21 May 2024

These Steps Make Your Family Tree Much More Valuable

My extended family tree of more than 80,000 people keeps on helping my very distant cousins. They get so many hints from my tree that many feel compelled to write to me. Helping them discover their roots is my goal.

But my project to connect all the families from my towns makes me skip most source citations. I know, "Shame, shame!" That's why I spent this past week adding tons of missing source citations. If you find your ancestor in my family tree, I want you to find the links to their vital records, too.

A well-sourced family tree shows the world that you've done your homework. Your tree is valid and worth exploration.

Without source citations, why should anyone believe your family tree? Follow the genealogy rules and show your work.
Without source citations, why should anyone believe your family tree? Follow the genealogy rules and show your work.

Getting a Handle on Missing Source Citations

After writing "5 Ways to Find Loose Ends in Your Family Tree," I worked my way through people with a missing birth date. I found many of their vital records on the Italian Antenati website. For the sake of speed, instead of a source citation, I added a note to each person that looked like this:

His birth record: https://antenati.cultura.gov.it/ark:/12657/an_ua971481/03dOqgV

It's easy to find those notes when I open my family tree's latest GEDCOM file in a text editor. I search for "His birth record:" and follow the link. Then I create the source citation. This example becomes:

From the Benevento State Archives, 1824 nati, Pago Veiano, document 70, image 43 of 51 at https://antenati.cultura.gov.it/ark:/12657/an_ua971481/03dOqgV; https://iiif-antenati.san.beniculturali.it/iiif/2/03dOqgV/full/full/0/default.jpg

If you're curious, the first link goes to the document in the book of birth records. The second link goes to a high-resolution copy of the vital record. It's perfect for downloading.

If this were your ancestor and you found him in my tree, you'd be able to follow the link and see his birth record. That's the real value I want to provide for anyone with a connection to my family tree. I still have hundreds more of these notes to cite. Then I'll run an Undocumented Fact report in Family Tree Maker and start whittling away.

If your family tree software doesn't have an undocumented facts report, use Family Tree Analyzer:

  1. Export a GEDCOM file from your family tree and open it with Family Tree Analyzer.
  2. Go to the Main Lists tab and scroll all the way to the right.
  3. Find the Num Sources column, click the down arrow by the column title, and choose Sort A to Z.

All the zeroes will be at the top of the list, showing you all the people with no source citations.

I don't know about you, but I never include a source citation for someone's sex. It seems ridiculous to say, "Yeah, the census says Maria was a girl, so that's my source." I just don't think it's necessary or of value. So my undocumented facts report is going to include the sex of all 80,491 people. I have to skip all those entries.

Last Saturday, from about 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., all I did was create source citations for those "His birth record:" notes. I completed only 86 of them, so the remaining 447 or more of these notes will take many days to finish. (There are also lots of Her birth record, His and Her death record, and Their marriage record notes.)

Then I'm left with the thousands of people whose vital records are sitting on my computer. I put off their source citations because my priority was getting families into my tree. I knew I could go back and create the citations whenever I wanted. And now I want to.

If you have an overwhelming family tree task like this to do, start close to home. Begin with your closest relatives and fan out. (See "Overwhelming Clean-up Task? Start With Direct Ancestors."). If you use Family Tree Analyzer for this task, sort the list by Source Num and Relation to Root. First you must view the Main Lists tab and choose Export (from the menu at the top of the screen) > Individuals to Excel. Then you can use your spreadsheet software to sort by both Sources and Relation to Root.

Doing that, I see that I have more than 100 direct ancestors who have no source citations. (I'm horrified!) That's where I'll start.

Your Task Won't Be as Huge as Mine

Do you have 80,000 people in your family tree? Did you postpone adding sources in favor of expanding your tree as quickly as possible? If not, then you shouldn't have thousands of missing citations.

I have enough Italian vital records available to add one or two hundred people a day to my family tree for a long time. But for now, I'm putting those additions on the back burner. I want anyone who finds my family tree online to see that I have the documents to back up my facts.

An unsourced family tree lacks credibility. With all the work you've done, do you want your tree to look unreliable?

If you're proud of the family tree you've built, show it! Retrace your steps to find the documents you used to add someone to your tree. Then add each document's source citation to prove you're a thoughtful, careful genealogist. (See "6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations" for help with this task.)

Need help creating your source citations? Don't stress out about it.

Take these steps and show the world that there's solid research behind your family tree.

14 May 2024

Follow Up on Genealogy Clues and Leads

I love when someone contacts me about my family tree. Some tell me they're getting tons of hints from my family tree. Others say their ancestor is in my tree and they're wondering how we're related.

Each contact, DNA match, and hint from another family tree is worth investigation. Find out what they have to offer to your family tree.

When a Possible Cousin Writes to You

Whenever I get these messages, I drop everything to get them the answers they're looking for. Last weekend a man in Australia contacted me, and in no time I figured out I'm related to his wife in 3 different ways. Then he mentioned he couldn't get far on his own Italian ancestors. So I sent him links to documents for his grandparents and great grandparents. I also gave him a link to my published index of all the vital records from his wife's and my ancestral hometown.

You owe it to yourself to follow up on genealogy leads. Any one could be the key to growing your family tree.
You owe it to yourself to follow up on genealogy leads. Any one could be the key to growing your family tree.

One DNA match wrote to me about the family name Capozza. I knew that name came from my 2nd great grandmother's hometown in Italy. So I began building out my match's tree within my own. With enough research, her big branch connected to me and beefed up my tree in the process. It was a worthwhile exercise. See "Let a DNA Match Guide Your Research for a While."

When You Make First Contact

I don't always wait for people to contact me. It can be a lot of fun to choose a DNA match, build their branch out, and present it to them. Plus it benefits your family tree. Of course you can do this work and still have them ghost you. That was the case with my 4th cousin once removed. I did the work and presented him his branch, but I don't know what he did with that information. He never wrote back to me.

Still another DNA match led me to dig into my 2nd great grandmother's Girardi ancestors. This match has since passed away, but she was grateful for the branch I gave her. She was going to share it with her sister-in-law, the family researcher. (See "Help Your DNA Match Expand their Family Tree.") In the end, the research helped my family tree. It had taken me a while to discover the Girardi name in my family tree. I was happy to chase down this match's family because it helped me flesh out my own.

Another time I figured out that a DNA match was my 3rd cousin. We share a set of 2nd great grandparents. I built out her family tree and sent her a link to it. She was very grateful and excited to learn more. See "Attracting a New DNA Match."

A 15% discount for readers of Fortify Your Family Tree!
A 15% discount for readers of Fortify Your Family Tree!

Other Types of Leads

Three years ago 3 different genealogy challenges fell into my lap at once. You should always think of these challenges as a way to expand your family tree. (See "Genealogy Challenge Accepted!") First, my dad noticed an Ohio obituary for a man with our last name. He asked me to figure out if this Iamarino was our relative. He was! My research shows that the man was my dad's 7th cousin. The 2 of them were born 2 years apart and had once lived in the same town. It was fun to find the answer to such a random question.

The 2nd challenge was to help an adoptee figure out her family tree. She came to me through a friend. With access to her DNA matches, I was able to identify some close cousins for her contact. The 3rd challenge was my own. Someone posted a photo on Facebook of a man who died in my grandfather's hometown back in 1974. People were saying such lovely things about this man that I wanted to find a connection to him. In the end, I placed him in my family tree as my 1st cousin 3 times removed.

Whichever DNA test you took, check out any matches with a family tree. (Not all DNA websites include people's family trees.) See what each one's tree has to offer you. Do more research than they've done, and you'll fortify your family tree.

07 May 2024

4 Practical Methods for Identifying a DNA Match

It's important to have a handful of DNA tools available so can you choose the best one for each situation. Here are 4 methods for identifying a DNA match that you may not have tried yet. I recommend you consider each one and put them to good use.

1. DNA Painter

You can "paint" your DNA matches onto your chromosome map to see how they may relate to one another. To do this, you can use a free DNA Painter account, but you must also have an account with one of the following:

  • GEDmatch
  • ftDNA
  • 23andme
  • MyHeritage

I used DNA Painter's chromosome map to visualize the fact that my parents share some DNA. I discovered that another match overlaps my Mom's position on Dad's 9th chromosome. That makes the other match worth investigating, and I learned that only because of this tool.

Learn how to use the chromosome map painter in your DNA research: "How to Find Your Strongest DNA Matches."

Use 1 or more of these 4 genealogy methods to crack your DNA matches and fit them into your family tree.
Use 1 or more of these 4 genealogy methods to crack your DNA matches and fit them into your family tree.

2. Use a Spreadsheet to Identify the Right Branch

This spreadsheet is perfect if your family tree has pedigree collapse or endogamy. I have pedigree collapse because my paternal grandparents were 3rd cousins. My 4th great grandparents are direct ancestors of both Grandpa and Grandma. It's pedigree collapse because you could say I'm missing a pair of 4th great grandparents.

I also have endogamy in my family tree. My ancestors all came from small, somewhat isolated neighboring towns. Almost everyone married a neighbor, generation after generation. (See "The DNA Problem We Aren't Talking About.") As a result, I'm related to people in my tree in many ways.

This spreadsheet helps root out DNA matches who match me only because we have roots in the same town. We're not related. The idea for this spreadsheet comes from DNA expert Kelli Bergheimer.

Be sure to see the section titled Are Your Matches Really in Your Family Tree? when you read "This Spreadsheet Sorts DNA Matches By Branch."

3. The Leeds Method

I discovered back in 2018 that my parents share a little DNA. All these years later, it seems they must be no closer than 5th to 7th cousins. There are no vital records that can take my family tree back that far. If the right towns' church records ever become available, I may be able to make progress. But chances are, I'll never find my parents' common ancestor.

But that's my story, not yours. For you, Dana Leeds' "Leeds Method" may be exactly what you need to see where each DNA match belongs in your family tree. That is, which of your 4 grandparents is your connection to a DNA match. I recommend you give it a try. To find out how, read "The Leeds Method May Have Solved a Big Family Puzzle."

A 15% discount for readers of Fortify Your Family Tree!
A 15% discount for readers of Fortify Your Family Tree!

4. Good Old-Fashioned Family Tree Building

Last weekend I decided to do some genealogy research to fit a celebrity into my family tree. When Tony Danza was on an episode of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s "Finding Your Roots," I was watching closely. When I found out he was the guest, I wondered if his name was originally Iadanza. That's a name I have in my family tree.

It turns out Iadanza is his ancestors' name and they came from a town I know. Pietrelcina (hometown of the famed Padre Pio) borders my 2nd great grandmother's hometown. Many people from Pietrelcina married people from a few of my ancestral hometowns.

A TV screenshot helped me find the birth records of Tony Danza's grandparents. I worked my way through the Pietrelcina vital records to build out their family tree. After a while, I saw that the parents of Danza's 4th great grandfather were already in my family tree!

So is Tony Danza my cousin? Nah. He and I have 18 different relationships at this point, but each one is by marriage.

I had fun with this exercise and it illustrates an important point. Digging through records and doing the research, you can place that DNA match in your family tree. See how in "Don't Rely on Your DNA Match to Do the Work" and "Don't Give Up When Your DNA Match Has a Puny Little Family Tree."

Piecing together families through vital records is what I live for! It's fun, challenging, and leads to tangible results in my family tree. Don't expect quick answers because you bought a DNA test. Your DNA matches are another tool to use in building your family tree. See if these 4 DNA methods can help you crack more of your DNA matches.