Monday, August 29, 2016

Our Czechs were NOT all Catholic

Guest Post by Lukáš Svoboda, author of Kulanův rodopisný blog

If you have Czechs among your ancestors, the probability that they were not all Catholics but Protestants is quite high, especially when they were living in Bohemia. Of course we are talking about times before Bílá Hora, that turning point which changed the course of not only Czech, but all European history.

Understandably, contemporary statistics and reliable sources of confessional affiliation in the 16th and early 17th century are missing. But the estimations of the confessional environment suggest that by the end of 15th century there were about 70% Utraquists (Hussites) and 30% Catholics. Since 16th century there has been a significant influence of German Protestantism (Lutherans) and Calvinism, as well as other Czech Protestant denominations, such as the Jednota bratrská. At the dawn of the 17th century the contemporaries estimated the share of Catholics in Bohemia were between 1/30 and 1/7 (that is between 3-14%). The situation in Moravia was a bit better (from the Catholic perspective), though for example about 3% of Moravian population were Anabaptists. (More information here in Czech.)

After Bílá Hora the position of non-Catholics changed. Both the Catholic Church and the secular administration of the Czech Kingdom made concerted efforts to ensure a prominent position for Catholics (a position which has been long since lost in the modern Czech lands). The non-Catholic nobility could sell their property and leave the country, except for certain nobles who were punished by confiscation for participating in the anti-Habsburg rebellion. Non-Catholic clergy were ousted and/or persecuted. And the non-Catholic serfs were threatened by seizures of their property/possessions or increased demands from the estate officials to persuade them into religious conformity.

In Moravia, the situation was slightly better for the developing recatholization process as there were more Catholics than in Bohemia: almost one half of the parishes had Catholic priests and there were a number of functional cloisters and monasteries. On the other hand, in Silesia there were many Lutherans and Calvinists among the nobility who had to be attracted to Catholicism step by step.

Even despite all these efforts, many people were not willing to renounce their faith. As the situation more than 150 years later revealed, there was substantial part of the population which proclaimed their non-Catholic faith after the release of the Toleranční patent (Patent of Toleration) in 1781. During those 150 years there were between 4 to 6 generations who could not openly profess their beliefs. They gathered secretly together and used old books of their grandfathers. Sometimes they were supported by pastors and books from abroad, but generally they were left to themselves, their families and neighbors.

But this post should not be about religious situation of the Czech Lands during the 17th century and following years, especially after Bílá Hora. It should rather present sources and archive collections which allow you to get at least partially into the heads of your ancestors and find out what their conviction and religion - their faith - really was.

I have tried to choose such sources that are better available for overseas researchers, some of which are online, some of which have modern editions. You can ask for a look up on one of the Czech genealogy forums or even find them in overseas libraries. And even if your ancestors were not secret Protestants striving to evade the suspicious eye of Jesuit missionaries, keep in mind that some of the sources mentioned also have general significance for all genealogists interested in Czech research.

Soupis poddaných podle víry: Register of Subjects According to Their Religion

Even after the end of 30 Years War, despite the great efforts of recatholization, there were a lot of non-Catholics in Bohemia. Some of them were still openly professing their faith, others already had to hide their true beliefs. By the end of 1650, České místodržitelství, the highest office representing the Czech King and Roman Emperor, decided to perform a nationwide survey and list of all people, both serf and free. It was supposed to incorporate all families with names of all members, their ages, and above all, information about whether they professed Catholic faith or another religion.

Not only did this list need to enumerate all serfs, but also the all nobility, burgers, and officials. It was to be prepared by the estates and their administration. There was a standard form prepared, covering name, status (serf or free), profession or standing, age and confession. The non-Catholics also had indications by their names if there was a chance to convert them to Catholicism. Unfortunately, some estates followed later instructions and prepared only summary information with total number of Catholics and non-Catholics, which is a big shame for us genealogists. You can imagine what a treasure the intact list would be!

Here is one example from my ancestors’ history. In the village Bobnice, the estate of Poděbrady, in the Central Bohemia, where secret Protestantism was very deeply rooted even in the late 18th century, there were 74 persons and 15 families listed in total. From those 74 inhabitants, only 7 people were listed as Catholics. The rest professed as non-Catholics, even though the author of the register made a cross at many names as a symbol that there is a hope for Catholic conversion. Of these 7 Catholics, only three were farmers/possessors of farms, and all of them had wives of non-Catholic belief. We can only assume that their Catholicism was result of conformity rather of real inner persuasion.

In the same estate in a village not far away named Činěves, there were many more Catholics: about half the population, or even slightly more. But there, the significantly majority of farm holders were also already Catholics.

Other villages in the area also had a similar non-Catholic character.

More information about the register here.

The originals of this survey are kept in the Collection Stará manipulace in the National Archive. Modern editions are published from 1993, covering 9 districts.

Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Rakovnicko Praha: Národní archiv, 2007

Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Berounsko Praha: Národní archiv, 2007
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Boleslavsko Praha: Národní archiv, 2005
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Plzeňsko-Klatovsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 2003
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Chrudimsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 2001
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Hradecko-Bydžovsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 2000
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Čáslavsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1999
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Kouřimsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1997
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Bechyňsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1997
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Žatecko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1997
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Rakovnicko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1996
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Berounsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1995
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Boleslavsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1994
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Loketsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1993

They are available in Czech archives and you can ask easily for look up for example here.

Zpovědní seznamy – Easter or Confessional registers

These were lists compiled before Easter and they cover all persons performing the confession and those who avoided such sacrament. The oldest registers predate Bílá Hora, but they became a significant tool of recatholization. Confessional registers for the Prague Archbishopric are well preserved, and have been published in a modern edition with the title Zpovědní seznamy arcidiecése Pražské : Consignationes paschaliter poenitentium.

I. (díl 1)
Boleslavsko, Kouřimsko
Historický spolek
sv. 2
Chrudimsko, Čáslavsko
Historický spolek
II. (sv. 1)
Historický spolek
II. (sv. 2)
Historický spolek
II. (sv. 3)
Historický spolek
Historický spolek
IX. X. (díl 3 sv. 1)
Plzeňsko a Loketsko
Historický spolek
XI. (díl 3 sv. 2)
Historický spolek
XII. (díl 3 sv. 3)
Historický spolek
Rakovnicko, Praha s okolím, Kladsko
Historický spolek

Not only are these editions extremely useful tool for identifying jurisdictions of villages to parishes (and parishes to vicariates) and their changes during times when many churches still had vacancies due to lack of Catholic priests, but they also present the numbers of people living in the parish.

Those who did not attend the Easter confession were listed by name and labeled as absent (Negligens). Seeing the same names absent across the years on these lists indicates that they were either a lukewarm Catholic or, more likely, a principled Protestant. Also listed are those who were considered by the parish priests to be heretics (Haeretici).

Toleranční přihlášky – Toleration Applications

The most valuable and telling source for trying to learn about the inner faith of our Czech ancestors is the so-called Toleration Applications.

After the Toleranční patent was released the public was shocked by the unexpected response. Though the patent was not meant to be proclaimed publicly, the secret Protestants spread the word and dozens and dozens of them started to organize themselves to come out after 150 years of non-Toleration. The seeming religious homogeneity of society began to crumble. The response of public administration was exactly as you would expect from an authoritarian government of the enlightenment era: they started to produce decrees regulating the newly arisen problem. Very soon there were rules governing how to become a Protestant, and with those rules came the records called the Toleration Applications.

All those who listed themselves on the proclamations delivered to estate administrators were to appear again at a special commissions where they were interrogated and had to confirm and explain their decision to renounce Catholicism and confess themselves Protestant. But, imagine the dialogue between an educated priest and a wholehearted convinced believer of a faith he knew only from his parents and neighbors! They were often persuaded, ridiculed, and sometimes threatened by the commissioners. Still, they usually held firm to their beliefs, and afterwards they were left to themselves.

Among other things, they had to decide whether they were Lutherans or Calvinists, i.e. if they followed the Reformed or Augsburg Confession. For almost all of them these were unknown terms. However, as the organization of secret Protestants spread the word as soon as they learned about such request and possible consequences, the majority of them opted for Calvinism.

There are reports from these commissions across the country. They are a unique source of information about those who maintained the beliefs of their fathers in secret for generations. They often bring information only about name, age, and nearest family members, but some of them also give very detailed records of what was said at the hearing with the commissioner.

Here is one example of a hearing of one of my distant relatives (the original is published in Toleration Application for Beroun district, p. 69):

13th April

thirty-first family
1. What is your name, etc.
1. Martin Šnajberk, master shepherd from Chvojen, etc.
2. What is your religion … ?
2. Helvetian, I proclaim the truth in front of the God that I was born in this religion.

[Latin amendment: Also his parents and he were interrogated for crime of heresy ]
3. Thus what doubts you have about Cath.[olic] Christian Faith?
3. That the Lord's Supper is not served with breaking of the bread and drinking the Chalice of the Lord, there are not more than two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper; [that] there is not Purgatory after death, it [the Purgatory] has long been carried on the World, [that] to venerate pictures of the Saints is idol worship, [that] to ask Saints for Intercession is useless thing, [that] I hold nothing about Holy Mass, the same about indulgences, [that] Eucharist under the species of bread is the body of Christ without blood; I don’t pray the Rosary, how the Cat[holic]. Church prays, I say ten times the Lord's Prayer and once Hail [Mary], I know nothing more. Yet it seems to me that the Antichrist is already in the world.

[Latin amendment:] After explaining the truth of the Catholic Faith and refutation of heresies he remained most intransigently with his sect.
4. Do you want in accord with here explained Truth to return to the one true Chri.[stian] Cath.[olic] faith?
4. I humbly beg, that I already just so stay as I  have declared.
5. How many children you have and what is their religion?
5. From those, who are with me at home and of the same religion, I have Jakub 24 years, Martin 21, Václav 19 years. All that, what I have said, I confirm by signature of my own hand.

Martin Šnajberk

The applications are being published in a modern edition by Veritas, the Historical Society for Updating the Legacy of the Czech Reformation.

They are available here, for these districts so far:

· Land Bohemia, region 5 Litoměřice
· Land Bohemia, region 8 Beroun
· Land Bohemia, Prague Towns
· Land Bohemia, region 4 Mladá Boleslav
· Land Bohemia, region 14 Tábor
· Land Bohemia, region 15 Hradec Králové

The second editions (Jihlava, Znojmo, Olomouc, Rakovník, Kouřim) and remaining districts (Čáslav, Nový Bydžov, Chrudim, Brno, Přerov, Uherské Hradiště) are in being prepared for publication.

Ferdinand Hrejsa Czech heretics twenty years before reformation

Ferdinand Hrejsa published an article named "Čeští kacíři dvacet let před reformací," that is, "Czech Heretics Twenty Years before the Reformation," in the book Reformační sborník: práce z dějin československého života náboženského. Praha : Blahoslavova společnost, 1921.

It compiles reports from 1762 of parish and vicariate offices on more than 110 pages. They cover the year 1762 and about previous 20 years. It brings names of heretics convicted and/or suspected from 1740. The lists are sorted by vicariates and then by parishes.

It is a very valuable source of information from times before Patent of Tolerance and it is held in some American and Canadian Libraries.

Gruntovní knihy – Land records

If you are lucky and if you are observant enough, you find tiny pieces of information about religious convictions of your ancestors in the land registers. For example, in one entry of my ancestors’ farm in the above mentioned village of Bobnice (the area with strong groups of secret protestants), I found the following brief note of annual payment:

Ao 1769 d[ne] 21. 9br[is] Franc Barton pol[ožil] grunt[ovních peněz] po Jirží Bašteczkým Annie wdowie posléz za Pavla Žerta a po ní Rozině do Uher zběhlé.


A[nno] [D]o[mini] 1769 on the 21th day of September Franc Barton paid sum to Anna widow of Jiří Baštecký, later wedded to Pavel Žert and after her [death] to Rozina [who has] deserted to Hungary.

The key is short mention of Hungary, though it should refer more correctly to Sedmihradsko (in German, Siebenbürgen) or in English, Transylvania. Transylvania was a region where the confessional homogeneity was already disrupted and where during the reign of Maria Theresia “incorrigible individuals” were deported. But besides those who were sent there as punishment, there were also a significant number of those who opted to go there voluntarily. Why a person would choose to journey to an unknown land situated on the periphery of the Austrian empire on the unstable borders with Ottoman Empire was clearly for this reason: to profess their beliefs freely.

Soupisy duší - Lists or Inventory of Souls - Libri status animarum

These lists were compiled by the parish priests. They were usually organized by village, and within the village, by houses. They covered all people living in the house: all members of household (including little children as well as adults), and all people living there (including servants, workers, travelers, etc.) The entries also state the age of the people. They were often updated by additional remarks and changes.

Beside the obvious valuable genealogical information, they also listed relevant information for the Catholic Church administration.

For example, this is a heading of the Inventory from parish of Čížkov from 1795. It lists the following information for each of the person in the inventory:

· Does he attend the Christian teaching?

· Is he trained enough in Catholic faith?
· Does he attend divine service?
· Does he receive sacraments?
· Is he suspected from heresy and why?
· Are some of his people in non-Catholic country?
· Does he socialize with non-Catholics and does he accept their ambassadors?
· Were there heretic book found by him?
· Various notes

Of course this list was compiled after the Toleranční patent, but still it is very relevant as far as revealing inner beliefs.

Less informative is the list from the same parish 30 years later. It shows only the following information:

· Confession and communion

· First Confession
· Confirmation

These lists are usually archived in the collections of the parishes in the district archives.

A page from the Inventory of Souls from the parish of Čížkov (1785)

As you can see, with careful scrutiny of available sources, it might be possible for you to know the true religious convictions of your Czech ancestors.

And they were most certainly not all Catholic!

Sunday, August 28, 2016 Czechs were Catholic!

I have done a great deal of thinking about my Czech ancestors. I often wish I could just ask them the many questions I have about their lives, not just questions of identity (Veronika Lidiak, can you please tell me who is the father of my illegitimate third great grandmother?), but questions of their personalities, opinions, and beliefs.

I've done a lot of thinking and wondering about their religious beliefs. What did they believe? What did their faith mean to them, and how did it impact their lives? I can see a glimpse of a collective image of the influence that the state sponsored religion (Catholicism) had on them in the mid 18th through the 19th centuries, but that isn't really the same thing, is it!

Personally, as a born and raised latter-day saint (Mormon) I feel that I have an interesting relationship with the Catholic church. My grandpa Vic Vasicek was a second generation 100% (by blood) Czech American, and Catholic. He spoke Czech, though not often; mostly he understood it when the previous generation spoke it. He married my grandma, who as I understand it, had to convert to Catholicism to marry him. She was Baptist before, I think?

Anyway, my dad was raised Catholic. While in college, he met a Mormon girl (not my mom) who shared her testimony with him. He converted to the LDS church, to the disappointment of my Catholic grandparents. They were mostly worried that he was going through a weird phase. He decided to serve a two year full time mission. Before he left, my grandparents reconciled with him and generously agreed to finance his mission. Ever since, my experience has been that they have been kind and courteous about my dad's religious beliefs.

My dad probably tried very hard to convert my grandpa Vasicek, but I do not know any of the specifics of this. I know pop, and his personality is very passionate. I was 17 when my grandpa passed away in 2003. I do not remember religious conversations with my grandpa. It seemed to me that we were not allowed to talk about religion or politics (my mom has been a Democrat forever, and my dad and his parents are definitely conservative Republicans). But it also seemed that my Grandpa Vasicek loved us very much, and didn't think we were crazy freaks because we were Mormon.

I remember towards the end of his life, grandpa went to Catholic mass and Baptist Bible study. I went with them when I would visit, as well as to LDS sacrament meeting. And holy moly, that's a lot of church in one day!!! 

My dad has ...well...a very low opinion of the Catholic church's doctrine. In my childhood mind, I would equate some of what he said with a feeling of animosity towards Catholics.As I grew older, in my early teenage years, I had to reconcile those opinions with my real world observations of my very generous, kind Catholic family members. Later, I would have to again readjust my childhood biases with reality as I began to learn more about my Czech ancestors.

"These people are all Catholic. There is no possible way that they can all be bad." No, of course not. This is obvious to me as an adult, but perhaps not so much as a 15 year old who spent a lot of time thinking about the confusing inconsistencies that surrounded me. (For example, why is it not okay to wear tank tops and low cut shirts but suddenly it's okay to walk around nearly naked when you're swimming at a swimming pool? But I digress, since the answer to that question will always remain a mystery.)

In a way, I feel a sort of kinship with my Catholic ancestors. They were baptized, so was I. They attended church, so do I. They valued families, marriage, and children, and so do I. They were taught about Jesus Christ, so am I. While I do not know the actual feelings of faith in their heart, I must assume that many of them were God-fearing. I don't think they were all just "going through the motions" of Catholicism. 

Having lived in both Utah and Massachusetts, among other places, I have experience with being surrounded by people who do and do not share my faith. Basically: I can understand what it is like to live as a person of faith surrounded by a culture of faith. This helps me to relate to my Catholic Czech ancestors in a very interesting way. Culture is not the same as doctrine, but it can sometimes be more influential on a person, especially if they have not developed (or are not allowed to develop) their own feelings of faith.

At the same time, I can also understand what it is like to live where my faith is the minority. Strangely, though I am intimately familiar with living as a religious minority, I do not relate very much to Protestant Czechs of the 19th century and earlier! Perhaps this is because I have not yet found any Protestants in my direct line? Perhaps it's because the distant Protestant cousins I have found had far, far higher rates of illegitimacy, which is not a recurring and prominent part of my immediate family's religious culture; basically, it's very hard for me to relate to people who don't value the law of chastity (abstinence before marriage, fidelity after.) 

But perhaps the more telling reason is that Mormons as a group don't consider ourselves Protestants in the first place. Our founding story is not about "reformation" but "restoration." This term surprisingly hearkens to Catholicism's same rhetoric during the Thirty Year's War, and that comparison makes me shudder, because I admit that it was a very horrible war that used religion as a bloody means to a political end. 

It's weird that I don't relate very well to Czech Protestants of the past. 70% of Americans are Christian, the majority of which are Protestant. Only 1.6% of Christians in America are Mormon. You would think that this would help me relate to the Czech Protestants who were a minority after Catholic domination. I don't understand why it doesn't. The fact is, I relate to my Catholic Czech ancestors.

Anyway, as I realized this, and also as I came to my own personal religious and political beliefs, I could clearly see that the very great majority of Catholics - and truly, of all religious people - value and honor many of the same things that I do. In fact, we can work together to achieve many of the best goals. On my mind in particular recently is the issue of religious freedom in America. It is very important to me that my country elects somebody who is not going to persecute people for their faith, specifically Muslims. My country is supposed to be a haven of religious freedom in this world. 

This idealistic perception of America brings me to a very interesting article about Czech motivation for immigration in the mid 19th to early 20th centuries. Though this article is about Nebraska Czechs specifically, I found its analysis fascinating. 

Granted, I think the article gives a very one-sided view of the history of religion in the Czech lands. It's basically this: Jan Hus's protestantism was squashed by Catholics, and then later the collective majority protestantism was squashed again by Catholics at Bilá Hora. There is a lot of interesting nuance that this article completely ignores, and it basically jumps straight from Bilá Hora to 19th Century Czech Nationalism. However, despite the gross oversimplification of the history of religion in Czechia, its analysis of motivation for immigration rang very true to me.
"Despite the Czechs' awareness of past oppression and of existing uncertainty, neither political nor religious reasons primarily accounted for Czech immigration to the United States. The foremost causes were worsening economic conditions and overpopulation in rural Bohemia and Moravia, situations exacerbated in South Bohemia by enclosure of the land on large estates. Nationalistic Czech leaders discouraged people from leaving Bohemia or Moravia for whatever reasons, arguing, in one instance, that "love of fatherland, if nothing else, should deter Czechs from emigrating." But the urge for greater economic security was too strong. Stories of the discovery of gold in California in 1849, sensationally magnified in newspapers, lured some Czechs across the Atlantic. Thirteen years later, the 1862 Homestead Act provided a real inducement to peasants who had to eke out an existence on inadequate land holdings. The wars in which the wobbly Austro Hungarian Empire was continuously engulfed, and which provided many more defeats than victories for the armies of the emperor, encouraged Czech lads to avoid military service by quietly slipping to the promised land across the ocean. Some Czechs also came to the United States as political refugees, but their number was insignificant in contrast to several hundred thousand immigrant farmers and artisans."
Basically, my Czech ancestors' reasons for emigrating likely had more to do with economics than with politics or religion. It's a very, very interesting thing for me to study because so many of my other ancestors came primarily for political and religious reasons. For example:

  • My 1620's Mayflower ancestors certainly were motivated by all three factors: politics, religion, and economics, but my understanding is that religion and economics were more important to them than politics. 
  • My colonial American ancestors of the 1700's-1780's, about whom I admittedly know very little, probably mainly came because of the prospect of political freedom and the dream of owning more land. So politics and economics.
  • My husband's and my 1830's-1870's Mormon pioneer immigrant ancestors from England, Scotland, Denmark, and Sweden were undoubtedly motivated mainly by religion. This is a topic about which I have done much study and reading, and while I am sure that the motivation of individuals varied, I can confidently affirm that faith was the main factor in their emigration. In fact, they made significant economic and political sacrifices as they sold their property in Europe for far less than its value in order to speedily obey what they perceived as a commandment from a Prophet of God: "gather in Zion." Their political sacrifices came later as government sponsored persecution and murder of Mormons drove them en masse out of Missouri and Illinois into the desolate Utah Territory. I have ancestors who lost limbs from frostbite on their pioneer trek across Iowa, where I now live. Yes, surely my Mormon pioneer ancestors' collective story is one in which faith is the main player. 

So you can see that it is very interesting to me to learn that my Czech ancestors had completely different motivations for coming here.
 "The attitude of Czech immigrants toward religion is most perplexing to American observers. Unlike the immigrants of other nationalities, who generally retained their native religion, the Czechs in large numbers abandoned their allegiance to the Catholic church, to which they customarily belonged in Bohemia. While over ninety percent of the population in Bohemia was considered Catholic according to official Austrian statistics, less than half the Czech immigrants retained their membership in that church in the United States. In some communities the percentage of secularists or freethinkers was even larger. One writer, Rose Rosicky, defined the term "freethinkers" as "all the groups ranging from atheists (or more properly speaking Pantheists, for Czech atheists believe in nature as the guiding force) to those who believed in a Creator but did not attend church."
The reason for many Czechs' rejection of organized religion lay in their experience with the Catholic church in Bohemia, where it represented an arm used by the Habsburgs to keep the Czechs in political subjugation and economic dependence. In the United States, they simply expressed their freedom by not joining any church or by formulating spiritual alternatives. These "unchurched" were far more numerous among the freethinkers than were the doctrinaire atheists. The latter, however, organized themselves first in the Unity of Freethinkers and later in the Association of Freethought Societies. By their press they propagated rationalism and atheism with the missionary zeal of early Christians. Their vitriolic attacks against Christianity in general, but more particularly at the Catholic church, made cooperation among various Czech-American groups difficult."
On my recent trip to the Czech Republic, I found it very fascinating to observe religion and religiosity on the ground. Despite everything that I had read calling the Czech Republic the most atheist country in Europe, I literally did not meet a single atheist while I was there.

It was more do I say this? 

My observation was that the vestiges of religion are literally everywhere. Like, literally every village and hamlet has some sort of kostel or kaplička. And then of course there's Prague, is the city of 100 spires, and each of those spires is literally church. The most remarkable statues were the ones that were not centuries old Saints or Prophets, which are frankly, ubiquitous. They are everywhere. To me it felt almost suffocating. I could not help but juxtapose the extravagant displays of wealth with my ancestor's peasant farm strips. 

And it was very easy for me to imagine myself losing my faith in Communist Czechia, where faith (and anything remotely related to culture or history!) was a problem. I would really love to learn more about this time period. I know that I only know a tiny fraction of what there is to know. I am not claiming to have all the knowledge. It's just that the tiny fraction of truth is my observation that it would be very difficult to remain a person of faith while being under both a regime (Communist) that condemned faith and also being surrounded by artifacts of a bygone era when faith was used for political purposes by different regimes (Austro Hungary, Hapsbourg, etc.). The symbolism in these artifacts is lost, the art that was once beautiful and meaningful is strange and grotesque to our modern sensibilities (e.g. fat cherubs? Seriously? What's the deal with fat cherubs everywhere?) 

It would be difficult to relate to this monolithic institution of Catholicism. It would also be very difficult to find the courage to speak publicly, openly, or candidly about very deep inner feelings of religion and truth. I can imagine holding those feelings inside my heart and not sharing them with others. I can imagine feeling a sense of frustration and irritation with foreign influences coming to my country to try to convert me. 

Honestly, I can also relate to the idea of not wanting to be aligned with any organized religion. I would probably have also come to that conclusion if I had not gained a testimony that the Book of Mormon is true. I read it and prayed about it, and I know it is true. Therefore, I understand why Mormon missionaries sacrifice two years of their lives to be sent to places like the Czech Republic, where people are generally very hesitant and weary to hear about this book and its teachings: it is because if I find truth, I want to share it with people, because truth itself is good. Knowing truth is better than living in darkness and ignorance. And knowing spiritual truth can bring us true joy and happiness now, as well as in the world to come.

So that is why it was so incredibly fascinating to me to observe that none of the people I met were atheists. My experience with atheists is that they actively deny the existence of a higher power, and they seek to use ____ ("Science" with a capital "S", secularism, history, etc.) to convince everybody else that organized religion is stupid. Nobody did that. And all the Czechs I met believe in God. 

The Czechs I met were private with their religious thoughts and feelings. I perceived that it was something deeply personal to them. Because I greatly value and honor our relationship, and of course also because I value agency (the freedom to choose), I did not ever attempt to, "wear my religion on my sleeve," or, "shove my religion down their throats." However, the most amazingly fulfilling part of my trip was that I was able to live my faith without being pushy, and I felt true tolerance. When Danny and I quietly prayed over our restaurant food, our Czech friends did not treat us like freaks. When I was asked why I am so interested in genealogy, and I responded that it is because in my faith, my family is everything, it was well received. When the missionaries - the most prominent and blatantly public symbol of my faith - came with us to help translate, all the Czechs there were extremely kind, courteous, and not weird about it, and we had a great day. As we spent some time with our Catholic air bnb hosts, who were our age, we both shared some of our important thoughts about spiritual things, and it was very well received on both ends. These, along with other personal experiences - they led to the best feeling. Basically it was the feeling of loving these people as people, instead of as objects to be converted. I felt a very strong connection of love towards them. It was an indescribably good feeling. 

I know that I was not there long enough and did not travel to enough places to be able to qualify my experience as being typically Czech. Still, I tend to think that it probably was. The more I immerse myself in the study of Czech history, the more I come to the conclusion that "being Czech" is more about a collective struggle against _____ (Catholicism, Austro-Hungary, the physically draining reality of manorialism, Germany, Communism, etc.) than it is about standing proud for an ideal, which is definitely what it means to "be American." If there is anything that I wish my fellow American countrymen could learn from Czechs, it is humility!!!! Seriously!!!!!! 

I honestly do not know what Czechs can learn from Americans. Perhaps courage to face your faith and live it boldly despite the very real challenges of doing so there today. But would I were I born a Czech? Of course I wonder about this often: who would I be if my ancestors did not immigrate. I do not know the answer. I cannot judge them for their privacy.

What I can do is extend that same sense of tolerance to them. I can give my Czech friends space to develop their own religious ideologies. It was such a breath of fresh air for me, honestly, because this deep sense of tolerance gave me the permission to only say the things that were truly "me." I did not feel an outside pressure to try to convert my Czech friends and family. I only shared what I truly believe, and only when it felt right. Which honestly, that's how missionary work should be anyway! Nobody likes to have religion shoved down their throat, period, because everybody likes to be treated like a person who is loved and valued.

On the 9 hour plane ride back home, I sat next to an unmarried Evangelical Christian woman who was slightly younger than me. She had been in Southern Bohemia as a leader at a religious camp for Czech youth sponsored by her church. How vastly different her experience in the Czech Republic was from mine. I felt really frustrated that she came and left with the same perception: that Czechs are atheist and we should pity their ignorance as we try to convert them. I do not think this attitude is a very effective missionary strategy, and not only that - it's insultingly patronizing. Sure, I do feel that I have some truth that my Czech friends and family do not, and I would love to share it with them. But they certainly have many truths that I do not have. There is much that I can learn from them. I don't like the attitude of pitying a people.

So back to the original idea: were my Czechs really Catholic? If so, how Catholic were they? What kind of evidence do the observations in my own life give for my Czech ancestors' feelings of faith?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Willabald Wrba

Willibald Wrba. Now there's a name you don't stumble across every day.

I found Willibald because he married Julie Marie Spacek, who was the oldest sister of Albina Spacek (1890-1918). Albina was the first wife of Louis Klecka (1897-1934), who then married Stella Vasicek (1901-1967), who was the second youngest daughter of Joseph John Vasicek (1866-1951) and Agnes Steffek (1870-1949) my 2nd great grandparents and the first generation immigrant from Vratimov, Moravia.

So yeah it's kind of distant, but it turns out that just about everybody living in the Czech communities of Fayette, Wharton, Bell, and Colorado counties are related. Entire communities transplanted themselves in a series of chain migration from 1856-1920's, with the peak occurring in the 1880's.

The John St. Wrba family apparently came from Frenštát in 1866, settling in Fayette County, TX. This is to be confirmed in the Czech matriky.

Interestingly, when I do a surname search on kdejsme for the surname "Wrba" the surname has apparently significantly dwindled, and there are none from Frenštát, though the only two hits are in Moravia.

I think it's kind of interesting that this family apparently really liked the abbreviation "St." The children used it in the middle of their names, including the daughters. In the newspapers, it is referred to as "Stephen" but in Willibald's draft registration, he spells it out as "Saint." So maybe I will have to do some research to find out if Wrba is the name of a Catholic Saint. Perhaps it is a corrupted form of Urba or something like that. Dunno. I've never seen this practice in Czech names before, where the entire family retains an abbreviation for a middle name.

Anyway, I was confused because Julie Wrba is a 22 year old widow living with her parents in 1900, with her daughter (also Julia Wrba) born in 1899. Julie is listed as the mother of one living child. I thought, "that's unusual for her to be widowed so young." I thought to look for their marriage record and found that they married in Fayette County in 1898.

So then I thought to look for Willibald Wrba's death before 1900. I didn't find anything that matched those dates, though there was a Willibald St. Wrba born in 1878 and died in 1955 in Granger County, TX with the informant "Mrs. Julie Wrba." To make things more confusing, Willibald Wrba's mother was listed as Julie Sladek, which is coincidentally similar to Julie Spacek.

I thought, "that's weird. Who would have thought there were two Willibald Wrbas?"

I decided to look in the newspaper and found a very sad but interesting article in the 13 January 1900 Weimar Mercury. It described how John St. Wrba Sr. and John St. Wrba Jr. and their doctor Charles Kaderka went to identify the body of a man who died of a gunshot wound to the head (suicide?) on the railroad. Apparently one of John St. Wrba's children had been missing for a few months, and they were really nervous about it being their son/brother. The article ends with the information that the body was to be disinterred so that it could be identified.

But there was no further information, which suggests that the body was not identified to be John St. Wrba's son.

I started to wonder if maybe Willibald Wrba wasn't actually dead in 1900. It's totally possible that Julie was listed as a widow because they were separated. There was a huge stigma against divorce and even separation in the early 20th century.

Sure enough, when I did a search for Willibald Wrba in the 1900 census, there he is in the home of John St. Wrba, a 22 year old single male. Apparently they were taking some time apart from each other?

Only, I still couldn't be sure that this Willibald was the same as the one who married Julie. Not until I found the death certificates of her children: Julie Wrba Janak has her parents listed as Willibald St Wrba and Julie Spacek.

And then there is the death certificate of Willibald Arnold Wrba who was born in 1903 and his parents were Willibald St. Wrba and Julie Spacek. So if he were born in 1903, there is no way his father Willibald could have died before 1900.

Sure enough, the findagrave people concur with this conclusion. There was but one Willibald St. Wrba, and he married Julie Marie Spacek.

The very sad irony is that John St. Wrba does end up committing suicide by a gunshot wound to the head in 1940. His father, who died in 1917, would not have identified his body. I can't help but wonder if that experience 40 years earlier of going to identify his brother's body made a lasting impression on John St. Wrba Jr. It is a sad story no matter how you look at it. He left a widow. I have not found out yet if there were children.

You can see that it is very important to not jump to conclusions based on one record. You can also see that family history unveils some very interesting stories. I wonder what was going on between Willibald and Julie that they felt they had to live apart, and then what brought them back together? I wonder what the circumstances were that lead to John St. Wrba feeling he had to end his own life. I wonder why Willibald and Julie only had two children, which was very rare for their generation (though not so rare for the next generation that grew up during the Great Depression and World War II).

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Robert Kalivoda thinks, "Bilá Hora, to je škoda!"

I would like to try to summarize what I have been learning from this really fantastic book of essays translated into English for the first time, and only very recently available to me via inter-library loan (but apparently almost completely available online!) The book is called Between Lipany and White Mountain: Essays in Late Medieval and Early Modern Bohemian History in Modern Czech Scholarship, edited by James R. Palmitessa.

The first essay is a major section of Robert Kalivoda's 1983 article: "Hussitism and its Legacy in the Pre- and Post-White Mountain Periods."

Kalivoda, Robert. "Husitsví a jeho vyůstění v době předbělohorské a pobělohorské." SCetH 25, XIII (1983): 3-44.

A short synopsis of Kalivoda's career:
"Robert Kalivoda (1923-1989) studied at the Philosophical Faculty of the Charles University of Prague where he wrote a dissertation on the ideology of German National Socialism. In the late 1940s and early 1950s he worked first as a secondary school teacher and then a staff member at the Czechoslovak Ministry of Education. From 1954-1970 he was a researcher at the Philosophical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences; and from 1970 to 1974 he was employed at the Pedagogical Faculty of the Academy of Sciences. In 1974 he was granted early retirement for political reasons."
(page 43)

Robert Kalivoda was influenced by Marxism and surrealism. His research reflects his understanding that history a permanent struggle for man's freedom and self-realization. He was involved in the Communist reform movement in the Prague Spring of 1968, which to my understanding was essential to Communism's eventual (and miraculously peaceful and non-violent!) demise during the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Kalivoda's main idea in this article is basically the same as many 19th and early 20th century historians and pro-protestant reformation theologians: Hussitism is seen as the high point in both history and religion, and everything goes downhill after Bilá Hora. This is not the dominant view of historians today. But it is important to understand this view because it has been highly influential on how we understand history.

"The ruling intellectual awareness" of Hussitism shaped the social and political transformation of Bohemia until the defeat at the Battle of Bila Hora.

A new word I learned from this article:
Utraquism: (from the Latin sub utraque specie, meaning "in both kinds") was the principal dogma, and one of the four articles, of the Calixtines or Hussites, who maintained that both the bread and the wine should be administered to the people during the Eucharist.

Kalivoda uses "Utraquism" it to refer to Hussites AND Brethren as well. To him, it symbolized nationalism; it was a form of nationally political awareness.

He argues that Utraquism left a permanent mark on the whole of Bohemian society; that the battle of Lipany (which was basically the end of the Hussite wars) did not actually mean the defeat of the Hussite revolution.

Utraquism created a bond between all the social classes that could not be destroyed...until the battle at Bilá Hora.

He believes it was fatefully tragic that militant Catholics bent on restoration acquired political power after the Tridentine council because they were enemies of the Czech nation.

He goes on to review many of the events that transpired, and it was kind of lost on me, except for this one section which made me think, "What! What!??!?! WHAT?" He's talking about my ancestors here!
"Nevertheless, 1620 and the years following brought numerous proofs of the fact that the simple Czech people were deeply interested in the last fateful context of the Bohemian Reformation without regard to its limitations regarding estates and classes. This was the case especially in the heroic Wallachian risings, constantly breaking out for a whole decade after the battle of the White Mountian, a contest crowned by unprecedented heroism long after other areas and elements of Bohemian society had already capitulated to a militant and triumphant enemy."
(page 47)

This quote makes me want to learn more about the history of Wallachia! It sounds like my ancestors were involved in some very interesting, very bloody battles.
"The defeat at white mountiaun had an incalculable influence not only on the future development of the whole of Europe but above all on the fate of the Bohemian Lands themselves in subsequent centuries. All the hardships, fears and tragedies of the Bohemian Lands in modern times have one fundamental "non-fatal" cause: the collapse of the "glorious" Bohemian revolution which could and should have triumphed, but did not."
(page 62)

Kalivoda's attitude seems to imply that the influence that Bilá Hora has had on the Czech spirit remains in place today: perhaps it helped develop a pessimistic realism. I wonder how much that is true. It's interesting to consider, especially in the context of other historians' interpretations of the same events.

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Spoken Czech and the schwa (ə)

On my first trip to the Czech Republic (I suppose I'm supposed to call it Czechia, but that sounds so ridiculous I can't bring myself to even write it, much less say it), I realized that my beloved Czech genealogy is inextricably linked to the Czech language. Therefore, I must not only learn everything there is to know (!) about Czech genealogical research, but I must become a fluent speaker of Czech.

I'm so excited about this! I love learning languages, and I really especially love Czech! Learning to speak Czech is a totally achievable goal, through a lot of hard work, of course. I know this because I am an advanced-high speaker of French, advanced-mid in Arabic, and I'm guessing that I would get an intermediate-low for several other languages if I were to randomly take an OPI right now. Too bad the Foreign Language Achievement Testing at BYU (the only test of its kind in the nation!) came out a year after I graduated. Anyway, it doesn't have Czech. Yet.

The point: I love languages. I studied how to teach world languages. I'm quite excited about learning Czech.

Part of me feels that my whole life has prepared me for this goal. This is the first time that I have been in a position to learn Czech, really. In High School, the choices were Latin, French, or Spanish. In University, I would have taken Czech, were it available on a 100 level course. Sadly, it was only available to returned missionaries at a 300-level. So I took French, Arabic, ASL, and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) instead.

I sometimes wish that I had taken German. After all, that would be so much more relevant to my study of Czech genealogy. However, I think that my skills in Arabic also prepared me to learn Czech.
  • Arabic a marked language. This helped me to understand cases.
  • Arabic is difficult. It helped me realize that I can do difficult things.
  • Arabic is a non-Indo-European language. While Czech is technically Indo-European, it is from a totally different branch from English: the Balto-Slavic branch. Experiencing a language that is farther from my native tongue was helpful
  • I learned how to navigate a language (and language pedagogy!) that has very few materials for English speakers. This is totally similar to Czech. If anything, there is more material for English speakers wanting to learn Czech than those who want to learn Arabic.
And as a side note, my fifth cousin's brother in law was from the exact part of Jordan (Irbid) where I spent a semester studying at Yarmouk University, and he knew the family with whom I stayed. So, that was a really funny coincidence.

But Czech...well, going to Ostrava was like a crash course in it. Did you know that Ostrava is one of the largest cities in the Czech Republic, and yet it is nowhere on the CR's tourist bureau information app? That's because it's basically the equivalent of Pittsburgh, which used to be the steel capital of the United States. Who would go on vacation to...Pittsburgh!? Ostrava was the steel and manufacturing capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its industrial production remains relevant today. For example, the Czech Republic exports more cars per year than its population, or so I was told. Well, many of those cars are made in Ostrava.

Me with Ostrava in the background

My husband and I were stupid tourists in a place where there is very little tourism, which meant we had to speak Czech. And we don't speak Czech. We are definitely novices. But I got a feel for the language. 

My first impression continues to be validated now that I've come home and started a concerted effort to learn Czech (thanks Amazon! The Pimsleur course is really perfect for my lifestyle, since I'm always driving or cooking or cleaning) : spoken Czech is full of the schwa (ə)!!!!

It's just full of it! When in doubt, schwa it out!

Seriously! Any ending, if you don't know how to pronounce it, just slur it into a schwa sound and it will be at least comprehensible. 

But let me tell you, it's really difficult (in a fun and challenging way) for me to differentiate between ulici and ulice, between kdy and kde, and 100 other words. It's just...there's so much schwa. SO MUCH SCHWA. 


Ted' jsem just being stupid...ale co jiného je zřejmý? Užívám moje "nerdiness." I recently described myself this way, and I really think it fits: a nerdy, bookish, extrovert. That kind of defies the stereotype, but so it is!

What is life for if not to find joy. I can't tell you how much happier I have been since discovering my love of Czech genealogy, and trying to find answers. I feel that the trip Danny and I took significantly expanded my vision. It feels frustrating, humiliating, and daunting: but it's also so exciting and fun. It's the kind of fulfilling challenge that I have been craving for the past decade.

Thanks, schwa. You're great.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Nitpicking and Translation

I've been working on transcribing and translating Czech land records with a friend. I've learned a lot in the last three weeks - so much I have yet to share on this blog! For now, some meta data: It's been extremely fun - surprisingly so, actually. It' turns out...I'm...very nerdy. Well, so what. That can't be a big surprise to most people reading this blog.

It's surprising because I remember with extreme clarity the discouragement I felt when I opened my first Czech land record. I groaned - both out loud, and also in my soul. I knew immediately that this would be an extremely difficult challenge, more difficult than anything I had ever faced. It seemed impossible that I would ever be able to read the text in front of me. I knew even then that it would require many different kinds of skills: interpreting paleography, interpreting the old Czech spelling, and then interpreting the meaning of the words. (Eventually I hope to get to analyze the broader implications, the broader meaning of the record for the specific ancestor, and then an even broader application to the estate, perhaps even to the Czech lands themselves)

It turns out that the last part, interpreting the meaning (on all levels), is extremely interesting to me. I love it. I feel sometimes that I am nitpicking words to death, and I hope that this is not really annoying to those working with me. But this is because so often my very specific questions lead to a clearer, better understanding of what is going on, which allows me to write a better translation, letting others understand it better as well. 

I really enjoy translating into English. It is fascinating to me. It brings me great joy to use this part of my brain. I feel like my language in this blog post isn't doing justice to my thoughts and feelings about this process: basically, I'm an addict.

I feel a sense of urgency because I clearly understand the exact feeling of wanting to have more written direction somewhere explaining how to access these Czech land records. It's urgent that I gain these transcription and translation skills so that I can share this knowledge with others. At the same time, I don't see my learning as a linear process at all; I'm never going to have all the znalost. Ever. However, as soon as I gain a sizable enough chunk of knowledge, I will need to package it somehow and share with the world - especially with other English speakers - so that they can also have this great joy that I feel. 

If anybody out there reading this blog is interested in joining me in this project of transcribing Czech land records (especially if you are a native German speaker), please contact me. I am looking for more collaborators.