Czech Republic Tips for Czech American Researchers
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
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 occurred 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.
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 FamilySearch Forums and one of our research consultants will be happy to evaluate your research problem.
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. 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.