I have recently been re-reading Madeleine Albright’s book: Prague Winter. In my previous posts I have highlighted Albright’s life and the hard choices people make. As I read more about Albright researching her ancestry I am encouraged to learn more and write of my family history for the generations to come. I want my children and grandchildren to know about their past.
I often think about why the different branches of my family left their country. The dates I have are inexact or unauthenticated and they span the late 1700’s to the early 1900’s. I have a good idea why they chose Nebraska; there was land for the taking here and many more possibilities than at home. They were persecuted for their religion, their status, and often because they were Czech. Because they belonged to a small nation in Central Europe, other coveted their land, and tried to conquer it. For most of its history, the Czech Republic was ruled by another country or nation.
What made a concentrated group of Czechs, proud and nationalistic, so complacent about keeping their traditions and language alive? To some extent I believe that the desire to be American, act American, and sound American was a strong pull and many parents wanted their children to fit in. The heritage hasn’t died. It lives in gatherings and festivals, costumes, and pivo; yet heavily Americanized. Why did our ancestors stop telling the stories of centuries past? Why did they stop celebrating their rituals and traditions? Why did they stop speaking the language and corresponding with their relatives abroad?
I know these questions aren’t true of all Nebraska Czechs. Many are so integrated into American society through intermarriage and time that it seems it no longer exists to be an issue. This is definitely true of my family. They lived here for decades and preserved their homeland until recent generations have all but wiped away the past. There are no written recollections, few photos, and less collective memories to be shared with a generation that is beginning to ask questions about where they came from.
I am currently working on a resource page to help Czech-American’s research their past. What resources have you used or found to be useful?