but once you're used to it, it all feels like one step. Here we go:

Step 1: Save a copy of the document image to the proper folder on my computer

Within a Family Tree folder on my computer, I have a folder for each main genealogy document type. My "certificates" folder is enormous because it has all my vital records. I have access to more than a century of vital records from my ancestral Italian hometowns, so they add up fast.

Step 2: Rename the file appropriately

My format is LastnameFirstnameYear or LastnameFirstnameEventYear, depending on the event. If it's a marriage record, I include both groom and bride. If it's a census record, I use the head of household's name. I don't include the year in the file name of a World War I or II draft registration card. We know when the wars happened.

Having a system keeps all your genealogy documents easily accessible.
Having a system keeps all your genealogy documents easily accessible.

Step 3: Crop and enhance the image

I always crop my Italian vital records. Often there are 2 pages in the image and a big black border. If the image is too light or dark, I adjust the contrast to make it easier to read. I don't crop census images and ship manifests because they seem to wind up a larger file size than the original.

Step 4: Add metadata to the image file

I've always added details to an image within Family Tree Maker. Then I realized I can add those details to the image file itself. That way the source information always stays with the image. And it gets pulled into Family Tree Maker.

Plus, I can give the image a title, and it becomes the image's caption in Family Tree Maker. I always begin the title with the year. Then all the images for any one person display chronologically.

Meta data carries into Family Tree Maker, and stays with the image forever.
Meta data carries into Family Tree Maker, and stays with the image forever.

Step 5: Drag the image into Family Tree Maker

After I drag an image into Family Tree Maker, I double-click it. I enter the date that's on the document and choose the image category. (If you add a date in the metadata, it doesn't carry over into Family Tree Maker.)

I don't have photos of my ancestors who never left Italy. So I choose the earliest document I have for them and make it their profile picture.

Step 6: Enter individual facts in Family Tree Maker

Once you add a census image to your family tree software, for example, check it for facts. You might have:
  • street address
  • occupation
  • number of years married
  • place of birth
  • immigration year
  • citizenship information and more
Enter all the facts into your software for each person named on the document. And don't forget to give each fact a source.

Step 7: Add an entry in my document tracker

Once I finish everything in Family Tree Maker, I turn to my document tracker spreadsheet.

For a ship manifest, I enter the year and (doc.)—for document—in the immigration column for each person in the image. The (doc.) tells me I have the image. A year with no (doc.) means I found a mention of an immigration year (on a census sheet usually), but not the document. In that case, I'll add "immigration" to the Need to find column for this person.

For a marriage record, I enter the year and (cert.)—for certificate—in the marriage column for both bride and groom. The (cert.) tells me I have the image. A year with no (cert.) means I found a mention of a marriage year, but not the certificate. In that case, I'll add "marriage" to the Need to find column for both bride and groom.

You may think 7 steps is outrageous or too tedious. But I find it's well worth the effort. I'll never need to double back and fix any images. Or add missing information. And I'll always have a quick reference showing me what I've found and what's missing.

Making these 7 steps a habit means I'll never have to turn any of them into a big cleanup job.

Won't you join me and be a neat-freak, obsessive-compulsive genealogist, too? Imagine how great it would be if everyone with an online tree took this much care with their work!

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24 December 2019

Why Use a Genealogy Document Tracker?

Take a look behind the spreadsheet and see how it can help your research.

I've written many times about my document tracker. It's an Excel spreadsheet I created 12 years ago to help me build my family tree.

The spreadsheet shows each genealogy document I have for any given person in my family tree. Take my great grandfather, Giovanni Sarracino, for example.
  • To see which of his census records I had, I'd open the census folder on my computer.
  • To see if I had his draft registrations cards, I'd open the draft cards folder.
  • For immigration records, I'd open my immigration folder.
I could also look at the media files attached to him in Family Tree Maker. I display the images chronologically, so I'd have to browse them all to find a particular type of document.

Wouldn't it be easier to have an inventory of all his documents in one row of a spreadsheet? (Spoiler alert: It's much easier.)

The spreadsheet has a column for a person's name and a column for each major document type:
  • birth
  • baptism
  • immigration or travel
  • marriage
  • naturalization
  • census
  • draft registration
  • death
  • burial
  • passport application
  • city directory
You may not want to track all those documents. I actually have very few baptism or burial records. I arranged them in chronological order, mostly. Your document tracker can have the headings you prefer, in whatever order you like.

In 12 years, I haven't regretted this document tracker for a minute.
In 12 years, I haven't regretted this document tracker for a minute.

An important feature for me is the last column: Need to find. This is a list of missing documents for each person. Let's look at my 1st cousin twice removed, Michele Sarracino as an example.

I don't know a lot about Michele, but I have his 1899 birth record from Italy. I also found him in the Bronx, New York, census in 1905, 1915, 1920, and 1925. Then he disappeared.

So I added his missing documents and major facts to his Need to find column:
  • 1904 immigration (according to his 1920 census)
  • 1910 census
  • 1930 census
  • 1940 census
  • WW1 draft registration card
  • WW2 draft registration card
  • marriage?
  • death
I can track his family members, but I don't even know if Michele married.

The Need to find column is the quickest way to see what's missing for any given relative. Let's see if some research can move some items to their proper columns.

In a search on Ancestry I saw a World War I draft registration card. It had a different spelling for his last name (Saracena), but it had his exact birth date: 29 Nov 1899.

The card shows his 1918 address on East 150th Street in the Bronx. That's right where my family lived. It lists his mother as Josephine, which matches my facts. And his signature looks like Saracino, which is how my family began to spell it several years later.

Thanks to his Italian birth record and the exact birth date, I knew this was my cousin.
Thanks to his Italian birth record and the exact birth date, I knew this was my cousin.

As a bit of icing on the cake, Michele's draft registration describes his blue eyes and blond hair. I was teased as a child for being too light to really be an Italian-American. My Southern Italian 1st cousin twice removed proves what nonsense that was.

Now I can add this document to my family tree. I'll also remove WW1 draft registration card from his Need to find list and put WW2 (doc.) in his Draft column.

My 1st cousin twice removed: Babe Ruth's double
My 1st cousin twice removed: 
Babe Ruth's double!
It was a surprise to find naturalization papers when Michele was a grown man. Michele arrived in the USA as a 4-year-old child. I didn't think he'd have to naturalize. But he become a U.S. citizen in 1945—at age 45. His naturalization papers have a photograph of my cousin. And damn if he doesn't look exactly like Babe Ruth.

That gives me some new clues. Michele lived at the same address in 1925 and 1945. He should be there with family members in 1930 and 1940. I found his siblings, but Michele wasn't there.

Next I found his Social Security Death Index from 1965.

I learned that in 1935 and 1941 Michele was not married. And he had moved up in the world: a junkman in 1918, a laundry helper in 1920, a chauffeur in 1925, and in 1935, proprietor at an automobile sales agency.

I like to use my document tracker to guide my research on days when I don't have a specific goal in mind.

Some tips: To distinguish between document images and undocumented facts, I use different wording:
  • (cert.) after the year means I have an image of the birth, marriage, or death certificate
  • (doc.) after the year means I have an image of the ship manifest
  • WW1 (doc.) or WW2 (doc.) in the Draft column means I have an image of the draft registration card
  • (index) after a birth, death, or marriage year means I saw the fact listed in a government index. But I did not see the document.
  • A year, all by itself, means I have evidence of the year, but no document to back it up. For example, my 3rd great grandfather Antonio Sarracino was born in 1799. I know this because he was 4 years old on a record written in 1803 documenting the members of his household. But I don't have his birth record.
  • Abt. before a year means it's an estimate
  • When a document is currently unavailable, but may be available in the future, in the Need to find column I add:
    • out of range: birth
    • out of range: marriage
    • out of range: death
I don't add (doc.) after a census year because if I have the document, the year is there. If I don't, it's in the Need to find column. Do whatever is logical to you.

It's helpful to include a birth year in the document tracker, even if there is no document.
It's helpful to include a birth year in the document tracker, even if there is no document.

Today my family tree has 22,846 people, but my document tracker has 2,827. That means I have 20,000 people in my tree with no documents at all. That's because I have incredibly distant relatives in my tree. I don't always take the time to process and add all their vital records as I find them.

Create your own document tracker or download the sample I made for you. It has the columns filled in and one person as an example. Let me know if you have any questions.


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20 December 2019

3 Rules for Setting Your 2020 Genealogy Goals

Get ready to set genealogy goals that will make the most of your time.

It's just around the corner. Time to get serious about writing your 2020 Genealogy Goals. Over the past 2 years I've realized the secrets to being successful with your goals.

Forget those silly New Year's resolutions. You're going to craft the ideal genealogy goals list. Simply follow these 3 rules.

#1 Set Yourself Up for Success

Your goals need to be achievable. Instead of setting yourself up for failure, make sure it's possible to reach your goal within the year.

If your goal is to find and visit your cousins in the country where your ancestors were born, you may not be able to do that this year. Start smaller. Find out all you can about the relatives who stayed in the old country.

When I visited the cemetery in Italy where 2 of my great grandparents were born, I saw Vincenzo Sarracino's grave. Based on his name and age—and his photo on the grave—I thought he might be my grandmother's first cousin.

It was 3 years later that I learned I was right! I found and contacted Sarracino cousins several hours away from me in Pittsburgh. Luckily, my husband had a wedding to attend in Pittsburgh. So we visited my new relatives.

My family showed me lots of photos. I recognized Vincenzo Sarracino! These cousins gave me the background on the man I'd discovered in the cemetery 3 years earlier.

That goes to show you some goals take longer than a year. It's out of your control. Finding and visiting distant cousins is a wonderful goal. But it's not suitable for your 2020 list of genealogy goals. Try for something that's in your power.

If this were an annual goal, I'd have failed twice. Do what's in your power.
If this were an annual goal, I'd have failed twice. Do what's in your power.

#2 Be Specific and Limited

If your goal is too vague, how will you work toward it? What steps will you take?

For example, if your goal is "Build my husband's family tree," how will you know when you're done? A family tree is never done! Maybe all you want to do is create a couple of generations' worth of his family tree for starters. You can take a broad goal like that and break it down into its parts:
  • Find his parents' marriage record.
  • Search for his parents and their families in every census year.
  • Search for his grandparents' immigration records.
Think of a bigger, somewhat vague goal as a series of steps. Choose 1 or 2 of the steps and make them your goals.

Success keeps you going! Split that big genealogy project into manageable parts.
Success keeps you going! Split that big genealogy project into manageable parts.

#3 Break Big Tasks into Modules

I have some lofty genealogy goals. I'd need to work on them full-time for a long time to get them done. But if you divide a big task into modules, chunks, or units, you can make measurable progress.

Here are my 2 really, really big projects and how I'm handling them.

Project A. Enter key facts from my collection of Italian vital records in a spreadsheet. The result will be a database that's easy to search and to share.

When I started entering facts from each vital record into a spreadsheet, it was wonderful. Those facts were now searchable. If I was looking for the birth of a Giovanni Pozzuto whose father was Giuseppe, I could search for that. But it takes a long time to create. I found ways to go faster, but it's still a huge task.

So, as a 2019 genealogy goal, I committed to a smaller goal: Log the first 5 years' worth of birth records from each of my towns into the spreadsheet.

I finished that by March! Having all those vital records in a searchable format is fabulous for my research. I want to get more ambitious this year. I'll go for 5 years of death records and 5 years of marriage records from each town.

And if I finish that early, I can tack on another 5 years of births. The key is to use small chunks you know you can finish.

Don't burden yourself with a huge task. Achieve your goal in steps.
Don't burden yourself with a huge task. Achieve your goal in steps.

Project B. Rename every document image in my collection of Italian vital records.

It dawned on me that I could have a searchable database even before I finish Project A. If I rename the image of a death record to include the deceased's name, that person is now searchable on my computer.

I started by renaming the marriage records for my grandfather's town of Colle Sannita. The file names get really long when an image shows 2 pages, 2 brides, 2 grooms. But they're searchable!

I was so happy with the results—and how fast it seemed to go—that I pushed further. I renamed the entire town's files. And I'm moving on to other towns. I have one little hamlet with a very limited number of vital records. I renamed them all within 90 minutes. Then I moved on to another town.

Getting more files renamed is going to be a top goal for me in 2020. I'll break it into chunks, like all birth records for one town. When that's done I'll move on to all births for another town. Every bit of that effort will pay off.

Make yourself and your family tree happy this coming year. Set a small number of 2020 Genealogy Goals you know you can get done.


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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.

17 December 2019

6 Genealogy Projects Perfect for Your Holiday Vacation

Got some free-time for the holidays? Try these popular genealogy projects.

I hope you're lucky enough to have some extra days off from work or school coming up. I don't, but I know what I'd do with them. Genealogy!!


Here are 6 of the most popular genealogy projects I've presented in this blog. Take a look at them and see which appeals to you the most. Choose your favorite project now and put aside some time for yourself…and your genealogy research.

How to Create a 'Book of Life' for Your Relatives

Inspired by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s TV show, "Finding Your Roots," this article explains step-by-step how you can create a Book of Life for someone special.

I made one for a genealogy enthusiast in my family on her milestone birthday. But we should all make one for ourselves. Please consider gifting a Book of Life to yourself first. Then decide who else would love to have their own.


Create your own book of life. Then move on to your relatives.
Create your own book of life. Then move on to your relatives.

3 Things to Do with Ahnentafel Numbers

This is my most-read article by Pinterest users. It makes me so happy to see all those visitors because this project means a lot to me.

I consult my "grandparent chart" (actually a spreadsheet) all the time. It shows me at a glance whose names I've discovered and which of my 4 grandparents descends from them.

I've had my grandparent chart for quite some time. Adding each ancestor's Ahnentafel number—even as a placeholder for a missing name—made the chart more useful.

I created a custom field in my Family Tree Maker software to hold an Ahnentafel number. Whenever I'm viewing a direct ancestor, I open the chart, see their Ahnentafel number, and add it to my family tree.

What I love about using the numbers is how it lets you see your progress, as well as who you need to find.


Go to the article to download your free Ahnentafel spreadsheet.
Go to the article to download your free Ahnentafel spreadsheet.

A Roadmap for Your Genealogy Research

If you're interested in the Ahnentafel numbers, you've got to read this article that takes it up a notch. It explains how to turn the chart and those numbers into a roadmap.

Create and follow your personal family tree research roadmap and stay on course.


3 Ways to Find Double Ancestors in Your Family Tree

Are any of your direct ancestors related to you in two ways?

When I learned my father's parents were 3rd cousins, I realized they had shared ancestors. So some of my multi-great grandparents belong to both Grandpa and Grandma.

Here are 3 different ways to identify those double ancestors and make them stand out. I use all 3.


How a Research Timeline Helps You Spot Gaps and Problems

This idea struck me as being so simple it might not be worth talking about. But the article has been very popular. I think the logic of it made an impression on my readers.

A timeline of facts helps spot errors. It shows where you need more research. It helps you draw conclusions about a family or individual. How else will you use a timeline?


A timeline of facts can help make sense of a family tree mystery and guide your research.
A timeline of facts can help make sense of a family tree mystery and guide your research.

7 Genealogy Projects We All Need to Do

If you prefer one-stop shopping, here's a deal for you. This article highlights 7 different genealogy projects.

Once again, pick your favorite and get busy.


These should be more than enough to keep you busy on your days off. In fact, I hope you'll decide to add a few of these projects to your 2020 Genealogy Goals list.

More about goals coming soon. Happy holidays!

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.

13 December 2019

4 Cornerstones for Building Your Family Tree

Having a purpose and a method to your madness makes genealogy more fun.

What's your genealogy philosophy? Three years ago I started this blog as a way to share my genealogy philosophy.

Your genealogy philosophy is the set of beliefs that guides your genealogy research. For example, you may believe you should research only your direct-line ancestors.

I found that my genealogy philosophy has 4 cornerstones. I hope this causes you to think about your own philosophy.

1. Our Place of Origin is a Part of Us

My parents were born in the U.S. to Italian immigrant fathers and daughters of Italian immigrants. So when I was a child, southern Italian customs and identity were in the very air I breathed.

All my known ancestors came from an area no more than 30 miles wide! Because my roots are so concentrated, I like to harvest every ancestor, cousin, and in-law from the towns' vital records.

The towns my direct ancestors came from are small. The windy roads and rolling hills make it difficult to get from town to town even today.

My ancestors are from neighboring small towns. Almost everyone there is related to me.
My ancestors are from neighboring small towns. Almost everyone there is related to me.

Each town was a world of its own, and its people had a profound influence on my family. That's why I review every vital record from each town. I check to see if and how each person fits into my family tree—and most of them do.

That's why my tree has nearly 23,000 people. Some relationships are way out there. But the peoples' identities matter to me.

It's also important to me to honor my ancestors' culture. I record each person's name as it's written on their birth record.

2. The Documents Drive the Story

You may know a lot about your grandparents and great grandparents. But time and time again I see people comment that their ancestors never spoke about the old country. If you're lucky, they may have answered your direct questions about names and places.

But documents can make the difference between family lore and true family history. My ex father-in-law's own mother said her father's brother was the captain of the Titanic. Documents prove that the captain had no brothers!

My grandfather only mentioned having one brother and one sister. It was a funny anecdote because their 3 names translated to Adam, Eve, and Noah. The documents showed me he had another brother and another sister. At least one lived long enough to marry and have children. Why did he leave them out? They actually make the anecdote even better. The 5 siblings' names translate to Adam, Eve, Noah, Mary, and Joseph!

No matter how much your ancestors or the family bible can tell you, the documents can tell you more. That's why I'm driven to gather as many documents as possible.

3. Ancestry Research Has Its Own Best Practices

I've been a corporate website producer for 22 years. Different companies ask for a certain amount of tracking and accountability. As a result, I use spreadsheets for all sorts of things both on the job and off.

So I developed a logical, organized computer filing system for my genealogy documents. And I use spreadsheets to keep track of:
Then it dawned on me. If we apply best practices to our research, we'll have fewer incorrect, undocumented family trees. That's why I want to inspire all genealogists to make their family tree their legacy.

4. Consistency Makes All Fact-keeping Better

I have certain routines I follow when I'm adding any document image to my family tree. There are a lot of steps, and I want to do it right. So I make sure I do things the same way each time.

For example, let's say I've discovered a census sheet image for a family in my tree. Here's the routine:
It's a lot, but repetition leads to consistency. And when you take care to do it right, you'll have less clean-up to do in the future.

Making a habit of this is one of the best things I ever did for my family tree.
Making a habit of this is one of the best things I ever did for my family tree.

So there you have my genealogy philosophy. I document everyone with any relationship to me from my ancestral hometowns. I record their facts consistent with their vital records, and I collect as many records for each person as I can. I use some of the same tools I use in business to make my tree more professional. And I'm a stickler for consistency.

If you don't know what your philosophy should focus on, think about why you're doing it and how it makes you feel. What can you do to make yourself feel better about the research and more proud of the results?

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10 December 2019

4 Tips for Finding a Missing Census Record

These 4 tips will come in handy when you can't find that census.

Once in a while—but very rarely—I look at someone else's family tree research. My policy is to ignore hints and not look at other trees. Here's a situation where I will break my policy.

Today I wanted to write about 3 tips for finding a missing census for someone in your family tree. I had a case recently that seemed like a great example to share.

I was researching a family with a head of household named Costanzo delGrosso. I found him and his family living in Galeton, Pennsylvania, in 1930. His name was mistakenly written as Costanza DelGross, but it was him. Costanzo lived at 86 Germania Street. I noticed his neighbors' last names were Sollo, Greco, and Esgro.

Three families lived next to mine in 1930 and 1940. Finding them in 1920 led to my family.
Three families lived next to mine in 1930 and 1940. Finding them in 1920 led to my family.

Then I found Costanzo and his family in 1940. He still lived at 86 Germania Street. His neighbors were still named Sollo, Greco, and Esgro.

But I could not find Costanzo and family in the 1920 census. I had immigration records showing his family was in the U.S. since 1913.

Where were they hiding in the 1920 census?

Here are the tips I used to find that missing census.

Tip #1. Search for their address in the missing year.

The delGrosso family was at 86 Germania Street in 1930 and 1940. It's logical to search for them at the same address in 1920. But they weren't there. When this happens, be sure to check houses and streets that are close to the address you want.

Tip #2. Search for their neighbors in the missing year.

Costanzo's neighbors were the same in 1930 and 1940. Why not search for them in 1920 and look at the households nearby?

The right hint can set you in the right direction and open up the floodgates.
The right hint can set you in the right direction and open up the floodgates.

These tips led me to Costanzo and his family. They were a census sheet away from their future neighbors, and a block away from their future address. The problem was, Costanzo delGrosso's name in the 1920 census is written (and indexed) as Grosso Delroso. Grosso Delroso!

Most of his family's names are also recorded a bit differently in 1920 than they are in later years:
  • Lucy becomes Lucia in 1930 and Lucie in 1940
  • Libera becomes Labra in 1930 and Lea in 1940
  • Mauro becomes Morris in 1930
  • Deny becomes Daniel in 1930 and 1940
So keep your eyes and your mind open to different spellings.

While I found the missing census by searching for a neighbor, this brings me to another search tip.

Tip #3. Search for family members by their first names only.

How someone recorded Costanzo delGrosso as Grosso Delroso is beyond me. But did you know you can leave out the last name from a search and use first names to find the family?

Now I had 3 tips to share with you for finding a missing census. So I set out to apply these tips to Victor Abbate whose 1940 census is missing. And that led to…

Tip #4. Consult another family tree for leads.

As I said at the top, I usually ignore anyone else's family tree research. But today I got lucky.

I was trying to find Victor after he'd married and moved out of his father's home in Brooklyn, New York.

A family tree search result caught my eye. The owner of the tree knew Victor's exact birth date. All I knew was 1900. She had his parents' names as Frank and Mary. I had Francesco and Mary, so that's a match. And she had his proper name as William Vito Abbate. Did she see his birth certificate? I showed you how the delGrosso family's names changed from census to census. Is that how William Vito became Victor?

Besides the 1920 census, this family tree led me to the missing 1925 New York State census where "Victor" is "William". It led me to their 1915 New York State census where he's called "Willie"! And it led me to their 1905 New York State census where he's listed as "Victo". All the other facts fit. There's no doubt this is the right family.

I'm not taking any fact or document directly from this family tree. Instead, the tree pointed me to all the original documents I was missing. Now I know who "Victor" he married, who his children were, when he died, and where he's buried.

Will every hint from a family tree be this useful? No. But I want you to be open to using other trees as leads. Not as fact, but as leads for your research.

In 2018 I had a genealogy research goal of finding every missing census I'd listed in my document tracker. There were some I couldn't find—like Victor Abbate in 1940. With these 4 tips, I'm ready to take another look for them.

Which of your families have missing census sheets?

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If you like the idea of discovering all your Italian ancestors but haven't got the time, let me do it. Read more at Italian Ancestry Services.