Who’s on First? Bohemian (Czech) Immigration and Genealogy in the United States
A somewhat odd and decidedly peculiar thing happened on the way to the world’s history books. The early Bohemian (Czech) immigrants and their communities were, and continue to be, largely ignored, omitted, unstudied, and undocumented.
Granted, this lack of study and documentation is not 100% true. However, compared to other immigrant groups and their early communities, the Bohemians/Czechs in America are one of the least studied groups. Consider the following: According to the Czechoslovak History Newsletter, 1 (1976), it was not until 1914 that future Harvard University professor, Robert J. Kerner, would complete the very first doctoral dissertation on Bohemian history. Equally amazing is it would not be until 1930, at the University of the University of Southern California, Berkley, that the second such dissertation would be completed. The first dissertation on Moravia was not undertaken until 1957 and the first on Slovakia not until 1961. Compounding this overall lack of study and research is the fact that in the relatively few areas where the Bohemian/Czech immigrants and communities have been studied, the ensuing research materials are far flung, uncoordinated, and not held in any centralized location or Internet site.
Early on in my personal genealogy work, at the time I first started studying my Bohemian ancestors, I was shocked by my discovery of this lack of research and documented history concerning the early Bohemian immigrant community. The impact of this lack of information made all of my Czech genealogy work on my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio all the more challenging and difficult.
In addition to working on our personal family history, my firm, Onward To Our Past® simultaneously began researching, documenting, and accumulating all the information that we could locate that held historic significance for the early Bohemians in Cleveland. Many of the documents we uncovered were in their native Czech so our efforts also include translating these materials to English for the first time.
One of the earliest questions we encountered was this: “Who exactly was, or were, the earliest Bohemian/Czech settlers in the City of Cleveland?”
Who’s on First?
Back in the 1930s, the famous comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello honed to perfection a sketch in their performance that I think everyone is familiar with yet today. Abbott is identifying players on a baseball team who have particularly ambiguous surnames. It has some incredibly fine timing and wordplay and it all begins with ‘Who’s on first?’
This skit is what got the staff at Onward To Our Past® asking the question of just who were the first Bohemian/Czech immigrant settlers in Cleveland. It wasn’t long and we began working though this puzzle. We found, as we worked on Cleveland, that it wasn’t long before we were asking ourselves the additional question of just who the original Bohemian/Czech settlers were in other cities and towns and when did these communities begin to establish their Bohemian/Czech roots?
While we were interested in the larger cities such as New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, etc. we also found that we were intrigued by the same question for the smaller ‘Bohemian’ communities throughout the United States. We wondered just as much about who were the first Bohemian/Czech settlers in towns such as Protivin and Spillville, Iowa; Yukon and Prague, Oklahoma; and in towns in the Dakota Territories, Minnesota, Texas, Wisconsin, Virginia, and elsewhere across America?
What do you say? Let’s Put the Bohemian/Czech ‘First Team’ and for the First Time Determine ‘Who’s on First’!
In the interest of Bohemian/Czech immigrant history, Onward To Our Past® is initiating a crowdsourcing effort to determine the first Bohemian/Czech immigrant settlers across the United States.
We will begin with the accumulation of all known first Czech/Bohemian immigrants to their communities that have already been identified. At the same time we will begin expanding to every community can find with Czech immigrants. We need YOUR help! What do you know about the Czech roots of your community? Would you be willing to share what you know about the first Czech immigrants in your community or one you have lived in or have researched or studied? Would you share your leads, ideas, theories, and suggestions? We need them all!
We ask that you begin by leaving your comments here on our website or our Facebook page. Let us know that you are interesting in participating in this exciting and fun project as well as any information you have already learned.
Already ‘Under Construction’, in the very near future we will be launching a new webpage designed specifically for tracking this project.
We hope everyone with an interest in Czech genealogy and ancestry will join in!