Useful Research Reminders

Sometimes, it takes a village to solve a genealogy mystery.  Thanks to all for sharing their ideas regarding identifying my mystery man, Anton “Tony” Kos, who is buried next to my great grandfather Josip “Joseph” Kos in Gary, Indiana.  An extra special thanks to research librarian Marilyn in Lake County, Indiana, who went above and beyond my request for Tony’s obit. 

Since the rainy season has officially begun in Florida this morning, I’m planning on spending the weekend further researching Tony and Joseph’s relationship, if any.

Here’s some great ideas that genealogists recommended:

  • People did not always stay in one place for long.  That’s especially true for laborers who went wherever work was available.  Joseph arrived in New York, traveled to Detroit, Michigan where he got a job with the railroads, relocated to Pennsylvania and followed the lines to California and then back to Chicago, Illinois where he lived in Pullman housing with his wife and children he sent for years later.  When the work ended in digging ditches, he moved to Gary, Indiana to work for U.S. Steel.  My Tony could be anywhere in the US at any time.
  • Linda reminded me that immigration was not a one way route – people came and went across the pond.  My grandparents ended up married because they crossed paths in Chicago.  Grandpa Ivan “John” Kos was a second cousin to Joseph Kos.  John emigrated with his brother, Stephen.  Stephen had a wife and child remaining in Austria-Hungary and had come previously to work but returned to the old country.  When money became tight again, he opted to return and brought John with him.  When  the railroad job ended in California, Stephen decided to return to Austria-Hungary while John took work in Chicago.  This means that Tony may have moved back and forth, too.
  • Marilyn pointed out that people often relocated together.  I know that’s a duh but rechecking immigration lists might be helpful in determining other’s with the same surname or surnames of related families I’ve previously identified.  For example, when Joseph emigrated he came with a Franjs and Embro.  Embro went with Joseph to Detroit while Franjs went to Pennsylvania.  I’m not sure who Embro and Franjs were in relation to Joseph other than they were listed together and all came from Austria-Hungary in January 1910.  Tracing Franjs and Embro may be beneficial in determining Joseph and Tony’s relationship.
  • City Directory dates are not the date the data was accumulated.  Back in the day, the information for a City Directory was compiled by workers going door to door across the city.  Then it was published, perhaps the following year.  So the 1918 City Directory most likely had entries that were from 1917.  Since there is no way to know the exact date when a particular entry was recorded, there’s no way to be certain in years between censuses when a family actually resided at the listed residence. 
  • Sometimes the answer is not where you think so I may just need to broaden the search back to the old country.  Unfortunately, Familysearch.org does not have the Roman Catholic parish records for the village by people came from so I may need to contact a genealogist in Croatia to shed light on the family.  

Next week, I’ll be on the road so there will be no blog post.  Happy Hunting!

Using back door techniques to solve a genealogy mystery

I’ve been researching a mystery man, Anton “Tony” Kos, who was buried in 1934 next to my great grandfather, Joseph Koss, in Oak Hill Cemetery in Gary, Indiana.  You can see from the above pic I took in December 2001 how close the stones are compared to the next stone to the right.  Looks to me like the plot was one.

I never got a straight answer regarding how Tony and Joseph are related, if at all.  I’d love to find out if they were related, which I strongly think is possible, and why my mother and grandmother refused to verify that.

Here’s what I know…I used to accompany my mom and grandma to the family cemetery around Memorial Day to tend to the graves.  We’d always go to the old part of the cemetery first, to clip the grass around the gravestone of my great grandfather, Joseph Kos[s] who died in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic.  When I was old enough to read, I noticed that next to his grave was an Anton Kos.  I knew the family name was originally spelled with one “s” but I had never heard of Anton so I asked how he was related and never got an answer.  I recall my mother just looking at my grandmother and my grandmother looking down and continuing to tidy up her father’s grave.  So, as only a small child will do, I asked again.  I never got a straight answer.  I tried several other times over the years and got various answers; that Kos is a very common Croatian name like Smith is in Great Britain.  That didn’t tell me if Tony was related.  It also didn’t explain why I never saw another grave in the cemetery with the original spelling of the surname.  When I asked about that, I got, “I don’t know why.” as a response. (There actually is another Kos, John, who died in 1934 buried in the cemetery but as a child, I had never seen that grave.)

I tentatively placed Anton as a sibling of my great grandfather Joseph.  Joseph was born in 1875 and Anton, in 1879.  I had called the cemetery in 2012 to ask who purchased Anton’s plot and was told that no one did because the cemetery records don’t have an Anton Kos.  I told the clerk I knew where he was buried, immediately south of my great grandfather.  They insisted no one was buried there.  Looking at the records, I understand what happened.  Anton is listed as Tony in cemetery records, even though Anton is chiseled on his tombstone.  Tony was what was recorded on his death certificate and the cemetery must have listed him under that name. My great grandfather’s tombstone has his Americanized name, Joseph Kos and not his birth name, Josip Kos so there was another possible clue that my family was involved.  These folks Americanized as soon as they arrived in 1910.

As an adult, I can see another family trait that gives credence to a relationship; my family plans for their deaths.  I could see that they would have purchased two plots when my great grandfather died in 1919 expecting that his wife would be buried next to him.  But she lived on until 1966.  I’m thinking when a family member who was in need of the plot died, the family buried him instead.  My family always helped out a relative in need, be it sending care packages back across the pond, fronting them money or taking them into their home for awhile.  My grandparents had purchased a larger plot in the newer section of the cemetery that was the intended burial site for them and my great grandmother.  It is also where I buried my mother’s cremains.  

After we tidied the old section (but we never touched Anton’s stone, which is interesting), we’d move to the new section to trim the grass around the Koss stone.  No one was yet buried there but my forward thinking grandparents had enough sense to purchase the stone while they were still employed.  (And thanks, mom, for taking care of your end of life stuff prior to your death.  Hope our kids appreciate we did the same – yes, you can already find me on Find-A-Grave.)

So getting no where with the cemetery, I decided to try to research Anton Anthony Tony to find a connection. 

From Ancestry.com, you can see his death certificate below:

No help with his parents info but it does say he was born in “Yugo Slavia” just like Joseph Koss.  He also died of lung issues, just like Joseph.  Joseph’s whole family had lung issues, hmm.  Not a smoking gun but certainly gives one pause to consider a relationship as they all died young. He also was a laborer in a steel mill, though not the same one where Joseph worked. Granted, most immigrants at the time were laborers and steel mills offered good wages.

I have never been able to find Tony in any census – having checked 1920-1940 under Anton, Anthony and Tony Kos, Koss and Ross (as my own people have been enumerated as). 

There is another mystery – who was Steve Sesta who provided the death certificate info?  I’ve never heard of him.

The death certificate gives me a clue to look at the address where Tony was living when he died, 35 East 39th Street, Gary, Indiana.

So here’s a tip – I want to use the 1940 census to find who was living at Tony’s address.  It could take quite some time using Ancestry.com because I would need to click on every enumeration area and Gary was a large city so there are many.  To save time, I used the National Archives site (just Google 1940 U.S. Federal Census enumeration map and you’ll be taken directly to it or use my link). 

Since I grew up in the city, I know the layout of the street and avenue names, which saved me time.  If you are researching an area you aren’t familiar with, simply use Google earth to get a better idea.  In my case, I knew that streets ran north and south, avenues ran east and west.  Street names west of Broadway used the president’s names in order (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, no repeat of Adams, etc.) and east of Broadway used states’ names, in no particular order.  So, I was looking for 39th Street and could eliminate all of the western side of Broadway simply by identifying if the first page of the census had a presidents name or not.

After going through 3 enumeration areas, I found the address:

The address was divided into two housing units, front and rear.  Steve, who had provided the death certificate info, lived in the rear.  That means Tony was living in the front but he wasn’t there in 1940.  It also explains why there is no parent information for Tony, neighbor Steve did not know that information.  (I know, you’re thinking I should check property records to see who owned the residence but the problem is most of Gary’s records were “lost” according to the Lake County, Indiana property appraiser’s office.  I suspect they’re somewhere in Gary and just weren’t turned over to the county when the law changed but I don’t live anywhere close to be able to hunt around for them so that’s a dead end for me.)

The death certificate did state Tony had worked for 1 year as a laborer for Illinois Steel.  He may have only arrived in the area in 1942, during World War II. 

I checked immigration records but there are many Anton Kos’ who emigrated from Austria-Hungary/Yugoslavia so I’m unable to pinpoint one of them as my mystery man.

I know, from a recent DNA match with another relative, that during World War II, my Cvetkovic relatives were displaced to another part of what is now Croatia, due to mayhem in the area where the family originally resided in Velika Gorica.  It certainly is possible that Tony had left the area because of the war and came to the U.S. to a place where family already resided. 

Tony was survived by a wife, Anna, who was born in 1878.  Perhaps she remarried as she is not listed in cemetery records by the last name Kos or Koss or like Tony, she wasn’t entered in the cemetery database correctly.  Unfortunately, only 30% of the cemetery is listed on Find-A-Grave.  There’s nothing on Billion Graves either. 

Somehow, I have a maiden name for her as Smolkovic but I have no idea where I got that info.  I also have a marriage date, but no place, and two children residing in Rhode Island.  That info was obtained years ago before I carefully sourced (shame on me!). This is an area I need to further research.

I checked City Directories and there is only one Anthony in Gary but he was married to a Mary living on Filmore Street in Gary in 1918.  He never appears in any other directory.  My Kos line doesn’t arrive in Gary until 1919 so I suspect he wasn’t the my Tony.  There is no Tony or Anton ever in any City Directory for Gary. I got his obituary thanks to the Ask-A-Librarian link on the Lake County library site but it provides basically no information other than he had died after a long illness, which disputes the information on the death certificate.  Or, maybe not.  Perhaps he suffered from lung problems for years but the incident that caused his death had been short.  

There is no one in my family much older than me left who would know – definitely no one who was alive in 1943 that would remember.  Decided I’d try the cemetery again since it’s recently been sold and maybe the new owners have done an inventory of grave sites. Sent an email on Sunday and haven’t gotten a response so will follow up with a phone call this week.  

If that falls through, I’m going to attempt to check Baptism records for Velika Gorica to see if I can link Anton to Joseph’s parents.  Unfortunately, they aren’t on Familysearch.org so I’ll have to email a genealogist in Croatia to do some digging.  

Connecting Tony and Joseph would be awesome but I’ll most likely never get the story of why he was not discussed since dead men tell no tales! 

Solving Broken Connections by Connecting With the Living

Happy Memorial Weekend! Although I won’t be spending time caring for family members’ graves this weekend because no family member is buried close to where I currently reside, I have memories as a child of going to the grave sites of long dead relatives at this time of year.  Grandma Koss would keep a small gardening kit in her car trunk so whenever she passed the cemetery during the warmer months of the year, she could tend to the graves.  It contained gardening gloves, small grass clippers, a bakery paper bag to put weeds in, and a small spade to help dig up flowers and replant.

Last weekend I was reminded of a genealogical family mystery.  My great grandfather, Josip “Joseph” Kos[s] died in 1919 in the Spanish flu epidemic. He was buried in the old part of Oak Hill Cemetery in Gary, Indiana.  His gravestone, in Croatian, was next to a Tony Kos.  I asked how we were related to Tony and I never got an answer.

Out of the blue last week, I received an email to my Ancestry account from a possible relative whose father had been orphaned in Pennsylvania in the 1930’s.  Since both his parents died when he was young, the family has no stories.  His father’s place of birth was in the same general area in Croatia that my Kos’ were from.  I had placed him in my tree years ago in the hopes of locating a living relative who might have some knowledge.  We’re awaiting DNA results to see if we match.

We all have genealogy mysteries but the most vexing are those that are fairly recent.  I don’t know about you, but I tend to jump to a dramatic conclusion – must have been an out of wedlock birth, an against the then norms of society situation or a major disagreement that makes the information remain secret.  Never dawned on me it could have been as simple as two early deaths of parents that had moved from the area and family lost touch with the remaining children.

Hopefully, I’ll soon have an answer to how the mysterious Tony was related to me and why the Pennsylvania branch of the family was disconnected.  Now if I could just discover someone who knows how the Massachusetts branch lost touch I’d hit the trifecta.

Sometimes You Just Have to Pay for a Record

Not everything in life is free. Genealogy can be expensive, however, IMHO, it has become much less expensive than at any time in the past. Folks who don’t want to spend money on a subscription can use the library edition of Ancestry.com at their local library. Sure, it’s not the same as an individual subscription but it suffices for the hobbyist. Familysearch.org is free to anyone who create an account. There are lots of records available for no cost online but we are far from the day when everything is available on the web.

Last weekend, my local genealogy society offered it’s family help day. Seven of us spent the afternoon assisting interested folks in overcoming their brick wall. Maybe because it was such a beautiful spring day, our turnout was much lower than usual. I only assisted 2 people all afternoon.

The first woman I assisted had a lengthy handwritten letter written in the 1960’s that contained EXACT QUOTES purportedly said by a Revolutionary War patriot. We talked about kernels of truth in family lore and how it was unlikely that the letter writer had firsthand knowledge of a conversation that occurred nearly 200 years earlier.

Since the woman wanted her granddaughter to join the DAR, I went to their nifty ancestor search and lo and behold, there were several women who had joined based on the named individual. She was delighted. I provided her with the contact information for a local chapter that assists interested people at a nearby library. I then explained what she would need to bring them – her granddaughter’s birth certificate, her daughter’s and her birth and marriage record, and back to whoever the last connection to the DAR member was. She was reluctant to have to pay for any vitals. Unfortunately, there just is no way around that.

The next inquirer had done extensive research and I was pleased that he had brought it with him. He had three needed items – a probate record, a naturalization record and a marriage record. He knew where and how to obtain the documents that were not online. He just felt it was unfair to pay a New York City church $50.00 for the marriage record, the District of Columbia court for the probate record and the US Federal government for the naturalization record. He inquired how he could find a back door for the records. There isn’t one. The owner of the records sets the price based on how they value the record or the cost they believe they incur for someone to go in the archives and retrieve it. He was not happy to hear that. I suggested he prioritize which ones he wanted to obtain and pay based on his need. I also recommended he ask family to give him those records for his birthday, Father’s Day and other holidays. He laughed. Truly, family never knows what to give those interested in genealogy. I’m sure they’d be happy to help in giving a gift that is truly meaningful.

Both of these folks did not have a brick wall; they had a reluctance to spend money on a needed record. Sometimes, you just have to pay to get what you need.

More Nickname Identification Help

Hit a brickwall because of a family pet name? Nicknames are sometimes the reason why we can’t make progress on our family trees. I’ve written previously about matching nicknames to legal names – see Knocking Down Nicknames.

Recently, Niyi at Findnicknames.com asked me to let you know about the site’s Nickname Generator, which consists of a database of various nicknames. I’d like the site to create historical nicknames, such as Mary – Molly, but it is a fun place to go if you’re in need of a little help in creating a new millennial moniker. Enjoy!

Santa Genealogists – Beneficial Tips from the Jolly Old Elf


Genealogists need to take a tip from Santa Claus – we should be “making a list and checking it twice!” No, not to find out who’s naughty or nice, although that does make family history interesting and more entertaining to pass on to relatives. The list making and checking is critical, especially when you acquire information from someone else. Here’s what recently happened to me…
Through this blog, I made contact with a second cousin I had never met. He put me in contact with several other cousins and we all shared info on a brick wall ancestor to see if putting our heads together could resolve the dead end.
Three of us live far away from where the ancestor had resided; one of us lives within reasonable driving distance. That individual had gone to the courthouse and pulled the probate records years ago. As I reviewed the paperwork making a list of all that we had discovered, it struck me that our common ancestor would have been left an orphan. I decided to go on FamilySearch.org to see if records were available for the area as the driving distance cousin, with family commitments and the approaching holidays, couldn’t find the time to make another visit.
I must have been a good genealogist this year as oh, what a wonderful early present I found! The probate file was now online and contained the guardianship information. The file was 40 pages – the cousin had only 3 pages. I’m not sure if the courthouse employee only copied the last 3 pages or my cousin only had cash for those pages but the entire packet was a gem for me because I discovered my 3rd great grandfather in another line was the appraiser. His signature was all over the documents.
Lesson learned – ALWAYS go back to the source to see if the information is accurate and complete. By my making a list of what records we had found, I was able to identify other places to check. We haven’t climbed over that brick wall yet but we’re getting closer!
Have a wonderful holiday – I’ll be writing again after New Year’s Day.

Amazing Info Found – The Net As a Beginning Tool

Life has returned to semi-normal after the recent hurricanes. By semi, I mean the county still hasn’t collected the debris, milk and gas aren’t available everywhere and several parks remain closed due to damage. When our power was out for several days, I limited my internet usage to conserve my cell phone battery. It wasn’t until I went to clean my spam filter for my website, Genealogyatheart, that I discovered a message from a distant cousin. He had discovered my site and our connection through our great grandfather by simply Googling the last name.
I replied to his comment and he included one of his nieces on our messages. Between the 3 of us, family puzzles began to be solved quickly. In the past week, I discovered that my paternal grandparents had hosted a small family reunion at their farm in the 1960’s. My parent’s divorce was finalized by that time so my mom knew nothing of the event. Without my cousins input, I wouldn’t have known about it, either.
That got my brain going about unidentified people on an old movie I had inherited from my father. Hubby and I have had all our 8 mm films and VHS tapes professionally saved to a DVD. (Side note: If you think your VHS tapes aren’t so old they need to be saved, think again. The oldest VHS tape from 1984 was fading away while some of the 1950 movies looked as good as new). The DVD contains still photos of some of the movies so hubby took those of the mystery people, along with another CD we had made of all the old family photos we had scanned years ago, and sent them off to both cousins for help in identifying these unknown folks.
We’re fairly certain that the picture above is of my grandmother, Lola, and her older brother, Stanley. Why? I have the photo and they have the photo. They are descended from Stanley and it was in their box of photos of his family. My step mother had placed all the old photos in one box so I was never sure who any of my unlabeled people were. Were they a Leininger, Landfair, Kuhn, Kable, Kettering, Bollenbacher, Adams or Duer? I had tried the old Google Picassa facial recognition feature and it helped somewhat but I didn’t have enough identified photos to have it match effectively.
These cousins sent me a few other photos electronically over the past week to see if it would help but Picassa is no longer supported by Google and it kept freezing so no answers there! I’m hopeful they’ll be able to match some of the photos on the CD to photos in their box so at least we can categorize by surname.
The cousin who initially contacted me stated their tale is that the family originated from Ireland and not Bavaria as my line recalled. I tend to believe them for several reasons. I’ve had another family member misidentified’s country of origin as Germany instead of being born in the U.S. Maria Duer Kuhn’s death certificate states she was born in Germany but she was born in Ohio. Her son was the informant. Her husband was the one born in Germany. It seems like my Great British ancestors assumed the German culture of those they married in Ohio. Additional support for their story is that my DNA has a much higher likelihood of Great Britain then it does of German. Further, Landfair is not a German surname. When I questioned that years ago I was told that it probably had been changed from Lamphere. Could be but no proof of that was ever discovered.
One of the cousins also has a copy of my great grandfather’s funeral program which she will send me. I’ve blogged about him previously – he’s the gentleman who “accidentally fell from a platform” and there was a followup investigation a few months after his death resulting in additional paperwork after the death certificate. The lesson there was make sure you get the complete records you request.
This gets me to the point of today’s blog – there remains A LOT of additional information about your ancestors out there – in attics, basements and the brains of the living who recall the unrecorded stories past down. The internet can help you get to those that hold the key you need but alone, the internet is not enough. Reach out to long lost family and you just might discover the info you seek. Happy Hunting!

Genealogy Throw Back Idea That Worked!


I definitely went old school genealogy this week and like back in the day, it worked! I’m still heavily researching my Duer lines and after meeting someone from Trumbull County, Ohio at a local genealogy meeting a few months ago, decided I should join from afar, the Trumbull County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogy Society.

On Tuesday I received the first newsletter in the mail and I was listed on the first page, along with other new members. In the back of the newsletter was a list of surnames that members were researching. No one was looking for Byrds and Duers but there were several who were researching Morrisons.

Now Morrison is way too common of a last name so I wasn’t counting on finding much for John and Eleanor (Jackson) Morrison but leaving no stone unturned, promptly emailed two of the three individuals listed. I’m going to have to go really primitive with the third person – no email address was provided but there was an address and a snail mail letter has to be sent.

I received email responses within hours and both were researching the same line! Serendipitously, one individual lives very close to me and mentioned th
at she recognized my name as she has followed my online trees for some time. It definitely is a small world! The other individual was a descendant of my Jane Morrison’s sister, Nancy, and she provided me information I previously did not have. I was not aware that Nancy had remarried after her first husband’s death which explains why I did not have a death date for her.

I don’t often blindly send emails anymore so I’m really glad I used this approach. Give it a try!

New Irish Records Finding Aid

Do you have Irish roots? If so, you need to know about a wonderful document that was released last month. The List of Church of Ireland Parish Register that was once an in-house document compiled by the Public Records Office of Ireland is now updated and available to the general public for free.

I especially love the “Comment” section, key and the color coding which makes finding what you need and where it’s located easier. This 96 page pdf may be just what you need to discover your Irish lines’ baptism, marriage and burial records. ádh mór!