Hints for reading records in church Matriky

By Judy Nelson    As appeared in the March 2016 issue of Nase rodina, CGSI’s quarterly.  Revised 7-26-16

In Czech parish registers (referred to as matriky), N (matrika narozených) indicates births/baptisms, O (matrika oddaných) = marriages , Z (matrika zemřelých) = deaths. If a book is marked “NOZ”, there will be births, marriages, and deaths in the same book. Look in the front of the book for contents and possible page numbers but you might have to go on the hunt for the desired book within a book. You cannot trust that the baptisms you find will be the only baptisms in the book. Besides the chance that there is another group of baptisms for the same town, there might be a separate sub-book for every village served by the parish. If you know only the parish of your ancestor, and there are 10 villages within it, you might have to check through 10 separate groups of baptisms to find your ancestor. In a hurry to find a record? If the file gives you thumbnail images of each page, look for those with blank space as they are likely to be the last page of a village. Otherwise simply jump by 10 images, watching the years (if the book covers 1820 to 1860 and you see 1858, you will know that the end of that village is near. Files downloaded from Zámrsk Archiv (cannot be viewed online) have a few images preceding the records. Select the one marked “ab” to verify content. Should you know the village you need, they are usually named on that page and might be in the order of appearance in the book. I can send you a tutorial for Zámrsk archive work.

Porta fontium (<http://portafontium.cz>) has church records for Western Bohemia (Plzeň archive) which are read online. Sometimes the clergy has recorded the illegitimate births/baptisms in a separate section, perhaps in the back of the book. Mladošovice parish (Třeboň Archive), book 3, image 199 has baptisms with “hidden fathers”! The infants were illegitimate. Suchdol nad Luznici book 4, image 176 has illegitimate births, and image 421 has deaths of illegitimate children.  If you see “Meritixe” with the mother’s name, she is an unwed mother. If you work in a book you will use again, you might make a guide as you go, noting that image 20 starts 1835, image 35 starts 1846, image 40 starts with the village of Kojákovice, etc.

There are usually 2 dates in a baptismal record, one for the birth and one for the baptism. If there is only one date, that is the baptism, and most of us use that date for the birth date, knowing that Catholics baptized their infants as soon as possible. In the text of the record, it might say born the same day or born the day before. Ever notice that the baptismal font at the front of a church implies that infants were Christened there, yet the mother, fresh from childbirth, would not have been ready for a horse cart ride to the church? New mothers weren’t even allowed in the church for about 6 weeks. We assume that the Godparents and the father took the infant to church for its baptism, probably right after the child nursed so they could have it back home before it was hungry again. For some illegitimate infants there is nothing in the Father section. If a father is named there might be text about his admitting parentage. The couple might have been together for years but were denied permission to marry by the noble or the priest.  “P.S.” after an infant’s given name means Patron Saint and will be followed by a saint’s name.  If the father’s surname seems to be “Podruh”, that is the occupation farm laborer, sometimes inserted between the father’s first and last names. There is one date for marriages, and 2 for death records (for death and for burial, typically 2 days after the death). If a child’s age at death is a number of “nedělni”, that means Sundays so approximately that many weeks old. Check the baptism record if you need the exact age. Marriages calling your subject “single”, indicates his/her first marriage and not a widow or widower. An old marriage record in Latin will call the bride and groom “sponsa”.  The bride’s name usually follows the Latin “cum”. Be careful with numbers 2 and 3 which sometimes look alike as do 1 and 7. Handwriting as well as verbiage (which word for farmer, etc.) varies with the priests/clerks and with the region.

Some of my translation customers tell me to skip the priest, midwife, Godparents, and witnesses to save my time and their money. Marriage records might have several lines about banns (announcements of the coming marriage). If it isn’t your favorite grandparents, you could skip the banns. Do not ignore the later-written notations usually low on the left side of the record. Do Amerika 16/10 1854 or 18 16/10 54 tells you that a baptism certificate was obtained on October 16, 1854 for emigration, helpful in seeking the passenger list as they usually left within 6 months of gathering papers. One of my ancestors “got cert.” twice – first in 1848 (excited about the end of serfdom?) but didn’t or couldn’t leave until 1853, after the second notation in November, 1852. Certificates were not given at the time of the event. If you have one for an ancestor you will see the date it was obtained. Certificates were also requested for marrying in another parish and later for genealogists in the days before restrictive privacy laws. In baptism records you might see “Levans”. This Latin term refers to the Godparent who held up the infant (levitated it). You might see L and T for Levans and Testus (witnesses). If there is something illegible in a baptism record, look 2 years earlier and 2 years later for a sibling. Without birth control the babies came every couple years but if a baby died, the next one might come the following year.

Use the books that are indexes to other books and use indexes that are within record books. Indexes are very accurate for inclusion and page number, and usually include the year of the event. When you find an index entry that you want to pursue, note the event, date if there, and page number. Then select the book that has that event (N, O, or Z) for that year and go to the same image number as the page number. Go forward or back to the desired page number, noting that in some matriky both the left and right sides will have numbers. Image 40 might get you page 80. Your ancestor not on the page that the index said? You’re in the wrong sub-book.  Remember that there might be several books within a book/matrika. For b./bapt. only the infant’s name will be indexed. For marriages, only the groom (although brides are indexed in the Krabonoš parish index), and for deaths, the deceased. In South Bohemia your ancestor might be listed under his/her vulgo name. Detail on vulgo names and a list of peasant levels and occupations are on my website. Editor’s Note: A Vulgo surname is a family alias or nickname acquired through the name of the farmstead or cottage of residence.

Indexes are also useful for verifying a surname. There it will be more legible and written in several hands. Can’t tell if it’s Janisch or Panisch? Check the index’s  J and P names. The script can be difficult. Franz can look like Georg and vice versa. Another index trick can be used when you’re not sure of the name or date in a record. Note the year and page number, go to the index for the letter of the subject’s surname, and look for that page number, watching the date, and read the name there. Czech privacy laws control the release of matriky. For baptisms the last record in the book must be 100 years old. For marriages and deaths, 75 years.  The online Třeboň archive lists the unpublished (not digitized) books under the list of published ones.  If the record you want is in a non-published book, you can get it by asking the office that holds it, providing your relationship to the subject, and paying the fee.  For this you might want to hire a local genealogical researcher to go there for you. Should you need matriky that is not online, it might have been microfilmed which you could order from LDS and view at a Family History Center.

One matrika can have records in multiple languages. Determine the language of your found record. Whether Latin, Czech, German, or (shudder) ancient Czech, the letters will be formed by “the old German script”. If you’re going to work in the matriky, learn the script or hire a translator. Guessing will get you mistakes. There are variations, especially with capital letters, so if you’re not sure and the index trick doesn’t help, note all the possibilities until another record clears it up. The oldest records are usually in Latin. If you see filius and filig for son and filia for daughter, Jakubus for Jacob, that’s Latin. If you see sohn for son and tochter for daughter, ehelich for legitimate, Franz for František/Frank, that’s German. If you see manželský and manželská for legitimate and syn for son and dcera for daughter, Jan for Johann/John, that’s Czech.

The columnar headings might be in a language different than the record! The town names might be their German ones and not found on a modern map of the Czech Republic. Look on the title page/s of the matrika or at the list of towns within the parish, try for a website for your Czech town which might reveal its former name. Suchdol was Suchenthal – pretty easy, but how would you know that Rapšach was Rottenschachen, Halámky was Witschkoberg, Tušť was Schwarzbach, and Dvory nad Lužnicí was Beinhöfen. You might need a section of the 1883 map of Bohemia with town names in German, available online. Regarding places…. you might see “jednota” or “jednota u Korandu” which indicates a stand-alone farmstead rather than in the village proper. Some villages have no jednoty and some like Dvory nad Lužnicí (formerly Beinhöfen) have several. The Latin “hujatis” means this town (the town the book is for).

Here is more information about languages. If you study the old German script you will notice that u, n, and e can be exactly alike. If in German, the “u” will have a swoop over it, like the bottom of an o. Then you decide whether e or n makes sense and maybe try it both ways when you go to your German-English dictionary. Google Translate is not reliable but might have the occupation that beginners tend to miss in the matriky. Johan and Ana with a short horizontal line over the “n” means to double it for Johann and Anna. Some German letters have umlauts, 2 dots over a letter just as Czech has diacritical (orthographic) signs. C, R, S, Z and others can have hačeks (little check marks) which change the pronunciation so you will want to note them for your genealogy. The letters St together are easily mistaken for N. In the Czech alphabet “ch” follows “h”. In the indexes sometimes “P” is with B, “V” with W (treat as interchangeable for our work), and other surprises. The tabs of the index book of Dvory nad Lužnicí parish, book 1 are in this order:  A,B,P,C,K,D,T,E,F,V,G,H,I (J),L,M,N,O,Q,R,S,U,W,X.Y,Z !! You must be open-minded and brave to work in the matriky! Because the Czech lands were in the Austrian Empire and because there were many Germans living in parts of Bohemia, you will see Germanized spellings of names even in a Czech record. Sch is German for S and ss is German for the Czech s with a haček. Germans have a letter that looks like a cursive capital B, following vowels which is the equivalent of ss. You might also see cz for c with a haček and other Polish-looking words with some z’s thrown about. My Czech friends have explained that spellings were not precise in the old days in Europe. Much like surnames which were worn like jackets – easy on, easy off and no big deal.

More about names. In South Bohemia and a few other parts of the current Czech Republic, vulgo names were common. Usually acquired from living in a named house, the double surnames can be a problem for genealogists. Read an explanation on my website <http://www.oxfordjctgenealogy.com>  (main page Czech Work, subpage Vulgo Names) where you will learn that your ancestor Jan Sazma might appear in the matriky as Bicek if he lived in a Bicek house or married into Bicek property. Be alert to the possibility of a vulgo name and Germanized names like Schneider for Šnajdr and Morawetz for Moravec. You know that the Czech language has various word endings. You might see Sazmý as Sazmá or Makovský as Makovská. Most Czech surnames get an “ova” ending for a female and for plural as they appear on family gravestones.  German has a surname ending for females, too – “in”.  Stepanek will be Stepanekin or maybe Stepankin.  Most of us use the male version in our genealogy.  In Lutova parish books, the priest/clerk used “zet” (from) in this way:  b. Vavrinec, father – Urban zet Pavla Krejcziho.  Urban (father of the infant Vavrinec) was from the family of Paul Krejci.

Given names appear in the matriky in variations. Marie Anna, Maria Anna, Marianna, Maryana are all the same name and sometimes seen as Anna Marie/a. Josef/Jozef/Joseph/Josephus – the same. Kateřina in Czech is Katherine or Catherine in German and sometimes seen as Kacze. Václav = Wenzl, Wenceslaus, Winslow, or James. Matěj and Matouš = Matthias in German. Vavřinec = Lorenz/Laurence, Lawrence. Alzbeta = Elizabeth. More names in subpage Personal Names under main page Czech Work on my website. Should you see Jan Nep. that is Jan Nepomuk, a popular first and middle name for boys, honoring Jan Nepomuk, a national saint in Bohemia. Other than Jan Nepomuk and Maria Anna, you will see few middle names for Czech babies. German infants got 2 or 3 middle names, usually matching the Godparents’ first names, and just to mess with us, that child often went by one of the middle names. Henry Eichhorn of Wyoming, Iowa was baptized Johann Heinrich Eichhorn in Germany. You will find baptisms of twins, called gemini in Latin, Zwilling in German, and dvojce in Czech, often with the cross symbol indicating death as a child.

So you found your ancestor’s record! Note the parish name, book and page numbers, and image number if digitized, so that you can cite sources and return to the record. You may want to photocopy the record. That is easier with some archives than others. You might have to copy the left and right parts separately. If you have a baptism record you (usually) have the parents’ and grandparents’ names. In some parishes there were several František Burda and Anna Beranek so estimating the infant’s parents’ or grandparents’ birth dates and pursuing that might lead you astray. First find the infant’s parents’ marriage record for better identity, then their birth records, then the grandparents’ marriage record, then the grandparents’ birth records. You will have clues for locating their death records by the text in the birth and marriage records. A cross or plus sign preceding a name indicates that they are deceased. Also the Czech skon and zesnout, and the German verstorbener mean deceased. A more subtle reference is “nach po Stepan Hudrlik”, using the Czech verbiage “after” for orphans and widows. Marie, widow after Karel, or Veronika, daughter after Karel. If you see nach, the man is probably dead. You might see the cross or plus sign at an infant’s name in a baptism record.  That indicates the child’s death which can be verified in the death records and you’ll probably record as d.y. (died young, as a child). The cause of death is often in German though the rest of the record is in Czech which might be due to the “medical examiner” being an official and Austrian officials used German. Diagnoses were not precise. I’ve seen many infants’ and toddlers’ death records blame Infantile Convulsions. Perhaps the word for that in modern dictionaries was used then for any spasms and congestion. The cemetery of burial is named in some death records. Should you go, don’t expect to find a gravestone for your ancestor. The closest you will come to that is if you find a family stone (Rodina Korandova u Hrdlořezy = Family Koranda of Hrdlořezy) and assume your ancestor is somewhere under and over some relatives. There are stones for individuals but they are newer, perhaps since 1900. If no one renews the plot rent after 25 or 30 years, the stone is broken up and the plot re-used. Most cemeteries are at or near the church.

If you are really struggling while looking for ancestral names in matriky, try just looking for your ancestor’s house number to locate a record. Some cottagers and laborers moved a lot but if your ancestors farmed or otherwise stayed in the same house for several years, that is a shortcut that can work. House numbers were mandated in ca. 1790 in the Třeboň area and probably that time all over the Austrian empire. You might notice non-family names at your ancestor’s house/farm. They might have been relatives living with the family but were probably laborers living in a cottage or in another part of the farmstead structure, all using the same address. Surnames were required in ca. 1740 but many used them earlier. Consider making a list of the parish books you have searched. You northerners tend to put away genealogy in the spring and get it out in the fall. Will you remember which books you searched? Find a translator who can review your version of a record if it’s for a direct ancestor. Don’t be afraid of the matriky. If I can do it, you can.

Happy searching!

About the Author:

Judy Nelson’s interests include local history in eastern Iowa. She has written essays and books on the same. Upon discovering the cluster emigrations from Germany and Bohemia to Iowa, she focused on those   European places. Her SMALL TOWNS website <http://www.oxfordjctgenealogy.com>  and monthly newsletters to TAG (Třeboň area genealogists) aid in the research of German and Czech ancestry.

Contact: JudyNelson08@gmail.com



Occupations and peasantry levels found in matriky are on my website. Main page Czech Work, subpage Peasant Levels & Occupations.