Stories from the Kubalek family

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Note from the author:  This story is mainly for our relatives in the Czech Republic, so they may know a little history of the family that left them so many years ago.  I wish that I could write in the Czech language, but I will have to leave it up to you to translate!  All the best and I hope you enjoy the story!

Vaclav (James) Kubalek and Mary Kout Family

Vaclav Kubalek and Mary Kout were married in February, 1888 in what is now the Czech Republic.  They lived in Velka Ves, which means big village.  It is near Lukavec, in Pelhrimov County, about 65 kilometers, or 50 miles southeast of Prague. The family went to church and school in Lukavec.  Children born to Vaclav and Mary while they lived in Velka Ves were Frantisek (Frank) in 1890, Antonie (Tena) in 1892, Barbara in 1894, Frantiska (Frances or Fannie) in 1897, Mary in 1900, Bessie, who died as an infant in 1901 or 1902, and Bessie in 1904.  Vaclav, or James as he was known in the United State, was a farmer and raised, bought and traded horses, according to his daughter, Blanche.  James' son, Charlie, stated that his father hauled geese from villages around Velka Ves and sold them in Prague to the Jewish community.

In 1905 the Kubaleks decided to emigrate to the United States.  James had a sister living in Chicago (Mary Kubalek Kos), and a brother (John F. Kubalek) living in Clutier, Iowa.  They had written and encouraged James to bring his family to America, because they believed the chances for a decent life were better for him here.  James and Mary planned to journey to Chicago.  Relatives in Chicago had written a letter to the old country telling the Kubaleks that they had moved from their previous address, but James and his family boarded the ship before they got the letter.  James and Mary crossed the ocean with their 6 children, aged approximately 15, 13, 11, 8, 6 and baby Bessie.  When they finally arrived in Chicago, they found that the relatives were not at the address they had for them.  Imagine the confusion and fear they must have felt with 6 children, after a long, tiring trip, and no welcoming relative at the end of it!  They went to a police station, and with help, found out where their relatives had moved.  They stayed in Chicago for a couple years.  Their son Joseph was born in 1906 while they were in Illinois.

James' brother, John F. Kubalek, had moved to Clutier, in Tama County, Iowa, and James took his family from Chicago to live near him.  They first settled on a rented farm west of Clutier, then moved to a farm near Dike, Iowa, where it is believed James worked as a bricklayer for a time, and farmed.  Their son, James, came into the family in about 1908, George in 1911, Charles in 1913 and Blanche in 1915.  In all, James and Mary had 12 children, over a period of 27 years.  Eventually James and Mary moved back to west of Clutier and had a house moved from across the road to the farm of their son Frank.  After James died, Mary continued to live in this house for many years.  Whenever company would come, she would go to the cellar to get some canned fruit.  She would serve fruit, kolaches (of which she nearly always had a supply) and coffee to her guests.

John F. Kubalek and Antonie Zamrzla

James' brother, "Big John" Kubalek, came over to the United States in 1898 at the age of 17.  He spent some time in Chicago and married Antonie Zamrzla there.  He then went to Iowa and ran a general store in Clutier.  Later he moved to Cedar Rapids and ran a grocery store on 16th Avenue.  When that failed, he and his wife separated.  He moved to Toledo to be near his daughter, Blanche Bartunek, and ran a store and tavern there. 

Below is the record of John's arrival in the United States. He was traveling with Marie Dubina, who was probably a relation.

Ship Manifest for the "Trave", which sailed from Bremen 14th June, 1898, through Southampton, with arrival in the Port of New York June 23, 1898.
Kubalek, Jan, male, age 17 years, single, farmer, Ethnicity-Bohemia, place of residence - Vel. Ves., port of departure - Bremen, reads/writes, final destination-Chicago, has a ticket to final destination, passage paid by-self, has $5.00 in possession, has never been in US before, going to join a brother in Chicago at (looks like) 663 Centre Ave.  (At this time it is unknown if he was going to a brother, as it says in the ship manifest, or if it was mistaken for brother-in-law).

Right below Jan Kubalek (most probably traveling with him)

Dubina, Marie, female, age 18 years, single, servant, Ethnicity-Bohemia, place of residence, Vel. Ves., landing in New York, final destination Chicago, Ill, has a ticket to Chicago, paid for by-self, has $8.00, never in US before, going to join an aunt in Chicago at (looks like) 27 Whypple St.?

John and his family appear in the 1920 Census, Tama County, Oneida Township, Clutier, Main Street, as follows:
John F. Kubalek, white, age 39, born in Bohemia, immigrated-1898, naturalized in 1911, proprietor of general store
Antonie Kubalek, wife, age 44, born Bohemia, immigrated-1890, naturalized in 1911
Blanche Kubalek, daughter, age 13, born Iowa
Elizabeth Kubalek, neice, age 16, born Bohemia, alien, immigrated (looks like) 1907, saleslady in general store
Kuzela, Vincent, lodger, age 32, born Bohemia, immigrated 1907, salesman in general store

Marie Kubalek, daughter of Frank Kubalek of Velka Ves, who died at 17 in her new country.

According to family stories there was a relative that came to the US, worked in her uncle's store and died of ruptured appendics; she wanted to go home, but died.  A grave next to Frank & Mary (Hala) Kubalek in Holy Trinity Cemetery just south of Clutier, Iowa, has a Marie Kubalek, 30 Jan 1904 to 1 Jan 1921. Charlie Kubalek said that 2 girls came over together from the old country to help out in the store.  Marie was here only a few months when she died.  He stated that the other girl went back to Europe after being in Chicago for a time. 

Gravestone Records of Tama County, Ia.
Name: Marie Kubalek  Birth Date: 30 Ledna 1904  (Ledna is January)  Death Date: 01 Ledna 1921  Age: 17
Cemetery: Holy Trinity  Town: Otter Creeek

According to the Ellis Island web site - Marie and a relative arrived on the "Saxonia"  December 5, 1920 in the port of New York:

Marie Kubalek, age 16, female, single, servant, reads and writes Czechoslovak, last residence-Velka Ves, Father: Frank Kubalek at Velka Ves, going to Clutier, Iowa; arrived at port of New York December 5, 1920 on "Saxonia" (Steerage), port of departure-Cherbourg , has a ticket to Cedar Rapids prepaid by uncle, has $35.00, never in US before, going to Uncle John Kubalek at Clutier, Iowa, 5 foot 2 inches, white, fair hair, brown eyes, born Velka Ves, Czechoslovakia

(traveling with Marie)

Marie Stepanokov, age 23, female, single, servant, reads and writes Czechoslovak, last residence Bratrice, Father: John Stepanek at Bratice, going to Clutier, Iowa, arrived at port of New York December 5, 1920 on "Saxonia" (Steerage), port of departure-Cherbourg, has a ticket to Cedar Rapids prepaid by uncle, has $25.00, never in US before, going to Uncle John Kubalek at Clutier, Iowa, 5 foot 2 inches, white, brown hair, brown eyes, born Bratrice, Czechoslovakia

JUNE 1996 - INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES (CHARLIE) KUBALEK, Son of Vaclav (James) and Mary Kout Kubalek  

Charlie is now 83 years old and is quite active.  He lives on an acreage and raises ducks and geese, has a garden and still drives.  He says his brother George, who is two years older, is getting quite feeble, now.  George lives west of Clutier.  George, Charlie and Blanche, the youngest, are the only siblings still living.
(Note: George passed away 22 Aug 1997;  Charlie passed away 14 Dec 2001.)

Charlie and his wife Gladys visited Velka Ves and Lukavec some years ago.  He says Velka Ves is a small village.  A cousin, Frantisek Kubalek, still lived in the house Charlie's parents came from in the village.  This cousin thought Charlie looked like his Grandfather Kubalek.  Charlie has an old picture of this house, and also a picture of himself and Gladys, Frantisek and his wife, standing by the house.  The house originally had both living quarters and a space for animals in the same structure.  This has now been remodeled and the whole building is living quarters.  In the old picture the house stands near to a pond.  Charlie said that many houses had a pond for ducks and geese, which nearly everyone raised.  The house was originally built by a man named Paleckovy (sp) (pronounced pal-ets-kovy), and this is how the house is identified or named.  Frantisek is not referred to as Frantisek Kubalek, but Frantisek Paleckovy, indicating the house where he lives.  According to Charlie, this is the local custom.

Gladys and Charlie Kubalek, and Frantisek Kubalek and his wife, standing in front of Frantisek's home in Velka Ves.  This is the house the Kubalek family lived in before coming to the United States.

Charlie said that his father used to haul geese from the villages around Velka Ves into the Jewish quarter in Praha (Prague).  They would not use lard because of religious customs, and relied on geese to supply them with cooking grease.  He said his father told many stories about hauling the geese to Prague.

Charlie also said that every year his parents made a pilgramage to Svata Hora, a religious shrine in Bohemia.  The trip took several nights, and they would stay at places with only a faucet with which to wash up.  The Kubaleks' religion was Roman Catholic.

A custom in the villages near Velka Ves was to set up a pole made out of the tallest tree around with the bark stripped off.  A pine or fir tree was placed at the top of the pole.  The boys of the village guarded the pole all night, to protect it from boys from other villages, who would tear it down.  Of course the girls of the village would come to "visit" the boys.  This custom is called "Mayca", and Charlie has a picture of one of these poles.

Charlie was not sure how Frantisek is related.  He thinks he may be the son or grandson of Vaclav (James) Kubalek's brother Stepan, who stayed in the old country.  Stepan was coming home in a horse drawn wagon or cart down a hill one night.  He was going too fast and the cart hit a large stone in the road, throwing Stepan out of the cart.  He broke his neck and died.  Charlie said that the only time he ever saw his father, Vaclav (James), cry was when he heard that his brother Stepan had died.  They were very close.  (Note: The above Frantisek descends from Vaclav’s brother, Frantisek, not Stepan.)



Vaclav/James' brother, Frantisek Kubalek, sent by the Kubalek family in Velka Ves, 
via email from Tomas Fried in Prague.

The church the Kubaleks attended is St. Wenceslas in Lukavec, and is the only church, or only Roman Catholic church in that town.  This is the church in which Charlie’s parents were married.  The graveyard is by the church and this is where the Kubalek and Kout graves are.  Charlie took pictures of these graves.  Charlie said that if a grave is not kept up, after 35 years the grave is dug up and used for someone else.


Charlie gave me a picture of his mother's mother, Barbara (Chromosta) Kout, sitting, with her son Frank directly behind her, & Frank's wife and children.  There is another young man in the picture who may be another of Barbara's sons.  There is a possibility that this young man could be the "adopted" son of James and Mary Kubalek, Charlie's parents.  In the old country, said Charlie, there was a law that when a young woman had her first child, she had to go to Vienna and bring home a newborn orphan baby to breastfeed along with her own baby.  This baby stayed with the family and was raised by Vaclav and Mary Kubalek.  He grew up as Bohaus Kubalek.  When the family was planning to go to the US they also planned to take Bohaus along.  Something prevented them from taking him along to the US.  On the final night, the Kubalek family was staying at the home of Mary Kubalek's mother, Barbara (Chromosta) Kout.  When Bohous was asleep, the family left, leaving him in the care of his adopted grandmother.  Bohaus would have been 14 or 15 at the time, and Charlie said that Bohaus never forgave them for leaving him behind.  We do not now the reason, but it could be that they could not get the necessary paperwork for him to leave the country, since he was not a natural son.  Charlie said that Bohaus died fairly young.

The family had bought tickets for a "fast" German ship that was to take only 14 days across the ocean.  By the time all their paperwork cleared, this fast ship had left harbor.  So they had to settle for a slower ship, the "Frederik Dur Crusier" which took 21 days across the ocean.  They had packed food and supplies for only 14 days. 

NOTE:  According to Charlie Kubalek, the family immigrated on a ship called "Frederik Dur Crusier" (this is his spelling, and it is close to Friedrich der Grosse).  Research has shown the family arriving in New York Harbor as follows:

S.S. Friedrich der Grosse. Sailing from Bremen November 18th, 1905, (via Cherbourg Nov. 20) Arriving at Port of New York November 30, 1905; Disembarking December 1, 1905.

Name/ age/ sex/ married or single/ calling or occ/ read-write/ nationality/ race/ last residence/ final destination/ has ticket/ by whom passage pd/ how much $/ in US before?/ going to relative or friend-name-complete address/ in prison-almshouse/ condition of health/ deformed-crippled.  [Steerage passengers]
KUBALEK, Vaclav, age 40, m, married, farmer, reads, writes, Bohemia, Bohemian, from Velkaves, going to Chicago, has ticket, paid for by self, has $400, not in US before, going to brother John Kubalek, (address - looks like Us or Ukn, Nr.?, Dabs or Dale, Tailor, Chicago-very hard to read), prison-no, health-good, deformed-no
- Marie, 36, female, married, no occ.,
- Frantisek, age 14, male
- Antonie, age 11, female
- Barbara, age 10, female
- Frantiska, age 8, female
- Marie, age 6, female
- [looks like (Bozena?) age 2 (this would be “Bessie”)


On the trip they ran into a big storm.  The "Mutrozy" (man in charge of the passengers) knew the storm was coming because the fish were jumping.  He tried to make preparations for the coming storm, such as stretching ropes across the deck to hang on to.  The storm hit and it was terrible with huge waves washing over the deck.  Everyone had to stay below deck and Charlie's mother got very sick.  They finally landed in New York on Thanksgiving Day, [They actually landed on November 30th] and everyone had their belongings packed and ready to go.  They picked up their bags to get ready to get off the ship.  However, the man in charge of the passengers told them that the doctors did not work on Thanksgiving Day, and they must wait until the next day to get off the ship.  The next day they had to get shots (Charlie thinks they came through Ellis Island) and then took a ferry to New York City.  They got a train to Chicago which would take a day and a half travel time.  They had money for food, but didn't know how to ask for food, so they went the entire time without food until they got to Chicago.  This must have been very hard traveling with 6 children!

When they arrived in Chicago, Vaclav's relatives were to meet them at the train station.  No one was there.  So Vaclav kept asking until he finally found a man who spoke Czech.  This man knew of a man that knew many people in the Bohemian neighborhood.  He went to ask this man if he knew the Kos family, and the Kubaleks finally were reunited with their relatives.  They stayed in Chicago for a year or so.  (This story varies slightly according to the memory of who is relating it apparently!)

John Kubalek, Vaclav's brother, had a store in Clutier, Iowa.  He wrote Vaclav and encouraged him to bring his family to Iowa.  John was known as Big John.  So the family moved to a farm near Clutier and then to a farm about a mile south of Dike in Grundy County.  The house and buildings of this farm are now gone.  Charlie was born while they lived on this farm.  They then moved to a farm near Traer, but only for about a year.  They had a bad crop year and lost everything and had to sell out.  They then moved near Holy Trinity Church southwest of Clutier - about 1/4 mile south of the church.  Next they moved to their son Frank's farm (4 1/2 miles SW of Clutier).  The folks moved a house to Frank's place and this is where they lived.  Charlie's mother continued to live there after her husband had died.  

Charlie says Dike is in Grundy Co. - that he had to go to Grundy Co. to get his birth certificate. He also says here are Chromostas in Cedar Rapids, Iowa that are related to the Kubaleks.


E-mail message received 6 Aug 1999 from Aleta (Bartunek) Smith

I am Aleta Bartunek Smith.  John Kubalek, Vaclav's brother, was my grandfather.  I believe John came to this country before his brother did.

John married Antonie Zamrzla.  I don't know when but it was in Chicago and they had a baby boy that died and then had my mother, Blanche Kubalek, in January of 1907 in Clutier.  My grandpa (and he was everything a grandpa ought to be - he was more fun than a barrel of monkeys and would do anything for us) and grandma lived in Chicago, had a dry goods store in Clutier and then in Cedar Rapids, and then moved back to Tama County.  I never did get the facts because Grandma and Grandpa separated and we were small children and didn't hear much about it.  Grandpa Kubalek had a tavern in Tama when I was small and until about 1960, I think (1940 - 1960).

I was surprised to see that Grandpa's mother was a Zamrzla.  He married a Zamrzla and I wonder if they were related at all.  Grandma Antonie Zamrzla Kubalek came to this country when she was 12 or 13, I believe, with her younger sister, Josie.  Their mother died in childbirth and the father remarried, and there wasn't room for the two girls any more.  It sounds terrible, but it was probably a good thing for them.  They both had jobs, and were probably sponsored by some well to do Chicagoans as "hired girls".  I wish I had asked more questions when I was younger.

I don't know the village Grandma was from.  I really have no idea how to track it.  I didn't know what village Grandpa was from until I saw it on your website.  I remember that he went to Vienna (walked) to learn the tailor trade and went to America from there.

Our father, Vince Bartunek, was from Hamry, which is also SE of Prague.  I am 62 years old and retired.  I was born in Cedar Rapids, and lived in Iowa City, Decorah and Dubuque, until I moved to Houston last year. 

Your kin,
Aleta Bartunek Smith

Kubalek Family Page          Kubalek Pictures in the USA        Kubalek Pictures, page 2

Kubalek Graves in Lukavec          Kubalek Homes in Velka Ves         A Trip to Velka Ves


If you have information to exchange on this family, contact me!