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.

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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.

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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 “obdarovaní” (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.


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