Hugo Chotek: Czech-American Author, Newspaperman, & Genealogical Helper Extraordinaire!
A few years ago while I was doing some Czech genealogy research I happened to come across Professor Clinton Machann, from Texas A&M University. As it often seems to happen, I was actually looking for something entirely different when I discovered his article in Volume 6, No. 2 of the journal of The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States), MELUS, titled “Hugo Chotek and Czech-American Fiction”. One line in this article immediately captured my attention. Professor Machann had written: “Although we have little biographical data about Chotek ….” This simple line prompted a phone call and resulted in the beginning of a brand new friendship with Professor Machann. I set out to see what I might be able to find for the Professor on Hugo Chotek. I never imagined this would lead me into such a genealogy wonderland.
I won’t go into great detail about my search process, but I will say that it resulted in a series of findings that answered several questions for Professor Machann, led me to ‘get to know’ Hugo Chotek, and then on to some truly astounding resources for Czech genealogy and history.
Hugo Chotek was born circa 1851 to a prominent Bohemian family. His father, Hugo John Chotek was a professor at the university in Jindřichův Hradec, Bohemia and his mother was Baroness Amelle Marie Von Steger. Once arriving in the United States, Chotek became an author and, luckily for us genealogy fans, also a newspaperman. This is especially important since it gave him the habit of always listing names in all his work. Hugo married and he along with this wife and children lived among the Bohemian communities in New York, New York; Detroit, Michigan; La Grange, Texas; Schuyler, Nebraska; Chicago, Illinois; and Cleveland, Ohio. During these years, Chotek not only was an editor for local newspapers, but he also wrote at least 13 pieces of fiction, many of which can be found in the premier Czech journal of the time, Amerikán Národní Kalendár.
One of my early discoveries on Hugo Chotek was through the historic newspapers of GenealogyBank.com. In the Plain Dealer, published on May 11, 1911 in Cleveland, Ohio, I found Hugo Chotek looking right at me. In an obituary titled “Bohemian Editor Stricken By Death” were wonderful details of his life and accomplishments. I continued my research taking a two-pronged approach. I began to research the genealogy of Hugo Chotek, in order to find if there were any living descendants, and at the same time I continued to search for some of his works.
I quickly discovered that the most complete holding of Amerikán Národní Kalendár is in the Archive of Czechs and Slovaks Abroad (ACASA) housed in the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago (http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/su/slavic/acasa.html). At the same time I began to uncover some additional gems such as Rose Rosický’s A History of Czechs (Bohemians) in Nebraska, which on page 399, contains a brief biography of Hugo Chotek’s time in Nebraska where he was editor of Nová Doba.
It wasn’t long before I discovered that Hugo Chotek also wrote a book in 1895 titled “Česká Osada a Její Spolkový Život v Cleveland, O. v Severni Americe.” This book, written in Czech for the 1895 International Ethnographic Exposition in Prague, is reportedly the first book written that documents the history of any Bohemian immigrant community, includes over 2,400 surnames, and has now been translated into English for the first time ever. After a year and half of work, this translation is now available, free of charge, on the website http://OnwardToOurPast.com along with one of Chotek’s articles from Amerikán Národní Kalendár as well as one by fellow newspaperman Václav Šnajdr.
So I thank Czech-American Hugo Chotek for being such a wonderful example of history and genealogy comingling and providing us with the resultant unique and spectacular resources. Oh, and connecting up with his living descendants is a whole additional story!