Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Carols in Czech Land Records

This post was co-authored by Lukáš Svoboda and Kate Challis

Štědrej večer nastal, Štědrej večer nastal, koledy přichystal, koledy přichystal.
Štědrej večer nastal, koledy přichystal, koledy přichystal.

Štědrej večer nastal, koledy přichystal, koledy přichystal.
Štědrej večer nastal, koledy přichystal, koledy přichystal.

Panímámo vstantě, panímámo vstantě, koledy nám dejte, koledy nám dejte.
Panímámo vstantě, koledy nám dejte, koledy nám dejte.

Panímáma vstala,panímáma vstala, koledy nám dala, koledy nám dala.
Panímáma vstala koledy nám dala, koledy nám dala.

These are the song lyrics of a traditional Czech Carol. The text is very simple, though the English translation is not. Christmas Eve is called Štedrý večer, “Generous night”, a night when the gifts are given. But the very often repeated word koleda or koledy, which could translate to carol or Christmas carol, instead has a dual meaning in Czech. It refers to a gift of food given to carolers who went from house to house - not only on Štedrý večer, but also on Tři Krále (Epiphany, the feast of Three Kings), Easter and other days of the liturgical calendar.

Some Christmas Vocabulary

Štedrý den/večer : Christmas Eve day/evening
koleda : Christmas carol or gifts (usually food) for carolers
kantor : village teacher
výsluška : gift of food that is given to carolers

Children were not the only people who traveled from house to house singing carols; the obecní pasák, or municipal shepherd, went with them cracking his whip together with the ponocný, or night-watcher blowing his horn. Together, the crowd went singing from house to house, and at each stop they received food such as bread, cakes, legumes, apples, nuts or flour (yes, plain, raw flour). All this was given on Štedrý den and it was very welcome in many households of the poorer families without extensive landholdings.

The children were often accompanied by the kantor, the local teacher who also got his výsluška, gifts. But not infrequently kantors were often mentioned in the land books as an obligation to be paid, or a burden connected with the possession of the farm. The giving of the koleda originally began in the deep past not as a voluntary offering, but more of a village custom. Eventually this custom evolved into an obligation (a kind of tax) tied to the property, and which each subsequent farm possessor was obliged to pay. Over time, the payments also evolved from exchanges of in-kind goods to currency.     

For example in this 1778 record from Velkostatek (the estate of) Český Šternberk:
Czýℓ: kral Platý dle Reparticze
do duchodu wrchnostenskeho auroku
k. s Jiržý a k. s. Hawlu ročznie    fr 23x “ 2 d
za zbirane zdřziwý…………………..40x”
Přzedstawenemu duchownimu pasti”
řzý jmenem desatku, Letnika z
kazde krawý každo Rocžnije po...3xr
Contorowý posnopnýho zita…………..1 snop
……………………………..owsa………..1 snop
…………….colledj…………………………..1 xr

Royal Imperial Taxes according to the partition[,] to the manorial  revenue[of] his lordship [twice] annually
on St. George[‘s feast day] and St. Havel[‘s feast day] 23x 2 d
for wood collection...40x
[To] the superior spiritual shepherd[, the priest is given] the appointed tithing of each cow annually at Pentecost for...3 xr.
The village teacher’s harvest allowance...1 “snop”
[The village teacher’s] oats...1 “snop”
[The village teacher’s] koleda...1 xr

Yes, he (the farmer) really is paying 1 kreuzer to the village teacher for his koleda obligation. Is it a "Christmas carol tax"? Well...that is a bit of a stretch, since technically obligations/burdens are not the same as taxes. Still, somehow today it is a funny thought, especially through the foggy lens of translation! 

Another example of a koleda obligation is found in this 1791 entry for a farm in Radošice:
4to kantorovi žita, ječmena a ovsa
každého po ……………… 4 snopy
Nového léta neb koledy ……. 3 xr

The end of the koleda obligation

1830 entry for farm in Radošice with a post-1848 margin note

c. desátku panu faráři žita, ječmene, a ovsa každého 2 4/8 m. Letníku z jedné každé krávy ½ žejdlíku másla a školnímu učitely nového léta 3 kr. a 2 vejce každoročně odvádět.
To the parish teacher [shall be given] rye, barley, oats each [in the amount] of … 4 snop [a unit of volume]
New Year or koleda …. 3 xr
Dle vyvazovací tabely jest vymazána koleda učitele za náhradu pro okr. školní pokladnici v Plzni 50 kr. r. č. 5 %
According to "release" table the koleda for the teacher is deleted with compensation for district school treasure in the sum of 50 kr. r. č. with 5 % interests

All the koleda and other so-called natural obligations were abolished after 1848 when the farmers finally became owners of their land. New owners were now obliged to pay a certain sum of money (with interest until full payment was made) to the  Okresní školní pokladnici, the district school treasury. This was official the end of koleda as a traditional source of income for teachers.

Kantors were often authors of many of the Christmas songs which the children would sing from house to house. They composed them specifically for these occasions and they quickly spread across the country. Many of these songs - such as the song mentioned at the beginning - have survived, and though their authors are long forgotten, their work still lives in everyday culture.

One of the village teachers was also Jakub Jan Ryba, the composer of one the most popular and beautiful Christmas compositions: Česká mše vánoční, or the Czech Christmas Mass. It was written in 1796 and is sung today in churches, public performances, and is annually broadcasted on television and radio.

Speaking of carols, we sang this for our ward Christmas program and will be singing for the joint-ward Christmas sacrament meeting this coming Sunday if church is not cancelled like it was last week for the horribly cold weather! I (Kate) am the second person from the left.

Even though "The First Noel" is not Czech at all, and this arrangement is a slightly different meter than how it is typically sung, I thought it would be a nice, personal way to wish you a Merry Christmas. May we enjoy our friends and family this Christmas, may we all stay warm and safe, and may 2017 continue to be filled with interesting Czech genealogical adventures!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Czechs never use the same given name for their children...except when they do.

Indexes are awesome, but they are always a crutch, and as such, are only as good as the stuff they are made out of. If you were to use a crutch made out of glass, it might very easily break. Ouch.

All I'm saying is just be careful to also use your brain when you are using indexes.

Today while researching, I noticed that there were two children named Josef Robenek in the same family. One must have died young.

This child, Joseph Robenek, is clearly the twin of Johann.

But I could not find his death record in Václavovice between his birth in January 1847 and the birth of his younger brother, also named Josef, in 1859.

So, of course, I started to doubt the index. I looked through the entries manually from 1847-1859. I found four deaths of other siblings (by the way, these were missing from the index!), but none for Josef.

Then I remembered that at least one child of Josef Robenek named Josef must have survived, because I had already found his marriage to Francisca Adametz in 1874 in Michálkovice. Notice that it specifically says that he was born 30 January 1847.

Here is the birth of his younger brother in 1859:

And here is the younger brother Joseph's death the same day:

I think it is highly improbable that the priest mistook a 12 year old for an infant.

So, yes, it actually is possible for Czechs to give two of their living children the same given name.

Why? Isn't that a little bit like Dr. Seuss's "Too Many Daves" poem?

Some possibilities:

  • Maybe the family was not very literate? In this family of 16 children, only six survived to be adults. Although, several of the children made it past infancy and died when they were 8-10 years old, which is a little bit strange, until you notice that multiple children died the same year. 1846 was a bad year for this poor family. The cause of death for everyone was "apostem"/"aposthem" or "inflammation." It seems likely that they suffered from some kind of contagious disease, if the older children were afflicted as well.
  • I know that in the late 1840's there was a famine across the Czech lands. The crops did really poorly, and actually was one of the instigators for the earliest Texas Czech immigrants in 1856. I can't help but wonder what role poverty must have played in this family's life. I looked at the 1835 cadastral map, and it seemed that Václavovice 93 was not a huge property. Poverty and illiteracy do tend to come together.
  • However, notice that Joseph was the name of the father. Perhaps the family knew that this second infant was going to die, and so they named him after his father and older brother. Perhaps it was to show respect, love, affection, or something else. Or, perhaps it was a very dramatically rapid entrance/exit into and out of this world, so in the hurry, the father just gave the first name he could think of. Or perhaps the priest decided as he was baptizing the child. 
Personally, I think that it is most likely that the family knew the child would die. On his death record, it is recorded that he only lived for four hours.

Researching this family was very emotional for me, even though they are a distant branch on the Vašíček line, married to my second great aunt (one of two Vašíček daughters who stayed in Moravia instead of immigrating to Texas.) I want to start a sentence with, "I can't imagine what it would be like to have 16 children on that tiny property..." but the truth is, that it is precisely because I can that I feel so emotional. 

To end this post on a marginally less depressing note, here is the death of Theresia Robenková, who died 12 January 1888 of Altersschwäche (old age/senility).

I'm not exactly sure what the "50 Jrer ehl. Eheweib" means. Could it be: "50 Jahrer", referring to, "the wife of Josef Robenek for 50 years"?

If so, they got it wrong. She married him when she was 15 years old in on 27 July 1836. It seems like there are multiple discrepencies in the math here; maybe she would have been 67 years old, and married for 54 years. But those are trivial details; the point is that it was remarkable how long she had been married to her husband to the point that the clerk felt like writing it in the record. This is the first time I have seen something like that.

I wonder what it says about her character. I like to think that even though she endured so much tragedy, and lived to bury ten children, she lived a happy life with the man that she loved for half a century. It is probably reading too much into this note, but it does make me feel a little bit less sad.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Travel Tuesday: A Walk through Příbor

A Walk Through Příbor

My ancestors were from the Hukvaldy Estate (Velkostatek Hukvaldy). An interesting and important city in this estate was Příbor (this also means silverware in Czech).

According to Czech Wikipedia, Příbor is the oldest town in the Nový Jičín district, dating back to 1251. It was an important administrative center. It burned down 3 times during the Thirty Years War: 1621 (by the Wallachs), 1626 (by the Danes), and 1643 (by the Swedes).

I am not exactly sure where I got this impression, but it seems to me that this is more of a “German” town than a “Czech” town. In the 1800’s-1850’s, it had a booming, bustling, healthy economy. Sigmund Freud was born there in 1856.

Sadly, the 20th century was really bad for this city. It was occupied in 1918, and later in 1938 it became occupied again by the Third Reich. It wasn’t liberated until 1945.

From 1951-1997 it had a Tatra (car company) plant.

When we were there, we observed that the economy there is really slow, which is really too bad. It was empty. But it wasn’t just because it was a holiday; it was empty in an unkempt, somewhat sad way. It was interesting to walk there, especially because it had some of the oldest Czech graves that I have ever seen. I felt really sad to see beautiful old buildings desecrated by graffiti, a completely empty village square, and buildings up for sale/rent on every corner. Maybe times will change for Příbor in the future, or maybe the life of a city is cyclical, and this is one of those down times. Or maybe it will die.

It was really interesting to contrast it with neighboring Mniší (Czech for “mouse”), which is, by contrast a tiny hamlet Příbor definitely feels like at one point it was a city. I think they have nearly identical populations today. But Mniší is very, very clean, and has none of the signs of decay that abound in Příbor. These places are literally 5-10 minutes away, but they could be in different countries, they feel so different.

We enjoyed it there, and I’m sure we will return many times because of my family’s connection to this place. Also, we really enjoyed our time there. The penzion (bed and breakfast) we stayed at (Penzion st Florian) was extremely quirky and fun. And we never did go to see Sigmund Freud’s birthplace, or Štramberk castle. We were too interested in seeing the cemetery, haha.

I want to go back sometime when the kostel with the beautiful stained glass is open (kostel sv. Kříže). We happened to be walking there at twilight, and when we looked up, the sun was shining through the window and suddenly we saw this beautiful, almost haunting, stained glass. But the entire kostel was shut up, like, boarded up. Příbor has two.

Look, a rainbow!

Nobody has opened these doors in a long time.

Look! It is magical!

It was empty!

We turned the corner and poof! This is what we saw!

Church schedule.

This building is really old, and not safe.

The inside of the hotel we stayed at, Penzion st. Florian. Very quirky, and very fun.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Church Record Sunday: 1760 Brno sv. Jakub

Another really short quiz today:

What kind of record is it?
What language is this record written in?
What are the names of the main people?
What are the names of the witnesses?
What does "heb:" stand for ? Who is this person?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Šnajberk Genealogy Sage: PART FOUR

Guest post by Lukáš Svoboda
Translated by Kate Challis and Lukáš Svoboda
Original post found here

On the table lay two neat stacks of Martins and Jiřís sorted by their families. But it was not enough to merely know that “my” Jiří existed, which Martin was “mine”, and even his birthdate. After having spent so many years searching, I suppose I was not really satisfied. As the saying goes, appetite comes with eating. So, even though I really didn’t need to, I looked through other registers. I found the wedding of my Jiří to Kateřina Bezoušková at exactly the right time, before the birth of their first child. Jiří’s father was listed in the register as Matěj, and so the same old story repeated itself again: I would have to deduce from among several Matěj’s which one was mine.

My choices were Matěj and Kateřina, Matěj and Alžběta, and another potential couple Matěj and Voršila. This time, I used my gut instinct; I had excluded the Matěj-Vořsila couple because their first child was born in 1724 and their last in 1741, and so they could hardly have had a son old enough to marry in 1726. Actually, this was the same reason I ruled out the Matěj-Alžběta couple, though with less confidence. Their first known (to me) child was born in 1715 and their last in 1723. By contrast, the Matěj-Kateřina couple had their first child in 1705, and their last born in 1717. Their children actually were among some of the first known children in the Benešov region. But mainly, what stood out in favor of this Matěj-Kateřina couple was that when Jiří was married, he was described as the son of Matěj Šnajberk, master shepherd of the Ondřejovice sheepfold, while four out of five children from this couple were found born in Ondřejovice. In 1723, Matěj’s other son Matěj from Ondřejovice was married.

Marriage with a Dispensation
Still, I was more interested in the marriage record for Anna Šnajberková, the widow of “my” Jiří. Her husband had died in July of 1754. In December of that year, his widow married Jan Šnajberk, son of Jiří Šnajberk of Pomněnice! Lo and behold, I was suddenly able to link Anna to both the Jiří Šnajberk families. That was not all: the marriage record referred to a papal dispensation and that the banns were announced as, “one for three.” Usually the banns had to be announced three times, on three consecutive Sundays, but if needed, a dispensation could be considered to have the same validity as three banns announcements. They were dispensed from impediments of marriage of the “2 et 3 gradu affinitatis”, aka the 2nd and 3rd degree of affinity.

At that time, I was well informed about the meaning of affinity and contemporaneous methods for calculating its various degrees. It didn’t have so much to do with Anna, but rather the relationship of her first husband (my Jiří) to her second husband (Jan). Because they both had the same Šnajberk surname, it seemed they were most probably connected through the male line. It might look like this:

Alt. 1 shows a third degree relationship (affinity) mixed with a second degree relationship. Alt. 2 shows a theoretical possibility; instead of having a single common ancestor, they could have had two separate ancestors.

But in Alt. 2, cousin marriages are required which would probably not be dispensed. For this reason, I leaned more towards Alt. 1. When I entered the known family names into the chart, it looked like this:

In these two options, the common ancestor is either an unknown Šnajberk (alt. A,), or else Jan Šnajberk the centenarian (alt. B) with another unknown person between him and Matěj. Deciding between the two possibilities was difficult, nay, impossible.

I only had one possible clue: the birth years calculated from the data in the death registers. While the line of Jan-Jiří-Jan was totally plausible and mutually compatible with each other, I knew nothing about Matěj from the Matěj-Jiří line. I found only one death for any Matěj, in Žabovřesky, 1753, age 65. Thus, his birth would have been around 1688. But I still had a giant question mark as to whether he belonged to me or not at all. If he was “my” Matěj, then in Alt. A he would have been about 30 years younger than his brother Jiří (who was later the centenarian guy); unlikely, but not impossible. In turn, in Alt. B it was more difficult, if not impossible, to “cram” another generation between Matěj and Jan, so this Matěj probably does not belong to my family tree.

I finally gave up. I still greatly prefer Alternative A, but until I get more information about Matěj or older generations of Šnajberks, I just cannot get past it. It is a brick wall.

If I can’t have a centenarian, I’ll settle for the sabre stab-ee
I confessed that I was really sad that I could not definitively add the centenarian Jan to my direct ancestors, even though I had made some connection. I wondered if Pavel, who was stabbed by the Hussar’s sabre, might also belong to the Šnajberk family. Wasn’t it be possible to connect him with my Jiří and thus piggyback onto the glory of his story?

I have had lots of practice sorting Šnajberks. Pavel’s widow was named Kateřina. She remarried in November 1742, less than a year after the tragic death of her husband. I had two Pavel-Kateřina marriages:
  • In Pomněnice 1722, Pavel Šnajberk married Kateřina Kurková
  • In Ondřejovice 1729, Pavel Šnajberk marries Kateřina Bulíková (and Anna Šnajberková of Ondřejovice was a witness).
Unfortunately, neither of these records listed the father of the groom.

The Ondřejovice Pavel
Remember that in 1726 my Jiří married in Ondřejovice, and in 1723 the second son of Matěj (by the same name) also married in Ondřejovice. Pavel Šnajberk was living in Ondřejovice then, therefore he was the son of Matěj and was born in 1705. His sister Anna (who was born in Ondřejovice in 1709) was the Anna who was a bridesmaid at his wedding.

The Pomněnice Pavel
His identity is difficult to pinpoint. In 1726 he was a witness to the wedding of Bartoloměj Šnajberk of Pomněnice, son of Jan Šnajberk. In the period around 1722 the second Jiří Šnajberk and his wife Ludmila worked around Pomněnice (remember that he is also the son of Jan Šnajberk). So with much less certainty, I connected Jan (the centenarian heretic) as his father.

Before determining the identity of Pavel’s father (and their relationship to my Šnajberks), first I had to sort out which one was stabbed by the Hussar’s sabre in 1741.

In these situations, godparents and baptismal witnesses are always extremely useful. I made a list of all the children born to Pavel and Kateřina with their corresponding godparents. As I expected, you can distinguish two separate groups of people by their different witnesses, with only one exception: the first child, born in August 1722, had an unknown set of godparents who never showed up again later; perhaps this was because the child was born 2 months after the wedding, and it may have been difficult to find witnesses in their new residence.

The last piece of the puzzle
It turns out there were actually two Pavel-Katřina pairs (in 1734 and 1737, there were children born to both of the couples).
Paradoxically, Pavel Šnajberk, whose children were born in Ondřejovice in 1732 and 1734, was the second Pavel of Pomněnice because he also had children born before 1729 (and before the other Pavel’s marriage).
Children were born to Pavel in Myslíč since 1733, which corresponds to a 1729 wedding. One could expect that the first child would probably be born sooner than 4 years after the wedding, but I could not find it. Perhaps she had a stillbirth or a miscarriage.
I thought that in any case, Pavel Šnajberk of Myslíč was the one who married in 1729, his father was Matěj Šnajberk, and “my” Jiří was Matěj’s brother.

I have spent a lot of time on the Šnajberks. Over the past 7 years, as I have returned to them regularly they have served me with headaches, fits of rage, and disappointment. But I never asked myself, “why am I really doing this? Is this really needed?” Never did any such thought even come to my mind. Only now, when it’s “over” and I am beginning to draw up a history of that impossibly long search, have I begun to ask myself this question.
I do not even need to answer it, because despite every disappointment, in the end I was able to experience the reward of the rich joy of discovery and adventure. But for myself, and perhaps for other genealogists, I would respond to the question of, “Why are you looking for your ancestors, anyway?” in the paraphrased words of George Herbert Leigh Mallory. “Because [they’re] there.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Travel Tuesday: Hájovský Dvůr

Between Příbor and Hukvaldy castle is a beautiful abandoned ruin. It looked really interesting, so we decided to take a look. It turns out that it is, or was, a place called Hájovský Dvůr, and the history of this property is older than he history of the tiny village of Hájov. It was founded on feudal lands in the second half of 1797, most likely at the initiative of the Secretary of Olomouc. The property then was bought by the Cikanů family, and by 1833 it became part of the Hukvaldy Estate. It was used as an administrative building until the end of World War II, after which it fell under the control of the Czechoslovak state. It was turned into a cooperative farm, which of course failed. The entire property was left in a ruined state of deterioration and is not safe for habitation, though we found traces left by homeless people ca ~1960-70.

I loved this place. It is multiple buildings on a single property. It is charmingly romantic, though “modern” compared to Hukvaldy. We had a lot of fun nervously exploring all the buildings.
As if to validate what we assumed was us being “stupid tourists”, as we were leaving, a Czech photographer woman was just coming in to shoot some artistic photos.

The countryside between Příbor and Hukvaldy

What kind of old secrets does this ruin know?

Look at the layers of brick and mortar.

The piles of hay, and building fragments. Not a safe place to stand!

But we stood there anyway.

How did this giant hole in the side of the building come to exist?

It feels like this place is under some kind of spell.

Trees growing out of the building!

Me looking mystical. We checked for ticks later.

Seriously, what a romantic old ruin.

With stuff from the 1950's and 1960's.

For example, this mid-century chair. And those roof tiles? We took one home with us :-)

A tree growing inside the house, next to the chimney.

Target practice.

The W/C.

The master suite. Looks like at one point it may have been wired for electricity.

Look at that circle window!

Later that evening, I saw my very first real life hedgehog. Dobrý večer, ježku!