I have been doing a lot of thinking this week. These thoughts have come to me again and again, ever since Peter DOBROVOLNY spoke to me in the foyer of Bohemian National Hall in Cleveland. As Peter and I read the Sokol charge to Czech youth of America, Peter implored me to keep the focus of my efforts on what he termed ‘the fabric of our family and histories’.
This week I was struck by how important, sacred, and solemn a responsibility this is. My generation is the last, in my family, that will have actually heard the Czech voices for instance. Those who follow are now a generation removed from that reality. They will never have heard the Czech words. They will never have heard the lift in the voice as the favorite story about the old county was told. Nor see the special twinkle in the eye as they speak of times gone by. Nor will they hear the sternness in their voices, laced with a Czech word now and again, as they imparted some life-lesson when I was a screw-up.
While I will continue to be sure to add each and every family name to our tree, document our ancestors to provide evidence of their linkage and existence, I will now be focused more on how I can carry forward THE PERSON that they each were? How do I capture them? What made them tick? What did they love? What they did not love? What were their values? What were their views? What did they believe and what did they not believe?
How do I impart a respect for and, if I am really lucky, a love for the root that is our Czech lineage? How do I impart a respect for, and if I am really lucky, a love for the root that is lineage that each family member brought to us from Italy, Cornwall, Bohemia, and Kent? How do I instill a stirring in the heart when names such as Vinchiaturo, St. Minver, Campobasso, Cranbrook, Rataje, or Milevsko are uttered?
These thoughts have been greatly impacted by the fact that so much of what I have discovered in my Incredible Genealogy Journey had been forgotten already. No one knew William Morrish PHILLIPS died in Houyet, Belgium. Did anyone know what Freethinkers were and why they fled Bohemia? Did anyone know our family lost members in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam? That they fought in the Indian Wars or the Civil War on both sides?
Did we know that we have a huge extended family in Wadebridge? That way more of the Vicha and Knechtl families were related than we all thought? Did we ever think that at a 90th birthday party we would get to meet over a dozen ‘new’ cousins?
Unfortunately, I do not have an answer for my question or have it figured out yet. Bummer! However, you can certainly believe me when I say I am working on it. Perhaps one way I can do this is with your help through their stories. I also believe that we need to make certain that everywhere we can we capture the spirit and the essence of who our ancestors truly were. The big and the little. The important and the seemingly unimportant. For an example, take a look at the following quotation I found on our KNECHTL ancestor Frantisek KNECHTL. This is the English translation of an article published in 1895 in what was at the time the most respected Czech-Anmerican literatry journal, “Amerikán Národní kalendar”, Volume XVIII, which was written by noted Czech-American author Hugo Chotek:
“Frank Knechtl was born in Nenačovice u Beroun in 1827. He said of himself: “When a bear is doing well, he goes to the ice to dance. A person can endure all of life’s struggles and hardships, but not when things run smoothly and without problems. For better times he forces himself from his comfortable abode into hardships and the struggle for existence. That is how it was with me as well. As a male blacksmith I had a good wage, a nice house, free firewood and even my own deputy <a k tomu jeste deputat>. I could have lived well and without worries until the end of my days, with only a little bit of effort. But between 1851 and 1852 news came from the west of how wonderful America is, so I decided to emigrate, under the assumption that gold and prosperity will pour on me from heaven. But when I arrived to Cleveland in 1853 I realized how grotesquely I was mistaken. I did not find myself in an impossible predicament, because as a skilled blacksmith I found work immediately, and at a good pay of $2.50 daily, but none of my dreams came true. On the contrary, I lost ten children there and suffered many disappointments.
At least in the early years social life was great and one could forget about the grief of life while spending time with noble-minded, good-hearted and cheerful friends. But today we don’t even have that, since the times are sadder and more gloomy than they were back then, with social life not making up for it. Envy and hatred abound among us and if one could drown another with a spoonful of water while getting away with it, they would. Let’s just hope that everything will return to the good old days.”
What a phenomenal find on many levels (birth, home village, number of children, immigration year, etc) but the best part is that it gives us an unvarnished look at the life of an ancestor and one of the very first Cleveland Bohemians at that! What a wonderful thing …. Thank goodness this story was captured for us! Somehow I doubt that Frantisek was thinking that you and I would be reading this 117 years later in 2012, but here it is, thanks to Frantisek and Hugo.
So the question remains …. how do I do this ……
I don’t know, but I sure am going to try my best!
Onward To Our Past, Scott