Sunday, January 28, 2024

Town-Focused Searches - New Research Pathways

More and more records are being indexed, which is wonderful.  But many are misindexed either because of poor handwriting or fading of originals or just poor indexing (often due to unfamiliarity with ethnic names by those indexing), which means that you might not find records that could be critical to your research.  Even if everything is indexed correctly, if your family has a common surname, it might be difficult to find your Cohen among all of the Cohen records you'll get with a typical search.  

In addition, not all fields are always indexed in some record sets, so there may be mention of your relatives in records that a simple search wouldn't find.  So how do you improve your chances of finding these records?  Especially if your family members are from smaller towns and villages, searching only by town can be critical.  I'll give examples of how to do this on Ancestry, but you can do similar searches in most of the other large record repositories. 

Edmund David Lebovitsch WWII Draft Registration

The image above is a WWII draft registration for my first cousin three times removed, Edmund David Lebovitsch.  Until last week, I didn't realize he had emigrated to America, but using this technique, I was able to find him and others.  Here's what I did.

Especially with parts of Eastern Europe having changed borders multiple times as well as towns themselves changing names--or having multiple names--searching using the location field in Ancestry almost always misses many records where town names have actually been indexed.  So rather than using the location field, use the keyword field in an advanced search.

Advanced Search for Dulfal*

I know that the town where some of my Rutners lived was called Dulfalva or Dufalu when it was in Hungarian hands.  It's currently Dulovo.  So I want to make sure that I search for as many variations as I can.  An asterisk (*) means that Ancestry will look for as many additional characters as necessary--even zero.  So this search will find Dulfalva and Dulfalu.  A question mark finds exactly one letter (so "dulfal?" would find Dulfalu but not Dulfalva).

This particular search generated 268 results, the majority of which were people whose surnames began with "Dulfal," so it's pretty quick to scroll through those.  But among the other results were records from concentration camps (including some of my relatives) as well as the WWII draft card from above.  Dulfalva had a very small Jewish community, so I wondered about Edmond David Lebovitsch and whether he was related to me.  Some quick research found his gravestone with his father's name, and I was able to verify that yes, his mother was a Rutner who was my great-great grandfather's sister.  So I was able to flesh out another branch of the Rutner family.  Just searching for David Lebovics (the spelling used in Europe) would have overwhelmed me with search results, and I would never have found that one of the Lebovics kids actually emigrated to the US.  Oh--and although in many cases, I'd have found him via a town search because of his manifest, it turns out that the town name was indexed as "Fulfalva."  Plus, the "David Lebowics" spelling used on his manifest wasn't easily found (I found the manifest using his naturalization papers combined with Steve Morse's site.)  So yes, you can miss records when searching by towns because of poor indexing as well.

This technique helped me find a photo of my 3c2r Abraham Lax which told me he'd been in Belgium

You do want to account for spelling differences as well.  One of my ancestral towns is what is now Shpykiv, Ukraine.  I've seen the town spelled as Spikow, Schpikov, Spikiv, etc.  So for a town like that, I'd probably search with a keyword of s*pik?w as well as s*pik?v.

Once you eliminate the records where the matches are simply an individual's name, for the remainder, if you don't recognize the names, still look at the actual documents.  Manifests may have them going to join your relative as a "cousin" or "sister-in-law" and may open new avenues for research.

Now, this won't work as nicely if your family is from a large city like Krakow or Odesa.  But for common names, pairing a surname with a town-as-keyword may help to find records for your relatives that would be hidden among many results with that town-as-keyword addition.

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  1. My wife's maternal side is surnamed Kolodny. Could the town of Kolodne be the origin of the surname? The oldest ancestor I'm aware of is Shimshen Kolodny (circa 1850AD) and is from the Ukraine area near Sarne. The actual town/shtetl is Romeiky. Any thoughts?

    1. While it's possible, it's more likely another town like Kolodnoe, Belarus because of the proximity and the migration patterns (people tended to come to the Kolodne, Maramaros area from the north, rather than vice versa).

  2. Lara, very interesting. I tried this on Ancestry for one of my ancestral towns and came up with about 2000 entries, easy enough to scroll through. But then I thought I'd try to limit those results by including one of my surnames and the result was 1.5 million entries! I thought the search operator would be "and," not "or." Any thoughts on how to force an "and" search?

    1. Try checking "exact" for the keyword field.