Monday, October 28, 2013

Reasons why Czechs immigrated to the United States between 1850-1930

There are many reasons why Czechs decided to immigrate. The year of immigration could give you some important clues. Early immigration (1850-1900) is usually about the desire to farm and own one's land. Serfdom and Manors existed in the Czech lands until 1848. Even after that, land ownership was restricted to certain classes. It was a highly stratified society with not a lot of transfer between classes. 

In the United States, there was lots of land available. Immigration agents in the United States sent glowing reports (overstated, exaggerated, borderline lies!) that made claims of fertile farmland for very cheap. Most Czechs immigrated in clusters. Many Moravian-Silesian Czechs immigrated to East Texas, in Fayette, Wharton, and Lavaca counties. Many Bohemian Czechs immigrated to Chicago, Nebraska, and Iowa. If your ancestor immigrated to more rural areas like Nebraska, Iowa, or East Texas, they were most likely a farmer. This means that a huge impetus for immigration could have been land ownership. 

As the population of the Czech lands continued to grow, the amount of available land for farming became smaller and smaller as it was divided between more and more sons, until it became extremely difficult to eke out a living from farming, which is what the peasants had to do in order to survive. Also, the topography of the land in many places was not very conducive to farming. Picture rocky, forested hills. Most villages in the Czech Republic are clustered around streams. Farming was a difficult venture.

Immigration could also have been motivated by the desire to escape military responsibilities. The Austrian Empire had done little for the Czechs besides tax them. They did not even really protect them. There was no strong nationalistic allegiance that Czechs felt towards the Austrian Empire. Many of them were cynical of their political leaders. The German language became the language of education and government, and Czech was banned, which was not done willingly. Many Czechs felt that the required military duty for their sons was a bitter injustice, in particular during times of war. Many wondered why they should support a cause with their blood when it would give no tangible benefit to them. Instead of sending just their sons, many decided to travel together as families.

Czech protestants and Jews experienced religious persecution despite that both of these groups have long historical ties to the Czech land. In the late 18th and early 19th century, Czech Jews faced some extremely anti-Semitic persecution with laws that declared that only one Jewish boy per family was allowed to marry. This was an effort to decrease the Jewish population. Ironically, this led to a wider dissemination of Jews in the Czech lands when second, third, etc. sons left their hometowns for a neighboring village to marry. 

In short, many Czechs desired freedoms that were to be had in the US that were impossible for them to acquire in their homeland; freedom to own land, freedom of political thought, and freedom of religion. 

Many immigrants to America were of the middle of the peasant class. They had both the means and the motive to leave. Many of these were "hausler" (hired hands who did not own their own land, but were paid in food, clothing, and shelter.), "passekař" (people who cleared an area of hillside of its trees in order to farm on it. The plots for these people are usually very long and skinny. The terrain was usually rocky and not ideal for farming, but better than starving!), or "bauer" - farmers who owned or leased some land but could see no possibility of improving their situation. Those with occupations like miller, weaver, doctor, or those from the higher classes of clergy and nobility did not immigrate as frequently to the United States between 1850-1930, though it did happen.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Czech Parish Records - Latin transcription example

Czech parish records are found in Latin, German, Czech, and strangely mixed versions of any or all of the above.

I recently did some transcriptions for a client from Latin, circa 1750. It was very fun, and I wanted to blog about the process, so I picked a record that was very similar those I had just done.

There are definitely some words that I failed to translate correctly, and because my time for blogging is limited, I'm afraid I will just have to go ahead and post this with some big, obvious errors. Nonetheless, I know that this post will be useful to somebody else out there somewhere who is struggling with the Latin, so I will do it anyway.

The first step is to transcribe letter by letter. Write down what you see. Well. What you think you see.

The second step is to go word by word try to figure out what you see. This involves consulting dictionaries, translators, Latin word lists, and just using your brain. I found an extremely useful book online called, "Parish Register Latin: an Introduction." This proved to be invaluable to me. If only I had an actual physical copy and could see the pictures. It's out of print though. Hmm.

The process involves skipping words that don't make sense, and coming back to them later to try to guess from the context what they could mean.

I am extremely well aware that Latin's cases add nuances to meaning that are easily lost in translation. There is something profoundly beautiful in a clear, concise translation that transfers all the layers of meaning.

It is definitely difficult to do this from Latin, a language which thrives on run-on sentences already without the additional suffixes and prefixes that add still more run-oni-ness in a translation.

The third step is to translate phrases so they make sense.

And finally, you can refine your translation so it is more beautiful.

Here is an example of the last two steps - a first translation, and then a second, much better translation. Notice how the second translation loses less meaning.

They are still not perfect, and I welcome input. It's always a little scary to post stuff like this on one's blog, knowing that your imperfections will be so visible. I hope that I am always able to learn from others around me, and conversely teach them from my own experience. We can share our expertise, and thus everyone can benefit. I know I have a lot to offer fellow Czech researchers, so I'm not going to apologize for not knowing everything yet.

Ano Domini 1743 Praemissus tribus consuctis promulgationibus inter
mis[s]ae Parochialis solemnia continuis tribus diebus dominicis quarum prima
22da Septembris, secunda 29 ejusdem et tertia 6ta octobris  factae sunt,
nulloq[ue] detecto impedimento canonico honestum juvenem Josephum
+Joan[n]is Hofmann bubulci filium cum pariter honesta virgine Celesta
Christopher bennir gazary[us] in Czezow, filia subdites Czezovienses pro habito
consensu domini[us] et attestato de facus denuntiatiobus ni Czeszowiz prius
catechisatus, confesus, et communicatos ego Mathias Hetdorf proprius
hones[este?]d parochus die 8 Octobris in Ecclesia S: Nicolai Ep: Merklin[ius] di
coram facie S: Matris Ecclesiae de corum mutuo consensu interrogavi
cog per verba de praesenti cognito solemniter matrimonio conjungi
praesentibus testibus Joanne Rysuar [?] rustico in Czezow et Mar-
tino Hermaczek opilione[?] in Stenin.

First Translation:
As promised, after posting banns three successive Sabbaths [days of the Lord] in a row, of which the first was 22nd September, the second the 29th of the same month, and the third the 6th of October, [and] finding of the same that there were discovered no impediments [hindrances] in the Canon [law of the church], the honorable young man Joseph, son of + [the late, deceased] Joan[n]is Hofmann, bubulci [?], together with the virtuous woman Celesta, daughter of Christopher Bennir, a small peasant in Czezow, subject to the consent of their guardians and before [their fellow] Czeszowizites [people from Czezow] confessed the provided catechism.
I, the honorable [?] pastor Mathias Heldorf declared on 8 October in the Church of St. Nicholas [in] Merklin[y], to the Holy Mother of the Church of God I asked, knowing the present words were solemnly acknowledged by mutual consent, that [these people] ever might be linked in marriage, in the presence of Joanne Rysuar [?] farmer in Czezow and Martino Hermaczek opilione[?] in Stenin.

Second Translation:
In the year of our Lord 1743, three marriage banns were published previous to the solemn mass [marriage] in our parish on consecutive Sabbaths, of which the first was 22nd September, the second the 29th of the same month, and the third the 6th of October, and no impediments having been revealed canonically, the honorable young man Joseph, son of + [the late, deceased] Joan[n]is Hofmann, bubulci [?], together with the honorable virgin Celesta, daughter of Christopher Bennir, a small peasant in Czezow, having previously gained the approval of [their fellow] Czeszowizites [people from Czezow] through the Catechism and Communions, I, Mathias Heldorf, the honorable pastor of the church of St. Nicholas [in] Merklín, joined [them in marriage] on 8 October before the face of the Holy Mother Church after I questioned them of their mutual consent [to be] ever joined in marriage, the present witnesses being Joanne Rysuar [?] farmer in Czezow and Martino Hermaczek opilione[?] in Stenin.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What is a "Jmoril"? Answer: "inweib"

Update: A very kind fellow Czech researcher emailed me with a transcription of the word I didn't understand. I feel kind of depressed that I only got one letter out of six correct on that word. But I am humble enough to admit I made a mistake, correct it, and allow others to learn from the whole process. 

So, what is an inweib? I found an interesting answer on the Bavarian genealogy forum. Basically, it's a female hausler. A woman who does not own property, but works on someone else's property in exchange for food, clothing, and shelter. It's not a bad position necessarily.

I had always thought that "hauslers" were land owners. Then, I started learning more about Czech manorial laws and I realized that in no way did most of the people actually technically "own" the land until well into the 19th century. From the above site, I learned that hauslers were not really the land "owners", but tenants who worked on the land. Hired hands. My understanding is that this class of people was not the poorest, but they had high rates of immigration because their situation in Moravia was not promising enough to outweigh the risk of leaving. I could see why people who didn't have the possibility of owning land would find the lure of huge tracts of fertile east Texas farmland extremely appealing, especially when blown out of proportion to the point of fallacy by the immigration agents and other interested promoters. 

A huge percentage of my Czech ancestors were hauslers. I'm so glad that I posted this question, and learned something from it.

I really think the person wrote "jnweib" but that would be consistent with what I know about Czech. "j"s and "i"s are sometimes mixed together in older Czech (or Czech-German, which it seems that this is). I also see now that what is written is "passekers", which does mean "passekař." I also don't know why he wrote "eheweibes" instead of "eheweiber." It could just be an error. 

As I was working on some of my own family history, I came across a word that I really don't understand.

This is the bride's entry in a Trojanovice marriage register. The marriage took place 9 February, 1863.

House #144

Katharina Ku
banik inweib in Trojanovič
Točhter des Jakob
Kubanik Passe-
kers in Morko-
wa und dessen
eheweibes An
na gebor. And[r]eas

Catholic, 29, single

Katharina Kubanik, jmoril in Trojanovice, daughter of Jakob Kubanik, pasekař* [farmer, see below for details] in Morkowa [I will need to get out my gazetteers and figure out where this is. I haven't done that yet.] and of his wife, Anna, born of And[r]eas Michaletz.

I have no idea what "jmoril" means.

No other woman on this page has the descriptor.

These records usually follow a set pattern. I feel confident that this word describes something about her; her status, her occupation, or something else about her.

I feel fairly confident that what is written on the page is "jmoril." Maybe it is "j moril" with a space between the first two letters. The "j" looks exactly like the beginning "j" in "Jakob". The final "l" might be a "c", but I believe it is an "l."

The first place I searched was google translate. I tried a Czech-English search and a German-English search. When I did a Czech-English search for, "Katharina Kubanik, j moril in Trojanovice" I got:

"Katharina Kubanik, j toiled in Trojanovice"

I click on "toiled" and the other options are, "toiled, bate, withered, tormented, plagued." What could this possibly mean? Was Katharina Kubanik someone who was sick in Trojanovice? It seems unlikely. Did she "toil" there? Was she a servant of some sort? And why is there an extra "j" stuck in the front?

Katharina Kubanik is 29 at the time of her first marriage, which is significantly older than is typical of the 1860's. Generally, Czech women in the 1860's married between the ages of 18-24, though as young as 15 is pretty common, too. The youngest I have ever seen is 14 and 11 months, one of my great aunts!

Since Katharina is so much older, it is highly likely she has some sort of occupation. I feel fairly confident that "jmoril" describes her occupation, as opposed to her birth status (legitimate? illegitimate? I learned recently that there are many words for almost every conceivable - no pun intended - situation). Though, it is possible I am wrong.

I tried consulting a 19th Century Czech-English dictionary. It wasn't helpful.

I tried consulting a 19th Century German-English dictionary. It wasn't helpful either.

So, now I am giving up and asking the blogosphere. Do you know what "jmoril" means?!

*A pasekař is a farmer who cleared the trees of the forest, usually on a hill, and turned it into arable land. Landlords allowed the serfs living on their property to do this. This happened when there was no possibility of the person obtaining land in the more desirable valley lands. This farm is called a Paseka, and is typical of Eastern Moravia. Many Czech immigrants to America were from this class of farmers; the prospect of land ownership was a huge motivation for their immigration. See this site for more details.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Illegitimacy in Catholic Czech Records: Different Types

If someone is born out of wedlock, they are illegitimate. But what does this mean? What is the process of legitimizing the child? And why would it be important to do so?

What I have learned mostly comes from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia on their pages about legitimation and illegitimacy. 

Basically, if a child is born out of wedlock, they are illegitimate. There are many "what-ifs", and in general, these seem to always be in the favor of legitimizing the child. For example, what if for some reason the marriage is not valid but the couple believes it is? This is called a putative marriage, and children born to parents in this situation are legitimate. What if one of the parties believes the marriage is valid, in good faith? The children would still be legitimate.

Legitimation does not depend on the will of the parents, and can take place after all parties are dead. The marriage does not have to be consummated to legitimize the child. 

There are different statuses of illegitimacy.

natural or naturales - illegitimate children born of unmarried people who could have been in a legitimate marriage at the time of conception or birth.

manzeres - illegitimate children born of a prostitute.

bastardi - illegitimate children born of neither a prostitute nor a concubine.

spurii - illegitimate children born of parents who either at the time of conception or at birth could NOT have been in a legitimate marriage.

ex damnnato coitu - illegitimate children born of parents who could not have been validly married both at the time of conception and the time of birth.

nothi - illegitimate children born to one married parent, and one unmarried parent. 

adulterini - illegitimate children born to two married parents (who are obviously not married to each other).

incestuosi - illegitimate children born to parents related by "collateral consaguinity" or affinity. Example: a child born from a sister-brother relationship.

nefarii - illegitimate children born to parents related in the direct line of ascent or descent. Example: a child born from a mother-son or father-daughter relationship.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Czech Cursive Handwriting Examples from 1600-1935

My cousin in Řepiště shared two extremely useful PDF documents with me. They have handwriting examples in Czech script and how it has changed through the years. These are especially useful in Czech research when dealing with letters with hačeks. There are many German current script examples floating around the internet, but far fewer Czech examples with letters like č and ř, and the common ch combination shape. I think it would be wonderful to create a resource that shows examples of these letters in the context of words, because that is how you will actually be deciphering them. However, this is better than nothing, and I have relied on them often enough to know that other researchers will probably use them, too.

So, I decided to share them. You can access them from the following links. If you have problems, feel free to email me and I can send them to you as an attachment.
I have also added these links to the "Resources" tab of this blog, under "Handwriting Helps" for you easy access. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Maps of Boundary Changes in the Czech Lands

Today I had an associate ask me: 

"Yesterday we had a man come into the FHC helping a friend on his research.  I'm not sure if Ron will be coming back for further research on this family or not.  
  Anyway, on the 1940 census, the family's country of origin was Czechoslovakia, earlier censuses Austria [crossed out] then written Hungary, and 1906 naturalization said Hungary.  Language spoken Slovak. I'm not aware of any mapping program like the Gold Bug map program we have for US county boundary changes for this area of Europe.  Are you aware of a website that has overlays of boundary changes for Europe?  It would be so helpful to explain/show people how the boundaries changed.   Just curious if you know of a website or program that does this.  Thanks."

To which I replied: 

"When the US census lists a person's birthplace as "Austria", "Germany", "Hungary", "Austrian Empire", "Bohemia," "Czechoslovakia," "Moravia", etc. remember that these could all refer to the same place. 

It's slightly more defining when the birth place is listed as, "Moravia," because usually that refers to a place within Moravia. Bohemia could refer to anywhere within Bohemia or Moravia. It was used interchangeably with the others. Many of the immigrants came when the place was still under Austrian occupation, so they would have been leaving the Austrian empire. Sometimes the enumerator lumped them into a general "German" category with their similarly foreign looking and sounding neighbors. 

A broadly helpful site that shows territory changes in Europe can be found here:

A more specific site that I have found to be more helpful for my Czech research is the territorial changes of Poland, found here:

It's a complicated mess. 

If Ron wants to connect his Czech ancestors to their Czech origins, he should search like crazy for the village of origin in records found in the country of arrival...The hint that he spoke slovak is a very good clue. It could refer either to Czech or Slovak, but certainly gives us the idea that he was not from Hungary, Austria, or Germany. Or, rather, that he self-identified with a Czechoslovak heritage more than a Hungarian heritage, even if his homeland was currently under occupation from a foreign government."