21 January 2020

A Genealogy Catastrophe Made Me Mend My Ways

A corrupted family tree file has forced me into better genealogy habits.

I'm back from one solid week in genealogy HELL. When the problem was finally fixed, I had a real "come to Jesus" moment. And I've learned 2 important lessons. First let me tell you what happened.

We each have our own way of creating and sharing our family tree research. I've used Family Tree Maker (FTM) software on my desktop since 2003. And I love the Ancestry.com user interface for browsing and understanding a family tree. No other website can compare.

When Ancestry introduced synchronized FTM and online trees, that's what I did. I make all my changes in FTM and upload them to my tree on Ancestry. So, when something goes wrong, and I cannot for the life of me synchronize FTM to Ancestry, it is devastating!

After my 9 Jan 2020 synchronization, the next sync failed. I followed all the FTM recommendations:
  1. I restored my tree to my 6 Jan 2020 backup version, giving it a different file name. The sync FAILED. To add insult to injury, each attempted sync took at least 12 hours to fail.
  2. I restored my tree to my 1 Jan 2020 backup. This was the earliest backup I had saved. The sync FAILED.
  3. I contacted FTM's live chat and sent them my latest Sync Failure Report. They isolated a corrupted spot in my database to one person: Maria Rosa Marucci.
  4. I deleted evil wicked Maria Rosa from my Ancestry tree and my FTM tree and tried to sync using my original FTM file. The sync FAILED.
  5. I had one last ace up my sleeve. FTM suggested downloading my Ancestry tree as a new FTM file. I did that and tried again to sync. The sync SUCCEEDED. But it needs a ton of work.
It was a brutal week where I couldn't make any progress on my family tree. But, as I said, I learned 2 important lessons.

Since my simple source citations are broken, I've decided to conform with the norms.
Since my simple source citations are broken, I've decided to conform with the norms.
Lesson 1: Backup and Synchronize Much More Often

When I upgraded to the latest version of Family Tree Maker last November, I had a failed sync. Through an online chat, the company isolated the corrupted spot in the database to one person. I deleted her and everything was fine.

I got more careful about backup files. If I spend a whole Saturday working on my tree, I stop a bunch of times to make a backup. I used to over-write the file each time. Now I give them names like:
  • Family_Tree_2020-01-20a.ftmb
  • Family_Tree_2020-01-20b.ftmb
  • Family_Tree_2020-01-20c.ftmb
  • Family_Tree_2020-01-20d.ftmb
The files are very large, so I kept only 4 days' worth of backups. When I had this problem last week, I didn't have many choices for reverting to an earlier version. From now on I'll keep 10 days' worth.

In November I started something new. An FTM expert told me you can save a synchronization log when you sync. I do this every time now. Each file (saved in PDF format) shows exactly which changes are about to made to my online tree. The files are small, and I have almost 40 of them. When I hit 100 files I may delete the earliest one.

I also made myself a promise. I will never again make massive changes to my tree without frequent backups and syncs. Recently I was updating an obsolete source attached to thousands of facts. If you make massive changes in one sitting, your file sync is going to take forever. It may even fail. And wouldn't it be awful to have to do that all over again?

So it's bite-sized overhauls from now on.

Lesson 2: Completely Change How I Make Source Citations

As I said above, what fixed my family tree file was to download my Ancestry tree as a new FTM file. I didn't lose a single person (except that wicked witch Maria Rosa Marucci, who I added back later).

But 3 unpleasant things happened:

First, my 1,973 individual place names need attention. Town names are fine (e.g., Buffalo, Erie County, New York, USA). But street addresses are not (e.g., 10 Union Avenue, Peekskill, Westchester County, New York, USA). They show an "unresolved" icon. I could ignore this, but I'd rather resolve them. I'll be sure to stop and make several backups and synchronizations along the way.

I'm too much of a control freak not to correct all these unresolved addresses.
I'm too much of a control freak not to correct all these unresolved addresses.

Second, my image files no longer have a category selected. Categories (Census, Photo, Vital Record) make it easier to work with your media. I'll have to take my time and fix them.

Third, my compact, one-size-fits-many source citations are destroyed.

I've written before about a simple way to cite your sources. Basically, you have one source, such as "1900 U.S. Federal Census." You attach that source to every fact you find on a 1900 U.S. census page. Simple! I add more specific details in the description of each document image file. The description explains exactly where I found that image.

These unwanted changes happened because Ancestry:
  • doesn't have the "Resolve Place Names" feature
  • doesn't use image categories, and
  • doesn't subscribe to my simple sources theory.
I must say that I like it when a source is specific to the fact at hand and includes the image. You can click to enlarge the image. You can click to go right to its source location. This is the preferred way to cite your sources.

A corrupted database has dragged me kicking and screaming into a better way of citing sources.
A corrupted database has dragged me kicking and screaming into a better way of citing sources.

I've got a ton of work ahead of me. I'm excited about creating a better product, but it's so much work that I may not get all the way there for ages.

Think about upgrading your backup habits and source citation style. You can do both right now and from now on. Don't worry about past mistakes. Work on your closest ancestors' sources first. Then continue on with your new, improved style.

That's what I'm going to do. I began with one of my grandfathers. I'll follow the new rules with each person I add or edit. I'll detail my new process for you in another article. Right now I'm so happy to be out of genealogy hell!

17 January 2020

Which of Your Ancestors Has the Best Life Story?

Follow this process to choose your best subject and write their life story.

This month I've made great progress on my 2020 Genealogy Goals. Today's goal is this: Write a brief life story for each of my direct ancestors with enough data.

I added the with enough data restriction because of my background. Half of my great grandparents and every ancestor before them (except 2) never left Italy. Their lives in Italy are documented only by their birth, marriage, and death records. There isn't much I can say about them.

That really limits the ancestors I can write about. I'll be you have some limitations, too.

My female ancestors in America lived at a time when women weren't usually educated and rarely held a job outside the home. That limits their document trail. I knew my maternal grandmother Mary well, and I absolutely should write down an many memories of her as I can. My paternal grandmother Lucy died a few years before I was born. I know she was warm and well-loved in her neighborhood.

I also know she had a job. Today we call it telecommuting or "working from home". In my grandmother's day they called it "homework".

I learned this from a story my father tells. He got in trouble at school once when his teacher kept insisting he re-do an assignment. The teacher didn't tell my dad what he was doing wrong. She just insisted he throw it away, take out a new sheet of paper, and try again. Eventually he refused (go Dad!), and she sent him to the principal's office. He explained, "My mother works hard to pay for my paper. I'm not going to keep wasting sheets of it if the teacher won't tell me what I'm doing wrong." The principal made the teacher apologize to my dad.

Grandma Lucy's homework was to take home shirts from a factory and carefully snip off the excess lengths of thread. Her work made the shirts look beautifully tailored. I'd love to know what that job title was. Thread snipper? She isn't listed as working on the census. I'll bet the story happened shortly after 1940.

So I can't say a lot about my female ancestors, but I do have some anecdotes to capture. Are you writing down your family anecdotes?

There is more to say about my male ancestors because of their documents. Here are my top candidates. Please think about your own ancestors as you read on.

1. Adamo Leone, born 1891

My maternal grandfather has an interesting story because he was a World War I prisoner of war for a solid year. That's why I've already written his story.

2. Pietro Iamarino, born 1902

My paternal grandfather's life is marked by a lot of moving around:
  • He left Italy at age 18.
  • He started in the Bronx, New York, where his Uncle Giuseppe was living in 1920.
  • He went to Boston where he had another uncle, Antonio, soon after.
  • He went to western Pennsylvania where he applied for his U.S. citizenship in 1924.
  • He went a little further west to Ohio where he married my grandmother in 1927.
  • They moved with their 2 children back to the Bronx where he still had his Uncle Giuseppe. This was about 1936.
  • They moved back to Ohio when Grandma Lucy became ill and wanted to be near her parents in 1952. She died in 1954.
  • They scattered a bit because my aunt and my father each got married, but they all came back to the Bronx by 1955.
I've documented Grandpa's moves on a map, but I do need to put them together into one big story.

I used a special mapping feature to show Grandpa's journey, but I need to write his story.
I used a special mapping feature to show Grandpa's journey, but I need to write his story.

3. Pasquale Iamarino, born 1882

My great grandfather Patsy, as he was known, came to America at age 20. He started in the Bronx where he also had an uncle. He started working for the Erie Railroad in upstate New York. He met and married my great grandmother quickly, and started his family.

He also did a bit of moving around. He bounced to a couple of places in upstate New York and then over to Youngstown, Ohio, always working for the railroad. He was a boilermaker. That means he cleaned the engine's boilers and tanks, using scrapers and steam or water hoses. Eventually this job of scraping coal residue gave him black lung disease. The Lung Health Institute described the disease as "a chronic respiratory disease traditionally resulting from long-term exposure to and inhalation of coal dust."

Well of course that was going to happen!

Patsy retired early with a pension. They let him travel by rail for free, so he went to New York City once in a while to visit his daughter (my grandmother). He lived to be 87 years old, growing roses and vegetables on his land in Ohio. I need to press my dad for more stories before I can really write about Patsy.

4. Giovanni Sarracino, born 1876

My great grandfather Giovanni is legendary on my mother's side of the family. He always struck me as being the character most worth writing about in my family tree. It's time to quit stalling and get this done.

The reasons he intrigues me are:
  • he had a famously hot temper.
  • he came to America with no money or education and somehow bought 2 apartment buildings!
  • he worked as an agent (whatever that means) for a Bronx brewery which seems to be tied to his ability to buy 2 apartment buildings.
  • he looked like famous actor Spencer Tracy. I have an awesome photo of him looking like the biggest man in town.
I don't have all the details about him. That's for sure. But I can present the newspaper clippings I've found of his real estate transactions. I can tell the story of the time a doorknob got caught on the keys hanging from his pocket. It ripped his pants and sent him flying into a rage. (It may not sound like it, but it's a funny story.)

His early story has a couple of twists and turns. His Sarracino family had a pattern of not reporting their babies' births in a timely manner, even though it was mandatory. They reported his 1876 birth in 1898. The reason they bothered at all is that he was getting married and it was 100% required.

His first child was born in Italy 8 months after my great grandparents married. The baby died right away. But my great grandmother (Maria Rosa Saviano) was pregnant with my Grandma Mary almost immediately. I think this premature birth and death may be why my great grandparents followed the Saviano family to America. They had left Italy—and left my great grandparents behind—more than a year earlier.

If they hadn't followed the Saviano family, I would never have been born.

Even his birth record has a story to tell! I've got to write my great grandfather's life story.
Even his birth record has a story to tell! I've got to write my great grandfather's life story.

I've chosen. It's time to write Giovanni Sarracino's story. The process will be to follow the paper trail from birth certificate to death certificate. I can include a brief description of his hometown because I've visited it twice. Writing an explanation of his real estate dealings may help me understand them better. And I'll be sure to search for a Bronx map showing the properties around 1912.

Which of your ancestors has a compelling tale and enough documents for you to write their life story? What's stopping you?

14 January 2020

What to Do When There Are No Documents

There may be related documents with some of the facts you're missing.

One of my 2020 Genealogy Goals is to learn more about my 2nd great grandmother. Her name was Maria Luigia Muollo and her facts are very slim.

She was born in a section of the Southern Italian town of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in 1843. I have only one source for her year of birth, and it's unreliable. It's the birth record for her youngest child, born in 1879, and it says Maria Luigia was 36 years old. That same birth record tells me Maria Luigia's father's name was Antonio and he was dead by that time.

That's all I know. The available vital records cover 1861–1915 births and 1931–1942 deaths and marriages. I can't go any further back. I can't get Maria Luigia's birth record or her parents' birth, marriage, or death records. I hired a research team in Italy who found that even their church had very limited records. They did find an 1864 marriage record for Maria Luigia and my 2nd great grandfather Giuseppe Sarracino. It has no details but the date.

What bothers me is Maria Luigia's unnamed mother is my only missing 3rd great grandparent. I've identified the other 31, but she remains lost to me.

Somewhere in here I may find the name of my missing ancestor.
Somewhere in here I may find the name of my missing ancestor.

My 2020 goal is to "Enter all Sant'Angelo a Cupolo births for babies named Muollo into my family tree."

To get this project started, I spent 3 days renaming my collection of vital record images for the town. Thanks to this task, I'm now very familiar with the last names in this ancestral town of mine. I wasn't slowed down by bad handwriting or the occasional mistake. And now I can search my computer for all Muollo documents at once.

There are 72 results. The process is to view each document and try to fit the people into my family tree. The first result (I don't know what determines the order of the results) is:
  • Maria Grazia Muollo
  • She died on 27 Oct 1941
  • She was 73 years old, so she was born around 1868 (and I do have her birth record)
  • Her parents were Francesco Saverio Muollo and Fortunata Ruotolo, both dead by 1941
  • Her 2nd husband was Vincenzo Pesante (not a last name from this town)
Turning to her 1868 birth record, I learn:
  • Maria Grazia Muollo was born on 9 Jun 1868
  • Her father Francesco Saverio Muollo was born in 1838 (out of range for my document collection)
  • His father was Giacomo Muollo
  • Her mother was Maria Fortunata Ruotolo (no age given)
  • Maria Fortunata's father was Pasquale Ruotolo
Please borrow.
Now I can add all Francesco Saverio and Maria Fortunata's children, if they were born after 1860. None of the names above are in my family tree yet. But, since it's a small town, I'm bound to find a connection to them eventually.

I'll begin adding this family and their facts to my tree. I'll give each person my "No Relationship Established" graphic as a profile image. That makes them instantly recognizable as someone who is not attached to me yet. The moment any of them gets connected and has a relationship to me, I'll remove all their graphics.

Because this last name is important to me, I labelled each Muollo document image with the name of the person's father. Now I can search for "Muollo di Francesco Saverio". (The word "di" means of, and it's a great shorthand for "daughter of" or "son of".)

All it'll take is one marriage, and this big family may become my close cousins.
All it'll take is one marriage, and this big family may become my close cousins.

There are 6 results, not counting Maria Grazia's birth and death. I'll open up each image and see if the person's mother was Maria Fortunata Ruotolo.
  • Antonio Pasquale Muollo born on 29 Sep 1866. He is a match for this family, so I add him to my family tree.
  • Vincenzo Muollo born on 15 Feb 1886. He is also a match for this family, so I add him to my family tree.
  • Luigi Muollo born on 18 Apr 1881. He also belongs to this family.
  • Another Luigi Muollo born on 16 Jan 1879. He is part of this family, and since there was a Luigi born 2 years later, I know this one died before the 2nd one was born. I can give him a death date of Bef. 18 Apr 1881.
  • Maria Giuseppa Muollo born 19 Mar 1873. She also belongs to this family.
  • Maria Luisa Muollo born on 19 Oct 1870. She also belongs to this family.
I love working with such a small town. The documents tell me there was only one Francesco Saverio Muollo in town who had kids from 1861–1915.

Francesco Saverio Muollo was about 5 years older than my 2nd great grandmother. But they have different fathers, so they can't be siblings. The closest relationship they could have is 1st cousin. So this family group does not help me learn my 3rd great grandmother's name. At least, not yet.

The prize could be finding someone else's death record that names my 3rd great grandparents.

I'll continue this process by going back to my general "Muollo" search. I'll work my way through each family unit until every Muollo is in my family tree. I'll continue with any "Muollo di Antonio" since that was my 3rd great grandfather's name. When I have everyone in my tree, I can judge whether anyone may be a sibling of my 2nd great grandmother.

I have vital records from several Italian towns where my ancestors lived. This town has the most limited records. But I'll do a lot more work like this. Last year's goal was to enter all the Pozzuto babies from the town of Colle Sannita. Wow, there were a lot of them! And this year's goal is to enter another big group: the Zeolla babies from Colle Sannita.

Entering these family groups—even when there is no connection to me—helps my genealogy research in a 2 big ways:
  • Almost all the unrelated people will become my relatives, expanding my family tree.
  • These extra branches will help me connect to my DNA matches.
If I'm lucky, there will be some record out there that may lead me to my 3rd great grandmother's missing name. I won't give up on her.