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Many societies and organizations in both the Czech Republic and the U.S.A. have valuable information for your family history research.
When immigrant ancestors arrived in the United States they often settled among relatives, friends or neighbors from their native land. They established their own fraternal/benevolent organizations to provide mutual insurance and to foster camaradie and social interaction, and some even as a way to keep ties to traditions or ways of the old country.
At the turn of the 20th century, almost 5 million men and women belonged to fraternal organizations (about one ancestor out of seven).
Records of fraternal organization contain personal information included in the membership application and death benefit claim forms. The membership applications may include date and place of birth, names of parents and siblings, religion, profession, place of residence, and medical information. Some of the forms may however be incomplete. Death benefit claims provide the date of death, but may also contain much other information about the individual.
Start your search for fraternal records at home and by getting as much information as you can from relatives. The following items may lead you to an association with a particular fraternal organization or benevolent society:
- Copies of Membership Applications, Policies, and Certificates
- Dues Books - members paid yearly dues
- Jewelry - members wore pins, rings, medals with insignias to show their affiliation
- Calling Cards and Carte de Viste - visitors often left their cards with emblem of the group on the card
- Tombstone Inscriptions - images or special inscriptions
- Obituaries - list membership in societies
- Death Benefit Claims/Occupational Paperwork - pension information
- Church Bulletins/Notices and Anniversary Celebration Books
- Buildings - buildings may have some artwork with special insignia indicative of the group
- Property Records - if the mortgage was paid off by the widow shortly after her husband's death, this could indicate association with the fraternal group
- Miscellaneous Memorabilia
Be sure to check if the organization published its own newspaper. Besides membership records, many of the 19th and 20th century ethnic societies published newspaper that may contain many details of value for genealogists.
Th status of records generally varies with the society and its record keeping policies. Unfortunately, over the years, many records have been disposed of or could be located in any number of places. If the organization is still in operation, contact the local chapter. Contact libraries (public, university) in the city where the organization was based.
Just because there is no obvious record of society membership in your family, do not assume that they did not belong to one. Societies were very popular among immigrants.
For more information on finding fraternal records see an article Fraternally Yours: Finding Clues about Your Ancestors in Fraternal Records by Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A., published in Naše rodina, June 2006 Vol. 18 No. 2.
Locating Records at the Family History Library
Records of these societies are usually described in the Author/Title section of the Family History Library Catalog under the name of the society. They are also listed in the Locality section under one of the following:
CZECH REPUBLIC - SOCIETIES
- Association for Heraldry in Prague
- Czech Genealogy and Heraldry Society in Prague
- Czech Heraldry and Genealogy Club
- Czech & Slovak American Genealogy Society of Illinois (CSAGSI)
- Czech & Slovak Genealogical Society of Arizona
- Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International (CGSI)
- Federation of East European Family History Societies (FEEFHS)
- German-Bohemian Heritage Society
- Moravian Heritage Society
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