East European Research Online
by Barbara Renick
©2007 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:
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: 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:
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 and scripts.
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 Expedia.com’s Maps for the place Jasienica in Europe finds 13 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) Oddens’ Bookmarks (http://oddens.geog.uu.nl/index.php)
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)
Oddens’ Bookmarks (http://oddens.geog.uu.nl/index.php)
Audio tapes of lectures from past regional and national genealogical conferences are available at www.audiotapes.com. Some recent genealogy conferences have been digitally recorded. For instance, http://www.LULU.com recorded lectures at the 2006 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Boston. These are now available for purchase and download for $1.99 each at LULU.com (search on FGS). Lectures at the 2007 National Genealogical Society Conference in the States were recorded by JAMB Inc. Those recorded are available on CDs for $12 per lecture at www.jamb-inc.com.
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.
Despite the vastness of the help available at the FamilySearch Internet Web site, there isn’t a single site that has "everything." Examples:
Some of the best resources are found in unlikely or less likely locations.
Many of these "unlikely" resources can be found via search engines.
Libraries and archives provide a wide variety of resources: