Tuesday, July 26, 2016

It's not just me whining about access

I recently returned home from my first trip to the Czech Republic with my husband. It was a perfect trip. I would not change anything.
Me with my 5th cousin Roman in front of our ancestor's church in Vratimov

If I could sum up the most important thing that I learned from this trip it would be, "I knew nothing." 

This realization is, of course, very humbling. I think I had already started to realize how little I know and understand about my Czech ancestors, and how much there is left for me to know when I started this blog. I have always felt that I was not so much setting myself up on the pedestal of being an expert Czech family historian, but that by writing about my discoveries and sharing them online I was making valuable knowledge more accessible to others. I knew then, and I certainly know now that I am not alone in my desire to research and truly understand my Czech heritage.

However, it was not until actually seeing and experiencing it for myself that I was able to begin to grasp how little I actually know. I thought I knew more, and it's so very painful to realize that I'm such a novice. 

Fortunately, I'm young. I'm only 29. I have a lot of years ahead of me in which to gain knowledge and experience. I'm also very persistent and tenacious when I pursue my interests, and this interest has evolved into more than a hobby: it is my dream to become a true expert, a scholar, on Czech family history, which is inseparably linked to history, the Czech language, politics, culture, art, religion, etc. 

Here's an analogy: my husband and I photographed 75% of the Vratimov cemetery, including all of the oldest section. This is the village of origin of my maiden name Vašíček ancestors. It took us several days and many hours to photograph thousands of headstones. Each headstone averages 3-4 names, some with many more. We skipped some headstones that had no information whatsoever on them besides, "Rodina Kallusová." 

The goal of photographing these headstones is to eventually put them all onto Find A Grave, a large, free, volunteer-based database of cemeteries and images their headstones. It is going to take many, many hours to do this. It is going to be difficult. And at the end of the day, what will we have accomplished? We will have added 75% of one cemetery from one tiny Moravian town, representing perhaps one 1-billionth of all Czech cemeteries. 

Currently, there are only 116 Czech graves on the site, and those were all for famous Czechs. I laugh to think that my peasant ancestors will join the ranks of people like Jan Hus, Gregor Mendel, Antonín Dvořak, etc!!! I suppose it has to start somewhere.

Just like my acquisition of knowledge has to start somewhere. Gawking at the sheer mass of knowledge I need to pursue, gain, and master to become the kind of expert I want to be is as daunting as the prospect of being single-handedly responsible to photograph and upload all the graves from all the cemeteries in the entire Czech Republic to Find a Grave. It feels impossible. 

Intuitively, I know that the reason I have so much left to learn is not all my fault. I know information exists, but I have thought for some time now that it is not nearly as accessible as scholarly knowledge about other topics in history. I am always hesitant to blame anybody but myself for my lack of knowledge, though, because it feels like whining.

Today my inter-library loan books came in. The first one that I am reading is called, "Between Lipany and White Mountain: Essays in Late Medieval and Early Modern Bohemian History in Modern Czech Scholarship" by James R Palmitessa (Editor), Barbara Day (Translator), and Christopher Hopkinson (Translator). It was published in 2014 and explores precisely the ideas that I need to understand better in order to be a truly knowledgeable Czech family historian.

The preface was very validating to me because it gave several explicit reasons why knowledge about Czech history is limited and inaccessible:
  • Czech is not one of the common research languages which historians and other scholars in the humanities and social sciences learn, so non-Czech speakers have to turn to comparatively limited body of scholarship in English and German.
  • Unfortunately, the history of the Czech lands has been relegated to the margins of western civilization, for many complex and fascinating reasons, but especially because of communism.
  • Communism isolated Czech historians and Czech scholarship from western historiography. 
Basically: it's not just me whining about access; gaining the knowledge I want is a legitimately difficult task

But it is worth the struggle.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Dominikál vs. Rustikál

When you are reading Czech land records, you will inevitably encounter the terms dominikál and rustikál. What do these words mean? Why are they important for genealogists to understand?

Dominikál comes from the same root as the word dominion. It refers to manorial/estate land owned by the nobility and tilled under their direction by the robota subjects. Robota is an amount of labor (and later more of a monetary tax) that serfs owed their estate lords. The equivalent in France would be the corvée. As an anecdote, the evil, dreaded robota remained imprinted into the cultural memory of Texas Czechs, that is, descendants of Czech immigrants to Texas, even until my generation. To give some perspective, my great, great grandfather Joseph John Vašíček was my first direct line immigrant ancstor, arriving in Texas in 1880.
Panská půda, kterou vrchnost obdělávala ve vlastní režii pomocí dvorské čeledi a roboty poddaných
Rustikál comes from the same root as the word rustic. It refers to land/property owned by the estate and possessed by peasants for a fee, "or other consideration."

Nemovitost, zvláště půda, která byla dědičně v držbě poddaného za poplatek či jinou úhradu
The way I had this explained to me was that the land of an estate could be divided into basically two parts: either dominikál or rustikál. Your ancestor's property might be described as a rustikál gärtlergrund, in which case perhaps it has been a small farm passed down for generations. If, however, you see that your ancestor's property is described as a dominikál gärtlergrund, that is an indication that the property was probably not previously used by tenant farmers, but rather was estate land that was either farmed or perhaps not, considering the condition of the property. 

The closest equivalent word in English to dominikál is demesne. This is, "all the land which was retained by the lord of the manor for his own use and support, under his own management, as distinguished from land sub-enfeoffed by him to others as sub-tenants."

But this opens up a huge can of worms, namely: how does feudalism and the system of subinfeudation  in England in the middle-middle ages compare to what existed in the 18th and 19th century Austrian Empire? Is the 1290 Quia Emptores, or the statute that prevented subinfeudation in England, a significant event that differentiates these systems? If so, how?

What I want to understand better is what would be the purpose for the estate lord to sell some of his dominikál holdings? Some reasons I can think of:
  • the need for more liquid cash flow
  • a growing population on the estate that was running out of room in the present rustikál property
  • benevolence and/or generosity of the estate lord
  • risk: the estate lord realized that there is more profit in real estate than in farming, which is definitely as true today as it was back then!
Why is this nuance important for genealogists to understand? I'm not exactly sure, but I have some ideas. 

My understanding is that before 1856 (but I have no source for this!) subdivision of property was not officially legal. My understanding is that basically, it was not until about a decade after the end of feudalism in the Czech lands that peasants actually had the ability to split their land into new parcels. I lack knowledge about this; I need to learn more about the specifics of these laws. But, if it was true that the land could not be subdivided before the middle of the 19th century, then it might also be true that a new property might be significantly different looking than an original plot. As in, the estate lord might have realized that he could sell some of his dominikál land to make a profit off the rent of the tenants. If I were in that position, I would try to sell the land in the smallest size possible in order to provide the maximum number of lots (and annual taxes/rent) possible. Perhaps a dominikál gärtlergrund is smaller than a rustikál gärtlergrund. Of course, for Americans of Czech descent, one of the most fascinating questions to try to understand is, "Why did my ancestors leave?" Certainly we can get closer to a true answer to this question as we understand the precise conditions of their property and farm, including how it compared to other nearby farms, as well as the size, cost, and yields of their land. 

Understanding conditions of an individual property can hint at broader conditions of the estate. It would have mattered to your ancestors if the estate were experiencing an economic boom or downturn, and this certainly could have influenced some of their life decisions: how many children to have, where to live (and thus die), whom to marry, etc. Although peasants under feudalism were not free to move out of the estate without permission from the estate lord (again, I do not have a source for this information! Grr), I have been surprised at how mobile within the estate they were. Understanding the economic conditions of an estate might help you track down missing people. If it were a slow economy, maybe they moved to an urban area? 

It sounds like I need to email an expert in Medieval Law in order to gain more specific knowledge about feudalism in the Austrian empire. And get some interlibrary loan books!


Monday, July 18, 2016

Franz Waschiczek Nro. 3 Vratimov: Hlavní Kniha (Ledger) record, first page

Here is a page I transcribed from the Hlavní Kniha pro obec Vratimov, taken from the Velkostatek Velké Kunčice č 27.

Hlavní Kniha means Ledger. This is a page from the ledger for the town of Vratimov, which is in the Estate of Velké Kunčice. The inventory number for the Opava Archives is 27.

This is not perfect, but I want to spend some time discussing what I think this means.

First of all, I want to point out that Czech ledger records are generally more genealogically useful than purchase contracts. This is a record which tracks the flow of cash in and out of the house. Whenever something big happened, that had to be paid for somehow, it was tracked in this book. Things like deaths, marriages, sales, people moving in to the house, people moving out, retirement, and more.

My working translation
My own commentary

Conscriptions Haus No.

Conscription House Number

I think that the house number is called a "conscription" house number because that was the original purpose of numbering houses: mandatory soldier conscription
Namen des Besitzers

Name of the owner
Benennung der Ansässigkeit der dazu gehörigen grundstucke, wiesen, waldungen, und teuche mit ausweisung ihrer Gränzen.

Designation of residence of the related land, meadows, groves, and teuche with expulsion [deliniation?] of its limits.

Teuche = ?
Art und Weise, wie diese Ansässigkeit an den Besitzer gekommen

Way how this residence came to the owner

Kaufs oder schätzungswert der Ansässigkeit

Purchase or estimate value of settled
Franz Waschiczek

Michael Waschiczek und Marianna Waschiček

Even if you are just beginning with land record transcriptions, you will easily note that this land transferred from someone named Franz Waschiczek to Michael Waschiczek and Marianna, presumably his wife. Because land generally went from father to son, it is likely that Franz Waschiczek is Michael's father.
Ein dominikal gärtlergrund wozu nach der Urbarial kauf von 1 Januar 1772 ein gartner von einem scheffel, zweg viertel, dann ein stück feld von zehen scheffel Breslauer Maas aussaat gehöret.

One plot of dominikal land for which after the Urbarial purchase from January 1, 1772 one gartner from a bushel, following purpose quarters, then a piece of field of ten bushel Breslauer Maas sowing belongeth.

This translation needs some work. Generally, what I get out of it is that the house was originally purchased on 1 January 1772 and is recorded in the Urbarial records, and that there was one piece of land that was for the house and another for the field.

Gartner = "gardener" or a serf farmer without a lot of land.

Vermög[en] den im alten gemeind Rattimau  er grundbuch Tho: II Fol: 16 et 17 wörtlich eingetragenen kaufkontrakt dto et ratif 20t August 1808, ererbte Franz Waschiczek diesem grund nach seinem vater Johann Waschiczek, und wurde kauf den erben der grundbuch Fol. 17 et 18 wömtlich eingetragenen khatzungs protokoll vom 30 April 1827 auf con: Mze abgeschätzt

Assets to the old municipality Rattimauer Land Register Tho: II Fol: 16 et 17 literally registered purchase contract-As above et ratif 20t August 1808, Franz inherited Waschiczek this reason after his father Johann Waschiczek, and was to come into the Land Register Fol 17 et 18 literally registered khatzungs protocol of 30 April 1827 con: estimated Mze

Volume 2 pages 16-17, and then later pages 17 and 18 of the Vratimov land register are referenced.

These records are also online and start here. They are worth transcribing as well, especially since they are during the time period of missing matriky records for the town of Vratimov.
Fl.   Kr

I have a lot to learn about currency. I think that Fl. stands for Florin and Kr stands for Kreuzer. I do know that people generally hated to part with their coin money, and so they preferred to write a complicated list of IOU's which we as genealogists then have the opportunity to unravel. This is actually very valuable because it helps us understand daily life of these people better, as well as relationships they had with others in their same town.

284   40

Is this crossed out because it was already paid?

nach den Neuer regulierungs akten von Jaher 1820 gehöret und zvam.
Top N 68 a gamten...156 2/6 a keh
...58 6/ hafaur...100
...59 Acker...426
...64 Acker...6 Joch 82 4/6…
Zusammen 6 Joch 1365 st klf

belongeth by the New Regulatory files from Jaher 1820 and zvam.
Top N 68 a garden ... 156 2/6 a keh
... 58 6 / hafaur ... 100
... 59 ... 426 Acker
... 64 ... Acker 6 yoke 82 4/6 ...
Together 6 yoke 1365 st klf

Zvam = ?

I recently learned that plots of land might have a different numbering system than houses. Perhaps this is recording exactly the size and number of each land. It seems also to reference other records that might be available in the archives.

ao 1841 der 28t maz ad N: 40 id erlangte Michael Waschicyek das eigenthum dieses dom: gruntlergrundes samt den hinzu gehörigen grundstücken in dreale sr 6 Jach 1365 II hefte gemäß der zwishen demselben dann dessen vater Franz Washitshek sub dato 30 Janner 1841 errichteten an und abtretungsurkunde um der beiderseits besprochenen kaufschilling fr...
saze ein hundert sechzig gulden in conventions münze vide ark. buch: Thom I fol: 446 Henz

ao 1841 28t maz ad N: 40 id gained Michael Waschicyek the property this dom: gruntlergrundes including the added corresponding properties in dreale sr 6 Jach 1365 II folders according to the matches between the same then whose father Franz Washitshek sub date 30 Janner built in 1841 and cession of rights to the both sides discussed purchase schilling fr ...
saze a hundred and sixty guilders in conventions coin vide ark. Book: Thom I fol: 446 Henz

It seems that this land record is NOT online. However, in this part of the record we see that Franz Washitshek [sic] is explicitly named as the father of Michael, who officially gained the property on 30 January 1841 for 160 guilders in coin. It seems like this note might also mention additional buildings on this same property.


An ordinären grundsteuer kommt jährlich zu zahl: 5 f 13 diese grundstücksgrenzen mit dem herrschaftlichen wald za mien, mit Jakob Liczka N 6, mit Joseph Waschiczek N 4 und Michael pasternak N 1.

An ordinary real estate tax is to be paid annually: 5 f 13 these land borders with the manorial forest za mien, with Jakob Liczka N 6, with Joseph Waschiczek N 4 and Michael pasternak N. 1

za mien = ?

This seems to indicate that Joseph Waschiczek of Number 4 is somehow related to Michael Waschiczek of Number 3, and thus also Franz Waschiczek who was originally of Number 3. At least, we can see that they were involved in paying the tax together. I don't know why all of these people were listed together. Perhaps the others were renting from Michael?

abgeschlossen am 15 febr. 1880 z 1733

finished 15 feb. 1880 z 1733

This note seems to be written nearly 50 years after the original record, and hints at the filing system that was in use in the 1880's. By then, there were no longer Estates with serfs. So I wonder who was keeping this record, and for what purpose. The land records certainly would have remained relevant and valuable even post serf-emancipation for all kinds of reasons, including legal.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

What did my emigrant ancestors think when they saw Prague for the first (and probably only) time?

As I leave Moravia for the first time, of course I have had many thoughts about what it must have felt like for my ancestors as they left. Many, if not most, of them never had the opportunity to return home and ever again see this place, and more importantly, their family and friends who remained.

Several questions on my mind:
How did my ancestors get from the Ostrava/Frýdek-Místek area to Hamburg or Bremen?
Did they stop in Prague, like we are stopping in Prague now?
Did they do any tourism in Prague?
What did they think of Prague?

I can get the beginning of some of my answers from the book Perilous Voyages: Czech and English Immigration to Texas in the 1870's. 
The day of departure was well planned. Each group loaded its trunk on a cart pulled by oxen and traveled to the railhead at Místek. Unlike some emigrants who had to travel several days to reach a railhead, this group was as the steeple of the village church, that traditional symbol of security and home, faded into the distance. Upon their arrival at the station, the trunk was unloaded and checked with the station agent. The long wait for the train began.
Eventually a slight grayish column of smoke appeared in the distance, and the distinct sound of a steam locomotive was heard approaching. As the engine rolled by the platform, a hollow rattle dominoed back through the cars and sparks shot out from beneath the locomotive's wheels as the train jerked to a halt. This was a special train, one that would snake through the Austrian and German lands, picking up prerecruited emigrants destined for the steamship Strassburg at the north German port of Bremen. It was under the direction of an emigrant agent, who not only assisted the emigrants in their travel but who saw that all regulations were fulfilled. The cars resembled American cattle cars, similar to the ones that carried the Jews to the death camps in World War II, but of a more antique construction. Air brakes had been available for only a few years, and it is unlikely that a train in this service had such a luxury. The cars had practically no furnishings, only a few benches aligned along the walls, a water cask, and chamber pot.
After the agent checked and approved the papers of the eight families, the trunks were loaded into the cars, followed by the emigrants, with the provisions and baggage they had brought for the journey. The interiors were already crowded with emigrants picked up at previous stations. The water cask in each car was filled, and the chamber pot from a makeshift water closet in one corner was emptied before the door was slammed shut and locked from the outside. and past villages, and into the Moravian city of Olomouc, then turned northwest and then west toward the great city of Prague, which many of the passengers saw then for the first time. The continuous wind that whipped through the cars caused the trapped passengers to huddle in groups, hunkering down in their periny, traditional feather blankets. Many more emigrants were picked up along the way: some in Austria and many in Germany. Prague and Berlin were control points for these emigrant trains traveling from the Austrian Empire into the German Empire. At the control points the manifests held by the emigrant agent were checked against the passengers in each car and their corresponding documents before the train was allowed to proceed. Overcrowding was a common problem in the mass transportation of emigrants. The desire for greater profit margins by the transporters often superseded standards of common decency. 
Konecny, Lawrence H. and Clinton Machann (2004). Perilous Voyages: Czech and English Immigrants to Texas in the 1870's (pp. 99-101). College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press.

These few paragraphs (and the rest of this extremely good read, which you can buy on google books), as well as my own experience visiting my ancestral homeland, has made me pause to consider the enormity of my ancestor's sacrifice to leave. It was a huge sacrifice. It is very difficult for me to understand. Whereas my Mormon immigrant ancestors had clear, or at least more clear, motivations for leaving, it is difficult to understand exactly why my ancestors left, and what they must have felt when they left. I know a lot of general reasons, but to know, to really, truly know why they left...that is what has been driving so many of these subquestions, for example about their relationship to Prague.

It seems that the immigrants who left in the 1870's on this particular trip did not stop in Prague for more than a checkpoint. If they did get out, perhaps it was only to stretch their legs on the train ramp or buy some bread or something from a vendor there. It was certainly not to take a luxurious leisure and tourist trip with their true love, sans enfants, like I am doing. It seems doubtful they had the opportunity to cross the Charles Bridge, see Prague castle, or just generally wander the cobblestone streets.

What I do think is very likely: my ancestors would not have felt at home here. Even though Czech Nationalism was a real thing in the 1870's and 1880's when my ancestors left, and even though Prague is the, "mother of all cities," - it would have been like a foreign country to them. Except for the language, there is very little that is similar from Prague to Vratimov, or Prague to Frenštát p. Radhoštěm, or Prague to Trojanovice. It is a different world.

I wonder how they felt. Was it awe? Terror? Eye-rolling? Did the sight of Prague give them butterflies in their stomach? If, unlike the Czechs sited in the above text, mine actually did have the opportunity to spend the night in Prague, where would they have stayed? What would they have seen? Would they have been as anxious about pickpockets and drunkards as I am? Would they have recognized the Bohemian food as Czech? Would they have feared to leave each other?

I know my ancestors traveled in groups. It would be very interesting for me to learn more about the actual specific nature of their trip. Fortunately, there is much information available in the Frýdek-Místek archive, including passports and emigration application records. Of course I will need to research this more carefully and more fully.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

My first last day in Frenštát p. Radhoštěm

I woke up this morning in Frenštát, one of the ancestral home towns of my Czech ancestors. It is the last day of our stay in this part of the Czech Republic, as today we will travel by train to Prague. Of course I feel overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings, but I will only write a few right now.

I don't know why exactly, but I feel a strong connection to my Czech ancestry. This trip has greatly improved my understanding of my family's history, but it has been even more valuable to me as a source of inspiration. There is a lot of work for me to do. If the goal is to find all of my dead ancestors, and also to find my living relatives, then I will be busy for the next million years!

To je škoda that I do not yet speak Czech with any level of expertise. Before we came here, I kept thinking, "But I need to plan more. I need to learn more Czech. I need to do xyz." Several times I had the distinct impression that it would better if I did not do those things: if I kept our plans fluid and flexible, if I did not stress about our schedule when we came, or finding every one of my ancestral homes on a map so I could find what exists there today on this trip (um...I definitely did not do this.) Tied to these impressions was the reassurance that everything would be alright, and I did not need to stress about learning Czech before I came. This was probably a specifically meaningful impression for me, because I tend to stress out a lot and can imagine becoming extremely anxious and perfectionist about these goals. While I certainly regret and lament the fact that my spoken Czech is so limited, the truth is that for the purposes of this trip, it was better for me to not stress about language acquisition.

However, yesterday when we were in the Skanzen museum of Valašskeho History, there was a specific moment that cemented my resolve to scale the mountain of the Czech language. The museum was extremely interesting, and of course I will need to take some time to write more about it, but it was basically a historical museum for my ancestors, with their real homes, and lots of information about how they lived. There were also a few actors in places who demonstrated certain tasks, such as the saw mill, or the iron forge, etc. In the upstairs of one old house was a middle aged woman at a spinning wheel, demonstrating the art of spinning wool into yarn.

When I saw her, it became extremely easy to visualize what it would be like to see my own ancestors in person. And then I had the thought: "If I were to meet my ancestors, then of course they would prefer to communicate in Czech than English." 

This blog is not really the place for metaphysical speculations. I don't know what life is like after we die. I have faith that it is not over, and that I can be with my family forever.

Aside from this faith, there is also the interesting relationship that I have in the present with the ancestors who I research. I don't exactly understand why it is this way, but when I research my ancestors, I grow to know and understand them, and love them more. Maybe the root of the desire to seek out genealogy has to do with answering the question, "who am I?" and then by extension, "who can I become?" But that question is too simplistic and self-centered, because the act of doing genealogy research is also about building relationships. I suppose one of the hugest realizations I have had on this trip is that mastering the Czech language will be a crucial part of my efforts to build relationships with my loved ones of the past. 

Shame of my lack of knowledge is not a useful feeling, at least to dwell on. Besides, never in my life was there a good opportunity for learning Czech. At BYU, there were only classes for returned missionaries at the 301+ level; I definitely researched that, and would have taken Czech before Arabic or French, certainly. The Czech language classes in Texas were important for me, but did not logistically work, either for my learning style or for my schedule as a mom with young children. 

I need to set aside my feelings of shame at my previous lack of knowledge. I am determined to not become discouraged by the enormous challenge presented before me. It is important to me to continue to research my ancestors and build relationships to them. 

I also perceive that there is a niche that I can fill in the genealogical community as an English speaking specialist in Czech and Texas Czech research. I love helping others gain a meaningful connection to their past. This trip has made that dream seem less like a distant haze, and more like a clear, concrete possibility in the not so distant future. I have a personal goal to become BCG certified before I resume taking clients again. It is one thing for me to say that I am an expert, and another for a certifying body to assure me that yes, it is true. This goal is definitely a challenge. But I have resolved to do it, and so I will.