Czech and Slovak Heritage

Genealogy / Family History Information

This page was updated in Sept. 2008
 

Just Getting Started :

 

How to start the search for your Czech & Slovak family history

1) Fill out an Ancestor chart as best you can, and fill in the blanks as you progress in your search. (document where you get your information)

2) Talk to all family members, especially the older ones. Use a tape recorder, (or video camera) if you can. Show them older pictures to get them talking! (and identify those old pictures, write on the back using a pencil!)

3) Search through the family papers for Obituaries, Wake cards, Bibles, Old pictures, Marriage and Baptismal certificates, etc, etc, make copy’s and record all information you find.

4) Take copy’s of your charts and forms, and copy’s of old pictures, to any family reunions or family gathering for more information. (you never know!)

5) Follow your family groups in the Federal and State censuses as far back as possible. (there is lots of good information to be found in these records)

6) Check County & State records, & Historical society’s, for the following :

- Marriages- Naturalization & Intent (to citizenship) papers
- Deaths- Military records
- Probate records- City directories
- Land records- Old newspapers
- County histories- Fraternal records ( of Ethnic Organizations)

7) Look into Church records for: Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths. Look for any printed Church histories. Check the cemeteries, take pictures of any old family grave markers you find.

8) Join the “CzechoSlovak Genealogical Society Intl” at 16225 St. Paul, MN. 55116 or at: www.CGSI.org One years dues are only $25  New members receive a large welcome packet with lots of information, forms, addresses. Our quarterly 40 page publication, help with locating villages etc. (this makes a nice gift!)

9) Attend the meetings of your local genealogical group. Attend any classes they might have on getting started with your family history research. Learn from others what to do and not to do.

10) Join the local County or State Genealogical society in your area of research. You must find out all you can locally, before you start your search overseas. (do your homework first!)

11) When your ready, for research in the Czech or Slovak Republics, Briefly for Slovak’s  - life is easier ; The LDS / Mormon,  Family history centers have been filming the vital records in Slovakia for years, many  of this records can be ordered in to your local family history center, some might be available on-line ?              If your Czech you are not quite so lucky, as  the LDS / Mormon,  Family history centers have only been working in the Czech Republic since 2006 or so…. they are trying a different track by digitalizing those records – and plan to put more of those records on-line in time. In BOTH cases those records will be hard to read, and written in Latin, or something else hard to read.  It would be faster and easier to use a private researcher, they are much more flexible, they will work wherever, take photos, even videotape ! Be careful though there are people doing genealogical research who have no training, they are more interested in your money than the records. Visit the CGSI website for a list of researchers used by our members who have found researchers they trust and are happy with. Both old countries have great records, many going back into the 1600’s or earlier !

With some luck and work, you too can walk the land of your Ancestors! GOOD LUCK!!!
 

best advice would be to join CGSI – which you can do on-line at:  C.G.S.I. Home Page

© 2008 Czech & Slovak Heritage Tours Inc.



Locating the families ancestral home

More in-depth Genealogical Information

A number of genealogical things to consider, and more advanced info:

Czech Archives system:

Many records found in the archives written before the turn of the century are in a very obscure script. Of course,  the older the records the more likely the chances of having difficulty. This could be Czech wording written in a German style script that cannot be read, even by native Czech speakers without training and lots of experience. This script was used for German and Czech records, while Latin records are in the type of script we are used to. There are a number of letters in this script style that are very confusing to people used to today’s writing style. Such as the 'a' often looks like 'r' the 'e' like 'n' and the 'S' like 'O'. Since Latin was also widely used until this century elements of the Latin script can also be found, making it doubly difficult to read - in addition to the usual problems of poor handwriting ( in any style or language) and faded or poorly copied documents.

Another common problem in reading documents is that Czech spelling in the past differed quite a bit from the modern Czech language. Present day Czech uses diacritical marks to indicate long vowels and changes in the pronunciation of certain consonants a 'hacek' which looks like a small v over a letter like : (which itself has a diacritical mark of the same name over the 'c') is pronounced 'ch', 'r' with a hacek is pronounced something like 'rzh' (with the 'r' rolled), 'z' with a hacek is pronounced 'zh' ( like the 's' in measure) and 's' with a hacek is pronounced 'sh'. Over certain other consonants a hacek adds a short 'i' sound like Tatoun, has a hacek over the second 't' and is pronounced 'Tatioun' ('oun' like 'own').

In the past however a different system was used similar, in some ways, to the current Polish and Hungarian practices: for instance 'ch' was 'cz' ( this is not a good indicator of pronunciation in this case, though, because cz was also used in names ending in 'tsky' which are currently spelled 'cky' without a hacek ), and in some ways like the German: 'sh' was often 'sch', for instance, and 'v' was 'w'. Thus as an example again, Tatoun with a hacek was 'Tatioun', Cermak was 'Czermak', Vasko was ' Wasko' , Spitalsky was 'Schpitalsky', and Vondra 'Wondra'.
 

Some common last names and their derivations:,

Svoboda

from the Czech word for freedom

Novak

from the Czech 'novy' or 'new'

Kucera

from the Czech word for 'curly hair'

Barta

from the Czech nickname for 'Bartholomew'

Matatko

from the Czech for 'mother' or 'mama'

Cerny

meaning 'black' in Czech

Nemec

is the Czech word for 'German'

Sevcik

diminutive of the Czech for 'cobbler'

Kovar

meaning 'blacksmith' in Czech

Horak

meaning 'man from the mountains' in Czech

·Note: When Czechs moved to North America often the spelling of many names got changed, many dropped the diacritical marks. Many people adopted a different spelling to reflect the actual pronunciation: Nemetz, for Nemec, Cherny for Cerny, etc. Also Czechs who came to America before about 1860 may have retained the German spelling-- Czerny for Cerny or Swoboda for Svoboda, or even Schulz for Sulc.

A Sampling of Some Archival Records of Special Interest to Genealogists

An example of what you will find, a page from
a church record in the archives - something
very hard to decipher.

Vital Statistics called “Matriky” in Czech

Local records by the church or city/town/village are kept only as far back as 1920. All records older then 1920 have been sent to the State Regional Archives. If your really lucky, copy’s of some earlier records MAY still be kept in the local area, but do not plan on this. The majority of the older records will be the Catholic church parish records. The records in the regional archives are organized according to the region the parish was located in (for earlier records) or in the local district offices (for records since about 1910 for larger towns; smaller towns may still be using books from the 1880's). These Catholic parish records usually begin between 1630 and 1650. Evangelical (Protestant) records will only date to the 1781 Edict of Toleration, which allowed Evangelicals to build churches in the Austrian Empire. All these earliest records contain sketchy information and many births were not registered. More recent records usually contain very complete information for marriages, and births, including names of parents and grandparents (sometimes even a few great-grandparents) and exact addresses of the above. Some records will list maiden surnames, this becomes less likely the older the record is.

Finally meeting long lost relatives

Village Historian “Chronicler” in Czech

Again this is one of those things if your real lucky!  Most smaller villages had ( and some still do ) a village historian.  They can be a great source of information, in one of my own ancestral villages the historians book had a page for each house, on the top of each page was a beautiful watercolor of that house, and under it was the name of every owner of that house going back into the 1600’s. (pinch me I am still in awe)  In other villages I found nothing….. but as favorite Czech saying states : “hope dies last”

Land Records, Kept for Tax Purposes by the State (Kadastry)

Four major tax and land surveys were carried out by the Austrian state between about 1650 (The Berni Rula) and 1848. The two in between were the Theresian Cadastre (in the reign of Maria Theresa) and the Josefian Cadastre (in the reign of her son Joseph). These give the names of the holders of land (serfs) with a description of the parcels they worked. The last one also has color maps showing the individual parcels of land and houses. These have NOT been copied and are housed in the State Central Archives in Prague.  Some genealogical services offer for a fee,  to send you copies of this record for your village, they are a wonderful thing to have – I highly recommend doing this.  

List of the Kingdom's Subjects According to Religion

Housed in the State Central Archives in Prague, this one comes as close as we're likely to get in providing a complete listing (by name) of all the inhabitants of Bohemia in 1656.  It is slowly being published, in large volumes, the CzechoSlovak Genealogical Society Intl (CGSI) has a number of them in their library holdings.

Land Records (Pozemkovy Knihy)

Some housed in State Regional Archives, others in less accessible area archives. This is the best (and often the only) source of genealogical information before the Matriky records began to be kept in 1630-1650. They include records of land ownership and transfer, including information on inheritance. These records are NOT indexed, and are to be found in huge rooms full of many boxes. This records have not been copies or filmed.  A genealogical service can by hired to search and find your records for you. 

Records of the Occupancy of Houses (Prague Only)(Domovni Listy)

House by house surveys of the inhabitants of Prague, giving the place of birth for each member of the family and the entire list of residences in between, this is an invaluable source of information. Unfortunately records, originally kept for the whole of Bohemia, have only been preserved for Prague.

Family History Centers (LDS / Mormons)

Are just starting to copy the vital records of the Czech Republic, but they are going to digitalize them and plan to post them on-line. ( but for us reading and understanding them is a whole other story ).  However if your Slovak your lucky! The Slovak government has allowed filming in it’s archives for a number of years now. Please feel free to go to your local family history center, you do not need to be a Mormon to use the centers, and you will find lots of nice helpful people.

Final thoughts….

If the main reason your going over to the old country is to find your roots, some advice :

DO your homework before you depart, if all you know is grandpa’s name was Novak and he was from Prague…. Head for the nearest pub, you will have better luck their.  Prague is a big city, with many records, and Novak is just too common of a name.   Many people were told – your grandmother came from Prague, or some other large city. Chances are they did not, and instead came from some little village near Prague. They said that because no-one every heard of that village, but have heard of some larger town.  It’s just what we do today.  When people ask me, I say I am from St. Paul, Minnesota, but in reality I live in a small suburbof St. Paul called Vadnais Heights. 

Remember how long ago your ancestors left the village, if you're asking older people if they remember your great great grandpa. Could you pass that kind of a memory test ?

Think through any idea of going over to do the research yourself.  Most archives have short hours, are not open every day, are short staffed, and most importantly sharply limit the number of Matriky (parish books) you can request to look at in one day.  I myself brought in three relatives ( natives ) to research our family history in East Bohemia.  For us any records before about 1860 was impossible to decipher.  Not one of us could even understand one word on a large page of the written script. ( professional time ) Plus the age and content of records vary greatly from area to area. It will turn out to be rather expensive to do this yourself, your better off to hire a researcher to do this before your departure. Go the Genealogical Society web site for a list of recommended researchers.
 

It took a while, but we finally
found the right house number
and relatives are still living
in the house.

You found your ancestors village and the house number they lived in, now what ? now the fun really starts ! In our ancestors time the houses were numbered in the order they were built, so if your looking for a small numbered house this means that house was one of the first to be built in the village. When you walk down the street, house number 87 maybe next to house number 4, next to number 341. This can make your search for a certain house number turn into quite an excursion.  Larger city’s and towns have re-numbered the houses into the system we use 1,3,5,7, across from 2,4,6,8 etc.  In some cases they have left the old house numbers on the building as well.  It’s common for a old house to be torn down and a new house to be built upon the same spot, the new house retains the same old house number !  So again you may spend a lot of time finding that special house, but what a joy it is finally stand on the very spot your ancestors lived !

Bring along copy’s of old pictures you may have, also copy’s of any old documents.

Please don’t rely on looking in a cemetery for your roots. Their is no guarantee that who is buried in the cemetery is related to you. They have different customs regarding cemetery plots and burials in the Czech Republic, then we do over here. The local records MUST be researched to confirm your family is from the village - any kind of shortcut could mean you just wasted a lot of time and money, and you will never know for sure……

Meeting relatives is a dream come true for most of us, however they will attempt to feed and drink you to death. ( they do mean well ) They will be very proud to have relatives from America, and will just love to show you off to other relatives and friends, but how much can you eat and drink ? They will have their own agenda, which may or may not be yours, in some ways this is why a tour is better, you get to see the major sites. Plus meet and spend some time with the relatives and you can live to tell about it this way.

Final genealogy advice : make a list of what you hope to see and accomplish on your trip, but prioritize your list starting with what is most important to you first.  Things will take much longer to accomplish then you think.  You will not get to do all that you may wish, so start with the most important and work you way down your list. Please go soon to visit this wonderful part of Europe….. you will be ever so glad you did !

© 2008 Mark Vasko-Bigaouette, Founder and past President CzechoSlovak Genealogical Society Intl. (CGSI) , Proprietor, Czech & Slovak Heritage Tours Inc.


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