22 January 2017

What If There's No There There?

How do you find documents from your ancestor's hometown if you can't find it on any map?

Did the Town Change its Name?

Sometimes your genealogy research requires some history research. For example, I learned that my great great grandmother's town, which family members often heard her mention, had changed its name after World War II.

The name change hampered my search for a while, but the truth was out there. I was able to visit the town in 2005 after I discovered its current name.

Beautiful Pesco Sannita—formerly Pescolamazza.
Beautiful Pesco Sannita—formerly Pescolamazza.

Did the Borders Move?

Then there are situations like this: You search for your Polish family's hometown only to find it in Germany. "How could they not know they're German?" you ask.

But a little Googling of the history will tell you that the Germany/Poland border fluctuated over time. So your ancestor came to America from Poland, but if he were to return today, he'd be going to Germany.

When you can't find what you believe to be your ancestor's hometown on the map, use a search engine to learn about the surrounding area. What events happened there after your ancestor's emigration?

Didn't They Love Their Homeland?

When I first began looking into my two grandfathers' decision to leave the idyllic Italian countryside I'd visited to come live in a cramped apartment in the Bronx, New York, I couldn't understand it. (See Why Did They Come To America?.)

How could they leave the most peaceful place on earth to come to the gritty city?

Then I read about the extreme poverty and lack of hope in Southern Italy as early as the 1800s.

My grandfathers were faced with the idea of never being more than a menial worker who sold his products only to his own little town. They each followed the example of a relative who found almost unlimited work in American coal mines and railroad yards.

It must have seemed like their only option because—and this amazes me—they came to America and never saw their families again.

It is quite hard to imagine. So read about it. Don't ignore the history that goes along with your ancestor's immigration.

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