16 November 2021

Look Back to See How Your Genealogy Hobby Is Going

If you spend any time on social media, you've seen them. The before-and-after images with the words "how it started" and "how it's going." Usually the joke is that things are not going very well at all.

What if we apply the same idea to our family tree research? How it started for me was a 1989 conversation with my Grandma Leone and a hand-drawn tree of her family. How it's going is a family tree with 32,000 people from all my grandparents' hometowns.

Then I had a conversation with my Grandpa Iamarino. He told me a bit about his sisters. I'd known nothing about them! Now my family tree has his sisters, their children, and generations of their husbands' ancestors.

"How it started" was a 1989 conversation and a scrap of paper. "How it's going" is a treasure trove of documents and family history.
"How it started" was a 1989 conversation and a scrap of paper. "How it's going" is a treasure trove of documents and family history.

Fast-forward to 2002 when my husband-to-be and I were planning our honeymoon in Italy. I wanted to know more about where my ancestors came from. I started with the EllisIsland.org website. I found ship manifests for my two grandfathers. When I noticed that everyone named Iamarino came from one town (Colle Sannita), I took out a notebook. I filled tons of pages with facts about every Iamarino emigrating from Colle.

My husband bought me Family Tree Maker software with a subscription to Ancestry.com. He thought it was time I graduate from the slips of paper I was laying out on the floor to simulate a family tree.

"How it started" was a notebook filled with info from ship manifests. "How it's going" is a collection of 505 digital manifest images.
"How it started" was a notebook filled with info from ship manifests. "How it's going" is a collection of 505 digital manifest images.

I did indeed graduate. I found my extended family in the census records. Not a single one of my ancestors had come to America before 1890. Our roots here are still so shallow.

My next how it started / how it's going began in about 2006. I learned I could visit a Family History Center at a local church to view microfilm of Italian vital records. For five years, I viewed and documented EVERY vital record (1809–1860) from my Grandpa Leone's hometown of Baselice. I chose his town because I knew almost nothing about his family.

I started this project by finding his parents' birth records in 1850 and 1856. Now I knew their parents' names.

The only way to know my relationship to other Leones in town was to piece together all the families. So I brought my laptop to the Family History Center and typed a line in a text file for each record. Here's an example:

  • Pasquale Maria Cernese b 1 apr 1809 to Giovanni di Saverio 35 (bracciale) and Battista di Giovanni Colucci

That's a birth record for Pasquale Maria Cernese, born on 1 April 1809. His father was Giovanni Cernese, a 35-year-old laborer, and the son of Saverio Cernese. His mother was Battista Colucci, daughter of Giovanni Colucci.

"How it started" was viewing barely-legible vital records by appointment. "How it's going" is a family tree more than 32,000 strong.
"How it started" was viewing barely-legible vital records by appointment. "How it's going" is a family tree more than 32,000 strong.

With this type of shorthand, I created a text file that's 29,864 lines long. After each long session at the microfilm viewer, I'd go home and try to work everyone into a Family Tree Maker file. I found a connection to about 15,000 people from the town.

During the entire five-year process, I was yearning to do the same for my Grandpa Iamarino's town. But the visits to the center were a pain. Then, everything changed in 2017. The Italian government published digitized vital records for tons of towns online. Now I can see clear images of the vital records I'd struggled to read on crappy microfilm viewers. Plus, the records don't end in 1860. They go way, way beyond.

And Grandpa Iamarino's hometown vital records are online for me, too! As are my great grandmother Caruso's hometown records. My Grandma Leone's parents' town has very few records online, but they are helpful. And when I discovered two other towns where I have roots, I found their vital records online, too.

Much to my horror, the Italian website completely changed their format today, making it seemingly impossible to download a high-resolution image of your ancestor's document. This stinks! UPDATED: How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.

For my research, how it started is the five years of squinting at microfilm with a computer in my lap. How it's going is my searchable database of records from my Italian hometowns. And a family tree of more than 32,000 people that's been growing by almost 100 people a day lately.

Why so much growth? Because how it started was asking Grandma and Grandpa about their siblings. How it's going is piecing together the thousands of unions from my ancestors' towns. For instance, I can find the marriage records for my 3rd great grandparents. Then I can find the births of all their children, who their children married, and which kids they had. It adds up fast.

It helps my cause that all my people came from such a tiny footprint on the Italian map. In 2005 my cousins showed me the exact spot where Grandpa Iamarino's house once stood. They pointed out that I could see Grandpa Leone's town in the distance.

A man from one of my towns could meet and marry a woman from one of my other towns. In fact, my 3rd great grandfather Francesco Liguori did just that. He lived in Circello—my one real connection to that town. But he married a woman from the neighboring town of Colle Sannita. They had eight children in Colle, introducing his last name to the town. And that meant I had to explore Francesco's extended family in the Circello vital records.

How did your interest in your family tree start? Think back on your origin story and then ask yourself, "How's it going?"

09 November 2021

4 Problems You Can Fix with Family Tree Analyzer

Want to find mistakes you didn't know you made in your family tree? Launch the free software called Family Tree Analyzer. Export a GEDCOM file from your family tree software or the website where you keep your tree. Then open the GEDCOM in Family Tree Analyzer.

When your file is open and processed, you'll see a screen full of facts about your family tree. For instance, my tree has 326 sources, 31,775 people, and 11,494 families. Wow! Next comes a breakdown of everyone's relationship to me, the home person in the family tree:

  • Direct Ancestors: 411. Uh oh. Last week I counted 403 direct ancestors. Did I miss eight, or are those my double ancestors? (My paternal grandparents were 3rd cousins with shared ancestors.)
  • Descendants: 2. Hi, kids.
  • Blood Relations: 4,802. That's a lot of blood.
  • Married to Blood or Direct Relation: 1,877. These are the immediate in-laws.
  • Related by Marriage: 19,283. Yup, my ancestral hometowns were full of intermarriage.
  • Linked through Marriages: 5,225. I go off on a lot of tangents.
  • Unknown relation: 175. I carry some unrelated people because I know there's a connection somewhere. But 175 seems high.

I had another reason for launching Family Tree Analyzer today. But right now I have two potential problems to investigate:

  • The number of direct ancestors.
  • The number of unknown relations.

To find out more about these issues, click the Main Lists tab to open the very useful Individuals table.

Problem 1: The Number of Direct Ancestors

As you scroll to the right in the Individuals table, you'll find a column labelled Relation to Root. Start with "2nd great grandfather." This takes a lot of scrolling in a big family tree. You'll find your 1st great grandparents under "great grandfather" and "great grandmother."

Even custom facts you create can be used and checked with Family Tree Analyzer.
Even custom facts you create can be used and checked with Family Tree Analyzer.

In my case, I need to see if any of my great grandparents are missing their custom fact I called Ahnentafel. I use this custom fact in Family Tree Maker to view only my direct ancestors in the index. That's how I counted 403 of them.

To see if the extra people are my double ancestors, I'll look for missing Ahnentafel numbers. I realize this is specific to my tree because of the Ahnentafel field. You may want to scan the list for misidentified people.

And, in fact, I didn't miss any of my direct ancestors. The difference in the number of direct ancestors must be because of my double ancestors.

Problem 2: The Unknown Relations

Going back to the Individuals table, scroll to the right and click the top of the Relation column to sort the table. Scroll down to the bottom to find all the Unknowns. Then scroll to the left to see their names.

In my case, I recognize a ton of the Unknowns. (see "How to Handle the Unrelated People in Your Family Tree.") They're related to a cousin Silvio whose exact relationship I can't determine. It's a dead end because of a lack of records from Silvio's hometown. So, here he sits in my tree, with a ton of direct relations, unrelated to me.

Next in the list I see a family group that I found in a 1742 census of my grandfather's hometown. But I never found their connection to me. I did a quick search of the tens of thousands of vital records on my computer for one member of this family. I found his death record! Now I can merge the two men named Gregorio Alderisio in my tree. His death record proves the connection by including the name of his wife and both parents, and his age at death.

That one death record converted 11 unrelated people in my family tree to distant cousins.

I found another family group that's unrelated to me, and I can't remember why I put them in my tree. I'll have to investigate further and decide if I should remove them. With Family Tree Analyzer, it's easy to find them when I'm ready to solve the problem.

Problem 3: Comments + Time = Discrepancies

The reason I wanted to see this report today is to find discrepancies in descriptions within my family tree. I'm thinking of how I type in different occupations for people.

Here's an unexpected way to find and fix inconsistencies in your family tree.
Here's an unexpected way to find and fix inconsistencies in your family tree.

I'll sort the Individuals table by the Occupation column. My tree has tons of Italian job titles followed by an English translation in parentheses. Sometimes I see a multi-word job title that has an error. I want to find those in the list. Then I can see which people it's attached to, and go fix it in my family tree.

I found a few entries that must be what I call "Search and Replace victims." A long time ago, I decided to add an English translation to the Italian job titles. To do this, I used the search and replace function of Family Tree Maker. You have to be very careful with search and replace. You may wind up changing something you didn't want to change. And, of course, I'm scanning for typos in the English job titles.

Now I can go to these people in my tree and fix their occupation entries.

Problem 4: Unused Sources

Before we leave Family Tree Analyzer, there's one other thing to check. We've been looking at the Main Lists / Individuals table. Click Sources, two tabs to the right of Individuals. Now click to sort by the last column, FactCount. Do you have any sources in your family tree that are showing a zero fact count? I have five, so I want to investigate.

After taking a look at these sources in my family tree, I deleted four, but one actually had three uses. I don't know why it was in the list.

There's no end to the fixable problems you can discover using Family Tree Analyzer. Make it part of your routine to export a GEDCOM, say, once a quarter, and examine your tree with Family Tree Analyzer. It's a valuable safety net for your family history research.

02 November 2021

This 3-Step Backup Routine Protects Your Family Tree

Are you fairly active in your genealogy research? Here's one routine you must follow. Make it a habit, and all your digital documents will be safely stored and backed up.

Step 1. Start With a Working Folder

My backup routine got so much easier when I started using a working folder. This computer folder (literally named "working") is where I put files I'm actively working on.

Let's say I download a census image from Ancestry.com. I put it in my working folder and begin to process it:

  • Crop the image in Photoshop and use the "Export As" function to reduce the file size. (My favorite new trick. See illustration in this article.)
  • Right-click the image and choose Properties so I can add a title and description to the file.
    • The title begins with the year of the document. Like "1882 birth record for Pasquale Iamarino." That way, the documents arrange themselves chronologically in Family Tree Maker.
    • The description contains everything needed to make a solid source citation.
  • Drag and drop the image into Family Tree Maker, attaching it to the right person.
  • Create the source citation to use for each fact learned from the document. The I share the image, facts, and citation with anyone else mentioned (as on a census).
  • Add a notation about the new file in my document tracker spreadsheet so I know what I have for this person.
Use a system like this to improve how you handle and safeguard your family tree image files.
Use a system like this to improve how you handle and safeguard your family tree image files.

Step 2. Move Files to a Holding Area

Now that I'm finished with this file, I no longer need it in my working folder. I can move it to a holding area (another folder) where it will sit until I backup all my files.

As you may know, I work with Italian vital records more than any other type of document. So I named my holding area folder "certificates." (As in birth, death, and marriage certificates.)

The idea is to hold your new documents in one place until you're ready to follow your backup routine. Once backed up, you can move the files to their final destination.

Here's how the process evolved for me. I have so many thousands of vital records that my certificates folder was hard to use. If I wanted to sort them by date, it took a long time to process.

If you use Photoshop for your family tree image files, this trick is an absolute game changer.
If you use Photoshop for your family tree image files, this trick is an absolute game changer.

So I divided my certificates into eight batches:

A–C, D–H, I–L, M–O, Pa–Pi, Po–R, S–Y, and Z.

I name my files using a "LastnameFirstnameDocument-typeYear" pattern. I have a ton of family names that begin with P and Z. These breaks work out to be roughly even amounts of files in each folder.

That's when I realized a working folder would help me, so I created mine right in my certificates folder. But yours can be anywhere.

Finally, I added a folder to hold non-vital records until they are ready to backup. To make sure I didn't overlook this folder, I named it "DON'T FORGET TO BACK UP THESE."

Your folder names and locations can be whatever works best for you. You'll want (1) a folder to work in, and (2) a holding area for finished files.

Step 3. Stick to a Weekly Backup Routine

I don't know when I became such a big fan of routines, but I've been running my life like clockwork quite happily. One of my routines is Sunday morning bookkeeping and file backup.

My bookkeeping is obsessive, but it has served me well since I first moved out of my parents' home. Once that's done, I plug in my two external hard drives. One is set to automatically create a backup of new files from folders I selected. I added this step to cover me if my older external drive fails.

The other external drive uses a manual process. I drag and drop new files from a list of specific folders into matching folders on the external drive. These files include:

  • PDF bills and statements
  • QuickBooks files
  • Microsoft Outlook files, and more.

Finally, it's time to back up all my family tree files. I drag and drop my Family Tree Maker files, which can take a while because of their size. Then I open my holding area folder ("certificates" for me) on my computer, and its mate on the external drive. I grab a few files and drag them to the appropriate sub-folder on my external drive, and then on my computer. This moves the files out of the holding area and into their final destination.

Then I go into my "DON'T FORGET TO BACK UP THESE" folder. I have to determine what each file is so I can drag them to the proper folder on my external drive and my computer. I'll drag and drop all the census files, then all the draft cards, all the ship manifests, etc.

When I'm done, my holding folder has no loose files in it. My files are stored on two external drives. Plus my family tree files get backed up to OneDrive automatically.

All housekeeping chores get harder if you wait too long. Even if you aren't a very active genealogy researcher, you have plenty of files you need to protect.

So tell me. Which day of the week works best for you?