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How to start my search for ancestors?

How to start my search for ancestors?

The goal of the first stage of a typical genealogical research is collecting as much information about our ancestors as possible. This data will then become the basis for more advanced research in archives and libraries. The source of the initial information is usually the memory of our relatives, as well as various documents in the possession of our family. This type of data is rarely available in public archives. That's why interviewing our relatives is extremely important and well worth the effort. Old photos of people and places, as well as birth, baptismal, marriage and/or death records are often kept on the bottom of the cupboards or other such unlikely places. They are rarely looked at or thought of, but when organizing any genealogical research it is imperative to locate them as they often answer many questions regarding things long forgotten. They can help you narrow down the time frame and region of your future research thus making it easier.


Don't disregard the oral tradition of your family. However misleading it could be, where precise facts are concerned, it gives you needed insight into the family's history. Many pieces that you learn from it may prove themselves crucial in tracing your roots: names of places, facts from the general history your ancestors were participants and other knowledge about their region of origin. All this can ultimately contribute to the success of your first stage of research, i.e. identifying your ancestors' precise names, as well as places and dates of their births, marriages or deaths. This data provides you with the beginning of your next step which is often performed in an archive or library since this step deals with events that are no longer remembered. When conducting your initial research, keep in mind that oral tradition is often subject to errors.


You must always evaluate and weigh the authenticity of information you receive. If some data seems to be questionable, or is unable to be independently substantiated, try to avoid the extreme measures of either ignoring the information or treating it as proven. Don't be under the assumption that this information is accurate. Take the time to establish a proven documentation. In fact, it is sometimes better to know nothing about a given problem than to be led astray by imprecise information, which can make you waste a lot of time. Usually written data is reliable, especially if authorized by officials, although many books repeat unproven information from other sources. Oral tradition is the least certain source of information, even though it sometimes cannot be replaced, as mentioned above.


Always write down the information you have collected and its source. Whenever possible, make copies of the documents. The old script often differs significantly from the one used at present and the spelling of names sometimes needs to be confirmed by a professional, especially if you aren't familiar with the language on the document. Sometimes the names aren't even written anywhere but handed down from generation to generation. In a case like this, you should try to imagine all the various ways that that name may be spelled. When in doubt, they can always provide a hint for an expert.


Remember that the name of the parish church or a district town for a locality may be even more important than the name of the locality itself. On the other hand, the sole name of a province where your ancestors were born is usually too little to make the research possible. Try to find other people researching your surnames or dealing with the same area. You might try to contact your possible relatives, i.e. people with the surname you are researching. This is unfortunately not very helpful if the name is very common. Many surnames are, on the other hand, often limited to a specific region which may help you find the area of your ancestors' origin when other means are not available.


What kind of records are available about people who came to the US
(by Kathi White)


 DECLARATION OF INTENT: - Early declarations (prior to 1906) forfeit allegiance to foreign sovereignties. They usually show nothing more than name, country of birth/or allegiance, date of application and signature... After 1906 however, is where a wealth of information can be derived from.. Usually contains name, age,occupation, personal description, date and place of birth, wife's name and her place of birth, present and last foreign address, vessel or ship sailed on and from what embarkation, port of arrival and date, and signature.


 PETITION FOR NATURALIZATION: This is the second document to be filed after the declaration. Residency requirements had to also be met before the petition was issued. Again, before 1906 it contains little more than name, residence, etc...with any luck at all, it may contain more. After 1906, it contains the same data listed under the declaration and more...marital status, children's names, and names of two witnesses.


 RECORD / CERTIFICATE of NATURALIZATION: The document that grants citizenship. After 1906, contains some of the aforementioned items but not as much detail.


 You may take particular interest in the fact that any woman, between 1855-1922, automatically became a citizen when her husband was naturalized. Children under the age of 16 as well... If a person was between the ages of 16-21 when he arrived in the U.S. he was required to wait until after his 21st birthday to file the declaration.


 If your immigrant ancestors married in the U.S., the petition helps identify where the (male) came from. This can be a totally different area than were the female originated from. If your ancestors were married in Poland, the information contained in the declaration & petition help identify the town in which both came from.


 Most documents can be accessed at the Federal level in the County the naturalization took place in. If you still live in the area your immigrant ancestors were naturalized in, you can call the County Hall and ask if you can access the records yourself.


 WORLD WAR I DRAFT RECORDS - US : More than 24,000,000 World War I Selective Service records are on file at the National Archives in East Point, Georgia (US). Finding an ancestor's draft registration may produce valuable personal information such as date of birth, place of birth, color of eyes, marriage status, name of wife, name(s) of children etc... A search for your ancestor's registration may be made if any of the following criteria is met:


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  • June 5, 1917. All men between the ages of 21 and 31 years of age were required to register.
  • June 5, 1918. All men who had become 21 years of age since June 5, 1917 were required to register. A supplemental registration was held on August 24, 1918, at which time men who had reached age 21 between June 5, 1918 and August 24, 1918 were required to register.
  • September 12, 1918. Provided for registration of all men between the ages of 18 and 21, and 31 to 45 years of age. This was the third and final World War I registration.



In order to request your ancestors draft registration from the National Archives, you must be able to supply a full name and the city and county of registration. For certain states and cities, a full street address is necessary. Should you need to supply a street address which you are unsure of, the most accurate way to achieve expediant results is to visit or call the local historical society of the city in question. Most historical societies have original or microfilmed copies of city directories for individual years.

You will need to identify the residence of your ancestor for both 1917 and 1918. Supply or use both of these addresses when searching for a draft registration. It is important to note that many draft registrations may be available at your local Family History Center. This information can possibly be obtained without assistance from the National Archives. The geographical system utilized for draft districts, is much like that of a "ward" on a U.S. census. Registration was broken down into Selective Service Exemption Districts. If you are able to use draft registrations on microfilm at your FHC, your results will be fast and easy if you are aware of the district number.


You may request the necessary form (World War I Registration card request) from the National Archives by writing to:

National Archives - Southeast Region
1557 Saint Joseph Avenue
 East Point, Georgia USA 30344

Please note, there is a $6.00 fee (US currency) that is required at the time your request is submitted.

States and cities that require a full street address are:

  • California - Los Angeles , San Francisco
  • District of Columbia - Washington
  • Georgia - Atlanta
  • Illinois - Chicago
  • Indiana - Indianapolis
  • Kentucky - Louisville
  • Louisiana - New Orleans
  • Maryland - Baltimore
  • Massachusetts - Boston
  • Minnesota - Minneapolis, St. Paul
  • Missouri - Kansas City, St. Louis
  • New Jersey - Jersey City, Newark
  • New York - Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Syracuse
  • Ohio - Cincinnati, Cleveland
  • Pennsylvania - Luzerne County, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
  • Rhode Island - Providence
  • Washington - Seattle
  • Wisconsin - Milwaukee

I recommend that you find the immigration papers or ship passenger lists that could include your ancestor's precise place of birth. There are a couple of good internet guides on this subject:


It's a needle-in-a-haystack problem to find records for somebody who is known only to be born in Poland, Austrian Poland, Galicia, Silesia or other areas of the country, especially if the surname is common.


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