Janaks Texas-Czech Articles and Photos

The Czech-Moravian Brethren Community in Texas Between the Wars.

Publication of Church Records

One of the on-going projects of the Czech Heritage Society of Texas is the publication of church records. We recently have come into possession of the birth, marriage and funeral records of two Czech-Moravian Brethren ministers who served the Texas Czech Community in the 1920s through 1940s.

This paper will address the funeral records and the genealogical and community history information that is found in them.

Czech-Moravian Brethren Immigration to Texas

The first large group of families that came to Texas from the Czech Lands landed at Galveston in 1852. They were largely a Czech-Moravian Brethren group that came from around the village of Čermná in northeastern Bohemia. They settled in Austin County, some sixty miles west of Houston. They were soon followed by other Brethren families from the Čermná area, as well as from villages from Moravian Valachia. And they in turn were followed by Evangelical Protestant ministers who saw to their spiritual needs.

The Czech-Moravian Brethren immigrants to Texas were not the same as the Moravian Brethren that settled in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a century earlier. The Moravian Brethren Church that is found in Pennsylvania was established in 1722 in Saxony by Protestant émigrés from the Czech Lands. The Czech-Moravian Brethren who settled in Texas were the descendants of Protestants who had stayed in the Czech Lands and preserved their Protestant beliefs through the dark years of religious persecution.

Rev. Josef Hegar and Rev. Frank Horak

Rev. Josef Hegar was born in Hodslavice, Moravia, in 1887. He left for America in 1906 with the intention of studying for the ministry. Josef Hegar was ordained in 1910 in the town of West, Texas. He attended the university, taught school for a period of time and in 1926 was chosen pastor of the Czech-Moravian Brethren church in Temple, where he remained until his death in 1948. Rev. Hegar did not see just to the spiritual needs of his congregation in Temple. He also ministered to numerous other congregations across the state.

Rev. Frank Horak was born in 1892 in the Texas town of West. His family was native to the Moravian village of Hodslavice, and came to this country in 1881. Frank Horak was ordained in Caldwell, Texas, in 1918, and he soon began to minister to Brethren congregations in that area. He served not only the congregation at Caldwell and the neighboring congregations at Snook, Novy Tabor, Dime Box and Cook’s Point, but he saw to the spiritual needs of congregations in other parts of the state as well. Rev. Horak stayed in the Caldwell area until 1936. He died in 1953.

Since both Rev. Hegar and Rev. Horak ministered to Brethren congregations across the state, their church records give us a glimpse of the entire Texas Czech Community.

Publication of Brethren Records

In 1980 Albert J. Blaha of Houston and his brother-in-law Edmond H. Hejl of Fort Worth published three volumes of Czech-Moravian Brethren church records. They included the baptismal, marriage and funeral records prior to 1900 of three of the oldest Czech-Moravian Brethren congregations in the state:

Blaha, Albert J. and Edmond H. Hejl. Register Records of the Czech-Moravian Brethren. Nelsonville. Houston: By the Authors, 1980.

Blaha, Albert J. and Edmond H. Hejl. Register Records of the Czech-Moravian Brethren. Ross Prairie. Houston: By the Authors, 1980.

Blaha, Albert J. and Edmond H. Hejl. Register Records of the Czech-Moravian Brethren. Wesley. Houston: By the Authors, 1980.

In 1986 Edmond Hejl published a fourth volume of Czech-Moravian Brethren church records, those of Rev. Adolf Chlumsky:

Hejl, Edmond H. Rev. Adolf Chlumsky’s Register Records of the Czech-Moravian Brethren in Texas. Fort Worth: By the Author, 1986.

Albert Blaha died in 1988 and Edmond Hejl in 1991. But Hejl’s widow, Milady Hejl, who is Albert Blaha’s sister, entrusted her husband’s and brother’s research records to the Czech Heritage Society of Texas. The Czech Heritage Society obtained a grant from the Arnold J. and Irene B. Kocurek Family Foundation to publish these records.

Among the books generated by the Hejl Publication Project are the following:

Hejl, Edmond H. Czech-Moravian Brethren Register Records of Nelsonville, Texas, 1900-1921. Beaumont: Czech Heritage Society of Texas, 1992.

Hejl, Edmond H. Czech-Moravian Brethren Register Records of Rev. Jindrich Juren, 1900-1921. Beaumont: Czech Heritage Society of Texas, 1992.

In 1998 Rev. Henry Beseda of the Brethren church at Caldwell donated to the Czech Heritage Society Rev. Frank Horak’s church records which were in his possession. The Czech Heritage Society published these records in three volumes:

Janak, Robert. Rev. Frank Horak’s Baptismal Records. Beaumont: Czech Heritage Society of Texas, 1999.

Janak, Robert. Rev. Frank Horak’s Funeral Records. Beaumont: Czech Heritage Society of Texas, 1998.

Janak, Robert. Rev. Frank Horak’s Marriage Records. Beaumont: Czech Heritage Society of Texas, 2000.

In 2000 the Temple Brethren Church gave the Czech Heritage Society Xerox copies of the funeral records of Rev. Josef Hegar. They resulted in the following volume:

Janak, Robert. Rev. Josef Hegar’s Funeral Records. Beaumont: Czech Heritage Society of Texas, 2000.

Plans are under way to Publish Rev. Josef Hegar’s baptismal and marriage records, as well as other church records that may become available to the Czech Heritage Society.

Funeral Records

The Czech Heritage Society has 588 funeral records from Rev. Hegar and Rev. Horak combined. The records consist of pre-printed note cards which have been filled out by hand. Rev. Hegar and Rev. Horak filled some of them out themselves, but many were filled out by other people, possibly from the ministers’ notes. They cover the years 1917 to 1948, and document the funerals of people in twenty-eight counties in Texas and one in Oklahoma.

The following chart indicates the number of funeral records broken down by year:

1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 1922 1923 1924 1925 1926 1927
1 1 6 11 17 20 21 16 36 22 28
1928 1929 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938
34 42 38 44 33 25 28 37 29 10 9
1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 undated
10 10 9 9 3 6 4 13 10 3 3

The following list indicates the number of funeral records broken down by county: Burleson (residence of Rev. Horak) – 179, Bell (residence of Rev. Hegar) – 138, Williamson – 43, Milam – 39, Fayette – 28, Lavaca – 24, Falls – 21, Austin – 15, Lee – 15, Runnels – 13, Fort Bend – 11, McLennan – 11, Harris – 9, Washington – 9, Tom Green – 5, Brazos – 4, Ellis – 3, Nueces – 3, Wharton – 3, Hill – 2, Lincoln (OK) – 2, Matagorda – 2, Tarrant – 2, Travis – 2, Bastrop – 1, Brazoria – 1, DeWitt – 1, Kleberg – 1, and Robertson – 1.

Places of Birth

Rev. Hegar’s and Rev. Horak’s funeral records identify 282 places of birth in the Czech Lands: Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. Almost four-fifths of the recorded births occurred in Moravia. Almost one-fifth occurred in Bohemia, and a few births occurred in Silesia.

Births occurring in the Czech Lands

Births: Bohemia: Moravia: Silesia:
Number of Births: 56 223 3
Percentage of Births 19.9% 79.1% 1.1%

Although most of the births occurred in Moravia, the most commonly cited birthplace was the Bohemian village of Čermná, in the area from which the first large group of Czech families emigrated to Texas. Some 14.2% of the parishioners whose Czech-Land place of birth can be found on their funeral record came from Čermná. Of the next nine most commonly cited places of birth, all are villages in Moravian Valachia.

Ten Most Commonly Cited Birthplaces

1. Čermná, Bohemia – 40 6. Jasenná, Moravia – 10
2. Zádveřice, Moravia – 32 7. Vizovice, Moravia – 7
3. Ratiboř, Moravia – 14 8. Jablůnka, Moravia – 6
4. Hošťálková, Moravia – 13 9. Liptál, Moravia – 6
5. Vsetín, Moravia – 11 10. Ublo, Moravia – 6

In addition to the parishioners who were born in the Czech Lands, two were born in villages in Slovakia, and one was born in the region of Volhynia in the old Russian Empire. And since Rev. Horak and Rev. Hegar did not limit their ministries to people of Czech origin, an additional seven birthplaces are located in Germany.

Longevity and Mortality

Among the data included on Rev. Hegar’s and Rev. Horak’s funeral records are the birth date, date of death and age at death. These pieces of information tell an important part of a community’s history: how long people lived at a particular time in the past.

Fifty-six funeral records in which the gender is given and from which the age can be determined are for children under a year old. That constitutes 9.7% of the 579 people in that group. Broken down by gender, thirty-one of the funeral records are for little boys under a year old. That is 10.0% of the males. Twenty-five of the funeral records are for little girls under a year old. That is 9.3% of all the females. The records would indicate that infant mortality did not vary appreciably by gender.

Some 266 of the 579 funeral records are for people sixty years old and older. That constitutes 45.9% of the people whose gender is given and whose age can be determined. Broken down by gender, 132 of the funeral records are for men who had attained at least the age of sixty. That is 42.6% of all the males. Some 134 of the funeral records are for women who had attained at least the age of sixty. That is 49.8% of all the females. The records would indicate that women lived somewhat longer than men.

Ages Attained at Death

Age Males Females Total
under 1 31 10.0% 25 9.3% 56 9.7%
1-9 18 5.8% 13 4.8% 31 5.4%
10-19 15 4.8% 10 3.7% 25 4.3%
20-29 26 8.4% 19 7.1% 45 7.8%
30-39 20 6.5% 15 5.6% 35 6.0%
40-49 27 8.7% 22 8.2% 49 8.5%
50-59 41 13.2% 31 11.5% 72 12.4%
60-69 45 14.5% 41 15.2% 86 14.9%
70-79 47 15.2% 56 20.8% 103 17.8%
80-89 35 11.3% 33 12.3% 68 11.7%
90-99 5 1.6% 4 1.5% 9 1.6%
total 310 269 579

Seventy-five of the funeral records indicate old age. The concept of old age ranges from sixty-one to ninety-seven. Seven of the “old age” people died in their sixties, thirty-four died in their seventies, thirty died in their eighties, and four lived to be nonagenarians.

Accidental Deaths

Most of the Czech-Moravian Brethren churches were located in small towns or out in the countryside, and the parishioners were largely country folk. The dangers that they faced as such occasionally resulted in accidental deaths. Rev. Hegar and Rev. Horak identified twenty-seven causes of death as accidental. Since only 493 of the funeral records include cause of death, this means that 5.5% of their parishioners whose cause of death they identified died accidentally.

Men proved much more likely to meet an accidental death than did women. Of the twenty-seven people who died accidentally, twenty-five were male and only two were female.

The males ranged in age from eight to eighty-one. Eight were involved in car accidents, three were shot, two drowned, two suffered a broken neck and two were killed by falling trees. One was poisoned, one was burned, one fell to his death, one was electrocuted, one died as the result of a gin accident and one died in a plant explosion. No details are given for the remaining two male accidental deaths. One man was just killed, and the other just met an unfortunate death.

Both of the women who died accidentally were struck by lightning. One was forty-nine years old, and the other was fifty.

Suicides

Twenty of the people at whose funerals Rev. Hegar and Rev. Horak officiated committed suicide. That is 4.1% of the people on whose funeral records cause of death is listed. Sixteen of the suicides were by men (6.1% of the 261 males whose cause of death is given), and four of the suicides were by women (1.7% of the 232 females whose cause of death is given).

If one factors out the deaths of infants and children, the percentage of suicides in the population is even higher. Cause of death is included on the funeral records of 395 adults, for convenience sake those eighteen and older. That puts the adult suicide rate at 5.1%. Cause of death is included on the funeral records of 205 adult males. That puts their suicide rate at 7.8%. Cause of death is included on the funeral records of 190 adult females. That puts their suicide rate at 2.1%.

Of the sixteen men who took their own lives, six hanged themselves, six shot themselves, one took poison, and one cut himself. The other two records just indicate that they killed themselves. Of the four women, one hanged herself, and one poisoned herself. The other two records just indicate suicide.

The youngest male suicide victim was twenty-three. He shot himself without leaving any explanation. The oldest male victim was seventy-six. He hanged himself. The youngest female suicide victim was nineteen. She took her own life. The oldest female suicide victim was seventy. She committed suicide.

Illnesses

Besides accidents, suicides and just plain old age, Rev. Horak and Rev. Hegar frequently noted illnesses as cause of death. In fact, 493 of their funeral records have some condition related to death written on them, including accidents, suicides, old age and illnesses. Sometimes more than one illness is given, such as influenza and pneumonia.

Conditions related to the lungs are the ones most frequently found. Of the 493 individuals whose funeral record includes a cause of death, eighty-seven died of some condition related to the lungs, including asthma, pneumonia, tuberculosis, influenza, etc. That is 17.6%. Sixty-four died with some heart condition, including heart disease, heart attack, weakening of the heart, etc. That is 13.0%. Thirty-three died with some condition related to the kidneys. That is 6.7%. Twenty-seven died with cancer. That is 5.5 %.

The following table includes selected illnesses found on the funeral records broken down by age of the deceased. The numbers of stroke victims do not add up, because in one case no age is given.

Selected Illnesses Associated with Death

Illness, condition or event total under 1 yr. 1-10 11-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60-69 70-79 80-89 90-99
appendicitis 8 2 2 1 1 1 1
asthma 14 1 1 2 2 6 2
blood poisoning 9 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1
cancer 27 4 8 11 3 1
childbirth 2 1 1
decrepitude 26 1 6 16 3
diabetes 7 1 1 1 2 2
diphtheria 6 4 2
dropsy 8 2 3 2 1
goiter 3 1 1 1
heart 64 1 2 3 3 2 9 14 24 5 1
influenza 13 1 1 1 2 1 1 2 1 3
kidneys 33 1 3 3 4 4 8 2 6 2
measles 2 1 1
mumps 1 1
old age 75 7 34 30 4
operation 13 3 2 1 1 2 1 2 1
pneumonia 49 6 6 6 7 3 9 2 3 5 1 1
stroke 30 1 1 1 2 2 12 4 6
tuberculosis 10 1 3 3 2 1
whooping cough 4 3 1

The funeral records indicate that twenty infants died as a result of circumstances at birth. Eleven are little boys, eight are little girls, and one child is identified only as an infant. Circumstances given include difficult birth, premature birth, unnatural position and stillborn. Some of the infants lived as long as sixteen days. In addition to the above twenty, one infant is described as being deformed.

Language

Most of Rev. Hegar’s and Rev. Horak’s funeral records are written in the Czech language. Since the records cover a thirty-one-year period of time during which assimilation was taking place, it is possible to see the English language gradually creep in.

In the case of some funeral records, one finds an English word or phrase in a totally Czech context:

Spadl na cestě od mail box. (He fell on the way from the mailbox.)

Zabit byl na High Way károu. (He was killed on the highway by a car.)

Vpadl do elevator shaft — 64 ft. (He fell down an elevator shaft 64 feet.)

Poraněn byl na ginĭ v Rita. (Wounded in a gin at Rita.)

Nešťastnou náhodou se utopil v tanku. (Through misfortune he drowned in a tank.)

These English words: mailbox, highway, elevator shaft, feet, gin and tank, represent concepts that were not commonly known in the villages of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia when the emigrants left for America. Since the Czechs had no words of their own for them, they imported English words into their language.

As English became ever more a means of communication in the Texas Czech Community, some funeral records were written in a mixture of the two languages. Consider the funeral record of one J. T. Malcik:

(Name of the Deceased) J. T. Malcik

(Nearest Kin) Syn Wm. Malcik [mother nee Marecak]

(Date of Birth) 19 Dubna 1917

(Place of Birth) Rosebud, Texas

(Date of Death) 12 List. 1933

(Place of Death) Rosebud, Texas

(Age at Death) 16 let

(Cause of Death) Shot accidentally

(Date of Burial) 13 List. 1933

(Place of Burial) Rosebud, Texas

It might be noted that the father’s name is not declined. His name should be in the genitive case, syn Wm. Malčíka. Besides that, the mother’s name is written in the male form. Her name should be written in the female form, Marečáková. Furthermore, the diacritical marks are missing. Malcik should be written Malčík, and Marecak should be written Marečák, or better yet, Marečáková. It might also be noted that the Czech months are capitalized, as in English. Disregard of grammatical cases, abandonment of the female form of surnames for women, omission of diacritical marks, and capitalization of months: the Czech language appears to be becoming Americanized.

Summary

Rev. Hegar’s and Rev. Horak’s funeral records offer us a glimpse into the Texas Czech Community as it existed in the 1920s through 1940s. They shed light on the geographic origin of the community: four out of five immigrants came to Texas from Moravia. They tell us a little about the lifespan of members of the community: nine out of twenty people lived at least to the age of sixty, and women lived somewhat longer than men. They point out the dangers that resulted in accidental deaths: one out of twenty people met an accidental death, frequently involving automobiles, and men were far more likely to die accidentally than were women. They tell us the sad story of people who were so distressed that they could find no solution to their problems other than taking their own lives: one out of twenty adults committed suicide, and men killed themselves far more often than did women. They point out the illnesses that visited the community and resulted in death: problems of the lungs, heart and kidneys, many of which can be treated today with modern medicine, led the way. They document the gradual Americanization of the Texas Czech Community: on the one hand, Texas Czechs were beginning to use English as a means of communication; on the other, they were beginning to abandon the norms of Czech grammar and orthography. These funeral records offer us only a glimpse into the past, but every glimpse that we take gives us a more complete picture rich with details.

 Copies of Rev. Frank Horak’s and Rev. Josef Hegar’s church records are located in the Czech Heritage Society Library in Houston and are available to researchers. They offer a great deal of not only historical and genealogical information, but linguistic information as well. Most of the records are written in Czech, and they document the language as it was used in Texas in the 1920s through 1940s.

 Of the 282 Czech-Land birthplaces, only 275 are actual villages. One birthplace is listed only as Bohemia, and six are listed only as Moravia. An additional four funeral records give only Czechoslovakia as the place of birth, and two give only the Old Country. The last six birthplaces are not included in the above percentages and table, which are based on a particular province.

 This table covers people for which both age and gender can be determined. Three infant deaths have been excluded, because their funeral records do not give their gender. Sometimes no age is given and the date of birth is left off as well. If the age was able to be figured out by referring to other sources, such as tombstone inscriptions, the people are included in this table. On six funeral records, however, no age was able to be determined, so they have been excluded from the table.

 Coincidentally, both people who were killed by falling trees had the same last name. One was a fifty-seven-year-old man, and the other was a fourteen-year-old boy. There was no connection between the two deaths. The accidents happened at different times in different parts of the state.

 Some of the funeral records are interesting from a linguistic standpoint, because different grammatical forms are used. For “He killed himself,” one finds “Zabil se sám,” and “Jse zabil.” For “He shot himself,” one finds “Zastřelil se,” and “Zastřeliljse.”

 Admittedly this author is not an expert in diseases and medical conditions. It is hoped, however, that this breakdown will present an idea of the illnesses and conditions that visited the community during this period of time.

 Tank is a Texas word for a small artificial lake constructed in a pasture for the benefit of cattle.

– Robert Janak

The Czech-Moravian Brethren Community in Texas between the Wars. Notes on Funeral Records Published by the Czech Heritage Society of Texas,” paper delivered at the 2001 North American Conference of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, Lincoln, Nebraska, August 1-3, 2001.

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