Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Why I like my Czechs

“I want to do genealogy, but everything has already been done!”

Said no person of Czech ancestry, ever.

To be fair, even if you were the progeny of Mormon polygamists on every single one of your ancestral lines (thus creating twice, thrice, quadruple, etc. the probability that there are people alive on this earth who are actively searching out your same common ancestors), it would still be false to whine about your genealogy being “done.”

It is never done. There are always more names to be found, and I don’t mean in trying to somehow divine your way back to some dubious royal line, or Adam and Eve. I mean within the last 300 years or so.

My husband’s lines are great examples of this truth. Though he doesn’t have polygamists in every line, quite literally every single one of his lines goes through Utah. And yeah, he has 19 polygamist ancestors! To do genealogy research on his side of the family for the purpose of finding names to submit for temple work can be really frustrating. Sometimes, we will be working side by side, and I’ll say something like, “Oh! I found a family with 12 kids!” (of course they are Czech) and he’ll sigh and say, “I thought I found one person who needed temple work, but when I combined two duplicate entries it turns out it was done 50 years ago.”

To find names in his lines requires being more creative, and doing descendancy research. A great tool for doing this is called Puzzilla. This is a website that uses FamilySearch’s free API to model relationships. It is especially useful for modeling descendants.

Blue squares represent men
Pink dots represent women
Gray squares mean they were born within the last 110 years (so you cannot do temple work for them)
Yellow dots mean they died before they were 16 (so they probably did not marry and have children)

The more circular the model, the more complete the family probably is. For example, here are the descendants of one of my so-called “gateway ancestors”, James Hurren.


James Hurren was one of many of my immigrant ancestors from England. He was a Mormon pioneer who crossed the plains in the Willie Handcart Pioneer Company (Tangent: and here’s an interesting article about a book that I personally think takes a very presentist view on the handcart tragedy; what was Brigham Young supposed to do, telephone back east to get the numbers of companies? The past is a foreign country, and I consider the historian who swiftly casts judgment with the flick of his pen (or the tapping of his keyboard) a poor steward of it. Though one thing is very true in this article: today, LDS members consider it a great honor to be a descendant from someone who was a Willie or Martin Handcart Company pioneer, almost to the point that it is a little bit strange). Anyway, his daughter, my great x grandma, Mary Reeder Hurren, then only 8 years old, got frostbite on her toes which had to be amputated. She walked with a limp for the rest of her life and always felt pain, until the day she died.


Anyway, this is a picture of my ancestors. I am the little pink dot at the bottom.

Here is what it means:

This model visually shows exactly why Czech genealogy research is so appealing to me.

It’s just completely new territory. Nobody else in my family or extended family has ever researched it before. It took my fifth cousin to find the closest living person who is actively researching these lines. I’m charting new territory. It’s exciting.

Here are my top ten reasons why I love Czech Genealogy Research:

  1. There are LOTS of records.
  2. There are LOTS of records online.
  3. There are LOTS of high quality records online; records that sometimes have 3-4+ generations in one single entry, with lots of personal identifiers attached to people.
  4. ...and these records are all in Czech, German, and/or Latin! Transcribing them is a linguistic puzzle, which is extremely appealing to me. It combines my two greatest passions into one awesome package: genealogy and language!
  5. I love my Czech heritage. I don’t exactly know why, or if that can be quantified, and if so, how. But truly, I just really do! It is special. Maybe because it is not as ubiquitous as having English ancestry? I don’t know. I’m proud of my Brits, too. But my Czechs have a special place in my heart. Maybe it is because my Texas Czech grandpa was my favorite grandparent, and I miss him?
  6. Czech genealogy records were shut away in dusty archives for many, many years, or were inaccessible because they were behind the iron curtain. Many are only just beginning to see the light of day. This is great because it means, unlike English records, Czech records skip a whole 80+ years of bad microfilm and all the problems surrounding it, including the cataloging problems, the bad transcription problems, etc. Basically, Czech genealogy records are somewhat new and exciting to everyone.
  7. Most of my Czechs were not very mobile. They are like dumplings that just sit in your stomach...for hours...and hours…Unlike my ancestors who migrated from Virginia-Tennessee-Kentucky-Illinois, having multiple wives (and partners), and dozens of children in many states, some of which were not even keeping official records yet! Uffff
  8. I love the fact that I have a huge amount of unchartered territory to explore freely. It feels like an adventure. For the most part, I have very few collaborators on my direct lines, and no LDS collaborators. Familysearch is a blank slate for my Czechs.
  9. It makes it extremely satisfying to do family history work when it takes only about an hour to find about a dozen names for people who qualify for temple work. I used to be really obsessed with numbers, but I have become more focused on doing great research, lately, and less on speed. But no matter how you cut it, it is much faster and easier to find Czechs than any of my other lines.
  10. That leads me to the most personal, most satisfying reason for doing Family History work at all: Temple work. I find Temple Work deeply satisfying to stand (well...mostly sit…) as a proxy for my Czech ancestors, especially those who I remember researching. I feel a really strong connection to them. There is nothing that makes me feel as happy and peaceful as I do when I am in the temple. It is a meaningful, special, personal experience.

A few months ago I was collaborating on a transcription/translation of an endowment (a fund of money) that some of my ancestors left to the church in Vratimov. The Czech translation of the word “endowment” is “obdarovan√≠” (if I remember right?), and the root of this word is “dar” - or “gift.” The etymology of “endowment” also comes from the idea of a gift, but it has been lost through time. Really, the endowment (and all other ordinances performed in the temple) are gifts that we can give to our ancestors. They are acts of love and are physical manifestations of our faith.

The prophet Paul says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” He goes on to describe all kinds of biblical heroes and heroines, men and women of valor and great faith. But in the end, he basically says, “Look, all of these guys are well loved and respected because of faith, but that is not enough for them. God, knowing all, has prepared a way for both them - and us - to achieve our full potential. God’s plan requires us to do something for them in order for them - and us - to receive perfection, aka exaltation, or eternal life.” (Hebrews 11:39-40) I am quite sure that Paul is referring to temple ordinance work in these verses.

I don’t know why it is this way. But I believe it has something to do with why we are even organized into families on this earth at all: it is a divine pattern. It matters, for some reason. When we do temple ordinance work, we connect to our family.

I long to connect to my Czechs. I have the least stories, the least photos, and the least living memories of this side of my family. They are the largest hole in my family tree. I feel extremely driven to fill it. Whether or not one does genealogy for religious purposes, we all can relate to the longing for some kind of connection to our family.

This is why I study my Czechs.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Source Citation Standards Online

I just posted a piece I wrote on my main blog, and found the formatting to be a real pain.

I want to follow source citation standards. I really do.

I understand full well that links are not permanent, no matter if they say, "permalink." That responsible genealogists take the time to really cite where they found what they found, and if they don't, it almost might as well be fiction!

But I think there is a big discrepancy between the medium of print and blogging.

When you write online, you often don't have access to full-fledged word processor tools that allow you to write subscripts and superscripts etc.

But you have this really marvelous amazing tool called LINKS. Whereas in print, you see an underlined word, online you have this really awesome power to be able to click and be redirected elsewhere. It is really fantastic.

It is also really frustrating to me, as a genealogist who wants to do "what is right." I want to follow the standards set by the leaders in the field. I want to be more than a good genealogist; I want to be a great one!

I also don't want to drive myself crazy being a slave to details such as, "when do I capitalize and italicize Ibid and when do I write it simply ibid?

My two great non-human loves are languages and genealogy. Not editing. I have an abnormally high tolerance for nitpicking, but let's not get too carried away. I think I would go completely crazy parsing through texts like some of my best friends, including my college roommate Cindy who is now an editor. It just. makes. me. want. to. cry. "Why am I wasting my time with these formatting things when I could be reading Czech fairy tales for vocab acquisition?"

I think attention to source citations is like most things: a balance issue. You can be an extremist in either direction. It's probably better to lean towards slightly too much attention to source citation than too little, but if it completely stifles you and prevents you from sharing your research and writing, then what good is it really doing?

Because my medium is primarily blogging, I lean heavily towards the, "I'll link you to my source, and assume you can figure it out from there." I know that's sloppy, and there are flaws with that thinking. But there are also opportunity costs involved in writing an NGSQ-quality piece every time you sit down to write a casual blog post. They are different formats with different goals, and I like to think that even though I'm totally imperfect in my attempts at source citation, my contributions to the niche subsector of Czech Genealogy are useful, and I should continue to post, imperfect as my citations be!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Family History is about People

Some scattered thoughts...

A few days ago, my mom strongly encouraged me to go to Rootstech 2017. I think we had decided we just couldn't afford the expense ($280 for travel, $189 for tickets, plus obviously I will want some spending money, since this is the largest genealogy conference in the world...there will certainly be a lot of interesting books, and who knows what else, available for purchase). Lodging is free for me, the only question is whose house should I stay at? One of Danny's siblings (American Fork, American Fork, Park City - by far the closest option!), or Danny's grandparents? Historically, we stay with the McQueens because:
A. we really love them
B. we really don't get enough time to spend with them
C. we are totally comfortable staying in their huge house, and they really love their relatives to use them as a hotel
D. we used to live there for about 6 months, and so we know exactly where everything is

One time, we called Grandpa McQueen as we backed out the driveway on a 16 hour road trip from Iowa to Utah for Thanksgiving break. We thought we had asked if we could stay there, but we thought it best to make sure. Grandpa said, "No, that's not how we do things, Kate! You're supposed to wait to call us right when you cross over the Utah border!" We always joke that nobody in Danny's family plans anything, and it is really true. They are the most hospitable, kindest, most generous people I know.

This is logistically the first year that I could even hope to attend. Last year I was still breastfeeding Cora, but she was too old to carry around. Besides, I did that during a Texas Czech genealogy conference, and it was a little bit miserable, not to mention it made me stick out even more than I already do, being young. Although this year, I finally became an adult (30!), and the demographics of people interested in genealogy continue to decrease in correlation to advances in technology, and of course Rootstech is only half about genealogy, the other half is about technology in relation to genealogy...but anyway now I'm rambling. No way would I have taken an infant in arms to a genealogy conference.

So, anyway, we looked at our budget, and with my mom's generous offer to watch the kids while I go, coupled with the fact that I have really wanted to go for years and years, and Danny thought it would be really good for me to go - so finally, we decided to go ahead and buy tickets at the beginning of this week.

I am really excited! That's kind of an understatement. It will be really fun and interesting to connect names to faces of my favorite genealogy "celebrities". I am also looking forward to spending a little time in the FH Library. I might have to be really conscientious about making time for eating. Hahaha.

Wow, I really am a nerd.

Okay so, as I've been daydreaming about Rootstech, and going along with the mundane household chores that constantly tug for my attention, I started listening to past keynote speakers on YouTube. I listened to Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch talk a little bit about how to get people interested in family history.

Of course this topic is really important to me. I am an LDS Family History Consultant (well, I guess technically my title is "coordinator" now), and it's my job to get people to prepare names of their ancestors to take to the temple where they can do proxy temple work. It is a really fun job. I love it. One thing Brother Rockwood encouraged us to do is to stop talking about "the search" - only the nerds care about the search. Regular people don't care about the facts and figures, or "how I found Great Aunt Mildred's Birth Record!" or really, any word that ends with "ology".

What they care about are stories.

When you can tell a compelling story, you humanize your ancestors. You draw them closer to you. You make a connection to the past. They are somehow more relate-able.

Danny and I started watching this hilarious TV show called Family Tree. They do a really good job of portraying people as quirky, even to ridiculous extremes in some (maybe all, hahaha) cases. It makes me feel either really relieved that I am not as weird as any of the characters, or really worried because I can somehow relate to most (though, certainly not all) of them. One theme I really love is that the main guy is always finding out that his ancestors fell just short of being "great." A great grandfather was in the 1948 Olympic Games as a wrestler, but he was kicked out the first round. Another was the butt end of the horse in a theatrical comedy show - at the height of his acting career.

I love that the show gently pokes fun at this true concept: our ancestors were real people. Absurd, funny, ridiculous things happened in their lives. They made mistakes. They had feelings. They changed. It is fun and validating to feel that other people in the world understand this concept, and can laugh about it.

And the truth is, this is the most universal aspect of family history. This is the part that almost everybody cares about: family stories.

Another really great keynote speaker in 2016 was David Isay, the founder of StoryCorp. It was really moving to listen to the stories he shared. I agree with his assessment: "People are good."

Here's another example: on Tuesday night, I covered for Sister Neuman at the Des Moines Family History Center. I ended up teaching two people how to add photos to FamilySearch. To do so, I used my own photos and memories that I've uploaded.

I wanted to show them how to tag people in a photo. We ended up using a document for William Moroni Hansen. I started to talk about him a little, and found that I just couldn't stop.

He is probably my favorite non-Czech ancestor because I have a copy of his 8 volume journal, which is typed (on a typewriter, but still), OCR'd, and very interesting. I was able to get to know him really well. I could almost hear his voice. It has a slight Danish accent, which you can tell from the way he misspells certain words.

If I start writing about Bill Hansen, I will never stop. His journal is full of really exciting stories of faith, heartache, loss, love (he married four times!), loss, renewal, and fortitude. He is my hero, and I really love him.

If I only had a few minutes to tell a story about Bill Hansen, this is what I would say:

Bill was born in Sweden, though his parents were Danish. They immigrated when he was 4 years old to join the rest of the Latter-day Saints in Utah. He served an LDS mission in the Southern States starting in 1897 and went "without purse or scrip," which means that none of the missionaries planned for food or shelter, and relied entirely on the mercy of the people they were teaching. You have to imagine that in the South, where there were a lot of Baptists, people were really antagonistic towards Mormons. Imagine serving a mission not even a decade after the Manifesto, the quasi-end of polygamy (my understanding is that it didn't officially end until 1901 - meaning, new polygamous marriages were not completely stopped until 1901. "Polygamy" continued in the sense that husbands still lived with and provided for the wives they had married. Except for the ones that didn't).

In Bill's mission, the mission president had a rule that every Thursday and Sunday were "fast days." If I remember correctly, that meant that they fasted all three meals. So, if you combine that with the times that they did not get fed, you can imagine how emaciated and starving these missionaries must have become! Towards the end of Bill's mission, there was a new mission president who retracted that rule, and encouraged missionaries to only fast on the first Sunday of the month (which is traditionally fast Sunday for Mormons to this day).

Bill had a lot of really amazing experiences on his mission which he recorded in his diary. They really uplifted me when I first read them. I was going through surgery (nothing crazy, just my stupid gallbladder), and I was feeling very anxious and nervous. I had his journal as a PDF on my phone, and read nearly 3 volumes. His stories, especially his mission stories, were really encouraging to me. It was really neat to see how he handled difficult challenges in his life. I loved that he wrote about his feelings. It was literally as if I know him, because of the record he left.

Later, he became the undertaker for the main funeral home in St. Anthony, Idaho, from ~1920-1976! In his diary, he kept a record of every funeral he attended (2+ every week), every embalming he performed, including the names, dates, and other details. I have been wanting to make an index of this record for a long time. The record is not publicly available because it is in BYU Idaho special collections, and because he only died in 1976, there are still people living who are mentioned in it. But a derivative record of just the information about the funerals could be really helpful for somebody with Idaho ancestors!

He is my second great uncle. How I wish one of my direct line Czech ancestors could have left something like that for me to read! The crazy, insane hope that maybe they did is one reason why I find myself so compelled to learn Czech.

As I told some of the mission stories to the people I was teaching, they became really interested, and even teary-eyed. Of course, I already understand this desire, this drive to be connected; but to see it alight in someone else's eyes is really special, and renews my commitment to my calling. It reminded me that genealogy is really about people.

I sent a Christmas card to all my and Danny's aunts and uncles this year asking for the names, email addresses, and phone numbers of their kids. It might seem a little bit weird that I don't know all my cousins, perhaps less weird that I don't know Danny's.

Maybe it will be less weird if you understand that Danny's dad was one of 8 siblings, his mom one of 4 (though, Danny's mom and her sister married Danny's dad and his brother, so...double cousins), my mom was one of 9, and my dad (the Texas Czech) one of 3.

We know all of Danny's and my siblings. So that leaves 7, 2 (the sister that married the brother removes 1 potential couple), 8, and 3 - 20 couples. I think that we figured it out before - among my mom's 9 siblings, the average amount of children is 4. I believe I have something like 50 first cousins. Danny has more like 60 first cousins.

Though we know many of them, we definitely do not know all of them. But we should. So I am gathering their addresses, thanks to the help of my really great aunts and uncles.

Before Grandma Challis died, she had a tapestry in her house with the names of all of her descendants, including spouses and children. I think I was #301 or something like that, cross stitched into the family tapestry. By the time our kids came along, the numbers were in the 400's, if I am remembering correctly.

Don't you see that Grandma's tapestry itself is totally a nerdy, quirky, humanizing thing?

Family History really is not about boring lists of names. It's about people.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

GPS Study Group 1

Wow, so...that was an interesting, new experience.

I've been an occasional reader of Dear Myrtle's blog for a while. I think she's great. I never really participated in any of her group hangout thingy's, though. I applied back in November to be a panelist but never received any kind of email, even though I had to submit my email. Anyway, I just assumed that I was not a panelist.

Then on Monday I got a facebook message inviting me to be part of the private group for panelists, and I was like, "what!?"

Check it out here! 

Here you can watch a recap of this panel, in all its glory!
I am from 27:00-44ish.

So...then I quickly started to write, write, write. What I ended up with is this very flawed, way too long (as usual) document describing a little bit of research I have been wanting to write up for about four-ish months.

This was actually the first research I had ever done for a Czech person researching their American ancestors/relatives. I suppose I had always considered that to be "reverse" research. Really dumb and ethnocentric of me.

In the article, I wrote a little about why I think that Josef/Jan Drahota is the son of Jan Drahota and not Adolf Drahota. The task was really to illustrate a principle of the GPS. In this case, I was trying (sort of succeeding, sort of failing) to show that it's really important to conduct a reasonably exhaustive search, look at a multiplicity of sources, and especially to analyze what the heck they are actually saying.

Documents do not speak for themselves. You have to interpret them.

I feel really awful because I showed up late to the set-up thing, I was using the wrong mic, I look like a dumb smiley American (well...I guess that cannot be helped...) and as usual, I talked way, WAY too much. But if you want to check it out, here is a link again. It was kind of fun to do - and for the next five weeks I guess I will have the privilege of doing this! Augh! Well, I will be more prepared for next week...I guess that is the best part about being really unprepared (not being able to be less unprepared, or something like that).

On the other hand, I am very happy with the actual conclusions I made. There are still a lot of unanswered questions related to this research (especially because so many new questions were suddenly created) but they all stray a little from the first research question, which is, "who are the parents of Josef Drahota who immigrated in 1894 and was listed at the end of the passenger list?"

In this webinar/broadcast/hangouts/hoozy-whatsit-thingy with 50+ people watching me (What the!? Nobody usually listens to me when I talk about genealogy!!! WHY DO YOU THINK I BLOG???!??) I felt a little bit ridiculous, but was very happy to give a brief history of the Czech Lands, "in five sentences or less." Bwahahhahaha. Yeah right. But at least nobody thinks it is Yugoslavia anymore, and they know it is spelled, "Czech."

I thought I had some kind of understanding of what it was like to be a part of a "minority" as a Mormon, but now I sort of am starting to view what it is like to  be a "Czech" minority. In my piece, there were some things I clearly took for granted, such as that people reading it would know that post-immigration wanderlust was a real thing for Czechs after they arrived in America. But that was certainly more "niche" information than knowing how to spell "Czech", hahaha. I feel like doing an air high-five to my Czech genealogy friends and saying, "Czech History and Culture Educators Unite!"

I wonder how all the Mormon Czechs must feel. XD

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reflection on genealogical collaboration

I wanted to take a little bit of time to reflect on what I have learned about genealogical collaboration in 2016.

What it is:
  • Working together with another human being
  • Trusting others enough to share your ideas, thoughts, and theories with them
    • learning what to share, and finding the best way how to share it
    • discovering boundaries of what is and is not appropriate to share. I have lots of thoughts. I can’t possibly share all of them with everybody. Or rather, there is only one human with whom I should consider trying to share all of them. And even then, there are some thoughts better to be kept private. Basically: curating my mind is a process that involves both figuring out what to display, and what to censor. And that is normal and okay, and I can still simultaneously maintain my free spirited, blunt, genuine personality. I think this is really a “life lesson” that adults end up learning. Maybe if you spend a lot of time in the professional world, you learn it sooner than if you are in “Babyland.” I’m happy to learn it at all.
  • Real collaboration requires both giving and receiving, a push-and-pull relationship. A different metaphor: it is a two-way street. Basically, I have helped a lot of people. And while there is always something to be learned from these teaching experiences, I do not really consider them to be collaborative. It is more like me being a mentor, a guide, or sometimes nothing more than a walking, breathing google proxy. These experiences often help me in ways that are very real, but most of the time it is facets of my life that have nothing to do with genealogy. Things like: learning patience, empathy, how to talk to older generations, how to explain things in a simple way, how I do NOT want be, etc. Because they have nothing to do with building my genealogical tree, or expanding my understanding of my ancestors, I do not consider the work to be collaborative. Beneficial yes, collaborative, no.
  • Listening. Collaboration means that you listen to what the other side says, and you consider it before you respond. I think I collaborate much better in a written context because it forces me to spend time thinking and crafting a response, whereas orally I usually just think out loud. It is not as well crafted, and I usually do not spend the kind of time analyzing and poring over the other side’s thoughts.
    • Collaborating with nonnative English speakers forces me to “listen” very carefully so that I can really understand the ideas that are being said.

What it is not:
  • It is not possible to collaborate well with every human being. It is not even possible to communicate with every human being, let alone trust them enough to want to share a piece of your soul (your genealogical writing) with them!
  • The only two collaborators with whom I have successfully and consistently worked on my Czech genealogy both found me, and both times it was through the internet. Is it a coincidence that both of them did the finding? Probably not.
  • Family members are (or can be) great as genealogical sources, but they do not necessarily make good collaborators. I am very lucky to have a distant cousin who is kind, patient, and a great listener.
  • But you cannot bribe, lure, beg, or otherwise force people to be a good genealogical collaborator.
  • Genealogy collaborators have to share your locality interest. Otherwise, they’re mostly just friends with patience who tolerate and vaguely understand your goals on a broad, philosophical level. But they can never be true collaborators unless they can compare apples to apples, or in other words, Czechs to Czechs (as opposed to Czechs to Irishmen).

Why it is helpful a priceless treasure to collaborate with awesome people:
  • I know that I have a lot to learn, and I learn better from communicating with humans.
  • I enjoy feeling a strong sense of validation from efforts that can otherwise seem futile or pointless. It is very useful to have the encouragement that I am going in the right direction, or the warning that perhaps I am not, and should instead try looking at xyz.
  • It is very motivating for me to try harder. I work much, much better when I write for humans than when I write to the black nether of the inter-webs. I love humans!

Some ideas for moving forward:
  • I really enjoy learning about all of my ancestors. But the truth is that I am particularly partial to my Czech ancestors. Not my British Isles ancestors, not my American ancestors, not even my Texas Czechs - but my Czechs. I really love them. There is no set of records I enjoy more than old Czech records from the 18th century. I don’t know exactly why. And even though these records are often really difficult and frustrating for me to read, still they are the most meaningful, the most interesting, and by far the most fun.
    • Therefore, I need to surround myself with people who know more than I do about Czech genealogy and history.
    • As illustrated above, I need to either find them...
    • ...but more likely, I need to attract them to me.
    • And one glaring detail: I need to learn Czech so that we can actually communicate. Though most Czechs I know speak English, it goes a very long way for me to at least make an effort. I think it is appreciated on their end, and I also think that it is absolutely necessary for certain key potential relationships.
    • The area of my tree I want to explore and learn about are unlikely to be known by English speakers.  However, most Czech speakers also have Czech ancestors.
  • I can’t find collaborators, and I suppose even if I could, I would not really want to. It seems like the best genealogical collaborators are attracted, not found. But if everyone used that logic, there would be no genealogical collaboration, so therefore I will continue to selectively seek out interesting people with whom I can collaborate. I think it will involve more effort on my end to read Czech genealogy blogs, Czech history books and articles, and reach out to my other distant living Czech relatives, or Czechs in general.
  • I can be happy with the collaborators I have. I was happy before, when I had no collaborators. But I am much, much, much happier now, and I feel like my learning has grown exponentially. I do not want to go back to where I was, working alone in a closed room. But I can be happy now, even though I perceive the potential for collaboration is far, far greater than these two relationships I already have.