My father died when I was 17, his parents (my paternal grandparents) died before I was born. At the time I started getting really interested in my family's history, 6 of his 10 siblings were deceased as well. Of the 4 surviving siblings, one was unable to answer any of my questions due to dementia, one was unwilling to answer my questions due to shear stubbornness, one was luke warm to the idea of answering my questions (couldn't understand my curiosity but complied somewhat with my requests), and one was ready, willing, and able to help me anyway she could. Unfortunately, she was the baby in the family and didn't have all that much to share about her parents. They died when she was still quite young.
Shortly after I got interested in my family history, I received Family Tree Maker software as a birthday gift (I'm thinking that was either version 2 or 3... the latest version is like 12 or something) and that just catapulted my interest. With no particular direction in mind, I started looking for information wherever I could find it. With each of my grandparents, the brick wall came up quick. I would work one family surname until I couldn't find any more info and then I'd switch to another surname and start looking for information all over again. The first real breakthrough I had was with my paternal grandmother's family, the LIPAs. Karolina LIPA was the only one of my grandparents that was born here in the U.S. Her parents immigrated here in 1881, back before ship manifests listed the last place of residence, or named any relatives to contact. All I had to go on was Galicia/Austria from the ship manifest (which took a whole lot of effort to find).
I checked all the obvious sources like parish baptism, marriage, and death records, as well as birth, marriage, and death certificates all to no avail. I'd heard that Social Security applications could give place of birth locations but didn't think that would help me with this family. My great grandparents died before the advent of the Social Security Administration and their children were born here so they wouldn't list a village in Poland as their place of birth. However, in the course of my research, I did come across someone with the surname LIPA who I couldn't place on my family tree. LIPA wasn't a particularly common surname here in Detroit so I got curious about him. I wondered if he might have been a cousin or nephew of my great grandfather. So I ordered a copy of his Social Security application.
There was no information on the application to link him to my great grandfather which was a real disappointment for me. But, there was the name of a village in Poland listed as his place of birth. I thought about it for a while and decided that I had nothing much to lose to look for microfilm records from this village at the Family History Center. Maybe my great grandfather came from the same village... oh, I was so naive! I made my way to the local Family History Center with great trepidation as I suppose many people do their first time out. I was worried that I might have to undergo some religious conversion to be able to access the mysterious "films of the vault". But I found some of the volunteers there to be very kind and helpful and it wasn't long before I received the postcard in the mail indicating the films I'd ordered were available for viewing. Of course I had to do battle with the microfilm readers like all newbies before I could actually find the church records for the village I was interested in (Bobrowa). Eventually I got the film threaded and then the adventure began.
I still remember the "high" I got when I realized I'd hit the jackpot. MY FIRST HAPPY DANCE! I got excited about seeing LIPAs in the records, but when I came across a record for a KNOT (my paternal great grandmother's maiden name), I knew the odds were that I'd found the right village. The feeling was nothing short of elation. I did manage to find and decipher my great grandfather's baptismal record that same day and went back the next day and the next to search for more records. I was so proud of myself. And as I look back on how I happened on to that village name from the Social Security application of a LIPA I didn't know, I'm truly amazed that I was successful. If you do a search for LIPA on the Ellis Island database you'll find hundreds of records only a few of which were for individuals from Bobrowa, Poland. I'm sure the same is true for Social Security applications. I really had a stroke of luck to have stumbled on to a LIPA from the same village. And that was my first success.
I culled those films and ordered more until I had canvassed all the relevant films for Bobrowa, Poland. Since that time, I went on to find the ancestral villages of my other 3 grandparents and was of course joyous each and every time. The only other time I came close to that same level of high though was when I found the ancestral village of my maternal grandfather... the last and most elusive branch of my family. I'd looked the longest and hardest to find those records and I'm still searching out and finding more records and family on that branch of the tree.
I haven't looked back on my LIPA records in quite some time. Just recently I was contacted by someone who has a LIPA ancestor from the same village who is looking to make a family connection with my ancestors. I was excited to receive that email and it got me remembering the excitement of that First Find all over again. It's a good memory to have. I don't know if this individual and I are connected yet but I hope to find out soon when I make another trip back to the Family History Center. It's time to dust off those films from Bobrowa and dive in once again!