25 May 2021

How to Find the Stragglers in Your Family Tree

I'm living in my 16th home, so I know a thing or two about moving. To lighten the load before you pack, you sort your stuff into three categories: keep, sell, or throw away.

We can use a similar rule on our family trees. I generated a list of unrelated people in my family tree. I fit each person into one of three categories: research, keep, or delete.

This started when a Family Tree Maker user asked how to find the loose (unrelated) people in her family tree. One person answered "Family Tree Analyzer" without an explanation. I launched my copy of the program and answered with these instructions:

Family Tree Analyzer is a free program that can analyze your tree in many ways. Export a GEDCOM from your tree and open it with Family Tree Analyzer. Once it's open, click the Main Lists tab and view the Individuals tab (the first tab). Scroll to the right to find the Relation column and click to sort by it. The "Unknowns" are your loose people.

I did this and exported my full list of people to a spreadsheet. Then I sorted and deleted everyone who did have a relationship to me.

Take a fresh look at the unrelated people in your family tree.
Take a fresh look at the unrelated people in your family tree.

Now I had a spreadsheet of all the unrelated people in my family tree. I set out to categorize them as research, keep, or delete. I added a new column to my spreadsheet with the heading "Reason." As I worked my way down the list of alphabetized names, I added the reason they're in my tree.

For example, I had dozens of disconnected people with the last name Asahina. They're in my tree because of an undocumented connection to my husband's Ohama family. In the "Reason" column, I gave each of these people "Asahina" as the reason they're in my tree.

Other people are in my tree because my family says they are cousins, but the documents don't exist. I gave them a last name as a "Reason." They are either Saviano (my great grandmother's maiden name) or Sarracino (my great grandfather's name).

Now that everyone in the list had a particular reason to be there, I sorted the spreadsheet by the reasons.

  • Some people were from my grandfather's hometown. I worked with vital records to figure out their connection. I had lots of success and deleted them from the spreadsheet.
  • A couple of families were in the published 1742 census for my grandfather's town. I did some research, but I couldn't find a bridge between the civil records and 1742. I decided to keep these 12 people anyway.
  • There were a few families of three: two parents and a baby. I searched for more of their children. Unfortunately, all the children died young. Without a marriage to build on, I could not connect this small family to anyone else. I deleted them from my family tree and the spreadsheet.
  • When it came to the Asahina family, my own notes for two different people gave me the connection I was seeking. The story is, an Ohama family gave one of their babies to a childless cousin. As shocking as that sounds, it's a Japanese tradition. My own father-in-law was nearly given away! In the Ohama family, I'd entered a baby named _____ Asahina with a note saying, "this is the baby they gave away." In the Asahina family, I had attached a note to a woman named Masa Asahina. "A distant cousin says Masa is the Ohama baby given to the Asahina family." Hurray! I merged _____ Asahina with Masa Asahina, connecting the entire family. I removed them from my spreadsheet of unrelated people.
  • I tried again to connect a Saviano clan to myself. The family says they are cousins, and I have no doubt of that. But their hometown didn't keep civil records before 1861. Their church records are lacking, too. I added some new documents and facts, but they are still loose in my tree. I will keep them there.

My family tree still has 161 unrelated people I've chosen to keep. Twelve are from the 1742 census of Grandpa's town. The rest are from the town without documentation. I'm OK with that. They all have a now-documented reason for being in my family tree. I'll be on the lookout to see if any distant cousins know more about them than I do. So far, they don't.

In the end, I researched everyone in the list to some extent, deleted a bunch, and kept 161 people. And that's how you sort out and lighten the load before you move on to more research.

If you use Family Tree Maker, use these settings to find the unrelated people in your family tree.
If you use Family Tree Maker, use these settings to find the unrelated people in your family tree.

Someone else had a different answer to the "how to find loose people" question. They recommended Family Tree Maker's Kinship Report. With 29,000+ people in my tree, the report takes about 30 minutes to run, and it's 979 pages long. I can export to a spreadsheet by clicking Share, Export to CSV. Then, in Excel, I can filter the results to show only the "Unrelated" Relationship.

I recommend you go with Family Tree Analyzer for quick, useful, effective results. Then get moving and sort out your people.

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18 May 2021

Sorting Out a Hot Mess in Your Family Tree

It all started with Angela. When I landed on her in my 29,000-person family tree, I noticed I had her death date, but not her parents' names. She died in April 1809—about a month after my part of Italy began keeping birth, marriage, and death records.

I pulled up her death record. I found her parents' names and added them to my family tree. Then I saw a bigger problem with her father, Pasquale. His facts were a hot mess.

I found two versions of Pasquale's 1799 death record:

  • in his son Angelo's 1815 marriage documents
  • in his grandson Pasquale's 1853 marriage documents

In both versions of the death record, Pasquale is the son of Tommaso Cocca and Angela Gentile. That's fantastic because Tommaso and Angela are in the town's 1742 census. (The census is captured in a book called "Colle Sannita nel 1742" by my friend, Dr. Fabio Paolucci.) In both death records Pasquale's wife is Costanza Iamarino. I knew two of Pasquale and Costanza's children: Angela (born in 1776 per her death record) and Angelo (born in 1795).

But here's the problem. In my family tree, I had also identified Mariangela Iamarino as Pasquale's wife. That couple had two children in 1771 and 1773.

A note in my family tree made me wonder if he really had married both Mariangela and Costanza. Here's my note:

"Pasquale's death record (from his granddaughter Carmina Cocca's 1837 marriage documents) says he died on 2 Jul 1795, was the son of Giambattista Cocca and Pietronilla Vignogna, and was married to Mariangela Iamarino. I believe I've combined 2 men."

Finding More Facts to Sort Out the Mess

Now that I've stumbled upon this Pasquale mess again, it's time to set things straight.

The first thing to do is look at the 1795 death record in Carmina Cocca's marriage documents. In all, I found three versions of Pasquale's 1795 death record, but only one included his age at death.

Two different death records, with two different wives, made it clear I'd merged two men.
Two different death records, with two different wives, made it clear I'd merged two men.

The available facts make it clear I accidentally merged two Pasquale Cocca's into one. So how do I separate them while maintaining each man's facts?

If I could duplicate Pasquale in Family Tree Maker, I could remove the wrong facts, spouses, and kids from each man. Since there is no duplication option, I'll make a note of each fact that belongs to the Pasquale who died in 1795:

  • He married Mariangela Iamarino
  • They had 3 children: Giambattista, Donata, and Maria Maddalena
  • I now know he died in 1795 and his parents were Giambattista Cocca and Pietronilla Vignogna

Separating the Families Carefully

To avoid losing sight of Mariangela and her children, I'll follow these steps:

  1. Select each of the children and detach them from Pasquale, but not from Mariangela Iamarino.
  2. Select Mariangela and detach her from Pasquale.
  3. Create a new Pasquale Cocca as Mariangela's husband and father of her children.
  4. Add this new Pasquale's death date and his parents' names.

With all the facts and steps in front of me, I can fix this mess without missing anything. I'll remove that very important note and bookmark from the other Pasquale Cocca, too.

Now I've given Mariangela and her children their very own Pasquale Cocca. When I added his parents, I found that they, too, are in the 1742 census. I used the census to add Pasquale's paternal grandfather and his two older siblings. Since Pasquale is not listed in the 1742 census, I know he was not born in 1740, as his death record says. I'll give him a birth date of Abt. 1743.

Don't Assume You'll Remember These Things

I'm so grateful I left myself a note about Pasquale.

The Bookmarks feature of Family Tree Maker is an important way to keep your notes visible.
The Bookmarks feature of Family Tree Maker is an important way to keep your notes visible.

When I add a note in Family Tree Maker, I give the person a bookmark. Seeing that bookmark in the list of all people lets me see there's something about this person I need to know. Once I solve a problem, I remove the note and the person's bookmark.

If there's a hot mess in your family tree, gather as many facts as you can. Pay attention to the discrepancies. Take careful notes so you can undo your errors and set things straight.

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11 May 2021

Use What You Know to Break Down a Brick Wall

When you've been swimming in old Italian vital records for as long as I have, you learn a lot of little tidbits. Using those tidbits, I broke through a brick wall last week.

I finally got past one of my 5th great grandfathers. Once I found exactly the right record, I shot straight up his paternal line to my 8th great grandparents!

It was one heck of a process, and I'm so glad I stuck with it.

Since you may not know all the tidbits I've learned along the way, I thought it'd be helpful for me to list them for you. These facts are true of Italian vital records and some church records. Some of these facts should apply to other countries' vital records as well.

  1. Italian women keep their father's last name for life. There is no "maiden name" and "married name." There's one name. If they boarded a ship to emigrate, they used their one-and-only last name.
  2. Birth records may include the name of the baby's grandfathers and if they're alive or dead. If it says di and a name, the grandfather is alive. If it says fu and a name, the grandfather is dead.
  3. Death records name the deceased's parents and spouse, and whether they are alive or dead. But, if a person died in another town, the people there may not know the names all the deceased's parents and spouse. And if a man died quite early, his death record may say that he is married, but not give his wife's name.
  4. An Italian marriage requires the consent of the bride and groom's parents. If a parent is dead, a grandfather may consent. If everyone's dead, there needs to be proof. So, the marriage records can include:
    • Bride and groom's birth or baptism record, possibly with their parents' ages at the time. Note: The earlier in someone's life their age is stated, the more reliable it is.
    • Bride and groom's mother's death record, if she's dead at the time of the marriage
    • Bride and groom's father's death record, if he's dead at the time of the marriage
    • Bride and groom's grandfather's death record, if parent and grandfather are both dead
    • Bride and groom's previous spouse's death record. Note: There was no divorce in Italy until 1970, but widows usually remarried quickly.

Last week I noticed that my Grandma Lucy's line had a dead end at my 5th great grandfather, Antonio Zeolla. I've done tons of work to make every vital record from Antonio's town searchable. So why didn't I know when he died or who his parents were?

Building out all of Antonio's children and grandchildren was the key to finding his ancestors.
Building out all of Antonio's children and grandchildren was the key to finding his ancestors.

I did know Antonio was still alive in 1817. I learned that from his wife's death record.

  • If the deceased's spouse is dead, the document says they were the vedovo di or vedova di, followed by their late spouse's name. Vedovo/a di means widow of.
  • If the deceased's spouse is alive, the document says they were the marito di or moglie di, followed by their spouse's name. Marito di means husband of. Moglie di means wife of.

I searched for an Antonio Zeolla who was the widow of Andreana Piacquadio (my 5th great grandmother). There was no widow of Andreana. Had Antonio remarried? In 1817 when Andreana died, the couple had 2 very young children. Antonio should have remarried.

But I couldn't search for the marriage of an Antonio Zeolla. That's a common name in the town of Colle Sannita, and I wouldn't know if I'd found the right man. If he remarried at the right time, the documents would include Andreana's death record. I searched for that. But he didn't remarry at the right time.

I knew what I had to do.

I had to find all of Antonio and Andreana's children and their marriage records. But Antonio was still alive when his children married.

Antonio's grandchildren's marriage records would include his death if they married:

  • after their parent had died, and
  • after Antonio had died.

I began identifying his grandchildren and searching for their marriages.

At last I found what I needed. In 1850, Andreana Zeolla got married. She was the daughter of Antonio's eldest son. Luckily for me, When she married, both her father and grandfather were dead. After hours of searching, I found Antonio's death record from 1848. I learned his parents (my 6th great grandparents) were Marco Zeolla and Donata Tedesco.

It took his granddaughter's marriage to positively identify Antonio's death date and second wife. Then I found even more.
It took his granddaughter's marriage to positively identify Antonio's death date and second wife. Then I found even more.

The 1848 death record says Antonio was the widow of a different woman. It's clear from the context that this is the Antonio I was looking for. His second wife is the reason I couldn't find him.

Now I knew he had remarried Lucia Piacquadio, so I found his 1819 marriage documents. Those documents held an even bigger treasure for me.

When Antonio remarried, both his father and grandfather were dead. Hurray, right? I learned that:

  • my 6th great grandfather Marco Zeolla died in 1791
  • he was the son of Antonio Zeolla and Angela Iacobaccio, my 7th great grandparents
  • my 7th great grandfather Antonio Zeolla died in 1764
  • he was the son of Marco Zeolla and Fioribella diRuccia, my 8th great grandparents!!

While this method doesn't always lead to this much success, you mustn't overlook it. When you can't find the document you need, work around it. A family member—one you haven't found yet—may be the key to help you break down that brick wall.

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If you want to find all your Italian ancestors but you need help, let's talk! Find out more at Italian Ancestry Services.

04 May 2021

Your DNA Matches Hold Hidden Clues

"How can DNA help me build my family tree?" I see this question online all the time. People who haven't taken a DNA test are wondering if it's worth the price.

I can see their point, can't you? If they care about only their own ancestry, they may not care about finding their 5th cousin 3 times removed.

Here's why DNA matches are important to any genealogy researcher: The facts you discover in their trees can fill in the blanks in your tree.

For example, I was looking at a DNA match in the 4th–6th cousin range. He has Irish Ancestry on his father's side, and Italian ancestry on his mother's side. His Italian grandparents, with familiar last names, were all I needed to begin my search.

His info was a little vague. But I found his grandmother's birth record in the vital records from my Grandpa's hometown. I love it when the Italian birth records include a note about who this baby grew up to marry. But this person, Liberantonia deMatteis, had no such note.

Your DNA test buys you access to an endless amount of clues for your family tree.
Your DNA test buys you access to an endless amount of clues for your family tree.

Searching for his grandfather, I found 2 possibilities in the Italian records. Without that marriage notation, I couldn't be sure which was the right person.

I turned to Ancestry.com, hoping to find the couple's immigration record for more clues. Instead, I found a more detailed family tree owned by a relative of my DNA match (same Irish last name). Her family tree confirmed that I had found the right grandmother for my DNA match. And it pointed out a crucial error in the first tree. His name wasn't Pasquale, it was Innocenzo. With that clue, I found the birth record for my DNA match's grandfather.

I already know more about my DNA match's Italian ancestry than he does.

Without this DNA match to Innocenzo and Liberantonia, I would have passed them by. Knowing there's a connection, I must climb each of their trees to find our relationship.

I've put in the work to make finding ancestors easy as can be.
I've put in the work to make finding ancestors easy as can be.

It took me about 3 hours to find a true relationship to my DNA match, but it was fun. His grandmother is my 5th cousin twice removed, so my DNA match is my 7th cousin.

His grandmother's mother was the key to our multi-faceted relationship. I climbed her father's side of the family 5 generations to reach my 6th great grandparents Saverio and Angela. But I also climbed her mother's side of the family 5 generations to reach my double 6th great grandparents Giuseppe and Maria.

Does that make us triple 7th cousins? We do have a 4th–6th cousin DNA relationship.

Not all DNA test-takers are actively building their family trees. That's why they don't answer us when we write to them. Rather than write to this DNA match, I will update my public family tree with his relatives.

Some day, if he's interested, he'll stumble upon my tree and be amazed at all the generations I've found for him. In the meantime, this helps me in my quest to connect everyone with roots in my ancestral hometowns.

If you're one of the DNA skeptics, know that your matches can give you helpful clues, whether they know it or not.

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Let Me Build Your Italian Family Tree

If you want to find all your Italian ancestors but you need help, let's talk! Find out more at Italian Ancestry Services.

27 April 2021

Quick and Easy Family Tree Backup Routine

I love my daily routines. I pack a ton of accomplishments into each morning. That sense of fulfillment pushes me to stay disciplined.

Being a disciplined genealogist leads to a stronger family tree. While others are sleeping late on a Sunday morning, I'm sticking to my routine:

  • Catching up on household income and expenses, and
  • Backing up all my family tree files

My simple backup plan is so quick and easy, I have to share it with you.

The key elements are (1) good organization of your files, (2) a checklist, and (3) a "what's new" folder. Here's how I keep my family tree files safe each Sunday morning.

External storage drives keep coming down in price. Don't short-change your family tree files.
External storage drives keep coming down in price. Don't short-change your family tree files.

The File Structure

As soon as I began this all-consuming genealogy hobby, I realized I needed to organize my digital files. That includes:

  • Naming each document image file in a consistent way (basically, LastnameFirstnameEventYear.jpg)
  • Placing each document image file in the right folder:
    • draft registration cards in the draft cards folder
    • census pages in the census forms folder
    • ship manifests in the immigration folder
    • Family Tree Maker and GEDCOM files in the FTM-GED files folder
    • vital records in the certificates folder, etc.

Yes, I could have some better folder names, like "vital records" instead of "certificates". But changing them now would mean having to change them on my backup drives. So I'll stay with what I've got. (Take a deeper dive into file naming and organization.)

The "What's New" Folder

My certificates folder must have 15,000 or more images in it. That's unmanageable. So I split it into 8 roughly equal folders based on the first letter of the file name. Now, inside my certificates folder are sub-folders with names like A-C, D-H, I-L, etc.

Each Sunday, having to check all 8 folders for what's new was a hassle. That's when I created a sub-folder in certificates called working. That's where I keep documents in progress.

Here's how I manage my tons of vital records now:

  • I gather files and prepare them for Family Tree Maker:
    • I crop them in Photoshop and enhance the contrast
    • I add a title and description to the file's properties. These carry over into Family Tree Maker. (Find out how to add details to your image files.)
    • I drag them into my family tree, adding each file to the right person
  • Once a file is in my tree, I drag it to the certificates folder
  • I drag non-vital records (ship manifests, censuses, etc.) into my DON'T FORGET TO BACK UP THESE folder. Keeping these files separate helps me make sure I file them in the right place.
  • On backup day, everything new is in my certificates folder (not the lettered sub-folders) and DON'T FORGET folder, ready for me to back up and file away. My certificates is my "What's New" folder.
Keep new files in a holding area so they're ready and waiting for your weekly backup.
Keep new files in a holding area so they're ready and waiting for your weekly backup.

The Backup Checklist

As a safeguard, I keep a short backup checklist in a file that's always open on my computer. Here's what it says:

  • Back up to OneDrive: (automatic) Antenati files, Blog files, FamilyTree
  • Back up to Seagate Drive:
    • C:\Users\diann\Documents\Outlook Files
    • Desktop\timesheets.xlsx (put in income folder)
    • E:\, $$Finances, FamilyTree (sync logs, GEDCOMs, Iamarino Media)

My FamilyTree folder gets backed up to the OneDrive cloud automatically. (Find a suitable cloud drive for your files.) This makes the files accessible from all my devices and keeps them safe. My document image files are already in the cloud, but I keep them on my 2 external drives, too, for extra protection.

The Devices

I have a 1 terabyte Seagate external drive I use for my weekly backups. It mirrors the folder structure on my computer.

Recently I bought a 2 terabyte Seagate external drive because if the first drive goes bad, I want to be protected. The new drive came with software to simplify my routine. I plug in the drive, launch the software, and it finds all the new or updated files in the folders I specify. Then it backs them up for me. It's so simple.

If you stick to any routines at all, you can stick to a weekly backup routine for your family tree files. If you aren't adding to your family tree each week, double-check your "what's new" folder and your list anyway. If nothing is new, get on with your day.

I get so much done in one week, a computer disaster without a recent backup would break my heart.

Are you willing to risk your genealogy research?

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Let Me Build Your Italian Family Tree

If you want to find all your Italian ancestors but you need help, let's talk! Find out more at Italian Ancestry Services.

20 April 2021

Spring Cleaning for Your Family Tree

I found them sitting there in the "family tree" folder on my computer. Eight Italian vital records and a couple of U.S. immigration records that did not belong there. It was clear I'd cropped the images and made them ready for my family tree. Then I must have dragged them into the wrong folder.

What else had I misfiled or left unfinished? My main family tree folder is where I keep things I plan to work on later. These files didn't belong there.

If you started your genealogy research journey a while ago, you know more now than you did then. You've made breakthroughs on some of your lines. You've discovered new resources along the way.

It's time to use your growing knowledge and resources to clean up past mysteries.

Give your old files and notes a fresh look with more experienced eyes. For instance, in my main folder are two files I purposely left there until I learned more. One is an 1893 ship manifest featuring the last name of my 2nd great grandmother: Consolazio. I labelled the file ConsolazioPaolina1893, but who was Paolina?

How many family tree mysteries can you solve now that you know more?
How many family tree mysteries can you solve now that you know more?

Thanks to the vital records from the Consolazio hometown (Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy), I now know she is my 2nd great grandmother's sister. This ship manifest gives me the names of two of her children and tells me they were bound for Orange, New Jersey.

Looking at that 1893 manifest, I recognize other Santa Paolina last names: Dato, Bruno, Morrone, Maiorano, Stanziale. The record doesn't include hometowns, but my research tells me who's from Santa Paolina. There are two Consolazio families on the manifest, and I'll bet I can work both into my family tree now.

Also in my main family tree folder is an 1886 church record sent to me by a friend. It's a marriage between two people with my two grandfathers' last names. It turns out he is my 3rd cousin 5 times removed and she is my 4th cousin 3 times removed.

Also in that catch-all folder is a list of people who died in the 1805 earthquake in my Grandpa's hometown. In the past, I've tried to place these people in my family tree. A handful were already there, but I had no idea they'd died in the earthquake. One is my sixth great aunt. In this text file I left myself a note saying "DOWN TO HERE," signaling where I should pick up and continue my search.

How many tasks like these have you left unfinished? How many notes and documents have you tucked away for later? How many have you completely forgotten about?

I use Family Tree Maker software to build my tree. There is a Tasks feature that lets you record what you need to do for a particular person. As more and more documents become available, it's important to revisit these tasks. See what you can do about them.

I also use the Bookmarks feature in Family Tree Maker. Whenever I add an important note to a person, a note I want to make sure I don't lose, I give them a bookmark. These bookmarks a visible in the index of all people, so they're easy to spot.

These notes are handy when I'm wondering why a person's trail has gone cold.

Make sure your "why I did this" notes are easy to find in your family tree.
Make sure your "why I did this" notes are easy to find in your family tree.

Dig Into Those Dusty Crevices

To give your family tree a spring cleaning, check your:

  • Computer files. Do you see any files on your computer that are not where they belong? The files in my Family Tree folder belong in my immigration and certificates folders. I'll check my family tree to make sure these images are in there. Then I can file them away properly.
  • Paper files. Many family tree researchers keep extensive paperwork in binders. (Not me.) Do you have a pile of papers somewhere, waiting for your attention? Divide and conquer!
  • Notes. You may use a program like EverNote or a paper notebook to record your research notes. Can you solve any of those mysteries now?
  • Family tree. Have you recorded notes and tasks in your family tree software? I'll bet you can solve some of them now. You may simply need to give them another look.

I've spent the past week filling in the holes in my family tree. It was surprising how many facts were only a search away. I found missing last names, missing birth and death dates, and missing marriages. It was so satisfying!

I know you'll feel a great sense of accomplishment when you tie up some of your loose ends. And along the way, you may figure out a better way to keep these notes so they don't get buried again. Find a method that works best for you, then stick to it!

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Let Me Build Your Italian Family Tree

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13 April 2021

How to Plug the Holes in Your Family Tree

Bringing a photo of my great grandmother Maria Rosa to life motivated me to do a ton of genealogy work.

I have all the available vital records from her Italian hometown on my computer. I worked hard to rename each file with the name of the subject. Looking at my Family Tree Maker file, I searched the records for all my great aunts and uncles on Maria Rosa's line. (I use a free program called Everything to locate any name in my collection of renamed vital records. It's the best tool you've never heard of.)

For each new great aunt and uncle who married, I added:

  • their spouse's name, birth date, and parents.
  • their marriage date and place.
  • all the couple's children.

I sped up the process by adding all the facts to my family tree without the document images and their citations. I can go back and add those as needed, thanks to my process and the Everything program.

I added several hundred people from Maria Rosa's hometown to my tree in no time! I see this monumental task as the ultimate "Cousin Bait". I must be adding connections to other genealogy fans' and DNA matches' family trees.

Fixing a Hole

Working this fast can lead to gaps. I may go far up a bride's family tree and forget to go back to the groom. I thought I'd better do a spot check and look for the research holes I'd left behind.

Enter Family Tree Analyzer (FTA)—the best software for finding and fixing errors in your tree. And it's free.

Here's how to use FTA to find those information holes:

  • Export a GEDCOM from Family Tree Maker (or wherever you build your family tree) and open it in FTA.
  • Go to the Main Lists tab of FTA and see the first tab, Individuals. This shows all the facts in your tree.
  • Click the BirthDate column to sort all your people by this date. Instead of blanks, you'll see the word UNKNOWN.
  • Go to any person with the UNKNOWN birth date in your family tree. You should see that you are, in fact, missing their birth date.
If you still can't find their birth date, you must give each person an estimated birth year.
If you still can't find their birth date, you must give each person an estimated birth year.

Everyone in your family tree needs at least an estimated birth year. You're bound to have lots of people with the same name. An estimated birth year will prevent you from adding a 17th century father to a 19th century child.

I have a few rules for choosing an estimated birth year:

  • If you know when their first spouse was born, mark them as being born about the same year. (Abbreviate "about" as Abt in your tree.)
  • If this makes a woman much too old to have given birth to her children, adjust her estimated age down. You shouldn't make her more than 45 years old or so when she had her last child.
  • If you know when their first child was born, estimate them to be 25 years older than the child.
  • If you know when their parents were born, estimate them to be 25 years younger than their younger parent.

Finding More Holes

After fixing your unknown birth dates, go back to Family Tree Analyzer. Sort the Individuals list by DeathDate. Of course, lots of people in your family tree are still alive. You may have tons of UNKNOWN listings, many of which you are correct to leave blank.

I found it helpful to sort by the LifeSpan column. At the bottom of the list I have lots of people with a lifespan of 110 years or more. That means I haven't searched for and found their death records.

Thanks to the online Italian vital records, I can find a death record for most relatives born in the late 1700s. I'll choose a few from the list in FTA and search with Everything to fill in some holes.

But Wait! There's More

If you've been a careful genealogist and don't have a ton of missing dates, here's something else to try.

Sometimes a name is missing only because you haven't done the right search yet.
Sometimes a name is missing only because you haven't done the right search yet.

Sort your FTA Individuals list by Forenames. How many first names are you missing? (Note: I record missing names as an underline: _____, so that's what I see in FTA.)

I have a 1st cousin twice removed named Maria Pilla who was born and married in Italy. She and her family came to America, and I found several U.S. records for them. But I never found her husband's first name. After a quick search for Maria Pilla, I realized I had their 1941 marriage record sitting on my computer. Now I know his first name and birth date, his parents' names, and that his mother was my 4th cousin 3 times removed.

Then, of course, there are the UNKNOWN Surnames. These may be all the women whose maiden names you haven't found. Let this list encourage you to give them another search.

Family Tree Analyzer is a great safety net.

If you're a busy genealogist, schedule a weekly checkup day with Family Tree Analyzer. It's available for PC and Mac at ftanalyzer.com. I'm inspired each time I launch it. You will be, too.

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06 April 2021

Family Tree Fun for Computer Geeks

I started a project in 2019 and said I would share it with you soon. It was harder than I thought, so I put it aside until now. The results are interesting to see.

The geeky background is this:

  • In Family Tree Maker, I exported my latest GEDCOM file
  • In Family Tree Analyzer (free), I imported the GEDCOM and exported a spreadsheet of all facts
  • In Power BI Desktop (free), I imported the spreadsheet and built different views of my data

A few minutes into reviving this project, I noticed a friend's blog post on a similar topic. He showed all the pie charts he generated from his family tree on MyHeritage. I have only the most basic tree on that website, so I got back to work in Power BI Desktop.

In Power BI Desktop, I created graphs showing:

1. Last name occurrences in my family tree from most to least. Most of the last names in my tree (currently with 27,900 people) come from one town. That's no surprise. Years ago I pieced together my Grandpa Leone's town using 1809–1860 vital records. I added 15,000 people to my family tree.

I also see big numbers for last names from Grandpa Iamarino's town. The name Pozzuto is in the #1 position by far. That's because I made an effort to fit every last Pozzuto from the vital records into my tree. My maiden name is in 10th place because I've spent time pushing to find my closest Iamarino relatives.

Do you know what are the most common names in your family tree? This tool can tell you.
Do you know what are the most common names in your family tree? This tool can tell you.

2. First name occurrences in my family tree from most to least. My family is 100% from southern Italy, from the region called Campania. I'll bet the most common first names in my family tree are almost the same as other Campania family trees.

The most common first names in my family tree are:

  • Giuseppe
  • Angelamaria
  • Giovanni
  • Antonio
  • Francesco
  • Domenico
  • Pasquale
  • Maria

3. Birth locations plotted on a world map. The Power BI software plotted every birth location from my family tree on a map. I love zooming into southern Italy to see how centralized my Italian ancestors were. Draw a straight line from the Bay of Naples to the spur of the Italian boot, and that's where my DNA comes from.

Almost any type of family tree data can be plotted to give you the big picture.
Almost any type of family tree data can be plotted to give you the big picture.

4. Ahnentafel numbers from 1 to 2,691. I created a chart using a custom field in my GEDCOM called Ahnentafel. (Each of my direct ancestors has their Ahnentafel number in this field in Family Tree Maker.) I put the numbers on both the X and Y axis of a scatter plot for an interesting visualization of the gaps.

I know almost all my direct ancestors up to Ahnentafel number 748. Then there's a sprinkling from 999 to 1,392. Finally, I have a gigantic gap with two stragglers at 2,136 and 2,691. It's exciting to see my progress this way.

5. Number of children per marriage. I made a pie chart for the number of children in every marriage in my family tree. More than a third of my marriages have only one child. I'll bet I'm missing a ton of kids. That sounds like something to work on. About a quarter of the marriages in my tree have between 4 and 14 kids!

What do you think is the average number of children per family in your family tree?
What do you think is the average number of children per family in your family tree?

6. Drill-through by type of data. I'm familiar with this type of chart, but I never thought of using it for genealogy. I started with every individual in my family tree. Then I broke them down by last name. Then I broke each last name down by first name. I followed that with birth location, birth date, marriage date, and death date.

It may not be the most useful tool, but it is cool. I can choose any last name in my tree, then a first name and a birth place. I can click each one to see which facts I have in my tree.

This drill-through chart lets you follow anyone in your family tree through a series of events.
This drill-through chart lets you follow anyone in your family tree through a series of events.

For instance, I can click my name of Iamarino, and then the most common first name of Antonio. Now I see all the locations where an Antonio Iamarino was born. Next I'll click the town name (Colle Sannita) where I have 7 Antonio Iamarinos. Next comes the birth dates of the 7 men. I clicked each one until I found an Antonio for whom I have all the basic facts: birth, marriage, and death dates.

If you'd like to see statistics for your family tree, you can:

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30 March 2021

4 Steps to Writing Your Own Life Story

My sons know I'm something of a computer guru. I've been working at a computer their whole lives.

But do they know my mother saved my life in a car crash when I was 10? Do they know why I went to 3 colleges for a total of 5 years? Have I told them I starred in several student films in college?

I've written before about an easy way to write your ancestors' life stories. It's based on family lore and all the documents and photos you've collected. But what about your own stories? What about those important memories that exist only in your head?

This project will be a living document. Old memories crop up when we least expect them. If you have a place to capture them, you can add to your life story at any time.

You may want to use a blank book for your living life story. Or you can use a loose leaf binder so you can arrange your memories in chronological order. Me? I prefer an electronic document, like a Word file. Nothing beats cut-and-paste for putting things where they should be.

Once you've chosen where to capture your memories, here's how to get started.

In 4 steps you can return to at any time, you can write your life story for future genealogists.
In 4 steps you can return to at any time, you can write your life story for future genealogists.

Step 1: Create a Timeline

Enter some basic facts, such as:

  • When and where you were born
  • All the schools you attended, plus where and when
  • All the places you worked, where and when
  • All the places you lived, with addresses and years
  • Key life events like marriages and births

The schools, jobs, and homes are a long list for me! Like, crazy long. But they play a big part in my life story.

Step 2: Add Highlights

Think about each of your schools, jobs, and homes one at a time. Take the time to dwell on each one until some memories come bubbling up to the surface.

Write down an experience that crystallizes that time and place for you. I have an unusual anecdote about my childhood home. It's a recurring dream I had about the house itself. I've already told my sons about this weird dinosaur dream. So much so, that one of my sons has had it, too! It seems I've already passed that down.

I'd like to capture the dream, but I won't leave out the real memories of that house, like:

  • Playing "Beatles" when my cousin would visit and we were a group of 4. We'd run around the backyard, pretending a mob of girls was chasing us.
  • All the family and neighborhood parties we had in the basement that my dad turned into a bar and poolroom. I was a child bartender. That's fun.
  • My chemistry set! The memory of it is so important to me. Because it might make a mess, Mom made me set it up in the darkest, scariest corner of our basement, behind the bar. It took courage to go play with it.

I'll bet you can pull up memories about every place you've lived, worked, and gone to school.

Take advantage of the mood when it strikes you. Jot down these basic memories with enough detail for you to remember the whole story and fill it in later. For instance, I can come up with a short list of memories for my homes in:

  • California: I don't remember being a baby in Buena Park, but I did visit the house a few years ago
  • Long Island: our playhouse in the backyard, and seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show
  • Rockland County: summers by the pool and countless drive-in movies
  • Connecticut: moving ourselves into that house, and the great bee infestation
  • Indiana: driving 60 miles to college twice a week, and seeing every major film of 1982
  • New Jersey: buying my first car, getting my first apartment
  • Pennsylvania: the days my kids were born, and buying 4 houses
  • New York again: building our house on a mountaintop with an awesome view

And I can do the same for each of my many schools and jobs.

Step 3: Bring the Memories to Life

Go back to your list of memories and relive one. Flesh it out for future readers. Write it as if you were watching it in a movie, but don't fuss over the style. Tell why it's important to you. Why do you still remember it? Does that memory lead you to another? Write that down, too.

Of course, there are some memories we don't want to share with our kids, or anyone else. Those will have to stay in our heads. But we can still have our "feels" while reliving them.

Return to your living document whenever an important memory comes back to you in a dream or in a train of thought. It should be therapeutic, and a bit eye-opening. Re-read what you've got to see if more details spring to mind.

Step 4: Mention Your Project

This is the easiest step, but it's crucial. Once you've gotten started, let some family members know about it. You don't have to share it yet, but make them aware it exists, and where it is.

Your family history research tends to focus on your ancestors, right? I know I spend most of my time thinking about my relatives from the 1800s. I wish I had even one anecdote from their lives.

This is your chance to blow the minds of your future relatives when they discover you.

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