Posted by Jeanie Croasmun on March 23, 2010 in Who Do You Think You Are?

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 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 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 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.

Jeanie Croasmun

Jeanie Croasmun has been working at while futilely attempting to prove the horse thief story in her family history for over seven years. During that time, she learned enough about her family to determine that the story is likely a great work of fiction. But the search continues ...


  1. Lynn

    Thank you for sharing the above as well as for the interesting “Who Do You Think You Are” show and the related tips on this blog.

    Are the “experts” based around the world or primarily within the United States?

    For example, I have an ancestor that I have strugged to identify her parents and related ancestors. The woman came to the US in 1890 from Germany (now Poland). What I have is: her full name, passenger records to US/from Germany, town she lived in Germany/Poland, US censuses records, first name of her mother and a possible maiden name for her mother (or the last name of her 2nd husband.)

    If this falls into the scope of what is offered by an “expert,” what would be a cost range that would be involved into looking into local records in Germany/Poland, since I believe that I have exhausted all available records on

    Note: The woman passed away prior to social security (i.e., so she would not have filled out an application form that requested her parent’s names.)

    • Jeanie Croasmun

      Hi Lynn:
      One of the greatest things about Hire an Expert (Expert Connect) is that you can post your project and review bids before you commit to one. A couple of tips: if you’re looking for records in Poland, for example, don’t just look for researchers in Poland. You may find researchers around the globe, even in the U.S., who know how to access the record for you, which will open up your options. You also have an Ask an Expert option, in which you ask a question and get expert advice on where to turn (very affordable — for less than $20, I received advice that eventually resulted in me finding records I didn’t know existed). Make sure both your project and your project’s title clearly state what you want so it’s easy for a researcher to know that he or she can tackle it. And good luck.

  2. Monika

    Researching your ancestors in the “Old Country” is a very mind expanding experience. I have learned so much about World History doing this! My grandmother was born in Bohemia, at a time where it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The little isolated village of about 1,000 inhabitants, where she was born, is now part of the Czech Republic. The Czechs have jealously guarded their ancestry records for many years. Until recently, the only way you could obtain the data is by either traveling to the Archives in order to do your own research, or by hiring a genealogist. Recently, some Czech Archives have started to put their records on the internet, and it is my understanding that the Archives of Zamrsk are going to do the same some time this year. One resource that I found invaluable at the beginning was to obtain Czech Census records by mail. There is a website on the internet which interested persons can contact for this. Very reasonably priced for what you get. You get a lot of information in Czech Census records. I know details about all the family members in the household, including their health conditions or handicaps;I know their professions; I know how many pigs and chickens they had, etc. etc. A great way of getting to know your ancestors. I have gone there twice to do research in the Archives and have traced my ancestors back to the middle of the 16th Century. Unfortunately prior books were either lost or burned. My research showed that my ancestors lived in the same little village and on the same property, since, at least, the middle of the 16th Century. They were all of German descent! While at the Archives in the Czech Republic, I took advantage of the weekend to go and visit that little village where my ancestors lived. What I did not realize, until this point, is what happened to this German population at the end of World War II. They never taught THAT in school! The Czech’s, appropriately angry and outraged by the atrocities committed by the Germans (not necessarily the German peasants in this little village) during World War II, took their anger out on any one who was of German descent. There was a day, shortly after the end of WW II, where they knocked on the doors of these families, whose ancestors had lived there for centuries, and told them that they had 4 hours to make it to the nearest train station. There, cattle cars would wait for them, and they could choose to get into the cattle cars headed for Austria or the cattle cars headed for Germany! Those who resisted were shot! Many of the homes were destroyed immediately after the families left. So I found myself, in 2007, 62 years after the end of World War II, standing next to a big pile of rubble that once used to be my ancestors home. Nobody had touched it since it was destroyed in 1945. I took some pictures, picked up a small piece of brick that used to be part of the front porch and brought it home with me! I discovered, on the internet, that a gentleman who was born in this village, and who had to leave it in 1945, had written a book about this village. At the end of the book, he listed the names and current addresses in Germany of the people in this village who had been “relocated” in this manner. It is this way that I was able to locate five first cousins of my father (hence, my cousins, as well), and two second cousins of mine, whom I would never have found without this book. They were all still children, when they found themselves in these cattle cars. Man’s inhumanity to man is never justified, no matter who commits the act. I went back to visit the little village again during my next visit to the Archives in 2009. I guess the villagers saw me take pictures the last time I was there and cry at the sight of what I saw! When I came back in 2009, all the rubble was gone and a beautiful green meadow was growing in its place.
    I recommend to anyone who does ancestry to find a way to visit the land of your ancestors. DNA has memory!

  3. Great post! It’s the first time I’ve looked at this Ancestry blog, too.

    I am also researching family from Eastern Europe: Slovenia.

    I also toy with the idea of hiring an expert. But in the meantime, I’ve been very struck by the generosity of “nonprofessionals” in the world of genealogy research. I’ve now been contacted by two people living in Slovenian (one is a transplanted Slovenian American) who saw my posts on several different sites and offered help.

    These two people have done many things: put together maps, helped with language issues, answered questions. One has just put me in touch with someone who is almost certainly a cousin of mine, through my mother. So that is very exciting, to have finally found family, even if distant, in Europe.

    My mother and her family treated their past like a closed book. My mother, whose interest is now revived, is amazed that I have learned as much as I have about our roots.

  4. joyce

    looking for my grandmother laura begeman stewart jones oberg beause she was adopted and changed her name to fit new people… died 1910 my father was
    5 years old knew nothing, nothing at all. found marriage license in lake city ar. 1910 census ar.
    married grampa oberg in 1901 cant find her anywhere else .i told a geneologist that i decided
    van gogh and margot begeman were my great grandparents… she said it’s up to someone else to prove i’m wrong

  5. Pat

    Inspired by your post, I finally bit the bullet and I “Hired and Expert” today to try and solve an old family mystery. The process is in baby stages, but I am highly impressed with the steps in doing this. I was contacted almost instantly by several professionals, checked them out and chose one, who in turn replied immediately. “It ain’t cheap”, but I have gone as far as I can with this project, and I feel it is worth the money to either solve this issue, or know that even an “expert” can get stuck. Either way, I will have done my best and learned a lot. Wish me luck. Thank you Ancestry for this additional avenue of exploration.

  6. Alex

    Hi Jeanie – You mentioned in your post that the first bunch of information sent to you by your researcher was all “plucked” from Before contacting a professional, I’d be interested in your comments on some of the things that prevented you from finding, or maybe just recognizing, this material by yourself. Thanks very much.

    • Jeanie Croasmun

      Hi Alex:
      What kept me from realizing how much more there was to find out about my family at was my lack of looking. For some reason, I had it in my head that this was all I was going to get so I didn’t try wildcard searches, I didn’t follow relatives, and I really only considered one alternate name spelling rather than the plethora that can go with this line’s surname. Because this was the grandparent I was least familiar with, I didn’t necessarily see the clues that I should have seen in the 1920 record — ones that would have pushed me to other records. There were other problems, too: first, I didn’t know enough about E. European history so I didn’t realize that I might be able to find info in tools like the shtetl locator; second, Czechoslovakia was split into two words on the draft card, which made it look to me like a town and country instead — I was searching for clues associated with this mystery place because I wasn’t familiar enough with the records to realize I was already looking at the answer; third, working with someone who knew the region clued me into other resources and researchers focused on the same geographic area, which opened up more research possibilities (I can tell someone all about where small towns in TX and PA are located but in a region half-way around the world where borders changed constantly and they shun vowels, I’m lost). All the way around, just talking to this expert taught me so much about what I was looking for — I really had no direction on this family — that it made this family line much more fascinating and far less intimidating.

  7. Perhaps I can add a few words. Researchers often add too much info into the search boxes. Limit your entries to the first syllable of the name, and add a wild card * after the entry. Don’t limit your queries to your direct ancestor. Research brothers and sisters,aunts and uncles,and nieces and nephews. If you know the location, see who all came from the local in the ship manifests by entering the local rather than the given and surname.

  8. James T Vlietstra

    I am not sure if this is the proper place to ask, but I am curious about the accuracy of some of the records. I did a tree and used several searches that gave me parents names, which I assumed to be right and kept going back until I couldnt anymore. Secondly, what percentage of people are able to trace their roots to royalty?

    Thank you

  9. Wait!

    You traced back without personally checking out the sources at each generation?? !!!


    (picks self up from floor)

    The net and Ancestry are both filled with junkology and the only way to be sure is to verify all info yourself- never, never, EVER, trust what you see on the net unless you can actually show documention (Original/Official records- not someone’ family group sheet or gedcom.)

    Never assume anything to be correct until you yourself prove it to be so.

  10. Monika

    Andy, PL…leeeze save me! I am trying to work on my various family trees. Every time I open up a family tree, there are 43 “family connects” waiting for me. Even if I just went down the row of “connections” and erase them one by one, by the time I do this to every one on my tree, two hours have gone by, and I have not even begun working on my trees. By that time I am so exhausted I do not even want to continue! Yesterday, this one person had 43 “connections”. As I go on this page again today, 29 of them are back!!! I took the time today to explain to some of them that the 1880 Census they have showing for Samuel Bussard who died in 1814, does not belong to him and similar corrections. ANDY, please tell me that there is a way to block these family connects. Please, please!

  11. Monika,

    Just ignore them as if they weren’t there. Do your research from documents and forget all about the other trees – 99.9% of which aren’t worth the pixels it takes to display them.

  12. The experience shared by Jeanie Croasmun awesome.The author has got great interest in Eastern European research. The most profitable scenario as explained by the author is through Here the individual can find experts to answer questions, research records, pick up documents, taking photos, and translate papers.

  13. Monika

    So, you are telling me I have to look at this ugly block of “connections”, that is clogging up each of my profile sheet with all that incorrect information? No way to “option” out of this? BUMMER!


  14. Kirk Sellman

    Member Connections is a valuable tool if used wisely. I’ve made many connections with it and am glad it’s available.

  15. Judy

    All I’d like is to be rid of the stupid banners, pop-ups and other stuff on the home page!! We pay a good hefty fee to subscribe to each year, and I, for one, DON’T want my home page filled with ‘junk’ notices!!
    Everyone who subscribes or uses Ancestry now is FULLY AWARE of the program, and I, personally am not that impressed. I have watched, but have felt each time that it’s a bit ‘unfair’ that these people, all of whom have all kinds of financial resources available to them, are getting all this help from, whereas I (and others) on limited incomes must pay to even use this site, and will NEVER have the kind of help these celebrities are getting.
    So..there..I’ve aired MY thoughts.
    Thank you!
    Judy King

  16. Bromaelor

    Judy. Use Mozilla Firefox as you browser and install the Adblock Plus & NoScript add-ons. No more adverts!

  17. Re: Judy

    Judy, I hope you realize that this is an interesting series, but it is also a marketing vehicle. The individuals on this series were specifically picked and paid for their participation, to increase series viewership as well as increased paid usage of offerings as well as any other product advertised during this series.

    Personally, I am enjoying the series.

    Although I think most users of would welcome the assistance these celebrities have received, part of the fun is the personal excitement as we uncovering new and exciting information. Alternatively or additionally, users can also leverage Expert Connections – and you can also enter in the “Ultimate Family History Journey” sweepstakes … I did!

  18. Jack Steele

    I have watched the “who do you think you are ” series and I have enjoyed them BUT in each program I saw people handling valuable and old documents with bare hands. Fingers leave oils and acids on paper. They need to wear white cotton gloves. Your so called experts are a sham. SHAME ON THE PRODUCERS.


  19. arlene miles

    Ancestry has marketing down pat. They know how to increase subscriptions.

    However, they could pick and pay for doing a “regular” persons tree as well as the celebraties. It would certainly get more of us to sign on or renew.

    That said, I enjoy the research, it is like looking for a lost valuable possession.

  20. Carol A. H.

    Jeanie Croasmun #9 (probably)

    Welcome to the world of REAL genealogy research. You just got your feet wet. Eastern Europe, a tough area.

    #20 Judy: Amen! The world is not fair, I agree. I’d like to have enough money to have some help because I have some real problems. But when I do make a break-through, it is a wonderful high.

    Folks, read these blogs and pay attention to Andy Hatchett. He has good experience and knowledge and he shares it, no charge. He won’t steer you wrong.

    #21 Bromaelor: I tried Firefox and my whole computer slowed down (to the speed of a 286) and gave me terrible problems. I had to get a professional to help me uninstall it and clean up the debris. But that was just my computer. I have heard it is great for some people. We never did learn why my system doesn’t like Firefox.

    #23 Jack: Perhaps they are not the real old documents the people are handling. Copiers can do great things these days. Why not a false “document?”

  21. Virginia Smith

    I love this program, I have a great uncle killed in WWl and he was buried somewhere in France according to the information from his wife’s family members I was amazed at the records kept. I love the program.
    Virginia Smith

  22. Thanks for the kind words Carol,

    I fear however that my days of Blog responses are numbered.

    While I may comment on a new Blog article that is of interest to me, I’ve chosen to no longer subject myself to the clicking and scrolling circus the blog has become in its present format that is needed to keep up with the comments. It is, quite simply, not worth the time and effort.

    Those seeking my opinions, comments, and/or help, etc. can always contact me at:

  23. Lynn

    To others who are thinking about using Expert Connections, I decided to try “Ask an Expert” and received numerous useful responses to my question about an ancestor who emigrated in 1890.

    The responses varied in quality and quantity of information, with many “experts” providing good suggestions on next steps. The response that will likely provide the highest value came from a professional genealogist a few minutes after I submitted the question – that individual provided me with several suggestions, including a contact address and phone number for next steps as well as some useful insights (i.e., to assist the experts in answering my question, I provided a listing of information and sources that I have for the ancestor and mentioned that I had not located her naturalization records. The genealogies let me know that “Women did not typically naturalize prior to 1920 suffrage. Woman obtained their citizenship through their husbands.” … which had me re-review the 1920 census information and sure enough, although she marked that she was naturalized she did not list a date and her husband’s listed naturalization date was prior to their marriage (i.e., she liked became a citizen through marriage.))

  24. Andrew Olejarz

    Dear friends
    I’m Polish genealogist of Olejarz’s family trees from formerly Galicja in Poland and from whole World.
    – I will exchange your american data of Olejarz’s family trees for mines base of 40 polish Olejarz’s family trees. All FREE !. O’key ?. Thanks !
    Andrew Olejarz
    Genealogist of Olejarz’s kins in Poland and in whole World, and member of Silesian Genealogist Association in Wroclaw, in Poland

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