Finding your ancestral
The most important step in researching your family in
Halychyna/Eastern Galicia is to locate your ancestral village(s).
There are several sources which you can use to find your
ancestral village. Some are better than others. In any event, a good genealogist
should check all of these sources. If one does not yield enough information,
check the others.
One should always keep in mind NEVER to restrict one's
search for direct ancestors when it comes to tracking down an ancestral
town/village. Check each and every sibling of your direct ancestor, check
close friends of the immigrant (who had been friends for a long time since first
coming over to North America).
Start right at home by asking all of your relatives about
either their own childhood or what they remember being told be their parents and
grandparents. Ask even distant relatives. don't just rely on your closest
When you ask questions, let the person talk. don't
interrupt. Often by letting them talk, they'll start to remember things. Also,
don't coax the person with answers. If they start to say something that you
disagree with, let them talk it through awhile to see where it leads to. Never
challenge the person or their stories. This may be taken offensively, they may
become defensive and may not wish to continue or be helpful...now or in the
Bring a tape recorder and pen/paper. Ask if you can tape
the conversation. Taping will allow you the freedom to pay complete attention to
the narration since you won't be forced to write things down. You then have the
liberty to listen to the entire conversation later at which time you can make a
full transcription. However, if the individual is shy or not willing to speak in
front of a tape recorder, don't pressure. This will only hinder the interviewer
and might keep him/her from expounding on details. Then you should resort to pen
and paper. don't rely on your memory! You'll only forget the details later
on...and remembering the details is the most important part.
Prepare for your interview ahead of time. Always come
prepared with follow-up questions in the event you get good results. And also
bring along a wide variety of questions in the event the interview doesn't go so
well in the direction you initially intended.
During the interview, you'll have to be clever in your
questions. If asking "So, what's the name of the village parents come from?"
doesn't work, try something like this:
- Do you remember where your mother or father were born?
- Do you remember your parents telling you about their
childhood: did they live on a farm or in a city?
- Did you ever receive any mail from the "old country"?
- Tell me some stories your parents told you about the
"old country"? (This will certainly get the interview talking and may jog
Ask about what type of church did your ancestors attend
and the language (or languages) they spoke. For us Eastern Galician/Western
Ukrainian genealogists, the question of religion and language is an important
If they're not sure of the languages they spoke, ask them
then name of some of the foods they ate growing up. Such a simple question can
lead to important results.
- Do they say pierogi or pyrohy/varenyky?
Often our immigrant ancestors came to North America and
settled in areas with their own ethnic/religious groups. (Often with people from
the same village or region, which is a real bargain!) Their main connection to
their ethnicity here in North America, even after they started adopting English
in the home, was the ethnic church. These ethnic churches can lead to a great
wealth of information. Priests kept record books of births, marriages and deaths
which took place in his parish. The advantage of these ethnic church records is
that the priest was fluent in either Polish or Ukrainian. This means that there
is a good chance that the names of places found in these record books were
spelled correctly...at least phonetically correct. This is certainly not always
the case with records made by American officials in the city/town hall.
Personal Note: The only record containing my
father's ancestral parish was a church record. Out of a family of 5
children, only one of the children's marriage record contained a parish name
which eventually led me to find the specific village. None of the other
siblings' marriage, birth or death records contained such detail.
One can often find information on a place of birth on
vital records created here in the U.S. Each state has had different
rules and procedures and now have different archival policies. One should
track down more vital record information for the particular state of interest.
The easiest way is to search the internet.
As always, our Galician place names are often misspelled
by the town clerk or medical personnel filling out the form. Gazetteers
should be consulted when a place name is not familiar or obviously incorrect.
One of the most rewarding experiences of a Galician
researcher is to search and find an ancestor on a Passenger List! This
paper document (or microfilm in our case!) is testament of our ancestor's
courage and hope to leave his/her native home to find a better life in North
America. In order to tone down the drama, one must remember that not all
of the immigrants came to North America initially thought of staying.
Often their plan was to come to this land to find work, make money, and return
home. And in fact, many of our new immigrants did exactly that.
Of course, the biggest news in recent times in the world
of genealogy is the Ellis Island website with searchable index for the years
1892 to 1924. Although Ellis Island and the Port of New York was the most
popular entry point for Galician immigrants and have the easiest searchable
index being right on the world wide web, one should never forget the other
ports. Here are the popular ports and the years for which there are
searchable indexes which can be obtained at your local Family History Center.
Information on the actual Passenger List Manifest varies
from year to year. The general rule being more recent years' list contain
Passenger List page for a detailed look into the Lists, as well as
instructions and hints useful for searching specifically for our Galician
One should consult newspaper obituaries that may have
been written about any and all deceased immigrants in the family. In
particular, local ethnic newspapers written in that immigrant's native language
have a better chance of listing the specific town, village or region, than an
English language newspaper would.
Many of our immigrant ancestors applied for citizenship
in the U.S. The immigrant often applied through the county court house,
though in some states, it was done at the federal court house or state supreme
court house. One should check the particular state's rules and regulations
for such information. The records might be kept in that State's Archives.
In addition to checking these places, one may find a microfilm copy of the forms
at the Regional National Archives of that region.
Applying was a two part process. The first step was
filling out a Declaration of Intent (also commonly known as First Papers).
After a certain period of time, the immigrant could fill out a Petition for
Naturalization. The information changed on both of these forms from time
to time. A general rule is that papers filed after 1906 contain much more
information that earlier ones. Earlier forms might only include a country
of birth, whereas later forms asked for specific information on the subject of
place of birth.
Remember that our immigrant ancestors were not forced to
apply for Naturalization. Likewise, even if you know for a fact that an
ancestor did not become a citizen, that person may have still applied for either
the Declaration of Intent.
I've found Naturalization Papers after 1906 to be
excellent sources for determining an ancestor's home town/village. But
keep in mind the great possibility of copying errors, misspellings, and the
americanization of foreign place names. One may need to consult a
gazetteer when finding such a place.
For more information on this valuable subject, please
visit the website created by the
National Archives and Records Administration .
Many of our ancestors applied for social security in the
U.S. You can search the U.S. Social Security Death Index right on the
world wide web. (Actually, this way is better than the CD ROM versions
since the web sites are continually updated with new names.) You can
find the Index in many places through the web, either for pay (if you belong to
such a service) or for free. Here is a link to the Rootsweb site which
offers the Index search for free:
http://ssdi.genealogy.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi/. The Index does
not contain the names of all deceased people, nor all deceased people who once
applied for the benefits. And, as with all other secondary sources, the
information may be incorrect. I've found such inconsistencies (which can
be reported to the agency).
The information provided in the index includes the full
name, birth date and death date (sometimes only the month/year or just the year
is provided), state in which issued the application and state of residence at
time of death as indicated in the agency's records. The real information,
however, is found on the original application filled out in the bearer's own
handwriting. One can order a copy of the original application for a fee
from the Social Security Administration.
Social Security Administration
OEO FOIA Workgroup
300 N. Green Street
P.O. Box 33022
Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022
An excellent exercise for the more advanced genealogist
is to track down information on your own family by searching and studying all
other surnames popular in your village. Use this methodology when studying all
U.S. Census records
Cemetery gravestones and records
Church and Civic Vital Records
Of course, this advanced method takes time to develop.
One must first become extremely familiar with all of the surnames from the
ancestral village. Keep in mind that there are some common names that
could be found in nearly all villages across the region, such as Kuchma/Kuczma,
Kozlowski, Majewski, Nowak. These names are so popular that it
is difficult to weed out which people really come from your region and which do
not. It's always a best idea to start tracking immigrants with
not-so-common names first.
Keep a detailed log of all of the places you visit and
the resources you use. Although the particular resource could seem limited
in its usefulness at the moment, a few months from now you may wish to revisit
and reexamine. See my Case Study below to see
how successful this method can be!
Other places to look which do not usually list detailed
information on an ancestral village, but which could be checked.
Information found here can help narrow down the field of choices or aid in using
the resources listed above.
Usually these records do not give specific information to place of birth.
They are, nonetheless, a good resource that should be checked. One can
track family movement within a U.S. city or town, useful for using census
records, cross checking with current phone books to find living relatives, or
visiting the home for photographs; see members of the family for years for which
no census records are available; check occupation for evidence leading to
employment records; and much more!
Sometimes you can find the birthplace of someone by checking the actual
gravestone. Through working on the Cemetery Inscription Project with the
Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast, Inc., I have
visited many cemeteries extracting complete information from all gravestones.
My experience shows me that this was rarely done with the Polish cemeteries.
However, I have often seen village names and povit (county) names on gravestones
at Ukrainian cemeteries.
U.S. census records rarely give such detailed information. Usually, one
will see the place of birth listed as "Ukraine", "Ukrainia"
(sounds nice in English, yes?),
"Ruthenia" (usually meaning Ukraine, maybe parts of today's southeastern
Poland or eastern Slovakia), "Poland", "Galicia" or
"Austria". Such information is usually limited in terms of locating
specific places of birth. However, they are important records containing a
great wealth of information that should always be carefully consulted. For
more information on the question of Ruthenia and of Ruthenians, visit my
page on the subject.
"Surfing" / Searching
The internet is a great place to search for both specific information on your
own ancestors, as well as for general reference material on your ancestral
parish, village, town or region. In order to search the World Wide Web,
you must choose a search engine. Different search engines
will yield different results, commonly known as hits. Therefore,
it's a good idea to frequently check your favorite interests on different search
One of many good search engines is
www.dogpile.com. Here you can search many of the most popular search
engines all at once. By putting your search criteria in once on
www.dogpile.com, you'll get results for
different search engines, such as Google, FAST, Ask Jeeves, About and others.
Hot Tip! If you're searching on string of
information, say, New York City, put it all in quotes, like this: "New
York City". Most search engines will recognize your search criteria as one
unique string or line. If you don't use the quotes, you'll get pages that
contain the word
new and the word york and the word city...but not
necessarily next to each other. (Example, you'll get a hit for a new
restaurant opening up outside the city of York in England!)
Don't forget to search Polish search engines, as well, in
order to look for related sites mostly maintained in Poland. Popular ones
Remember to use Polish diacritic marks (real Polish
letters) in order to get the best results. In addition to searching on the
surname Nowinski, try it with the proper Polish letters Nowiński.
A Case Study:
Searching for Ivan Kocan and the village of Ostriv/Ostrów
Perhaps the following case study will help you in your
search for your own ancestral village. Here is an example of a typical
search for a village using research techniques and hints I describe throughout
I was interested in learning the place of birth of my
great-grandfather, Ivan Kocan. My first step was
to ask living relatives for this and any other related information.
All I was able to learn was that he was Greek Catholic and spoke Ukrainian and
Polish fluently, though preferred Ukrainian. I then tried to locate as
many American based records and documents for any information.
One should not get too overzealous and jump to finding resources in
Europe. Start closest to home and work your way out.
The first and best place to find ancestral home
information is at
the ethnic church. I obtained an extract of
his marriage record. He was married to Jóyefa Gulka
at St. Stanislaus B & M Church on 7th Street in New York City. Even though
I knew he was a member of St. George's Greek Catholic Church a couple blocks
away from St. Stanislaus, the marriage took place at the bride's church.
(I learned this information from asking relatives.)
The marriage record listed Ivan Kocan's name as Jan Kocan, and his place
of birth as Ostrów. Now, if you don't know
the basics of the Polish and Ukrainian languages, something like this would
throw you way off course. But with basic knowledge of the languages (or
access to books on the subject), you can easily see how useful the information
Jan is simply the Polish equivalent to the Ukrainian Ivan (which, by the
way, is John in English).
As a genealogist, we often must make some generalizations
in our research. Of course, we do not have to stick to these
generalizations since they may turn out to be wrong. But such
generalizations allow us to take our research in certain predictable directions.
In this case, since I knew some basic facts about Ivan Kocan, I could assume
that he was born in Halychyna/Eastern Galicia, and that his country of birth was
probably Austria-Hungary, as opposed to the Russian Empire.
My next step was to find Ostrów.
Using several gazetteers, as described in detail on my
gazetteer pages, I learned that there were many
places called Ostrów. I also learned that the
Ukrainian version of this place name is Ostriv. This allows me to search
both Polish and Ukrainian language resources. But how was I to know which
Ostriv/Ostrów was the right one? So, I checked
other American based documents. The good news was that I found lots of
documents related to him....but the bad news was that they did not provide
His cemetery stone
is in Ukrainian and stated that he was born
в Острові (v Ostrovi). Again, if you
didn't know the language well enough, you might think that there was another
village called Ostrovi. However, this is NOT the case. The
word Ostrovi is NOT the name of a different village, but a form of the
Ostriv. It happens to be the grammatical form of the locative case, in
other words, a special letter mutation and/or ending occurs. (When you
want to say "in a place", you usually use the Ukrainian preposition "v" +
the Locative Grammatical Case.) In this instance, "v Ostrovi" means
"in Ostriv". Although this doesn't help me with details, it
does confirm the information found on the marriage record.
Next I found his
Naturalization Papers. As if to prove several research problems
associated with Galician genealogy, the place of birth was listed as Lviv, in
addition to having a different age and date of birth! (But since all of
the other information matched, such as address, wife's name, and all three
children's names, I am convinced that this is the correct record.) This
means that he listed the nearest largest city as opposed to putting down the
name of the tiny village he comes from. New York
State and US census records simply listed Austria as the place of birth.
I then went in search of his
passenger list records. Actually, I had done this as one of the first
steps. But since I was not able to find his name in the index, I put off
the search for some time. Then came Ellis Island Records.org on the
internet. This way, I was able to use various search techniques.
For the first name, I tried variations of his name:
- Iwan (Polish spelling of Ukrainian name)
- Jan (Polish variation)
- Yan (English spelling of Polish variation)
- Ian (another English spelling of Polish variation)
For the last name, I tried:
- Kacan (possible misinterpretation of vowel)
- Kocon (possible misinterpretation of vowel)
- Kozan (German spelling of name)
I eventually found his passenger record under the name
Jan Kozan. But looking at the handwritten copy of the record, I could
see that it was really written Kocan. Now, the passenger list
record stated that Ostriv was both his last residence and birthplace.
But no details as to which Ostriv.
So, I tried the fellow villager/passenger method of
According to this methodology, you search on a
particular surname to see if any others with this same name came
from the same village. You then study
their records and search for any other fellow passengers they were traveling
with from the same village. Write these names down. Then
study the detailed records looking at other surnames of people
they either left behind in Europe or were going to see. Write down
these names as well and study the other names listed. This method will not
only help you identify a particular place both in Galicia as well as other North
American locations to be researched, it may lead to other ancestors!
Using this methodology in this example, I saw that Ivan
Kocan was coming to America to stay with a cousin named
Dmytro Kurylas. So, I searched for Dmytro Kurylas' passenger
record. Although I couldn't find a listing for this particular person, I
immediately found several other people with the surname Kurylas
who came from a village called Ostriv. And on one of these
passenger lists I found that a Teodor Kurylas listed his last permanent
Szczyrzec. Based on my initial research in the gazetteers, I know that
Szczerzec (Ukrainian name Щирець/Shchyrets')
was one of the counties of an
village. (The spelling Szczyrec is a mix of Polish and Ukrainian
variations!) I had found the right village! Success!