Czech Republic Beginning Research
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Before you start
- 3 Determine the actual name of an ancestor
- 4 Determine the date of birth, marriage, and death
- 5 Determine the place of origin
- 6 Locate the ancestral home
- 7 Determine the religion of an ancestor
- 8 Determine the record keeping jurisdiction
- 9 Find your ancestor in the records
- 10 Research by mail
Begin with family and home sources. Look for names, dates, and places on certificates, family Bibles, obituaries, diaries, and similar sources. Ask your relatives for any additional information they may have. It's likely that your second cousin, great-aunt, or other relative already has some family information. Organize the information you find, and record it on pedigree charts and family group records.
Select a specific relative or ancestor born in the Czech Republic for whom you know at least a name, the village or parish where he or she lived in the Czech Republic, and an approximate date when he or she was born there. It is also very helpful to know the names of other family members born in the Czech Republic.
As you look over your family group records, or pedigree charts, ask yourself “What do I want to find next?” Common goals might be:
- The last person on a specific line of your pedigree chart
- A missing parent on the family group record
- A gap between the birth years of the children on a family group record (a wide enough gap that there may be missing children in between siblings)
- Finding the last children to the parents (during the mothers’ child bearing years)
- To find the birth date and place for an individual listed on the family group record without one
- Locating the marriage date and place for the parents on a family group record
Before you start
Before doing Czech family history research, you will need to find:
- The actual name of an ancestor
- The date of birth, marriage, and death (can be estimated)
- The place of origin
- The religion of an ancestor
- You can calculate an approximate date from other information you know. A birth date can be calculated from a persons age.
- If you do not know where the event took place, back up to the place where you have some record of him or her and work from there, such as other places where the person lived, last known address, place of residence of family members or relatives, or location of the school attended by that person.
Determine the actual name of an ancestor
A serious problem for some researchers is to determine the actual name of their immigrant ancestor. Some ancestors in their eagerness to be assimilated into American culture, traded their difficult foreign names for American names. This occured often with given names and to a lesser extent with surnames. If you think that your ancestor Americanized his or her name click here to read about various changes.
To learn more about historical background of Czech surnames and given names see Personal Names.
Determine the date of birth, marriage, and death
If you cannot find an exact date, you may estimate dates based on other information. You need at least the approximate year of an event. You may use standard genealogical approximation. From a marriage date, you can estimate that a man was married at age 25 and a woman at age 21. You can also estimate that a first child was born one year after the parent's marriage and that subsequent children were born every 2 years after that.
A typical tombstone inscription might read Here lies Uncle Jack, Died May 10 1903, 79 years, 10 months, and 3 days young. That would be a wonderful find for any genealogist, and gives a name and a death date to be added to the family tree. But what about Jack’s date of birth? That would require some tedious calculations. Fortunately there is a One-Step form that lets you enter any two of the following three items – a first event, a second event, and the time interval between them. In this case we would enter May 10, 1903 as the second event and 79 years, 10 months and 3 days as the time interval. The form will display the value of the first event – namely July 7, 1823.
Determine the place of origin
In the Czech Republic, most records used in family history research are kept on a town or parish level. Therefore the exact town of origin must be known before research in Czech records can begin. Most of the time, the Czech place of origin is found in sources created in the country of immigration. These records should be searched for the ancestor, possible relatives, and other associated persons. If you do not know the place of origin in the Czech Republic see Determining a Place of Origin in the Czech Republic for sources that may give you that information.
Czech place names are often misspelled in American sources. Difficult names were shortened and diacritic marks omitted. A gazetteer, which is defined as a geographical dictionary, is an essential tool for identifying places. Look up your place name in the gazetteer to be sure that it is spelled correctly. Please note that many locality names are comprised of two or more words. If you cannot find a place name in the gazetteer under the first word try searching under the second word. For example, if you are unable to find in the gazetteer Česká Lípa under Česká you should also check under Lípa.
To learn about several important gazetteers for the Czech Republic, including instructions and examples, see Gazetteers.
As mentioned earlier, Czech place names are often misspelled in American sources. If you still cannot determine correct spelling of your locality even after you searched the gazetteers and the Internet, please post your query on Central Europe Genealogy Research Community. You will have to click on, "Join" on the Facebook page to post your question.
Locate the ancestral home
After you have determined the correct name of the town from which your ancestor emigrated, you must still determine its location. Many Czech localities have similar names that may be easily confused. An example would be the place names Kámen, Kamenec, Kamenice, Kamenička, Kameničky, Kamenka, Kamenná, Kamenné. Czech grammatical endings can change an actual place name. The expression in Kamenka is v Kamence, from Kamenka is z Kamenky.
Determine the religion of an ancestor
Until the 1900s, vital records were kept by church parishes or Jewish congregations. The records of different religions were kept separately. If you are not sure of your ancestor's religion, start by searching Roman-Catholic records. Catholicism was the dominant religion in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Determine the record keeping jurisdiction
Not every village in the Czech Republic had its own parish. Often, several smaller villages belonged to one parish. Use gazetteer to determine the proper record keeping jurisdiction.
Find your ancestor in the records
The best sources of genealogical information in the Czech Republic are the church records kept by the local parishes. The Family History Library has microfilms of vital records from only a few German-speaking communities and a limited number of published census returns. Use the FamilySearch Catalog to determine what records are available for the locality.
Most of the Czech vital records were digitized and made available on the Internet. To find out which archive holds the records that you need click here. You may use this gazetteer for free however you will have to register first. Please be sure to spell the locality name correctly. When you know the respective archive, locate Online Databases section on the Czech Republic home page in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.
Research by mail
If the records you want are not available through the Family History Library or online they may be available through the individual Czech regional archives. Please refer to the Letter Writing Guide for detailed information. Remember to enclose photocopies of any old documents or mementos that you may have.