Do you have European relatives on your family tree but find the prospect of research a little intimidating? The wealth and ease of information varies from country to country, some records are highly digitised but others are slow to go online. Much of it, though, is searchable in English. Here are some places to start.At Family Search,the search/records/research by location facility allows you to choose a specific country. For each location there is an index of collections and some ‘image only’ entries where the original document is photographed. A quick search for Spain revealed a bewildering amount of information, much by Spanish region or city, including births, marriages and deaths, business records and occupations, church history, census, taxation, land and wills. The benefit of starting here is that the Family Search website is in English, allowing you to travel through the relative sections with ease.
Wie Was Wie, or Who Was Who, is a Dutch genealogical site available in English. It has a wealth of information including civil registration certificates, population registers, church books, statements of succession [wills], sea voyages, family announcements in newspapers, military registers, prison and hospital registers. In total, 174 million people feature in the Wie Was Wie archives.
If you are searching for French relatives, visit Geneanet, also available in English. As well as French archives it also has records for other European countries. A quick search revealed grave records from Londerzeel in Belgium; coats of arms searchable by place, name and guild; gravestone inscriptions from Watford, UK; and newspapers from the USA, New Zealand, Algeria and Spain. So far 1,440,447 graves are included in the database and visitors to Geneanet are invited to contribute their own images of gravesones.
For information about Germany, search Compgen. There is a bewildering amount of information here on a rather old-fashioned looking website which requires you to read German. The forum, however, is in English and when I looked included questions on the origin and meaning of the name Heisinger; the Reichsrevolver Model 1883 with a Prussian eagle stamp on the barrel; how to search for living people; and a request for information about a Prussian family, Johann and Charlotte Mordas.
If your foreign ancestor arrived in the UK and settled here, start first with the reader guides at the National Archives. Free guides include aliens’ registration cards, immigration, naturalisation, British citizenship, refugees, foreign affairs and foreign countries. If your research is historical there is even advice on finding records of French lands owned by the English Crown between the 11thand 16thcentury. For further French records, start with the Archives Nationales.The Danish Demographic Database, in English, allows access to Danish records including census since 1787, probate index, Copenhagen Police Emigration Protocols for 1869-1908 with 217,000 Danish emigrants leaving for abroad. Many additional archives are available only in Danish.
Europeana is a fantastic resource of life and culture in Europe including books, documents, newspapers, art, videos and oral histories from European collections. The photography section features 2.25 million images and now includes 2205 items from the National Library of Spain. As well as this ballet dancer [below] in the art section, there is a considerable archive of World War One images. Europeana allows searching by colour, sources, topics, people and time periods.If you run up against language issues, remember to try Google Translate. It will translate a word, phrase or passage of text and, if you come across a website without an English language option, simply enter the full web address in the left hand box on Google Translate and click the blue ‘translate’ button.
If you’re searching for relatives and want to search online safely try the Lost Cousins website, which matches you with other people researching the same ancestors. It’s worth signing up for the Lost Cousins newsletter too.
This post is inspired by an article in the May 2018 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine.
Don’t know where to start investigating your own family history? Try this:-
‘Who Do You Think You Are? The Genealogy Handbook’ by Dan Waddell [UK: BBC Books]
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Researching European relatives @wdytyamagazine #familyhistory https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3uL via @SandraDanby