‘Czech, Please!’ Welcome, Some Background, and the Status of Our Shared, Great Genealogy Crowdsourcing Project
Welcome to the homepage for the ‘Czech, Please!’ project that seeks to identify the first and earliest Bohemian/Czech immigrants to cities and towns all across America. All of us here at Onward To Our Past® Genealogy Services are delighted that you have either joined our crowdsourcing effort or are considering joining us! This will be a great learning experience and an enjoyable journey as we make our way to our goal of identifying, documenting, and preserving who the first Czech/Bohemian immigrant settlers were to the cities and towns all across America.
WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?
Of all the immigrant groups to that came to America, one of the least studied and documented are the Bohemians or Czechs as they are most commonly called now. There are many theories as to why this is true, but at this time the ‘why’ is almost irrelevant. In my mind this unfortunate and disappointing situation is like a huge snowstorm. Once it hits, discussions as to why the storm formed can wait while we attend to shoveling out of the mounds of white stuff that are laying in front of us.
The ‘Czech, Please!’ project came about as a result of years of research and discussion about this lack of historic knowledge regarding our Bohemian-Americans. Whenever we at Onward To Our Past® were working on some aspect of Czech and Bohemian genealogy we always came found ourselves discussing one question: “I wonder who the first Bohemian immigrant(s) was or were who came to this town or city?” Sadly, more often than not, this question went unanswered as we plowed through history and genealogy records.
The more often we encountered this largely unanswered question the more it bothered us and the stronger became our desire to answer it! So the seed of ‘Czech, Please!’ was planted. It wasn’t long before it began to take root and grow.
A few of the major American cities had vibrant and substantial Bohemian/Czech immigrant communities. Cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, and New York City had large Czech communities within them.
Then there are the wonderful towns spread across America from New York to California and from Minnesota to Texas that were settled by Bohemian/Czech immigrants or had early Bohemian/Czech immigrants that helped establish them. Many sport names that give their identity away such as New Prague, Minnesota, Tabor, South Dakota, and Protivin, Iowa.
Others of the names are not nearly as obvious, such as Yukon, Oklahoma, Lidgerwood, North Dakota, Schuyler, Nebraska, etc.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ALREADY?
Thanks to some previous work we have some information and some leads for the first Bohemian/Czech immigrants in certain areas of the United States. However, some of these may well need additional research, a topic we will visit frequently as you will see.
Every resource book I have been able to locate lists Augustin Heřman (often Augustine Herrman sometimes Augustine Hermann) as the first known Bohemian immigrant to what, at the time, was known as New Amsterdam (present day Manhattan Island, New York) in 1633. While there is a plaque commemorating Augustin in his hometown of Mšeno, Czech Republic, the only ‘monument’ to Augustin in America is his gravestone on the private property of Bohemia Manor in Cecil County, Maryland. His stone reportedly reads simply “Augustine Herrman the first founder and seater of Bohemia Manor, 1661”. However, even with Augustin Heřman there are errors of fact. For instance the official Maryland state website lists his birthplace as Prague rather than Mšeno and lists the Czech Republic as an Eastern European country, rather than Central European. Along with these errors, it seems to us a shame there is not better recognition of the very first Bohemian immigrant to settle on the shores of what was to become the United States of America.
After Augustin, the names and locations of America’s initial Bohemian/Czech immigrants were found to be in even greater disarray.
Along the way we have discovered several conflicting reports regarding who the first Bohemian/Czech immigrants were in communities and states across America. One such example is Texas. We have read some resources that claim the first Bohemian/Czech settlers all settled in a town by the name of Cat Spring, Texas in 1833. However, George J. Kovtun lists Antonin Dignowity as settling in San Antonio in 1832. Elsewhere we find it reported that the first Bohemian/Czech settler in Texas was actually Jiri Rybar in Galveston in 1829, but the entry containing this information begins erroneously by using the Polish word for Czechs, Czechy, rather than the Czech word, Čechy, which makes us leery of this information. (We have, however, contacted the Texas Historical Commission and made a formal inquiry about this.)
One of the lists we have found to be one of the best is the ‘The Czechs in America’ chronology compiled by George J. Kovtun, retired Czech Expert at the United States Library of Congress. However, even this excellent work has some conflicting information in it. For instance, the first Czech listed in this chronology for Cleveland, Ohio is “Gustav Adam”, when in reality it is J. Rudolphus Adam.
There are dozens of additional reference works available as well. There is Jan Habenicht’s book History of Czechs in America, (translated to English by Miroslav Koudelka), one of the keystone works on the history of Bohemian/Czech immigration to the United States. However, readers and researchers should note Habenicht shows an unfortunately strong bias towards only those Czechs who maintained their ties to the Roman Catholic Church. As a result his book almost completely ignores the more than 50% of immigrant Bohemians/Czechs who were Free Thinkers and many of the Jewish Bohemian/Czech immigrants as well.
There are also a multitude of local and area history books, many of which contain biographies and family stories. We would again caution that far too many of these books were centered on white, majority community members and not the contributions and lives of immigrant families, minorities, or those of non-Christian religions such as Jews and Free Thinkers.
There are also some excellent reference books that take a broader look and include Bohemian/Czech immigrant sections. Books by Nobel laureate (Peace Prize, 1946), Emily Greene Balch, Our Slavic Fellow Citizens (1910), and Tomáš Čapek, Czechs (Bohemians) In America (1920) are excellent, well-rounded works by exceptional authors who were also excellent and thorough researchers.
As you can see, we have a lot to choose from including all of our individual genealogies and family histories that have been painstakingly compiled. We may have a fair amount of work ahead of us, but it is going to be fun work, we are certain!
We are in the process of adding an interactive map on the website so ‘pins’ will be able to be added backed up with all the data we discover regarding each city or town and their first Bohemian/Czech immigrants. It should be a great resource and repository for our work.
In the meantime, be sure to start your effort at identifying and supplying whatever information you have and gathering any leads you can find! Then we will start to follow up on those!
And remember – Have fun as we all go Onward To Our Past® and call out ‘Czech, Please!’