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German Bohemian Immigrants to Wisconsin

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In the early days as a territory, Wisconsin was settled by families from Bohemia, then part of the Austrian Empire. The ancestors of Germanic families went to Bohemia in the 1600s for farm land at the invitation of the King of Bohemia. Over generations, they maintained their distinctive Germanic dialect and practiced the Roman Catholic faith--as distinct from their Slavic neighbors. In their villages, the butcher, baker, priest and schools used German Bohemian language and customs. The records are handwritten in an archaic cursive style. The Austrian Empire was involved in their lives mostly for payment of taxes or military draft of their sons for the endless Austrian wars. No one spoke Austrian, nor was it an official language in Bohemia. Some merchants also spoke a Slavic language.

Long after they emigrated, the country borders shifted dramatically. The Austrian Empire dissolved after WWI. Germany claimed the region during WWII and after the war, Czechoslovakia was created and later became the Czech Republic or Czechia. All the village names were changed to a Czech-language version.

Sattl became Sedlow. Einseidl is Mnichov. Royau is Rajov. Map of village names for Wisconsin Immigrant families

All this change makes it challenging to trace our German Bohemian ancestors.

This project's goal is to group the resources that are useful in tracing German Bohemian immigrants, whose origins are often listed as "Germany" in the US Census. One of the best Wettstein researchers, Otilla Wettstein, searched in vain to identify the village locations. As a bilingual speaker, Otilla could hear that the dialect spoken by this group was different than the German spoken by immigrants from Rhineland, but assumed that it was a dialect of Austrian. Without the internet, the tools she needed were not at hand to match today's village names with their 19th century versions.