09 October 2020

Revisit Your Genealogy Journal Often

You may not have 417 blog articles that document your family tree research plans. You may not write down your theories, or the steps you took to make new discoveries. But I do.

I've written so many articles that I can re-read them and have no memory of the big discoveries they describe. It's clear I need to revisit my past ideas and make good on their promise.

My advice is that you start keeping a genealogy journal. It can be handwritten or in something like OneNote, if that's your preference. It can even be a plain text file, which is my choice. Whichever you choose, Keep Track of Your Genealogy Theories and Tasks. And revisit your journal often.

You got to keep track of your family tree discoveries. Revisit your genealogy journal often.
You got to keep track of your family tree discoveries. Revisit your genealogy journal often.

I try to do a bit of work on my family tree every day, and I spend the weekend tackling big research projects. All too often I can't find the time to follow my own advice to you, like:

I have so many open family tree research projects, I'm never at a loss for something interesting to do. But I would like to finish some of them!

Weekend is coming. How will I spend those hours of research time? Two recent projects are calling out to me the loudest:

  1. Imagine a Register of Your Entire Ancestral Hometown. I have a book detailing every single person in Grandpa's hometown in the year 1742. I want to work them all into my family tree. (The whole town's related.) I know I can finish my first pass this weekend. I'm up to household 343 out of 560. About one-fourth of them will be easy to place in my tree.
  2. Be More Thorough with Your Family Tree. I began looking at every person in my family tree with my maiden name, Iamarino. That's a lot of people. For each one, I'm searching their hometown's vital records for their missing documents. I'm completing each person as much as I can. I'm marking in my document tracker which documents I've found, and which are not available.

OK, it looks as if I've got my weekend genealogy plan. I'll work my way through that book, making sure I find any available records for each person I add to my tree.

Then next week I'll continue fully documenting every Iamarino in my family tree. I'm up to those with a first name of Giuseppe.

How can you make good on your past genealogy promises to yourself? Your genealogy journal would answer that question.

06 October 2020

What Was it Like When Your Ancestors Lived Here?

We watched "I Love Lucy" so much when I was a kid that my family still speaks in phrases from the show. One favorite comes from Lucy imitating Ricky mispronouncing "soak up some local color." It sounds like "sock up some lockel collar."

Whenever a member of the family is going on a trip, we tell them to "sock up some lockel collar." We can't go anywhere in 2020. So why not use a free online newspaper to get the "lockel collar" of the town I call home?

You can do this, too. Start at a Wikipedia page listing online newspaper archives from around the world. Many are free. Many are on the Fulton History website you may know, but others are not found there.

I went straight to the New York state newspapers and chose my Hudson Valley region. That led me to Hudson River Valley Historical Newspapers.

What if we search old newspapers for our ancestor's town instead of their name?
What if we search old newspapers for our ancestor's town instead of their name?

In the 12 March 1909 edition of the "Kingston Daily Freeman" is a story about a church less than 5 miles from my home.

The headline is "THE DEVIL IN CHURCH." I'm intrigued. This is a very small chapel within steps of a main road near the border of Fishkill, New York.

The article reads as follows:

"While holding prayer meeting in a small churh [sic] at Wiccoppe [sic], near Hopewell Junction, Dutchess county, the congregation was startled by the appearance of a figure clad in black wearing horns and a black mask and a pitchfork held in his hands. One of the members made a grab for the masker but he ducked out into the street and disappeared. The affair has stirred up a great scandal in the village."

What did he do? Hop on a Model-T motoring by?

Next I searched for my town in a paper called the "Rockland County Journal." I grew up in Rockland County, and it's an hour away from me now, across the Hudson River. I chose the earliest article in the results, from 20 March 1875.

I've lived in a lot of towns without knowing details of their past.
I've lived in a lot of towns without knowing details of their past.

An article called "Bridging the Hudson" talks about some critical infrastructure in my area. There's a National Park near here called the Walkway Over the Hudson. It's a former railroad bridge turned into a walking and biking path. They completed the railroad bridge in 1889. Following a fire, they closed and abandoned it. Finally, they rebuilt it for pedestrians in 2009, and it's very popular.

The article says Boston merchants wanted New York to build the bridge. Boston is a 3-hour drive from me, and more than 4 hours from New York City. There is no other railroad bridge across the Hudson between here and New York City. The lack of a crossing isolated Boston merchants from the rest of the country.

Boston appointed a committee that, 14 years later, resulted in the bridge's completion. It also recommended the completion of a road from my little town to the city of Poughkeepsie. That's where the bridge is. That road, Route 9, is now the main artery connecting every town from here to Poughkeepsie. It's a 12-mile strip of:

  • every franchise in America
  • retail stores
  • medical offices
  • hotels
  • restaurants
  • businesses, and
  • banks.

I always complain that I can't find my ancestors in newspapers. They weren't big businessmen. They weren't socialites. I haven't even found an obituary. And in Italy where they came from, most people were illiterate in the 1890s when my people left.

That's why we genealogists may find it useful to learn about our ancestors' hometowns. We may not find their names, but we may find their neighbors. I have one branch that lived in Western New York state. Their little town is ripe for newspaper exploration.

What local news can you find that had an impact on your family?

02 October 2020

A Safety Net for Reckless Family Tree Building

How ironic. Last time, I encouraged you to slow down and be more thorough in your family tree building. I'm having terrific results practicing what I preached. I've been checking every person in my tree with my maiden name. I'm gathering their missing documents. I'm fixing their sources. I'm updating my document tracker. It's awesome.

Then I thought I'd better have a quick look for new DNA matches. Next thing you know, I get swept into a marathon session of finding their ancestors, and working them into my tree.

By the time I came up for air, I'd added basic facts for about 30 people to my tree. Without any sources! Most of the people will be easy to fix. I entered their birth or marriage dates, so I can get their documents cropped and placed in my tree. The documents will help me make strong source citations.

Some of the names and facts rely on my DNA match's tree. I have no documentary proof yet. For them, I'll make a note in my tree and point to my DNA match's family tree online.

I finally stopped this feverish family building when I realized I had no idea how many people I'd added to my tree. How would I retrace my steps when I'd been jumping around among a few DNA matches?

Luckily, I recently learned something new about Family Tree Maker. Maybe this feature has always been there—hiding in plain sight. When you open your tree file in FTM and you're on the Plan tab, there's a place to create a task list. What I never noticed is that there's another tab next to Tasks called Change Log.

Does your genealogy program have this safety net?
Does your genealogy program have this safety net?

The Change Log lists up to 1,000 of the most recent changes you made to your tree, and it timestamps each action. Right now I can see each action for the past 4 busy days. That's fine—I only need to see what I did today.

I printed the change log to a PDF. Now I can accurately and fully retrace my steps. I'll give each person their birth, marriage, and death records. I'll add a detailed note for facts that came from my DNA match's tree.

Almost a year ago, I made it a habit to save the "Sync Change Log" each time I synchronize my FTM tree to Ancestry.com. Much like the Change Log, this PDF details everything I did since my last sync.

Those files will save the day if something goes wrong with your synchronization or your file. The Sync Change Log is an option you'll see shortly after you begin the sync process. See "Log" below.

Make family tree safety a top priority. Start with an external hard drive.
Make family tree safety a top priority. Start with an external hard drive.

Speaking of family tree safety, I make a full backup of my family tree file during and after each session. The backup files are very big because my tree is so large. I move them to an external hard drive each week during my Sunday computer backup routine. The sync log files are very small.

My safety routine is this:

  • Backup: Make a full backup of the family tree, media files included.
  • Compact: Close the family tree file, but not the software program. Compact the file (see the Tools menu), being sure to check "Perform extended analysis". Repeat, if needed, until the compact process reduces the file size by 0%.
  • Sync: Open the family tree again and click Sync Now.
  • Log: The Sync Change Log window shows you how many people, media, and citations you've changed. Click the View / Print Details button. This opens a file showing your changes since the last sync. Choose to Export As PDF, close the window, and continue the sync.
  • Close: Give your tree a few moments after the sync is complete to process any media files. Then close the file before exiting the program.
  • Backup: Make it a routine to back up all your family tree files to a safe location, like an external hard drive or two.

That's about as safe as you can be. After an unexplained sync crash last November, I made sure to be as careful with my family tree as I possibly can. Are you safeguarding your hard work?