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.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 213

In this episode, I’ll share a moving family history video, inspired by a listener’s Where I’m From poem. We’ll also discuss RootsTech news, talk to author Sylvia Brown, and Michael Strauss will explain the difference between different kinds of military service: regulars, volunteers and militia in Military Minutes. Listen here or through the Genealogy Gems app.

The Genealogy Gems Podcast
Episode #213
with Lisa Louise Cooke

NEWS: HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR TO KEYNOTE ROOTSTECH

Click here to read about all RootsTech keynote speakers

Click here to hear Lisa Louise Cooke’s conversation with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in the Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 133

GEMS NEWS: UPDATED PREMIUM VIDEO

Genealogy Gems Premium subscribers can now enjoy an updated version of Lisa’s Premium video, “Making Evernote Effortless.” You’ll learn how to use Evernote’s:

  • Quick Keys: Help you get things done faster
  • Search Operators: Digging deeper and faster into your notes
  • Shortcuts: Learn how to set them up to accomplish repetitive tasks faster
  • Reminders: Help you track and meet deadlines
  • Note Sharing: Collaboration just got easier
  • Source Citation: Merging notes to include sources; Source Citation with “Info” feature
  • Web Clipper Bookmarklet: a hack for adding it to your mobile tablet’s browser

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software.

Keep your family history research safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

Animoto.com.

BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App Users

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a lightning-quick tech tip from Lisa Louise Cooke on how to undo that last browser you just closed and didn’t mean to! The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users

MILITARY MINUTES: REGULAR, VOLUNTEER OR MILITIA?

To gain a better understanding of what life in the military was like for your ancestors, it is essential to know in what capacity someone may have served. Did your ancestor serve in the regulars, or was he a volunteer soldier, or did he have service with the local militia?

These terms are generally associated with the records of the United States Army. The other branches enlisted men using different terminology.

Free download: Military Service Records at the National Archives by Trevor K. Plante (Reference Information Paper 109)

Click here for National Archives reference materials for military acronyms, abbreviations, and dictionaries that will aid genealogists when researching how exactly their ancestors served

Journal of the American Revolution: Explaining Pennsylvania’s militia: One of the best examples of how colonial militias operated (laws, rules, and regulations, and parent organizations). Pennsylvania followed very closely the doings of other colonies during the same period.

Samuel Howard in the Civil War

Because of his age he wasn’t able to enlist until 1865 when he turned 18. He was a volunteer soldier who served as a substitute for another man who was drafted.

After his discharge, he again enlisted in the Regular Army in 1866. He was assigned to the 13th U.S. Infantry, where he served one month before deserting at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.

Samuel was married in 1867 (this may have some relevance to his decision to leave the military). He lived in Pennsylvania from the end of the war until his death in 1913. Shown here in 1876, Lebanon, PA.

Both his Regular and Volunteer Army enlistment forms are included here, along with the above photograph of Samuel with his wife circa 1876 from an early tintype. The forms look very similar, as each contains common information asked of a typical recruit. However they are decidedly different as the one covers his Civil War service and the other his post war service when he joined the regular Army after the men who served during the war would have been discharged.

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.

GEM: AN INSPIRING FAMILY HISTORY VIDEO

Hannah’s Animoto Advice:

You’ll find when using the video templates, timing the photos to the narration can pose some challenges. Originally, when she put the photos in place and “previewed” the video, the narration didn’t line up at all with the images. Hannah explains: “When I was in “creator” mode, I selected a picture that I wanted to appear on the screen for a longer duration then I clicked the “spotlight” button that is on the left-hand side in the editor column. Or If you double click the image, it will open into a larger single view and you can select the “star” button which will do the same thing. I applied this spotlight option to several photos within my gallery. I knew which photos to do this to by previewing the video several times to make sure I liked the timing of it all.

Now if your problem is not with just a few photos but the overall timing, then try editing the pace of your photos.  In the top right-hand corner, click the “edit song/trim and pacing” button. Here you can trim you uploaded mp3 audio as well as the pace to which your photos appear. My photos appeared too fast on the screen in comparison to the narration I had, so I moved the pace button to left by one notch and previewed the video. This did the trick and the result was a heart-warming poem, turned into a visually beautiful story.”

Do you have a darn good reason to take action right now to get your family history in front of your family? Perhaps:

  • a video of the loving couples in your family tree for Valentine’s Day
  • a video of your family’s traditional Easter Egg hunt through the years
  • a tribute to the mom’s young and old in your family on Mother’s Day
  • your child’s or grandchild’s graduation
  • a video to promote your upcoming family reunion to get folks really visualizing the fun they are going to have
  • Or perhaps it’s the story of a genealogy journey you’ve been on where you finally busted a brick wall and retrieved an ancestor’s memory from being lost forever.

5 Steps to Jump-Starting Your Video Project

  1. Pick one family history topic
  2. Write the topic in one brief sentence ? the title of your video
  3. Select 12 photos that represent that topic.
  4. On a piece of paper, number it 1 ? 12 and write one brief sentence about each photo that convey your message. You don’t have to have one for every photo, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
  5. Scan the photos if they aren’t already and save them to one folder on your hard drive.

And now you are in great shape to take the next step and get your video made in a way that suits your interest, skill, and time.

4 Easy Methods for Creating Video
Update 2022: Adobe Spark Video is now part of and called Adobe Creative Cloud Express. Some or all of the features may require a subscription. 

  1. Got an iPhone? iOS 10 now has “Memories” a feature of your Photos app that can instantly create a video of a group of related photos.
  2. There’s the free Adobe Spark Video app now called Adobe Express which can you can add photos, video clips and text to, pick a theme and a music track from their collection, and whip up something pretty impressive in a very short time. Visit your device’s app store or Adobe Express. Watch my video How to Make a Video with Adobe Spark (Premium Membership required)
  3. There’s Animoto which does everything that Spark does, but gives you even more control over the content, and most importantly the ability to download your video in HD quality. You can even add a button to the end that the viewer can tap and it will take them to a website, like your genealogy society website, a Facebook group for your family reunion or even a document on FamilySearch.
  4. And finally, if you have the idea, and pull together the photos, you can book Hannah at Genealogy Gems to create a video with your content. Go to GenealogyGems.com and scroll to the Contact form at the bottom of the home page to request ordering information.

The most important thing is that your family history can be treasured and shared so that it brings joy to your life today, and also, to future generations. The thing is, if your kids and grandkids can see the value of your genealogy research, they will be more motivated to preserve and protect it.

 

PREMIUM INTERVIEW: SYLVIA BROWN

In Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #155, publishing later this month, Sylvia Brown (of the family connected to Brown University) will join Lisa Louise Cooke to talk about researching her new book, Grappling with Legacy, which traces her family’s involvement in philanthropy, Rhode Island history and the institution of slavery hundreds of years. A Kirkus review of this book calls it “an often riveting history of a family that left an indelible impact on the nation.”

   

 

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer

Sunny Morton, Editor

Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer

Hannah Fullerton, Production Assistant

Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

Disclosure: These show notes contain 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 this free podcast and blog!

 

FREE NEWSLETTER:

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Resources

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New Google Video from Genealogy Gems!

Google your family history with Genealogy Gems! Google has a great collection of free online search tools–all powered by the same Google search engine–that can help you discover your family history. In this new Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning video,...

Pay It Forward in Genealogy: 4 Ways to Give Back to the Community

During this giving season, why not give back to the community of global genealogy lovers who quietly and continually enrich our family history research? Here are 4 ways to pay it forward in genealogy from the comfort of wherever you are! One gem you may not have heard of: the British Library’s project to index old maps.

pay it forward in genealogy

4 Ways to Pay it Forward in Genealogy

1. Help with global gravestone research.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably discovered the final resting places of many an ancestor–perhaps along with important biographical data and even additional relatives–with the help of websites such as BillionGraves and Find A Grave.

BillionGraves says it’s “the world′s largest resource for searchable GPS cemetery data, and is growing bigger and better every day.” Its volunteers take GPS-tagged pictures of headstones in cemeteries around the world and transcribe them for their free searchable database.

How you can help:

  • Image headstones: download the free app to your smartphone from the App Store or Google Play. Take images of headstones in cemeteries you visit, whether it’s your own ancestor’s burial place or a local graveyard.
  • Transcribe personal information found on gravestone images. You can transcribe the images you take or you can visit the site and transcribe images that someone else has uploaded. Click here to get started.
  • Upload additional source documentation to BillionGraves tombstone images, such as obituaries, cemetery records, and the like. You’ll make these virtual gravestone sites even more genealogically valuable! Click here to learn more.

Find A Grave has a slightly different model for collecting global gravestone data. Here you can create free memorial pages for ancestors, which “generally include birth, death, and burial information and may include pictures, biographies, family information, and more.” You can also upload your own headstone images and transcribe them (or someone else’s images), and you can even upload a spreadsheet of cemetery burials you may have already transcribed.

Who’s behind Find A Grave? It’s owned by subscription website Ancestry.com, but it’s a separate, free site powered by volunteers: “Thousands of contributors submit new listings, updates, corrections, photographs and virtual flowers every hour. The site simply wouldn’t exist without the million+ contributors.”

Find A Grave has recently updated its site to make it more secure, faster, easier to use, and accessible to new devices and other languages. More than 100 million graves from over half a million cemeteries worldwide are already searchable at the site. To get started, download the Find A Grave app at Google Play or the App Store, or just visit the website.

2. Transcribe old documents and maps.

Millions–even billions–of digital images of old documents contain genealogical clues, but those names, dates, and places need to be extracted from those image files before they become easily searchable. Transcribing that information is also known in genealogy circles as indexing (or creating indexes). Here are four places to contribute your indexing skills:

FamilySearch Indexing. Thousands of you have likely participated in this best-known volunteer record transcription project out there. (We blogged about it recently in honor of their worldwide weekend indexing event.) Their indexing platform recently became fully cloud-based, so you can index more easily on your computer or mobile device. Volunteers are especially needed right now who can read Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Polish, Swedish, and Dutch.

British Library Georeferencing Project. The British Library is recruiting volunteers to help geo-reference thousands of old maps that are already online. Geo-referencing, or geotagging, means assigning geographic reference points (longitude, latitude) to points on a map image. Doing this with old maps allows them to be linked to their modern-day locations, allowing us to compare the past and present (as Lisa teaches about in her free Google Earth video class). Over 8,000 maps have already been “placed” by participants (and subsequently checked for accuracy and approved by their panel of expert reviewers). The latest phase of the project includes 50,000 maps, mostly 19th-century maps from books published in Europe. The British Library says that “some places have changed significantly or disappeared completely,” increasing both the intriguing challenges for volunteers and the value to those who will benefit from their map sleuthing skills.

Ancestry World Archives Project. “The Ancestry World Archives Project is thousands of volunteers from around the world with a passion for genealogy and a desire to help others discover their roots,” says the project home page. “And all it takes is a computer, some basic software we provide and a little of your time.” Even though Ancestry.com itself is a subscription website, any records indexed through the Ancestry World Archives Project remain free to search on the site.

Here’s a screenshot of their current projects (click on it to visit the site):

National Archives Citizen Archivist Program. “A Citizen Archivist is a virtual volunteer that helps the U.S. National Archives increase the online access to their historical records,” reports Melissa Barker in a recent blog post. “This is done by crowdsourcing metadata about their records through tagging, transcribing, and adding comments to the U.S. National Archives catalog.”  Click here to read the full article and get started.

3. Reunite heirlooms with long-lost relatives.

Probably millions of “lost” family items are out there: in flea markets, second-hand shops, online auction listings, perhaps even your own closets or attics. Genealogy Gems has reported many times in the past about genealogy heroes who claim these “orphaned heirlooms” just long enough to research and contact living relatives who would love to find them.

Whether it’s a family bible, an old marriage certificate in a dusty frame, a fading photo album, or a pile of old letters, each “orphaned heirloom” is unique–and so is the experience of tracking down its family and reuniting them. Here are several stories to inspire your next visit to eBay or a secondhand shop:

4. Solve “unclaimed persons” mysteries.

Unclaimed Persons Project“Many people are aware that it can be a real challenge when a coroner obtains a John or Jane Doe, an unidentified person,” writes Lacey Cooke, Genealogy Gems service manager, who has a forensic anthropology degree. “It presents the difficult task of identifying the person. But few people know that in fact the even bigger problem consuming morgues today is unclaimed persons, rather than unidentified ones: individuals who have passed but with no trace of living relatives to come and claim them.”

Lacey is the one who introduced us to the Unclaimed Persons project earlier this year. With Unclaimed Persons, an online community of volunteer researchers joins forces with medical examiners, forensic investigators, and coroners to help reunite families and bring closure so that the dead can finally be laid to rest. Click here to read more about that effort.

How will you pay it forward in genealogy?

Click on one of the opportunities above–or tell us about one you’ve tried–to give back to your genealogy community this season. This largely-invisible community is all around us and enriches all our efforts, from late-night research sessions by ourselves (in records indexed by volunteers!) to local societies who host classes that inspire us or who answer our obituary inquiries and Facebook posts about their locales. If you are already one of those volunteers, THANK YOU. You are a gem and we here at Genealogy Gems are grateful for you.

P.S. You can also “pay it forward” by sharing free content like this from our website with your genealogy friends and society members. Why not link to this post on social media or in an email and challenge those you know to do good in the genealogy world?

 

 

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