Chapter Four: The Genealogy and Family History of the NOVAK (NOWAK) Family: Part One
As you have read in Chapters One, Two, and Three you know that we have at this point searched our records, reviewed multiple resource materials, and compiled our list of potential original Bohemian immigrants to Cleveland (“The Originals”). As you also know this has now grown from the oft-quoted ‘Original 16’ to our list (found in Chapter Two) that holds 99 names.
Now we can truly let the fun begin as we start our in-depth research into each of these 99 names to determine if they are one of the “Originals” or an also ran. At ninety-nine our list is, indeed, a bit formidable. The question quickly arose: “Where do I begin?” After a bit of discussion we decided to use a time-tested, tried and true method for picking a name that would be our first. What method did I use? It was the old dart board method. We put our full list of surnames on our office dartboard and gave my favorite dart a toss and as the luck-of-the-dart would have it, we are set to begin with the Novák surname.
What we learned courtesy of our preliminary sources
Reviewing our table from Chapter Three, we will see that we have four entries for the Novák surname. Both Jan Habenicht and Hugo Chotek mention Josef Novák as being born in 1818 in the village of Blažejovice, Bohemia, which is located roughly 88 km (about 55 miles) southeast from Prague, and then emigrating from Bohemia to settle in Cleveland as a young man in 1853. Thomas Čapek quotes Mrs. Novák, Hugo Chotek also mentions a Fr. (most likely an abbreviation for Frantisek) Novák and interviews Marie Novákova while noting that she was a ‘West Side’ Clevelander.
We are especially lucky in that Hugo Chotek conducted an extensive interview with Mrs. Novák which provided us with the birth year of her husband, Josef, (1818), his date of death (July 22, 1894), the birth of their son Josef in 1854, plus the facts that they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1890, and had two additional sons and two daughters. While not giving us the given names of the daughters, it does provide us with their spouses’ names of Ant. Wiesner and Jos. Zíka.
Without further ado, let’s meet the Novák family
As we meet the Novák family we need to start with a very short Czech spelling/grammar note. First, just to note that the family surname of the woman in Bohemian families are often identified by the addition of ova at the end, hence Mrs. Novák would be Novákova. Also as you read in Chapter Two, for far too many Americans (even newspaper reporters) spelling Bohemian names was quite a challenge. The Czech spelling of this family name is Novák however given the Germanization of many Bohemian surnames over the centuries we will also encounter it as Nowak. The name, Novák comes from the Czech adjective meaning ‘new’ as in a newcomer, a newly settled neighbor, etc. According to Professor, historian, and author, Dr. Karel Bicha, the ‘ák’ ending on Bohemian names was often a pejorative so this may well have meant an impudent or pompous newcomer. Dr. Bicha also noted that Novák is the most prevalent of all Bohemian/Czech surnames. All I can say is thank goodness Hugo Chotek interviewed Mrs. Novákova! Without his help we may still be struggling to find the correct Novák family.
So let’s take a look at what Hugo Chotek’s interview with Mrs. Novákova relates for us about the Novák family:
“Josef Novák was born in 1818 in the village of Bažejovice. His father was a bricklayer and he too trained in the art. He moved to America with his family on the same boat in 1853. About 100 Czechs were with him, although only a few of them settled in Cleveland. Shortly after his arrival he found work with a larger company, Southworth & Williams, remaining there for a full 16 years, after which he tiled the city’s streets. At the time the pay was miserable, no more than seven cents a day. That remained until the presidency of Lincoln, when in 1860 and 1861 the earnings of a common laborer rose to as much as $4 a day. Back then there were only a few houses on Croton, Orange and Woodland ave., while a dense forest spread out across what is now Broadway. “Property prices back then were a pittance and we all who came during those years could have been rich today if we had a speculative, enterprising and a far-sighted nature.”
In 1854 his son Josef was born, now a lawyer, and who was given such thorough upbringing that, by the age of twenty three, he was hired as a lawyer, even for the higher courts. The other two sons became builders who have earned respect for and themselves, great confidence placed in them not only by other compatriots but also Americans and Germans. Of the daughters, one is married to Ant. Wiesner and the other to Jos. Zíka, Cleveland’s first Czech brewster. The wife of Jos. Novák still lives and she celebrated her golden anniversary with Josef in 1890, although he passed away on Sunday the 22nd of July of 1894. All who knew him mourned
I will be the first to say it is not often that we get such a detailed accounting of a family when we are searching for them. However, in this case we are indeed fortunate as this interview gives us tremendous leads to use with our further research. While I understand that this is not firsthand documentation, I will say as well that I have no reason to believe that author Chotek would have any reason to lie about the interview’s substance or misreport the interviewees’ information since Amerikán Národní Kalendář was widely read and highly respected by members of the Bohemian community in Cleveland and elsewhere in the United States.
We began our search to augment, prove, or disprove what I had learned from the initial Chotek interview. As we do with all of our genealogy research, we initiated a multipronged attack, which is probably why I work with three computer monitors. I dug into Ancestry.com, the Cleveland Public Library’s Necrology Index, and GenealogyBank.com for historic newspapers as my starting points and moved on from there.
While frustrated in our efforts in Ancestry, we quickly found a marvelous article in the Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio) published November 19, 1890 and titled “A Golden Wedding.” This article, which was several paragraphs long, included the subtitle as follows:
“Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Nowak Have the Ceremony, which Made them Man and Wife Fifty Years Ago, Repeated – A Reception in the Evening – Arm Chairs and Gold-Headed Canes”
The article continues not only with a delightful recounting of this golden wedding anniversary, but gives the home address of the couple accompanied by a listing of each of their children and several grandchildren. In this article were some of the same names as in Chotek’s interview: a son, Joseph, along with daughter Anna Zíka, a son Andrew Zíka, and a grandson Joseph.
It wasn’t long before we came across a listing for Joseph and Anna Zíka together with a son, Andrew and, confirming the interview note of Chotek, Joseph’s profession was listed as ‘brewer’. It appeared we were, indeed, on the right track.
We soon discovered another interesting newspaper article in the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) dated February 17, 1890 in which it was reported “Mrs. Mary Nowak, mother of Attorney Nowak, dislocated a thigh yesterday evening at 6 o’clock in getting off a Broadway motor in front of her home, No. 1252 Broadway.” This article went on further to mention that Mrs. Nowak was ’70 years old.’ Once again we had an article that provided a useful match as this was the same home address as that given in the “A Golden Wedding” article for Mrs. and Mr. Nowak.
Next we began to find several obituaries and/or mortuary announcements. Some of these were found on GenealogyBank.com and some were listed in the Cleveland Necrology File database, which is a really terrific, free resource. We located three obituaries in the Cleveland newspapers that were all very useful in determining our direction was proper. First was an obituary for Joseph Nowak, the second was for a Joseph Milton Nowak, and the third was for Mary Nowak. Each of these three obituaries contained some wonderful clues and tidbits of information.
In Joseph Nowak’s obituary not only did we find his date of death (July 22, 1894), but also that he ‘died at his home, No. 1242 Broadway’, that he reportedly came to America in 1851, was 76 at the time of his death, and the he ‘left a widow and five children’.
The obituary for Joseph Milton Nowak, although sad that it was obviously for a youngster, also listed the identical ‘1242 Broadway’ address for the Nowak family.
Then we found Mary Nowak’s obituary, which really was a huge help! Dated August 28, 1895 and titled “Long in the City. Death of Mrs. Mary Nowak, One of the Earliest Bohemian Settlers” this obituary was one of those wonderful ones that read almost like a short story. Not only does this obituary note that “Mrs. Mary Nowak, one of the oldest Bohemian settlers in Cleveland”, but it gives her daughter’s name (Mrs. Anna Zika), her age (71), her birth date (Oct 16, 1824), states that “…for forty-four years she had been a resident of this city; she and her husband being among the first Bohemians to come to this country”, that Mr. Nowak had died a year ago, a grandson, Joseph Milton Nowak two weeks earlier, that she wanted to be buried ‘close to the grave of her young grandson’, and then listed children as J. M. Nowak, John F. Nowak, Frank H., Mrs. Anna Zika, and Mrs. A. Deisner,” and the tidbit at the very end that she would be buried at Riverside Cemetery. All we could think of was WOW!
Our next stop was to contact Riverside Cemetery to see what records they might hold and we received a very prompt response. The staff at Riverside informed us that, yes they had a record for Mrs. Mary Nowak, Joseph Nowak, Joseph Milton Nowak, and Joseph M. Nowak “all in the same large family lot 25 of section 6 and with record dates that matched the newspaper obituaries. Plus with further assistance from the wonderful staff at Riverside Cemetery, we discovered that in the same family lot and section with the Nowak family members listed above are members of the Zika and Dysner families.
Things were most certainly looking positive as to matching this Mary Nowak and Mrs. Marie Novákova of the interview by Chotek.
My next stop was to the genealogy ‘bible’ of Bohemian (Czech) passenger records. Leo Baca’s nine volume set of books titled Czech Immigration Passenger Lists. Dedicated to his grandmothers, Mary Chudej Baca and Lilly Kanak Kubena, this set is the definitive resource on Bohemian immigration and passenger lists. Originally written and published privately by Leo, the set has been revised and updated in the 2000s.
As we poured over the records in Leo’s books, we hit on a highly likely candidate for our Nowak family. In Volume IV on page 113 we were excited to find the following entry:
“Nowak, Joseph 36, Marie 34, Anna 9, Barbara 6, Joseph 3, Germany, Hansa, 13 December 183”
We were stopped in our tracks. The year was “183”? Was that 1853, 1863, 1873, etc? So close, but yet so far! In all the hundreds of entries we have looked up in Leo’s books none of us have encountered an entry like this one. We contacted Leo to ask if this was all the information that was in the record, was it a data entry error, etc. Leo, very kindly said he would begin searching his original records and let us know what the date was.
THERE IS MORE TO COME ABOUT THE NOWAK FAMILY AND THEIR GENEALOGY AND HISTORY IN CHAPTER THREE, PART TWO
Watch for our continuation of Chapter three as we move Onward To Our Past®. What will Leo Baca report? Will there be any living descendants of this family of original Cleveland Bohemians?