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Genealogy: Library Article

Introductory Remarks for Genealogical Research
by Bill Tarkulich

(Copyright©2001 Bill Tarkulich)

Here's my getting started discourse. It’s somewhat disorganized and rambling, but contains critical starting off points for many of us. This is a hobby for me. Someday things will be organized. Some of it may not apply (My primary area of research was Upper Hungary (Slovakia) Austro-Hungary). I hope you find some of it useful. Bill Tarkulich


    A. Village Identification
    B. INS
    D. U.S. Church
    APPENDIX D: USA Alien Registration

A. Village Identification

You really have to get to a town or village to make any significant progress in overseas research. Here are my suggestions.

You know more than you think. You know who the immigrant individual was. You know when they died and roughly how old they were. You can then estimate a date of birth. You also know where they lived, where they were buried. You might know what language they spoke. You might know where they went to church. You may not know all these answers, but you've got a start.


If they immigrated, you can petition the INS (see APPENDIX A) for their papers. These contain place of birth info. Especially useful if they were living in the U.S. in 1940. (Read the APPENDIX D). [NOTE: these messages were first posted in the\iarelative forum.


If they were working in 1937, and you think they had a Soc. Sec. number (you don't need to know it), you can petition the SSA for their SSA application.

D. U.S. Church

Go to their church. Find birth records for their children, for their marriage, perhaps. Many times their place of birth is there.

An equally important source for me was marriage records. My GP's immigrated separately but married in Scranton. I found 3 potential churches that are/were GK/Byzantine or contained a large Slovak population. I called each one, asked the priest about what records were kept. Then I wrote to the likely church, knowing that their marriage was within a +- five year range. They ask you to write (this gives you an opportunity to enclose a donation. Remember, they are not geneologists). Couple weeks later, I had the marriage records: it identified where they were from in Europe and their ages and witnesses. Helps confirm what town to look in. You could also ask for records the church they attended in the US might have - their children's baptismal records, parish rosters, etc.


If you can estimate their date of immigration (before or after 1902) the INS has has an SOUNDEX indexing system by last name, that might help you find their passenger list arrival record. This also contains place of birth.

Other immigration records held by the National Archives are described here

A handy SOUNDEX convert is found at


US Census records can get you some info if you have an idea where they lived at a specific census year. The US census records from 1910/20 might be useful as well, if you know where they lived in the US. I believe the LDS has copies. See The 1910/20 census is available in it’s entirety at most any Mormon Family History Center.

Census records are partially SOUNDEX indexed. See A handy SOUNDEX convert is found at


I started by drawing up a year-by-year chronology, with what I knew, and then I began educated guesses at other dates - dates of birth, marriage, etc. I wrote down where they lived, where I though they immigrated into. Rumors, legends and folklore all should be noted and considered. There must have been others who knew these people or their children. I pestered my cousins till finally they dug out an old church book. It had nothing in it but the individuals name and an old county name from Austria Hungary. Bingo! got me to a country and a region.

Certain ethnicities, religious faiths were found in clusters in Europe. Sometimes customs can give a clue - Easter Egg patterns tended to be specific to specific regions, for example. Don't know the church, but know the town? Call the priests, rabbis or ministers. They know alot. I suspected my GP's immigrated first, then married in Scranton. No evidence, just a hunch. I called 3 Byzantine churches in Scranton. The first one said, "nope, not here, this church wasn't even around till 1925." I knew they had moved on before 1925, there was only one at that time." I wrote that church and asked the priest to look for ANY birth or marriage records between 1895 and 1910. I knew her maiden name, along with his surname. He found it in a blink. Had the places of birth right on the marriage cert.

So, put your detective hat on and get to work. There's going to be a lot of gum shoeing on your part. Don't expect to throw out your surnames and expect someone to recognize them. The world is big and people were mobile. Expect the unexpected. Seek spelling variants. The INS will be the first to tell you it wasn't them who transformed surnames. They were instructed to be as accurate as possible, they had quite a bunch of interpreters (see ). It tended to be the shipping companies who first wrote down the passenger list and handed it to the INS at arrival who changed things around. It also was the immigrants themselves who wanted to make it easier to pronouce or to Americanize it (fearing discrimination). My GM's name went from DZUBA to JUBA.

When doing your village research, you WILL become confused about exactly what town it is and what country it is/was in. For that, I've got a few prescriptions.


1. HISTORICAL RESEARCH - Brief yourself on the history of the areas you research, especially the time in which your ancestor was born and immigrated to America. Then try to get an understanding of what happened to the area between then and now. You'll need this in order to use the many fabulous tools available on the internet, especially old and new maps. There are many old maps on the web nowadays.

2. SHTETLSEEKER - Use . It is a town locator, complete with a link to a map generator. Don’t tell anyone, but this is my major secret weapon! This is an awesome tool once you want to start testing locations you suspect. You can search by the whole Eastern European nations or limit it to specific countries. You can also do a sounds-like (SOUNDEX) search. This helps tremendously when you find someone who says ... "I remember them saying blah, blah, but I don't know how to spell it".

Village names changed and villages disappeared. Your immigrant ancestors probably knew it by a different name than it is called today. ShtetlSeeker contains both old and new names and it's response will give you both. ShtetlSeeker may be the best genealogical secret weapon on the web (and it's free!).

Shtetlseeker is also great when you get a name, but don't know where to find it. Don't forget that towns will have multiple spellings, depending on the language of the empire ruling or the mapmaker. For example, my ancestral village of Zboj is "Harcos" in Hungarian (recall that the Austro-Hungarian (AH) empire ruled Slovakia at the time my grandparents immigrated). And no, you don't need to be Jewish to use it!

The Austro-Hungarian empire causes many beginning researchers a lot of grief. They might have been told that they immigrated from "Austria" or "Hungary" or "Austria-Hungary". You have to trace that pre WW1 name forward to it's present day territory name.


Once you've got a location, go to the Mormon's Family History Center site, to see what records they have. The Mormons have the largest genealogical collection in the word. It is based in Salt Lake City, but has branches in nearly every one of it's churches worldwide. It operates much like a small town library. They don't try to convert you and they are very congenial. Don't however expect them to necessarily know a lot about your area of research. They are volunteers from the local church.

When I started I had two surnames and some folklore that they were from the Ukraine, Russia or Czechoslovakia.

Not all of these suggestions will work for you, but some of them probably will.

J. SOME INSPIRATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT… YOU’LL NEED IT! Here is what has contributed to my knowledge.

    1. Read everything. Especially all the geneology and country web sites, even if they are not your heritage. The area we search in was victimized, dominated and controlled by a seemingly endless number of conquerors. It took me 3-4 months just to figure out who was in charge during the time period I was searching 1800's to 1900's.
    2. Question everything, especially the seemingly obvious. Insist on corroborative evidence.
    3. Be persistent. Never give up.
    4. Contribute to these discussion groups - you get so much more in return. Check your ego at the door; listen to other's feedback. Learn from your mistakes, erroneous presumptions.
    5. Contact everyone. I've made contact with relatives in Slovakia who have been very helpful.
    5a. Contact family elders and ask, ask, ask. Note everything they tell you. Ask for documents. Things come back to them in fragments. It's up to you to reconstruct family history.
    6. Try to get a general understanding of history as it relates to the area. Drill down on those issues that affect your search directly.
    7. Use the Mormon site extensively. I was especially lucky that they made a priority of filming the Zemplin records first.
    8. Turn over every stone, even if it seems like it's duplicate info.
    9. Trust your gut instict, which develops as your search continues. In all cases demand of yourself that you prove your conclusion by locating corroborative evidence.

If it's any inspiration, I only started my search about 10 months ago, knowing only that my GP's were from Czechoslovakia - no year, no town, no nothing!

Keep on pluggin. Future generations will thank you for it.


The following was a question and answer thread that I authored at forum. The answers are my responses.

Q: I am curious about your grandmother who would have made the alien registration report yearly. My grandmother also never became a US citizen...and I remember my mother saying something about her at one time having to report yearly. Do you know if there is a record of that report on file somewhere? And if there is, can a relative have access to it? Any thoughts would be appreciated

A: Yes, they were supposed to file yearly, but it does not look like the INS hung onto every record. What I did find was the 1940 registration that every alien was required to fill out when the US was getting jittery about the onset of WW2(see historical context at INS, ). I also found one card from 1950. That was the entire file.

I started with the National archives. They said they could not find anything in their records in Maryland. They then forwarded my request to the INS Buffalo NY branch which is where they said my GP's records would be (immigrated circa 1903). About 4 weeks later I received the entire file. I have surmised that if there were no naturalization records on file with the INS, they remained Resident Aliens their entire lives.

You make these requests thru the freedom of information act. Some info on the process can be found at You can also look in the reference section of most genealogy sites for details on where to write and what info to include. I got a response in about 8 months.

Q: I am curious what type of information were you able to access. Did it give genealogical information such as birthplace? Parents? Marriage information...dates, spouses, etc.? Children?

A: Go to thes link I gave in my last message and view the Alien Reg. Card sample. It had all this info - dob, citizenship, when they arrived, port, ship name, nr. children, employer, etc. Mine was almost completely filled in, and it was typed - a big plus in g- research.

Of all the documents, the INS file was the most significant find in my case, though I got it last. The INS page tells you what info you need to provide in your request.

Q: did you use the INS form G-639 to make your request, or did you just write a letter identifying your grandmother by name...maiden and married...DOB...and place of birth??? with a request of the A-Files? Also, did you pay in advance for the service or did you just instruct the INS to bill you later?

A: Yes, I did use G639. I made sure that it was clear what her married name and maiden names were. I didn't know the immigration date for certain, so I gave a range. I did know the date of birth, but was uncertain of the year. DOB can be helpful if they see 2 people with the same name. I wrote down the names of a couple of ships that people thought they heard and put question marks after them. Every place I didn't know, I put a question mark. If there was a brother, child or parent's name that might be relevant, I noted it.

I requested a Declaration of Intent(DOI) document, knowing this is the richest in info. In the end, there was no naturalization process, but the office used good judgement and without me asking, sent the entire file. Might be good to just ask for everything on file?

The key is to include any info that might be HELPFUL, rather than filling out the form verbatim. I asked for copies. I made it clear it was for geneology purposes and that this was my grandmother, so it really mattered to me (not to be used as part of some legal proceedings, etc.). I left a phone number and I said THANK YOU. My thought was if you recognize these clerks are doing this manually, and you make their job easier or more pleasant, they are more apt to persist in finding the record.

I read enough to know that immigration records of that period could have been kept by local, state or federal offices, courts, INS or otherwise. At the same time I wrote to the town clerk where they lived to see if they could find any records - nothing. I called the federal court looking to see if they retained immigration records. Some do. This one did, but had nothing. Turn over more stones.

You don't have to pay anything from the INS unless it's over some very reasonable threshold. My 4 pages came thru at no charge. If there's a charge, they'll notify you and expect payment (before or after delivery of the file, unknown).

You might have a difficult situation - Your immigrants died before 1940, which was the first time info was mandated for all immigrants. However, you seem to suggest that first papers were filed, so you might have that DOI on file. It would be most helpful. You can see one at

Q: Did you have to prove who you are with documentation, your birth cetificate, and your parents to grandparents before obtaining the Alien Rgistration Information from the INS?

A: I think technically you are supposed to by supplying birth certificates for each person back to the one you are researching. That said, I only sent in the immigrant's death certificate (copy) and I got everything. I think if you explain your relationship you'd be all set. Probably depends on who works your request and how diplomatically you present yourself.


Don't forget to petition for a copy of the Social Security Application. It contains their parent's names and place of origin/citizenship. SS began in 1936 and all employees were required by law to obtain one by 1937.


The only way I know of identifying the country is to nail down the village or nearest village to where he was born. In my case, no one knew for certain. I found the village in each of the following documents:

a) Marriage record in America
b) 1940 Alien Registration
c) Social Security Number Application

Once you have that, using's shetlseeker will help locate it.

I'm sure there are other ways, but this is what worked for me, my GP's having immigrated circa 1904.

APPENDIX D: USA Alien Registration

In 1940, the US Government, getting jittery about a war breaking out, required all aliens to register. I have received my Grandmother's form from the INS recently. It contains a boatload of information. Even if your immigrant never became a naturalized citizen, as long as he/she resided in the US in 1940, it was require to be filled out. Contains when/where/how they immigrated, where they immigrated from (*village name*, in most cases) You may petition the INS for a copy of this document. This is a treasure trove of information.


More of my Q & A:

Q: How do I go about ordering one?

A: Fill out this form: It's a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Then determine where to send it. Make sure you send documentation that attests how you are related and proof of death (death certificate, obituary) if the death occurred less than 100 years ago. This will speed things up immensely. Read the info at

I started by sending it to the National Archives in D.C./Maryland. Though no info was found there, they did know which office was correct (my case, INS, Buffalo, NY) and forwarded it. It’s been my experience that you may have to petition multiple offices before you suceed, as rules for immigration and naturalization archives changed quite a bit in the early days. DO expect it to take several months, and DO NOT be suprise if you are shuttled around from office to office.


T. Cogdon wrote:

First, figure out the SOUNDEX Code(s) for the surname(s) you are researching. explains what SOUNDEX is all about. A handy SOUNDEX convert is found at

Then order from the LDS, the microfilms for that specified SOUNDEX code for the Passenger Lists for the Port of New York.

Choose a magnifying type of viewer to read the SOUNDEX Microfilms you have ordered because the entries are tiny.

Plan on spending a good amount of time viewing the SOUNDEX lists for each surname you choose. It is very helpful to know the age of the person who immigrated, the first name, country of origin. If you are fortunate, the names you are researching were not in abundance in 1922. Otherwise, plan to find several entries on the microfilm for the name. You will have to decide which entries closing match the individual you are looking for in the Port of New York.

Then when you have selected the closest matches, then look up again the NARA volume numbers for the entries. Two things can happen here:

1. The name of the vessel is given along with the date of entry in the Port of New York, the group number, and the list number.

(Now here is the tricky part, if you know the name of the passenger ship, then you have to look up the date to find the corresponding NARA volume and the LDS microfilm number to order. However, depending on when the ships manifest was completed and how long the ship was in harbor, the date you need may be on one or another microfilm. You may have to order the microfilm for the exact date and perhaps the next date. You will not know for sure which microfilm the ship is on until you view the microfilms and see the ship's name listed. Also, often there is more than one NARA volume on the LDS microfilm. You will have to inspect each film index thoroughly to see if the ship is listed on that microfilm.)

2. Or the NARA Volume number, the group number, and the list number is given. Acually, this is the better scenario because then you only have to look up the NARA volume number and see what LDS microfilm number to order. [Example: volume 987-988 (two volumes on one microfilm to read) September 22, 1904..........LDS number 1399181 Then you would order 1399181.] (I am only using this example because it is one I had readily available for reference.)

Ron Svec added:

If you know the date of arrival and the name of the ship, the NARA page
can help identify which T715 microfilm roll need be ordered.

The NARA page will give you the T621 microfilm rolls to order if you have to go the SOUNDEX route.


I can explain the way the Family History Centers (FHC) work around NH and MA, which I believe is the same nationwide.

  • a) You have to request the films in person & pay a small fee for each film or fiche ordered (here it's $3.50). They send the request to Salt Lake, the films take 4-6 weeks to arrive. You will be assigned a FHC patron number for administrative purposes.
  • b) When the film arrives, they will send you a postcard.
  • c) The film can be viewed at the local FHC (call for hours first). Nights and weekends can get very busy and they might limit you to 1 or 2 hours if it's really busy.
  • d) The films will be kept at the FHC for 30 days, and then returned to Salt Lake. For an additional fee, they will extend for another 30 days (sometimes you can extend even longer than that). You can decide that when you're near the end of your 1st month. Extensions must also be done & paid for in person.
  • e) My local FHC's have facilities for printing to paper film and fiche. 25 cents each up here. I always bring at least $10 with me for copies. I copy a lot, since I know my time will be limited and I can't remove the film.
  • f) If this is really a film you desire to have for your own, and you have access to a reader, Salt Lake will make a copy of the film for you, for a fee. You can inquire at the desk about that.

That's the way things work up here. The people are very nice and helpful. But remember, they're volunteers, and may not necessarily know alot themselves. They likely won't be able to read the films for you, (If the title is in Hungarian, it's up to you to figure out what it says) but they will know how to help you find reference material. Perhaps others can comment also.

I've always enjoyed my time at the FHC. Nice people, God Bless them!

The Mormons (Later Day Saints, abbreviated by many as LDS) operate the Family History Library (FHL). They microfilm records relevant to genealogical research and have the largestt collection in the world. They have even filmed some of the National Archives (i.e., Passenger Arrival lists, Census records). Most every Mormon Church has a FHL branch appended to it. Best of all, it's open to everyone. They are super kind and I am forever grateful to them.

Start here:

Search their index of records here:
remember, the online web only is a card catalog of their holdings, most of which are on microfilm and microfiche (which are stored in Salt Lake and can be requested much the same way an inter-library loan works). Salt Lake has many original manuscripts and books which do not circulate.

Find a library near you:


Mark Sabol contributed:

Don't let the language problem keep you from going through the church registries. Since the information is each entry is the same, with a few occasional exceptions, you can quickly figure out the meaning of the few words that appear over and over again. And if the records are in Latin, you will find that you already know the meanings of most of the words: "parenti," "sponsori," "defuncti," etc. Most of the important information in the registries is in the personal names and dates.


See for an online versionof this invaluable resource.

This article appears here with permission of the author.