Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What a Heritage Guide Can Do for You

Most of us are familiar with tours and tour guides. Tours come in large and small sizes. I saw many while traveling in Europe this September. The hallmark of each was an energetic person holding an umbrella/flag high in the air, striding in front of a group of tourists.
David Vignoni,  Icon from
 Nuvola icon theme for KDE 3.x., Wikimedia.
I worried that if I ever was on such a tour, what would happen if I couldn’t keep up with the flying umbrella/flag? It wasn’t until planning this European genealogy trip that I learned about a different kind of tour guide – the ancestral or heritage guide.

The fact that I don’t speak Czech was the main impetus for my thinking about getting some help for my visit to the Czech Republic to find my grandfather’s ancestral home.

In my post from September 1, 2013, I wrote about how I found my personal guide to the Czech Republic, Ms. Marie Zahn of P.A.T.H. Finders International. Now let me describe our trip.

On Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 9:30 a.m., Marie picked up me and my husband, Bert, at the Best Western Kinsky Garden, our hotel in Prague. The Kinsky Hotel was a great choice for location, service and price, and we found it through Delta Vacations. Marie is a great guide to have in Prague as she is a native and very knowledgeable. 

Honza Groh, 7. 05. 2008, Memorial
of seven czech paratroupers…., Wikimedia.
As she drove us out of the city, Marie pointed out two of the main attractions we happened to drive by. The first was the Heydrich Terror Memorial, a tribute to two Czech heroes who assassinated a high-ranking Nazi in Prague. The second was “The Dancing House”, a building designed by two avant-garde architects, Vlado Milunić, a Croatian-Czech and Frank Gehry,  a Canadian-American, in 1992. The style is unusual in a city awash in medieval, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture.
Maros M r a z, August 2004 Dancing House, Wikimedia.

After we left Prague, we soon were in the countryside. We saw large, cultivated fields interspersed with forested areas.
ŠJů,  31 August 2012, NihošoviceStrakonice District
South Bohemian RegionCzech Republic, Wikimedia.

We asked Marie about the huge farms; she explained that after the fall of Communism, many farmers whose lands had been collectivized, regained their land. But as in America, it’s difficult nowadays for small farmers to make a living. Many sold their land to developers, and the result is that large, corporate farms abound where most people in agriculture now work.

We saw cars parked in the forest areas and Marie explained the Czech national pastime – mushroom picking.
Karelj, October 2008, Boletus badius, 
Czech Republic, Wikimedia.
It seems that Czechs of all ages love to go to the woods and search for mushrooms. And Marie told us a joke: on a mushroom hunt, a non-Czech asks, “Are any of these mushrooms poisonous?” The answer is: “All mushrooms are edible, but some only once.” I’m glad we were ancestor-hunting.

When we reached Naceradec, we first stopped at the Administrative Town Office
Pat in Naceradec in front of
Town Office and Church
Book by Eva Prochazkova
where we met Mrs. Svecova with whom Marie had set up this meeting prior to the trip. Mrs. Svecova presented me with  a book on the history of Naceradec. It has many beautiful photographs from different eras in the town’s life. And best of all, there is a summary in the back that is in English!

Our first stop was the Catholic church of Naceradec which Mrs. Svecova unlocked for us. My heart was filled with emotion as I stood before the very same building where my grandfather was baptized and attended services.
Entrance to Naceradec
Catholic Church, Sept 2013
Altar Naceradec Catholic Church,
Sept 2013
Although I have toured many churches in different countries, I felt very different being in the church of my ancestors.
 While to most people, the altar and the decorated ceiling would be the sights to see in this church, to me, the baptismal fount where my grandfather was baptized was place that drew me.
Baptismal Fount Naceradec
Catholic Church, Sept 2013

Our second stop was the World War I memorial
WW I Memorial Naceradec Town
Square, Sept 2013

in the town square. This is a familiar site in many European towns but again, this was special to me as two people with my grandfather’s surname were etched onto the monument: Josef Holub and his son Rudolf. I don’t yet know how these Holub men are related to me, so I will be doing some research.
Close-up WWI Memorial Naceradec
Town Square, Sept 2013
The next to last stop was the town cemetery. We weren’t sure what we would find there except Mrs. Svecova had told Marie the number of the one Holub grave. Before we left for Europe, I had asked Marie if Czech cemeteries followed the same practice as some other European countries of only leasing graves for a certain period so that they can be used again. Marie responded that this is indeed the case in the Czech Republic as well.

We came upon the Holub grave
Grave Naceradec, Josef Hrolicka
 and Rudolf Holub
and I immediately noticed two things. First, two different families were buried in the plot and second, the plot looked somewhat neglected. The grave marker was made of glass and very hard to read in the sunlight with the reflection factor, but it looked like a Rudolf Holub was buried on one side. Now there were two Rudolf Holubs to investigate: one who died in WWI and one who was buried here in 1977.

Our last stop in Naceradec was the house where my grandfather was born. A Holub family lived there and was waiting to welcome us. The house was the last one in a small lane. We parked in front and Mrs. Holub (I have not used first names for privacy) came out to greet us with a warm smile. They had just returned from their daily visit to the hospital where Mr. Holub was under treatment. As I walked through the front door, I felt very emotional as this was the same threshold my grandfather and his family crossed in their daily lives so many years ago. We followed Mrs. Holub into the kitchen where Mr. Holub, despite his ill health, stood beaming. He offered us all a warm handshake and gestured towards the chairs around the kitchen table.

Mrs. Holub had graciously prepared a delicious Czech luncheon. First we had coffee and pastries.
Jonathunder,  29 November 2010, Home made poppy seed
 kolaches on a plate, Wikimedia.
My childhood memory of “kolache”, pastry filled with prune/apple/poppy seed, was reawakened – there were several on the dessert plate! Then we were presented with ham and cheese sandwiches, and each time one of our plates was empty, another sandwich appeared!
Makovec, 26 December 2012,
Cuisine of the Czech Republic, Wikimedia.
We spent the next few hours looking at photos from Mr. Holub’s life, and we saw his birth certificate. Marie translated as Mr. Holub told us the details of his birth. His mother, Antonie Holubuva, lived in Naceradec when she was pregnant with him. She did not marry his father but married another man from the town of Louny and moved there with him. Mr. Holub was actually born in Louny. Because he grew up in Louny, Mr. Holub unfortunately never met any of the Naceradec Holubs. 

Mr. Holub came to live in Naceradec in 1977 when a relative left him this house and he has been here ever since. He said that Holubs have always lived in this house. It will take some more research to find how we are related.

We noticed that Mr. Holub was looking tired so reluctantly we said our goodbyes and headed back to our hotel in Prague.

As I planned this post, I wondered what other companies might offer heritage tours in other European countries besides the Czech Republic. I did a quick search on google and found a few entries for heritage guides, mainly for non-English speaking countries. Please note that I have no experience with any company other than P.A.T.H. Finders InternationalFamilyTree Tours is the company of an American and a German and although the company “specializes in heritage tours to German-speaking countries, they are able to design and assist in trips to other European nations." (from FamilyTreeTours website.) Ancestral Attic offers heritage tours in Poland and other Eastern European countries while Polish Origins has services for Poland and the Ukraine.


Hiring Ms. Marie Zahn, of P.A.T.H. Finders International, turned out to be the best decision I made in planning this trip back to my Czech homeland. If you are planning a trip to Europe to learn more about your ancestors, I recommend that you consider hiring a guide to make your heritage tour the best it can be.