Today I learned that genealogy isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Literally, I’m still recovering from the rain, thunder, and lightning. After such an incredibly successful visit to Bijacovce where my maternal ancestors came from, we decided to check out a village on the other side of the family.
Both my Grandmas do work in genealogy – they actually met doing genealogy in Regina before my parents met. After seeing our success in Bijacovce, my grandma sent us some more detailed information for our Slovak ancestors leading us to a tiny village in Central Slovakia named Laskar. She didn’t know if Laskar was a farm or more of a town, or if it was still standing at all. But we headed out armed with Laskar and the name of another nearby town, Blatnica, where they would have gone to church.
The drive was just over three hours. We actually passed Bijacovce and Spis castle, as well as the High Tatras Mountains, where we’re headed tomorrow. It was a really beautiful drive.
Our first stop was Blatnica, a town of about 900 people. This isn’t actually where my ancestors would have lived, but Laskar was too small to have a church, so this is where they would have been baptized and married. We were following the line of my Great great great great Grandpa Michael Bocz, so quite a ways back. His parents, Joannes Bocz and Susana Chorvarth were both from Laskar and had 11 children there, who were all baptized in the Blanica Evangelical Church.
Blatnica has its own little museum that I’d read about online, so that was going to be our first stop. When we got there, we were disappointed to find a little notice on the door saying it was closed for renovation, and we’d missed it by about a week. Next door was a town hall, so we wandered in to see what we could find. The downstairs was empty, but upstairs we ran into a man who worked there. Marcela explained our situation, and he told us where to find the Evangelical church.
Blatnica has two churches: one catholic and one evangelical. I was excited to see that the Evangelical church was the more beautiful of the two, dominating the view of the village with its light green roof. Slovakia is a predominantly Catholic country, so it’s a little bit unusual to find such a little town with two churches.
We pulled up the the church to find the front door open with a car parked right in front of it. It didn’t take long before we learned that the church was under construction to help restore it for its 230th anniversary next year. They started construction last Thursday – between this and the Museum, our timing hasn’t been the best.
The construction workers let us into the church, though, so I got to wander through the pews and down the aisle where my ancestors would have been married and baptized. The chandeliers and alter were all under plastic wrap, but you could still see what it would have looked like. There was a big organ at the back, also covered in plastic, but again, you could imagine what it would have looked like when it was in its prime. One of the coolest parts was getting to see the basin where our ancestors would have been baptized – it was taken apart, but you could still see the individual pieces and we could even touch them, which was really special.
While we wandered around and explored the church, Marcela was chatting with the head of construction, who eventually called the priest, who lived nextdoor, saying that he might have some of the old church records. It didn’t take long before the priest came out to greet us – he could not have been more kind of welcoming to us. He invited us into his home and brought us into an office, where he started pulling out this ancient books full of church records, dating back to the mid 1800s.
The church itself was built in 1786, but those earliest records are kept in a different town, and in order to see them you need to make an appointment sometimes a month ahead of time. Our ancestor Michael was born in 1937, so just a few years too early to be documented in these books. The priest didn’t recognize the name Bocz, but he did recognize Chorvath – there was even a priest named Andrej Chorvath who used to work at the church. This priest went above and beyond for us – he called Andrej Chorvath’s widow to see if she recognized the names in our family history, and when she didn’t, he called a priest from a different town who grew up in the region. This man ended up even dropping by, and helping us try to figure out how to get ahold of some of these records. He himself had been to the town that kept all of the older records when searching for his own family history, where he scanned all sorts of documents. I gave him my email, and he promised to send me the documents if he still had them on his computer! Who knows if that will work out, but if I do get ahold of these documents, that will be a lot of fun to go through!
The priest also told us about the village of Laskar is still around, and a very short drive from Blatnica, so we made that our next stop. The Blatnica church didn’t have a cemetery, but he told us that there was a small cemetery outside of Laskar that might help.
So our next stop was Laskar. At this point the weather was starting to do some strange things – in the distance we could see lightning and hear a bit of thunder, and from afar you could see rain pouring down, even though we were under blue skies.
We drove through Laskar in less than a minute before doubling back, if that gives you any indication of how tiny this place is. But there were actually quite a few houses around, and a little city hall building among the homes. It makes you wonder how much it’s changed since my ancestors would have lived there, and how big the village was for them. A village that’s too small for a church is a tiny village in Slovakia, because they have churches everywhere you turn. At this point it was absolutely pouring with rain, so it was hard to get out and explore. A few times I jumped out of the car to take pictures, and returned completely drenched and with photos ruined by the rain.
We had trouble finding the cemetery, until I spotted a small gate between two trees a little ways into one of the fields outside the village. When we looked closer, we saw that the grass was a little bit worn away from tires leading up to the gate, so we drove over and peeked in from the car and found a cemetery! It was some of the hardest rain I’ve ever seen, but it didn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon, so I hopped out of the car too get a better look. A couple times I literally jumped at how loud the thunder was – the storm was right above us. Dad jumped out of the car too holding an umbrella, but in this rain it didn’t hold up very well. The gate was open, so we went inside and had a look at the first few grave stones, looking for the right dates or names. Unfortunately all of the graves were more recent, and none of the names seemed to pop out. We made a point of running around the whole thing looking for older graves but to no avail. My theory is that since they tend to reuse cemetery space for new generations, I think this must have been the place where our ancestors were buried.
It was a long day, but it was totally worth it. There is such a cool feeling wandering around in places where your ancestors would have been two hundred years ago. I think we headed out hoping for another day like last time where everything seemed to fall into place, but today was so incredibly special too, and nothing can take away how cool it was to be in that church or see those old records or drive through the town where Joannes and Susana and Michael Bocz were living two centuries ago.