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.

DIY Family History

Do your family members roll their eyes when you starting chatting about your genealogy research? Make family history FUN with these clever and inspiring DIY family history ideas!

Ideas in Your Purse

Grab your smartphone and follow me:instagram

Instagram: Lisa Louise Cooke at www.instagram.com/genealogygems 

Pinterest: Lisa Louise Cooke Genealogy Gems at www.pinterest.com/lisalouisecooke/

Craft Ideas

DIY Family History Bracelet Upcycled from Your Old Watch

Watch the tutorial video below to learn step-by-step how to create this TIMELESS DIY gift that your family will love! Turn old non-working watches into keepsake family history bracelets. Dig through your jewelry box, or scour thrift stores, eBay, & garage sales. I turned my grandmother’s old watch that doesn’t work anymore into a bracelet that honors her. 

 

Holidays

Legacy Christmas Stocking
In this video
I’ll show you how to create a Legacy Christmas Stocking.  This crazy quilt / embroidered project allows you to share your family history with family and friends in a unique and creative way. Listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 102 for more details and visit the show notes to download the supply list and other information.  Download the instructions (PDF).

Easy DIY Stocking Stuffers

Click here to see how to turn ordinary store-bought candy bars into extraordinary family history delivery treats!

sweet memories chocolate bar

“Sweet Memories” Stocking Stuffer Candy Bars

Displays

Finding your family history is just the first step in the genealogy journey. Displaying your findings and honoring your family lets your research live on and inspire others.

 

Registration for FGS 2018 Is Open

Here’s the latest news from the Federation of Genealogical Societies and their 2018 conference.  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 3 May 2018 – Austin, Texas Registration is open for the Federation of Genealogical Societies Annual Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana 22-25...

3 Free German Genealogy Websites: Maps of Germany and Poland

Finding German hometowns can be challenging. Guest blogger Camille Andrus, a professional genealogist specializing in German research and Project Manager at Legacy Tree Genealogists shares 3 free German genealogy websites to put your ancestors on the map in the former German empire and modern-day Poland. 

Map of German Reich 1871–1918. from kgberger, Creative Commons license, Wikipedia.com; 

Anyone tracing German ancestors quickly finds themselves puzzling over maps in a region that has experienced a lot of change. Camille Andrus of Legacy Tree Genealogists recommends these 3 free German genealogy websites to help you navigate the former German empire–from Pomerania to Prussia to Poland. Here are her picks and her explanations for using them.

1. www.MeyersGaz.org

“For years, novice genealogists who found themselves embarking on the road of German genealogy were discouraged when needing to decipher an entry for their town in Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs (commonly known simply as Meyers or Meyer’s Gazetteer of the German Empire) due to the old German font in which the book was printed and the plethora of abbreviations that were used. To address this obstacle, the website www.MeyersGaz.org was created.

This online database not only explains the text and various abbreviations in the town entry that are found in the original printed version of Meyers, but also pinpoints the location of the town on both historic and modern maps, indicates the Catholic and Protestant parishes to which residents of the town would have belonged, and notes the distance from the town to all parishes within a 20-miles radius.

The database also allows users to search for a town using wildcards. This is especially useful when the exact spelling of a town is not known. For example, if the record on which you found the new town name indicated that the person came from Gross Gard…. where the second part of the word was smudged or illegible, you could simply put “Gross Gard*” into the database. In this case, the only two options would be Gross Garde in Pommern and Gross Gardienen in East Prussia. If you have a common town name such as Mülheim, you can filter the search results by province.”

Screenshot from MeyersGaz.org.

Note: Genealogy Gems Premium website members can hear more about MeyersGaz on Premium Podcast episode 143.

2. Kartenmeister

Kartenmeister is a database for towns which are found east of the Oder and Neisse rivers in the former German Empire provinces of East Prussia, West Prussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, and Silesia. This area is now part of modern Poland. The database allows users to search for towns using either their German or Polish name.

Again, using Gross Gardienen as our example town, we learn that the Polish name for the town is now Gardyny and is located in the Warminsko-Mazurskie province. Like MeyersGaz.org, collaboration between users is encouraged. Individuals can enter their email address into a mailing list according to the town they are interested in and specify surnames they are researching in that town.”

3. Lost Shoebox

Map of Poland from Lost Shoebox shows where to find online records for each province.

“This website is an index to 17 websites focused on research in Poland. The list of websites corresponds with a map of Poland divided into its various modern provinces. Each number (representing a website) is listed on the map in each province for which it has records. Some websites are listed for nearly every province, while others show up for only one or two. The 17 websites featured on Lost Shoebox include either direct access to digital images, indexes to vital records, or lists of microfilms or other archival holdings.

If we were searching for records for Gross Gardienen or other nearby towns, we know from Kartenmeister that we would need to look in the Warminsko-Mazurskie province. The map shows the numbers 3, 10, and 14.” A corresponding key sends users to the appropriate websites.

“The third website on the list for the province brings us to the website for the Polish State Archive in Olsztyn. There are a plethora of digital images for both Evangelical church records and civil registration records available on this website.”

Camille Andrus is a Project Manager for Legacy Tree Genealogists, a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. Her expertise includes Germany, Austria, German-speakers from Czech Republic and Switzerland and the Midwest region of the U.S., where many Germans settled.

Click here to learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team 

 

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 229

with Lisa Louise Cooke
May 2019

Listen now, click player below:

Download the episode (mp3)

In this episode:

  • Two listeners shares an exciting find using Lisa’s research strategies
  • Lisa provides next steps on German research in response to a listener question
  • Your Master Family Tree, and Sharing Branches Online Explained
  • The unusual history of one of the earliest forms of the World Wide Web

 

NEWS:

Lisa Louise Cooke is back in the studio after two weeks on the road speaking at the Ohio Genealogical Society (OGS) Conference and the National Genealogical Society (NGS) Conference.

Each conference was great and had its own unique feel, and there were many new genealogists in attendance.

Genealogy Gems listener Carol stopped by and enthusiastically shared with how the eBay search strategies for family history that Lisa discussed in episode 140 paid off in a big way!

Carol and her ebay find

 

family name on back of postcard

MAILBOX:

Robin wrote in to share how Sydney Orton’s song with her grandpa in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 228 brought her to tears in a toll plaza while driving!

Steve wrote in to rave about the value that his new Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning membership has brought to his family history research.

Rylee says she’s grateful to have found the podcast and she shares a story of genealogical discovery that she hopes will inspire others. Rylee asks “How do I find sources for these people? I have searched all over ancestry and Family Search and have had no luck again. I really want to believe that the people I have as Adam’s parents and siblings all the way through his 2nd great-grandparents (paternal) are truly his family but I need to get more information. Where can I go for help with German records and where can I continue my search?”

Lisa’s comments:  You’re absolutely right, what you found are just hints. It sounds like it’s time for you to move on from the “Genealogy Giants” (Ancestry, FamilySearch, etc.) and into German records websites, libraries, and archives to find real sources that nail down the family tree.

Lisa recommends the Genealogy Giants quick reference comparison guide.

We have several articles and episodes at Genealogy Gems that can help you do this:

  1. Go to genealogygems.com
  2. At the top of the home page select “German” from the “Start Learning” drop down menu
  3. That will take you to these results pages featuring our German research strategies.

I’m optimistic for you because Germans are known for keeping excellent records, and I have had good luck in searching them.

 

GEM: Your Master Family Tree, and Sharing Branches Online Explained

planting your master family tree

I describe it this way: Plant your tree in your own backyard and share branches online.

A master family tree has three important characteristics:

  1. It is owned and controlled by you.
  2. It is the final say on what you currently know about your family tree.
  3. It is protected with online backup to ensure it is safe.

Plant Your Master Family Tree
Lisa uses RootsMagic software for her master family tree. Learn more about GEDCOM files in this article: GEDCOM File (What is It & How to Use This Genealogy File)

Protech Your Master Family Tree
Lisa uses Backblaze to back up her master family tree and computer. Visit www.backblaze.com/lisa
(Using this link also helps keep this free podcast free. Thank you!)

Read more: How to Download Backblaze in 4 Easy Steps

Share Branches Online
Genealogy Giants Guide available in the Genealogy Gems store.

Read Lisa’s article: Planting Your Master Genealogy Family Tree for all of the strategies mentioned in this episode.

The free podcast is sponsored by:

Rootsmagic

PROFILE AMERICA: Friday, May 24th, 2019

In a way, today marks the 175th birthday of the World Wide Web. Only it was electro-mechanical, not digital. On this date in 1844, Samuel F.B. Morse activated the first telegraph line, sending a dots-and-dashes code message from the U.S. Capitol building to a receiver in Baltimore.

By the late 1850s, the first telegraph cable had been laid across the Atlantic Ocean, and in 1861, the telegraph spanned the continental United States. Over the ensuing decades, the wires wrapped around the world.

From the 1844 demonstration, telecommunications today has grown into a half-trillion dollar a year industry, and employs more than 1 million workers in over 59,000 industry establishments.

You can find more facts about America from the U.S. Census Bureau online at www.census.gov.

Sources:

Joseph Nathan Kane, Kane’s Famous First Facts, Fifth Edition, H.W. Wilson Co., New York, NY, 1997, #7692.

 

Become a Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning Member

Genealogy Gems premium elearning

 

Gain access to the complete Premium Podcast archive of over 150 episodes and more than 50 video webinars, including Lisa Louise Cooke’s newest video The Big Picture in Little Details.
Learn more here.

(Membership doesn’t auto-renew because we don’t like that either. Prior to your membership expiring you’ll receive a friendly reminder email from us.)

 

Genealogy Gems App Users
Don’t miss the bonus content in this episode. Tap the “gift” icon on the episode screen in the app.
Get the app here or search for “Genealogy Gems” in your device’s app store.

Download the Show Notes PDF in the Genealogy Gems Podcast app. 

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