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Top 6 Genealogy Research in a Foreign Land


Most family historians will eventually reach a point where their genealogy research leads them "across the pond" or past a border. Many, unfortunately, abandon their research at this point, because they find the thought of genealogy research in a foreign country intimidating or overwhelming. Other than a few differences in type and availablilty of records, and a possible language barrier, however, genealogy research really isn't all that different from one place to the next.

1. Learn the Birthplace of Your Immigrant Ancestor

Once you've traced your family tree back to the immigrant ancestor, determining his/her birthplace is the key to the next branch in your family tree. Knowing just the country isn't just enough - you'll usually have to get down to the town or village level to successfully locate your ancestor's records. Search as many records as possible from the time after your immigrant ancestor's arrival, including immigration records, naturalization records, census records, and records of birth, marriage, and death, for any clue to your ancestor's town of origin. See Steps for Finding the Birthplace of Your Immigrant Ancestor for more ideas.

2. Learn About the Country

When you first began your genealogy research, you probably quickly found that you had a lot to learn. Approach your genealogy research in a new country, just as if you were a beginner again. Get a good history book about the region and learn about the events and beliefs which shaped the lives of the people who lived there. Join a local genealogical society which serves the area. Ask questions of other researchers on mailing lists and forums. Buy a map, or locate one online, so you can become familiar with the country's geography and boundaries.

3. Identify Changing Boundaries

Speaking of boundaries... Countries as we know them today may not have the same geographic boundaries that they did a century ago. Many national boundaries, particularly in Europe, have changed several times throughout history, especially as a result of international conflict and war. You may have to check for records in more than one country.

4. Work Around the Language Barrier

Since most genealogical records and resources are in the language of their native country, many genealogists find language a major stumbling block. Don't let this derail your research, however. Genealogy word lists provide a way for genealogists to easily understand the most important words found in genealogical documents. On the Internet, free translation tools allow you to get rough translations on the fly of foreign language Web sites. Or you can hire a translator to translate records for you for a fee. You'll probably be surprised how quickly you learn enough basics to start understanding those foreign records!

5. Familiarize Yourself with the Record Types

Most countries and governments keep records of the same basic life events - births, marriages and deaths. Religious records, census records, probate records and historic newspapers are also found in most countries. What you need to learn are the dates for which these types of records were kept, and where the records can be accessed. As many genealogical records come online, you'll also want to look for online guides to available records and databases in your area of interest. Mailing lists for the locality are often a great place for learning about and keeping up with available records and their locations.

6. Find the Records

Begin your search by viewing the records available for your country of interest in the Family History Library Catalog. While the Mormons may not have microfilmed all available records, this will at least give you a general idea of the types of records available. Better yet, these records can be easily accessed at your local Family History Center. Next, check the World GenWeb site for your country or region, to see what records have been transcribed and made available online. Also, look up the Web site of national, state, county or local archives, major libraries, and genealogical societies that cover your locality of interest to see what records they hold and how they can be accessed.

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