How to Use Facebook to Boost Your Genealogy Research: A Case Study

This is a story of how I discovered the power of Facebook to help my genealogy research. I hope you find these tips helpful.

Like many amateur genealogists I started my research with Ancestry.com. It is the most comprehensive, easiest to use, and best designed tool that I’ve found. I use it on a regular basis. Adding an Ancestry DNA test greatly expands the site’s utility in finding and documenting your family tree. I would be lost without Ancestry.

As good as it is, you’ll quickly find that there are MANY other valuable tools that out perform Ancestry in some specific areas. Though not a “tier one” genealogy tool, Facebook offers some unique advantages.

Now, don’t just go typing in distant relatives names into the Facebook search box. You are bound to waste time with false positives and dead ends. You might even annoy or creep out some strangers along the way.

The real power of Facebook for genealogy research rests is the large community of other genealogists willing to share their knowledge, experience, tips, and encouragement. Becoming involved in one of these online communities could be instrumental to your own research.

For example, while exploring my Greek heritage using Ancestry DNA results I connected with a distant cousin who was doing the same. We knew that we shared a genetic link but we couldn’t quite connect the dots.

She let me know about the Hellenic Genealogy Geek Facebook Group. It is an open group that anyone can join. This group helped me identify, find, and translate several late 1800 and early 1900 original birth certificates from Samos, Greece, a Greek island off the coast of Turkey where many of my maternal ancestors came from.

For example, below is is a document and translation someone in the group was able to retrieve for me. It is the original Greek birth certificate of my great-grandmother Maria Tsardoulia (1894-1951) (also "Chardoulias").

Greek birth certificate of Maria Tsadoulia/Chardoulias (1894-1951)

Translated Greek birth certificate of Maria Tsadoulia/Chardoulias  (1894-1951)

[Check out my other posts about Maria Chardoulias]

Having discovered this Greek group I assumed there must be other groups as well. I searched for Facebook genealogy groups related to my maternal Polish ancestry. I found two groups especially helpful. Both require permission to join, but if you can show genuine interest you will be welcomed into the group.

Polish Genealogy

Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan

Here was the original inquiry that I posted to the group:

"Thank you for adding me to the group! My Polish ancestors came to the U.S. in the early 1900s and settled mostly in Detroit, MI. The surnames I'm interested in finding are Pawlowski, Grzeskowiak, Szaroleta and their many Americanized variations. Looking forward to asking some more specific questions in the future."

Enter: Ceil Wendt Jensen, a professional genealogist who specializes in Polish genealogy generally, and Detroit Polish genealogy more specifically. She is a co-founder and webmaster of Michigan Polonia (mipolonia.net), a site dedicated to "Polish Genealogy and Family History." 

Ceil kindly and quickly responded to my Facebook inquiry. She said that she would be most helpful with the Szaroleta line of my tree, having already done some research in that area. She invited me to email her for further details. Here is the email I sent:

Hello Ceil,
Thanks for your offer to help. Here is what I know.
My Great grandmother was a Mary or Marianna Grzeskowiak (1879-1941). She was born in Poland to an Albert “Wojciech" Grzeskowiak (1849-1931) and an Agnes Szaroleta (1854-1918).
My records indicate that they came to the U.S. around 1880 I am guessing when Marianna was an infant (though I could be wrong on that). I’ve connected with a cousin locally who taught me a great deal about the other Grzeskowiak siblings. As far as I know they all stayed in Detroit.
Here is what I think I know about Wojciech Grzeskowiak: 1. Born in Gluczyna Poland 1849 2. Married Agnes Szaroleta November 4 1873 (in Gluczyna?) 3. Had 12-13 children with Agnes, most of them in Detroit 4. He died on 6/13 1931 5. Death certificate indicates a “Marin” or “Martin” or somewhere I got a “Martini” Grzeskowiak as his father (born in Poland, unclear if he ever came to US) 6. No mother listed on his death certificate. 7. I came across a document in Family Search of a Martin Grzeskowiak who was married to a Marianna Patan and had a Franziska Daughter in 1878. Birthplace was listed as Alttomischel, Posen, Preuben, Germany (not sure if this is related at all)
Here is what I think I know about Agnes 1. Born 12/28/1854 in Gluczyna (I am not sure where I got the location or if it is accurate) 2. Married Wojciech as stated above 3. Died 9/16/1918 in Detroit, MI 4. Father on death certificate is listed as “John Sadletka”. No mother listed. 5. Another Ancestry family tree has a possible mother listed as a Maria (though not very confident about this) 6. For some reason I have her as having a brother, Stanislaus, but have no documentation for that. Not sure where that came from.
Thanks,
Steve

Though I had lots of possible information I was short on actual documentation. Ceil was able to provide some of that. She found an indexed record of my 2nd great grandparents marriage, as well as the original birth record of my great-grandmother. Here was her response:

Hi Steve,
Here are the notes Lukasz Bielecki (Poznan Project) has on the parish.

I found the entry for:

Catholic parish Głuszyna [Gluschin]

entry 35 / 1873
Adalbertus Grześkowiak (24 years old)
Agnes Szaroleta (20 years old)
Here is Marianna’s birth in the index. Just where I thought we would find her ;-)
Kórnik (Registry office) - birth record, year 1879
Marianna
parents: Adalbert Grzeszkowiak , Agnes Szaroleta
State Archive in Poznan
1876/1/18, scan 178
indexed by: Basia Rajkowska
added: 2014-04-22
ID 1812181
I have attached her civil birth record to this email. (178.jpg) You will see it is written in old German, the language of the government during the Partitions.
If you would like a translation, you can post it to the Facebook group “Genealogy Translations” and someone will do it for free. It states she was registered on 24 July, 1879.
I will see if the parish books are also online. This record comes from the Polish archives free database “searcharchives.pl”.  The civil records started in 1874 so we just miss her parents’ marriage.
But, again, it should be in the parish records…we found it in the index.
I will dive deeper into this tonight or tomorrow. I am preparing for guests this evening for a pre-Thanksgiving  get-together.
Review:
  • I used Poznan Project to find their marriage listed in the index.  
  • I used BaSIA (link on Poznan Project) to find Marianna’s civil birth record. (http://www.basia.famula.pl/en/)
  • I followed the link on the BaSIA index to find the digital scan of her birth record on searcharchives.pl (also known as : http://szukajwarchiwach.pl)
Ceil

Here is the original birth certificate that Ceil was able to find for me:

Birth Certificate of Marianna Grzeskowiak (1879-1941)

Per Ceil’s recommendation I then posted this document to the Genealogy Translations Facebook Page. This group does require easily obtained permission to join. A kind member of that group sent me the following translation of Marianna's birth record:

No. 175.
Kurnik, 24. July 1879
Before the undersigning registrar appeared today, identified by a certificate of the office of mayor of Daszewice I,
the cottager [Häusler] Adalbert / Wojciech / Grzeszkowiak
residing at Daszewice No. 17, Catholic religion, and declared that
the Agnes Grzeszkowiak nee Szaroleta, his wife, Catholic religion, residing with him,
has given birth to a female child at Daszewice I in his domicile on 19. July 1879 at 12 noon and that the child has received the forename
Marianna.
Read out, approved and because the declaring person is unable to write signed with his mark. XXX
The registrar.
[signature]

Several weeks later I was randomly looking for information on some cemeteries where many of my Detroit Polish ancestors are buried. Pawlowski is another prominent surname in my family tree. A quick search at Find a Grave for “Pawlowski” in Wayne County of Michigan (the county Detroit is in) and over 300 names entries are shown. Over 200 of those were at one cemetery, Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan. 

Mt. Olivet was a name I recognized because it was listed on MANY of the death certificates I had seen of my Polish family. Of course I wanted to know more about this cemetery. A quick google search turned up an Arcadia published book (you know, those sepia toned books on any number of local history interests) “Images of America: Detroit’s Mount Olivet Cemetery."

 

The author, I discovered to my surprise, was none other than Cecile Wendt Jensen (she goes by Ceil)! As it turns out she has written several other books that would be of particular interest to me including:

Images of America: Detroit's Polonia

Sto Lat: A Modern Guide to Polish Genealogy

One of the beauties of genealogy is the story of how we get from point A to point Z. Solving one puzzle usually leads us to several new ones. Likewise, discovering new resources often leads us to even more useful ones.

There is valuable genealogical information on Facebook if you know how to find it. More important than the information, however, are the very real relationships that can be cultivated with the people you meet there.

I’ve not met Ceil in person, but I feel we have a shared history in our Detroit Polish heritage. As I’ve learned more about her own genealogical story it occurred to me that perhaps our ancestors shared space in the streets or churches of Detroit. That’s difficult to prove, but fascinating to wonder about.

Stay tuned for a future post where I interview Ceil and learn about her genealogical stories and pursuits.


If you like what you are reading here at The Psychogenealogist please consider sharing with a friend or signing up for free below!