The Nonexistent Genealogical Record

Originally published on on 23 Aug 2015.

This past week I had several interesting situations occur that really drove home to me the connection between education and genealogy.

The first was an email from my division superintendent that requested everyone bring a photo of their high school graduation to post as a visual reminder of our district’s goal of increasing high school graduation rates.  Problem is, I don’t have a grad photo.  If you’re one of my loyal readers you know my parents were divorced when I was young.  I attended 1st through 11th grade in the Lake County, Indiana school district where my mom and I lived with my grandparents.  In June of my rising senior year I sat for senior picture; the custom at that time was girls had to wear a crew neck grey top- no mortar boards.  I have a copy of the photo which never appeared in a school yearbook because in August, my mother, who was employed by Montgomery Wards Department Stores, which was then owned by Mobil Oil, was given a transfer to Florida.  Mom gave me the option of going with her or moving in with my dad and step-mother to complete my senior year in Indiana.  Either way, I would have had to attend a different high school so I opted to move to Florida.

My first day of my senior year at St. Petersburg High School was a disaster.  I had to retake classes I had already passed because Pinellas County Schools did not have a work-study program that I was scheduled to take in Indiana. They wouldn’t let me attend school part time, either.  I had wanted to work my senior year to save money for college so that goal was shot.  In addition, no one spoke to me the entire day, even when I asked for directions.  I came home that evening and announced that I was quitting school.  My mother insisted I return so the next morning we met with the guidance counselor.  I don’t remember his name but I remember his complete lack of concern.  He suggested I enroll in a school for drop outs where I could complete assignments at my own pace and hold a job.  My mom drove me to the new school.  As we entered there was a fist fight in the hall and we had trouble getting into the office.  No adults were around although this was adult education.  I only needed 3 classes to graduate but the school only allowed enrolling in 2 classes at a time.  I finished senior English and Business Math in two weeks.  I then enrolled in Americanism vs. Communism.  Back in the day, the state of Florida was fairly certain Fidel Castro was going to storm the shores so every Florida senior had to be prepared by taking this ridiculous course.  Even though I finished the actual course work in another 2 weeks I was forced to sit for the entire school day in the class for an additional two weeks as there was a requirement that students must be enrolled for a certain number of hours.  The teacher was kind and told me I could bring anything quiet to do so I read a book a day.  No one spoke to me at this school either.  At the time, doctors, judges and other leaders in the community were so afraid that their children would become drug addicts that they enrolled them in a now defunct program called “The Seed.”  Anyone enrolled was not permitted to speak with anyone outside of the group.  The organization decided to enroll all of their students at the adult ed program probably because there would be less opportunity to interact with other teens.  I completed my entire senior year in 6 weeks.  When I went to the school counselor to turn in my completion paperwork she informed me the district would mail my diploma to me by the end of the semester (which they did but spelled my name wrong which is another story).

I never had a graduation ceremony so I never wore a cap and gown which is why I don’t have any pictures to contribute.  Hubby offered to photo shop my senior pic to add a mortar board but I nixed that idea.  I don’t want to fake history.  I submitted a photo of my college graduation instead.

Technically, I’m a high school graduate as I had the diploma conferred to me via US Mail but since this didn’t occur with pomp and circumstance I have no photo.  Several of my co-workers did attend a graduation ceremony but it wasn’t a custom to take a picture of the diploma being conferred so they don’t have pictures, either.

I think the practice of taking a picture as the diploma is being awarded must have occurred in my area after the early 1980’s.  My bachelor’s and first master’s degree photos were taken by my mom and husband.  By the time I received my second masters in the 90’s, photographers were on stage snapping away during the ceremony.  By the 2000’s you could get the whole event on DVD.

My point is you may be looking for a record or photo that doesn’t exist because it was never recorded. Next time you’re searching for that wedding photo or birth certificate think about the possibility that it never was!  This will save you time and frustration – just look for an alternative, like the marriage license of a baptism certificate.  In my case, I have the transcripts and diploma – just no picture.

Education Across State Lines

Originally published on on 20 Aug 2015.

Education was extremely important to my Leininger lines and I have an interesting story to share about my gateway 3 times great grandparents, Jean “John” (20 Nov 1801-1 Dec 1868) and Margueritte “Margaret” Gasse (27 Jan 1801-4 Apr 1886) Leininger who emigrated from Endenhoffr, Alsace-Lorraine, then Germany to America in 1827.  Previously, I’ve blogged about what a difficult trip it must have been for the family but the following story illustrates how quickly they acclimated to the “rules” of America and bent them for the benefit of their children.

The family emigrated with 2 sons – Theobald and John George.  Settling in Stark County, Ohio the family grew, adding sons John and Jacob.  In 1835, the family relocated to Mercer County, Ohio.  GGGgrandpa opted for a career change from blacksmithing to farming.  Sons Henry and Samuel were born after the move.  On July 1, 1839, John purchased 128.60 acres of land in Wabash Township, Jay County, Indiana with an additional 8 acres of land on the adjoining Ohio side.  John then built a home across the state line. This benefited the family greatly as they could easily relocate from Ohio to Indiana and back to Ohio without ever leaving their home.  They simply moved their furniture from one side of the house to the other.  Why would someone do this?  Family lore says it’s because of the variation in educational opportunities.  When the school teacher left Mercer, the children could easily continue schooling in Jay, and vice versa.  Personally, I think this was ingenious and says so much about how the family valued education.  They were in the forefront of the School Choice movement!

I’d love to visit the home but it was destroyed by fire in 1970.

My dad pulled the same stunt in the 1960’s.  His farm was on the county lines of both Lake and Porter in Indiana.  He preferred the Porter County school district so my step sibs were sent to Porter County schools. Technically, the house was built on the Lake County side so I’m not sure how he got away with it.

My great great grandfather, Jacob Leininger (11 Nov 1832-Jul 1908), served as town trustee and a long term school board member in Mercer County, Ohio.  I guess he preferred the Ohio to the Indiana schools after he grew up!

My great grandmother, Emma Kuhn Landfair (20 Jun 1864-21 Feb 1914) and grandmother, Lola Landfair Leininger (27 Apr 1891-30 Jan 1964) were teachers for a short time before their marriages.  School must have been important to them as they saved their remembrance cards and all of my dad’s report cards.


The above school Souvenir was for my grandmother Lola’s 1st grade year.  Her teacher, John D. Kable, would become her 2nd cousin through her marriage to my grandfather, Edwin Leininger. Edwin’s parents were Theobald Leininger, son of Jacob the School Board member and Caroline Kable. Caroline’s brother, John, had a son, John, who was the teacher at Wild Cat School (above).

My grandparents were in the same class – Eddie Leininger (1st column # 1) and Lola misspelled as Lora (2nd column #16):


My husband and I are high school sweethearts.  It’s an awesome thought to think that my grandparents were grade school sweethearts!


All grown and graduated, Eddie and Lola (above) married in 1914.

The Bakers-Kuhns-Landfairs-Leiningers all intermarried for several generations so many of the classmates were also related.


In 1904, William Kuhn was on the School Board:

William Kuhn was my grandmother, Lola Landfair Leininger’s uncle.

Below, School Board member Henry Bollenbacher was another relative – he was my grandfather Edwin’s 2nd cousin:


It’s an amazing thought to reflect on the amount of impact the Leininger line had on education at the turn of the last century!

Student Discipline

Originally published in on 16 Aug 2015.

Just as teachers had rules in the 19th century, so did students.  What was inappropriate in the 1800’s is mostly considered inappropriate today.  What differs is the punishment method used to correct the misdeed.  Schools have banned lashing/swatting/spanking.  I used to get my hands slapped with a ruler and I ducked once when the principal tried to slap me in 5th grade due to being mouthy, though what I said that was inappropriate I have no recollection of.  We didn’t have a cafeteria so we had to eat lunch in our classroom and milk monitors would be selected to bring in the pre-ordered milk cartons for the class.  I was monitor of the day and talking while the principal was counting out milk cartons.  As she went to slap me I ducked and she hit the girl standing next to me who let out a wail like the world was ending.  The best part of the story is that the girl was a real brat whose mom was very active in the school so the girl typically got away with murder.  The principal was so upset that she immediately hugged the child and took her to the office to get her ice.  I escaped back to class with our milk and for some reason, never got called back to the office to be disciplined.  I actually became a class hero when the story got around.

Back in 1872, the following was considered inappropriate student behavior, just as it is now:


Lying/Telling Tales

Swearing/Name Calling


Drinking Liquor

Wetting each other when washing (yep, water fights in the                           bathroom are still a big deal!)

Mischief Making (spitting, vandalizing, littering, being noisy)

Tree climbing over 3 feet (don’t think we have a height limit –                     tree climbing totally prohibited)

Leaving campus

What differs is that in our country, boys and girls are now permitted to play together which was an offense in 1872.  I’m not sure why making swings and swinging on them was prohibited but I suspect it was more of a liability issue for the school than bad behavior on the part of the student.  Maybe it was tied in with not climbing trees.  Reminds me that some districts today have banned Dodge Ball and Red Rover due to student injuries.

Wearing long nails was also a no-no but could be considered a distraction or weapon today so that still may be applicable.  Back in the day coming to school with dirty face and hands would be considered a punishment for the student but if it was often, today it probably would warrant a call to Child Protective Services.

In 1872, students could be disciplined for misbehaving on the road.  Until recently, my school district couldn’t discipline a child for an infraction committed off campus – such as at the bus stop.  That’s recently changed, however, with the advent of bullying via social media.  A student may have texted/posted something inappropriate outside of school but since it’s viewable at school, school personnel can now address it.

What’s most interesting is that kids have made poor choices for a very long time.  I didn’t get into much trouble in school because I knew I would disappoint my mom and I that would have been a horrible punishment for me.  My mom told a story of stealing a box of crayons when she was in first grade.  She knew it was wrong but wanted to make a picture for her mother so she snuck them out of the classroom one Friday afternoon.  As soon as she got outside the guilt overcame her and she vomited.  The teacher came to assist her and my mom confessed.  After cleaning her up the school sent her home with three packs of crayons, extras for her two younger siblings.  Her teacher told her if she ever needed anything to just ask next time.  That nameless teacher made a tremendous difference by teaching a valuable life lesson in a kind way.  Teachers do the same every day every year often without seeing the positive results.  Developing good people is more important, to me, than any other curricula that a school tries to instill.  As teachers in my school district return to work tomorrow for a few days of planning and training before students arrive the following week, I hope the realize the impact they have on their students.  It’s an awesome responsibility not only to the individual student, but to the future!

Teachers’ Rule

Originally published on on 13 Aug 2015.

I come from a long line of folks who love to learn – whether it was formally in school or on their own.  My paternal grandmother and great grandmother both taught for a short time before their marriage.  Since I had limited knowledge of my dad’s side growing up I discovered this as an adult and was surprised that I shared this commonality.  My husband changed careers in his late 30’s  and we were astounded to discover after he became a teacher, that his maternal great grandfather had also taught for years.  Guess it’s in our genes!

As we begin a new school year I look back upon Teacher Rules that were in place when my great grandmother, Emma Kuhn, first taught.  I received a copy of the Rules for Teachers 1872 when I visited Berkley, West Virginia Coal Camp’s one room schoolhouse earlier this summer.

Back in the day women could teach until wed but could be dismissed if caught in some type of unseemly contact.  In 1915, the rules prohibited a teacher from marrying during the term of the contract.   I don’t know when that rule changed but I suspect it must have been in the 20th century as a child, I had teachers who were married and working.  Having a baby, though, changed the rules and teachers didn’t return to work immediately after maternity leave.  I’m fairly certain the unseemly contact changed in the 1980’s as when I first started teaching in the 1970’s, “living in sin” was grounds for dismissal in Florida.  I had a divorced coworker who lived in fear that our principal would find out she was living with her boyfriend.  When I returned to teaching after my children were born the rules had changed and no one cared any more.

Male teachers were allowed one evening a week to court and if they were regular church goers, could court for two evenings a week.  By 1915, rules stated that both male and female teachers had to be home between 8 PM and 6 AM unless they were attending a school function.

Although the following wasn’t necessarily grounds for dismissal, since teachers were supposed to be role models in the community, these actions could cause “good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty”:

Smoking or using liquor in any form

Frequenting pool or public halls

Getting shaved in a barber shop

Beginning in 1915, these were added:

Loiter in an ice cream parlor

Travel beyond city limits unless permission of the School Board       Chair was received

Dress in bright colors

Dye hair

And just for women teachers:

Ride in a carriage or auto with any man unless he’s your father or


Must wear at least 2 petticoats

Dresses must not be any shorter than 2 inches above the ankle (in  the 1970’s this moved to the knee and hose was required!)

Today, teachers start their day by making sure the technology in their room is turned on.  In 1872, teachers were responsible for the “tech” of their day – filling the lamps, clearing the chimney, bringing a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal into the classroom.  Funny how we aren’t even allowed to touch the thermostat today as it’s controlled remotely by the district office.  No amount of complaining that it’s too hot or cold in your classroom alters the temperature so I think that it might not have been a bad thing to have to make sure that the stove had coal. The 1915 Board of Education in West Virginia added the following duties – sweep the floor at least once daily and scrub it with hot, soapy water at least once a week, clean the blackboard daily and start the fire by 7 AM so the room is warm when students arrive at 8.

Students are responsible for their supplies today but teachers often know who is having financial difficulty and may need assistance.  In 1872, teachers were responsible for making the pens but were given latitude in “whittling nibs” individually for the benefit of their students.  Today, we hand out pencil grips in elementary or allow students to type responses instead so the spirit of the rule remains.

Teaching has never been a lucrative profession.  In 1872, the contract stated that after 5 years of faithful performance a teacher was entitled to a quarter increase weekly.  Teachers were advised to save a “goodly” sum of earnings for their retirement so that they would not someday become a burden to society.

People frequently tell teachers that it must be great having their summers off and so much free time with vacations during the school year.  What they don’t realize is that teachers aren’t paid when they aren’t working.  They are contracted for a specific time period, such as 10 months, but may have that income equalized over the year so that they can have income coming in when they aren’t under contract.  Teachers also work extremely long hours that aren’t covered by overtime or compensatory time.  There are no grading fairies that magically review all of the students’ class and homework!  In 1872, teachers were allowed to spend time reading the Bible or another “good” book after their ten hour school day was over.  During the summer months, my contract is for 10 hour days (7 AM-5:45 PM).  Granted I only work 4 of 5 days in the summer but after my long commute, I tend to read my personal email and call it a day.  I bet (oops, betting probably wasn’t allowed either!) that teachers were just as exhausted then as they are today.  Some things never change!

(West Virginia rules provided by Opal Tolin of the Youth Museum, Berkley, West Virginia)

One Room Schoolhouse

Originally published in on 9 Aug 2015.

A new school year is just around the corner!  Over the summer, I visited a one room coal camp schoolhouse in Beckley, West Virginia.

Technically, there are very few of what is thought of as a traditional one room schoolhouses still in operation in the United States.  In 2005, there were only 400 left and I suspect that the number has significantly dropped since that time.1

Three weeks after my West Virginia visit I attended a national educational conference in San Francisco, California. Reflecting on these trips, it got me thinking of the old saying, what goes around comes around.

I’ve been an educator for 38 years and I’ve experienced so many fads. (I’ll be retiring in the next couple of years with the goal of working full time as a genealogist.)  Some methods lately aren’t fads, though, but are practices being resurrected from long before than my days spent in a classroom.

Recent trends in education seem to be towards many of the concepts that were commonplace in the traditional one room schoolhouse that our great grandparents attended.  Today, many “progressive” schools group children based on ability and not age.  Although one room schoolhouses placed children in rows by grade, with 1st graders in the very front and 8th graders in the back, the children interacted on lessons taught based on their knowledge. Multi-age classroom are again becoming commonplace and I’m planning on mixing my7th and 8th graders with 11th and 12th graders this year.  Lucky for me, the 2 school levels (middle and high) are right next door so it’s doable.

Typically, one room schoolhouses held a maximum of 40 students but usually had about 20-25.  In my state, we have an amendment to the state constitution that limits the number of students in a class with some flexibility, usually it’s 18 in grades Kindergarten – 3rd, 22 in grades 4th-8th and 25 in 9th-12th. Gone are the days of the baby boomers with huge classes:

My 1st Grade Class (I’m 2nd row, 5th from right)

To accommodate such large amounts of students, baby boomers had to have their desks lined up in even rows:

Hubby’s 3rd Grade Classroom

The cooperative classroom of today has flexible settings and sometimes resembles more of a family room than what is thought of as a schoolroom:

Once thought to be a classroom of the future!

The one room schoolhouse had its tablets and my school district has a BYOE (Bring Your Own Electronics) policy that allows students to bring their own electronic devices.  Of course, we don’t need chalk with our tablets!

The teacher in the one room schoolhouse often prepared individual lessons for his or her students and the teacher today does the same.  Gone are the textbook series, like Open Highways, that I used when I first started teaching.  We’re lucky to have internet resources available as supplements which I’m sure the one room schoolhouse teachers would have thought was marvelous.

Due to technology, innovative educational programs are springing up all over the United States as alternatives to the typical school environment. in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Brooklyn, New York was developed by a former Google employee and is a micro-school with a personalized education not very different from what our great grandparents received.

My next few blogs are going to be about educational history, both in general and specifically with my ancestors. I’m going to share some exams given to 8th graders back in the day to compare what’s being given now.  We’ll also look at how the role of teachers and types of student discipline that have changed.  In the meantime, I’m going Back to School

1. “The Return Of The One-Room Schoolhouse.” NPR. NPR, Web. 08 Aug. 2015.

Family Pets

Originally published on on 7 Aug 2015.

My daughter wants to get a dog in the next few months.  Growing up, our kids have had lots of pets as my husband and I believe that the benefits far outweigh the work.  Gaining responsibility and compassion, instilling nurture and playful fun are worth the cost and effort, IMHO.

Lab Mariah, Son holding cat Tinker and daughter holding rabbit Fluffy.  They also had a parakeet, fish and turtles.

Daughter will most likely find an older mutt at the local shelter.  Son thought she ought to get a cat, instead, since she likes to travel.  Hubby is just excited to finally be a “grandparent.”

We’ve been having a large amount of rain lately that limits outside activity so I decided last weekend to look through photo albums of our family’s pets.  I was amazed to discover how far back the interaction of animals in my ancestors’ lives are recorded.

The oldest seems to be this pic of my mom and aunt from around 1923:

I wish I knew the pony’s name!  Living on a farm, we had 12 ponies and a horse but my favorite was Dapple Brownie – I’m about the same age as my mom on her pony:

The oldest dog photo we have is of my husband’s grandmother, Elsie Johnson Harbaugh, from around 1942. The dog’s name has also been lost to history:

Funny how families tend to like similar breeds.  Hubby’s family really liked small dogs; his

parents also had a poodle named Schatze when he was growing up and after he left home, Nano:

Hubby liked larger dogs but his parents drew the line and only allowed him to have a mid size mutt, Henry:

I miss Henry.  He used to sit between my husband and I in the car on dates and hold my hand.  Hubby said he knew I was the one as Henry was very particular about who he liked.

My side of the family liked big dogs.  My dad always had collies:

Friend Debbie, Me and Lassie (not the famous one!)

as did my twin cousins, with Twinks:

Since my parents were divorced, and my mom and I lived with my grandparents, I had Australian sheepdogs there.  Here I am with Toto, as a puppy, who was hit by a car.

After his death, I cared for Toto’s sister, Snowball, until we moved to Florida and Snowball retired to a farm in Indiana.  I also took care of my uncle’s weimaraner, Lucky, for a bit.  Someone stole him from my uncle’s backyard and it broke my uncle’s heart:

Our next door neighbor, Mr. Bauer, had a small dog I played with, too:

Clearly, we aren’t just dog people as many cats have imprinted love on our hearts:

My cat, Blackie, at the farm
Boots and kittens at my grandparents
Thomasina and I at my grandparent’s house

My husband had a kitten for a short time but it was a wild child so his parents had to return it:

Kiitie looks so innocent here but it scratched anyone who came near.  When hubby and I were first on our own we got a cat, Midnight, at the pound:

Mid got into a cat fight when he was about 8 years old and died from an infection.  We were so upset that it took us a year before we could get another pet.  Eventually we got Tinker (the cat) and Misty (the dog).

who were the best of friends as we got them within 2 weeks of each other.  Tinker lived 19 plus years and Misty, 12.  These were the first pets our kids had.

Over the years we also adopted a stray, Cipher, who turned out wasn’t a stray.  When we couldn’t find the owner we took Cipher to the vet – no chip so we got him shots and adopted him.  Cipher slept at our house at night and we later learned was spending his days a few blocks away at a neighbor’s house. When the neighbor decided to get Cipher chipped (she was calling him Ben) she discovered we were his people.  Cipher decided to move in with her permanently after I brought home two kittens who had been abandoned at the school where I worked.

Last but not least are 2 birds that I will never forget.  The first is a wild bird that wasn’t very wild. Every time I went out to play the bird below would join me.

This went on for at least 3 years and as an adult, I realize how strange that is but as a child, I didn’t know that wild birds aren’t supposed to play with you.

When I was three, an elderly neighbor was moving and couldn’t take her parakeet with her so my mother said we’d look after the bird.  The neighbor had had Chipper for about 20 years so my mom figured it wouldn’t live much longer.  Surprise, surprise, Chipper happily chirped for the next 13 years.  He didn’t like to leave his cage; he’d fly from one end of the room to the other and than land on the open door and go back inside.  Chipper’s favorite show was same as that of my grandparents, Lawrence Welk, and later, The FBI.  I don’t know why he liked the latter but he would sing so loudly you couldn’t hear the show.

I can’t wait to see how our two cats, Charlie and Parker, are going to behave when daughter’s dog visits. I’m expecting it will make for some more memorable family stories!

Genealogy Truths

Originally published on on 2 Aug 2015.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend an educational conference in San Francisco, California. This was my first visit to the area and the first time I ever visited somewhere I had no genealogy research to do.  Ancestorwise,  nada!  No cemeteries, court houses, or former residences to explore.

Since I had only a little time to visit with loved ones who now call the city home and even less time to see the sights, I decided to spend Sunday afternoon absorbing San Francisco as a native would. It was too early to check into the hotel so I left my luggage with the concierge, hailed a cab and asked to be delivered to Mission Dolores, the oldest intact building in the city, founded in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra,  My young taxi driver had no clue where I wanted to go.  I shared with him my printed mapquest as originally, I planned to walk from the hotel but upon arriving later than anticipated, I didn’t want to waste time. (I still print direction cause I always have cell issues!)

In 3rd grade I had read about Father Serra although the story is now fuzzy in my brain.  Of course, there are two sides to every story and the childhood version of events that I read was not the whole truth. As a parochial school student I would have read the Roman Catholic version of events.  As a genealogist, I like to look at stories from different perspectives.

Mission Dolores

Father Junipero Serra is remembered as a Roman Catholic priest, philosopher, and mission founder. Those facts are undisputed.  His character, however, is where viewpoints differ.  He is seen by Native American groups as abusive though historians have labeled him as strict instead. Some say he destroyed native culture while others believe he blended it with his own.  Known to beat his breast with a rock and scourge himself at the pulpit, was he mentally ill or just following the practices of his day?  I don’t believe it’s up to me to pass judgement.

After visiting Mission Dolores I took a bus to Golden Gate Park.  I drove through time – seeing the retro Haight-Asbury, Castro and Presidio districts.  Strangely, I sat next to an actor who 30 years ago lived in the same place I did and I had seen him perform.

Haight-Ashbury – 48 years after the Summer of Love

Running out of time I was unable to visit the California Academy of Science Museum but spent the remaining times at the Botanical Garden. What an awesome place!  I especially enjoyed the redwoods.

These trees remind me that often records are silently left to be interpreted.  A forester can determine the tree’s age and weather conditions it experienced by looking at the tree’s rings.  Genealogists uncover an old document that may shed light on an ancestor’s experiences without directly mentioning the individual by name.  Droughts and floods, recessions and bull markets, along with so many other factors, effect families and influence their choices and decisions.  My trip reminded me I need to keep events experienced by my ancestors in mind to better understand them and to remember I’m peering through my current world view and not that of my forebearers.


Originally published on on 26 Jul 2015.

I have fond memories of picnics – beginning in childhood all the way to last weekend! Picnics today are a relaxed affair, it’s a wear something comfortable, de-stress and enjoy family, friends and nature.  I don’t know about you but I definitely don’t try to make a fashion statement when going on a picnic.  That wasn’t the case, however, back in the day.  I love the picture below showing my grandmother, Non, with the family’s first car in 1923. Nice touch with the American flag on the front since it was Independence Day.  They were on their way to the Croatian Picnic Grounds located between Glen Park and Hobart, Indiana.  A dress, heals and Sunday’s best hat for spending the day in the sticks.

July 4, 1923-on the way to a picnic, L-R Boarder, Mary Koss, Joseph Koss Jr.

Non wasn’t alone in her wearing apparel.  You’d think the family was going to church instead of spending the day in the woods.

Croatian Picnic Grounds 1923 L-R George Kos, Anne Marie Koss, Anna Grdenic Kos, Ivan “John” Koss, Dorothy Koss, Mary Koss and Barbara Kos
Must have been a chore to get the kids’ clothes clean!  The area was heavily wooded with a small clearing that was mostly dirt.  No wonder Non loved her Fels Naptha laundry soap. We had an old Maytag ringer washer in the basement that had to be filled up by hand with hot water.  I can still picture my Gramps hooking up the laundry line around our backyard and adding poles with slits to insure that the line didn’t sag.  Monday was wash day and the picnic sure must have been a distant memory the following day spent cleaning all those dirty garments.

The Croatian picnic grounds were used for at least 50 years.  The picnic grounds were open on Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  Every Sunday, one of the men would rise early to attend 6 AM Mass and then set off for the grounds to prepare the spit that would roast the lamb.  Families took turns selling plates of food and drinks.  Our shift was usually 1-2 PM once a month.  I wish I had a picture of the building which was just a wooden shack.  The north end was enclosed to hold supplies.  That was attached to a covered bar area.  Since the bar rail was too high for kids, a child who was helping would stand on an overturned wooden “pop” or soda carton or two.  Customers would order plates of roasted lamb, Vienna style bread, Croatian style potato salad or a lettuce salad with oil and vinegar dressing.  Drinks were always Budweiser beer in a bottle or whatever pop was on sale that week – Coke, Pepsi, Fanta, Sprite.  Funny we never had water though there was a spigot that we all used to wash our hands after eating.  Someone would put a bar of soap in a mesh bag on a string around the spigot.  Nature dried our hands. I have no memory of the bathroom facilities, if they even existed.

Some of the ladies brought desserts to sell – pita which is like a fruit filled bar cookie and not the bread sold today, apple or cheese strudel, and cookies.

Both lunch and dinner was served.  Sometimes the menu changed and pork was included, along with hamburgers and hot dogs.  We always got lamb, though, which was heavenly. My father-in-law disliked lamb as he believed it was tough and tasteless.  My last visit to the Croatian picnic grounds was in 1985 when my husband and I returned to visit his family. We brought a takeout container to my in-laws and after one bite, my father-in-law groaned that he had spent his entire life in the area and never knew what he had been missing. The following Sunday he went back for more.

After lunch, as kids, we’d cut through the woods on a well worn trail or crossed the street to visit our school friends and neighbors of other nationalities.  My next door neighbor, Carol Leon, would be at the Spanish picnic grounds right across the street.  There was also Polish, Serbian, Greek, and Italian grounds.  Possibly there was more but I wasn’t allowed to walk that far!  Sometimes we’d play baseball or badminton with our friends but our favorite was cigarette tag – Someone was “it” and “it” chased everyone around.  If you were tagged you had to sing a cigarette jingle (like, Winston, tastes good like a cigarette should or I’d walk a mile for a Camel) or you became “it.”  Funny but none of us grew up to be smokers.  The adults spent the afternoon playing horseshoes or cards.  The women loved to gossip.  There was also singing and dancing (after a couple of beers) as the musically inclined always brought their native instruments.

By the mid 1960’s female children began wearing shorts.  The ladies continued to dress up through the early 1970’s.

Prerodevic Picnic L-R Barbara Kos Milosevich, Family Friend Violet Harminsic, Anna Kos, Unknown Friend, Mary Koss Circa 1950

I wish I had the secret lamb recipe, I know it was infused with garlic, probably patted down with salt and pepper but what else I have no idea.  I do make the Croatian potato salad often which is similar to German potato salad. Besides lamb, it’s wonderful with ham, too. Try it and let me know what you think:

Croatian Style Potato Salad

Peel and cube potatoes to bite size (I use red but any kind will do) about 2 potatoes per person.

Add water and cook on stove til tender.

Meanwhile, cut a small sweet onion coarsely.

When potatoes are done, drain and place into a large serving bowl.  Liberally sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper.  With a serving spoon, mix then salt and pepper some more.  Add the onions.  Using a ratio of 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or regular vinegar) to 2 tablespoons oil (vegetable or light olive) drizzle over the potatoes/onions until the potatoes are well saturated.  Gently stir to make sure that all of the liquid is absorbed.  If you have fresh dill or parsley you can add either.  Put a dinner plate over the serving bowl to maintain the heat and allow the dish to marinate, about 5 minutes.  When ready to serve, stir and enjoy!

The Bank Heist

Originally published on on 22 Jul 2015.

It was the Great Depression and times were tough as my grandfather, Gramps, had his work hours reduced at the steel mill.  The family took in boarders but as their hours were also cut, money was extremely tight.  One of our family legends takes place in the midst of this difficult period.

Gramps always turned his paycheck over to my grandmother, Non, to cash.  The family had an account at Gary National Bank on Broadway in Gary, Indiana.  The typical routine was Non would cash the check, put a small amount in savings and then on her way home, shop for groceries at a small family run store.  One never knows when a typical day will turn into a major event but that was what was about to happen.

Non stood in line at the bank awaiting her turn with the teller.  Hearing noise, she turned and saw a group of men exiting a car parked at the curb.  What made the scene different was they were waving guns and had their hats pulled down low over their eyes.  Bursting into the bank, the ring leader ordered everyone to get down on the floor.  Non stood still, in shock, clutching Gramps’ check.  Shots were fired at the ceiling. Non continued to stand still.  As one gunman approached the tellers directing them to place money in the bag he carried, another stood guard at the door.  A third man approached Non and again ordered her to get down on the floor.  Non pleaded, “Please, sir, my husband is a cripple and I have 3 small children.  My widowed mother and my sister also live with me.  I need this money. Please don’t take it.”  The gunman replied, “Get down now or I’ll shoot.”  Non got down on the floor. “Put your hands out to the side.” he ordered.  Non complied.

Minutes later the gunman was back and he dropped a stack of bills in Non’s outstretched hand.  She turned her head and saw him wink at her.  The gunmen told the customers to remain on the ground until they counted to 100 aloud. Departing, the robbery was over.

When they got to 75 Non shoved the bills down the top of her dress. Amply endowed, no one would notice.  Non not only could use the money, she feared that the police would think she was an accomplice if she reported what had happened so she said nothing.

After Non got home she hid the money, which amounted to several hundred dollars, fearful that if she used it she would be in trouble.  Years later, after the robbers were convicted, the money was used to partly pay for the  family home being bricked. Non swore that the gunman who gave her the money was John Dillinger, the Indiana farm boy turned bank robber.

Problem is, Dillinger didn’t rob a Gary National Bank.  He robbed a 1st National Bank in East Chicago, Indiana1 but Non would not have gone that far as she would have had to rely on street cars to get there nor was that bank located on Broadway.

Historians dispute some of the bank robberies at the time that were thought to be committed by Dillinger.  A friend of Dillinger’s, John “Red” Hamilton and Baby Face Nelson’s gang has now been credited with some of the robberies initially attributed to Dillinger. Today, 14 robberies are thought to have been the work of Dillinger between 1933-1934.2

Non insisted that Dillinger was the man who gave her the money.  There are many reports of Dillinger’s compassion.    “Dillinger was generous with his ill-gotten gains, leaving $100 bills behind for each member of the family whenever he visited and one time offering to finance Gallagher’s (his niece’s) dream of opening a beauty shop by giving her $5,000. After discussion by the family, it was decided not to accept the money.”3  Another “story told of a farmer who had come to a bank to make a deposit while the gang was robbing the place. Standing at the teller window with his money in front of him, Dillinger asked the farmer if the money was his or the bank’s. The farmer answered it was his and Dillinger told him, “Keep it. We only want the banks’.”4

Was Dillinger involved in the robbery Non remembered or not?  Possibly his role was that of an accomplice and not the leader.  Perhaps Non was mistaken and the robber was not Dillinger.

There were several bank robberies so I can’t pinpoint which robbery Non experienced.  I can understand as an immigrant with a previous arrest (see The KKK Strikes post of  18 July 2015) she would fear further police involvement.  Although I can understand why Non didn’t tell authorities about the money she received it clearly was wrong.  In genealogy, separating our family’s past choices from our present lives can be difficult.  Keeping in mind that we’re all imperfect humans helps.

Mary & Daughter Mary Lou Before Bricking 1943


After Bricking. Photo taken Dec 2001

“John Dillinger – List of His Bank Robberies.” N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.

2 Ibid

3 “Dillinger Relatives to Attend New Museum Opening.” N.p., 28 Feb. 2015. Web. 08 July 2015.

4 “John Dillinger.” A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.


The KKK Strikes – Reasons Behind the Cross Burning in Gary, Indiana

Originally published on on 18 Jul 2015.

One of my mother’s most frightening memories occurred when she was 6 years old.  It was late autumn and the family had just finished dinner.  Hearing the sounds of cars and voices my grandfather, Gramps, went out to investigate as typically, there was not much traffic at that time of night. Peaking out the window, my mother saw men in white and many cars lining the street.  Gramps soon reappeared and ordered everyone to turn off the lights and to quickly go down into the basement.  My grandmother, Non, asked him what was happening but he just shook his head and grabbed his young son, my Uncle George. The outside noises grew louder – car doors slammed, men spoke loudly and then it became quiet.  The children were told to remain still.  My mother recalled how cold and damp it was in the fruit cellar as the family had not had time to grab a sweater and this part of the house was unheated. My mother didn’t understand what was going on but she knew her parents and grandmother were frightened. Then the sounds of cheering and what sounded like singing, though muffled, was heard. In the dark, mom’s siblings fell asleep but she felt, as the oldest, she needed to remain alert so she pinched herself to stay awake.  After several hours of quiet my grandfather decided to investigate.  He soon returned  and said the Klan had left, the charred cross was not glowing so the fire must be cold. The family could return to their beds for the night.  My mother had a fitful sleep for many nights after as she was sure those bad men were going to return and cause harm.

Why did the Ku Klux Klan choose to burn a cross in front of her home?  Why did they hate her when they didn’t even know her?  Why did they wear hoods and capes?  Where were the police?

My mother went to her grave never knowing for sure why her family was targeted.

I thought I knew the reasons but in researching this family story I discovered I was very, very wrong.

Some background information is necessary to see how my initial reasoning was flawed. I’ll highlight some of the key parts of the saga:

After my grandmother, Non, emigrated to the US in July 1913 with her mother, Granny, and brother, my Great Uncle Joe, the family resided in Glen Park, a suburb of Gary, Indiana, while her father lived in nearby Chicago, Illinois working for the Pullman Company as a laborer.  My great grandfather thought it best if the family lived in a more bucolic setting than the nitty gritty urban environment they weren’t used to.  Non’s first residence was an upstairs apartment on West Ridge Road between Adams and Jefferson Streets.  The building below the apartments held a church and a paint store.  Non and her brother briefly attended school in the neighborhood to perfect their English and she fell in love with the community.  Looking for ways to increase the family income, however, my great grandmother, Granny, decided to apartment hunt in Chicago, locate a larger apartment and then sublease to other immigrants, providing them with room and board.  So off to Chicago the family moved.

In January 1917, my grandparents wed at St. Salomea’s Roman Catholic Church in Chicago and they remained there until after my mom’s birth in April 1918.  The family seriously discussed moving to Bethlehem or Alquippa, Pennsylvania as there was rumors of steady income with the steel mills but they decided to remain in the Chicago area.

Family outside Granny’s Pullman area apartment Left-Right, A neighbor, Great Uncle Joseph Koss, Non, my Mother Dorothy and her Godmother, a friend of Non’s.

My great grandpa did not live long, dying as a result of the Great Flu Epidemic in January 1919. The family unit consisted of widowed Granny, her 3 children – Joseph (who is missing from the 1920 census), Barbara (born in the U.S.) and my Non, Non’s husband, Gramps, and their 2 children, Dorothy, my mom, and Anne Marie with a third, George, on the way.  The only breadwinner became Gramps.  By late 1918, Gramps and my great grandfather were hired as laborers in the steel mill in Gary.  The family rented a house at 2626 Harrison Street, not quite in Glen Park but close.  My mother recalled that the house often flooded from the nearby Calumet River, there was a grape arbor in the back but lots of snakes so the children played on a hill across the street.

Times were tough so Non learned a lot from her neighbors who had moved to Gary from Mexico and Louisiana.  Being a young mother with 3 small children, her Black neighbors, the Gilkeys, taught her the value of Vicks Vaporub and shared a secret family recipe to help the children recover from scarlet fever, sore throats and earaches.  Even though the city had placed the family under quarantine for the scarlet fever, the neighbor woman would sneak in the back door to bring food and the homemade medicine.  Non learned to cook in new ways and corn meal mush, fried chicken, hot sauce and greens became commonplace. The family had a garden with chickens and rabbits.  In the fall, the children would stomp the grapes to a pulp so the family could make vino, a family tradition, which they began to sell locally.

1920 Census – Note that one of the “Black” families were of Mexican Hispanic descent

The only problem was that the home was considered so far out from the city limits of Gary that there was no streetcar so my one legged Gramps re-learned how to ride a bike to get to the last stop of the streetcar line on Broadway, about a mile away, to get to work in the mill.Around 1923 another tragedy struck the family.  Breadwinner Gramps had to have his right leg amputated due to a steel mill accident.  With the settlement money they received the family decided to buy a home in Glen Park, 1 block west of the apartment that the family first lived in when they emigrated.  Non wanted her children to attend Glen Park Elementary School that was known for providing a good education and St. Marks, the brand new Roman Catholic Church, was only 1 block away.

The farmhouse was large enough to once again take in boarders for extra cash.  The family continued to raise chickens and rabbits, a vegetable garden and of course, grapes so that they could produce more vino to sell.  My mother recalled that in the fall, her feet were often purple due to the stomping of the grapes.  The fruit cellar where the wine was stored was in the basement, directly under where my mom (Dorothy) was standing:

L-R Anne Marie, Dorothy, Non, Boarder, Friend of Non’s with her son

Shortly before the cross burning, my mother experienced another frightening event.  On Saturday nights, Gramps would play cards with his friends while Non went to the movies with her girlfriends.  Granny remained at home watching the children.  One Saturday night the Gary police arrived at the door inquiring about sales of alcohol.  Granny, with her limited English, had my mother translate.  The officers searched the house, found the vats in the fruit cellar and with backup, removed the wine.  When my grandparents returned home they were questioned and then arrested.  The next morning they appeared before a judge who told them they would be contacted about an upcoming court date.

My grandparents were arrested because of the laws of Prohibition.  “While the manufacture, importation, sale, and transport of alcohol was illegal in the United States, Section 29 of the Volstead Act allowed wine and cider to be made from fruit at home, but not beer. Up to 200 gallons of wine and cider per year could be made, and some vineyards grew grapes for home use.”1  The problem was my grandparents had sold wine.

The court date never occurred as the evidence seemed to have disappeared.  Perhaps the officers lost it, sold it or drank it.  According to the Gary Police Department, there are no records of arrests from that far back.  Searching court records, none could be found since there never was a court date.

Who turned the family in to police?  My mother always thought it was a teacher who had repeatedly questioned her about the purple stains on her hands and feet.  Perhaps it was a card player associate of my Gramps who was disgruntled after a losing game.  Maybe it was a neighbor who witnessed cars coming and going.  Most likely I will never know how the police were tipped off.

In researching this story I also contacted the Gary Health Department for records on the quarantine.  I was informed that there were no records from that time period, however, I did find online that there was a smallpox epidemic in Gary in 1920 but no record of a scarlet fever outbreak.

I also investigated newspapers for records of quarantine, my grandparents’ arrest and cross burning in Glen Park.  Nothing appeared.

For years, I thought the cross burning was because my relatives were the perfect poster family for Klan hatred – as immigrants, these Roman Catholic foreigners who had friends of people of all colors had taken jobs away from the good ole boys and now were living the American Dream by owning a house in the country.  I now believe it is most likely that the cross burning occurred because of the wine arrests.

Recently I learned that “After Prohibition took effect in 1920 until its demise in 1933, it opened up a financial bonanza for criminal activity, especially underground bootlegging and the smuggling of liquor into Chicago, Gary, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Evansville and other thirsty cities. Enforcement was haphazard; the Anti-Saloon League was more of a lobbying agency and never rallied community support for enforcement.”2  “The KKK called for punishment of bootleggers and set up the ‘Horse Thief Detective Association’ (HTDA) to make extra-legal raids on speakeasies and gambling joints. It seldom cooperated with law enforcement or the state or federal courts. Instead (it) gave enforcement a bad name. Arthur Gillom, a Republican elected state attorney general over Klan opposition in 1924, did not tolerate its extra-legal operations. Instead, ‘He stressed the dangers of citizens relinquishing their constitutional rights and personal freedoms, and emphasized the importance of representative government (at all levels), states’ rights, and the concept of separation of church and state.’ When Rev. Shumaker proposed that ‘personal liberty had to be sacrificed in order to save people,’ Gilliom replied that surrendering power and individual freedoms was a slippery slope to centralized government and tyranny.”3

The arrest may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back with the Klan – we put up with you and now you’re making wine.  Enough already!  Perhaps because the police didn’t press charges, the Klan used the event to make a point to law enforcement – we know you didn’t pursue the case because you “lost” the evidence.  Who knows what the real reason was.  Unless a diary of an officer or Klansman involved miraculously appears mentioning these occurrences I probably will never know for sure.

This is one reason that I love genealogy, the unexpected discoveries!  I attended 12 years of schooling in Gary and never once did I hear about the Klan going after bootleggers and gamblers in the area. Although as vigilantes they were wrong to take the law into their hands, ironically, they were right in making a point that a crime had been committed and the enforcers of the law ignored it.

I realize my grandparents were the guilty ones in this story – they broke the law by selling wine and should have paid the price for their actions.  They got lucky in getting off – no evidence, no proof of sales, no case.

Unfortunately, it was an innocent victim, my mother, that was most affected.  I do know that the cross burning left an indelible mark on her

  1.  Prohibition in the United States Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 05 July 2015.
  2. Thomas R. Pegram, “Hoodwinked: The Anti-Saloon League and the Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Prohibition Enforcement,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era(2008) 7#1 pp 89-119
  3. Ann Gilliom Verbeek, “The League and the Law: Arthur L. Gillom and the Problem of Due Process in Prohibition-Era Indiana,” Indiana Magazine of History(2011) 107#4 pp 289-326, quotes at p 297 online