09 February 2021

How to Weed Out Those Unreliable Sources

Once in a while I spot them in the details of my family tree. Those questionable, unreliable sources.

When we're new to genealogy, we're more likely to borrow facts from the trees of strangers. It's a quick way to move things along. It can flesh out a more distant branch of relatives.

If you want your tree to be a reliable source for others, you cannot keep these lesser sources. You must trade them for the real thing. If it's an immigration fact, find that ship manifest and add the proper source. If it's a birth, marriage, or death record, track it down and record the source.

Our people deserve much better than the unreliable sources we're guilty of using.
Our people deserve much better than the unreliable sources we're guilty of using.

I needed an easy way to find all the low-quality sources hiding in my very large family tree file.

First I exported an up-to-date GEDCOM file. Not familiar with that term? It's a text file containing the names, facts, and relationships of everyone in your tree. Any decent family tree software can export a GEDCOM. If you keep your tree online only, you should be able to download a GEDCOM.

Next, I launched the free Family Tree Analyzer (FTA) program. It can tell you more about your family tree than you can imagine. Then I used FTA to open my new GEDCOM file.

On the program's Main Lists tab, I chose Sources. There I found a long list of every source in my family tree—309 of them. It showed me how many uses there are for each one. I clicked the top of the FactCount column to sort the sources from least used to most used. It won't surprise my regular readers that the bulk of my sources are from the State Archives of Benevento. That's where I find Italian vital records for my ancestors.

For me, it's the least used sources that are most likely to be unreliable. They're the ones I used early on, when I didn't know any better.

While I can see all my sources in Family Tree Maker, Family Tree Analyzer shows me how many times I'm using each one.
While I can see all my sources in Family Tree Maker, Family Tree Analyzer shows me how many times I'm using each one.

I decided to replace the "Someone's Family Tree" sources first. They centered around my 4th cousin 5 times removed, Giovannangela Mascia. She was born in my Grandpa Iamarino's hometown in southern Italy. Her husband came from a nearby town, and that's where they raised their children.

I can't remember how I discovered this family in someone's tree years ago. But now there's no reason on earth for a stranger's tree to be my only source for these people. I have Giovannangela's birth and marriage records on my computer. They're in my collection of all the available records from Grandpa's hometown. Her husband and children's birth records are all available online.

It was time to replace every mention of "Someone's Family Tree" as the source for this family's facts. I started by finding Giovannangela's birth and marriage records on my computer. Then I found birth records for her husband and kids online. I added the document images to my family tree along with a proper source citation.

For her family, I attributed the facts to:

The State Archives of Campobasso
Birth records for (year) in Riccia, Campobasso, Campania, Italy
The exact URL where anyone can find the document

According to this other person's tree, part of the family came to America. I went to Ancestry.com to find their ship manifests for myself. One of Giovannangela's sons spent 14 years in Philadelphia before returning to Italy. He made a trip in 1901 to bring back his parents. I was very surprised by his parents' ages. Giovannangela was 75 years old, and her 83-year-old husband was senile.

They may be the oldest Italians I've seen coming to America. Both died a few years later.

Now I have a proper "New York, Passenger and Crew Lists" source citation for these facts. As I add these reliable sources, I can remove the unreliable source.

You may have developed good genealogy habits along the way, as I have. But your early work can cast doubt on the value of your family tree.

I encourage you to examine your source list and find any that you know are not high quality. Concentrate on replacing them one at a time. Pull your early work up to your current, more professional standards.

02 February 2021

Reaping the Benefits of Genealogy Legwork

Two weeks ago I wrote about searching the treetops to break through your dead ends. Let me tell you about the great success I had. Here's how I did it:

  • I printed out a large fan chart of my ancestors.
  • I used a highlighter to mark the names of my oldest known ancestors.
  • Three-eighths of my family lines come from one Italian town, Colle Sannita. I began there because I've created the ultimate database of every available vital record from that town.
  • One by one, I searched my database for the names of my highlighted ancestors.
  • I found the death records of EIGHT of my 6th great grandparents! They were sitting there, waiting for me to find them. Now I know the names of their parents—my 7th great grandparents.
Printing a fan chart of my ancestors made it clear where most of my roots come from. I'm researching that town full blast!
Printing a fan chart of my ancestors made it clear where most of my roots come from. I'm researching that town full blast!

In some cases, things got even better. Take my 6th great grandfather, Giorgio Iacobaccio. He was one of my dead ends, born in 1733. I knew his wife was Antonia Cioccia, and I had plenty of information about 3 of their children.

When I found a record of Giorgio's 1791 death, I had the names of his parents, born in the very early 1700s. That made them suitable for my favorite research aid.

I'm the proud owner of a book that details every living person in my ancestral town in the year 1742. That year the town performed a full census, listing:

  • the head of household and his age
  • whether he owned or rented his home
  • everything he owned, from donkeys and sheep to vegetable gardens and vineyards
  • the name, age, and relationship of everyone living in the household

It's a freaking gold mine of information. Exploring my treetops often leads me to search for a family in the 1742 census. I found my 6th great grandfather Giorgio Iacobaccio in the book because I knew his parents' names.

There I learned so much more.

Giorgio lived in the home of his uncle Carlo. Carlo was a 51-year-old shoemaker who lived in his own house, and owned 2 other houses. He had a donkey and 5 different plots of land.

Carlo didn't have a wife or children in his home. He had his mother, Camilla Grasso—my 8th great grandmother born in 1669. And he had his sister-in-law (my 7th great grandmother) Caterina and her children. This told me that my 7th great grandfather (Carlo's brother Nicola) was dead by 1742. His widow Caterina diPinto lived in Carlo's house with her 4 children.

My 6th great grandfather Giorgio, formerly my dead end, was the 2nd oldest child at age 9. The youngest child, Margherita, was only 4. So I know my 7th great grandfather Nicola must have died between 1738 and 1742.

When I searched for my next dead end, Giorgio's wife Antonia Cioccia, I had the same luck. I found her family in the 1742 census, and I found the name of my 8th great grandfather Carlo Cioccia, born about 1677.

Pairing up my own hometown database of vital records with an historian's book about the town is breaking through to new generations.
Pairing up my own hometown database of vital records with an historian's book about the town is breaking through to new generations.

Before I search the treetops of my other ancestral towns, I want to keep exploring the 1742 census. Each time I place a 1742 family into my family tree, I put a checkmark by their listing in the book. And I cross out their listing in the index. My goal is to place the entire book in my tree.

This is the ultimate jigsaw puzzle. I'm viewing each unchecked family in the book and searching for their names in my town database. Sometimes I get lucky and make a positive ID. Then the whole family goes into my tree.

This entire exercise is making my family tree grow so fast! I'm busy adding facts, documents, and sources. After a long day of adding details, I synchronize my Family Tree Maker file with my tree on Ancestry.com.

Why am I doing all this, going so far? I'm creating the ultimate resource for every descendant of this town. (I have shared my database, too.) We are all over the world, living in different cultures, but formed by the same roots.

This will be my legacy. What will yours be?

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.