20 October 2020

How to Use Proper Genealogy Style

If you always format names, dates, and places properly, you may be a Family Tree Fashionista. And that's a good thing!

Let's take a look at the Big Three. How do you record Names, Dates, and Places in your family tree?

Names

Entering names in your family tree is such a hot-button issue. People have strong feelings about their chosen style.

Maiden Names. I'd estimate my 25,718-person family tree is 95% Italian. Since Italian women keep their father's last name for life, it would be crazy to list them by their married name. That simply is not their name.

As someone who has legally had 3 last names in my life:

  • You don't want to call me by my ex-husband's last name.
  • I'll always answer to my husband's last name.
  • I definitely identify as my father's last name. I even have it as a vanity license plate.

Since a woman's maiden name is on her birth, marriage, and death certificates, you've got to list her by her maiden name. That's who you're documenting. Let the marriage facts you enter tell you her married name. Let the family tree layout tell you who she married.

There shouldn't be any debate about how to record names in your family tree.
There shouldn't be any debate about how to record names in your family tree.

Case. I have lots of Italian names beginning with a lower case d', di, de, or del. Putting those last names in all capital letters would be destructive. How would you know if the name DELGROSSO is spelled delGrosso, DelGrosso, or Delgrosso? You wouldn't.

Name at Birth. I'm careful to preserve each person's name at birth. I was adding the 1819 marriage documents for a couple to my family tree. The bride was Antonia Piacquadio. That's the name on her birth/baptism record, and on her marriage papers.

The groom's case is a little different. On the marriage papers, he's Luigi d'Agostino. Then I saw his 1798 birth record. His full name at birth was Luigi Maria Vincenzo Michelangelo d'Agostino! I will preserve Luigi's full name because that's what makes him unique.

Dates

Genealogy research isn't isolated to one country or one language. Your date format needs to be universal.

Years ago, I interacted with people from around the world as part of my job. I realized how important it is to use a date format that can't be misunderstood. If you're an American, you'd write my son's birth date as 5/6/1989. To you and me, that means May 6th.

But in Europe, 5/6/1989 is the 5th of June. My kid would get his birthday gift really late, wouldn't he?

To avoid this confusion, enter dates in your family tree in this format: 6 May 1989. It's the date, the 1st 3 letters of the month (Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec), and the 4-digit year. In many languages, the 3-letter month abbreviations are similar. It's a safe bet that someone who speaks another language would understand 6 May 1989.

If you use Family Tree Maker, go to the Tools menu and click Options. Then click the Names/Dates/Places tab. You can tell the software how to display your dates, no matter how you type them. Consistency is important for the very reason that my other son's birth date is 12/10/1992. Is that December 10th or the 12th of October?

Places

The proper style for place names (the exact words vary by country) is City, County, State, Country. In Italy it's Comune, Province, Region, Country.

To me, American place names can look confusing when you list all it together like that. Monsey, Rockland, New York, USA. I adopted a slight variation that is now supported by Family Tree Maker when I let it resolve place names.

I add the word County. I feel that Monsey, Rockland County, New York, USA is clearer.

An Italian example would be my grandfather's town: Baselice, Benevento, Campania, Italy. Seeing the complete place name makes it clear to anyone exactly where you're talking about.

Consistency of place names, down to the street address, offers benefits to your family tree research.
Consistency of place names, down to the street address, offers benefits to your family tree research.

A woman online said she wanted to remove the USA from the end of all her American place names. I don't know why, but I recall I didn't use USA early on. It seemed so obvious. All my people were from New York. Everyone knows where New York is.

But as my tree grew, it became clear that I should use the proper naming convention. When you enter place names properly, Family Tree Maker does a nice job of rolling them all up in a list. You can select a country, then a state, province, or region, and continue down to a specific address to see everyone who was there.

Proper style ensures that your family tree will live on and be helpful even when you're gone. Make sure you're working on it for future generations. Make it speak the same "language" generations from now.

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16 October 2020

Make Your Genealogy Documents Speak Volumes

Census sheets, ship manifests, birth, marriage and death records. These are the documents that bring your ancestors to life. Without them, you have no tangible evidence for your extended family.

The digital documents I collect are the heartbeat of my family tree. And I spend a good deal of time processing and caring for them.

My goal today is to get you thinking about how you handle your digital documents. What can you do to be more efficient? More thorough? More careful? More importantly, how can you make your family tree more valuable?

Careful work pays off in the form of a highly reliable family tree.
Careful work pays off in the form of a highly reliable family tree.

Note that I have very few paper documents, and I've scanned them all into digital files. You won't find anything about color-coded binders and folders on this blog.

I have a vast collection of meticulously annotated, logically filed, safely backed-up documents. I make a habit of putting each new digital document through a series of steps. After downloading the digital document, I:

  1. Name the file in my usual style, which is most often LastnameFirstnameEventYear. For example, MartuccioMariaDeath1801.jpg. Note: I name census sheets and ship manifests for the head of the household or the traveling group.
  2. Crop the image in Photoshop to remove excess background or an unneeded facing page. Many old Italian birth and death records have 2 or more records in an image.
  3. Enhance the contrast so the document is easier to read, if necessary. Photoshop has a few good controls for this.
  4. Add a title and description to the document file's properties. These 2 field carry over when I drag and drop them into Family Tree Maker. I follow a pattern like this:
    • Title: 1801 death record for Maria Martuccio
    • Description: From the Benevento State Archives [followed by the exact URL of the image]
  5. Attach the image to the appropriate person(s) in Family Tree Maker. I turn the earliest image I have into a person's profile image.
  6. Create a source citation for each fact in the document.
  7. Add a notation to my document tracker spreadsheet so I know I've got this document.
  8. Keep the image file in a special folder, waiting for my weekly backup of all new files.
  9. Move the file to its final destination in my collection of digital family tree folders.
Annotated images tell you exactly where they came from.
Annotated images tell you exactly where they came from.

Yes, it's a lot, but it all serves my goal: To have the best family tree as a resource for anyone with roots in one of my ancestral hometowns. I want to be the absolute go-to family tree because of how carefully I document every fact in my tree.

Consider these ideas for your family tree document handling and care:

What do you say? Is your family tree—your legacy—worth doing right?

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13 October 2020

3 Steps to Solving DNA Matches

When I figure out my exact connection to a DNA match, I add a note to them on Ancestry. These notes are visible as I scroll down my list of matches. I used some color-coding dots, too. A green dot means I figured them out.

I have to scroll down far into the 4th–6th cousin range to find an unsolved DNA match with a tree.

Mark up your DNA match list with colors and notes for greater efficiency.
Mark up your DNA match list with colors and notes for greater efficiency.

There are 3 basic steps to figuring out these matches. This is going to make it sound super-easy. Once in a while, it is.

1. Search their family tree for familiar names.

I'm so familiar with my ancestral hometowns, I can look at a last name and tell you which of my towns it's from. If a DNA match has a tree showing no Italian last names, there's no obvious way for me to connect.

That's the situation with one match with a very small tree. I think his unnamed grandmother is his Italian ancestor, but I don't know who she is. I researched his Irish-American grandfather. But I couldn't find him marrying an Italian-American woman.

Let's assume, though, that you do see a last name or two you recognize.

2. Find a birth or marriage record for their ancestor.

If you can't find anything that connects your DNA match's people to your people, save them for later. Leave yourself a note that you tried and failed to find the connection.

When I couldn't find an Italian connection to the DNA match I mentioned above, I looked at our shared DNA matches. This is a very helpful feature on Ancestry DNA.

A quick look at our shared matches tells me my relationship to this guy with an Irish name is on my mother's side. I took a look at one shared match and realized her original last name is from one of my towns. That ties these matches to my 2nd great grandmother Vittoria. She alone came from a different town than the rest of my family.

3. Use your research and their tree to get a match into your tree.

The shared match whose name I recognize has a tree that includes her grandfather. But he was born later than the available vital records.

Once again, I turned to shared DNA matches. There I found a woman whose full name I recognize. I wrote to her years ago, and she told me the proper spelling of the last name. I'd only seen it once at that point, and it had been hard to read.

It was high time I worked this woman, who'd been helpful to me in the past, into my family tree. Her 7-person family tree includes her 2 sets of grandparents.

If you've read this blog before, you remember me. I'm the nut who downloads all the vital records from my ancestral towns and spends an eternity renaming the files. When the file names include the person's name, all the records are searchable on my computer. I searched for and found this match's paternal grandmother's birth record. In the margin is the date she married my DNA match's paternal grandfather. There's no doubt I have the right person.

I need to trace both grandparents back further, using the vital records I've renamed. I'll keep going until I find some sort of connection to myself.

To quote Bugs Bunny, "Well whaddya know? The stuff woiks." I found the connection quickly. This DNA match is my 3rd cousin 3 times removed (3C3R). Her 2nd great grandfather is my 5th great grandfather.

All I ask of my DNA matches is a little bit of a family tree I can investigate.
All I ask of my DNA matches is a little bit of a family tree I can investigate.

Once you can work a DNA match into your tree, you'll see their exact relationship to you. Be sure to add a note to this person in your match list, stating the relationship. I like to use abbreviations like 5C2R for 5th cousin twice removed, or 3C1R for 3rd cousin once removed. I saw a genealogist on Twitter using that abbreviation and loved it. It's short and unmistakable.

I'll continue picking off as many of the shared DNA matches as I can. If I keep figuring out our shared DNA matches, I may find my connection to the match with the Irish name. The connection may be in one of their trees.

Figuring out a DNA match is like a fishing expedition. Wait, no. I went along with a fisherman once, and it was an endless amount of waiting around. This is more of a hunting and tracking expedition without the weapons.

I track my DNA match's ancestors, following their path until I've got them in my sights. Then they become family. Yeah; that's my kind of hunting expedition. What genealogy fan doesn't enjoy that?

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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.

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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?

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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?

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29 September 2020

Be More Thorough with Your Family Tree

I have a mantra for keeping things tidy, and it works for genealogy, too. I call it "all-the-way away," as in "Don't place your shoes by the door. Put them all-the-way away in the closet."

I spent the weekend working on my family tree with this mantra firmly in mind. It's clear that this slower, much more thorough process results in:

  • more discoveries
  • fixing past errors
  • a more fortified family tree

My family tree includes nearly everyone in my small ancestral hometowns. It has 25,306 people. Far too many times I've added names and dates to my tree without being thorough.

When you find a new person to add to your tree, it isn't enough to take down names and dates. You've got to be thorough and add documents and sources right then and there. Put those shoes all-the-way away.

Here's what I'm doing now. I hope it'll inspire you to do something like it.

I've been writing about this book I have, detailing each family in Grandpa's hometown in the year 1742. I want to get every last fact from the book into my family tree. But that means I have to trace all the families back to their ancestors who were alive in 1742. And that means I have to extract every last clue available in the vital records from the town.

I began this journey of thoroughness last week. I chose a last name from the town that's early in the alphabet: Basile. I worked through each Basile in my document tracker spreadsheet. I found and attached missing vital records to each Basile.

I realized I could do a lot more than complete the Basile lines in my document tracker. I could, and should, look at every Basile document in the collection and see if it fits into my family tree. That would be the best possible use of my completely indexed collection of vital records.

No more rushing through the cousins. I found out this cousin used to live near me.
No more rushing through the cousins. I found out this cousin used to live near me.

But wouldn't it be more fun, rewarding, and engaging to start with my maiden name? Why put off the most important name of all, waiting for it to come up in the alphabet?

Instead of going further with the B names, I jumped to the first Iamarino name in my family tree. Abbonnanzia Iamarino was born in 1848. For each Iamarino name in the index of my family tree:

  • I searched my document collection for missing facts
  • I cropped each vital record image and attached it to the right person
  • I created a thorough source citation for each fact taken from each document image
  • I added mention of each new document to my document tracker

I left off on Sunday with Francesco Saverio Iamarino, born on 27 June 1786. It looks as if I have all available vital records for him. I'll mark in my document tracker that his 1st marriage documents are outside the range of available vital records. (His 1st marriage happened before 1802 when he was only 16!)

I can see in my family tree that Francesco Saverio's ancestors are listed in the book of 1742 residents of the town. (I can see this because I use a photo of the book as their profile image.) But one of his grandmothers is a dead end. She was alive in 1742. Is there anything more I can learn about her? I want to be thorough before I move on.

Her name was Angela Caporaso. That wasn't a common last name in this town, so I checked the book's index. I gasped when I saw there was only one Caporaso household in town in 1742.

I turned to entry #9 in the book, and guess what? I found her! This one entry contains a ton of information about Angela's family in 1742:

  • her father Francesco had died by 1742
  • her mother Elisabetta Scrocca, is 42 years old
  • her 17-year-old brother Antonio is now the head of household
  • Angela is 14 years old
  • her brother Giuseppe is 9 years old
  • her older sister Teresa is 22 years old and married to a man from several towns away

None of Angela's family members were in my family tree yet. I would not have found them without thoroughly going through my people one by one. A search of my vital records collection shows no one else named Caporaso in this town. I believe Francesco Caporaso moved here when he married Elisabetta Scrocca. Her name has deep roots in the town. They raised their family here, and it was the first Caporaso family in town. Maybe Angela's brothers Antonio and Giuseppe did not carry on the family name.

Angela Caporaso is no longer a dead-end because I'm squeezing every drop out of the resources that I have. And now I have 25,312 people in my family tree.

One of my goals is to stretch my families far back enough to find them in the 1742 town register.
One of my goals is to stretch my families far back enough to find them in the 1742 town register.

This thorough method is much better than the smash-and-grab genealogy we sometimes do. On Sunday I followed a Donato Iamarino across the ocean to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I found his ship manifest, naturalization papers, and World War II draft registration card. I found his wife's 1958 Pennsylvania death record. I learned that he later moved to Connecticut, where he died in 1981. I was living a few towns away in Connecticut the day he died!

My message to you is to slow down, and enjoy thoroughly exploring each person in your family tree. You don't know where each one will lead you. Each journey may be the most exciting one of all.

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25 September 2020

Spinning a Hint into Genealogy Gold

You know those Potential Father, Potential Mother suggestions on Ancestry.com? The ones so many people find ridiculous? I decided to check one out today.

I was randomly viewing my tree on Ancestry. I wanted to see how many people could fit on the screen at once. I wish I could see thousands of them at a time.

The results weren't good, but a pair of bright green potential ancestors caught my eye, so I had a look. I didn't realize at the time that they were potential 7th great grandparents for me.

I usually ignore hints, but this one's from the 1700s. I had to investigate.
I usually ignore hints, but this one's from the 1700s. I had to investigate.

Their last names told me they were from Grandpa Iamarino's hometown. The hometown for which I have the most awesome genealogy book in the world. A book that tells me everyone who lived there in the year 1742.

Antonio Zeolla and Maddalena Pilla were the potential parents of my 6th great grandmother, Libera Zeolla. There were no sources for them in the family tree of my possible cousin. His tree was the source of the hint.

So I turned to my book, "Colle Sannita nel 1742." There's an index that helped me quickly find every household in town with the name Zeolla. There were 19 households with a head-of-household named Zeolla. Household #17 was the one I needed.

In the home of 71-year-old Pietro Giorgio Zeolla, the name Maddalena Pilla jumped out at me. I looked closer and saw she was the wife of Antonio Zeolla. That's the potential couple from Ancestry! But, were they the parents of my Libera Zeolla?

This was a big household with a very long listing in the book. Antonio and Maddalena had 3 young children living there. Their oldest child was 9-year-old Libera.

It's her! My 6th great grandmother Libera Zeolla is in this most wonderful book with lots of relatives. Now I've learned the names of her:

  • parents
  • two younger sisters
  • paternal grandfather
  • uncle
  • two aunts
  • two first cousins (one of whom was already in my family tree)

I now know much more about this family than my possible cousin who's the source of this wonderful hint. Now MY find will become a hint for HIM.

I never expected such a vague hint to be so fruitful.
I never expected such a vague hint to be so fruitful.

Behold the power of an early, detailed census of your ancestral hometown.

This past Wednesday I reviewed every family in the book with my maiden name. Then I began filling in their missing documents in my document tracker spreadsheet.

Now I'm thinking…I need to find more Potential Fathers and Potential Mothers to investigate. I routinely ignore hints, but I may have some early ancestors hiding there. The key is simple: Do your own research to prove a hint right or wrong.

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22 September 2020

Imagine a Register of Your Entire Ancestral Hometown

I love when people tell me they aren't Italian, but my advice helps with their genealogy research. I try to keep my articles generic. But since I'm all Italian, I have to use Italian examples as illustration.

I've avoided writing about my new favorite genealogy treasure. It makes my heart swell every time I use it. But it's so specific. Not only to Italian ancestry, but to my grandfather's hometown. (Oh boy, here she goes again with Colle Sannita.)

Indulge me, though, because you will wish you had one of these for your ancestral hometown. And some of you may. At the bottom of this article are 46 Italian towns with a similar book.

Years ago a man found my post on an Italian message board devoted to my grandfather's hometown. That man, Dr. Fabio Paolucci, came from Grandpa's town, and is a local historian. He told me my maiden name of Iamarino is one of the original names from the town of Colle Sannita. Sometime later, he gave me my paternal family tree, dating back to the year 1690.

At that time, Italian vital records were not online. And Italian church records (from my area) are still not online. So Fabio provided me with something that was impossible for me to get on my own.

He pored over the oldest records from the town, piecing together hundreds of families. I knew he was writing a book, but I didn't know what it would contain. Until I finally got my hands on "Colle Sannita nel 1742" (nel means in).

Like a census, Italian towns produced a register (catasto) of every person in their town. This register lists the assets owned by the head of household. From individual plots of land to the number of sheep and mules. Based on their assets, the town calculated each household's tax.

This register also lists the names, ages, and occupations of each member of the household. In the book, I have the names, ages, and assets of each family living in my grandfather's hometown in the year 1742!

This detailed description of each household in my ancestral hometown is the best genealogy tool ever!
This detailed description of each household in my ancestral hometown is the best genealogy tool ever!

My family tree already contained a good number of people born in the 1700s. But this book is helping me form their families and nail down each person's year of birth. That's invaluable! I'm also getting a better idea of life in these early years. Many of the households owned several plots of land, including many vineyards. Most families owned their own home. Several households included a man and his immediate family, his widowed mother, and his siblings and their families.

There were 560 households in town in 1742. I'm up to #343, looking for each family in my tree. If I find a match:

  • I add the names, ages, and occupations of each member of the family.
  • I give each fact a source I created for the book, including a photo of the book cover.
  • I make the book cover the profile photo for each person, unless they already have a document as their photo. In that case, I add the book cover to their collection of images.

This makes it easy to track everyone I found in the book. In Family Tree Maker, I can view the image and see that I've identified 406 people from the book so far.

This past weekend I followed my own advice to make one thing perfect in my family tree. I worked my way through everyone in my tree with the last name Basile (bah-ZEEL). I found each person's available vital records within my collection of the town's records.

Then I turned to my new favorite book and found 13 people named Basile to document in my family tree. (There are more, but I can't fit them into my tree yet.)

It was such a rewarding weekend. I chose Basile because it was the first Colle Sannita name early in the alphabet that came to mind. Halfway through I thought, "why didn't I start with my maiden name?" So that's what I'll do next. I'll find all the available vital records for everyone name Iamarino in my family tree. And I'll use the Colle Sannita book to find even more details about those alive in 1742.

I worked through everyone in my family tree with one name, and completed their records and source citations.
I worked through everyone in my family tree with one name, and completed their records and source citations.

If you do have Italian ancestry, check the list below for your towns. I found these by searching for "catasti" on the publisher's website. I bought my book online using PayPal, and they shipped it quickly. The books sell for 30 Euro, but with shipping, it was more than $60. Still, the best money I ever spent.

Town registers available from the same publishing company are:

Acerra
Aiello Casale di Atripalda
Altavilla
Apice (I need that one!)
Atripalda
Avellino
Bonito
Caggiano
Calabritto
Carovigno
Caserta
Castelpagano
Castelvolturno
Cervinara
Colle Sannita
Conza
Foiano
Gesualdo
Guardia
Itri
Lapio
Lentace
Marzano
Massa Lubrense
Monteforte
Montefusco
Montemiletto
Monteverde
Mugnano
Nereto
Pellezzano (part of Salerno)
Pertosa (part of Caggiano)
Pietrastornina
Ponte Cagnano Faiano
Praiano
Prata Sannita
Ravello
Quaglietta
San Cipriano
San Giorgio della Montagna
San Pietro di Scafati
Santa Maria Capua
Scafati
Tavernola Casale d'Atripalda
Torrioni
Vico Equense

These books are a dream come true for someone like me, with deep roots in one or more of these towns.

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Let Me Demolish Your Italian Brick Wall

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18 September 2020

Make One Thing Perfect in Your Family Tree

Don't just tidy up your family tree. Get it ready for inspection.

I don't like a messy house. But I don't obsess over cleaning it unless company is coming. Then I spend hours cleaning floors, vacuuming crevices, and polishing every surface.

You know what? I've been treating my family tree the same way. It's in fine shape.

Sure, it's neat and tidy. But it isn't ready for a critical eye.

Since 2020 is a lost cause, I've abandoned the genealogy goals I set in January. This year calls for something different.

Your family tree will always have flaws. But you can make many parts of it shine.
Your family tree will always have flaws. But you can make many parts of it shine.

Finding a New Way to Scrub-up the Family Tree

I hit on a new idea this week. I heard from a man with roots in one of my ancestral hometowns. He's written to me many times with links to my relatives' records from the town. He inspired me earlier to spend time building out my Santa Paolina family.

Even after that, he sent me a new link to my 7th great aunt's death record. That made me realize how incomplete my tree is because, let's face it, we've all got thousands of ancestors.

I had this desire to finish up branches, or family units, or at least individuals. I was updating my document tracker with a new-found marriage record when it hit me.

Each line in my document tracker is an item to complete, to dust and polish, to make ready for inspection.

At that moment, I was adding an entry for the 1834 marriage of Antonia Viola. The majority of people in my family tree are Italians from the 1700s and 1800s. The most I can find for them is a birth, marriage, and death record. Since I had Antonia's birth and marriage records, I felt the need to complete her line in the spreadsheet. All I needed was her death record.

Coloring my "complete for now" lines shows my progress and highlights work to be done.
Coloring my "complete for now" lines shows my progress and highlights work to be done.

I determined that she died outside the range of available death records. (In this case, she died after 1860.) I have a rule I follow when this happens. In the Need to Find column of my document tracker, I type:

  • out of range: death,
  • out of range: birth, or
  • out of range: marriage.

That tells me precisely what to search for if they ever publish more documents online.

Since Antonia Viola's line was as complete as I can make it, but one document is out of range, I colored her line blue. If I had found her death record, I'd type "n/a" in the Need to Find column, and I'd color the line green. Complete and ready for inspection.

Completing her line made me so happy, I completed everyone named Viola in my document tracker.

This is where all my over-the-top efforts pay off. I have every available vital record from my ancestral hometowns on my computer. I'm working my way through the towns, renaming each document image to include the person's name. That makes the entire town searchable.

My Viola people are from Colle Sannita, and that town is 100% searchable on my computer. A program called Everything is fantastic at finding anything on my computer instantly.

I'm inspired to complete and color more and more lines in my document tracker. I'm inspired to rename more and more files from my other towns. I'm inspired to finish up that one family before my collaborator sends me another link to a great aunt!

You can't make your family tree 100% complete and ready for inspection. But you can pick one aspect of your work and make it as perfect and squeaky-clean as possible.

Which untidy aspect of your family tree is calling out to you today?

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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.