Czech Genealogy: Surnames and Home Villages – An Unusual Suspect
I know only too well the frustration of working on your genealogy while having no idea what the home village is of your Czech ancestors. I spent years searching with only my great-grandfather’s surname and a penciled note of unknown date and author, which simply said ‘Joseph Vicha Pisec’ (sic). You can read about what I call ‘My Journey to Milevsko’ by clicking here. It isn’t always easy to find one’s ancestral village, but there is hardly anything which gives you a more rewarding feeling when you finally do. I even went on to find the first image we ever found of Joseph in, of all places, a book on the history of the Knights of Pythias.
In my ‘Journey to Milevsko’ I found the clue that led me ‘home’ in a marriage certificate for a family member from Bohemia, but that is not always the case. This is why searching in unlikely places for what I call ‘the unusual suspects’ is a piece of advice I highly recommend.
Another wonderful find via my unusual suspects came while I was researching the Czechoslavic Ethnographic Exposition held in Prague in 1895. I almost missed it as I was reading through one of the early versions of our exclusive translations from Czech to English. Just a few words: “…there were sold the wines of Mr. Korbel…” As I said I almost missed it, but not quite. I wondered if this could be the same Korbel whose California champagnes are now found all across the States. I let the thought go until I was reading another of our translations in which I found these sentences:
“At the front of the line of selfless contributors was the company of the Korbel brothers. They donated all the wood necessary for the interior decoration of the residence. It was an expensive material of “red wood” from the sequoia trees growing in the forests of northern California, where their vast land and lumber mills were also located. The brothers, without a doubt, are the wealthiest fellow countrymen in America.”
Naturally I was really intrigued. The wealthiest of Czech-Americans, but in the lumber business, not wine.
It took a bit of digging, but it wasn’t long before I learned there were actually three Korbel brothers, Francis, Anton, and Joseph. These three brothers had a lumber business attached to their very successful cigar-box making factory in San Francisco. As they cleared their land for the lumber they needed for their cigar boxes, they converted the land to farm land. Later they began to plant grapes and so began their vineyards. It wasn’t long before F. Korbel & Bros. Company was selling every bottle of wine, brandy, and champagne they could make. 30,000 gallons back in 1882.
All this from one, tiny mention in an unrelated article found in the wonderful Czech-American annual journal Amerikán Národní Kalendář.
My most recent discovery came about from another ‘unusual suspect’. Onward To Our Past® Genealogy Services Company had translated a chapter, Čechové Američtí, from the 1895 guidebook for the Czechoslavic Ethnographic Exposition, Národopisná Výstava Českoslovanská v Praze 1895.
As we worked on translating this chapter, translated as ‘American Czechs’ I found myself beginning to get lost in looking through the entire book of 300+ pages. It was quite near the end of the book when I realized I had found another wonderful Czech genealogy treasure-trove.
It took me a while to understand what it was I was looking at, but as the pages went on the smile on my face began to widen by a mile. There on page after page were the names of the hundreds of Bohemians who formed local committees for the Exposition. These committees were cast far and wide across Bohemia and included cities, towns, and villages. Surname after surname after surname! All from the late 1800s. What an amazing discovery and to top it off many are complete with occupations as well. As you can imagine, these pages of genealogy gold are now in our queue for one of our upcoming translation projects.
So my message is actually simple: Sure, use the commonplace, big data resources for sure, but do not overlook ‘the unusual suspects’. It’s amazing what you can find in all the places you might never suspect.
Have a great day searching for your own unusual suspects!
Onward To Our Past®