18 May 2011

Wedding Wednesday: Finding Their Story

I am fortunate to have this photograph from my great-grandparents' wedding that my father gave me shortly after my own wedding. Although I am accustomed to finding a document and never finding a visual representation of the event, in this case, I have no documentation or any idea where and when they were married. While beginning my research on their marriage, I have been considering potential sources of  information that could help me.

Depending when and where your ancestor was married, they may have left the civil records we most often think of--the marriage license and marriage certificate. However, there may be other sources recording this event, which can be beneficial to our research--church records, newspapers, Bible records, and invitations.

The couple may be presented with a marriage certificate unique to the church, which could hold information other than what appears on the civil certificate. For example, I have seen such certificates that contain the names and home addresses of the maid of honor and best man. This could be interesting, and potentially helpful in your research, to know if these individuals were relatives or neighbors of the couple.

Also, newspapers are used to announce engagements and marriages and may contain more personal information on the couple, such as where they plan to live after the wedding, who was in attendance, and a description of the dress and reception festivities. In the absence of a photograph, a first-hand account can be an exciting find. I came across one such article on a different couple, which described the bride's dress and even named out-of-town relatives they were to visit after the wedding.

Finally, Bible entries, or a Bible presented to the couple at their wedding, may also provide details about the wedding and the family, such as the date, location, and the bride's maiden name. You may even be lucky enough to find a wedding invitation, which could provide as much information as any of the other sources, such as a maiden name, parents' names, and locations of the families and ceremony.

Their story may be been forgotten over the years, but seeing my ancestors' faces gives me motivation to seek out these sources in an attempt to piece it together.

02 May 2011

Mappy Monday: Born in Multiple Countries?

I have seen a lot of questions on message boards about whether a place is in Poland or if a particular person is actually from Poland. This is a common question among Polish researchers and the answers have a lot to do with the time period being researched.

For me, this question started with my great, great grandfather, who arrived in the United States around 1888 or 1889. I have located him in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 Federal Census records. In 1910, his place of birth is listed as "Ger/Polish." The, in 1920, his place of birth is "Posen" and his native language is "Polish," although the Ancestry.com index shows his place of birth as "Germany." Finally, the 1930 census clearly shows his place of birth as "Poland." So how could the same person be born in multiple counties...or why does his birth place change depending on when he is asked?

The answer lies in Poland's history. Over the course of time and even in our lifetimes, the borders and names of what we know today as Poland have changed. In 1910, Poland was not recognized--rather, Polish lands had been divided among Prussia, Russia, and Austria. A birth place of "Ger/Polish" would indicate Prussia, or the German Empire. In 1920, these lands were once again known as Poland, which explains the response of Posen/Polish. Although Posen (Poznan) is a clue, it is a large city and does not necessarily indicate where my ancestor was born or lived before moving to the United States. For example, he could have been from a much smaller town, but indicated Posen, as it was the largest city close to where he actually lived. It is important to note, however, that Posen was part of the German Empire in 1910. Finally, 1930 was prior to another division of the country by Nazi Germany, so it was still known as Poland.

It is helpful to consult a historical map in locating the origins of your Polish ancestors. For the time period I am researching, I referenced this Historical Map of Europe 1871-1914, at EmersonKent.com, which shows city names, as well as color-coding for the controlling territory. For example, Posen is part of the German Empire (in blue), situated between Berlin and Warsaw, which was part of Russia at the time.

Understanding land divisions of Poland during your ancestor's lifetime and consulting historical maps is extremely beneficial in determining where they lived. Be careful not to overlook clues in census, immigration, and other records created by your ancestor. Records are likely to refer to the location as it was known to the rest of the world at that point in time.