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Who's Vende?
By Clare Peden Midgley
A true story of research and luck

The information from the client came from her family's Bible. Vende and Rose FRITSCH, each born about 1815, had a son, Frank. Frank married Anna GRASS and they lived in Humbolt, Richardson County, Nebraska. Vende and Rose died in Humbolt and dates were provided.

After census studies, sending for deeds, probate, vital and church records, I was beginning to think Vende and Rose never immigrated to this country. Two of the deeds I received from Richardson County were for a Frank FRITSCH who lived in Pawnee County. Two of Frank and Anna's children were baptized in Table Rock, Pawnee County. With nowhere else to go, I studied the Pawnee County census records and still found no Vende and Rose FRITSCH, but there was a Wenzel and Rosalia FRITZ. There were also several FRITZ families whose parents were the right age to be Wenzel's children. I spent some time trying to find out if Vende and Wenzel were the same name. I sent for Wenzel's probate, asking for it under all name combinations. There was nothing for Rosalia, but there was a file for Wenzel FRITSCH. His will named a Frank among his children. But which Frank? The one from Pawnee County? Or the "right" one, from Humbolt?

The client agreed to a trip to Nebraska, and my husband Harry offered to drive. We left early on a bright, crisp morning. Pawnee City, the county seat, is a charming, old-fashioned town with an active restoration program. We started research in the Probate Judge's office. The clerk was a lively person who kept telling us she didn't have time to be helping us but then suggesting more ;) She got excited about an affidavit with a red seal on it and asked what it was. This was a declaration from the son still in Bohemia, and in it, "Wenzel FRITSCH" is spelled "Vaclav FRIC". I pointed out the Czech writing and asked her if she could read it. She said no, but maybe the man across the hall could. She grabbed it and ran out. Returning in a few minutes, she told us that man didn't read Czech but the lawyer up on the corner did.

When I asked for Wenzel's probate file, the clerk was confused because "you already have it all." How wrong she was! Among the many pages I hadn't been sent was a letter from the Probate Judge in Johnson County, Nebraska, stating that Rosalia's estate was probated there. The plot was thickening. Why was she in Johnson County and not in Humbolt, where I needed her to be?!

Even Harry was getting interested and asked if he could help. We went across the hall and searched deeds, finding Wenzel in the country before Vende was supposed to be here, marriage records, where we found Rosalia's maiden name, and were shown the cemetery book. In this, we found the Bohemian-Slovak Cemetery with not only Vaclav and Rose buried there, but one of the cemetery founders was Vaclav FRIC

Time was getting short, so we left, planning to find lunch and then go to Table Rock to take pictures of the cemetery. But what about the Czech-speaking lawyer? I hated to waste time sitting in a waiting room. Luck prevailed and Joe Stehlik ushered me right through a little greenhouse room and into his office. He called his parents, put them both on the speaker phone and tried to read the old script to them. None of them was getting anywhere, and they told him to send us up to their house. He gave me a piece of a plat map of Table Rock with directions and I asked him if he could point out where Wenzel's land was from the legal description. It turns out the lawyer has all the old plat maps in his basement because he is the president of the restoration committee. He sent his wife down to get the right one and then made copies for me. The Bohemian Cemetery is right across the road from Wenzel's land.

We high-tailed it for Table Rock where Mr. and Mrs. Stehlik were waiting for us, and translated the affidavit. Then Mrs. Stehlik showed me a book she had written of the history of Table Rock. A paragraph told about Vaclav FRIC who had been a mason in Bohemia and who built the first schoolhouse in Pawnee County. Their son Joe's schoolbus driver had been the gggrandson of Wenzel FRITSCH and lives across the road from the schoolhouse. Mr. Stehlik told Harry how to find it, turning "right after the bridge and go(ing) down the dirt road." The couple took a look at our car and decided we'd make it down the road ok. They also explained that "Vende" was how the nickname for Wenzel sounded, and to further confuse the name issue, Wenzel translates to "James," so records are found under both names.

The weather was turning, an icy wind coming from the west, and the light was beginning to fade. All I'd worn was my lightweight purple coat and I didn't want to be wandering a strange cemetery in the snow and dark. We drove first to the cemetery, where the FRITSCH monument was right next to the gate. I snapped several pictures and we scooted back to the warm car. Harry found the dirt road, and followed the rest of the directions to the schoolhouse which were "you'll turn a corner and it'll be right in front of you." We passed a sawmill, an appliance graveyard, turned a corner -- and there it was, a wonderful stone building with an old kitchen stove and a rusty bale of barbed wire right in front. I knew that wouldn't make a good picture, so I slogged through the snow and mud and took a picture from the back.

It was now 3:25 and I realized I'd forgotten to copy something down at the Pawnee Courthouse. It was on our way home, so we headed back, trying to make it before they closed at 4 p.m. I had wanted to go to Tecumseh, Johnson County, to look at Rosalia's probate file, but decided I'd have to send for it. Suddenly we were coming to a fork in the road. The signs said, "Pawnee City" (left) and "Tecumseh" (right). Harry asked, "Ok, which one?" and I yelled, "Oh! Uh! OH! TECUMSEH!" and we drove up and down through farmland and by old ramshackle houses all the time watching the clock and hoping the courthouse was still open. I still didn't have the proof that tied Wenzel and Rosalia in Table Rock to Frank and Anna in Humbolt.

Arriving in Tecumseh at 3:42, I found the probate office in the basement. The desk right inside the door had a homemade sign, "NOT A SEAT!" I thought it was a perfect place to rest, but resisted the temptation. I asked the clerk for Rosalia FRITSCH's probate file. She dragged out the computerized index, and pronounced, "Not here." Case closed. That couldn't be! I KNEW it was here! Before she could shut the book, I leaned over and looked for myself. It was under FRIC. The clerk huffed, "That's not what you told me!" You can imagine how thrilled she was to go to the vault to get it for me. When I saw how big the file was, I asked if she could copy it for me, since I didn't want to rush through it and miss something. Flustered, she said nobody had ever asked for all the pages before. She always went through and picked out what looked important to save people money.

As she copied, I scanned. There it was! The missing link -- "Anna, wife of Frank" in an affidavit about the good care they gave Rosalia during her last year -- in Humbolt.

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