Czech Genealogy & History: 1890 Amerikán Národní Kalendář FOUND!

Usually when something is lost I can find it within a few hours or days.  I retrace my steps, think about it quietly, and then more often than not, BINGO!  I find what I was looking for.

But not so with 1890!

Nope!  No such luck.

It all started over five and a half years ago.  That makes it slightly over 2,000 days.  A long time, at least to me.  A long time to be searching for a needle in a haystack.  Or rather one single, solitary book in a world of books, both online and in good, old paper!

While researching the early Czech immigrant community of Cleveland, Ohio I, as every good genealogy fan does, was poring over the footnotes I found in an old article.  One of those footnotes contained the comment stating the fact the very best first-person historical accounts of early Czechs in America were to be found in a publication with which at the time I was unfamiliar.  That publication was something titled “Amerikán Národní Kalendář.  Upon reading this accolade I decided I better start to research, try and locate, and learn a lot more about this publication.

I was ill prepared for what I was about to learn!

Immediately I was surprise by the fact Amerikán Národní Kalendář was not simply a single, one-off publication.  Rather it was a truly amazing series of seventy-nine annual volumes of a Czech-American journal published by the successful Czech immigrant publisher, August Geringer, of Chicago, Illinois.  One volume was published each year, every year, from 1878 to 1957.  Seventy-nine editions!  I was even more amazed as I realized they were still being published for years when I was a kid!

The more I read about Amerikán Národní Kalendář the more my research intrigued me and led me to believe these seventy-nine volumes were pure, Czech-American gold to all of us who were researching our Czech roots, loved our Czech heritage, and wanted to learn more about our shared Czech history.

I began to uncover accolade after accolade for the articles, biographies, literature, and stories in Amerikán Národní Kalendář by some of the most distinguished Czech-American authors, genealogists, researchers, academics, and historians.  Individuals such as Jan Habernicht, Drs. Mila Rechcigl, Jr., Bruce Garver, Gregory Stone, and Karel Bicha all sang the praises of the information held in the pages of each of these individual treasure chests.  Or should I say Czech treasure chests since they were only published in the Czech language.  Plus I should add, they were published as a low-cost, inexpensive piece, so they were printed on paper very akin to newsprint.  Made for low cost, but definitely not made for longevity!

The fact these journals were only published in Czech, and were printed on cheap pulp paper may be the two primary reason the journals today are so rare, difficult to find, and often in very poor and often dilapidated condition.  But no matter, I made the decision I wanted to find these volumes and continue to learn even more about them and the stories they held.

Then I found a copy of the 1878 edition.  One of the stories in it was simply titled “Czechs of Cleveland” and was written by Czech-American newspaperman Václav Šnajdr.  In his story Šnajdr mentioned Czech immigrant after Czech immigrant, named their names, their wives, their families, their jobs, and gave luscious details about early Czech life in that city.  I decided I needed to find more of these books and that they could be genealogical gold mines!

It only got better!  While reading a short article in the 1894 edition, I found a footnote that mentioned the fact fellow Czech author and newspaperman, Hugo Chotek, had written about the Cleveland Czech immigrant community in an entire book, especially published for the 1895 Czech Ethnographic Exposition, which was held in Prague.  I immediately began a search for that book and upon finding it, lo and behold, I discovered yet another footnote, which enticed me deeper!  Chotek mentions in this footnote he spent had spent a year trying to locate the earliest Czechs, who were still alive in Cleveland, in order to document their lives and stories, which he then wrote about in the 1895 edition of…”Amerikán”.

If I wasn’t completely captivated by this point, I became a true believer when I read the article and discovered one of those Czech immigrants he spoke to and wrote about was my great, great grand uncle, František Knechtl!  Here were the words, and the intimate story, of the struggles, dreams, and losses of my ancestor, who additionally turned out to be one of the very first Czech immigrants to settle in that city.  It was then I fully realized what a diamond in the rough these editions were for us genealogists and that I needed to do something to being them to light, to life, and to be better preserved.

So we began our quest to find what copies we could of those 79 years of Amerikán Národní Kalendář.

Our goal was then to translate to English as much of them as possible, and then to provide those English translations online for free.  Several of my colleagues argued for placing these translations behind a paywall of some sort.  Either our own or sell them to some organization’s pay or membership site.  But that notion was soundly rejected.  It is our deeply held opinion, these are crucial and priceless Czech-American history!  Therefore they should belong to everyone.  They should be accessible and most importantly accessible for free to anyone studying Czech history, genealogy, culture, and heritage on our site.

It has not been an easy assignment!  But then again, as my grandparents and parents always drummed into my head, the most valuable undertakings in your life are very rarely easy.

If you follow our website you know one of our earliest discoveries of a significant holding of Amerikán Národní Kalendář was located at the Archives of Czechs and Slovaks Abroad (ACASA).  This amazing archive, headed by their wonderful and helpful director, June Pachuta Farris, is located at the University of Illinois in the Regenstein Library on their Chicago campus.

As with every resource, ACASA’s holdings are evolving and recently one of their ‘evolutions’ involved their holdings of Amerikán Národní Kalendář.  A portion of it went online!  Due to the vagaries of copyright law, ACASA has been able to digitally reproduce only those pre-1934 editions of Amerikán Národní Kalendář, which they hold.  Post-1934 editions are only held in their original format.  So there are 36 editions electronically available on their site, while their remaining holding of 24 post-1934 editions are held only physically, not digitally.

Now I can hear some of you doing the math.  36 + 33 only equals 69, not 79.  And you are correct.  While ACASA holds the largest, most complete collection of Amerikán Národní Kalendář anywhere, they do not have a complete set.  So we set out to find the even more elusive and missing 10 editions.

Our quest has taken us coast-to-coast in the U.S. and across North America to every library we could locate. Small and large, main and branches, public, private, and academic.  Then we began to expand our search to museums and historical societies.  Again all across America and organizations from large and formal to small and informal.  We were rewarded with some successes.  First it was the 1881 edition, held and digitally reproduced by Harvard University Library.  Then it was the 1878 edition held (in paper only) at the Herman B. Wells Library at the University of Indiana.  After a bit more searching we found the 1884 and 1893 editions (again paper only) at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Four down.  Five to go!

Our next discovery (the 1899 edition) was located in the holdings of the Immigration History Research Center & Archives at the University of Minnesota.

Our count of the missing now included the years 1880, 1883, 1885, 1888, and 1890.

We took our search to print, thanks to the wonderful Czech-American newspaper, Czech Slavnosti.  Very nicely, editor-in-chief, Steve Ouřecký, gave us a huge headline and the results were amazing!

Almost immediately we received word that one of our missing editions, 1885, was held by a private individual in New Mexico and editions 1880, 1883, and 1888 were held (paper only) in the Minnesota History Society Library!

Just like that, four out of 5 found!  But just like the United States Census, the most elusive of all those 79 years turned out to be the same…1890!

In the intervening months we continued our search and while we found holdings in such wonderful places as the Chicago History Museum, Wilber Czech Museum, University of Nebraska, Lincoln Library, University of Texas Library, Western Reserve Historical Society, and the Texas Heritage Museum and Genealogy Center, not a single 1890 edition was found.

At this point, thanks to Amerikán Národní Kalendář itself, we decided to expand our search overseas.  It was a statement in one of our translations from the 1951 edition.  In a biography it was stated by the Czech immigrant that he bought several copies of each edition with the express purpose of sending them to ‘important people’ in Bohemia.  Now just who those ‘important people’ might have been I have no idea, but I do know that statement got me thinking.  What if the publisher, August Geringer, or his editors, or other authors thought the same and perhaps provided copies to their compatriots in the Czech lands?  Perhaps a copy of our one, lone missing holdout, 1890, might be overseas in a museum, archive, or library.

So we began our quest in Czech!

We had just finished contacting the National Library in Prague as well as all of the regional Archives in the Czech Republic when an anonymous reader commented on our website about the possibility of there being a copy at the Research Library in Olomouc, Moravia.  We immediately requested the help of our favorite Moravian, researcher Martin Pytr.  Alas, Martin came back with disappointing news.  While they do indeed hold a few editions (1922, 1925, 1928, 1934, and 1938), they did not have the elusive 1890.  Shortly thereafter we heard from the National Library in Prague.  Unfortunately, same song, slightly different verse.  They hold a significant number (1885,87,97-98,1906,10,15-18,20,23,25,28-33,35,36-38,43,51), but once again, no luck with 1890 yet again.

Then the unthinkable happened!  A colleague asked me when the Great Chicago Fire was and if perhaps the fire caused there to be no edition published in 1890!  My history is not good enough to have known that answer off the top of my head, but after a quick internet search I breathed a sigh of relief over the fact the fire, as tragic as it was, happened not in 1890, but in 1871!

Whew!  Our search continued.

We were feeling pretty down at this point, determined to carry on, but frankly we knew we were running out of ideas and options.  While we wanted to be proud of 78 of 79, it stuck in our craw missing 1890!  That was when we got a second email from our Moravian master, Martin.  He suggested we might want to check in with the Náprstek Museum of Asian, African, and American Cultures.  This museum, known in Czech as Národní Muzeum is located in Prague and is actually made up of the Natural History Museum, Historical Museum, Náprstek Museum, Czech Museum of Music, and the National Museum Library.  Once again we sent off our request, which by now we knew by heart and we waited.

A week later we were informed of the fact unfortunately we had directed our inquiry to the wrong area.  However, we were also kindly informed our email had been forwarded to the appropriate individual, so we waited again.

This time our response came from Michaela Tydlitátová, the National Museum Library Manager.

Here is what we read;

“Dear Mr. Phillips,

Yes, we do have a copy of Amerikán: Národní Kalendář 1890 (vol. XIII).

How would you like us to make it accessible to you?

And we do have very rich and interesting holdings of Czech-American periodicals, calendars, and books in our library. Some of them are digitized http://kramerius.nm.cz/search/

Let me say I highly appreciate your project with translations of articles from Czech to English.


Michaela Tydlitátová”

1890 ANK fireworks image

We might have been more excited, but I don’t know how, but we were about to find out!

In our thank you we asked if we might be able to have a researcher stop in and take digital photos of this precious edition.  Michaela said no….

But she also said the following:

“I am out of office today and tomorrow, but I will be happy to have our copy of Amerikán scanned for you. We will then e-mail the file to you via a file-sharing service early next week.

Your website is very interesting and useful, and I am looking forward to future collaboration.”

Can you say “Cloud Nine”?  Well, we were way beyond that level with our joy and appreciation!

So now, against almost all odds, we have located all 79 of 79!  Every single edition!

1890 is in the bag – and coming to America!

Onward To Our Past®

A Genealogical Historian, who is focused on family history and genealogy of the highest quality, but with a dose of fun. Avid about documentation and evidence. Loves helping folks of all levels in their genealogy pursuits, especially in the areas of Bohemia, Czech Republic, Italy, Cornwall, Kent, United Kingdom, U.S. Immigration and Cleveland, Ohio.

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