By Gail Naughton
President and CEO, National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
When George (Jiři) Bureš immigrated to the United States in September 1861 with his parents and siblings, they brought few objects with them. But they didn’t leave Bohemia without the family’s Protestant hymnal dated 1561. According to family lore, the hymnal was once baked into a large loaf of bread in order to hide it from authorities who would have destroyed it. The family went to great lengths, at considerable personal risk, to hide it for more than 150 years, between approximately 1620 and 1790, when Protestants were being persecuted. Passed down from generation to generation, the hymnal represents their religious beliefs, their traditions and their culture – who they are.
The family settled in the rural area near Ely, Iowa, where for decades Czech families have made their homes. George Bureš passed the family hymnal down to his daughter, who gave it to her daughter, who gave it to her daughter, Marjorie Frances Lala Stone, a dear friend of the museum. Marj took her family responsibility of more than four centuries very seriously.Marj and her husband, Bob Stone, were instrumental in the founding of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library and in 2001 they decided to give the family hymnal to the NCSML. The book was examined by the director of libraries at the National Museum in Prague, who stated that this rare 1561 hymnal is authentic, complete and in exceptionally good condition. Because of one brave family’s preservation of this item, the NCSML now possesses a rare and powerful educational tool and a beloved family history. The NCSML is grateful to the Stone family for bringing this beautiful, historic hymnal to the Skala Bartizal Library collection. And more than that, we are grateful to the generations of people who cherished, preserved and protected precious items like this hymnal and the memories it holds. At the NCSML, we remember, honor and celebrate cherished stories of heritage, history and family. Through these important stories, the NCSML connects people of all backgrounds to the parts of Czech and Slovak history and culture we can all relate to. We use these stories to share the knowledge of the past with future generations.
Family stories like the Stones’ are not uncommon. Brave Czechs and Slovaks who are passionate about their history and culture have passed down family history, traditions, culture, language and heritage through generations—eventually inspiring the mission and vision of the NCSML itself. Some families brought important books, beautiful garnets, comforting heirloom foods or seeds. But it doesn’t matter which items each family brought with them. What unites us is that everyone brought their stories.I invite you to think back on your family and the precious family heirlooms and traditions that you have protected and preserved. What family stories do you cherish? To what length would you go to preserve these stories?Would you like to honor an important story or person in your family’s history? Our Summer Fundraising Drive gives you several options where names can be engraved. Explore the possibilities: All donations to the NCSML, of any size, support the NCSML’s mission to educate, inspire, and connect people from all backgrounds to history and heritage.