Excerpts of a talk delivered on 22 October 2006 in New York City:
Most genealogical researchers try to accumulate the largest possible number of civil records such as birth, marriage and deaths certificates, and then use sophisticated software to arrange them in elaborate graphs representing family trees, often the size of giant sequoias of the West Coast. But these trees are often lifeless. This is why it is so important to go beyond these simple dry facts and try to discover the environment, the circumstances, the background, the historical facts of the time, the looks registered on old photographs, the untold stories and the remaining artifacts in ancestral towns.
You never know what you may find. You have to be curious and constantly ask the archivists “is there anything else?”
In the branch of the State Archives in Bochnia I reviewed the local Book of Residents dated 1901 and found the following listing of my great-grandfather’s family: Wolf JASSEM, 44, b. 1857 in Boguchwala near Rzeszów, Galicia, owner of the property; Cyrla JASSEM nee Schneeweiss, 45, b. 1856 in Słocina near Rzeszów, Galicia, followed by the same set of details about their five children Mojżesz, Aron Arnold, Emilia, Rebeka and Kalman Klemens. The heading had the street address “ulica Gazaris 417”.
I asked the archivist whether they had anything else pertaining to the property. In a few minutes he came back with a folder containing a building permit application for putting zinc roofing over the house and building a new stove and a brick chimney. The application was filed in 1900 and included a floor plan, a cross-section and an elevation of the house. I was thrilled as I could now picture how this family of seven lived in a tiny house, squeezed like sardines in a can. But I was glad my great-grandfather Wolf at least made sure the house was dry and warm.