Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why should you look for village of origin records in the country of arrival?

So, you have a vague clue about a village of origin, say in the village "Hradiště." 

You look up Hradiště on the Czech Parish finder and discover that there are over 20 different places with this name. 

But you don't know which Hradiště is your Hradiště.

Since so many of the Czech parish records are available online now, should you jump directly to the Czech records to try to find your ancestor's village of origin, and eliminate each village one by one?


The problem with going straight to the records in the potential village of origin will be this: how will you know that this Jan Novák is the Jan Novák you're looking for? 

The surname "Novák" exists throughout all of the modern Czech lands. I know this from looking at a surname density map that you can find here:

Also, the surname Novák is the most common in the entire Czech Republic. "Jan Novák" is the equivalent to "John Smith." Researchers need to put aside their own personal biases and remember that just because Novák isn't a super common name in the United States does not mean that makes it uncommon elsewhere!!!

Czech surnames are interesting, because there are some cases where a rare surname might actually be a clue to the village of origin. The site, which is a modern surname density map, might help you in the search for your ancestors. However, those will have to wait for a different blog post.

There were certainly other people named Jan Novák, even from the same village, perhaps even born the same year, the same month, even the same day! If you want to search all the Hradištěs in all the okres (counties) in all the kraj (regions) of the Czech Republic, you greatly increase the chances of accidentally linking your family to the wrong Jan Novák. That would be very sad, and ultimately a waste!

You need to gather evidence that will identify your Jan Novák from all the other Jan Nováks, including his occupation(s), religion, and especially his family relationships. 

Here are some ideas:

Have you found him on a passenger list? Look for both the arrival and departure manifest. This is the most likely place where you will find clues to the village of origin, as well as add valuable clues about your Jan Novák, who he was, and how you will be able to identify him from all the other Jan Nováks. More about this in a separate blog post.

Have you found his headstone? Sometimes the headstone, particularly on earlier immigrants, will have Czech writing on it that might include the village of origin, or a clue to the village of origin. Have you been to/seen a picture of the headstone? In this case, it would be important to check the headstone or an image of the headstone, not a derivative source from an online database. If the cemetery is on, somebody may have uploaded the photo already. If not, you can do a photo request, and a volunteer may upload it for you. I have been both on the volunteer end and the receiving end. It's really neat.

Have you tried any probate records? Usually immigrating Czechs were enthralled about the prospect of land ownership. The freedom to own property was probably very important to him, because he probably experienced manorial lords, the robota tax, and other oppressive land-related laws back in the Czech lands. He likely kept a will. Many immigrants did, even if all they possessed was two silver spoons - it was the freedom to do it that was so important to them. 

First, go to the family search wiki website for the US state that your ancestor lived and died in. This will give you state specific research strategies that will help you find the probate records. Sometimes you can order microfilm with probate records from a local LDS family history center. Sometimes you just need to go to the county court house and request the records in person. 

Have you tried any land records? It would be great for you to go to the courthouse anyway, because there you can get copies of land records, some of which indicate villages of origin! 

Do you have any artifacts? Do you have access to a family bible? There might be handwritten genealogies written inside. Do you have any old Czech books from this ancestor? The inside cover might contain a stamp with the publisher, their address, etc. That can really help narrow your search, because usually books in the past were printed nearby to where they were bought and sold. Do you have any jewelry, clocks, or other antiques? You might discover their manufacturer, and where they were made, and narrow your search that way.

Do you have any church records? Was your ancestor Catholic or protestant? Sometimes the village of origin was written in the margins of US parish records, sometimes for baptism records of their children. These are usually found in the churches themselves.

Do you have any correspondences, papers, or other original records at home? Who does? They existed. They probably exist somewhere still. Who can you contact in your living family tree that might know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows who has the treasure box in their attic? Make some connections online through Familysearch Family Tree (free!), (subscription), etc.etc. Don't accept the information you receive from distant cousins at face value though! Use the connection to sleuth down the original records. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Search for records in the bride's home village

I have recently been doing research on some Klečka ancestors. I solved a problem using some basic knowledge about Czech customs in family migration.

Here are two general pieces of knowledge that I have discovered in my experience researching my Catholic Czech ancestors.

1. Marriages often took place in the village of the bride.

2. Sometimes a newly married couple may start their married life in close proximity to the family of the bride. 

Here was my problem: 

My father did extensive research on all of our Czech family but hit brick walls every time it came to the immigrating generation, which was usually 1865-1890's in my own family. There were many other Czechs that immigrated to Illinois, Texas and elsewhere between 1890-1920's, and I have read that the largest numbers of Czech immigrants came in these later years. That would be something to research and blog about later, for sure. But anyway, my ancestors came earlier, for Czech immigrants that is. 

My father's information about Charles Klecka [sic] and Johanna Licka [sic] was only vague. He had found them on the 1880 US census in Fayette County, Texas with their family, and probably on the 1900 US census in Austin County, Texas. My goal was to find this family in their village of origin in the Czech lands.

The most difficult part of this process is determining a village of origin. Almost always, the village of origin should be determined from the original records found in the country of arrival, not country of departure. My father's information documented that the children of Charles Klecka [sic] and Johanna Licka [sic] were from "Mala Hrabova, , Mahren, Austria." This information was not cited. I scratched my head, wondering why he wrote that information down. The only source linked to this person was a US census record, which stated they were born in, "Moravia."

By the way, when doing Czech research, if you come across US census or vital records that state the person is from Bohemia, assume it is anywhere within Bohemia or Moravia. But if you see "Moravia," usually that means they are from Moravia or Silesia.

Karl Klečka and Johanna Lička were last people my father could research, the first of that Klečka line that immigrated to Texas. I wanted to link them past this brick wall, into the Czech records. First, I had to determine if "Mala Hrabova, , Mahren, Austria" was a legitimate village of origin.

Honestly, I'm not sure if this counts as finding the clue to the village of origin in the US or not. Ideally the clue would be in a more reliable, original record. However, because of my familiarity with this specific area, and the accessibility to these records for the relevant years, I decided to just go ahead and check the Czech records.

At first glance, it reminded me of a village close by my ancestors, currently Hrabová, Ostravá-Město, Moravskoslezský Kraj. To break it down: Hrabová, Ostravá district, Moravskoslezský Region. The word "Mala" looks a lot like the Czech word "Malé," or "small." Some villages have neighboring villages with similar names, like Upper Plainville, Lower Plainville, Old Plainville, New Plainville, etc. So I was looking for a village that was similar to Hrabová, but a diminutive. 

I have researched in neighboring Hrabůvka, which sounds like a diminutive form of Hrabová. I started the search there, in this register:

Here is a rough transcription that I used in my notes. I didn't feel like transcribing the word "and his wife" in German because...I was'm sorry.

ep 39

1873 2 ledna narozen
2 ledna baptized
Parodni baba: Barbara Holan z velki Hrabove # 53
+6 ledna 1873
Catholic, male, legitimate
father: Karel Klečka, sedlak v Malé Hrabové, syn Josefa Klečka sedlák v Zábre a jeho manželky Johanny z rodin Ličkoveho sedláky ve staré b[a]lé
mother: Johanna, dcera Františka Ličzky scolláka ve Nove Biele a jeho manželky Mariany y rodu Jakob Krčmarskeho sedlák v Nova balé

It seemed very likely that this Karel was the son of Karel Klečka and Johanna Lička, a child who died young and never immigrated. My father had not been able to find him, of course, because this record hadn't been available. Obviously, I will need to go and actually find the death record for 6 January 1873, and all other available records. I don't think this will amount to the kind of "reasonably exhaustive search" that the BCG requires for their portfolio, without also finding other original records. It is not proof until all the evidence is found, correlated, and judged. What I have is evidence that this person existed. That's a good starting place! But, just wanted to clarify that lest I come across as a hack genealogist.

Back to the problem. The first thing I usually do in this case is to assume that it is possible that they were in the same house, so I scan my eyes down the pages going forward (or backward) for the house number only. I didn't find anybody. From the 1880 and 1900 US censuses, I knew this family immigrated ~1875. Karel was born in 1873. Hmm.

So then I started looking earlier and found Antonia:

ep 29
1 Rijna born
2 Rigna baptized
#8 Hrabuvka
midwife: Rosina Lehner z Nové Biele #48
Catholic, Female, Legitimate
father: Karel Klečka sedlák v Malé Hrabové syn Josefa Klečka sedklák v Zábru a jeho manželky Johanny z rodu Josefa Lička sedláka ve Staré Bielé
mother: Johanna, dcera Františka Ličky sedláka v Nové Bielé a jeho manželky Marianny z rodu Josefa Krčmarského sedláka v Nové Bielé

But...that was it. Unless this was the wrong Klečka family, they might have lived somewhere else. Hmmm. The first place I decided to look was the father's village of origin, Zábřeh. It's a neighboring village. The register there turned up nothing for this family.

I decided to look in Hrabová. This was also a negative search for the family, but I did find the index to both Hrabová and Hrabůvka. The index seemed more aggravating to decipher than going to the actual register and flipping through the pages. This happens when the villages are small, the indexes for several villages kept together, and the handwriting in the index is especially difficult to decipher. If the village is small, it isn't such a big deal to skip the index and find the years of interest (or estimated years of interest). It becomes a huge deal when dealing with Vratimov, and the register is 800 pages long...uh no thanks.

Then I remembered that second piece of information at the top: Sometimes a newly married couple may start their life in close proximity to the family of the bride. Why not check Nová Bělá records to see if that's where they were living? 

I was right! I found several other siblings in this register:

ep 46
9 October 1865 born
10 October 1865 baptized
#64 Nová Bělá
midwife: Rosina [?] in Nová Bělá #48
Male, legitimate
father: Karl Klečka, schmeid maister in Nová Bela, sohn des Josef Klečka, bauer in Zabro und his wife Johanna born Lička, bauer in Alt Běla
mother: Johanna, tochter des Franz Lička, bauer in Nová Běla and his wife Marianna born of Josef Křečmarsky bauer in Nová Bělá

ep 52
19 June born
20 June baptized
+ 18/4 1868
Male, Legitimate
father: Karl Klečka, schmidmister in Nová Biela, sohn des Josef Klečka bauer in Žábre and his wife Johanna geb Josef Lička bauer in Alt Biela
mother: Johanna tochter des Franz Lička bauer in Neu Biela und his wife Marianna geb Josef Křecmarsky bauer in Neu Biela

ep 56
25 Oktober born
26 Oktober baptized
female, legitimate
father: Karl Klečka, schmeidmister in Neu Biela sohn des Josef Klečka bauer in Zabro und of his wife Johanna geb Josef Lička bauer in Alt Biela
mother: Johanna tochter des Franz Lička bauer in Neu Biela und his wife Marianna geb Josef Krčmarsky bauer in Neu Biela

 Along with some more compelling evidence that this is the correct Klečka family - in these Czech records and the 1880 census Karel/Carl is listed as a blacksmith. 

I was unable to solve all the mysteries, though. Aside from gathering the death records referred to in the margin notes, I still wonder: where was Karel and Johanna's first son on the 1880 census, Joseph, born? Their last child to be born in the Moravia, Anna (again, according to the 1880 census) - what village was she born in? And I have not even started researching their next five children born in Texas. Were they even - gasp - their children? Could they have been a different relation and enumerated incorrectly on the 1880 census? Johanna did not speak English, according to the census. Hmm. 

However, I feel confident that the family I found in Moravia is the same Klečka family my father was researching, and that with further document gathering, corroboration, and analysis, the sum of my evidence will prove an origin for all of them!

Maybe this post will help you learn how to do the same for your own family. I would love to help you. If you have questions about the handwriting, how to navigate the site (or any others on the "Resources" tab at the top of this blog), or how to find a village of origin, email me! 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Can Catholics be Odd Fellows?

Yeah, I know some Catholics who are odd fellows, but can they be Odd Fellows? ;)

I tried to research this online, but was not coming up with very many conclusive answers, so I decided to post my question on the Transitional Genealogists Forum. This forum is a place where professional genealogists and those en route to becoming professional genealogists can meet and discuss questions and issues they have. 

Here is what I wrote:

"I was wondering if Catholics could historically be members of
free-Mason-like fraternities like Independent Order of Odd Fellows or
Knights of Pythias?

My understanding is that becoming a Mason requires a belief in God, but
beyond that almost no other religious qualifications, and if you were a
member, you probably would not know the religious affiliation of your
fellow Masons.

However, I also had read some online threads that discussed a historic
anti-fraternity sentiment (or perhaps an official decree?) that meant that
most of the time Catholics would not become members of them. Here's a link:

I really don't know if I trust that site. I definitely trust you guys more,
especially to lead me to where to search.

I'm doing some research for someone who thinks that her ancestors were
Catholic, but isn't sure. In the ancestor's obituary he is definitely
listed as being a member of I.O.O.F. (several times this is listed, with
several different lodge numbers etc.) and Knights of Pythias. These clues
make me wonder if he really wasn't Catholic."

You can view the responses to this thread here. Basically, the first 5ish responses were, "Catholics were officially forbidden from joining Masonic organizations." The next 5ish responses were, "So and so in history or that I know in person is Catholic and a Mason." 

My take away is: 
  • Masonic organizations didn't prohibit Catholics from joining 
  • The Catholic church does not/did not approve of Catholics joining
  • Some Catholics join(ed) anyway
Knowing that a person is a member of a Masonic organization doesn't disprove that they are Catholic, but it could be a hint about their religion. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Finding Czech Parish Records: Moravian-Silesian Region

I gave a presentation today at the Czech Heritage Society - Harris County Chapter for their Summer Genealogy Meeting. It was called "Finding Czech Parish Records: Moravian-Silesian Region." If you click on that link, it will allow you to view and download my presentation. Feel free to share this with anybody who might find it interesting or useful!

My presentation was specifically focused on how to navigate the Regional Archives of Opavá's website: (previously

My presentation seemed to be well received. I had a wonderful time, met some great people, and feel very excited to continue to help these fellow Texas Czechs research more about their ancestors.