Thursday, June 22, 2017

Estcha Máme Plenty!

I am learning Czech, and this is a translated cross-post from my language learning blog here.




Děda Joe
Grandpa Joe

 Joe a Anežka
Joe and Agnes


My great-great-grandpa Josef Jan Vasicek immigrated to Texas when he was 16 years old.

He was the youngest son of the Vasicek's.

And he never saw his parents again after he left. I think that that was very sad.

Because he was an early immigrant, and he was also an entrepreneur, he hired other Czechs. Some stories have still remained about how he took advantage of them, and about how they were clueless, ignorant immigrants.

Grandpa Joe said, "Put some water in the car."
So...they poured water on the seats, and not in the radiator.

Grandpa Joe said, "Plant them a hoe's length apart."
So they did. The entire length of the hoe. Not the length of its head.

When they all sat down to dinner together, Grandpa Joe's wife (grandma Agnes Stefek from Trojanovice 281) said, "Jezte, máme plenty!"
But they didn't eat anything, just waited, watched, waited, and watched. It seems they were waiting for the mysterious "plenty" to appear.

These stories remain in our family culture. But what interests (and also deeply saddens) me, is to see with my own eyes the demise of the Czech language. Honestly, what I always heard were the words:

"Estcha máma plenty." It was through writing this piece that I understood that it wasn't ever "estcha" or "ještě" but "jezte", 2nd person plural imperative for "eat!"

The Czech language is not going to prevent me from the understanding of my Czech ancestors which I crave. I would sacrifice almost anything in order to speak it.

I often feel as if my personality is just a pile of awkwardness. But truly, I would give up all of my pride for this dream, including all my personal failures, include my awkwardness. I hope that one day I will meet others with the same dream: to really understand our Czechs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Přistěhoval se můj prapradědeček Josef Jan Vašíček do Texasu, když bylo mu 16 let.

On byl nejmladší syn Vašíčkových.

A nikdy neviděl své rodiče, poté co odešel. Myslím si, že je to velmi smutné.

Protože byl časný přistěhovalec, a také byl podnikatel, proto často najal další Čechy. Trvají nějaké příběhy, jak on využil něj, a jaké byli hloupé a naivní přistěhovalci.

Děda Joe řekl: “Dejte vodu do auta.”
Takže…oni ji nalili na sedadla auta, a ne do chladiče.

Děda Joe řekl: “Zasaďte to na délku motyky od sebe.”
[Already you can see the influence of English in my grandfather’s mind: a Czech would understand this to mean the length of the hoe’s stick, not its head. But in English it is ambiguous, and from the context you can tell it meant the head.]
Takže oni se zasadili celém délku motyky.

Když spolu večeřeli, žena Dědy Joa (babička Anežka Štefková z Trojanovic 281) řekla, “Jezte, máme plenty!”
Ale nic nejedli, jen čekali, a koukali, čekali, a koukali. Zdá se, že čekali, až přijde ten tajemný “plenty.”

Ty příběhy trvají u našem rodinné kultuře. Ale co mě zajímá (a také mě mrzí), je vidět na vlastní oči rozklad českého jazyka. Upřímně, co jsem vždycky slyšela, byla slova “estcha máma plenty.” Skrze toto psaní jsem pochopila, že to není žádné “estcha” ani “ještě”; to muselo být “jezte.”

Čeština nebude mi bránit za porozumění českým předkům, po kterém toužím. Obětovala bych téměř cokoliv, abych to uměla.

Často cítím se, jako kdyby moje osobnost byla jenom hromada trapnosti. Ale opravdu, obětovala všechnu svou pýchu pro ten sen, a to zahrnuje každé osobní selhání, i moji trapnost. Doufám, že jednoho dne se setkám s dalšími lidmi, kteří mají stejný sen: pochopit naše Čechy.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

House Numbering in Frenštát

My fourth cousin in Trojanovice sent me a copy of a history of the town of Frenštát from 1904. I started to read it in Czech, and of course I need to share what I am learning, because it is very interesting. Here is a translation of pages 7 and 8.

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House numbering was not done in a random way but started from an important place, such as the church, the castle, etc.

Here [in Frenštát] the numbering was done starting from the church. There were 37 houses of Měsťans (Burgers) and of them, 22 formed the core of the square, 15 others were located on the streets which were at the extensions of the square’s longer sides. The current numbering was done at the beginning of  the 19th century.

See this map but remember it is from 1835, so it is not exactly the same as what this chronicle is talking about.

With the numbers from 1835.

In the 1676 document “Extract of a copy of the Hukvaldy official blah blah blah Cadastral blah blah thing from 1676” the names of the current šenk houses (brewery houses) were stated in this order:

Jakub Lichnovský (now at č. 15)
Tom[áš] Bartoš
Pavel Weiss
Jiřík Gach
Tom[áš] Tučný
Lida widow of Michal Kopřiva
Jan Melichar
Mikuláš Kostelník
Martin Polach
Zuzana widow of Chaloupka
Kašpar Mechl
Jan Petrů
Jan Parma
Pavel Slanina
Jiřík Ondráška
Jan Michna
Jan Mikulášek
Jiří Michna
Václav Michna
Jakub Vavřinův
Jan Vašica
Jiří Pauček
Jan Dřevěný
Martin Reček
Tomáš Lichnovský
Tomáš Dreschler
Jiřík Kaluža
Pavel Kopřiva
Jan Hilšer

In total there were 33, but after the fire of 1661 four of the brewery house owners were completely impoverished. Martin Kopřiva sold his field and left, Jiři Dobrozemský burned to death, Matyáš Töpfer sold his field and left to Hungary, and Jan Hunku became a beggar.





 Číslování domů nebylo v obcích nahodile voleno, ale vycházelo z místa význačného, od kostela, zámku a p.

U nás číslováno bylo od kostela. Měšťanských domů je 37 a z těch 22 tvoří jádro náměstí, 15 nalézá se v ulicích, které jsou  prodloužené delší strany jeho. Nynější číslování provedeno na počátku 19. století.

V listině z r. 1676. “Extraktus aus dem in copia adimata bei der hochfürstlichen Ober-Amts-Kanylei der Herrschaft Hochwald befündlichen Catastro de Anno 1676.) uvádějí se jména majitelů skutečných šenkovních domů v městečku Frenštátě (Stadtl Frankstadtl) v tomto pořadu:

Jakub Lichnovský (nyni č. 15), Tom. Bartoš, Pavel Weiss, Jiřík Gach, Tom. Tučný, Lida vdova Kopřivová (po Michalu), Jan Melichar, Mikuláš Kostelník, Martin Polach, Zuzana vdova Chaloupková, Kašpar Mechl, Jan Petrů, Jan Parma, Pavel Slanina, Jiřík Ondráška, Jan Michna, Jan Mikulášek, Jiří Michna, Václav Michna, Jakub Vavřinův, Jan Vašica, Jiří Pauček, Jan Dřevěný, Martin Reček, Tomáš Lichnovský, Tomáš Drechsler, Jiřík Kaluža, Pavel Kopřiva, Jan Hilšer. Úhrnem 33, neboť při požáru v r. 1661. majitelé čtyř ostatních domů šenkovních byli úplně ochuzeni. Martin Kopřiva prodal pole a odešel, Jiří Dobrozemský uhořel, Matyáš Töpfer pole prodal a odešel do Uher, Jan Hunka chodil žebrotou.




Sunday, June 11, 2017

How to trace Czechs before House Numbers

House numbers in the Czech lands are great. But they were not a thing until the 1770s/1780’s.

And not all of our ancestors were the “knedlíky” kind. If you have ever eaten dumplings before, you know exactly what I’m talking about. They sit in your stomach forever, like bricks.

Well, it’s nice when ancestors are like this: “forever” staying in one village, never moving to greener pastures. Would that we were all so lucky to have to deal with problems of identity instead of problems of haystack-needle-picking.

So what do you do when you lose the trail of your ancestors before house numbers?

Helpful hint: look at all the clues!

Here’s my 7th great aunt Marina Šperka’s birth in Staříč on 17 January 1716.


I found no births of any other children to František Šperka and Magdalena ? in Staříč before this time. When I looked for her parents’ marriage in Staříč, I found nothing. I looked in Sviadnov. Nothing.

I noticed that only on Marina’s birth was there anybody mentioned from outside the parish. It was a witness listed as “Anna Vojtěchová ex Místecensi Parochia.”

I decided to try my luck in Místek, and was not disappointed! Here is the marriage of František Šperka and Magdalena Matěj:


Notice that they married 14 February 1708. <3 <3 <3 Happy Valentine’s Day, 7th Great Grandparents! <3 <3 <3

Hey, look, a pretty substantial gap between 1708 and 1716.

A missing child, Anna Šperka, born in Místek in 1713.



But now, there are so many other questions. I didn’t find any other births to this couple in Místek. It is kind of weird that they didn’t start having children until 5 years after they were married. What is the story?

Someday my descendants might wonder the same thing about our birth control habits. We had 3 kids in a row 14 months apart, and then there was a 3 year gap. Will my descendants ask, “Was there a stillborn baby?”

Answer: No, there wasn’t.

I decided to look around. GUESS WHAT. I found other missing children in neighboring Sviadnov:

Joseph Šperka born 22 January 1709
Catharina Šperka born 5 October 1710

Other questions:
  • Did they move, or did they just have the baptisms done outside the parish? If so, why?
  • If they moved, why?
  • What happened to these three kids: Joseph, Catharina, and Anna? I could not find their deaths.

Fun fact: as of this writing, this is the farthest back in time I have been able to trace my ancestors.

ZATÍM.

I was just super ecstatic to cross over into the 1600’s. It was a huge accomplishment, and very exciting. I hope to be able to take all my Czech lines that far back, and beyond, someday.


But in order to do that, I will have to remember that people in the past moved around, too. Fortunately, they didn’t appear out of thin air, and I will be able to trace their movements by employing a combination of luck and logic. The logic includes noticing all the information on the records, including where the witnesses were from.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Želary, část druhá [part two]

Část první [part one] is located here.

My cousin (4th cousin once removed) Josef Petr in Trojanovice - who is just as much into genealogy as I am - gave me some really great answers to some questions, which I am sharing (with permission). 

The only problem is that his answers have sparked 10,000 more questions ;-)

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First of all, you should take into consideration that Czechoslovakia has been established at 1918 after 300 years of being under Austria (German). When again, the German danger raised, people were able to sacrifice a lot in order to preserve the state or to destroy the Nazi germans. 

The betrayal prepared for us by our allies was very disappointing and till today, passionate discussions are running if we should try to defend ourselves or not. By this you maybe also better understand that it is not good idea to regulate the gun-holding-law here, especially not from the west ;-)

Just how out-of-the-way of World War II were my ancestral mountain villages?
Trojanovice has been out of the main events of the war, however, due to terrain, guerrilla partisan started to operate very soon here. One of the former CS army general was from Horni Becva, he started with, but later other joined to do the sabotages and attacks on the infrastructure. One of the example could be raid on the police station on Zubri - they simply attacked it, captured their weapons and retreat :-D

My gg father, as hunter and gamekeeper, he owned two rifles. According to the law he should give them to Nazis, he refused and give them to partisans. He should also hide some wounded one, but this I was not able to verify (too many question marks).
Situation with partisan were so bad sometimes, so Nazis were doing counteractions. Most famous is Operation Tetrev. https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operace_Tetřev

Few bombs also fallen on the Frenstat (for example due to one we had a new cinema), but generally, no massive bombardment was experienced here. Which is strange, Tatra in Koprivnice was a ideal target.

Special chapter is Slovak national uprising. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slovak_National_Uprising



I know my ancestors drank. I know that my great great grandfather Bedrich Michna died of something related to alcoholism (another really excellent reason for me not to drink). How did alcoholism and excessive drinking affect my ancestors’ daily lives?

Everybody in Trojanovice is drinking, was drinking and will drink. Who say he don't, he do twice a lot. Starting the 1900, lot of campaigns were done to prevent citizens from massive drinking, but this wasn't so much welcomed. I would say the local situation was stable. People were drinking since the village has been established, also before, and also after the campaign plus minus same. But in other areas, (mainly rural like Ostrava or Vratimov), the situation was much worse. Also, some villages, where the situation was bad suffered by the drinking of the Pasturers, who piece by piece sold out their property and bankrupt, leaving the kids and wife to eat stones. Also, potato "alcohol" was popular and destroyed lot of lives.

They did not spend a lot of time showing how Eliška would not be accepted into Želary. It was briefly alluded to, and then she was *poof* immediately besties with the other women. I wonder how small village life and its gossiping and nosiness would have actually been like for a woman in this situation. Would she have made friends easily?

Strangers are sometimes not welcomed well, even today some people invest so much effort to gossips rather than do their business. Same like today, it was important the first sight - if well dressed woman came into village, it wasn't the best first step. Sounds creepy, but at that time even the priests had to ask for quieting these rumors and gossips. To be honest, this part has so small time budget, because it is easy to understand for Czech people and it wasn't necessary to explain details - which is sad.

Rape. There was a lot of it in this movie. How common was it, and how were victims perceived/treated?

Situation of the rape victims is complicated even today in Czech. Still, not small percentage of the people thinks that it is fault of the woman (which is terrible opinion). Yes, we've improved from the 1600's (... a whore died and her bastard son died next day, thanks to God...)
but still there is a room for improvement. One of my colleague in my previous job was raped by the high-manager. Do you think he or she was fired? She. By this you can see how far we're from real civilization.

Regarding the Red Army, everybody was awaiting they'll come to liberate us and most of the people simply cannot wait. Overall thinking was that nothing can be worse than Nazis. People were hardly understand general Vlasov and his army who were Soviet POs fighting on the side of Germans. But when Russians came, they're very angry. For them, all the land to the west was Germany (technically it was and everywhere were German flags, banners, ...). Nazi Germans caused them a lot of suffering, if they recognized other nations, for them they were "those who surrendered Germans, so helped them". Who surrender was automatically betrayer for them. Did you know that Stalin refused to change his captured son for F. Paulus, captured at Stalingrad? He said: "I'll not change lieutenant for marshal!"
From the memories of my grandfather I can confirm that Soviet soldiers were stealing watches or mirrors, bicycles and even the horses or tractors where available. My grandfather telling me that they've confiscated alarm clock to somebody. Later, when the alarm ringing, the soldier shoot into the rucksack with it, because he has no idea something like this existing. Also, who had water supply in his house, he was visited by soldiers who want to see that miracle.

The orphans were just kind of free to wander wherever they wanted. The one little girl seemed pretty pleased to do it, and her pastoral happiness seemed to be over glorified. It would have sucked to have been in her position. I guess that is what makes her such an obvious choice for a symbol if the Czech spirit of resilience in the face of huge obstacles.

Usually, the orphans were in bad situation, but by law, mayors were obliged to handle their situation, to secure them a spare family or to take care in general. Despite the mortality, there was very few of that cases. Situation that orphan is free to wander everywhere is not correct, based on what I was reading in the chronicles. Of course it was not cool to be an orphan.

I liked how the movie portrayed the Priest as “the good guy.” Too often, Priests are vilified. What would a priest back then have really been like?

Even the Priests are servants of God, they're still humans. Very nice story is about the priest in Lidice, https://zpravy.aktualne.cz/domaci/lidicky-farar-odmitl-milost-muz-vytahl-svagrovou-na-kladce-z/r~1f0e0f86f78f11e68ad70025900fea04/?redirected=1496846249



Also, priests were issuing the confirmations for the people in third reich they're not related to Judes. I'm sure that in many cases they're cheating to save the lives. Other priests were hiding the parachutists or providing the information, etc.

Within this topic is also important to remark pope Pius XII, who blessed the weapons to Nazi army - like this is said here in Czech. In fact, no one knows how it was. How was the pressure on the pope, what could be counteraction or if he really blessed (I would curse it, for example) that weapons. Today research are not so negative - he probably secured visa for many Jews who need to escape from Europe. The world is not black and white only and most of the persons aren't 100% as well as not 100% good.

Life there seemed like a lot of backbreaking physical work. In the most beautiful place imaginable, though. How would my Czechs have felt to leave this place? They would have had complex feelings of longing to both return to their mountain and stay in Texas. How can I learn more about this?

I would say that for you could be some place nice, almost paradise, for other person could be boring and another person could be hell. My experience from Trojanovice is, that if somebody came for a while, he is so excited, he likes everything, but next day it is already known and next day some things can be annoying. So nice to have a snow, real WHITE snow on your garden. Yes, but that snow I have to remove from the causeway, I'm having troubles with transportation, etc. Or garden itself, so many people told me they would plant a potatoes, or tomatoes, but when realize how much work it means, they're disappointed. Of course they rather go to Tesco and buy potatoes for funny price instead of planting them and take care about them. So I think it is similar with the people who were leaving to Texas from here. You can say - nice hills, but when you have to everyday go with your cows to that hill, it is not so cool. Their houses were so adorable, but it was cold at winter, hot at summer. There are always several points of view, and for them the situation was so crappy, so they believed anywhere else it will be better.

Yes, they left the heritage of their ancestors, but their ancestors also came from somewhere, probably due to troubles with something. The fact their parents lived here is not sticking them to the ground and it is good. Otherwise the mankind would still live in Africa caves ;-)

Monday, June 5, 2017

I am a GeneaBloggersTRIBE team member!

Guess what?

GeneaBloggers was about to die. Thomas MacEntee was moving on to his new site: AbundantGenealogy.com. He basically realized that the vast majority of the traffic to his site comes from Facebook instead of blogs, and it wasn't really worth all his gargantuan effort to continue with it. This post explains the pros and cons of publishing your genealogy content on Facebook vs. Blogger, which is really interesting to me.

Actually, the very vast majority of hits on my blog come from Facebook. I can immediately tell my looking at my stats whether or not I remembered to cross-post something there; if I did, it will have 100+ views. If I didn't, maybe 25. And then a post somehow hits the SEO jackpot and gets a thousand hits, making me feel really happy, and inflating my ego really huge.

But truly, I don't blog for the stats. I blog for myself. Rather, I blog for that person who, like myself, was really longing to find some knowledge about Czech genealogy research, and couldn't. I blog the bits and pieces of knowledge I learn on the way so that others might be spared a tiny bit of the learning curve.

Anyway, it was about to die.

But then a group of us genealogy bloggers came together and resurrected it as GeneaBloggersTRIBE (for now). Every day that goes by, my admiration and respect for Thomas MacEntee's brain deepens. This guy was a genius. Also a workaholic and glutton for punishment, because A. Ton. Of. Work. went into the website. I never knew that before, because I only ever used it for the daily blogging prompts.

To be honest, that is the same reason why I became a team member: because I care about the daily blogging prompts a lot.

So, what is GeneaBloggers, you (and I) might ask?











The purpose of GeneaBloggers (and GeneaBloggersTRIBE) is:

  • support genealogy bloggers including content-providers on a variety of platforms
  • share information on resources
  • permit free use of fM’s several logo graphics among members expressing solidarity
  • exclude commercial advertising
  • disallow corporate ownership
I volunteered to join the team because I really love blogging and I really wanted my teeny tiny Czech corner of the genealogy world to be represented. I'm really happy to be part of this team, even though we realized that we aren't necessarily all bloggers per se. We are basically internet genealogy content providers, via social media, vlogging, blogging, etc. 

Some changes are coming to the site which should be really good. I think change is exciting and I like fresh starts. It is cool and exciting to me to be a part of a group of people who write about/produce content about genealogy, even though they are all focused on :::cough cough hem hem:::: less interesting things. What? Not everybody gets off on diacritical marks and transcribing German current script?! How is that...possible?

I am definitely one of the youngest (perhaps the youngest?) on the team but I'm definitely not the most tech savvy. For example, I basically know almost nothing about twitter, and my idea of a "vlog" is to upload posts to youtube and crosspost to blogger, which is probably not the way real vloggers do it. Working with the team, I see that I have so much to learn. About everything. 

But it is really fun to learn. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

How should I record the given names of my Czech ancestors?

No, seriously...how should I record the given names of my Czech ancestors?

I used to think that the only way to record a given name was strictly by what was written in the record. I even went so far as to claim that any deviance from this method was “fiction.”

Let me clarify. I am not talking about how to transcribe a name from a specific record. I’m talking about how to choose which form of a name to use when I assemble and correlate all the records together and record a person’s identity in my own database. Should I record my Czechs with their German names? Should I record my Czechs with their Czech names? Spelling wasn’t standardized until the mid-19th century, so which spelling should I use?

Please note: I still believe that most of the time, most researchers are better off just recording their Czech ancestors by the name listed on one of their important records, for example, their birth record. I am not criticizing researchers who choose to record their Czechs this way.

However, my opinion about how I will record my own Czechs has slowly shifted over time. I see an increasing importance in knowing and preserving their actual identity. All my Czechs were either from the Beskidy mountains (Wallachians) or from the villages around Ostrava (Silesians and Moravians, depending on which side of the river their village happened to be).

It is really important to me to tell their story accurately.

They weren’t Johann. And while maybe to their close friends and family they actually went by the diminutive Honza (or Honzík, Honzíček, Jenda, Jeníček, Jeník, Janíček, Janek, Jéňa, Ješek, atd.), the Czech form of their name - Jan - is a better representation of their identity because they spoke Czech, not German.

Franziska? No, she was Františka. Wenzel? No, he was Václav.

My Czechs were Czech, and I should preserve their Czechness in how I call them.

Here is how I came to this conclusion:

Let’s pretend that history had been slightly different, and Texas became an occupied Mexican territory. Let’s say that the President of Mexico declared that all the names throughout the land should be recorded in Spanish. My parents are native English speakers. I was born in Lubbock, Texas. My English-speaking parents named me Katherine Elizabeth - BUT my official birth record lists me as “Catalina Ysabel.”

Perhaps my official government ID, my school report cards, census records, etc. might list me as “Catalina Ysabel.” But does this name really do justice to representing my identity?

No.

Then again, nobody has ever called me Katherine, not even as a very young girl. I have always been Kate - and by the way, I am not and never will be Katie, which is a perfectly beautiful name, just not on me!

But is Katherine closer to Kate than Catalina?

Yes.

How will my descendants 200 years from now know what to call me when all the records that remain of me are my official government records*? Will they call me "Catalina Ysabel" or "Katherine Elizabeth"? Does it really matter, since the name I actually used is “Kate”?

It does matter. My parents chose “Katherine Elizabeth.” I am an English speaker. It is a part of my identity. If my descendants called me “Katherine Elizabeth” it would make me smile, because that is the official name my parents chose for me. “Catalina Ysabel” adds a political layer to my identity that was not there before. It distorts my actual identity. It does not preserve my story.

Let’s pretend that the socio-political problems in Texas were so terrible that they drove my parents to emigrate with me and my brother and sisters to Estonia. In order to assimilate into the community, we all assumed Estonian names. My name on the official documents became "Katariina Zabel". But maybe friends called me Kadri. My parents might still have called me Kate at home, where we probably would continue to speak English for at least one or two more generations.

200 years later, my descendants find me listed on many different official government records: my birth record in Mexican-occupied Texas where I am listed as "Catalina Ysabel", and all my other government records in Estonia, like my driver’s license, my diploma, my interstellar-space passport, etc. On these other documents, I am “Katariina Zabel.” Which name do you think does a more accurate job representing my identity, the one on my birth record (when, because of my infancy, I was not even consciously aware of being present), or the one which I was actually might have signed myself? Maybe I didn’t use it commonly among friends and family, but if my own hand wrote my name, don’t you think that name is a more appropriate choice to use as an identifier for me?

Let’s pretend that 200 years later, Russian has become the dominant world language. Certainly, we can all agree that it would be categorically wrong for my descendants to record my name in Russian, as “Jekaterina Elizaveta.”

This final piece of the analogy would be like me, an English speaker, angliflying my 6th cousins’ names - people who emigrated from Czech-speaking Trojanovice to Portuguese-speaking Brazil. It would be wrong to do that. More to come about those guys in the next few months, by the way!

The question then becomes: how do you know what language your Czechs spoke, so you can know which language to record their name in your database?
Though you may not be able to ask your great x grandparents directly, you can start to find clues about the language they used by learning about the history of the region. Did your ancestors live in the Sudetenland? Was German a language which people spoke in that time and place? There are maps of German speaking regions, for example:


Other hints might be to look at the language used in the matriky and land records over time. Did it consistently stay in German? Did it revert back to Czech in the 19th/early 20th century?

If you are lucky, you can find clues hidden in the signature of your ancestors. Did they sign their name in Czech?
Here is a great example of signatures from a late 19th century Frenštát marriage register. Notice that some of them also wrote their occupations, for example, the top signature of Frant Reček “suset Tkadlec” aka “soused tkadlec” or “citizen weaver.” Note that he even wrote his occupation in Czech. He did not write “Bürger Weber.”

A few pages later in the same marriage register, notice that there are three little x’s next to Martin Bartoš’s name. This represents his mark, meaning it was not his signature. Probably he was illiterate and could not write his name. But notice again that his occupation was written here in Czech as “tkádleč suset” aka “soused tkadlec”. He probably spoke Czech.

If you can’t find these clues for your ancestor themselves, perhaps you can find them for their descendants. If their descendants spoke Czech, their ancestors probably also spoke Czech.

I know that the spelling becomes the major limiting factor for most researchers. They look at the plethora of ways in which people spelled given names - both in German and in Czech - and they get so discouraged that they throw up their hands, pick a record (usually the birth record) and decide that will have to be enough. What is the difference between Waclaw and Václav, anyway?

Or perhaps the hang-up is because his name was never recorded as “Václav” on any official record; how do I justify recording him in my database in a way that does not exist in the records? If he spoke Czech before the Czech language assumed a standardized and codified alphabet, should his name be spelled with modern Czech standards and conventions?

If he spoke Czech, then I think there is a strong and compelling argument that yes, we should record our Czechs in Czech, because it captures their identity better. The onus is on us to find clues about which language they used and to document our conclusions.

I currently only use FamilySearch as my lineage linked database - and yes, I know that I need to have a static, closed system to record just my research - but frankly I haven’t gotten around to it yet. That is one of my genealogy goals for this year.

Anyway, I love how there is a way to add alternate names in FamilySearch.


I think from now on, I will try to discover what language my Czechs spoke. I will then record my Czechs by the language that they spoke. I will also record all other name variants which I find under “alternative name.” I think this will give a more accurate representation of my Czech’s actual identity, while also recording the other spelling variations for future researchers to review.

FamilySearch always prompts users to enter, “reason statements.” “Why do you believe x is true?” I will also be very clear in my reason statements about why I believe they should be known by their Czech or German given name. For example:

This village is historically a Czech-speaking place. This person’s descendants all signed their names in Czech (for example, here are some links). Parish registers and/or land records from the early 16th century for this place were written in Czech (for example, here are some links). Later 19th century records for this place were also written in Czech (for example, here are some links). Based on this person’s geographic location, this person’s descendants’ native language, and the linguistic reversion in the records from Czech to German to Czech, I believe this person was a Czech-speaker. Therefore, I believe a Czech name better represents this person’s identity. The standardized and official spelling for this Czech name today is such-and-such, therefore that is how I have chosen to identify this person in my records. Please note that all alternative spellings are listed under ‘other information’.”

Yes, I did just write this reason statement out so that I can copy and paste it into familysearch when I enter my Czechs by their names. I will probably start crafting reason statements tailored for each village and family. I know this is perhaps being a little bit over-the-top, but I think it's really important to explain this name change logically, especially when no record preserved from their life records their given name in Czech.

What do you think about how to handle Czech identity? How do you name your Czechs in your own records? Why do you do it that way? 


*This is not going to happen, because I will not only leave a sizeable footprint of online records (facebook, blogger), but I intend to leave a really awesome written legacy for my descendants in the form of an interesting, well-organized, indexed volume of journals.