Thursday, June 23, 2011

So You Want to Go Abroad

It’s the big dream of every American genealogist: to somehow make the leap over the ocean to the family’s countries of origin. Who wouldn’t love to walk down narrow streets of the very village where your great-great-ancestor once lived? Or to view the records dutifully kept by the priest who baptized, married or buried your ancestors?

It sounds like great fun. But the door to this adventure doesn’t open easily. Sometimes, we have to settle for a lot of the sleuthing to be virtual footwork.

That’s where subscriber-paid websites become tempting. Sites such as Ancestry.com are adding a wealth of foreign material to their holdings, and these digital records can be opened to you for a modest price. Don’t be so quick to spring at the offer, though. I’ve found that some of the holdings in subscriber-based sites are too limited—or not focused on my particular region—to be of enough help to warrant the price tag. Yet.

In my case, there are two locations in Europe that claim my research attention: Ireland and Poland. Though I know those are the target regions for my future research, I have a lot more to accomplish before I can jump across the Big Puddle and hire a translator.

For instance, take my husband’s Irish ancestors. Though we found the declaration of intent of John Stevens to renounce his allegiance to Queen Victoria and settle in Lafayette, Indiana, and though it states that he was from County Mayo, searching for the name, John Stevens, alone would not get me far. There are dozens of men by that same name from that county in that time period.

My husband’s Tully line seemed to be a more likely candidate for research. We had family stories passed down through the generations to help guide research. We knew that the Tully family traveled from Ireland to Canada, sailing along the St. Lawrence River. While some of the family settled in Ontario, others continued through the Great Lakes. Their ultimate goal was to move to Chicago—although those in the Tully family arriving later were rebuffed by changes in United States immigration policies. Some of those later family members chose rather to head west through Canada, moving to Winnipeg and then down to the territory of North Dakota when the opportunity presented itself.

Instead of making my research goal to head straight to the source in Ireland, I had to piece together these immigrants’ tracks, in reverse. Subscribing to the pay-per-view websites made no sense, however, when I discovered many free resources, courtesy of the advice of seasoned researchers on the many forums I use. Besides, at that time, there was scant information available on the subscriber sites, anyhow, as I discovered during a two-week trial subscription.

Of course, there was the serendipity of connecting online with a new-found Canadian cousin who, through “outlaws,” provided a missing link in the family saga. Once I had that information, it was easy to find several records to corroborate the family’s account of the journey.

Sites such as Automated Genealogy provided searchable resources for Canadian census records from the 1850s to 1911. There, I moved backward in time from the western Canadian provinces to Paris village in Brant County, Ontario, where the first generation of Tully immigrants settled. Along the way—and as I also did research on all the Tully descendants from those lines—I found additional clues from a number of websites that focused on Saskatchewan and Manitoba records.

And from that jumping off place in Paris,Canada, my next step will be to find ship’s listings and then church records in “Ballina,” Ireland, wherever that is. By the time I’m ready to do that, perhaps Ancestry.com will have acquired enough holdings to make the international subscription rate worth my while. Until then, between FamilySearch and Cyndi’s List, I should have enough free material to keep me busy.

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