The Army, the CIA, and the Genealogy of Countries

By Connie Lenzen

An article written for the 10 October 2003 issue of the Vancouver Columbian newspaper.

Genealogists are faced with tracing the genealogy of a country. We need to know what was the name of the country when our immigrant ancestors were born and the name by which it is now known.

When my mother's parents were born, their homeland was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1918, it became part of Yugoslavia. In the early 1990s, the country became Slovenia.

One of my favorite series of books is the Area Handbooks sponsored by the United States Army.

The Area Handbooks give the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems of countries throughout the world. They discuss how cultural factors shape the country.

The original intent of the series was to focus on lesser-known areas of the world or regions where U.S. forces might be deployed. Thusly, the series is not all-inclusive. At present, 102 countries and regions are covered. Omissions include Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and other Western nations, as well as a number of African nations. 

There is an online version of the Area Handbooks at In addition, you can order Area Handbooks for the countries where your ancestors lived through the U.S. Government Bookstore. Phone: 1-888-293-6498.

Another government sponsored set of country guides is the CIA's World Factbooks.The CIA has released an online edition of the 2003 World Factbook at

Here, you can find capsule information for over 250 countries and regions in nine primary and 134 sub categories. There is also a link to pictures of flags of the world.

At the front page of the site there is a pull-down menu that allows you to choose a country. I chose Czechoslovakia because my daughter is researching her husband's Czech roots. At the top of Czechoslovakia's page, there is a map of the country. Underneath that, there is a variety of information about the country, including background, geography, people, government, economy, communications, transportation, military, and Transnational Issues.

There is also the option to search for words. I entered "Sudetenland," the area where my son-in-law's father was born and raised and found several pages that described the Sudeten Germans, a group of ethnic Germans who lived in Czechoslovakia. At the end of World War II, when the citizens of Czechoslovakia took back their country, the Sudeten Germans were expelled from their homes. We've heard the oral history, and the printed history adds a dimension to the story.

© 2003

Connie Lenzen, CG

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