Striking Genealogical Gold in Foreign Records

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Has this happened to you? You get the request, "What do you have on the family genealogy? My child has a school project and we're hoping to trace the family ASAP. Can you help?"

Yes, we helped and the assignment was completed successfully. Wishing to prove more generations, we delved further! The family had Polish origins, and searching foreign records is not without a fear of running into language and geography difficulties.

The hometown of this family was Rosa (Róża in Polish). Since we found various towns with that name we needed to do some research to determine which of these towns was the right one. We were lucky! During a visit to Poland, our guide not only figured out which Rosa was ours, but took us there. At the time of emigration, the family lived in Austria.

When researching foreign locations it is helpful to make a note of potential location names.

Name Polish Equivalent Alternatives
Republic of Poland Polska Austria, Prussia, Russia, etc.
Zassow Province Zasów Renamed Rzeszów, now Malopolskie
Rosa Róża Tarnow (Tarnów) had jurisdiction over parish records

While there we also visited the church where generations of family had worshiped. The priest looked up family records, but there was little opportunity to learn more. With the thought of additional research in mind I made a list of more potential resources.

  • Historical societies
  • Passenger lists (such as at Ellis Island)
  • Polish Archives
  • RootsWeb's Mailing Lists
  • RootsWeb's Message Boards
  • Subscription databases (such as
  • Family Search/The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Of these, the most promising were databases pertaining to marriage and baptismal records.

  • Marriage Databases (Polish Genealogical Society of America -
  • Poland, Roman Catholic Church Books, 1600 1950 (Family Search)
  • We also had access to an unpublished marriage database (unknown author) contributed by another researcher.

Transcription Variations Researching in the three files listed above enabled us to trace an additional three generations, but not without challenges. Transcriptions recorded names either in Latin (Catholic records), Polish or English conversions.

Agnieszka = Agata, Agatha, Agnes
Jan = Joannes, John
Malgorzata = Margaret
Wawrzyniec = Larry, Laurentius
Wojciech = Albert, Adalbertus

Surnames also varied. Where one read Tabor, others recorded it as Gabor or Psabor. (Either handwriting was hard to decipher, or original entries were incorrect.)

Then we noted surname suffixes. Was Zmuda the same as Zmudianka, Skowron the same as Skowronski and Biela the same as Bielawa? In most cases, yes. Polish suffixes (often called diminutives) indicate distinctions in origin, marital status, sex, occupation or even a parent's name. For example,

  • 'anka / ówna - indicates a single female
  • ewa / owa - married female
  • equicz / owicz - child of
  • ski / cki (male) ska / ski (female) - from, pertaining to, or former indication of royal roots

As complications grew, I entered data into a genealogy program and often had to merge names.

Not finding complete families, I began a process of searching The "Poland Roman Catholic Church Books" using multiple queries. After locating a child, I repeated the process querying the parents. When siblings were located, I'd cross-reference to the marriages. Then given names were entered (without last names) to uncover surname spelling variations. If too many results were produced, the search was limited by date ranges, adding Rosa as the location.

Theses searches were quite successful, but it became clear images needed to be reviewed. So we ordered corresponding film FHL #1959125 as reported in the database.

Films are free to view at the library in Salt Lake City, or can be rented at Family History Centers around the world. The catalog is easily searched, and you can specify call and film numbers, location, surnames, subject / numbers, titles, film numbers and keywords. Go to and click on Catalog which will bring you to the Search page.

For titles in foreign languages, use a translation service, such as Google Translate at

Success When the film arrived and we struck genealogical gold!

Not only did the baptismal records specify parents and witnesses, but all four grandparents were named, including maiden names. There’s a lot more to the story but I hope this summary will inspire you to venture into your own foreign ancestry.

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