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From the Historiography of Czech Texas

After 150 years of imposed slumber the dormant Czech nation began to stir.  Since the executions, expulsions, purges, censorship and book burning of Ferdinand II, Czech culture had all but ceased to exist.  German had become the language of the country, and Czech history had been forgotten under decades of dust in castle archives and monastic libraries.

The Royal Bohemian Society of Sciences was founded in 1784.  In 1792 a chair of Czech language and literature was established at the university in Prague.  Studies of Czech history began to be published.  A few Bohemian nobles began to feel pangs of regional, if not outright Czech consciousness.  These early steps led the way to the Czech National Revival.

The process of reawakening quickened its pace during the next century.  Other institutions, such as the Bohemian Museum in 1818 and the Matice Česká in 1831 were established, and early national leaders studied and wrote about Czech language, literature and history.  Josef Dobrovský (1753-1829) wrote a history of the Czech language, as well as a Czech grammar book.  Josef Jungmann (1773-1847) wrote a history of Czech literature, prepared a Czech dictionary and translated numerous foreign works into Czech.  František Palacký (1798-1876) wrote a monumental history of the Czech nation based on research in libraries and archives.  During this period long-abandoned Czech works were republished and once discarded documents were brought to light.1

A similar phenomenon is occurring among the Czechs of Texas today.  The following study will look at one aspect of that phenomenon: the writing of Texas Czech history.

Czech language and literature in Texas were not assassinated as they were in seventeenth-century Habsburg Bohemia.  They were gradually abandoned in the natural process of assimilation into the surrounding American community.  And unlike in Europe, Czech history in Texas did not have to be rediscovered.  It had never been suppressed.  It just had not been thoroughly or seriously written.

Two monumental works on the history of Czech Texas were published in the 1930s.  Naše Dějiny, prepared by the Národní Svaz Českých Katolíků v Texas in 1939, chronicled the history of Czech Catholic parishes, recorded the biographies of prominent Czech Catholic leaders and included related materials of interest to the Czech Catholic community in Texas.  Czech Pioneers of the Southwest, written by Estelle Hudson and Henry Maresh in 1936, recorded a more general history of Czech settlement in Texas, as well as the biographies of early Czech settlers in the state.

The importance of these pioneer works of Texas Czech history cannot be overemphasized.  But like the early histories of the Czech nation published in the late 1700s, they were merely a first step that laid the way for more rigorous historical endeavor.

These two pioneering works stand out as monumental milestones marking the way for Texas Czech historians.  But during the next generation few took to the path, except for the occasional soul who would document his own family history or chronicle the history of his church.  It was not until the 1970s that Texas Czech historiography came alive with a flurry of activity as dozens of Texans of Czech origin began to research and write about the history of their community.

There were several reasons for this great surge of activity.  There was the general interest in “tracing one’s roots.” There was revived interest in ethnic heritage, which also saw the spread of folk festivals across the state, like mushrooms on a rich forest floor.  There was the activity of organizations, such as the Czech Heritage Society of Texas.  There was the work of individuals, such as Albert Blaha of Houston and Doug Kubicek of Hallettsville.  And there was the dual celebration of the United States Bicentennial in 1976 and the Texas Sesquicentennial in 1986.

Perhaps the most important factor in the proliferation of publications on Czech Texas has been the development of instant printing machines.  Before, one had to make a sizeable investment to publish his work, and for the family historian or researcher the cost of publication was often prohibitive.  Now he can run off copies as they are needed, and for only a couple of cents a page.  Today most of the works on Czech Texas are published by the author and printed in this manner.

The most remarkable aspect of the historiography of Czech Texas today is the people who are involved in it.  With the exception of Doug Kubicek of Hallettsville, they are not professional historians, and with the exception of Dr. Clinton Machann of Texas A&M University, they are not professors.  They are housewives and retirees.  They are white-collar workers and farmers.  They are teachers and other professionals.  They are a cross section of the Texas Czech community, and by and large without formal training in the methodology of historical research and writing.  Quite a few are fluent in Czech, but the majority can boast only a moderate knowledge of the Czech language.  Some have almost no knowledge of Czech at all.  Most come from Czech families that have been in the United States over a hundred years.  And a few remarkable individuals are Czech only by marriage.  All are united, however, by a love of the heritage of their Czech ancestors, and by a desire to document and chronicle the history of the Czech community of Texas.

These housewives and retirees, these farmers and professional people, these amateur family historians and researchers are doing a remarkable job of documenting the history of Czech Texas.  They have written histories of various localities, as well as of the Czech community as a whole.  They have written the histories of churches and fraternal organizations, and family histories and the biographies of individuals.  They have extracted Czech names from the United States census, from county marriage records, from land transfer records, from applications for naturalization and from immigrant passenger lists.  They have compiled tombstone inscriptions from numerous cemeteries, obituaries from various newspapers, and birth, death and marriage entries from several churches.  They have studied immigrant villages of birth found in all possible sources.  They have translated and republished rare and valuable old source material.  This prodigious work has not only painted a remarkable picture of the Czech community in Texas, but it has gathered a wealth of information for tomorrow’s family and professional historians.

The problems facing the modern Texas Czech historians and researchers pale in comparison to those of our illustrious eighteenth and nineteenth-century predecessors.  Problems, however, do exist.

Most of the people involved in researching, writing and publishing the history of Czech Texas, as has been pointed out earlier, are amateur historians.  Writing history is their hobby.  Consequently it has been relegated to their spare time.  It is a hobby that requires hard work, long hours and a full pocketbook.  One of the problems is that they seldom can do as much as they really would like.

Since they are not trained historians, they have had to “play it by ear”  and develop their own methods and techniques.  The result is a historiography that is refreshingly frank, simple and honest.  The lack of professional polish of some of their work is outweighed by the dedication and enthusiasm of the authors.

Unfortunately everybody does not share their enthusiasm.  This is another problem.  Many members of the Texas Czech community are not interested in their work and offer little help.  Some people in the community even seem to fear knowledge.  They believe that if some stranger is asking too many questions about their family, he probably is trying to establish a claim to their land.  Some church officials do not want to open up their records, and many people just do not want to be bothered with things the importance of which they do not understand.  Although they do not have to suffer the imperial censorship and official suppression of old, the modern historian and researchers of Czech Texas still have to fight apathy and narrow-mindedness.

Perhaps the greatest problem facing the Texas Czech historians and researchers involves source material.  Although some early studies and histories exist, the modern historians and researchers are breaking new ground.  The old sources that do exist are often rare and hard to find.  Fortunately Albert Blaha of Houston has taken it on himself to republish many old sources, thus whittling down the magnitude of the problem.

For the most part the modern historians and researchers of Czech Texas have to resort to primary sources: census records, church records, county records, etc.  These records are often in a bad state, sometimes almost illegible.  Another problem with these records is bad spelling.  The American officials who kept the records often wrote down Czech names as they sounded to them.  Spaček, for example, became Spotcheck2, and Buček became Bootjack3.  The names of villages in the Old Country can be even more elusive, what with archaic forms, German variants and inflection.

Another problem is that some information is hard to get to.  It may be dispersed in countless churches, libraries and courthouses across the state.  Research, then, involves the triple problem of effort, time and money.  Some records are officially closed to the public by state law.  Other records are unofficially closed to the public because of the attitude of a particular priest or minister.  And a whole world of valuable information has been lost forever with the deaths of old-timers who were never interviewed, and with the destruction of their papers by family members who did not know any better.  Eventually the problem of accessibility will be solved by researchers who continue to extract, compile and publish.

Finally, there is a scarcity of modern studies on the topic of Czech Texas.  But that is the task of today’s historians and researchers.  Their work is the first generation of scientific study.  Again, although their work may be lacking in professional polish, it is the basis for future generations of historians who, in turn, will revise, correct and reinterpret.

Where will the road of Texas Czech historiography lead us in the future?  We have covered a lot of ground, but a lot of work remains to be done.  We need to promote interest in our Czech heritage, encourage the study of Czech language and history, and solicit support for Czech-related programs and activities.  We need to enlist more researchers, and we should coordinate their work so all possible records are researched, copied and made available to the public.  We need to encourage more people to tackle their family histories, and give them whatever assistance they may require.  We need to encourage churches and organizations to write comprehensive histories and to organize and open their own archives.  We need to record and transcribe the wonderful information stored in the memories of our older generation before it is lost.  We need to locate and copy old papers, documents and journals before they are burned in a barrel in somebody’s backyard.  All this information, all these records we need to see published and placed in libraries across the state.  And we need to start a comprehensive computer index covering individuals, places and topics found in all works and materials on Czech Texas.  Finally, we need to start thinking in terms of an independent, fully-funded central library and archive where Texas Czech materials can be collected, preserved and studied by future generations, and where Texas Czechs can leave their own collections, confident that they will be taken care of and put to good use after their death.

Special tribute must be made to two individuals who have made especially great contributions to the historiography of Czech Texas.

In 1982 Doug Kubicek of Hallettsville founded Naše Dějiny, a magazine of Texas Czech genealogy, history and culture.  The magazine, which is published six times a year, not only disseminates valuable information to the Texas Czech community, but it gives family researchers a forum to get in contact with each other, and it gives the amateur historian a place to publish his work, thus fostering the development of Texas Czech historiography.  The magazine has been so successful that it has attracted subscribers and contributors from other states and from out of the country.  Kubicek also has a publishing company, Old Homestead Publishing Company, which has published several works about the Texas Czech community.

The other great contributor to Texas Czech historiography is Albert Blaha of Houston.  Blaha has done more than anyone else to promote the study of Texas Czech culture and history.  Perhaps he is best known for hisCzech Genealogists Handbook, the authoritative source for the family historian of Czech Texas.  Blaha also founded the Czech Heritage Society of Texas, an organization that promotes and studies Czech history, culture and heritage in the state.  Sometimes in conjunction with the Czech Heritage Society and sometimes on his own he has organized genealogy workshops in all parts of the state.  Blaha has translated and republished old, rare source materials on the history of the Czech community in Texas.  He has promoted and coordinated the extracting and publishing of Czech names from various records.  And he has discovered and published many old records himself.  Blaha has sponsored a series of books entitled Czech Footprints across the Bluebonnet Fields of Texas.  He has collected and microfilmed important Czech periodicals.  He has encouraged scores of Texas Czechs to study their own family history and heritage, and given them invaluable, free information and assistance.  In summary, Albert Blaha of Houston is the Father of Texas Czech History.  He is our own František Palacký.

Three organizations also deserve mention from the standpoint of historiographical interest.  The Czech Heritage Society of Texas (the aforementioned creation of Albert Blaha of Houston) was founded in 1982 with the objective of preserving the history, heritage and culture of the Texas Czech community.  The CHS is a state-wide organization with county chapters that promote and sponsor Czech activities and projects.  The Czech Heritage Society regularly holds genealogy workshops, encourages and promotes historical research and writing, and serves as a major medium of mutual contact for family historians and researchers.

An organization maintaining similar goals is the Czech Club Historical Society of Dallas.  The historical society, which was founded in 1976, is also dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Texas Czech history, heritage and culture.  The Czech Club Historical Society also holds genealogy workshops, hosts lectures, encourages research and writing, and engages in other activities of interest to the Texas Czech historian.  In 1979 the historical society established a library which now contains some 1,500 items, and is located in the home of the KJT (Czech Catholic Union of Texas) Lodge number 111 in Dallas.  Not limited to Czech materials, the library’s holdings include some items from other Slavic groups of Texas as well.4

Although the SPJST (Slavonic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas) is a fraternal benevolent society, it is of interest to Texas Czech historiography because of its outstanding library of Czech materials.  The library, which opened in 1963, is located in the SPJST headquarters in Temple.  Its holdings include over 20,000 volumes, the vast majority of which deal with Czech or Texas Czech topics.5

Like their eighteenth and nineteenth-century predecessors, the historians and researchers of Czech Texas are uncovering and studying old records, translating and republishing valuable old works, compiling and publishing primary sources and writing new historical studies.

This is not to suggest or even to imply that the historical efforts of a few Texans of Czech ancestry in any way approach the importance and magnitude of the works and contributions of Dobrovský, Jungmann and Palacký.  The nineteen-century masters saved the Czech nation from cultural oblivion and laid the foundation for the establishment of Czechoslovakia as an independent people.  We twentieth-century amateur historians and researchers are merely trying to preserve some aspect of Czech heritage within our American identity, as well as trying to record the history of Czech Texas before it is lost with the passing of generations.

Bibliography of Selected Works Published Between 1976 and 1986

Baca, Leo. Czech Immigration Passenger Lists. 2 vols. Hallettsville, Tex.: Old Homestead Publishing Co., 1983-85.

Barler, Beatrice Ripple.  Marriage Licenses (Issued to Czechs) Austin County.  Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fields of Texas.  Bellville, Tex.: The Author, 1981. 86 pp.

—.  The Schiller Family that Came on the Ship Maria February 1852.  Bellville, Tex.: The Author, 1982.  233 pp.

Blaha, Albert J.  Czech Families in Texas from the 1860 Census. Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fields of Texas. Houston, Tex.:  The Author, 1982. 76 pp.

—.  Czech Families of Fayette County. 2 vols.  Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fields of Texas. Houston, Tex.: The Author, 1984.  778 pages.

—. Czech Genealogists’ Handbook. 4th ed. Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fields of Texas.  Houston, Tex.: The Author 1986.  150 pp.

—.  Czech Settlements and Families in Texas before 1900.  Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fields of Texas.  Houston, Tex.: The Author 1983.  172 pp.

—. Passenger Lists for Galveston 1850-1855. Houston, Tex: The Author, 1985.  90 pp.

Blaha, Albert J. & Edmond H. Hejl.  Register Records of the Czech-Moravian Brethren.  Nelsonville. Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fields of Texas.  Houston, Tex.: The Authors, 1980.  161pp.

—. Register Records of the Czech-Moravian Brethren.  Ross Prairie. Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fields of Texas.  Houston, Tex.: The Authors, 1980.  428 pp.

—. Register Records of the Czech-Moravian Brethren.  Wesley.  Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fields of Texas.  Houston, Tex.: The Authors, 1980.  330 pp.

Blaha, Albert J. & Dorothy Klumpp. The Saga of Ernst Bergmann. Houston, Tex: The Authors, 1981.  122 pp.

Bujnoch, Dorothy & Anne Rhodes.  Czech Footprints Across Lavaca County 1860-1900. Hallettsville, Tex.: The Authors, 1984.  470 pp.

Cernosek, Donald & Grace Campbell Clowe.  Czech Marriage Records of Fayette County.  Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fields of Texas. Houston, Tex.: Albert J. Blaha, 1984.  93 pp.

Clowe, Grace Campbell.  Austin County, Texas.  Czech Census Extracts 1860, 1870, 1880 and 1900.  Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fiends of Texas. Albuquerque, New Mex.: The Author, 1983.  358 pp.

—. Colorado County, Texas.  Czech Census Extracts 1860, 1870, 1880 and 1900. Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fiends of Texas. Albuquerque, New Mex.: The Author, 1983.  203 pp.

—. Czech Extractions from McLennan County, Texas. Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fiends of Texas. Albuquerque, New Mex.: The Author, 1985.  70 pp.

—. Czechs in Wesley and Latium, Washington County. Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fiends of Texas. Albuquerque, New Mex.: The Author, 1985.  90 pp.

—. Declarations and Marriages of the Czechs in Colorado County. Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fiends of Texas. Albuquerque, New Mex.: The Author, 1985.  75 pp.

Gloeckner, Annie Mae.  Czechs in Wharton County.  Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fields of Texas. Pierce, Tex.: The Author, 1985.  93 pp.

Hannan, Kevin. From Silesia to Texas. A History of the Shirocky, Antonczyk and Fojcik Families.  Dallas, Tex.: The Author, 1984. 115 pp.

Hejl, Edmond H. Villages of Origin (Protestant). Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fields of Texas. Fort Worth, Tex.: The Author, 1983. 112 pp.

Janak, Joseph D., Jr. A Family History of Ondrej & Rosalie Janak’s Children — John, Frank, Mikulas, Vincent, Ondrej, Jr., Ignac — Their Ancestors, Journey to America, Settlement in Texas, and Customs, Traditions, Joys and Hardships Endured.  Victoria, Tex.: The Author, 1984. 65 pp.

Janak, Robert. The Bohemian Connection. 2nd. ed. Hallettsville, Tex.: Old Homestead Publishing Co., 1985. 172 pp.

—. Dubina, Hostyn and Ammannsville: The Geographic Origin of Three Czech Communities in Fayette County, Texas. Beaumont, Tex.: The Author, 1978. 13 pp.

—. Geographic Origin of Czech Texas. Hallettsville, Tex.: Old Homestead Publishing Co., 1986. 40 pp.

—. The Mikeska Family of Zádveřice. Beaumont, Tex.: The Author, 1986.  209 pp.

—. Old Bohemian Tombstones. 2 vols. Beaumont, Tex.: The Author, 1983-85.

—, Simicek Sugarek Janak. Beaumont, Tex.: The Author, 1976. 24 pp.

Labaj, Stacy Mikulencak.  Obituaries of the Czech Moravian Brethren in Texas. Czech Footprints Across the Bluebonnet Fields of Texas. Houston, Tex: Ben A. Merrick & Albert J. Blaha, 1986.  365 pp.

Machann, Clinton, ed. The Czechs in Texas. A Three-Day Multi-Disciplinary Symposium. College Station, Tex.: Texas A&M University College of Liberal Arts, 1978.  184 pp.

Machann, Clinton & James W. Mendl.  Krásná Amerika.  A Study of the Texas Czechs, 1851-1939.  Austin, Tex.: Eakin Press, 1983.  280 pp.

Mesecke, Anjanette, ed. Proceedings of the Second Czech Symposium. Temple, Tex.: Temple Junior College, 1983.  190 pp.

Milberger, Olivia et al.  The Families of George and Marianna Konarik Cernota. Victoria, Tex.: The Authors, 1984.  298 pp.

Miller, Dorothy S. Czech Pioneers in Texas. Vincenc Doubrava and Frantiska Novak Doubrava and Their Descendants. Bryan, Tex.: The Author, 1979. 208 pp.

Morkovsky, Alois J. Short Biographies of Czech and Other Priests in Texas. Hallettsville, Tex.: The Author, 1982. 183 pp.

Morris, Nick A. A History of the SPJST.  A Texas Chronicle 1897-1980.  Temple, Tex.: Stillhouse Hollow Publishers, 1984. 291 pp.

Naše dějiny, Doug Kubicek, ed. Hallettsville, Tex.: Old Homestead Publishing Co., 1982-    . Six times a year.

Pearce, Julia Ripple.  Czechs in Texas: Generation by Generation from the 1952 Arrival of Ripple Family and the 1856 Arrival of Chovanec Family.  El Campo, Tex.: The Author, 1981.  169 pp.

Sarris, Kay E. and Elizabeth M. Semrad.  The Zvolanek Clan of the Yesteryear and Today, 1610-1985.  Houston, Tex: Albert J. Blaha, 1985.  381 pp.

Smith, E. F. and James Valigura. Obutuaries from May 1957 to May 1969. Lavaca County Tribune, Hallettsville, Texas.  Conroe, Tex.: James. Valigura, 1984. 314 pp.

Tise, Sammy.  Lavaca County, Texas, Cemetery Records, 2 vols.  Hallettsville, Tex.: The Author, 1983.

-Robert Janak

“From the Historiography of Czech Texas,” Paper Delivered at the Thirteenth World Congress of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, Boston, Massachusetts, September 18-21, 1986.

Subsequently translated into Czech and published as: “Nad studiem dejin ceskeho osidleni severoamerickeho statu Texas,” Zpravodaj, published by the Klub genealogu a heraldiku Ostrava in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, issue 34, 1988, pp. 8-12.

Also edited and published as “From the Historiography of Czech Texas,” Czechoslovak and Central European Journal, published by the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, Summer/Winter 1990, pp. 134-143.

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