Friday, January 13, 2017

In which I prove that Watson is valuable to Sherlock

Image may contain: 1 person, text

I'm partipating in a fun genealogy panel on Dear Myrtle's blog. I want to polish the first piece I wrote before sharing it on my blog, but here's what I wrote this week.

You can watch it here. My part is from 46:34-1:04

Rose’s Casebuilding Scenarios

In this chapter, Rose describes two scenarios:

1. After a reasonably exhaustive research, there are no conflicts. Next step: write a coherently written conclusion.
2. After a reasonably exhaustive research, there still are conflicts. Next steps: be sure you really have found all relevant data, then weigh its credibility. Rose implies that the coherently written conclusion comes next.

Rose implies that though weighing the data’s credibility is technically subjective process, it is possible to be done logically and skillfully. “Assigning weight is subjective. It is a skill that is developed over time, with experience, and based upon a knowledge of all aspects of the elements of evidence. Eventually, as we continually collect, scrutinize and analyze, it becomes second nature.” [1]

Experts can be blind to discrepancies

Personally, I feel like it is not always easy to distinguish between these two situations, because the more knowledge and understanding we gain in our locality area of expertise, the less likely we are to even consider discrepancies as such. Having an intimate knowledge of the patterns of how people from a specific place at a specific moment in time lived can blind us to what outsiders might view as a “discrepancy.”

“Write-as-you-go” is important to me

I do not think writing should only happen post-research. It has been my own experience that the writing process itself causes me to be a better researcher. I use google drive to organize my research, and while I use spreadsheets as a form of meta-organization (organizing research logs, organizing finding aids, etc.), I prefer a free-form document for logging my research. Google Docs is a format that promotes writing in full sentences. I find that the cells of Google Sheets are too small for me to logically develop my thoughts.
However, I think it’s likely that Rose does not believe that all writing should occur after the research has been collected and analyzed, but rather only the actual conclusion itself. Because this is such a crucial process for meeting the GPS, I wish that this distinction would have been more explicit in her book.

Example of Expert Blindness

Here is an example of what is technically a discrepancy, but would not even be considered as such by Czech genealogy researchers.
Spelling conventions were not standardized in Czech until the mid 19th century, but because they were under the rule of the Austrian Empire (and after 1867/1868, the Austro Hungarian Empire) until 1918, many of their official records were kept in German. It is common to find German spelling of Czech names through the registers. It is more important to compare how surnames are said than to rely on spelling.  
For example: Valentin and Josef were the twin sons of “Johann Waschiczek”, born and baptized 17 January 1866 in Vratimov, Moravia[2].

Notice that the other words on this 1866 birth record for Josef and his twin brother Valentin are also written in German, for example Zwillinger = twin, Gärtler = farmer on a piece of land less than ~11 acres, Schmied = smith, and dessen Eheweib = his wife.

Josef followed his sisters to Texas in 1881 and his name is spelled, “Josef Vasicek” on both the declaration of intent[3] and his naturalization record[4], both from 1894. Upon arrival to the United States, Czech immigrants universally lost the diacritical marks in the spelling of their names.

Here is Joseph Vasicek with his wife Agnes on the 1910 census in rural Wharton County, Texas[5]. Notice that his given name is spelled, “Joseph” and his surname is spelled, “Vasicek.” The enumerator of this census was one, “John L Raider,” - not a Czech. It is likely that whoever was the informant helped the enumerator spell the name: Joseph, his wife, and his older children all knew how to read and write.

Sometimes this lead to surname spelling changes as well. In this case, the spelling seems to be changed from Waschiczek to Vasicek, but that is only because the scribe of Josef’s birth record chose to write his surname in German. However, other siblings’ names were written with the Czech spelling, “Vašíček.” For example, see Josef’s older sister Marianna Vašíček’s 1872 marriage to Anton Koberský in Vratimov, Moravia[6].

Notice that Marianna’s surname on her 1872 marriage is spelled “Vašíček.” Whether to write in Czech or German was largely the whim of the scribe.

Czech researchers will find a tendency for older Czech records to be written in Czech more often than in German, with a lot of local variation. Which language was used depended largely on the subjective opinions and feelings of various people in charge, in particular, estate administrators and parish priests. 18th century records and earlier are often written at least partially in Latin, as well. Czech researchers tend to consider Latin, German, and Czech words as interchangeable, without significant meaning behind their variation.  
This same blindness towards spelling discrepancies extends to given names, for example: “Jan” vs. “John” vs “Johannes/Iohannes.” One is Czech, the other English, the last Latin, but all are the same name. It can be difficult for Czech researchers to even notice that others might not find the two completely interchangeable. No matter how it looked on paper, Jiří, Georg, or Georgius, they would have called their son Jiří, or perhaps one of its dozen diminutives. Never in their life would the person have been called “Adalbert” or “Adalbertus”, regardless of what the records say, it would have been, “Vojtěch.”

Scenario Two: Černoch becomes Cernosek

Here is another example of a surname change that is not so straightforward.
My friend was researching his Černošek line. His goal was to find more information about his immigrant ancestor, Anton Cernosek [sic]. Unsourced information on Familysearch showed that Anton was from the Moravian village of Frenštát.
In a compiled genealogy[7], we read:

“All the emigrants of this family name were born or emigrated under their original family name, Černoch. After their arrival in the USA [the] majority of them (unlike the emigrants of the same family name from other villages, e.g. Tichá and Veřovice) changed their original family name Černoch into Černošek. The reasons for this change have been unknown up to the present day and we can only guess that one of them may have been a little bit pejorative meaning of this word translated into English (černoch = negro).

ČERNOCH, Antonín was born in Frenštát [house] # 539 on Jan. 16, 1837, his parents were Ignác Černoch and passport to America was dated on Aug. 18, 1880. He received his passport No. 6768/1880 on Aug. 31, 1880. There is a note “America 1880” on the Census of Frenštát citizens. he arrived in Galveston on the ship America on Sept. 29, 1880 (as Cernoch Ant. with family). He was registered on the Censuses of Fayette Co. in 1900 (as Cernosek born in Jan. 1837, his arrival in 1880) and in 1910 (Cernosek age 72, arrival in 1880). After his wife’s death he remarried Marie Konvička Přadka, a widow of Jan Přadka (she was born in Frenštát on Jan. 9, 1843, she died on March 12, 1923) on Nov. 21, 1886 in Hostyn. Antonín died on Oct. 1, 1920, he was buried in Ammannsville cemetery (as Cernosek 1837-1920).”

According to an article about Galveston immigrants, an image of the passenger list for the 1880 voyage of the S. S. America does not survive, however it was common for newspapers to print the names of the incoming passengers[8]. The Czech immigrants on this particular ship, the S.S. America arriving in Galveston in 1880, were listed in an article in a Wisconsin newspaper, which was then republished in a genealogical magazine in 1987[9]. We should find a copy of that genealogical magazine, and so that we have a second-hand instead of third-hand account.
Notice that Dr. Šímiček found Anton Černoch’s passport application. That means it exists somewhere in the Czech archives. Next steps include obtaining a photograph of it, perhaps by hiring a Czech researcher with easier access to the archives. These records are a low priority for digitization, so waiting will not be a great option.

Final thought: If you haven’t found conflicts, you probably haven’t finished your research.

While writing this paper, I realized that it was really difficult for me to come across anything in my own research that clearly meets Rose’s first scenario. This is probably because the more sources one consults, the greater the likelihood for conflicts to surface. In a way, this is similar to how each subsequent transcription of an individual record allows for further introduction of errors.
Because all the possible information about a human being can never be consolidated into one document, researchers must consult many high quality sources and analyze them with intelligence and care. The more one learns about one’s research locality, the better one becomes at deciphering the meaning of the records. And yet, it can still be quite helpful for experienced researchers to collaborate with novices whose virgin eyes are not yet biased by unsourced knowledge.

Rose, Christina, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case 4th Edition Revised, (San Jose, California: CR Publications) 2014, 15.

Roman Catholic Parish of Vratimov (Vratimov, Ostrava-město, Moravian-Silesia, Czech Republic), Inventory Number 3078a, matrika zemřelých, raoyených, a odanných pro obce Vratimov a Kunčice [Deaths, Births, Marriages for the municipalities of Vratimov and Kunčice] 1837-1893, unpaginated, Valentin and Josef [Waschiczek] entry [twins], 17 January 1866; digital images, Regional Archives of Opava, Archivní Vademecum ( : Accessed 9 January 2017), electronic page 397.
[3] Fayette County Court, Records of Declaration Vol D:136, Josef Vasicek; FHL microfilm 967983.
[4] Fayette County Court, Naturalization Records Vol 1:338, Josef Vasicek; FHL microfilm 967978.
[5] "United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 January 2017), Texas > Wharton > Justice Precinct 5 > ED 169 > image 27 of 40; citing NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
[6] Roman Catholic Parish of Vratimov (Vratimov, Ostrava-město, Moravian-Silesia, Czech Republic), Inventory Number 3078a, matrika zemřelých, narozených, a odanných pro obce Vratimov a Kunčice [Deaths, Births, Marriages for the municipalities of Vratimov and Kunčice] 1835-1893, unpaginated, Anton Kobierský to Marianna Vašíček entry, 30 July 1872; digital images, Regional Archives of Opava, Archivní Vademecum ( : accessed 9 January 2017), electronic page 503.
[7] Šímiček, Josef, The Pilgrims for Hope: Volume II, 2004, page 34. Dr. Šímiček was a local doctor who became interested in tracing Czech emigrants from his home town of Lichnov, Moravia and the surrounding areas. He spend over 4 decades compiling 6 volumes of books about Texas Czech immigrants with detailed family trees. Before the parish registers were digitized and made available online ca ~2012, Šímiček’s books were one of the only sources American family historians could rely on. The work has a list of source citations (though they are not connected to individual facts) and after poring through the volumes that I own, I have found only a few minor errors in facts. The book is written in English, and though it is apparent he is not a native speaker, the ideas are clear.
[8] Konecny, Lawrence H. and Clinton Machan, German and Czech Immigration to Texas: The Bremen to Galveston Route, 1880-1886; ( : accessed 9 January 2017).
[9] ibid.

No comments:

Post a Comment