Czech Genealogy: Rediscovering John Bohumil Dudek and his work on the Czech Language in America
“Almost forgotten”. These words seem like an all too frequent refrain to those of us who work on and love genealogy. Often these words are referencing an ancestor or person of interest from hundreds of years ago. But not in this case.
I was researching a Czech word when I came across the name of Monsignor J. B. Dudek. Monsignor Dudek was born Paul John Bohumil Dudek on February 1, 1890 in Schuyler, Nebraska and died on July 5, 1963 in Yukon, Oklahoma. In between those dates, Monsignor Dudek wrote some very noteworthy articles of which every Czech genealogist and family historian should be aware. These works may not be mainstream, nor easy to locate, but now you will have a reference point to many of them right here thanks to Onward To Our Past®.
From 1919 to 1930, Monsignor, then Reverend, Dudek was the parish priest in the very Czech community of Yukon, Oklahoma (known as the Czech Capital of Oklahoma) at the St. John Nepomuk Church. He then moved onward and upward becoming the Chancellor for the diocese of Oklahoma City. During his religious career, Monsignor Dudek made the acquaintance of H. L. Mencken. Mencken, known as the ‘Sage of Baltimore’ was an extremely well known author, critic, and scholar on the American literary scene. You may recognize his name as he was the journalist who coined the phrase ‘the monkey trial’ for the famous Scopes trial. It is said only one person had a more extensive correspondence history with Mencken than Monsignor Dudek. In his personal journal, Mencken, an impressive writer himself, had this to say about Monsignor Dudek “Dudek is a very learned man, and is the author of an unpublished treatise on the Czech language in America that shows extremely acute observation and clear reasoning.”
While Monsignor Dudek wrote on an impressive variety of topics, one of his favorites was about the Czech language in America. Mencken published some of Dudek’s works in the prominent magazine he established, “The American Mercury”, while other articles were published in American Speech, the journal of The American Dialect Society.
The following are several of Dudek’s works, which we have been able to locate online. You can click on each title to take you to either the work itself or in a couple of cases, the paywall site that holds the article. They are all post-1923, so they continue to be under copyright protections. But do not despair! We are working to get permission to post these right here at Onward To Our Past®.
“The Bohemian Language in America I. Czechoslovakia”
In this article, Dudek speaks to the history of the Bohemian people, the changing of Bohemian to Czech, and much more in a very engaging way.
“The Bohemian Language in America II. The Slavic Languages in General”
This article deals with the uses of Czech and other Slavic languages in America as assimilation pressures mounted on all immigrants.
“The Czech Language in America”
This is a very well done article chronicling a variety of aspects of the usages of Czech throughout the United States.
“Czech Surnames in America”
This is a terrific article, which addresses Czech surnames and how some, but not all, have changed in America.
“The Americanization of Czech Given Names”
This article is indispensable to Czech genealogists and family historians as Dudek takes Czech given names and addresses what American or Americanized name was often used in their places. If you are working on your Czech genealogy and can’t find a certain ancestor be sure to use this as a reference guide for finding leads as to what it might have been changed to in the States.
While there may be more of these smaller articles published, there is one highly significant one, which has not. As I was researching Monsignor Dudek I encountered, time and time again, references made to a large, and growing, treatise on Czech language in America that was written by Dudek, but never published. Again in his journal, H. L. Mencken wrote “I have made various efforts to find a publisher for it but always in vain. I printed a few extracts from it in Tbe American Mercury in my time, and several others have been printed in American Speech, but the bulk of the bulk of the book remains unpublished, and hence unheard of.”
We here at Onward To Our Past®, never being ones to shy away from a good Czech mystery, especially when it involves a potential resource, began working several angles to see if this manuscript might still be in existence.
One tantalizing lead came from a 93 year-old parishioner of St. John Nepomuk who told us she knew Monsignor Dudek and his writings. Not only a first-person connection, but she also said she had the writings and them to another priest for safekeeping. We are now in the process of tracking down this now retired priest. It’s hard to dial the phone with your fingers crossed 🙂
We are hopeful it is out there somewhere! We are in contact with the diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the parish of St. John Nepomuk in Yukon, the Canadian County, Oklahoma Historical Society, and a couple more organizations in our efforts to locate this manuscript. What a find it would be!
Stay with us tomorrow as we bring you one of J. B. Dudek’s articles right here!
Onward To Our Past®