Saturday, February 28, 2015

Italian Foundling Surname 'la Casasanta'

Records showing various surnames for Maria
I've been doing a lot of research on my Italian branch recently and came across a perplexing situation in which I couldn't determine why one of my ancestors was seemingly going by two different surnames, and sometimes both together.

My 4th great grandmother was being listed alternately on Sulmona, Italy records for her children as Maria Fasciano, Maria la Casasanta, and Maria la Casasanta Fasciano. One even said "la Casasanta alias Fasciano." So what was her maiden name? Fasciano? la Casasanta? Or both? Why would she have an alias? I knew they were all the same woman, and not a case of her husband having two wives with the name Maria (which wouldn't be impossible in general because practically every female from this town was named Maria) because of the timeline in which the names appear and the records which listed both names. I have come across a lot of people in my tree who were given the middle name of their mother's maiden name, but in these cases, it was always just a middle name, it was never used on it's own as a surname like I was sometimes seeing in this case. So although I kept 'la Casasanta' in mind as potentially Maria's mother's maiden name, I was hesitant to commit to that idea and kept searching.

Unfortunately, Maria was born and married before the online records from Sulmona begin, and I have yet to find her death record (still searching). But I did notice that on her husband's death record, a Venanzio Fasciano is listed as one of the registrants of the death and upon closer inspection, it mentioned that he was the brother-in-law of the deceased - i.e., Maria's brother!

Record of Venanzio's birth naming his father
So then I was feeling pretty confident that her maiden name was Fasciano and la Casasanta must have been her mother's maiden name. But I go searching for more info on Venanzio just to be sure, and because in general, I want find out their parents names anyway. I find Venanzio's marriage record and a copy of his birth record in with the supporting documents for his marriage, which say his father's name is Saverio la Casasanta "alias" Fasciano, and mother's name is Maria Loreto del Rinto. Huh? So it's not the mother's maiden name, but it actually came from the father's original name who appears to have gone by the alias Fasciano? Why would he do that?

Well, I decided to Google the name and couldn't really find anything out but on a whim I popped it into Google translate, mainly because I knew Casa means House and, I thought Santa meant Holy. And I was right: it means Holy House. Like a church.

And that's when I started noticing that while browsing through the indices of the earliest records, 9 times out of 10 when I saw the surname la Casasanta, it was paired with "Unknown parents". In other words, I think infants who were abandoned at a church (aka, a foundling) would often be given the surname "la Casasanta", literally meaning "the holy house". My speculation now is that either Saverio or his father was abandoned at a church and given this surname, but Saverio also went by Fasciano to avoid the stigma of either his father or himself having obviously been abandoned at birth. If it was his father who was abandoned, Fasciano might be Saverio's mother's maiden name, which he took as an alias. Otherwise, I have no idea where Fasciano came from but you can be sure I will keep digging.

Example of someone named 'la Casasanta' whose parents are unknown

I still don't know why, of Saverio's children, one went only by Fasciano and the other by both names, sometimes together, sometimes alternately but at least I now know what the name la Casasanta means and why someone would choose to go by an alias. Unfortunately, it also probably means that at some point I'm going to hit a dead end with this branch, but hopefully I still have a lot more find.

UPDATE: I have since found Saverio's death record which says his parents were unknown. So Saverio was a foundling and the name Fasciano was either chosen at random or could also have come from the family who raised him, if they approved of him using their name. However, the lack of Fascianos in the Sulmona records suggest there was no other family in Sulmona with the name Fasciano. So it may have chosen at random to avoid the stigma of being a foundling, or to avoid confusion among so many other people with the name la Casasanta.

For more info on other foundling names, check out FamilySearch.org's article on the matter.

Resource: State Archives of L'Aquila

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Post-1922 Philadelphia Inquirer and Fulton History

As all genealogists know, newspapers can be a valuable resource, especially for obituaries. And as many Philadelphia researchers may know, the Philadelphia Inquirer is available at GenealogyBank.com, but for a price, and only up to 1922. Equally, there's some Philly papers available at Newspapers.com, and even some available for free at ChroniclingAmerica.loc.gov, but none of them go beyond 1922. There is one Philly paper listed at Newspaperarchive.com called Checkerboard which is from 1943-1977, but this may have been niche paper since I can't find any information about it. What if you're looking for an obituary from more recently than 1922? Well, you basically have two options, one online and one offline.

Your offline option is to use Chronicling America's newspaper directory, which provides a listing of holdings of nearly every newspaper up to present times. If none of the holdings are near you, you might be able to ask your library if they can order a microfilm copy of it for you.

But there is one online option and those who are familiar with it's website will understand why I'm hesitant to recommend it: Fulton History. It's free, it's digitized, and it supplies the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1860 to 1963. What's the catch? It's not user friendly so unless you already have a specific date in mind, it's not easy to find what you're looking for. If you do have a specific date, you can find PDFs to download of the Philadelphia Inquirer here. If not, there are instructions and tips on using the search engine found in the FAQ/Help section. If the person you're looking for had a unique name, you may get lucky by just typing their name into the search engine. But if you need to narrow it down to the Philadelphia Inquirer, you can do so by using these instructions:
Q. How can I just search one newspaper issue instead of the hundreds that are here? I'm getting way to many hits. A. Solution - The newspaper titles are also indexed. Use this command.... Filename contains and The title of the Paper or part of the title of the paper in the search window along with what you are searching for (you must know how the Newspaper title was entered when I scanned it... look in the index to see the way it is displayed...). 
Here is a sample Using The Boolean search type I want to search just the Newspapers from Buffalo NY for a murder trial and a person called perraton and I know it happened some time in the late 1920s or early 1930s "murder trial" and "perraton" and (Filename contains (Buffalo NY)) and (Filename Contains (1927~~1934))

Here is an example on how to search on one specific newspaper title( I will use Syracuse NY Post Standard in this example) for a range of dates (I will use 1904 through 1920) for a person named john Green and you not sure if he was using a middle initial........ First change to a Boolean search type then enter the following in the search box (ignore the quotes)  “Syracuse NY Post Standard 1904~~1920 and john w/1 Green”
The words you have written is your instruction to the search engine to find only the newspapers that have the title  Syracuse NY Post Standard and only the years 1904 (the ~~ [tilde symbol] means range of dates) through1920 and with the word john and within 1 character of the word Green ...
Boolean searching is very powerful but you must spend the time and learn how to use it. You will find a comprehensive guide for Boolean searches later in this section.

As you can see, it's still not very easy to follow. The Philadelphia Inquirer was indexed as 'Philadelphia PA Inquirer' so using the Boolean option from the drop down menu next to the search field, your search would have to look exactly like this:
"Smith" and (Filename contains (Philadelphia PA Inquirer))
You can remove the name Smith and put in whatever name you're looking for inside the quotes - first and last name or just last - but the rest of it, including the quotes, the word 'and', plus the parentheses all have to be the same for it to work. If you want to also narrow down the year range, it should be:
"Smith" and (Filename contains (Philadelphia PA Inquirer)) and (Filename contains (1923~~1963))
Obviously, adjust the year range as you need to. And again, use the Boolean search.

You also have to keep in mind that these were very probably indexed with OCR - optical character recognition - which means it was done by a computer identifying the shapes of letters and numbers. Naturally, this is very subject to error and you can wind up with an index where a capital letter 'I' or a lower case 'l' gets mistaken for the number 1. As such, you may not always be able to find the person you're looking for if their name was index in a way that doesn't even match the phonetic search (an option you can tick under the search field). So when possible, it's best to manually search the PDFs instead of using the search engine.

Good luck!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Italian Research: One Mystery Solved

Maria D'Amore 1887 Birth in Polizzi Generosa,
mentioning her unmarried parents
I had been stuck at a brick wall for a while on my Italian branch, mostly because so few Italian records are available online, at least for the regions most of my research is in. One of these brick walls was my 2nd great grandfather, Agostino D'Amore. According to family members, he was born in Sulmona, Italy on Aug 13, 1846 and as a solider, was stationed in Pachino, Sicily where he met his wife, Rosaria, and had children with her. However, his passenger list into the United States said he was born in Pachino. I decided to have a look for his birth record in Sulmona anyway, since those records are actually available online from the Italian National Archives.

I searched Sulmona's births from 1844-1848 without finding him so then I began thinking he was actually born in Sicily. First of all, it turns out that he did not meet his wife in Pachino. His wife was born in Polizzi Generosa, where their first child, Maria, was also born so I checked Polizzi's birth records (found online at FamilySearch.org) for Agostino thinking maybe he was born there too, but with no luck. I also searched for his marriage to Rosaria in Polizzi in the few years before the birth of their first child with no results. Puzzled, I finally got a translation of Maria's birth record (I know enough about Italian records to extract names and dates but that's about it) and what it told me was very surprising but totally explained the problems I was having. Maria had been born out of wedlock. That explained why I couldn't find a marriage record for Agostino and Rosaria before Maria's birth!

Agostino D'Amore and Rosaria Potestio
marriage in Pachino, 1891
It also named Agostino's occupation as Carabinieri, Italian National Police. So there was some truth to the family stories. I also knew that the rest of their children had indeed been born in Pachino so sometime after Maria was born and before their next child was born, they had moved from Polizzi to Pachino. I began to become concerned that Agostino and Rosaria had never actually married but just lived in a common law marriage. After all, if they left Polizzi for Pachino to escape the scandal of having a child out of wedlock, it would have been easy for them to show up in Pachino claiming they were already married and no one would be the wiser. I had looked for the marriage in Polizzi after Maria's birth but still not found it. But I really needed a marriage record because it would tell me where Agostino was born. On his children's birth records, it only listed where he was residing at the time, not his birth location. And his death certificate from Pennsylvania didn't specify anything more than Italy.

So I crossed my fingers and ordered the microfilm for Pachino marriages during this time period because they aren't available online anywhere. I had little hope of finding it - I'd convinced myself they never married and I would never find out where Agostino was born. I also ordered the film which included Pachino births for the period he was born in hopes that his passenger list had been correct and I would find him here, even if I didn't find his marriage record. And when the films came in, I checked the births first because I had more hope of finding that than the marriage.

How wrong I was! I didn't find his birth in Pachino but I did find their marriage! Turns out they married Jan 1, 1891, about six months prior to the birth of their second child. To me, this seems to suggest that their society might have accepted one "mistake" by having a child out of wedlock but two? No, it was time to get married, and quickly because Rosaria would be starting to show soon!

Agostino D'Amore's 1849 Birth in Sulmona
Finally, the marriage record told me that Agostino had indeed been born in Sulmona, just as I originally thought! So why hadn't I found his birth record in Sulmona? Because he was born in 1849, and I'd stopped looking at 1848. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I could have avoided this whole fiasco by just searching a wider year range. However, that might have meant that I wouldn't have gotten the translation that told me their first child was born out of wedlock, an interesting little tidbit. So sometimes my stupidity has a silver lining!

My other reason for wanting to find a marriage or birth record for Agostino was to figure out his parent's names. On his death certificate, his father is listed as something that looked like Dibero or Libero and his mother was listed as "Nana", which was clearly not her name but just what her grandchildren called her. With Agostino's birth and marriage records finally found, it told his father was Liberio D'Amore and Maria Majorano. From there, I managed to search the Sulmona records to find Libero and Maria's parents and even some of their grandparents. Finally, I got past that brick wall!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Genealogy Myths

I've already discussed in the past about the myth of "My family name was changed at Ellis Island", as well as the one about how most people in history married in their teens, but I thought it might be useful to go over some other common myths associated with genealogy as well.

1. The Family Crest/Coat of Arms
I see many people adding family crests to ancestor's in their tree but the fact is, there is no such thing (sorry, Mom). A crest or coat of arms (technically two different things but I'll leave that one for now) is given to an individual by the Crown and only that individual or their descendants in the direct male line are entitled to use it. And since not everyone with the same family name is descended from that one person who was probably granted their coat of arms in medieval times or later, not everyone with the same family name is entitled to use the crest. Unless you've done the research and traced your direct lineage back to the person who was granted that specific crest, then it probably has nothing to do with your particular family. Of course, there's no crest/coat of arms police who are going to come after you to posting it to your tree, but to me, it's like attaching the wrong record to someone in my tree.

This is also the reason why you might find more than one crest for the same family name. If different individuals with the same name were granted a crest/coat of arms (and they might be a part of the same family, they might not), there will be more than one crest associated with that name. For my maiden name, there's at least six or seven different crests I could pick from, but I have no evidence my ancestors were associated with any of them.

The idea of everyone having a family crest was created during Victorian times to sell personalized letterheads with your family crest on them, and the practice continues to this day with companies selling all kinds of products branded with your personal family crest. People are so taken with this myth, I've even seen some who have had their so-called family crest tattooed on them. Let's hope they never read this, huh?

Sources:
College of Arms FAQ
Crest (Heraldy)

2. The term Pennsylvania "Dutch" is a corruption of the German word for Germans "Deutsche".
An understandable common misconception given the similarity of the words but it's untrue regardless. Lots of people like to point out how the Pennsylvania Dutch are not actually Dutch but German. This is true, within the context of the current usage of the word Dutch to mean people from the Netherlands. But in the past, "Dutch" was a much more vague term that did not necessarily apply only to people from the Netherlands, it also included people from Germany and Switzerland, especially those from along the Rhine, as many Pennsylvania Dutch were. The Rhine River is mostly in Germany but also parts of the Netherlands and Switzerland. Since the term Pennsylvania Dutch was coined in colonial times, it makes sense that the more generic term for people from a range of Germanic lands was used and it has simply stuck, despite the fact that the term "Dutch" now more specifically refers to people from the Netherlands (or, if you're Joey from Friends "the make believe place where Peter Pan and Tinkerbell come from").

Wikipedia addresses this with the follow:
The origins of the word Dutch, a borrowing from Middle Dutch, ultimately go back to Proto-Germanic, the ancestor of all Germanic languages, *þeudiskaz (meaning "popular/vernacular", as opposed to Latin); akin to Old Dutch dietsc, Old High German diutsch, Old English þeodisc, all meaning "(of) the common (Germanic) people". As the tribes among the Germanic peoples began to differentiate, its meaning began to change. On the continent *þeudiskaz evolved into two ways: Diets (meaning "Dutch (people)" (archaic/poetic)[3] and Deutsch (German, meaning "German (people)"). At first the English language used (the contemporary form of) Dutch to refer to any or all of the Germanic speakers on the European mainland (e.g., the Dutch, the Frisians and the various Germans). Gradually its meaning shifted to the Germanic people they had most contact with, both because of their geographical proximity, but also because of the rivalry in trade and overseas territories: the modern Dutch of the Netherlands. 
The word Dutch is also sometimes interpreted as a corruption of the Pennsylvania Dutch endonym Deitsch, which is itself a local variant of the modern German endonym Deutsch, meaning German. This folk etymology is however not supported by the historical record.
And cites it's sources as the following:
 www.etymonline.com (English) and Etymologisch Woordenboek van het Nederlands (Dutch) entries "Dutch" and "Diets".
Fogleman, Aaron Spencer (1996). Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717-1775. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 197. ISBN 978-0812215489. "The term "Dutch," often considered a corruption of "Deutsch", which means German, was actually not a corruption at all. It was a legitimate, well-known term used by the English in the early modern period to describe the people who lived along the Rhine. The "Low Dutch" came from the area of the present Netherlands, while the "High Dutch" came from the area of the middle and upper Rhine."
3. I have a royal/Native American ancestor.
It's not impossible, some people can legitimately trace links to such claims. And there is something to be said about pedigree collapse and the idea that all European descendants are descended from Charlemagne. But when it comes to genealogy, we're talking about traceable ancestors here, and we need reliable documents to prove descent from a particular member of the royal family or Native American. There are many bogus tree links into royal families out there, as well as many false stories about Native American ancestors. Even going back to colonial times, genealogy was riddled with fake claims to royalty, especially in the south, as detailed in Family Life in 17th- and 18th-Century America (Family Life through History) by James M. Volo, Dorothy Denneen Volo:
To maintain the integrity of the family structure, the female relatives would gather to trace the family tree from long before the rise of the Stuart kings. Intermarriage between second and third cousins was promoted to strengthen the connections within the extended family. Nowhere else in colonial American was the status of an extended family of cousins more closely followed or revered.

Yet few in the southern master's social class actually had aristocratic roots, and for some of the gentry, the need to maintain a large body of servants was greatly intensified by the lack of blood ties to some genuine form of royalty. Planters with an English heritage might claim their descent from the Cavaliers of the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. No mere followers of the Stuart kings, their planter ancestry might be derived from dukes, earls, knights, and loyal squires who had ridden at Nasby. This claim helped the planters to define themselves in historically acceptable terms. There were enough southern families with legitimate family trees of this sort-the Lees, the Fairfaxes, and the Randolphs, for instance-to maintain the "truth" of the wider fiction.
4. I possess this old photograph of my x-times great grandparent, therefore I own it and anyone who attaches a copy of it to their tree is "stealing" from me.
Unfortunately, possession is not always nine tens of the law. The truth is that unless either you or one of your ancestors who died less than 70 years ago took the photo, it is not yours. The copyrights of photographs are retained by the photographer for the duration of their life and for 70 years after their death. Upon their death, the copyright ownership is transferred to either their next of kin or whoever they might name in their will (and so on to the next generation if necessary). So unless it was a family snapshot that grandpa took of mommy (or your ancestor also happened to be a professional photographer), you probably don't own the copyright and if it's been less than 70 years since the death of the photographer who did take it, you may actually be the one breaking copyright laws. If it's be more than 70 years since the death of the photographer, the copyright has expired and the photo is actually in the public domain, so no one owns the copyright.

In the genealogy world, it's unlikely the descendant of the photographer would come after you for posting a photograph taken by their ancestor. They would have to know that this particular photo of your ancestor was taken by their ancestor who died less than 70 years ago, and be able to prove it in court. However, it is technically possible and more importantly, ethically, if one is going to get on a high horse about other people "stealing" photos from them, one better be absolutely sure they are not accidentally breaking copyright laws themselves first!

More info at The Legal Genealogist.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

More Thoughts on DNA

As some people may know from my previous posts, My results regarding my Northern European make up have been all over the place. AncestryDNA says 55% British while FTDNA says it's 0% and 23andMe say 16.7%. Results for Scandinavian (Norwegian, in my case) and "German" (called Europe West, Western & Central Europe, or French & German depending on the company but knowing my tree the way I do, I know for me this is my German heritage) are just as varied. I have made some speculation on this before, that I think the reasons for the discrepancies had partly to do with differences in the way the companies were defining categories and regions, and partly to do with the fact that for some people, their British and Scandinavian/German DNA are simply too similar to tell apart.

23andMe results showing 63% Northern European

Recently though, I had an epiphany which just solidified that there are consistencies across all the companies. It still doesn't tell me a more definite break down of my Northern European DNA, but it occurred to me that if I added up all my Northern European results, every company said the exact same thing: 63% Northern European (shown in images). And since I know that the rest of my ancestry is Italian, that means I'm 37% Italian, which is very close to what they all said as well (the range across the companies was 28-37% so it's at the higher end of that). All this reassured me that these companies aren't just plucking numbers out of the air, or that it's not that the science isn't precise enough to get any kind of reliable or consistent results. In fact, there is a huge amount of consistency among all three companies, we just can't always expect there to be a more specific break down beyond "Northern European" or other more broad regions that testers might be struggling to narrow down further. That might be a disappointing answer to some people but at least what I can take away from it is knowing there is a distinct difference between my Northern and Southern European DNA and that because of this, I can get a very precise percentage on my Italian DNA.

AncestryDNA results, circled percentages add up to 63% 
Something else to consider is the estimated percentage range that AncestryDNA provide. I really wish other companies would do something like this. 23andMe take a different approach by having categories for "Broadly" regions, which is basically admitting they can't narrow it down any further. FTDNA don't offer either option, which can be misleading for those who don't understand how complex this can be.

But if I consider my AncestryDNA percentage ranges in comparison to the other companies, I might see some more consistencies.

AncestryDNA results:
  • British: 55% - range 36-76%
  • German: 5% - range 0-20%
  • Scandinavian (incl. 1% Finland/NW Russia): 3% - range 0-11%

FTDNA:
  • British: 0%
  • German: 26%
  • Scandinavian (incl. 3% Finland & Northern Siberia): 37%

23andMe:
  • British: 16.7%
  • German: 17.4%
  • Scandinavian: 4.6%
  • Broadly Northern European: 24.3%
FTDNA results, circled percentages add up to 63%

So let's assume that because my British results are so much lower with FTDNA and 23andMe, that it's actually the lowest percentage which AncestryDNA gives me: 36%. The highest results for German with AncestryDNA is not far off of what the other two companies estimate so we'll go with 20%. To make 63%, that leaves Scandinavian with 7%, which makes sense because it's within the small range AncestryDNA estimated for Scandinavian and not far off the percentage 23andMe gave.

So, all things considered, I may be:
  • British: 36%
  • German: 20%
  • Scandinavian: 7%
  • Italian: 37%

It also all makes sense regarding my family tree as well. I have one grandparent who was Italian so on paper I would be 25% Italian. Since we actually inherit ethnicities randomly, 37% is realistically not far from that. I also had one great grandparent who was Norwegian, making me 12.5% Scandinavian and 7% is not too dissimilar. As for British and German, it would have been impossible to calculate since I have so many branches of both of them (it's safe to say most of my branches are British or German), many dating back to colonial times. But knowing that of the most recent immigrants, I had one German 3rd great grandparent and two British 3rd great grandparents, it makes perfect sense that my British results (36%) would be a little higher than German (20%), but not by too much.

It's probably not a very scientific way to determine your percentage break down! But there's some sense to it and it's better than just saying 63% Northern European.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ancestry.com Myths: No Free Account Without Trial

I see a lot of people criticizing Ancestry.com for a lot of things. I will readily admit when they are doing something wrong or when there is a problem they have not fixed (see my posts about things actually wrong with ACOM). But there are equally times when people seem to have inaccurate ideas of Ancestry.com so I thought it might be beneficial to dis-spell some of these myths.

Today's myth I came across was someone claiming that you can't sign up for a free account at Ancestry.com without doing the 14 day free trial, which makes you jump through hoops to unsubscribe and not get charged at the end of the trial. I won't deny ACOM gets a lot of complaints from people who signed up for the free trial and cancelled on the day the trial ended but wound up getting charged anyway. This does happen and it's recommended you cancel a few days before the trial ends to avoid this.

However, it's NOT true that you can't sign up for a free account at Ancestry.com without doing the free trial. Here's how.



Step 1: On the home page, click on "Search", NOT the "Start Free Trial" button (shown above).



Step 2: Type a name into the search fields, John Smith will do fine. No need to put dates or places into the fields (shown above).



Step 3: The search results will be listed and if you click on any of the 1940 Census results (or hover over any of them and click on "Register for a Free Account" in the pop up window - shown above), it will prompt you to create a new account (shown below).



Step 4: Fill out your name, email, and a password to get instant access to free collections at Ancestry.com, no free trial, no credit card necessary, no strings attached. Below is a screen shot of the example record I can now view with my new free account, created without any credit card.



Granted, keep in mind that the free collections are few compared to their total database, but Ancestry.com frequently provide all or certain collections available for free for a limited time. At the moment, they are making their entire database available for free from December 26-29, which is what prompted the complaint that you can't make use of it without going through the free trial, but now you know that isn't true, you can take advantage of all their free offers from time to time.

48 Ancestry.com Search Tips


Hope everyone had a great holiday! Here's a free gift from Family Tree University Magazine: PDF ebook of 48 Ancestry.com Search Tips.

It's basically a beginners guide though, so probably won't benefit the more seasoned of Ancestry.com users but you never know, it's worth a look.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Free Family Tree Software Review: Ancestris

Continuing in alphabetical order of free tree software reviews, this one is about Ancestris.

Upon opening Ancestris, there are options to take a tour of the software or use other learning tools. I decided to skip this and clicked on My Ancestris which then gave me the options to create a new genealogy or open an existing one. Creating a new one takes you through the first steps of setting up a new tree. Right off the bat, I didn't like this process, since under "modifications of properties" it had a section for making "jurisdictions" (locations) fields required and organizing the sort order (shown right). For new comers, this might be confusing as you may not yet be sure how to best set this up, and I found it totally unnecessary.

The fourth step is finally useful and has you enter the name and birth data for the first person in your tree, normally yourself. You also have the option to enter death data (leave blank for yourself, obviously) and occupation and residence. The last step has you enter the parents, spouse, and children details (and other relatives, oddly), but clicking on "Add his/her father/mother" first generates a popup box that basically tells you what you already know, that you're about to add the father of this person (shown left). It gives you the option of changing the person's ID number, which again is unnecessary. Just click proceed, and then you'll finally have the same options to enter the details as you did with the original person.

Another annoying feature is that when adding a mother, the married name is automatically put into the surname field (shown right). This is bad form because the standard in genealogy is to name women by their maiden names. A newcomer who doesn't know this might assume it's better to enter the married name since that is the default here so this could be very misleading and really screw things up for people who don't know better. I also noticed that surnames are automatically formatted to be in all caps (shown right). This is a format some people use but not all and there doesn't seem to be a way to change it if you prefer it without all caps. If there is a way to change this setting, like everything in this software, it's not obvious how to do so.

So far, the only positive thing about this software is that the place fields (and the name fields, though I don't know how useful this would be in practice) offer a drop down menu of previously used locations so if you have a lot of events in one place, you don't need to type them all out every time. That said, you wouldn't be typing out too many locations anyway because another let down to Ancestris is that the only facts/events that seem available are name, BMD, occupation, and residence (only one residence so you can not enter more than one location a person lived in). You can also enter a nickname and name prefix/suffix but no alternate names or any other alternate facts. All very limiting to detailing anything more than the bare, vital facts.

When you are finished with these steps, you can now view your tree, either as a pedigree (what they call a "Dynamic tree") or a family group sheet which they call a "Browser" (shown left and below). They don't make the tabs very clear what they are, they just have the title of your tree on every tab. I only figured out what they called the different views/tabs by looking at the "View" menu and matching the icons, which might be too small to make out quickly or easily for some.

On the left, you have your tree views, on the right you have the details of the individual selected, which you can view either as editable fields ("Ancestris Editor") or as an outline list ("Data Publisher") - again, the tabs for these different views aren't obvious what they are. On the "Data Publisher" view, there is another box below it titled "Individual" but it gets cut off and there is no scroll bar, you can only adjust the divider in between the two boxes to see more (shown below right).

The pedigree view (Dynamic Tree) is not much better, it's clunky looking and it took me a minute to realize the blank box below the two parents is meant to be for their marriage data. Another thing they don't exactly make very clear (shown right).

At the bottom, there's a list of immediate family members and their details. Again, the tab for it just lists the tree name instead of a description of the view type (shown right). Apparently this is called the "Entities Table", as listed under "View" in the top menu above the toolbar.

Adding more people to your tree is also not very intuitive. If I want to add the parents of an individual, that's easy enough because in the family group (Browser) view there are fields to click to add them. But let's say I want to add another child. I first looked around for an "Add" button but when I couldn't find one, I right clicked the individual while in pedigree (Dynamic tree) view and then hovered over "Individual (ID number)" in the menu that appeared. Another menu appeared from that, giving me the option to add various types of family members (shown left). This seems to be the only way to add someone who is not a parent, it's only available in pedigree view and only by right clicking and selecting an option that doesn't even describe the function it runs.

So what are the positives to this software?! Well, they do have a lot of charts and reports. If you already have a tree you build online and you're looking for some free software just to import your gedcom and generate charts and reports, this might work for you. But in terms of actual data management, especially for beginners to genealogy, this is NOT intuitive. Again, even just bringing up the charts and reports is not straight forward. It's easy enough to click on "View" and select "Lists and reports" but then it opens a blank new tab and you have to know to click on the correct icon that has a green triangle on it. That opens up a lists of reports you can choose from. Also be aware that a lot of the charts have to be output to a file like SVG and then displayed in a web browser instead of being displayed within Ancestris.

The only other positive is that it does support sources and even repositories. I know that seems like it should be standard on every tree software rather than a noted bonus, but as we've seen before, that's not always the case. However, this alone is not enough to make it worthwhile because yet again, adding a source is not intuitive. You can not add a source in the "Ancestris Editor" like you might think (isn't that what an editor is for?), even though there's a tab for it. Instead, you have to go to the pedigree view (Dynamic tree) and right click the individual, highlight "Individual (ID number)" and then choose "Add Source". But bizarrely, this won't add a source to the individual, it adds it to the whole tree! Despite the fact that each fact for each individual has a "Source" tab, I can't figure out a way to actually use these. I'm not saying it's impossible but I'm fairly computer literate so if I can't figure out how to do it, it's not intuitive in the slightest.

Pros:
  • Locations have drop down select of previously used places
  • Supports sources and repositories (limited though)
  • Lots of charts and reports

Cons:
  • Not intuitive or easy to use at all
  • Only basic, vital facts/events available to add
  • Not able to customize much (ie, no option to turn off surnames in all caps)
  • Woman's surnames default with married name (you can change it but it's bad form for the default to be married)

Conclusion: If you're willing to wrestle with the functionality of this software, the reports and charts might be worth it, for a free option, but there are probably better ones out there. I can see nothing else redeeming about this software, it's very hard to use even for a seasoned genealogist and computer user.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Free Family Tree Software Review: Ancestral Quest Basics

Ancestry Quest has a free "basics" version and a full $29.95 version. They have a detailed comparison on their website but I am only going to review the free version and compare it against other free family tree software.

When you download Ancestral Quest Basics, there is a form to fill out your details but note that it is no required. You can just click the download button. One annoying feature of this software right off the bat is that once installed, you have to reboot your computer before using it. Many years ago that used to be the norm but not anymore so already this software feel outdated. Before the software opens, it asks you to set a few preferences.

One of the benefits to this software is that it has a built in option to search Ancestry.com for records. If you have an Ancestry.com subscription, this might be beneficial. But then, if you have an Ancestry.com subscription, I would highly recommend using their own software, Family Tree Maker, since it has the ability to sync your online and offline tree, which isn't possible with Ancestral Quest.

Getting started options
It's also highly compatible with PAF - Personal Ancestry File which was created by FamilySearch.org. They have since abandoned their PAF software but it is still supported by Ancestral Quest, Legacy Family Tree, and RootsMagic, and will link to your online FamilySearch Family Tree, just like Family Tree Maker links with your online Ancestry.com tree. So the real benefit of Ancestral Quest is if FamilySearch.org is your favored online source.

Once you get passed all these options to enable or not, you finally have the option to create a new tree or open an existing one. There are several options, including things like importing from a gedcom or from your FamilySearch tree. I always start a new tree because I'm assuming most people interested in free software are newcomers to genealogy who may not have a tree built yet. It will ask you to name your tree and where to save it, and then again asks if you want to register (and buy) the full software.

Add/edit individual with pedigree view in background
Finally, you get a blank pedigree in which you can start filling in names. It shows you where to click to add the first person in your tree, usually yourself. This is beneficial for first time users who may never have built a tree before and don't know where to start. Clicking this brings up a popup box that allows you to input your details. I notice right away that Ancestral Quest allows you to add source citations for each fact by clicking on the "S" next to the fact. This is a definite plus over the previously reviewed Ahnenblatt software. The other benefit over Ahnenblatt is the ability to add more than just vital data and basic facts. As you can see in the screenshot to the left, you can click "add" under "other events" and get a huge list of different types of facts/events you can add to an individual. Clicking the "more" tab allows you to enter things like an AKA name, physical description, and cause of death. Some of these options are not always available with other free software. Ancestral Quest also has a tab in the individual's details for contact information, which is really only beneficial for living people in your tree. In pedigree view, when you hover over an individual's name, it displays a quick view of their BMD data (birth, marriage, death). To view more of their details, just double click their name and the window shown in the screenshot above left will appear again.

Family view tab showing immediate family of individual
Once you've created the first person in your tree, it jumps from pedigree view to the "family" tab, which basically shows the individual's immediate family. You can enter your parents from here or by going back to the pedigree view. When you click on "add father" and type in a name and click okay, a window to input his marriage details pops up, which is a little confusing because you haven't even entered the mother/wife's name yet! If you then enter the mother's name, the details of the father's marriage do seem to get added but I did not find this process intuitive at all.

The design of the software uses some largish fonts and buttons, which may be beneficial for those with poor eyesight but personally, I found that made it difficult to visually pull all the details together.

Along with the Pedigree and Family view tabs, there is a tab for "Name list" which lists all the people in your tree. The "Individual" and "Timeline" tabs are only available with the $29.95 version.

In the toolbar along the top of the screen, there are more options to play with your data. Some are restricted to the $29.95 version, such as "publish a family book" and the to-do list. The option to "edit individual" just brings up a person's details to edit, you can accomplish the same thing by double clicking their name in pedigree or family view. In addition to the list of all people in your tree, there are tools for search your tree by name, number, or relationship. There is also the option to merge two duplicate individuals, a more advanced feature you may not often see in free software.

The Basics version does allow you to create some reports and charts, though they are limited. You'll find them by clicking the printer icon in the toolbar, which may not be very intuitive. From here, there appears to be many options but once again, clicking print or preview on many of them brings up the option to upgrade to the full version. That can get annoying. Their website I linked to before details which reports and charts are available for which versions so I won't get into all that.

Exporting your tree only gives you options for various Ancestral Quest versions, Heritage Family Tree Deluxe, Family Tree Maker, PAF, and "Other", which apparently is code for gedcom. Why they couldn't call it gedcom is beyond me.

Pros:
  • Overall easy to use, with only a couple exceptions
  • Links to your FamilySearch family tree
  • Will search records on Ancestry.com
  • Has some features other free software may not, such as citations for facts and many event types
  • Offers some reports and charts

Cons:
  • Has many features which are only available in paid version but doesn't indicate that you can't access them until clicking on them (they could be greyed out to indicate no access but aren't) - the constant clicking on items not available gets annoying (though they make clear on their website what features aren't available with the free version, it's not like I have an eidetic memory)
  • Upon opening the first time, it asks you to set a lot of preferences that newbies may not know much about
  • One or two features are not hugely intuitive

Conclusion: An easy to use option for beginners but also allows some growth, not only with the free version but also offering more features with the full $29.95 version, which is affordable. Biggest benefit is being able to link your Ancestral Quest tree with your FamilySearch tree. If FamilySearch (which is free) is where much of your research is going to be, and you can put up with many features not available with the free version, this software is a good option to start with.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 31, 2014

Free Family Tree Software Review: Ahnenblatt

Many newcomers to genealogy don't yet want to spend money on a family tree program, which is understandable, so they want to know which free software is the best. I thought it might be beneficial if I were to review them each. I will work in alphabetical order and include lesser known software. If you're not interested in reading my full review, scroll down the bottom where I list the pros and cons, give a conclusion summary, and a rating.

This one is called Ahnenblatt. The prefix "Ahnen" comes from the German word "Ahnentafel" which basically means "Ancestor chart". Though this software is created by a German, it is available in English (as well as many other languages too) and "Ahnentafel" is the word used even in English genealogy for a report which lists one's ancestors (the opposite of a descendant report which lists one's descendants).

The creator of Ahnenblatt continues to update it, with the lately version 2.83 being last updated October 16, 2014. When you open it, it will have a blank work space with options along the toolbar at the top. You can select "Open" to open an existing gedcom, or you can click on "New" and start a new tree.

Starting a new tree
It is initially pretty straight forward and intuitive. Clicking on "New" opens a pop up window where you can fill in the details of the person you wish to start your tree with - probably yourself. The upper part of the pop up window has two tabs, one for "Person" and one for "Name". The person tab is where you type in vital data like birth, death, and gender - and you can also enter an occupation here. The name tab allows you to add a title, suffix, or nick name. There doesn't seem to be an option for an alternate name fact.

The lower part of the window has the option to add your parent's names. Strangely, when clicked the text field to enter their names, instead of just being able to type them straight in there, another window pops up saying "No father registered! Register father now?" Click "yes" and then another window pops up allowing you to type the names there. You can untick "show again" so the alert doesn't come up again but it still creates a new window for you to enter or edit parents' names, which is strange and unnecessary in my opinion. After entering both father and mother names, it asks you if they are married to each other. There are further tabs for inputting siblings, partner, children, etc. Under the partner tab it allows you to enter details of when and where they were married.

Pedigree view
Once you've input some initial names, clicking the check mark then creates a tree in a pedigree view. Clicking on any name in the tree will move the pedigree view to center on that individual and from there, clicking on the pencil icon above their name will open their profile where you can add or edit details. So initially, we only input the parents' names, now we can click on each one and input their vital data. Above the pedigree, it displays the individual's details in a white box, which is rather sloppy. It displays as a text box with a blinking text cursor if you click on it but you can not actually edit the details here, you must click on the pencil icon. Additionally, the white box displays all the info with only commas separating the different details.

Adding media. Yes, that's a picture of me from my wedding.
To the left of the pedigree is where the list of children for that individual is displayed. Clicking on a blank one allows you to add a child (in addition to being able to add a child from someone's profile). In the upper right corner it lists the last person you view so you can easily jump back, useful if you have a big tree. In the top left corner is a spot for an image of the individual. Clicking it will let you add an image to that individual (you can also open the individual's profile and click the "pictures/files" tab) but don't try to add more than one file at the same time or an error will occur. You can add more then one image but do it one at a time. You can select from the list which image you want to be the default on display.

Sources, a bit of a letdown
In an individual's profile, you can see there are also tabs for church, notes, and sources. This is where there's a bit of a let down for serious researchers, since there is no formatting of sources as citations, you just type whatever you want into the text box. There is also no way to attach a certain source or citation to a specific fact, all you can do is just list your sources like a bibliography. As such, I recommend manually formatting your sources in a standard APA or MLA style. If you need a refresher on them, I suggest using EasyBib where you can even just type in the details of your source and it will format it for you. If you join EasyBib (free) it will even save your citations.

Those are the basic functions of the software, and I found it mostly user friendly, even if not very aesthetically pleasing. The software's biggest downfall is the lack of many "event" facts aside from vital data - such as residence, military, immigration, etc. The "church" tab does allow you to input data for a baptism, confirmation, and funeral but there is no option, for example, to list where someone was living in 1940 or when they enlisted in the army. But is it a free program and the lack of the full features found on a program for sale is to be expected.

Places - lists individuals associated with location but not
facts/events associated with it
There are also other options in the toolbar to play with the data you've input. "Plausibility" checks to make sure you don't have any conflicting data - such as a child born after the mother's death. This is a great tool to have which you don't always find on a free software. The "Adjust" button allows you to format a few display options though not nearly enough, I would have liked to see a way to display first name first, then surname instead of the vice versa default which you can't seem to change.

"Places" allows you to see a list of the locations in your tree and the individuals associated with those locations, but not the specific fact for that individual the place is associated with. You can also add notes, sources, media, and even a zip/postal code and exact coordinates to a location.

Reports
Another feature this software provides that some freebies don't is the ability to create lists/reports and charts from your tree. It offers an ahnentafel report (ancestor list), a descendant list/report, a family list (a list of all people in your tree), a birthday list which is self explanatory, and a person sheet, which is a person report that lists the individual's vital data. It also creates charts including an "ancestor tree" or chart, which is like a pedigree - this is available in both poster and book format. The "family tree" chart is a descendants chart, and the "hourglass" includes both ancestors and descendants of an individual. These are only available in poster format but all include a few options to format fonts, style, etc. There are many other types of reports and charts which are not included but the presence of any at all is a bonus.

The "Search" tool allows you to search for anything within your tree - be it a name, a location, or a date. It's pretty useful in finding an individual in your tree but one thing this software is really lacking is a designated "home person". This is a standard feature in most family tree software that allows you to jump back to the home person at any time and view the tree from a set starting point. Normally, the home person is yourself.

You can save your tree in Ahnenblatt as a unique Ahnenblatt file but also as the standard gedcom, an HTML page/site, CSV, and others.

Pros:
  • Easy to use
  • Includes "plausibility" check
  • Includes some reports and charts
  • Ability to export to gedcom, HTML, CSV, and others

Cons:
  • Only basic facts/events available to add (no options for residence, military, immigration, etc)
  • No option to attach source citations to specific facts
  • Viewing places lists people associated with location but not facts
  • Preview of individual's data/events is sloppily listed in white text box above pedigree
  • No home person

Conclusion: Very basic starter software which is easy to use and has some good features but if you become more serious about your research, you will quickly outgrow it, particularly the way sources are handled and the lack of non-vital facts/events. The layout of the pedigree may also be cumbersome when dealing with a very large tree, especially with the lack of a home person.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.