The Truth About Ellis Island

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 16 Jul 2015.

Like so many immigrant families, I heard the story that our family name was changed at Ellis Island. Our story, however, did not blame the officials.  Supposedly, upon emigrating, my Great Grandfather, Joseph Kos, was told that his last name was awfully short for an American name. No one suggested that a short name was wrong or bad.  It was just a benign comment.  I figure the Ellis Island clerk was probably glad to finally get a short name he could clearly understand to record but it did not sit well with my Great Grandfather.  He wanted to be an American and if the name was too short then he would make it bigger, just like America!  He could do that by simply adding an “s.”  The pronunciation would then change from the long o sound, that rhymed with dose, to the short o sound, that rhymed with Ross. The seed was planted to grow from Kos to Koss.

Last year, a 2nd cousin emailed me to discuss his belief that the Ellis Island story was not correct and that my grandmother, Non, was really the one behind the name change.  His reasoning was that Non’s sister, his mother, Barbara, who was born in the U.S. on the 19 September 1914 has Kos as her name on her birth certificate and the parents’ names are both listed as Kos.  Barbara was born 4 years AFTER our Great Grandfather emigrated so there is no reason why he would have recorded his daughter’s name with the original spelling if he had changed his name upon his arrival in the U.S.  Non assimilated into the American culture the quickest and was the family matriarch so those factors supported my cousin’s reasoning.

Birth Certificate of  Non’s sister, Barbara Kos, born in Chicago.

I looked at the ship manifest for Joseph Kos who arrived in New York City on La Lorraine on 17 Jan 1910:

Ship Manifest from La Lorraine 1

I then looked at the 1910 Census where his name now appears more Americanized as Joseph but his last name remains Kos:On the manifest he is listed as Josip Kos.  An error was made in recording his wife’s name – it was duplicated from the entry above him instead of listing his wife, Anna’s name.

1910 Census for Joseph Kos 2

Joseph was working for the railroad, and at the time of the census, was in Chardon, Ohio. Next I decided to investigate the manifest for Joseph’s wife, daughter and son who did not emigrate until 3 1/2 years after Joseph.  Below is the manifest for Non, listed as Mara, her mother, Jana (Anna), and her brother, Joseph Jr. (Josip), from the President Lincoln that arrived in New York City on the 16 July 1913.  The last name is clearly Kos.

Ship Manifest from the President Lincoln 3

I know that when Non and Gramps were married on the 28 January 1917 in Chicago, Illinois both of their names appeared on the records with the added “s” as “Koss.”  As distant cousins from the old country, both had the last name Kos(s) so Non’s maiden name was the same as her married name.

See the 10th from bottom – John and Mary Koss 4

There are 3 possibilities as to why Kos became Koss between 1914 and 1917:

1) the marriage license was an error, There are 3 possibilities as to why Kos became Koss between 1914 and 1917:

2) my great grandfather or another family member added the “s” after 1914 or

3) maybe the Ellis Island story was told about my Gramps and not my Non’s side.

I checked the ship manifest for Gramps, Ivan “John” Kos who arrived in New York City on the 6 April 1909 with his brother, Janko (Stephen) Kos:

Ship Manifest from La Gascogne 5

The manifest shows Kos.  Next record to check is the 1910 Census.  Gramps is shown as a boarder living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  His brother, who had left a wife behind in Croatia, had returned to her.  Gramps is still shown as Kos.

1910 Census 6

So the Ellis Island story wasn’t about Gramps, either.  I have no family documentation between my Great Aunt Barbara’s birth in September 1914 and my Grandparents’ wedding in January 1917 so I can’t pinpoint when the last name changed or who changed it.

The family continued to use Koss after the wedding.  My mother and her siblings were born at home so I do not have a birth certificate for them; a delayed certificate was never issued, either.  I do have a Baptism Certificate, however, it was a copy of the lost original made when she was an adult.  Born and baptized in 1918, my mother and her parents’ names are recorded as Koss.

My Mother’s Baptism Certificate – Copy of the Original

The death index for my Great Grandfather in January 1919 has his last name as Koss but since he was dead, he didn’t provide his own name. The informant on the death certificate was Non since she was the eldest of his three children, the most educated, and with a distraught mother, Non would have been the most rational at the time.  Did she use Koss because that was the name she and her husband were using or was it because her father was also using Koss?

Indiana Death Record Index 7

Yet his tombstone in Oak Hill Cemetery in Gary, Indiana is etched as Kos and according to cemetery records, Non and Gramps were the ones who purchased the stone.

See stone on right – 2nd from bottom

Photo by Lori Samuelson December 2001

The inscription is in Croatian so possibly the decision to engrave the original spelling was in keeping with that is how the name was first spelled in his birth language.

In 1920, the family reverts to using the original spelling of Kos:

1920 Census 8

The 1920 census is the last paper record with the original spelling.  I have no idea why they returned to using it in 1920.  Perhaps they never spelled it for the census taker but instead pronounced it in the original way, with a long o sound.  If that was the case, though, I would think the census taker would have spelled it Kose and not Kos.

The record below is a scan of a textbook the family purchased for school use in the 1920’s. It was passed from child to child and they each wrote their own name inside the cover.  All were spelled Koss.

Textbook from 1922

By 1930, the name is Koss:

1930 Census 9

In 1940, the name is Koss but is misspelled as Kolls:

1940 Census 10

You’d think that was the end of the story but the saga continued…Both of my Grandparent’s used Koss when they became naturalized citizens in the 1940’s and that is what was on their Social Security Cards and death certificates.

Note in the textbook above that the top name on the left is George Koss.  When Uncle George served in the Marines during World War II he told his Sargent about the name change at Ellis Island (that we now know didn’t happen).  The Sargent told George that happened in his family, too, but the Sargent had decided it wasn’t right so he went back to using whatever the original family spelling was.  He told George he would have dog tags reissued with the original name if he was interested.  George decided that was the right thing to to do so George Koss became George Kos til his dying day.

WW II Muster Rolls 11

Since George was the only son the original family name was restored and continued down the line.  My Grandparents’ and my Non’s brother are the only ones to use Koss through the rest of their lives. Check out my Grandparents’ gravestone at Oak Hill Cemetery in Gary, Indiana:

Photo by Lori Samuelson December 2001

When my Great Grandmother was to be buried, 3 plots were purchased. Going back to their roots, the original name was engraved.  So much for


1 Year: 1910; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 1400; Line:17; Page Number: 105

2 Year: 1910; Census Place: Chardon, Geauga, Ohio; Roll: T624_1185; Page: 16B; Enumeration District: 0056; FHL microfilm: 1375198

3 Year: 1913; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 2130; Line:24; Page Number: 149

Ancestry.com. Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Private donor.

5 Year: 1909; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 1234; Line:2; Page Number: 178Ancestry.com. Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Private donor.

Year: 1910; Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 21, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1307; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0573; FHL microfilm: 1375320

7 Indiana Death Index

8 Year: 1920; Census Place: Gary Ward 5, Lake, Indiana; Roll: T625_446; Page: 24A; Enumeration District:111; Image: 889

Year: 1930; Census Place: Gary, Lake, Indiana; Roll: 600; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 0058; Image:242.0; FHL microfilm: 2340335

10 Year: 1940; Census Place: Gary, Lake, Indiana; Roll: T627_1121; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 95-83

11 Ancestry.com. U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1958 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.

Verifying Family Legends – Where did we come from?

A FABULOUS FIND of 3 July 2015.

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 2 Jul 2015.

Growing up, I would often ask my grandma to tell me stories about the Old Country.*  Immigrating to the US with her mother and brother a week before her 13th birthday, my Non preferred to tell the tales she had heard from her elders and not those that she recalled herself.  I’ve previously mentioned my own faulty memories so I wondered, as an adult, about the family lore and how much truth was contained in those stories.

When I asked Non where she came from she would always smile and say, “I was born in a little village outside of Zagreb in what was then Austria-Hungary but we came there from other places.”  Non would go on to say that our family moved about long ago from a land far away, an island south, and before that, a land far to the east.  She did not know the name or locations of these places nor the time period that the moves were made.  I would push for more; why did the family move to begin with?    Non said the first move was because of violence.  Due to some long ago forgotten period of unrest the family decided to move west.  They were farmers and they were looking for a safe place to raise their crops.  After traveling for a long time the family settled on an island somewhere but Non did not know where.  Why did they move from the island?  Non claimed that due to overpopulation and soil over use, farming was not as prosperous as it once was so the family moved on, searching for another location.  Ultimately, they settled in the Zagreb area with other families that chose to leave when they did.  The destination was almost heaven to them, clear springs, fertile soil, mountains for protection, and there the family remained for years.

I wanted to determine if the stories were true and if so, where the location of the island and the land to the east was might have been.  Several years ago I took an Ancestry DNA test with the results showing my maternal line belonged to Haplogroup H.  “The Colonists are believed to have arrived in Europe from western Asia about the same time as a culture known as Gravettian. For that reason, it’s probable that the Colonists adopted or even originated the Gravettian technology. “1

So Non was correct, the family had moved from the east.  A second cousin shared his maternal results with me that he had done by National Geographic.  The results confirmed that his mother and my Non, who were sisters, both tested as Haplogroup H and the movement is from east to west.  See his “Eve” line below:

But what about the island story?  National Geographic does mention “Haplogroup H is a great example of the effect that population dynamics such as bottleneck events, founder effects, genetic drift, and rapid population growth, have on the genetic diversity of resulting populations.”2  Although I can’t prove it, there is oddly a Kos Island in the Dodecanese chain of the Aegean Sea that perhaps was why my family became known as Kos’.  Kos as a name (Greek: Κῶς, genitive Κῶ)3  has been first documented in Plato’s Illiad.  In Croatian, it is known as a blackbird or crow and is the 45th most  common name in Croatia today.4  The travel route is in line with migration patterns and strangely, these locations are a “as the crow flies” since Kos Island is located in a straight line with Zagreb.

Moreover, the story of farming is further confirmed as historically, the Kos Island was known for its crops of grapes, almonds, figs, olives, wheat, corn and lettuce.5  My family loved grapes (and vino!) of which I still grow today and they continued to grow in their new home in Croatia.

With the premise that there is a basis in Non’s stories, I began to research migration pattern timelines to try to determine where my ancestors resided in the past.  My Aunt Anne Marie had sent my mom an undated clipping from the Zajednicar, a Croatian-American newspaper published by the Croatian Fraternal Union.  Entitled, The History of Croatia, Lodge 793 member Gordon J. Z. Bobesich wrote that “There is a theory that the name “Hrvati, which is what the Croats call themselves is Persian in origin.” Persia is known as Iran today and does show on the maps above as a possible place of origin.  Since the article was undated and I was unable to locate a citation online I decided to further search for more recent research of a Persian-Croatian connection.

I also decided to check out my maternal grandfather’s origin story.  Also surnamed Kos and a distant cousin of my grandmother, Non said Gramps’ people were of gypsy heritage.  Gramps was dark complected with brown hair and eyes.  Non was fair with blue eyes and lighter brown hair.

john-and-mary-kos
Ivan “John” and Mary Kos Engagement 1916

Gramps’ ancestors, “The Gypsies, or Romanies, are an ethnic group that arrived in Europe around the 14th century. Scholars argue about when and how they left India, but it is generally accepted that they did emigrate from northern India some time between the 6th and 11th centuries, then crossed the Middle East and came into Europe.” 6  

SPOLIER ALERT – I was unprepared for what I discovered.

On Non’s side, I first found the following, “Historical studies indicate that the Croats started migrating from the Iranian homeland to Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia about 3,000 years ago. However, a much larger migration took place about 1,700 years ago. Probably the reason behind this migration was the suppression of the followers of Manichean faith during the Sassanid era.”7  This not only supported the DNA evidence but also that the original reason to leave which was due to conflict.  Now I had a time period of about when the original migration occurred.  I then discovered that since the 4th Century BCE, a “presence of Iranian-speaking Iazyges8 resided along side the Greeks throughout the Aegean region.   This further confirmed the Kos Island connection.

Further research uncovered that although the Persia to the Dodecanese to the mainland of Croatia most likely was my maternal grandmother’s families’ route, others have a different take on who are the present day Slavs.

I learned that there are several theories as to how today’s Slavs originated.  Some believe that the Goths, as noble barbarians, were the original settlers to the region.  Others postulate that 5 brothers and 2 sisters of an upper-caste of the Avar-Bulgarians moved into the area.  The Slavic view believes groups belonging to the Illyrians, an Indo-European people who always resided in the Balkans, moved from southern Poland and northern Ukraine to settle.  At this point my research uncovered extremely racist posts which showed that the area’s tensions have not ceased since the last war.  How very sad, after all these years, that people cannot just get along and accept that we are all human.  Did anyone stop to think that all 4 emigration theories might be correct?  My grandmother’s most likely was the Persian theory and my grandfather’s ancestor’s migration as gypsies is not even considered as a theory, I suppose because after their near extermination during World War II, gypsy lineage is not what many Slavs wish to think about today.

I was so disturbed after reading the many racist posts that demonstrated a Superiority Complex disorder that I had difficulty sleeping.

I strongly believe the roots of racism is the need to feel more superior (upper-caste, noble) and to be first (always resided) which somehow relates to best.  I am deeply disappointed that these needs still exist.  I was sickened by the many posts of Croats, Serbs, Bosnians and Iranians who seem to think that they are genetically superior.  With the recent events in the US and throughout the world, that region is clearly not alone in its racist beliefs.  I simple can’t understand this mindset!

I am proud to be a mutt – yep, I am a mix of so many diverse ethnic groups who found love in someone different from themselves but realized that was what was important – not domination, hatred and narrow mindedness.

We all have prejudices, myself included, but we must work towards understanding and acceptance.

Dionne Warwick sang it best:   What the world needs now is love sweet love, / It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. / What the world needs now is love sweet love, / No not just for some but for everyone.


1Ancestry.com Maternal Lineage Test Result

2National Geographic and IBM Maternal Lineage Test Results, p. 17.

3Liddell et al.A Greek–English Lexicons.v.

4“Croatian Names.” Croatian Genealogy & Family History. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 June 2015.

5 “Kos Island.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 June 2015

 Kenrick, Donald (2007). Historical Dictionary of the Gypsies (Romanies) (2nd ed.). Scarecrow Press. p. xxxvii.

7 “Culture of Iran: Croatians and Cravats Are of Iranian Origin.” Culture of Iran: Croatians and Cravats Are of Iranian Origin. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 June 2015.

8Heršak, Emil; Nikšić, Boris (2007), “Hrvatska etnogeneza: pregled komponentnih etapa i interpretacija (s naglaskom na euroazijske/nomadske sadržaje)” [Croatian Ethnogenesis: A Review of Component Stages and Interpretations (with Emphasis on Eurasian/Nomadic Elements)]Migration and Ethnic Themes (in Croatian) 23 (3)
*Mary Violet Kos Koss, my maternal grandmother, would have been 115 years old on July 18th.  I’ll be spending the next few posts on my Croatian ancestors’ stories trying to confirm their accuracy and to learn more about the events that were remembered.

Familysearch.org Needed Changes

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on

In previous blogs I’ve mentioned my concerns about data loss and record inaccessibility (see Ancestry Site Changes – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly 6 Jun 2015 & Poof Be Gone-How Quickly Records Can Disappear 3 Jun 2015).  A wonderful option to preserve your research would be to include it at Familysearch.org’s Wiki Tree.  Unfortunately the site is not user friendly if you are not an LDS members.  Let me demonstrate-

To access the Wiki, first sign into the site.  If you don’t have a sign-on, you may create one even if you aren’t an LDS member, however, you won’t be able to link between Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org to sink data.

I have an extremely large well sourced tree that I would love to have on the Familysearch site.  I’m going to outline the steps below of what I would have to do to build my husband’s paternal line on the Wiki.  Below, on the right hand side, you can see that there are no parents identified on my Wiki Tree for William Lewis Samuelson.

There may be other Wiki Tree users who do have William’s parents.  To discover if there is, one must click on the +Add Husband (or + Add Wife).  Then, type in what you know.  I typed in Gustaf Theodore Samuelson 29 Apr 1870 Baileytown, Portage, Indiana as the birth info and 9 Oct 1947 San Bernardino, San Bernardino, California as the death info.  After clicking “Add,” 25 parent choices are presented.  You may select 1 provided or by scrolling to the bottom, include a new couple.

In this case, I would “Add Couple” 1 – Gustav and Lulu Mae Cook.  Once added, the Wiki Tree changes to the following:

That wasn’t very time consuming but here’s where my problems begin.  I have 19 facts for Gustav Samuelson on my Ancestry tree:

Familysearch has 4 citations:

Really, Familysearch only has 1 source – the Legacy user that imported the information cited for 4 events but did the user did not include where he/she found the evidence.  Truly, I’m not impressed with Familysearch’s sources for Gustaf.  This is no improvement over the earlier trees that the site displayed.  I equate this practice with only citing an Ancestry Family Tree that was unsourced to begin with. The citation is meaningless.

I could add the sources I found plus the 18 photos and the several additional records that I’ve scanned and uploaded to my Ancestry tree to the Familysearch Wiki but that takes quite a bit of time. I feel like I’m duplicating what I’ve already accomplished by re-entering the citations from Ancestry to Familysearch.  Instead, I would prefer to spend my time further building my tree.

Perhaps, if down Gustaf’s line, Familysearch’s sources improved AND the tree was filled in I would enter my citations for Gustaf but let’s compare Gustaf’s parents in the Wiki to what I have in Ancestry:

Way too much to have to add!  Way too time consuming!

So I thought maybe I would just add 1 photo to Wiki and keep the lines simple by just adding my direct line (no collaterals – no sibs!).  Last evening I added my maternal grandparents, Ivan “John” and Mary Violet Kos Koss.  I compared sources from ancestry to familysearch and added the difference.  Then, I selected ONE photo for my mother, grandmother and grandfather and uploaded to Familysearch.  This is what the photos looked like:

Mary Violet Kos Koss
Dorothy Koss Leininger
ivan-john-koss
Ivan “John” Kos Koss

There’s nothing wrong with these 3 photos and I did agree that the site would first approve them before posting but its been a day and they’re still not displayed.  At this rate, it would take me YEARS before I had my tree on Familysearch and it wouldn’t even be my complete tree.

I understand that the LDS Church has an agreement with Ancestry.com and to quote an old commercial, membership has its privileges, but there needs to be an expedient alternative for genealogists, such as uploading an existing tree to the Familysearch site.

I vocalized this to a church Elder when I visited the Family History Library in March.  He mentioned why uploading a gedcom wouldn’t be conducive and why PAF was discontinued.  I understand the evolution of technology and don’t long for the Windows 3.1 days or dial up internet.

I am also extremely thankful and do appreciate the dedication of thousands of LDS members who have preserved and published records over the years.  To make all that work free to the general public is commendable and more than generous.  The LDS members, however, are not the only compilers of trees.  If non LDS members have a sourced tree I don’t understand why LDS wouldn’t want it.  I strongly believe that it would be in EVERYONE’S best interest if nonmembers could easily synch their records onto the WIKI. I would even pay to do this and I bet other genealogists would, too.

 

Memorial Day Memories

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 24 May 2015.

Most holidays start with Happy – Think Easter, Thanksgiving, and New Year. So every year, when I hear about the upcoming “holiday” sales in honor of Memorial Day, I cringe.  I don’t consider Memorial Day a holiday.  Yes, it’s a 3 day weekend.  Yes, school is almost over for the year.  Yes, it’s even a time to spend with family and friends but it is not a holiday.  On Memorial Day I believe we should all honor those that came before us allowing us the freedom we have today.

I will not be visiting graves this weekend as all of my family is buried far away from where I reside.  That doesn’t mean I won’t be thinking of the sacrifices of my forefathers and my memories of past Memorial Days.

As a child, my grandmother, Non, always took me with her to tend to the graves of her father and uncle.  As a first generation American, she had no fallen soldier graves to care for in this country but I remember the cemetery filled with small flags to honor American veterans.  Non was lucky her Sonny, my Uncle George, had made it home safely after serving in the Coast Guard during World War II.  

George and Betty Mione Kos

As Non and my mother pulled weeds and clipped grass growing around the stones, I would read the inscriptions if I could, because my multicultural neighborhood had many markers engraved in languages other than English.  Although I could not read the Polish, Lithuanian, Greek, Italian and like my Great Grandfather’s memorial, Croatian, I knew that the men buried there had shared a common experience in a war.  The back of the cemetery held the graves of World War I veterans, the middle section seemed to be for those killed in World War II and in the front, Korean and Vietnam veterans.  Too many lives cut short too soon. 

I am also fortunate to have my father’s diary from World War II while he was stationed in Alaska.  

Orlo Guy Leininger

His war time experiences were very different from my husband’s uncle.  With a German surname, my father was not sent to Europe but to the Pacific theatre instead.  My dad’s sister, Mary Ellen Leininger Tronolone, enlisted as a Yeoman, First Class, in the Navy.  Most of her service was in Washington, DC.

Mary Ellen Leininger Tronolone

Having known most of these family members I am proud of their bravery and thankful for their service.  You can read more memories of soldiers by visiting a Crestleaf blog, Real Letters of Love, Hope & Inspiration Written by Soldiers – A Memorial Day Tribute