GBHS explores the question of German ancestry

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Wade Olsen’s presentation “My German Ancestors are from where?” attempted to clarify the confusing history of where exactly our ancestors came from using old maps of the region to show the changes over the last 1,000 years.

NEW ULM — “Are my German ancestors really from Germany?” That question does come up at the German-Bohemian Heritage Society, and President Wade Olsen held a presentation Saturday to help answer it.

The German-Bohemian Heritage Society held an open house Saturday. The public was invited into their research library to see reference books on German-Bohemian ancestors and ask questions for society members.

The idea of the open house it to bring people in and show them the center, which can help find ancestors or learn about their heritage.

The highlight of the open house was the presentation from Olsen. Olsen said that occasionally a person researching their German ancestors will find out their family actually comes from a village in what is now the Czech Republic or Austria.

“Often people are caught off guard when they learn their German ancestors are from somewhere other than Germany,” Olsen said. “They can’t believe it.”

Many Minnesotans have German ancestors from domains of the Austrian Empire, and many have a branch of the family tree from Bohemia, whose lands now make up Czech Republic.

In order to clarify things, Olsen talked about the history of central Europe and how modern Germany came into existence.

“I am going to attempt to explain 1,000 years of history in one presentation,” he said.

It is believed the name ‘Bohemians’ is derived from a Celtic tribe called “Boii” residing in the region. The Roman Empire was the first write about these tribes as they made contact. Over the centuries other groups had an influence on the region including the Slavs and Romans.

In 1347 Charles the IV was crowned King of Bohemia and was the first of this region to also become Holy Roman Emperor. The Holy Roman Empire controlled the region for centuries. The 30 Years War caused significant disruption in the region, but the Empire did not dissolve until 1806 during the Napoleonic War.

A German Confederation was created around 1815 to replace the former Holy Roman Empire. By 1848, the rivalry between the various regions in “Germany” led to war. Many thought of it as a German Civil War, with Prussia exerting the greatest force.

It was during this time many people in Bohemia and Austria began to emigrate to the United States. Many did it to avoid the conflict. Men of adult age could be drafted to fight in the war. Others left for economic reasons. The United States held greater opportunity for land ownership.

Those who emigrated to the United States around 1850 left during a time in which there was no United Germany. It would not become united until 1871. The boundaries of various central European countries changed in a few decades and would continue to change into the 20th Century after two World Wars. Today much of what is considered Bohemia is in the Czech Republic.

Since 2012, Olsen has led tours to Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria for those wishing to see their ancestors’ home lands.

During the presentation, Olsen said this would be last open house at the group’s current location. For the last 22 years the GBH Society met out of an 800 square foot office at 1200 S. Broadway. The building belongs to MBW Co., which needs to expand its office space, forcing the GBH to move to a new location. The society is seeking a space to store its research material and is handicapped accessible.