Getting Help with a Genealogy Brick Wall

Sooner or later, we all hit genealogy brick walls: a point in our family history research where we can’t seem to make any further progress. When I hit a brick wall with great-grandpa Gus in Eastern Europe, I turned to Legacy Tree Genealogists. Here’s what their experts found that I hadn’t discovered for myself.
 
bust genealogy brick wall with new leads
 

My Genealogy Brick Wall in Eastern Europe

My great-grandfather Gustav Sporowski was born in Kotten, Kreis Johannisburg, East Prussia on July 20, 1881. His wife was born in Kreis Ortelsburg in 1878. I’ve found all of her church records, but have had no luck with his.

I’ve met so many people who get stuck researching in Eastern Europe, and East Prussia and the Belarus area in particular. (I strongly suspect that the Sporowski family came from the Sporovo lake region of Belarus). So I invited Legacy Tree Genealogists to take a look at Gus and suggest some next steps. I wondered what someone who specialized in Eastern European research might be able to tell someone like me, who knows how to genealogy but not-so-much in that part of the world.

Reviewing My Work

Legacy Tree Genealogists assigned me to a Project Manager, Camille Andrus, who reached out to discuss what I already knew and what I wanted to learn.

Camille Andrus, Project Manager, Legacy Tree Genealogists.

I requested their Discovery Research Plan, for which they just provide guidance about what record collections to consult and what methods or strategies to try. That way I can do the research myself (which I like doing!). I also asked Camille if she would write about her research process so I could share it with you. Here’s what she sent me:

We looked over Lisa’s work, and upon initial inspection everything looked great.

She had looked in the gazetteer (now available digitally at www.meyersgaz.org with maps of the area) and Lutheran church records. (Editor’s note: Learn more about using Meyers Gazetteer in the Genealogy Gems article 5 Expert Tips for Using Meyers Gazetteer for Your German Genealogy.)

She had searched the records for her ancestor’s supposed home parish. When that failed to yield results, she had done a partial radial search, searching records in several adjacent parishes. Check. Check. Check. She was following all of the integral steps, but still not having success.

What had she missed? What had she done wrong? The short answer — nothing. Her research was impeccable, and she was looking in the right places.

Getting Around the Genealogy Brick Wall

Camille had three specific suggestions for where to look next for great-grandpa Gus. At the end, she also offered some helpful reassurance. Here’s what she said:

1. Civil registration in East Prussia

After closer inspection of what Lisa had already tried, we saw several opportunities we could still pursue.

We looked up civil registration records available through a Polish archive, since what was East Prussia is now part of modern Poland.

Prussia

German civil registration in East Prussia began in October of 1874 and is an important resource for researching individuals from this area.

The Meyers Gazetteer confirmed that Kotten (where her ancestor was from) belonged to Kreis Johannisburg in the German Empire province of East Prussia. This village belonged to the Monethen (Kreis Johannisburg) civil registration district.[1]

Using Meyers Gazeteter for German places

Using Meyers Gazetteer to find German places

The Olsztyn State Archive inventory lists several birth, marriage, death, and family books for the Monethen Civil Registration Office, but the books only cover the late 1930s and early 1940s. The whereabouts of the registers covering 1874 through the early 1930s are unknown.

It appears as though the records covering this time period have been lost or destroyed. This situation is not unusual for East Prussia, in general due to the numerous conflicts that have occurred in the area over time.

2. Church records in East Prussia

Another major resource for German genealogy research is church records.

The Meyers Gazetteer database noted that Protestant residents of Kotten attended church in the nearby town of Baitkowen (Kreis Lyck).[2]

Kreis Lyck in Meyers Gazetteer

The church book inventory for Baitkowen revealed that the Protestant parish was established in 1891, a decade after the ancestor Gustav Sporowski was reportedly born. No sacramental registers for this parish are known to be extant. It should be noted that the Baitkowen parish was created from parts of the Lyck, Ostrokollen, and Drygallen parishes.[3]

The Protestant parish of Drygallen (Kreis Johannisburg) has extant baptismal records which are available on microfilm at the Family History Library for the years 1730-1821 and 1844-1875.[4] Lisa indicated that she had reviewed these files but did not find any Sporowskis.

The Lyck Landgemeinde (the congregation for parishioners living outside city limits) was founded in 1704, but there are no known extant baptismal records for this parish after 1808.[5]

3. Following up on clues

A key clue came from Lisa’s notes. She mentioned that Gustav and his wife were married in Lütgendortmund, a town hundreds of miles west of Gustav’s birthplace, before ultimately immigrating to the United States.

Louise at the time of her marriage

Louise at the time of her marriage

Luckily, their marriage occurred in a time when civil registration had been instituted. A search for marriage records showed there are civil registration records available for the town of their marriage, which are available at an archive in Detmold.

We were able to advise Lisa that further research should pursue this record, as it may list information about his parents.

The Protestant Bartholomew Church in Lütgendortmund, Dortmund, Germany. Von Smial – Eigenes Werk, FAL. Click to view.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is if you feel stuck, it’s not necessarily because you are doing anything wrong.

Review the “checkboxes” of your research plan to ensure you aren’t missing any integral clues.

If after final review of methodology concludes that you’ve pursued every avenue, the lack of success may be attributed to gaps in the records or perhaps they have been lost completely. Other times all you need is one clue to put you back on the right track.

This is exactly the kind of advice I was hoping for: expert and specific!

Hire a Professional Genealogist for a Quick Consult or Project

If you have hit a genealogy brick wall in Eastern Europe (or anywhere else) and would like a professional to review your work, I recommend contacting Legacy Tree Genealogists. They have helped many clients like me to solve their family history mysteries, and would love to help you as well!

You can hire a genealogist like Camille through their Genealogist-on-Demand™ service. Receive research strategies and advice from a professional genealogist during your 45-minute consultation that will help you continue your own research. Your virtual genealogy consultation will allow you to have your questions answered in real-time by an expert–all from the comfort of your own home!

Need even more help? Here’s an exclusive offer for Genealogy Gems readers: Receive $100 off a 20-hour research project using code GGP100. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit https://www.legacytree.com.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional costto you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

[1] Search the Meyers Gazetteer, Kotten, Johannisburg, Allenstein, Ostpreussen, Preussen, http://meyersgaz.org/place/11050078, accessed August 2017.

[2] Search the Meyers Gazetteer, Kotten, Johannisburg, Allenstein, Ostpreussen, Preussen, http://meyersgaz.org/place/11050078, accessed August 2017.

[3] Ostpreussen, Genealogische Quellen, Kirchbuchbestände Kreis Lyck, ev. Baitkowen (Baitenberg), http://wiki-de.genealogy.net, accesesed August 2017.

[4] Ostpreussen, Genealogische Quellen, Kirchbuchbestände Kreis Johannisburg, ev. Drigelsdorf (Drygallen), http://wiki-de.genealogy.net, accesesed August 2017.

[5] Ostpreussen, Genealogische Quellen, Kirchbuchbestände Kreis Lyck, ev. Lyck Stadtgemeinde, http://wiki-de.genealogy.net, accesesed August 2017.

Google Slides for Genealogy

You can use Google Slides for genealogy to create one-of-a-kind presentations, a virtual scrapbook, or a virtual library list…and it’s free! Here’s how to take advantage of yet another awesome Google tool.

Google slides for genealogy book covers

I was recently asked if there was a software program or app, something free perhaps, to share a slideshow or create a visual presentation. There is! It’s called Google Slides. Here’s how Lisa Louise Cooke, author of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, explains it:

Google Slides is an online presentation application, much like Microsoft’s Powerpoint. It’s part of Google’s free office suite of tools. As a genealogist, it provides the opportunity to create and visually share your family history.

It’s a Cloud-based service and that means you can access your presentations wherever you are and on any computing device. You will sign-in to Google Slides with your personal Google account. That means you will be able to keep everything private unless you decide to share it. Although it’s Cloud-based, you can use it offline too. Any new presentations you create or changes you make will be automatically updated when you get back online. You can show your presentation at the next family reunion or genealogy society meeting even if there’s no Internet access.

There’s a lot of potential for using this powerful tool for genealogy!

With that great introduction, I’d like to share a few unique examples of how a genealogist or a genealogy society could use Google Slides.

Google Slides for the Genealogist

Google Slides is an easy way to create a fun slide show of your ancestor photos. This can be shared at family gatherings or reunions right from your laptop. You can also share the presentation with a click-able link.

To begin, find Google Slides by going to Google.com and sign-in to your free Google account (or sign up if you don’t have one.) Click on the grid to the left of your sign-in avatar. This will bring down several options. If you don’t see Google Slides as an option, click More at the bottom.

More and Google Slides for Genealogy

If you still don’t see Google Slides as an option, click on Even More from Google. This will take you to another screen of all sorts of Google goodies! Scroll down until you find Google Slides and click on it.
Google Slides for Genealogy Icon
Once you have opened Google Slides, click the plus sign to begin.
New Google Slides for Genealogy Presentation
I added a title and then clicked the tiny arrow to the right of the plus sign to add a new blank slide.
Add Google Slides for Genealogy
At the new slide and each additional slide, you can add a picture by first clicking Insert from the labels listed across the top, then choose Image. A pop-up window will appear and allow you to Choose an Image to Upload. You will then find the image you have saved on your computer and click Open.
Insert Pictures with Google Slides for Genealogy

Keep adding your slides until you have all of them created.

Sharing Your Google Slides Presentation

Like many of us, I like to share my ancestor photos with my family and friends. While at a family gathering of a small group, I just set my laptop up on the coffee table and we huddle around. Bring up your Google Slides presentation on your laptop or mobile device and click on Present at the top right of the screen. The computer does the rest and presents a slideshow for your viewers.

You might also wish to share your slides with family and friends far away. You can do this by sharing a link. To create a shareable link, click Share at the top right corner.
Share Google Slides for Genealogy

A pop-up window will appear. Click the little drop-down menu next to the words “can view.” This option allows you to choose whether you wish people to be able to edit, comment, or view only. I typically choose the “view only” option. Then, a shareable link is created for you. Click Copy link and paste that into an email directly to a family member, to your family history blog, in a Tweet, or in a Facebook post. Wa-la! You have shared your Google Slides presentation.

Create a Virtual Book Cover List with Google Slides

Another stellar way to use Google Slides for genealogy is to create a convenient virtual library list. A recent article found online gave me the idea of creating a library list using images of the covers of books.

For example, if you enjoy attending genealogy conferences and buying books for your society, you may get stuck wondering, “Do we already have that in our collection?” By creating a virtual book cover list, you won’t have to wonder anymore!

You will first need to begin this project by taking a picture of the covers of each of your books and saving the images to your computer or laptop. I took pictures, cropped them, and sharpened them up a bit with my smartphone. Then, I saved them to a file folder on my computer named Book Covers. [Tip: It would be an even better idea to save the Book Covers folder to your Google Drive!]

For something quick and easy, use the virtual book cover template here: Virtual Book Cover List Template. If you choose to use this link, when it opens, click Make a copy and Google Slides will open. Right click on any of the book cover images you see, a pop-up window appears. Choose Replace image and then find an image of one of your own book covers.
Google Slides for Genealogy book cover template
Once you have replaced each of the book covers with ones of your own, you can rearrange them with the click-and-drag method. You might want to put them in alphabetical order or perhaps categorize them by subject or place.

When you have finished, don’t forget to title it. There is no need to save it because Google Slides automatically saves for you. Google Slides is accessible from any of your devices and can even be viewed on-the-go from your mobile device. You’ll love this feature when you are trying to decide what books to add to your genealogy library.

How Can You Use Google Slides for Genealogy?

We are sure there are dozens of ways to use Google Slides for genealogy. Give Google Slides a try and if you think of another use for this wonderful tool, let us know about it in the comments below! Thanks for reading, friends.

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