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# Tuesday, 02 February 2016
3 Reasons to Travel to the Old Country
Posted by Diane

No matter how convenient it may be these days to research ancestors without leaving home, you probably still dream of visiting your family’s homeland. Heritage travel is a booming industry and can provide you with an opportunity to go beyond the same old research strategies and discover those details you can’t get from online databases, books or microfilmed records.

Lisa A. Alzo, guest blogger and author of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide shares three reasons you should do onsite research in your ancestral homeland:

  1. Meet up with long-lost cousins. We often start our research by tracing  immigrant ancestors, but what about those ancestors who remained in Europe and didn’t make the journey across the ocean? By simply visiting an ancestral town or village, you can run into descendants who still live there and can show you around. And with blogs, Facebook and Twitter, it’s easier than ever to find and make plans with long-lost cousins, then stay connected with them once you return home.

  2. Walk in ancestors’ footsteps. If you’re yearning to see where your ancestors lived, stand in the church where Great-grandpa was baptized, enjoy traditional cuisine and understand what life was like for your ancestors before they made the journey to America, then practicing immersion genealogy can provide an opportunity like no other. With a trip to your ancestral homeland, you can experience firsthand the customs and traditions of your heritage, as well as discover more details about where and how your ancestors lived, worked and worshiped.

  3. Locate hard-to-get records. Contrary to popular belief, not all genealogical documents are online. The proof of your grandmother’s date of birth or details about the death of her parents could be physically stored in the dusty old church books or in the village’s civil registration office or archives. By visiting such repositories in person, you can get information that might not be easily accessible otherwise. When planning for onsite research, always contact the priest or staff in advance so they can better assist you during your visit and inform you of their availability or any planned closings or scheduling conflicts. And, if you aren’t comfortable with the language, hire a professional researcher who can assist with navigating the policies and procedures and help you communicate with staff or villagers who don’t speak English; look for recommendations from ethnic genealogical societies.

Learn more about heritage travel and get tips and resources for preparing a visit to Poland, the Czech Republic or Slovakia in The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide.

Czech roots | Polish roots | Slovak roots
Tuesday, 02 February 2016 13:55:50 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Tuesday, 26 January 2016
Researching Grandma's Baptism from Your Easy Chair
Posted by Diane

Genealogy research in Eastern Europe has come a long way in the past couple of decades. It used to be that locating church or civil registration records required a lot of effort and waiting. Your options for accessing records were 1) traveling to perform onsite research in archives, 2) spending a fortune to hire a professional to do the research for you, 3) writing a letter and hoping the registrar’s office or priest would understand and answer your quests or 4) hoping records for your ancestral village were included in those microfilmed by The Genealogical Society of Utah, which you could research at the Family History Library or order through a local Family History Center.

But now, has changed all that with its growing collection of church and civil registration records from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and other localities. Lisa A. Alzo, author of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide shares three steps for beginning research on ancestors’ baptismal, marriage or death records from your easy chair using’s historical record collections:

  1. Get the name right. When searching collections from Eastern Europe, you need to know your ancestor’s name as it was originally spelled. You may know your ancestor as John, but would he instead be listed as Ján or János in registrations? My grandmother, for example, is listed as Erzsébet rather than Elizabeth. And how exactly is Fencsák spelled, anyway? Get as close to the original spelling as you can, and keep in mind which wildcards (characters like * and ?) to use to capture alternate spellings in your searches.

  2. Locate a collection. From’s home page, click the magnifying glass labeled Search, then click Browse All Published Collections. Choose Continental Europe and scroll to find the country you’re searching for (e.g., Slovakia). You can also type an ancestor’s name in the search boxes on the left-hand side, click on a map researching in a specific location or, if you know the name of the specific collection, start typing the first few letters of the name in the Collection title box; matching choices (such as Slovak, Church and Synagogue Books, 1592–1910, where I found my grandmother) will pop up underneath.

  3. Read the directions. When you get to the collection’s page, read the description carefully to understand what exactly is included. Click the Learn More button to access related FamilySearch Wiki articles on a particular collection or topic (e.g., this article on Slovak church and synagogue books). Remember that not all records are online—and some areas are not yet included—so in many instances, you’ll still need to consult the FamilySearch Catalog for microfilmed records, contact churches or archives, or consult with a professional for hard-to-get records and translation assistance. Make sure you sign up for a free FamilySearch account and follow the FamilySearch Blog or subscribe to the FamilySearch newsletter to receive notifications whenever the collections are added or updated.

Learn more tips and resources for doing Eastern Europe research from home by ordering a copy of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide today.

Czech roots | FamilySearch | Polish roots | Slovak roots | Vital Records
Tuesday, 26 January 2016 12:21:47 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 19 January 2016
Five Important Dates in Eastern European Genealogy
Posted by Diane

Genealogy and history go hand in hand. If you want to be successful in tracing your Polish, Czech or Slovak roots, brush up on the history of these countries (and of Eastern Europe in general) to better understand records from the old country and learn about your ancestors’ lives. Check out these five key dates in Eastern European history you should know about, given to us by Lisa Alzo, author of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide:

  • 1772, 1792 and 1795: In the Three Partitions of Poland, Russia, Prussia and Austria break Poland into three pieces and absorb them. This effectively wipes Poland off the map for more than one hundred years, making research between these years and Poland’s independence after World War I difficult.

  • 1815: The Congress of Vienna redraws many of Europe’s borders, including Napoleon’s Duchy of Warsaw. Many of these borders won’t change until the end of World War I and likely reflect the divisions of Europe that were in place when your ancestor left the old country.

  • 1867: The Austrian and Hungarian governments form a dual monarchy, sharing a common ruler. As a result, your Polish, Czech and Slovak ancestors may list Austria and/or Hungary as a birthplace.

  • 1918: World War I ends, and Europe’s borders are redrawn, with many of Eastern Europe’s ethnic groups receiving independent nation-states. Poland gains independence for the since time since the Partitions, and the defeated Austria-Hungary is divided into Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Galicia (which goes to Poland), and Transylvania (which goes to Romania). These changes may change how your immigrant ancestor chose to list his information on passenger lists and other North American records. See the picture above for a snapshot of Eastern Europe’s borders in 1922 following the changes.

  • 1945: World War II ends, and Eastern Europe’s population is devastated. Borders—especially Poland’s—change yet again following the war, with Ukraine gaining Subcarpathian Rus’ and Poland losing territory in the east to the Soviet Union but gaining formerly German territory in the west.

Learn more tips and resources for decrypting Eastern Europe’s changing borders and complicated historical influences on your ancestors’ lives. Order your copy of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide today.

Czech roots | Polish roots | Slovak roots
Tuesday, 19 January 2016 11:22:30 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 12 January 2016
4 Steps to Begin Researching Your Eastern European Immigrant Ancestors
Posted by Diane

Most genealogists at some point need to trace an immigrant ancestor back to his or her place of origin. But how do you get started? Guest writer and author of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide Lisa Alzo shares four steps for beginning your search.

When researching Polish, Czech, or Slovak genealogy, you might be tempted to throw yourself into research and as soon as possible find the ancestor who braved the New World. But good research takes more time and attention than just jumping into records to find your immigrant ancestor. Rather, you’ll need a research plan to make sure you’re covering all your bases. Here are four steps to get started:

  1. Take stock of what you already know about your ancestors. Look through family documents, interview relatives and—perhaps most importantly—write it all down. This will help you establish where you are in your research and identify where you need to go.
  2. Establish the date of your immigrant ancestor’s arrival. This date serves as a benchmark moment in a person’s life. All records from before this date will be in the old country, while all records from after will be in the United States or Canada. Note that some “birds of passage” ancestors may have traveled the Atlantic multiple times before settling down. You can often use clues in US census records to help pinpoint the date of arrival. For example, the 1930 US census lists the immigration year for my Slovak grandfather, John Alzo, as 1910. A search of the Ellis Island Foundation (which requires free registration to search), turns up his passenger record. According to that, John arrived on 29 October 1910 on the ship Kaiserin Auguste Victoria. I can also view the entry on ship’s manifest page. While his surname is spelled slightly different there (Alzio), I also get another valuable clue: his original name, Janos, which is Hungarian for “John.” (Slovakia was under Hungarian rule until 1918.)
  3. Identify your ancestor’s original name and hometown. Scour home sources and name websites for possible spelling variations or nicknames that your ancestor might have used or other names his town might have been known by. Be sure to determine the exact name of the town or village because rather than general areas such as Prague or Krakow; your ancestor may have listed such bigger cities as a point of reference, you’ll need to be more specific to find the appropriate archival district and local church or civil offices in the old country This will help you make sure you’re searching for the right person and place.
  4. Search websites and online databases. Record websites, genealogical societies and message boards have digitized a growing number of records that can be searched online. Check large sites such as and as well as small, volunteer-generated databases.

Once you get across the ocean, you’ll have to take additional steps, such as: learning where the town or village is located today; doing onsite research in or writing to archives, churches, or registrars; hiring a professional researcher; and seeking out fellow genealogists researching similar areas. And of course, researching each individual ancestor may require you to adjust your research process.

Learn more tips and strategies for searching for your Polish, Czech or Slovak immigrant ancestors, by ordering your copy of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide today.

Czech roots | immigration records | Polish roots | Slovak roots
Tuesday, 12 January 2016 13:25:28 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]