January 8, 2008

BRIDGEPORT -- Americans of Polish descent now have a new way to trace their family roots.

Hot off the press is “Going Home: a Guide to Polish-American Family History Research” by Jonathan Shea, a New Britain resident and modern language instructor at Housatonic Community College. An accredited genealogist, Shea is the author of a 400-page comprehensive reference source published by Language and Lineage Press in Danbury.

His guide is the result of three decades of genealogical research experience and Shea’s knowledge of foreign languages. A step-by-step analysis of archival and document sources helps researchers trace their roots back to their places of origin in Eastern Europe.

“In most cases, research begins in the home, then progresses through a series of document sources generated locally and by the federal government,” Shea explains.

His book includes available local and federal records that researchers need to collect factual information about their families, like birth, marriage and death records; church records; newspaper sources; voting records; probate court records; and other documents available at city halls or county courthouses.

The author also notes information-laden records created by the U.S. government such as ship passenger lists. These enable “roots” seekers to find their ancestors’ names on manifests of vessels that docked at Ellis Island and other American ports of entry. He explains how to use the federal censuses, and offers information on the availability and content of naturalization and citizenship records.

Shea devotes a chapter to maps, cartographic sources and gazetteers, lists of place names in a given country. This can help researchers pinpoint sites in Europe where family homesteads were located.

“Because place names repeat in many nations and national borders changed all too frequently during the course of many wars, I give special attention to numerous territorial and administrative changes in Poland,” Shea said.

The book identifies a wide array of documents researchers may find valuable once they have located their family’s place of origin. Those documents include vital records, tax lists, church censuses and notary records available in Polish archives and in neighboring nations.

The book not only shows what these documents look like but explains how to understand and translate them. Word lists are in Polish, German, Russian and Latin.

“People shouldn’t be deterred from doing family history research because they don’t know a second language,” Shea said. “You only need to know a sliver of a language to translate these documents. Many are formulaic, meaning their contents are in a set order, thus only specific vocabulary needs to be learned as well as a generalized, broad knowledge of how the language functions and its basic structure. It may sound intimidating, but it’s not.”

Barbara Proko is a Polish genealogist and an editor at “Choice,” the American Library Association’s monthly magazine of academic book reviews.

“Shea’s ‘Going Home’ is destined to become an instant classic and the standard by which all other books on Polish genealogy will be judged,” Proko wrote. “There is simply no one else who has Jonathan Shea’s range of research experience, degree of insight, or depth of knowledge about this very complex subject. He brings to this book a unique combination of skills — an extensive background in genealogy itself, as well as academic expertise in Slavic languages.”

Proko wrote that Shea’s passion for Polish genealogy “is evident on every page. His candor about his own family research lends his writing warmth, humor and personality seldom seen in genealogy manuals. ‘Going Home’ is the perfect blend of erudition and enthusiasm, sure to satisfy beginning researchers and longtime genealogists alike.”