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Friday, August 14, 2009

Researching Your Foreign Ancestors Online & Elsewhere

It can be a bit disheartening when you start chasing a family line, and you soon find yourself in a foreign country, like Denmark, Italy or Czechoslovakia. What do you do next? How can you further your family research if you can’t afford a trip overseas and you don’t speak the language?

Well believe it or not, you actually have several options. They all involve a little work, mind you - nothing quite so simple as typing your name into, but it doesn’t have to be all that much harder!

There are two ways to access foreign records yourself without going overseas - on microfilm and online. Microfilmed records allow you access to the world, but as close as your local Family History Center. For example, you might read through the parish records of small towns in Europe that may date back into the 1500s. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sent people all over the world, filming vital records and family histories from every country, resulting in over two million rolls of microfilm and microfiche. You can peruse these films at, by searching through the Library Catalog (under the Library tab). I explained this in more detail on my previous post about the website.

Many countries have lots of valuable genealogical records available online as well, in archives and other websites. But these sites won’t normally turn up in your standard Google search because searches in English often limit results to sites in English as well. Thats why you want to use the Google Language Tools. From the main Google page, just to the right of the search box are the words “Language Tools”. If you click on this, it will bring up another web page, with several options, but the very first is a goldmine. From “Search across languages” you may type in your search term, leaving your language as English, and then choose the language you would like to search in. (I would recommend ~genealogy – searching with the tilde in front of the word genealogy will include all synonyms of the word genealogy, ie, family history, pedigree, ancestors, etc). The search results will be foreign genealogy websites, originally written in the language you chose, but translated into English!

If you already have an address of a foreign site that you would like to translate, from the Google Language Tools page you can scroll down and paste the address in, choose your language options, and voila! The webpage is now in English!

Finally, if you just don’t want to deal with the research and translation on your own, you could consider hiring a professional genealogist who specializes in that country. The Association of Professional Genealogists keeps a list of members that you can search ( to find someone who may fit your needs. You can also google “Professional Genealogists” and the country you are researching. Another option is a fairly new website service called You can post your project for free and with no obligation, and choose from the researchers who bid on your job based on qualifications and price. It’s a very convenient way of connecting folks.

Don’t let a little thing like language or distance stop your research!

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