The Genealogical Rabbit Hole and IDNA

by Heather Kohles Hahn

Jumping In…

EPSON scanner imageRecently I acquired documents and photographs documenting my family’s history.  Included in the bins and piles was a passport belonging to the person I believe is my great great grandfather, Johann “John” Verhota.  The passport was issued by the Austro-Hungarian Empire circa 1879.  My family always identified as being of German ancestry, sometimes narrowing the scope to Bavarian, but as it turns out, we are of Bohemian ancestry.  Information gleaned from the passport has Johann’s place of origin as Brulic, in the district of Wittengau, which is modern day Třeboň in the Czech Republic

With this new information and using the International Directory of National Archives as a resource, I started down the rabbit hole to uncover more information about Johann.  The directory provided the perfect starting point, the website of the National Archives of the Czech Republic.  From there Google Translate allowed me to navigate as best I could through the website, identifying finding aids, digital repositories and other important information about the Archives.  When I reached a dead end, I went back to the Directory, where I found the email contact for the Archives.  I reached out, asking for any assistance they might be able to give me.

Further I go…

The National Archives was not able to assist me in my search; however they did provide me with the contact information for the Třeboň Regional Archives and that is where I hit what felt like the mother lode.  I received an email back from Markéta Hrdličková, the Head of the Fund and Collections Management Department.  Included in the email was an offer to make a genealogy for me of my family in Bohemia and she also provided me with the correct family name, Vrchota not Verhota.  Perhaps Verhota was one of those Americanized Ellis Island names given or chosen by Johann.  Ms. Hrdličková asked for a copy of the passport to review, which I excitedly provided.

Where She Stops…

This rabbit hole would have been much longer and more circuitous if I had not used the International Directory of National Archives.  The Directory gave me information in a familiar language and direct points of contact to begin my journey.  Hours that would have been spent finding the Archives’ website and trying to decipher its contents and contacts were drastically reduced, making the research process enjoyable and fruitful. As of this writing, I am waiting for a response from Ms. Hrdličková regarding my genealogical inquiry.  I will keep you posted on my progress.

2019 The International Year of Indigenous Languages

Images Courtesy of UNESCO

Each year UNESCO dedicates an entire year to an initiative of special significance.  For example in 2017 the initiative for the year was International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies.  This year UNESCO has chosen to spotlight indigenous languages and bring awareness to the dwindling numbers of speakers of the thousands of indigenous languages spoken all over the world.

When we hear the word endangered, it conjures images of animals or plants that are on the brink of extinction, we don’t think about languages.  However, UNESCO reports that, of the 7 thousand languages spoken in the world, 2,680 are indigenous languages in danger of becoming extinct.  According to Jason Oxenham “A dead language is a language that no longer has any native speakers, although it may still be studied by a few or used in certain contexts” (Oxenham 2016).  This leads to a disappearance of indigenous cultures.

Nations like Australia, Ecuador, Estonia, France, Gambia, Saudi Arabia, and Bolivia are lending their support for this initiative, along with other professional organizations in the areas of linguistics and language education.

This year long initiative officially began on January 28, 2019, with a ceremony held at UNESCO’s world headquarters in Paris, France.  Leaders and indigenous peoples gathered from all over the world to discuss the challenges to the continuation of these native languages.

To find out more about the Year of Indigenous Languages please visit

In addition, I encourage you to research indigenous languages in your area.  UNESCO has created a wonderful tool, the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger  When searching the region where I live, I discovered that one of our Native American languages, Paiute, is in danger of becoming extinct.  According to UNESCO, there are only 400 speakers of the Northern Paiute language left in the world.


Oxenham, J. (2016, April 28) Why you should learn a dead language.  Retrieved from:

USC Shoah Foundation Recognizes Researchers

Inna Gogina and Svetlana Ushakova – Image Courtesy of the Shoah Foundation

The USC Shoah Foundation’s Information Technology and Services is showing two of our researchers, Inna Gogina and Svetlana Ushakova, some love.  Inna and Svetlana were two key contributors to the IDNA project.  The Shoah Foundation, where the two work, recognized their efforts in a recent blog post.

Inna and Svetlana researched and authored 16 archive profiles for the IDNA project.  Their research concentrated on Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries.

Check out the full blog post on the Shoah Foundation’s website.


UNESCO Archives Celebrate World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

Recently, the UNSECO Archives celebrated World Day for Audiovisual Heritage.  This particular Audiovisual Heritage Day was marked with the launch of a two-year project, in cooperation with the Japanese government and Picturae BV, to digitize audiovisual materials within the UNSECO Archives’ collection that had begun to show their age.  Through this initiative, people will be able to access these resources online.  The hope is that, “The collections also document more than UNESCO itself. UNESCO’s records provide evidence of a history of international cooperation; of individual countries and newly independent states participating in and developing activities relating to education, communication, culture and sciences. With the ability to readily search and discover records within digital catalogues, users will be able to increase and extend the use of UNESCO’s invaluable documentary heritage” (UNSECO November, 2018).

Currently accessible online are 45 hours of 16mm film from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s; 30 hours of video from the 1980’s; and 8,000 hours of audio recordings from the 1940’s to 1980’s.  These digitized collections join 560,000 governmental body records and 5,000 photographic images documenting UNSECO’s efforts starting in the 1940’s.

World Day of Audiovisual Heritage is just one of many UNESCO celebration days and preservation-related initiatives.  For more information on other UNESCO Heritage celebrations, visit, and for more information about the World Day of Audiovisual Heritage project, visit

Source: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2018) Digitizing our shared UNESCO history: Collections. Retrieved from:

ICA Yaounde 2018 “Archives : Governance, Memory and Heritage”

This November, Dr. Franks will be traveling to Yaounde, Cameroon, to speak at the 2018 International Council on Archives Conference.  This year’s theme is Archives: Governance, Memory and Heritage. This will be the first ICA Conference to be held in an Africa country.  As such, during this conference, the challenges that face African nations in regards to the preservation of the national heritage will be front and center.  

Dr. Franks will be discussing a Snapshot in Time: The National Archives of 54 African Nations:

Not all 54 African nations have official national archives, although all have officials and citizens who understand the value of their cultural heritage and are dedicated to the pursuit of gathering, preserving, and providing access to archival materials that can be used to tell the story of their countries.  This presentation will provide a glimpse into the status of national archives in the 54 countries based on data gathered between September 2016 and December 2017.

Organizers hope that this conference will bring together archivists and information professionals from all 54 countries on the African continent.  ICA believes this will provide the best environment for nations to discuss their archival objectives as a means of furthering Africa’s development.

To learn more about the conference, click on the link provided.

Archives/ICA In the News – Disaster Recovery and Heritage Preservation Conference

Heather Kohles
Author Heather Kohles

Over the last week key players in archival preservation have come together in Philipsburg on the island of Sint Maarten, at the Disaster Recovery and Heritage Preservation Conference sponsored by the Caribbean Branch of the International Council on Archives (CARBICA).  This conference is the first time regional policy makers, cultural heritage stewards and first responders have come together since September 2017, when hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Caribbean region.

CARBICA Logo (Courtesy of

The theme of this four-day conference is “Archives at Risk.” On the final day of the conference a memorandum of agreement will be signed to create the Caribbean Heritage Protection Network and subsequent working groups within the Network.  This working will attempt to address ICA’s goals in the region “for the protection and enhancement of the memory of the world and to improve communication while respecting cultural diversity” (The Daily Herald).

What Lead to This Conference

On August 30, 2017, Hurricane Irma began off the coast of Africa.  By September 5, it had reached the Caribbean region and had escalated to a Category 5 hurricane, then headed to the U.S. mainland.  Irma finally dissipated on September 13 over western Tennessee.



Doppler Imaging of Hurricane Irma on September 8, 2017 (Courtesy of

Then on September 18, less than a week after Irma finally dissipated, Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean region.  While in the region Maria fluctuated between a Category 3 and Category 5 hurricane.

Doppler Imaging of Hurricane Maria (Courtesy of



Hurricanes Irma and Maria brought into sharp focus and renewed the drive of the international archival community to address the need for improved response whenever a natural or manmade event threatens culturally significant holdings.

Stories from the Aftermath

Very few Caribbean island archives went undamaged in the wake of Irma and Maria.   Damage ranged from blown out windows, water damage and mold to the almost complete destruction of the building where archives were being housed.  Archivists and other staff took steps to secure archival materials, from moving cabinets away from walls and windows to securing artifacts in governmental server rooms (these rooms tend to not have windows and have more robust environmental control systems).

The one story that stood out to me was a story from the Island of Sint Maarten.  The caretaker for the island’s archives, Alfonso Blijden, removed the entire of contents of the Archives to his home.  The Archives were housed in the Old Government Building, which was already run down and in need of repair.  During Hurricane Irma, the section of the Old Government Building belonging to the Archives was destroyed.

Now What?

As the one year anniversary of Hurricane Irma and Maria looms, the region continues to recover.  This conference signifies a shift from a concentration on recovery to looking to the future to prevent this from happening again.  I look forward to seeing the results of the collaboration between CARBICA, Caribbean Heritage Protection Network, and regional archivists.  The lessons learned and procedures put into place in the Caribbean could be a driving force for improved archival emergency response in the region and the world.


Caribbean Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives (2018). Disaster recovery & heritage preservation: A working conference to be held at St. Maarten 30th July – 3rd August 2018.  (Retrieved from:

Martens-Monier, Valérie (2018). Mission British Virgin Islands – Damage assessment cultural heritage on paper after hurricane Irma and Maria.

Martens-Monier, Valérie (2018). Mission Dominica – Damage assessment cultural heritage on paper after hurricane Maria

Martens-Monier, Valérie (2018). Mission St Maarten – Damage assessment cultural heritage on paper

The Daily Herald (July 30, 2018). Four-day conference on disaster recovery, heritage preservation.  Retrieved from:

World Vision (2018). 2017 Hurricane Irma: Facts, FAQs, and how to help. Retrieved from:

World Vision (2018). 2017 Hurricane Maria: Facts, FAQs, and how to help.  Retrieved from: