Avoiding a critical record-keeping error

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I have spent most of the winter going back over my Italian records from towns that are close to my main ancestral “comune.” A lot of people from neighboring towns married into our families. (Or maybe they say that we married into theirs!) I had to order a lot of different films and visit Salt Lake City on multiple occasions in order to find the birth records for these people.

When I first looked for many of them, I made a mistake that I don’t want you to make. I rented the microfilm (or viewed it in Salt Lake City) and recorded the information in my computer without making copies of the actual records. Big mistake. I have some data that does not make sense now, and in order for me to clear it up, I have to look at the original record, and I don’t have it.

Regardless of the source, always make sure to get a copy of the original source material, and record the microfilm you found it on. In your family tree software, make sure to record this information as the source for that information.

As a result of me not following my own advice, I have to go back to a lot of the same records a second time in order to copy them and to record what number they are in the film.

So I am recording a source for each record that will make sure I can find it in the future. I record the name of the town (which is already the birthplace), the year (which is already in the birth date), the type of record (Birth, Marriage, Death etc.) and the record number. Each record in the Italian civil records has a sequential number within that year. This is also true of a lot of other records but let’s focus on Italian civil records for the moment.

I would like to teach you about another mistake I made that cost me time. (It’s a good thing I am so mistake-prone!) A long time ago when I first started this project, I noticed that the indexes from before 1866 typically had the birthdate, parents, and the sequential number. Perfect! Use that as the source and I’m off to the races! Now I don’t have to copy twenty records, but instead just copy a page or two from the index!

You can already see where this is going, right?

Problem numero uno in this shortcut is that the data in the index may not be 100 percent perfect. The index might have been created months or even years later by a very bored clerk. No computers or spreadsheets back then! Just read the record and rewrite everything in the index. Just like people do today, they look to the left for the record and then write something on the right, and then back to the left and they look at the wrong one … . I do that a lot.

I have found many records over the years where the father is the right father, but the mother is some other person who was never married to that father. Turns out she belonged to the record below the one that was being worked on, and accidentally got copied to the wrong child! Poor lady had to raise other people’s kids as well as her own!

Problem numero due is that the sequential numbers don’t match. Huh?? For some reason, in many of the indexes I have worked with, they write the index in alphabetical order, but they do not record the original record numbers from the records themselves. They instead assign a sequential number to the index now that it is in alpha order!! So you end up with:

Giovanni Volpe born 3 January 1817 record #1

Olimpia Procaccio born 10 January 1817 record #2

Ercole Sassonetti born 5 March 1817 record #3

The index says:

Procaccio, Olimpia born January 10 1817 record #1

Sassonetti, Ercole born 5 March 1817 record #2

Volpe, Giovanni born 3 January 1817 record #3

So the problem I had was that I recorded the numbers from the index when I should have used numbers from the original records. This means that I was putting the wrong source for the record in question.

So I have been spending a lot of the winter going through the same films looking for the same records. The funny part is that sometimes I cannot find them the second time around! The records did not change. The microfilms are the same as they were when I started researching. However, when I look again for the 1889 birth of so-and-so and he is not in the index at all, it means I have a new error. I found one yesterday by searching FamilySearch.org and it turns out he was born in 1887 not 1889. I probably wrote the 7 and it looked like a 9 and then I entered in my computer that way!

As you get copies of your records, I suggest you save the files with the following filename format:

Surname Firstname Middlenames Year Recordtype Town Filmnumber recordnumber.jpg

So when I find Ercole Sassonetti in the Valenzano birth records, I should save the copy of his birth record as:

Sassonetti Ercole Carlo Alphonso 1817 Valenzano Birth 1640050 #3.jpg

Looks complicated, but when you search for that record later, you can find it easily. You’ll never find it if the file name is FILE0043.jpg. Oh yeah, that was problem numero tre! Make sure to name the files to match what they are. If you try putting the files in folders, it might work ok until you move or copy the files to another folder. I tried putting “File0043.jpg” in a folder C:\Genealogy\Documents\Italy\Births\Valenzano\1817\File0043.jpg and even if I renamed it “SASSONETTI ERCOLE.jpg” it could get lost, or mixed up with his grandson who is stored in the folder for 1865 births!

So as a wise man once said, “do as I say, not as I did.”

Write to Dan at italianroots@comcast.net and please put Fra Noi in the subject. Thanks!


About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.

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