Stories from Sadness

Yesterday I attended a funeral for a woman I knew well but had never met. Her daughter was a former Client and I had done much research on the deceased’s grandmother. I’ve never attended a Client’s family member’s funeral before and it was an interesting experience. The Minister spoke about the importance of connections and he was so right in ways he didn’t even know!

I should have thought of this years ago but somehow this escaped me until now. In grief, a lot of memories are evoked that can explain or provide hints to better understanding of the individual and their place in the family. During the Reflection phase of the memorial service, I was struck by a piece of info that the Client had never previously shared with me regarding the family residence years ago. Since this was between census years in a rental in a place that didn’t have a City Directory, I would have been hard pressed to find where they were living and why. It had been a troubling time, based on what I heard yesterday, and that would explain why the Client never shared it while I was working on the lines, however, it readily connected the family to another family 2 generations previously that I knew was living on that same block.

Many of the reflections confirmed other stories I had heard; that the deceased had an uncanny ability to know everyone’s date of birth and address for this large extended family. I readily agree. When I was in the early stages of the research, I met to share some of the findings and the Client was certain I had made an error. After checking with the very knowledgeable family member, my data was confirmed.

Her passing yesterday is a loss to the family in many ways; from a genealogical perspective, the stories she did not pass on might never be learned. One of the grandchildren recorded the service thus preserving the recollections of some of the family members.

Although emotions are raw during a funeral, important genealogical information is decimated. If you are distraught, your spouse or friend might be helpful at this time to unemotionally record the information that can assist you later. I plan on meeting with the Client for lunch in the next few months to share the information that I learned. I think she’ll appreciate it and gain a better understanding of the past.

Mother’s Day Ideas


Mother’s Day is just around the corner and I thought of some unique ideas that don’t take a lot of time that mom would really value. Lucky you, since you’re into genealogy, you’ve got the information to share.

This idea I got from my church – they requested a brief (meaning less than 500 words) bio of a special mom. Note the word special; that mom doesn’t have to be by blood. I really liked that concept. So remember those special moms on Mother’s Day, too! Not sure who that could be? Think family friend, neighbor, teacher, or perhaps, an older sister. that you looked to for guidance. If they’re no longer living, create a Find-A-Grave memorial page or donate to a cause they were passionate about.

Now back to the brief bio idea…this only takes a few minutes to write, print and frame. Add a picture and get some input from siblings or grandchildren. A personalized gift was always valued by my mom and I wish I had thought of this while she was still living.

Last month, Ancestry.com advertised a Mother’s Day promotion and even though it’s too late to enter, the method, a video, is another wonderful way to honor mom. I think it would be awesome to highlight several moms in a line this way. Adding music of the time period, documents with signatures and your voice over as a connection across the ages could be powerful. Geez, you could even make copies on a thumb drive to use for stocking stuffers at Christmas.

A spin off of the Ancestry.com idea made me think of a mom in my past that had overcome adversity. Your tree is most likely full of hard working women who have made a positive impact. Pick one as your heroine and simply write that individuals name on a stickee to be placed near your computer. If you have her picture, put it on your phone for another visible reminder of strength. We can all use a little motherly love during a stressful workday! It’s a neat gift to give yourself.

Helix Results Have Arrived


I got the results of my Helix-National Geographic DNA test back this week. I had sent it off the day after Christmas at the same time two family members mailed their samples to Ancestry.com. Ancestry had the results back 3 weeks ago so I patiently waited my Helix analysis.

If you’re planning to test with Helix, please know that you will not discover any matches – these results take you back thousands of years instead of the past few generations. I purposely wanted to see if the findings were similar to the mitDNA Haplogroup results I got about 8 years ago from Ancestry and more recently, from 23andMe. They were basically the same and also confirmed my Neandertal ancestry that 23andMe had found last summer.

Alas, I had no Denisovian which I suspected I might have since they were known to be in the Siberian/Mongolian/China regions. My thinking was my eastern European genes might have come from way east in the distant past but I was wrong.

My favorite part of the results was the interactive web timeline. It’s a nice touch to have pictures of all ages of people and the countryside pop up with the description of when your ancestor resided in the region. Think National Geo Magazine and you get the idea of how well done this is. The migration pattern is also clearly shown and as I’ve blogged about many times, follows the family lore that’s been passed down to me. (If I could only figure out why my family can’t get the stories of the last 100 years right but can remember things from thousands of years ago I will never know!)

You do not get to download your chromosomes to upload anywhere else. I didn’t need that as I’ve already tested with companies that provide that result but that may be important to you so keep it in mind.

My family thought the link to genius was the most interesting result. Personally, I thought it was meaningless as the connections are far removed. Hubby thought it was just phenomenal so, shhh, I bought him a kit for Valentine’s Day. It was on sale and even less expensive than what I paid for it at Thanksgiving. I figure he’ll get the results back by his birthday so he can gloat over his genius cousins. My prediction is that we’re going to have similar findings since our lines have crossed several times in the last 300 years in various parts of the world.

One of those “geniuses” and they qualify how they came to define the word, was of course, Marie Antoinette who shows up in every DNA test I’ve ever taken. I’m thinking I should probably investigate exactly where that connection is so this summer, I’ll be heavily researching my Croatians which, at the time my ancestor’s resided there, was Austria-Hungary. Marie was born in Vienna, Austria. My maternal lines were in the military for generations so I suspect they traveled throughout the region. For displaying valor on the battlefield, they were titled and that’s where I’m going to start my research.

Funny, for years I’ve had the stories and tried to validate them by uncovering the facts. Now I have the DNA facts and I’m trying to find the story. Genealogy upside down!

A Tub Full of Memories


Laundry – it stinks if left undone, piles up and never ends. Kind of like genealogy! I had to use the machines in my local laundromat recently due to home renovations. Check out the picture above – it costs $5.00 to wash ONE LOAD. Of course I didn’t have as many quarters as I needed and the change machine in the facility jipped me which made me even more determined to get our laundry room back in order quickly.

I have several memories of laundry from my childhood which is funny when you think of how mundane doing laundry is. My earliest memory is of my mom running among the rain drops to retrieve nearly dry sheets hanging outside on the line when I was about 3 years old. She told me it was God’s final rinse and it smelled delightful. I imagined heaven as scented with a summer rain. We had a washer and dryer but my mom loved to hang out clothes which my father never understood. She never adapted to using dryer sheets.

My maternal grandmother was the same way; grandpa had to make her special laundry stakes – a slit on the end of a long pole – to raise up the wet clothes on the line so it wouldn’t drag across the ground. She was barely 5 feet tall and used a step stool to reach the line, dragging it across the backyard grass from space to open space. On windy days, I would run between the hanging clothes trying to not get slapped by the wetness. If I made it through untouched I got a point. Usually the laundry won.

Doing laundry could be scary, too. My grandparents had an old wringer Maytag washing machine in the basement and occasionally, my mom would drag it across the basement floor to the double cement laundry tub which she would use to “catch” the clothes going through the wringer. I thought it was fascinating to see the water squeeze out until mom leaned too close to the wringer and her headscarf went along for the ride. Immediately, she reached for the wringer arm mechanism and placed it in reverse so she could be free. That was fast thinking and probably saved her life. Mom told me that she knew a woman who had died from a broken neck because she hadn’t been able to reach the lever in time. I’ve never seen that in an obit but I imagine death by laundry wouldn’t be memorialized as the way to go.

Hubby’s dad lost a piece of his thumb as a young man helping his mom do laundry. As he tried to adjust the bulky, heavy clothes going through the wringer his thumb slid forward and caught in the machine. He lived to tell of his dangerous encounter taming wet sheets.

Now when it comes to laundromats, until recently, I had more pleasant memories. My Aunt Betty, for a short time, owned and operated a laundromat. My cousins and I would sometimes accompany her to the business and play around by “driving” the carts, climbing on the tables to be tall and checking out the laundry product machines and the pay phone to see if there was change left. I can’t ever recall a customer while we were there which could explain why she sold the business and moved on to owning a beauty shop (now that was really fun for a young girl!). I suppose the broken machines were another reason for the sale; we thought it was hilarious when suds billowed out of the top and down the sides but Aunt Betty never looked pleased.

My last childhood memory of laundromats is related to this time of year. In late winter or early spring, mom would take our heavy winter garments to the then new concept of Norge Village – an upscale laundromat that housed huge machines from a child’s perspective that not only washed and dried clothes but also dry cleaned. A modern woman in the 1960’s sure had come a long way, baby! Mom would save money by doing her own dry cleaning of the winter coats; I was always glad to see them folded and stored in the attic in plastic tubs with moth balls. Give me hot weather anytime.

And give me my own machines! In our laundry room, we have hanging an old glass National washboard that my husband purchased at his first auction for $10.00 years ago. It serves as a reminder of how far a simple household task has evolved and I’m thankful for that.

Diversity in the Family Tree and Its Importance Today


Last month I took part in an activity at a workshop in New York City on Cultural Competence that’s been haunting me ever since. The presenter, Vivian V. Lee, Ed.D. from Johns Hopkins University provided an adapted handout from M. Loden & J. Rosner’s book, Workforce America (McGraw-Hill, 1991) that opened my eyes to my family’s core values in ways that I had never experienced before.
The worksheet consisted of a Diversity Wheel – a circle within a circle that listed 12 category descriptions of an individual, such as your level of education, geographic location and gender. Participants were asked to identify and record a word that described their personal category descriptions. For myself, it would be master’s degrees, USA, female.

Next, participants were asked to record the complete opposite of their personal description. So mine would be no degrees earned, anywhere but North America, male, etc. A few minutes was provided to reflect on the recorded responses by thinking about:

how would the opposite from yourself identity be perceived and treated by society and by the individual
how different would your present life be compared to that of the opposite individual
how would you adapt in society as the opposite individual
I was shocked to discover that my polar opposite in most categories would be my maternal grandfather, Ivan “John” Kos[s] and great grandfather, Josef Kos[s]. Although they both had the same surname, these men were distant relatives. Josef was my grandmother’s father and John was her husband of an arranged marriage. So, my grandmother’s maiden name was the same as her married name (now that’s convenient!). But back to the exercise…

Both John and Josef emigrated separately from then Austria-Hungary, now Croatia, to the U.S. for reasons that so many emigrants continue to come – economic opportunity, freedom, a new start. Manual laborers with little to no education, limited English and no citizenship rights, these men, along with others like them, were the backbone of the United States’ economy for generations as continue to be so today. I never met Josef who died young; he caught the flu and passed away in 1919. Of John, I never heard one complaint from him about his status in society. Even after residing here for over 60 years, though, he knew he continued to be identified by a slur – I heard a shopkeeper once call him a D.P., aka a displaced person. Although he took a citizenship oath, would never be fully accepted and remained subject to distrust by those who fate allowed to be born here. Although I’ve become the opposite of my grandparents, I know they would have been very proud of my children and my role in society. They would not begrudge that I am not treated as they had been.

I reaped the fruits of Josef and John’s difficult lives. If you take a moment to think about your own roots, you most likely have an immigrant story in your family. It may have been as long ago as 1600 or just in the last decade. Your ancestors may have come of their own volition or not. It matters not when or how they arrived. What matters is that the hardship they endured afforded you comfort and security that was lacking from their point of origin. Perhaps it’s due to my childhood interactions with and knowledge of my grandparents’ life experiences that make me thankful for their risk in immigrating and I will always have a place in my heart for those who are so courageous that they would begin again in a new land.

Leaving a Media Record of Your Family History


Yesterday I attended an all day seminar sponsored by my local genealogy society. As always, I learned something new and enjoyed the camaraderie of others who are passionate about genealogy. Lisa Louise Cooke was the primary speaker and I absolutely fell in love with her use of media to share her family stories. I agree with her that the family members that get that glazed over look when you start talking about ancestors would show an interest in a short video presentations that highlighted an ancestor’s life.

Lisa used Animoto and I plan to explore that site in the next few weeks (as soon as my new floors are in and the dust can finally settle!) On the long drive home I thought about several “stories” I could portray. I’d love to do one including 8 mm movie clips I have of my husband and his siblings for his retirement. I’m thinking about making another for my DAR daughter tracing the line from the patriot to her. Would definitely make one about farming since it’s so ingrained in my blood; my son would enjoy that one as he’s the hydroponic expert for the rest of us.

I think what I found most appealing was that the story can be “told” in so many different ways. Words can be included or not. Music or a song can be added or not. Maps and still photos can be used, along with video clips and photogs. The possibility seems endless.

If you’re having difficulty writing your family’s story this might be perfect way for you to get moving. If you’ve made a family video let me know – I’d love to check it out and learn from you.

Home Renovations Then and Now


Oh, the joys of home ownership! We started our mostly do-it-yourself project with gutting the kitchen the day after Thanksgiving. I was hoping it would be done by Monday, President’s Day, but it isn’t going to happen because the microwave that was supposed to be delivered Saturday got pushed back to Monday because of a snafu between the store and the delivery person and the window installer who was supposed to install the new windows on Monday had a family emergency so I don’t have a date for when that will be finished. We’re still waiting on four trim pieces for the cabinets that never came in last month with the rest of the order and hubby can’t finish the backsplash and the floor tile until the window is in and the trim is done. And that’s just the beginning of the project!
We’re removing the rest of the tile in the house on Tuesday, installing new sliders, painting and then adding new flooring over the upcoming months. Most of our belongings are in boxes in the guest room and the furniture is piled up in the living room. The chaos is making our cats neurotic and I can certainly empathize with them. When it becomes overwhelming, I try to focus on how lucky we our compared to renovations back in the day.
Sometimes in genealogy we get so wrapped up in finding an elusive record that we don’t stop to think about the life experiences of those we are seeking. Here’s an interesting thought – ever since the first home was constructed, generations of our ancestors have gone through renovating their dwellings. Perhaps it was rebuilding after a fire or flood. Maybe it was enlarging to accommodate a growing family. Possibly it was updating to a newer and better style. No matter the reason, I found mention of home improvements in the diary of Mary Ann Eyster Johnson that I could identify with. Here’s some of my favorites and why:
On 11 June 1884, Mary Ann noted that it was “Clear & pleasant. The Brethren met at Meeting House to enlarge the kitchen and build furnace.” The Meeting House was located across the street from the Johnson’s home. Hmm, we upgraded the air conditioner and heater just prior to renovating our kitchen. I can’t imagine having to build a furnace, though.
We called in a plumber to connect up the new sink after the counter top was installed. I have city water so I didn’t need to hire “…Pump borers came this evening, too (sic) of them.” The borers finished their work two and half days later. Some of my neighbors have wells for lawn irrigation purposes. A typical install now is a half day.
Mary Ann’s home did not have indoor plumbing. On 19 January 1904, she noted that the “Pump frose (sic) up.” Thank goodness, I only went a couple of hours without water in the kitchen when our new sinks were installed. Going outside to pump water must have been miserable. Discovering the pump was frozen, even more so. Makes me appreciate my plumber!
I was without a stove for the last week. Mary Ann wrote on 10 June 1882 “Put stove on porch.” Every summer the stove was moved outside as it was too hot to cook in the kitchen. In September, it was moved back into the house. I am so thankful we don’t have to do that!
Besides the stove, each summer Mary Ann, “Took up the room carpet.” Since we’re going to be putting in wood flooring we’ll be adding area rugs but I don’t plan on taking those up in the summer. There’s no mention of tile flooring so Mary Ann never had the joy of thinset removal.
On 18 May 1882, Mary Ann “White washd (sic) kitchen.” Hubby repainted our kitchen white last weekend. Great color choice, Mary Ann!
Although Mary Ann would not have had a dishwasher or microwave, she did experience appliance delivery. On 7 January 1904, “Andrew brought out our new washing machine. Cost $2.80 cents, freight and all.” That equates to about $72.23 in 2016 dollars.1 If only I could buy a new appliance for that price! Wonder if she tipped delivery man Andrew?
Courtesy of Sharon Kinney, here’s a photo of Mary Ann’s home:

Since I’m now an “expert,” those sure look like standard windows to me.

1 Inflation Calculator, 1904-2016; digital database, in2013dollars.com (http://www.in2013dollars.com: accessed 18 February 2017).

Lighting the Path to a New Life


I’ve just returned from attending an awesome conference in New York City. I love New York, no matter what season I visit! Usually I think about my husband’s lines that were residents there during the New Netherland years but not this time.
Perhaps due to the current political climate and the fact that one of my colleagues couldn’t travel with us as she was taking her U.S. citizenship exam, I instead thought about a family emigration story on my maternal side.
My great grandmother, Anna Grdenic Kos, arrived in the U.S. with two of her surviving children, my grandmother, Mary, and my Great Uncle Joseph, on 16 July 1913[1].
Anna’s husband, Joseph Sr., had come earlier, on 10 January 1910, to establish himself in America[2]. He was employed by the Pullman Company in Chicago after leaving the military life as a cavalry officer behind him in what was then Austria-Hungary.
Anna was raised as a country girl; a farmer’s daughter who was shy and thoughtful. Anna never spoke about the boat passage; all that I know about the trip was from the recollection of daughter Mary who, as a pre-teen, felt it was her duty to entertain the other passengers with her operatic voice. Personally, having been raised in a household with both Anna and Mary, I also believe the underlying reason was that Mary hoped for fame and fortune in the new world and when she received praise and cash for her songs, she, like many immigrants, seized an opportunity.
Joseph Sr. had traveled from Chicago to meet his family upon their arrival. Knowing the trip was long, he arranged for an overnight stay in a hotel in New York City prior to the family departure via train to their final destination, a Pullman owned apartment in Chicago.
I’d love to know exactly where the family slept on their one night stay in New York City. I do know it had a wonderful bathtub that Mary appreciated.
Anna and the children had never been in such a great city and although Mary was disappointed the streets truly weren’t paved with gold, Anna fell in love with the array of merchandise in store windows. So last Sunday, as I walked down 34th Street and window shopped, I tried to imagine the shock and awe Anna and Mary experienced as they took in the wonderful sights. Having just learned that her new apartment came with electricity, Anna fell in love with a lamp she saw in a storefront. Joseph Sr. informed Anna that the delicate lamp would not survive the long journey ahead. Disappointed, Anna swore one day she would own one. A few weeks later, Joseph purchased the lamp at Marshall Fields in Chicago. The treasured lamp still remains in the family:

I’ve always wondered the name of the store where Anna first spotted the lamp. Mary could only recall that the shop had clothes that she was much more interested in than a lamp. My guess is it was either Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s.
The family and the lamp continued to stay in Pullman housing in Chicago until the spring of 1919. The photo below was taken shortly before they moved to Gary, Indiana; Mary had wed and her husband, John, along with her father, Joseph, had found new jobs at U.S. Steel.

A neighbor, Joseph Jr., Mary with her oldest child, Dorothy, Dorothy’s Godmother

The lamp survived that relocation and several others. It’s light has shown over 5 generations of owners and hopefully will continue for many generations to come.
When I see the Statue of Liberty’s lamp I am reminded of my family’s journey and the story of our very own lamp. Each time I turn on the light I think of the words of Martin Luther King, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” It is a message appropriate for today and well worth remembering. That little light of mine connects me to my ancestor’s past – the good, the bad, the ugly – and gives me hope and strength for whatever the future might hold.
This Little Light of Mine

[1]New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957, “Mara Kos,” 16 July 1913; digital image, Ancestry (http: Ancestry.com: accessed 10 February 2017), citing NARA microfilm T715_2130.
[2] New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957, “Josip Kos,” 17 January 1910; digital image, Ancestry (http: Ancestry.com: accessed 10 February 2017), citing NARA microfilm T715_1400.
[3] Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love, Cleveland, Ohio: Collins, 1977) 47.

My Grandfather’s C-File Has Finally Arrived!


I’ve blogged before about the long wait for my grandparent’s US citizenship records that I requested last May and I finally received my grandfather’s on Monday. The best part was the Declaration of Intention which provided a picture of him at age 48. I have his engagement photo from 1916 and his marriage photo from 1917, a few in the 1920’s but none from about 1930 through 1950 so this was a real treat! He’s in a suit and tie looking quite dapper.
The biggest surprise was to see his signature. This is the only time I have ever seen his handwriting. By the time of my birth, my grandfather was legally blind so he never wrote anything.
There were a few errors in the document. The first was the spelling of my mom’s name. Instead of Dorothy she is recorded as Dorty. I laughed at that! My grandfather spoke perfect English but he had trouble with the th blend and pronounced it as tu. Reading my mom’s name reminded me that he used to call her Doro and if he had to say her real name, it did sound like Dorty. Her name was spelled correctly on the Petition for Naturalization.
My grandmother’s birth date was recorded as August 4th, 1901 and should have been July 18, 1900. I have no idea how the month, day and year were wrong on the Declaration of Intention. The month and day were right on the Petition but her birth year was 1903.
My grandparents were from the same village in Austria-Hungary and I never thought about how they knew each other from childhood. Being 8 years older, he had always known my grandmother and that was something I had to wrap my head around.
The document stated he was 5 foot 7 inches and that surprised me. In my head, he’s tall and I would have guessed 6 foot. Of course, I was small so that could explain a lot. My grandmother was barely 5 foot so he did seem to tower over her.
I never knew that my next door neighbor, Charles Bauer, was one of the witnesses. I loved Mr. Bauer – he always gave me money on Halloween, let me play with his dog and often inquired about how school was going. He swore he knew my grandfather since January 1, 1929. The other witness I had heard about but never knew, Rudolf Silich. The Silich’s had children that were the same age as my grandparent’s kids and lived across the alley from the family. They moved about the time of my birth and never returned to visit.
Still waiting for my grandmother’s information!

Perseverance Amidst Adversity – The Ancestry of Three George Harbaughs

Happy New Year! I started the year off by completing one of my resolutions – to publish an eBook. Perseverance Amidst Adversity – The Ancestry of Three George Harbaughs (ASIN: B01N7O2NOE) was submitted for publication about an hour ago. It will be available on Amazon.com within 72 hours at the bargain price of $3.59. Extensively researched, this true story follows three generations of Georges and their loved ones during a time of tumultuous change in the United States. Perseverance is the background story for the next eBook I’m writing, Thanks to the Yanks, which will detail the experiences of an Indiana farm boy during World War I. I also plan on indexing a diary and then publishing it as an eBook which will be the 3rd in the series.
I plan to continue blogging twice weekly and will be a guest blogger for several genealogical organizations, too.
I’d love to hear your goals for 2017. If you haven’t identified them yet, no worries – I’ll give you some ideas in my next blog. In the meantime, I wish you a year full of great genealogy goodness!