The Adopted Genealogist

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1930 Buick from Ed Ochs Sr. CollectionFor most people, figuring out where you came from is just a matter of asking mom or dad or any other member of the family. Sure you might not get a full family tree back to the 1500s, but at least there’s a good chance you’ll get some idea of a starting point from which you can begin your genealogy research. But for many of us who were adopted, it’s not such a simple matter. However, adoption and the challenges it poses do not have to be reasons to avoid genealogy. So, I’m sharing my own story as an example of what type of research can be done and why I believe genealogy can still be worth pursuing even if you are adopted.

My efforts in exploring my family’s past began in third grade in response to an assignment to figure out what countries my family came from. Although I was fully aware at the time I was adopted, I never even thought back then to make a distinction between my own ancestral past and my adopted family’s past. Their story was my story. Perhaps this is because they were always sharing so much about the family, and as my brother and I grew up we too were woven into the family tapestry. But eventually I started to wonder, where did I really come from?

Like many adoptions, mine was closed; the records were sealed. Because of this I thought there was really little hope for finding any facts about birthparents much less ancestors. So over the years, I instead focused on the genealogy of my adopted family and expanded my research and skills as more online resources became available. I started to work on family histories for other people. Eventually I got married and had my own children. And for the first time I had someone around who was a blood relation. I also realized as each child was born, in a strange sort of way, I was getting the opportunity to meet my ancestors through my children.

I think it was this glimpse into the past that pushed me to take advantage of the ability to request non-identifying information from the agency that handled my adoption. I had not previously done this thinking it would not be worth it – was I ever wrong. Initially all I got was the age of both parents at my birth, their profession, and their nationality. By itself, that did not do much. But it led me to take the next step which was to request the agency to make contact with my birth family to see if they were interested in talking with me. Unfortunately they said no. However, I did find out other critical information from this. My birth mother had just passed away – it was her sister who had denied the request for contact thinking my birth grandmother, who was dealing with this death and her husband’s illness, would not need another thing to deal with.

So I took the information I learned which was a range of birth and death dates for my birth mother, her first name, the state where she passed away, the nationality information, and after about eight years of research and waiting for records to come online, I was finally able to figure out her name. Looking back, I don’t think I could have done this if she had not passed away and if I had not had access to genealogy records.  The end result was I was finally able to make contact with the rest of the family and eventually meet them. Although this allowed me to begin researching the genealogy of my maternal line, the meeting also provided a type of closure for me. I also think it did  the same for my birth grandmother. From what I was told, she was the one who decided I should be given up for adoption or was at least very influential in the decision. She had to wonder all those years if it was the right thing to do, and I think our visit convinced her it was. I had been well taken care of and was raised by a good family.

My next challenge came in finding my birth father – with my birth mother gone, I believe only my birth aunt and birth grandmother knew who he was, and they were not telling. So again using genealogy sites, I found several people who I thought might also know his name. I think without these sites and the help of a few critical people I would have never figured out his name. Unfortunately for me, when we did contact him, he was not interested in meeting me or my family at all. But on a more positive note, I was able to talk to other members of his side of the family including his sister before she passed away. Since then, I’ve located many wonderful living relatives on my paternal side to add to those I found on my birthmother’s side.

Through my entire search for my birth parents, I made use of many typical genealogical records such as social security indexes, obituaries, public records, marriage indexes, death certificates, newspaper clippings, probate files, city directories, and archived yearbooks. It was not easy; it took a lot of time and patience, and there were frustrations along the way. But that is also typical of genealogy in general. What I also learned as I stepped back through time was that adoptions happened in many families. Sometimes they were openly acknowledged and sometimes they remained hidden until recent DNA testing brought them to light. So even though you might think you are researching a “bloodline” in reality you might one day find it is actually an adoptive line.

Overall, the discoveries of my birth family’s past have turned into an amazing adventure that I hope to continue exploring. However, this article would not be complete if I didn’t return to my adopted family. I think of my grandfather on the paternal side of my adoptive family as a kind of patriarch. He was very interested in and proud of his ancestors and rightly so – they represent an old German family that immigrated in the early 1800s, worked hard as farmers, and today have many descendants. He most definitely wanted his family history documented and shared, and he knew I, along with a few other members of our family, had a great interest in doing this. The fact that I am adopted made no difference to him – he knew his story is my story too. Because while we might arrive here through a certain set of ancestors, the history we carry forward is not just our own, but also that of those around us with whom we have shared our lives. And genealogy can greatly assist us in this task.

 

Note: For those who were adopted in Illinois, good news! A couple years ago, the state changed the law to allow us to receive our original birth certificate with the names of our birth parents. You can find out more about how to go about getting your certificate by visitinghttp://www.idph.state.il.us/vitalrecords/vital/non_certified.htm.

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Genealogy Resources: Family Search Website – Part 2

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This article is a follow-up to my last post about the FamilySearch.org website and covers some of the remaining features offered by the site. First we’ll go through the Family Tree section of the site. You can get to this by clicking the “Family Tree” button on the home page. Doing so takes you to an interactive tree where you can begin adding your family. When you click the prompt in a box to add someone, FamilySearch offers you a template with space to fill in a name and life event such as birth, marriage, or death. You can also add the names of parents and a spouse. However, you might notice the button to submit this is labeled “Find” rather than “Add.” This is because the intention of the site is to have one massive family tree that everyone contributes to. So when you add someone in your family, the site will look in its existing tree to see if there is a match and offer you a list of people who might be your ancestor. If you find your relative in that list and choose the match, that person along with all the other data already attached to that person is automatically added to your tree.

Family Tree Example on FamilySearch.org

For example when I started building my section of the tree on this site, I was able to add myself and my father. But once I searched for my grandfather, Edwin O. Ochs, I found his information had already been added to the site along with his entire known ancestry back to Valentine Ochs who was born in 1789 in Germany. I wasn’t surprised the information was already there because Valentine’s descendents are numerous, and the genealogy of the family has been well researched and shared with many family members. In contrast, there had been no entries for my grandmother’s maternal ancestors on my mother's side. So I was able to contribute information tracing her ancestry back to my 3X great grandfather, Johann Szwajkowski, who was born in 1804 in Poland.

Check the sources and add your own

My intention in creating a family tree on this site has not been to use this as my “official” family tree because the site allows anyone to edit any person added to or already found on the site. This prevents me from keeping track of exactly what information is added to an ancestor and ensuring it is backed by a good source. So instead I use this site as a way to discover unknown ancestors or leads I might not otherwise find. If you decide to use the site for a similar purpose, the key is to check out the sources of any information you use from the FamilySearch tree before you actually add it to your own tree that you have set up with your own software package.

To check a source of information in the FamilySearch tree, just click a person’s name to see if any sources have been attached. Within my own family tree, I have noticed there were not too many sources in the data that I added from the existing FamilySearch database. So at this point I would be very careful about using any of the information I found there that differed from my own research unless I could verify it with sources. If I do change or add information on their site for an ancestor I found in their database, I do attach a source so people can see where I got that information and why I changed it.

Taking it offline

Long before the Internet, genealogists relied on accessing the records held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through the organization’s Family History Centers. So if records you need have not yet been posted online, you can still view them by requesting the microfilm holding this information. The LDS Church will then send the microfilm to the Family History Center of your choice. When you are notified the microfilm has arrived, you can visit the Center when it is open and view the film. Because a whole article can be written on the Family History Centers, I’ll only focus here on how the online site can help you get this microfilm.

Using FamilySearch.org to order microfilm

To find and order the microfilm you need, choose the “Search” button on the FamilySearch.org website. This takes you to the page we covered in the last article. But instead of putting in our information like we did before to find our relative, this time we are going to choose “Catalog” from the menu bar. This will bring you to a page where you can type in the name of a place where you believe your ancestors lived. As you start typing, several options will show up. You can either keep typing or move down to select one of the suggestions.

For example, I started typing in “Stobierna” which is the birthplace of some of my husband’s ancestors. Two options showed up, and knowing Stobierna is near Rzeszów, I chose the suggestion with that location. This brought me to a results page showing there are two church records for Stobierna. Here is one of the links shown:

Ksiegi metrykalne, 1784-1867, Kosciol rzymsko-katolicki. Parafja Stobierna (Rzeszow)

So by choosing that link, I am taken to a page showing the available microfilm. It looks like there are birth, marriage, and death records available in two microfilms.

Akta urodzeń, małżeństw, zgonów 1784-1837, Family History Library INTL Film, 766051

Akta urodzeń, zgonów 1831-1856 Akta małżenstw 1834-1867, Family History Library INTL Film, 766052

By clicking the number of the microfilm on the site, I am taken to a page where I can order the film. There are short term loans for 90-days which cost $7.50 and extended term loans for $18.75. Once I make my selection and pay for the loan, the Church begins the process of shipping the microfilm to the Family History Center I chose. After they alert me through email when it has arrived, I can go to the Center and view the microfilm. I have used this method for several branches of families I research and could not have found the information any other way at this time.

Paying it forward

The last feature on the FamilySearch site I will cover is the indexing section. You can access the indexing page by clicking the “Indexing” button on the home page.  Indexing is necessary because each record offered online is most valuable if it can be searched by name. But to build that capability, someone has to perform indexing – the process of going through each record and transcribing the names. So FamilySearch has offered genealogists the opportunity to provide that indexing service which helps others in their research and allows those indexing to become more familiar with family records. According to their site, there are 118,055 active volunteers who have transcribed 1,045,371,441 records to date.

I have worked on indexing when I get time. What I like about it is that I get to help contribute to the genealogy community, and I am able to see records I might not otherwise become familiar with in my own research. I also am able to participate because the number of records assigned in a group is small and the process can be done at any time in increments. So if I only have 15 minutes, I can work on a few records then come back at a later time to finish up the group I have been working on.

There are a few other features on FamilySearch like a blog, help center, a volunteer page, and a wiki. And you could spend days just exploring it all, but for now, there are ancestors to find…

 

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Tree is Fixed!

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Thanks to one of the smartest people I know, Anthony Hocken, the family tree is fixed! Yay! He told me a few days ago that my site was hacked. I checked it out, but didn’t really see anything so wasn’t sure how it could be hacked. But when I tried to go to the dashboard to write a new post, the layout was all messed up. After researching the problem, I found out that there is a hack going around. Sure enough it had hit a few of my sites including this blog and the tree. Fortunately I found a way to fix it and at least for now both sites are working again! Yay! Thanks Anthony and the person who posted the fix in the Dreamhost forums.

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Borowiak Genealogy Launch!

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Welcome to the launch of the Borowiak (Broviak) Genealogy site. After several years of working on family history, I felt it best to try to set up a Website that can help with sharing information and resources with extended family members. This site will include all families/surnames that are in my ancestry and that of my husbands. This main page has been set up as a blog with the tree and genealogy records residing elsewhere on the site. The blog will be a place where I share information I find about our family’s past or where I discuss resources for genealogical research. Take the information you need, but please remember to reference where you picked it up – I have tried to do likewise with the information I have collected.

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