30    Jun 20100 comments

Genealogists gone wild!

Genealogists are not normally a wild bunch. 

Our "happy dances" tend to accompany the discovery of new records for elusive ancestors.

Our "wild and crazy" moments happen as we help others find answers to their family history questions or help them locate hard-to-find records. We enjoy discovering the clues and pointers  in both unusual and ordinary places.

This week produced two interesting developments.

I'm in northern California - Silicon Valley - at the home of friends, as I rest from one conference and rest up for three more in quick succession with only a day between each, beginning this coming weekend.

So, along with continuing prep work for my presentations - and blogging - it's nice to get in some fun. Fun, to those of us who pursue our roots, can mean many things.

My friend Rosanne is a semi-retired reference librarian - and an accomplished genealogist. I went with her to her library one day last week. As we parked, I noticed this great license plate on the adjacent car. We agreed that the vehicle MUST belong to a genealogist.

A genealogist's license plate?

Who else but a genealogist would have the abbreviations (BMD) - for birth, marriage and death records - on their license?

Another way genealogists enjoy themselves is to help others find records and make progress as they document their families.

Last week, I participated in a  well-attended brick wall panel at a branch of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society. Several experts helped the participants in various subjects, such as DNA or specific countries.

Fred Melman came to my table and shared that although he had heard that his father, siblings and grandmother had arrived in Galveston, Texas, he couldn't find any evidence.

Although this example focuses on Jewish genealogy, the methodology is much the same for anyone of any background searching for similar family information.

I logged onto Ancestry.com, clicked "Immigration," and looked on the right sidebar for "Galveston Passenger Arrivals."

Entering MELMAN in the search box immediately brought up Fred's grandmother and her children (including Fred's father) who were joining their father, already  living in San Francisco.

Fred was slightly in shock at the speed at which we confirmed his ancestors' arrival in the US. Here were his grandmother, Sore (Sara), and the children Moishe (Moses),  Shemuel (Samuel) and Yankel (Jacob), arriving on the Borkum on 15 October 1900.

The MELMANs arrive in Galveston, bound for San Francisco!

The name of Fred's grandfather - Wulf Melman of (what looks like) 538 Mission St., San Francisco - is written:

The remaining piece of the puzzle was the family's original town of origin. Although the Ancestry arrival record text transcription was Zasfejack, all the panelists agreed it was a bad transcription of equally bad handwriting.

But what was the correct spelling and where was the town? 

All my colleagues looked at the original manifest, but none of us could decipher the town beyond the first three letters, ZAS:

My next step was to head for JewishGen.org, where I used the Town Finder feature to search for any town with the first three letters - ZAS -  and selected the "begins with" search term. 

Up popped Zaskevichi, Belarus, 52 miles northwest of Minsk. Around 1900, when the Melman family arrived, it was in Oshmyany district, Vilna gubernia, in the Russian Empire. Between the two world wars, it was Zaśkiewicze, and in Mołodeczno district, Wilno province, Poland. After 1950, it was in the Soviet Union; today it's in Belarus.

The Town Finder tool on JewishGen can be used for those of any ethnic origin searching for a hard-to-read town, particularly in Eastern Europe. Some features on the site require registration (free) for access.

Border changes are important when dealing with Eastern European genealogy. While the town didn't move, the borders around it kept changing through history.

Your ancestor might have known his town by a different name, district, province or country. Only by tracing back through history, can you be sure that a certain place is the right one.

Fred had never really known the correct name of his ancestral town, but once he saw it written correctly, it seemed to fit what he had heard from his father. The panelists also agreed that when we saw the correct spelling, we could see that the original handwriting indicated that town.

Rosanne - the group's vice president - just received a note from Fred thanking the group for helping him find this information. He had written that although he saw the record with his own eyes, he coudn't locate it again.

He isn't an Ancestry subscriber, so she reminded him that the site's library edition is freely accessible in most area public libraries. She gave him instructions on how to find the record again.

This is what makes all of our hard work worth it. Helping someone find his or her family records - in a very few minutes - is fun and rewarding.

Opening a family website on MyHeritage.com can help researchers preserve and organize similar records and images in one convenient place, and keep adding to them.  Those arrival records and town data entries could be added to a family website and preserved, while photos of those individuals could be added.

Although the answer isn't always so fast and so successful, we all live for the thrill of the hunt!

What have you found recently? Share your success stories with us.

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