Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells about doing genealogy research on an author—and finding a surprising, direct link to one of his own ancestors.
Recently I was searching the Internet for genealogy resources relating to the early Czech-American immigrant community. I was looking for information that would assist me with my work on my early Bohemian (Czech) immigrant ancestors who settled in the City of Cleveland, Ohio. In conducting my genealogy search one of my first hits was for an article in the journal MELUS (Volume 6, Number 2) published by the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.
This article, written by Professor Clinton Machann of Texas A&M University, is titled “Hugo Chotek and Czech-American Fiction.” Reading this scholarly article on author Hugo Chotek and early Czech fiction writing in America, I was so impressed that I gave Dr. Machann a call. Since that day we have enjoyed staying in touch and I am pleased to say we have now become friends.
One sentence stuck in my head as I read Dr. Machann’s article. It was this one: “Although we have little biographical data on Chotek…” I found this particularly interesting since Dr. Machann also pointed out that Hugo Chotek spent at least some portion of his life in the Czech community in Cleveland. So, always hoping to find a hidden genealogical gem, I began investigating to see what I might discover about this gentleman.
Wondering where to begin, I decided on searching GenealogyBank.com to see what I might discover about Chotek in its online archives. I was especially hopeful that I would find relevant information because I remembered that Machann’s article also mentioned that Chotek spent time living in the Czech communities of New York, Michigan, Texas and Nebraska in addition to the time he spent in Ohio.
It was exciting to see how much data availability and access has improved since 1979 when Dr. Machann’s article was written. Searching on Hugo Chotek with GenealogyBank, my first hit was stellar! It was a 1911 newspaper obituary entitled “Bohemian Editor Stricken by Death.” Opening this article, I was even treated to a portrait of Hugo Chotek himself. If you are like me in your genealogy work, you love getting to “see” someone and there he was—looking quite dapper, I might add.
My interest in author Chotek was deepening the more I was reading. Here was a fellow who, while not only an author, was also an accomplished newspaperman! As a genealogical historian I believe there is little better than reading work by newspapermen and women as they follow that old adage of the 5 Ws: “Who, What, Where, When and Why,” exactly the kind of information we so wish to find.
I was quickly discovering Hugo Chotek’s family history, connecting with his living descendants, and finding more information about his work in the Cleveland Czech community. For example, this newspaper article announcing the marriage of Hugo Chotek’s daughter Anna was very helpful, containing many excellent genealogical leads, and including her picture.
Look how much genealogical information is contained in Anna Chotek’s one-paragraph marriage announcement:
I was especially interested to learn that Chotek had written about the early Czech community not once but twice, and—for me most exciting of all— finding his one-on-one interview with Frantisek (Frank) Knechtl, my very first Bohemian ancestor who arrived in Cleveland in 1852 and remained there until his death in 1911.
It really is amazing how you can find family in the most unexpected ways!
Now I have my work cut out for me. My company, Onward To Our Past® Genealogy Services (http://www.OnwardToOurPast.com) is undertaking the first-ever translation from Czech to English of the more than 220 pages of both of Hugo Chotek’s works on the Cleveland Bohemian (Czech) community, written in 1894 and 1895. Containing several hundred surnames, these works, once translated, should be a bonanza for many genealogists and family historians for generations to come.