If your ancestors came from what is now the Czech Republic, Czechoslovakia, or if you go back far enough, Bohemia, you will find that your ancestors are Bohemian, not to be confused with bohemian (with a small 'b'). You will also find that frustratingly little has been written about this country's history or immigration compared with many other immigrant groups and countries.
The history of Bohemia is incredibly rich and the country was at one time far more enlightened than all the rest of Europe in terms of higher education and religious freedoms! It was also known as the Breadbasket of Europe as a result of its farms and produce. Unfortunately, The Thirty Years' War (1618 to 1648) and the failed revolt of 1848 when Bohemian nationalists called for autonomy from the Habsburg empire, put an end to that period.
The earliest known Bohemian or Czech settler to the United States was August�n He?man, who came to New York in the United States in the 1640's. Following this, there were two main 'waves' of Bohemian immigration to the United States. The first is acknowledged as beginning right after the failed revolt of 1848 and lasting until about 1866. This first wave of immigrants was made up of those fleeing the failed revolt (known as "48-ers") and those seeking improved economic conditions for themselves and their families. The second and larger wave began after 1866, coincided with the end of the United States Civil War, and lasted until shortly before the outbreak of World War One.
Primary entry points for Bohemians/Czechs into the United States were Baltimore, Maryland, Galveston, Texas, (although the majority of those records were lost in the great 1900 Galveston hurricane, New York via Castle Garden in the earliest years, and then, of course, Ellis Island, New York. You may also find that some came via Canada. Being a land-locked country, Bohemians mainly left Europe via Bremen, Germany, so as you search passenger lists, do not be surprised to see your ancestors listed or written in German form and leaving on ships from Bremen, Germany.
Primary Bohemian/Czech settlement areas in the United States were New York City, New York, Texas, Cleveland, Ohio, St. Louis, Missouri, Northeast Iowa, and the upper Midwest States of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas.
An example of the growth of Bohemian immigration is found in Emily Greene Balch's 1910 book, Our Slavic Fellow Citizens. The author points out that in about 1848 the first Bohemian family came to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1855 there were 19 (of which the author's ancestors were one of those families), and by 1869 there were over 3,000. Then according to the 1910 United States Census, Cleveland was acknowledged to be the fourth largest Bohemian community after only Prague, Vienna, and New York with more than 75,000 Bohemians and Bohemian-descent family members.
Tracing Czech Ancesetry
As you search for your Bohemian ancestors, it will serve you well to know that there existed a significant schism in the Bohemian community between those who adhered to the Catholic faith and those who did not. You will find that those who eschewed the church, tended to participate in the Freethinkers movement, the Sokols, and often the fraternal associations, ?esko-Slovansk� Podporuj�c� Spole?nosti (CSPS), or Z�pand� ?esko-Bratrsk� Jednota (ZCBJ) in some Western United States. These fraternal and mutual aid societies were also known as Bohemian Slovenian Benevolent Societies and are now the CSA. The CSPS was one of the earliest fraternal and mutual aid societies in the United States and were begun by Freethinking Bohemians to help their fellow Bohemians in times of need or death. Often times you can find valuable surname lists in the Lodge notes and minutes. The CSA has a small, but wonderful, museum, the Czechoslovak Heritage Museum located in Oak Brook, Illinois.
One of the challenges you may find is that in the United States Census forms, most Bohemians simply stated their home as 'Bohemia' or later 'Czechoslovakia'. However, you might also find them listed as from 'Austria', 'Austro-Hungary', and at times 'Germany'.
Be aware that you will most likely need to do 'fuzzy searches' for your Bohemian ancestors' names. For example, the author's Bohemian grandparents' surnames are VICHA and KNECHTL. These names found to be transcribed over 29 different ways, and this does not include the fact that some early records are in German and Latin. This due to the fact that Bohemian records are often not found in Czech, but rather in Latin and later in German when the use of the Czech language was outlawed by the Habsburg Monarchy and the use of German enforced as the 'official' language of Bohemia.
While immigration information for Czech immigrants is available online at websites such as Ellis Island and Castle Garden, one indispensible resource is the nine volume set of Bohemian immigration records compiled by Leo Baca, Czech Immigration Passenger Lists, Volumes I to IX. These volumes are a wonderful, painstaking compilation of Bohemian immigration via New York, Baltimore, Galveston, New Orleans, and other points of entry. These books are an excellent starting off point for immigration dates and surnames.
Historic records in the Czech Republic are fast becoming digitized in some locations. However, many are still only available in local or State archives across the Czech Republic. One excellent online site is the State Regional Archives Trebon. More and more documents are being digitally indexed and you can get a weekly email updating you on their progress.
There is also a valuable and helpful message board/online community at Delphi Forums. Their Genealogy - Czech and Slovak Republic forum at can be very helpful with folks from all around the world willing to offer newbie and seasoned genealogist alike help with their Bohemian questions.
Czech Family History Resources
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