Demographic and Social Structure of the South-west Polička Region Before the First Emigration Wave to the USA in the 1850’s
by Karel Kysilka 2003
East Bohemia and mainly the counties of Lanskroun, Vysoke Myto, Litomysl and Policka became important centers of emigration to the USA after 1852.
Twelve communities of the Policka judicial district were affected by this first wave of emigration. They were mostly villages, located to the West and South-West of the city, Stary and Novi Kamenec, Sadek, Borova, Siroky Dul, Oldris, Brezin, Teleci and Pusta Rybna. They all were parts of reformed Protestant congregations in Borova and Teleci.
I mentioned in my previous papers, that the total number of emigrants from both parishes between 1852 and 1900 reached 700-800 people and until the outbreak of WWI another 400 persons followed their earlier relatives and friends.
We can estimate that there were about 4,000 people of the Czech stock (i.e. first and second generation immigrants), in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, and in both Dakotas, whose villages of origin were from Policka county. Today, there are between 20 to 40 thousand of their ancestors. Their information and knowledge about the life in the old country before emigration are only fragmental and limited.
In 1265, the Bohemian king Premysl Ottokar II founded the royal dowry city of Policka near the commercial trail connecting Bohemia with Moravia. The city received its name after fields that stretched along this trail as far as to the forests around the Svratka River. The words “Pole — politico” have the meaning — a field, a little field. It is supposed that villages Siroky Dul, Bystre, Jedlova, Radimer, Borova and Oldris had already existed in earlier ages. German settlers from Saxony and Upper Palatia were invited to settle down in Policka. They also established some villages east of the city. Two suburbs came into being — Upper and Lower Suburb — in front of the city fortification. They were populated by Czechs, in the same way as villages of Sadek and Kamenec. The villages of Teleci and Rybna did not exist earlier than the 15th century. During the Hussite Wars in 1419 — 1435 Policka received a Czech population, too. In 16th century most of the names of the city’s burghers were Czech too. In the 16th century in Teleci, deposits of silver were found and experienced miners of German nationality from Kutna Hora, Palatia and from the Ore Mountains came here to start excavations. Over the centuries, most of the German miners adopted the Czech language and culture. Only their last names are witnesses of their German origin today.
Besides the main St. James’ Church in Policka, there were St. Margaret’s Church in Borova, St. John the Baptist in Siroky Dul, St. Mary Magdalena in Teleci, and the church of St. Katharina in the forests near Borova. After the Hussite Wars a majority of inhabitants confessed the old Bohemian Brethren belief, consisting in receiving the Communion of consecrated bread and wine. This denomination survived through the Catholic Anti-reformation after the Battle of White Mountain in 1619.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, new small villages and hamlets came into being in the highlands. They were Svata Katerina (St. Katharina) around the St. Katharina Church, Damasek (Damascus), Betlem (Bethlehem), Blatina (Moors), Bukovina (named after beech trees), Svety (from Svaty=Saint), Jelinek (Stag), Mrhov (from Mrchov=cemetery) and Landraty (from German Landsreuth). After the Edict of Toleration was issued by the Emperor Josef II in 1781, two reformed Protestant congregations were established in Borova and Teleci.
In the middle of the 19th century, the area of both parishes formed a close region from a geographic, economic, religious and social point of view. The migration and connections with other regions were only deficient. The families living around Borova and Teleci were of ancient origin and the individual generations of inhabitants were linked to each other by innumerable relational lines. The family names were steady for centuries and their origin was mostly in the 15th and 16th centuries. In around 1830 there were 6,300 inhabitants in both parishes. The largest village was Teleci with 1,130 inhabitants, followed by Oldris and Borova. The tiniest communities were Mrhov, Bukovina, Svety and Landraty. The share of Protestants was between 40-45 percent.
The mean age of inhabitants was very low, roughly 28.5 years — it was caused by a high percentage of children up to 15 years (31 per cent). This abnormal quantity of children was a threat for overcrowding of these villages in the following 10 to 20 years, when these children grow up, become adult, marry and bring their own children into the world. The number of inhabitants will rapidly grow up, and there will remain no sources for subsistence. The number of houses was 920, of which the farmsteads numbered only 230 (25 percent). Seven hundred houses belonged to poor cottiers without their own fields. In each house 2-3 families lived together in mostly two rooms only. So farmers were the only inhabitants who had bread and butter secured. Thus the only solution for most inhabitants will be the future migration to other parts of Bohemia, or even abroad.
The oldest family names are for instance Zrust, Jilek, Pavlis, Hanus, Bures, Hons, Nunvar, Plihal, Vosmek, Teska or Trojak. Earlier we mentioned German miners who came in 15th and 16th centuries to Teleci, in order to gain silver ore. With them German names came here too and they are preserved until today, though mostly in mutilated form: Fajnemann = Fajmon, Lorenz = Lorenc, Lohbauer = Blopauer = Lopauer = Lopour, Ehrenberger = Empengr, Romportl = Portl = Romplot, Haupt = Haap = Hap, Krohlig = Kraulik, Reinemann = Reiman = Rajman = Rejman.
Most family names are derived from personal names – Bren from Bretislav, Andrlik from Andreas, Paul or Paulis from Pavel, Bures from Burian, Lexa from Alexander, Lorenc from Laurentius.
Another group of family names was developed from personal physical or mental features of their bearers: – the outer appearance (Kucera- curly, Cerny, – black, Cerveny – red), physical features (Smatlan – to shamble, Zvacek to prattle, to blabber, Lety- over aged, Novotny – new one, Zrzan – red haired), people’s personality (Popelka -, pale in face but more probably soda ash producer (Cinderella), Svanda – a funny man, joker, Bohac – a rich man, Picha – either from pride or from sting, Krivka – curve).
Another large group were family names derived from local names and nationalities – Nemec – German, Svejda – Swede, Holenda – Dutch, Makovsky – from village of Makov, Kvetensky – village of Kvetna„ Telecky – from village of Teleci, Stritesky – Stritez, Madera – from Hungary, Opocensky – from Opocno).
In many cases the original trade became also the last name – Bednar – cooper, Kovar – smith, Mlynar – miller, Zahradnik – gardener, etc.
The last group of surnames are those that were derived from names of plants, animals or things: – Travnicek – lawn, Kocourek – pussycat, Sykora – titmouse, Kastanek – chestnut, Stodola – barn, Kriz – cross, Nedele – Sunday, Smetana – cream, etc.
Of unknown or uncertain origin were last names Vosmek, Teska and Vornaj for instance.
The most common surname in Policka region was the surname Kucera (curly) – almost 4 percent of all inhabitants had this surname, mainly in Borova, where each eighth inhabitant was a Kucera.
Second place was filled by Fajmon (more than 3 percent of all inhabitants) with varieties Feinemann, Faiman, Faimon. This surname is a typical representative of German surnames here. In Teleci, there were 90 Fajmons among 1100 inhabitants.
Third rank belonged to Popelka, that had its origin in the village of Oldris. In the 19th century the name spread out to Siroky Dul, where it became the most common surname at all (13 percent), Lorene is probably of German origin too, with appearance in Sadek, Oldris and Borova.
Filipi is a typical surname for Teleci, that came into being at the end of 16th century. Though it sounds Italian, it has nothing to do with Italian origin. It is simply grammatical genitive in Latin — Filip’s (son). There were about 90 Filipi’s in Teleci in 1829.