In An Unexpected Place

The Jirsa family came to the United States in about 1904 from Bohemia, an area that is part of the modern Czech Republic. Peter Miller came from Croatia, but were also of the Czech nationality. David, a grandson of Peter and Marie Jirsa Miller, had grown up in a Virginia farmhouse built by Peter Miller. This family was special to David, and he wanted to learn more about them.

After coming to the United States, the Jirsa family lived in Baltimore for a period of time, and David knew little about this part of his Czech family’s story. He had spent some time looking for information about his Czech ancestors, including a marriage for Marie Jirsa and Peter Miller, but was unable to find what he hoped to find. This led him to post a request on AncestorCloud. He posted the following:

“Church record for marriage of Marie Jirsa Miller and Peter Martin Miller, supposedly married at a catholic church in Baltimore in 1920 or 1921.”

Peggy, who lives in Baltimore, saw David’s request and believed she could help David because of her past experience and access to local records. Once David accepted Peggy’s proposal to help, Peggy got to work.

Marriage Record for Julie Jirsa (Marie’s sister) and Joseph Miller (Peter’s brother)

Both Peggy and David tried searching the records of St. Wenceslaus Church, which served the large Bohemian Catholic community in Baltimore. This seemed logical because David believed both Peter and Marie to be Catholic. He also believed that they were both living in the “Little Bohemia” section of Baltimore. Although the search of records from St. Wenceslaus Church showed that Marie’s sister, Julie Jirsa, had married Peter’s brother, Joseph Miller, there was no marriage of Marie Jirsa to Peter Miller. Peggy decided that, rather than setting out on a wild goose chase to find the record in other Baltimore churches, she would check newspapers from the area. Although it was a good idea, the newspaper search did not provide the desired information. Of course, she wasn’t about to give up, so she tried one more thing.

Since state marriage records are held at the Maryland State Archives, Peggy was certain she could solve the mystery there in short order. At the state archives, she requested marriage records for the years 1919, 1920, and 1921 (about thirty boxes worth!) and searched through these records month by month, until arriving at the folder with marriage license returns from June 1921. And there it was — a marriage license return for Peter M Miller and Mary Zirsa. The variation in Marie’s name was easily explained. Marie went by Mary for a large part of her life, and, when said with an accent, “Jirsa” easily sounded like “Zirsa.” They had married 20 June 1921 in Baltimore.

Marriage License return for Peter Miller and Mary Zirsa.

Although the marriage record had been found, Peggy was not quite finished. The record indicated the Joseph Donat performed the marriage ceremony. Although this seemed like just a name, it led to some valuable context. After looking in a city directory and a list of Baltimore clergy in 1921, Peggy found that Joseph Donat was clergy at a Mt. Tabor Methodist Episcopal Church, which also served the Bohemian community. Peter and Marie had chosen to be married in a Methodist Episcopal church, rather than a Catholic church.

Before Peggy’s finding, David had not known that, in addition to the St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church, there were 2 other churches that served the Bohemian immigrants. One of those churches was Mt. Tabor Methodist Episcopal Church, in which Marie and Peter were married.

Entry identifying Joseph Donat of the Mt. Tabor Methodist Episcopal church, who performed the marriage ceremony of Marie and Peter

David did not want to give up on finding out more about his grandparents. Thanks to the records and information that Peggy found through her persistence and experience, David now understands more about the context of Peter and Marie’s marriage.

Image from Wikimedia Commons and used under GNU Free Documentation License.

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