My research into my Slovak forebears, which accounts for 50% of my total ancestry, has been an ever-evolving and rather slow process.
- My grandmother and her older sister supplied most of my information in interviews and letters during the mid to late 1970s. My great-aunt Bette Dolinski 1907-1995 gave me a crumbling copy of her father's birth certificate. My grandmother gave me her parents wedding certificate. I was off and running with what I knew.
- In 1979 I wrote a letter to the Czechoslovak Embassy to see what records were in Europe to help me. At the time, I was a naive 16 year-old and they were still a Soviet bloc nation. They wrote me back and said it would cost $100 to start and, naturally, I didn't have such an astronomical sum back then. And so for the next twelve years, this matter went on the back burner. I assumed that I just wouldn't know much about my father's side of the family.
- In 1983 I lived in Munich, in what was then West Germany, studying for an entire year at university. During that year, I bought a visa to Czechoslovakia and visited Prague. It was truly beautiful and the only medieval Central European city to be original still to this day. I never got to Slovakia. I passed through it on a train to Budapest.
- In 1989 the Velvet Revolution happened, which freed Czechoslovakia. In 1992, the Slovak Republic was declared a separate state. I then wrote several letters to the new Slovak Embassy and got forms to write to the Archives in Bratislava. I wrote several letters and paid some money (I can't remember how much), but certainly still in the realm of the $100-$200, which I by then I could truly afford. My grandmother translated the responses until her death in 1994. I got a few death certificates and marriages certificates. It was a very slow process. The Archives would literally take six months or more to respond. But I trudged on.
- By 1996 I had finished my master's degree and was working full time, so I thought I deserved a gift. I hired a researcher based in Vienna, Felix Gundacker, to do the research at the Bratislava Archives for me. I highly recommend using him. We corresponded and did most of our work together between 1997 and 1998. In 2004, it was Felix who was the genealogist who discovered that John Kerry's Czech forebears were actually Jewish. This is where the bulk of the research was done in baptisms and marriages since they were indexed.
- About this time in the late 1990s, the email listservs and preliminary Internet foundations were beginning and I made contact with two cousins doing Slovak genealogy and we swapped information too.
- By 2003 (or so) I was in California and was shuttling off to Salt Lake City at least once a year to do research. At that time I discovered (and boy, was it hidden--and it remains hidden to this day in the FHL catalog), the 1869 Hungarian Census. Slowly, but surely, I got through the census and picked up all my ancestors alive at that time. It was arduous and someday I need to post about the Family History Library's VAULT.
- That mostly brings us up to date. As I've mentioned three of the four villages from which my ancestors came have now been filmed by the FHL people and are available. Now I get to do the next part, which is find the death records and reconcile any inconsistencies between the records. Unlike U.S. research, I'm still unaware of certain basic things like what records are there. Surely, I understand that peasant farmers didn't have wills, etc., but how about military records? I'd love to know if my ancestors were forced into the Austrian army and therefore faced Napoleon. It's still unclear to me how that all worked and I must get a clearer understanding about the whole thing.