A Genealogical Homecoming Part 1

L-R Genealogists Sanja Frigan, Lori Samuelson, and Lidija Sambunjak at the Croatian State Archives

It was time for me to cross the pond to search for family information. You might, like me, have reached that place in your research.

My maternal line is all Croatian and when I began my genealogical journey over 50 years ago, I thought I knew everything there was about those lines. I was so wrong!

Over the years, I interviewed my maternal grandmother, mother, and one of my aunts. I wrote down the stories they told, made sure the people in the photos they left behind were identified, and diligently added their U.S. made records in genealogical software programs. When DNA came along I tried to connect with family that had scattered across the world – Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Great Britain, Australia, and throughout the U.S. I visited the FamilySearch Library twice hoping that records from the small villages outside of Zagreb would be available. Only one currently is and last month I was informed that there were no new films that would be available to search anytime soon. If I wanted more I had to do boots on the ground.

In January I discovered a Gate1 tour with a special price for Croatia as the country began accepting Euros in 2023. My husband and I booked a 10-day tour and decided to extend it by two days so I could research my family in an archive and visit their villages. I have researched cemeteries in the Caribbean, South America, and Central America but I have never before researched in an archive outside of the U.S.

Here are my recommendations if you are planning a genealogical journey abroad:

  1. Identify the area where your ancestor resided – Check immigration, census, vital records, obituaries, and family member recollections. Mugbooks and family genealogies may also be helpful. You need to know where they were and under what flag when they lived there to discover where records are housed. My family lived for generations in what is now Croatia but at the time they were there, it was under Austria-Hungary. Step 2 will help you figure out where some of the records reside and who ruled the land at the time your ancestors lived there.
  2. Use FamilySearch.org Wiki – After logging in, click on the ribbon “Search” and then “Research Wiki.” Either enter your location in the search box or click on the map. My villages are not an option so I selected the biggest city to the villages of Dubranec and Jerebic which was the capital, Zagreb. The information provided will give you some knowledge of what records are available and where. Look at any records for the country that are online, even if they are not for your desired location. Often the headings will be similar so you can familiarize yourself with what the information will look like. I took headings from the only document available for Dubranec (1895-1900 baptisms) and transferred them to an Excel doc. Under the Croatian headings, I wrote the translation. I then filled in all the info I knew for each individual. This way, when I entered the archive, I had the child’s name in the correct category, along with a time frame (the birthdate), and the parents’ names. I knew ahead of time what lines to scan to find what I needed. I also had the info in chronological order which speeded up the research as the microfilm is by years.
  3. Check out archive websites – Don’t worry that you don’t speak or read the language, most websites are easily translated into English. Look at the top and bottom of the home page for a translation button. Every archive has different rules and regulations. Knowing what is required ahead of time will save you grief. Things to think about – Do they accept credit cards or cash only? Can you take photos? Do you have to make a reservation? Can you bring a laptop?
  4. Book your trip – Some folks like to be independent and others like a canned tour. I prefer a little of both. There are many tour companies online and deciding which can be daunting. Look at ratings, talk with family and friends, and read the fine print. I highly recommend hiring knowledgeable locals to assist you in the archives. I used the Association of Professional Genealogists website, of which I am a member, to find a genealogist. Via email, she advised me what archive I needed to visit and which record sets would be helpful to search. She accompanied me to the archive, stepped me through the process to obtain a pass, and sat nearby so I could get clarification and translation. I had trained my husband on using the one available FamilySearch film so we were able to go through all the record sets in one day. And for my long-time readers, you know weird things happen to me when I do boots on the ground! Also in the archive the day I was there was another genealogist who my second cousin had hired 16 years ago. Her report had been on records housed in the village church which has since been damaged by an earthquake. Those records are no longer available and I’m so thankful to have that report. It was a confirmation of names and dates I was given verbally and allowed me to delve further into the records housed by the state.
  5. Remain calm and flexible – Traveling today is not as easy as it once was. I had hoped to spend a day and a half in the Croatian State Archives but because Lufthansa was incompetent (I’ll spare you how rude they were in Munich) our flight was delayed 5 hours. By the time I reached the hotel, the archive was an hour from closing. In hindsight, I was jet lagged so I wasn’t in the best of shape to research in a new place with a language I wasn’t proficient in. Still, I was disappointed that I lost valuable time. Go with the attitude that you are grateful for finding something instead of thinking you must find everything. I was astounded to discover that my family owned so many plots of land. I would need many more days to go to the courthouse to pull all the deed records. A volume I needed for information on the nobility of my Kos family was missing so another archive needs to be contacted to obtain that record. I also learned that military officer records are housed out of the country. For now, I’m content with what I did discover and can plan to either go back in the future or hire a genealogist to pull the records for me.

Next week I’ll write my recommendations about visiting your family’s ancestral home.

Cemetery Caper

Photo courtesy of David Cole

Back in November, I visited a local cemetery to pay my respects to my husband’s Great Half Uncle, William O. Johnson. When we arrived we couldn’t get into the mausoleum as the door was locked. There was no sign on the door that provided the hours it was open.

There was no cemetery office and we were the only ones in the cemetery so we went home, disappointed. I immediately went online to Findagrave.com to discover how I could connect with a cemetery trustee.

What I found was a transcription from Dorothy A. Ditmars History of DeKalb County Cemeteries (1924) that states “…The present manager of this cemetery is Mr. L. Gengler, an attornery (sic) of Garrett, Indiana).”

The next paragraph transcribes a “printed page (source unknown)” that John Martin Smith had in his private files that stated, “Lots are mowed by Oliver Maurer, who has been employed as caretaker since 1954.”

I looked for another site that contained more recent info and found that every other site had copied the same information. Luckily, a newspaper article appeared in the Garrett Clipper on 23 June 2020 about a new Columbarium that was being installed in the cemetery close to the mausoleum. The article mentioned contacting the nearby Roman Catholic Church for information on purchasing lots and niches.

I emailed the church office and a week and a half later hadn’t gotten a response. I thought they might be busy as it was nearing Christmas. I decided to go to my local genealogy library to research some street names in the city and while there, mentioned I couldn’t get into the mausoleum. The librarian was working on a county cemetery project and had just finished with the cemetery I was interested in minutes before I entered. She handed me the book of copies of lot purchases. I found several for the family I was interested in, the Blairs, but none of the Johnsons, which were the ones I needed. Then it hit me, the records for the mausoleum were missing from the book.

I know this sounds unbelievable but for my long-time readers, you know weird things happen to me whenever I do boots-on-the-ground research – a woman came into the library asking for a book of newspaper articles from 25 years ago. While the librarian retrieved it, the woman and I spoke and she just happened to be the reporter who had written the story in 2020. She encouraged me to call the church office and not rely on waiting for a response from their email system. She also gave me the answers to my street names questions that I hadn’t been able to find on maps in the library.

I called the parish office as soon as I got home and was told that the clerical staff would check with the priest and call me back. The next day I got a returned phone call but no answers. The church runs the cemetery but not the mausoleum. They don’t know who is responsible for that. They have no key and didn’t know it was locked. They were going to check with the caretaker, Dave, for further info.

I asked if there were mixed burials in the mausoleum; by mixed I mean people of various faiths as the original intent when the cemetery was laid out in 1897 was to have a section for Roman Catholics and a section for “others.” Having spent so many years in the South I was used to the separation in cemeteries by race but hadn’t come across much by religious affiliation. I was told that the church doesn’t have the mausoleum records, and no one knows where they are or how many spaces are unsold there. The clerical person said she knew families buried in the mausoleum who were of differing faiths.

Not surprisingly, the church has yet to call me back to tell me what the caretaker said about how we could access the mausoleum. On Valentine’s, I went to a genealogy lecture locally and was speaking with a woman who said she knew who had the mausoleum books but had no idea how one accessed entry into it. She said she’d get back to me. Still waiting, sigh!

Genealogy is such a study of patience but also one of perseverance. At the last DeKalb County Genealogy Society meeting I asked if anyone knew where the records might be housed. No one did but one of the members happens to be the caretaker for a nearby cemetery’s mausoleum. The key he has happens to open the mausoleum I’m seeking to enter. We’re planning to get together soon so my husband and I can pay our respects.

I still intend to hunt down those missing records and that’s on my agenda for May.

I will be taking a break from blogging for the next two weeks while my husband and I go on a genealogical adventure. I’ll surprise you with the details when I write again on April 29th.

Researching at FamilySearch Library

Photo by Lori Samuelson

It’s been several years since I’ve gone to Salt Lake City to research at the library, formerly known as Family History Library. My previous blog on what to do can be found here, however, much has changed so here are my recommendations if you plan to go.

Due to Rootstech, there were no classes offered the week I went but typically, there are classes available for free. Check out the calendar on their website.

The library has had a makeover. Gone are the genealogies on the first floor – they have all been scanned and are available online. In their space is a large area for newbies to learn about their relationship to the famous and where you can bring up your FamilySearch tree to have printed in poster size. I was told by two employees that I could print from a tree other than FamilySearch but when I handed over my thumb drive they couldn’t get my downloaded Ancestry.com tree to work with their system. I didn’t want my FamilySearch tree printed as my mom’s side is incomplete on there and my dad’s side is constantly changing, not always correctly. I keep removing a source for a man who died in the 1700s, someone keeps adding he served in the Civil War. Makes me crazy!

Also on the first floor is a very large break room with lots of vending machines. The contents range from water, milk, and soda to burritos, breakfast sandwiches, and typical snacks like granola bars and chips. Problem is that the machines don’t always work. I had bought a bottle of water (reasonably priced at .85) one day and the next day it wouldn’t take my charge card or coins. I was super thirsty so I had to go out in the rain to the mall as the restaurant on the corner is closed. The volunteer at the desk told me that the machines often don’t work. Wish they had posted a sign as I wasted time.

Photo by Lori Samuelson

The international floors have been flipped. I had several books I couldn’t find and neither could the assistants at the research desk. I don’t know if they were lost, misfiled, or taken to be scanned. I looked for the same books every day for the 5 days I was there so it wasn’t like someone was using them for the day. There is also a reference section (shown above) adjacent to the wall of the new Medieval section so look there, too, if you can’t find the book in the stacks. The books are out of order so look carefully.

Photo by Lori Samuelson

It’s also wise to check the Library Catalog and not the General Catalog before you leave home – they are not the same. The General Catalog lists all resources available; don’t waste your time looking at items you can view from home. The Library Catalog provides resources that are available in the library. Some of the books on the shelves have been scanned and are available online now but many have not. Found the note above at one of the scanners. I didn’t need a book from storage but know not everything is readily available. The catalogs will help you determine if you have to put in a special request. Keep in mind, though, that the catalogs aren’t updated. I found the reference below and was surprised that there were still CDs being used. I went to the 2nd floor to inquire about it and was told the item was no longer available, even though it is showing that it is.

Photo by Lori Samuelson

The best upgrade is on the 3rd floor – the scanners are a dream! They have several and I used one every day I was there. No more taking pics with my phone and having to then clean out Google Photos. Bring a thumb drive and if you forget, they will give you one for free on the first floor. The thumb drive connects to an adaptor and not directly into the computer. You can see it in the picture below on the left top of the keyboard.

Photo by Lori Samuelson

Another upgrade I’m not so wild about is that I previously recommended not bringing your laptop because they have so many desktops available. I counted only 19 on the 3rd floor. I don’t know how many they previously had but I believe it was more as by mid-day, there are none available. Now the desktop situation has changed. You don’t just have a desktop, you also have two monitors for each desktop (see top photo). That’s wonderful and my setup at home but I really don’t need three screens in the library. Two would have been adequate; one for your tree and one for whatever you’re looking up online. Really, why would you need to look at the microfilm, too, that’s available at home? I make a list of just what is not available – books that aren’t scanned and aren’t close to my home and film that I can’t access at home. So still, be prepared and know what you need before you go.

My biggest disappointment was what I thought would be a great idea – the online help request. The specialist that comes is not always a specialist or there isn’t one available and they don’t tell you that. On Monday I was told to ask late Tuesday afternoon for an Ohio specialist. On Tuesday afternoon I placed a request at 4 pm. At 4:10 a specialist came and told me she was signing out but someone would be with me in 15 minutes. By 4:45 when no one arrived I put in another request, thinking that she must have taken me out of the system. Five minutes later a person from the desk asked me why I had made 2 requests and I explained. I only realized that both requests were open once I hit enter for the 2nd request (see below). Once you make a request you can’t cancel it. I had wasted 45 minutes sitting in one location as I feared if I got up to look for books the specialist would think I left and cross me off the list. I told the desk lady I would be finding books and to please tell the specialist if I’m away from the desk to wait a minute. By 6 PM no one had arrived so I went to the desk and was then told that there were no specialists and wouldn’t be so go to another floor. I went to the 2nd floor and signed in for help again. About 15 minutes later a woman came to tell me the specialists were busy and it would be another 15 minutes. I remarked I’d been waiting since 4. She said she’d find someone for me. A few minutes later she returned and said I had only been signed in for 15 minutes. Yes, I had, on that floor, but it had been 2 hours plus on floor 3. About 15 minutes later the specialist arrived who was supposed to know all about Ohio. She asked me why I wanted to prove the relationship and I told her it was for a DAR ap. She replied that she had quit DAR 3 times and I shouldn’t bother. A woman sitting at the next computer overheard and joined the conversation. She asked me for what proof I had and when I gave it to her, she said she would contact her AG friend for me. Never heard from the friend. After my return, as I blogged about last week, I found the info on my own.

Photo by Lori Samuelson

My last suggestion is to get there at opening (9 AM) as people seemed to be more helpful in the morning. You’ll also be one of the first to find your needed books and you’ll get a computer. Take a break at about 1 as the lines are down in the food court in the mall and then return to the library. Happy Hunting!