Archive for September, 2012

image from Goodreads.com

I recently learned a little about my great-grandmother’s sister, Anastasia (or Anastazie), who came to America from Bohemia with her husband, two children and mother in 1903. The Brokenicky family lived in Chicago for a while and eventually settled in Nebraska by 1910. I wrote about the Brokenickys in these posts:

How I Met My Aunt Anastasia, Part 1

How I Met My Aunt Anastasia, Part 2

Brokenicky Family Graves

Nebraska was a popular place for Bohemians to settle during this time period. The Homestead Act of 1862 made the land available for settlement, attracting people from the eastern part of America as well as Europe.

I recently finished reading the book My Ántonia by Willa Cather, and it had a lot to teach me about the challenges of immigrants (specifically Bohemian) in Nebraska during the time my family was living there. I don’t know enough about the Brokenicky family to know how closely this novel describes their way of life, but I found it interesting to read about what was happening to this group of people who really struggled to find their American dream.

My Ántonia, which was published in 1918, is the story of a young boy named Jim Burden, who was sent to live with his grandparents on their Nebraska farm after he was orphaned. He arrived on the same train as a Bohemian immigrant family, the Shimerdas. The Shimerda family consisted of two parents and four children. One of the children was Ántonia, a girl who was just a couple years older than Jim. The book is a collection of Jim’s memories of Ántonia as they grew up together in the Nebraska prairie.

Jim formed a friendship with Ántonia and witnessed firsthand the difficulties her family experienced as they adjusted to American farm life. Their first challenge was with the language. No one in the Shimerda family knew any English when they arrived in Nebraska. The children picked it up pretty quickly, thanks to Jim, but Ántonia often had to act as a translator for her parents. Not being able to easily communicate made the family feel isolated from the rest of their community.

The Shimerdas encountered many other challenges as well. They were completely unprepared for Nebraska’s weather conditions – the extreme heat in the summer and the bitter cold in the winter. In addition, they had no experience running a farm and were forced to learn from their mistakes and rely on kind neighbors for help. They arranged for the purchase of their land without seeing it, not knowing there was nothing but a house made of sod, basically a cave, for them to live in.

Beyond the physical challenges, the Shimerdas experienced emotional trouble as well. Mr. Shimerda was especially affected by homesickness. Immigrants of all nationalities must have missed their homelands and the family and friends they left behind. The Shimerdas’ story brings to light the sadness and frustration most immigrants must have felt.

The difficulties experienced by immigrants caused the need for many of their children to find work. The older children, especially girls, were usually required to find jobs as housekeepers and cooks in the homes and businesses in nearby towns so that the boys could work on the farm and the younger children could go to school. Ántonia found a job with a nice family in town and was able to help support her family. The Shimerda family was eventually able to develop a successful farm. While they were never wealthy in America, they managed to get by and provide for their children, who could eventually go out and take hold of the opportunities that had brought their parents to America.

My Ántonia is a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it. Cather’s descriptions of the Nebraska prairies make you feel like you are there, and her characters bring the plight of our immigrant ancestors to life.


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John Swinney Diary, Part 4

This is the fourth post of excerpts from a diary written by John Swinney, my 5x great-grandfather, in 1822-1823. Click on the links below to see the previous posts:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

January 22, 1823: “Worked some at the wagon house floor, then killed beef, 337 lbs., hide 52 lbs., making in all the beef this winter for the use of the poorhouse 1924 lbs. While I was dressing this beef, there was a man brought here by the name of Francis Langraff (insane), a Dutchman, a glass blower from Port-Elizabeth, the order was good for nothing. But Mr. Bowen, Trustee, sent me a line to accept the man. I did so; I put him in a room in the garret and after Wm. Wriggans, his comrade was gone out of sight, I went in until he became pacified and stayed quietly. This man seems to be really an object of pity. He is inoffensive, peaceable and harmless. The man who brought him says that he has said little or nothing for a week past.”

January 23, 1823: “This afternoon was a meeting at the Hotel, inviting the farmers and all who were in favor of forming an agricultural society to attend. I went in, as did others, about 50 in the room. Ebenezer Elmer appointed Chairman, and Dr. E. Buck Secretary. Several observations offered upon the subject, following the opening by the chairman, then proceeded to take the sense of this meeting, whether they should form such a society. Unanimously in favor of it. A committee of 8 persons appointed to draft a constitution and bylaws and lay before this meeting this day 3 weeks, to which they stand adjourned.”

January 29, 1823: “Clear and cold. First in the morning went to mill, got home by breakfast, brought home the flour and bran of 23 bush. Doctor Buck was out pretty soon after I arrived and gave orders that I must put a chain on Francis Langraff (the crazy Dutchman) and give him physsick. Just got him sick with physsick when Mr. J. Seeley and wife come out to see the house through. Had not gone when Wm. Davis and wife from Dividing Creeks came with an order to take away Sarah Smith. They had not gone before Mr. Balcom and a young man with him presented an order to take away the Dutchman. So we have got clear of two today. These orders were from Mr. Smith Bowen, Trustee. The weather today very cold. No. left 47.”

February 3, 1823: “The ground is covered with snow, about 2 inches and continues. After a while, rain a little. Very damp day. Afternoon, 2 of the trustees, Bowen and Simkins, met here on business. Resolved that for the future, persons who wish to take children from the poor-house bring an order from one of the trustees before they take them away…Reese reports 36 in school today.”

February 4, 1823: “Brought in home with me the news paper No. 18 Bridgeton Observer in which a statement of four hogs killed by Mr. John Johnston of this town, weighing as follows. 548, 538, 504 and 496. Total 2086 pounds. Also John Hann Jr. two hogs 476 & 442, total 918 lbs. 15 months [?] an extraordinary marriage is inserted. Jacob Mathies, aged 111 years to Mrs. Sellers, aged 119 years.”

February 5, 1823: “Went up the hill to Norton Harris’s (Jedidiah Davis with me), to his big hog, and a big one it is. It does not get up without help, and that but seldom. It is locked up in a house made for that purpose. It lies on one side with its legs stretched out. It is so fat that it cannot see, and has not for some time. Some say it will weigh 12 hundred alive, some say 1000 when slaughtered, some 900, and none says less than 800. Any how it is a big hog. I returned home, very cold day.”

February 8, 1823: “Sabbath day. Went to church. Mr. John Greene, from the De-Ruyter (?) Church, N.Y. was there and preached from these words: “Thy kingdom come,” a part of our Lord’s prayer when he was teaching his disciples. In this sermon, he dwelt upon the Divinity of Christ and his equality with the Father, etc. An excellent discourse…I went with him to Enos Randolph’s to dine and spent the afternoon and returned home at evening. An extremely cold day. Greene informs me he has been at [?] since the 18th of January last and has baptized 25 persons in his visit there.”

February 11, 1823: “Cloudy and warm. Threshing oats etc. Went and got Ruth Davis a load of wood and cut up short, stopped at the school, heard the children spell, quite noisy, too much so, for the benefit of school. Stayed till it was out, brought Reese home in the wagon. 29 in school today.”

February 13, 1823: “Some hands cutting firewood. I went to mill, then attended the adjourned meeting of the farmers of Cumberland at the Hotel in Bridgeton, to adopt a constitution and bylaws for agricultural society. The committee appointed at the former meeting to draft a constitution etc. presented the same, which was read and ordered a second reading, by section, revised and adopted one by one, after which 42 persons subscribed thereto, and proceeded to the election of officers. 1 President, 4 Vice Presidents, 1 Secretary, 1 Treasurer, 16 Directors, 2 from each township. 5 may form a quorum of this board, to transact business, etc. Doctor Wm. B. Ewing, President, Doctor E. Buck, Secretary, adjourned to the 3rd day of November for the annual meeting of said society. This afternoon is the funeral of Hashel Alkire. Was married about one month ago and about one week after (on a gunning party) had the contents of a loaded gun from Isaac Fithian, one of the party, put in his thigh. In a few days threw him into the [?] and terminated his death last night.”

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This post features items found in my great-grandmother’s scrapbook from the 1940s.

My grandfather, Harold Albert Rork, entered the army in February 1943. This page contains notes his mother wrote about the events of February through May of that year.


Feb. 13, 1943. Harold Albert Rork took his final exam at Louisville, Ky. and was given limited service rating. He was sworn in to report for induction at Versailles, Ind. Feb. 20, 1943, when he was taken to Fort Benjamin Harrison induction center near Indianapolis.

Feb. 22 He was given 2 shots and his uniform.

Feb. 26 Left Fort Harrison to go to Fort McClellan, Alabama. Draws $50 per month.

April 1943. He completed his basic training and was transferred 1 mile in same camp with following address: Pvt. Harold A. Rork, Officers Candidate Preparatory School, Fort McClellan, Ala.

On special detail. Types and helps Lieut. in supply room.

May 13. Made First Class Private and draws $5? [photo cut off] a month.


Below is a Notice of Classification for Harold from December 30, 1942, showing his classification as Class I-A.

Below is a note about Harold’s transfer from Fort Benjamin Harrison (Indiana) to Fort McClellan (Alabama) for basic training.

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