Researching Eastern Europe?
January 06, 2014
If you have ever been skeptical that you may not be able to learn about your ancestors from Central or Eastern Europe due to language barriers, border changes, countries’ name changes, or different spellings of names, then perhaps now you may be more optimistic.
Can we help you? Yes, of course we can. Loyal to our name--the Midwest Genealogy Center--we carry plenty of resources for the Midwestern genealogy enthusiasts. However, we have resources not only for the entire United States but for European research, as well.
We have guide books, audio cassettes, and resources tailored specifically to each individual country. I will name just a few: Deutsch-fremdsprachiges (Fremdsprachig-Deutsches) Ortsnamenverzeichnis: Im Auftrage de Prakischen Abteilung der Deutschen Akademie in München (German Name-Change Gazetteer), which is helpful for finding alternative place names; Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia (Ost- und Westpreussen): Records, Sources, Publications & Events by Edward R. Brandt; and Where to Look for Hard-to-find German-speaking Ancestors in Eastern Europe: Index to 19,720 Surnames in 13 Books, with Historical Background on Each Settlement compiled by Bruce Brandt and Edward R. Brandt. And don't forget our periodicals collection, which includes the ethnic periodicals dedicated to almost every country in Europe.
In addition to our resources, there are numerous online sources such as FamilySearch.org. Another great website is the Federation of East European Family History Societies. It could be one of the first places to visit as you embark on your East European research. It is also helpful in searching for lost German connections, as German families settled in these countries and created strong communities in various areas throughout history.
The good news is that the records from Central and Eastern Europe are now easier to access than you may think. Many countries are opening their archives and, in many cases, uploading to the Internet not just their holdings but actual images of the records. Thus, it is not necessary to travel to Europe, unless of course you are interested in seeing the towns or villages where your ancestors came from.
As digitization continues, it is more and more likely that you will be able to sit in the comfort of your home or library and view images of the actual archives on your screen. Vital records, written in old German, Latin, or the local language, contain a great deal of information. For example, the birth records usually reveal parents’ names, mother’s maiden name, their residence, status and profession, or even their parents’ information, and godparents or sponsors who were usually relatives as well. With this data, you can find the parents’ marriage record, their birth records, and all the relatives in one church book. It is fascinating to look at the microfilm and see a surname emerge over and over in a specific village’s church book.
However, the archives offer more than that. And a true genealogist is not satisfied with just the vital records. Sooner or later, he or she sees these records as pieces of a puzzle in the background of historical events. The family genealogist wants to read the local chronicle, understand the historical context, and finally, what drove his or her ancestors to emigrate.
At the end, let’s return back at the beginning. The Midwest Genealogy Center is a great place to start (or continue) your research. We can offer you guidance, resources, and classes so that you will not lose your family’s threads at the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Next year, we may develop a class for general research in Central and Eastern Europe, and possibly even classes tailored specifically to particular Central and East European countries. Stay connected!
Midwest Genealogy Center