Sunday, September 4, 2011

Today's Favorite Resource: Detailed Historic German Maps

A particular factoid that I remember from a high school American history class is that one out of every six Americans has German ancestry. Given the passage of years (ok, decades!) and the immigration of a variety of other nationalities, that proportion has likely changed; I don’t doubt, however, that there are still significant numbers of Americans researching German lines. My own maternal ancestors came from various corners of the German-speaking world, and I continue to work on those portions of my family tree and learn about the many resources available. I have a few favorite collections that are accessible online; two are free, the other is free at many libraries or by subscription otherwise.

One of the first sites I use for my German map research is Kartenmeister helps me pinpoint a location, tells the various name changes of a town, and gives the past and present political divisions that are so important for locating records.

Here’s what it shows for the village of Sarben, near the town of Czarnikau, in what used to be Prussia (today in Poland) at

Using the information in Kartenmeister, I made myself a little cheat-sheet of basic location info for my ancestral villages in the German province of Posen, Prussia, which today is the Polish province of Wielkopolskie:

Towns in Prussia associated with the Grube-Giese family
German name
Polish name today (no diacritics used)
Roman Catholic parish
East 16° 34′ North 52° 54′
East 16° 41′ North 52° 53′
Gembice, Gembitz
East 16° 41′ North 52° 54′
East 16° 39′ North 52° 56′
East 16° 27′ North 53° 02′
Schönlanke, World Explorer membership or Library Edition
The information I collected from Kartenmeister made it much easier to turn to Germany, Topographic Maps, 1860-1965 [original title and publication info: Karte des Deutschen Reiches 1:100 000. Berlin: Reichsamt für Landesaufnahme, 1860-1965], available at in the World Explorer membership, or via Ancestry Library Edition. This collection of highly detailed maps is a treasure. I can see the lay of the land, where there were fields, forests, buildings, businesses such as brickworks, and streams in the area where my family lived.

To access this collection, at or Ancestry Library Edition,  pull down the Search menu and choose “Card Catalog.” Type in the search term “Germany topographic,” and in the box to the right choose sheet range “Ubersichtsblatt” [“Overview”], sheet number “Ubersichtsblatt,” and then click year ‘all.’  (I found that I have to type “Germany topographic” and not “German topographic”: for some reason, Ancestry won’t find it without that final –y.)

This leads to a large map of Germany divided into numbered squares corresponding to the sheet numbers. Each square includes the name of a major town or city; river names and political divisions are also indicated. Using those clues, I can hone in on the area my ancestors lived in, and find the section number(s) that includes their town. Obviously, I first need to know the name of the town my family came from (from family stories and documents) and have a pretty clear idea where it is located (thank you, Kartenmeister).

Once I have a sheet number, I can return to the map collection’s search page. Now I can choose a sheet range instead of “Ubersichtsblatt, ” then a specific sheet within that range, and sometimes I can choose from several maps of different dates.

To illustrate what the search process and results look like, here is the search screen for those villages around Czarnikau.  I determined that I needed sheet 250, and then:

I chose sheet range “200-299” then sheet “250”; a choice of years is listed, which leads to the maps.

Below is a cropped section of sheet 250, showing Czarnikau and villages including Hutka, Gembitz, and Sarben. If I did this right (but apparently I didn't!), you'd be able to click on the map and blow it up to see just how much detail is present. Yeah, I'm still practicing with capturing images and putting them into my blog; it doesn't always come out quite as well as I'd like.

Bavarian Regional Library Online: Bayerische Landesbibliothek Online
In a future post I’ll look at another resource that I use for a different branch of my ancestry from yet another part of the German Empire, but I want to at least mention it here. The Bavarian Regional Library online at has a wealth of resources, including maps at Some parts of the site have an English language option.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wedding Wednesday: 1 September 1956

Weddings have been much on our mind here recently, as one of our daughters was married on our anniversary this spring—as we were married on my in-laws’ anniversary, and my in-laws were married on my mother-in-law’s parents’ anniversary—4 generations sharing a wedding date, 96 years of tradition!

But today I turn to my side of the family: September 1st marks the 55th anniversary of my parents’ wedding, and this is my favorite group photo from the album. Dad and the groomsmen are, sad to say, all deceased, and all are still so missed. Mom and her bridesmaids are all still happy and healthy. And the flower girl still has a smile to charm your heart.

The three groomsmen are two of my dad’s five brothers: best man Vincent (Dad’s identical twin), brother-in-law Bill (husband of Dad’s sister), and brother Joe. Bill was a little bit of a controversial choice for a Catholic wedding, as he and my aunt were divorced from their first spouses and were each other’s second spouse. Devout a Catholic as my dad was, he could recognize when a rule or convention should be ignored. Uncle Bill was always a beloved member of the family, and to this day I love to see him as a part of my parents’ wedding.

The three bridesmaids were two of my mom’s three sisters, Rita and Martha, and (in the middle) her friend Marcia. Marcia had been one of mom’s roommates when she lived and worked in town, had known my dad for some time, and set my parents up on a blind date. Marcia was a convert to Catholicism, and if I remember correctly, my mom was her sponsor. Marcia and Mom are still dear friends; I last saw Marcia and her husband at my sister’s wedding 10 years ago.

The flower girl was my dad’s niece Jan. The youngest (with his twin) of eight children, my dad had a number of nieces and nephews by the time he married.

Mom’s dress was a near-white ice blue, and about 20 years later she recycled her veil to be my youngest sister’s first communion veil. Her string of pearls was my dad’s wedding gift to her, something that her daughters have been sure to mention to prospective husbands when our turn came to marry!  I have always liked that rosaries were a part of the bridesmaids’ nosegays, as prayer was always an integral part of my parents’ marriage and family life.

The wedding was very early in the day, at 9:00 or 9:30 I think. After a reception, the party continued out at the farm (my mother’s parents’ home) until late in the evening.

Looking at this photo of my parents on their wedding day has always given me joy, and now a little bittersweet feeling too. Those strong young men are all gone. My parents were looking with hope into a future that ended up bringing some challenges and sorrow as well as all the joys of raising a family. My parents’ marriage produced six children, twelve grandchildren, and (so far) five great-grandchildren. The “hope” and “joy” parts of their marriage continue in the lives of their descendants.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A new-to-me resource for central European genealogy

A new resource was pointed out to me last night, a godsend for anyone searching central European parish registers. Compiled by Bartholomew Szokolszky and published in 1922, Annyakönyvvezetők szótára [Registrar’s dictionary] is 141 pages of terms used in church registers, each term being given in Hungarian, Slovak, German, and Latin.

There are four chapters, each for a different class of vocabulary. Words are in alphabetical order of the Hungarian term within each chapter. The chapters are: occupations, causes of death, first names, and the most common terms and phrases used in the registers.

The registrar’s dictionary is available online in PDF format, courtesy of Verejná knižnica Jána Bocatia [John Bocatia Public Library] in Košice, Slovakia, at . I immediately put it to work, looking up a cause of death in Hungarian for which I could determine only some of the letters. With the PDF format, I could search on a partial word. After a few tries (“is that a letter o, or an a?”) I found the phrase.

I owe a HUGE “d’akujem pekne” [thank you so much!] to Ladislav Rosival for telling me about this resource.

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Closer Look at George's Baptismal Record

It’s time start looking at the setting in which George was born. Here is the first half of his baptismal record again, entry number 43, born 29 April 1891, baptized 30 April 1891:

"Georgius Micsutka" birth & baptismal record, Makov, Slovakia, 29 April 1891, first half

The parish registers at this particular time were kept in Latin (versus Hungarian or Slovak), hence his name is recorded as “Georgius.” He actually went by the Slovak name “Juro,” which also has the variants Juraj and Jur, but Juro was what he called himself.

George—for consistency, I’ll refer to my grandfather by his American name George—was the second child and second son of Matuš Mičutka and Johana Fiuri-Pavlik.  As with George, their names are recorded here in Latin, Mathaeus (English Matthew) and Joanna (English Johanna, Slovak Johana). George’s older brother Jan (English John) had been born in October 1889.

George’s father Matuš was the son of Juraj Mičutka and Anna Kubačka.[1] Matuš lived a relatively short life, 1862-1905, and he might have been a drotar, a tinker who traveled part of the year. I’ll explore this family in more depth in the future, but give a snapshot here. Matuš was the second of six children, 5 boys and one girl. His older brother Michal (English Michael), born 1860, is the only one whom I have not yet been able to track past early adulthood. The next younger sibling was the only girl in the family, Maria, who married Cyril Bartek, and she was (as far as I can tell) the first of the Mičutka family to immigrate to America. Born in 1867, she died in Connecticut in 1930 and has descendants living here in the U.S. Brother František also died young, living 1869-1904. He was definitely a drotar, according to the stories in his family. He has descendants both in Slovakia (including the current mayor of Makov) and in the U.S. The next two brothers, Peter (1871-1925) and Gašpar (English Casper) (1877-1937) came to the U.S. Peter died in New York City; one of his sons (also a Peter) came to the U.S. and died childless (as far as I can determine); other of Peter Sr.’s children remained in Slovakia where their descendants live today. Gašpar returned to Slovakia; married, he had two children but no grandchildren.

Johanna came from a larger family than Matuš, and she appears to have been the eldest child of her parents Jan Pavlik and Johana Fiuri.[2]  The family name is often recorded as a hyphenated double name, Pavlik-Fiuri.[3] Born in 1870, Johanna was several years younger than Matuš, whom she married in 1889 when she was 18 years old. Johanna’s younger siblings included Vincent Pavlik, who has descendants in America; Mariana; who also has descendants in America, including Soychaks (Sojčak); Stefan; Anna, also with American descendants; Jozef and Adam who died in childhood; Veronika, who married a different Matuš Mičutka (cousin of my great-grandfather; and just to further confuse things, both families named a daughter Stefania); and Agnes, who died a young woman.

The baptismal register in which George is recorded in 1891 appears to have been re-bound at some point, as the columns on the inner edges are now caught in the binding and were not completely captured in the microfilming process. From earlier and later pages in the register, I can see that the columns immediately after the parents’ names denote the gender of the child (M or F was written there), then whether or not the child was born legitimate (Leg or Illeg). The first column on the adjoining page is the family’s residence, where we can see “[Ma]kov 453.”

"Georgius Micsutka" birth & baptismal record, Makov, Slovakia, 29 April 1891, second half
The priests keeping the parish records were not consistent over the decades with how they denoted place of residence. Sometimes they simply wrote the town name. Sometimes they noted the household number, as in this stretch of the baptismal register.[4] Other times they noted the section of the village, or the name of the hamlet, where the family lived. And Makov has many many hamlets! The hamlet name can be useful, because lacking a map showing where each address is, it can be an indication of which families lived near each other.

It is likely that George was born into an extended family household. His grandfather Juraj Mičutka had died several weeks before his (George’s) birth; his grandmother Anna (Kubačka) Mičutka died less than a year later; and both their death records place them in this same residence, Makov 453. This household number may have been associated with the family for at least a couple of decades; Juraj’s parents’ (George’s great-grandparents’) deaths in 1867 and 1875, recorded in another tightly bound section of the parish register, place them at Makov 45[?], where only the very edge of the final digit is visible. It might well be Makov 453. 

George’s godparents are recorded as “Georgius Mojk cum Anna cons[ors],” or, Juraj Mojik and his wife Anna. Anna Mojik was born Anna Fiuri in 1855, the sister of Johanna’s mother, and therefore George’s great-aunt. Traditionally, it was the godparents who took the child to be baptized and named it; I don’t know how long that custom persisted in the area where my grandfather was born, to make assumptions about who named him. As for his name, well, he was born quite near the important spring feast of St. George, which was observed on April 23.[5] Then, too, George’s grandfather had very recently died; perhaps that influenced the choice of name. His older brother Jan had the same name as their maternal grandfather; George had the same name as their paternal grandfather. Coincidence, or not?

The next column in the baptismal record shows only ditto marks; it records the priest who baptized George, and his name is at the top of the column: “Jos. Krizsan, Par[ochus] Loc[i]” or Jozef Križan, pastor.[6]

The final two columns of the register provide space for additional dates and notes; the priest was supposed to return to the baptismal register and record there a person’s marriage and death dates (as well as recording them in the marriage and death registers). Not all priests were so quite scrupulous in their record-keeping, but Krizsan was, at least for this stretch of years. These columns are blank for George because he neither married nor died in Slovakia.

George was born into a village which with its many surrounding hamlets had a population of about 2500.[7] About 120 babies a year were baptized in the parish during this time period.[8] When I first went through these records systematically (versus skipping around, hunting for my own ancestors only) I was struck by how many of the baptismal entries around George’s included dates of death that were sadly close to the dates of baptism. And so I counted two years’ worth of entries, and noted the dates of death. Exactly half the babies had died before their fifth birthdays.

The whole page: baptisms, Makov, April & May 1891; double-clicking on the image should enlarge it

Next Monday: Childhood deaths in a village, or What bullets did George dodge?

[1] Matuš’s father’s name never occurs in its Slovak spelling in the parish registers. There is no way to know what name variant he used in everyday life—Juraj, Jur, Juro—and so I’ve chosen Juraj for my own convenience. Later, I’ll be denoting him as Juraj Jr. to distinguish him from his own father, another “Georgius.”
[2] As with George, I’ll be using the English version of her name, Johanna, as she too immigrated to the U.S.
[3] I’ll go into possible reasons for this in a future post. I will note here that the order of the two names varies, sometimes Pavlik-Fiuri and sometimes Fiuri-Pavlik; also, the spelling of Fiuri has a few variants in the records, such as Fjury, Fjuri, and sometimes with an umlaut over the letter u. I’ve encountered no modern incidences of this name that I can definitely associate with our family, to know how the spelling of the name might have become standardized.
[4] I must note here that we cannot assume that households next to each other were numbered in sequence; even today, that’s not the system in many places in Slovakia. What the system was and is, I’m still not clear on. I’ve read speculation that the houses were numbered in the order in which they were built, but I can point to at least one instance where I know that’s not the case. But I’ve also tracked families in other 19th century Slovak villages where the interactions—marriages, godparent choices, addresses at death—lead me to suspect that a number of families were located near each other and their households numbered somewhat sequentially. Only a map of the time, showing the household numbers, would answer questions of location vs address, and I haven’t seen one of those for Makov yet.  The Pavlik-Fiuri family was associated with the household number 458, so perhaps they lived near the Mičutka family—or perhaps not.
[5] I will sometimes see in Slovak baptismal registers a whole group of boys (or girls) given the same name within a few days, and almost always it turns out that the name is that of the current saint’s day. In these cases I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t the priest who’s naming them, rather than the godparents. My grandfather is the only Georgius in this section of the baptismal register.
[6] Pastor in Makov from 1881 to 1907. For the list of the parish pastors, see: Makov: 100. výročie samostatnosti obce, 275. výročie prvej písomnej zmienkz o obci [100th anniversary of the independence of the village, 275th anniversary of the first written reference to the village], 1995, p. 32.
[7] Makov’s  population in 1900 was 2583. See: Vlastivedný Slovník Obcí na Slovensku [Encyclopedia of towns in Slovakia] (Bratislava: VEDA, 1977), 2:212.
[8] There were 120 baptisms in 1890, 124 in 1891, and 118 in 1892. There was only one church in the village; the very small Jewish population had its own register in common with the Jewish residents of the neighboring village Vysoka nad Kyscou. Therefore I use the Makov Catholic parish registers as a record of the community at large.  For the baptisms, see: Sv. Peter a Pavol [Saints Peter and Paul] Roman Catholic Church (Makov, Slovakia), parish registers, inventory no. 610, volume II, 1836-1908; FHL microfilm 2,003291, item 3.

Monday, February 21, 2011

What’s in a name, part 2

All the Michutkas in the United States today are descendants of George and Valeria (Grečnar) Mičutka. The pronunciation of our name varies among us: some soften the ch to an sh sound, others do not; some pronounce the t, others leap right over it on their way to k; the i in the first syllable varies.[1]  The spelling, however, is uniform among us.  But my grandfather George and the other Mičutka relatives who came to the U.S. did not immediately or consistently anglicize the spelling of their surname.

All the immigrant Mičutkas that I’ve identified settled in Manhattan, New York City, when they first arrived in this country. It is clear that they not only lived near each other in many cases, but also were part of a larger Slovak immigrant community. Members of our family appear several times, with the Slovak spelling of the name, in the registers of St. John Nepomucene Church, which was then and is still a Slovak ethnic parish in Manhattan. Among these are the marriage records of George Mičutka and Valeria Grečnar in 1913, the marriage record of George’s brother John to Mary Perdoch in 1910, and the baptismal record of John’s infant daughter Caroline Mičutka in 1911.

The civil records show some experimentation with new spellings. Micutka (without a diacritic), Mitchutka, and Michutka all appear in records for George Michutka: his 1916 Canadian border crossing uses his Slovak name minus the diacritic, Juro Micutka; his 1917 draft record is signed George Mitchutka; his 1942 Declaration of Intention gives his name as “now George Michutka” but references earlier names Juro Micutka and George Mitchutka.  His brother John’s surname history likewise shows a mix of Micutka, Mitchutka, and Michutka; he appears to have settled on the last spelling, until he changed his name to Mitchell sometime between 1931 and 1937.

Other Mičutka men apparently left fewer records. Being for the most part a generation older than George and John, they were not included in the World War I draft and its records.[2] They also did not marry and raise their families here, and they likely did not apply for Social Security cards.[3] George’s relative (his father’s cousin) Vincent is only found with the spelling Micutka, but that is only on one record, his death certificate (for which he obviously did not supply the info himself). George’s uncle Peter (his father’s brother) began but did not complete the naturalization process, and his name is recorded there as both Michutka and Micsutka (did he have an old baptismal record with him, that had the Hungarian spelling?), but he signed as Michutka. It’s interesting that his death record spells his name Micutka; the informant is not indicated, but whoever it was either knew the family well or had access to a document such as a baptismal record, because Peter’s mother’s maiden name is recorded correctly.  Peter’s son, also named Peter, lived into the late 1970s and the several records I’ve found indicate that he consistently spelled his name Micutka and never added the letter h as others did.

The Mičutka women who came to this country appear not to have fully anglicized their maiden names; the very few records I have for them show that at most, they dropped the diacritic, but they did not add an h to make spelling reflect pronunciation. Their families appear to know their surnames as Micutka.[4] The one exception that I’ve found is the death record of George’s sister, wherein her maiden name is spelled Michutka.[5]  There are probably more records that can be obtained, such as naturalization papers or alien registration forms, but it’s not an area where I’ve invested much research time.

Well, this is rather dry writing, a recitation of who spelled our name how, and when. But it’s a part of how we got to where we are today.  Those of us who still carry the name sign it a hundred times a year, and type it even more. Those who have it in their family tree but don’t hear it or write it very often have sometimes wondered about the variations and who is actually related. To the best of my knowledge, there are no persons in the U.S. today with the names Micutka, Micsutka, or Mitchutka. And anyone with the name Michutka is family.

Next week: a closer look at George’s baptismal record

[1] While the American pronunciation accents the second syllable, the Slovak relatives I’ve met put a slight stress on the first syllable instead. It sounds a little strange to my ears!
[2] The WW I draft registrations included men born 1872-1900.
[3] Applications for Social Security numbers began in 1936.  The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) that is accessible online does not list many deaths before the 1960s, so the absence of a name from the online SSDI does not necessarily mean that a person did not have a Social Security number with its attendant application.
[4] These include George’s aunt Maria (Micutka) Bartek, and George’s cousin Orsula (Micutka) Medvedik.
[5] The informant on the death record is Sophie’s daughter Veronica. Sophie’s daughter Josie told me that George had made all the arrangements for Sophie’s funeral and burial, so it’s possible that he was behind the anglicized spelling on the document. I have not seen a copy of Sophie’s marriage record, to know how she herself spelled her maiden name.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What's in a name

A research goal that I frequently see from folks starting to chase their ancestry back to Europe is “I want to know the original (or, correct) spelling of my last name.”  In many cases, there simply isn’t a cut & dried original spelling.  Spelling (whether names or any other words) used to be more fluid than today; people didn’t carry around a driver’s license with their name spelled the same way every time it was used for ID; and officials of various nationalities were in charge recording names on documents at different times. Imagine if every time you filled out a form, the spelling of your name depended on whether the current U.S. president was a Democrat or a Republican.  That’s kind of what it’s like to chase down a name in the Slovak parish and census records. I’ve seen records in Latin, Hungarian, German, something written in Cyrillic, something that looked like Slovak or Czech but isn’t quite either one, and occasionally, oh yes, Slovak!

I guess I was lucky that this whole question of the spelling of my surname had a known answer all along. I was always told by my father that the Slovak spelling of Michutka was “Mičutka,” and that the little mark over the letter c made it sound like the English ch sound.  That apparently was the way George Michutka’s family spelled the name before they left Europe, and that’s the way it is spelled today by our Slovak relatives.

(A brief aside: Slovak also has a ch letter combination, which expresses a totally different sound than the English ch. If you spell our name the English way in Slovakia, people will pronounce the name sort of like “Mee-hoot-kaa”!)

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t other spellings of our name in the Slovak parish records! Nor does it mean that George and family came to the U.S. and immediately and consistently spelled the name “Michutka.”

If we look at George’s baptismal record again, we see the name spelled “Micsutka”[1]:

"Georgius Micsutka" birth & baptismal record, Makov, Slovakia, 29 April 1891
 And if we look at another family record, this one the 1834 death record of ancestress Eva Kaličak wife of Martin Mičutka, we see both her maiden name and her married surname spelled with ts to represent the English ch / Slovak č sound, “Kalitsjak” and “Mitsutka”[2]:

Eva Kalitsjak wife of Martin Mitsutka, died 5 June [1834], age 57, resident of Makov
As near as I’ve been able to tell, the ts spelling (Mitsutka) tended to be the Latin spelling of the name; cs (Micsutka) was (and still is) the Hungarian representation of the English ch sound. But… the Hungarian spelling shows up not only when the records were kept in Hungarian, but sometimes also when the records were kept in Latin.

I don’t recall seeing any other variations in the spelling of our family name in the parish records of Makov.

BUT just to make things more interesting: about 8 or 9 miles south of Makov (as the crow flies) is the town Štiavnik. The name Mišutka[3] (modern Slovak spelling) occurs there, spelled Missutka in the old parish registers.[4]  Phonetically, the sh and ch (English spelling) sounds are very close, articulated in the same spot in the mouth.  When I found this, I wondered if š and č historically ever overlapped (that is, substitute for each other) in Slovak, and whether Mišutka and Mičutka might therefore be variants of the same name. I consulted Professor Martin Votruba of the Slovak Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh. The answer was, linguistically, no, the sounds don’t overlap in Slovak. But he pointed out that an alternate explanation might be a person moving to another village and his name being recorded slightly differently (heard wrong, remembered wrong by the recorder, etc), and becoming set in that form.[5] So far, I have found no apparent links in the parish records between the Štiavnik Mišutkas and the Makov Mičutkas, so if this possibility has some historical basis, the split in the name evidently occurred before the time of any extant records. So perhaps the two names reflect one original family a few hundred years ago, or perhaps the names arose independently and the similarity is mere coincidence.

And what does Mičutka mean? This is a question that regularly pops up in our family, and is one that I myself have asked of Slovaks and experts in the Slovak language. And the answer, that all-too-frequent answer, is always “I don’t know.” The only thing that can be said about the name is that the –ka ending is an old masculine diminutive suffix or other derivational ending.[6]  My own personal semi-educated guess is that the name originally had meaning, but either the meaning has been lost, or the word underwent some change (came from another language, had a mispronunciation that became fixed, etc.) such that its original form and meaning can no longer be reliably determined. Today, to me, Mičutka and Michutka mean simply “all those people to whom I am related on my dad’s side of the family.”

Next Monday: What’s in a name, part 2

[1] Sv. Peter a Pavol [Saints Peter and Paul] Roman Catholic Church (Makov, Slovakia), parish registers, inventory no. 610, volume II, 1836-1908, Georgius Micsutka baptism (1891, entry #43); FHL microfilm 2,003291, item 3.
[2]  Sv. Peter a Pavol [Saints Peter and Paul] Roman Catholic Church (Makov, Slovakia), parish registers, inventory no. 609, volume I, 1796-1868, Eva Kalitsjak Mitsutka death (1834, entry 5 June); FHL microfilm 2,003291, item 2.  In spite of the dates given on the cover of this volume of the register and on the microfilm title page, the death records in this volume go only to 1847, and are continued in the next volume and on the next reel of microfilm.
[3] Slovak š is equivalent in sound to English sh.
[4] I haven’t searched these records as thoroughly as the Makov records, to see if there are different Hungarian vs Latin spellings.
[5] Martin Votruba, University of Pittsburgh, to Julie Michutka, e-mail, 24 September 2008, “Spelling representations.”
[6] Martin Votruba, University of Pittsburgh, to Julie Michutka, e-mail, 27 December 2008, “Name Variations.”
For a discussion of Slovak diminutives and what they do (and do not) mean, see the right sidebar at

Sunday, February 6, 2011

New England resources: Searching for Shammas

One of my great challenges in becoming more expert in New England research is learning about places, history, laws, customs… well, you know, 400 years of everything! I’m still searching for a niche, something under-researched or a time/place/topic that just really grabs me, so I can focus a little more.  But in the meantime, I try (and try) to read broadly.

And so I went hunting for two books and their authors today, and happily found more than I expected. I needed to note the exact titles of Women and the Law of Property in Early America by Marylynn Salmon, and Inheritance in America from Colonial Times to the Present by Carole Shammas, Michel Dahlin, and Marylynn Salmon.  For some reason, I also had it in the back of my mind that there was another book by Carole Shammas that had caught my attention some time back; it was time to google.

I came across Shammas’ profile at the University of Southern California ( with a link to her curriculum vitae; I clicked on it, and found my hoped-for list of her publications, including a very long list of articles which she has authored.

Sometimes the internet makes me feel like the proverbial kid in a candy store.  I skimmed and happily noted several interesting articles. “The Space Problem in Early United States Cities” (William and Mary Quarterly 3rd ser. V. 57 no. 3 [July 2000], 505-542) caught my eye; I’ve long been interested in how people use space, as individuals, as families, and as communities. Here comes the candy store part: I didn’t have to move an inch to get this article. Being a resident of Massachusetts gives me access to the electronic resources of the wonderful Boston Public Library at  I clicked on the tab for “electronic resources,” clicked “J” under “Search databases alphabetically by title,” clicked “JSTOR,” and then did an advanced search with the author’s name and a few words from the title.  Up came a pdf of the whole article, which I sent to print. Voila, subway reading for the next few trips! Procrastination material for those evenings when I should be studying German! And (undoubtedly) new insight into lives of the past.

And all with a few taps of my fingers on a keyboard.

I’ve used the amazing collection of journals at JSTOR a number of times; it has greatly aided my efforts to expand my knowledge and resources, and of course not just for New England.  I applaud the many libraries in the U.S. that make this collection available. Now if I could just find more time to read the many enticing articles I find there!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Three books of interest

The folks at the Slovak-American International Cultural Foundation Inc. are offering three Slovak-themed books for $30 plus $10 shipping and handling.  The books are:
  • Slovak Tales for Young and Old, in Slovak and English; by Pavol Dobsinsky, modern Slovak version by Peter Strelinger,  translated by Lucy Bednar, illustrated by Martin Benka.
  • Images Gone with Time: Photographic Reflections of Slovak Folk Life; photographs by Igor Grossman, text (in Slovak and English) by Martin Slivka
  • Night of the Barbarians: Memoirs of Communist Persecution of the Slovak Cardinal; by Jan Chryzostom Cardinal Korec, S. J. 
I own copies of the first two, and keep meaning to get the third. Rather than describing or reviewing all three books, I'll just mention one.  Images Gone with Time is a book of 124 striking black and white photos, taken 1950-1965. Each photo has a caption which includes year and place ("Harvest near Suja, Rajec Valley, 1957").  Photos are organized by theme, such as Memory, Work, and Heritage. There are some comments by the photographer at the back of the book, and at the beginning of each theme.  A beautiful collection of photos!

All three books are worth owning or reading, for anyone interested in Slovakia.

See for more details about each book as well as to access the sale price.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A small addendum

I want to make a quick clarification on something I mentioned in the previous blog, “April 1891.” While the impetus to get a gravestone for my grandfather was mine, and I made the arrangements for it, the decisions were not made without input from family.  Several relatives, including George’s last surviving child, were consulted. Some of these relatives also contributed to the cost of the gravestone.  While no one has commented to me about it, I do apologize if I seemed to imply that I had acted without consideration for the opinions and wishes of George’s many other descendants.

I will take this opportunity to mention that my grandmother, George’s wife Valeria, is buried nearby (but not adjacent) to him, and she has a headstone. Other family members buried in the cemetery do not have headstones; some of their grave sites are known, but others are not and their location within the cemetery can no longer be determined.  Of course, I’ll be writing more about that in a future blog!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Michutka Monday: April 1891

Growing up, I was always aware of the important dates of my parents’ and grandparents’ lives, and those of my aunts and uncles. My family marked birthdays, anniversaries, and death dates, noting them together with the passing holidays and holy days. My mother would announce someone’s upcoming special day, a flowery card would be bought, and a trip made to the post office to buy a stamp and mail it. So I always knew that my grandpa George Michutka’s birthday was April 21. 

Except maybe it wasn’t, quite.

Genealogical research is full of surprises—exciting surprises, puzzling surprises, painful surprises, and surprising surprises. When at long last the parish records of Slovakia were microfilmed and available for research, when at long last I could reel through images of browned pages that made me feel that the village must have passed every day under a sepia-toned sky, I sought first my grandfather’s baptismal record to confirm his father’s name and set the foundation for working backwards to earlier generations. I scrolled to baptismal records, to 1891, to April and there he was with the right parents, baptized April 30 and born on the …. 29th???[1]

"Georgius Micsutka" birth & baptismal record, Makov, Slovakia, 29 April 1891

How could we have had the date wrong? We knew the 21st from George himself. Which date was right?

Over the years, I collected a few documents in which George explicitly stated his date of birth, rather than just his age. My puzzlement only increased. I found the following:
  • On June 5, 1917, George Mitchutka [sic] filled out a draft registration card; his date of birth: April 24, 1892.[2]
  • On January 2, 1923, George Michutka filled out a Declaration of Intention in Clinton County, Michigan; date of birth: April 24, 1892.[3]
  • Around September 1928, George sent for a certified copy of his baptismal record; of course, it gave his date of birth as April 29, 1891, since it was information taken from the same parish register as was later microfilmed.[4]
  • A second Declaration of Intention (apparently he never completed the naturalization process in the 1920s) was signed and filed on November 4, 1942; date of birth: April 29, 1891;[5] but…
  • on his Petition for Naturalization (date of this documents is uncertain, perhaps February 1947) his date of birth is recorded as April 21, 1891.[6]
  • George applied for a Social Security account in May of perhaps 1945 (the year is difficult to read); again, the date recorded is April 21, 1891.[7]

It’s tricky to claim a pattern with so few records, but it looks like George first claimed April 24, 1892 as his birth date, until he got the certified extract of his baptismal record.[8] After receiving that baptismal certificate, he used the date recorded there, April 29, 1891. And apparently sometime between very late 1942 and very early 1947, George switched to April 21 as his birthday on legal documents. 

Don’t even bother asking me “why?”

I suppose there are more avenues to research. At what age was a young man required to register for the military in Germany, where George was living in 1907, and in the Slovak lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where his family resided?  Could he—or his mother, or his uncle—have fudged his year of birth to avoid the army? When did George first get a driver’s license, and what date of birth (did the document even ask for that, back then?) did he use for that?  Was George’s date of birth recorded incorrectly in that baptismal register to start with, and his mother Johanna made a late-life confession: “son, you were really born on the 21st”?

In what other documents might I find with his date of birth recorded? and really, would they ever answer the question of why this date or that date?

Standards of research in genealogy would say that the baptismal record is the most likely to be accurate: it was recorded at or very near the time of the event; the informant (parent? godparent?) likely had first-hand knowledge of the event (the birth) although the recorder (priest?) did not; it was created as an official record; and there was little, if any, reason to falsify the information. The one thing that makes me a tad nervous is that the entries on his page of the baptismal register are written with no real variation in the script, as if they had been written all at one sitting from another piece (or pieces) of paper (or worse, from memory).  Two entries earlier on the page have errors crossed out. Could there be a mistake in George’s date of birth?

How much does this really matter, whether he was born the 21st, 24th, or 29th of April 1891 (or 1892)?  I’m sure it made no significant difference in my grandfather’s life.  It has made me a little nuts, because I go back and forth on which date to put for his birth in my genealogy database, and which to record under “alt. birth.”  It became a little more of an issue a few years back, when I decided that it was past time for George to have a headstone on his grave: which date to use?  Which date matters?

I decided to have the headstone date read simply “1891-1967.”  April 29 is the documented date with the most weight; April 21 is associated with memories of my grandpa. We can each mentally add (or not) the date that matters to us. The important thing, in the end, is to note his birth as we pass through April.

George Michutka gravestone, St. Paul's Cemetery, section G, lot 119C #7, Owosso, Michigan

Next Monday: What's in a name

[1]Sv. Peter a Pavol [Saints Peter and Paul] Roman Catholic Church (Makov, Slovakia), parish registers, volume II, 1836-1908, Georgius Micsutka baptism (1891, entry #43); FHL microfilm 2,003291, item 3.
[2]“World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” digital images, ( : accessed 19 November 2005), George Mitchutka, no. 397, Draft Board [illegible], New York, New York; citing World War I Selective Service Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, NARA microfilm publication M1509; no specific roll cited.
[3]Clinton County, Michigan, Circuit Court, file no. 195, George Michutka, 2 January 1923, declaration of intention.  I don’t have a note of whether any of the old county naturalization papers I’m citing here are held still by the circuit court or another body.  I had obtained copies in 1999 from the Clinton and Shiawassee County Clerks’ offices; more recently, it appears that the documents or copies of them are at the Michigan State Archives (see
[4] Juro Mičutka baptismal certificate (30 April 1891 baptism, Makov [church of St. Peter and Paul]); issued 20 September 1928, Nitra diocese, Czechoslovakia; original privately held. I have an old photocopy of this certificate; some elements such as the official stamps are not clear enough on my copy to offer additional information.
[5] Shiawassee County, Michigan, Circuit Court, file no. 1432, George Mitchutka [sic],  4 November 1942, declaration of intention.   
[6] Clinton County, Michigan, Circuit Court, file no. 442, George Michutka, apparently 10 February 1947, petition for naturalization.
[7]George Michutka, SS no. 368-28-0040, 19 May [1945?], application for Social Security Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland.
[8] Note that civil records in what is present-day Slovakia did not begin until 1895, and until that year, church registers were the official records. People born before 1895 who later needed proof of age or date of birth would request a certified copy of their baptismal record. For more information, see Bill Tarkulich’s excellent website on Slovak Genealogy Research, specifically

Sunday, January 23, 2011

George Michutka: A Snapshot

It would be good to begin with an overview of my grandfather’s life. He had a relatively long life, simple, quiet. Everything I mention here will be elaborated upon in later posts, and with proper (I hope) source citations.

George was born Juro Mičutka in April of 1891 in Makov, present-day Slovakia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was the second child of Matuš Mičutka and his wife Johanna Fiuri-Pavlik. There are several indications that the Mičutkas were a family of drotars, or wireworkers in English. There are some indications that Johanna’s family had a shop of some sort, and maybe were financially a little bit better off than many others.

George’s father died in 1905, possibly of tuberculosis, when George was in his early teens.  Sometime in his boyhood, George was sent to live with an “uncle” in Germany; the exact relationship has not yet been identified. And it was Germany that George listed as his place of residence when he boarded a ship for America in 1907. He joined his widowed mother and a number of other Mičutka and Pavlik relatives in New York City.

George met Valeria Grečnar in New York City. Although she had lived in Makov for a number of years, they apparently had not met each other there. They married in Manhattan, at St. John Nepomucene parish, on February 2, 1913. Sometime not long after, they moved to London, Ontario, Canada, probably with George’s mother Johanna; George and Valeria’s first child John was born there in London on New Year’s Day 1914. 

In 1916 the family moved back to Manhattan, where daughter Jennie was born later that same year and daughter Josie in 1919. Sometime in 1920 the extended family moved to mid-Michigan, possibly together, possibly at slightly different times: George and Valeria and their 3 small children; Johanna and the man she would later marry, Andy Luzenia; and George’s cousin Orsula (Mičutka) Medvedik and her husband and small children. Andy was only a few years older than George, and was his best friend.

George and Valeria settled in the area where Clinton, Gratiot, and Shiawassee counties meet. Although they moved many times over the years, they always stayed in the area around Ovid, Michigan. Five more children, all sons, were born, ending with twins in 1929. For the most part the family supported themselves, barely, with farming and occasional other work—not so different from many other people in the first part of the 20th century.

On June 3, 1947, George proudly became an American citizen.

At some point, likely in the mid-1940s, Valeria was diagnosed with colon cancer, and a doctor suggested that they move to town so that a home with electricity and running water would make life easier for her. By then, the three eldest children were out and on their own, married and with small children. The next three sons were serving in the Army during World War II. The twins were in their late teens, one in his senior year of high school and the other probably living with an older sibling. Valeria succumbed to the cancer in October 1947.

The late 1940s also brought the deaths of George’s mother Johanna and of his step-father and best friend Andy Luzenia.

George gave up the house—whose rent was probably paid by one of his sons—not long after Valeria died, and hired himself out as a live-in farm hand. I don’t know how long that lasted, or what George did until my childhood. He was hit by a car about autumn 1957, recuperated at his son Vincent’s house for a while, and then went back to Ovid. I remember my grandfather living in a sort of boarding house for older men, in Ovid, in the early- and mid-1960s. He began to have health issues, including a (mild?) stroke. The boarding house where he lived closed, and George ended up in the nursing home on the edge of town where he lived for the last couple years or so of this life.

In mid-April 1967 a call came that George had had a stroke and was not expected to live. He died a day or two later, on April 13, a couple weeks shy of his 76th birthday. He was survived by his 8 children, 24 grandchildren (there would be 26 total: one last grandchild would be born the following year, and one grandchild had died in infancy), and 2 great-grandchildren.

This is very much a bare-bones recital of a few events and the years they occurred, but it will do for a skeleton to flesh out in later blog posts. I wish I could also write an entry here about what George was like: what made him laugh, what ticked him off, how he expressed affection and frustration, what he thought about his own life, how he and Valeria met and what attracted them to each other, which foods he loved…. But I don’t know much of those things, and I don’t know that there’s anyone alive who does—but aunts and older cousins are welcome to prove me wrong!

Next Monday's blog: April 1891