16 – Bohemian Emigration

Joseph and Josepha Teply left Bohemia in 1867, bound for America. They are the only ones of our direct Teply ancestors to emigrate.

We don’t have any emigration documentation for Joseph and Josepha. No ship’s passenger lists, no arrival documents, etc. But we find the family next in Caledonia, Wisconsin, just south of Milwaukee.

Let’s looks at the “why, how, and where” of emigration.

Push – Pull Emigration Reasons

Discussions on emigration talk about “Push – Pull” reasons. Here are two examples:

  • Fleeing religious persecution is a “push” factor, a reason people want to leave.
  • Access to a better education in a new country might be a “pull” reason.

Bohemian emigration to America contains both “push” and “pull” reasons.  

“Push” Factors

Overpopulation and Overcrowding

The population was expanding rapidly. One third of the population was younger than 15.

Look at the Zahradnik houses no. 8 and 9 in Pustá Rybná, where Terezie Zahradnik (4G) grew up. She was Josepha Petras’ mom.

1829 Census – Houses no. 8 and 9 – Pustá Rybná

Eighteen people lived in these two houses. Terezie’s family of five were farmers. Frantisek’s family of four were cottagers. The remaining nine people were retired or landless.

Not enough farm land

In the 1829 census, 700 of the 920 houses in Polička area villages belonged to poor cottagers. This group of inhabitants didn’t have a sustainable amount of land.

For farmers, there was a problem dividing the land for the next generation. If they split up the land, the farms would get ever smaller.

You can see that the Teply farm in Oldřiš has already been divided into three tracts by the time of this map in 1839.

The end of feudalism

Until 1848 most peasants were serfs. They belonged to manors or royal towns. People needed permission to move or travel to another parish or manor.

Serfdom was abolished in 1781 by (guess who?) Joseph II, but it took until 1848 to abolish all aspects of servitude.

That changed everything. Now people could travel more freely, even emigrate.

Military conscription

At the beginning of the 19th century, soldiers faced a lifetime obligation. By mid century, the obligation was ten years.

Conscription was unpopular throughout the empire.

What’s the future?

Making a living from the land was getting harder each generation. Chances were slim to have your own farm. Even with a garden or small farm, poverty was your future.

“Pull” Factors

Earlier emigrants “Christmas letters”

You know what I mean. The Christmas letter from the person you haven’t seen since last year. “The entire family is doing great. Kids are all geniuses. Husband got a big promotion and raise. And on and on.”

Well, people who had already emigrated wrote back to friends and relatives, extolling the wonders of America.

To those in the old country, these letters were appealing and trustworthy. Often the sender would offer a place to stay and help getting started.


On both sides of the Atlantic, there were lots of advertisements for travel to America. They offered railroad tickets from Prague to Hamburg, ships leaving Hamburg, loans.

Some agents offered the total package, making arrangements all the way from Prague to Milwaukee, for example.

Czech-language newspapers published in America were sent back home. They had reports of boundless opportunity.

1862 Homestead Act

The US Homestead Act of 1862 was a major pull factor. An immigrant who had filed for US citizenship could file a claim for 160 acres of land. In return, the applicant had to build a house, farm the land, and live there for five years.

John Ross – Land Patent – 160 acres Washington County, Kansas

Nearly 10 percent of the total area of the United States was given away free to 1.6 million homesteaders.

The promise of 160 acres of “free” land seemed unbelievable to a Bohemian chalupnik who may have had a small garden or a few acres in Pustá Rybná.

How Does It Happen

How do you get there?

First, you get from Pustá Rybná to Prague by wagon or on foot, then a train or river boat to the port of Hamburg or Bremen, Germany.

Then a transatlantic voyage. By the 1860s shipping companies had steam ships that cut the time of the voyage from three months to three weeks.

Bohemians arrived at many ports in America – New York, Baltimore, Galveston, etc. From the arrival port, a journey by train or river boat to Chicago, then Milwaukee.

Where do you go?

Caledonia, Racine County, near Milwaukee was one of the first Bohemian farming settlements in Wisconsin and quite possibly the United States. Many Bohemians settled in Caledonia and Racine starting in 1848.

By the time Joseph and Josepha Teply arrived in 1867, it was a well-established Bohemian community.

What do you do when you get there?

Farmers in Caledonia cleared their land and then sold or traded the wood for household staples. The grew wheat, and later strawberries, cabbage and beets.

But soon the draw of cheap or homestead land out west would cause Bohemians to leave Wisconsin. Many Bohemians set out to establish farms in the midwest – Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas.

For our family the path led to Marshall and Washington counties in Kansas.

Nibbles Extra Credit

Did my ancestors come through Ellis Island?

No! Ellis Island opened in 1892 and operated until 1954.

Look at the Teply and Jarvis 2G grandparents. The ones with red check marks immigrated before 1892. The others were born in America before 1892.

Prior to 1892, immigrants arriving in New York were processed at Castle Clinton, aka Castle Garden.

Joseph Teply 50004
Josepha Petras 50003
Terezie Zahradnik 50001
John Hermann Ross 1830


  • SWEET, ORR & CO – Victorian Trade Card
  • 1829 Polička census transcription – ca 1999 – Karel Kysilka
  • Map – Czech – Stable Cadastre Map – Indicative Sketch – 502018390 – 1839 – Oldris – Houses and Farms 107 118 140
  • Depiction of socage on the royal demesne in feudal England, c. 1310
  • Austrian soldiers – Victrix miniatures
  • Advertising poster – 1873 – prima postovni paroplavba
  • Deed – John Ross – Land Patent – 160 acres Washington 28 5 4 – 1874 – D31 P609
  • Antique illustration of immigrants in New York
  • Castle Garden illustration – CGSI Conference – 2019

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