Monday, August 14, 2017

The mystery of the page+ long marriage entry: 4th degree consanguinity and Incest

Someone on the facebook genealogy group posted a link to an incredibly long (1+ pages!) marriage entry in the matriky for Lomnice nad Lužnicí. She wanted to know what it meant, and I was curious too.

Here is an abstract of the record:

On 5 September 1762 Wenceslaus Wondruschka of Záblatí, legitimate son of Laurentis Wondurschka, rusticus, married Anna, the legitimate daughter of the deceased Thomas Novotny, rusticus.
Officiator was Father Adalbert Chollejch cappellan
Witnesses: ??to Neřad from Neplachov, Jakub Mašek of Mazelov[?], and Ursula Kuželova of Záblatí.
The couple obtained a dispensation allowing them to marry in the 4th degree of consanguinity.
That is all from the first page.

The second page is mostly the names and titles of the archbishop and other people involved in granting them the dispensation, such as Jan Mořic Gustav z Manderscheid-Blankenheimu.

To my understanding the most likely relationship Wenceslaus had to Anna, being related in the 4th degree of consanguinity, was that they were first cousins. But not necessarily.

It appears that not only did they get a dispensation (which was pretty common), they also had to be cleared by an ecclesiastical court (or at least by ecclesiastical officials) for the canonical crime of incest.

Which, they did, conditional upon doing some things like fasting, taking the communion with the bread and water, saying five Our Fathers and one Hail Mary for a certain amount of time.

Their marriage took place just in time for their child to be born legitimately: the next day! Doesn’t that seem a little...suspicious?

Incest was a big deal. According to this book about papal dispensations called Der Ursprung des Rechtsinsitutes der Päpstlichen Dispens von der Nicht Vollyogenen Ehe:

Ideo imponitur poenitentia paulo maior quam pro adulterio; nam si commisisset verum crimen incestus: puta, quia cognovisset consanguineam uxoris, tunc imponeratur gravior poenitentia, et multo maior, quam pro adulterio; quot patet ex illo, quia adulterium non inhabilitat ad matrimonium contrahendum “sed crimen incestus sic.”

Basically: incest is a lot worse than adultery.

I think it’s kind of strange that 4th degree consanguinity was considered incest, and not just compared to what is allowed today, but back then, too! Other parishes would have allowed 4th degree consanguinity marriages without this problem, I think. Apparently Anna had a child the very next day after this marriage, so she was almost certainly visibly pregnant. Maybe you wouldn’t need church clearance from the crime of incest if you married your first cousin before you had sex with them (or before it was obvious that you had done so).

By the way, besides the modern North American cultural aversion towards first cousin marriages, it’s probably not actually that genetically risky. Good thing, because all my Texas Czechs are related and interrelated in some way or another! Though, I have not yet come across a first cousin Czech marriage, so maybe I’m wrong to assume I have first cousin marriages, too?

Here are the unanswered questions this record brings up:
  • It seems that this couple had to go through a lot of trouble in order to get permission to be married. How likely is it that the baby was actually born the day after their marriage? Is it more likely that they were hiding the baby so that he or she could be baptized legitimately?
  • Wouldn’t the couple have had a huge incentive to marry much earlier, before the “crime of incest” became visible through her pregnancy? What delayed the marriage?
  • If you could find the banns for this marriage (which might exist in the archives, but are not online), would you find that the marriage was supposed to have taken place much earlier? Wouldn’t this imply that somebody had protested the banns?
  • If so, why? Were they seeking revenge? Were they a jilted lover? Why would somebody care enough to point out their relationship before the pregnancy became visible?
  • Do first cousin marriages between couples engaging in premarital sex always require both a dispensation and a repentance pardon? Is that what this record describes?  

Here is the unfinished transcription which I started with my friend Lukáš. Words which were difficult to read were highlighted in yellow. Feel free to work on it, if you would like! Maybe eventually we can have an exact translation.  

Et Sago
Wenceslaus & Anna

In Septembri
1762 die 5e Mense Septembri contraxit matrimonium per verba de presenti
Wenceslaus ex pago Zablotj oriandus, filus legitimus Laurentis
Wondraschka rustici, ex h. t. judicis, cum sponsa sua Anna ex eodem
pago onunda, filia legitima post defunctum Thomam Novotny
Rusticum Levenissimo Principi de Schwarcyenberg dominio Trebochessi
Leboti, im Ecclesia Parochiali S. Joannis Baptiste Lomnicgicus lusomocy,
suesente Patre Adalberto Chollejch Capell: ex coram testibus
Patio sseryad ex pago Neplachow, Jacobo Maschek ex pago Mayelow,
ex Ursula Kuzelova ex pago Yablatj /: obtenta Dispensatione
in quartio equali consaguimtatis gradu ab ordinario :/

Anno 1762
In Septembri

Premissis omnibus tribus denuntiationbus intra Missanem solemnia
quarem Prima in Festo S. Laurentis M. Altere Domin. 11
tertia Domin. 12e nulloq alio detecto impedimento Canonico,
quo rienis libere cotrahere possent.

Nos Joannes Mauritius Gustavus D Ex Gratia Archi
Episcopus Pragensis, sedis Apostolica Legatus Natus,
S R Imp. Princess Comes de Manderschied = Blankenheim
& Geroldstein, Liber Baro in Junctent,
Dominus in Bettinger, Daun? & Exp: Utriqu? Sacra
Ces. Regiagz Apost. Majestatis Consiliatinus intimus
actualis, secljti? Regie Bohemia Primas, Eccesianem
Metropolitana Coloniensis, ex Cathedralis Argentiners
??ective Kepsositus, servio? ac Thesauremes, Hlastril
Ecclesia Collegiate ad S. Geseorem detra Coloniam positer?
Eresositus, net non Carolo Ferdinandea Universitati
Pragensis perpetuus Cancelliarus, & Protector etc.
Dialectis in Christo Wenceslass Wondrucheska, S Anne Novotnz
Sectie Dieceseos Pregensis, Saluten in Domino.
Humilis pro parte vestra petitio continebat: good lioet 4
equali consanguinitatis gradu conjuncti filis, infiloniunus
darnis fragilitae victi pos incestueose cogrovenitis, modo
vero deg grzssortum? dissersatiomis remedio, quaternis matrimonium
inie? valentius vobis provideri humiliter supplicetis
Nos humilibus precibus inclinati, et fragilitati vestene compatientes,
vos prefatos Oratores de comitto incestu dolentes, secundum
specialem facultatem a sanctissimo D. N. Benedicto
K: K: XIV “ I?du: Secondat. Nobis ad quinquenimum< concessam
tanquam a sede Apostolica delegatus, imprimis ab
Lincestu, ejusq poenis absoloimmus, demode etiam gratis in forma
pauperum et. demmodo mulier propter noc rapta non fuerit,
aut si rapta fuisset in potestate raptoris non existat :/in
domino disspensamus, ut non obtante presento consanquinitatis
impedimento in Quarto equali gradu Matrimonium
de evitamam mulieris infamiam ad formam
SS. concilii Tridentini in facie Ecclesia Cite & valide contrahere,
ac in eo postmodum libere, ac licite semanere prossitis,
prolem /: si qua sit :/ sussestam, vel Cesyisiedet??? legitientium
declarantes, et pro Salutari poenitentia obcommissum
incestum vobis peregimationem ad vicinum miraculosum,
aut grotiosum locum instituendam, ibidemi?
sacramentalem Confessionem cum Comunione Sacra sseragemam,
nec non ser quinque dies Veneris, cum jejunio in
pane et aqua, quimuites Pater et Ave Flep?? geritus in Non
?? sassionis Christi Pevote recitaum a injugentes.
?ragie in Cancellaria Sectie Crisqusali? die 20e August
Anno 1762


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What I wish I knew about Czech History

A little over a year ago I returned from my first trip to the Czech Republic. It was a life changing experience. The main thing that changed for me was starting to understand just how little I actually know.

A tiny bit more than nothing.

It was actually a very overwhelming, humbling, humiliating feeling. I thought I knew something, but it was like I took a tiny peek into the world's biggest library (a library full of books that I mostly can't even read yet) and, well...of course that hurt my pride quite deeply.

By the way, I am imagining a library like this:

The Klementinium Library, the most beautiful library in the world, is in Prague.

But in reality, a Czechophilic's dream library exists 1.5 hours away from me in the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids Iowa. See?

I can't bear the thought of staying outside of that library. I am willing to do whatever it takes, including submitting myself to feelings of humiliation, frustration, and all kinds of other deeply painful feelings, for the chance to learn about this part of the world, and this part of my own history. So for the past year I have been trying to learn everything I can about everything having to do with Czech history, Czech culture, Czech literature, and then, Czech itself.

Why it's so hard:

1. I don't even know what I don't know.
2. I don't know how to acquire the knowledge I lack.
3. Physical limitations of reality.

These conditions are all stumbling blocks to my learning. I feel like a year later, after this mind blowing experience which caused me to suddenly become an obsessive hyper-focused neurotic maniac, I still know only a tiny bit more than nothing.

"Look how much more you know now!"

Yeah. Well. It's still very disheartening to know with clarity how little I know and how unqualified I am. How stupid I feel. It is so frustrating.

Where does one go to find extra reserves of patience with one's self? I don't know.

What I do know, or at least hope, is that there exist other people who are frustrated with this learning curve, just like me. Part of the problem is that for some reason, my brain can't really wrap itself around macrohistory. I fall asleep. It's not until I start reading about feelings, people, specific conversations, events - these bring history alive. It's so much more interesting to be able to imagine the world in which these people lived in specific terms, rather than an outline of bullet points.

I think it would be a gross error for us to avoid alluding to the menacing nature of the Habsburg dynasty. If we just say, "Hey, these guys were on the throne for 400 years," it's not going to convey this, "Hey, a foreign monarchy from one giant family ruled the Czech lands for 400 years and it took a world war to depose them." The very nature of writing history means casting judgment. If we don't do it clearly, the poor reader (me!) is not going to get it.

There has to be another way to approach European History than to say, "Here's all the dry facts with no analysis about what they mean. Memorize them all, and until you do, you know nothing."

I tried to read a couple of books about Czech history that were essays translated from Czech, and they were really difficult to get through. The only one that I remember was extremely disturbing because it was a case study about a child rape in the 1500's, and the largest section of the essay was actually a translation of a transcription of the actual case - pages and pages. To be honest, that story, as horrible as it was, helped show me this past world better than any Wikipedia page about the Austrian Empire or Ferdinand I ever did. But I don't want to write about it because it was too sad.

I'm reading The Coasts of Bohemia and Sayer does a much better job of getting his point across...when he's not being super-duper-ultra witty. Sometimes I have to read his sentences 3 times before I can understand what he's trying to say. He uses really difficult vocabulary and really long sentences and presupposes that you already know a lot of things. Fortunately, I'm the exact target reader, and if it weren't for Stumbling Block Number Three, I would have already devoured this book.

I read The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain to my kids. This is an excellent book, by the way.

Why can't there be a book like this - a straightforward, easy to read, illustrated children's book - about the Thirty Year's War? Franz Josef II? Maria Teresa? The counter-reformation?  I wasn't taught about any of these people or events in school, and one whole year of my high school education was in Europe! 

But why would France feel the need to teach me about Czechoslovakia?

Which brings me to the most significant stumbling block of all:

4. Ethnocentrism, i.e. the history (etc.) of a small European country is not considered important by the rest of the world.

Why do historians somehow feel like they have to prove themselves by being the most dry and boring creatures on earth - myself included! There's this constant feeling of needing to prove your legitimacy when you are writing macrohistory. It's so frustrating. When applied to microhistory, it makes perfect sense.

But our ancestors lived in the foreign country of the past, and if we don't understand that world, we really can't understand them. We won't even be able to find the important records of their lives if we don't understand what was going on in the broader world around them - politically, socially, religiously, every other -ly you can imagine. We need to understand them all.

I don't want to become guilty of writing fiction about my ancestors, even if the only book that ever gets written is the one in my head. I want to understand what really happened.

What I wish I knew about Czech History? What I would learn if I had spent my childhood growing up there: the thoughts and opinions of the previous generation(s). The political opinions of the people around me, which pull and tug at my own opinions. The simplified stories about the past told to me by my parents, showing me what to think. The stories of forgotten heroes like Gabčík and Kubiš of Operation Anthropoid, whose names I had never heard until two weeks ago, but whom every Czech remembers.

I feel really doubtful about being able to learn what I deeply desire to know on my own. Maybe this means pursuing an academic path towards gaining knowledge. Or maybe the path lies somewhere else. I'm going to keep looking for it.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Estcha Máme Plenty!

I am learning Czech, and this is a translated cross-post from my language learning blog here.

Děda Joe
Grandpa Joe

 Joe a Anežka
Joe and Agnes

My great-great-grandpa Josef Jan Vasicek immigrated to Texas when he was 16 years old.

He was the youngest son of the Vasicek's.

And he never saw his parents again after he left. I think that that was very sad.

Because he was an early immigrant, and he was also an entrepreneur, he hired other Czechs. Some stories have still remained about how he took advantage of them, and about how they were clueless, ignorant immigrants.

Grandpa Joe said, "Put some water in the car."
So...they poured water on the seats, and not in the radiator.

Grandpa Joe said, "Plant them a hoe's length apart."
So they did. The entire length of the hoe. Not the length of its head.

When they all sat down to dinner together, Grandpa Joe's wife (grandma Agnes Stefek from Trojanovice 281) said, "Jezte, máme plenty!"
But they didn't eat anything, just waited, watched, waited, and watched. It seems they were waiting for the mysterious "plenty" to appear.

These stories remain in our family culture. But what interests (and also deeply saddens) me, is to see with my own eyes the demise of the Czech language. Honestly, what I always heard were the words:

"Estcha máma plenty." It was through writing this piece that I understood that it wasn't ever "estcha" or "ještě" but "jezte", 2nd person plural imperative for "eat!"

The Czech language is not going to prevent me from the understanding of my Czech ancestors which I crave. I would sacrifice almost anything in order to speak it.

I often feel as if my personality is just a pile of awkwardness. But truly, I would give up all of my pride for this dream, including all my personal failures, include my awkwardness. I hope that one day I will meet others with the same dream: to really understand our Czechs.


Přistěhoval se můj prapradědeček Josef Jan Vašíček do Texasu, když bylo mu 16 let.

On byl nejmladší syn Vašíčkových.

A nikdy neviděl své rodiče, poté co odešel. Myslím si, že je to velmi smutné.

Protože byl časný přistěhovalec, a také byl podnikatel, proto často najal další Čechy. Trvají nějaké příběhy, jak on využil něj, a jaké byli hloupé a naivní přistěhovalci.

Děda Joe řekl: “Dejte vodu do auta.”
Takže…oni ji nalili na sedadla auta, a ne do chladiče.

Děda Joe řekl: “Zasaďte to na délku motyky od sebe.”
[Already you can see the influence of English in my grandfather’s mind: a Czech would understand this to mean the length of the hoe’s stick, not its head. But in English it is ambiguous, and from the context you can tell it meant the head.]
Takže oni se zasadili celém délku motyky.

Když spolu večeřeli, žena Dědy Joa (babička Anežka Štefková z Trojanovic 281) řekla, “Jezte, máme plenty!”
Ale nic nejedli, jen čekali, a koukali, čekali, a koukali. Zdá se, že čekali, až přijde ten tajemný “plenty.”

Ty příběhy trvají u našem rodinné kultuře. Ale co mě zajímá (a také mě mrzí), je vidět na vlastní oči rozklad českého jazyka. Upřímně, co jsem vždycky slyšela, byla slova “estcha máma plenty.” Skrze toto psaní jsem pochopila, že to není žádné “estcha” ani “ještě”; to muselo být “jezte.”

Čeština nebude mi bránit za porozumění českým předkům, po kterém toužím. Obětovala bych téměř cokoliv, abych to uměla.

Často cítím se, jako kdyby moje osobnost byla jenom hromada trapnosti. Ale opravdu, obětovala všechnu svou pýchu pro ten sen, a to zahrnuje každé osobní selhání, i moji trapnost. Doufám, že jednoho dne se setkám s dalšími lidmi, kteří mají stejný sen: pochopit naše Čechy.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

House Numbering in Frenštát

My fourth cousin in Trojanovice sent me a copy of a history of the town of Frenštát from 1904. I started to read it in Czech, and of course I need to share what I am learning, because it is very interesting. Here is a translation of pages 7 and 8.


House numbering was not done in a random way but started from an important place, such as the church, the castle, etc.

Here [in Frenštát] the numbering was done starting from the church. There were 37 houses of Měsťans (Burgers) and of them, 22 formed the core of the square, 15 others were located on the streets which were at the extensions of the square’s longer sides. The current numbering was done at the beginning of  the 19th century.

See this map but remember it is from 1835, so it is not exactly the same as what this chronicle is talking about.

With the numbers from 1835.

In the 1676 document “Extract of a copy of the Hukvaldy official blah blah blah Cadastral blah blah thing from 1676” the names of the current šenk houses (brewery houses) were stated in this order:

Jakub Lichnovský (now at č. 15)
Tom[áš] Bartoš
Pavel Weiss
Jiřík Gach
Tom[áš] Tučný
Lida widow of Michal Kopřiva
Jan Melichar
Mikuláš Kostelník
Martin Polach
Zuzana widow of Chaloupka
Kašpar Mechl
Jan Petrů
Jan Parma
Pavel Slanina
Jiřík Ondráška
Jan Michna
Jan Mikulášek
Jiří Michna
Václav Michna
Jakub Vavřinův
Jan Vašica
Jiří Pauček
Jan Dřevěný
Martin Reček
Tomáš Lichnovský
Tomáš Dreschler
Jiřík Kaluža
Pavel Kopřiva
Jan Hilšer

In total there were 33, but after the fire of 1661 four of the brewery house owners were completely impoverished. Martin Kopřiva sold his field and left, Jiři Dobrozemský burned to death, Matyáš Töpfer sold his field and left to Hungary, and Jan Hunku became a beggar.

 Číslování domů nebylo v obcích nahodile voleno, ale vycházelo z místa význačného, od kostela, zámku a p.

U nás číslováno bylo od kostela. Měšťanských domů je 37 a z těch 22 tvoří jádro náměstí, 15 nalézá se v ulicích, které jsou  prodloužené delší strany jeho. Nynější číslování provedeno na počátku 19. století.

V listině z r. 1676. “Extraktus aus dem in copia adimata bei der hochfürstlichen Ober-Amts-Kanylei der Herrschaft Hochwald befündlichen Catastro de Anno 1676.) uvádějí se jména majitelů skutečných šenkovních domů v městečku Frenštátě (Stadtl Frankstadtl) v tomto pořadu:

Jakub Lichnovský (nyni č. 15), Tom. Bartoš, Pavel Weiss, Jiřík Gach, Tom. Tučný, Lida vdova Kopřivová (po Michalu), Jan Melichar, Mikuláš Kostelník, Martin Polach, Zuzana vdova Chaloupková, Kašpar Mechl, Jan Petrů, Jan Parma, Pavel Slanina, Jiřík Ondráška, Jan Michna, Jan Mikulášek, Jiří Michna, Václav Michna, Jakub Vavřinův, Jan Vašica, Jiří Pauček, Jan Dřevěný, Martin Reček, Tomáš Lichnovský, Tomáš Drechsler, Jiřík Kaluža, Pavel Kopřiva, Jan Hilšer. Úhrnem 33, neboť při požáru v r. 1661. majitelé čtyř ostatních domů šenkovních byli úplně ochuzeni. Martin Kopřiva prodal pole a odešel, Jiří Dobrozemský uhořel, Matyáš Töpfer pole prodal a odešel do Uher, Jan Hunka chodil žebrotou.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

How to trace Czechs before House Numbers

House numbers in the Czech lands are great. But they were not a thing until the 1770s/1780’s.

And not all of our ancestors were the “knedlíky” kind. If you have ever eaten dumplings before, you know exactly what I’m talking about. They sit in your stomach forever, like bricks.

Well, it’s nice when ancestors are like this: “forever” staying in one village, never moving to greener pastures. Would that we were all so lucky to have to deal with problems of identity instead of problems of haystack-needle-picking.

So what do you do when you lose the trail of your ancestors before house numbers?

Helpful hint: look at all the clues!

Here’s my 7th great aunt Marina Šperka’s birth in Staříč on 17 January 1716.

I found no births of any other children to František Šperka and Magdalena ? in Staříč before this time. When I looked for her parents’ marriage in Staříč, I found nothing. I looked in Sviadnov. Nothing.

I noticed that only on Marina’s birth was there anybody mentioned from outside the parish. It was a witness listed as “Anna Vojtěchová ex Místecensi Parochia.”

I decided to try my luck in Místek, and was not disappointed! Here is the marriage of František Šperka and Magdalena Matěj:

Notice that they married 14 February 1708. <3 <3 <3 Happy Valentine’s Day, 7th Great Grandparents! <3 <3 <3

Hey, look, a pretty substantial gap between 1708 and 1716.

A missing child, Anna Šperka, born in Místek in 1713.

But now, there are so many other questions. I didn’t find any other births to this couple in Místek. It is kind of weird that they didn’t start having children until 5 years after they were married. What is the story?

Someday my descendants might wonder the same thing about our birth control habits. We had 3 kids in a row 14 months apart, and then there was a 3 year gap. Will my descendants ask, “Was there a stillborn baby?”

Answer: No, there wasn’t.

I decided to look around. GUESS WHAT. I found other missing children in neighboring Sviadnov:

Joseph Šperka born 22 January 1709
Catharina Šperka born 5 October 1710

Other questions:
  • Did they move, or did they just have the baptisms done outside the parish? If so, why?
  • If they moved, why?
  • What happened to these three kids: Joseph, Catharina, and Anna? I could not find their deaths.

Fun fact: as of this writing, this is the farthest back in time I have been able to trace my ancestors.


I was just super ecstatic to cross over into the 1600’s. It was a huge accomplishment, and very exciting. I hope to be able to take all my Czech lines that far back, and beyond, someday.

But in order to do that, I will have to remember that people in the past moved around, too. Fortunately, they didn’t appear out of thin air, and I will be able to trace their movements by employing a combination of luck and logic. The logic includes noticing all the information on the records, including where the witnesses were from.