Yes, that was a shameless pun on the name of the country. Please forgive me! But this area is quite intriguing, and like so many other parts of the world has a long and involved history. For the sake of research, we will take a look at the last 500 years, as research before that time would take a long while, probably, for people to get back that far.
Please do be advised that more and more information becomes available online and in print with each passing day. Continue to search beyond what I mention in this article. Get yourself a Pilsner or Budweiser if you wish (no promotional considerations here), and start your research. Why did I mention those names? Because they originated in the area that we are about to discuss, in Pilsen or Ceske Budejice (German Budweis). It's a small world.
Like so many other areas of the world, this area has been settled and has a long written history. There are known to have been people settled in the area back in the pre Roman Empire days, going back 2500 years from now. At least a thousand years of well-known writings exist for the area. It also includes the area known as Moravia. After a very long series of wars and expansions, that kingdom as expanded to include parts of Austria, Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia.
The Czech Republic of today was part of the country of Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1993. At that time the Slovak area separated and became the area now known to the world as Slovakia. That is grossly oversimplifying, but gives a basis to move forward. Because the Austrian empire ruled the area for such a long time, people there who had converted to other religions were given the choice to convert back to Catholicism, or to leave the area. So, any church records that one might find for the last 200 or 300 years are likely to be in Latin in the Catholic churches. Some other records might also be in German, as that group settled heavily in the area, (one of the names for the area in German is Boehmen, or Bohemia in English) and the non-serf urban classes usually spoke German while the country folk often spoke Slovak. These all use the Latin alphabet, albeit with some Slavic grammatical marks. And of course some records will be in Czech. In other words, prepare to search multilingually.
Although the Czech Republic is quite small (about half the size of Iowa), a large and impressive network of archives is supported by the Czech government. The seven regional archives, which are the repositories for most pre-1900 parish books, are the archives of primary importance to Czech genealogical researchers. Seventy-two district archives, five city archives, and a plethora of specialized archives also contain important information about the lives of Czech ancestors.
Many people have written that very few records of genealogical interest are currently available outside of the archives of the Czech Republic. But also more and more become available each day. The Genealogical Society of Utah is currently working with the Czech archives to scan documents and make them available online.
Parish registers are the usual way to get vital records for overseas ancestors, and of course churches are concerned with births and baptisms, banns and marriages, and services for the deceased. Many times these kinds of records will be in church records when civil records are lacking. They usually follow the standard of recording the events as they occur in the local parishes. Copies may or may not be in local archives as well as the churches themselves. Do remember that if you do actually write to a church, that the people in charge there have other daily duties and that it will take some time to hear back from them.
There is a well-known person by the name of Shon Edwards, who has published extensively on Czech research. He is a cataloger of Czech materials for the Family History Library and has given many talks on this research. You can find several items that he has produced online, including a slide show that he gave recently: LDS Microfilming in the Czech and Slovak Republics.
Searching the FamilySearch.org web site catalog for the keyword "Czech" yields over 1600 results. One example for a small village in the northern area reads:
Roman Catholic parish register and transcripts of baptisms, marriages and deaths for Tropplowitz, Schlesien, on the border between Germany and Austria; also called Opavice, Slezsko, Czechoslovakia; and Opawica, Opole, Poland. Includes Städtel and Dorf Tropplowitz, Geppersdorf, Raden, Schönweise, Mocker, etc.
So it can be seen that one has to prepare for an interesting challenge in doing such research. These are all in the same area!
A search for information on doing Czech research leads one to the conclusion that there has not been an overwhelming amount written on how to do research, at least not recently. Looking in the free WorldCat.org web site, one sees only 14 titles listed, and this includes letter writing guides. Some titles follow:
In search of your European roots: a complete guide to tracing your ancestors in every country in Europe by Angus Baxter; Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1985.
Genealogical Research for Czech and Slovak Americans by Olga K Miller; Detroit : Gale Research Co., 1978.
Letter-writing guide. Czech and Slovak, by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Family History Library.; Salt Lake City, Utah : Family History Library, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,2000
Genealogical research: Tracing Czech, Moravian, and Slovak Ancestry by Jane Fast; Cedar Rapids, Iowa : Czech Fine Arts Foundation, Inc., 1984.
Czech genealogists' Handbook for Tracing Your Czech Ancestors in the Lone Star State and Czechoslovakia by Albert J Blaha; Houston: Albert J. Blaha, Sr., 1984
A Handbook of Czechoslovak Genealogical Research by Daniel M Schlyter; Buffalo Grove, Ill. : Genun Publishers, 1985.
Czechoslovak Genealogy Sites on the Internet: Covers the Territory of the Former Czechoslovakia, Including Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia by Miloslav Rechcigl; Rockville, Md.: SVU, 2001
Checking your Czech Ancestors by Olivia Cleveland Milberger; Texas : Cottontail Publishers, 1990.
Nase rodina (Our Family) is published quarterly by the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International (CGSI).
Of course one must be aware that web sites come and go, and a site cited from 10 years ago might not even be there anymore or under that name
The Federation of East European Family History Societies. This is a major web site for such research.
General history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Czech_Republic#Bohemia:Czech Republic
There is a professional searcher and speaker, Lisa Alzo, who has a very interesting blog about eastern European research: Best Online Resources For East European Genealogy
See http://actapublica.eu/, for some access to Czech records.
A sample web site: http://www.spanbauer.org/home/resources-research/roman-catholic-church-parish-records. Burrowing into it gives Czech titles vital records in the German handwriting, served up in Zoomify style (similar to Google Earth).
One is also advised to read the online information at:Czech Republic Reference Aids Overview at the Family History Library, and give a serious look at: Czech Republic, which links you to online searchable information through the Czech Archives.
Cyndi's List has among other things, a link to Czech Republic, Opava Archives Church Records, 1552-1905, which has 206,549 browsable images covering those 350 plus years. And that's just one link.
The Czech family tree site has a downloadable and printable dual language family chart, which could aid in understanding if you have to deal with others people who do not speak English.
Stastne genealogicke vyhledavani!