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Archiver > ROOTS > 1990-03 > 0637522759-01

From: Roots-L List Operations <>
Subject: Crossing the water.
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 90 11:39:19 CST

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----------------------------Original message----------------------------
How absolutely infuriating our ancestors can be, especially when they
move and don't leave us any indication as to where they lived before.
This can be as much of a problem when they go from Virginia to
Illinois as from, say, Austria-Hungary to Pennsylvania. But in
the latter case, you get to contend with a foreign language and
a different (perhaps unavailable) set of government and church
records. What fun?

And it gets even more frustrating when the ancestors we are talking
about were our grandparents or great-grandparents. Somehow, losing
someone in Virginia in the 1700s isn't nearly as irritating.

I've recently had some luck tracing both my Swedish grandfather and
my German grandmother to their home countries. In the process,
I tried a lot of different avenues. Some worked, some didn't.
(I know Pat has already tried most of these, but her posting just
inspired me to put them all together in a list.)

1. Ask your relatives. This was a big success for me. My father remembered
his father naming the ancestral village as Dalskog, in Sweden. Although
all my father's sisters pooh-poohed this as being unlikely (they didn't
remember any such thing, so it couldn't be so), it turned out to
be true. For my German grandmother, I was told "in Prussia, near
the Polish border." This too turned out to be true, but wasn't especially
useful. (Pat's relatives remember a town called something like
"Boramayo," and that the old folks used to walk to Prague on occasion --
none of this seems to make much sense.)

2. Get death certificates for the foreign ancestors. Get death
certificates for any of their siblings that also came to America.
Get copies of the obituaries for all of the above. (I had six or
seven Swedes, and six Germans. None of the death certificates had
more than the country of birth. One of the obituaries named a
German county, but still didn't name the parish which I needed.
If I hadn't later found the name of the village by another means,
I was probably desperate enough to check the records for every
parish in the county...)

3. If they were naturalized, get copies of their naturalization
papers, both the declaration of intent and the final naturalization.
Early naturalizations only name the country, but I believe
that if they procrastinated long enough (until sometime early in this
century), more specific information may have been collected.
Again, don't forget about those great-uncles if your own ancestors
didn't bother. (My women didn't bother with getting naturalized,
but the men did. Unfortunately, they were quite prompt about
it, so again I didn't gain any useful information.)

4. Check the birth records of the foreigner's children. Maybe someone
was feeling thorough when they filled out the paperwork and put
the village name down there. (Not my people!)

5. Did the family belong to an ethnic church here in America? If
the records are available, check those. (The Swedish church in
Scandia, Minnesota, had "Dahlskog" as the birthplace of my great-great
uncle. My Germans don't seem to have joined a German church, though
I'm still working this angle.)

6. What about Social Security? Your ancestor (or relative) might
have sent the Social Security Administration information about
where they were born either to get a SSN or to apply for benefits.
(I wrote the SSA about my German grandmother. She never applied
for benefits, so they didn't have anything other than her application,
on which she wrote "Germany". Grandma always was consistent!)

7. Supposedly some folk (presumably those with some extra cash) will
carve the name of their "home" town on their tombstone. (My
ancestors seemed to have had better uses for their money.)

8. Old papers. One of your living relatives may have a box full
of letters or papers from the Old Country stuffed away in an attic
somewhere. Look this stuff over real closely, especially any ornate
certificates (baptism records?) or letters (return address?). (My
people are very neat and sent all this stuff on to the dump years

9. The census. Sometimes the census taker got hyper and wrote down
extra information. (No such luck.)

10. Ship records. Arrivals in New York for many years aren't indexed,
but many other cities are. Try those first. (Trust me! I read several
rolls of New York microfilm looking for my German ancestors, who, just
to spite me :-) came in via Baltimore.) For the newer lists,
the previous residence is usually listed. For the older lists, it was
sometimes listed. Don't forget the other end of the journey, either.
There are Swedish records, German ones for Hamburg (but not Bremen?),
probably other ports. The Swedish ones all agreed that my Swedes
came from Dalskog. The Baltimore records for most of my Germans
listed no village. But one great-great-uncle slipped up and listed
a village name. (Of course, I can't find the village, but that's
another problem. Luckily, I had already cracked my German problem.)
And all my Germans had sailed from Bremen, for which I could find no
records. Even if your ancestors arrived before village information
was collected, perhaps someone from the Old Country came over later
to visit. (Supposedly a Kozelnik cousin came for a long visit
in the 1920s. Ship records from that period will list the residence.
No one seems to remember this young man's first name, however,
so I haven't been real motivated to follow up.)

11. If the surname is unusual, try contacting people of the same
surname living in the same region (as precisely as you can define it.)
My grandmother's name was Aschnewitz. I wrote to the only Aschnewitz
in the Berlin phone book. Her grandfather and my greatgrandfather
were brothers. She had grown up in the ancestral village!!!!
From there, I found the parish records, and traced one of my German
lines back two or three more generations. Where I'm stuck, but
at least I found out where my grandmother was born. (I also wrote
to three Kozelniks, none of whom answered. But since my Kozelniks
came from the same village as my Aschnewitzes, this didn't matter.)

12. Neighbors and "unknown" relatives. Why did your ancestors choose
to relocate to this town/neighborhood out of all the towns and
neighborhoods available to them? Maybe those people next door are
relatives? (I thought I had my Swedes all figured out - that the
oldest son had come first and then the rest of the family had followed
him. But I looked him up in the 1880 census just to be thorough,
and found him living with an UNCLE?) Or maybe they came from the
same village in the old country. If you've found your family
on a ship list, you might check to see if any of their American
neighbors came over on the same ship. In general, try to learn
(however it is easiest) where in the old country those neighbors
and/or shipmates came from -- maybe your people came from the
same place, too. (That uncle from the 1880 census was the one
whose church records showed "Dahlskog" as the birthplace. And when
the nephew came to America, there were several other people from
Dalskog who traveled with him.)

13. Your idea here.
Karen E. Isaacson
or uunet!randvax!karen

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