I don’t seem to have much difficulty navigating family history for North America. I am guessing it is because I speak English and most of the documents are written in my language. It’s taking that leap from locating the ancestor who “immigrated” to America from other countries that causes me to hesitate. Here is where the real challenge begins. Perhaps one day I will learn to speak and write in other languages but for now Google Translate is my friend.
The majority of my research has been locating families in Eastern Europe. I’m currently working on several trees that include Poland, Ukraine, and most recently Bohemia. The first thing I will tell you is that it is crucial you know the name of the town and/or parish your ancestor came from. The 2nd thing I will tell you is to take note of the dates your ancestor may have lived there. As we know most of Eastern Europe has changed it’s borders many times. That’s why so many people were listed as being from “Prussia” or “Austria”. Which files you search through depend on what country was in control of that place at that time. Maybe today you are looking for a person who was born in Wołkowyja, Poland, however they identified as being Ukranian. Well back in 1899 maybe Wołkowyja did actually exist in the country of Ukraine and it wasn’t until later that Poland took control of the land. So knowing the name of the town and making note of the place in the context of it’s time is important.
So right now i’m on the hunt for the Dvořák family from “Kostelec, Central Bohemia, Czech Republic”. The only information I have is that there was a couple named Anten Dvořák and Julia Dupe who were both born in Kostelec. I don’t even know the birth date for these individuals. All I know is that their son Vaclav Dvořák was born in Kostelec on 16 Jun 1872. I found out who Vaclav’s parents were from his death record in Chicago, IL. I also know he had a sister named Cecilia Dvořáková.
Last night I started my search for records in Pilsen. I started browsing through 143 images from the Pilsen-evangelical records from 1871-1892 from http://www.portafontium.cz/ . Unfortunately, these records are not transcribed nor is there an index so we have to do it the “manual” way. Before you start looking through every document for your surname, always scroll to the end and make sure the book doesn’t have an index. You will be so frustrated if you go through all of the pages only to find that the last 3 tell you all the surnames and which pages they are on (I’ve done this before and almost threw my computer out of the window)! This type of research can be tedious and can take a lot of time. This is how you tell the true genealogy nerd apart from the rest.
I enjoy seeing the old handwriting in German and trying to find the surname i’m looking for. It’s my equivalent of hide-and-go-seek. Do not be intimidated by the fact that it is written in a language you don’t know. Also, once again Google Translate is your friend. This search can be easier if you know the religious background of the family (i.e. Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran, etc. etc.) because then you can focus your search on those specific records.
Regarding the Dvořák’s, I know that one of Vaclav’s sons was a participant at Saint Paul’s Parish in Riverside, Illinois. Saint Paul’s was of Christian denomination however according to their website they are also Catholic, Anglican, and Episcopalian. So, I will be hunting through these records in Pilsen and it will probably take me about 4 hours today. Keeping in mind that my focus is on 1850 to 1872. I am not particularly concerned with what type of record it is (i.e. baptismal, marriage, death etc.) All i’m concerned with is finding the last name.
First, I go to the Evangelical Church registry of West Bohemia and look for key terms/locations to narrow down my search. Some of the terms I’m looking for are: Koselec, Tachov, and Pilsen. As you can see below there is only one of those terms that match my need: Pilsen-Evangelical (Pilsen). So I select this record first.
Above, we can see a list of “Future additions” and a list of “Digitized books”. Looking at the dates listed here I’m disappointed to see that these records only start in 1871 when the Parish was first created. The likelihood of finding what I need (1850 -1872) probably aren’t in these records, and most likely a waste of time.
Since I am a curious cat, I decide to click on each of the links for all of the Parishes (aside from the Protestant) to so see what they offer. Maybe something will jump out at me. So I select Cheb – Evangelical.
Now, this is a quality website because it not only is free, and provides access to digitized records, but because it also explains to you the location of the Parish, when it was created, and what territory it covers “now”.
Cheb – Evangelical Existeded from 1863 – December 31, 1949. The Cheb Municipal Authority has registries going back to 1863. And it also says: “In addition to the municipalities assigned below, other localities in today’s districts belonged to the FA. Cheb, Sokolov and Tachov.”
Tachov is one of my keywords, fantastic. Let’s see if they have records available between 1863 -1872…. it does! Fantastic. Let’s take a gander…
If there is a description of the content – read it: “In addition to Fr. Lazne and Cheb contains registry entries for other localities districts. Cheb, Sokolov and Tachov Each section of the registry is paginated separately The annexes (7 pieces), originally inserted in the registry, are found after the last film The registry also contains three pasted attachments. evangelictví; each section has a separate pagination; after the last foil there is a list of offenders from the years 1935, 1936 and 1937 in the form of a loose book.”
This information will help you navigate the record. Also.. make sure to document this resource on your list of citations, so that you will remember it in the future. If you don’t find anything you can at least tell your client it was a dead end.
Next, I open the digitized content and see a full blown image of page 2 in the center and on the left side it shows me a scroll down function to see previews of the other pages.. all 338 of them… I’m going to time myself to see how long it takes to review this record. Ready: 12:58 pm start. 3:13pm stop. 2.25 hours long. Fortunately I only had to go up to page 81 which is where the records turned to 1873.
When you are not familiar with the language, trying to transcribe handwritten notes is difficult. Oftentimes, this is where most people would give up the search, hire a historian to assist in your research who understands the language, or ask your local genealogist to assist. Many times people don’t want to spend the money or time to go through this tedious task. However, if you do take a stab at it one thing that might be helpful is writing your surname in a word document and then changing the font to give yourself an idea of what the name looks like in cursive.
Side Note: Please encourage your children to learn to write and read in cursive! We need this skill in order to read historical documents! Also, there may be other ways to search through documents that aren’t transcribed that are much easier than going page by page. I’m sure all genealogists have special tricks up their sleeves. If you know of a quicker or more efficient way please feel free to share with me! Obviously contacting someone who lives with and manages these record’s on a daily basis is going to be your best resource. However, they are not always easy to find, may charge money, and could take a long time to get back to you.
Now I can report to my client that there is no mention of the name “Dvorak” in the Cheb – evangelická (Evangelical Church – German) records from Frantiskovy Lazne (Franzensbad), Cheb (Eger, Egire, Egra, Chba) for the years 1863 -1873.
To provide you with an example the next image provides us with headings about data written in the record. This format is fairly typical and it may be helpful to familiarize yourself with some key terminology.
From left to right of first page: Name des Laufenden = Current name, Jahr = Year, Monat= Month, Tag = Day, Der Geburt = of birth, Taufe = baptism, Tauf name = baptism name, mannlich = male, weiblich = female, ehrlich = honest, unehrlich = dishonest
From left to right of 2nd page: Eltern = Parents, des Vaters = Fatherm des Mutter = Mother, Tauf und familiennamen Charter, Geburtsort und Religion (deren Eltern) = Baptism and family names Charter, place of birth and religion (their parents), Godfather, Tauf und familiennamen, stand, wohnort = Baptism and family names, location, place of residence, and Unmertung = notes.
What to do from here depends on what you or your client are willing to spend.. there are clearly many resources to go through and even though it is tedious.. the excitement you feel when you find what you are looking for is worth all the effort. Not just for the genealogist, but for the client and their family. This could be a way to get through a brick wall in your research.