• Devon Noel Lee

5 Tips To Climb Your European Family Tree

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Do you have European ancestors and want to research your heritage? Europe is a big place, so how do you get started?

I asked Miles Meyer, a researcher specializing in European archives, to share tips on getting started researching your ancestors from this region.

VIDEO: Start Researching Your European Ancestors

Watch this video on YouTube.

Tip #1: Research in the European Archives

It’s no surprise that Miles recommended searching for your European ancestors in the archives. He says they are great because of the quality of their record collections. His two favorite archives, accessible online, are.

#1: Europeana

Europeana is a Europe-wide archive with many resources, particularly its World War I collection and its newspaper archives. You’ll find newspapers from all over Europe.

#2: Bas-Rhin Archives

The Bas-Rhin Archives is in the Alsace Lorraine region. The archives’ website is arranged like you are looking at a bookshelf. You can take the books right off “the shelf,” and you can go through page them by page. You’ll find birth, marriage, and death records as well as and census records.

If you have research in the Baden-Württemberg area in Germany, you can find an incredible church in that archive. Once you know which town and parish your ancestors are from, go right to those church books and pull the pages. You’ll look for names in the baptism and marriage records for each of those individuals.

Tip 2: Overcome the Language Barriers of Foreign Websites

Many of the archives have an English translation of the webpage itself. You can figure out where the search fields are and where to type in a surname and the dates.

Sometimes you will need to use translate the entire page using the Google Translate tool for a webpage. Often this tool works better than a transliteration of the site by website developers.

Once you get into the archive and start looking at the images, those are all written in the native language. For example, if you’re looking at records on the Bas-Rhin Archive for the Alsace-Lorraine region, you may flip through pages that begin by being written in Latin. Then you turn the page, and the document is written in German. A few pages later, it’s written in French.

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Tip 3: Create a Surname Hit List

Before you begin researching your European ancestors, create a document that displays your surname in the scripts and languages used during the time periods you were researching. The surnames were usually written in the margins of the paper. This allows you to search the margins very quickly to find your surnames in church records.

Tip 4: Access Translations Volunteers on Facebook

When you have a document in a language, you can’t read, then visit the Genealogy Translations Facebook Group -- https://www.facebook.com/groups/genealogytranslation/. You’ll find capable volunteers who will translate much of what your document says within an hour or two.

For those with German records, this is a must. But, unfortunately, for those with Ukrainian records, there are fewer volunteers capable of translating those documents.

So if you have more documents written in a more common language, you will find it easy to get the documents translated.

Bonus Tips for Accessing the Volunteers

To have more success in having an item translated, make sure you share a clear image snippet. You also want to provide the link to where that source. Then, if somebody can’t quite read what you shared, they can click on the link, zoom in, and read it better.

You can capture a document's snippet using the Snipping Tool on a Windows computer or cropping the image using a photo editing program.

Don’t ask volunteers to a register of names, just the names you are focusing on. Also, don’t upload a 25-page document. You can upload a maximum of one page. Otherwise, you need to hire someone who does translations.

Tip 5: Avoid these Pitfalls While Researching your European Ancestors

Miles says one of the biggest mistakes people make is to say, “my family’s from Alsace-Lorraine.” What they don’t realize is that the region covers three departments in France. So you have to know specifically where in Alsace Lorraine.

Another mistake is to say, “My ancestors are from Germany.” That’s not specific because the boundaries in Germany changed constantly. Sometimes the German was from Prussia and, more specifically, in the area of Poland. So their records are in the Polish Archives. You need to know the location your ancestors lived and the time they lived there.

Get Started Researching Your European Ancestors

If you want to support Miles, visit his website: http://milesgenealogy.blogspot.com.

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