By Baerbel K. Johnson, AG®
No doubt the Internet has revolutionized genealogical research. More scanned images, indexes, and record collections become available each week, allowing worldwide access to important sources. Doing genealogy in your pajamas has never been easier!
In my hometown of Offenbach near Frankfurt/Main all the Klemischs were descendants of the same person. Family lore suggested that my great-grandfather Moritz Klemisch had come to Offenbach, a young industrial city with many new factories, from Vienna, Austria, as a journeyman machinist and iron turner. He boarded with the Weber family and soon fell in love with 16-year old Helene.
Their first son was born in September 1881. Two weeks after Helene’s 18th birthday the young couple was married. For many years all I knew of Moritz and his past were the details mentioned in their civil marriage record. He was born in “Kostl near Vienna“ in 1858. His father had died in one suburb of Vienna, and his mother was still living in another.
As the years went by, I pieced together a large family for Moritz and Helene Klemisch, but I still knew nothing more about the earlier generations. A visit to the War Archive in Vienna yielded interesting details about Moritz and Helene’s five sons who had fought in World War I. Although born in Germany, all were Austrian citizens of “Lotrinkowitz, Moravia”. The Vienna population registers showed that Moritz had lived in and around Vienna at least between 1900 and 1918, and suggested that he had a much younger brother Rudolf, and two additional sons too young to fight in the War. Otto was born in 1902 and his younger brother in 1905. Their niece, my aunt, was born in Offenbach in 1908, yet she didn’t know anything about these uncles or any other details about her father’s family.
Step by step I came a little closer to solving the Klemisch mystery. It took several years to figure out that „Kostl near Vienna” was actually Maehrisch Podivin, now in the Czech Republic, northeast of Brno. In 1968 the Czech parish registers were declared state property and collected in the various state archives. The Podivin records were in the Brno state archive. I tried to come up with the money to hire the archive to do some research, but it never worked out. The Klemisch family seemed destined to remain a black hole in my pedigree. Undaunted, I continued to dig through the increasing microfilmed record collections for Vienna and Offenbach. Eventually I found the death record of Barbara, Johann Klemisch’s widow, in Vienna. She was born in another Moravian village further east. Moritz’ birthplace on the east side of the modern Czech-Austrian border was quite a long distance away from the family’s place of citizenship in Eastern Moravia. Questions kept coming up: Who were these people? Why had they moved so far away from their ancestral home?
Enter March 29th, 2009- a day I will never forget. That afternoon I received an e-mail stating that the Brno State archive had begun posting digital images of Catholic parish registers online. The long-awaited day had finally arrived! Some tense minutes followed as I tried to complete the registration process in the Czech language. Then the list of towns came up- and Podivin was on it! Several clicks later Moritz Klemisch’s baptism record appeared on my computer screen – to me truly a modern miracle! After all these years it was an incredible experience!
The baptism records of Moritz and his two siblings included their parents’ marriage information and details about the children’s grandparents. So I was able to identify additional family members.
Recent postings by other Czech archives have allowed me to trace the family back several generations and answer some questions that had been on my mind for years. As it turns out, Moritz Klemisch wasn’t the first family member to settle far from home. Economic hardships and epidemics had forced many to seek their fortune elsewhere, and so the family was torn apart.
Many archives and libraries have begun to post historical material and records on the Internet, thus making them available worldwide. Electronic translators, although not perfect, allow easier navigation of foreign-language sites. And once a record has been found, genealogical Wikis, forums and mailing lists provide ways to get help extracting the relevant family data. In short, the Internet is the single most important tool for today’s family historian. So – jump right in and start looking for your family – anytime, anywhere. The results may surprise you!