In Genealogy the Devil is the Detail: A Case On Point With Francis Dvornik
One of the things I like most about genealogy and family history is how, every so often, it sneakily teaches you a lesson. Sometimes it is a new lesson, sometimes it is like cold water splashed on your face, and sometimes it is more like a light tap on your shoulder as many of my teachers liked to do with me. Of course these shoulder taps were usually accompanied by a wagging finger, a stern look, and a look that clearly telegraphed “Come on Mr. Phillips! You know better than that.”
Such was the case yesterday and it was such a profound lesson to me that I wanted to share it with you as an example.
Hoisted with my own petard:
A couple of years ago I happened to find a footnote reference to a book published in Chicago, Illinois in 1961 titled ‘Czech Contributions To The Growth of The United States” by Francis Dvornik. The title alone piqued my interest and after some extensive looking I was able to find a copy. It is one of those small books at only about 5” x 7”, about 180 pages, a simple paper binding, and my copy came complete with a free set of coffee stains on the cover.
I set to reading this book as I do many other books as they enter into my genealogy library, which you can see at LibraryThing. As I eagerly dug in, my first reading quickly became more of a quick scan and not the usual perusal I give most of my newly acquired reference books. This was true even after I read that the genesis of Dvornik writing this book was a visit to Cleveland, Ohio in 1957 to present a lecture in celebration of St. Wenceslas Day where, in his own words “The surprisingly vivid interest which the Clevelanders of Czech extraction had manifested in the history of their fathers and forefathers who became American pioneers in the mid-West and West, induced me to do some more research on the history of Czech immigration … “
So, why was I dismissive of this book at first? I made an assumption and a judgment call, and it was a terrible one! Let me explain.
This book begins with a short, four-page Preface. In this Preface I read the following as its final paragraph on page 6 of the book:
“I am well aware of the shortcomings of this publication. 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.” Washington, D.C., April 10, 1961
I added the emphasis in this quote to point out what caught my eye. To my mind, here was an author stating, right up front, that he was ill-informed and ill-equipped to write the book I held in my hands. I think I may have even uttered an ‘ugh’ at this point.
While I then did not pay complete and close attention as I read the book, over the years and over and over in my mind it was not that comment that kept haunting me. Rather it was the comment “The fact that, so far, no attempt has been made to present a synthetic picture of the Czech immigration into the United Sates, and at evaluating Czech contributions ….”
It wasn’t until I was writing an article on Czech (Bohemian) immigration that I returned to this book. I wanted to use that quote to shore up a point about the overall lack of study that has been done on the Czech immigrant community in general, but was caught short when I thought to myself “Who is this author, Frantisek (Francis) Dvornik, that he seems to know what is written on Czech immigrants, but then says he isn’t equipped to do the subject justice?”
Google to the rescue as I began with a simple search, well, to be truthful, I actually used DuckDuckGo since I am at odds with Goggle’s recent declaration that no one using any Google product should have any expectation of privacy, but I won’t belabor that point here.
From the very first listing, I found myself kicking myself for making that original assumption regarding that statement in the Preface! As the old adage goes, I ‘assumed’ and it did, indeed, make an a*s of me!
Evidently, the good Francis Dvornik was just a tiny bit self-effacing when he wrote this line, which when I discovered his training as a Priest, fit perfectly.
Here, from the website of Dumbarton Oaks, where Francis was a full Professor is his brief biography:
“Father Francis Dvornik (František Dvorník) was born on August 14, 1893, in Chomýž, Moravia (the modern-day Czech Republic). In 1912, he graduated from the ArchdiocesanSchool in Kremsier and continued his education at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Olomouc. He graduated in 1916 and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. He continued his studies at the CharlesUniversity in Prague, and, in 1920, received his doctorate in theology from the Theological Faculty in Olomouc. Dvornik then attended the University of Paris, simultaneously studying in several specialties. He graduated in 1926 and received a Doctor of Letters degree from the Sorbonne. As an academic, he became one of the leading twentieth-century experts on Slavic and Byzantine history and on relations between the churches of Rome and Constantinople. In 1927, he returned to Czechoslovakia, and, in 1928, he became professor of ecclesiastical history at the Faculty of Catholic Theology at CharlesUniversity in Prague, where he was one of the founders of the Institute of Slavic Studies and co-founder of the journal Byzantinoslavica. In 1939, Dvornik emigrated to Great Britain and, in 1940, to France, where he taught at the Collège de France and the Paris École des Hautes Études. On November 4, 1975, during a visit to his birthplace in Chomýž, he had a fatal heart attack.
Francis Dvornik came to Dumbarton Oaks as a Visiting Professor in the spring of 1948. He was appointed a Senior Scholar of Byzantine Studies in the fall of 1948 and Professor of Byzantine History between 1949 and his retirement in 1964, when he received the title of Professor Emeritus. Between 1948 and 1964, Dvornik participated in nine Byzantine Studies symposia at Dumbarton Oaks, directing the 1952 symposium, “Byzantium and the Slavs,” and with Roman Jakobson, the 1964 symposium, “The Byzantine Mission to the Slavs: St. Cyril and St. Methodius.”
The more I research Professor Dvornik, the more impressed I am. First, Dumbarton Oaks itself is a magnificent facility, archive, museum and library, which is administered by Harvard University, and Professor Dvornik’s tenure there is impressive. I am looking forward to having an opportunity to visit there sometime.
I am looking forward to reading some of his additional books, such as his 1956 book, The Slavs. Their Early History and Civilization and his 1962 book, The Slavs in European History and Civilization. In 1972 he received the Award for “Distinguished Contributions to Slavic Studies” given by the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (now the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies). His bibliography, which you can see here, is nothing short of astounding and contains 32 Books and Monographs, 135 Articles, Chapters of Books, and Obituaries, and 62 Book Reviews.
Well, I thought to myself, if there is someone more knowledgeable and better equipped than Professor Dvornik, I don’t know who it could be!