Family records: Keepers or scatterers?

Oct. 14, 2009 at 5:14 a.m.
Updated Oct. 15, 2009 at 5:15 a.m.

Bethlehem scene painted by Texas Czech artist Ferdinand Pribyl.

Bethlehem scene painted by Texas Czech artist Ferdinand Pribyl.

In past years of working with researchers and helping them climb their family trees, I noticed that many families living in our area whose ancestors immigrated after 1850 have numerous letters, diaries, photographs, quilts, and other wonderful records handed down to them from past generations. I am always envious because my ancestral collectibles can be stored in one small box housing only a few photographs of my grandparents and surely no keepsakes.

George Schweitzer, in his genealogy lecture last month, related that the Scots and Irish in early American history always seemed to be on the move and were not ones to tarry and establish deep roots. Therefore, I have developed a personal theory: My ancestors were not keepers, they were scatterers. They were on the move and too busy to hold onto letters, too busy to write diaries, not interested in photographs, and used their quilts until they wore out.

On the other hand, my friend David Pribyl's family came to Texas from Czechoslovakia and possesses a treasure trove of memorabilia and delights in preserving and displaying it for all to see and enjoy. One of their prized possessions is the Czech Nativity Art that will be on display in the Institute of Texas Cultures in San Antonio Nov. 21, through Jan. 3. The Bethlehem scenes were painted by Texas Czech artist Ferdinand Pribyl (David's direct ancestor) over 100 years ago. The Institute states, "Pribyl immigrated in 1885 from Frenstat, Moravia, and eventually settled in Victoria County. Within 10 years he was producing panoramic Bethlehem scenes, styled after a religious Czech folk tradition. The scenes vary in size from 10-18 feet in length and are assembled from dozens of cutout and painted cardboard figures and background pieces mounted into a slotted baseboard, giving a three dimensional effect. The painted background is typical of Czech villages and countryside. The exhibit will include two complete Bethlehem scenes, paintings and several cases of individual figures. A preview and reception will be held from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m., Nov. 21. Bette Stockbauer-Harris, great grand-niece of the artist, will deliver a PowerPoint presentation about his life and work. The Institute is located at UTSA Hemisfair Park Campus, 801 E. Durango, 210-458-2300. More information on Ferdinand Pribyl can be found at

Old Newspapers Website: The Calhoun County Library is testing the research waters to determine interest in old newspapers. From now until the end of October, Debbie Stovall urges researchers to use the demonstration site for newspaper research. Go to and click Links on the left column. Next, click Texas Historical Newspaper Archives. The log in and password are the same: ncdthacdemo. Use it often to let the CC Library Board know how much we value old newspapers for genealogical research.

Happy Researching. May your ancestors be keepers, not scatterers.

Send e-mail genealogy queries to Martha Jones at "". VCGS members will research queries requiring extensive study.



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