27 September 2022

Share Your Family History in a Fun New Way

As I sat down to watch the Yankees game and wait for Aaron Judge to make history, two things caught my eye:

  • Baseball statistics on the TV screen
  • My Trivial Pursuit® games on my bookshelf

Then it hit me. What if I combined baseball cards and Trivial Pursuit cards family tree style?

Baseball cards have a picture of the player and the name of his team on the front, and a bunch of statistics on the back. My Trivial Pursuit Simpsons Edition cards have a character image on the side that faces the player. On the other side are the questions to ask, and their answers.

So imagine this. Our Ancestor Trivia Cards will have two sides:

  • The side facing the player features the shape and name of the ancestor's state or country of birth.
  • The other side has the ancestor's:
    • photo, if you have one, or a generic silhouette
    • name and basic facts: date and place of birth, marriage, and death
    • name(s) of spouse(s)
    • name(s) of child(ren)
    • occupation

Add a sentence that captures something special about the ancestor. Was he the mayor of his town? Did she lose several children in infancy but raise several more? I have an ancestor who was a rebel against the unification of Italy, and died in a skirmish.

Imagine a set of trivia cards featuring your ancestors! Here's a new genealogy project for your whole family.
Imagine a set of trivia cards featuring your ancestors! Here's a new genealogy project for your whole family.

To make a real game of it, ask your relatives to guess who you're describing as you feed them one fact at a time. If they don't want to play, let them go through the cards to find an ancestor whose facts interest them. Then tell them everything you know about that ancestor.

Here's a Microsoft Word template (or a Google Docs template) you can use to make your Ancestor Trivia Cards. Print on card stock or a heavier-than-usual paper stock. Print the front of the cards, then turn the paper over and print the back of the cards.

Wikipedia is a good resource for an image of the shape of your ancestor's state or country of birth. You can do a Google search for different silhouettes or outlines of a man and woman. I found a website called pixabay.com that has graphics you can download for free. You'll find choices that evoke different periods of time and different physical qualities.

Start with your closest ancestors so your relatives will be able to play the game. Then go ahead and make cards for the ancestors who've inspired you with their stories.

Use your Ancestor Trivia Cards to memorialize important members of your family tree.

*Trivial Pursuit is a registered trademark of Hasbro.

20 September 2022

9 Steps to Really Safeguard Your Family Tree

Ever since I quit my day job, I've been spending all day, every day building my family tree. When you're adding 200 people to your tree a day, you've got to make sure not to lose any of your work.

That's why I developed an iron-clad routine so I'll never lose a day's work. I follow this routine without fail. It's a long list, but when you make something a habit, the steps move right along.

This list assumes you're using desktop family tree software. I cannot imagine building your tree only online. I want that data on my computer, in my control at all times. Don't you?

Here's my obsessive-compulsive routine. I should be this careful with everything in my life.

Together, these 9 steps make your family tree as safe as you can imagine.
Together, these 9 steps make your family tree as safe as you can imagine.

Throughout the Day:

1. Save the Change Log

When it's time for a break, I take advantage of a Family Tree Maker feature I learned about last year. When you click the Plan tab in FTM, you'll see 2 tabs: Tasks and Change Log. Change Log is a list of your last thousand changes.

Click the printer icon to save the list as a PDF. The name of my family tree file is Iamarino, my maiden name, so I save this file as "temp Iamarino Change Log.pdf." Each time I save it, I overwrite the previous version.

2. Make a Backup

Since I make a few backups throughout the day, I add a letter to the end of each file's name:

  • Iamarino_2022-09-20a.ftmb
  • Iamarino_2022-09-20b.ftmb
  • Iamarino_2022-09-20c.ftmb
  • Iamarino_2022-09-20d.ftmb

Once I make the final backup of the day, I delete these interim files. But if disaster strikes my file in the middle of the day, I can rely on my latest backup.

You may have overlooked these important family tree maintenance and backup options.
You may have overlooked these important family tree maintenance and backup options.

At the End of the Day:

3. Export a Full GEDCOM

This is a new step for me. After a long day's work, why wouldn't I generate my latest and greatest GEDCOM file? As the days go by, I keep only the 2 most recent GEDCOMs on my computer.

An up-to-date GEDCOM means you're always ready to:

  • upload it to a new website
  • search it for text you need to find
  • open it in different software.

4. Make a Final Backup

Now it's time for the final backup of the day. This one has no letter added to it: Iamarino_2022-09-20.ftmb. You may want to include media in this backup. I had to stop doing that because backups with media for my 55,000-person tree were about 18 gigabytes each. It took forever!

5. Compact Your File

When you add or edit anything on your computer, the new data could be stored anywhere on the drive. Family Tree Maker lets you compact your file to make it run more efficiently. After adding 200 people, I want to clean up the data storage.

You can compact your tree with your FTM software open, but your tree file closed. I prefer to do it this way to avoid potential errors. Next, exit FTM and let it generate another backup: Iamarino_AutoBackup.ftmb.

With my FTM file closed and compacted, I can delete any earlier backups I made that day.

6. Sync the Day's Files with the Cloud

I keep my family tree files on my computer and on Microsoft OneDrive. When I'm done for the day, I turn on OneDrive to upload my new files to the cloud. Note: Do not keep your working FTM file on the cloud. That is, don't work on a file that is also synchronizing with the cloud. Keep the file on your hard drive, then put a copy on the cloud.

The Next Morning:

7. Sync the Tree with Ancestry.com

An early morning sync with your Ancestry tree gives the best results. Website traffic in your region is going to be lighter early in the morning than any other time of day. If you're a night owl, consider syncing very late at night.

8. Save the List of Changes

During the sync process you can save the list of changes that FTM is about to upload to Ancestry.com. I keep these dated PDF files for a few weeks. They're very small files, so there's no harm in keeping them a while.

  • FamilySyncChangeLog 2022-09-17.pdf
  • FamilySyncChangeLog 2022-09-18.pdf
  • FamilySyncChangeLog 2022-09-19.pdf
  • FamilySyncChangeLog 2022-09-20.pdf

At the End of the Week:

9. Copy All Files to External Drives

This is my Sunday morning ritual. I sync my tree and copy the most important files on my computer to 2 different external hard drives. Plus they're on the OneDrive cloud. Because, you know, obsessive-compulsive.

Now that I've written it out, nine steps sounds positively insane. But your genealogy work is priceless! It's worth your time to protect your files like a mama bear protects her cubs. How safe are your files?

13 September 2022

3 Key Steps to Identify a DNA Match

Wouldn't it be great if they made everyone who took a DNA test post a family tree? We want your family at least up to your great grandparents. That's only 15 people, and the living people will be private.

We'd all have an easier time of figuring out our DNA matches if we could see their great grandparents. That's why I'm hopeful when a DNA match's family tree shows a double-digit person count.

I figured out 2 new DNA matches today by following 3 key steps. Now, it doesn't always work out. And I skip right over any match with no tree or a single-digit tree. But if they have a decent tree, these steps can lead straight to the solution.

1. Check Shared Matches to Isolate a Branch

Which DNA-testers do you and your match have in common? Seeing familiar names here can tell you which branch your match fits into. For example, if shared matches include Dad's maternal cousins, they belong on Grandma Lucy's line.

It helps a lot to know you're looking for family members from a particular branch of your family tree.

Your shared DNA matches can pull your focus to a particular branch of your family tree.
Your shared DNA matches can pull your focus to a particular branch of your family tree.

For one of the matches I solved, there were only 4 distant matches in our shared list. But 3 of the 4 had last names from a town on Mom's maternal side of the family. Right off the bat, I knew our connection came from the town of Santa Paolina, Avellino, Italy.

2. View Their Tree for Familiar Names

My Santa Paolina match has a tree with 16 people. I noticed she's only Italian on her mother's side. I'm nothing but Italian, so that's all I need to investigate.

Her mother's maiden name was not familiar to me, but her grandmother's name did ring a bell. My match's grandmother was a deSpirito, the daughter of Felice deSpirito. I was pretty sure deSpirito is a Santa Paolina name.

Having taken steps 1 and 2, I'm very confident this DNA match has roots in Santa Paolina. My connection to the town is only through my 2nd great grandmother and her paternal family. We're off to the races!

3. Research Their Family to Find the Connection

My DNA match's tree says her grandmother was born in 1889. That told me her Italian birth record should be available online. As it happens, I've downloaded and renamed every available Santa Paolina vital record. They're searchable on my computer with a desktop search program called Everything. I typed in my match's grandmother's name and found her birth record!

While the grandmother and her parents were not in my family tree, their ancestors were. I searched the town's records to build out this family tree branch. Now I know my DNA match's grandmother is my 3rd cousin 3 times removed. My match is my 5th cousin once removed.

The other DNA match I figured out today is a shared match with my Dad and my maternal 1st cousin Nick. Nick and Dad are DNA matches, and both have roots in one town. All the shared matches for this DNA match point to my paternal town of Colle Sannita, Benevento, Italy.

This DNA match is Italian only on her father's side. I recognized one last name immediately. It's a name that has morphed into 2 or 3 spellings in America.

Her family tree has 67 people, so brava to her. I checked out her father's line and saw a few Italian document images that she'd borrowed from my family tree. That's a good sign!

This DNA match has obviously seen my family tree and cashed in on my research.
This DNA match has obviously seen my family tree and cashed in on my research.

When I went to her ancestors in my own family tree, I saw that her 3rd great grandfather is my 4th great uncle. His brother is the great grandfather of my paternal grandmother Lucy.

So where is the connection to my maternal 1st cousin Nick? As I looked at these people in my family tree, I found my answer. My DNA match's 3rd great grandfather married Nick's 1st cousin 4 times removed. I saw this because of the color-coding in my Family Tree Maker file.

Color-coding your family tree is like planting seeds you'll harvest later.
Color-coding your family tree is like planting seeds you'll harvest later.

My DNA match shares ancestors with me through my paternal grandmother Lucy. And with my maternal cousin Nick through his father's side. I know exactly where this match belongs in my family tree.

As I said, things won't always work out. But you can set yourself up for lots of DNA success stories if you:

  1. Check shared matches
  2. View their tree
  3. Research their family

How many DNA mysteries can you scratch off your list now?