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Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge… M is for Maps! What do maps have to do with family history? Maps can mean a lot to research – after all, how can you find the history of your family if you don’t know where to look? Maps can help us look in the right direction in many different ways. Here are some of my favorite kinds of maps or map sites that I use in my research:

Google Maps – Besides helping me find my way between a myriad of places, I use Google Maps to look up all sorts of locations in my family history research. I can use it to see a town in Europe – or to see if that town name actually exists. Or, I can look up a census address to see if the house is still there, and if a “Street View” exists I can even see how the location looks today. For cluster research, I can create a custom map and “pin” all of the locations of a particular family or group of neighbors.

Historic Maps – I love historic map sites! What genealogist doesn’t? One of my favorites for my hometown research is the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network interactive map viewer. I can see past maps of the city layered on top of today’s map (using Google Maps). My favorite is the 1942 Land Use map that includes businesses, factories, churches, and more. With this old map, I can literally walk around the neighborhood of my ancestors and “see” what they saw as they walked the streets of Philadelphia. (See my previous post, Fun with Maps in Philadelphia, for more on the site.) Old maps of Europe were essential to my research to determine country borders – was it Poland or Russia? Bavaria or Austria?

Factories in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, 1942

Pinpointing a town with maps – Sites like the JewishGen Gazetteer (formerly called the ShtetlSeeker) can not only show you a town on the map, but show you towns within a ten-mile radius. You can also search for a town name phonetically, which is  useful for misspelled town names. The Gazetteer contains the names of one million localities in 54 countries in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Learn more about it in my previous post, ShtetlSeeker: It’s Not Just for Shtetls Anymore.

Surname Maps are a very different sort of map that also have a place in family history. Several sites allow you to create a map of surname distribution in a particular country. The maps are usually based on current data, such as census records or phone books. Such maps can lead you to potential relatives back in the old country or even validate your place of origin. I try to use a surname map in each of my Surname Saturday posts to illustrate the name’s distribution. Frankly, they are really just plain fun. I recently entered a rather unusual surname into a surname map-maker for Poland and found a total of one person with that name – in exactly the same town my ancestor came from. Hello, cousin?

How have maps helped your family history research?

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…K is for Księgi Parafialne (Polish for “Church Books”) via the website http://www.ksiegi-parafialne.pl/. If your family history is Polish, this site is a must and yet it is not mentioned very often among guides to Polish research or “best of” lists. What is it? A site that lists, by province, every town that has church books indexed. The indexes (indices) are all on other sites – this is merely an index of indexes and links are included to get you there. As such, this site is only helpful once you’ve discovered the name of the town from which your ancestors came.

First, click on “Województwa” to find the province. Since the entire site is in Polish, you must look for the Polish name of the province (Pomorskie for Pomerania, etc). Each province has a separate page with a list of towns. Find the town name in the first column, parafia / USC. If available at one of the online sites, it will be listed. The dates in the columns show what records have been indexed for Chrzty/Urodziny (Baptisms/Births), Małżeństwa (Marriages), and Zgony (Deaths). Under Strona www is a link to the web site with the indexed records. There are over a dozen sites that have images (or at least indexes) of the records available. Included among them are Geneteka, which I’ve praised here before, and the Polish church books included on FamilySearch.org. What’s not listed? Anything on microfilm available via FamilySearch – this site lists only records/indexes available online. As with any record site, some provinces have many more towns with online records available than others. But towns are added weekly and the site is a great way to keep track of  what’s available for your ancestors’ towns. There are hundreds listed – is your ancestors town among them?

On the main page next to “Województwa” you will also see “II Rzeczpospolita” or “Second Republic”. This list includes areas once associated with Poland during the interwar period. There is also a heading “Dokumenty metrykalne” which offers documents that describe the format of the records. However, as the documents are in Polish, it will not nearly be as helpful as various translation guides in English.

For those of you with Polish ancestry, how cool is it to have a site that lists all available online records? I think it’s great…I just wish Germany had a similar site! Happy searching…

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…G is for Google? What does Google have to do with family history?  The Google site is much more than just a search engine – it has become a very useful tool for genealogical research.  Here are some of the ways I use Google for genealogy:

  • Search for names and towns on Google 
  • Read all of my genealogy (and other) blogs on Reader
  • Share information with my family on Docs.  It is also a useful place to store info among  my various computers (work, home, laptop).
  • Find references to ancestors or towns in old books and newspapers, especially foreign texts, on Books. This is how I found out about a fire in my ancestors’ town, my fugitive immigrant, and I located many sources for my Józef Pater story.
  • Translate words, phrases, or entire texts from Latin, Polish, German, and many other languages with Translate. While the translations are not 100% accurate, you do get the general idea of the text.  You can also translate directly from Google Books if the full text of the book is available.
  • Set up Alerts for names or places so you don’t miss any references
  • Virtually walk in my ancestors’ footsteps with Maps and Earth
  • Remember family dates or set up an editorial calendar for a blog with Calendar

I even use Google’s web browser, Chrome, their photo editing tool, Picasa, and their email platform, Gmail! The only Google apps I don’t really use are the blogging platform, Blogger, and the social networking site, Google+, because I like WordPress and Facebook better. However, many other genealogists find both of these tools to be useful to their family research as well.

This “Google Doodle” was used for Louis Daguerre’s 224th birthday. As the inventor of the Daguerreotype photograph, I thought it was appropriate to illustrate Google and Family History!

How do you use Google for your family history research?

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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The Internet Archive: Wayback Machine (click on image to visit the site)

When we think of the past, we usually remember things that were a part of our lives such as cars, music, or fashions, or things from before our time that we learned about as history. The internet has only been part of our lives for a relatively short time as far as the history of the world is concerned, so while I sometimes think on the days “before” the internet, I don’t usually think about its earliest days and what it looked like. That is, until I read Go Back in Time: How 10 Big Websites Looked 15 Years Ago. The post uses the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to show screen shots of several sites including Apple, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and the New York Times. It was like the equivalent of looking at old photos of your family, friends, and self in fashions and hairstyles best kept in the past. But it was interesting to see just how “old” each of the sites looked “way back”  when and just how much the internet and technology has evolved in such a short time.

Genealogical research on the internet has shown the same leap as the sites mentioned in that article. I decided to look up some of our favorite big genealogy sites to see what is the equivalent of their old prom pictures.  While the screen shots might have that “dated” look about them, the most striking difference is that each of them have so much more information – including actual records online – than they did in the past.  Take a walk down memory lane – do you remember when the sites looked like this?

Ancestry.com on 02 March 2000. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Ancestry.com on 28 October 1996. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

FamilySearch.org on 08 May 1999. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Ellisisland.org on 03 March 2000. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Rootsweb.com (before purchased by Ancestry) on 14 June 1998. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

SteveMorse.org on 02 April 2003. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Of course, What’s Past is Prologue has looked exactly the same since its creation in 2008 except for the addition of some pages and changes to the sidebar.  But that’s just because I like the design!

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Recently Ancestry.com put up a new set of records called “Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records.” The collection contains a wide variety of miscellaneous records from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  I actually found a few items of interest in the collection.  One subset of records comes from the Wackerman Funeral Home, a funeral home which still exists today but is no longer in its former location.  In these records, I found information on the funeral arrangements for my great-grandmother, Marie Bergmeister, who died in 1919 at the age of 43.  Marie (or more usually, Maria) left behind a husband, Joseph, and five children – including my grandmother Margaret, the youngest, who was not quite six years old.

The funeral home record for the costs of Marie Bergmeister's funeral, 1919.

I knew that my grandmother’s family was poor, but it was interesting to compare the bill for my great-grandmother’s burial to some of the others who died at the same time.

Casket

  • $55 – Gray crape
  • $65 – Chesnut
  • $90 – Square chesnut with ext handles
  • $125 – Solid maple
  • $200 – Solid mahoghany

Case

  • $14 – Pine
  • $35 – Chesnut

Hearse

  • $10.50 to $13.00

Service

  • $5 – Low Mass
  • $25 – Solemn Requiem

A more costly funeral found in the same records.

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As an author of one or two blogs and a reader of, well, a whole lot of blogs, I started to think about readability. Things like font and background colors have an obvious affect on how easy – or hard – it is to visually read a blog. But there are other less obvious choices that we make as bloggers that may not come to mind.  Here are my thoughts on five ways to make our blogs more “reader friendly” – what are yours?

Make Your Blog Mobile Ready

With the proliferation of internet-capable mobile devices, a lot of blog reading is done on a rather small screen instead of a large computer monitor.  Therefore, help your readers out by making your site mobile ready!  What is the difference, you ask?  If your blog isn’t mobile ready, it appears on a mobile device the same as it does on a computer, which means it is either “squished” or you can only see a limited portion of text without scrolling horizontally.  Without the mobile ready setting, this blog is difficult to read on a mobile device:

When your blog is mobile ready, it will appear on a mobile device in a format that is easier to read:

How do you make a blog mobile ready?  WordPress bloggers can go to their Dashboard, Appearance, Extras.  Check the box next to “Display a mobile theme when this blog is viewed with a mobile browser”.  Click on “Update Extras” and you’re ready for the small screen.  Users of the Blogger platform must log on to draft.blogger.com instead of the usual Dashboard in order to see this setting.  Then under Settings, go to Email & Mobile and select “Yes, On mobile devices, show the mobile version of my template.”  Click on “Save Settings” and your blog is ready.  No matter which blog program you use, choosing the mobile ready option does not change the way your template looks on a “regular” computer.

Tell Them Who You Are

Sometimes I’ll find a new blog and want to send the author an email, but I can’t find any contact information! Whether you use your own name or a pseudonym, you’ll have more authority if you let your readers know something about you.  Most bloggers recommend using an “About Me” page to provide your readers with some background information or credentials.  For genealogy blogs, an “About Me” page can be useful to also provide information about your surnames and/or locations of research!  Most importantly, have an email address so that readers who are shy about commenting publicly have a way to get in touch.

Make it Easy to Comment

If you have a blog, you love to get comments, right?  Comments let bloggers know that someone is actually reading what they write!  Unfortunately, many everyday readers are not active participants or commenters because commenting can sometimes require too many steps.  To a computer-savvy blogger, using “Open ID” is no big deal.  Neither is word verification (although personally I find it rather annoying).  But to an ordinary reader, these steps make can make commenting not worth the trouble.  If you use word verification, review comments before they appear on the page, or don’t allow anonymous comments because you’re afraid of spam cluttering up your posts, consider using a spam catcher plug-in instead.  It solves the spam problem but let’s readers comment more easily. Recently there was a huge comment discussion after a great post by Amy Coffin at We Tree Genealogy called Genealogy Blogs: A Comment on Comments (psst – be sure to read the comments!)  Also see Amy’s follow-up post Genealogy Blogs Part 2: Readers Weigh in With Comments (this overlaps with my “Tell Them Who You Are” note above as well).

Give Feedback

Now that you’ve made it easier for readers to comment on your posts, don’t forget to respond!  It isn’t necessary to respond to each and every comment left on your blog, but responding does let readers know that you care about their feedback.  It is especially essential to comment back if a reader asks a question.  Taking the time to comment back to your readers allows your blog to become an open discussion forum – your readers will appreciate your feedback as much as you appreciate theirs.

Offer a Full Feed RSS

This can be a point of contention in the blogging world, but I think that providing a full RSS feed to your blog is more useful to readers.  The cons: 1) readers won’t actually visit your site, and 2) splogging or scraper sites will steal your content.  Let’s discuss the visitor issue first… Every blogger want readers to visit their site and see the hard work you put into your design or fancy widgets or other blog “bling”.  I love my site’s design and the header I designed, and I want others to see it.  But, the reality is – there isn’t always time to visit every blog, every day. Blog readers allow us to read a multitude of blogs without having to visit every one. Also, if you are reading blogs on a mobile device, it may be slightly more difficult to switch back and forth between a blog reader and a web browser.  My favorite reason for using full feeds is because my employer used to block all Blogger and WordPress sites, but Google Reader was allowed.  Every day at lunch I could get caught up on my blog reading, but I could only visit the actual sites if I bookmarked them for later. Reading blogs this way doesn’t mean that I don’t ever visit actual blogs – I do!  When a post captures my attention, I usually want to visit the site to comment.

As for the sites that turn Really Simple Syndication into Really Simple Stealing, they are out there and always will be.  There are a few things you can do to make it harder for these unscrupulous sites to steal your content, including adding a copyright notice at the bottom of every post and using Google Alerts to “find” your content online.  The genealogy community has been successful in going after splogging sites in the past.  But, if content theft is really a source of contention for you, then stick with partial RSS feeds – just realize you might lose a few readers along the way.   If you want to learn more about dealing with content theft, see Thomas MacEntee’s Resources on Blog Content and Copyright Theft and Lorelle VanFossen’s The Growing Trends in Content Theft: Image Theft, Feed Scraping, and Website Hijacking.

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After some success at Finding Polish Records Online, I decided to snoop around some more, this time with the Poznan Project.  While many of my Polish ancestors come from the area in or around Warsaw, a whole other branch comes from the wielkopolskie province in what is known as “Greater Poland”.  I have two ancestral lines from the town of Wilczyn in this province, which is covered by the Poznan Marriage Indexing Project.  I entered some of my family surnames into the search form, and immediately I found several matches.

But one find really confused me.  The groom’s name and his parents’ names were familiar to me already.  The bride’s name and her parents’ names were too.  Except these two individuals are from different branches of my family tree!

I actually had to plot it out on paper to figure out what had happened.  The “note” in the indexed record helped as well: he was a widower; she was a widow.  Their deceased spouses’ names were my ancestors – both the deceased and the two newlyweds are my 4th great-grandparents.

After charting it out, I was able to see that my great-grandmother’s father’s maternal grandparents were Franciszek Michałowski (b. 1788) and Julianna Pałuszyńska (b.1797). Her mother’s maternal grandparents were  Józef Kubiński (b.1795) and Apolonia Lewandowska (b.1796). At some point, Franciszek died, leaving behind at least one daughter, Elżbieta Michałowska (b. 1824). Likewise, Apolonia died, leaving behind at least one daughter, Konstancja Kubińska (1818-1896).

In 1839, the widow Juliana and the widower Józef got married, which made their two daughters step-sisters. The previous year, Józef’s daughter Konstancja had already gotten married to Jan Drogowski (1818-1894).  But Juliana’s daughter, Elżbieta, was only 15 years old.  When Elżbieta eventually got married in 1844 to Józef Ślesiński (1821-1866), her step-father Józef was a witness to the marriage.

Still with me?  Elżbieta had a son, Wincenty (1850-1919).  Konstancja had a daugther, Stanisława (1860-1918).  Wincenty and Stanisława got married in 1879 and had my great-grandmother, Wacława (1885-1956) and a bunch of other children.  Although Wacława has eight great-grandparents like most of us, her father’s grandmother married her mother’s grandfather after their spouses had died!

Once I was able to see this second marriage, it actually explained what I thought was a discrepancy in the records.  In Elżbieta Michałowska’s death record, her maiden name is not listed as Michałowska, but as Kubińska – her step-father’s name.  Until finding this marriage record, I wasn’t able to figure out that apparent name change!

One find in an index led to mapping out the family tree to see the connection.  This just goes to show that you never know what you might find!  I don’t usually look for second marriages in indexes, and if I hadn’t found this I would not be able to find the death record of the widow since I’d be looking under her first husband’s surname.

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Yesterday I mentioned my “easy” online find of a 19th century Polish marriage record via a site called Geneteka.  In this post, I’ll provide more information on the site, what’s available, and how to navigate.  But first, a word on various Polish sites that offer genealogical records or indexes.

It’s becoming more and more common to find genealogical records online in the United States thanks to both “free” sites, such as FamilySearch, and paid subscription sites like Ancestry and Footnote. Although FamilySearch and Ancestry both have some international records, not many are from Poland – which is where most of my ancestors are from.  But, there are Polish records available online – the only problem is knowing where to look.  There are several web sites and genealogical societies in Poland that are in the process of indexing millions of vital records, but most of the sites are in Polish (a notable exception to the language issue is the Poznan Project, which is in English).  There doesn’t seem to be one central online repository for these records, so finding them required some sleuthing and a heavy use of online translators to understand the Polish instructions.

Your first stop to check on availability of Polish records or indexes online should be the Indeks Indesków, which means the Index of Indexes.  It is in Polish, but it’s not too hard to figure out.  The site lists updated indexes in chronological order starting with the most recent.  But to see the entire list of what is available for each province, simply click on the name of the province (woj.) at the top of the page.  The column on the far left shows the Parafia/USC or the name of the town parish/civil registration office.  Next, the list will show what years are available online for chrzty/urodziny (christenings/births), małżeństwa (marriages), and zgony (deaths).  The final column, strona www, provides the link to the site or sites that have these indexes or records.  There are a dozen different sites!

Many of my Polish ancestors come from the mazowieckie provice and I was fortunate to discover that several of my main towns (Żyrardów, Mszczonów, and Warszawa) all have either indexes or the actual records available via Geneteka.

A full and very detailed explanation of the Geneteka site has already been written by Al of Al’s Polish-American Genealogy Research in June, 2009.  Please read his series of posts starting with Indexing Project – Geneteka Part One.  When you’re finished reading Al’s posts, come back here and I’ll explain my search.

Using this Geneteka search page, I entered my surname Piątkowski without the diacritical (entered as Piatkowski) in the box that says Nazwisko and clicked on the Wyszukaj button.

Search results for "Piatkowski"

Next, I chose to view the 93 marriage records listed under Warszawa to see the following results:

Search results for "Piatkowski" in marriage records for Warszawa

Scrolling down to find “Stanisław”, I see the names of my great-great-grandparents:

Piatkowski-Konopka search result

The first column is merely the number of the record within the total number of records found.  Next is the year the marriage took place, followed by the number of the record in the actual record book.  Next is the name of the groom, then the bride, and the church name.  The icon that looks like the letter “i” is included with some lines.  If you hold your mouse over the “i” you will see additional information (have an online translation tool handy).  The “A” icon will tell you who indexed the record.  Finally, the most important part of the line is the icon that reads “SKAN” at the end of the line.  This is not available for all of the indexed records, but if it is shown you are in luck – click it and you will see a scanned copy of the image.  (Note: some of the scanned images are located on the Geneteka site and others link to Polish Archives – my sample for this post links to one of the Archives so if you click on “skan” for another image it may look different than the images that follow.) First you will see the record group that the image is in, such as the following:

This page opens up after clicking on "skan" next to the Piatkowski-Konopka information.

I knew from the indexed information that I needed record number 194, so I clicked on the first image on this page.  It opens up a larger view of the records, and you can clearly read the number.  Then I used the navigation buttons on the side to find #194.

Navigate through the records until you find the correct number (located in upper left of each record).

Once you find the correct image,  you can save it to your computer.  It’s FREE!  Then all you need is either your trusty copy of In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents.  Volume I:  Polish by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman or your favorite Polish translator to help you uncover the details found in your record!

What if you find a name, but there is no “skan” at the end of the line?  That means they have not (yet?) scanned the record.  However, you now have both the year and the akt (act) number, which means you can contact the archives in that region to get a copy.  There will be a fee to obtain it, but it will be less than if you required them to research the name in the indexes themselves to find the correct year and act number.

This isn’t a full explanation of the Geneteka site – I am still figuring it all out myself.  Al already gave a very good primer on how to use the site, and I highly recommend his series that I linked to above.  My main goal in writing this post was to let others who are researching Polish ancestry know that the records are out there (to borrow a phrase from the television show X-Files).  Unfortunately, the records are being indexed by over a dozen different groups, and there is no one central site for this information.  Check the Index of Indexes to see if your ancestors’ parishes have been indexed yet.  If they haven’t – keep checking the site!  It is updated frequently.  All of the indexing sites appear to be quite active.  This marriage record only appeared in the last month.  If anyone else has good luck in finding a record on one of the many Polish sites, I’d love to hear more so leave a comment.

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Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an “easy” button for genealogy?  Can’t find a record? Just press the “easy” button!  Well, occasionally even genealogists get lucky and find something easily.  Since so many record are available online, a lot of research can be as easy as clicking a button.  But when your ancestors lived in a state as vital-record-strict as Pennsylvania, or from parts of Poland and Germany that don’t seem to work with the big online record sites, “easy” isn’t common.

For my new year genealogy resolutions, I made a wish list list of 11 goals for 2011.  A few were research-specific, including number 9 – “Find the marriage record for Stanisław Piątkowski & Apolonia Konopka.”  I didn’t necessarily put it on the list because I thought it would be easy; it was just one of those records I needed to find in order to continue researching each of those ancestral lines.  I didn’t expect to achieve that goal eight days into the new year.  And it was easy!

I found the couple’s marriage record online.  Now, in today’s genealogical world, that doesn’t sound unusual.  It is quite common to find records online.  But a marriage record from Warsaw, Poland?  From 1863?  On a free online site that isn’t called FamilySearch and isn’t affiliated with Ancestry?  To borrow a phrase from Randy Seaver, I was genea-smacked.  If only the rest of my genealogical research could be this easy.  The source of my great-great-grandparents’ marriage record is called Geneteka.  If you want to learn more about what it is, what records are available, and how to use it, stay tuned for my next post.  If only research was always this easy…

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Beginner researchers often post on mailing lists or genealogy forums, “Does anyone know where town xyz is?”  The typical answer from those “in the know” is a question:  Have you tried ShtetlSeeker?

ShtetlSeeker is an online database developed by JewishGen.  Researchers with no Jewish ancestry may not have heard of it, but if you haven’t you’re missing out on one of the best geographic resources on the internet.  Despite its name, it’s not just for Jewish communities (shtetl is a Yiddish word meaning “town”).  It is a database containing information on all towns in 45 different countries of Central & Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.  If your ancestors were Jewish, there is a separate search form that only looks at the towns with Jewish populations.

What’s so great about this particular database?  There are so many great features that it makes ShtetlSeeker far superior to any other online database or any paper map (and I am very fond of paper maps).  Here are some of the things that I especially like:

He said Woodge not Łódź

The database uses the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex for a “sounds like” search.  The Daitch-Mokotoff soundex is more useful for Slavic or Yiddish pronunciations than the “regular” American soundex, which is especially useful if you have Eastern European ancestry.  Let’s say you asked Grandpa where he was born, and he tells you “Mishzinof” in Poland.  Chances are you didn’t ask him to spell it, and there is no town with that name – at least not spelled the way you heard it.  If you enter MISHZINOF into the search form for a “sounds like” search, you will get 18 possible matches based on the similarity in pronunciation between the search term and the correct language’s spelling.  While you do not need to enter a search term with any special characters, the result will provide you with the correct accented letters in the native language.

Widen the search area

If your ancestors were like mine, they may have said they were from the “big city” nearby (Munich) when they were really from a smaller town that no one ever heard of (Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm).  I am currently researching an ancestor who listed a somewhat large town, Żyrardów, as her birthplace.  A search of the records didn’t find her family, so now I am looking at the towns closest to Żyrardów.  I could open up a map to do this.  Or, I can use ShtetlSeeker to find towns in a ten mile radius with the click of a button.

The beginning of a list of 190 places within ten miles of Zyrardow, Poland.

And then it was called…

Names change, especially town names in central and eastern Europe.  One feature of the database is that you not only see what the town may have been called at a particular time in recent history, but what it was called in other languages.  For example, you can quickly learn that Gdańsk, Poland, was once Danzig, Germany.  Or that my own Polish ancestors’ town, Żyrardów, was called Ruda Guzowska before 1833.  Or that Pécs, Hungary could also be known as Pečuh [Croatian], Pečuj [Serbian], Peçuy [Turkish], Fünfkirchen [German], Pětikostelí [Czech], Päťkostolie [Slovak], Pięciokościoły [Polish], Cinquechiese [Italian], Quinque Ecclesiae [Latin], or Cinq-Églises [French].

Places don't move, but country's boundaries do!

Multiple Towns

Above I indicated that one of my Pfaffenhofen ancestors said they were from Munich.  When I initially found the town name, written as “Pfaffenhoven” in a baptismal record, I discovered there were several towns in Germany with that name.  But, he said he was from Munich, so which of the many towns with that name are close to Munich?  With ShtetlSeeker, you can see a town’s distance from another town as a reference point.

Eeenie, meenie, minie, mo, which Ostroleka did they come fro'?

If you are Jewish, it’s even better!

I recently researched a friend’s grandfather, who listed his birthplace on a draft registration card as “Chernovitz, Austria”.  As there is no town with that specific name, I tried the ShtetlSeeker to perform a “sounds like” search.  The search result was a list of dozens of possibilities located in Poland, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and other countries.  Then it dawned on me…my friend and his ancestors are Jewish!  After I limited the search to only towns with Jewish communities in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, the result was reduced to one:  Chernivtsi, Ukraine.  The findings show that pre-WWI the town was known as Czernowitz and was part of the Austrian Empire, so it is likely the correct birthplace for his grandfather.  There are also links to other databases on the JewishGen site related to the town.

Some of the additional town resources for Jewish communities.

Other Cool Tools

There are a few other cool things about the database, such as:

  • Links to actual maps – see the town and its region on multiple online map sites
  • Latitude and Longitude data for the town
  • 3 types of searches – Jewish Communities, places by name (all localities in Central and Eastern Europe), and location (localities within a certain distance of a given latitude / longitude coordinates).

If you have never used ShtetlSeeker, try it!  You may just find where you are searching for…

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…and detailing their labors

Recently I finally admitted defeat with my complete lack of organization of all things genealogical, so I’m on a crusade to rebuild my database from scratch and take care of some of those pesky little details like, oh, you know, source citations and whatnot.  In addition to documenting the sources I’ve used, I also wanted to make sure I document all of the details from documents that I may have previously neglected.

In light of this, I had a few minutes of my lunch hour to spare today so I decided to make sure I had some digital copies of certain records.  For no reason in particular, I decided to copy the U.S. World War II Draft Registration cards for my great-grandfather, Louis Pater, and his brother, Stephan.  I’ve had good luck in researching the Pater family – I know where and when they were born and can trace the family back a few generations.  But in looking at the draft cards, which undoubtedly I had already seen at some point in my research, I came upon the curious fact that in 1942 the brothers worked for the same company.

But that’s not the spooky part…

The Pater brothers worked for the Ardross Worsted Company.  The company name meant nothing to me.  But the address made my eyes widen in disbelief…it is about a half a mile from where I was sitting at my desk in work.  What are the odds of that?

Employer information from the World War II Draft Registration card for Stephan Pater. Source: Ancestry.com

I knew the entire Pater family worked in the textile mills – not only in Philadelphia, but in the town in Poland from which they immigrated, Żyrardów.   But I assumed the factories were in the neighborhood in which they lived – which is not close to the neighborhood where I work (at least when you consider that they didn’t have a car).  This factory, which is no longer standing, was literally blocks from where I work.  In another coincidence, my career involves today’s shrinking U.S. textile industry, so in yet another way I am “connected” to my ancestors (and how I knew that a “worsted” company was a textile manufacturer).

Last January I wrote a post entitled Fun with Maps in Philadelphia in which I highlighted the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network.  This is a wonderful resource, and it allowed me to see my current work neighborhood through the eyes of my great-grandfather and his brother.  One of the available maps is a “Land Use Map” compiled by the Works Progress Administration in 1942 – the same year the Pater brothers registered for the “Old Man’s Draft.”  The map is available courtesy of the Map Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia, but the GeoHistory project provides it as an interactive map with an overlay for current map images.  Here is where the Ardross Company resided in 1942:

Location of Ardross Worsted Company, Philadelphia, in 1942.

Just when I think I have gleaned all the information I can from some particular document, I am surprised by some detail that I overlooked.  It was a pleasant surprise to find out that my great-grandfather and I worked in the same neighborhood sixty years apart!

Have you seen, virtually or in reality, the workplaces of your ancestors?  You might be surprised by what you find!

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Recently I tried searching the collection of German vital records at the FamilySearch Record Search site.  There are three indexes for Germany:

The information in these indexes was extracted from original sources and entered into a database.  Because there is no list of actual sources used for the indexes, and no list of place names included, it is hard to determine if the collection is useful to your area of German research without trying a search.   (FamilySearch: If you are reading this, consider adding a listing of all localities or microfilm rolls used!)  I tried my various Bavarian lines and found a few familiar names, but to summarize my findings I will echo a previous posting of mine – An Index is Only as Good as Its Spelling.

When using these indexes, beware of name errors.  For example, I searched for the names of my 4th great-grandparents, Wolfgang and Juliana Fischer.  In my previous research using original records that were microfilmed by the LDS, I learned their names in the marriage record of their son, Franz Xaver Fischer, and his bride, Barbara Gürtner (my 3rd great-grandparents).

In this original record, I had transcribed Franz Xaver’s parents’ names as Wolfgang Fischer and Julianna Guggenberger and confirmed these names in his birth record.  On the FamilySearch site, I searched the Germany indexes for Wolfgang Fischer and found three hits in the marriage record collection.  Two are for Wolgang and Julianna’s son, Franz Xaver (his marriage to my ancestor was his second).  One is for Wolfgang and Julianna’s daughter, Therese.  Although it is the same couple, the spelling of Julianna’s maiden name is listed in 3 different ways in the index:

On 21 May 1839, Xaver Fischer marries M. Anna Breu in Pfaffenhofen.  The index has Xaver’s (or Franz Xaver, depending on the record) correct date of birth and birthplace – 06 Oct 1813 in Langenbruck.  His parents are listed as Wolfgang Fischer and Juliana Huffenberger.  The source film number is listed as 816429, which is Heiraten, Tote 1827-1872 – Kirchenbuch, 1732-1888, Katholische Kirche Fahlenbach (BA. Pfaffenhofen).

Next, Xaver’s sister Theres Fischer, born 11 May 1816 in “Agilberg” [which is incorrectly spelled in the index and should be Agelsberg], marries Joseph Rainer on 25 Feb 1840 in Waal.  Her parents are listed as Wolfgang Fischer and Juliana Guggenberger.  The source film number is 817563, which is Taufen 1864-1882 Heiraten, Tote 1803-1878 –  Kirchenbuch, 1551-1956, Katholische Kirche Waal (BA. Pfaffenhofen).

The third record is for Xaver’s marriage on 27 Apr 1841 in Pfaffenhofen.  Since he is now listed as a widower, it is presumed his first wife died.  His birthdate and place are the same as the previous record.  The bride’s name is listed as Barbara Hürtner (born 14 Dec  1814).  Xaver’s parents are listed as Wolfgang Fischer and Juliana Huttenberger.  The source film number is 816429 (same as above).

So, is Julianna’s maiden name Huffenberger, Huttenberger, or Guggenberger?  Well, based on viewing the original source for Franz Xaver’s birth as well as his marriages, my guess was Guggenberger – despite the fact that the index lists her name as Huttenberger for the marriage record to my ancestress.  It should be noted that the indexer also records Gürtner as Hürtner, so maybe they had difficulty distinguishing the priest’s handwriting for G’s and H’s.

I decided to pull out my copies of the original records to see why the name’s spelling varies so much.  On the birth record for Franz Xaver, which does not appear in the FamilySearch collection of birth records, the mother’s name is clearly Guggenberger (well, it’s clear if you are used to reading German handwriting):

Mother's name in birth record for Fr. Xaver Fischer, born 06 October 1813 in Langenbruck, Bavaria. Source: Katholische Kirche Fahlenbach (BA. Pfaffenhofen). Kirchenbuch, 1732-1888. FHL Microfilm 816428, Taufen 1736-1816.

In the two marriage records for Xaver (who did not use “Franz” as a first name), it is easy to see why an indexer may have difficulty with the mother’s name.  In both records, the “gg” in the name appears to be written over a “tt”.  His father’s name is written over a crossed-out stepfather’s name since his father, Wolfgang, died when Xaver was a young boy.

Xaver's parents' names on his 1839 marriage record. Source: Katholische Kirche Fahlenbach (BA. Pfaffenhofen). Kirchenbuch, 1732-1888. FHL Microfilm 816429, Heiraten, Tote 1827-1872.

Xaver’s first wife died shortly after giving birth to their first child, Casper, in December, 1840.  The baby also died at 10 days old.  Xaver found a new wife five months later, which was a necessary custom of the time.

Xaver's parents' names on his 1839 marriage record. Source: Katholische Kirche Fahlenbach (BA. Pfaffenhofen). Kirchenbuch, 1732-1888. FHL Microfilm 816429, Heiraten, Tote 1827-1872.

As you can see from the original records, it is easy to understand why the indexer could not get the name “right”.  I would not be sure of the correct spelling unless I looked at other sources, such as Xaver’s birth.  I do not have a copy of Xaver’s sister’s marriage, which is the only one of the 3 indexed records to show “Guggenberger” as the mother’s name.  Interestingly enough, I have the record of Juliana’s second marriage after Wolfgang Fischer’s death.  In it she is listed as the widow Juliana Fischer, but her parents’ names or birth information are not provided.  I have not been able to locate the marriage of Wolfgang and Juliana either.

Just as you can’t trust online family trees without verifying the information by using original sources, you also can’t trust online indexes.  In the case of the indexes I list above, you are not able to see the original records online, but the source microfilm number is provided.  It is highly suggested that you turn to that source to confirm and verify.

Because the indexes can be wrong – as shown above – it is also recommended that you try a variety of spellings when performing name searches.  In fact, if you click on “advanced search”, you can even search for a first name “Wolfgang” and a spouse name of “Juliana”, then narrow down the results by choosing a particular collection of records (I can’t figure out how to do this in the “beta” but the regular FamilySearch allows it).  This won’t work very well with overly common names, but for unusual first names it might work.

It is also important to note that FIRST names don’t follow any set rules in the indexes either.  For example, Josef may be indexed as Josef, the anglicized Joseph (though it wasn’t likely to actually say that in the German record), or the Latinized Josephum.

While these indexes can be a useful tool in guiding you to other sources, they are just that – a tool.  The indexes should not be used as an original source, but instead should lead you to that original record source.  Take note of the record’s source information, look up that microfilm roll in the catalog, and then order it to check it for yourself.

When you try the indexes, keep an open mind when it comes to spellings, because you might miss out on a potential source if you are too “strict” with your spelling choices!

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The Philadelphia Church Project is a unique website that describes itself as a “wild and wacky guide to the best religious architecture the city has to offer.”   The site offers the following questions for readers to ponder:

What does a building mean to you? Is it just a thing, a purely physical being? Or is there substance beyond the bricks and mortar? Might there be something more there—something more than the sum of its parts?

The site author visits various churches in and around Philadelphia and provides a glimpse into the history, architecture, and current status of the parish.  Most of the churches are Roman Catholic, but several Protestant churches have also been visited.  While the primary focus is the wonderful architecture of these old churches, the site also offers a comical take on the neighborhood or history of the area.

In addition to the Philadelphia Church Project website, there is also a Philadelphia Church Project blog.  The blog offers additional photos – sometimes of the vintage variety – and information.  Sample the site with these posts:

As a genealogist with solid Catholic roots in Philadelphia, these sites are wonderful in documenting some of the grand churches of my ancestors’ neighborhoods.  Take, for example, the Project’s page on St. Adalbert’s.  The parish was founded in 1904 – and my great-grandfather was one of the founding parishoners.  While you won’t find out that sort of information on the Project’s pages, they will help you “see” some of the churches of your ancestors!

Even if you are not from Philadelphia, if you have an interest in architecture I encourage you to browse the site and see what our city has to offer.

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Last week at the NGS 2010 conference, I grumbled to someone about something I disliked about searching for information in the Family History Library catalog.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I grumbled to someone who works  for FamilySearch with the catalog.  Because I happened to grumble to the “right” person, I ended up learning an important search tip that I previously did not know.

My complaint involved searching the catalog for place names to see what records have been microfilmed for that place.  If you search for the name of a town that has records cataloged under the name of that town, it obviously will come up as a search result.  But sometimes other towns or villages are included in the records of a larger town nearby,  and these names will not show any results if searched.

"Classic" Family History Library Search page at http://www.familysearch.org

For my searches, I used the current FamilySearch page at www.familysearch.org (more on the new “beta” site later). Go to “Library Catalog” under “Library” on the top menu bar.  Next I choose “Place Search” to find a locality.  As an example of my dilemma, if you search for the place name “Scheyern” in Bavaria, the result is  “Germany, Bayern, Scheyern.” Clicking for further details, you find that church records are available.  Drilling down further into the title itself, the notes section indicates:

Transcripts of catholic church registers of births, marriages, and deaths in the parish of Scheyern and the towns of Scheyern, Vieth, Mitterscheyern, Sulzbach, Paindorf, Niederscheyern, Hettenshausen, Triefing, Winden, and Ilmmünster.

However, if you search again under the place name of Paindorf or Niderscheyern or one of the other villages, the result for the Scheyern parish records will not show up and the result will say “No matching places found”.

This was my complaint.  But it pays to complain if the right people are listening.  I learned that if you search for keyword in lieu of place name, the appropriate record will be found (in the case of the town of Paindorf, there are records listed not only under the town of Scheyern but also Reichertshausen and Kemmoden).

Frankly, this was a revelation to me.  It may seem obvious to my readers, but I had never tried using a keyword search for place names before.  This is a very helpful hint, because many small villages in Germany, Poland, and other countries did not have a church of their own.  Instead, residents traveled to the next larger town and that is where the records will be located.

Beta FamilySearch page still under development at fsbeta.familysearch.org

I thought I would attempt similar searches in the Beta FamilySearch site since it will eventually replace the current FS site.  Randy Seaver gave the new site a big “thumbs down” in his review, FamilySearch Beta Library Search – FAIL, for several reasons.  One reason was due to a lack of information when performing a Place search, including the list of microfilm numbers.

I also tried the “Beta” FamilySearch site at fsbeta.familysearch.org.  Under “Library Catalog”, the “Place Names” search still brings up the same information as the “classic” site, which means those smaller village names are not recognized in the results.

Under this Beta site, there is no keyword search.  Instead, I tried the option to search “Entire catalog”.  Using this search parameter, you will get the same results as the “classic” keyword search.  With one minor exception – no microfilm roll numbers, as Randy noted.

When it comes to searching the “Beta” library catalog for place names, I have to agree with Randy that the Beta site lacks the information found in the “Classic” site.  However, if you read the comments on Randy’s post, the “Beta” is still in development and not yet ready for prime time.  I am optimistic that this will be fixed.

In the meantime, enjoy the tip of using either a Keyword Search (on the classic FS site) or an Entire Catalog Search (on the Beta FS site) if you have towns or villages that you have not been able to find in the Family History Library Catalog.  If you hadn’t used that search option before (like me), then you may find that the town you are looking for really does have some records available!

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It’s Back!  The Return of “Donna’s Picks”! [Insert dramatic music here]  “Donna’s Picks” is my occasional feature to highlight other blogs, posts, or articles that may be of interest to my fellow genealogists.   Sit back and enjoy the following links:

Online Language Tool – I read about this on a mailing list, but before I could post about it the blogs were already talking!  Several blogs related to Polish genealogy wrote about it, but I’ll credit Jasia at Creative Gene as the first one I read.  Read I won’t Be Going Bald Anytime Soon! in which she highlights a new complete Polish-English (and English-Polish) online dictionary at the University of Pittsburgh.

Genealogical Records - Multi-blogger Lisa, this time from A Light That Shines Again, re-posted an “oldie but goodie” about her great-great-grandfather’s naturalization papers.  Rather than just a dry transcription, Lisa set up the historical context in which he lived.  Read her fascinating look at Tierney family treasure: Patrick’s naturalization papers, 1876.

Genealogical Philosophical Question of the Week
– Tim Agazio of Genealogy Reviews Online asks To Subscribe or Not To Subscribe to Ancestry – That is the Question.  Let him know what your answer is – it’s one we’ve all asked ourselves at one time or another.

Blah – Do you have a hard time being happy in January?  For inspiration, read JoLyn’s How to be Happy in January from a year of happy.

Happy 101 – Speaking of happy, Becky at kinexxions has awarded me “The Happy 101 Award”.  I am about to make an “Awards” page here at What’s Past is Prologue since most times these round-robin kudos don’t have anything to do with genealogy.  However, they are very nice to receive and this one is no exception, so thank  you, Becky!  I’ll comply with the first requirement: list ten things that make me happy.  That’s easy!  In no particular order of importance, they are:

  1. sunshine
  2. palm trees
  3. my nieces and nephews
  4. red wine
  5. dark chocolate
  6. time spent with good friends
  7. Gene Kelly
  8. being in Rome, Italy
  9. the beach
  10. making someone laugh

SNGF - Each week, Randy Seaver at Geneamusings comes up with “Saturday Night Genealogical Fun”.  This week the emphasis is on the fun when he asks, “What’s your superpower?” Genealogical superpower, that is!  I thought I’d add my answer to this post.  My unique ability is helping folks find their elusive immigrant ancestor on passenger lists – specifically early 20th century through Ellis Island.  If you have someone you’re sure was a “stowaway” because you can’t find them, put me to the test!  Send me an email (see About Me) or leave a comment with details.  I’ll find out if it’s my super-power after all…

Donna, Super-Finder of Passenger Arrival Records - finding your family tree one twig at a time!

Hat tip to The Extraordinary Flying Condor, aka The Educated Genealogist, for the fun “Hero Factory”!

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In Part 1 of my interview with Zenon Znamirowski, the founder of PolishOrigins™, we learned about the company’s mission, the online forum, and the Forefathers Traces Tours.  In Part 2, I asked Zenon about the site’s databases as well as what resources he uses to find living relatives.

What are some of the techniques you use to find living relatives of clients whose ancestors emigrated from Poland to America a hundred years ago?

First and foremost I encourage everyone to add the surnames of relatives they are looking for and places where their ancestors come from to our PolishOrigins Surnames & Places Databases (click here for surnames and here for places). Only a few days ago I myself experienced that it works! A gentleman from New Jersey, USA, contacted me the with information that in his family there were people with the same surname as one of my grandmother’s, and they came from from the same tiny village! We are working now on proving our relationship.

We have plans to enable Polish speaking people to take advantage of the Surnames & Places Databases. I think the Database will gain additional, significant value with their  participation.

When a client wants us to try to find living relatives we follow a three-step procedure.

After we receive information about known relatives in Poland and their last known place of residence, we first check all possible sources available on line and in our databases. If we find any matches, we make phone calls and try to find relationships.

The second step is a personal visit to the area of last known residence of the relatives. From our experience it is a very effective way of finding people, especially in the country. People are very helpful and willing to talk to us. Usually everyone knows each other and if only there is in the town or neighboring villages someone who may be related to a client, the chances of finding him are really high.

If the personal visit doesn’t bring results, maybe because the family moved away from the town, we try other ways. We contact local historical societies in search of any mention in local records (not necessarily vital records but sources such as newspapers), try other sources like factory documentation, school records etc., or we contact people through popular social networking websites.

Tell us more about the Surnames and Places databases.

The goal of our Surnames and Places (S&P) Databases is to make it possible for everyone to search for people who are interested in the same surnames or places and to enable the exchange of information and findings. I mentioned about the S&P Databases in the context of sharing research information and relatives search. Now I would like to add  the most important features and benefits for users:

  • Privacy. We never reveal email addresses of our members to any other third party, including other members. All communication between people is done through the Private Messages system on the Forum. All you need as a registered member to contact other member is his or her ‘username’.

  • Indexed content. Our Datbases have such a structure, which allows search engines to index the content. Most of known to us genealogy databases are “invisible” to search engines, they don’t exist for websites like Google.com or bing.com. This means that if you add your surnames and places to our Databases, the chances are high that someone who is looking for the same combination of surname and place through, for example Google.com will find you. In the case of a rare surnames an entry in our Database can be found by someone who enters only the surname into a search engine (try, for example, a search for ‘Anazewski’).

  • Simplicity. The way of adding information into Database is very simple and user-friendly. Click here to see the registration form.

  • Personal pages. Aside from adding your surnames and places you can share with others more details about your achievements and search goals in the ‘More info’ box. For example, click here for my personal page in S&P Databases.

Currently, after a year of existence, more than 1,850 surnames and 1,100 places have been added by researchers.

The newest feature to PolishOrigins™ is “Polish Genealogy Databases”, which is advertised as “In one place. In one click. In English!”  Tell us more about this exciting search feature.

This is our youngest “child” in its infancy. We hope to raise it to become a strong and useful “member” of the PolishOrigins.com tools family.

The goal of the Polish Genealogy Databases or PGD tool is to allow all visitors to access the increasingly rich Polish genealogy resources that are available online and to understand the content.

By entering keywords (like surnames, places, dates) in the search box you can gain access to the content of English and Polish language genealogy sources and instantly get the results automatically translated into English all with one click!

I would emphasize the three most important features of the PGD tool:

  • Automatic translation of Polish language sources into understandable English.
  • Selection of the best searchable Polish genealogy websites. Very often, because of the language barrier, people are even not aware of the existence of great databases and websites.
  • Continual updating of the resources that are accessed. We will be gradually developing the tool by adding addresses for the most relevant and useful new websites that appear online every month.

Just try it for yourself: http://polishorigins.com/databases/ .

Thanks for sharing your insights with What’s Past is Prologue readers, Zenon!

Donna, if you would allow me, I want to express my deep gratitude to my wife Magda, Michał our web developer and “geek”, and to Shellie, James and of course, Nancy. Without their support, ideas and active participation throughout of this adventure nothing would have been possible.  I would like to also thank you, Donna, for the opportunity to discuss and to share with “What’s Past is Prologue” readers our PolishOrigins.com projects, services and plans.

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What’s Past is Prologue is pleased to welcome Zenon Znamirowski, the founder of PolishOrigins™.  The PolishOrigins™ web site, PolishOrigins.com, offers a variety of information useful to those researching Polish genealogy.  In this 2-part interview, I asked Zenon to describe the background of the site as well as some of its key features.  Here is what he had to say…

On the site, PolishOrigins™ is described as “a virtual space of collective wisdom”. This refers to the site’s forum as a place to learn from other researchers.  Can you tell us more about the forum and how members have learned from each other?

Before creating PolishOrigins.com, I was replying to many email requests related to the wide subject of Polish genealogy research and I was doing my best to respond with timely, knowledgeable replies, sometimes after consultation with other experienced Polish genealogists. I noticed three main things over the years. First, although the individual inquires were unique, my initial replies with suggested first steps, useful websites and online tools, and tips for understanding Polish language were often similar. Second, I was often amazed by the detailed knowledge that many of these people had acquired before contacting me. Third, their desire to help others and share the knowledge gained from countless hours of work, was remarkable.

If shared, this collective wisdom could save hours of pointless and frustrating work for others. This is especially true when two (or more) persons are researching the same surname or geographic area. This is why the PolishOrigins™ Forum may be so valuable.

Even with the vast amount of information and tools available on the internet, many people feel lost or isolated while struggling to begin their family history research. The PolishOrigins Forum gives people the chance to share with a wide audience. When sharing knowledge and experience, I believe that the equation 1 + 1 may equal more than 2.

I think Shellie from our Forum expressed the idea best in one of her very recent Forum posts when she commented to another researcher, “You have come to the right place. I was in your shoes just a short time ago and thanks to Zenon and the members of PolishOrigins I’ve learned how to uncover my roots. It has been a very rewarding experience for me. There is a spirit of sharing and discovery here among the members of PolishOrigins and I think that you will enjoy being part of the crowd.”

The mission of Polish Origins™ sounds rather philosophical when you say that a genealogical search is really a search to discover more than just where we came from, but WHO WE ARE.  Can you tell us a little bit more about this philosophy and how you got started in genealogical research?

I don’t think that I have the typical background of a genealogy researcher. I wasn’t  bitten by this “bug” because of a family member or a school genealogy project. A few years ago, while offering some Polish folk items on an online auction website, I met Nancy. While we were corresponding, she asked me if I knew any genealogists in Poland because she was planning to visit Poland in a few months. I asked her about the area she was interested in. Nancy replied, naming a few villages that were located … in the county I come from! And one of the towns of her ancestors was the exact town where I was born!

Nancy and her husband arrived a few months later and we had a very successful tour. Together with my cousin, who is a very experienced genealogist, we had the good-luck to not only visit all the villages and find much information in parish books, but we also discovered and met living relatives that Nancy had not known existed!

This is how my adventure with genealogy started. Nancy encouraged me to try to help other people looking for their relatives and became PolishOrigins.com ‘godmother’. She has actively supporting our efforts for years. Thank you Nancy!

Returning to your question about our “philosophy” and mission. Over the years, I have had many opportunities to observe people’s reactions when they make new discoveries about their families, see them walk through villages of their ancestors, or stand by the graves of older family members and talk what this all meant to them.

I am not a philosopher, and I am not sure if it is possible for me explain it clearly enough (not to mention that English is a foreign language for me) but I believe many of us doing genealogy for some time may have similar experiences. Usually we start with an interest in the lives of our closest family members – grandparents, great-grandparents. Then we become curious about the times and places they lived and this curiosity expands to other ancestors, also in collateral lines. We want to know more about local history and people living at that time. From local history we move further to the history of the country or nation where ancestors came from. We read or watch more and more about history, culture and heritage of the nation. And we want to go still deeper and deeper into our family investigation. I think each of us could it describe it his or her on words even better. We hope that by providing our services and building useful tools we will assist our visitors with this adventure and help find answers to the questions: “Where are my roots?” and “Who am I, really?”.

Your Forefathers Traces Tours to Poland give people the opportunity to see their ancestral hometowns and even meet relatives.  What can people expect from the tour? If they can’t travel, do you give “virtual” tours?

As I described on our Forefathers Traces Tours page, each trip is unique…and very personal. What is invariable, and what I have observed each time (no exceptions!) is an incredibly strong emotional experience accompanying visits to ancestral hometowns or homesteads and meeting relatives for the first time.

Of course, before any tour we discuss its main purposes and interests of our guests. We set the itinerary together, we assist in finding and booking lodging, and organizing transportation. On the tour we drive on Polish roads, very often in rural areas, interpret, and negotiate with local institutions.

A Forefathers Traces Tour itself is a great opportunity to perform research on the spot, especially if there are no other records available outside of our client’s ancestors’ home parish. It is very exciting to witness the moment when one of our guests sees their grandfather’s actual birth record, or when they enter the church where their great-grandparents were married.

As a rule, we are very flexible. As I always emphasize to our guests, “This is YOUR tour”. If there is a need or desire, we can together change our plans within minutes or hours. Unscheduled stops and side trips along the way are always welcome and often add to the excitement of the tour, especially when it leads to an ancestral home site, or the discovery of relatives. You will not be able to ask for this on trips organized by a tourist company for  large groups, where itineraries are strictly followed.

In my opinion Forefathers Traces Tour can be the crowning jewel in years of genealogical treasure hunting. Just read and view photos from our Forefathers Traces Tours Blog.

I haven’t mentioned it anywhere yet, but we are working on expanding our Tours offer to include Belarus. Soon, official information will appear on the Tours page.

If someone is not able to travel to Poland we can perform “virtual” tour for him. We can visit the place he is interested in seeing and take pictures there. We can also try to find relatives. We will prepare a report of what we find and send photographs.

Learn more about Zenon’s efforts to find relatives as well as some of the unique databases found on the PolishOrigins™ site in Part 2 of the interview.

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As a Polish-American interested in genealogy, I quickly learned that pronunciation is the key to everything.   How can you properly research a family if you can’t say the language correctly? I realized that there are American English pronunciations of Polish surnames and place names, and then there is the real way it is pronounced in Polish.

Over the years I’ve learned a few things about the Polish language with its “different” letters and consonant combinations, and I can usually figure out how a word is pronounced.  But sometimes…I get stumped.  Just the other day I learned that my great-grandmother was born in a town near Warsaw called Przybyszew.  Przybyszew?  Where do I begin?  I’d like to buy a vowel, Pat!

Fortunately, I discovered an awesome website thanks to Zenon Znamirowski from PolishOrigins.com that allows you to hear Polish words pronounced by Polish speakers!  So, how do you say Przybyszew?  Click on this link to hear it!

The site, Expressivo, is a text to speech program.  To test it out, you can enter up to 200 characters of text here and listen to the results read by several voices: Eric (male US-English), Jennifer (female US-English), Carmen (female Romanian), Jacek (male Polish), or Ewa (female Polish).  To hear Polish names or place names, I highly recommend using the two Polish voices to hear a true Polish pronunciation.

Here are several of my ancestors’ names and the towns they lived in – click the link to hear it in Polish:

Many Americans may have seen these town names in Poland and thought they knew how to pronounce them.  Try it, then click on the link and see if you were correct – you might be surprised!

Łódź Gdańsk Kraków Wrocław Częstochowa Poznań

You can tell that I had a lot of fun “playing” with this site, but other than it being cool to hear your ancestor’s name and hometown properly pronounced, why is it important?  Because knowing the correct pronunciation in an immigrant’s native language can often help you find your ancestor in records that are not spelled correctly, but are written as English-speakers heard the foreign tongue pronounced.  Obviously, this does not only apply to the Polish language, but any language other than American English.

[Submitted for the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy: Tips, Tricks, and Websites]

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In our continuing celebration of Polish-American Heritage Month, What’s Past is Prologue is delighted to highlight one of the best sites on the internet devoted to Polish genealogy – PolandGenWeb.  I’ve invited PolandGenWeb’s coordinator, Marie Dallas, to tell us more about the site and what researchers can find there.  Marie and I have known each other for quite some time now, and unlike some other “virtual” friends I’ve made on the internet, we are actually “real live” friends that went to college together.  In fact, we started on our Polish genealogy quest together about twenty years ago!  We still haven’t discovered if we’re related or not, but we’re working on it!  I am also a PolandGenWeb province host for two provinces, though I admit I don’t spend as much time as I should to update those sites (both will be updated by the end of the year).  My name is also listed on the site as “creative consultant” but I really can’t take any credit for all that you’ll see there – it’s all Marie’s talents that have put it together.  Marie, on the other hand, spends most of her time keeping the main PolandGenWeb site up-to-date by providing relevant and useful information to family researchers, especially beginners.  I don’t know how she finds the time, because she does all of this for free while running a household with a husband, three beautiful children, and several pets!

Can you describe PolandGenWeb – what’s its purpose?

PolandGenWeb is part of the WorldGenWeb Project, a non-profit organization devoted to providing free genealogical information and resources. The site is intended to help genealogical researchers uncover their Polish ancestry by providing research guidance, maps (historic and present day), town locators and town lists, translation aids, archives addresses, and much more. In addition, each Polish province has its own website devoted to researching one’s ancestors specifically within those boundaries and can be accessed from the PolandGenWeb home page. The site is free to access and run by volunteer effort. Over the past 10 years, it’s grown tremendously in content.

What are some of the good resources we can find there? Do you have anything no other site has?

One of the better resources of PolandGenWeb, I think, is the Basics of Research page. It covers “newbie” information, such as how to effectively begin one’s research and what resources can be used to find the information one is looking for. Another good resource is the Poland Catholic Records Microfilms set of pages. Peter Gwozdz maintains the content and has provided very detailed information on how to work with the parish and civil records microfilmed by the LDS. I’m very grateful for his contribution to PolandGenWeb.

And of course, there’s Rafał’s Polish Surname List. This unique resource is an alphabetical list of surnames submitted by those researching ancestors of Polish ethnicity or those who lived in Poland (occupied territories or present-day boundaries). Each entry includes an email address to contact the submitter and most include the town or region where the submitter’s ancestors were from. At present, there are over 37,000 entries.

Tell me about the “Records Transcription Project” – it looks like you have quite a collection! What’s on your site? Is it hard for others to contribute?

The Records Transcription Project is the highlight of PolandGenWeb.  All of the content housed on the site is contributed by volunteers, and the majority of transcribed records are births/baptisms, marriages, and deaths from parish or civil records microfilmed by the LDS. There are a couple of sets of records whose content was taken directly from the parish registers in Poland and has not yet been microfilmed by the LDS. While the project does include resources outside of Poland, such as ethnic Polish cemeteries in other countries, the focus is on providing data from Poland (both historical and present-day areas).

In addition to the vital records, PolandGenWeb has a growing collection of transcribed cemetery inscriptions and War Memorials.  Debbie Greenlee is spearheading the effort to encourage folks who either live in or visit Poland to transcribe the names found on memorials erected to commemorate those town residents who were killed during war time – particularly those who were killed during WW2. Most are not soldiers’ memorials but memorials to murdered civilians.

It’s relatively easy for anyone willing contribute to the project.  If one rents a microfilm containing parish or civil records in Poland, instead of extracting the information from only the records for one’s ancestors, one can can extract additional information for the Transcription project. If one is visiting Poland, one can photograph and/or transcribe the names found on tombstones and war memorials in the places they visit. More details on how to contribute to the transcription project can be found here.

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Thanks, Marie!  I hope others find PolandGenWeb as useful as I do.  Take a look at all the site has to offer, especially if you are just beginning your research.  Once you’re an experienced researcher, give back by contributing to one of the transcription projects.

[Written for the Polish History & Culture Challenge.]

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Not so long ago in a galaxy not too far away, the word “genealogist” may not have been associated with the most technology-savvy person.  The image that came to mind may have been more of a bookworm-librarian searching through piles of books and papers  in dusty old archives.  Today, many genealogists are very well versed about the latest computer technology because it helps to advance our research so much!  So set your GEDCOM-phasers on stun as we uncover the topic for the 43rd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Technology!

When I first heard the topic, I thought we’d be writing about technological advances in the lives of our ancestors or during our own lifetimes.  But, that’s not quite the slant towards technology that the Carnival-goers are writing about.  For this edition, three questions about Technology were posed:

What piece of hardware (besides your computer) do you most rely on for your genealogy and family history research?

This may be an unconventional answer, but for me it’s my digital camera.  While I have a fancy digital SLR for vacations and family portraits, it’s my tiny fit-in-your-pocket digital Casio Exilim that gets a genealogical workout.  How can you utilize a camera for family history research?

First, the obvious answer is to take photos of living relatives and current places.  Did you finally meet your third cousin twice removed?  Take a photo!  Visit your ancestor’s old street, church, or town?  Take more photos!  Tombstones of your relatives?  Take a photo and you don’t have to stand around the cemetary taking notes!

Another great way to use your camera for research is to take photos of…photos! Relatives may not want to loan out their treasured original photos of your shared ancestors, and we all can’t travel around with a laptop and a scanner.  But, with some attention to light and camera settings, it’s easy to snap a digital photo of another photograph.  Watch out for glare on the surface of the photo, and use a macro or close-up setting on your camera.

You can also use your camera to take photos of documents, as long as there are no copyright infringement issues.  My camera has a “Macro Mode” specifically for text.  Hold the camera steady!  This also works if you want to take a photo of a record on a microfilm reader.  I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ll be visiting the Family History Library in Salt Lake City in April.  Since they allow the use of cameras, I’ll keep you posted how this turns out.

What piece of software (besides your internet browser) do you most rely on for your genealogy and family history research?

This one is harder to answer.  Based on my camera answer above, I’ll have to say my imaging software.  I use PhotoImpact by Ulead, mostly because it came with my old scanner and it was easy to use.  It may not have all of the bells and whistles of the newer programs, but it does a fine job of helping me edit my photos.  It’s also useful for editing images of documents, such as snipping a piece to show on this blog or capturing an ancestor’s “autograph” from documents.

What web site/blog (besides your own) is indispensable to you?

Steve Morse’s One-Step site
.  Without it, I would not have been able to find several folks in the Ellis Island passenger lists and many others in Census Records.  Steve Morse’s search tools get around indexing issues or errors by allowing you to search in many other ways and on many different “fields” of the records.  There will always be some ancestor that eludes searches, but Steve’s site makes it easier to find the rest.

What are your favorite genea-tech tools?

[Submitted for the 43rd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Technology Tips for Genealogists]

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