For those of you here who have Bohemian (Czech) roots or just an interest in this intriguing country, I offer the following brief bits of historic information on Bohemia. I hope that these insights and nuggets might provide you with some historic fundamentals on Bohemia and as a result help in your genealogy and family tree work. After all half of family history is history! So here we go …..
I find in my genealogy work, all too often, my ancestry gets confused between bohemian with a small ‘b’ and Bohemian with a capital ‘B’.
First off let me say that I have no quarrel with small ‘b’ bohemians. Matter of fact, I spent some of my most enjoyable years as a younger man living that dream — and I loved every moment of it! I also happen to have an elder sister who was even better at it than I was! So no problem at all with the small ‘b’ bohemians at all, whatsoever.
Second, I have no fight with the town on Long Island, New York of the same name, Bohemia. Well, as I think about it perhaps other than many programs in genealogy, family history, etc. that believe every time I type in “Bohemia” I am placing an ancestor in that town and not the Nation of Bohemia, I don’t. However, I understand. It makes me gnash my teeth and mumble under my breath, but I understand. More folks interested in Long Island, New York than genealogy I imagine. But geeze, you would think Google maps could figure out the difference, or at least ask you ‘which Bohemia do you mean’.
Third, I realize that there are some folks who don’t much give a hoot about the difference between small ‘b’ bohemian and capital ‘B’ Bohemian, but that is a fact that I am far less inclined to accept. Consequently, this little primer on Bohemia, Czech Republic, Czecholslovakia, and how these fit into genealogy and family history.
So sit back, relax, grab some joe and here we go!
To me, the stage for understanding, or the misunderstanding, of Bohemia is set almost perfectly by British scholar, C. Edmund Maurice, in his 1896 work entitled Bohemia From The Earliest Times To The Fall Of National Independence In 1620; With A Short Summary Of Later Events.
The cover of C. Edmund Maurice’s book on Bohemia. You can see this and other volumes I hold in the Onward To Our Past library at http://www.librarything.com/home/OnwardToOurPast.
Maurice begins (in what I consider to be a very good book on the early history of Bohemia) with the following sentence: “Few countries have been more strangely misunderstood by the average Englishman than Bohemia has been.”
He follows with this as his very next sentence: “The mischievous blunder of some fifteenth century Frenchman, who confused the gipsies (sic) who had just arrived in France with the nation which was just then startling Europe by its resistance to the forces of the Empire, has left a deeper mark on the imagination of most of our countrymen than the martyrdom of Hus or even the sufferings of our own Princess Elizabeth.”
These few introductory sentences say a world about Bohemia. They explain the confusion that has developed and continues to plague bohemians and Bohemians to this day.
To further complicate matters we have the differences between the Bohemia of old, Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic, and the Bohemia (not in Long Island) of today.
Quickly: From the earliest of times, the nation was recognized as Bohemia. While most of us recognize the name ‘Czechoslovakia’, as Miroslav Koudelka’s book title, Czechoslovakia A short chronicle of 27,094 days, tells us, as a nation, Czechoslovakia was not around all that long. Only 27,094 days from June 28, 1918 to December 31, 1992. As of January 1, 1993, it became the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic as separate entities. However, to this day, Bohemia continues to be the major political division of the Czech Republic.
Miroslav Koudelka’s book cover of a concise history of Czechoslovakia.
The history of Bohemia is a wonderful, rich, amazing one and is full of names that we run into almost in our everyday lives: Jan Hus, Wenceslas, Saints Cyril and Methodius, St. Adelbert, and more recently of course Vaclav Havel.
Now if a lot of you have not heard of a lot of this, do not feel bad at all!
In 1961, Francis Dvornik, Professor at Dumbarton Oaks, Member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, had this lament 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 first essay, in the hope that someone else, more informed and better equipped, would one day complete it.”
A tough find, but this is the cover of my copy of Dvornik’s 1961 book, which I really like.
So … not much has been written about our Bohemian forefathers.
Sadly, in his book Maurice refers to Bohemians as a ‘lost nationality’. A sad commentary, but one that is all too true given the attempts by the Hapsburg and Austro-Hungarian Holy Roman Empire’s attempts to eliminate the nation and her people. However, this part of Bohemian history will be held for another day, so stay tuned.
I could go on and on with even more history of Bohemia, but I will stop here with one last note. In your genealogy work, remember too that often your Bohemian ancestors might have been classified as Bohemian, German, Czechoslovak, Austrian, Austo-Hungarian, Czech, and a few others that I have seen tossed in just for bad measure! So be aware.
In the future, I will talk more about the history of this great land and issues that are important to take into account when doing your genealogy and family history work.
Have a great Monday and thanks for reading,
Onward To Our Past,