I woke up this morning in Frenštát, one of the ancestral home towns of my Czech ancestors. It is the last day of our stay in this part of the Czech Republic, as today we will travel by train to Prague. Of course I feel overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings, but I will only write a few right now.
I don’t know why exactly, but I feel a strong connection to my Czech ancestry. This trip has greatly improved my understanding of my family’s history, but it has been even more valuable to me as a source of inspiration. There is a lot of work for me to do. If the goal is to find all of my dead ancestors, and also to find my living relatives, then I will be busy for the next million years!
To je škoda that I do not yet speak Czech with any level of expertise. Before we came here, I kept thinking, “But I need to plan more. I need to learn more Czech. I need to do xyz.” Several times I had the distinct impression that it would better if I did not do those things: if I kept our plans fluid and flexible, if I did not stress about our schedule when we came, or finding every one of my ancestral homes on a map so I could find what exists there today on this trip (um…I definitely did not do this.) Tied to these impressions was the reassurance that everything would be alright, and I did not need to stress about learning Czech before I came. This was probably a specifically meaningful impression for me, because I tend to stress out a lot and can imagine becoming extremely anxious and perfectionist about these goals. While I certainly regret and lament the fact that my spoken Czech is so limited, the truth is that for the purposes of this trip, it was better for me to not stress about language acquisition.
However, yesterday when we were in the Skanzen museum of Valašskeho History, there was a specific moment that cemented my resolve to scale the mountain of the Czech language. The museum was extremely interesting, and of course I will need to take some time to write more about it, but it was basically a historical museum for my ancestors, with their real homes, and lots of information about how they lived. There were also a few actors in places who demonstrated certain tasks, such as the saw mill, or the iron forge, etc. In the upstairs of one old house was a middle aged woman at a spinning wheel, demonstrating the art of spinning wool into yarn.
When I saw her, it became extremely easy to visualize what it would be like to see my own ancestors in person. And then I had the thought: “If I were to meet my ancestors, then of course they would prefer to communicate in Czech than English.”
This blog is not really the place for metaphysical speculations. I don’t know what life is like after we die. I have faith that it is not over, and that I can be with my family forever.
Aside from this faith, there is also the interesting relationship that I have in the present with the ancestors who I research. I don’t exactly understand why it is this way, but when I research my ancestors, I grow to know and understand them, and love them more. Maybe the root of the desire to seek out genealogy has to do with answering the question, “who am I?” and then by extension, “who can I become?” But that question is too simplistic and self-centered, because the act of doing genealogy research is also about building relationships. I suppose one of the hugest realizations I have had on this trip is that mastering the Czech language will be a crucial part of my efforts to build relationships with my loved ones of the past.
Shame of my lack of knowledge is not a useful feeling, at least to dwell on. Besides, never in my life was there a good opportunity for learning Czech. At BYU, there were only classes for returned missionaries at the 301+ level; I definitely researched that, and would have taken Czech before Arabic or French, certainly. The Czech language classes in Texas were important for me, but did not logistically work, either for my learning style or for my schedule as a mom with young children.
I need to set aside my feelings of shame at my previous lack of knowledge. I am determined to not become discouraged by the enormous challenge presented before me. It is important to me to continue to research my ancestors and build relationships to them.
I also perceive that there is a niche that I can fill in the genealogical community as an English speaking specialist in Czech and Texas Czech research. I love helping others gain a meaningful connection to their past. This trip has made that dream seem less like a distant haze, and more like a clear, concrete possibility in the not so distant future. I have a personal goal to become BCG certified before I resume taking clients again. It is one thing for me to say that I am an expert, and another for a certifying body to assure me that yes, it is true. This goal is definitely a challenge. But I have resolved to do it, and so I will.