Out on a Limb: Refresher Course

By Allison Dolan Premium

Before Family Tree Magazine launched five years ago, I worked as an English editor for a tourism-magazine publisher in Bucharest, Romania. You learn a lot about another culture when you’re immersed in it, and I quickly picked up on a key characteristic of Romanian society: It’s timeless — meaning punctuality isn’t Romanians’ forte. From public transportation to businesses’ hours of operation, schedules serve only as guidelines. In practice, people move at their own paces.

Which is how I found myself loitering on a street corner one September morning. I’d always taken the tram to work, but on this particular day, the driver apparently had arrived early or bypassed my stop. Since the weather was nice and I was already late (not that it mattered, of course), I decided to ditch the tram and walk to the office.

Strolling down the street, I observed scenes I’d never really noticed from behind the tram’s doors: Bakers selling fresh pastries. Bouquets adorning a roadside flower stand. Colorfully dressed gypsy women talking in the piat?a. (square). They’re now images I instantly associate with Bucharest — and it took missing the tram to discover them.

The same situation crops up in family tree research. Sometimes answers are right under your nose; you just have to adopt a different approach to uncover them. That’s the concept behind this “new ideas” issue. Inside, we show you alternative avenues for getting past your research roadblocks.

For example, do you have old family photographs you just can’t put names or dates to? Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor suggests a strategy to try when you’ve exhausted obvious clues such as props and clothing styles: Stop dissecting the details in the picture and take a look behind the camera. Taylor explains how to learn more about your unidentified images by researching the people who took them.

Maybe you’ve hit a brick wall with your immigrant ancestors. I often hear about family historians’ struggles to find Ellis Island arrivals — they’ve scoured the online passenger lists at <> and inspected the microfilm to no avail. If you’ve had that experience, consider an alternative scenario: Perhaps your kin actually entered the Port of New York before Ellis Island opened its “golden door” in 1892 — in which case you’ll need to explore the records of its lower-profile predecessor, Castle Garden. Contributing editor Sharon DeBartolo Carmack reveals the secrets to researching Castle Garden arrivals in an excerpt from her new book, The Family Tree Guide to Finding Ellis Island Ancestors (Family Tree Books).

From Ellis Island’s immigration database to state agencies’ vital-records indexes, the Web continues to provide new routes to the records you need. But Internet surfing can shift into auto pilot mode, too — you get so used to visiting certain online destinations, you forget to look beyond the usual suspects. Even Family Tree Magazine‘s annual 101 Best Web Sites guide isn’t immune: Our previous roundups include sites I’m sure you’ve visited dozens, if not hundreds, of times. So this year we combed the Web in search of overlooked genealogy tools. You’ll find our 101 favorite “undiscovered” destinations.

In keeping with this issue’s theme, I have one final tip: Don’t let any of Family Tree Magazine‘s how-to help — namely, our upcoming special issue — escape your attention. The first-ever Family Tree Sourcebook will serve as a handy reference to hundreds of Web sites, books and other tools to help you trace your roots, combined with tips for using key records. The Sourcebook isn’t part of a subscription, so watch for it on newsstands (or order it from our Web site) July 19. We promise it’ll arrive on time — unlike those Romanian tram drivers.