Remarkable records and meaningful stories - working with genealogy clients

In response to my last blog post when I asked what you would like to hear more about, Cousin April of Digging Up the Dirt on My Dead People asked me on my Facebook page what work I'd done for clients that meant the most to them or to me, and whether or not I found any remarkable records. 

That's a hard but interesting question, and I thank April for asking it, as it's led me to look over a lot of my closed cases, reminding me of just how much work I've done and how interesting (most of it) has been. Some clients want to prove their connection to a famous person in history. Some are trying to find what international roots they might have. Some are trying to prove Native American ancestry. Some are name and date collectors. Others, due to divorce or death of a parent, know little to nothing about an entire side of their family and are trying to make a connection.

Recently, I've done a lot of work for clients with Eastern European Jewish ancestry. Talk about interesting but impossible! Name spellings become beyond creative - if you find the family under one surname spelling in a census, don't expect it to be the same or even similar in another record. And then once you've traced the family sufficiently in the U.S., making the leap across the ocean to their roots in Eastern Europe or Russia can be impossible because more than likely, the name you've traced in the U.S. is an American one, and the one they came here with is an Eastern European/Jewish one - if you're lucky, they simply Anglicized their original name and there will be similarities. But as often as this happens, it's equally possible that their original name is completely different. And then to top it off, much as African-American ancestry research almost always has the dead end of the mid-1800s that you will never get past, due to the institution of slavery and the fact that there are little to no records on slaves, many people of European and Russian Jewish descent will never be able to get beyond the early 1900s, as those records were destroyed during World War II. In this research area, I had one client who was trying to find his ancestor's original name. I was having no luck. I found his wife's naturalization record, which held a wealth of info, including HER original name, her village and country of origin and the date and ship of immigration, which led me to finding her on a ship passenger list manifest, which listed her father's name. We had that line back to the late 1800s - amazing. But her husband remained a mystery. I found in her naturalization record HIS naturalization info, but his records were not available online - we were going to have to enter the real world! His documents were not in the National Archives, they were not in the New York City Municipal Archives, they were at a New York City court house, in their archives staffed by a single person. I spoke to this man on the phone and he told me his office hours, that there was no charge to make copies of the naturalization record - IF IT WAS THERE - but you had to bring your own camera to take photos, and to be sure to not visit around 1 pm because that's when he took his lunch break. I passed this info along to my client with the caveat that there was a chance the record wasn't there and even if it was, there was no certainty that it would be as detailed as the wife's record had been - maybe the original name wouldn't be there, but maybe his date of immigration would be and we could pick up the search from there. I only do online research currently for my clients, so he asked his sister to go and find the record. I didn't hear from him for a few months but he finally wrote to me to let me know that his ancestor's naturalization record WAS there and more importantly, so was his ancestor's original name, information he and his family had been searching for, tirelessly and fruitlessly, for years and years. I was beyond thrilled that he had written me to share the success of the search and his discovery, and so happy and proud that I had helped make that discovery possible for him.

There are several lessons in this story - if you can't find the answer to your genealogy question, look at records other than the obvious (there are other records out there besides the census!); if you can't find it online, go out in the REAL WORLD - visit an actual records repository; and if you can't find it on your own, ASK FOR HELP! :)

That's only one example of many cases I've worked where I've been honored and so happy and proud to help people break through longstanding brickwalls... turns out that helping others with their family history research can be incredibly fulfilling!

It's also an example of the difficult, frustrating and incredibly interesting and fun records I get to use when I work with clients that I don't get to use on my boring, well-established Western European family tree. I've had the chance to research families of so many exciting and diverse backgrounds - Native American, African-American, Eastern European, Swedish, Mexican, just to name a few - I've even gotten to research Icelandic and Finnish families! In short (too late for that), I'm not only having a lot of fun, but I'm learning so much. It's been such a wonderful experience so far.