Digging for Roots

Family tree

While completing the final edits of my soon-to-be-published book A Stone for Benjamin, the editor asked if I had considered including my grandmother’s family tree. I told her there wouldn’t be enough room on the page because there was so much intermarriage in my family; the tree runs sideways long before it begins going down!

Now that I have a little more time on my hands, I’ve started researching my father’s family.  But, before I get too far into my own research, I want to share some of my knowledge with the budding genealogists who are out there. For those of you searching for family in Eastern Europe, primarily Russia, be aware that archives are only just opening up to the public and may not have records in a data base.

1.     The first place to begin your research is with your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. They are a goldmine of information.  Sit with them and chat about the past and either record your conversations or write as they speak.  If photographs aren’t labeled with names, do it now before senior members of your family can no longer remember. Then obtain the names of cemeteries where family members are buried.  I’m Jewish, and headstones are usually inscribed with the names of the deceased parents. But those names are in Hebrew, so if you can’t read it, take photographs of the stone and have someone translate for you. The same will apply to any foreign language that you don’t speak.

2.     Once you have family names, place of birth and last known town of residence, you can undertake a data search.  This of course is where the fun begins.  For those searching for family from English speaking countries, www.ancestry.com is one of the best places to begin.Also, the Mormon genealogy website has been useful for some people http://mormon.org/values/family-history. Another place to search for anyone who emigrated to the U.S. is http://www.ellisisland.org/ . Ellis Island was the port entry for thousands of immigrants. 

3.     Because I am familiar with Jewish Genealogy I am going to give you some pointers in searching for Polish Jewish family. Firstly, go onto JRI (Jewish Records Indexing) www.jri-poland.org. Add the names of each of your family separately, and then add the name of the town.  You can choose the area (gubernia) or you can leave it blank if you don’t know. Then, and this is important, run the search using ‘sounds like’ or ‘phonetically’ only.  Exact names are rarely returned in the data. If you find something of interest the site provides information on how to obtain a copy of it.

4.     Next, contact local archives in Poland.  Archives are located in Warsaw, Radom, Lublin and Krakow along with several other cities and towns and contain the records of every city, and the surrounding villages in each area. Send them an email or letter with the names of your family members that you are researching. They will then tell you how many zloty’s (Polish currency) it will cost to perform the search.  Once they receive the money, archivists may take a few months before they respond with search results and the information will be in Polish, so you will have to translate each one.

There are numerous other genealogy web sites but I hope the above information assists you in getting starting. My advice to everyone is never give up, even though you will hit a dead end occasionally.  I’ve walked away from searches many times, returning a day or two or three weeks later approaching the search from a different angle. One thing is for sure, you will be thrilled to bits when you receive the first piece of information to add to your family tree!




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