East European Research Online
by Barbara Renick
©2018 Barbara Renick
Sooner or later, most genealogists trace their family trees beyond
the boundaries of their research experience. Learning to do research
in a new geographic area and/or culture means that some things stay the same
(fundamental principles of research) and some things will be
different—especially for East European research.
Challenges include learning about:
|The legal, religious, economic, and cultural systems for that location and your time period of interest (and possibly earlier and later time periods, as well).
||The geopolitical shifts in boundaries and jurisdictions for that location over time.
||Multiple places with the same name and how you place name changed over time.
||The types of records created and the time period each type covers for that location.
||How to determine if a particular record still exists.
||The languages and dialects used by the record keepers.
||The script/handwriting used by the record keepers.
||The cryptic symbols often used in many types of records.
||The tools/finding aids (maps, gazetteers, dictionaries, indexed parish registers, indexed port records, etc.) specific to that locality, record type, and time period.
Because of these challenges, the first rule of East European genealogy is to
search in every record here that may contain any scrap of evidence before
searching in records from there.
Speech Accent Archives
Preparing to do genealogical research in East Europe requires four vital
pieces of information:
|Names (and likely spelling variations)
||Dates (or at least a probable range of years for each
identifying life event)
||Places (as exact as possible with other nearby places
and geographic features identified)
||Relationships (your ancestor’s family, social,
religious, and occupational contacts are an important foundation for you
searches in foreign records).
Names: People names, place names, and names of occupations often prove to
be your biggest challenge. As your ancestors migrated across Europe and
eventually to America, there were many opportunities for these names to change.
These names are also more difficult to accurately transcribe than the ordinary
words you encounter in foreign documents.
Types of people name changes:
Translative: Many Europeans upon arriving in America
changed their names to the English equivalent of the original. Example: KLEIN
or PITSCHNA а LITTLE
Phonetic: If the name did not have a local equivalent,
quite often it was changed phonetically. Example: THIEME in Switzerland > DIEM
in the Swabian Alb in Wьrttemberg > TYM in Polish Russia > TEAM in Wisconsin
after coming to the U.S.A.
Anglicization: Others modified their names by adding or
dropping a portion of the name.
Example: BOROWSKI > BORROW.
Total change: For reasons of prestige or political
motivation, many Europeans found it expedient to adopt a completely new and
unrelated name in America.
Transcription errors introduce even more name
Places: Everything previously said about people’s names applies to place
names. Because names changed (both people and place names), the risk greatly
increases for tracing the wrong family name in the right place, the right family
name in the wrong place, or both! VERIFY, VERIFY!
Once you have exhausted readable records in your native tongue (for most of
you this will be English) and as clearly as possible defined the four key areas
of identification, you are ready to consult East European records. The two
primary sources of genealogical information in Europe are civil registers (if
these existed for the time period you are researching) and church records. Of
course, most of these records will be written in one or more foreign languages
For those planning to use microfilms or microfiche of original source
materials from East European countries, the online version of the Family History
Library Catalog (FHLC) is very helpful. Many of the finding aids and tools from
the library are made available to Family History Centers on microfilm or
microfiche. Remember to check under the general heading of the country of
interest in the catalog for such aids. CAUTION: The "Related Places" screen in
the online version of the FHLC serves as a partial gazetteer, but it includes
only those places for which the library holds materials.
Finding maps and gazetteers reflecting the correct place names with correct
geopolitical and religious boundaries is challenging enough. But the real
difficulty often comes when you try to use these tools and encounter their
cryptic abbreviations and miserly archaic fonts. Example: Meyers Orts-
unt Verkehrs- Lexikon versus SPIS for Polish Russia.
A search in
maps.google.com’s Maps for the place Jasienica in Europe finds 6 places by that name currently exist in Poland (including two or more in some powiats/districts).
|Many genealogy sites refer to classic maps sites like:
||The Perry-Castaсeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas (www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/historical/index.html
||Map History / History of Cartography: THE Gateway to the Subject (http:www.maphistory.info/collections.html)
||David Rumsey Map Collection (www.davidrumsey.com/p)
||Bureau of Land Management (glorecords.blm.gov/p)
||Atlas of Historical County Boundaries (Atlas-historical-county-boundries)
||Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States (Atlas of Historical Geography of US)
Audio tapes of lectures from past regional and national genealogical
conferences are available at
www.audiotapes.com. Recordings of National Genealogical Society Conference were
recorded by NGS. Those recorded are available with your membership to NGS at conference.ngsgenealogy.org.
The FamilySearch Internet Web site has six areas of significant help for
genealogists learning to do research in a new geographic area and/or culture.
Search for Ancestors (www.familysearch.org >
SEARCH > Search for Ancestors comes up by default and click on International
Research Helps (www.familysearch.org > SEARCH >
Research Guidance (www.familysearch.org > SEARCH
> Research Guidance)
Web Sites directory (www.familysearch.org >
SEARCH > Web Sites)
Family History Library Catalog (online version) (www.familysearch.org
> LIBRARY > Family History Library Catalog)
Glossary (www.familysearch.org > SEARCH >
Research Helps >Glossary)
Despite the vastness of the help available at the FamilySearch Internet Web
site, there isn’t a single site that has "everything." Examples:
GenWeb Projects vs. WebRings
||WorldGenWeb Projects (www.worldgenweb.org)
Cyndi’s List vs. Wikipedia
||Cyndi’s List (www.cyndislist.com)
||Jewish Genealogy (www.jewishgen.org)
Some of the best resources are found in unlikely or less likely locations.
|Baltimore County [MD] Genealogical Society’s ethnic links
||Mr. Tom Wodzinski (in Canberra, Australia) has Polish genealogy links
||Rafael T. Prinke’s Web site (www.amu.edu.pl/)
Many of these "unlikely" resources can be found via search engines.
|Internet Search Engines Google.com is very popular, but don’t stop there. (Google
Advanced Search, Directory, Groups, Google Maps, Google Translate)
||Most general Internet search engines have advanced settings to limit your search to Web sites in specified language.
||There are also language specific search engines. Use an online tool like www.searchenginecolossus.com to find them.
||Search on such phrases as East European Studies, East European Libraries, East European Genealogy; then try these phrases again with the specific name of your ancestor's country or
Remember to search outside the lines.
||Search for travel resources.
||Search for departments of culture.
||Search for the equivalent of a Chamber of Commerce.
||Search for lists of Frequently Asked Questions about that country or ethnic group.
||Search for local newspapers and foreign language newspapers in the areas where your ancestors lived.
||Search Cyndi’s List for the word newspaper and the name of a country
||Don’t overlook e-mail discussion groups to join, lurk, and then use.
||E-mail Collaboration Lists at FamilySearch Internet (www.familysearch.org > SHARE > Collaboration E-mail Lists)
Information Service (http://bubl.ac.uk/) has several lists that are
genealogically useful including:
||Google Groups (http://groups.google.com)
||Newsgroups category at Cyndi’s List (www.cyndislist.com)
||Yahoo! Groups (http://groups.yahoo.com)
Libraries and archives provide a wide variety of resources:
The Library of Congress has lists of links in its
“Portals to the World” (www.loc.gov/rr/international/portals.html)
WorldCat.org (www.worldcat.org/) has more than
one billion entries from more than 10,000 libraries around the world and
- General reference
- Language, literature, and culture
- Social sciences