Family History Research

Family of Frantisek and Anna Holik

Frantisek and Anna Holik lived in Senetin, Bohemia before 1900. Senetin is located east of Prague. Frantisek lived from 1845 to 1910. Anna lived from 1860 to 1934. Frank and Anna had 11 children, many of whom came to America.

For each of the children, I stumble across a new piece of information every few months. I am still searching for pieces of information here and there and my son has developed interesting theories for some of my missing pieces. It is good to return to this family once in a while and see what new things can be found and in the process, a mystery solved.

Bozena was born April 3, 1879. She died September 13, 1935 in Senetin, Bohemia.

Jan was born February 11, 1883. Jan immigrated in 1903 or 1904 according to the Declaration of Intent he filed to become a citizen and 1910 and 1920 census records. His Declaration contains a ship name, the Barbarossa, and date of immigration, but I cannot locate him on a ship log. I’m now going through page by page of every ship log the Barbarossa had in 1903 and 1904 in the hopes that his name was transcribed incorrectly and I will find him. Jan married Marie Ratay June 11, 1905 in Chicago. I have found a ship log entry for Marie that I am fairly certain is correct. Jan died April 8, 1930, before he was Naturalized. Jan and Marie are my great grandparents.

Katerina was born June 7, 1887. She immigrated and arrived in New York on March 18, 1903 on the Kronprinz Wilhelm. She married Jan Koluvek May 14, 1905. Interestingly, Jan was on the same ship as Katerina. They were listed one page apart on the ship log. Jan lived in Snet, Bohemia and Katerina in Senetin. These towns were 40 km apart. I am not sure if they met on the ship or in Chicago. There is no indication prior to living in Chicago that they knew each other. My nine year old son has a theory they met on the ship. I believe they met in Chicago. It is a nice debate for us and a way for him to look at the evidence available to create a theory and try to prove, disprove, or rule it a possibility.  We will never know exactly where and how Katerina and Jan met but it is a nice debate. Katerina died in Florida on December 15, 1980. Her husband Jan died in Florida in 1950.

Frantiska was born March 8, 1885. No other information is known on her.

Anna was born November 6, 1889 and died a few years later in 1896.

Frank was born November 25, 1890. He immigrated to the U.S. on March 16, 1910 on the Rijndam. Frank married Agnes Vadlejch on March 13, 1911 in Chicago. Frank died before 1963.

Marie was born January 31, 1894. She immigrated in 1909 on the Kaiser Wilhelm II. According to the 1910 Census, Marie was working at the Chicago Municipal Isolation Hospital (for smallpox) at 3400 S. Lawndale. This hospital was run by German nuns, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. Marie was only 17 or 18 years old when she worked as a nurse there. I think she might have married in 1911 but need to research this more. She was not working there in1920.

Josef was born April 2, 1896 and immigrated on November 3, 1921 on the Orbita. Josef married Anna, maiden name unknown on May 12, 1923, in Berwyn, Illinois. Josef died September 1979 in Elmhurst, Illinois.

Alois Josef was born March 10, 1899 and died soon after.

Gabriela was born January 29, 1900. No other information is known on her.

Anna was born September 13, 1902. She immigrated the year before Josef and arrived in the U.S. on August 30, 1920 on the Noordam. At this time I have no information about her after she arrived in Chicago.

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Be sure to check the entire document

I am writing the life story of my great grand uncle, Michael Kokoska. In the opening paragraphs I added the fact his parents were immigrants, on what ship they sailed in 1880, and what class of passenger they were. His parents were listed as Cabin Class. That fact came as a shock and kind of unbelievable to me because my side of the family is all Bohemian, and immigrated as poorer people, traveling in Steerage. I stumbled upon the Cabin Class while looking at their ship log in greater detail.

Because this fact shocked me, I did a little research on their ship, the Frisia. This further research indicated the capacity for 1st class passengers was 90 passengers, 2nd class was 130 passengers, and 3rd class was 600 passengers. According to the ship log, there were 190 passengers classified as Steerage Passengers. The remaining 610 passengers were classified as Cabin Passengers. With the above numbers in mind, the log should have read Cabin Passengers for the first 190 passengers recorded and Steerage Passengers for the last 610 passengers recorded

What did I learn from this unbelievable fact? If a fact stands out as a bit shocking and unbelievable, it is worth the effort to research more details about it to ensure what you are seeing is either correct or incorrect.

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Connecting Families Online, a lesson learned

Several months ago I received a message from a woman on Ancestry.com named Jean who was working on her Hammer family and we found a connection. Her Catherine Hammer was the sister of my Dorothy Hammer from Bohemia. While we were making this connection, another woman connected with us. This woman thought her John Hammer was a possible sibling to our Catherine and Dorothy. Their parents were Vaclav and Rosie Hammer.

Now Jean and I had documents to prove the relationship between our siblings and parents. This woman had no idea who John’s parents were, but thought the birth year fit and the fact he lived in Chicago fit. She basically wanted me to prove whether or not her John was the same as my John. Not a lot to go on when trying to prove or say “yes I believe this could be the same person.” I love a good mystery and helping people who are stuck, but you have to provide information to get me going.

Many emails were exchanged between this woman and myself and she provided one or two new clues in each email such as when he was married, who he married, where he lived, what spellings of the last name she had encountered (Hammer, Hamer, Hemr, Hamr). She had a naturalization document for him as a Minor and the date of naturalization. She found him on the 1892 Chicago Voter Registration. I became very frustrated because the more I searched based on what information she was giving me, when I contacted her again she would tell me she already had that information. It was a frustrating for me.

More information was provided via email but still not enough to say yes or no to John. At this time I was also tracing each child of Vaclav and Rosie, and their spouses through census and knew who the nieces and nephews were for my Dorothy Hammer. Jean and I were updating our trees on Ancestry.com and would notify each other if we found something exciting. It was at this point that this woman brought up a letter written to John by a cousin. When she gave me the name of the cousin and address of the letter I was immediately able to connect John to the family. The cousin was a niece of Dorothy. Tracking the families addresses made making the connection easier too.

I learned a big lesson in this connection and that is if you are asking for help, you should provide the person helping you with as much information as you can. This will result in less backtracking for the helper and less confusion. A connection, or lack thereof, may occur much more quickly if more information is given up front. I love helping people who are stuck facing a brick wall. It is a challenge for me to see if I can get over it because I am looking at it with new eyes. Because I love and need the challenge, I will continue to help people when asked, but I think I will ask for as much information as they have up front before I start the search.

Have you had a similar frustrating experience helping someone online? What did you learn? Please post in the comments so we can all learn new ways to help others.

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Telling the story of your “Silent Women”

History and women’s history are two important components of a well rounded family history. What is important to recognize is that these components are often left out when family history researchers tell the stories of their families. Why are these components left out? I believe it is because family history researchers do not know the importance of incorporating history into family histories and they do not know the great wealth of resources available to them when researching the stories of their family, especially women.

I would like to tell you the story of my great grandmother Anna Svihlik Tregler. Between 1915 and 1925, Anna made a few trips back and forth between Bohemia, which became Czechoslovakia, and the United States, specifically Chicago. From information I have gathered, she was bringing her children over and then returning to Eastern Europe with her husband for reasons unknown. She married her second husband, Jaroslav, in Chicago in 1915, three years after the birth of my grandfather, Jerry. Family story is, when Jaroslav died in 1922, he left Anna and Jerry with a small sum of money. As a result, Jaroslav’s family did not want Anna to leave Czechoslovakia because she would have taken her money with her. Anna decided to leave Czechoslovakia for the last time in 1925 and wanted to take my grandfather, Jerry, to Chicago.  Apparently the Tregler family tried to prevent Anna from leaving so she sought help from Thomas Masaryk in order to leave the country. Anna was successful and arrived in the United States April 14, 1925.

This story is interesting at first glance, but what is the importance? Anna’s story offers a combination of world history, U.S. history, Chicago history and women’s history. When I heard the story for the first time I wondered why Anna left Bohemia. In the end, why did she ask Thomas Masaryk for help and who was he?

In researching Anna’s story on and off over the last 14 years, I began finding answers to these questions and of course, finding more questions I wanted answers to. Why did Anna leave Bohemia and then after returning, Czechoslovakia? The exact answer will never be known, but by looking at the history of Czechoslovakia and Europe during her lifetime, I can see the political, social and economic upheavals occurring before and after World War I. These upheavals gave me possible reasons why Anna left. Why did she enlist the help of Thomas Masaryk and who was he? Masaryk was the first President of Czechoslovakia when it became an independent nation on October 28, 1918 at the end of World War I. He was still the President in 1925 and although I have no documentation to prove he assisted Anna, I suppose it is possible. Another mystery!

If a researcher has the basic information such as names, dates, and places, possibly a family story, but no history, they certainly do not have a complete story of the lives of their ancestors. Val Greenwood said it best, in his book, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, “Genealogy and history (religious, economic, social and political) cannot be separated. Men cannot be dissociated from the times and places in which they lived and still be understood. It is impossible to recognize the full extent of research possibilities if you are not aware of the historical background from which your ancestor came.” In a sense, researchers have separated history from genealogy. What Greenwood is telling us is that we must know history to put out ancestors into the historical context in which they lived. He is also saying that by putting our ancestors into historical context, we understand exactly what resources are available to us in our research. Once researchers understand how to incorporate history into their family histories, it is time to move forward to researching the women in our past.

As researchers collect all these names, dates, and places, they strive to see how far back they can trace their paternal lines. In essence, family history researchers focus more on the lives and stories of men, rather than women. When writing women’s history, Christina Schaefer wrote, “Women’s history should not reflect only an isolated tale of victims, but should give a full context of the events which women helped to shape.” Scahefer goes on to state, “Looking for women requires a readjustment in how we view traditional record sources.” (Source: The Hidden Half of the Family by Christina Schaefer). With these ideas in mind, it is my hope to leave you with a greater understanding of what resources are available to you as a family historian incorporating history, and more specifically, women’s history into your family stories and give you a new perspective on some already used sources.

I would like to share a few topics family history researchers can examine about the lives of their female ancestors. Please understand there are many more topics about which stories can be written. Researchers can examine a specific period in their ancestor’s life and compare it to other time periods with these topics in mind. Not only do you want to examine the lives of your matrilineal line, but also of sisters, cousins, and aunts, of the women you are researching. It is interesting to compare the women not only across generations, but within the generation. Here are some possible topics.

  • Was the woman married or single? If married, at what age did she marry?
  • What were her roles? What was expected of her as a woman, wife, mother, friend, daughter?
  • Was she educated? If she had formal education, how much education did she have? If she did not have formal education, what skills did she learn growing up? Was she encouraged to further her education if formally educated?
  • What was her occupation? Did she work inside or outside of the home or both?
  • Where did she live? Alone? With a spouse and children? With her family?
  • When and how did she come to the United States if she was an immigrant?
  • Was she involved in any women’s clubs?
  • Did she work during World War I or World War II?
  • Was she a pioneer somewhere in the United States?
  • Was she in Chicago and experience any major historical event such as the Great Chicago Fire or World’s Columbian Exposition, etc.? This is a specific example to Chicago but can be applied to any city and major event.

As an example, I did a study comparing the roles of married women in my family. I looked at my grandmother and her mother. I looked at their roles in the family, what was expected of them, whether they worked inside or out of the home, and where they lived in relation to their families. The time period was roughly the 1930s. I then looked at my mother in comparison to my grandmother and finally myself. It was interesting to see how different the generations were in comparison to one another.

Now that you have an idea about the types of stories you could write, where do you find the information for these stories? The best place to start is with home sources. These are the same sources used to fine pure genealogical data such as names, dates, and places of events in your family. Examined more closely, these sources help you find clues about the lives of your female ancestors. As in pure family history research, it is also very important to document your sources so you know from where the information came.

Next I would encourage you to find books about women’s history for the time period in which your ancestor lived. Find books specifically about tracing women’s history such as The Hidden Half of the Family by Christina Schaefer or Discovering Your Female Ancestors by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. These books will be reviewed on my blog in an upcoming post.

Go online and Google women’s history and specific topics in which you are interested. Talk to others online via blogs, message boards, and other online forums about women’s topics. The possibilities are endless for finding information on women.

In conclusion, I used a quote from Christina Schaefer’s, The Hidden Half of the Family, “Looking for women requires a readjustment in how we view traditional record sources.” Readjusting our view and use of these tools as family history researchers, will allow us to start researching the lives of our female ancestors and being to write their stories.

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