Slovakia Genealogy Research Strategies
Writing “Blind Letters”
Notice: These web pages are English-language oriented. As a result, most language accent marks have been omitted from examples for ease in presentation to the reader. Foreign language font installation seems to be difficult for all but the most persistent of individuals. Please use accent marks in all correspondence, whenever possible, to avoid confusion and misdirection.
I have written a number of blind letters. I wrote the letter in English, then found someone who would translate it. Generally speaking the reaction of people in East/West Europe to “blind letters”, is much as it is in the west – treated with suspicion. First, it may be looked at as junk mail, quickly discarded. Second, it may be looked at as if you may want to come back and reclaim property. So when they read your letter, they are treating it with great suspicion, looking for the first reason why they should cast if off. So, you must chose your words carefully and capture their attention immediately. Each letter, each family story is uniquely different. For me to give you a stock letter and you to copy it is folly. I have presented below two letters I have written. Each presents an explanation of the context.
General guiding principles:
a) Keep it brief. One page maximum. There will be more time for details later if the correspondence blossoms.
b) Capture their attention immediately. Explain immediately why you are writing.
c) Keep it simple. Use straightforward language, unambiguous words.
d) Include a couple of post cards or a family photo (if you are comfortable with that.) Post cards seem to be of great interest – easy to read, inexpensive, easy to mail.
e) Include a couple of INTERNATIONAL REPLY COUPONS for return postage. Obtainable in any country, good for one “first class” postage. The last I checked (2004), the US Postal Service was charging US$1.75 each.
f) NEVER invite yourself to visit.
g) Write in their native language. You risk an insult, not even attempting to meet them half way.
h) Don’t bug them a second time if they do not reply.
i) For many reasons, most of them economic, many people have moved from their ancestral village. As you search for families, start at your ancestral village and work outward. Especially good targets are larger industrialized towns or cities where they may have gone.
j) Send it air mail (US$0.80 per ounce, 2004). It will take about 2 weeks to arrive. To save US$0.40 and send it by ground really does take 60 days to arrive.
k) Be prepared to wait 6 weeks or longer for a reply. 2 weeks there, 2 weeks back and the rest of the time for them to talk about the letter, decide what to write and respond.
l) General Form of the Address:
Street address (not required in small villages) or current house number.
Postal Code, Town/City
SLOVAK REPUBLIC (don’t use “Slovakia”. It is sometimes confused with “Slovenia.”
Ulič, č.d. 101
067 67 Ulič
Description: Ladislav lives in house number 101 in the town of Ulič. [ č.d. or simply č means "číslo domu", which is "house number"] There are no street names in this village. Postal code is 06767.
811 07 Bratislava
Description Maria lives at #50 Krizna Street, Bratislava, postal code 811 07
BLIND LETTER OF INTRODUCTION
Note: These letters utilize the Blind Letter form presented by Mr. John A. Hudick at his web page "SLOVAK and RUSYN ROOTS; GETTING STARTED"
Here is my first letter. Note that I used the word “communicate,” rather than “write”. Write has multiple meanings which may be ambiguous. I made a vague statement about visiting. I didn’t know exact information about my grandparents. You would be surprised how little they may know also. I sent six letters, first to the places closest to the ancestral village. If this went bust, I then would write to the next six, farther out. I received two replies, both written in English (by their children). One has blossomed into a wonderful relationship, having visited with them in 2001 for two weeks. The follow-on letters will serve to establish trust in you. Only then will they begin to open up to you. This is simply human nature.
Dear Mr. Tarkulic:
Peter and Mary had 7 children, two who are still living in America, Julia and Susan. It is possible that their name was originally TARKULIC. We are told Peter had no brothers, but did have a sister named Catherine. Mary had a brother, Michael who came to America and lived near Scranton, Pennsylvania. Mary had two other brothers, Wasyl and Charles both whom remained in Slovakia.
Thank you very much for your help.
BLIND LETTER OF INTRODUCTION, SECOND VERSION
The second letter was written when I had much more information about my grandfather’s family. Turns out my grandmother Dzuba was from an adjacent village. By the time I wrote this letter, I had been corresponding for a year and was planning a trip to the village. Another correspondent from nearby (Mick Sura) traveled to the region and took many photographs for me. He stopped by the house and they sent him away. I found out later that they saw his photography gear and assumed he was a filmmaker. Turns out the area was getting the attention of filmmakers and photographers because the area is so picturesque. Secondly, Mr. Dzuba never replied. We later learned that he was illiterate and probably too embarrassed to ask someone to write on his behalf. So you treat this situation sensitively. When we arrived in the village our cousins placed a call to him (in native Rusyn language) and he gladly invited us to visit. So, the vodka was poured and a toast was made. Moral of the story is that as long as you approach these things sensitively, you can continue to open doors.
Dear Mr. Dzuba:
I am the grandson of PETER TARKULIC (born Zboj 1884) and MARIA DZUBA (born Nova Sedlica 1888). I am researching my family history and would appreciate the opportunity to share this information with you.
My grandparents, Peter and Maria immigrated to America in 1904. Maria’s brother, MICHAEL DZUBA also from Nova Sedlica, immigrated to America in 1895. I understand these were the only DZUBA to emigrate to America. My grandmother corresponded with CHARLES DZUBA in Nova Sedlica until the 1950’s.
I am ?? years old, an??, working for ??. I live in ??, about 20 Km from the city of Boston. I am married and have three children, ages ?, ? and ? years old.
I have reviewed the Zboj/Nova Sedlica Greek Catholic church records in Levoca in my search for our family. These records cover 1755 to 1878. I discovered the parents of MARIA DZUBA are PAL DZUBA and ANNA BRASKO. PAL DZUBA was born in WETLINA, Poland, 1853. A history book on Wetlina describes how the villagers of Nova Sedlica and Wetlina became friends, while working in the Carpathian woodlands. I understand that Operation Vistula destroyed the old village of Wetlina, but I do hope to visit the village.
In America, the DZUBA name was changed to “JUBA”. There are many JUBA families across America, all related.
I am enclosing some documents that you may find interesting. Zboj/Nova Sedlica Greek Catholic Church records, our DZUBA family tree.
Over the last year and a half, I have corresponded with the TARKULIC’ family of Ulic’ and Zboj. With their help, my sister and I are now preparing to visit these villages in July of this year. The Tarkulic’ family has generously offered to host our visit.
I would appreciate the opportunity to meet you, if this is possible. I understand that a friend of mine, ?? stopped by to visit you. On his own, he traveled to make photographs for me, as a personal favor. I hope that his visit to your home did not cause a disruption. Mick sent me some pictures of the countryside – your villages and natural surroundings are absolutely beautiful.
I am also enclosing some post cards of the city of Boston. I have also enclosed “International Reply Coupon” you may redeem at your post office for postage.
We plan to be visiting from July 21 to July 31. I do hope we will have the opportunity to meet you, if only to shake your hand. If you are not able to meet us, I will understand. I look forward to your reply.
“Blind Letters” Q&A
Q: Where did you get the names and addresses for the six letters you sent
A: The names and addresses came from a discussion group member who had just been given a set of six phone books for the whole of Slovakia. At that time, the books were broken up into regions. She gave me a set of 12 names, starting closest to the ancestral village. Nowadays you can accomplish the same thing since Slovakia Telecom has the directory Online.
I sent to the first six closest on the list. Strategy would be to write to the second batch if the first came up dry.
No reply from the Ancestral village, but two towns away, where a factory resides, I found my first Tarkulic’. By the way, I found many far away in Kosice and the youngest reside Bratislava. The young are moving to the cities. Sadly, many of the more remote villages are dying a slow “death”, mostly filled with elderly, while the young move on. An important point to note when identifying where to write.
Q: When I go to use the Slovak phone book I am unable to use it because of it all being in Slovak.
A: See Peter Nagy's directions for using the Slovak Telecommunications book. He’s done an admirable job translating the menu. As of 8/02, an English Version exists.
Second step was to have the letter translated to the native tongue. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. I respectfully disagree with your informant on writing in English. You must demonstrate some effort to meet them at their level. Whether they read/write English is irrelevant. This is Human Relations 101 here. Timeless, Dale Carnegie stuff. (Recall the stories about the Frenchmen who when blabbed to in English, pretended not to speak English even though they were quite fluent. Americans can be so arrogant, it's true.)
Q: What are International Reply Coupons?
A: This is an international convention, whereby you can go into any participating post office in the world and get a voucher (IRC) for about US $1.75 (in 2004) which may be redeemed by the recipient for air mail reply postage for that country. This is another important courtesy: Why should they pay money to reply to an unsolicited letter. The people are very open and very friendly as a whole, but you too must demonstrate your sincerity.
Your letter should be no more than two pages in length (my rule of thumb.) There will always be time for more correspondence later. Encourage them to write back in Slovak, Rusyn, Ukraine or whatever. You can get it translated. Not worth the risk of no reply.
Sadly, some people didn’t who didn’t reply (whom I met personally when I traveled there) were illiterate and too embarrassed to ask someone to write on their behalf.
See the US Postal Service site for a Q&A.
Q: Slovak Republic Postal Codes: Again, I was provided with this information from a discussion group. Today, in the online world, Slovenska Post Office has a web site. If you’re uncomfortable with the results, ask someone on this forum to check it. It’s a friendly lot here, I’m sure someone will help.
Q:. I plan to send another letter with a picture of the farm house, and pictures of my grandfather, his brother and family and his sisters. Someone else thought maybe they thought I was after the family farm.
A: It’s important to try and demonstrate not only your sincerity but also the familial connection. I had been able to put together enough of a tree to demonstrate the connection back to the village (but not these specific people). I explained when they left, and what family developed here in the States. I included my meager family tree, along with any other names or information that might establish my credibility. My strategy was to leave out the pictures first time, they went after I got a reply.
Q: What kind of response did you get?
Of six letters, I got two responses. One from two brothers living in Snina and then another from a cousin (this took me 6 more months to ascertain) who asked his collegiate daughter to respond on his behalf. He speaks and writes Ukrainian and Rusyn only. In fairness, English only began to be generally available in the classroom within the last 10 years. So it’s fair to assume that the majority of citizens over 30 are probably not fluent in English.
The reply was warm, enthusiastic and full of surprise and astonishment. I cannot begin to say how important it is to break ground with the younger generation. I have written elsewhere that for what the young lack in wisdom and knowledge, they more than make up for in enthusiasm, energy and initiative. If I was hiring, I'd take a dozen. The want to meet Americans and learn English. They see this as their ticket to success. Take advantage of this, it’s a two-way street. Write as if you just beamed down from planet Mars. For some of the locals, you may well have. Many outside of the largest cities have never met (or seen) an American.
Most of them didn't believe or ignored most of the Soviet anti-imperialistic American propaganda. They were just as ignorant of our lifestyles as we were of their. However, nowadays their television gets all our Television Situation-Comedies with subtitles and many of them believe this is a fair representation of life in America. Boy, that took a lot of explaining by me to undo!
Thanks to "ferom" from slovensko.com for house number syntax.
Thanks to V. Lindner for postal address syntax
Links to off-site webs will open in a new window. Please disable your pop-up stopper.