Tracing your Roots in Eastern Europe
Course Coordinator: Amy Wachs, J. D.
Held June 25-30, 2017, at La Roche College, Pittsburgh, PA. Registration Information.
Additional Instructors: Carl Kotlarchik, Karen Melis, Rhoda Miller, CG, Allison Ryall, MA
MONDAY—June 26, 2017
9:00 to 10:15 AM: Introduction: Finding Clues in American Records (Amy Wachs)
What is the best way to begin the search for records in Eastern Europe? Thoroughly researching your family using American resources can help you establish and verify links among generations in your ancestry chart. You may also find that American records may include helpful references to where ancestors lived in the “Old Country”. This introductory session will review helpful American records and resources and how they can be used to find clues to your ancestors’ roots in Eastern Europe.
10:45 AM to 12:00 PM: By Land and By Sea: Our Ancestors’ Migration Records (Allison Ryall)
Our Eastern European ancestors created a whole host of records when they migrated to the United States. This session will explore the types of records created, what information is contained within them, and how to best locate them.
1:00 to 2:15 PM: Can DNA Help? (Allison Ryall)
This session will provide a quick overview to DNA testing and will explore how you can use DNA testing to further your Eastern European research. Case studies will demonstrate how to use a variety of techniques and analysis to connect with distant family members who share your familial history.
2:45 to 4:00 PM: The Changing Borders of Eastern Europe (Amy Wachs)
Why is it so difficult to locate ancestral towns and find records in Eastern Europe? How can you reconcile records that indicate your ancestors came from different countries or towns with different names? This session will provide an overview of how historical events changed the borders of Eastern Europe. These events influenced migration, the names of cities and towns, and the types of records that may exist for your ancestors.
TUESDAY—June 27, 2017
9:00 to 10:15 AM: Names and the Genealogical Proof Standard (Allison Ryall)
Eastern European names can provide unique problems for American researchers. Learn how to follow family members whose names were spelled inconsistently or perhaps changed completely, all while still adhering to the Genealogical Proof Standard.
10:45 AM to 12:00 PM: Guidelines for Finding Polish Records (Amy Wachs)
The Partition of Poland had a significant impact on the nation’s history and the types of records that may exist for your ancestors. This session will discuss how Polish records can be found in Eastern Europe, both within Poland and in neighboring countries, with an emphasis on procedures for working with state archives. With Poland as our example, this session will also explain the influence of the continental empires on the nature of 19th century records created within their jurisdictions.
1:00 to 2:15 PM: Translation Tools and Guidelines (Allison Ryall)
Eastern European research can often mean having to overcome language challenges and barriers. With a little bit of work it is possible to make sense of records written in a foreign language. We will explore translations tools and guidelines that will assist you in discovering your Eastern European family.
2:45 to 4:00 PM: “The Spirit of the Lake”: A Local Legend Turned Genealogical Case Study (Karen Melis)
Eastern Europe developed a rich history of oral tradition during the first half of the nineteenth century. Folk narratives developed into various genres such as tales, anecdotes, jokes, and legends. A legend is a story that both the narrator and the audience believe in and one that is considered to be highly probable. Typically, the story takes place one to two hundred years in the past and includes the names of real persons and places, thus making parts of the legend true. Often in performing family history research, we learn of family folklore passed down from generation to generation. Was our ancestor truly the legendary character in the village as described? This lecture will take the serendipitous discovery of a local legend through the rigors of a reasonably exhaustive search in an attempt to distinguish fact from fiction. All types of documents discovered along the journey will be used to support the findings.
WEDNESDAY—June 28, 2017
9:00 to 10:15 AM: In Search of Records—An Anecdotal Journey Through Poland and Slovakia (Karen Melis)
Parish birth, marriage, and death records are the most often used documents in Eastern European genealogical research. While attempts to record general population began as early as the 12th century, compiling these statistics dates to the Early Modern Period. A strong movement for organization in all faiths spread across Europe at this time. By 1786, standard rubrics could be found in Eastern Europe. Parish priests, responsible for maintaining these files, essentially became adjunct administrators of the state until the implementation of Civil Registries in 1895. Today’s researcher must become organized in order to understand and be successful in locating parish records. Now that you have identified the ancestral villages, how do you find the associated parish? What records are truly available? Where are they currently located? How does one gain access when the needed records are not available online or have not been microfilmed? We will discuss these topics along with hands-on examples of the search process in southern Poland and Slovakia.
10:45 AM to 12:00 PM: Understanding and Interpreting Birth, Marriage, and Death Records in Eastern Europe (Karen Melis)
Historically, parish birth, marriage, and death records have been compiled for a variety of reasons. Whether to count the number of souls of each faith in a village, confirm legal parentage for property inheritance, or to identify those of age for military conscription, these records accounted for the nobles and peasants alike. The various styles of each record will be discussed for several of the Eastern European countries. They reveal personal details about our ancestors. We discuss cultural patterns of birth and marriage that may provide clues for tracking down ancestors when they go missing from the books. Why did your family use an alias? Why is your surname spelled so many different ways? This and much more will be discussed as we work to understand birth, marriage, and death records from Eastern Europe.
1:00 to 2:15 PM: How to Locate Military Records for Ancestors who Served in the Austro-Hungarian Army (Carl Kotlarchik)
Genealogists many times overlook military records. But they often contain valuable information about an ancestor that cannot be found in other resources. They can also provide insight into what an individual may have experienced during their lifetime and give a perspective of the history of that time. Consequently, knowledge of military service can add real depth and interest to a family history. Men were conscripted in all regions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire including Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Silicia, Galicia, Transylvania, Bukovina, Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Northern Italy and Hungary, which included the area of present day Slovakia. Therefore, locating records for individuals who served in the Austro-Hungarian Army can be a bit challenging if one does not understand where and how these records are kept. Today’s presentation will attempt to demystify the process and provide the necessary tools and methodology to make a search for Austro-Hungarian military records successful.
2:45 to 4:00 PM: Finding Families in Eastern Europe: Census Records and More (Rhoda Miller)
Both Austria-Hungary and the Russian Empire compiled information about households in census-like records at various times. Censuses were undertaken in Austria-Hungary from 1868 through 1910. The Russian Empire compiled Revision Lists from 1719 until 1858, family lists from time to time thereafter, and an Empire-wide census in 1897. Using Russian Empire document examples, this session will explain how families can be followed from one Revision List to the next. Austria-Hungary census records will be discussed in a related manner. This session will also demonstrate the importance of knowing an ancestor’s place of registration for finding related records.
4:00 to 4:30 PM: Did My Great-Grandmother Have a Family?: A Problem-Solving Case Study (Rhoda Miller)
Do you have a “floating” female ancestor that cannot be attached to a larger tree? “Brick walls” in Eastern European research often involve elusive female ancestors. This case study will demonstrate ways to break through that brick wall with problem-solving strategies utilizing records, oral history, photographs, DNA, mapping, and cluster techniques.
THURSDAY—June 29, 2017
9:00 to 10:15 AM: Strategies for Cemetery Research (Rhoda Miller)
In Eastern Europe, cemetery traditions vary across the region and among the religious communities. This session will provide guidance for locating cemeteries in Eastern Europe utilizing mapping strategies ranging from cadastral maps to Google. Gravestone analysis will also be discussed, with examples from different religions. Learn, for example, about the genealogical information embedded in Jewish headstones.
10:45 AM to 12:00 PM: Back to the USSR: Finding Archive Records in the Former Soviet Union (Amy Wachs)
During the Cold War era, access to Eastern European records was restricted. Developments since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, including the growth of the internet, have greatly improved the accessibility of the region for genealogical research. However, the availability of records in the Eastern European countries of the former Soviet Union varies across the region. This is partly due to differences among the countries, as well as their archives systems. This session will discuss and compare the availability of records at the state archives of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova.
1:00 to 2:15 PM: Evidence Analysis: Which is the Right Record? (Rhoda Miller)
Break through brick walls by understanding your research better through analysis of documents by using standards of primary and secondary information, original and derivative documents, and direct and indirect evidence. Examples will be provided to help resolve discrepancies in genealogical findings and come to logical conclusions. The Genealogical Proof Standard will also be utilized.
2:45 to 4:00 PM: Evidence Analysis: Understanding Eastern European Records (Rhoda Miller)
This session will delve into the Eastern European records utilized to satisfy the Exhaustive Research component of the Genealogical Proof Standard. The records will include: Vital/Metrical Records, Books of Residents, Change of Address Applications, Internal Passports, External Passports, Court decisions regarding citizenship, and Electors’ Lists.
FRIDAY—June 30, 2017
8:30 to 9:45 AM: Reconstructing Ancestor Lives: A 20th Century Research Case Study (Rhoda Miller)
The turbulence of the 20th century in Eastern Europe caused the displacement of large populations. What can we learn about our ancestors’ experiences during World War I, World War II and the Holocaust, and the Communist era? How can 20th century records and 21st century techniques be used to reconstruct an ancestors’ life? This case study will trace the eventful life and ancestry of a renowned Jewish poet born in Poland, through analysis of records, social history, maps, DNA, and oral history. Learn the strategies and worldwide resources for reconstructing this biography.
10:15 to 11:30 AM: Conclusion: How History and Geography Can Help Your Research (Amy Wachs)
While a surprising number of records can be found in areas of Eastern Europe, many records were lost over the centuries. How can we fill in gaps and move past brick walls? Studying historical events and geography can help you trace migration and identify ancestors. This session will provide examples of how history and geography can be valuable tools in problem-solving.
11:30 AM: Certificates and farewell before lunch
**PLEASE NOTE: NO TRANSLATION SERVICES WILL BE PROVIDED DURING THIS COURSE