Is Central and/or Eastern Europe the place of your ancestors? Don’t be afraid to uncover their life stories! I am sure at least one of them would appreciate that somebody cared and that they were not forgotten. That said, where are their records?
First, you need to focus on the ancestor who lived on both continents (this approach is valid for your German ancestor too). There are four main things to know about this immigrant ancestor to help your research:
- Name (their original name used in the old country is ideal)
- Date of birth or marriage (if also married in the old country)
- Place of origin (state, region, town, parish, or village)
- Religion (it helps)
Records are maintained locally (they are not centralized), and this is valid for almost all of Europe. The best genealogy sources are local church records and vital records. For going further back in time, church records are the best sources! They contain baptisms, marriages and marriage bans, burials, death dates, and the names of parents, godparents or sponsors, and witnesses. The sponsors and witnesses are usually family related, either by blood or by marriage. Follow their stories too.
Church records are kept by the local parishes. Parishes can contain a few villages and are the place where the ancestors went to church. Church records (or their duplicates) were sent later to the local registration office.
Vital records (birth, marriage, and death), from the time the civil registry offices were established, are more detailed and are kept by the local office in the closest town. This registry office is called the Matrika, Metrika (plural Matriky, Metriky), and similar. These offices are usually in the city hall building and keep the matričné knihy (Matriky books). Earlier books are later moved and stored at the city or regional archives. For those books not kept at the Matrika anymore, check the closest regional archive.
However, before checking the regional archive, check to see if the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah, has these books online at FamilySearch.org, or visit this library, which is cheaper than traveling to Europe. In fact, this is the most convenient approach for many Eastern European countries—online through FHL.
If the FHL does not have the records, check this free website: FEEFHS.org (click on the Resources tab). The next step is to reach out to the archives’ website for your country, the local archives, and their holdings. Read what they keep in their repository. If you learn that they have the records for the time you need, try to contact them. First, write a short email; the address is usually on their website.
For help writing to the archive or city hall, use the Research Wiki and Letter Writing Guide on FamilySearch.org. You can also use other translating tools, such as Google Translate. Attach your English version as well. The young people there usually speak very good English, and they can reference your original English version if some text was lost in translation.
The Midwest Genealogy Center is a great place to start (or continue) your research. We offer guidance, resources, books (even for reading records), ethnic periodicals, and classes, so you will not lose your family’s thread at the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, check the MGC events, to learn when the Czech, Slovak, Polish, German, and Eastern European classes will be offered.
Bonus Tip: For requesting a vital record from any country of the world, consult International Vital Records Handbook, 7th Edition, 2017, by T. J. Kemp, which has contact information.
Good Luck, Viel Glück, Удачи, Sok Szerencsét, Mnoho štěstí, Veľa šťastia, Sretno, Powodzenia!
Midwest Genealogy Center