Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Swanda Family: An Immigration Story

Family stories recall the Swanda Family Inn in Bohemia. The inn was not an overnight hostel, but rather a gathering place for the community.  It was common practice among the Czechs to finish their work in the late afternoon and gather for social time and drink before heading home for the evening meal.  The Swanda family made whiskey and prepared food for this daily ritual.  My mother-in-law, Aline Garrett, remembers her mother and aunts speaking of the Inn being in or near the town of Lidice which is about fifteen miles west of Prague.  She has always understood that the Swanda family came from around Lidice.  During her 1996 trip to the Czech Republic Aline visited Lidice, which is remembered for a tragic massacre that occurred there in 1942 under the hand of Hitler. Since that visit Aline has relocated the naturalization paper of her grandfather, James Svanda, which states that his last foreign residence was Blela, Bohemia.  We have located the likely town of Bela that is in the same general area where the Soper family lived.  It is just north of the town of Pilsen and a considerable distance east and south of Prague.  There is another town of Bela, northeast of Prague. We continue to question exactly where the Swanda Inn was located.   

John Swanda and Antoniette Cihlar* Swanda

John Svanda (Swanda) and his wife Antoniette “Nettie” Cihlar* were the owners of the Swanda Family Inn.  They had been married in Bohemia about 1863 and became the parents of eight children between 1864-1880:  Joe, Jim, Frank, Antoinette, John, Anton, Charlie and Pete Swanda.  When their first born son, Joe, reached the age of sixteen they were concerned that he would be drafted into the Austrian army so they decided to send him, along with his next younger brother, Jim, to America with their uncle, Joseph Swanda.  They sailed on the SS Neckar from the port of Bremen 26 September 1880 and arrived in New York about three weeks later.  They moved on to Omaha, Nebraska and spent the next three years working in a smelting plant.  They were able to send back enough money to their family in Bohemia to help them make the trip to America about 1883-84. 

Aline Garrett recalls several stories about their trip to America that were told by her family.  John Swanda decided to lease his inn rather than sell it, as he was not certain he would like America.  Later he had someone sell the inn for him and he received a poor price for it.  John and Nettie Swanda and their six younger children sailed on the SS Uener (Vender) from the port of Bremen.  The family always said that Nettie was a “Princess”.  No one really knows just what that meant, but apparently she wore fine silk dresses on the boat to America.  Her fancy dresses probably didn’t serve her too well as the family set up housekeeping on a forty-acre farm near Sioux City, Iowa.  Their first home in America boasted a dirt floor.  They were not long there before the home, and all of their possessions, were blown away in a cyclone.  John Swanda made several moves after that, living in Omaha, Nebraska and White Lake, South Dakota.  But, in 1889 he heard about the land opening up in the new territory of Oklahoma and he decided to make the Oklahoma Land Run.  He joined the ranks of the Sooners, who came illegally into the area and staked their claim before the run on 22 April 1889.  He had to hide out for a time, but managed to keep his claim. This original Swanda farm was located 2 ½ miles south of present day Yukon, Oklahoma.

In the 1990’s Aline Garrett and her cousin Eleanor registered their grandparents, James “ Jim” Swanda and Mary Soper Swanda, on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor at Ellis Island.

For more details on John Swanda, visit his page at Family Stories,  There you will find a slightly longer version of The Swanda Family: An Immigration Story, and further information on John Swanda, Nettie Cihlar, and their descendants. 

*Additional:  It is of interest that the work of researcher and descendant Thomas Carlile records Nettie's maiden name as Kotoneva.  My mother-in-law's family records her maiden name as Cihlar.  I have not had the opportunity to study this significant discrepancy.  See more at Nettie Cihlar Swanda’s memorial page at FindAGrave website.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Last Journey to America: The Sopr (Soper) Family

Thirty-five years after my husband’s first Svejkovsky ancestors set sail for America, Joseph Soper, his wife Anna Housner and eight of their children made the journey in 1893. They had been married in 1870 in Bohemia and had ten children by 1893:  Joseph, Mary, Anna, Matt, Frances, James, Frank, Christie, Rose and Anton.  Records for this family give a variety of birthplaces for the children, but when carefully studied, it seems clear that the family lived around the towns of Kralovice and Kocin, which are just north of Pilsen in Bohemia. The town of Pilsen is noted for the famous Pilsner Beer.  When my mother-in-law, Aline Garrett, made her trip to the Czech Republic in 1996 she visited the town of Kralovice and took pictures of the old church and town streets.

Aline recalls some of the stories her grandmother, Mary Soper Swanda, told her about life in Bohemia as a young girl.  The Czech people lived mostly in small villages and often their houses and barns were combined under one roof.  Families would go out each day to work their small farms.  They had plots that were worked with spade and hoe by the whole family and primarily supplied the family needs.  Their livestock was usually driven out to a common grazing area and watched over each day.  Mary confessed that she preferred her job of herding geese to the schoolroom. In later years she regretted her choice.  The goose feathers were used for huge feather beds and warm comforters for cold nights.  The villages had large ovens that could bake sixteen loaves of rye bread at one time.  Czech hospitality meant brown bread and wine for guests.    

The Soper family embarked from Hamburg, Germany and arrived in New York City in March 1893.  They lived briefly in Chicago and then moved to Kingfisher in Oklahoma Territory where they lived with the Jindra family.  Shortly thereafter, Joseph Soper made the Cherokee Strip Land Run and established his residence in Garber, Garfield county, Oklahoma Territory.  The family built their first, dugout home around a tree and in those first years they met with very hard times.  The older children set out for Enid Oklahoma to find jobs.  Joe and Matt joined a cattle drive to Dodge City, Kansas and Anna and Mary did housework for families in Enid.  Mary Soper went to work for Joe and Frank Swanda and that is where she met her future husband, Jim Swanda, who she married in 1898.

According to descendant, Emma Irvin, “The hard times for the Sopers didn’t last forever and by 1900 they had built a comfortable home which included 14 windows and 5 doors.  The 160 fenced acres boasted a barn, corncrib, granary, hen house, well with pump and 150 fruit trees.”  Joseph Soper and Anna Housner Soper lived out their lives in Garber, Oklahoma.  Joseph died in 1920 and Anna in 1923.

For more details on Joseph Soper, visit his page at Family Stories,

The Svejkovskys come to America

The Svejkovskys were the first of my husband’s Czech ancestral families to come to America.  They came just after the year 1855.  Frantz Svejkovsky was born around 1825 and he was married to Rosalie Smolik about 1854-55 in the vicinity of Prague in Bohemia.  In 1855, their first child, Mary, was born near Prague.  Shortly after that time their little family decided to immigrate to America.

The Svejkovskys were part of what is known as the first wave of Czech immigration to America between 1852 and 1862.  Most Czechs came into the port of New York.  This was long before the time of Ellis Island.  The Svejkovskys followed a typical Czech pattern of the time, first settling in Chicago and then moving on to settle near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  In Chicago there was a developing Czech community that took in new immigrants.  Most were involved in the garment and timber industries and many worked in the area slaughterhouses.  But, for most Czechs, Chicago was a starting point for exploration of the rural areas where they would go to farm.  A large group of Czechs was taking up land around Cedar Rapids, Iowa and the Svejkovskys remained in that area for ten or twelve years.  Four more children were born to the family during those years:  Annie 1858, Rosalie 1860, Frank 1862, Joe 1867.

In 1862 the Homestead Act was passed in America to encourage westward movement.  It promised 160 acres of wild land to immigrants.  They would become the owners of the land after 5 years of cultivation.  This induced Frantz Svejkovsky to follow other Czech immigrants to an area around Yankton, Dakota Territory (southeast corner of present-day South Dakota).  He settled in Bon Homme county, just west of the town of Yankton.  According to the research of William “Bill” Svejkovsky, “His farm was located on the Missouri River, southwest of Tabor, South Dakota, a distance of about 10 miles.”  In 1871 and 1876 he claimed 3 more farms in the area. 

In the year 1880, when Frantz was 55 years of age, he died.  His will is of record in Bon Homme county, South Dakota.  An abstract of the will tells us that he left quarter sections of land to his two sons, Frank and Joseph, and small bequests of land or money to his daughters.  The remainder went to his wife Rosalie.  Frantz Svejkovsky was first buried in the Ptak (Polish) Cemetery across the road from his farm in Tabor, South Dakota.  In 1890 he was reburied at the Yankton Cemetery in South Dakota.  Bill Svejkovsky reports that the “tombstone is now weathered so that the inscription cannot be read.”   

For more details on Franz Svejkovsky, visit his page at Family Stories,

Photo:  Home in South Dakota:  Frank Svejkovsky, Bozana Fridrich Svejkovsky, and daughters Ludmilla, Albina and Bozan “Bessie” Svejkovsky.  Frank Svejkovsky is the son of Frantz Svejkovsky and Rosalie Smolik.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Fridrich Family: Moravia to America

Frances Fridrich (Wasatko) with her children

Joseph Fridrich and his wife Anna Novotny were both born about 1820 in Zamel, Moravia.  As best I can determine, Zamel is about 70 miles east of the city of Prague, near the present day town of Chrudim.  We only know the names of two children of Joseph Fridrich and Anna Novotny, but there were several others.  The known children were Frances Felepena Fridrich (1840) and John Fridrich (1848), both born in Zamel, Moravia.  Frances Fridrich married Joseph Wasatko about 1863 in Zamel.  America’s Homestead Act of 1862 invited a second wave of Czech immigration. In 1869 the Fridrichs and Wasatkos immigrated to America and settled near Cedar Rapid, Iowa. 

The story of Frances Felepena Fridrich is quite interesting for its time.  Family stories say that her father, Joseph Fridrich, was German.  Very little else is known of him except that he did die in Bon Homme county, Dakota Territory.  Frances first married Joseph Wasatko about 1863 in Zamel, Moravia.  Their first two children, Joseph and *Bozana “Bessie” Wasatko were born in the old country. In 1869 they immigrated to America and settled in the town of Norway, near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Three more children, Anna, William and Mary Wasatko were born to them there.  Then in 1875, Frances filed for divorce from Joseph Wasatko (Washatko) in the Iowa courts.  She received full custody of their five children and changed their names to Fridrich.  By 1877 she was found homesteading near Tyndall in Bon Homme county, Dakota Territory.  Five years later, in 1882, she filed for full ownership of her land.   She was among the first women homesteaders in the area.

Joseph Wasatko and Frances Fridrich both eventually remarried and each had one other child who would be closely related to our family.  Joseph Wasatko moved to Nebraska and had a son Anton Wasatko.  Frances married secondly August Pesek and had a son August Pesek jr.  Apparently she was also divorced from Mr Pesek, as her youngest son went by the name August Fredrick (“Americanized” spelling). Frances lived the rest of her life in Bon Homme county, Dakota Territory.  In 1905 she remarried her first husband, Joseph Wasatko, but this third marriage was of short duration. 

Most of Frances Fridrich’s children remained in the general area of Yankton, South Dakota.  Her son William, who was a cripple all his life, died at the age of 24.  There is a family story that her son August and his family traveled as circus performers for many years.  Her oldest daughter Bozana “Bessie” Fridrich married Frank Svejkovsky in 1883 in Tyndall, Bon Homme co, Dakota Territory.  She removed with her husband to Oklahoma Territory in 1891.                  

Frances Felepena Fridrich died 19 June 1931 at the age of 91 years and is buried at Tyndall, Bon Homme county, South Dakota.

For more details on Frances Fridrich, visit her page at Family Stories,

Aside:   Researcher Diane Moore maintains an interesting memorial to John Fridrich and his wife Josephine Dvoracek (brother and sister-in-law to Frances Fridrich) at the Find A Grave website.  It includes photos and an excellent biography taken from "History of South Dakota Territory, Its History and Its People" by George W. Kingsbury, 1915.  It gives wonderful flavor to life in South Dakota for the Czech immigrants.  You will enjoy reading it!  Link for John Fridrich at Find A Grave.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Those Robinson Girls: Joeannah Robinson Mason Doss

Preston M Robinson married Sarah N Edmonston,  1847 in Washington county Missouri.  To them were born five daughters – Elizabeth Jane Robinson, Mary Alice Robinson, Martha Thomas Robinson, Julia Parkhurst Robinson, and Joeannah Robinson.  This Blog Series on “Those Robinson Girls” gives a brief account of each daughter.

Joeannah Robinson was born 1862 in Washington county Missouri.  She was the youngest of five daughters of Preston McGrady Robinson and Sarah Nugent Edmonston, and my gg-grandaunt.  The interesting spelling of her name "Joeannah" is probably correct as it appears this way in her father's 1903 Will and then again on her tombstone.  Little is known of her childhood.  At the tender age of fifteen she was married to  Ezra Elmo Mason, a young man of about thirty who hailed originally from Virginia.  It is assumed that they married in Washington county Missouri, but no record has been located.  The marriage date of 8 January 1878 comes from a family record. 

Two years after their marriage EE Mason and his young wife Joeannah appear in the 1880 census of Carter county Missouri, in Jackson township.  His occupation is given as manufacture of lumber; no surprise in this growing hotbed of the timber industry.  They have a little daughter Essie Mason.  

Over the next ten years three more children are added to the Mason family, Edna Mason, Lou Mason, and Elmore Mason.  The family probably moved northward to the big city of St Louis Missouri.  In 1891 EE Mason is shown as the president of Clarkson Christopher Lumber Company in St Louis. 

A writeup in "The industries of Saint Louis:  Her relations as a center of trade, manufacturing establishments and business houses"; J. W. Leonard; J.M. Elstner & Co., 1887. (google ebook):

Clarkson - Christopher Lumber Company
EE Mason, President; HC Christopher, Vice-President; RM Fry, Treasurer
Wholesale Commission Lumber Dealers; Office, Northwest Corner of Fourth and Walnut streets.
This is one of the largest and most successful concerns in its line in the city or the West, and has done a large and steadily increasing business from its inception.  They deal very heavily in dressed yellow pine flooring, ceiling, siding, bridge, car and dimension timber and Tennessee yellow poplar, all of which they sell to large dealers, car works and railroad construction companies in car load lots or otherwise, delivered at any point.  They maintain the most favorable relations with manufacturers and are enabled to offer unsurpassed inducements, both in price and quality, to the trade, and do a very large business not only in the city but also throughout Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and other States tributary, in a commercial sense, to St Louis.  They possess unsurpassed facilities, and enjoy the respect and confidence of the trade as a result of their prompt and satisfactory filling of orders.

A family record indicates that EE Mason died 18 July 1891 in Fordyce, Dallas county Arkansas. He would have been forty-three years old.  About this time, Fordyce was opening up as a timber district and it seems likely that Ezra Mason was conducting business there.  Did he meet with an accident?  Hopefully old newspapers in Arkansas or St Louis will produce answers to this question.  

Ezra Mason's early death left his twenty-nine year old widow Joeannah Robinson Mason, with four young children to raise.  It is not known where she went, or who she turned to during her widowhood, but her oldest daughter, Essie Pearl Mason was married five years later, in 1896, in Washington county Missouri, so perhaps the Mason family returned to live near Joeannah Robinson Mason's parents.  I have not been able to identify this Mason family in the 1900 census.  But, when Preston M Robinson wrote his will in March 1903, he named his youngest daughter Joeannah Mason, so we know that she did not remarry before that time. 

In our Clarkson Family Letters there is a letter dated 4 August 1908 from Richard Albert Clarkson to his son Samuel Edwin Clarkson.  He mentions his sister-in-law Joeannah “Josie” Robinson Mason and her son Elmo (Elmore E Mason):  “We enjoyed Elmo’s short visit. A letter from sister Josie received yesterday says he likes Oklahoma so much she thinks she will probably move out with him to Bartlesville.”

Sometime between 1908 and 1910, Joeannah Robinson Mason was secondly married to Frank Doss of Farmington, St Francois county Missouri.  He was a widower, whose first wife Sarah McFarland Doss had died in 1906.  His youngest daughter Nellie Doss was living with Frank and Joeannah in the 1910 Census of St Francois county. 

Frank Doss died in 1932 and is buried with his first wife in Farmington, St Francois county Missouri.  His death certificate shows him as a widower, his deceased wife being Sarah McFarland.  It makes no mention of second wife Joeannah.  The reason for this is not known.  Joeannah Robinson Mason Doss, died in 1945 and is buried with her first husband in St Matthew Cemetery in St Louis, Missouri. 

The four Mason children all married: 
Essie Pearl Mason to Edwin J Bean, an attorney and judge of Jefferson county Missouri.
Edna Marie Mason first to Edward Berryman Barrow, a dentist, and secondly to Arthur C Norwine.
Lou Mason to Edward Butler, living in Ironton Missouri in 1913.
Elmore E Mason, a musician, to Caroline McNaughton of Trumball county Missouri (eventually divorced).

For more details on Joeannah Robinson, visit her page at Family Stories,

Photo:  Farm Woodlot near Farmington Missouri; Department of Agriculture, National Archives Collection.

Aside:  In 1885, Ezra E Mason was appointed one of four executors in the Will of George W Clarkson of Iron county Missouri.  George Clarkson was the cousin of Richard Albert Clarkson, brother-in-law of Joeannah Robinson.  It is noted here to show some of the earliest relationships between the Robinson, Clarkson, and Mason families.

Aside:  For a time I speculated that the RM Fry, indicated as treasurer of Clarkson-Christopher Lumber Company, was my gg-grandfather, Reuben Macon Fry.  But, I have since learned that he is Robert Maxwell Fry – no apparent relationship to my own Fry family. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...