17 November 2020

How Good Is Your Census Fact-Gathering Routine?

You've probably realized that I spend countless hours buried in Italian vital records. But sometimes I do return to more conventional genealogy documents.

Last week I had a lead on an Italian family that came to America. The lead was a woman's name—an uncommon name that would be easy enough to trace. I soon discovered it was her husband who was my relative; my 2nd cousin twice removed.

When I found this family in several U.S. censuses, I realized I was out of practice with census forms. I hadn't dealt with one in quite a while. So let's have a little refresher course on all the steps to take each time you find a new census sheet.

How to Fully Process Your Census Documents

Since I hadn't added a new census form in a while, it helped that I had an old routine to fall back on. He's the short version, but please take a look at the step-by-step process:

  • Follow your routine for how you name the document, assuming that you're downloading a copy.
  • Follow your routine for where you file your census documents.
  • Before you leave the webpage where you found the document, annotate the image with facts. Copy the URL, the source citation, and more.
  • Examine the entire page for all the facts you can add to these people in your family tree.
  • Add this fact to your document tracker so you never waste time searching for this document again.
When you're familiar with which facts to find on each census, you can develop a foolproof routine.
When you're familiar with which facts to find on each census, you can develop a foolproof routine.

How To Squeeze Everything Out of the Census

Each census form captured different facts about the people living in each household. Don't treat a 1900 census the same way you treat a 1940 census. There are different facts in there.

Here is a rundown on which facts the government added or removed from each U.S. census form from 1790 to 1940. And if you prefer a more visual style, see 3 Unique, Key Facts about Every U.S. Federal Census.

Were you surprised at the simplistic questions on the 2020 census? I was.

Simplify Your Genealogy Info Gathering With This Form

Download a free fill-in-the-blank PDF for U.S. census years from 1900–1940. They're great for genealogists who keep binders or folders on their different families.

How can you find your family when their name is always mangled in the census? Search for the neighbors that were nearby decade after decade.
How can you find your family when their name is always mangled in the census? Search for the neighbors that were nearby decade after decade.

4 Tips for Finding a Missing Census Record

Of course these tips are worthless if you can't find that missing census form. We're at the mercy of transcribers and indexers. And sometimes names are impossible to read. But if you use these 4 tips, you'll increase your chances of finding that missing family:

  • Search by address
  • Search for the neighbors
  • Search for first names only
  • If all else fails, consult someone else's family tree for leads.

Be sure to read the practical details on how to use each of these tips to help you in your search.

When I did return to the 1900s and U.S. documents, it helped that I had such a strong routine to fall back on. Now, if you'll excuse me, 1800s Italy is calling me back.

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13 November 2020

Following the Documents from Marriage to Marriage

Last time, I told you how I'm building, using, and sharing a database of my ancestral hometowns.

On Wednesday, I used it to follow an unbelievable succession of marriages in the early 1800s. By the time I got to a man and wife who managed not to die right away, it was clear how an entire town can come to be related.

As a bit of background, times were tough in the 1800s in rural Italy and elsewhere. Most marriages were arranged, and if your spouse died, you needed another spouse. You needed a man to support you. You needed a woman to raise your children.

Widows and widowers usually remarried fast. It still takes me by surprise. What follows are multiple remarriages, causing connections among a lot of families.

Each marriage yielded more in-laws, babies, and deaths.
Each marriage yielded more in-laws, babies, and deaths.

It began with the 1810 marriage of Daniele (that's Daniel) Marinaro and Nicoletta Mutino. He was 24 years old and she was 20. After 3½ years of marriage and the birth of 1 child, both Nicoletta and her baby, Giovanni, died in September 1813.

A year later, Daniel tried again. He married 17-year-old Costanza Palmiero. She died after 6 months of marriage. (Meanwhile, I'm gathering, cropping, annotating, and adding all these documents to my family tree as I go.)

Six months later, Daniel gave family life another shot. He married Lucia Rosa Maria Cocca in September 1815. They managed to have a baby, Angelamaria, in 1819. And she didn't die right away!

Things are looking up for Daniel. Until he died in early 1821 at the age of 34. He had 3 short marriages, 2 young brides who died, 1 son who died, and 1 daughter who lived.

But this marriage chain isn't over. Daniel's widow, Lucia Rosa, married Giovannangelo diRuccia, 3 years after Daniel's death. That's a long time between marriages when a young woman has a small child to care for. Daniel and Lucia Rosa's daughter, Angelamaria Marinaro, was 24 when her mother died in 1843. I searched for her in my renamed vital records from the town. I discovered that Angelamaria married Salvatore Petriella in 1835. I'm so happy for her! She lived!

An exhaustive search is a piece of cake with my database and Everything.
An exhaustive search is a piece of cake with my database and Everything.

Before I follow Angelamaria and her husband, I'm not through with her parents' story. When her mother Lucia Rosa died, her stepfather, Giovannangelo diRuccia, waited 5 years. Then he married Mariantonia Scrocca in 1848. Mariantonia was the widow of Gennaro Giuseppe Viola. He had died 11 years after his marriage to Mariantonia.

I still have to find any more children of these marriages, but my goodness! It took 38 years for this marriage chain not to end in a premature death. Granted, Giovannangelo and Mariantonia married only 12 years before 1860. That's the last year of available death records for the town. They may have died soon after 1860.

As I continue exploring my database, I may learn when survivors Giovannangelo and Mariantonia died. The answer may lie in their children's marriage records. I hope they lived long lives together.

And this, my friends, is the reason for—and the beauty of—my obsessive ancestral town database. It sure can lead to some long sessions of family tree building.

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10 November 2020

How to Create and Share Your Ancestral Town Database

On Sunday, after finishing a bunch of chores, I was eager to launch Family Tree Maker. I wanted to do one thing. It's something I've been preparing for the last few weeks.

My Own Vital Records Database

You see, in 2017 I downloaded all the available vital records from my ancestral hometowns. These jpg files sit on my computer, organized in folders by year and type of record (birth, marriage, death). Whenever I wanted to search for an ancestor, I could go year-by-year and look at the indexes until I found them.

But there's a much better way. I've been renaming every document image file to include the name of the main person(s) in the vital record. The original image file name of 2 facing 1809 birth records was 007853875_00497.jpg. Now it's 007853875_00497 Carmine Pasquale Zeolla di Antonio & Anna Maria Martuccio di Giovanni.jpg. The image includes the birth records for:

  • Carmine Pasquale Zeolla, son of Antonio
  • Anna Maria Martuccio, daughter of Giovanni

In the future, if I need to find either Carmine or Anna Maria, I can locate these documents in a snap.

There are thousands of files in my collection. I want to squeeze every single relative from them. And that'll be way easier if I can search for their names on my computer.

A perfect combination of software makes my public genealogy database possible.
A perfect combination of software makes my public genealogy database possible.

Breaking Through to Another Generation

With that in mind, I've been renaming the vital record files from my great grandmother's hometown. I'd already gone quite far in building her family tree. But I knew there were more ancestors hiding in those files.

Sunday night I hoped to add a generation to her family tree. One by one, I looked at her direct ancestors in Family Tree Maker to see who was missing a death record. Only two of my 5th great grandparents were still dead ends.

I use a Windows program called Everything to search my computer for an ancestor's name. It organizes the results by folder names, so it's easy to see which results are death, birth, or marriage records—and which year they're from.

I found the death records for my two dead-end 5th great grandparents easily. That means I discovered the names of four of my 6th great grandparents. All within a few minutes!

The database I'm creating by renaming the image files is invaluable. I'd love to share it with other descendants of my towns. If they find their ancestor in a list of all my file names, they can pull the original file from the Antenati website.

My database is the best thing ever to happen to my family tree. Now I have a way to share it.
My database is the best thing ever to happen to my family tree. Now I have a way to share it.

Sharing My Hard Work

To make this database sharable, I need to capture all the file names in hundreds of folders and sub-folders. After researching, I found a reputable Windows program that can do the job. It's called Karen's Directory Printer, and it comes highly recommended.

I put it to work on my grandfather's town of Colle Sannita. I set it up to create a list of each file name and the folder it comes from. Within a couple of minutes the program generated a nearly 40,000-line text file of file names. This is the first time I've had any sense of how many vital records I have for this town!

There are many marriage documents I skipped in the file renaming process. At first I renamed only the marriage documents themselves. That made the couple's names searchable. But the folders also contain marriage banns, birth, and death records for the two families. Usually I rename those extra documents when I'm working on a particular couple.

But lately I've been renaming all the files in a marriage folders. I have a long way to go, but the very old death records are wildly helpful. I've been using them to bring some branches of my family tree back to the 1600s.

What I did for now is create a text file for each of my towns containing the file name every vital record on my computer. I'll regenerate the text files after I rename lots more image files. Finally, I can share this bounty with everyone who has a stake in any of my ancestral hometowns.

I've seen lots of people upset that these Italian documents online aren't searchable. It takes hundreds of man-hours to turn an image collection into searchable text. As long as I'm spending those man-hours, I may as well share the results.

This project will keep me busy for a long time. If you're thinking about doing something similar, there are many benefits:

  • If you view and rename batches of files from a town, you will get familiar with the names. This helps you overcome bad handwriting.
  • Individual searches for your ancestors become very easy.
  • You may find that the whole town's related through marriage.

I'll add links to my database in the Free Genealogy Resources section of this blog. I'll upload the files to my www.forthecousins.com website. And I'll mention them in Facebook groups devoted to individual towns. Maybe I can interest the Antenati site, too.

Don't keep a big important genealogy project to yourself! You've got tons of DNA relatives out there who need your work.

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06 November 2020

Genealogy Projects: A Much Needed Distraction

Genealogy tasks and projects are the perfect antidote for a year of bad news. They're a distraction that takes you straight to your happy place.

This year you'd better not have any large gatherings for the holidays. But you can have your family time by working on your family tree.

Does 2020 make you want you chill? Replace the stress with these family tree projects.
Does 2020 make you want you chill? Replace the stress with these family tree projects.

If you don't have a handful of go-to genealogy tasks to keep you busy, try one or more of these projects:

Make a Custom, Keepsake Family Tree. You may start out making one of these unique family trees for a loved one. But I'll bet you'll want one for yourself.

Take Your Obsession to the Next Level. Poring over the vital records from one grandfather's hometown in Italy, something became very clear. The whole town was related! Neighboring families marrying their children to one another. Widowed in-laws marrying. The amount of interconnection was amazing. That's when I knew what I had to do. I had to document everyone in town and make an enormous family tree. What's your obsession with genealogy? What can you do to make it truly grand?

Serenity now! This genealogy therapy will actually calm you down.
Serenity now! This genealogy therapy will actually calm you down.

Pay it Forward with Cemetery Photos. You may not be able to travel to your ancestor's cemetery, but I'll bet you have several nearby. Why not spend a day documenting one? You can check the Find a Grave or Billion Graves websites to see who's asking for a photo of a particular grave. Then go find it!

Help Out a Less-Experienced Genealogist. Have you developed a talent for reading old handwriting? Are you pretty darned good at finding someone in the census? Sharpen your skills while doing a good deed! Plenty of less-experience family tree buffs are out their asking for help. Try to solve their mystery for them.

Genealogy is the perfect escape from all your troubles. Which project will you choose first?
Genealogy is the perfect escape from all your troubles. Which project will you choose first?

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03 November 2020

How to Improve Old Photos and Genealogy Documents

Are you putting bad-quality images in your family tree? You don't have to live with crummy images. Here are some tips for making your images better than the way you found them.

Now, I've used Adobe Photoshop since 1991 when it was called Aldus PhotoStyler. It came free with the first digital scanner I bought, which was crazy-expensive. I've updated it several times over the years, and now I have it on a monthly subscription, so it's always up to date. If you don't have a favorite photo-editing program, find links to some free ones at the bottom of this article.

A heads-up for Ancestry users: It's nearly impossible to crop an Ancestry.com image without blowing up its file size. I tried a census sheet as a test, and my cropped image was 4 megabytes compared to the original 1 megabyte. When I took steps to reduce the file size, of course the quality suffered.

Bottom line: I don't go through the following steps with documents saved from Ancestry.

Restore Faded Photos

My grandparents' 1922 wedding portrait was crumbling and faded. I took it to a local photographer. He photographed it, restored the damaged areas in Photoshop, and made me a full-size print to frame. I wrapped up the original for safe-keeping.

The photographer said the sepia/brownish tint of the original is what happens when black and white photography fades. I'm sure most of us have old faded photographs of family members. But you don't have to put the deteriorated version in your family tree.

Your photo-editing software can greatly improve old family photos in a few clicks.
Your photo-editing software can greatly improve old family photos in a few clicks.

Let's restore a photo of my great grandfather's nephew, Giuseppe. I got this photo from Giuseppe's family. It's faded and has bad creases in it.

To fix a faded, discolored black and white photo in Photoshop, click Image / Mode. You'll probably see that the image is RGB Color. Change it to Grayscale. Gone is the yellow, brown, or greenish cast. Now click the Image menu again and choose Auto Contrast. You should see the black portions get blacker, and the photo get less faded.

I took a Photoshop tutorial recently and learned how to use the Curves tool. You'll find it on the Image / Adjustments menu. By changing the curves on this screen, you can bring out more detail in areas that seem too dark or too light.

Crop Out the Excess

Now the photo of Giuseppe is looking sharper. If there were an old-fashioned border around the photo, I could crop that out. In this case, I can crop the left side to center Giuseppe in the photo.

I do most of my cropping on the old Italian vital records I work with every day. Many of the birth, marriage, and death records are photographed as two facing pages in a book. I don't want my ancestor's birth record image to include someone else's birth record. So I crop out the excess. I also use Photoshop's Straighten tool (my favorite tool!) to fix a crooked page. I find the edge of the page and click near the top. I let go of the mouse near the bottom, and the whole image tilts to straighten out.

You don't have to live with the original quality of document images.
You don't have to live with the original quality of document images.

After I straighten the image, I crop out the facing page and any black borders. Then I enhance the contrast to see the writing better on a faded document. Now the image is suitable for my family tree.

Repair Damage

With Giuseppe's photo looking all crisp, and Giuseppe centered in the photo, it's time to repair those creases. Photoshop has a healing tool that works like magic. If you click on a damaged area, it makes the area better match its surroundings. The tool erases little spots, too. Just go slowly. Keep the size of the tool small, and work on small areas at a time.

These repairs aren't for black and white images only. I have a faded color photo of my grandparents. It has an unnecessary white border, too. To start, I can choose Image / Auto Color to bring back some of the faded color. It works well, in this case. Their skin tone looks good, and their kitchen looks the way I remember it. But I can boost it a bit by choosing Image / Adjustments / Hue/Saturation. I can adjust the separate Hue and Saturation sliders until I feel the color is as realistic as possible.

You'll be amazed by the rich color software can restore to faded old photos.
You'll be amazed by the rich color software can restore to faded old photos.

Now I've got a much more lifelike photo of my grandparents in their kitchen. I cropped out the white border and repaired a few spots and scratches.

Add Details to the Properties

Once your image is looking great, don't forget to add details to the file's properties. On a Windows computer you can right-click the image file and choose Properties. Then go to the Details tab to add a Title and Comments. I don't know how this looks on a Mac, but I'm sure it's there.

Free Photo Editing Tools

Here are a bunch of free photo editing programs for Windows and Mac. Scroll past the ads at the top and bottom of the list, and notice that there are a few pages' worth of program listings.

Two of the most popular apps are GIMP (for Windows and Mac) and Irfan View (for Windows only). My son uses GIMP, and I've seen him to do remarkable, artistic things.

You don't have to rely on the kindness of strangers to fix your old photos. Try these techniques on a duplicate of the original. Put your best work into your family tree.

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30 October 2020

3 Principles for Building and Sharing Your Family Tree

Where do you build your tree? On your computer? On a website? Both? Please tell me it isn't on paper only.

I believe I lucked into the best situation. My husband gave me the Family Tree Maker computer software program for my birthday in 2002. When my tree was small, I'd duplicate my work on Ancestry.com, adding people and attaching documents. It was a tedious process, and my online tree was never fully up to date. But I wanted people to be able to find it.

Years later Ancestry wised up. They made it so you could synchronize your Family Tree Maker tree with your online tree. (They owned the FTM program at that time.)

Then I came to realize these 3 principles for building and sharing your family tree.

Principle #1: Share Your Family Tree

If you share your work, think of all the distant cousins you may help.
If you share your work, think of all the distant cousins you may help.

For years I've been able to build my desktop tree and sync it with the tree I display on Ancestry.com.

My enormous online tree is what my DNA matches see. It's how distantly related strangers find their ancestors in my tree. Having a good online tree is critical to connecting with relatives and learning more about your ancestors.

There's a man whose family comes from the same small Italian town as my 2nd great grandmother. Because he found my tree online, he wrote to me. He continues to send me links to documents for people in my tree. Together we're building the families of Santa Paolina, and looking for our own relationship.

If you don't put your research online, you won't have these unexpected collaborations.

Principle #2: Control Your Family Tree

If you let anyone edit your family tree research, much of your work may be wasted.
If you let anyone edit your family tree research, much of your work may be wasted.

I built a small tree on Ancestry for my friend once. At first I liked the experience. It was easy to add people and link to their documents as sources.

Then things got a bit screwy. I've seen this on other people's trees, and now I know isn't their fault. It's all too easy for a person to become duplicated. Then you have multiple lines connecting husbands and wives. Maybe one child belongs to one man and the other kids belong to the duplicate man.

I'm embarrassed by that tree. It looks as if I made a newbie mistake.

That's why I love the extraordinary control I have over my family tree in my desktop software. I can, for example, change an address in one place and see the change everywhere I've used it. This happened with a street name in my grandfather's town. In old documents, the street name looks like Costapagliaia. That's fun to say. It ends in ya-ya.

But a distant cousin from the town told me I had the second-to-last letter wrong. It's Costapagliara. And I confirmed that spelling in a book I bought about the town.

Thankfully, in Family Tree Maker, I can change the spelling in one place, and the correction reaches every usage. On Ancestry, each use of the address is stored separately.

I need complete control of my own family tree. Don't you?

Principle #3: Own Your Family Tree

Put your name on there because you're proud of the fine research you've done.
Put your name on there because you're proud of the fine research you've done.

That brings me to the idea of shared, one-world family trees. It's a nice concept, to connect the whole world. But are you going to trust that every wannabe genealogist out there isn't going to ruin your work?

FamilySearch.org has a shared tree concept. I see people complaining about it all the time. Someone messed up their tree, and now they have to go put back all the correct facts. That's crazy.

I uploaded my tree to Geni.com once. Big mistake. I can't even delete the thing! I get emails from people wanting me to update individuals in my tree. Unfortunately, at that time, I had about 600 people from my sister-in-law's tree in my own. I'm never going to do any more work on that branch.

I wanted to delete the branch, but I'd have to do it one person at a time. And other Geni users have staked a claim to some of them. Now, whenever someone asks me about that branch, I let them take over management of the person. It's like, "Here! Go on and leave me out of it."

I deleted my sister-in-law's family from my desktop/Ancestry tree. I exported them to a separate tree, just for her.

My family tree is the grandest, most detailed thing I've ever created. I won't allow anyone to mess that up. I am the master of my family tree research. I will maintain full control of my nearly 26,000 people. And I will share my uneditable tree for the benefit of others.

Do you care about your genealogy research, but won't pay for an Ancestry subscription? Get a limited subscription when it's on sale. Upload your tree to benefit yourself and others. For me, it's well worth the full subscription.

Your work is too important to:

  • keep it to yourself. Let the world see and benefit from your research.
  • let a website mess it up. Use a computer program for full control.
  • let other people mess it up. Prevent others from altering your family tree.

Wouldn't you agree?

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27 October 2020

How Do You Define Your Ultimate Genealogy Goal?

After 18 years of building my family tree, my true goal became clear last week.

That delay isn't because I'm indecisive or slow to focus. My genealogy goal appeared after a long evolution.

Many of us begin by wanting to know more about:

  • our great grandparents
  • our first immigrant ancestors
  • where our family came from
  • how our people got from there to here

Others are searching for their unknown birth parents. Or trying to prove passed-down family stories. For instance, we though my sons were the descendants of the brother of the captain of the Titanic. We shared that fact with people all the time. Then I learned Captain Smith had no brothers. It was all inexplicably wrong.

I started out wanted to know more about the 25-or-so cousins in a photo with my mom on her wedding day. After that I wanted to find my roots in Italy.

What will your ultimate genealogy goal be? My original inspiration was a large family photo. Now my purpose has evolved.
My original inspiration was a large family photo. Now my purpose has evolved.

The urge to learn about my Italian ancestors kicked into high gear when I went to Italy in 2003. When I returned to Italy in 2005, I finally met several cousins. One in particular gave me lots of details about my great grandmother and her many siblings.

But it was the Family History Center resources that opened the floodgates. I found out I could order and view microfilmed vital records at an LDS Church near me. For about 5 years, I documented the 1809–1860 records from one grandfather's town of Baselice. I published my findings online for other descendants of the town. I became an expert on last names from Baselice.

I longed to do the same research for my other grandfather's town. But my work made it too hard to visit a Family History Center anymore. (Note: The microfilm program has ended, but see what FamilySearch has available for your ancestral hometown.)

Fast-forward to 2017 when many of my ancestral Italian hometowns' records came online. No more driving 30 minutes to view poor-quality microfilm. Now amazing-quality documents were online. Clear, zoomable, downloadable. I was in heaven.

I expanded my family tree dramatically. I had the documents to show who my ancestors and their siblings married. I could follow their children and grandchildren. The documents begin in 1809, but marriage records can reach further back. They may contain the death records of the bride and groom's parents and grandparents.

Those early death records have helped me identify 6th, 7th, and 8th great grandparents. To identify Italian ancestors born in the late 1600s, without access to church records, is amazing!

But how did I decide on my ultimate genealogy goal? It started when I wrote about measuring your family tree research progress. I saw that 3 of my 8 great grandparents came from one town. Most of my roots and most of my DNA come from Colle Sannita, the birthplace of my uncommon maiden name, Iamarino.

I've only recently realized my calling. My ultimate genealogy goal. But I've been feeling it in my bones for years.
I've only recently realized my calling. My ultimate genealogy goal. But I've been feeling it in my bones for years.

I'm still eager to explore the records from my other ancestral towns. But Colle Sannita always calls out to me the loudest. I have the documents, the process, and the ability to create the single greatest, broadest, best-documented Colle Sannita family tree available.

That's my goal now. Yes, I will work on my other towns, too. But I will keep pouring my time and love into Colle Sannita. And I'm well on my way.

Our shared love of genealogy keeps us going. Finding new branches, forgotten stories, and DNA matches pulls us in different directions. Each direction is fun and has its value. But our research may also lead us somewhere unexpected.

It led me to identify so strongly with Grandpa Iamarino's hometown that I'm willing to spend all my time documenting townspeople from 300 years ago.

Having an ultimate goal can keep you focused. When you have only a little bit of time to spend on your family tree, your goal tells you how best to spend it.

For instance, I'm now working my way through the 1809 Colle Sannita marriages. I can place nearly every couple in my family tree. But I'm going further. I'm stretching them as far back as the records allow. And I'm finding and following their children.

I feel happier and more fulfilled by having this genealogy goal.

Your ultimate genealogy goal may also take a long time to evolve. Think about which parts of the process make you the happiest. Does a particular branch of your family tree speak to you the loudest? And which goal will benefit countless other researchers for a long time to come?

What will your goal be?

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23 October 2020

4 Cornerstones of Genealogy Research

We all know the classic first rule of starting your family tree. "Start with yourself." Think back to your earliest genealogy research, and I'll bet you have a list of do's and don'ts.

I got interested in genealogy the year before my wedding. We were planning a honeymoon in Italy, and I had visions of finding distant cousins on my travels. (I didn't.) All I knew for sure was my grandfathers' hometowns, and that my maternal grandmother's family came from either Pastene or Avellino.

I filled a notebook with facts from ship manifests on the Ellis Island website. I pieced together families on squares of paper, laying them out on the floor. That looked stupid, I'm sure. So my husband bought me a 2002 version of Family Tree Maker software. It came with a basic subscription to Ancestry.com.

Now I had access to census sheets. They helped me piece together my grandmother's generation in New York City. I discovered Grandma's grandfather was my first immigrant ancestor. I finally learned his branch's town of origin from a ship manifest: Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. "Pastene," which I'd heard from my grandmother and great aunt, is a hamlet in the town of Sant'Angelo a Cupolo. Finally, I could find it on a map!

Learning the exact place of origin for Grandma's parents was so important. I realized it's a cornerstone to family tree building.

Cornerstone #1. Learn your ancestor's town of origin before going any further.

You see, I'd been going down the wrong path trying to find Grandma's Sarracino ancestors in Pastene. There's another town called Pastena (a one-letter difference) with a big Sarracino family. After adding the Pastena Sarracinos to my tree, I learned they were all the wrong family.

I struggled to find the hometown of my dad's maternal grandmother, too. A cousin-in-law who found me on a message board in 2006 knew my great grandmother. She often mentioned her town, calling it (phonetically) "pisqua-la-matzah."

Try finding that on a map! Here's how I figured it out. I searched Ancestry's immigration records for anyone named Caruso from a town that might be "pisqua-la-matzah." I found some from Pescolamazza. That's it! My great grandmother had to be from Pescolamazza. But it isn't on the map.

A quick search told me the town changed its name after World War II from Pescolamazza to Pesco Sannita. That is on the map, and it's a beautiful town. I've visited it twice.

The more research I did, the more record images I had piling up on my computer. That's when I realized the 2nd cornerstone of genealogy research.

Family tree research can get out of control in a hurry. Get organized now to lay a solid foundation.
Family tree research can get out of control in a hurry. Get organized now to lay a solid foundation.

Cornerstone #2. Follow logical and consistent document organization.

At first, I put every new document I found into one family tree folder on my computer. Rookie move. How would I know if a file with "1920" in its name was an ancestor's 1920 census or a 1920 ship manifest?

So I created sub-folders for each type of document I was collecting, including:

  • census forms
  • certificates (vital records)
  • draft cards
  • immigration
  • passports

Then I adopted a file-naming format that makes it easy to find everything I have for a person:

  • For census forms: LastnameFirstnameCensusYear. The name is the head of household.
  • For vital records: LastnameFirstnameEventYear. The Event is Birth, Marriage, or Death. Marriage documents get both the groom's and bride's names, like BiancoAntonioCarusoMariaMarriage1818.
  • For draft cards: LastnameFirstnameWW1 or WW2.
  • For ship manifests: LastnameFirstnameYear. I could have included Immigration before the year, but sometimes it's travel, not immigration. If multiple people are traveling, I use the name of the eldest or head of family.

This system works well for me. However, there were too many times when I downloaded a terrific new record, only to find out I had it already. I needed some sort of cheat sheet to keep from doing that again.

Cornerstone #3. Track what you have and what you need.

I created a document tracker spreadsheet. Each column is a different type of genealogy document. Each row is a different person. The last column lists the documents I still need to find for each person.

I think every nationality has the problem of too many people with the same name. I distinguish same-named people in my document tracker by including their father's name.

While I was cruising along, super organized, DNA came into the picture. We're all frustrated when a good DNA match has no family tree to view. But it's just as frustrating when their trees have no sources. They're completely unreliable.

I never want anyone to doubt my family tree. And that leads us to the final cornerstone of genealogy.

Cornerstone #4. Add sources or your family tree is worthless to others.

I support the facts in my family tree with detailed sources and links to the original documents. I'm on my way to having the best family tree on earth for my ancestral hometowns.

If you don't know your ancestor's hometown, ignore that family tree that seems so promising. If those people are from the wrong town, they're not your family.
If you don't know your ancestor's hometown, ignore that family tree that seems so promising. If those people are from the wrong town, they're not your family.

I had these 4 cornerstones in mind when I started this blog in January 2017. If you go back to the beginning, you'll see I outlined them in the first few articles. Each one comes from experience. It would have been better if I knew them from day one. And that's why I spend so much time on this blog. I want to encourage other genealogists, no matter where they are in their journey.

How solid is your family tree foundation?

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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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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.