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# Tuesday, April 21, 2009
When Your Ancestor's Records Are in Another Language
Posted by Diane

Q. Where can I get help understanding genealogy records written in my ancestors' native language?   

A. How to read foreign-language genealogy records is probably in the top 10 topics Family Tree Magazine readers ask us about. Here are some tips:

First, see if you can puzzle out meanings using the genealogy word lists on FamilySearch. (Click a letter of the alphabet to find resources for that country, then scroll down until you find the right word list.) You’ll get some background on the language and alphabet, and the words for common genealogy terms such as birth, death and names of months. This may be enough to help you read, say, a microfilmed register of baptisms.

An online translator such as Google's is handy for words or phrases. But online translators aren’t ideal for passages from historical records—languages change quickly, and online translation tools are designed for modern alphabets and usage (and even then, you'll often get pretty rough translations).

If you’re dealing with a complex document or script (Fraktur, a German script, is notoriously difficult to translate), you may need to find a translator.

In this FamilyTreeMagazine.com article, researcher Nick D’Alto offers tips on hiring and working with a genealogy translator. No offense to your niece who got an A in Italian this quarter, but he advises seeking one who’s familiar with historical documents.

The Association for Professional Genealogists has a directory of professional researchers who offer translation services or have access to translators (click a name for specifics on the person’s services). Many of these folks have earned genealogical certifications and/or have references you can check.

Someone from an ethnic genealogy society (do a Google search or check Cyndi’s List to find one) may be able to help you or to recommend a translator, or you can ask members of an online forum focused on your ancestor’s homeland. A university ethnic studies department also might be able to put you in touch with a native speaker.


genealogy basics | international research | migration
Tuesday, April 21, 2009 7:40:47 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, February 25, 2008
Research Canadian Pacific Railway Workers
Posted by Diane

Q. My great-grandfather supposedly helped build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Is there any way to find out more about that part of his life?

A. Canada was still a sparsely populated country when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) incorporated in 1881. Building that first cross-country rail link took thousands of workers and a massive effort.

In 1885, CPR worker Donald A. Smith altered the course of the country’s history by driving the final spike into the transcontinental railroad, which ultimately opened up the Canadian West to settlement. You can read a brief history on the CPR archives Web site.

If your ancestor worked on the railroad, you’ll be especially interested in the archives’ collection of historical images, documents, publications and artifacts, plus materials on topics such as tourism, immigration and colonization.

Although it’s a private collection, the CPR archives in Montreal provides researchers with fee-based services or on-site access on a case-by-case basis. You’ll need to submit a written request to arrange a visit.

You’ll find more online resources for researching rail workers at RootsWeb and Cyndi’s List.

Canadian Railway Records: A Guide for Genealogists by Althea Douglas and J. Creighton Douglas (Ontario Genealogical Society, $26) offers a glossary, chronology, and an introduction to online sources. See more history in Canadian Pacific Railway (MBI Railroad Color History) by Tom Murray (Voyageur Press, $36.95).
Lisa A. Alzo


international research | occupational records
Monday, February 25, 2008 8:47:02 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Belgian Waffling
Posted by Diane

Q What advice can you offer on genealogy in Belgium? My husband’s family came from there, and I would like to know where I can go to find information—no one even knows when or how the family got from Belgium to the United States. All I’ve found so far is it was in the late 1800s.

A
Based on the problem you’ve described, it sounds as though you really should be focusing on researching the family in the United States rather than Belgium. In order to cross the pond, you first have to pinpoint the Belgian immigrant. 

So first, you’ll have to learn who the immigrant was, when he came to America, and the specific town he came from. To do that, you’ll need to thoroughly trace each generation of the family in America, starting with your husband.

You might try asking your husband’s relatives if they know any family stories that might provide additional clues, or if they have any family papers that could contain leads—a naturalization record or a family Bible, for example.

A good next step would be searching federal census records for each generation of your husband’s family: Beginning in 1850, censuses list each person’s place of birth. So if a family member did in fact immigrate during the late 1800s, census records should indicate that. Later censuses even tell you  parents’ birthplaces.

If your husband’s ancestor became a citizen in the late 19th or early 20th century, his naturalization documents will likely tell you the town where he last lived in Belgium. Obituaries often provide clues, too.

Your best bet is to check every source you can about each previous generation, as you never know where a lead is going to turn up. That includes records about the siblings of your husband’s ancestors: Maybe your husband’s forebear didn’t apply for citizenship, for example, but his brother did. (See our  feature on naturalization records in the May 2008 issue.)

I’d also recommend you look to Belgian genealogy organizations and networks, such as the Belgian Roots Project, for help. Since immigrants tended to settle in the same places as their countrymen and leave their homeland for the same reasons, these groups could provide historical and social context to help guide your search. You may also be able to connect with cousins through these organizations’ queries and databases. Browse our online Belgian Toolkit to find more resources and Web sites.

By following all these leads, you should be able to find clues to your husband’s Belgian ancestry—just don’t try to cross the pond prematurely.


Belgian roots | immigration | international research | naturalization
Wednesday, January 30, 2008 5:51:55 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, November 08, 2007
Spanish Lessons
Posted by Allison

Q Both of my grandfathers were born in Spain and left in the late 1800s or early 1900s. I know where and when they were born, but would like to find a ship’s manifest of their journey from Spain to Cuba, and information on earlier generations. I visited a Web site you recommended in the September 2007 issue (“Record Highs and Lows”), but it’s in Spanish—with no English version—so I couldn’t use it. Is there another way to research Spanish immigrant relatives? A Web site that’s helpful to us Americanos?

A You’ve run into one of the key challenges of research in the old country: the language barrier. Although some countries have Web sites with information in English, most of their resources—and more important, their records—naturally are going to be in the native tongue.

That doesn’t mean you have to become fluent in Spanish to trace your overseas roots. But you will want to brush up on some basics, especially family history-related terms. Many foreign genealogical records are formulaic enough that you usually can decipher them with knowledge of key words such as birth, marriage, death, mother, father, etc., and a translation dictionary. For starters, try the Family History Library’s (FHL) helpful Spanish Genealogical Word List.

And of course, the Internet isn’t the only place to look for records of your Spanish ancestors. The FHL has microfilmed numerous Spanish documents. Find ones relevant to your family tree by searching the online catalog for the town, municipality or province where your ancestors lived and the port they emigrated from. Knowing where your grandfathers were born gives you a head start on tracing earlier generations—you already know where to focus your search.

You also can write to archives and record offices in Spain for records. See our how-to guide to researching in Spain and Portugal (in the June 2004 Family Tree Magazine) for guidance on where to write, and consult the FHL’s Spanish Letter-Writing Guide for help composing your correspondence in Spanish (you’re more likely to get a response that way).

Some other resources you might find helpful: GenForum’s Spain message board, where you can pick the brains of other genealogists researching there, and books and lectures by Hispanic genealogy expert George R. Ryskamp. The Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research has a good list of Web links to explore. Consider joining a Hispanic genealogical society in your area to take advantage of its resources and members’ knowledge.


Hispanic roots | immigration | international research
Thursday, November 08, 2007 5:59:47 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [13]