Janet Jeffries is somewhat of a Czechoslovakia guru.
Since 1992, the Crete woman has led 20 tours to what is now the Czech Republic in Central Europe to educate people about the country’s history and to help many learn more about their family’s lineage and roots.
Recently, Jeffries and 50-plus people from at least 20 states visited some historic sites in Butler County as part of the five-day-long Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International Conference held at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln. As part of the bused tour, dozens had the opportunity to tour and learn about Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Brainard and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mother Catholic Church in Dwight.
Other parts of the day-long sight-seeing adventure included church and cemetery stops in portions of rural Saunders county that have deep Czech ties. Jeffries and Lincoln Architect David Murphy planned the tour and orchestrated the outing, according to provided information.
“This team was part of the Nebraska State Historical Society’s official Historic Preservation Department when they worked together there in the 1970s and 1980s,” genealogical society representatives said through a provided statement. “Both remain active in the historic preservation field and with Czech projects.”
During the tour of what Jeffries referred to as the “North” country – Butler County – those in attendance had the chance to see what authentic Czech-Catholic churches were all about.
“In that area they just have beautiful Czech-Catholic churches, and they kept their Catholic faith,” Jeffries said of Czech immigrants settling in the Butler County area decades ago.
Several of the dozens attending the county tour originate from the city. Their roots are Czech, but their upbringings weren’t necessarily in rural places where they could connect with their ancestry. Pit-stops in Brainard and Dwight provided them with a snapshot of the scenery some of their relatives would have absorbed daily.
“Some of these people were from the city and so they were so excited and shocked at the beautiful countryside in general and the view of a church on a hill, and really just the entire aspect,” Jeffries said. “And they have heard all about the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands in the Old Country, and we call you (Butler County area) the Bohemian Alps …
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“And so these people didn’t necessarily have Nebraska roots, but they had been to Europe and seen the highlands over there … And seeing this, they were saying, ‘They (ancestors) were probably right at home if they came from that area.'”
During the stops in Brainard and Dwight, those on the tour were able to receive history lessons from church parishioners. Jeffries noted that Carolyn Dvorak, who attends Holy Trinity Catholic Church, provided some great background information and provided historical context relating to the building.
“She orchestrated our visit,” Jeffries said. “… She had three other people telling us things. She was just excellent, and I think that she is even involved with the Butler County Historical Society …”
What was so exciting about the Butler County tours for Jeffries and the rest of her troupe was the fact that Czech pride is still readily apparent in many of these smaller communities. In these areas, people were still speaking their ancestral tongue at home even into the 1950s, she said.
Although people adapted and progressively assimilated, they – for whatever reason – didn’t lose a part of them that came over from their home county of Czechoslovakia.
“It’s always been something that is just so natural, it wasn’t something that I thought of my grandparents preserving or anything like that,” she said. “It was just how we lived.”
Showing off rural Butler County, the pristine Holy Trinity Catholic Church, grottoes of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dwight and some of the county’s other Czech offerings was a great thing for Jeffries to be part of, she said, adding that it was pretty terrific for all in attendance to see a few cool landmarks in the two county villages.
“If you had never been around any of this before and realized you were Czech and were starting to research your family history, this would be like being a kid in a candy store,” Jeffries said, with a laugh, of the tour and conference as a whole.
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.