And over and over again

At the beginning of any research, as that tree begins to grow, the twigs, roots, and branches all fill out, documents are found so fast, sometimes it’s like magic. And then… suddenly, with no warning, you hit the proverbial brick wall. The vast cache of documents dries up, and records are either inaccessible or illegible. Many people give up; after all, it appears that the well of information has run dry.

But what if it really hasn’t dried up. It’s time to start looking at the information from a different direction. If you’ve been focused on a specific name, spelled a specific way, look at alternate spellings – remember, in non-English languages, some letters or letter combinations sound differently than they do in English – cz sounding like ch, sz sounding like sh, or c sounding like s or tz. So what happens when the name is written in English? Well those letters or letter combinations can be written in a number of ways – for example, Szwartz, Shwartz, Schwartz, or any one of those ending with an s instead of a z. Keep your mind open to sounds, not appearance.

You think you know where the target family was from, but what if the town’s name changed, the counties merged or split, or other border or jurisdictional changes occurred?

A birth year (or month or date) varies from record to record. It’s possible that in a culture that didn’t celebrate birthdays (unimaginable as it may be in the 21st century) a person genuinely didn’t remember the birth month, date, or even year. Maybe a person knew they were born on Christmas. Was that a Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christmas. It makes a difference. Was the holiday only a reminder, or was the person really born on the holiday? Why is this important? If you’re looking for a birth (or death or marriage) in many instances the date is important if you want to find the record.

In many instances, we are looking in indexes for a record. The index may be alphabetical or by year (or month). If the index was written in English, transliterated from another language, errors in transcription may cause you at first glance to ignore a record. Yesterday I was looking for a record that could have been written in Polish, Latin, or Russian – 3 alphabets with their own spelling conventions and forms for the name.

Remember those Russian novels with a wide assortment of names for each person? Well, a birth record had one name for this person. Foolishly, I thought that was the name we should look for. When I backed down from that position, a huge selection of records opened up. The person’s name was recorded differently than I anticipated on his marriage record and the birth records of his children.

So be an explorer. Look at the material from many different angles, and be creative and flexible.

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