In this video, MARA alumna Heather Kahn discusses her work as project coordinator on the International Directory of National Archives. Heather assisted Dr. Pat Franks while enrolled in the Master of Archives and Records Administration program at San Jose State University. She graduated in 2017 and now works for the Nevada State Library Archives and Records.
Back in April I wrote about my experience attempting
to track down my family lineage in present day Czechia. Through communication with the National
Archives of the Czech Republic and the regional archives in Trebon, I was able
to establish my family was rooted in that region. The regional archives took on the task of
determining just how far down those roots went.
I now have a genealogical profile for the male line of
the Verhota (Vrhota) family all the way back to 1604, when Jakob Cinatl took
over the family farm from his father Petr.
I am not part of a lost line of Bohemian royals, I come from a long line
of laborers and farmers.
It has been fascinating to read through the profile, bringing up questions about my family’s progress through history. For instance, most of the records linking the generations of my family were located in the Roman Catholic Church of Trebon’s records. When did my family stop being Catholic? In the profile, under Religion, the legitimacy of a person’s birth was recorded (parents were married at the time of birth). The man who started this hunt, John Verhota (aka Jan Vrchota, my great, great, great grandfather) is the only person considered legitimate in the eyes of the church. What was my family up to, wink wink?
Statni Oblastni Archiv v Treboni
The Regional Archives of Trebon provided so many interesting and valuable details for each generation of my family: date of birth, baptism, marriage and death; who their godparents were; their occupation; place of burial and sometimes a person’s cause of death. For example, Anna Vrchotova, my 5th great grandmother, died of breathlessness—what the heck is breathlessness?
Place in History
This process has also widened my thoughts on
history. My ancestors lived during some
interesting times. My ancestors were
subjects in the kingdom of Bohemia.
Jakob Cinatl was coming of age towards the end of the Thirty Year’s War.
Eventually this religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants resulted
in the Battle of the White Mountain, ending the Bohemian reign and ushering in
the Habsburg dynasty, absorbing Bohemia into the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The Bohemian people fought for centuries against their
new rulers. When John Verhota was a
teenager, a push to create a new Austria-Hungary-Bohemia monarchy failed and by
the end of World War I, Bohemia faded into history becoming part of the newly
established First Czechoslovak Republic.
This whole experience has taught me so much about my
personal and our global history. As you
can imagine, I have now added a trip to Trebon to my bucket list. I plan to visit St. Elizabeth’s Church
(Kostel Svate Alzbeta) to see where my family was buried; the church is still
there west of the town center. Also, I
am slowly learning the Czech language. I
encourage anyone interested in the family genealogy to use the national
archives system. The results may surprise you.
Recently 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.
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.
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 http://www.unesco.org/languages-atlas/. 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.
David Fricker is an energetic individual, with a great sense of humor, who is very enthusiastic about archives. He is the current President of the ICA, but my colleague, Kate Eminhizer, and I first met him as the Director-General of the National Archives of Australia (NAA) at the FAN Meeting preceding the ALA-ICA 2017 Conference. Director-General David Fricker’s understanding of the fundamentals of data, information, knowledge, records and archiving is breath-taking and his vision of the archival community working together to improve access to records (especially digitally) across boundaries is one of the reasons that he supports FAN. Although Director-General Fricker was very busy (he was also a Key Note Speaker for the Conference) he willingly sat down with us after the Emerging Professionals Luncheon the first day of the ALA-ICA Conference, November 27, 2017.
Director-General Fricker earned his BA in Computing Studies, and began his career in the Australian Customs Services, holding several important positions before leaving to found his own consultancy business. In 2002, he joined the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) as CIO and was appointed to the position of Deputy Director-General in 2007. Given this background in computer science, I was curious how he ended up in archives. He explained that it was a natural outgrowth of working with computers and data. Data leads to information. Information leads to knowledge. Knowledge comes from organizing and analyzing information and data.
The processes of selecting, preserving and making accessible records that are vital to the archival process ensure that accurate and reliable information is preserved – not only for the society, but for the individual. The way archives are viewed needs to change. The immediacy of access to digital records is a game-changer for the archival community. There needs to be a conscious effort to move beyond preservation and limited access to reaching out to the community and becoming advocates on their behalf, thus showing the value of archives.
Director-General Fricker’s strengths in digital records management led to his appointment as Director-General of the NAA in 2012. In 2014, he was elected to the position of President of the ICA. At NAA, Director-General Fricker has worked to further electronic access to records. One of the most recent projects is a database of World War I service records (coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the end of the war). The database is designed to enable the public to upload information about the subjects of the records; and contribute their own material about the men and women that served during the first World War. This type of “crowd sourcing” provides the opportunity for the public to establish a personal relationship with the records, and in so doing keeps the memory of those individuals in the records alive and relevant to contemporary society. David pointed out that no matter which country you are in, the archive will always have something relating to any one individual, even if indirectly; and this differentiates Archives from other memory institutions. The more the public understands the personal connection they have to the records, the higher the demand will be to make those records available.
My final question to Director-General David Fricker was to ask for advice for those beginning their career in archives. He said that their ambition should include the democratization of information. Not only should archival records be authoritative and dependable, but they should also be available to anyone anywhere.