Italian Genealogy – Research Your Italian Heritage

In this video on Italian genealogy and family history research  Lisa Louise Cooke and her guest professional genealogist Sarah Gutmann of Legacy Tree Genealogists will discuss:

  • How to get started in Italian Genealogy 
  • The best websites for Italian Genealogy
  • Italian genealogical records
  • Language tips and resources

Sarah Gutmann began her obsession with family history when she was 13-years-old.  She now has almost three decades of experience helping others climb their family tree. She is a professional genealogist with Legacy Tree Genealogists where she specializes in United States and Italian research. As a veteran classroom teacher, Sarah enjoys teaching  various genealogy programs to libraries, historical societies, and lineage organizations across America.

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Watch Live: Thursday, April 21, 2021 at 11:00 am CT 
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Members-Only Italian Genealogy Handouts

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members
PREMIUM MEMBER BONUS: Italian Translation Cheat Sheet
PREMIUM MEMBER BONUS 2: How to Use the Italian Archive Site Antenati

Show Notes

It’s all about Italian ancestry here at Genealogy Gems today, and I’ve got the perfect person to talk to us about it and help you find a lot more out about your Italian roots. Sarah Guttman is a professional genealogist with Legacy Tree Genealogists. She specializes in US research, but also Italian research. She’s going to help us find out how to find our Italian roots. Welcome to the show, Sarah!

Sarah: Thanks so much, Lisa. I’m a big fan of the show. And it’s so nice to be able to get to meet you in person and to be able to talk to your listeners and hopefully share some information to help them find their Italian ancestry.

Americans with Italian Ancestry

(01:04) Lisa: Do you have some idea of how many people in the U.S. have Italian roots?

Sarah: Well, thanks to the magic of Google, it looks like about 5% of all Americans can trace their ancestors back to some Italian roots. But I like to think that it’s a lot higher, especially in New York you can’t go down the street without seeing a few pizza places. And I’m sure other parts of America have a heavier population than others. But for me, it seems like everybody has some Italian in them.

Lisa: I was we were thinking about this. You just need one ancestor who comes from a particular country and all of a sudden your genealogy research and breaks into a whole other area. And that’s the fun of genealogy, isn’t it? It’s different depending on which ancestor your work on.

Sarah: It’s really fun! About four years ago, the Italian archives really took off online, and we’ll talk about that today. The Italian archives is a free website, and it is based in Italy. I remember, I was on vacation in New Jersey with my family on a beach vacation and I got a call from my friend at around midnight. And she said, “Sarah, you have to get on this website! I think your brick walls are just going to come right down. The Italian town that your family is from is on there.”

So, I spent the rest of this beach vacation, locked in a room. And I had the best time looking at my family. I was getting records from people who lived in the late 1790s. It is just amazing the stuff you can find if you can kind of crack the code, and I’ll hopefully show people how to do that. You can really expand upon your Italian ancestry and have a lot of fun with that. And really, once you just get one ancestor, all of a sudden, you’re just going back several generations, and you just feel so great about yourself and just makes these wonderful connections. It’s just a great experience.

Lisa: I totally agree. I think I probably have done that on a vacation or two! And I’m excited because I have some new friends here in our neighborhood and the husband is half Italian. He’s like, “I don’t know anything about it!” So even if you’re not Italian, we’re going to be able to help our friends who are.  So, let’s jump into it!

How to Find the Italian Village of Origin

(03:51) Sarah: The first thing we have to do is identify where the family is from over in Italy. Once you figure out what village your family is coming from, you can then jump into the Italian records.

One thing I think that we take for granted in America is that if we know that one of our ancestors was born in New York, there’s a pretty good chance that we’re going to be able to find that person. But a lot of times when we’re dealing with European countries, especially with Italy, unless you know the exact village that your family is from you’re going to have a really tough time.

Now, if you’ve ever gone on FamilySearch you probably know that if you put in an Italian last name you’re probably going to get some matches. That’s really exciting, and that’s great. But the problem is a lot of the records right now on FamilySearch are available in the catalog but they haven’t been indexed. So, you might not be getting your actual family member who’s in your family tree.

I want to share a way of really going into the actual Italian records from the State Archives for Italy and going into the village records and taking a peek and looking through them.

The first question that we always want to figure out when we’re dealing with Italy, and really anywhere, we want to find out what village our ancestors are coming from. That’s going to be really important. And that’s going to be the reason we’re either going to have a hard time or we’re really going to be successful on this.

A couple of things that we want to do before we hop over the pond is we want to check out and exhaust American records to see what is possibly available. So of course, we want to be looking at:

  • birth, marriage and death records,
  • church records,
  • passenger records,
  • naturalization records,
  • draft cards,
  • family Bibles (and I’m always so jealous if anybody has a family Bible because they are just a treasure trove of information),
  • old letters and envelopes (maybe your ancestors might have saved some old letters from their family over in Italy and you might be able to gain some of that from the address on the envelope, or maybe from the letter itself),
  • old photos, (flip them over. It might say where the family was coming from in Italy, or maybe your Italian ancestors had some visitors that were going to go back to Italy. They may have written that on the back of their photo),
  • probate records (maybe somebody’s leaving something to a family member over in Italy),
  • and obituaries.

Also check out the records for spouses and siblings. Check out your family’s “FAN Club” (Friends, Associates and Neighbors) and see if you can spot where that village is for your family

So, don’t give up. For one of my ancestors, I was having a really hard time finding what village they were from. But I noticed everywhere that my family went, there was this guy, Vincent Fiola who moved with them. Vincent never had any children. He was never married. But I was able to find his draft record. And on Vincent’s draft record he mentioned the town in Italy that he was from. So, I went and I looked at the records from that town. Sure enough, with Vincent Fiola in that same year was my great, great grandfather! So that’s how I found out my great, great grandfather’s town of origin by using one of his neighbors who just kept moving with him. So, it is possible to find the town. Just exhaust everything you can possibly find. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find that village so you can start looking for your ancestors.

Overcoming the Language Barrier with Italian Records

(07:41) One of the big things that I think people get really scared of with Italian research is that the records are in Italian. I’m a little bit guilty of this myself with some other languages of my ancestors. I see these languages that I am completely unfamiliar with and I think this is something I’ll just get to on another day. But I want to tell you that if you want to, you can totally do it. You can do it.

There are different ways to be successful at this. And there are some key topics that you can google for yourself to kind of figure out what some of the words mean. So, I just want to share some different phrases that are going to help you because you’re going to see the same things over and over again in your Italian records.

One of the first things that you want to be familiar with is the numbers. That’s going to be really important to you because a lot of our documents that we’re looking at in Italy, they are spelling out the numbers. They spell the entire year, the day street addresses, so we want to be able to identify those.

I will be honest, I am learning Italian myself. I am certainly not fluent in it. But I look at these records all day long. Sometimes I feel like I’m fluent in Italian because you’re looking at the same phrases over and over again. So, what I like to do when I’m doing my research is have a chart next to me with some of these helpful phrases on it. One of them is the Italian numbers.

Another thing is to know your months that you’re looking for in Italian. Keep in mind too, that these months are not capitalized because I think sometimes in our brain when we’re looking at these Italian records we might be trying to identify a month and looking for a capital letter. But that’s not what they’re doing in Italy. They are lowercase and we have to be aware of that when we’re looking for things.

Another thing is common words that we want to be able to pick out when we’re looking at the Italian records. So, for child we’re looking for bambino, bambina, and infante. Father, mother, Padre, Madre. The names for parents, genitori. The different types of records that we’re going to be looking at nata, matrimono. These are all going to really help you. It’s surprising that once you get just a hang of several of these phrases and words, you’re going to really be able to dive into those records and get the most out of them.

Common Italian Occupations

(10:26) Another thing that is often listed in the Italian records is our ancestors occupation. This is a really fun thing to find out, I think. With the birth, marriage and death records that we come across they’re going to usually tell not only that individual’s occupation, but also the names of their parents, and their spouses, even in death records, things like that.

These are some of the very common occupations that you will see over and over again in these Italian records. Bracciole is a day laborer, and a Contadino is a farmer. That’s something that you will likely see I’ve come to find in about 80% of the records. Sometimes they have fun ones that you can find on there such as rich person. That’s something that my occupation would never say, but they have it listed as somebody is a landowner. So, when you see something like that you might also be clued into maybe this person was a person of prominence in the village that people came to or people worked for.

The Italian Archives

(11:40) Now let’s jump into how to use the Italian archive website now that we have a little bit of backing with it. The first thing you’re going to go to is the Antenati website. You can even Google Antenati and it should come up.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is change the language into English. Let’s make it a little bit easier for ourselves! When you go to the website you’ll notice that there is an Italian flag. Click on the Italian flag and you’ll see a drop-down menu. Click on the English flag. Then magically, everything turns into English!

If you have been on this website in the past, be aware that they have changed the entire look of this website in the last few months. Unfortunately, they have also changed the website links. I was really disappointed because of course you always want to source everything, and on my Ancestry tree I had the actual links that were going to be connected to it. I wrote down where my family was from. And then all of a sudden, they totally changed this website, and those links that I had saved, don’t work anymore. So, I had to go back in and switch everything again, and actually put the images in just to make sure I had all the right information. So, keep that in mind when you’re looking at this website. Don’t save the links because it might not be there the next time you go on.

Lisa: Gosh, Sara, that’s a great reminder. I always encourage people to download the documents, and that’s a perfect reason why, because the links could change tomorrow.

Watch Lisa’s video How to Take Control of Preserving Your Family Tree Information (video and downloadable handout available with Premium Membership)

Sarah: Absolutely, and there was no warning with this website. So that was very upsetting to a lot of people. So save, save, save!

When you go to the archive’s homepage it will ask you what location you are looking for? This is very temperamental, because sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I like to bypass this screen because sometimes I’ll put in a town that I know is there and then it comes back and says “no, this town is not listed right now.” That’s really frustrating, especially if you’re using it for the first time. I like to go right up to the Browse the Archive button and click that. It’s going to show you a map. From the map you could scroll in and you can see what state archives you’re looking at. Click the State Archive where your family is from. If you don’t know, run a simple Google search. You’ll typically find a Wikipedia article on it. It will tell you what Providence, the state, and the region in Italy. So, it’s not too hard to do.

Click the State Archive. For my family I use Salerno because that’s where a lot of my family comes from. It’s brings me to the State Archive of Salerno. You’re going to see a flag on the archive page. This flag is going to be either green, yellow, or red. If it’s green, or yellow, green is the best means everything’s on the website, it’s complete. If it’s yellow, it means it’s still in the works. You can check back later and they might have some new stuff. Red means it’s not ready yet, and that’s indefinite.

So, if you see a yellow or green flag, go up to where it says Search the Registries and click on that. Then I want you to pay attention to the left-hand margin. You can either click Series or Location. I find that you could click either one of these and it’s going to bring you to the same spot where you’re going to go to click on the village that your family is from. And then it’s going to give you a whole big list of all the villages that are in the State Archive.

For me, I’m going to click on the village of Postiglione. And that brings me into the village or the communes territory of the website, and then I click on the year. I can also click on what type of record I want to look at. Do I want to look at marriage, birth, or death? Marriage, birth and death are the ones that most of these state archives are currently showing.

You can also look at military records at the State Archives website. All males of a certain age were conscripted into the military, and they have really good military records.

Italian Famiglia Folios

(17:46) I also found out that some of these towns have a famiglia folio. This is where it was required of certain families to keep a family group sheet, if you will. One of our onsite researchers recently found one of these and showed it to me and it was 20 pages of wonderful genealogy sources going back and tracing the siblings, where people went in America or other parts of Italy, birth, marriage and death information, and a lot of great things. So, these are some things that hopefully should be coming down the pike for these state archives that you could be hopefully looking for in the near future.

But for right now, most of the State Archives are going to have your birth marriage and death records.

Italian Marriage Banns

(18:44) Again, once you click on the type of record, you click the year, and it’s going to show you what is available for that year. Sometimes you can find marriage banns. And those are really fun group of records because that is kind of like our marriage licenses nowadays.

Marriage Banns are several pages long. They would have be posted on the church door about the upcoming union. People could object to the wedding if there was a blood relationship between the husband and wife, if they just did not agree with the marriage, or if somebody was under age. You can find these marriage bands online.

Italian Birth Records Online

(19:27) When you click on a birth record at the State Archives you’re going to probably get a lot of images. That can be very intimidating because you’re thinking to yourself, well, I don’t want to have to go through this entire book of records of a language that I don’t know. But there is help and there is hope.

You will see a button, what looks like an open book icon with an underline on it. Click on that and will give you the Gallery view. On the next page, sometimes the thumbnail images don’t load properly. If it does show you an icon of the page, you can’t actually tell what’s written on it, so you kind of have to guess. But  don’t worry. With these Italian records, and this is very important, most of the time, they’re going to have an index. That index is going to be at the back of the book. Click on either the last page or the next to the last page and hopefully  you’re going to find an index.

The index is by last name, first name, and the numbers coordinate with the entry number. You can then go into the book and find that entry number. Ideally, our ancestors information will be staring us right back in the face.

I don’t want you to get intimidated, and there is a method to this madness. Each type of Italian record, just like with our American records, follows a particular format. So with birth records you’re going to see, and it’s usually in this order, the name, date and entry number in the margin. Again, that date is going to be spelled out. So it’s going to be helpful to be familiar with your numbers.

It’s also going to tell you the officiating agent and locality. I think a lot of times people can get thrown off by this. But if you look at these record collections, you’re going to keep seeing the same name over and over again. It is not one person having a child over and over again. It’s the clerk. The clerk is the first person usually who is mentioned.

It’s going to tell you the gender of the child. And then it’s going to tell you the occupation and parentage of the civil agent. So again, we’re getting some more information about that person recording the record. So, it’s going to tell you who the recordkeepers parents are. So again, not who you’re looking for. Then it’s going to tell you the name of the child’s father. And a good indication that you’re dealing with the child’s father is that they’re going to have the same last name. So that is one of your keywords that you’re looking for – that same surname – the child’s father. It’s going to tell you the age, their occupation, hopefully the father’s name, and the place of birth. They’re then going to say the legitimacy of birth, which is usually my wife. Or they might say that they’re not married. And then they’re going to tell you the child’s mother. The name, the occupation, or father’s name, and her place of birth, and maybe her parents place of birth. They’re then going to tell you the child’s birth date, and place.

What’s really fun is you can sometimes, and especially in later records, see the actual house that the child was born in, and that house would be your family’s house. In most cases, they’re going to give you an actual house and street address. And Lisa I know you love to do this, you can then plug that in to Google Earth. And you could take a trip right to your family’s house.

Watch Lisa’s video Plotting Land with Google Earth Pro (including a downloadable handout for Premium Members.)

Lisa: That sounds fantastic. We love that.

Sarah: It’s really cool! That just gets me away from my laundry all the time! I just go right down a rabbit hole.

And of course, we’re going to see the child’s name. Sometimes you get some really crazy long names. One of my ancestors has six. My guess is that one was the first name and five  were middle names. So you see the whole line up there.

Then you get the witnesses, which were often the midwife and anybody else, and their occupation which is also really cool. You’ll get to see the signature of the father. So that might be a nice connection. You get to see that and you’ll see a lot of these block letters. Just seeing that and having that connection!

Now that I told you this, I’m going to show you a copy of a birth record here. This is for my great great grandfather Lorenzo Fragetta who later changed his name to Fragetti. He was born September 8, in 1869.

Italian birth records

Birth record of Lorenzo Fragetta

Now, this does look rather intimidating, especially because with these earlier records, there’s no typeface on here. It’s all handwritten. But in the world of Italian records, this is actually really good writing. I’m very glad because I have a grandmother, she just passed in December, she was 90 years old, and she would write me these greeting cards and send me beautiful letters. And this was like her handwriting. So, for me, this is second nature to just pick this up.

On the margin you’re going to get the entry number, and that entry number is spelled out, and it’s the same entry that’s going to be in that index.

You also get the individuals name. In a closer look at the record some key things are going to jump out at us. Here we have the town he was born in, and we have his father’s name, Vincenzo Fragetta, and it says figli, that he is the son of Antonio. So right there, we get another generation. So we have Lorenzo we have his father and we have his grandfather on here. We then have his father’s age and profession. They also have the names of his spouse on one of the other pages. And when we get the age of our individual, we can use that information to go back into some of the other records and try to find them.

Lisa: It’s really interesting to see that they split those names. So this would be something when we’re first working with a foreign language like this to be aware that they split the name Antonio between two lines. There’s no hyphen. So that is not two different words. That’s a really good thing to know.

Sarah: Right, and that is a great point that you brought up. I was dealing with a client’s record recently and they do not split it up by syllables, and there’s no indication that they’re splitting it up. And I’m looking at this person’s last name and thinking, oh my gosh, like this is so different, they really Americanized this! And then I kind of put two and two together, and I was like, oh, wait a minute, this is being split up here. So yes, absolutely. Be aware of that if something’s not making sense. I’m so glad you brought that up.

Italian Naming Patterns in Records

(27:47) On this record we’re also seeing the name of the mother’s father. The mother’s father is Lorenzo and Lorenzo is the name of the son. By knowing this, the name of the Son in relationship to where they are is the parents, you can also maybe figure out that this child is the second born male based on the Italian naming pattern because you could see that he’s named after his maternal grandfather. So that’s also a fun thing to play around with, the Italian naming pattern.

This record also includes Vincenzo Fragetta’s signature. You think, okay, this person actually touched this document, and was a witness. I just get chills!

I type up an extraction of the information from the record like this:

  • Lorenzo Fragetta born 11 September 1869 on Via S. Maria, Postiglione
  • Father: Vincenzo Fragetta, son of Antonio. Vincenzo is a 25-year-old landowner who lives in Postiglione.
  • Mother: Carmella Paolino, daughter of Carmine. Wife of Vincenzo Fragetta

Italian Women’s Maiden and Married Names

(29:11) The one thing to remember when you’re dealing with Italian records is that women never change their last name. And that is something to remember, especially when you’re looking at passenger lists for your family.

When I first started, I used to look at some of these records and think oh my gosh, these kids are coming over to America all by themselves. These nine year-olds and 10 year-olds are being unattended on this ship. But the mother never changed the name. When a woman marries, she  keeps her father’s surname. So, she may still be in the record collection right there with them but with a different last name. So be on the lookout for that. Look for this with death records with marriage records too.

Lisa: What a great introduction to Italian genealogy research There are many things to be aware of that are unique to Italy. It reminds me that when I research in any other country there are important things to look for such as patterns and the names and just knowing something as simple as they may not be capitalizing the month. Don’t overlook a date just because you’re looking for a capitalized letter that’s not there. It’s very simple, but could really snag you up.

Sarah: Sure! And sometimes with these records, one of the really fun finds is on the margin. The civil recorder will go in and he’ll write when the person was married, who they married and when they died. So sometimes you can almost get like three records in one in these.

Using the FAN Principle in Italian Genealogy

(30:51) Lisa: I wanted to touch on one of the things that you mentioned early on as you were talking that I think is important, and something that new genealogists may not be familiar with, and that’s the FAN principle. Please tell folks what that means and the role it plays in all this.

Sarah: Sure. The FAN club is your Friends, Associates, and Neighbors of the person you are researching. We don’t want to just be sticking to an actual ancestor and kind of closing off our vision.  We want to look at who else is around them in their community, check out who’s signing off on their marriage licenses, or naturalization records, etc.  Those people are probably important to that person. And in lots of cases, these individuals who are in their FAN club possibly came over with them to America. If you can’t find information on your ancestors, take some time and do some research on these other individuals whose names are appearing over and over again, and see if you can identify where that person is coming from because that just might lead you right to your village of origin.

How to Get Help with Italian Research from a Professional Genealogist

(32:06) Lisa: What if somebody needs some help? I know that you are a professional genealogist. Tell folks, how they can reach you and what kinds of ways that you can help them if they do get stuck.

Sarah: If you get stuck, I work for Legacy Tree Genealogists and we have people well-versed in genealogy all over the world. I specialize in Italian records. We do lots of things. We can help you get records from communes over in Italy that are otherwise unresponsive, because it is very hard to get some responses. Sometimes when you’re dealing with local records or parish priests, we have people who are actually on site in Italy and will physically go to a church and sit with the priest and get these records that are just not available online.

Here’s another really cool thing that we offer. The records that are on the Antenati archive site only go back to 1806. That’s when they start. But some of these church records have been around for hundreds of years before that. So, we can have researchers on the ground that can go into these churches and even go further back for your family and see if there’s any baptismal records, any of those sacramental records, and really get that connection. We take that information and we write a little story about it. So it really makes it everything come to life and you have a piece of your ancestor. We’ll give you all the documents so that you can see that handwriting and will translate and give you a little translation for it so that you actually know what it says. So there’s lots of ways that we can help you in different areas not just Italian, but with anything, any ancestry that you have.

Lisa: Absolutely, I’ve had Kate at Legacy help me with some Irish research that we did in a video. That was amazing.

Watch Lisa’s video How to Find Your Irish Ancestors (video and downloadable handout available with Premium Membership)

Sarah: She’s my mentor. So I love

Lisa: Well, you’ve been a wonderful mentor for us to get us started on Italian research. Thank you so much, Sarah.

Sarah: Oh, thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you everybody and good luck with your family over in Italy.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members
PREMIUM MEMBER BONUS: Italian Translation Cheat Sheet
PREMIUM MEMBER BONUS 2: How to Use the Italian Archive Site Antenati

Learn more about becoming a Genealogy Gems Premium Member. 

Episode 207 – Interview with Mary Tedesco

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 207

with Lisa Louise Cooke

In this episode, Lisa welcomes Mary Tedesco, a co-host of PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow. Mary shares stories and tips about tracing Italian and Italian-American roots. Also:

  • FamilySearch updates since the end of microfilm lending (and how YOU helped make the last days of lending more effective);
  • A listener uses Google to find her mysterious great-grandmother, with a success story she calls a “game-changer” for her genealogy research.
  • The premiere of Military Minutes with Michael Strauss

DOUBLE THE FUN WITH MORE GENEALOGY GEMS PODCAST

This episode launches the NEW twice-monthly Genealogy Gems Podcast format. From now on, watch for two free episodes every month, each about 35-45 minutes long.

If you haven’t downloaded the Genealogy Gems app for easier listening on your mobile device, consider doing so now to make it twice as easy on yourself?and get twice the bonus content from now on!

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is?. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.

FAMILYSEARCH RECORDS ACCESS UPDATE

ALL of the microfilmed records that have been rented in the past 5 years have now been digitized, over 1.5 million films.

From now on, if you need a film that hasn’t been digitized yet, you can call FamilySearch Support toll-free (866-406-1830) and request it for the priority digitization list.

They continue to digitally scan about 1000 films per day. (That sounds like a lot, but at this rate it will still take them until 2020 to be done.)

New digital images are being put in the FamilySearch Catalog as soon as possible. This is not the main digital record search area! It will take collections a while to appear here. Instead, under the Search tab, select Catalog, and then search by place and record type or other categories. This is a master catalog of all the Family History Library’s collections, online and offline, and when you click on an item’s individual description, you’ll be able to see a link to its digitized version if it’s available.

If you or anyone else had any films on loan in family history centers and FamilySearch affiliate libraries when the lending program ended, those automatically have extended loan status, which means they can stay there indefinitely unless the management decides to send them back.

If all else fails, you can still go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT and order microfilmed records to view, or you can hire someone to do it for you.

FamilySearch Affiliate libraries now have access to nearly all of the restricted image collections as family history centers.

Click here to read or listen to Lisa’s special interview with Diane Loosle of FamilySearch. It goes into much more detail about accessing records on the site, at affiliate libraries and more.

Click here to read the August 30, 2017 update from FamilySearch.

To save 30% off a Care.com Premium membership, visit care.com/gems when you subscribe.

I had so much fun opening the box. They even sent me an apron!

Visit hellofresh.com and use promo code gems30 to save $30 off your first week of deliveries.

 

NEWS: FREE GENEALOGY WEBINAR FROM NYC

Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems presents:

Reveal Your Unique Story through DNA & Family History sponsored by Animoto

Saturday, September 23, 2017 11:00 AM EST

 
  • Turn DNA results into your family history
  • Turn your family history into a compelling story
  • Turn your compelling story into a video!

Learn from Lisa Louise Cooke, Diahan Southard and Animoto’s Beth Forester:

  • Your DNA testing options (there are more than you think), and possible outcomes
  • The best free resources for going beyond DNA, back several generations in your family (quickly!)
  • Creative ideas for filling in the story gaps
  • How to expand your story in ways you never expected by finding DNA connections
  • Share the story you’ve uncovered with the world through riveting video

Lisa chat with Hannah about Hurricane Harvey

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

 

MAILBOX: KRISTIN’S SUCCESS STORY

“Among the handful of mystery photographs of my grandmother as a child and the strangers who sat beside her, was a brief article from a newspaper. It was a lesson in manners, titled ‘Silence is Golden’ and it was written by Merton Markert, a student of the Modern Classics. A photo of a young woman with a disheveled Gibson hairdo was attached.”

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke teaches the search strategies you need to do searches like these.

Try Ebay! Lisa found a listing for a commencement program from 1902, old post cards of the school, and other yearbooks from Lancaster High School. Sign up for a free Ebay account, run a search, and then click to Follow the search. You will then be alerted to future auctions that match your criteria.

Click here for tips on finding yearbooks and other school records.

Genealogy Gems Premium member perk: Premium Podcast episode 16 has great tips for using Ebay to find family history treasures. Click here to learn more about Premium membership.

 

INTERVIEW: MARY TEDESCO of Genealogy Roadshow

MARY M. Tedesco is a professional genealogist, speaker, and author. She is a host and genealogist on PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow” and Founder of ORIGINS ITALY. Mary speaks fluent Italian and travels often to Italy to conduct client genealogical research and visit family. She is co-author of Tracing Your Italian Ancestors.

Click here to watch a free interview with Mary Tedesco with more tips on doing Italian genealogy research.

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB

Murder in Matera by Helene Stapinski tells the story of the author’s journey to Italy to learn the truth behind the family stories about her Italian ancestors. Tune in to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 208 later this month to hear an excerpt from a conversation with Helene Stapinski. (The entire interview will play in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 151.)

MILITARY MINUTES: DRAFT REGISTRATIONS

INTRODUCING MICHAEL STRAUSS

Michael Strauss, AG is the principal owner of Genealogy Research Network and an Accredited Genealogist since 1995. He is a native of Pennsylvania and a resident of Utah and has been an avid genealogist for more than 30 years. Strauss holds a BA in History and is a United States Coast Guard veteran.

BONUS handout to celebrate this new segment: Click here for a 4-page handout on U.S. draft registration records by Michael L. Strauss.

FREE GENEALOGY NEWSLETTER:

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Planting Your Master Genealogy Family Tree

In this post I’m going to answer common questions about the best strategy for creating and maintaining your family tree data. 

master family tree

Should I build my family tree online?

This is a question I get in various forms quite often from Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners. But there’s really more to this question than meets the eye. Today’s family historian needs a master game plan for how they will not only build their family tree, but where they will build it, and where they will share it.

On the podcast I describe it this way:

Plant your tree in your own backyard and share branches online.

I’m going to explain what I mean by this by starting at the beginning.

When You Start Your Family Tree

If you’re new to researching your family’s history, you probably started out with one of the big genealogy websites, such as AncestryMyHeritageFindmypast, or FamilySearch. I refer to them as the Genealogy Giants because they have millions of genealogical records, and they offer you the tools to build your family tree on their website. (Learn more about what each of the Genealogy Giants websites have to offer here in this handy comparison guide.)

These sites make it easy to start entering information about yourself, your parents, and your grandparents either on their website or through their mobile app. But should you do that?

My answer is, “not so fast!” Let’s think through the long-term game plan for this important information that is your family’s legacy.

Family is Forever

Genealogy is a hobby that lasts a lifetime. It’s nearly impossible to run out of ancestors or stories to explore.

But have you noticed that websites don’t last forever? And even if they do, their services and tools will undoubtedly change over time.

And there are many, many genealogy websites out there. A large number of them will encourage you or even require you to start creating an online family tree on their site in order to get the most value from the tools that they offer for your research.

As you work with these different genealogy websites, you may start to feel like your tree is getting scattered across the web. It’s easy to find yourself with different versions of your tree, unsure of which one is the most accurate and complete version.

It’s this inevitable situation that leads to my conclusion that you build and protect a master version of your family tree. I’m not suggesting that you can’t or shouldn’t use an online tree. In fact, regardless of whether you do, you need a “Master Family Tree.”

Plant Your “Master Family Tree” in Your Own Backyard

What do I mean when I say that you should plant your “master family tree” in your own backyard? I’m talking about using a genealogy database software program that resides on your own computer. Let’s explore that further.

A master family tree has three important characteristics:

  1. It is owned and controlled by you.
  2. It is the final say on what you currently know about your family tree.
  3. It is protected with online backup to ensure it is safe.
master family tree

Your Master Family Tree

1. Your master family tree is owned and controlled by you.

If you create an online family tree on a genealogy website (or in the case of FamilySearch’s global online tree, you add your information to it) you have given final control of that information to the company who owns the website.

In order to own and control your tree, you will need a genealogy database software program installed on your own computer. I use RootsMagic (and I’m proud to have them as a sponsor of the Genealogy Gems Podcast) but there are other programs as well.

A genealogy database software program is installed on your computer. The program and the data you enter into it belongs to you and is under your personal control.

Genealogy databases allow you to not only easily enter data, but also to export it. If you wish to use a different program later, or add your existing data to an online tree, you can export your family tree data as a universally accepted GEDCOM file. (Learn more about GEDCOM files in this article.)

2. It is the final say on what you currently know about your family tree.

As you research your family tree, you will come to important conclusions, such as an ancestor’s birthdate or the village in which they were born. It can take a while to prove your findings are accurate, but once you do, you need one location in which to keep those findings. And most importantly, you must be able to cite the sources for that information. That one location for all this activity is your genealogy database.

However, the nature of genealogy research is that it can take some digging to prove the information is correct. During the process of that research you may find information that you aren’t sure about, and it can be helpful to attach it to the online tree that you have at the same website where you found the information. That gives you a way to hang on to it and keep researching. You can always remove it later. We’ll talk more about strategies for using online family trees a little bit later.

Once you are convinced that the information is correct, then its final resting place is your Master Family Tree. You enter the information and add source citations. This way, whenever you need an accurate view of where you are in your completed family tree research, you can turn to one location: your genealogy database software and the Master Family Tree it contains.

3. It’s protected with online backup to ensure it is safe.

Your family tree isn’t safe unless the database file is backed up to the cloud.

Who among us hasn’t had a computer malfunction or die?

It isn’t good enough to simply back up your computer files to an external hard drive, because that external hard drive is still in your house. If your house is damaged or burglarized, chances are both will be affected.

Another problem with backing up to an external hard drive is that they can malfunction and break. And of course, there is the problem of remembering to back it up on a regular basis.

Cloud backup solves all these problems by backing up your files automatically and storing them safely in an offsite location. 

Cloud backup is actually very simple to install and requires no work on your part once it’s up and running. (We’ve got an article here that will walk you through the process.)

There are many cloud backup services available. I use Backblaze (which you can learn more about here). As a genealogist I have a checklist of features that are important to me, and Backblaze checked all the boxes.

Regardless of which service you choose the important thing is to not wait another day to set it up. This protection is a critical part of your Master Family Tree plan.

Using Online Family Trees

Now that you have your own database on your own computer that is backed up to the cloud for protection, let’s talk about strategic ways that you can use online family trees.

First, it’s important to realize that you don’t have to create a tree on a genealogy website just because they prompt you to do so. While there are benefits for you to doing so, the company who owns that website actually benefits tremendously as well.

In today’s world, data is very valuable. I encourage you to read the terms of service and other fine print (I know, it’s boring!) because it will explain the ownership and potential use of that data.

While it’s not the focus of this article, it’s important to understand that other industries are interested in family history data, and data may be shared or sold (with or without identifying information, depending on the terms).

But as I say, there are benefits to using online family trees. These benefits include:

  • Hints – Online family trees generate research hints on the Genealogy Giants websites and some of the other websites that offer trees.
  • Cousin Connection – Online family trees offer you an opportunity to possibly connect with other relatives who find your tree.
  • DNA – Online family trees can now dovetail with your DNA test results (if you took a test with the company where your tree resides). This can offer you additional research avenues.

These benefits can be helpful indeed. However, problems can arise too. They include:

  • Copying – When you tree is public other users of the website can copy and redistribute your information including family photos.
  • Errors – If you discover an error in your tree, you may fix it, but chances are it has already been widely copied and distributed by other users.
  • Email – If you have your entire tree online and your email notifications are active, you may receive an onslaught of hints for people in your tree. Often these are very distant cousins that you are not actively researching. And let’s face it, the emails can be annoying and distract your focus from your targeted research. For example, as of this writing at Ancestry.com you can’t select which ancestors you want to receive email hint notifications for. You can only select hints for the entire tree.

So, let’s review my strategy:

Plant your tree in your own backyard and share branches online.

Now that you’ve planted your tree in your own backed up software, let’s explore the ways in which you can share branches online.

Targeted Online Family Trees

Many people don’t realize that you don’t have to add your entire tree to a website. You can just add parts of your tree.

For example, I may just put my direct ancestors in my tree (grandparents, great-grandparents, and so forth). This can still be a fairly larger number of people. I may want to include their siblings because they grew up in the same household. But I can leave out the far-reaching branches and relatives that really don’t have a direct impact on that line of research.

You can also have multiple trees that focus on specific areas of your research that are important to you.

Exploratory Online Family Trees

Some genealogists also create trees that represent a working theory that they have. This type of tree can help expose where the problems or inaccuracies lie. As you research the theory and as hints arise it can become very clear that a relationship does not exist after all.

An exploratory tree is an excellent reminder that we can’t and shouldn’t make assumptions about someone’s intent or purpose with their online tree. I’ve heard from many people who are angry about inaccuracies they find in other people’s trees. But we can’t know their purpose, and therefore, it really isn’t our place to judge.

However, it is a fair argument that a good practice would be to clearly mark these exploratory trees accordingly to deter other users from blindly copying and replicating the inaccurate information. An easy way to do this is in the title or name of the tree. For example, a tree could be titled “Jonas Smith Tree UNPROVEN”.

Creating multiple, limited trees can be an effective strategy for conducting targeted online research that only generates hints and connections for those ancestors that you are interested in at the current time.

And remember, you can remove any of your trees at any time. For example, you can delete an exploratory tree that has served its purpose and helped you prove or disprove a relationship.

Plan Now for Success

A family tree can seem like a simple thing, but as you can see there’s more to it than meets the eye. A bit of planning now can ensure that your family tree stays healthy and growing. 

About the Author

Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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