Episode 7. March 13, 2016. Welcome to another episode of my znukcast. It is Sunday, March 13th here in the Philippines and this episode is the miraculous story about how I found my Czech and Slovakian ancestors on my mom’s side of the family.
I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints when I was 18 (you can hear my story in episode 1). My dad was an inactive member of the church and my mom was Catholic. My brother, sister and I were raised Catholic with my parents agreeing we could choose our own religion once we were older. I mention this because on my dad’s side we have family history back to the 1500’s. But on my mom’s side (Pazdera) I am the only active member of the church. And while I have Pazdera cousins interested in the history of the family, there has always been a barrier because both of my great grand parents on my mom’s side came from what is now known as Czechoslovakia, which for the longest time was under communist rule. To further complicate matters, no living relatives knew the original villages of the Pazdera’s without which finding any records is impossible. I had been searching census records, military records, death records….I could find nothing that would point me to a village.
I had been emailing back and forth with one of my second cousins whose name is Alicia. She lives in Arkansas where the Pazdera’s ultimately settled and we were trying to figure out where one of my great aunts was born. My great grandfather worked in the coal mines in Pennsylvania until he got black lung disease and then moved to Arkansas to farm. We were trying to figure out whether she was born before or after the move to Arkansas. If she had been born in Arkansas, we thought that perhaps her birth record might be found at Shoal Creek Cemetery where my great grandparents are buried. It is a very small catholic parish and the priest there was getting older and was sick much of the time and when he was well he had a reputation for being a bit crotchety. I had been asking my cousin for about two years if she might find opportunity to go check the records, she went once, but the priest was sick and either couldn’t or wouldn’t help her. I think she lost hope that the priest would ever let her see what records he had. However, during the Christmas break of 2005 Alicia who works at the University of Arkansas was on her way to see her mom in Ft. Smith and stopped at the church in Shoal Creek unannounced. She said the priest was not only there be he was actually in quite a delightful mood. When she asked about the records he gave her the book and said why don’t you check yourself? She was both shocked and thrilled!
Well in that book she not only found the information on my aunt, but she found something even more important, the only record we have ever found where the home village of my great grandfather Josef Pazdera was written. The name was Kozly. What a find! I will never forget the day I received her email, written so nonchalantly about this find. She had no idea this was the key I was looking for and only mentioned it in passing to me.
At the time we had a Czech exchange student living with us and with that information his dad went to that village and was able to find the cemetery where the Pazdera’s were buried. I was then able to hire a researcher that a good friend named Tom Hrncirik who was also of Czech descent knew personally and trusted. With Tom’s help we contacted David Kohout and he was able to find the records on my great grandfather’s family and send me the details. I cannot tell you how significant that was for me!
Well the story only gets better. In 2007 LaDawn and I along with my cousin Alicia were able to travel to Prague. The highlight of that trip was spending a day in the home village of the Pazdera’s and meeting some of my Czech relatives. We were able to find the church where my great grandfather was baptized (the baptismal urn from the 1700’s was still there) as well as the family grave. We stood on the piece of property where the first Pazdera homestead in that village from my line was built in the 1700’s and we sat in the home that my great grandfather helped build after the first home burned down. It was still being occupied by a 3rd cousin. His wife who cared a whole lot more about family history than my blood relative, gave us a picture of my great grandfather’s siblings, with only my great grandfather missing. She also gave us copies of two letters that he had written once he was in America. But no one seemed to know where he had gone when he initially left Kozly. It was important to me because if I could find where he went, I could find my grandfather’s birth record and his mother’s family.
For the next two years I continued the search for the birthplace of my grandfather. Through a random connection with another second cousin who I did not even know existed and who was a descendant of my great grandmother Julia Rahon’s younger brother, I was able to get the name of the village in Slovakia where the Rehon’s emigrated from. In 2009 I traveled there with this same friend Tom Hrncirik who had helped me before. Tom had met an 80 year old cousin through his own research who lived in Slovakia and spoke English. His name is Dusan Hrncirik. This man agreed to spend a week with us and we set off to find my family. What an adventure. Over that week we found both lines of my great grandmother and met with family members on both sides. This was done mainly by knocking on doors and asking questions. I stood on the property where my grandfather was born. I felt the undeniable influence of my great great grandmother Anna Olschvary as we searched and found hundreds of names of relatives. I stood in the church where my great grandparents were married. It was an amazing trip.
As I began to think about the marvelous experiences I have had with finding my family, it occurred to me for the first time that these family history miracles started happening AFTER I began to attend the temple each week. As I have reflected on this over and over, I have seen the direct link between the finding of my ancestors (which occurred through miracle after miracle) and my commitment to get to the temple and do the work for them. I cannot tell you how rich this experience has been for us.
One more quick story. The day that we took Anna Olschvary, her husband Janos Rehon and their 9 children to the temple to be sealed is a day I will never forget. The spirit in that sealing room during that ordinance was palpable and powerful and was a reassuring testimony to me that indeed, Anna had been instrumental from the other side of the veil in getting us to that event. All of us there were humbled and grateful for the reassurance that a family with great desires for these ordinances had been sealed together.
Over the last 10 years LaDawn and I have performed hundreds of ordinances for the Pazdera’s, the Olchvary’s the Rehon’s, and many more Czech and Slovakian ancestors. Because we have been touched by their lives, their sacrifices, their hopes, their dreams and their desires to have the blessings of the gospel in their lives on the other side of the veil, the temple experience has been extremely sweet for us. I am absolutely convinced that as we have done this work for my family, they have been able to be more involved in our lives from the other side of the veil. It is as though we have helped to build our own little angel army with people of great faith on the other side praying for us on this side.
Today I continue my research for the Wesley’s and the Berans. Ancestors on my grandmother Cennie Wesley’s side. I am facing the same problem with the Wesleys as I did with the Pazdera’s. But I know that the Lord knows these people and if I will do my part, I will eventually find the records. Of this I am absolutely confident.