26 January 2021

Get the Most of a Free Newspapers.com Trial

I envy those of you who can find your ancestors' names in old newspapers. My people seemed to completely avoid making news.

There are no marriage announcements. No soirees on the society page. No birth announcements.

Last weekend I needed to see a 2002 obituary so I can try to help a woman research her birth parents. To see that obituary, I signed up for a free trial subscription to newspapers.com.

Since I have access for a few days, I may as well give my family searches another try. I started with some generic searches.

A search for my maiden name brings up an endless amount of articles mentioning my brother. He was the commissioner of different college sports conferences for many years. But as I scrolled beyond the Commissioner Iamarino articles, I found something else.

My brother was a sports writer for our local paper when he was fresh out of college. I downloaded 8 of his articles from the late 1970s and sent them to him. He has lots of saved articles from those days, but not these. He was happy to receive them.

Refine and restrict your search to keep from getting lost in the results.
Refine and restrict your search to keep from getting lost in the results.

Look for Specific People

I tried a search for my full name. The one result was my sister's wedding announcement, which mentioned me. There wasn't an announcement for my wedding. Was I supposed to do that myself?

I went back further in my family tree. I searched for my great grandparents last names: Sarracino/Saracino and Saviano. Nothing. One recent article mentioned a distant Saviano cousin, but it had no value for me.

I shifted to my upstate New York relatives. My great grandmother who lived there was a Caruso, and she had a few brothers. I restricted my Caruso search to Chemung County, New York, in the early 1900s. I had to weed through a ton of articles on the famous singer, Enrico Caruso.

I did find one Caruso family that lived on the street where my grandmother was born. But I can't figure out their connection. Now I need to explore my great grandmother's Caruso nieces and nephews.

Search for Specific Events

I thought about an event from my childhood that I wanted to look up. A terrible car crash. It was May 18, 1970, and a pickup truck crossed into our lane and hit us head-on. This was before the days of seat belts. Our car's passenger door flew open, and I watched the pavement speeding past my face. My mom held onto me by my clothing with one hand, and steered us into a ditch on the side of the road with the other.

I was 10 years old. My mom saved my life. She suffered a broken collar bone and a bone-deep gash in her shin. I got cuts and scratches. But I have no idea what happened next. Mom must have gone to the hospital. Did I? I remember a passerby recognized us and stopped. She took the groceries from our wrecked car and drove them home to my brother and sister. That had to be interesting. I'll have to ask the family what they recall.

The local newspaper in 1970 was surprisingly thick in the middle of the week. I went through 44 pages hoping to find mention of the crash. But there was nothing.

I knew all about Dad's jet fighter bail out, but seeing all the news coverage is priceless.
I knew all about Dad's jet fighter bail out, but seeing all the news coverage is priceless.

Limit the Search Results

To get past my brother's very public career, I narrowed down my maiden name search. I searched for my Dad's full name and quickly found something wonderful. My dad was an Air Force pilot who had to bail out of his crashing, disintegrating F84F jet airplane in 1955. I know the story well.

I already had a poor quality copy of an Athens, Alabama, article about the crash. It was big news in the little town where it happened. Now I have an excellent quality copy of that article, and several more mentions of the crash from other Alabama newspapers.

Next I thought about my Sarracino cousins in Western Pennsylvania. I searched for their last name and their town name. I found a few World War II-era mentions of the Sarracino brothers. The youngest one, Luigi, the article says, had just entered Basic Training.

I remembered that poor young Luigi is the one brother who died in the war.

My family hasn't left me many treasures in newsprint. But you'll probably do better. I mentioned I'm helping a woman investigate her birth parents. I found lots of obituaries for her family, and a big scandal that almost swallowed up her birth mother. That was a wild ride!

If you want to start a free one-week trial of newspapers.com, you may or may not see the offer on their website. I found it by searching Ancestry.com for obituaries. When I clicked to view the image of an obituary, I got the free trial offer.

Get your thoughts together. What will you search for? Try to have a bunch of searches ready to go, and make the best use of your time.

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19 January 2021

Search the Treetops to Focus Your Genealogy Research

My family tree has exploded to include more than 26,000 people. My grand mission—to connect Grandpa's entire town—is making it grow faster than ever.

When you've done a ton of research, it can be hard to see where your tree needs more work. And that's exactly what I want to know. Where should I focus to get the most bang for the buck?

I need a way to see exactly where the gaps are in my family tree.

Three ways to visualize these research gaps come to mind.

1. Grandparent Chart

My grandparent chart spreadsheet lists all my direct ancestors by their Ahnentafel number. I use color-coding to separate 4 main branches—1 color for each of my grandparents.

I've been good about keeping this spreadsheet up to date. But when I get to the higher generations, it takes a lot of scrolling to see where the gaps are. This tool isn't quite right for this task.

This Ahnentafel chart keeps tabs on the direct ancestors in my family tree. But it doesn't highlight the dead ends very well.
This Ahnentafel chart keeps tabs on the direct ancestors in my family tree. But it doesn't highlight the dead ends very well.

2. Family Tree Analyzer

I knew that the free Family Tree Analyzer tool has a report called Treetops. It lets you see the earliest known members of your tree on different branches. These are the people with no ancestors in your family tree. They are each the "treetops" of a particular branch.

This report still didn't give me the visualization I wanted. I was hoping to see the dead ends, to clearly see the gaps in my research.

The Treetops report in Family Tree Analyzer finds all the dead ends in your genealogy research. But it doesn't show where each person fits.
The Treetops report in Family Tree Analyzer finds all the dead ends in your genealogy research. But it doesn't show where each person fits.

3. Family Tree Fan Chart

I thought a family tree chart might be just what I needed. I could have used the charting functionality of my Family Tree Maker software, but colors might be helpful.

I'd been thinking of revisiting Charting Companion by Progeny Genealogy to see if I wanted to buy it. Now was the perfect time to kill two birds with one stone.

I downloaded the free trial version to see what was new since I owned a very early version years ago.

After looking at a few types of charts, I realized a fan chart of all my direct ancestors is exactly what I need for this project.

An ancestor fan chart is just the thing to provide an instant, visual guide for your ongoing family tree research.
An ancestor fan chart is just the thing to provide an instant, visual guide for your ongoing family tree research.

I created a chart of 9 generations of my ancestors. I printed it to a PDF so I can zoom in to read names, and I can see the color banding. I also printed a copy to my black and white laser printer. I trimmed the 4 pages and taped them together to make a big chart.

On the paper version, I used a highlighter pen to mark the treetops—the oldest known ancestor on a branch of my family tree.

Now I have a true visualization of the branches needing more research.

Each branch has its own challenges. On my maternal grandmother's branch, my research is cut off because there are very few vital records available for their Italian hometown. On other branches I've identified my 7th great grandparents, born between the late 1600s and early 1700s. Until I can access earlier church records, this is as far as I can go.

This exercise got me exactly what I wanted. It's an easy-to-read chart of my direct ancestors most in need of more research.

My ancestor fan chart, with all the treetops highlighted, becomes a road map for my family tree research.
My ancestor fan chart, with all the treetops highlighted, becomes a road map for my family tree research.

My quest to piece together Grandpa's entire town is wonderful, but enormous. If I could focus that project on my direct ancestors first, it'd be more fun and inspiring. Three quarters of my paternal ancestors came from Grandpa's hometown. I can try to break through those treetops while working on Grandpa's hometown project at the same time.

Last week I finished a major task so I could work on Grandpa's hometown project. I renamed every available vital record from the town (Colle Sannita, Benevento, Italy) to include the name of the subject. Then I made an easily searchable text file and Excel file of all the data and published it.

Those renamed files make it as easy as it can possibly be for me to break through three quarters of my paternal treetops. If I can't find what I need, then I've done all I can with what's available.

Do you know where all your treetops are? Have you done all you can to expand them?

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13 January 2021

The Loss of a Cousin Stirs Up Memories

Mom's 1st cousin died last night, making her the oldest member of the family she grew up with and grew old with.

As genealogists, many of us make a mental note to add the date to our family tree, and I will. But right now I'm flooded with sweet memories of my childhood. And the last thing my cousin said to me.

I love to spend my time digging through the vital records of my ancestors from the last 2 centuries. I've felt sadness again and again over the death of babies born to my relatives in the 1800s. But when a close relative dies, and your own past experiences come to mind, you know what family means.

The very atmosphere of your close family defines you. My atmosphere was filled with fun, laughs, and lots of great Italian cooking. It made my childhood a happy one.

I was watching "Finding Your Roots" on TV when our cousin died. It struck me that the show's guests knew a bit about some of the stories that came to light. But they didn't know the whole picture.

It seems to me we need to think back on our memories and tug on the threads of each story we can recall. Then we can try to learn more through research.

My cousin was the only child of the most enterprising woman in my family—my grandmother's sister Stella. Stella was an extraordinary maker of bridal gowns. She was quite famous in the Bronx. Stella had her wits fully about her up until she died, just short of her 97th birthday.

Stella's husband Attilio, my late cousin's father, died at age 32 in 1940. I was always curious about his having the same last name as Stella and my grandmother: Sarracino. Shortly before she died, Stella told me she and Attilio were not cousins, despite the name. She knew this because they were given permission to marry.

But Attilio's roots stretched deep into the same small Italian town as Stella. A lack of records for that little town is keeping me from climbing further up Attilio's family tree. But I have found his 4 grandparent and each of their fathers. So I know any relationship between Stella and Attilio was distant enough for them to marry.

Research helps bring an ancestor's memory to life.
Research helps bring an ancestor's memory to life.

I'll never forget the day in 2012 when a large group of my close relatives went to bury Mom's sister. We were in the cemetery where nearly my entire family is buried.

The cousin with the most knowledge of the cemetery, led the group of us around to see our ancestors' graves. Then we decided we needed to find Attilio Sarracino's grave. His daughter, who died last night, said she had never seen his grave. Never seen it!

So we all fanned out, canvasing the rows nearest to my 2nd great grandparents' grave. At last, someone found him and called out to the group. When my late cousin reached her father's grave, I know her heart became full. She was 11 years old when he died, so her memory of him was probably thin. Perhaps she felt regret over the lack of memories—over losing him so early in her life.

My deep-dive research into my Italian ancestors won't bring these types of stories to light. But through my research I've found a real connection to their names and their towns. I feel sadness when a couple from the 1840s loses their young child. I feel anguish when I find another relative who died in the 1805 earthquake in their area. I feel pride when I trace an ancestor back to the 1600s in the very same town.

On we go, learning more and more about our ancestors. Today I'm inspired to look closer at the limited vital records from my Sarracino ancestral hometown. Can I learn more about Attilio's roots? Will I ever be able to say, while thinking of my late cousin, "Here's why your parents were distant cousins"?

On we go.

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05 January 2021

Skip a Generation to Fill in the Blanks

You're closing in on an ancestor's birth record that you've wanted forever. You didn't find it in a search result. No. You found the birth date listed on other documents.

Then one day you discovered that his hometown's vital records are available online. And here you are, going page by page, looking for that important date.

But Murphy's Law beat you to it. The exact page you need is missing! Oh, the humanity!

Even if pages aren't missing, you may find that several years are missing. With most of my towns, the marriage records from 1861 through 1930 are not available. Birth records are hit-or-miss in the early 1900s and end in 1915. It breaks my heart every single time I run up against those missing records.

What can you do? How can you learn who your 2nd great granduncle married when the marriage records aren't available?

The answer is time travel…in a manner of speaking. Skipping ahead a generation can help you find the facts.

Let's say you have a 2nd great granduncle born in 1860. Since the marriage records end that same year, you won't find his marriage record. But you may find his children's birth records. You may find their marriage records, too. And if the evidence is clear, you may learn who your 2nd great granduncle married.

Note: Sometimes you get lucky and find who and when they married written in the column of their birth record. I love when that happens!

I spent my holiday vacation renaming thousands of document images. They're marriage records from my Grandpa's hometown in Italy. I finished the marriages through 1860, renaming each file to include the subject(s) of the document. Then I jumped ahead to tackle the remaining marriage records from 1931 through 1942.

It made me so happy to find Grandpa's younger sister's wedding. There was a treasure in there. She was born in 1922, and the birth records stop at 1915. My grandaunt's 1922 birth record can only be found in her 1941 marriage records. So now I have it!

Only by paging through all the records could I learn more about this family.
Only by paging through all the records could I learn more about this family.

Let's look at how to examine these 1930s marriage records for new relationships. I randomly chose the 1931 marriage of Giovannantonio Marino and Concetta Iamarino. The marriage record tells me Concetta is 25 years old. The birth records for that year (1906) are not available.

I see that her parents are Pasquale Iamarino and Orsola Marino. That couple, born in 1862 and 1863, is in my tree. He is my 2nd cousin 4 times removed, and I know they married in 1889 because it's written on both their birth records. Until now, I never knew they had a daughter named Concetta because she was born in a year with no records.

Now I can add Concetta to my family tree as the daughter of my 2nd cousin 4 times removed. I can add the details of her 1931 marriage. And I can piece together her husband's family.

In Concetta's case, I already knew when her parents married. But there will be cases where a 1930s marriage will fill in the blanks on dead ends in my family tree. Let's not forget the 1880s birth records, either. They will hold children of men and women who are in my family tree, but whose marriage documents are out of range. It's their kids who will tell me who many of my 1840's-and-later babies married.

These renamed documents help me fill in the blanks for missing people.
These renamed documents help me fill in the blanks for missing people.

These later documents sometimes provide copies of out-of-range death records, too. They can point me to a first marriage that may have resulted in children who are new to me.

It can be difficult to skip a generation this way. You have to make certain there's enough evidence. (See Are You Sure They're the Same Person?) Be sure you have enough facts to know you've found the right family. No matter where your people came from, there were probably several people in their town with the same exact name. Pay attention to who their father was.

The important thing to remember is that you don't know which records will fill in those blanks. It pays to go through them all. That's my goal: to piece together everyone from Grandpa's town. We're all related! And I'm determined to find out how.

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29 December 2020

Harvesting Clues from Your DNA Matches

My DNA matches continue to disappoint me. After ignoring them for a while, I decided to browse through my new matches. I filtered my Ancestry DNA results to show only unviewed matches with a family tree.

I quickly viewed and dismissed about a dozen of them. What good is your tree if it has 3 people? Or if you include only living, unnamed people?

At last I found someone I could latch onto and research. His family tree contains only 6 people including himself. But I knew I was looking at ancestors with ties to my mother's side. That set my expectations on what to look for.

This is why I always say you've got to learn the last names from your ancestral hometowns. I looked at this skimpy tree and saw only 2 last names: d'Onofrio and Ferro. I knew from experience that those names come from my maternal grandfather's hometown.

I searched the vital records I have on my computer for the town of Baselice. I was looking for Leonardo d'Onofrio born in 1913 and Maria Addolorata Ferro born in 1912. I found both their birth records! I felt lucky because the birth records end in 1915, and some years are missing.

If you can find one or two of your DNA match's ancestors, you're in! Do the #genealogy research your DNA match can't seem to do.
If you can find one or two of your DNA match's ancestors, you're in! Do the genealogy research your DNA match can't seem to do.

These are, without a doubt, the right people. Each one's birth record has a note in the margin saying they married the other in 1937. I have their marriage records, too.

With their documents open on one monitor, I launched Family Tree Maker on another. Would I be able to place them in my family tree? My DNA match is a 4th to 6th cousin. It may take some work to make the connection.

My first step was to check my family tree for the bride and groom—my DNA match's parents. They are not in my tree, but I can search the town's vital records for their parents. Hopefully I'll find a place where they fit.

I started with the groom's mother, Maria Teresa Pettorossi. I found her birth record in 1870. It named her parents and each of their fathers. That helped me positively ID her parents, who were already in my tree. Now I had a relationship to these people. But it wasn't a blood relationship.

I continued searching for each parent and seeing if they fit into my family tree. Because I spent 5 years piecing together the families of the town of Baselice, these new people all have a place. Unfortunately, their relationships to me are all through marriage. There was a lot of intermarrying in this somewhat isolated hill town. I'll bet I'm a 4th to 6th cousin of everyone from Baselice.

The best part of this exercise is how it's filling in missing marriages. There are tens of thousands of vital records available for this town. But the marriage records end in 1860 and pick up again in 1931. If I follow the children and grandchildren of the 1850s babies in my tree, I can figure out who they married.

I always intended to figure out missing marriages this way. This new DNA match is a good reason to start.

Because this is "my" town, i added several generations in a heartbeat.
Because this is "my" town, I added several generations in a heartbeat.

There is one person in this family group I can't positively identify. I need an Angelamaria Petruccelli born in about 1851. There were 2 babies with that name born a few months apart, and I can't be sure which is the right one.

Because of that uncertainty, I can't go any further. As of now, this DNA match has at least 6 different relationships to me. But each one involves a marriage somewhere up the line.

Don't be too disappointed if you can't find a meaningful relationship to a distant DNA match. Focus on your closer matches. Then use the more distant ones to fill in some gaps in your own family tree. Take the facts they know from oral history, and back them up with documents.

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22 December 2020

Your Ancestor's Location is Critically Important

Q: What's a top reason why people mistakenly put OUR relatives in THEIR family trees?

A: They're not looking at a map.

The first time I saw this happen, someone put my grandfather in her family tree. She took him and gave him different parents, different siblings, and a different wife. MY grandfather! It's not as if his last name was so uncommon that he must belong in her tree. You can find the name Leone in every part of Italy.

You owe it to your genealogy research to learn about:

  • the place where your ancestors lived, and
  • what was happening when they lived there.

Take a look at Germany, Poland, and Prussia in the first half of the 20th century. The borders kept moving. Which country was it when your ancestor was born?

Carefully consider the location when reviewing a promising family tree search result.
Carefully consider the location when reviewing a promising family tree search result.

Research shows that my Italian ancestors barely moved an inch until the 1890s. Remember that woman who stole my grandfather? If she had looked at a map, she would have seen that he was born hours away from his incorrect parents and siblings.

He's not your man, my friend.

Now, I have seen some people from my ancestral hometowns move—to the next town. If a young man met and agreed to marry a young woman from a town or two away, one of them had to move.

It was common for the couple to marry in the bride's town. That's where you should look for the marriage records. But they often lived and raised a family in the groom's town. That's because he was more likely to inherit land and a home.

Check to see if your ancestral town's marriage records include marriage banns. Those are a public notice of the intention to marry. If so, look at the banns in the groom's town. These documents may tell you where the bride comes from, if you don't know. In all the Italian marriage records I've seen, the banns do not have their own index, so you have to page through them. Only the actual marriage records have an index.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course. In 1840 when my 3rd great grandfather married my 3rd great grandmother, he moved to her town. But check the map! His town borders her town. They may have lived a short walk apart.

Don't expect your early ancestors to move hours away for the birth of one baby, then go home for the birth of the next. Keep in mind that transportation at the time may have been a mule and a cart. And great grandpa wasn't getting a corporate job transfer.

How times have changed! My parents are from the Bronx, New York, but my dad was born in Ohio. Their first 2 kids were born in Virginia. Then I was born in New York City but spent no more than 6 months of my life there, and not all at once. My family's many moves would shock and dismay our ancestors.

My ancestors stayed close to home. How close to home? Everyone from my 1st to my 8th great grandparents lived and died in neighboring towns. My roots are all from the "Sannio" area of the Campania region of Italy. Many of my family names are still found in the same towns.

Which of these tools will work best for finding your ancestors on the map?
Which of these tools will work best for finding your ancestors on the map?

That brings me to a set of tools I want to share with you. I consult the Cognomix website all the time. I enter an Italian last name in the search box, and I can see every region, province, and town where that name is found. Not only that—it tells how many families with that name you can find in each region, province, and town.

Here are a handful of tools that show last name distribution in different countries:

If you find a search result that looks promising, look up that person's town on Google Maps or whatever you use. Is the town anywhere near the place where your ancestors lived? Was anything happening at that time in history that might have caused your family to move? Was there an earthquake or epidemic?

If your family stayed put for generations, and this search result lived hours away, keep searching. He's not your man.

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15 December 2020

How to Break Through to New Generations

I spent the last 2 weekends building a family tree for a woman who was stuck at the 1st great grandparent level.

I identified the names of EIGHTEEN of her 5th great grandparents. What a rush! It was all thanks to a ton of available vital records for her ancestral Italian hometowns.

Each time I found a new generation, I thought about what I could do to find their parents' names. It struck me that you could make a flowchart of the process—a series of Yes or No questions to tell you where to look next.

Let's see what that would look like. Say you know your immigrant great grandparents' names. You believe you know their birth dates, and you have an idea which town at least one of them came from. (This was the case for my client.)

What do you do next? Start by trying to prove your ancestor's birth date and hometown.

Nothing makes me happier than a set of marriage documents for my 2nd, 3rd, or 4th great grandparents.
Nothing makes me happier than a set of marriage documents for my 2nd, 3rd, or 4th great grandparents.

Can you find their immigration record? If they arrived at the right time, their ship manifest may have their hometown and a parent's name.

Can you find their naturalization papers? These may include their exact date of birth, their hometown, and their father's name.

Can you find their marriage record in their new country? This may include both sets of parents' names.

Can you find their official birth record from their hometown? This may include:

  • their father's name and age at the time
  • their father's father's name
  • the street where they lived
  • their mother's name and age at the time
  • their mother's father's name

They included a father's name to distinguish a person from someone else in town with the same name.

If you found this record, you get to level up! You've reached the 2nd great grandparent level, and you may have a name or 2 from the 3rd great grandparent level.

How can you discover all your 3rd great grandparents on this branch?

Can you find the marriage record of your 2nd great grandparents? This will name all your 3rd great grandparents. It may tell you their ages at the time. It may include the names of their fathers, or their dates of death.

Can you find the death record for a deceased 3rd great grandparent from the marriage record? That should tell you the names of their parents—your 4th great grandparents.

Can you find the marriage record of your 3rd great grandparents? This should name your 4th great grandparents, and may give you a name or 2 of your 5th great grandparents.

If the records are available, you can climb generation after generation of your family tree.
If the records are available, you can climb generation after generation of your family tree.

Don't Climb Too Fast

Beware of jumping from one ancestor's vital record to their parent's birth record. Let's say you find a birth record with a name that matches your 3rd great grandfather. How can you be sure he's your ancestor? Maybe someone else in town had the same name. That's all too common.

If that birth record doesn't say he later married the name you know for your 3rd great grandmother—you can't be sure you have the right person. You don't want to climb a stranger's family tree, do you?

The logical progression for climbing the tree when you have one ancestor's birth record is to:

  • Find their parents' marriage record. These provide solid information about the earlier generation. You may have to scour several years before you find their marriage.
  • Or find their death records. These will name their spouse (so you know it's the right person) and their parents.

Beware of errors, misspellings, and slightly wrong ages. Keep your mind open to name variations. "Teresa" on someone's death record may be "Maria Teresa" on her own vital records.

Don't overlook the awesome extras that may come with marriage records, at least in Italy. The associated documents may include:

  • the bride and groom's birth records
  • any of their parents' death records
  • their paternal grandfather's death records

The reason for the death records is to prove that a parent is unavailable to consent to the marriage. And if your father was dead, they would want his father to provide consent. So you needed to prove everyone had died.

What a joy it is for us to find their death records. I love it when a marriage is in the sweet spot: Late enough to include the extra records, but early enough to have death records from the 1700s.

Proceed carefully:

  • Rely heavily on marriage records for fuller information.
  • Use death records only when they include the name you already know for the deceased's spouse.
  • Turn to birth records if you already know both their parents' names, or you see their marriage written in the column.

Make no assumptions. Those lead to the types of errors we all hate to find on other people's online family trees.

One final note on marriage records: Pay attention to the town of birth. A bride and groom may come from different towns. In this case, the couple may marry in the bride's town, but live and raise a family in the groom's town. Why? Because the groom is more likely to inherit land and a home.

One birth record said the baby's father was born in this town, but its mother was born in another town. That told me to search the mother's town for this couple's marriage. And that's exactly where I found it.

With care, and the availability of records, you can build up a branch of your family tree several generations in one weekend. I did!

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08 December 2020

Inside My Digital Genealogy Toolbox

I do some genealogy work every single day. First I decide what I'm in the mood to do. Then I take out whichever tools I need for the task.

Here are some of my typical family tree-building tasks and the tools I need to complete them.

File Renaming

This is a foundational task that improves everything else I do. I don't know about other countries, but Italy has a massive amount of vital records online.

All my ancestors came from a handful of neighboring towns in Southern Italy. Each town has a large collection of birth, marriage, and death records. I've downloaded tens of thousands of record images to my computer.

When I want an easy task—one I can do while half-watching TV—I start renaming the image files. If it's a birth record, I rename the file to include the baby's name and their father's same.

Now this record (and tons of others) is searchable on my computer. Including the father's name in the title makes it easier to find exactly the person I need.

Tools Required:

  • GetLinks for downloading a ton of records easily
  • File Explorer (Windows) for storing and renaming the images
  • Photos (Windows) for viewing the images and zooming in for clarity
  • Karen's Directory Printer for creating a text file of every file name in a set of folders. When I finish a town, I'll publish a searchable list of every available vital record for others to use.
I rarely write anything down when I can type it. These pencils are a metaphor for keeping all your genealogy tools in tip-top shape.
I rarely write anything down when I can type it. These pencils are a metaphor for keeping all your genealogy tools in tip-top shape.

Filling in the Blanks

When I want to take advantage of all that file renaming, I start filling in missing facts.

With all those renamed vital records, I can find missing birth dates for my family tree. I can sort the index of my Family Tree Maker file by Birth Date and look for people with an incomplete date of birth.

The Italian vital records for my towns begin in 1809. So, for this task, I'll scroll down to people born in 1809. I can look for anyone without a complete birth date. Then I'll search my renamed files with a wonderful program called Everything. I'll review the search results, double-clicking an entry to view the image. I'll keep going until I find this person.

Now I can enter their birth date into Family Tree Maker and add their baptism date and street name, if available.

I started at 1809. I'm up to 1850. When I've tackled all the missing birth dates, I can sort the index by death date or marriage date. If there are records available for that year, no fact can hide from me.

Tools Required:

  • Family Tree Maker for seeing what's missing
  • Everything–a fast, powerful search tool that can find any name among my renamed files
  • Photos (Windows) for viewing the images
A couple of new additions to my genealogy toolbox were hand-picked for my most ambitious family tree projects.
A couple of new additions to my genealogy toolbox were hand-picked for my most ambitious family tree projects.

Fitting a Piece into the Puzzle

When I'm ready to ready get down to business, this task is the entire ball of wax. The Holy Grail. It will fulfill my wish to create the ultimate family tree for people with roots in Grandpa's hometown.

A long time ago, I started entering facts from vital records into a spreadsheet. My 2019 genealogy goal was to enter the facts from the first 5 years of birth records for each of my ancestral towns. I wish I'd gotten more done, but it's very time-consuming. I'm glad I have those first 5 years.

Now I'm going line-by-line, hoping to find a place in my family tree for everyone in the town. I'm nearly finished with the 1809 births. Then I'll work through the 1809 marriages and deaths.

It's amazing how many people have a place in my tree. Here are the steps I'm following with the 1809 births:

  • Search my Family Tree Maker file for the baby. I may have them already. If so, I make that line in the spreadsheet green.
  • If I don't find them, I search for their parents. In most cases, I have the father birth year because his age was on the birth record. If I find the right married couple, I can add their baby to my family tree.
  • If I can't find the parents in my tree, I search my vital record collection. If I can find the marriage or death of either parent, I'll know who their parents were. If they're already in my tree, I can add this family unit to my tree.

In most cases, I can fit that 1809 baby in my tree. Sometimes the baby is a blood relation, like 1st cousin 6 times removed. Other times the relationship is crazy-distant. If there's any connection, I want them. It serves my purpose of documenting the entire town.

If the baby fits in my tree, I:

  • crop and enhance the vital record image in Photoshop
  • rename the image file in my standard format
  • add a title and source citation to the image's properties
  • add the baby, their facts, and the image to Family Tree Maker
  • file the image away
  • add a line to my document tracker spreadsheet for the baby and this birth record

But wait. There's more. Why not search for the marriage or death of this child? I've had cases where one 1809 baby led to multiple marriage records and a death record. I've added dozens of people and documents stemming from one baby.

This project is the be-all and end-all. It is my gift to Grandpa's town.

Tools Required:

  • Excel for storing and reviewing facts from each vital record
  • File Explorer (Windows) for adding details to the images
  • Photos (Windows) for viewing the images and zooming in for clarity
  • Family Tree Maker for adding the new documents and facts
  • Everything for finding any name among my renamed files
  • Photoshop for cropping the images and improving the contrast and readability

Each of these projects is so routine to me that I automatically launch all the tools I need for the task.

Is your genealogy toolbox lacking? Or is it up to every challenge?

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01 December 2020

These Genealogy Projects Can Chase Away the Boredom

Would you get bored with your genealogy research if you were at it for 8 hours a day?

Last Friday was my first vacation day of 2020. As obsessed as I am with genealogy, I have a corporate job that keeps me away from it. The day after Thanksgiving was my first day off that wasn't a national holiday. At last I was able to spend hours on end doing genealogy!

If you have the time, and you want to make progress on your family tree, there's a secret to keep it from getting tedious. Projects.

If you have a variety of genealogy projects to work on, you won't get bored. You may be thinking, "If you're bored, stop doing genealogy." Sacrilege, I say!

Here are my favorite projects I turn to whenever genealogy is becoming a chore.

Before I go on, here's a programming note: I've been publishing a new article each Tuesday and Friday for 4 years. I've published 432 articles! This labor of love has taken over my life, so I'm dropping it down to once a week. I'll publish a new article each Tuesday, starting today.

Fit Everyone into My Tree

My family tree is going to be THE resource for any descendant of my grandfather's hometown. I've got tens of thousands of the town's vital records beginning in 1809. And I have a book that documents everyone who lived there in the year 1742.

I'm laying a solid foundation by fitting people from the 1809 vital records into my tree. In some cases I can connect them to people who were alive and documented in 1742.

Here's how it worked this long weekend:

  • Check an 1809 birth record to see if the baby is already in my family tree.
  • If not, check my tree for the parents.
  • If none of the people are in my tree, search my extensive database of the town for them.
  • Other records, like the death records of the parents, usually help me place them in my tree.
  • Then I can add the baby and search for their marriage or death records.

The whole process can take a long time, but I added dozens of townspeople to my tree for each 1809 baby.

Using all my tools, I can fit nearly the whole of Grandpa's town into my family tree.
Using all my tools, I can fit nearly the whole of Grandpa's town into my family tree.

Share My Research Database

I have all the town's available vital records on my computer. I've renamed them to include the subject(s) of the document. For example, "007853875_00496.jpg" is the first 1809 birth record. I renamed it "007853875_00496 Carmine Pasquale d'Agostino di Giuseppe.jpg" because it's the birth record of Carmine Pasquale d'Agostino, the son of Giuseppe. Keeping the number in the file name helps me tie it back to the file's original location online.

Now I can search for ANYBODY on my computer with a program called Everything. My plan is to share this amazing database with anyone with roots in the town. Before I do so, I need to finish renaming the extra documents that come with a marriage. These can include:

  1. the groom's birth or baptism record
  2. the groom's father's death record
  3. the groom's grandfather's death record
  4. the groom's mother's death record
  5. the groom's first wife's death record
  6. the bride's birth or baptism record
  7. the bride's father's death record
  8. the bride's grandfather's death record
  9. the bride's mother's death record
  10. the bride's first husband's death record

What a treasure trove! The only problem is, I haven't renamed ALL the files. I still need to do this for the marriage records from 1834 through 1860. I'll get there soon enough.

If I get bored with fitting each baby into my tree, I keep on renaming these marriage documents.

Once each vital record has a name, I can make the whole town searchable for other descendants.
Once each vital record has a name, I can make them all searchable for other descendants.

Fill in Missing Dates

One quick-shot project is to find exact dates of birth when all I have is a year. This happens when I have a birth record that includes one or both parents' ages. I can say, for example, that the father was born in 1830.

If I sort the Family Tree Maker index by birth year, it's easy to see all the people with missing birth records. Then I can use the Everything program to search for and fill in their missing birth dates. On Thursday I was up to people born in 1830. Now I'm up to 1850.

Pick Up a Forgotten Genealogy Goal

Each December I write down specific genealogy goals for the new year. Then 2020 happened. I tried to keep up with my 2020 goals in January and February. But when everything fell apart in March, I had bigger things to worry about.

Now I've settled into a groove (a deep groove that led me to take one day off this year). I can always look at my goals and pick whichever one interests me at the moment.

Return to An Old Research Thread

I like to work off lists that I type into a text program. I do this for my corporate job, and it works so well that I use it for genealogy, too.

To that end, I have a text file named Notebook filled with genealogy information. It tells me where I left off on my marriage document renaming project. It has my genealogy goals for the last few years. It has a list of rainy-day genealogy tasks, like "sort out my photos and add more to my family tree." It also has research notes, like: "Did Gregorio Liguori and Apollonia Grazia Caruso have a child before 1809? Search the Circello marriages starting in 1825 looking for other children. (I'm up to 1843.)"

There are details on projects I've completely forgotten. But each one is something I can turn to if I get bored with whatever I'm doing.

You can always make progress on your genealogy research. Even if you can't visit that library you need, there are tons of ways to fortify your family tree. What excites 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.