Chasing ancestry in Radauti, Romania

Genealogy strikes again! After two pretty successful visits to my ancestral villages in Slovakia, I could not come to Romania without visiting Radauti (pronounced Ra-Dowtz).  My grandma sent me with genealogical charts for Michael Bocz, my great great great grandfather, whose birthplace  in Laskar, Slovakia I visited two years ago. Michael and his family later moved here, to Radauti, before eventually coming to Canada in the 1890s and settling on a farm 17 miles north-east of Regina, Saskatchewan.

Michael, whose family was originally from Bohemia, was born in Laskar, Slovakia in 1837, but as Grandma’s charts point out, he was later married in Radauti in 1868 to Anna Matzko, who was born there and would have grown up in the town.  Although today in Romani, Radauti was at the time the eastern-most point of the Austrian empire.  Based on some research and conversations I was able to have in Radauti, the Austrian empire encouraged people in their well-established territory to move East to help secure and/or colonize the rest of the empire. In particular, poor families in the bohemian forest were offered incentives to move to this area, now called Bukovina, and establish settlements. This is my best (though unconfirmed) guess as to why the Bocz would have moved here during Michael’s lifetime. 

My grandma’s research found that Michael and Anna were married in Radauti when Anna was 17 and Michael was 31. They attended an evangelical church there with their children. Of the Germanic peoples who migrated to this part of the empire, evangelical christians were minority to Jewish and Catholic Germans, and their faith was treated as such. According to the Radauti ethnographic museum, evangelical Christians were allowed to practice their faith, but only in small churches whose doors did not face open to the street. Furthermore, after the Austrian empire lost control of the region, Romanians who had lived under their occupation were quick to take down any reminder of Germans in the region. This is perhaps why during my visit I was unable to find any standing evangelical churches dating back to their years in Radauti.

For my visit to Radauti, I had a general but pretty basic plan to visit all the churches I could find in the hopes that they might have some records or cemeteries of interest.  Failing that, I wanted to photograph everything dating back to 1850, when Anna Maztko was born. If I couldn’t see where they actually lived or went to church, I could at least get a sense of what they saw in their day-to-day living in the town.

Radauti was bigger than I expected. Getting off the bus, I was struck by a somewhat modern but also impoverished town. Unlike the villages of Transylvania where I came from, everything in Radauti seemed to have been built in the last 50 years, other than the few churches and monasteries sprinkled around, some dating back to the 14th century.  

My first stop was the Pentecostal church, the closest thing I could find to an evangelical church. It was a short walk but I quickly realized it would not provide any answers – the church was brand new and did not even have a cemetery. This was constant with the idea that they would have belonged to a small church that no longer exists. 

This hunt for any family remains was already harder than both visits I’d done two years ago in Slovakia. There was almost no English here and even when I could communicate, the Bocz name is not a recognizable one. The Matzkos, who were likely in Radauti earlier because Anna was born there, could also have migrated with the other Germans around that time, especially because her mother’s name Aschenbrenner is a German one. (Grandma, I’ll need your help on this one!).

With no luck at any of the other the churches in town, I headed to the Radauti Central Cemetery where four of the Bocz children were buried. According to my grandma’s charts, Gustav, Robert, Ida, and Wilhelm all died young before the family immigrated to Canada, so they should be buried here in Radauti. I was also on the lookout for the Matzko name, hoping some of Anna’s family may be there as well.

The cemetery was huge – I’ve never seen such a big cemetery – and it seemed to be a mix of orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Pentecostal graves. The Jewish cemetery, which made up a big part of the population here as well, was separate. I’ve only ever seen cemeteries in Christian-majorly countries connected to churches, so it was weird to walk through a central cemetery that brought together so many different denominations. 

In Slovakia I was faced with a much smaller cemetery and had helpers to go through the lines of headstones, but this one was much bigger and I was alone. I did my best going up and down the small lanes, but all the dates were too recent to correlate with any of the names I was working with. Wilhelm, the last Bocz death in Radauti, was in 1892, whereas the earliest births in this cemetery were around that time. I spent close to three hours scanning the headstones but with no luck. I learned in Slovakia that to make space some European cemeteries will remove older graves and reuse the space, so that is a definitely possibility here. It’s also possible that there is an older cemetery somewhere outside the town that got full so they opened this one I visited. Either way, this was another dead end.

My next stop was the Radauti Ethnographic Museum, a small display in an old building near the centre of town. The woman working here had limited English, like everyone else I’d run into so far, but I got lucky when she asked about French. There is so much French spoken in Romania, and it has saved me more than a few times. The woman hadn’t heard of Bocz or Matzko, but she did have some interesting information on the migration from this region to North America.  In the late 1800s, the economic opportunity that had attracted so many Germanic people to the region was starting to run dry. Around the same time, Canada and the US were both looking for people to populate their more rural territory and managed to advertise all across Europe, but especially in this region. The first group of immigrants from this region settled in Kansas, or in Regina, Saskatchewan. This all happened a few decades before the Bocz made the journey, but she said it was common for friends or family to write back to Radauti to tell of the opportunity in Canada. When the Bocz made the journey to Canada in the 1890s, they were following a well traveled path by other Germans in the area through a German port and then onwards likely to Quebec City, where they would have carried on to Regina. 

When Michael and his family settled on their farm 17 miles north east of Regina, they must have felt at home in the flat grassy prairies. The area surrounding Radauti reminded me so much of Saskatchewan, so it’s not hard to see why they would have ended up where they did.

Other than my grandma’s charts, none of this is scientific. But it was so much fun to visit the town where Michael spent much of his adult life and Anna the first half of her life and to imagine what it must have been like for them. Speculating on why they moved around and how they ended up in Saskatchewan felt like a live action puzzle, and I can’t wait to read more about the movement of these populations. One thing’s for sure – after following Michael’s footsteps from Laskar to Radauti, the next stop might have to be Regina. (Maybe instead I’ll go backward to Bohemia!).


Genealogy 2.0: Blatnica & Laskar

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.

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Who Do You Think You Are?

So for those of you who don’t know, Who Do You Think You Are is a TV show where celebrities meet up with genealogists to find out about their family history, and then usually travel to the place where they’re from to see how their ancestors lived.  I’m not a celebrity, so I’m not eligible for the show, but luckily I don’t need a fancy show to learn about my family history; my grandma has been ahead of the game for years, and has an incredibly organized and complete set of research done on our ancestors.

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