My Czech Research Odyssey
When I was sixteen, I became interested in genealogy. Where my path has led since has been quite the trip.
By Bryce H. Rogers, BA, Professional Genealogy Researcher
I am a Mormon. When I was about sixteen (ca. 1995-1996), I became interested in family history research (see Why Mormons do Family History). I walked into my local FamilySearch Family History Center and told them I wanted to learn more about my Czech great-grandmother and her family. All of the gray-haired people asked, “how old are you?” They couldn’t believe that a sixteen-year-old boy wanted to do learn about his family history!
We found what we could during a that visit–a few details that had been compiled by other family members. The Family History Center staff suggested I talk to my family to try to find out more information, so I did! I had the good fortune of living a few miles from my grandmother, whose mother had immigrated from Bohemian Austria-Hungary (later known as Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic). My conversation with Grandma didn’t seem particularly encouraging! “My brother was over there and they said that many records were destroyed during communism.” That seemed to be that, but I didn’t give up hope!
A decade later, I found myself in the Statni Oblastni Archiv in Prague 4. I was a student in the BYU Family History–Genealogy bachelor’s degree program. I had completed a genealogy internship in Central Europe, but had not had not yet had the chance to search for my ancestors in records housed at this archive in Prague. However, armed with the little information I could find about my Czech ancestors, I pressed forward.
As a student in the fall of 2004, I had been invited by Dr. Roger P. Minert to participate in a European genealogy internship. I had lived abroad in Germany in 1998-2000, was fluent in German, and was learning and practicing deciphering the old German scripts. I was teamed up three other wonderful students of the Family History degree program. Together, we were to spend three weeks extracting information from Orphan Records at the German National Archive branch in Hanover, Germany, and three weeks traveling through central Europe with Dr. Minert, becoming oriented at numerous archives, civil registry and parish offices, executing research for clients, and delivering lectures at a family history conference in Nuremberg, Germany. The trip was wonderful, and on the whole, very successful. We leveraged our skills, worked as a team, and benefited from Dr. Minert’s tutelage.
During our planning phase, it was determined that we would not have time to pause and research my Czech ancestors! So, I did what anyone would do! At the end of our journey, I rented a car in Munich, Germany, waved goodbye to my friends, and followed the Autobahn back to Prague!
And there I was. In 2004, after one of Dr. George Ryskamp’s lectures about professional paths in family history, a question came to my mind: “I wonder what ancestry.com might be able to tell me about my Czech ancestor, Antonin Frantisek Voracek?” I went to the computer at the front of the classroom, dialed up ancestry.com, and entered the details I knew about Anton. What I found surprised and thrilled me. There he was, with his wife Marie, daughter Marie and son Anton. They were arriving at Baltimore from the port of Bremen on the ship Neckar. And, what was this? The home address of the closest relative from whence they came? And birthplaces for each person too? It was too good to be true, but there it was, staring at me. I then began to truly appreciate having an ancestor who immigrated after the turn of the century when very useful details began to be recorded for immigrants.
I had gone to my ancestral village of Kacice that Saturday we had spent in Prague together. While my friends went to enjoy old Prague, I had something else in mind. I went to the village and home address written on that 1913 ship manifest. But alas! When I got to Kacice, I realized I had left my backpack in the parking garage of the Prague Villa where we were staying! Without a Czech phrasebook, a pedigree chart, or even a decent piece of paper to sketch a family tree, I wrote on the back of a grocery receipt and used my very limited Czech vocabulary to try to explain who I was and why I was in Kacice. None of the locals seemed to know anyone by the name of Voracek (though years later, using MyHeritage.com I would discover a Voracek connection in Europe). A little disappointed, I nevertheless relished the fact that I was there–there where my ancestors had lived. There, where they bid farewell, for ever, to their loved ones. There, where they left home and hearth in search of a better life. (to be continued)