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Reestablishing the Bohemian Connection – Part 1

 Rediscovering our Souhrada ancestral home in the Czech Republic – September of 1990

by Frank Souhrada III, Brooten, MN

(Note: At the time of their journey, Frank and his wife Linda resided in Kaysville, Utah)


Frank Souhrada III (picture taken in 2004)

The idea to visit the locale where the Souhrada family originated was spawned by my father's (Frank C. Souhrada Jr.) early recording of sparse genealogical records. For several years the trip was contemplated and discussed but never seriously planned. The catalyst for my finally embarking was the elimination of the complications of travel beyond the "iron curtain", and a growing desire to see first hand the place of my ancestors' origins. Originally the trip was to be a father and son joint venture, but alas, age and health concerns caused Pa to demur, so I, as sole agent, began the arrangements.


On September 26, 1990 at 4 a.m. the alarm awoke my chronically-adventurous wife, Linda, and me. This was the day we would begin the 7000 mile, 21 hour journey from Salt Lake: first to Munich, Germany, then Austria (by train), and finally several days later, into Bohemia.


Thus began the reverse of the same trip my great-grandfather (Matej Souhrada) embarked upon 120 years prior. Little did I know it would reestablish a connection that was broken so long ago.


Nearly 21 hours since we arose and one station shy of the "end of the line" in Vienna (Wien) we detrained amidst the hustle-bustle of commuter rush hour pedestrian traffic. The next major problem was a simple phone call to our Austrian friends, Kurt and Margit (whom we had met in Guatemala on a trip earlier that year). The pay phones look and act quite intimidating: you have 1 second to drop the coin after the party answers, the dial tone sounds like a busy signal, the busy signal sounds like the phone is ringing, etc. I was very grateful for the help of a young Austrian girl who spoke a little English who got us connected!


Fearing we would starve in Bohemia Kurt and Margit fed us extremely well on the finest of china, linen, and silverware. As "honored quests" we were treated with Austria's finest meats and stuffed with cakes and sweets during the daily "yause"; an old fattening Austrian desserts and coffee custom. They never had any desire to visit Czechoslovakia as Kurt hated the communist system. He had heard many "horror" stories from his traveling friends who had braved the frontier. Margit's prodding and his fear that we may "get lost' prompted him to consent.


On October 1st we all headed for the train station for the hour and one-half ride to the border town of Gmund in time for the rather casual passport checks. Both Kurt and I were very pleasantly surprised by the politeness and nonchalance exhibited by these once hated border police.


After the shiny-new Austrian engine was replaced by a rather run-down looking Czech engine, we were on our way toward Prague (just a stop on this Berlin bound express). As ever, at the window, I marveled at the fact that I was looking out over Bohemia! The passing country-side alternately reminded me of Wisconsin and Iowa: scenic rolling hills, farms and woods. About 4 hours of clikety-clack later we began to glimpse the outskirts of Prague.


Everyone was impressed with the modern, functional Prague train station, however, the phone system was different: these ugly, cranky things refused to let us connect with our only contact: Heidi (whom we knew from the USA), there to teach English.


Prague is infamous for its lack of hotel space, and now foolishly sans reservations, we sought out the Cedok office (Eastern European Travel Services), hopefully seeking rooms in an apartment or any place warm and dry. Luckily, while Kurt was in the office, a rather seedy looking taxi driver offered us accommodations. Since German is the second language of the Czechs, Kurt was able to communicate easily everywhere.


Central Prague is a virtual Disneyland of old-world architecture, most already recently restored or in-process of being restored. Every narrow cobblestone street leads to marvels too numerous to mention and too magnificent to describe here. We hiked up, down, and around and saw most of the guide-book must-sees, and never tired of the visual delights: there is no place in the world like old Prague!


Our translators, Kurt and Margit had just left, and I was beginning to fear unable-to-communicate problems when fate arranged our way to Pisek. We stumbled upon "the American Cultural Center" just off old town square. There amidst a coffee-maker, T-shirts, M&M's and other candies, a cheerful young Czech lass named Denisha listened to my need for a driver-translator. She called her friend Martin (Marty) a 20 year old part-time college student who arranged for a rental car.


After signing I know not what, we were on our way to Pisek. The car was a four door sedan called a "Lada", built in Russia from an old (about 1970) Fiat design. The 4 cylinder, 4 gear, noisy, drafty thing was adequate enough for our needs.


It is about 110km (68mi) from the south end of Prague to Pisek on highway 4, and travel time with luck takes about 1 1/2 hours. It is a well maintained asphalt, 2 lane road that meanders through the hills, valleys and farms of southern Bohemia. The only major sight along the way is a large underground uranium mine with its large (and probably radioactive) ore heaps piled next to the highway.


Marty obviously was enjoying his role as chauffeur but was terrifying Linda and I as he was oblivious to the perilous way he was driving: tailgating, too fast for conditions, erratic steering, etc. Never-the less, we survived and found our way to Dolni Novesedly.

Dolni Novosedly #2 – picture taken 1990

When I first saw the road sign, "Dolni Novesedly", I couldn't believe I was actually there. I had seen that name so many times on paper in the family genealogical records, but now it was for real! It wasn’t hard to find house #2 as the village is quite small, and every building has its' number prominently displayed. I don't know if I expected to really meet any long-lost Souhradas that day, but I had hopes! Alas, Marti our guide/interpreter/chauffeur found no one home at #2, but just as we were ready to give-up, a smiling hobe hunter named Marie appeared on the path next to the house. After much jabbering in unintelligible Czech, we were all invited to her house (next door), for coffee.


We had a portable tape recorder and much was recorded as Marty asked Marie (who was 80 years old then) what she knew about the Souhradas. She remembered when some Souhradas lived there but said they moved away long ago. I gathered the remainder of the conversation was about ducks and rabbits she raised (for food), and after we toured the grounds and admired her animals and took many pictures, we took our leave.

Frank C Souhrada III and Marie (Marie became our connection to our cousins Jiri and Vera in the Czech Republic)

Apparently she never mentioned that there were Souhradas living in Pisek: I suspect she wanted the Pisek Souhradas she knew to decide whether to become acquainted with the American Souhrada she didn't know.


We left the country sad that we hadn't met any relatives but happy about finding the house still standing after 120 years.


Around Christmas time we sent Marie copies of the pictures we took around her place, we didn’t get a response but we didn't expect one either. However, the first week of May there was a big surprise in my mailbox...a letter from Pisek and our long lost third cousin Jiri Souhrada!!! Immediately I called Velma Flynn and Anton Vanicek with the great news.

Anton, I discovered, was headed to Bohemia in June. We made arrangements to meet in Pisek, and the rest - as they say - is history.

Letter sent to Frank & Linda from Jiri & Vera

Pisek January 5, 1991


Best wishes from Czechoslovakia sent from Vera and Jiri Souhrada from Pisek. When we were in Dol. Novosedly, we learned of your visit to the birthplace of your ancestors.

My father, grandfather, great-grandfather come also from Dolni Novosedly 2. I have some certificates of birth and baptism of our ancestors from year 1817, you could not find. Do write what documents you need and I can send you copies.


My family lives in Pisek. The name of my father was Jan and my grandfather was Jan, too. My great-grandfather was Frantisek (Frank) D Novosedly 2.

I am 45 years old and my wife is 41. We have two sons, Pavel (Paul) is 19 and Tomas (Thomas) is 17.


It is a pity that we didn’t know of your visit in D Novosedly. We would like to meet you and give you some information.


All our family send you both many greetings.


Jiri & Vera Souhrada

Click here for part 2 >> Reestablishing the Bohemian Connection – Part 2 by Anton Vanicek