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Does your family hail from the heart of Europe? Put your Czech and Slovak research in focus with these tips for tracing polka-dotted pedigrees.

What do McDonald's, pop art and The Sting have in common? The answer might surprise you: These all-American symbols represent the Czech and Slovak influence on our culture. You can see the fingerprints of these central European peoples' descendants all over US society — from Czech-American burger baron Ray Kroc's golden arches to Slovak American actor Paul Newman's box-office blockbusters to the famous soup cans created by Andy Warhol (a Rusyn-American). Baseball hall of famer Stan Musial has Slovak roots; tennis star Martina Navrátilová and astronaut Eugene Cernan share Czech heritage. Even President George W. Bush's lineage leads back to the heart of Europe.

In all, nearly 3.5 million Americans claim Czech or Slovak ancestry — and if you count yourself among them, you're undoubtedly eager to celebrate the polka and pirohi in your past. But with your homeland's well-known historical and political complexities, how do you start finding your family tree? Make our tips a central part of your research strategy.

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