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Crossing The Water To Find Ancestors: Some Precautions To Take Before Departure

Part three of three part series. Any genealogist relishes the chance to do research in an ancestor's country of origin.


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Any genealogist relishes the chance to do research in an ancestor's country of origin. But before he or she plans a trip abroad there are a few warnings that should be noted before a researcher decides to do research abroad either alone or through the services of a researcher.

The researcher should be sure to have the correct spelling of the family name as it would have been spelled originally before any Americanizing changes were made to it. Too many immigrants came through Ellis Island and left with a totally different name because attendants couldn't pronounce the original. This also applies to the given names of immigrants. Jean Maes from France became John Mace when he emigrated to America, but his vital records in France remained in his original name.

Geographical locations haven't changed, but national boundary lines have. A place of origin may no longer belong to the same country it did when the immigrants left for America. Check this carefully.

What was the population of an ancestor's country at the time he or she emigrated? Was the ancestor one person in only 100,000 people residing there, or one in two million? Knowing this fact will help a genealogist comprehend the extent of overseas research better.

While English is becoming a universal language, it's still a courtesy to address letters of inquiry in the language of the recipient. If a researcher doesn't speak the family's original language, he or she should write a brief letter asking for information in English and have it translated before mailing. Also, some countries, like Russia, print addresses upside down from those in the U.S. and in a different alphabet. For example, "Russia" and the postal code would come first and the person's name would come last in the Cyrillic alphabet.

In fact, it's useful for a researcher to have a reading knowledge of the foreign language

necessary for the research. The alternative to this is to employ the services of a dependable genealogist who's experienced in exploring the records of an area. The Board for Certification of

Genealogists (P.O. Box 5816, Falmouth, VA. 22403-5816) unfortunately doesn't certify persons dealing with overseas ancestry. However, a certified genealogist in this country may have a colleague overseas who's capable of assistance. Another source is The Genealogical Helper, a periodical published bimonthly by the Everton Publishers, Inc. (P.O. Box 368, Logan, Utah 84321), which generally includes an annual Directory of Genealogical Societies, Libraries, Periodicals and Professionals in the United States and abroad.

If a researcher finds few clues concerning the exact place of a family's origin, he or she should study the migration patterns of the time when the family came to the United States.

A researcher should also check the friends and neighbors of the family in this country,

because there were often friends and neighbors in the old country who emigrated at the same time. It's possible that they or their children have kept records that may provide valuable clues.

Before setting foot on foreign soil or writing or a foreign government, a researcher should study all publications, books, periodicals, and pamphlets published in the United States. Remember, even with a rudimentary knowledge of English, a foreign researcher might only be able to read a short letter requesting information about the location and existence of records for that family name in a particular place.

Source Information: Everyday Genealogy, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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