10 January 2020

3 Steps to My Ultimate, Priceless Family Tree

Nothing interests me more than harvesting this rich genealogy resource.

All I need is my laptop and a working electrical outlet to be endlessly happy.

That's because I have an enormous resource for building my family tree on my laptop. You see, all my ancestors come from a handful of neighboring towns in southern Italy. For most of my life, this was all I knew:
  • my Grandpa Leone was born in Baselice
    • he had a brother Noah and a sister Eve, which was funny because he was Adam
  • my Grandpa Iamarino was born in Colle Sannita
    • he had a sister called Susie, and his parents were Francesco Iamarino and Libera Pilla
  • my maternal grandmother Mary was born in New York City to parents from Pastene
    • her mother's siblings and parents lived in the Bronx, New York
  • my paternal grandmother Lucy was born in New York state to Pasquale Iamarino and Maria Rosa something
When I started working on my family tree, there was only one resource for Italian documents. I had to order and view microfilm at a local Family History Center. I spent 5 years viewing and transcribing (in my own shorthand) all the vital records from Baselice.

I built my Grandpa Leone's family tree going back 6 generations.

The whole time I was doing that, I was eager to do the same for my other ancestral hometowns. But 5 years per town is an awful lot of trips to a Family History Center.

One of my 2020 genealogy goals involves a family from the hamlet of Pastene in the town of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. So I'm going to start doing for Sant'Angelo a Cupolo what I did for Baselice…in MUCH less time.

Using these documents, I can paint a detailed picture of my direct ancestors' hometowns.
Using these documents, I can paint a detailed picture of my direct ancestors' hometowns.

Here's my plan. If you have access to a collection of vital records from your ancestral hometowns, you should do the same.

1. Rename the Document Images

I've got a folder of Italian vital records on my computer. It's simultaneously backed up to OneDrive, too.

In the main folder there's a folder for each of the 2 provinces where I have roots: Benevento and Avellino. In each of the province folders are different town folders. In each town folder are as many as 225 folders. That's 1 folder for each year's birth records, 1 for death records, and 1 for marriage records.

Sant'Angelo a Cupolo has only 72 folders because there are no records before 1861. Recently I renamed the images in 21 of the 72 folders to include the name of the subject(s).

Until I rename the document images, the people in all those folders are hidden from me. As I rename files, I'm discovering relatives. I found children born to my 2nd great grandmother's sister. I found my 2nd cousin 3 times removed. I found a branch of my Sarracino family that I can't connect to my family tree yet.

It doesn't take all that long to rename the document images, and then they're searchable.
It doesn't take all that long to rename the document images, and then they're searchable.

All these people are discoverable the moment I rename their document image file.

2. Learn the Names

Each time I start renaming files from another town, I have many more names to learn. Lots of times I'm unsure of the spelling. But when I see the name written on several documents, they become clearer to me.

Learning the names from my ancestral hometowns is key to figuring out who most of my DNA matches are. I start by looking at their (all-too-often) sparse family tree for a familiar last name.

When I spot a name like Pilla or Cocca, I know it could be from Grandpa Iamarino's town. A name like Petruccelli or Bozza could be from Grandpa Leone's town. This familiarity is so important. I can decipher a badly written name on a document because I know which names come from that town.

3. Piece Families Together

When I began those 5 years of microfilm viewing, I realized something important. I couldn't tell which people were my direct ancestors until I put families together.

I have 8 people from the town named Giovanni Pisciotti. They're all in my family tree, and some were born only a few years apart. How could I know which one was my 3rd great grandfather? I had to build each family in town.

Piecing together my grandfather's entire town? Well worth it!
Piecing together my grandfather's entire town? Well worth it!

Using my collection of vital records, I can build out every little branch of my family tree. I love doing that for my 19th century Italians. But when it comes to modern times in the USA, I decided to cut off in-law trees at their parents.

For example, I'll give my 2nd cousin her husband and their wedding date. And I'll give her husband his parents. But that's it. He gets no siblings and no grandparents.

My indulgence is with my multitude of small-town Italians. These twisted and distant relationships are going to be what ties me to a DNA match. Plus, I adore their names more than I can say.

Thanks to the documents, I turned what would be a 2,000-person tree into a 23,000-person tree, and growing. All those names (all those souls!) give me a connection to my ancestral hometowns. Even today I see people online from my towns with names I know so well.

So here I am, starting my journey into another one of my ancestral hometowns. I'll learn their names as I rename their files, and start fitting people into my family tree. Remembering my 2020 genealogy goal, I'll pay extra attention to people with name Muollo.

Don't let anyone tell you who does and doesn't belong in your family tree. This is your hobby, and we each have our reasons for dabbling in genealogy. I hope you've found a purpose that makes you as excited about genealogy as I am.

07 January 2020

How to Figure Out a DNA Match

Even with no cooperation, you can work a DNA match into your family tree.

One of my 2020 Genealogy Goals is to figure out my connection to at least 1 DNA match per month. Here's a breakdown of how I met this goal for January.

I bought an Ancestry DNA kit back in 2012. I have uploaded my raw DNA to a few other websites, but Ancestry DNA gives me the most robust tools. As I scroll down my match list, I can see the brief notes I added to people, like:
  • descendant of Teofilo Iamarino (that's my great grandfather's brother)
  • related thru Libera Maria Iamarino (that's another great grandfather's sister)
  • related thru Nicola Leone (that's my grandfather's 1st cousin)
These notes make it easy to scan the list and find someone with a family tree but no note from me.

No tree, private tree, worthless tree. Why did they get a DNA test?
No tree, private tree, worthless tree. Why did they get a DNA test?

My 1st candidate is a man with a 7-person tree, but only 4 names are not private. The facts are almost non-existent. But I recognize the my match's last name as being from my grandfather's hometown in Italy.

I don't know what year anyone in my match's family tree was born. So I searched for my match's exact name on Facebook. I found a man who is very likely him, based on our mutual friend. Having seen him in one photo, I can estimate he's about my age.

That gives me something to go on. I can assume his grandfather is from my grandfather's town and was born more than 100 years ago. There are 2 people in my collection of Italian vital records who could be the grandfather of my match.

But I can't go any further without writing to my match and hoping he replies. Let's move on.

My 2nd candidate is a woman with a 29-person family tree. Once again I recognize a couple of last names from my grandfather's Italian hometown.

Unfortunately this 29-person family tree makes very little sense. People are not connected to one another. There's a lack of maiden names. And the 2 last names I recognize don't have an obvious connection to my DNA match. I'm starting to lose hope.

Before I move on, I'll search my Italian vital records collection for people in the tree. One person from the tree might be the son of my 1st cousin 5 times removed, Liberantonia Iamarino. But I have no way to be sure.

The next few candidates have worthless trees. This is what happens when someone gets a DNA kit as a gift but doesn't care.

Finally, down in the 4th–6th cousin range, I see another familiar last name. (Grandpa's hometown has descendants EVERYWHERE!) His family tree has only 7 people, but it has what I really like: Italians born in the 1800s.

Sure enough, my DNA match's paternal grandfather is from Grandpa's town. I found his 1882 birth record and saw a note written in its column. It said this man married my DNA match's grandmother in 1904. That proves I've got the right birth record.

To turn this cousin into a solved DNA match, I've got to get his people into my tree. His grandfather Gennaro was born in 1882 to Ignazio and Costanza. Ignazio is not a common first name in the town, and that will help me. I searched my digital town folder and found his 1931 death record. I know it's him because he's still married to Costanza. Based on his age at death, I found his birth record. Then I found Ignazio's parents' (my match's 2nd great grandparents') 1843 marriage records.

While fitting this DNA match into my family tree, I discovered 4 of my 7th great grandparents!
While fitting this DNA match into my family tree, I discovered 4 of my 7th great grandparents!

And that marriage is the key. The bride in 1843 (Costanza) is the daughter of my 5th great uncle, Francesco Saverio d'Emilia. Boo yah!

Now I can work my way down to my DNA match. I add my 1st cousin 5 times removed, Costanza Carmela Guilia d'Emilia, to my family tree. I add her husband and their son. Then I add his wife and their son. Then I add his son—my DNA match.

Solved: This DNA match is my 5th cousin once removed. I'll go back to add the details and attach the Italian document images. Then I'll contact my DNA match and point him to that part of my tree. Your DNA match is more likely to answer if you say "Here's your family" than if you ask "Who's your family?"

This is why you work on your DNA match's family tree.
This is why you work on your DNA match's family tree.

As I told my husband the other day, anyone who's a DNA match to me is very lucky. I've got a big tree and the documents to make it bigger and bigger. The key to figuring out your DNA match's connection is familiarity. You've got to be very familiar with the last names in your family tree and in your towns. That's how I attack each match. I spot a last name (usually from Grandpa Iamarino's town), and I try to solve it.

That's my DNA genealogy goal for January. Time to tackle a different goal.

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.