In April 2010, I received an e-mail from a patron asking for help with his family history. This was nothing unusual since I receive many such requests as a research consultant in the Family History Library. He had some documents from Hungary with his grandfather’s place of origin and he knew the locality name, but could not find it anywhere on the map. Again, nothing unusual. This time, however, something unexpected happened as soon as I saw the locality name. Even without the country of origin, I knew instinctively what it was! I thought to myself, it cannot be! The village I was thinking about was just a small village in northern Moravia, Czech Republic where some of my husband’s ancestors are from.
The locality name appeared as Hossalkovitz on one document and as Haschiolkowitzi on the other. I checked various gazetteers and considered various spellings, but I still felt that the birthplace of the patron’s grandfather was indeed Hošťálkovice (also known as Hoschzalkowicz, Hostialkowitz, Hoschtialkowitz). This region was actually Austrian Silesia, belonging at times to Upper Silesia, part of the Prussian (German) Empire.
This particular locality’s records are under the jurisdiction of the Opava Land Archive which operates digital online archives. At this point I normally would have referred the patron to the online records so that he could start researching the birth of his grandfather in 1869. When searching for records from Hošťálkovice, he would have found the 1860-1891 birth register from the nearby Hlučín parish. This birth register, however, would not include Hošťálkovice births after the 1860s. The patron, unable to find his grandfather’s birth in it, would probably have given up at this point, assuming that he was researching the wrong parish.
Because my husband’s ancestors come from Hošťálkovice, I had some additional information about the records to share with this patron. Hošťálkovice births do not appear in the Hlučín register after the 1860s because a separate birth register for Hošťálkovice began to be kept around that time. The original register does not exist anymore, but a duplicate register exists and can be sent to the archive per request from the offsite storage during a personal visit. This is unpublished information, known to very few.
Because I was planning on researching in that same register during my visit to the archive a few months later, I volunteered to check the register for this patron. I felt that it was important to establish his grandfather’s birth in Hošťálkovice so that he could then continue additional research, either through contacting the archive or hiring a researcher. A few months later upon my visit to the archive, I did indeed find the birth record of his grandfather in the duplicate register. What are the odds that the patron would contact me—the one with the missing puzzle piece?