Looking for your Czech ancestors doesn’t need to be difficult even if you don’t speak the language and have never been to the Czech Republic. There are many digitalized genealogy resources and I’ve made a beginner’s guide to help you start that exciting journey of finding your forefathers.
I am not a professional in the field of genealogy but I am a dedicated enthusiast. Thanks to the online resources I have been able to trace my roots back to the 17th century. Sometimes I even think I like the process more than I like the result. This is my advice to all of you who’d like to start the search. There are so many resources and possibilities that I can’t list them all but just don’t be discouraged because there are not only great resources but also really nice people ready to help when you’re stuck.
If you know about other helpful resources please let me know in the comments so I can list them.
Table of Contents
Digitalization and Language
Not so long ago (in 2007) the Czech Republic embarked on the journey of digitalization of the registries (birth, death, marriages and other) and so a huge amount of resources is accessible online and more is being digitalized.
Speaking Czech is definitely an asset when you browse the registers. However, some of the digitalized archives offer the option to switch to English, German or even Polish. As for the text of the registries that have been scanned, it’s Czech, German and Latin. Moreover, you have to count on them being written by hand, in cursive and sometimes even in the old German script – there are programs that can help with that, for example this one.
Before you start
Before you start looking online, gather as much information as you can from your relatives and any relevant documents you might have. Birth and marriage certificates are the first choice but there are many more documents that will come handy when you don’t have sufficient information from these two. You should be interested in literally everything – what was the number of the house your ancestors lived in? Who were their godparents? Where did they work? Did they serve in the army?
Photos can help you find out more about your Czech ancestors as well. Not only do they sometimes bear handwritten information on the back but often also printed information about the photographer. And then the image itself – the wedding dress can help you establish the era, kroj can help you pin down the region. And if your ancestor is wearing an army uniform, you can find the army he served in and then from the army records you can get even his head circumference.
Useful to know
The following information might help you understand the life of your Czech ancestors:
- Until 1781, our ancestors weren’t allowed to move house wherever they wanted or marry whoever they wanted. On November 1, 1781, the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II issued the Serfdom Patent which abolished serfdom and with it the necessity of the landlord’s approval for these two acts. Some restrictions, however, applied for several decades later.
- On October 13, 1781, the Holy Roman Emperor also issued the so called Patent of Toleration which extended religious freedom to non-Catholic Christians living in the Habsburg monarchy. Therefore, until 1781, our forefathers had to be Catholic. After this year, there were also Calvinists, Lutherans and Eastern Orthodox. Before this year, these branches of Christianity had to exercise their religions in clandestine churches. Most of the population, however, remained Catholic.
- People didn’t usually move or marry to faraway places. Families stayed in one village or around for generations. If you’re looking for an ancestor without any information about their residence, it’s good to start looking in the registries of the village of residence of their children.
- It is not unusual to find younger siblings with the same first name as their deceased older siblings.
- Before civil registries, the births (marriages and deaths) were registered in parish books. That’s why you can usually see two dates where you’d expect the date of birth:
The first date is the day of birth, the second one is the baptism date. Children were usually baptized on the day they were born or the next day.
- If a wife or husband died, their spouse would often re-marry very soon.
- The age of majority varied from period to period. Until about 1549, it was 16 years for noblemen and 14 for women, 17 for the men in the knight status and 15 for women in their families, 18 years for male citizens and 16 for female citizens. Until 1812, it was 20 years for noblemen and 18 years for male citizens, 15 years for women in both cases. Until 1919, the age of majority was 24 years of age, until 1950 it was 21 years and from then on the current 18 years. That is why at some of the marriage entries you’ll find a note of consent of the parents if the bride or groom were younger than the required age.
Czech online registries
There are 14 regions (kraj) in the Czech Republic and 8 different registries according to the region. Each registry is different and its use is different. Below is a map of regions with their corresponding registries and a list of regions and links to their registries (click on the region to go to the registry). You can also go to the map on the webpage of the Czech Society for Genealogy and Heraldry (the map there is interactive) but it’s only in Czech.
Praha (Prague) – in Czech and English
Karlovarský kraj (Karlovy Vary region) – in Czech and German
Plzeňský kraj (Pilsen region) – in Czech and German
Ústecký kraj (Ústí nad Labem region) – in Czech, English and German
Liberecký kraj (Liberec region) – in Czech, English and German
Středočeský kraj (Central-Bohemian region) – in Czech, English and German
Jihočeský kraj (South-Bohemian region) – in Czech, English and German
Královéhradecký kraj (Hradek Králové region) – in Czech
Pardubický kraj (Pardubice region) – in Czech
Vysočina (Vyšočina region) – in Czech, English and German
Jihomoravský kraj (South-Moravian region) – in Czech, English and German
Olomoucký kraj (Olomouc region) – in Czech, English and German
Zlínský kraj (Zlín region) – in Czech, English and German
Moravskoslezský kraj (Moravian-Silesian region) – in Czech, Polish, English and German
To give you a simple example: Let’s say you know the birthplace of your great-grandmother and the year she was born. If you don’t know the region of the city/town/village, look it up on Wikipedia and if not the English version then the Czech one will say the region. Go to the corresponding registry and fill in the column of the municipality. In some registries you will have to tick the event you’re looking for (birth, marriage…) and in other registries you introduce just the municipality and then get a list of all the registries for that municipality. In some cases you can get one registry for several municipalities. Especially small villages used to be “gathered” in one registry, typically the one that had the parish.
This is the online registry for South-Moravian region (one that I find very user-friendly and easy to navigate through). As you can see, I looked up one village, the page displayed a list and now I can choose between births, marriages and deaths according to the year. The column cities shows the numbers of municipalities included in that particular registry.
Back to your great-grandmother. Open the registry according to the year she was born in. Find that year and you just browse through each page of the year until you find your great-grandmother’s name. If you’re lucky, your registry will have an index at the end, so you can go to that index first and find her under her surname (in some registries you’ll have to look for the surname and name of the father of the child).
Once you find the correct person, you can get all sorts of interesting information from the registry. Most important being the name of the parents, of course. Now you’ve discovered another generation and you can do the same for the parents to discover the generation before them.
Pay attention to the parents, under their names you can find not only the names of their parents (you have the next generation!) but also what they did for living and/or if they owned any land. As for people from villages, you will often see words like láník, pololáník (1/2láník), čtvrtláník (1/4láník) which refers to the size of the land they owned, or for example domkař (house-owner, meaning that they didn’t own any land).
If you don’t know when your great-grandmother was born but you know when and where she married, look up her marriage registry in the same way and look for the indication of the age (years and months) in the moment of the wedding. From there you can count the year and month of the birth. Same goes for the death certificates.
You can ask for help on facebook, especially if you can’t read something or you don’t know where to look for certain information. The Czech amateur genealogy community is big and there are super nice people ready to help. The language of the groups is Czech but I’m quite sure there are people who speak English as well. The largest Czech facebook group is probably this one. Another interesting group is this one which specializes on genetic genealogy. People in this group help make sense of the genetic testing and its results and also inform about special tracing projects which are really great and well-documented especially in South-Moravia. I find the Czech groups the most resourceful (they are very active and inform about new digitalisations, projects etc.) but of course, if you don’t speak the language and don’t want to look for English-speakers there, you can join one of the English-speaking groups, the largest probably being this one.
There are also regional facebook groups for people with Czech ancestry living in the same place outside of Czech Republic. If you know of such groups, please let me know in the comments and I will list them below.
Connecting Family Trees Online
Whether you have just a few names in your family tree or you traced your roots two hundred years in the past, another option to find relatives is to publish your family tree online. Platforms like MyHeritage, Family Search, Ancestry and other will notify any matches in your family tree and someone else’s. This way you can find not only your ancestors but also distant cousins. Having one’s family tree online is a fairly common thing in the Czech Republic so chances are good that you’ll be able to expand yours this way.
Other online sources
Where registries of births, deaths and marriages fail other resources might help although these might be a little more difficult to work with and require some experience. One of the most common tools is the so-called indikační skica which is a type of map from which you can find out the house number, the name of the owner of the house and other information. Here are the maps for Moravia and this is a more complex registry of maps for the whole country.
Some helpful information can be obtained also from the land registries.
If you want to find people with your Czech surname in the Czech Republic, you can use this search engine. Unfortunately, the updates stopped in 2020.
There are more sources to work with like police and army records but the options I exposed are enough to get you started.
Offline registry search
You’ll find that not everything can be found online. Some registries aren’t accessible on the internet because they contain events which are too recent for publishing. Other registries are simply waiting for their turn to be digitalized. So what to do in this case?
- You can ask for a copy of the registry for a specific person by contacting the registry. In this case, you will have to provide not only the name but also the date of birth of the person and a proof that you are a descendant of this person. The workers will not search the registries page by page for you, they will look the person up if you give them that specific information.
- If you have the possibility to travel personally, you can book an appointment and search in the registry yourself. I recommend you to contact the registry first and inquire about the opening hours and eventual appointment list. With the digitalization the personal visits dropped by 70 % and many registries will allow the search without having scheduled an appointment but it’s good to be informed.
Hiring a professional
Hiring a professional is a good option if you’d like to have your family tree but don’t like to search yourself or don’t have the time. The professionals can help also in case you need to find just one person that you’re stuck on and then want to keep on searching yourself. The prices range from several hundreds to thousands of CZK depending of the specifics of the search.
I hope you found this guide to finding your Czech ancestors helpful and if you have anything to add to help others in their search please leave a comment!