Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mianna: or, don't just scan the page for a given name!

My ancestor Anna Šperka was the second wife of Mathias Brosch.

His first wife was also named Anna.

They were married in the Místek parish on 16 January 1725. Her father was the late Joannes Gach from upper Hodonovice.

She died 2 June 1737 at age 36. This gives her an approximate birthdate of 1701.

I guessed that she was born in Hodonovice, the village of her father.

When I checked the parish records, I scanned the pages for an entry for an "Anna" born sometime between 1700-1701 to a Joannes Gach. I found nobody.

So then I broadened the search to include 1699-1702 and still no "Anna" born to any Joannes Gach.

Then I searched for any Gach's. I found several Gach's, and also several born to Joannes Gach of Hodonovice.

The person I was looking for wasn't Georgius who was born in 1699 to Joannes Gach and Anna.

It also wasn't Magdalena born in 1702 to Joannes Gach and Anna.

When I looked through the 1700-1701 years, I noticed an entry for, "Mianna" born to Joannes Gach and Anna in Hodonowitz.

This is not a common surname. As you can see above the Mianna, there is a Marianna. I wondered if this was perhaps a diminutive form of Marianna? If so, why does an internet search lead to nearly no results for any given name of "Mianna" except modern day creations of Myanna?

I feel 95% confident that this is actually the Anna I am looking for, and that the parish priest writing this down accidentally wrote Mianna instead. Or maybe when they asked for her name, she said, "mý Anna," aka, "My Anna."

Friday, December 4, 2015


I found this record where my ancestor is described as "honesta ancilla." I had not ever seen that before, so I thought I'd blog about it.

Here's my transcription:

4 Augustus [1744]
hujus copulatus honestus Georgius Jurassek adolescens colonus ex Ribarzeritz et honesta ancilla Elisabetha Francisci Sperka propria filia ex Starzitz testes Mathias Wesselka ex Chlebowitz a honestus adolescens Joseph Sperka ex Starziz

Here's a translation:

On the 4th of August [1744] were joined in matrimony the honorable young Polish farmer man Georgius Jurassek from Ribarzevitz [?] and the honerable maiden Elisabetha the own daughter of Francisci Sperka of Starzicz. 
Witnesses: Mathias Wesselka of Chlebowitz and the honerable young man Joseph Sperka of Starzicz

I wonder what the person keeping this record meant between the lines when he chose the word "ancilla." This girl was 20 at the time of her marriage, which was actually a little bit young, but definitely not unheard of. A more common marriage age for women in Moravia in the mid 1700's through mid 1800's was 24, the age of maturity. Before this age, women had to have their father's permission to marry. It was also common for young men to be even a bit older, around 25-30.

The age at first marriage for Moravian Czechs seems to decrease towards the end of the 19th century. I think the industrial revolution that came to this area with the 1827 construction of the Vitkovice steel mill had an impact on this statistic. It would be interesting to study that in the future.

For now, I'm wondering what this guy meant by, "ancilla." I haven't seen the writer of this record use that word other places, but it could just be that he decided to use that word because...he did. Edit: as I scanned the surrounding records, I noticed that he uses this word fairly frequently; maybe there isn't a hidden meaning.

I tend to think that there is a layer of meaning that is lost when you translate texts from their first language. The writer of this record, presumably the priest or the priest's clerk, was educated in Latin but let's face it, it wasn't his mother tongue; that was either Czech or German. I think it's more likely that he chose this word because of some additional meaning than because it was just a word hanging out in his vocabulary.

Here are my hypotheses:
  • Elisabetha looked really young, so he described her as an "ancilla"
  • Elisabetha was considered young (20 years, 3 months, and 1 day) at the time of this marriage. He described her as "ancilla" because she had not yet reached the age of maturity
  • The world "ancilla" actually describes Elisabetha's job; she was literally a maid, or in Czech, a děvečka. If this were true, she would have been working under a contract on someone else's farm. Perhaps this job was what put her in contact with a Pole? Not polonus, but colonus!
I don't have any answers. They all seem plausible. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Theory on the Origin of the #

The Wikipedia article about the # sign has its own shaky theories about the origin of the symbol, but I'm finding that there's a striking resemblance between the shape of a German Current capital "N" and the #, a scribble that has evolved to mean "Number." Tell me with a straight face that you don't also notice the resemblance here.

And is it no mistake that N and # stand for "Number?" I think not. Too many striking similarities, in my opinion.

But what do I know. 

Monday, July 6, 2015


On one half of the register, the cause of death appears as "Fraissen" with two s's.

On the other half, the word appears as "Fraisen" with one s.

This 2011 post on the German-Bohemian ancestry forum speculates that it could mean epileptic seizures, measles, or just some vague description that the parish priest or clerk wrote as a catch all phrase.

What do you think?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Beautiful Handwriting

Gemeinde Rattimau = Parish/Community of Vratimov

It seems like the Parish was actually made of more than one village. Vratimov records are always with those of Horní Datyně, Hrabová, and Kunčice, to name a few. Kunčice, by the way, as in Gross Kunzendorf, a village that is no longer on the map. It was razed to make way for a steel mill.

Anyway, those are all somewhat tangential to this blog post. The point is - look at the handwriting! The above sample is from a page of 1863 birth registrations. After you've looked at these for a while, you begin to forget how gorgeous the handwriting really is. Take a second to admire it. It's really a work of art, this beautiful cursive Czech-German current hybrid! I love it.

I've heard it said that the next generation will never have such beautiful handwriting, in a disparaging tone of voice. I'm not that pessimistic; probably they are write. This art form is lost, replaced with all kinds of fantastic new technology never even imagined 150+ years ago. Maybe it's a tragedy, but not one that will make me cry myself to sleep at night.

Instead, I'll marvel at the relics of the past that do remain. I mean seriously, they must have used a ruler on the example above. Come on! Nobody can write that straight, can they? Even with a ruler, it looks like a computer font. Gorgeous, gorgeous. All you genealogists out there reading this blog, take a second to smell the roses admire the handwriting!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Polish Birth Records in Czech Archives

Today I found some Polish birth records in the Ostrava Land Archives online!


Basically, this book includes birth records for a lot of teeny tiny towns, including two that are in present day Poland. It looks like these are Silesian villages. Clearly, the borders were very different back then.

Here is what I think is the village of Otrębów. I couldn't find anything super close by that was obviously Wisla doing a cursory google maps search. I showed the distance between Otrębów
and Vratimov, which is the village I am researching in this particular parish record book.

This is extremely encouraging to me. About 50 years of parish records are missing for the village of Vratimov, which is my ancestral hometown. This hints that it *might* be possible to find something useful in some Polish archive. It's not that much to go off of, but hey, I'd be so excited to find anything at this point.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Magd Tocht"

In this 1835 death record in the Kunčice-Vratimov parish, this child is described as, "Anna der Marina Waschiczek Mgd Tocht."

In these Czech records, typically the format of a child's death is like this:

[given name] of [father's given and surname], [father's occupation] of [place]

This entry doesn't fit that format. Instead, it's:

Anna of [mother's given and surname] Mgd Tocht

Tocht means daughter.

I think "Mgd tocht" stands for, "Magdalene tocht." Mgd Tocht stands for "magd tocht", or maiden's daughter. The meaning of this is, "illegitimate child."

It seems that there's a lot of confusion surrounding Mary Magdalene, and whether or not she was a woman of ill repute. It's likely that by the 1830's, she had already gained a reputation as a "sinful woman" (prostitute?), perhaps the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet in Luke 7:36-50.

Whether or not that is true, who knows. However, this is the first time I have seen this particular abbreviation, and I found it interesting enough to dust off my keyboard and write my theory as a blog post. Maybe it will help you in the future!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Cause of death: Normal

While doing some research on some Trojanovice Czech ancestors today, I came across an interesting cause of death: gewöhnlich

Honestly, it took me a while of plugging things into google translate for me to figure out what in the world this word was.

What was weirding me out so much was the occurrence of this word! Pretty much every single person, young and old, page after page died from this same cause. It didn't make sense, until I found the word gewöhnlich.

This word translated to English means usual, common, ordinary, normal, customary, simple, everyday, run-off-the-mill.

Everybody dies. I feel ridiculous writing the sentence, "death was extremely common back in the early 1800's." Death is common today! What I mean, of course, is that death of young children was common. I read somewhere that the mortality rate for children under the age of 3 in the Czech lands was ~25%.

Even if it was, "gewöhnlich," I'm sure it deeply affected the parents and siblings. Can you imagine losing your children at such a young age? I don't believe that it ever was easy. I remember a school teacher telling us that sometimes parents didn't try to be emotionally attached to their infants because they knew it was such a high probability that they would lose them.

To that I say, "bull."

I mean, there have got to be all kinds of weird parents out there, but I can't believe that these God fearing Catholic Czech ancestors would accept infant death as gewöhnlich in their heart. I'm sure it was devastating. I guess this touches a nerve for me today, as I think of my two month old baby. She is so adorable. I can't imagine my life without her.

In many ways, my little family is similar to that of my Czech ancestors. Our child spacing certainly is! How many modern day American families do you know with kids ages 5, 4, 3, and 0? I mean, that "break" in there is the typical amount of space that most of my friends have between their kids.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I find "gewöhnlich" as cause of death a bit absurd. It's sad because it's a nod to how high their infant mortality rate was in 1802. It's funny because the clerk keeping this record was so impersonal that they didn't even bother to find a more specific cause of death (I mean, I've seen records with the cause of death as "weakness"!). It's also funny because that short description was acceptable, apparently.

Mostly, I wonder what the families would think if they knew how it was recorded. Would they shrug and say, "Well, the purpose of recording the cause of death is really for the parish priest to quickly scan through the pages in order to know of the needs of his parishioners, so it's not that big of a deal to me that the incredibly tragic death of my infant was described as, "normal."" Would they roll their eyes and say, "Well, that clerk was certainly lazy! My kid died of lungensucht (aka consumption)."

I'm making an assumption, actually. The truth is that I don't know exactly why the cause of death was recorded. I assume it was for the parish priest's benefit, but then, I know that the records were mandated from a much, much higher government level in the Austrian Empire. Why would they have been interested in that? I thought their primary interest in data gathering was for military drafting purposes?

Maybe this helped them keep track of whom to exempt from their military duties? I think I remember reading that some farmers were exempt from serving in the army, for example if they were the primary laborers in their family and everyone depended on their work to live.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad they kept the records at all. My personal opinion on "gewöhnlich" as a cause of death is that the clerk was amusingly lazy. I mean, he took the time to write something, which is good, but what he wrote doesn't really impart that much information.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Interspersed index organized alphabetically by year

In my personal research I came across a register of births that was weirdly organized. This is how I think it goes:

Village 1 birth records
Village 1 birth index
  • Year 1, alphabetical by surname index of births for village 1
  • Year 2, "
  • Year 3, "
Village 2 birth records
Village 2 birth index
  • Year 1, alphabetical by surname index of births for village 2
  • Year 2, "
  • Year 3, "
and so on.

This is the first time I've found a register that has both an index that is interspersed by village AND separated by year. 

It was probably much easier for the clerk to record at the time. It took me about 10 minutes of clicking through the pages to find the correct village. This is one feature that the vademecum website lacks. I wish the name of the register on the website would list the names of the villages in the same order that they appear in the book. Alas, I have not yet figure out the "order" of the villages in the online register titles.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I'm Back! Genealogy Goals and Projects for 2015!

Hey! I'm alive! And now that I'm officially 6 weeks postpartum (as in, my life is returning to normal again!) it's time to resume this blog!

I took an almost year-long hiatus from this blog because I was working on family present. Teehee. And here she is! Miss Cora Madeline Challis!

Weird that they posted in opposite chronological order, but whatever.

My goal for 2015 is to write on this blog every week, rather than every day. However, of course when the muse to write is present, I won't restrict her!

I want to become a Board Certified Genealogist. This will be my THIRD year extending my application. I can't believe I haven't completed it yet! Ugh! At least last year I did have an awesome excuse. Being pregnant means all of my kids' nap times suddenly become my shared nap times, because I'm so exhausted. I don't get morning sickness (neither did my mom or grandma apparently), but that doesn't mean being pregnant is a walk in the park.

Because it surely isn't.

I have other personal goals, like taking my family back 7 generations on all of the lines, and getting more names prepared to do proxy LDS temple work (such as baptisms for the dead). I'd like to take clients again because that was extremely fun.

However, that will have to be on pause until I can officially be a Certified Genealogist. I've learned that taking on clients whilst working on my application is definitely more than I can do at a time.

So! Two big genealogy goals. Blog and get certified. I think I can do it!