Historical documentary sources from two regions with contrasting historical and social development were examined for information about landslide occurrence and characteristics. The archive search was complemented with limited field work to acquire information about the degree of recent landslide activity and land use. The results from two study areas (Ústí nad Labem in North Bohemia and Zlín in East Moravia) show considerable differences in the types of historical documentary source, their availability and the information they record. It is concluded that local newspapers that include special sections focusing on regional events are the best data sources for the landslide study. The reliability of the acquired historical landslide occurrence frequencies is generally not very good, but it does show notable regional differences caused by not only the availability of documentary sources but also the dynamics of the natural processes responsible for the landslide events. A reconstruction of the landslide activity during the last 70 or more years was carried out for selected sites. The reconstruction showed that the occurrence of historical landslides is only rarely respected in recent land use within both studied urban areas. Historical landslide information could be well used for site-specific landslide hazard assessment. Nevertheless, the use of this information to construct a historical landslide database on the regional or country level is limited only to certain regions of the Czech Republic. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.