CGSI Quarterly Meeting - April 2006

Czech Genealogical Sources from the 17th Century

by Wayne Sisel & Gene Aksamit

Historical Background
The Thirty Years War was fought from 1618-1648. Prior to the war Bohemia was primarily dominated by protestant noblemen and overlords with serfs to perform the work. The Czech army was defeated by the Habsburg’s imperial armies at the Battle of the White Mountain in November 1620. Although the war ended for the Czechs in 1620, the Thirty Years War was not completed until the Treaty of Westphalia was signed on 24 October 1648. However, from 1620 to 1648 various armies including those of the Swedes, Danes and Germans periodically overran Bohemia, creating immense devastation. Many Protestants fled the country and the Czech Kingdom lost about 25% of its population as a result of the war. But in the end, the Habsburgs had defeated the Protestant rebels and as victors set out to change things.

First, the Habsburg monarchy set out to re-Catholicize the protestant sections of Bohemia. As part of this process, the “Register of Subjects According to their Religion” (Soupis poddanych podle viry) was compiled in 1651. Second, because of the devastation in the country, it was very important for the Habsburg monarchy to know who remained and what property existed for their tax base. To determine this the Berni rula tax cadaster was completed in 1654.

Starting in the early 1990s, the Czech National Archives began to publish the “1651 Register of Subjects According to their Religion”. That effort has now been completed and books for the following regions have been published (and can be found in the CGSI Library):

  • Loketsko
  • Boleslavsko
  • Berounsko
  • Rakovnicko
  • Zatecko
  • Bechynsko
  • Kourimsko
  • Caslavsko
  • Hradecko-Bydzovsko
  • Chrudimsko
  • Plzeosko-Klatovsko

Genealogical Research Significance of 1651 Register of Subjects According to their Religion
This census is the most comprehensive data base of genealogical infomation for this time period. It precedes the start of keeping vital (parish) records. This census is an alternative and/or supplement to land records in finding families in this time period. However, connecting families can be an issue because of the time gap between the earliest parish records and the 1651 census. It is also estimated that up to 50% of persons were missed during the 1651 census (Matusikova).

1654 Berni rula “Tax Cadaster”

This tax cadaster was formulated during the reign of Ferinand III (Habsburg) as of 1654. This included census of land parcels, farmsteads, & serfs for purposes of taxation. Land, homes, furnishings, crops, livestock, occupations, were recorded by region, sovereignty, and locality. This tax cadaster included only Bohemia.

Information in the 1654 Berni rula
Included in the Berni rula are; the name of taxpayer, how many fields each taxpayer owned, how much each farmer sowed in autumn and spring, and how many deserted fields and houses were in each town or village after the Thirty Years War. Also included were; names of newly settled farmers (between 1651-1653), burned down villages, burnt out farmers, occupations of taxpayers (if other than farmers), and a listing of livestock for each taxpayer. The social hierarchy of Bohemian farmers was listed (sedlak, chalupnik, or zahradnik). The quality of land (related to productivity): rich, medium, or poor was also recorded as were shepherds and Jews in some regions.

CGSI Berni rula Collection
Included in the collection is a two volume Index (General Register to all volumes): (compiled & published for genealogy use) and a user guide to the index (in English), The collection also includes microfiche for the regions of Plzensko, Caslovsko, Hradecko, Kourimsko, and Podbrdsko, and books for the regions of Prachensko, Podbrdsko, Caslovsko, Boleslav, Kourimsko, Plzensko, and the city of Prague.

The Berni rula Volumes include;

  • Prachensko
  • Podbrdsko
  • Caslovsko
  • Boleslav
  • Kourimsko
  • Plzensko
  • the city of Prague

Genealogical Significance of Berni rula
The Berni rula includes a data base of 183,319 surnames from 17th century of Bohemia. Statistics that were reported give us an indication of physical and economic conditions after the Thirty Years War.

Cadastral Map Historical Background
The Cadastral Maps were the result of an 1817 order by the Austrian Emperor for land tax reform. This was the first systematic surveying and mapping of towns and villages in the regions of the present Czech Republic. These “Indication sketches” (1824-1835) served as the basis for making written records of land plots (legal descriptions), and for valuing yields of properties as a basis for taxation. The Bohemian originals are housed in the Archives in Prague. The Moravian originals are in the Archives in Brno.

CGSI Cadastral Map Project
Prior to the 2005 Back to the Homeland conference, attendees had the opportunity to obtain Cadastral Maps for their ancestors villages. The cadastral map project includes asking the attendees to make copies of their cadastral maps & donate them to the CGSI library map collection. CGSI will maintain the maps and a list of cadastral maps, locations, & donors for use by all members.

Key to map features
The plot numbers are shown in red. The owner’s name and house number are shown in black, stone buildings are shown in red, brick buildings are shown in pink, and wooden houses are shown in yellow. Water features are shown in blue, forests are shown in dark gray, gardens are shown in dark green, meadows are shown in green, fields are shown in brown, and ways (roads) are shown in dark brown.

Genealogical Significance of Cadastral Maps
Owner surnames often indicated on land plots along with owner’s house number. The size and number of plots the farmer owned are an indication of socio-economic status. We are also given an insight as to the topography and physical features of village and culture/use of land (field, meadow, forest, garden) and names of field plots, structures, roads, etc.

Sources of Information for this Presentation
Matusikova, Lenka and Sheilagh Ogilve: Bohemia after the Thirty Years War: Historical Sources Deposited in the National Archives in Prague, in March 2006 issue of Nase Rodina.

Pazderova, Alena: The 1651 “Register of Subjects According to Their Religion” (soupis poddanych podle viry), in March 2006 issue of Nase Rodina.

Coupek, Dr. Milan: Old Cadastral Maps, in Winter 1992 issue of Nase Rodina.

Sheppard, Karleen Chott: Translation of Introduction to A General Register (Index) to all volumes of Berni Rula, compiled by Vaclav Cervany & Jarmila Cervena, published by Libri, Praha, 2003.

Bradley, J.F.N.: Czechoslovakia. Published by Edinburgh University Press in 1971.