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Family history moment: 'A big luck'

My dad’s mother was an exotic creature. Unlike my other grandparents, she was born in the faraway land of Bohemia and came to America when she was 18, leaving her father and 5-year-old sister in the old country. Grandma wrote to her family regularly until she passed away in 1960. My parents kept a small box of letters and photographs sent to Grandma, even though none of us could read or speak the Czech language.

Planning a business trip to Germany in December 1995, I decided to add a few vacation days, travel to the Czech Republic, and visit Grandma’s village to try to find her family. I took the 1951 wedding picture of Dad’s cousin, Hana, to help in the search. As I walked along the cold and windy streets of Dlouha Ves and Rychnov nad Kneznou, few people were about. One older lady recognized Hana’s wedding picture and explained that she had moved far away. Cold and discouraged, I returned home without making contact.

Months later, I received a surprising letter, addressed to the apartment where I lived while awaiting completion of a house in McMinnville, Oregon, but delivered to the newly completed house. McMinnville and Rychnov nad Kneznou were about the same size. … If I wrote to Hana, with only the city and country as the address, would it be delivered to her? I quickly wrote a letter in English and dictionary Czech, and sent it off. Six weeks later, I received a reply from Dad’s cousin, Ota, inviting me to visit.

I visited Ota, Hana, and the rest of the family many times. They welcomed me as a family member and invited me to stay in the home where Grandma grew up. They told me stories about Grandma and how she “ran off to America” rather than waiting for her fiancé to finish his seven years of service in the Austrian army. They told me what happened to all of the family after Grandma left. They helped me find the regional archive that houses the parish records, leading to temple work for many family members. They have been a tremendous blessing in researching Grandma’s family history.

A couple of years later, I asked Ota if it was unusual for Hana to receive my first letter. It was, he said, “a big luck.” I think he meant it was a miracle. When the letter arrived, the usual postmaster for Hana’s area was on vacation, and a retired postmaster who knew Hana was filling in. The postmaster personally delivered the letter to her, otherwise it is unlikely that she would have received it.

In family history work, wonderful things can come from the smallest actions. I’m so grateful for the inspiration to send that first letter at just the time it would be delivered.

— Carol Millar, Beacon Light Ward, Star Idaho Stake

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