Many important records of your Czech and Slovak ancestors are housed in public archives, so it is helpful to understand how they are organized. It is possible to obtain these important records through help from professional researchers, living relatives, or by attempting to do it yourself. Although in the past it was the only way to access the important historical records of our ancestors, many archives no longer provide research assistance directly from the archivists. Every archive operates under slightly different rules, and the online navigation for each archival site varies.
The Czech Archives
There are multiple layers of accredited archives in the Czech Republic:
- The National Archives of the Czech Republic (Národní archiv)
- Regional Archives
- Seven regional archives, all with organizational branches in each district
- Specialized Archives
- Thirty specialized archives, including the Military History Archives in Prague (Vojenský ústřední archiv). Visit Military Central Archive for their English language website home page.
- Archives of Territorial Self-governing Units
- Five of these archives. This refers to areas, such as municipalities, with a constitutionally guaranteed degree of autonomy.
- Archives of Security Agencies
- Seven of these archives
- Private archives
- Eleven private archives
Private businesses and individuals also may have their own unaccredited archives. Accredited archives are protected by and operate under state laws. The Czech Privacy Law (Register of Births, Marriages, and Deaths Act of 2000) specifies that the most recent birth records in a register must be at least 100 years old before the register is moved from the local registry to the regional archive to be posted online. The cutoff is 75 years for marriage records and 30 years for death registers.
The archives that are the most interesting for Czech research are those with territorial jurisdiction, meaning the National Archives of the Czech Republic, the Regional Archives, and the branches of the Regional Archives.
The most basic and genealogically valuable records - the matriky (parish registers) - are housed in the Regional Archives and are almost all available in digital format online. After the matriky are digitized they are often not accessible in person.
Archives in Bohemia
There are five State Regional Archives (Státní oblastní archiv or SOAs) in the historic territory of Bohemia. These are:
- SOA Plzeň for Western Bohemia [link to archive | more info]
- SOA Litoměřice for Northern Bohemia [link to archive | more info]
- SOA Praha for Central Bohemia [link to archive | more info]
- SOA Třeboň for Southern Bohemia [link to archive | more info]
- SOA Zámrsk for Eastern Bohemia [link to archive | more info]
Each of these archives also has branches in each district of their region, which are Státní okresní archiv or SOkAs. Generally, SOkA records are not accessible online, but inventories might be available in the digital catalogs of their respective SOA. These records include some land records, guild records, and census records.
Prague City Archives
The Prague City Archives [link to archive | more info] holds records for Prague and its immediate environs (Note: SOA Praha does not hold records for Prague itself). The Prague of today was made up of towns and villages not connected to the city proper, but over time they became assimilated. Although not an SOA or Regional Archive, it can be easier to think of the Prague City Archives as comparable to this level of archive because it houses the matriky (parish registers) for Prague. Other major city archives have also started to put material online, most notably the population censuses in Archiv města Brna (Brno City Archives) and Archiv města Ostravy (Ostrava City Archives).
Archives in Moravia
There are two counterparts to the Bohemian SOAs in Moravia. These are:
- The Moravian Land Archives in Brno (Moravský zemský archiv v Brněor MZA Brno) [link to archive | more info] (parish registers available here)
- The Regional Archives in Opava (Zemský archiv v Opavě or ZA Opava) [link to archive | more info]
- (Note: Sometimes you will see this translated as "The Land Archives in Opava" or "The State Regional/Land Archives in Opava").
These two archives act both as regional archives, housing the same kinds of materials as the Bohemian SOAs, but in addition, they also house the important archival materials of the historic regions of Moravia and Silesia, respectively. Ever since their founding (1839 for MZA Brno, 1849 for ZA Opava) they have safeguarded the oldest and most valuable historical documents from these regions, including the desky zemské which date back to 1349 and 1369, respectively, and which are available online here (Note: as of June 2020, this site requires Microsoft Silverlight to run.)
The later desky zemské of Bohemia are housed in the National Archives of the Czech Republic and are available online. Aside from a single book from which had been illegally taken home, all the Bohemian deský zemské books prior to 1541 perished in a terrible fire. These books are incredibly difficult to read because they are in Old Czech and contain many abbreviations and curtailed words. They are mainly genealogically valuable for researching ancestors who possessed land, since they are records of inheritance proceedings.
During Nazi Occupation, all the Jewish matriky were taken to Prague where they were used to systematically hunt down and destroy Jews. At the end of the war, there was nobody to whom to return the Jewish matriky, so they stayed in the NA and are all digitized and available online. Be aware that there are some Jewish records mixed with Christian parish registers, especially pre-1835.
Visiting an Archive
In order to see the archives for yourself in person most archives in the Czech Republic require notice several days in advance in order to pull records from their shelves, so it is important to keep that in mind when planning your trip. Most archives require you to present your passport, and all have slightly different procedures and rules regarding photography, what you can and cannot bring to the reading room, who can accompany you, and how many records you can pull at a time.
Some of the restrictions on access to records (or photography of records) are not based on the archives, but on the particular fonds or collection. A fonds (Note: This word looks like a plural in English, but it is singular. In Czech it is fond, often incorrectly translated as “fund” on the archival sites.) is a group of documents that share the same origin. Almost all estate records are stored in fonds for that particular estate, for example Fond: Velkostatek Hukvaldy is the fonds of the Hukvaldy Estate. A collection (sbírka) is a group of documents that share a common characteristic, like the parish registers. For example Sbírka matrik Severomoravského kraje is the collection of parish registers from the North Moravian Region.
The Slovak Archives
The Slovak National Archives (Slovenský národný archív) were created in 1928 and are located in Bratislava, Slovakia.
The State Archives in Slovakia were formed in the early 1950s and are the repositories for most pre-1900 parish books and are therefore the archives of primary importance to Slovak genealogical researchers. In addition to early parish books, the State Archives house an enormous amount of important material including early cadastral records, maps, architectural plans, historical documents, court records, administrative papers, etc. The archives maintain extensive catalogs of their holdings but, so far, these catalogs are not available online. The State Archives of Slovakia are open to the public.
In Slovakia there are eight State Archives:
- Banská Bystrica (Štátny archív v Banskej Bystrici)
- Bratislava (Štátny archív v Bratislave)
- Žiline (Štátny archív v Žiline)
- Košice (Štátny archív v Košiciach)
- Trnava (Štátny archív v Trnave)
- Nitra (Štátny archív v Nitre)
- Prešov (Štátny archív v Prešove)
- Trenčín (Štátny archív v Trenčíne)
The individual websites of each State Archive include information on their hours, visiting regulations, and each archive's territorial scope.
Many records available in the State Archives of Slovakia have been digitized and in some cases indexed by FamilySearch. Read more about using FamilySearch and view the Slovak records available on FamilySearch.
Five Things to Remember in Archive Research
1. Genealogical research in the form of a running account is based on information about one ancestor. From this information it is possible to trace the parents of the searched person and, under certain circumstances, his or her brothers and sisters (if they were born in the same locality). In order to begin genealogical research about descendants of a known ancestor it is, however, important to know the date and place of his or her marriage or the date and place of birth of the children.
Owing to the fact that the research always depends on the accuracy of information specified in the application, in certain exceptional cases it is possible that the report will be very limited or completely unsuccessful. For this reason, please indicate everything which could help to identify the person being researched.
2. Genealogical research in the form of individual vital statistics records, is a step-by-step procedure. It is, from the applicant’s point of view, more time consuming.
3. Please pay attention to the identification of the exact location of the place of birth, marriage or death. If this information is incorrect, it will be impossible to receive a positive report. Certain localities (small villages, settlements, etc.) can have exactly the same or very similar names. These names could have changed during the last centuries. The misspelling of geographic expressions could happen in the U.S.A. as well.
For these reasons it is highly recommended to try to find the name of the county, parish, post office, bigger town or other identifiable locality (therefore, identification within the large area of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Slovakia, Austria-Hungary is not sufficient).
4. Because vital statistics records were administered during the last centuries by several churches, the same localities could have several registers. Although the registers of the Roman Catholic Church were dominant, in certain localities other churches were more or less important, too. In light of this fact, the religion of the person being searched is very important to mention in the application.
5. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the capital of the Czech lands, Prague, was divided into many subdivisions, each having its own parishes. If your research concerns Prague, it is necessary to know the name of the locality where the person being searched was born, married, or died. The most important localities were Staré Město (Old Town), Nové Město (New Town), Vyšehrad, Vinohrady, or Josefov (for Jewish ancestry).