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The Czech Republic: History
3th century BC: A Celtic tribe called Boii settled in the Czech lands and gave the country its name – Bohemia.
4th century AD: Celts replaced by Germanic tribes. Part of the Celts stayed and assimilated and part of them went further west to the region of today’s Switzerland.
Movement of Nations & Arrival of Slavs
6th century: Slavs come from the East and settle in Bohemia during the movement of nations.
7th century: A Frankish merchant Sámo succeeded in uniting the Slavic tribes and defeating the tribe of the Avars that occupied today’s Hungary.
The Great Moravian Empire
830: Great Moravian Empire was established, including Bohemia and parts of Poland and Hungary.
862: Missionaries Cyril and Methodius (originally from Greece) came and spread Eastern Christianity. They created the Slavonic script (Cyrillic alphabet that is still in use in Russia and Bulgaria) and translated religious texts from Greek and Latin into the Old Slavonic language (later replaced by Latin).
906: The Great Moravian Empire collapsed with the Hungarian invasion.
Kingdom of Bohemia & Premyslid Dynasty
10th century: Kingdom of Bohemia under the Premyslid dynasty expands to include Moravia and part of Poland.
973: Bishopric founded in Prague in 973.
1085: Vratislav II was granted the royal crown and becoming the first Czech king in 1085 (remaining subordinate to the Holy Roman Empire and the German king)
1212: The royal title of the Czech king became hereditary in 1212 by the Golden Sicilian Bull.
Mid 13th century: During the reign of Přemysl Otakar II the Czech kingdom briefly expanded all the way from North See to the Mediterranean.
1306: The Přemyslid dynasty ended with the death of its last member, Wenceslas III.
The Luxembourg Dynasty & King Charles IV
1310: The Czech throne was taken by John of Luxembourg.
Mid 14th century: During the reign of John of Luxembourg’s son Charles IV, the Czech lands experienced the Golden Age of their history. Kingdom of Bohemia incorporated into Holy Roman Empire.
1344: Through the efforts of Emperor Charles IV., Prague was made an archbishopric by Pope Clement VI.
1355: Prague becomes imperial capital of most of Europe under Charles IV.
Protestant Movement & John Huss
1400s: Conflicts between the Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church. Started and by priest John Huss (Jan Hus). Huss spoke against the corruption of the Catholic Church.
1415: Hus’ ideology was not liked by the Church and Jan Hus was burned at the stake.
1419: The First Defenestration – followers of John Huss threw counselors out of the windows of Prague’s New Town. Religious wars followed.
1458: Czech Protestant, George of Poděbrady (Jiří z Poděbrad), was elected as the country’s new king. Protestants and Catholics lived peacefully side by side.
The Habsburg Dynasty
1526: Bohemia and Moravia fall under the control of the Austrian Hapsburg monarchy (until 1918). The Catholic religion reinstated in the country.
1583: Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, moved his court back to Prague (from Vienna). This era is referred to as Prague’s Second Golden Age.
23 May 1618: Rudolf’s successor Matthias attempted to deprive the Protestants of their freedoms which resulted in the Second Defenestration of Prague in 1618 when several Matthias’ governors were thrown out of a window of the Prague Castle.
8 November 1620: Czech revolt against Austria harshly put down. Defeat at the Battle of the White Mountain results in Bohemia and Moravia becoming provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Battle of the White Mountain resulted in the Thirty Years’ War that spread across Europe.
21 June 1621: 27 Protestant leaders were executed on the Old Town Square and all religions except Catholic were banned. The Czech language and national consciousness were suppressed for the next 150 years.
1840-1890: Habsburg empress Maria Theresa began administrative and economic reforms. In addition, she undertook reforms in the social, legal, and religious spheres. After Maria Theresa’s death, her sun Joseph II continued the reforms.
1781: The Edict of Tolerance granted Protestants almost equal status with Catholics other decrees lifted restrictions on Jews and opened up communities, trades, and educational opportunities previously barred to them. These reforms started the process of abolishing of the Prague Jewish ghetto.
National Revival & Industrial Revolution
1848: European revolutions inspire Czechoslovak nationalists.
19th century: Attempts to bring the Czech language, culture and national identity back to life (during the reign of the Hapsburg dynasty the official language was German). The Czech language was reformed.
1883: The National Theater opened performing in the Czech language.
19th century: Characterized by the Industrial Revolution and the building of factories.
1845: A railway between Vienna and Prague was opened.
Word War I & The Czechoslovak Republic
1914: The beginning of the end of the Habsburg dynasty came with the assassination of Francis Ferdinand in 1914, an event that preceded World War I.
October 28, 1918: With the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, the Czech lands and Slovakia jointly proclaimed the establishment of independent Czechoslovakia. The time between WWI and WWII is now called “the First Republic”. Czechoslovakia had a parliamentary democracy, concentrated 70% of the industry of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, and had an economy that was among the strongest in the world.
Munich Pact & World War II
Mid 1930s: the German inhabitants of the Czech border areas called the Sudetenland began calling for autonomy.
September 1938: Germany, Britain, France and Italy signed the Munich Pact, giving Hitler the right to invade and claim Czechoslovakia’s border areas.
March 15, 1939: Czechoslovakia was invaded by Hitler’s army.
1940: President Benes establishes government in exile in London.
May 1942: Savage reprisals follow assassination of ‘Protector’ Heydrich. The village of Lidice is wiped out by Nazis.
5 May 1945: National uprising against German occupation starts in Prague.
9 May 1945: Soviet troops enter Prague. The western territories of the Czech Republic, including Plzeň, were liberated by the American army lead by General Patton
Oct 1945: Benes restored as President and orders the expulsion of more than 2.5 million Sudeten Germans and over 500,000 ethnic Hungarians.
May 1946: National elections result in communist-socialist coalition government.
25th February: Communist party seizes power in advance of scheduled elections.
March 1948: Fraudulent elections see communists secured in power. Harsh Stalinist regime imposed.
9 May 1948: New constitution establishes People’s Democratic Republic of Czechoslovakia.
1952: Leading communists executed after show trials.
1955: Czechoslovakia joins the Warsaw Pact.
Jan 1968: Alexander Dubcek becomes communist party leader, and launches a programme of reforms known as the Prague Spring.
20 August 1968: Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces invade Czechoslovakia with 7500 tanks, 1000 planes and a half million soldiers. Dubcek taken to Moscow and forced to end reforms. Censorship imposed. Liberal leaders ousted.
1969 to 1987: It was characterized by initial restoration of the conditions prevailing before the reform period led by Alexander Dubcek.
1977: Charter 77 human rights group founded, including playwright Vaclav Havel.
April 1987: Mikhail Gorbachev visits Czechoslovakia, raising hopes of imminent reforms.
Aug 1988: Mass demonstrations mark 20th anniversary of 1968 invasion.
Velvet Revolution until Present
Early 1989: Police disperse numerous mass protests against human and civil rights violations. Police brutality sparks further protests.
Oct 1989: Fall of East German communist regime.
17 Nov 1989: Velvet Revolution: peaceful student protest in Prague violently put down by Police. Widespread mass protests and strikes in favor of free elections follow.
19 Nov 1989: Civil Forum anti-government coalition formed, calling for resignation of communist party leader and introduction of democracy.
25-27 Nov 1989: Mass demonstrations and general strike.
29 Nov 1989: Communist constitutional hold on political power abolished.
June 1990: First free parliamentary elections since 1946, won by Civic Forum and its allies.
July 1990: Vaclav Havel publicly elected President.
June 1991: Soviet forces (present since 1968) complete their withdrawal.
Split of Czechoslovakia
1 Jan 1993: Czechoslovakia splits into two separate countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. ‘Velvet Divorce’.
May 1998: Czech Republic invited to join NATO.
1 May 2004: Czech Republic joins the European Union.
2008: January 1, Czech Republic accedes to the Schengen agreement and removes internal borders with Schengen area countries. This allows travel to and from these countries without checks, both at land borders and airports.
1999 March - Czech Republic becomes full member of Nato.
1999 November - Czech government bows to international and national pressure and orders the demolition of a controversial wall in the northern town of Usti nad Labem built to segregate the homes of Gypsies from those of other residents.
2000 January - CDP renews agreement to support Zeman's minority CSDP government.
2000 October- Start-up of first reactor at Temelin nuclear power plant causes outcry in neighbouring Austria which threatens to block Czech EU membership.
2001 January - The biggest street protests since the overthrow of Communism and a strike by journalists lead to the resignation of Jiri Hodac as director-general of state television. Hodac is widely seen as a political appointee and accused of compromising editorial independence.
2001 April - Vladimir Spidla elected chairman of ruling Social Democrats after Prime Minister Milos Zeman steps down as party boss. Zeman stays on as prime minister pending elections.
2001 November - Czech government and Austria's Chancellor Schuessel move to settle dispute over Temelin nuclear power plant by agreeing tough measures to improve safety and monitor impact on environment.
2002 April - Parliament votes unanimously to reject calls by neighbouring countries for the repeal of the post-war Benes decrees which led to the expulsion of over two and a half million ethnic Germans.
2002 June-July - Social Democratic Party led by Vladimir Spidla tops the poll in elections but wins only 70 seats in the 200 seat parliament. Spidla forms coalition with centrist alliance of Christian Democrats and Freedom Union. The Communists come third in the election with 41 seats, scoring by far their best result since the Velvet Revolution.
2002 August - Prague suffers its worst flooding in 200 years as torrential rain batters central Europe other towns and villages across the country are also devastated. Floodwaters spare the city's historic Old Town.
Flag of Czechia
7. The Czech Republic ranks as one of the least religious populations in the world, with only 19 percent of them claiming to believe in God.
8. Mushroom hunting is a favorite pastime of the Czech people. In the autumn it is a national passion in the damp forests. They gather yearly at St. Václav Day in September and the hunts can be quite competitive.
Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, and Czech Republic: Genealogy, Ancestry, and Family History Knowledge Hub
Welcome to the Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, and Czech Republic Knowledge Hub Page of Onward To Our Past®. Here you should find a wealth of useful information, insights, and links for your genealogy and family history work regarding Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, and Czech Republic.
My goal here is not for this location to be the ‘be all and end all’ of your search for your Bohmian and/or Czech family history and roots. Rather I plan for this to be a knowledge hub from which you can learn, link, find additional resources, and return with questions, ideas, and new findings.
Since I am a Genealogical Historian, I will begin with just a bit of history for us.
This is a photo of the 1700’s map of Bohemia I found in a used book shop.
HISTORY OF BOHEMIA:
As genealogists and family historians, we are accustomed to trying to find things that have been largely lost in the impenetrable vaults of time. However, I must admit that as I began my journey back in time to find what I could about my elusive Bohemian great-grandfather Joseph K. Vicha, I was quite surprised to learn that the entire Bohemian immigrant community has been largely ignored and little studied. This being true even though the Bohemians were a vibrant, integral, and important segment of major cities in the United States such as Chicago, Illinois, Cleveland, Ohio, New York City, New York, and St. Louis, Missouri. Plus a significant number of small cities and town scattered across the Midwest and Southwestern farm belts.
Another early item that you will become aware of is that our ancestors were alternately listed as Czechoslovaks, Czechs, Austrians, Slavs, or even at times the pejorative, ‘bohunks’. In the records in Cleveland I find that they were fairly consistently listed as ‘Bohemian’ in all the records I have been finding.
Quick overview of the names you will find for the same geographic area as Bohemia
- Historic to 1918: Bohemia or Ceska
- 1918-1938: Republic of Czechoslovakia
- 1938-1945: Annexation by Gemany
- 1945-1960: Czechoslovak Republic
- 1960-1990: Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
- 1990-1992: Czechoslovakia
- 1993 to present: Czech Republic
I quickly discovered that my ancestors were indeed Bohemian (not bohemian) and that Bohemia, now a significant region of the Czech Republic, has a long, rich, and tumultuous history. Bohemia was one of the leading and most enlightened countries of the European continent far before any other of the Western European nations knew much of anything about enlightenment. They were centuries ahead of all of Europe in their educational system, cultural development, and political, religious, and economic freedoms. Unfortunately there also existed a lot of animosity towards the beliefs and freedoms enjoyed by the Bohemian people, especially by the Roman Catholic Church and the Habsburg Empire. Shortly after the judicial murder of Jan Hus (he was burned at the stake for being a heretic) his followers, the Hussites, were set upon following the issuance of a Papal Bull by Pope Martin V. Thus began three, yes three, Crusades by the Catholic Church with the express mission of destroying all Hussites. These Crusades are most often referred to as the Hussite Wars and lasted from 1420 to 1434. After a short period of peace following the failed Catholic crusades, came the Battle of White Mountain and The Thirty-Years War. This war devastated Bohemia and her peoples, it changed it into a nation enslaved by a neighbor State and nearly destroyed her simply for her beliefs. Then followed what is called doba temna or Dark Age when for 150 years the Catholic church sought to eradicate all vestiges of Czech identity. I suggest you read about such early Bohemian historical figures as St. Wenceslas, St. Procopius, Karel Havliček, and of course, Jan Hus. As I personally dug deeper and began to learn more about the Thirty-Years War, which in history class I had only been taught to memorize the start and end dates I was shocked to learn of the devastation rained down upon Bohemia. I learned about the Counter-Reformation. I learned about the uprising of 1848 and the Battle of White Mountain. My spirit sank as I learned of the reprisals and the attempts to exterminate Bohemia and her people. However, best of all, I began to understand my ancestors, my personal history, and the foundations for many of their beliefs that were handed down to me for my life generations later, especially since my ancestors were ardent Freethinkers.
I am sure you wonder why might our ancestors may have left Bohemia. In my case, I knew my family legend of the onus of military service (conscription for a ten year term) to a foreign master of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Habsburgs. I also knew of their persecution because of their Freethinking ideals.
However, I gained a better insight when I read Kenneth D. Miller’s book The Czecho-Slovaks in America. In his book, Miller states “It was possible inBohemia under the old regime to distinguish three classes of peasants. First, there was the “sedlák” or famer, who was the owner of a farm of from twenty-five to a hundred acres and a nice “statek,” or farmhouse. Then there was the “chalupník” or cottager, who owned a small cottage, and from five to twenty-five acres of land. Peasants of this class made but a scanty living from their farm, and were apt to eke it out by hiring themselves out as day-laborers or farm-hands, or by carrying on some form of industry in the home during the winter months. The third class is made up of “nadeníci” or day-laborers, who owned no land at all, but generally lived in a tiny cottage on the farm of the “sedlák” or on the great estate of the nobleman, receiving their rent as part of their wages. These people were miserably poor and lived a hand-to-mouth existence. Czech cottagers – The immigrants toAmerica were largely from the second class. The “sedlák” was too comfortably fixed to want to leave his homeland, while the day laborer was too poor even to think of emigrating. But the cottager was in the position where it was difficult for him to make a decent living, while at the same time he was in possession of some property which could be sold or given in security in order to raise the money necessary for the journey.” I found this particularly interesting since in the Bohemian records I have located, several of my ancestors were indeed listed as “chalupník”, or cottagers.
Unfortunately, I shouldn’t have been surprised. A member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, Professor Francis Dvornik, states in his book, Czech Contributions To The Growth of The United States, “The fact that, so far, no attempt has been made to present a synthetic picture of the Czech immigration into the United States, and at evaluating Czech contributions to the growth of their new country, in a language accessible to all Americans, induced me to publish this essay, in the hope that someone else, more informed and better equipped, would one day complete it.”
In the excellent reference book compiled by George J. Kovtun, former Czech expert for the Library of Congress, Czech and Slovak History: An American Bibliography, you will find an Introductory Essay titled The Beginnings of American Scholarship on Czech and Slovak History written by Stanley B. Winters. In this enlightening essay, Mr. Williams points out that the first doctoral dissertation on Bohemian history was not written until 1914 at Harvard University by future professor Robert J. Kerner. The second would not appear until 1930 at the University of Southern California, Berkley. Not until 1957 would there be the first dissertation on Moravia and the first on Slovakia not until 1961. Author Winters also notes “Since the beginning of the twentieth century, historians of the Slavs of Central and Eastern Europe have faced professional and intellectual problems that slowed the development of their field. He also adds praise for the pre-World War I writings of Emily Greene Balch and Thomas Capek.
An excellent background book on Czech immigration to the United States is Jan Habenicht’s seminal work, History of Czechs In America and translated into English by Miroslav Koudelka. By chapter, Jan recounts the Bohemian immigrants in 47 of the 50 United States. An excellent resource, however I will make one note about the author here. It is widely acknowledged that Jan Habenicht allowed his prejudice for the Bohemian immigrants who stayed aligned with the Roman Catholic church to show in this work. As a result it is not balanced with an equal discussion or inclusion of those Bohemians who were Freethinkers, a group of slightly over half of the immigrants to the United States.
Immigration began slowly and grew until the beginning of World War I. According to Eleanor E. Ledbetter, in her work The Czechs of Cleveland, there were only three Bohemian families in Cleveland in 1850, in 1860 only fifteen, and that by 1910 it was one of the largest Bohemian cities in the world, outnumbering even New York at that time, with an estimated population of some 50,000 first and second generation Bohemians. Thank goodness for Ms. Ledbetter, the Cleveland Librarian, who wrote this booklet! When you do serious research on the Cleveland Czech community, it is often the only resource anyone can cite. I am glad it is here. I am amazed that it is basically all there is.
According to Vaclav Snajdr, founder of Dennice Noveveku, one of the early Cleveland Czech-language newspapers and president of the Pilsener Brewing Company, in The Bulletin of Western Reserve University, there were three distinct periods of Bohemian immigration. The first was in the 1850’s. For us as genealogists it is very interesting to note that Mr. Snajdr points out that at this time the railroad did not connect Cleveland to the East, so “These immigrants came to Cleveland via boat from Canada, Montreal and Quebec…” The second period of Bohemian immigration was from 1860 to 1866, the period of time of the Austrian wars with Prussia and Italy, both fought mainly on Bohemian soil and which Mr. Snajdr points out ‘ruined many families’. The third period, and by far the largest in terms of numbers of immigrants, was during the decade of 1870-1880.
Leo Baca’s series of books, Czech Immigration Passenger Lists, can be a huge help for Bohemian immigrants as these nine volumes include not only Ellis Island immigrants, but also those who entered the United States via Castle Garden, New Orleans, Galveston, and Philadelphia. As a Clevelander, it was also interesting for me to read in The American City, that the City of Cleveland provided every immigrant who arrived on Ellis Island and stated Cleveland was their destination, with a copy of “The Immigrant’s Guide to the City of Cleveland, Ohio”. This ‘neat booklet’ was the work of the city immigration officer at the time, R. E. Cole, and was written in Czech, English, German, Hungarian, Polish, Yiddish, Slovak, Croatian, and Italian. Some 35,000 of these were given out and contained advice and information on the city.
It is also important to note that across the seas in our ‘homeland’, the Czech Republic is now divided into seven regions for their National Archives. These facilities hold most of the pre-1900 Parish books, plus cadastral records, maps, architectural documents, court and administrative records, as well as early Census records. Some of these regional archives are coming online, certainly good news for us all. You can even ‘friend’ the Central Archive in Prague on Facebook! The regional archives are located in Prague, Třeboň, Plzeň, Litoměřice, Zámrsk, Brno, and Opava for your reference. All have some records online now.
ActaPublica: http://actapublica.eu This website, funded by the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund, holds the digitized records for three Regional Archives of Western (Plzeň) and Central (Prague) Bohemia and Southern Moravian (Brno). The site will load in Czech, but most browsers offers translation to English. Once you register, you can begin searching for those all-important parish records of births, marriages and deaths.
Digital Archives State Regional Archives Třeboň: http://digi.ceskearchivy.cz/DA?lang=en This site offers the digital images for the State Regional Archives Trebon and State District Archives of South Bohemia. Once again, registration is necessary, but then you are free to browse. New materials are being added to this site on a weekly basis and one of the features of this site that I personally enjoy is that you can register for email updates whenever new materials are added.
Northern Bohemian Region Archives (Litomĕřice): http://matriky.coalitomerice.cz/matriky_lite/ This site offers two nice features. One is a very useful PDF document entitled “How to use the database”, which I highly recommend reading prior to searching. The second is their alphabetical listings of locations and registries held here.
Northern Moravian Region Archives (Opava): http://www.archives.cz/zao/digitalni_archiv/index.html Again this site will load in Czech, but my browser translator does an adequate job for making this site navigable by non-Czech speakers, like me.
Eastern Bohemia Region Archives (Zámrsk): http://brandys-ve-svete.cz/soa/en/index.php This archive has roughly 20% of their records in digital form, but they are adding almost daily so check often.
Due to the home village locations of my ancestors, I have a need to use the Digital Archives of the State Regional Archives of Třeboň 22 and I speak very highly of it. This site is fast accumulating all of the important documents for genealogy from the Třeboň district of the Czech Republic. The records that are online here are marvelous and one of the real treats of this archive is that you can sign up for regular email notices that come out whenever new documents are electronically created and made available on this public site.
Again, as genealogists, it is important for us to be aware that according to Joseph Slabey Roucek, of Penn State University, in The American Journal of Sociology, it was not until 1882 that the United States Immigration Service began to recognize Bohemian as a distinct nationality. Remember this key date when you are searching records for early Bohemian ancestors. They very well may be categorized incorrectly as German, Austrian, Slavic, or some other nationality.
In the early 1900’s, Clevelander and Bohemian nurse, Magdalena Kucera, wrote an article in Charities, A Weekly Review of Local and General Philanthropy. In her article, entitled “The Slavic Races In Cleveland”, Ms. Kucera states that there were some 40,000 Bohemians in Cleveland at that time and that “The Slavic races in Cleveland number one-fourth of the population”. Ms. Kucera also reports “They (Bohemians) are among the most intelligent and progressive of our immigrants. Nearly all of them have had a common school education and their record as useful citizens is one to be proud of. They strive to own their own homes and many of them already possess comfortable, attractive houses. The Bohemians have representatives in nearly all the trades and professions, the younger generation, especially, turning to law, medicine, and business. There are thirty doctors, twenty lawyers and many successful business men who have an established reputation for honesty and fair dealing. In the department of education they are also doing their share. Several of the young women are school teachers, one being on the teaching staff in one of the high schools, another a member of the Board of Examiners, a third, in the training school for teachers.” I found it of great interest to note that in Thomas Čapek’s book, The Čechs (Bohemians) in America A Study of Their National, Cultural, Political, Social, Economic and Religious Life, that Čapek confirms the importance of Magdalena Kučera’s information in a footnote as follows: “More trustworthy data on the Cleveland community than Chotek’s story are contained in the narratives of ….. Magadalena Kučera”.
Bruce M. Garver also points out in his chapter entitled “Czech-American Freethinkers on the Great Plains, 1871-1914”, in the book Ethnicity on the Great Plains, “Among all the nationalities that emigrated fromAustria-Hungary, they (Czechs) ranked highest in the percentage of skilled laborers and of literate adults – 98.5 percent …”
Dr. Garver’s chapter title brings to mind another of the aspects of the Bohemian immigrants that set them apart from their fellow immigrants, certainly was critical to my family, and is of importance to us as genealogists. Bohemian immigrants were split, almost 50/50, between Freethinkers and those following a formal religion, usually Roman Catholic. Freethinkers were crucial in establishing many of the Sokols, Lodges, theater, drama, and musical groups, camps, and fraternal organizations. Jan Habenicht, a staunch Roman Catholic, notes early, again in his History of Czechs in America, “Readers will probably be surprised that so much heed in this book was paid to the development of Czech Americans’ club life. It was necessary. The activities of Czech Americans concentrated heavily on the establishment of theatrical, singers’, Sokol, church, and fraternal organizations, and there is no denying that this kind of activity has been very broad and its results have probably been the only effective expression of Czech life in America.”
In the case of my family, both of my Knechtl and Vicha branches were staunch Freethinkers. Among other effects, this meant that for generations marriages were performed by Justices of the Peace and not in churches. This also means materials such as Lodge membership rosters, books such as Joseph Martínek’s One Hundred Years of the ČSA. The History of the Czechoslovak Society of America and the Czechoslovak Heritage Museum affiliated with the CSA in Oak Brook,Illinois can be of significant help and importance. Again, on a personal note, when I have been searching for my Bohemian ancestors in online resources such as GenealogyBank.com (a subscription site), which has great coverage via their historic Plain Dealer archive, at the Western Reserve Historical Society Library, or the Cuyahoga County Archive, I often find family mentioned due to their various Freethinkers Lodge activity.
After many years of conducting my genealogy work, it continues to puzzle me as to why so little study has been done on the Bohemian immigrants to all of the United States. I will say, with some hard digging, there can be some exquisite gems uncovered, such as Dr. Gregory M. Stone’s PhD dissertation, Ethnicity, Class, and Politics Among Czechs in Cleveland, 1870-1940, (18) but sadly such gems are few and far between and quite a challenge to find at times. I believe we certainly need more study of this important and significant community!
The following are some excellent resources that as of this writing seem to only appear in print and not in digital form yet. Some are a bit dated, however the hints, material, information, and data in them can be invaluable.
Czechs and Slovaks in North America: A Bibliography, Esther Jerabek, Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences in America, Inc. New York, New York, 1976
Ethnicity, Class, and Politics Among Czechs in Cleveland, 1870-1940, Stone, Gregory Martin, UMI Dissertation Services, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1993
The Czecho-Slovaks in America, Miller, Kenneth D., George H. Doran Company, New York, New York, 1922
One Hundred Years of the CSA: 1854-1954, Martinek, Joseph, Cicero-Berwyn Press, Berwyn, Illinois, 1985
Ethnicity on the Great Plains, Luebke, Frederick C., University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1980
American Freeethought, 1860-1914, Warren, Sidney, Columbia University Press, New York, New York, 1943
Cechs and Bohemians in America, Capek, Thomas, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts, 1920
Genealogical Research for Czech and Slovak Americans, Miller, Olga K., Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1978
Locating Your Immigrant Ancestors, Neagles, James C, and Lila Lee, Keith W. Watkins & Sons, Providence, Utah, 1975
Our Slavic Fellow Citizens, Balch, Emily Greene, Charities Publications Committee, New York, New York, 1910
This outline by Shon Edwards is one of the very, very best resources available. It is one of the most important ‘Go To’ documents on Bohemia and Czech genealogy you will find anywhere — and I do mean anywhere! Shon is terrific and has amazing knowledge of this field.
The Archives of Czechs and Slovaks Abroad (ACASA) at the University of Chicago Regenstein Library is an exceptional resource for anyone studying Czech and Slovak history. This archive covers the subject not only in Chicago, but beyond as well. One of the most impressive items in their collection is that they have perhaps the only complete set (1875-1958) of the Amerikan Narodni Kalendar!
This is one of the few issues of Amerikan Narodni Kalendar that I have in my library.
This series is of immense importance and the great news is that, as they can afford it, the Archive is digitally copying every issue. An ongoing index of most of the holdings can be found here and here. These two lists are still works in progress, but are an excellent start to get an idea of the size of the holdings at ACASA. Plus the Archives holds a list of more than 9,000 refugees from Czechoslovakia from Regensburg, Germany from January to August 1948.
The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library (NCSML), located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has significant holdings in a variety of areas of Czech and Slovak heritage. It houses the largest collection of Czech and Slovak music outside of the Czech Republic.
This from The Library of Congress (LC) website, which states that the LC is considered to be the best repository of Czech and Slovak books, periodicals and other reading materials outside the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The monographs and bound periodicals relating to the culture of the Czechs and Slovaks amount to ca. 115,000 items, with the yearly acquisitions of monographs averaging ca. 1,500 over the last 10 years. The LC has about 2,000 Czech and Slovak periodicals, of which ca. 600 are currently received, and more than 170 Czech and Slovak newspapers, with 14 titles currently received. It is estimated that about 80 percent of all these materials are in Czech or Slovak, English being the predominant language of the rest.
While the Czech and Slovak collections in the LC are generally good, they are especially strong for books and periodicals published after 1945. This is due to the fact that after 1945 monographs and periodicals published in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech and Slovak Republics) were purchased by LC on the basis of a blanket order.
The period of the 1920s and 1930s (the era of the First Czechoslovak Republic) is also well represented. Some of the holdings of works from this period have been acquired retrospectively, with stress being laid on volumes showing the excellent Czechoslovak craftsmanship in book design and printing.
Another area of relative strength is Czech and Slovak exile and Samizdat literature published during the Communist era.
Thomas Capek was a prolific writer and historian of Czech-Americans. This index is a very helpful guide to all that is held in the United States Library of Congress. These can be invaluable aids to the serious Czech/Bohemian genealogy and history student.
This paper, produced by the United States Embassy in the Czech Republic and written by George Kovtun, Czech Area Specialist at the Library of Congress, holds a wealth of Czech-American information. It has a very lovely history, historic Czech-Americans with some biographies attached, and a great index of resources. This one is worth the click for certain!
Czech and Slovak History: An American Bibliography
George J. Kovtun, the past Czech subject matter expert for The Library of Congress, has written extensively on Bohemian/Czech history, especially in regard to the U.S. and Czech areas of interaction. This bibliography (covering up to 1993) is especially useful as it focuses on those resources available in English. Author Kovtun segments this bibliography by timeframe, which makes searching a breeze as you work on your Bohemian genealogy questions.
JewishGen: http://www.jewishgen.org This site, an affiliate of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, holds many excellent records and helpful hints. Whether or not your ancestors were of the Jewish faith, the ‘Town Finder’, under the ‘Research’ tab, is the most useful tool I have found online for locating village names, especially those now gone. There is a wonderful SIG (Special Interest Group) within the JewishGen site for those of us who are interested in Czech genealogy at http://www.jewishgen.org/austriaczech. This SIG has also prepared a useful PowerPoint presentation on Austrian and Czech Jewish Genealogy Research. It can be found at http://www.jewishgen.org/austriaczech/SIG2013.ppt.
For current maps of Czech Republic, my ‘go to’ site is http://mapy.cz.
CSGI has some good information on this homepage and an excellent reference library onsite in St. Paul, Minnesota. Helpful folks and worth the membership fee.
AFOCR is a longtime organization that focuses on strengthening ties between the Czech Republic and the United States. In early March 2013, they added a beginning Czech genealogy page to their site and are getting into more and more cultural and family history work. As they get more seasoned this could well become a worthwhile site and repository of interesting information.
Illinois Bohemians and Czechs
Chicago was the destination for the vast majority of Bohemians who immigrated to Illinois. The Czech and Slovak American Genealogy Society of Illinois is your best first stop if you have Czech roots in the Land of Lincoln.
If you have ancestors who settled in Kansas, a good place to begin your work is with the Kansas Historical Society and their Czechs in Kansas page. Additionally, this site has a very helpful bibliography page titled “Bohemians, Czechs, and Moravians to Kansas: A Bibliography“. There are also a good number of local sites that address local Czech immigrants in Kansas.
I read that no state in the U.S. currently has a larger percentage of Czech-descendant citizens than Nebraska, so this site is well worth a visit if you have Czech ancestry in Nebraska. They have old issues of their magazine online, and the now sold-out issue from 1993 The Czech-American Experience is all here. There is some very interesting information and data here for anyone to read.
This site is designed to be a “community resource” for anyone with an interest in the Czech legacy in Texas, which is a deep and old one. One of their intersting undertakings is their Texas Czech Dialect Archive, which is focused on docuementing the unique Czech dialect found in Texas. It is also focusing on becoming a hub of collaboration for all the Czech organizations across the state of Texas.
A relative newcomer being founded in 2003, but very active and successful group, the Virginia Czech/Slovak Heritage Society is undertaking some very exciting work on the Virginia Slavic immigrants (basically between 1885 and 1920). They have held a very successful first ever Folk Festival and have some outstanding goals focused on building a Czech ‘virtual library’, documenting the family genealogies of Virginia’s Czechs and Slovaks, language preservation, and more.
Since 1896 when its cornerstone was laid, Bohemian National Hall has been the epicenter of Czech life in Cleveland and this continues today with the work of this group. One of the exciting efforts of Bohemian National Hall is their new work to catalog and index all of the holding in their 100+ year old library. This should be a wonderful for anyone with Czech roots in the Greater Cleveland area.
While there is not a statewide Czech organization for Oklahoma, there are several active organizations that focus on Czech heritage in the Sooner State. First, there is an item on the Oklahoma Historical Society for Czech materials. There are also several local organizations that have Oklahoma Czech information such as the Canadian County Oklahoma Genealogical Society , which covers such key Czech communities as Yukon and others.
Suggested Experts for additional assistance:
If you need any translation services (over 50 languages) especially Czech, I can fully endorse Karel and his firm. He is very detail oriented and pays attention to deadlines and needs of the client. An excellent translator as well!
I have used Martin Pytr as an expert researcher in my Czech work and he has been excellent. Always prompt, always fairly priced, and provides what he promises — and equally important does not over promise! Take a look at his site if you need a great researcher in the Czech Republic who focuses on Moravia.
I have also used David Kohout in my research work in the Czech Republic and have been very pleased with his work as well. David is exceedingly thorough and detail oriented in his efforts. He grabs onto a project and doesn’t let go until he and you are satisfied! You can check out David’s site by clicking on his name above.
If you have done much of any work on your Bohemian/Czech genealogy you will most likely recognize the name of Miroslav Koudelka. Why? Well, Miro was selected to translate Jan Habenicht’s book “Dejiny Cechuv Americkych”, or “History of Czechs in America”. Not much you can add to that credential, but there is more. Miro has written other books and is now a full time historian and genealogy researcher in the Czech Republic. Miro’s vast knowledge of Czech history coupled with his passion for genealogy and family history makes him an invaluable researcher and a very special guide for the genealogy-oriented trip enthusiast in the Czech Republic. You can see my interview with Miro here!
Rev. Jan, as he likes to be called, is not only an excellent researcher, but a wonderful host and guide for genealogy trips in the Czech Republic. Take a look at Jan’s site and enjoy!
Olga lives in southern Bohemia and is an exceptional researcher. I especially appreciate the incredible attention to detail she includes in her reports to her clients. She is not only extraordinarily knowledgeable, but she has an enviable network within the villages and communities of southern Bohemia. You can find Olga’s contact information by clicking on her name.
Czech Republic - History
The Great Moravian Empire and the Přemyslid Dynasty
Some of the oldest settlers of the Czech lands were the Boii, a Celtic tribe that inhabited the region from around the 4th century BC and gave Bohemia its name. The Celts were later replaced by Germanic tribes, and around the 6th century AD, the Slavs finally reached the territory from the east. In the 7th century, a Frankish merchant Sámo succeeded in uniting the Slavic tribes under his empire and defeating the tribe of the Avars that occupied today's Hungary.
Around 830, the Great Moravian Empire (Velkomoravská říše) was established along the Morava River by the Slavic leader Mojmír. Mojmír's successors expanded the empire to include today's Bohemia, Slovakia, southern Poland and western Hungary. The empire found itself at the crossroads between the Germanic people in the west and the Byzantium in the east. Mojmír's successor Rostislav feared the German influence and asked the Byzantine emperor to send two missionaries, Cyril and Methodius of Constantinople, to come and spread Eastern Christianity in the Great Moravian Empire. Cyril and Methodius created the Slavonic script (Cyrillic alphabet that is still in use in Russia and Bulgaria) and translated religious texts from Greek and Latin into the Old Slavonic language. After Methodius' death in 885, the Roman Catholic religion was adopted and the Cyrillic script was replaced by the Latin alphabet. The Great Moravian Empire collapsed with the Hungarian invasion in 907.
The rule over the region was now in the hands of the Přemyslid dynasty that dominated the Czech lands from the 9th century until 1306. Around 880, the Prague Castle was founded by prince Bořivoj, the first of the Přemyslid princes, and the seat of power was moved there. Several churches, such as the St. Vitus rotunda, were built and foundations were laid to the Vyšehrad Castle in the 10th century. The Prague bishopric was founded in 973. The Czech lands had a high economic, cultural, and political status during the Přemyslid rule, which was further strengthened by Vratislav II being granted the royal crown and becoming the first Czech king in 1085 - so far remaining subordinate to the Holy Roman Empire and the German king, with the royal title being made hereditary in 1212 by the Golden Sicilian Bull.
In the meantime, Prague was growing rapidly thanks to its position at the crossroads of several trade routes. The first stone bridge over the Vltava, Judith Bridge, was built in 1172. The Old Town (Staré město) was founded in 1234 and the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) was founded in 1257. During the reign of Přemysl Otakar II in mid-13th century, the Czech kingdom briefly expanded all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. The Přemyslid dynasty ended with the death of its last member, Wenceslas III, in 1306.
Czech Republic - History
The Czech Republic
The Czech Republic, (Č eská republika), is a landlocked country in Central Europe and a member state of the European Union (since May 1 , 2004) . The country borders Slovakia to the east, Austria to the south, Germany to the west, and Poland to the northeast. The total land area of the Czech Republic is 30,450 square miles (78.866 km 2 ) and has an estimated population of 10,424,926 for the year 2008. The currency used is the Czech koruna.
The capital of the Czech Republic is Prague ( Czech : Praha) , which is also the largest city of about 1.2 million people and a major tourist attraction. Other major cities include Brno , Ostrava , Zlín , Plzeň , Pardubice , Hradec Králové , České Budějovice , Liberec , Olomouc , and Ústí nad Labem . The vast majority of the inhabitants of the Czech Republic are Czechs. Minorities include Slovaks, Poles, Vietnamese, Germans, and Gypsies.
History of the Czech Lands
From the Middle Ages up until the 17 th century, the Czech Lands played a significant role in European history. The country is made up of the historic regions of Bohemia, Moravia, and parts of Silesia, as well as small sections of the historic Lower Austria . Evidence of prehistoric human settlement in the area was found by archaeologists dating back to the Neolithic era. In the Classical era, from the 3 rd century BC, two Celtic tribes settled in the territories of the present day Czech Republic. The Latin name of Bohemia was derived from one the tribes known as Boii. Later in the 1st century, the Germanic tribes of Marcomanni and Quadi dislodged the Celts and settled there.
Slavic people from the Black Sea and Carpathian regions came and settled in the 5 th century, as many Germanic tribes migrated out of Central Europe. But the first real state was the Great Moravian Empire, which was established in the early 9 th century. The 2 nd Moravian emperor invited Byzantine missionaries to spread Christianity in the Slavic language. They became known as St. Cyril and St. Methodius.
In the late 9 th century, the central area moved to Bohemia under the rule of Premyslid dynasty and it remained for many years. In 1212, Premysl king Otakar I received a Golden Sicilian Bull from the emperor. This edict confirmed the royal title for Otakar and his descendants and established the right of succession to the Bohemian crown. The government rule of the Premyslid dynasty ended in 1306.
By marrying a member of the Premyslid family, John of Luxemburk became the Czech king. And his son Charles IV, would become the most famous Czech king ever as he was known for Bohemia’s “Golden Age”, a period of great economic and cultural growth. He was also crowned the Holy Roman Emperor in 1355, and while living in Prague, he ruled over half of Europe. He founded the Charles University, Charles Square, and surprisingly the Charles Bridge - and started building the St. Vitus Cathedral, which is still the largest and most important church in the present day Czech Republic. The Czech kingdom was the most wealthy and important state in Europe of the time.
After Charles’ death, there were many different foreign kings on the Czech throne. The country remained independent until 1526, when King Ferdinand I of Habsburg made the Czech Kingdom a part of Austrian monarchy, centralized in Vienna.
Religious conflicts such as the 15th century Hussite Wars (1420 - 1434) and the 17th century Thirty Years’ War (1618 - 1648) had a devastating effect on the local population. Czechs call the period from 1620 until the late 18th century, the "Dark Age", as the population of the Czech lands declined by one third due to war, disease, famine and the expulsion of Protestant Czechs. The Habsburgs had banned all religions other than Catholicism.
Later, in the 18 th century, German became the only official language in all of the Habsburg monarchy, and Czech was spoken primarily on the countryside.
The 19 th century saw the restoration of the Czech language and culture in a Period known as the Czech National Revival. The Czech language became the basic tool once again as writers started using it to help shape their identity. Museums and theaters (such as the National Museum in Prague and the Mahenovo Theatre in Brno) were built throughout the country, emphasizing the significance of Czech culture in the nation’s life.
The Czech language has since been restored as an official language in the Czech lands and is currently used by the vast majority of Czechs, and also serves as an official language in the Czech Republic and the European Union.
The independent Republic of Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918, after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire of World War I. In 1948, Czechoslovakia became a communist-ruled state. In 1968, after increasing dissatisfaction to reform the communist regime, the events known as the Prague Spring of 1968 took place.
It ended with an invasion by armies of Warsaw Pact countries, and the troops remained in the country until the overturn of the Velvet Revolution in 1989 when the communist regime collapsed. On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia dissolved peacefully into separate countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Czech Republic Culture
Religion in Czech Republic
Mostly Roman Catholic and some Protestant, including churches such as the Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, Unity of Czech Brothers and Baptist. There is a small Jewish community, mainly in Prague. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 72% of the population were not affiliated with any religious beliefs.
Social Conventions in Czech Republic
It is considered polite to say &lsquodobrý den&rsquo (good day) when you meet a stranger, including the person behind the counter in a shop or a pub. You should also say 'na shledanou&rsquo (goodbye) when you leave. The Czech manner can feel a little brusque sometimes, but often a smile and a joke will lighten up most interactions. When greeting a new person, shake hands, and maintain eye contact.
If you are invited to someone's house, it is polite to take a small gift - a bunch of flowers will do. Remember to remove your shoes when you enter. When attending a classical music concert, an opera performance or even the cinema, most Czechs will dress formally - you can usually spot the tourists by their casual clothes.
There is a smoking ban in public places, in railway stations, on public transport and in restaurants and pubs.
10 cool facts about the Czech Republic
The word robot first hit the scene when Czech writer, Karl Capek, used in a play to describe creatures that could perform all the work humans didn’t want to do and had no soul. Sound familiar? His brother, Josef, was the one who suggested to use it for the famous title: Rossum’s Universal Robots.
2. Czechs are mad about mushrooms
The only thing Czechs love more than eating mushrooms, is hunting for them. If the town is empty on St. Wenceslas Day (held at the end of September), it’s because everyone’s gone funghi picking in the forest. Unrelated to mushrooms but the statue of the state’s patron saint can be found in Wenceslaus Square – one of the most famous monuments in Prague.
3. Being bohemian is more than a lifestyle
Cesky Krumlov in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic
Being bohemian isn’t just Czechs being cool, it’s their heritage. This area was once the Kingdom of Bohemia. In 1918, Bohemia transformed into the western part of the newly formed country of Czechoslovakia – that was split into The Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.
4. You will find some of the most medieval originals in Europe
Charles Bridge statues, Prague
Prague is the only major city in Europe that wasn’t extensively bombed in WWII. For this reason, you will find many of the buildings in the historic centre standing as originally built, some dating to the Middle Ages!
5. The Czech Republic is famous for its beer
Czechs consume the most beer per capita in the world. You can go join them for a Pilsner-style larger (their most famous brew) in any old alluring pub – called a hospoda – around town.
6. You can explore the king of all castles
Prague Castle is the largest in the world! Wear good walking shoes and get ready to be transported into the chambers from a scene in Game of Thrones.
7. It’s east and west
The Czech Republic is considered part of Eastern Europe, but Prague is more west than Vienna, which is in central Europe.
8. There’s the chance you’ll get castle mania
Image by maziarz / Shutterstock
The Czech Republic has the highest castle-density in the world. Get your fix of medieval charm with more than 2,000 around the country to Czech out.
9. Prague has a seriously impressive astro clock
Image by INTERPIXELS / Shutterstock
Prague’s astronomical clock was installed in 1410 making it the oldest in the world. It’s an impressive instrument to behold. See if you can spot your star sign and watch the eerie looking statues that move to strike each hour.
10. And there’s a Wall of Lennon
The ever-changing wall of graffiti named after John Lennon can be found the district of Mala Strana. It’s been dubbed in the past as the ‘crying wall’ and was used by protesters of the day to paint political messages.
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Natural Landmarks In Czech Republic
By Raluca from Travel With A Spin
Bohemian Switzerland National Park offers several hiking experiences for all levels and rock-climbing opportunities. But the first choice for most visitors is the trail to Pravcicka Gate, the largest natural sandstone arch in Europe. Most people can go through the path, as it is on the easy side, and the reward is pretty amazing.
The trail starts in Hrensko, a village less than two hours by car from Prague, making it an amazing day trip. Hiking up from Hotel Mezni Louka to the arch and back takes around three hours. Even if it’s a pretty easy path, though it’s not proper for persons with disabilities as the last part gets a little bit steeper. Beautiful flowers, strange sandstone formations, dense forests, and viewpoints will make for pleasant stops on your way up.
At the end of the trail, you’ll get to Pravčická brána or Pravčická gate, a 16 meters high sandstone arch and the symbol of Bohemian Switzerland National Park. It was also used as filming location for the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Right next to it stands a rustic chateau built in the 19th century, Falcon’s Nest. From beneath the arch one gets spectacular views over the entire area. However, make sure you have 3€ on you, as in order to get close to the arch one has to pay this small fee.
Sněžka Mountain is the highest point in the Czech Republic, measuring over 1,600 meters above sea and one of its most prominent natural landmarks.
Sněžka is also the highest peak of the Karkonosze Mountains that sit on the border with Poland. It is the place where both Polish and Czech outdoor enthusiasts come for hiking getaways.
There are various hiking trails for climbing the summit varying in difficulties. The green and yellow trails start from a Czech town, Pec pod Sniezku, and take about 3.5 hours. For those that want to get to the summit faster, there is a cable car from Pes pod Sniezku all the way to the top.
On the Polish side, the whole area is protected under the Karkonosze National Park, and trails start from a popular touristic town of Karpacz and take from 2.5 to 3 hours.
At the top of Sněžka, there is the iconic round building of the meteorological observatory, a chapel, and a café where you can buy a hot drink and a snack. The summit is famous for being very windy, and you can enjoy spectacular panoramic views stretching over both neighboring countries.