A World-Wide Family Treasure Hunt

The Fence Post

I am the 3rd generation American-born Czech in my family, but the 5th generation Czech in my family.

Published on: July 2, 2014

I have always been interested in family history. I think it is wonderful that I am 100% Czech so I try to keep the family traditions alive. I was never good at math, but if I am counting right, I am the 3rd generation American-born Czech in my family, but the 5th generation Czech in my family.

Our family story starts with Jan (John) who came over from the Old Country of Czechoslovakia about 1893. We had stories handed down from relatives, but they were just that - stories. I was, and still am, trying to get to the bottom of all the stories and instead provide some concrete facts.

This current adventure started about a couple of months ago after my dad received a package of old family photos that we had never seen before. Going through some of the family photos of his dad - my grandpa, it got me thinking, just how true were the stories of our family? I knew grandpa was a Golden Glove Boxer at one point in his life, and he was also a farmer, husband and father.

My grandpa, Dudley Lavicky on the right sitting with a friend.
My grandpa, Dudley Lavicky on the right sitting with a friend.

Who do you think you are?
I stumbled upon a website called http://www.findagrave.com and found my great-great-grand dad's gravestone. Mind you, I just made a visit to this exact gravestone a few days before. Attached to the online entry was his obituary from 1901. It read that he was a farmer and will be mourned by his family: a wife, three sons and a daughter. What? He had a daughter? There is no record and yet no family around here that says he has a daughter. So the hunt continues.

I re-subscribed to www.Ancestry.com and started the hunt once more. I had already pieced together a very rough family tree years ago. It was time to dust it off and try to finalize it. One problem - all we had to go by were a handful of stories and even fewer photos. We have TWO photos of my great-grand dad: His marriage formal portrait and one when he was in the coffin at his funeral. We have NO photos of my great-great-grand dad.

This is the birth entry for Ludvik Lavicky, my great-grand dad.
This is the birth entry for Ludvik Lavicky, my great-grand dad.

Here's the cliff-notes of my tree, streamed lined: Me>Chuck (my dad)>Dudley(grandpa)>Ludvik(great grandpa)>Jan(great-great-grandpa). Easy right? Not exactly. See Dudley was Ludvik, Louis and Louie - but everyone called him Dudley. Legal documents I have found range from all four of those names so really, what was his real name? Dudley was a nickname but used so much it could have been legal. Jan is also John but in the old country it could have been Johan and Johann. Let's move on to the last name - Lavicky. So far I have found Lavicky, Lawicky, Lavisky, Lawsky. Whew.

From a few historians that I have talked to and a few books I have studied, the priest would write down on the birth, death or marriage certificates the German way of spelling your name with a Latin spin - sometimes you get the Czech slang thrown in there. Aye.

This is the marraige entry for Jan (John) Lavicky and Frances Pelan.
This is the marraige entry for Jan (John) Lavicky and Frances Pelan.

Social Media to the rescue
Enter Facebook, a Czech Genealogy group, the internet and a handful of wonderful strangers that have extended their hands to help me in this endeavor.

I posted a comment on a Czech Genealogy group on Facebook and had a handful of strangers willing to help. They led me to actapublica.eu where I found old parish records of the 1800s. Jackpot! Except I can't read the handwriting. As the group crashed-course me in reading the German-Latin-Czech handwriting, I thought maybe I had come to a dead end.

I decided to go local. I took an afternoon trip to the local courthouse to see if I could find any land records of a possible hunch where my great-great-grand dad lived. Instead, I came home with two marriage records, one of my great-grand dad and one of his brothers. I noticed on the one document the name of the town that great-grand dad came from: Vodonce. This is a new lead. I had this wrong this whole time. I Googled the town and nothing came up. A dud. Therefore, I posted that town name to the Facebook group and found out that the town name of Vodonce is really Odunec. "V" is a form of "from" and you transpose the "e" and the "c". Yeah, I knew that.

So with this new information, the genealogy Facebook group helped me file through all the online parish records. So far we have found the birth entries for all three brothers, and their mysterious sister, the marriage entry for my great-great-grand dad and his wife AND the marriage entry for the mysterious daughter. One problem - they are all in German-Latin-Czech. This is what I face:

"typically in the German records they use "W" and in the Czech records it's the "V". This can also effect which name people used when they immigrated…This all seems to stem from pronunciation, as what we think of as a "V" sound, is the same as a German "W". Just as the German "V" often sounds like our "F". The Czech "K" sounds like a German "G". And the Czech "Ch" can tend to sound kind of like the German "K", although that one, there is more nuance to it. And if you see written in German "Cz" or "Rz", these tend to be "C" or "R" with a hacek over them."

Now please pass the Excedrin and a tall glass of water.

Enter my (living) uncle.
I kindly received a message from my uncle shortly after this finding, offering his help in reading the German and Czech documents. I am waiting to hear back from him what all the documents say. Maybe some additional information will be revealed.

So with the help of strangers - or as the saying goes, "It takes a village…." I have successfully broken through the wall in our family history and I am moving forward with the adventure. The main pattern that I am seeing here…we are truly a farming family. Every generation was a farmer of some sort.

What's the end game you ask? I will be planning a trip to the Czech Republic in the very near future to visit family and homes I have uncovered in my search.