Land of the archives and home of the scans – Part 1 (Long and boring…)

My partner and I managed to travel to Poland and Czech Republic this year. It’s been quite a visit – I got to know his family and he got to know mine. But from genealogical point of view I accomplished a lot! I managed to plan 3 days solo trip (no need to drag a partner to a trip he won’t enjoy) to Podkarpacie region of Poland to do my genealogy, but I also had a chance to gather all documents in Czech Republic that I needed to have a good base for genealogy research of his family.

Before we left I have asked my partner and my future parents’ in law about their family. Great surprise – his family is very open to genealogy! Even more open than my own family. Future father-in-law’s brother even traced the last name line to late 1700s (thank you, Karlik!) On other lines I only got names of my partner’s grandparents with their birth dates, and few names of great-grandparent. It was not much, but a concrete information.

So, first thing’s first. Since my partner is from Northern Moravia I have read a bit about the history of the region. Including the infamous annexation by Poland of the Zaolzie region. It was even more interesting since my partner’s family lived in that annexed region… Family Search was my first stop to check what they hold for Czech and particularly Ostrava-Cieszyn region. To my surprise FS has a lot, but all resources they had came from Opava archives in Czech Republic. So that was my next step – I navigated the archive’s website to their online archive: http://digi.archives.cz/da/

And I fell in love with Opava archives! I’m not sure if other Regional Archives in Czech do as amazing job at digitalization of their records, since I for now have no interest in other regions, but Opava has what many dream of. Missive holdings and digitized scans of parish and civil registers, census records, land records from multiple cadasters, school records and so on. As I roamed through it I found school records for my future father-in-law and his dad (but that’s a topic for another entry 😉 ). One thing I have noticed is that Czech also does have privacy protection law, just like Poland, and while marriages and death records were often available online well into 1920s and 1930s birth records were often not extending beyond mid 1910s. Opava does however, in opposition to Polish archives, note what types of records and years are available and at which local registrar. Did I mentioned I love Opava archives?

Well, having such a massive amount of documents available one could immediately and unfortunately start chasing down the wrong rabbit hole! One of my partner’s grandparents was born in 1913 and his birth record was available, but 2 of his grandparents were born in 1918 and last one in 1919. Those birth records were not available online, but at registrar at my partner’s hometown. I decided I won’t bug anyone to get those records for me, since I want to experience registrar visit myself. But going back to wrong rabbit hole – I roamed through available censuses for each village and I noticed that while half of the family names are extremely common to the point of 2 Josephs and Marys or 2 Johns and Marrys living there with similar “set” of kids other half of the family name did not appear at all. I took a step back. Back to basics. I first need to get birth records for all grandparents and then I can start the chase.

Before our trip, next step was preservation of DNA. Few months before we left I bought DNA kits at the sale. Quick calculations – his dad is one of 5 siblings (oldest one has passed away) , his mom is one of 3, my partner has a sister – I needed 8 kits. Done! DNA kits have been sitting in my closet for few months since our original tickets have been postponed from May to September.

Once we got to Czech first work day we went to registrar. I was positively surprised that registrar do serve as an archive. Let me explain the way it was explained to me:

Birth records come under protection of 100 years and, just like in Poland, they cannot be searched by anyone but registrar workers. Only related people can access the birth record.

Marriages and Deaths are completely different story. Marriages have 75 years of privacy protection, while deaths have only 30 years privacy protection on them. For marriages AND deaths, once 75 years passes from the last entry in the book then those books are transferred to the regional archive and will be scanned soo after. But years that are not under the protection, but still at registrar because they are in the same book as protected records, can be searched by public just like they could be searched in regional archive. For that reason I was able to search only up to 1945 in marriages even though the book had marriages up to 1946.

This situation allowed me to find 2 out of 3 missing birth records for my partner’s grandparents, both marriage records for grandparents and 2 death records for grandparents (I had information on 2 other death records from family already).

Another vital step was to take both parents of my partner for a trip down the memory lane. We drove with them around their area so they could show me where they lives, where they went to school, where their church was and a cemetery visit was a must. I had a chance to meet with many people who were excited to show me photos and talk about who is on it. I took plenty of photos and also took video of them explaining who is on what photo (you know you will never remember if you don’t record info in some way so don’t even try). To my surprise father-in-law’s sister had many birth, marriage and death records of my partner’s paternal side of the family, as well as some obituaries that she allowed me to take photos of (thank you, Relka!).

Overall this trip was highly successful and this new experience in searching roots of my partner’s is very exciting.

But! Yes, there is a but. I am not very familiar yet with my partner’s region and many village names as well as parish locations still confuse me. As much as I love Opava archives I was unable to find a good visual resource of their holdings and of all churches they had in their area. This posed a bit of a problem because if a record stated particular place of birth I had to somehow locate which parish it could be at. And so I set up a task for myself after my return from Europe. A map of locations of churches that Opava archive has records for. More about that you will find in Part II of this post here 🙂

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