My trip to Prague in October #austria-czech

E. Randol Schoenberg
 

As those of you who are members of the Czech Jewish Genealogy group on
Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/353398325120768/) and the
Jewish Genealogy Portal
(https://www.facebook.com/groups/JewishGenealogyPortal/) already know, I
had a terrifically productive trip to Prague and Vienna last month,
staying for a week with my cousin Michaela Navratilova, followed by a
few days in Vienna.

I have been asked to write a summary, but I am finding it very
difficult because there was so much that I discovered. I did write a
short summary, which has been published in the Jewish Journal,
https://jewishjournal.com/culture/lifestyle/first_person/306729/how-i-found-my-jewish-ancestors-in-prague/,
and may also appear on the JewishGen blog. I placed a version of it also on my
own blog, with hyperlinks that may make it more useful for those interested in
the details. See http://schoenblog.com/?p=3D1859

I can add a few more nuts and bolts, for those who may want to retrace
my steps and take advantage of some of the resources I found.

I started off on Monday October 21 with Julius Mueller,
jmuller@..., the expert Czech genealogist who has also been our
speaker many times at the IAJGS conference. In the morning, we visited
two archives that are located back to back of each other in Prague: The
Prague City Archives and Czech National Archives (Narodni Archiv) in the
4th district. Then in the afternoon we went to the Czech National
Archives in the 6th district. You can find both addresses of the
National Archives at http://old.nacr.cz/english/office_hours.aspx. For
the Prague City Archives (Archiv hlavniho mesta Prahy) see
http://www.ahmp.cz/eng/index.html?mid=3D11&wstyle=3D0&page=3D%27%27.

The City Archives in Prague 4 had several items of interest to me,
including: individual files >from the early 1700s related to contracts
for my ancestors Mannes and Benet Nachod (these I discovered simply by
searching on their website), books of testaments (Liber testamentorum
judeorum -- these have been microfilmed), records books of Jewish
matters (liber judeorum albus -- some of these are already
scanned and on the website), records of marriage permissions >from the
1730s (I photographed these), tables of births and deaths >from
1788-1846. My contacts there were the archivists Zora Damova,
Zora.Damova@..., Jan Schwaller, Jan.Schwaller@..., and Jan
Cihak, badatelna@.... The City Archives also has 200 hundred (!)
boxes of Jewish records that are not accessible because they have not
been catalogued. We need to work on helping them make those available.

The National Archives in Prague 4 is mainly concerned with post-1850
records. When I visited I asked if they had anything concerning my
gg-grandfather Josef Nachod and filled out a short form with his
details. Later that same day I received an email >from archivist Jakub
Tlsuty, Jakub.Tlusty@..., stating that they had found some
documents. I returned the next day and they gave me a large police
file, which I certainly was not expecting. I described some of
the contents in my blog post (I won't ruin it for you).
Apparently many people had large police files in those days and it was
not uncommon. So that's definitely something worth pursuing if
you had family in Prague in the 19th century.

I had visited the National Archives in Prague 6 many years ago, and it
was nice to return there and to see Lenka Matusikova,
Lenka.Matusikova@..., who also has been our featured speaker at
several IAJGS conferences. By accident, I also happened to meet there
Prof. Ivana Ebelova, who has been responsible for publishing the Czech
Jewish census books >from 1793 (and Prague 1792 and 1794). She told me
that she is working on making some of the other, older census materials
available (such as Prague 1729). I hope they will be on their website
next year. http://pvh.ff.cuni.cz/soupisy.htm

Julius had asked them to pull out two boxes of genealogical files,
obviously prepared by our pre-cursors. Lots of them seemed to be
related to the famous Edler von Popper estate foundation, that
benefitted the descendants of his sisters. The files contained
genealogical goldmines for those families, certified copies of old birth
certificates, for example, and lots of charts. Julius also brought out
the old 1729 census book, an enormous tome, the 1794 Prague census, and
the original Familianten books. Lenka found for me an 1849 death report
for my gg-grandfather. There was also a stack of handwritten death
records with information similar to what you'd find in the old
record books. We also came across another 1734 Prague marriage
permission report, of the same type that I saw earlier at the City
Archives, so the collection must have been split up at some point, or
else there were duplicate reports sent to different offices. The
funniest part of the report is that they had a requirement that the
groom be 18 and the bride 15 years old. Instead of saying the actual
ages, they just reported that each was over the minimum ages, 18 and 15.
There were also marriage permission reports for other regions in
Bohemia, so not just Prague. One of the Familianten books for my family
mentioned a foundation that was set up on the death of my
ggg-grandfather Gabriel Nachod in 1849. Amazingly, Lenka's
colleague Dr. Helena Klimova, helena.klimova@..., was able to find
the file for me so I could scan it. Most of the records I saw were in
German, but some were written in Hebrew, which was too difficult for me
to read. Some had both German and Hebrew.

I brought a portable table scanner with me that I could use with my
laptop to help scan lots of pages. This was good for regular sized
pages, but often the pages were too large and I used my iPhone, which
also worked very well. There was no problems with scanning, much easier
than in the old days when you had to order copies >from the archive.

On Tuesday, October 22 and Thursday October 24 I visited the Archives of
the Jewish Museum of Prague. Archivist Tomas Krakora,
tomas.krakora@..., showed me lots of interesting items
related to my particular family research. I was able to see the old
Berichtenbuch with records of various activities of the Jewish Community
of Prague. I scanned the indexes of the first two books. Tomas also
was able to find for me the Fassion pages that record my family's
re-entry to Prague in 1748 after the expulsion, as well as a 1760
marriage. The earlier forms >from right after the expulsion have been
transcribed and published in a book, but I had not been aware that the
forms were used for several decades more. They could be a great
resource if we can get access to them. Tomas also advised me to go back
to the National Archives in Prague 6 to look for the marriage
permission. I did that the next day. I waded through seven boxes >from
1759-1760 over two hours before returning to the first box, where I then
quickly found the note I was looking for. The first time through I
didn't understand the records well enough to find it. But after
two hours of practice, it was much easier to navigate.

The Jewish Museum archives has a good index of its holdings, but
unfortunately it is not available online. I had used an old chart >from
Judaica Bohemaie to ask for some materials related to towns outside of
Prague that were of interest. Tomas found for me an old 1727 report to
Prinz Liechtenstein for Ungarisch Ostroh that lists all of the Jews in
the town at that time. Also for Ostroh the museum has a book listing
larger donations of funds to the Jewish community, and I found a few
pages relevant to my family. Similarly in Prossnitz there was a
foundation created for the benefit of the community by my ancestors and
the museum had the records available for me to see and copy.

I did take some time to go through the various Jewish Museum exhibits,
the Altneuschul and the old cemetery. I always see something new. This
time I noticed portraits of officers of the Prague chewra kadisha in
1772 that I want to follow up on. On Thursday Daniel Polakovic went
with me to the old cemetery and we looked for specific graves that I had
asked to find. He found them quickly and without any problem. Daniel
has been working for years on a comprehensive index of the old cemetery
and said that he hopes to have it available to us in about two more
years. It was exhilarating to be able to stand next to a grave >from
1585 for one of my ancestors and to find a cluster of family graves >from
the 18th century. Using a side flash, Daniel took photos that he sent
me so I could also read the inscriptions. Later that day I stopped by
and said hello to Alexandr Putik, the editor of Judaica Bohemiae and
author of many important scholarly articles on Czech Jewry. He always
helps steer me to the right sources, and later was able to send me some
important records in one of the Liber judeorum albus that I didn't
find on my own. Daniel Polakovic also followed up to tell me that my
family had also donated torah curtains that were part of the museum
collection. I had always hoped that I would find one of those, but
never really believed it was possible. And now it is.

On Thursday evening, we had a big genealogy party at a restaurant near
the Jewish Museum archives. About thirty friends showed up. Most of us
had never met in person before. Although I had been really tired in the
evenings all week, that night I had no problems staying up late and
talking about our favorite topic -- genealogy!

On Friday, Fred Chvatal, f7fred@..., who also has spoken several
times at our IAJGS conference, picked me up and drove me west to the
small village of Hresihlavy. Apparently the cemetery there is known for
its red sandstone tombstones, and they were indeed remarkable.
Unfortunately the cemetery was a bit too recent, so we drove to the
nearby cemetery at Teresov that has some older stones and tried to find
some related to my Zeimer family. We found at least one of them. Fred
took me back to Prague and I visited my cousin Petr Wilheim, who
volunteers at the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague. We walked around and
for the first time I saw some of the enormous graves along the back
wall. So that was also a new experience.

I finished up my stay in Prague with a trip about one hour south with my
cousin Michaela to her weekend house in a small village near the Moldau.
Her daughter Karolina went with me to a nearby Jewish cemetery in
Celina, where we again found some red stones, and lots of mushrooms
growing nearby. The cemetery, as is so often the case in this area, was
up on a hillside, so not prime land, and perhaps that has helped it
survive so long nearly untouched. We were able to find it using a
simple map app on our phones, which were remarkably accurate.

I went to Vienna for the last couple of days and did some research at
the Wiener Stadt und Landesarchiv in the Gasometer. Funny, I ran into
my friend Daniel Horowitz of MyHeritage there, who was also doing some
research before heading home to Israel. In the Vienna archive I was
able to find some duplicate records on microfilm, and when one old
microfilm wasn't there, they brought out the original book for
me to scan. The big discovery was a cardfile made by Leon Ruzicka for
many of the old Viennese Jewish families as well as for the 1782 Prague
Jewish tax lists in the Hofkammerarchiv. I scanned all of the Prague
ones the next day.

Ok, I hope that is at least a good enough summary to satisfy people for
a while. I am still sifting through all of the things I scanned. It
was a great trip and I hope it won't be too long before I can
return for more.

Oh, and if you follow me on Facebook, you know the food was good too!

Randy Schoenberg
Los Angeles, CA

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