Monday, October 19, 2015

I Am A Migl

Frantisek and Johanna (Jezek) Migl with their children, including my great grandmother,
Theresa, far right in the middle row.
At a meeting of the Austin Czech Historical Association two years ago, a woman speaking from theTexas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center (TCHCC) in La Grange mentioned the different historic homes that had been donated and moved to the center's grounds, including the Migl house. Migl is the maiden name of my maternal grandfather's mother, Theresa (Migl) Kallus. When the speaker said the names of the couple who built the house near Praha - Johanna and Frantisek Migl - I got excited.


Sure enough, I came home and pulled out my genealogy stuff and they were my great great grandparents. They came to Texas in 1874 with their four youngest children, including my grandfather's mother, Theresa, who was two years old at the time. Johanna and Frantisek built the house now at the TCHCC in 1890, the year Theresa married my great grandfather, Alois Kallus. You can read a little history of the house on the TCHCC website here.

I had been to the TCHCC several times, but had never gone into the Migl house, not understanding my connection to it. Since I was traveling to Praha for the Migl reunion, I decided to take my teenage son on a small detour to soak up some family history. See me above in front of the house. I am so excited to have this real place to take the boys to that is now a part of Texas history.

My great grandparents, Theresa (Migl) and A.J. Kallus. 
My great great grandparents are buried in Praha, and the family has its reunion there in the hall of St. Mary's Church of the Assumption. But it's not just any reunion. There were around 300 people at the bi-annual event last Saturday, but that's only 5% of the 6,126 direct descendants (and their spouses) of Frantisek and Johanna recorded by the family historian. In fact, if you are the descendant of any Migl in Texas, you are related to any other descendant of a Migl. 

Family members looking through the voluminous genealogy information
collected by family historian, Cecilia Forrest. 
I go to four other reunions a year for the families of my grandparents (my grandfathers' family names - Orsak and Kallus - and my grandmothers' maiden names, too - Morkovsky and Zielonka.) But this is the only reunion where people are getting together six and seven generations down representing all downlines from one couple. I visited with 2nd and 3rd cousins and found out I was related to people I'd known by name or heard of, but there they were, suddenly my family. The oldest attendee was 95. The youngest (photo below) was seven weeks old. People came from New Jersey, Maryland, California and places in between, including right down the road. 

The youngest Migl at the reunion. 
This is also the only reunion I go to that's catered. My amazing second-cousin-once-removed, Thomas, whose immediate family orders and serves the lunch, claims attendance would drop if people had to bring dishes potluck style. But attendees do bring desserts... homemade and store bought cakes, pies, brownies, cookies, cobbler, fruit, fudge, muffins. This year, traditional Czech foods were represented with kolaches, vanilla crescents, and poppyseed cake. The silent auction was a smorgasbord of homemade foods, which always bring the highest prices of any items... pickled beets, jellies and jams, Meyer lemons, pecan pie, strudel and buchta, kolaches and noodles.

One of the day's highlights was accordion music, and by all women. Family member Beverly Garcia organized live music throughout the day, played by her, cousin Rose Forbrich, and friend Edith Knuepper. Beverly suggested the theme of music for the day, since so many Migls and thier descendants have been musicians. She brought along a poster honoring the ones she knew about including the great bandleader Jimmy Brosch. This year, Jimmy is posthumously receiving the Texas Czech Heritage Society's Blaha-Hejil Memorial Award "for all he did to promote Czech heritage in Texas." Thank you to Beverly for bringing many wonderful Migl family musicians to everyone's attention.

Besides enjoying the food, music and company, the family "meeting" allowed people to mention births, deaths and marriages that had happened in the last two years. Some asked for prayers for a relative going through an illness or difficult time. We recognized the longest marriage (67 years) and newest (6 months). We got a report on the state of the Migl house, 125 years old this year, and we pondered the state of our great great grandparents grave markers in the cemetery we could see out the window of the hall where we were celebrating life and family. Everyone's enthusiasm for being together and continuing the reunion tradition was electric.

Another cousin, Dwayne Pingenot, who wrote a history of his own Migl great grandparents (our great grandmothers were sisters), wrote this in his essay, "Our Migl ancestry is one in which we can all be proud and may we and our children profit from the efforts, sacrifices, wisdom and contributions that are now a part of our heritage." I was proud of that ancestry that day, happy to connect with family cum friends, and to be able to say... 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Big Czechs/Little Czechs Family Day - October 10th, Temple

I spent the morning hand cutting 560 paper leaves for this coming Saturday's "Big Czechs/Little Czechs" Family Day at the Czech Heritage Museum in Temple. This is the opening event for the exhibit I co-curated, Texas Czechs: Rooted in Tradition. After a very successful 3 months at the Institute of Texas Cultures (ITC) in San Antonio, we moved the exhibit to Temple just in time for Czech Heritage Month in Texas (October). It will be on display there through January 9, 2016.


Sharon Mena dresses a girl in kroj pieces
at the ITC for fun and photographs.
"Big Czechs/Little Czechs" (1-4pm on the 10th) will be an afternoon of activities, mostly for preschool and elementary age, to help kids either connect with their own Czech heritage or learn about Texas Czech cultural traditions in a fun way. Bring your children and grandchildren - dress up in kroj with master seamstress Maggie Grmela, make PlayDoh kolaches, play an accordion, make a family tree (what the hand cut leaves are for), learn what "pupek" means. And, of course, you can see the Texas Czechs exhibit as well. The whole event is free.  

PolkaWorks (the nonprofit that produced the exhibit) staged this same day of family activities at the ITC in July and over 600 people attended. Folks enjoyed polka lessons, accordion music played by the Central Texas Accordion Association, a food matching game, sharing their first words in Czech, and playing kroj "dress up" with Sharon Mena. Sharon was completely amazing... not only wearing her own gorgeous, elaborate kroj the whole day, but patiently dressed little Texas Czechs (and big!) and anyone else who wanted to try on pieces of Czech national dress. We were privileged to have Sharon's daughter's kroj on display at the ITC as part of the exhibit. Check out Sharon's Facebook page called Czech Costumes. 


In Temple, we'll be displaying a kroj made by West's Maggie Grmela, who's been carrying the torch for kroje in Texas since the 1970s. Maggie will also be at our Family Day event with fund pieces for little folks to try on.


Czech culture has played an instrumental role in shaping the iconic Texas landscape and its sights, sounds, and tastes can still be found throughout Texas on any given day. Like many immigrant groups, Czechs brought dance, food, music, language, and other cultural traditions with them. The Texas Czech community maintains and passes on its sense of identity by continuing to practice those traditions and creating some particular to Texas Czechs.

The exhibit installed at the Czech Heritage Museum in Temple.

Texas Czechs: Rooted in Tradition highlights these activities on 11 photo montage panels, presenting a contemporary picture of the diversity and richness of Texas Czech culture today. It also includes photographs, artifacts, and short documentary films shown in a multi-media “station.” Topics include taroky, music, language, community celebrations, Sokol, and more.

Kids love the exhibit's films!
 A big thanks to our Temple exhibit sponsors: The Bell County Historical Commission, Humanities Texas, and Extraco Banks. 

Save the date of November 7th for “Gather-Capture-Share”, a free workshop on collecting family memories on film, video, and audio, also produced in conjunction with the exhibition.

For more information about "Big Czechs/Little Czechs" Family Day in Temple or for the museum's regular hours, call the Czech Heritage Museum or me.