Conference aims to help genealogists uncover Eastern European branches of family trees

If you are a descendant of the millions of immigrants who came to America from Central or Eastern Europe, tracing your family tree can be a challenge because borders changed often in those regions during the 20th century; even today, each country handles records differently.

But genealogy guru Stephen P. Morse made parts of this fascinating and frustrating task easier when he created One-Step Search Tools, a streamlined way of searching the Ellis Island Web site after it launched in April 2001.

He'll be here Aug. 1 to give the keynote address at the opening session of the three-day Federation of East European Family History Societies' 14th annual genealogy conference at the Pittsburgh Airport Marriott Hotel in Findlay. This is the first time the conference has met in Pittsburgh.

An estimated 7.5 million immigrants from Eastern Europe came to America between 1880 and 1914.

The local mills and factories drew many of those people here. As of 1900, the U.S. Census counted 86,158 people in Allegheny County from Central or Eastern Europe, including Hungarians, Germans, Poles, Romanians and Austrians. The total number of foreign-born people living in Allegheny County that year was 191,479.

Find your Eastern or Central European roots
  • What: A genealogical conference called Pittsburgh: The East European Magnet.
  • When: Aug. 1-3.
  • Where: Airport Marriott Hotel, 777 Aten Road, Findlay.
  • Cost: Two-day registration is $170, which includes lunch both days. One-day registration is $90 and includes lunch. The last day, Aug. 3, involves a sold-out tour.
  • Web site:
  • Information: Lisa Alzo, conference chair, 412-848-1394.

Even if your family came from another part of the world, this gathering, which features 24 speakers, offers sessions for beginners who want to learn more about a mysterious relative or just locate the baptismal certificate of a Slovak grandmother. Registered participants can sign up for one-on-one consultations with conference speakers.

Among the 58 presentations, topics include "Acquisition of Jewish Records in Eastern Europe," "Finding Your Grandma at Ellis Island," plus "Baptisms and Beyond: Record Holdings of Catholic Parish Archives."

Lisa Alzo, the conference chair, said the federation promotes family history research for people whose ancestors emigrated from Central and Eastern Europe.

"Many of our members and officers actually work at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City," one of the main repositories for genealogy. "When something is microfilmed, we know right away," Ms. Alzo said, adding that the organization counts 26 organizations under its umbrella as well as 132 individuals.

Marilyn Cocchiola Holt, head of the Pennsylvania Department at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland, said the conference is an excellent opportunity to learn more about genealogy and hear Dr. Morse. The library is one of the conference sponsors.

A hero to professional genealogists as well as to people who are exploring their roots, Dr. Morse is an electrical engineer who was the architect of Intel's 8086 processor, the granddaddy of the Pentium processor used in today's computers.

"Everyone who has used his shortcut methods knows how useful and helpful they are in using online databases, which can be very confusing and hard to work with," she said.

Ms. Holt, who gives a talk for beginning genealogists on Aug. 1-2, will highlight some special resources, such as Indiana University of Pennsylvania's special collection on coal mines, miners, disasters and the culture of coal in this region. The McKeesport Heritage Center keeps back issues of the McKeesport Daily News as well as city directories. Many Central and Eastern Europeans earned their living at National Tube Works in McKeesport.

"So many people are intimidated by genealogy. All you need to do is take that one first step," she said, adding that it's exciting when people find information about their relatives in census, naturalization, church and cemetery records.

"One thing builds upon another. It can be done," Ms. Holt said.

Often, she added, people "find gratifying and interesting information about family members they may just remember very dimly, and it brings them back to life for them," she added.

"It answers questions and it gives you more questions to try and find the answers for."

Marylynne Pitz may be reached at 412-263-1648 or . First Published July 23, 2008 4:00 AM


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