Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Backwards Searches using Národní archiv site badatelna.eu!

How do you do a backwards search from a badatelna.eu link?

Recently I have been using www.badatelna.eu for some client research. This is the website for the National Archives of the Czech Republic, aka Nárdoní archiv.

Sometimes, you end up with a link to an image. I was trying desperately to figure out the book from the image. Here’s what I did:

1. I start from a direct link to the image, like this: http://www.badatelna.eu/fond/2098/reprodukce/?zaznamId=401670&reproId=589932

How did I arrive at this link, you ask? Well, I was researching with my colleague and he performed the original search. But it is conceivable that one might arrive at the link (without notes on how they got there)  in a number of different ways: in a document file, linked to a person in an online family tree, as a link in a blog, etc.

2. I click here:

3. I get this:

I click here:

4. Herdek filek. I get a list of all the books in the collection, not just the one from the link.

So, how do I find the číslo inventář from a backwards search using the Narodní archiv site?

There is no way to do it. Nejde to.

Herdek fix.

You can only try to replicate the search in the other direction, which might really be impossible if you have no idea how to do this.

This is a huge flaw in the system and it seems like a relatively easy fix. If anybody out there is listening, please, please, please fix this. It will make the Jewish Czech registers so much more accessible and searchable!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Gender, the temple, and another reason to learn some Czech

In order to do proxy temple work for your ancestors, you need four things: a name, a date, a place, and a gender. This last category is because people who stand as proxy are either women or men.

After I first went through the temple for my own endowment and started doing it by proxy for the dead, I quickly decided that I was not interested in doing proxy work for people who didn't need it, didn't exist, or already had had it done. The endowment ceremony is almost two hours! I didn't want to waste my time. The only way to be somewhat close to sure that my efforts were worth it and that I wasn't wasting my time was to prepare my own names for the temple by actually doing the research.

In 2009 or so, before the Czech records came online, I found a record for a Frantisek Peter [sic] born in Moravia, who immigrated with his parents Josef Peter and Rosalie Konvicka [sic] to Texas in the first wave of Texas Czech chain migration. I input his information in FamilySearch, but accidentally clicked the wrong button for gender.

Suddenly František was a girl.

I made a new František with the same dates who was a boy and tried to merge them.

You can't merge people of different genders.

I didn't know how to fix it, so I reserved the name and put it on the back burner of my to-do list.

A few years ago, the temple reservation policy changed so that you can only hold names for two years. This was in order to release large amounts of names held by people who had died or who weren't sharing. This policy makes perfect sense. It means we have to re-reserve my grandpa's name every two years. We will not do the proxy temple work for him until my grandma passes away because we love her and want to respect her wishes.

So I went through and rereserved some names for temple work from back when I was first starting genealogy research, including this female František Peter.

Flash forward to 2017. Yesterday when we were at the temple, I accidentally selected female František from my list of reserved names, and the card was printed.

When we were in the temple, I gave some women a stack of cards for initiatories. František was in the stack. I pulled the name, suspecting it was totally incorrect, and slightly horrified that the baptism and confirmation had already been done!

I looked it up, and yes, as suspected, František born in 1852 in Tichá 97 is totally a boy. He's not secretly Františka.

Nope, no Františka Petr in the Tichá index.

Here you can see how I re-reserved František Peter the boy, and František Peter the girl.

These are what all those little circles and colors mean. Yes, it totally feels like gamification.

From the FamilySearch app (which is excellent), I can see that there are both František the boy and František the girl in this family. The second image is scrolled down a little further, since they had many children.

How to fix it:
1. Find more information about the correct František's life. Add the information to FamilySearch.

2. You used to not be able to delete individuals. I think you can now, but the workaround is to edit all the female František's info so that it matches one of the sisters, and then merge those two people.

Here is a link to the original record.

I am sure that the reason I didn't do this back in 2009 was because I couldn't confirm the birth records in the matriky, and because I was a noobie making noobie mistakes.

The silver lining from this frustrating and embarrassing experience is that it directed my attention: here is a family that needs to be
researched. The research is very straightforward. The Czech and US sources are plentiful. It's like... Very, very easy. Like fruit on a tree right in arm's grasp. Low-hanging.

Think for a minute what would have happened if I had not had the background knowledge that František is a male name. We don't have this form of the name Frank. It almost looks like it could be feminine, if you didn't know any better. The result of ignorance: Duplicate work, sloppy tree, waste of time. Rather, a bigger waste of time than the accidental proxy baptism already was :-/

It is very, very important that Czech genealogists have some background knowledge of Czech, especially naming patterns! Your research will improve and you will be able to avoid mistakes which mess up the tree and cause problems for future researchers. You show the love and respect for your ancestors better. You have a more meaningful genealogical experience.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Watch out for that final a!

I was doing some research for my own Frenštát ancestors. Here is a link to this 26 April 1784 birth.

A very quick glance with my tired eyes, and at first I saw, "Johann Chodurin."

I should have noticed three things:

1. There is a third little nožičky - what looks like a final "n" is actually a final "a."

2. Notice that the surname has the German -in ending? This is a feminine form.

3. Notice that the column marked "female" is checked.

Well, at least I was able to catch my mistake. I hope it helps you to not make the same one.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Church Record Sunday: Holešov, 1650's Pythagorean Theorem

This goes on for several pages. I wonder what the story is behind this. I also wonder about the person keeping these records. Perhaps being a clergyman was not his original dream...

Monday, March 20, 2017

Why Czech Matters: Part I

If it seems I’ve fallen off the face of the earth (or...blogosphere), there are a few good reasons why.

First, I went to this crazy huge conference called RootsTech. It was awesome. And after being gone for a week, my email inbox was like...a mountain. There were so many things to do when I got home.

Also, I started a new job teaching English to little Chinese kids online. I really love this job. It’s basically tailor-made for my personality and skillset.

But the main reason for my absence is not these incidental balls I’m juggling. It’s the big ball, the one that is actually related to all of my Czech family history efforts.

Why am I learning Czech? And more importantly, why should you?

I am really sick of being so reliant on my (very faulty) tools in order to understand my history.

I am not in this field to “collect names.” I want to know these people. And they were real people, as the records continue to prove. People with flaws, hopes, dreams, thoughts, opinions, skills, problems, etc. These records are priceless treasure. They capture hints of humanity. They are really special to me. But how can I access the meaning if the records, and the records about the records, are all locked behind a reverse iron-curtain: my lack of Czech.

So, I rely on really flawed tools like google translator, three screens (three brains!), and Advanced Google Searching 471. I still find the effort to transcribe the texts extremely time consuming and frustrating. I just want to be able to read without it being through this other medium, this foggy glass! I know that every layer of separation introduces some kind of error. I can’t help the separation of time, but I don’t have to compound the transcription errors by relying on reading the language through a translator...if I learn Czech.

Even more significant is the cultural knowledge I lack because of my lack of Czech. Basically, learning Czech is not some incidental, nice, fringe task. It is the key to unlocking this world of knowledge that I am forever seeking.

If you find that, like me, you want to really know these people, and really understand your Czech history and heritage, you might decide that you, too, should try to learn Czech.

But how? Well...that cannot be answered in this blog post.

It's a really, really hard language for English speakers to learn.

Oh Czech. You are also uniquely tailor-made for my personality and skillset. I really love you. And you are uniquely difficult. I guess that is what makes studying Czech so satisfying: it is a really high, steep mountain. But the view!

Basically, I feel an urgency that I cannot explain very well. It’s a strong overwhelming conviction to learn...yesterday! It’s a desire to spend all of my time focused on this one thing. I’ve always had a really advanced level of stick-to-it-ive-ness (aka tenacity), ever since I was a child.

For better or for worse, here I am with this strong conviction that learning Czech is the single most important thing that I can do in order to help improve and expand my genealogical expertise and knowledge. Learning Czech will open up all kinds of new sources, but more than that, it will help me to actually know these people. It will connect me - it already does connect me - to my heritage in a way that nothing else can. Language is so tightly wound to history and culture. It is inseparable. It’s the medium by which these things were recorded, and unlike many other European countries, Czechia's valuable historical and demographic studies remain largely untranslated to English or German.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately: trying my hardest for the past ~14 weeks to learn this really difficult language. It’s very slow. But I definitely am learning. I was skyping with my friend Milan earlier today and was really shocked because I understood him! Responding in non-caveman-speak...now that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame.

In summary: Czech (the language) matters because it will help me connect with my ancestors in a deeply meaningful way, a way which cannot be substituted by any other technological tool or background knowledge. It is not ancillary. It is essential.

Might it also be for you?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

10 Steps for Using FamilySearch Consultant Planner

Most people with Czech heritage do not use FamilySearch Family Tree to organize their genealogy.

There are lots of varied, logical reasons for why people might use other platforms (which wasn't the point of this post, so don't let me get sidetracked!), and truthfully, I deeply understand and agree with a lot of these reasons. And actually, I have a goal to put my research on Geni and Ancestry.com before the end of the year (but I thought I was not supposed to get sidetracked...).

As an LDS person, of course FamilySearch Family Tree is my first tool of choice. FSFT is a genealogy tree for the entire world, which everybody can see and edit, and which is the platform for LDS people to prepare ordinance work. Basically, little cards with barcodes that you can scan inside the temple.

One huge reason why I do genealogy is because I want to take my ancestors to the temple where I can perform vicarious temple ordinance work for them, like baptism for the dead. This is no secret, nor is it a shame. It is really special to me. (Also getting sidetracked...)

Because time is limited,  FSFT has been my go-to choice for a lineage linked software (I should probably have a back-up somewhere...but I don't). I do not use it as a working research notebook because it is a public tree for the entire world, and I prefer to only share information that I know (or "know" - since, like science, anything in genealogy remains under some degree of doubt) to be true. I keep a research log in google docs, and once I am reasonably confident in my findings, I input them into FSFT.

You may or may not know that I am also a "Temple and Family History Consultant" in my ward. Technically, I am the TFHC Coordinator. I coordinate the consultants, so that we can serve all the patrons in our ward - or really, even those who are not in our ward. Our job is to serve and help people who need help with family history, including our friends, neighbors, and distant online cousins!

FamilySearch recently (like...2 weeks ago) came out with a really nice new tool to help us do that. I decided to make a short tutorial on how to use it, since there is almost nothing on the Interwebs about it yet.

10 Steps for Using the FamilySearch Consultant Planner

Step 1: Your Temple and Family History Consultant (TFHC) will invite you via email. It will look like this:

2. Click "Yes, I'd Like Help". A new window will open in your browser.

3. Give your TFHC permission to access your FamilySearch account. Kind of funny to be giving myself permission, haha.

4. Congratulations! Now your TFHC can access your spot on the tree much more efficiently and effectively.

5. This is what your TFHC will see:

Based on the information in FamilySearch, your TFHC can see information about your ancestors and about what needs to be done next, at a glance. Very purdy.

Actually, it's more than a nice GUI. It's a really effective way to see at a glance where the holes are, what research has been done, what hasn't been done, etc. As the TFHC, I know which of the consultants in my ward have experience in which geographic areas, so I can know, "Hey! They have Czechs? Sister Challis should totally help them!" Or, "Hey! They have Iowans? This looks like a great consultation job for Sister Carnahan!"

6. The TFHC wants to help this patron, so they decide to navigate to this spot in the tree (where I happen to have been researching). Notice the little green bar on the side of the page. Any edits that I make in this view will be as if they were made by the patron themselves. My next step in this research is to try to find the parents of Josef Chodura.

7. The TFHC writes a "lesson plan" for the patron. This is what it looks like. Note that the sidebar can scroll down to more textboxes, including one for "homework."

8. Here is a link to the lesson plan created by the TFHC. I suggested to FamilySearch that they enable an option for automatic email updates when the plan is created/changed. Until that option exists, I will both print the plan for my patrons, as well as email them the link to this page.

Here is the bottom of the page, which didn't fit in the screenshot above:

9. Meet with your TFHC...or...not...

Seriously, we can meet "virtually" if that makes life easier. It makes my life easier, to be able serve you from my home office.

We can discuss the plan. TFHC's can change the plan, and write notes about consultations. Honestly, this is just a consolidated and prettier version of my Family History Consultation tracking which I have been doing in google docs. This is a lot nicer.

10. Follow the plan, rinse, repeat. Your TFHC will log changes using this tool. Everybody will be happy.

You don't have to work on your genealogical goals alone!


I encourage everyone to get on FamilySearch Family Tree.

No matter what your purpose for doing genealogy, we can work together and collaborate on our genealogical efforts and create the most accurate, most complete picture of our past possible. In this post, I showed you one tiny glimpse of how I can help you do that with this new tool, but there are many, many other ways that FSFT encourages collaboration and communication. Please give it a try!

Monday, February 27, 2017

We CAN Remember!

Last month I posted the death certificate of Anton Smihal, which said, “Can Not Remember” when listing the name of his mother. I was very happy to be able to connect the living descendant of this family to their Czechs in the old country a few days later, and of course I started writing a blog post about it. But then RootsTech came up, and life became very busy, so it has taken me a long time to finish this post. But now, with permission, I am publishing the research. It ended up being a tricky otázečka (little problem)!

Anton “Smihal” supposedly emigrated from Časlav? in 1881 on S S Alba, arriving in New York.

Only, on further investigation, the S. S. Alba didn’t carry immigrants from Germany to New York, so it turns out they probably meant the S. S. Elbe. Yet ancestry.com’s search algorithms did not include that ship in a fuzzy sound search, for inexplicable reasons.

:::grumble grumble grumble they need a linguist on their search team:::::

Anton Smihal ended up in Orange, Texas. Here he is in 1900, and here he is in 1910.

His 1919 death record shows that he had an estimated birth of ~1834.

His headstone says 1835.

I spent a bit of time searching for "Elbe" passengers between 1881 and 1892 with no good, conclusive results. Usually you want to start with what you know and then work backwards towards what you don’t know chronologically, but sometimes you are faced with the scenario where the records in the home country are much more easily accessible, legible, and searchable (both with online indexes and in-record indexes). You simply cannot “jump the pond” without a village of origin clue. That would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. But in this case, I had a clue to the village of origin on his death record, and I had several corresponding records that agreed his birth was somewhere around 1835. So, I decided to just jump ahead and see if I could find him in the Czech parish registers for Čáslav.

I found no "Smahil"/"Smihal" or variants (lots of Sefčiks, it looks like!), but I found him listed as Zmrhal in the index here.

He was born and baptized on 12 September 1835 in Čáslav 110 to Joseph Zmrhal, son of Thomas Zmrhal and his wife Dorothea of Roznotínek [or Hroznětín?], and his mother Maria daughter of Joseph Patzolt of Časlav 102 and Anna born of Jeržabek[?].

I think this is him for a couple of reasons:

  • First, it matches everything we know about him already, namely his birth date and place from the census, findagrave, and his death record.
  • Second, the spelling discrepancy makes sense; it seems that this name is consistently inconsistent in its spelling!
  • Third, the informant on his death record listed his father as "Anton", but because he didn't know the mother's name, he probably was guessing that Anton was named after his father. It is plausible that he was not.
  • Fourth, there is only one place called Čáslav in the Czech lands. There is also neighboring Časlavská Karlov, but it is unlikely it would have been called "Čáslav" on the death record.
  • Fifth, there's a note in the parish register that says the baptism record was duplicated. He would have needed to have gotten a copy of his baptism record in order to emigrate. This was called the Křestní list. It was necessary in order to secure a passport, which was certainly required in 1880+.

I started to poke around the registers. I wondered if this was Anton’s marriage, but it turns out it was for Antonín Zamazal born the same year in the same place as our Anton who also married a Barbora (on 4 June 1866). But there are too many other discrepancies between this record and the baptism record. They are not the same person.

I double checked the registers to make sure I hadn’t missed something. I hadn’t.

Here is Jan Zmrhal’s marriage, probably Anton’s brother.

So...then I wondered if Anton and Barbora married outside of the parish. I saw that Třebešice 06 is not yet digitized, so I wondered what to do next. I started searching other Čáslav records.

I found a Zmrhel “Emilie” on an index of protestant records here.

Emilie’s birth record in 1868 was here. This is not the same family, but it shows that a Zmrhal family in Čáslav was protestant. So...I thought maybe we should check the protestant registers; so far I was only checking the Catholics. Maybe Anton Zmrhal married a protestant.

When I checked the Čáslav protestant records, I found tons of Zmrhals in the index here.

17 Únor 1867
ženích: Antonín Zmehal, mísťan z Čáslawi č: 110 v okresa a kraji tehjm: syn Josefe Zmehala, mísťani v Čáslavi č : 110, a jeho manželky Marye roz:[ené] Pacelkovy z Čáslavi č: 109 všickni evangel. h. v.
Čáslav č[íslo] 110
1835 d: 11. záři [born 11 September 1835]

nevěsta: Barbora, evangel. h.w. dcera Jana Vyšaky, obývatele a rolníka v Čáslavi č: 126 a jeho manželky Doroty roz: Lancovy z Kamenných mostů č: 10 okres Čáslawsky
Čáslav č 126
3 července 1845 [born 3 July 1845]

Notice that her place of birth is: Markovice č 91. How likely is it that this town was in the same protestant parish as Čáslav? Probably very likely, since there were more Catholics at this point than protestants.

Later, I was reminded that before 1835, protestants were recorded in the Catholic registers. So, this means that you might find your protestant Czechs in both registers, or perhaps just the Catholic register.

This is the right marriage record because:
  • Anton is from Čáslav 110, which matches the birth record, which matches everything we know about him in the new world.
  • Anton’s birth date matches very, very closely. The birth record says he was born on 12 September 1835, the marriage record says he was born 11 September 1835. They are off by one day.

JUST KIDDING, he really was born on 11 September 1835 according to his protestant birth record here. This is our guy! And not only was he protestant, but so were his parents and grandparents - specifically, they were protestants of the Augsburg confession.

My conclusion: it is very important that we remember the past.

Remembering the past helps individuals: I can only imagine how excited my friend was when we were able to connect her Czechs to their village of origin. She will have her hands full for the next, oh, perhaps lifetime? The Czech records are that amazing.

Remembering the past helps us do better research: It is too easy for all of us, including me, to forget about the protestant Czechs. If I had done a better job of remembering, I would have saved myself about an hour of useless searches in the matriky.  

Remembering the past helps us understand ourselves: What does it mean to “be Czech”? What is this part of our identity? How can we define it? How can we understand it? Because of who our ancestors had been yesterday, who are we today? How does our perception of “Czechness” change when we remember to include groups whose stories are today very often marginalized, like Czech protestants and Czech Jews?

I feel really lucky to be Czech. Maybe you feel this way, too.

Monday, February 13, 2017

I cesta může být cíl

September, 1965

Willard, Utah

The present trend in our church and in the country seems to be, “Where did I come from” and genealogy is being stressed as a most important part of our church and family activity. This is rather hard on my  generation, as we have only started to have time to look backward, and the things which we have been pushing aside to wait, while we were so busy with life ever present; have to be faced and analyzed, considered, and probed, as to cause and effect, and the influences of times and people and events and decisions right or wrong made, and 70 years of living, each day and year, now to be woven into a story sequence to be open to the criticisms and scrutiny of the generation which we helped to form and have tried to lead into maturity of thought and actions.

My mother used to say, “You don’t know how much you have to know, in order to know how little you know.” How true! And how long it takes to realize that truth, until you sit down and try to put it down on paper.

This was written by Loraine Jeppson Baird, my second great aunt. While I was at RootsTech 2017, I was able to visit her daughter Loraine Jeppson Law, who is my grandma’s cousin (and best friend). She is 96 years old, and her house is a repository of genealogy records for my mom’s side of the family. It was an experience I will never forget.

I know that this blog is not about my Utah and Idaho Mormon ancestors; it's about my Czechs! But this was a piece of writing which I found to be extremely moving and personal, and it affected how I viewed genealogy in general, so I want to share it.

It was in Loraine’s own handwriting. She was born in 1896, the granddaughter of Mary Reeder Hurren who crossed the plains as a young girl in the infamous Willie Handcart Company. She knew the original Utah pioneers. Actually, Loraine (who I met) also knew Mary Reeder Hurren, and was old enough to remember her. So, I spoke to a person who knew an original Utah pioneer, which is completely mind-blowing to think about.

But the real reason I want to share this piece of writing is because it deeply changed the way I think about my ancestors. Some, perhaps most, of these people had very difficult lives. I continue to try to piece together dates and facts from their lives in an effort to draw a picture of their story. Sometimes it feels frustrating that I do not have a better understanding of their personalities, their likes, their fears, their hopes, their dreams. But can I really fault them for not writing down their history? I know that not everybody loves to write, but I had never really considered the kind of pain writing has the potential to unleash on the soul. It seems that Loraine had some very negative feelings about being urged to write her history, and they were tied up in ideas like, “Can I write this in a way that will be understood by a generation that did not go through what I am going through?” “How can I face some of the less than ideal facts and events in my life which I have pushed aside for so long now that they are merely distant memories?” “How can I explain my feelings about choices that now, in hindsight, I see were wrong?” “What more will I be required to give to this next generation - they want me to willingly subject my soul to the possibility of criticism and betrayal?”

I have so few stories of my Czech ancestors. It is a huge hole. I know that the only real way for me to come to know them is by learning Czech. Maybe, just maybe, I will find that they did write their history - and of course it would be in Czech!

I can do a lot of things without fluency in Czech, such as find names, dates, and places. But to really come to know the culture and history of this place will certainly, without a doubt, require me to speak (and especially read) Czech. Culture is so tightly wound around its medium of communication, and culture is the backbone of stories. If I want to truly understand a person, I know that I need to try to immerse myself in their culture, therefore in their language.

I realize that even if I tried as hard as I could, and put in every possible effort to learn this beautiful and very difficult language (which...I am doing…), I would still fall short. But if perfection is the standard, then we should all just give up on all of our dreams and aspirations. Obviously, something somewhat less than perfect will have to suffice. Anyway, it’s the journey towards understanding that I crave, not really reaching the goal itself. Is it possible to ever "completely" know another person, ever? Isn't there always more to learn?

I cesta může být cíl.