Name Changes, from Bohemian to American

Discussion in 'Looking for Ancestors' started by SK, Jan 24, 2006.

  1. SK

    SK Member

    Would like to know how I can find out Grandad's given surname. He came to U.S.A from Kutna Hora Bohemia, around 1885, and upon his arrival here he was only 15. He changed his name to Smith. I have not been able to find out our Bohemian Surname. He died in 1912, when my Dad was a young boy. I have old postcards, one with a photo of family members from Bohemia, with their given names on it. There is a letter that I have not been able to get translated, on this letter is the Lion Seal of Bohemia. Does anyone know how I might be able to find out our Bohemian Surname? Unlike a lot of his country men, Grandad married an American Lady. So after his death, my Dad's family lost all contact with relatives from Bohemia. They lived in the Southeastern part of the U.S.A., in a small rural area, and Grandad worked as a carpenter. he spoke fluent English. Thanks for any help. SK
  2. gementricxs

    gementricxs Well-Known Member

    Is the letter you are talking about in Czech? Maybe the surname is there. (maybe)
  3. SK

    SK Member

    Yes, the letter is in Czech. I've had to piece it back together, was torn in so many pieces, it was like a puzzle when I received it. Please forgive me I'm new to this board, I thought I had made a reply to you, but can't find it. lol So who knows where I sent it. Thanks for your reply. SK
  4. John Rihacek

    John Rihacek Active Member

    At some point in time your grand-dad may have become a citizen like mine. His citizenship papers will most likely have his original name, and
    possibly the place of his birth as well as his parents name.

    Coincidentally my long departed Czech grandmother came from Kutna Hora in the 1890's. She was three years old, and her father was a butcher
    according to the records my relatives kept.

    If you had a trade and money and would not be a public ward--Ellis Island
    was not required.
  5. Karel Fous

    Karel Fous Well-Known Member

    I have no preview, how it was in USA in 80ties od 19.century, but probably the name change was not "wild". Try some archives with layer's collections, try census materials, social security (if some was at that time), marriage certificate (?)...
    Karel :)
  6. SK

    SK Member

    [Since Grandad came to U.S.A. in 1885, he would'nt have gone through Ellis Island. He was only 16, so I don't think he would have had a trade yet. I feel like he had to have someone traveling with him, since he was so young. But I really don't know for sure. There is just not that many families listed in the census reports from, 1900 and 1910, as being from Bohemia,or Austria. This is a small rural area of the Southern U.S.A. Grandad was still listed as an Alien in 1900 census, so he was'nt a citizen at that time, and the 1910 did'nt show if he was a citizen or not. Since he died in 1912, these are the only census records I have on him. The time between (1885-1895) I've not been able to find out anything on him. You are very fortunate to have good family records. Strange that I know what country and town Grandad left from, and yet I don't know his real surname. Without the two postcards and two letters I have, I would'nt have known this, and the help I received in the translation of some of these. Do you know any great things about Kutna Hora that you can't find on the internet? Thanks, SK quote="John Rihacek"]At some point in time your grand-dad may have become a citizen like mine. His citizenship papers will most likely have his original name, and
    possibly the place of his birth as well as his parents name.

    Coincidentally my long departed Czech grandmother came from Kutna Hora in the 1890's. She was three years old, and her father was a butcher
    according to the records my relatives kept.

    If you had a trade and money and would not be a public ward--Ellis Island
    was not required.[/quote]
  7. John Rihacek

    John Rihacek Active Member

    To: SK

    Actually Kutna Hora is a fairly old and important Czech City, primarily a
    silver mining town. At one time it was the second largest silver mining
    find in Europe. According to the Czech travel books Kutna Hora has a
    large cathedral St Barbara's (I believe), and the suburban town of Sedlack
    is where one can find the a Church heavily decorated from human bones,
    victims of the plague.

    My Czech grandmother was a Zadrazil or Zadrazilova (female) and resisted becoming an American Citizen until the 1930's. Up until that time
    she had a passport for Czechoslavakia, which she saved up to her death
    in 1979. She attended a Czech school in the Yorkville Section of Manhattan
    that was taught by German Nuns from Baltimore who were fluent in Czech, most likely Moravians. My grandfather was from Moravia, and
    spoke German as well as the Czech language. He followed his brother to
    Lansford near Jim Thorpe, Pa, and spent three years in the coal mines before returning to NYC for better opportunities. Most of Pennsylvania
    Rihacek relatives started to phonetically spell their name as Rehatchek
    to preserve the sound in English. From my trips to Eastern Pennsylvania
    I have noticed that quite a few Czech, Slovak, and Polish names had
    succumbed to the phonetic spelling custom to allow native Americans to
    pronounce their names without great difficulty. On the other hand, some
    of Czech relatives, like many other foreginers, abandoned their Czech
    names for American or English names to blend in.

    If you know which port he came through. You may wish to try ship records.
  8. kimba

    kimba Active Member

    I went to Kutna Hora on my trip to the Czech Republic last year. Here are a few of my photos from there: click on the 'Kutna Hora' link.

    Kutna Hora is a relatively large town, nothing like the tiny village where my Grandfather came from. It's the town that has the bone church.

    When my Grandfather came over the entire family kept their last name, but changed all of their first names to anglicized ones! My mother kept looking for 'James Bures 1903' on the ship's manifest that she got from Ellis Island and couldn't find him. I did a search just for 'Bures 1903' on their web site and my first hit was a family that fit the description - number of people, ages, birthdates and town were correct. It was then that we realized that my grandfather's name was not 'James' but 'Vaclav'!

    Your Grandfather probably had his name changed to Smith when they entered him into the country when he got off of the ship. They would give someone a random name if their original name was unpronouncable or unspellable. It's why Smith is such a common name today.
  9. Ceit

    Ceit Well-Known Member

    From what I've read, the government officials changing immigrants' names as they entered the country is more like urban legend than family history. This link and this one have more on that. It's more than likely SK's grampie changed his name himself after being in the US a couple of years, either figuring out the equivalent of his Slavic surname or taking Smith because it is common and therefore the most "American" name around. Smith is actually common because it comes from several sources, not just occupation: smethe (Old English for smooth), from the Smite (the dirty stream, Old English again), and the well-known worker of metal. It became even more common in America when immigrants began to change their "ethnic" surnames for "American" ones. On a list of the 2000 most common surnames in the US, Smith is number one. Herrera and Schmitt are numbers 823 and 921, by the way. But no Kovar. The list may be little dated, since the book was last published in 1997 and first published in 1969, but I don't think that affects the popularity of Smith much. Herrera might have moved up the list though...
  10. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    I knew a boy from school (in the US) with the last name Kovar. No, it's not very common here, though. But then again, I'd be surprised if ANY Czech surname appears on the 2000 most common surnames in the US.
  11. Ceit

    Ceit Well-Known Member

    Well, Novak is at 732, and that could be Czech sometimes. Also the Polish Kowalski (a Polish form of Kovar), Nowak and Wisniewski are at 1334, 1570 and 1891 respectively. I don't see any others that are definitely of Slavic origin though.
  12. SK

    SK Member

    Kimba, those are some great pics. that you take! Enjoyed the site very much! Thanks, SK
  13. SK

    SK Member

    Ceit, thanks for the two links you sent. Yes, Smith is very popular name in this country, unlike Kovar, I've only found it a few times. I think Grandpa must have just took an American name when he came here. I just seem to keep coming up on a brick wall trying to find out his Bohemian surname. Thanks, SK
  14. SK

    SK Member

    To; John Rihacek, without Grandpa's Bohemian surname I can't find out what port he came into. There's only a couple of families in the census records from this area that came from Austria or Bohemia. I've searched to find these families, thinking I might make a connection between them and Grandpa, but again I've came up on a brick wall.Thanks again for your reply,SK
  15. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    Wow, that's surprising! We once had neighbors named Novak, although they were Polish.
  16. wer

    wer Well-Known Member

    Hi Ceit,

    where are these numbers from?

    And what about Svoboda (Swoboda, Sľoboda), Nováček (Novaczek) and Novotný? I see such names often in English texts.
  17. Ceit

    Ceit Well-Known Member

    They're from "American Surnames" by Elsdon C. Smith. Svoboda and Novotny are mentioned in the book, but aren't in the top 2000.
  18. John Rihacek

    John Rihacek Active Member

    To SK: You may have to search for your father's surname through
    a reverse search. Was your grandfather a baptised Catholic, and do you
    know his birth date. If he was actually born in the City of Kutna Hora
    and Catholic Church records may be the best bet based upon baptism
    records. I am not familar with Czech or Austrian-Hugarian Vital Statistics
    records but given that the German were running things back then they
    should be thorough. By process of elimination your Czech grandfather may be one of three or ten boys born on the date of his birth in Kutna
    Hora. Thereafter, the Marriage and Death records in Kutna Hora City
    Vital Statistics might narrow the number of Czech men who left for
    America further.

    Both of my Czech grandparents came to America via German ships out of

    My Czech ancestors in Kuzelov, Moravia are all buried in a local Catholic
    Church cemetary. From the photos recently provided by a grandaunt
    most of the tombstones had affixed sealed photographs of them. The most recent tombstone was of a Franzek Rihacek, who died in a farm
    tractor accident at the age of 23 around the 1960's, was photoeteched on granite. The family resemblence to past and present relatives was amazing.

    If you google the Czech Republic -the US embassy in Washinton, DC has
    some recommended ancestor searchers in US and the Czech Republic that
    may be of some help in a reverse search in the Czech Republic.

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