Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Search Strategy: Finding the Parish of a Village of Origin in the Czech lands using only online tools

So you have a name of a village in the Czech lands. You know that records must exist somewhere. You learn that they have likely been digitized and are available online, as part of a massive movement of many of the state and local archives in the CR to promote accessibility.

The end goal is to find the record with your ancestor's information. Let's say you are searching for a Catholic baptism entry on a matriky record. Matriky is the Czech word for parish register.

Before you can find the page with that record, you must find the correct Parish register. A parish register is a book full of records. They can be arranged by births and baptisms, marriages, or deaths and burials, or sometimes be joined together. Sometimes there is an index somewhere in the record. Actually searching the parish register deserves its own blog post.

Before you can find the correct Parish register to search through, you must first figure out which parish your village was in. That seems like straightforward, logical thinking, right? Simple doesn't always mean easy, though. Sometimes this part of the research can be a real headache. Fortunately for us Czech Genealogists in the 21st century, we have many online tools that can help us determine the correct parish jurisdiction.

Where I usually start is the Czech Parish Finder. I don't know the source for this website's information. It is housed on familysearch.org. I assume that as a sub-page in the Czech Republic Familysearch.org Wiki it is, like all other wiki pages, a work in progress. It would be really interesting to know which gazetteers provided this information. Since I am in contact with one of the Czech Research specialists at the Family History Library, maybe I could email her to find out. Note to self: do that as soon as I finish this blog post!

Anyway, the reason I use the Czech Parish Finder as my first go-to source is that it is easily searchable and contains both Czech and German town spelling and name variations.

To use the Czech Parish Finder, first click on the letter of the alphabet for your village of interest. Let's pretend you are interested in a town called Odranec. You have no idea where it is. Before even looking at a map, first go to the Czech Parish Finder, click Czech Republic Parishs: N-O.

Now you can do a simple text search by typing ctrl-f and typing the word "Odranec." When I do this, I see three possibilities:

Odranec    Horni Studenec    Chotebor
Odranec    Snezne                 Nove Mesto na Morave
Odranetz   Snezne                 Nove Mesto na Morave

Apparently the Czech Parish Finder website does not yet have diacritical marks. Note to self: help edit the wiki page to include the diacritical marks. Because sometimes those diacritical marks are critical (he. he.) to finding a village. A haček can make a big difference.

This is a good example of a teeny tiny village which had a name change. In Czech, the town is called Odranec. In German, the town is Odranetz.

Parish PlaceParish NameCivil District (Modern)Judicial district (Historical)






As of this posting, none of the modern jurisdictions have been included. They would be in the "Civil District (Modern)" column.

Instead we have the "Parish Place." This describes the village.

Then we have the "Parish Name." Usually, if a town was big enough, it had its own parish. Sometimes villages and hamlets grouped together to form a parish, usually in a central location, or in the largest of the parish's villages.

The "Judicial district (Historical)" is an extremely helpful piece of information. We can see with the Odranec example that there are really only two Odranec's: one in historic Chotebor, and one in historic Nové Město na Moravě.

Now you can start looking at a map. I usually go to google maps. Another good map is mapy.cz. On mapy.cz you can also view historical maps, which can be helpful. Whichever you choose, now is the time to search for the judicial district - the place in the last column.

The reason you should do it this way is because judicial districts are usually larger and usually still are found on modern maps. The reason I don't want to switch to a historic map just yet is because they are not as easily searchable. I want to figure out what region of the Czech lands Odranec is in first.

So I type in "Chotebor, Czech Republic" in the search box on my map website. I zoom out and can see that it is basically smack dab in the center of the CR. Now I do a search for, "Nove Mesto na Morave." I can see that it is not very far from Chotebor, also in the center of the CR.

Now I use the map to do a search for Odranec itself. Sometimes these tiny villages no longer exist, or have completely different names, or are not located in exactly the same area (for example, Gross Kunzendorf and modern day Kunčice). Doing a search for "Odranec" in google maps gives me one choice: Odranec, Věcov, Czech Republic. I choose it.

Then I zoom out and can see that is is close to Nové Město na Moravě. This means that this tiny village is probably the second Odranec on the Czech Parish Finder. If it is not easy to determine by sight which of the historical judicial districts it is closest to, I could search for directions. In this case, Nové Město na Moravě is only 8.8 km distance away, while Chotebor is 46.1 km.

But where is the Odranec near Chotebor?

The next search I tried was the parish name of "Horni Studenec." I found that. But nothing close by looks like Odranec.

For this particular research problem, I knew that the ancestor in question was Moravian. I decided that my next step would be to see if both of these Odranec's were in Moravia, or if they were elsewhere. If only was was in Moravia, that would rule out the other one. From a wikipedia map, Chotebor looks like it may be in Bohemia, while Nové Město na Moravě looks like it is in Moravia.

I next went to the Archive map showing their jurisdiction boundaries and links to the online databases. From this, I determined that the records of interest would most likely be housed on actapublica, which hosts the Moravian Regional Archives of Brno holdings. I type in "Odranec" in the Okres (district) field and wait a few seconds before my option of "Věcov:Odranec (Odranetz) / Žďár nad Sázavou" appears. I click the link and see all the records that are available for Odranec, and shake my fists at the universe that they are only available through 1894. That is the start of a different blog post, though.

Now I can search the actual registers. I discover quickly that this is, indeed, the correct Odranec when I find and confirm information about the ancestor's wife.

Some other helpful sources are historic Czech Republic Gazetteers available free on familysearch.org. I believe they are circa 1900. I have downloaded and used these. They are huge files, but excellent, and contain some interesting demographic information (how many cows the village of Odranec had in 1900.) There are separate Gazetteers for Bohemia and Moravia.

Another extremely useful resource for me is the "Mistopisny" document that I downloaded from matriky.archives.cz before it switched over to vademecum.archives.cz. I would do a direct link to this record, which I'm sure is still available for download somewhere, but I really don't know how to find it yet.

Where to look and how to find them: the two biggest genealogy problems. I will update you as I learn. We are all in a stage of learning.

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