Some Immigrant Stories from Around Ellsworth County

2007-01-21 09.26.48The hours of research and reading I have spent looking for information on my family has led me to some interesting tidbits and tales of life around Ellsworth County. Some of the stories I happened upon are not relevant to me, but perhaps if you are looking for information on your family one of these immigrant stories will hold the information you need!

The first of the immigrant stories I share today is about a Vopat family homestead, but unfortunately it was not my Vopat family. Jakub Vopat homesteaded on a farm near Wilson. Read more about that homestead here!

The Sad Story of Aldabert Klema really touched me. It is a long and somewhat difficult to read. The struggles the family went through were great and the family dynamics were hard to imagine. I really got a clear picture of how tough life was for those homesteaders, though. It is really a great presentation of how the immigration process worked from the beginning. I can’t imagine how many hours it took to put all the information together. I hope some day to be able to do this with my family!

From the Kansas Historical Society files, we find an immigrant story shared by Eric Taylor. He tells the story of  Joseph Dvorak and Francis Zvolanek, including how they traveled to New York City and ultimately ended up  as farmers near Ellsworth.

If you are interested in some more academic reading, there is a website with the history of Czechs in America that has some great tips and facts about the group of Bohemians that came to Kansas in the 1860s and 1870s.

If you know more stories of immigrants to Ellsworth County, please share them with me in the comments. I learn more with each story I read. There is a good chance that at least one of my ancestors was a neighbor!

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My Accidental Discovery of the Vodraska Family

Joseph Vodraska?The other day, I told you about how I found my great-grandmother Anna Riedl. From the beginning of my research into my family history, I have focused on Josef Vopat and his wife Anna Riedl Vopat. The notes I had from my grandmother gave the most information about the two of them, so it seemed logical that I’d find out about that branch of my family first. The Vodraska family, however, was a bit of a mystery to me. I knew they arrived sooner than the Vopat side of the family, but really did not know much more than that.

When I started digging around the Plana archives of Pilsen, little did I know I would get double the results for my effort.

After I found the birth record for Anna Riedl in the Plana Parish Archives, I learned that many of these archives are indexed. I had just been paging through the archives which takes an enormous amount of time to find people. So, in the quest for Anna’s siblings I decided to try the index of the archives. It couldn’t hurt and had to be at least slightly faster than going one page at a time.

I found the index, but still had to guess at the page for the “R’s”. So, I guessed at a number and typed it in the box. Turns out, I way overshot the “R’s” and landed smack in the middle of the “V’s”. As I was about to click back a few pages, I glanced down and saw a familiar name.

Jozef Vodrazka was listed at the top of page 95. I looked at the birth date and it was not correct for my relative, so I went back to find the rest of the Riedl family. After I found a few of the Riedls, I kept obsessing about the Vodrazka name I had found. Notes my brother had given me said the family was from the Pilsen region. However, I had been told by other relatives that this was not so. I wanted to explore it further, so back to the indexes I went.

After doing a bit more exploration, I figured out the alphabetizing of the archives was not exact. In fact, some of the indexes were only alphabetized by the first letter of the last name. From there, the names were all in chronological order. So Jozef Vodrazka was listed on on several pages of the “V” section of the indexes. After a little bit more digging, I found a Jozef who was born in the right year, 1867. I was a little excited. Then, I searched for the birth record to check his parents first names. They were Anna and Jozef. Wonderful! I still could not read the entire record, though.

After receiving some help from the Czech Genealogy Facebook Group, I realized his mother’s last name was not the same as in my notes. I had Pertl in my records, but in the record her name appeared to be Berk. This did not make me happy, because I thought I was incorrect in my assumption that this was my great-grandfather. At that point, I almost let it go. However, anyone who knows me will tell you I am stubborn and don’t let things go easily. So I decided to look up the first Jozef’s marriage record. Perhaps if I could find it, it would shed some more light on things.

Amazingly, I found the record right away. I had been told that my great-great grandparents had married in 1858, so I started looking there. Anna and Jozef were there in black and white. Only instead of Berk, the last name was written as Perka. In old German or Czech script, the name Perka could possibly have been mistaken for Pertl. The fact that Anna did not read or write (according to the 1900 census) could also have lead to an inaccurate translation of the name.

To further confirm that this was indeed my Vodraska family, I looked up the birth record of Rose Vodraska, Joseph’s sister. It did not take long to find her listed with the same parents.

What sealed the deal and totally convinced me that these were my ancestors? A small note written in all of the birth records. It said “nach amerike 20/3/73.” That roughly translates as went to America March 20, 1873. According to all the census records, my ancestors arrived in the United States some time in 1874. Given the time it took to make it through Germany to a port, then cross over to the United States by boat, the timeline fits nicely!

I guess it was meant for me to discover!

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Finding Answers in the Czech Republic Archives

file0001485174885I am fairly new to genealogy. It was only a few months ago that I realized I now had time to do my own genealogy research rather than relying on other family members’ work. My goals were pretty limited when I started out. I wanted to find the villages my ancestors came from in the Czech Republic, so I could visit while I am living in Europe. It was inevitable that I would have to figure out the Czech Republic Archives.

I am a self-admitted research nerd. I love digging through stacks of information to find answers. So, the prospect of searching through records interested me. I had no clue of where to find records or how I was to go about searching these records. But, I started googling and reading and then did it all over again.

After wearing out the databases at, FamilySearch and what is available on the Czech Genealogical Society International; I realized I was going to have to figure out how to look things up in the digitized archives of the Czech Republic. Also, I  realized that finding the information would take some work.

The Czech Republic Archives are state or regional repositories of church and government records. In order to look anything up in these archives on a specific person, you must know the village the person lived and their approximate date of birth. Without this information, it is virtually impossible to trace someone.

Once you figured out a person’s home village, it is necessary to find out to what parish it belonged. With the help of GenTeam, an Austrian website with tons of genealogy records, it is a fairly easy process. (You do have to register, but it is free!)

Once you have the who and where figured out, it is time to really research. That leads to the next challenge. Reading the records. Czech records can be written in Czech, German or Latin. They are handwritten using the script of the era. I found that some of the records are almost indecipherable. It definitely takes practice.

I was lucky with at least one set of my great-grandparents. My grandmother had given another relative information on the Vopat side of the family prior to coming to America. Josef was from a town called Hadacka and his wife Anna Riedl was from Dobric.

I had a starting place, at least.

I knew Hadacka was in the Plzen (Pilsen) Region of Czech Republic. I looked it up and discovered the village was located in the Kralovice Parish. I found the proper archive. Nothing. Zero. Okay, not quite zero. I did find a couple of Vopat entries. None matched my great-grandfather, Josef though.

I almost gave up. Until I was looking through a list of neighboring parishes. Low and behold, in a neighboring town called Zebnice, Hadacka records were also available. These towns were only minutes apart, so I am fairly certain that is where I will find Josef and his family.

So, why haven’t I found him yet?

Digitalization. Ugh. The same thing that has allowed me to find relatives from hundreds or thousands of miles away is the thing that put my search for Josef temporarily on hold. The records from Zebnice are not yet digitized. So, I can’t do the search myself.  I have yet to decide if I will pay someone or just wait until I can search them myself.

So, my research on Josef Vopat is a bust for the time being. That does not mean I am giving up on the Czech Archives. I have moved on to Tiny Grandma (Anna Riedl.) The good news is that I had much more luck with Anna. The bad news is that you have to wait for the next blog post to learn what I know! 🙂


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