Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday's Tip~Gettin' by with Help from Our Friends-Carol Kostakos Petranek

Today's tips come from Carol Kostakos Petranek of the Spartan Roots Blog. Although her research takes her to Greece, her tips will help those trying to locate ancestors in their native countries. 

My research is focused on a not-so-common area of the world: Sparta, Greece. However, as I made my way “across the pond,” I found that many of the steps I undertook are applicable to anyone researching in a foreign country. To be successful, you MUST know the original surname and village/place of birth. This means a thorough research process in the U.S. to find any and all documents that could possibly exist for your immigrant ancestor and his immediate family. Without these two pieces of information, your overseas research will not be successful.
   1. Connect with other researchers via social media. Facebook has become a genealogist’s best friend. Thanks to Katherine R. Willson who compiles the “Genealogy on Facebook” list, you can surely find a group that is active in your area of research. Whether it is a certain ethnicity, country, or city, connecting with those who are also searching that locality will give you specific research tips, translation help, suggestions for local resources and even recommendations for local genealogists. For example, I am heavily involved in the HellenicGenealogyGeek Facebook page which has morphed in two years from 2,000 people to 12,800 today!

  2. Conduct Google searches using the google country domain address for the foreign country, and typing the query using that country’s language.  If I search for information in Greece using google.com and typing in English, I will NOT get the same results as typing a search parameter using a Greek keyboard and accessing Google.gr. Don’t let the language issue be a barrier -- Google Translate is your next best friend! A list of Google country domains is found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Google_domains.  Google Translate can be accessed at:  https://translate.google.com. Go to Google Play or the Apple store to download a “translate” app that is resident on your computer and will instantly translate web pages. Although any translation app will not give you a perfect translation, it will be good enough for you to understand the basic concepts.  Regarding keyboards, all computers have a “language and keyboard” option where you can activate a foreign language keyboard, and then toggle back and forth between English and the other language. These tools will help you make new discoveries. When you have questions about what you have found, post them on the FB page that you found in Tip #1!

   3. Explore U.S. record sets that may be especially helpful (and often overlooked) for finding the original surname and village of origin for your ancestor. Have you searched NARA’s Alien Registration files? Have you ordered the Social Security application (SS-5) for your immigrant ancestor? Have you searched churches of his/her ethnicity in the area he/she lived? My friend, Georgia Stryker Keilman, created an excellent handout that we use at Hellenic Genealogy Conferences: How U.S. Records Can Help.

  4. Use the White Pages on the Internet to find living people in the village where your ancestors originated. Write a brief letter in BOTH their language and in English as many people have family members who speak English and the language translation may not be accurate. Explain who you are and what you are seeking; enclose a photo of yourself. Write in simple sentences. Do not ask more than one or two questions. Enclose a self-addressed envelope and your email address.

  5. Learn the general history of your country of interest to understand where records may be. Country boundaries have changed extensively, especially in central Europe. This video shows the year in the upper left corner, and the boundary changes. Then, use the Wiki on FamilySearch and Ancestry to learn about the resources during the time period in your country of interest. What types of records were created, and where are they held? Look for contact information for Archive offices, “town halls” or local government offices. When you write for information, request only one or two records at a time. Government clerks are busy taking care of the everyday needs of their citizens, and a long request asking for dozens of names may be delayed at best, or ignored at worst.

Remember that you are not alone in your quest! Connecting with other researchers will immerse you in a community of like-minded people  who have a common goal:  to learn about their ancestral heritage and to share it with their families. Wishing you every success!


 Carol Kostakos Petranek serves as a Co-Director of the Washington, D.C. Family History Center where she coordinates classes, conferences and community outreach projects. She is a Citizen Archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and volunteers as a Genealogy Aid in the Research Room. Carol is the Volunteer Coordinator for a FamilySearch/Maryland Archive digitization project of Probate and Estate Records. Carol researches her Greek ancestry and is actively engaged in the Hellenic Genealogy community, assisting researchers and presenting at conferences. She helps her husband with his Czech and northern European research. Carol blogs at SpartanRoots.wordpress.com and also writes and edits personal and family histories. Carol and her husband, Gary, reside in Silver Spring, Maryland and are the parents of 4 children and 15 grandchildren. 

Thanks to Carol for helping us with getting across the pond! 
These are fantastic tips!

Are you ready to move across to find where your ancestors immigrated from? What has helped you?
Thanks so much for stopping by!

Helping you climb your family tree,