Using any new set of records can be challenging, but when you begin crossing borders and venturing into other countries, it can be even more so. Last week Ancestry announced the launch of sites in France and Italy. With the announcement I heard from quite a few people with questions about the new sites. With that in mind, this week I thought weâ€™d go over some basics, and Iâ€™ll share some tips for getting the most from the new sites.
Individuals with World Deluxe memberships through Ancestry.com, Ancestry.co.uk, or any other Ancestry portal can access the new data on these sites. You can check your subscription or upgrade to World Deluxe by logging in to Ancestry and then clicking on My Account in the upper right corner of the screen. The next page will tell you what subscription you have and how to upgrade.
Accessing Through Your â€œHomeâ€ Portal
When theÂ site went up, Iâ€™m sorry that I neglected to mention an important point. All of this data is available to you through your home portal, that is, the site you have subscribed through. The Ancestry.it, Ancestry.fr, Ancestry.de and other ethnic portals are geared towards users in those countries, with subscription options in local currency, and obviously are in the home countryâ€™s native language.
However, you can access all of the databases for those sites through your home site. Just click on theÂ SearchÂ tabÂ and the selectÂ the appropriate regionÂ in the lower left corner of that page, followed by the country of your choice. Accessing the databases in this manner will allow you to browse the database titles that are available and read the descriptions in your native language.
You can log in to the European portal sites and search through them as well, allowing you to weed out unwanted hits from databases from your home country. If you open a window in each, you can even bounce back and forth to look up database descriptions in English, for example, while searching through the Ancestry.it Italian website.
Look for Translation Guides
While the database descriptions will be in English if you search through Ancestry.com, unfortunately the records are not. (The record keepers werenâ€™t aware that there would be family historians around the world looking at their work, so they didnâ€™t bother to translate for us.) 😉 You will need to do a little translating, but fortunately, there are guides available that can help.
The FamilySearch website has â€œResearch Helpsâ€ available that include a mini-tutorial on language characteristics and a glossary of common terms you may run across in records from that country. For example, I looked for help with Italian records, by first clicking on the â€œSearchâ€ tab at FamilySearchÂ and then selecting â€œResearch Helpsâ€ from the menu below the tabs. I then selected â€œIâ€ and scrolled down to Italy. I selected the â€œItalian Word Listâ€ and clicked on the PDF link so that I could print out the guide for easy reference.
As an experiment I went to the Falerna, Catanzaro, Italy Vital Records, 1810-1936Â and spot checked some of the records. Although it was a slow process for this non-Italian-speaking person, I was able to locate and translate many of the terms in the records I saw using this guide. Since I have absolutely no experience with Italian research, this is encouraging.
There are also other translation sites available that can help like AltaVistaâ€™s Babelfish. Try a search for â€œfree online translationâ€ and youâ€™ll get several options.
Itâ€™s a good idea to get help verifying your translations from others with more experience, particularly if your experience level is anything like mine! RootsWeb mailing lists and message boards may be able to hook you up with a translator, but be sure to read the list or board guidelines before posting your request. There is a message board set up specifically for translation help at RootsWeb.
You can also search for a professional in the U.S. through the Association of Professional Genealogists. There are a number of translators listed in their directory.
Here are a few tips for searching international databases:
- Search Using the Native Language. Look for given name equivalents for your ancestors in their native language. Behind the Name.com is a good starting point for this information.Â
- Read the Database Descriptions. As with any search, itâ€™s important to read the database descriptions. You may find help there and ideas on how to best search the databases. In addition, the description will also tell you about the coverage. Some databases may not be complete at this time, and the description will tell you what is currently available.Â
- Compare Handwriting. Some of the images of records I viewed had very flowery handwriting. If you have a hard time with a letter, compare it to other words on that page, or those preceding or following it. In one of the records I viewed, I could easily pick out the name of Falerna, and that helped me decipher both a capital F that wasnâ€™t as clear and the way the recorder wrote the letter R.Â
- Know Your Geography and History. This last one comes from Genealogy 101, regardless of where your research interests lie, but is critical when working with records in Europe where boundaries changed often. Itâ€™s the key to understanding the records and where you might expect to find those of your ancestors. An investment in guides like â€œItalian Genealogical Records,â€ â€œFinding Your German Ancestors,â€ and other similar guides can pay big dividends when it comes to researching in a foreign country.
Best of luck with your international research!
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Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry.com newsletters for more than eight years and is author of The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book. She has written for Ancestry Magazine and wrote the “Computers and Technology” chapter in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.