Diary of a Search for the Prokop Roots

This is the start of a quest to assemble all the information on the ancestors of my daughters, Nancy Margaret Lepisto and Emily Grace Lepisto, so that they will carry the knowledge of their roots to the next generations. It is a gift to my parents, so they know that the information they have gathered will be passed down. And it is an inspiration to all family members to add to the body of knowledge of who we are and where we come from.

As a starting point, this is the diary of Christy Lynn Frase Lepisto, daughter of Louis Harvey Frase, who is the son of Louis Emil Frase and Anne Barbara PROKOP. With the Prokop geneology started by Linda Lee Prokop Mann, my cousin once removed, I traveled with my husband to Southern Bohemia, in search of the birthplace of my ancestors. The following records that search. I dedicate this diary to my husband, Paul Lepisto, whose idea it was to make this trip on the occasion of my 43rd birthday.

The Regional Archives
Prokop Coat of Arms
Our quest started in Humpolec, a regional seat on the road between Prague and Brno. Humpolec is named in Linda's geneology as the county where my great grandfather Frantisek Prokop was born on 13 April 1873. The city of birth is recorded only as „near Vresnik“.

Asking around Humpolec, it quickly became clear that all historical records have been moved out of the individual towns and churches, and collected in Pelhrimov, 20km to the south. A good sign: it will be easier to connect the dots with centralized records. My hopes were dampened though, as we arrived in the Okresni Archiv (Regional Archives). The director, Dr. Martinek, explained in German that his Archiv does not hold records about people—only those for the lands. Birth certificates, marriage certificates and similar are in the Archiv at Trebour near Ceske Budejovice. Disappointed, I pushed forward: perhaps we could find the lands of my ancestors here in Pelhrimov.

Dr. Martinek led me to Yosef, custodian of the archives, and Pavel, his assistant. Access to the archives required signing several very official forms to attest to our presence in the study room, grant access to the records and establish the purpose of our inquiry. I gave the two custodians three names:

  • Vondrak
  • Prokop
  • Vrora
They confirmed what I had already remarked in the regional phone books in Humpolec: Vondrak and Prokop are relatively common names. Vrora is a very unusual. Then they disappeared to the restricted storage areas. Pavel returned with a glint in his eye and hinted that Yosef would bring something of great interest. Whether optimistic confidence in the power of documents, or inside knowledge, I could not judge.

At work in the Pelhrimov Regional Archives The evidence would suggest the latter. Yosef returned with a registry of the land holdings in Vresnik. Every page was filled out and signed in the handwriting of my great, great grandfather, Frantisek Vondrak. It turns out that F. Vondrak was the Komisar, responsible to record and testify to the accuracy of the records of land holdings in his town. The first record, protocol #1, indicates that Frantisek Vondrak himself, with is wife Marie, owned house number 1 in Vresnik, as well as the building parcel number 19 underlying the house. F. Vondrak owned the property outright; the record declares that it is not “possessed in servitude” according to the translation of Pavel.
Additionally, Vondrak owned building parcel No. 26, on which a hemp-kiln (pazderna) was built. The record for house No. 1 also states that Vondrak owned half of the country parcels 164/1 and 164/2 described in protocol #31. In protocol #31, it can be learned that 164/1 belonged to F. Vondrak and 164/2 was owned by Jan Dolejs, who is also owner of house number 2 in Vresnik.

It is interesting to look also at the witnesses to the protocols of houses 1 and 2. In particular, F. Vondrak records in his hand at the bottom of the front page that Matej Vavra is a witness. On the reverse side, Matej has signed his name by the German spelling, Wawra. At the bottom of the transcript for house number 2, it is remarked that Katerina Dolejs is underage, although present as a witness.

There is no record of any Prokop owning land in Vresnik in 1870, as can be seen from the index to the registry of land completed in that year.

The land records are interesting of themselves, and moreso due to the magnificant handwriting of Frantisek Vondrak. However, the real goldmine of Prokop information is the “Liber Status animarum Vresnik Liskovice 1901”: the census book, with annotations from church records, of 1901. This book lists all residents of each house at the time of the survey, and includes the full given names of each person, their profession/family status, the place of birth, date of birth (and sometimes remot locations if the family member is not living at home). Occasionally, the confirmation names and dates of marriage or death are also recorded.

Yosef gave me copies of all the pages for the family names Vondrak, Prokop and Vavra. It seems clear that the name “Vrora” in the geneology done by Linda is in error. Neither Yosef nor Pavel know of any such Czech name, and no such name could be found in the records searched. It does seem probable, however, that Matej Vavra has signed as witness to the Vondrak property on behalf of his daughter Marie, Frantisek's wife. Also, Marie “Vrora” is listed in the 1901 survey as being born in Vresnik in 1843, so she probably belongs to the families in the index of the 1870 land register. There is no record of a Vrora in the land register index; the most similar name is that of Vavra.

The Prokop family, despite not appearing in the 1870 land records of Vresnik, is listed in the census of 1901 as living in house number 9 in Vresnik. This is consistent with the comment in Linda's geneology that the Prokops lost a “beautiful farm” outside of Humpolec then moved to Vresnik. One can see that the children of my great, great grandfather Josef Prokop were all born in Svetlice, up through the penultimate child, Stanislav, born in 1891. The last child, Vaclav, born 1896, was born in Vresnik. Thus the location and approximate date of loss of the Prokop family farm are established. Furthermore, the fact that Frantisek Prokop was in America at the time of the census is noted in the census book! That Frank Prokop had 9 siblings (6 brothers and 3 sisters), all identified by name and birthdate, is also considerably addition to the available information suggesting 5 siblings, for whom names and birth data are available for only 3.

Now the real questions start: How did the Prokops lose the farm? Is the loss of the farm the reason the oldest Prokop son, married to the daughter of one of Vresnik's most prominent landowners, to emigrate to America?

Vresnik, Home of the Vondraks
Vresnik, view entering town
Standing in the town center of the small village of Vresnik, the house numbers start at the bottom of the hill with house number 1, and circle up the hill clockwise in sequence. Interspersed between the sequential numbered houses are newer buildings, seemingly randomly numbered. However, as the gentlemen of the Pelhrimov Archives expressed serious conviction that the house numbers have been through several reorganizations since 1870, we hesitated to simply go knocking. We were given confidence by asking a townsman. The name Prokop evoked only a shrug, but at the name Vondrak, a very animated neighbor pointed and attempted to communicate in Czech the location of the Vondrak house. His gestures fully supported the conclusion that house number 1 has remained unbroken in the Vondrak family for decades.
Vresnik, meeting a Vondrak relative
Smoke rose from the chimney of house number 1. Tracks indicated that a car usually parks outside the wide gate to the courtyard, but the car was gone. We ventured a knock. After a small delay, the door opened. An older man appeared. I showed him the pictures in the geneology done by Linda Lee Prokop Mann and gave him the name Vondrak.

Vresnik, meeting a Vondrak relative An enthusiastic garble of Czech with “brother”, “America”, and “Chicago” as the only comprehensible words proved that the elderly gentleman has stories to tell if only we could understand. He gave us two names, presumably brothers living together in House 1: Jaroslav Vondrak, born 20.10.1931 and Bohumil Vondrak, born 6.6.1933. As we could not communicate further, we took our leave.

Walking up the hill, we located house number 9. Some men working on an auto in the driveway took little interest in us. As the neighbor had not recognized the name Prokop, and we had no translator, we did not intrude but took only a photo of the house which probably was the home of Josef Prokop's family in 1901, at the time of the census in which it is noted that Frantisek Prokop resided in America.

I hope that we will one day be able to return to Vresnik with a translator to further our search.

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