Like Lisa Kudrow, I also have family lines that lead to Eastern Europe – both of my grandmothers hail from there. I was also relatively certain that there was no way I’d find out anything about those lines once they left U.S. records. There were plenty of times I wasn’t even sure they were in U.S. records either, but that’s another blog post entirely.
But working for a family history company gives you more than ample opportunity to talk to people with plenty of research savvy. And one day, while I was working on an article about Poland, I started asking questions about Eastern European research. The pro I was talking to took the bait and asked me for any information I had on the relative in question. I dug into my Ancestry.com shoebox and sent her exactly two documents: a 1920 census record and a WWII draft card. They were all I’d been able to find on this great-grandfather, all I was certain existed in America. Then I turned off my computer for the night.
The next morning, my inbox was full. The researcher had sent a throng of details about this branch of my family. Census records, possible immigration details, family trees, and potential hometown locations, all plucked from Ancestry.com. She also found spelling variants on that surname, a whole mess of them, leading me in a bevy of new directions, including to points and records held overseas.
There are any number of reasons a family member might change his name. Say you arrive in America with a name that’s deprived of vowels, you may change your surname to fit in, sound more American. You may alter it so it’s easier for others to spell, so it accommodates the English alphabet, or because a relative who arrived here before you did. You may adopt a different name to mask an identity or ethnicity (Lisa’s cousin Yuri’s justification) or you may change a name because you simply didn’t like it (one of my grandmothers did that with her first name – a few times).
Aside from giving me new names to research, the clues the professional researcher sent taught me a few other things, too. One, that I wasn’t ready to search for this family overseas since I hadn’t exhausted the U.S. records yet. Two, that records did exist in Eastern Europe and would still be there when I was ready to follow this family back home. And three, that turning to an expert for help is a very practical way to clear a research hurdle.
You can find experts to answer questions, research records, pick up documents, take photos, translate papers, or tackle full research projects through the Ancestry.com Hire an Expert tab. I tried it myself, requesting answers about my Italian grandfather’s parents. A few days later, I was holding a copy of their marriage record in my hands – complete with translation.
If you missed Lisa Kudrow’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, you can watch it here (select Video); you’ll also find bonus footage that didn’t make it into the aired episode. And while you’re at it, watch a preview of this Friday’s episode, which features Matthew Broderick’s search to prove a military story in his family.