1. Exhaust US sources first.
2. Get the immigrant’s name right.
But many immigrants changed their own names once they arrived in America to make the name appear “more American.” Often, they’d change or drop a few letters. For example, the Polish name Jablonski might become Yablonski, or the first name Jan would become John. Or they’d switch to a phonetically similar name (Stanislaw becomes Stanley). Some bosses or teachers called immigrants by names that were easier to spell or say.
3. Learn naming practices.
Studying European cultures’ naming customs can often help to clue you in to previous generations and extend your family tree. They can also be useful in determining siblings’ birth order or determining whether there were other children. For example, children’s names can give you important clues to likely names of the grandparents. In the Italian tradition, the first-born son is named for the paternal grandfather, the first daughter for the paternal grandmother, the second son for the maternal grandfather and the second daughter for the maternal grandmother.
4. Brush up on history.
5. Study geography.
6. Bypass foreign-language barriers.
7. Find online records.
8. Use FHL microfilm.
9. Write to archives.
Many archives post research request instructions and fees on their websites. When you make a request, follow the instructions exactly and make your question as specific as possible. Be brief and simple, using short sentences, and ask for records related to only one ancestral line at a time. Give dates European-style—day, month, year—for example, 10 February 1897. Be sure to provide an upper limit for the fee you can pay, if you have one. (See a sample request letter.) You’re more likely to get a response if you compose your letter in the native language, so use the foreign-language tips on page 30.
10. Hire a pro to get what you can’t.