My Genealogy Brick Wall in Eastern Europe
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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. 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.
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.
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 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!
 Search the Meyers Gazetteer, Kotten, Johannisburg, Allenstein, Ostpreussen, Preussen, http://meyersgaz.org/place/11050078, accessed August 2017.
 Search the Meyers Gazetteer, Kotten, Johannisburg, Allenstein, Ostpreussen, Preussen, http://meyersgaz.org/place/11050078, accessed August 2017.
 Ostpreussen, Genealogische Quellen, Kirchbuchbestände Kreis Lyck, ev. Baitkowen (Baitenberg), http://wiki-de.genealogy.net, accesesed August 2017.
 Ostpreussen, Genealogische Quellen, Kirchbuchbestände Kreis Johannisburg, ev. Drigelsdorf (Drygallen), http://wiki-de.genealogy.net, accesesed August 2017.
 Ostpreussen, Genealogische Quellen, Kirchbuchbestände Kreis Lyck, ev. Lyck Stadtgemeinde, http://wiki-de.genealogy.net, accesesed August 2017.
Jump start your Canadian genealogy research and celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday! Here are tips for you to start your Canadian genealogy research. Already started? Take it to the next level with resources at Library and Archives Canada.
Canada is celebrating 150 years of nationhood in 2017! To join the party, I invited Claire Banton from Library and Archives Canada to the Genealogy Gems podcast episode 199. We had a great chat about Canada’s history and its planned year-long celebration. And of course, our conversation quickly turned to tips for exploring your Canadian roots at Library and Archives Canada.
Quick Tips for Canadian Genealogy Research
You can listen to our entire conversation for free in episode 199, but here are some quick take-away tips:
1. Library and Archives Canada is very different from the average library.
It is both a national library (search the library catalog here) and a national archive (search the archival catalog here). And you don’t even have to have an account to search.
2. Start with the LAC website genealogy resources page whether you plan to visit in person or not.
You’ll find loads of free databases and some digitized records that haven’t been indexed yet, but are ripe for browsing. The topics page will tell you more about what is available for Canadian genealogy.
3. Familiarize yourself with the history of border crossings.
There was no border control from the US to Canada prior to 1908, so that means there are no Canadian records of earlier crossings. However, there is a database containing an index of aliens and citizens crossing into the U.S. from Canada via various ports of entry along the U.S.-Canadian border between 1895 and 1956 at FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com.
4. Call LAC directly for quick Canadian genealogy answers.
Schedule a Skype call with a genealogy expert to get a more in depth answer. (This is awesome – well done LAC!) Set the expert up for success and get the most out of your call by providing background information ahead of time.
Click here to explore (and join) Canada’s 150th birthday celebration!
More Canadian Genealogy Tips
Thousands of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps and a national Civil War burial database are among new genealogy records online. Also: newspapers in Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania; vital records for Idaho, Utah, and Washington; Catholic parish records for the Archdiocese of Boston; Maine cemetery plans; New Hampshire Civil War records and New York passenger arrivals.
Breaking news! The Library of Congress has put online nearly 25,000 additional Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps–and more are coming! Over the next three years, more will be added monthly until all 50 states are covered from the 1880s through the 1960s.
Sanborn maps show detailed information about neighborhoods, buildings, roads and more for thousands of towns in the U.S. and beyond. A sizable collection of pre-1900 Sanborn maps are already online at the Library of Congress (use the above link). Watch the short video below to learn more about them. The full-length class is available to Genealogy Gems Premium Members.
Civil War burials. Ancestry.com’s new database, U.S., Civil War Roll of Honor, 1861-1865, lists over 203,000 deceased Civil War soldiers interred in U.S. cemeteries. “Records in this database are organized first by volume and then by burial place,” says the collection description. Entries “may contain the name of soldier, age, death date, burial place, cemetery, rank and regiment.”
Newspapers. We’ve noticed the following new digital newspaper content online recently:
- Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania: Newspapers.com recently added or updated newspaper content for the following newspapers (with coverage shown): Chicago Tribune (1849-2016), Fort Lauderdale News (1911-1991), South Florida Sun Sentinel (1981-2017) and the Morning Call [Allentown, PA] (1895-2017). (With a Newspapers.com Basic subscription, you can see issues through 1922; a Publisher Extra subscription is required to access issues from 1923 onward.)
- Hawaii: Newspaper content has been recently added to the Papakilo Database, an online archive of The Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The collection currently contains nearly 12,000 issues from 48 different publications, with a total of 379,918 articles. Coverage spans from 1834 to 1980.
- Louisiana: A New Orleans feminist newspaper is now available online at Tulane University’s digital library. An online description says: “Distaff was the first and only feminist newspaper published in New Orleans….Distaff served as a forum for women’s voices in politics, activism, and the arts….A preview issue was published in 1973 and the newspaper continued to be published until 1982. There was a hiatus in publication from 1976-1978.”
State by state:
Idaho vital records. New for Ancestry.com users are two Idaho vital records databases, Idaho, Death Records, 1890-1966 and an Idaho, Divorce Index, 1947-1966. A companion Ancestry.com database, Idaho, Birth Index, 1861-1916, Stillbirth Index, 1905-1966, was recently updated.
Maine cemetery plans. “Many Maine cemeteries have plans originally created courtesy of the Works Progress Administration, which reside at the Maine State Archives,” states a recent post at Emily’s Genealogy Blog at the Bangor Daily News website. The post advises us that all of them–nearly 550–are now viewable online at DigitalMaine.com (search for WPA cemetery plans). “These plans are great for locating veterans; some graves are coded by the war of service,” advises the post. “With such an item in hand one could also visit the appropriate town clerk and locate a civilian’s burial as well, I should think.” Thanks for that tip, Emily!
Massachusetts Catholic church records. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (AmericanAncestors.org) has added 13 new volumes to its browse-only collection, Massachusetts Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1789-1900. “This addition, drawn from the collections of St. James the Greater in modern-day Chinatown, includes the largest volume we’ve scanned yet–1,035 pages,” says an NEHGS announcement. The collection description states that an index is being created and will be available to site members in the future.
New Hampshire Civil War records. The free site FamilySearch.org has added about 25,000 indexed names to its collection of New Hampshire, Civil War Service and Pension Records, 1861-1866. The collection contains an “index and images of Civil War enlistment papers, muster in and out rolls of New Hampshire Regiments and pension records acquired from the New Hampshire state archives.”
New York passenger lists. FamilySearch.org has added nearly 1.2 million indexed names to the database, New York Book Indexes to Passenger Lists, 1906-1942. According to the collection description, names are taken from “books of indexes to passenger manifests for the port of New York. The indexes are grouped by shipping line and arranged chronologically by date of arrival.”
Utah birth certificates. Nearly 33,000 names have been added to an existing FamilySearch database, Utah, Birth Certificates, 1903-1914. “This collection consists of an index and images to birth certificates acquired from the Utah State Archives,” says the site. “The records are arranged by year, county, and month within a numerical arrangement by box and folder number. Many of these volumes have indexes at the beginning or end.”
Washington vital records. Ancestry.com subscribers with relatively recent roots in Washington can check out two new databases relating to marriage: Washington, State Marriage Indexes, 1969-2014 and Washington, Divorce Index, 1969-2014.
Sanborn maps are a rich resource for genealogy–but they’re just one kind of map that can lead to genealogical gems! Lisa Louise Cooke teaches tons of strategies for using maps to chart your family history in her Genealogy Gems Premium video series. Discover these for yourself with a Genealogy Gems Premium website membership.
Thanks for sharing this great news on Sanborn maps and more with your genealogy friends!
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 cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!