From Prague to Kansas with love – an orphan’s story

At the young age of 10, Marie Frances and her younger brother Frank Joseph, age 8, headed off from Chicago, Illinois to live with the Susank family in Hoisington, Kansas. I do not know if they really knew any more than the fact that their adoptive family shared the same ethnicity – Bohemian. Marie had already experienced a lot in her short life. She was born Marie Františka in Prague – which was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – on September 6, 1905. She was the second child – and the first daughter – of Frank William Macháček and Marie Macek. Her brother, Václav (Jim) was two years older. Her father, Frank, was a cabinet-maker by trade. Her parents had been married in Prague, where her mother was born.  The couple and their young children lived with Marie’s family in Nusle (Prague) prior to leaving for America . I’m not sure what precipitated the move. The only family either of them had in America was Frank Hodek, Marie’s great-Uncle, who had immigrated there in 1902. But by June of 1906, the family had left Prague for the land of opportunity.

I have not discovered when exactly Frank Wm. arrived in the U.S. From the writings of Marie Frances, “He probably arrived in U.S. in 1906… I heard my father got a job on the railroad in Chicago after arriving there. After getting a job he sent for his family which included my mother, Jim and me. Uncle Joe also came over at the time. We arrived in New York City on October Machacek Frank W death cert 190725, 1906. Jim was 3 yrs. and I was 1 yr. old.”  Passenger records from the S.S. Rhein sailing from Bremen to New York City confirm Marie Frances’ arrival date. Nine months later, on July 25, 1907, the family welcomed Frank Joseph Macháček. Four months later, on November 22, Frank Wm. passed away at age 27 from a strangulated hernia. His son would never get to know his father.

I imagine it was a rough time for Marie Frances’ mother in a new country, with three young children aged four and younger. Her only family was her brother Joe, who had arrived with her, and her Uncle Frank and his family. She ended up marrying again a year later on November 8, 1908. Her new husband was John Joseph Sypena, a carpenter from Sioux City, Iowa.   While they were both Bohemian, I am not sure how they met.  They were married in Sioux City though.  In the 1910 Census they were living in Chicago but the oldest son, Jim Macháček, was no longer living with the family. He was only seven at the time and has not been located in any 1910 Censuses. A few years later Ella “Alice” Sypena, Marie Frances’ half-sister , was born on January 9, 1912.

On July 12, 1914, Marie Frances lost her mother. In her recollections it was appendicitis, but per the death certificate it was a ruptured tubal pregnancy. Jim, Macek Machacek Sypena Marie 14 Jul 1906 death certificate Illinois Cook ChicagoMarie Francis and Frank Joseph (11, 9 and 6) were now orphans. Their step-father was not interested in raising his wife’s children and sent them to live with their Uncle Jim Marek (who had arrived in Chicago in 1910). He then took his daughter Alice and moved to Wisconsin. The children would never see their half-sister again. I wonder if, at age two,  Alice even remembered her half-siblings or wondered what happened to them. My father was always curious about his step-Aunt, but by the time we were able to track her down she had passed away with no children. Uncle Jim had four daughters of his own by this time and taking on three more children was probably more than they could handle. The three orphans lived with their Uncle for a year before he sent Marie Frances and Frank Joseph to Kansas to live with a family willing to take both children.

I can’t imagine how fast the three children had to grow up. When I asked my grandfather, Frank Joseph, about his father, he knew very little. In a letter he states “after my father died my mother married again and then she passed away and we lost all traces of my fathers side.” I wish they were still alive to see all the information I have found as to their ancestors. Because they had their Uncle Jim Marek, they still had information and links to their mother’s family at least. In the letter from Frank Joseph, he knew and kept in touch with his cousins on his mother’s side. So while they were orphans, they were not alone. They also stayed in touch with the Susanks in Kansas who had raised them and given them a family when they needed it most. And they grew up to be amazing people, at least in my eyes. They have all passed on now – all I have are letters and notes and memories. By remembering them this way, I want to honor who they were and the life they lived.  I hope you have enjoyed this little piece of their story!

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