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

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com 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
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:

1926
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

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.

Our Lady of the Snows – A Maybe Miracle

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 12 Jul 2015.

As I continue exploring family legends, I recall the story my Grandparents told me about the miracle of their village church, Our Lady of the Snow.  The tale goes like this:  The local chapel had grown too small so the villagers decided to build a larger church.  A debate over the location ensued for months and with no agreement reached, no church was built.  After a long time period consensus as to where to build was made.  It took many days to clear the land because the weather had turned unseasonably cold and rainy.  When the site was finally ready, stakes were placed in the ground outlining what would be the church.  The next morning, the stakes were gone.  Baffled at the disappearance, the villagers replaced the stakes.  Again, the next day, the stakes had disappeared.   Bafflement turned to anger and accusation as to who was responsible for the removal.  It was decided to wait until the bricks arrived and then, the stakes would once again be placed so that the bricklayers could quickly lay a foundation which would deter the unknown perpetrator.  Soon the bricks were delivered and the whole village arrived at the site.  After the local priest’s blessing there was food and dancing as the villagers were sure that they were now united in where the needed church would be built.  The stakes were replaced and the bricks added before the townspeople went home for the evening.  When the masons returned to the site the next morning, they were shocked to discover that the bricks had disappeared!  The village decided that the only way to deter any further damage and to move forward with construction was to have local men serve as guards at night.  The work was once again begun and a few men built a fire in preparation for their long night of guard duty that lay ahead.  When the sun rose the next morning the guards discovered that the previous days’ work had vanished again and the pile of supply bricks was now scattered and broken.  They had heard nothing all night. Hurriedly fleeing back to the village, the guards reported their find.  The townspeople were angry and accused the men of sleeping but the guards pointed out that the noise of the destruction would have aroused them from sleep so that proved they had been awake.  The villagers accused the guards of being in a drunken stupor; the guards insisted they had not been inebriated.  The guards could not explain how they had not seen or heard the damage occurring.  A new group of men was selected to watch the site the following evening.  The plan was to a include more men of varying age groups and to have the men walk the perimeter of the site all night long in shifts to insure that no one fell asleep.  When dawn arrived the bricks were found to be destroyed again.  The men were shaken by the discovery as they did not hear or see anyone or anything that could have done such damage so quickly and quietly.  After reporting the find back to the rest of the village the decision was made to halt construction.  Clearly, these events were unexplainable and until an explanation could be found, the church would not be built.   The next day was Sunday so the townspeople crowded into the existing chapel to pray for understanding of what was happening and for a new church to be built.  Although it was summer, that Sunday night it snowed.  The next morning, as the villagers opened the doors of their homes they could see an outline of what appeared to be a church in a cleared field.  The entire field was snow covered except for the area that resembled a church building.  Inside the cleared area, flowers bloomed.  The villagers took this event as a sign that the church should be built at this site and the decision to name the church after Jesus’ mother, Mary, because the flowers must be her work.  Due to the snow falling in August and outlining the church, the church would be named Our Lady of the Snows.  Construction was immediately begun and with no further delays, the church was quickly finished.

I thought this would be an easy story to confirm as miracle sites are usually well documented and typically easy to find.  I wanted to know when the event occurred and I wanted a picture of the church.  I spoke with a 2nd cousin who said, although he had never heard the story, he had heard the name of our ancestor’s church and it was Our Lady of the Snow.  I then confirmed online that the parish church in Dubranec, Croatia is still named Our Lady of the Snow.

I first went to a Roman Catholic site and determined that Our Lady of the Snows, or the Ice Lady, is a feast day celebrated on August 5th.  The “miracle” happened in Rome and the tale goes like this:  “During the pontificate of Liberius, the Roman patrician John and his wife, who were without heirs, made a vow to donate their possessions to Our Lady. They prayed to her that she might make known to them in what manner they were to dispose of their property in her honour. On 5 August, during the night, snow fell on the summit of the Esquiline Hill and, in obedience to a vision which they had the same night, they built a basilica, in honour of Our Lady, on the spot which was covered with snow.”1  The problem with the story is that no mention was made of the miracle until a few hundred years after the event, in the 13th Century.  By 1471, every church in Rome was celebrating the feast day but by 1741, the church renounced the miracle.  There is no mention of a miracle with snow occurring in Dubranac.

250px-masolino_fondazione_di_santa_maria_maggiore
The Blessed Virgin Mary overlooking Pope Liberius as the Pontiff scraped the foundation of the basilica into the snow. By Italian artist Masolino de Panicale circa 15th-century.  Museo de Capdodimonte.

Online I found the parish history but unfortunately, the google translation from Croatian to English is not clear and the records are confusing.2 “The first written mention of the parish of the Annunciation is in the list of parishes of the Zagreb diocese by Archdeacon Ivana Goričko in 1334.  Probably the parish existed before, but it is impossible to confirm.  The recorded parish in Velika Gorica is called “ecclesia beate Virginis de campo Turouo” (The Church of the Blessed Virgin in the field of Mozyr).”3 There is conflict, however, with another source that mentions the church located on “the highest hill between Bukovčak and Dubranac” as the “parish church of St. Catherine.” 4 “This is the church in its original form was made of wood, and it eventually demanded restoration. Its maintenance was not the best, which is confirmed by the fact that the liturgy occasionally (was) held in private homes. The church did not have a permanent parish priest.”5

I’m thinking that the 1334 list of parishes included 2 churches in the area – the older St. Catherine’s, located on the hill between Bukovack and Duranac, and The Church of the Blessed Virgin, built in the field in Velika Gorica.  Notice that the church in the field is not called Our Lady of the Snows.  There is no mention of the miraculous events that my grandparents described which I would think would have been recorded as the Roman Catholic Church investigates reported miracles.  So I dug deeper…

“Archdeacon Benko Vinković, in the canonical visitation in 1622, says that the church is built of old, and that for the time, pretty well covered and clean.  He added that the church was destroyed in 1592 for burglary Hasan – fits in Turopolje, but the parishioners very quickly restored (it).  The church had three stones of the altar, of which only the main was dedicated and equipped with all necessary (items).  In front of the church was a wooden porch where he (sic) was an altar of Our Lady.” 6

I don’t understand the “…in 1592 for burglary Hasan – fits in Turopolje,…” I believe the “fits in Turopolje” means that the style of the church was in the Turopolje custom but I can find no information on a burglary in 1592 occurring.  I’m also not clear on which church– St. Catherine’s or the Blessed Virgins, the record refers.  Perhaps this “burglary” was a part of the family legend of the stolen stakes and bricks.

Regarding the Church of the Blessed Virgin, “A church visitation was again made in 1642 and it was noted that the bell tower, containing a bell, was made of wood and the cemetery was around the church.”7    As the population increased the church became too small, so they began preparations for the construction of a new church, which is what my family legend reported.  “The chapel of Saint Mary in Dubranec was built in 1650, and liturgy was served during winter when access to church (I believe this means to St. Catherine’s) was very difficult.”8  Another source confirms that the “Chapel of the Mother of God, which is at first probably served for worship in the winter when the snow, because of the distance and access to the parish church of St. Catherine, was more difficult.”9  Still no miracle mentioned but the reason for enlargement was due to population increase AND snow is brought into the story.

“In 1686, an agreement was signed to build a new church and construction was started.  All the stone needed for building was brought by parishioners from Okić.  Thus, in 1688, the sanctuary, the sacristy and the part of the boat (sic) was completed.  In large part, the church was completed in 1692, in addition to the ceiling of the nave and the windows.  The church used the old altars.  The title of the church, The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as the new altar was supposed to be dedicated to the Nativity of Mary.
The new church was completed in 1704, and blessed in 1702 or 1703. A memorial blessing celebrated the Sunday before the Nativity of Mary in 1746. The Turret tower was covered with a sheet and a new organ was added.”10  In my family legend, the land was blessed before the church was built.  This part of the story could be from the blessing in 1702/1703 that occurred before the church was completed.  This church was built of stone that the parishioners brought, however, my story is that the construction material was brick.

“Since 1714 the seat of that same parish was relocated to Dubranec and the patron saint ever since is Majka Bozja Snjezna (Our Lady of Snow).”11  “In 1714, the first chapel in Dubranec was consecrated to Our Lady and was mentioned as a parish church, instead of the previous Church of St. Catharine that was situated further from the town.”12  So it wasn’t until 1714 that name became Our Lady of the Snow. I believe the original buildings were considered chapels and it wasn’t until 1714 that the building was large enough to become known as a church.  There is no mention, though, of why the name change to Our Lady of Snow occurred.

“Early in 1726 the extension of the church was finally completed. There are new altars and a statue of the Virgin Mary dressed in silk and richly adorned with ribbons and braids. In it comes more and more pilgrims not only from Dubranac, but also from surrounding parishes.”13  There is no explanation as to why pilgrims were coming – was it because it was the newest church in the area or because of the story of the miracle was circulating?

“The church was again too small and the 1757, church expansion began.  The side chapels were added to the south and north sides.  The wooden hall was destroyed and burials in the church were forbidden.  The church was consecrated on the Feast of the Assumption, 1781, and dedicated to the bishop of Zagreb, Josip Galjuf.  The title became Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary.”14  There’s mention that that parish priest and the “Noble Commune of Turopolje“ were behind the change but there is no mention as to why the name change occurred.  There is no further mention of pilgrims coming so my theory is that the townspeople were warned by the bishop to stop using the legend per the Vatican directive of 1741.  To appease him, the new church name was dedicated to the bishop.

In 1881, some type of new regulations were enacted by the church authorities.  “Opinions were divided as to what to leave” and “the then Culture Minister, Isidore Krsnjavi, led major controversy with Herman Bolle, (architect) warning him of the value of the domestic construction, particularly the valuable painted ceiling in the church.”15  “It owes its present appearance to Herman Bollé, who in 1881 removed the majority of the decorations belonging to the Turopolje style, not recognizing the value and originality of the local architecture and artwork. He designed the present day brick church with the wooden ceiling, and designed the main altar of Our Lady and the two side altars dedicated to St. Joseph and St. Catharine.”16  At this time, the name, Our Lady of the Snows, was restored and the stone church was bricked.  There is still no mention of the legend of the stolen bricks but there is a notation of divided opinions and controversy.  Why the church regained its old name is also not discussed.

In 1889, the church received great damage after an earthquake and major renovation was needed.  In 1892, reconstruction of the church and the tower began, in keeping with the design by Herman Bolle.  The formerly baroque tower was replaced by a slender octagonal pyramidal tower.  The restoration was completed in 1896. The most recent renovations occurred in 1995 to 1997.

st-mary

So my family legend appears to be a mixture of facts and fiction that occurred over hundreds of years, then rearranged into one tale.  The truths are that the church is named Our Lady of the Snow, was built in a field, and it is currently made of brick.  There is some basis in the story for the villagers’ disagreeing but it appears to be about style and not due to site location and perhaps a burglary of some sort occurred, which may have been the stakes and bricks.  There is no basis for the snow in August outlining the site.

One more family mystery remains.  My Aunt Anne Marie and my Great Aunt Barbara went to Croatia in June 1974.  They sent my Non the postcard below:

pilgrimage

The back of the card is written “Where Anna used to walk when she went on pilgrimage.” I didn’t even know Anna, my great grandmother, went on pilgrimages.  I would love to discover the name of the church pictured above and where it is located. If Anna walked there it couldn’t be to far from Dubranac or Velika Gorica.  Hopefully, dear reader, one of you will


  1. “Our Lady of the Snow – Catholic Encyclopedia – Catholic Online.” Our Lady of the Snow – Catholic Encyclopedia – Catholic Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
  2. “Google Translate.” Google Translate. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
  3. Ibid
  4. Google Translate.” Google Translate. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
  5. IBID
  6. “Google Translate.” Google Translate. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
  7. “The Church of Saint Mary of Snow.” The Church of Saint Mary of Snow. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
  8. “Google Translate.” Google Translate. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
  9. IBID

10.”Message Boards.” Localities Europe Croatia General. Ancestry.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015

  1. Ibid
  2. Google Translate.” Google Translate. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
  3. IBID
  4. Google Translate.” Google Translate. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
  5. “Message Boards.” Localities Europe Croatia General. Ancestry.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015

16 “Velika Gorica – Neovisni Forum.” Tradicija I Baština. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.

A Title Conferred – The Legend of the PL

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 8 Jul 2015.

Every little girl wants to be a princess and I was no different.  My grandmother, Mary Violet Koss, loved to tell the story of how the family was awarded a title of PL by royalty back in the day. The details were sketchy of when the event occurred but the story and the privileges that were a result were a well remembered family legend.

Marauding bands of Turks had been seen throughout the land for some time. As peasant farmers, my family and others like them, were often the first to warn the community of the approaching men on horseback.  With a shout in the fields, tools were flung aside and a fast run to the castle for safety ensued. One day, however, not just a few men on horseback appeared but an entire army. Fighting from the castle became intense and many men had perished on both sides. It appeared that the castle would soon be overtaken and in despair, the women, among them my many times great grandmother, decided to take action.  Using the communal cooking pots, when a rolling boil was reached the vats’ contents of oil or water was poured down upon the enemy.  The fight was soon over as the invaders fled in retreat.

For valor, my grandmother’s husband was awarded the title of PL, an abbreviation of the word plemeniti which is Croatian for “noble.”  This permitted the family to have special privileges, such as hunting in the king’s forest, a lessening of the annual taxed amount and a voice in community affairs.

When did this occur?  Who was the King that granted the title?  Where was the castle located? How can I verify that my family really was awarded this honor? Non did not know but she knew that her father, Joseph Kos, was the last of the line to be able to reap the benefits of the title.  Joseph had been a leader in the Austria-Hungary Calvary when Non was a child and his position afforded the family a comfortable life.  Unfortunately, while holding his horse that was being re-shoed, the horse kicked Joseph in the chest which caused him to become an asthmatic.  He was released from his duties and with no prospects for another career, emigrated in 1910 to America.

As an adult, I wanted to dig further into the family lore and discover what event led to the title.  The only additional information I could recall was that as a practicing Roman Catholic, Non had said the Turks not only wanted more land but wanted to put an end to Catholicism.  Using religion as my first clue I began to investigate when the region became Catholic.

Although there is not agreement on when Croatia became Christianized, it most likely was over several centuries beginning in the 7th with the faith becoming firmly established by 925 when the ruler Tomislav aligned himself with Pope John X.1 Most of the titles Tomislav extended were to noncitizens so it is not probable that the PL title was conferred to my relatives by Tomislav.

Next I decided to research when the Ottoman invasion occurred.  After Coloman united Austria and Croatia in 1102 2, the Ottoman’s began to invade the area. History records that the Great Turkish War occurred between 1667-1698.  I suspect, if the PL designation occurred, it would have been between 1102 and 1698.

My family resided close to the present city of Zagreb; both of my grandparents being born in the tiny village of Dubranec.  In 1900, they were 2 of the 454 residents.3 Today, Dubranec is part of the city of Velika Gorica so I investigated battles that occurred nearby.  “In 1278 noblemen from Turopolje joined into a union called Plemenita opčina turopoljska (“Noble municipality of Turopolje”). Plemenita opčina turopoljska was granted a rule over Turopolje by Croatian monarchs and exists still today with mainly (a) ceremonial and not political role.  Regarding the Turopolje name, among the most common opinions is that the name, meaning “Tur field”, comes from an old Slavic word “tur” which means Aurochs, an ancient type of cattle with long horns, which was a symbol of fertility and the sun god. These cattle died out in the 16th century. The cattle were closely related to agriculture. Plowing had a symbolic meaning, the fertilization of Mother Earth, so these cattle were often assumed to have “sacred” characteristics. Because of its importance in the life of the plowmen, “tur” became the basis for numerous toponyms. However, as recently as the 16th century, Turopolje was called Campus Zagrebiensis, i.e. “Zagreb field”, or just Campus (field). At that time the name was replaced by “Tur field”, i.e. Turopolje”.4  Knowing my family were farmers this most likely was the event my Non described.

Investigating further, I found it was King Ladislas IV of Hungary and Croatia who confirmed “the ‘nobles of Turopolje’.  (They) originally were (but with no doubt at the time when their charter was issued in 1278, castle-warriors of Zagreb (iobagiones castri Zagra-biensis), i.e. they occupied – because of their military duties – the most honourable rank within the population of the castle, but they were definitely subjugated to the jurisdiction held by the comes of Zagreb.”5  I cannot find reference to an Ottoman invasion of Zagreb during this time, however, Osman I, who was the individual the Ottoman/Turkish empire was named for, did begin to expand settlements into the eastern Mediterranean and Balkans during this time.6

Interestingly, King Ladislas IV was more of a Pagan than a Roman Catholic so he may have more in common with the tur plowmen’s sun god and Mother Earth worship than just military exploits.

The only part of the story left to verify is whether my Kos line was one of the Turopoljes.  I was able to find that in the Armorial Book, Duis Dragon Hung, Kos was a name that was granted nobility status.7 That doesn’t necessarily mean that it was my line, however. Alas, even if I can confirm


1 Vladimir Posavec (March 1998).”Historical Maps and Borders in the Age of Tomislav. Radovi Zavoda za hrvatsku povijest (in Croatian) 30 (1): 281–290. ISSN 0353-295X. Retrieved 28 Jun 2015.

2 Ladislav Heka (October 2008). Croatian-Hungarian relations from the Middle Ages to the Compromise of 1868, with a special survey of the Slavonian issue. Scrinia Slavonica (in Croatian) (Hrvatski institut za povijest – Podružnica za povijest Slavonije, Srijema i Baranje) 8 (1): 152–173.ISSN 1332-4853  Retrieved 28 Jun 2015.

3“Google Translate.” Google Translate. N.p.,Web. 29 June 2015.

4“Velika Gorica.” Velika Gorica. N.p., Web. 29 June 2015.

5“Noble Communities in Spiš and Turopolje in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries.” Noble Communities in Spiš and Turopolje in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. p.224., n.d. Web. 29 June 2015

6 The Sultans: Osman Gazi. The Ottomans.org. Retrieved 13 December 2010.

7“Google Translate.” Google Translate. N.p., Web. 29 June 2015.

Curse of the Dance

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 5 Jul 2015.

This month I’m fact checking my family legends in honor of my maternal grandmother, Mary Kos Koss’ 115th birthday on July 18th.  Non loved to tell stories but since she was somewhat dramatic, I wanted to discover the truths behind the legends.  Today’s family tale is rather ominous and as children, my cousins and I repeatedly were warned by older family members to guard against the curse that was placed on our family by a scorned woman.

Long ago, one of our several times great grandmothers was young and beautiful.  Being fair of face, with sparkling blue eyes and blonde hair, she was nicknamed Blondie.  Her best feature, however, was her shapely legs that could dance the night away.  It was then the custom to wear long dresses but that didn’t stop Blondie from hiking up her dress as she danced the intricate steps of the kolo, a type of circle dance   A young man who was promised to another woman became smitten by Blondie’s dancing and soon broke off the relationship with his then girlfriend.  The relationship with Blondie intensified and the couple was married.  The entire village was invited to the wedding feast.   At the feast, the ex-girlfriend  announced to the villagers that Blondie had stolen her man and because of it, the exgirlfriend was cursing Blondie and all of her descendants to unbearable suffering of their legs.  Blondie did not believe in curses so she laughed at the woman and continued to celebrate her wedding.  Not long after, however, Blondie did experience pain in her legs and eventually became crippled.  The ex-girlfriend never married and lived to a ripe old age alone on the outskirts of the town.

As a child, I assumed that this story was just used to keep us in line when all 11 of us cousins got together and went running at breakneck speed through grandma’s house.  I figured it was a version of don’t run with a stick in your hand that most parents tell their children.  But as one family member after another sustained leg injuries over the years, myself included, I decided to delve a little deeper.

This is not a story that can be verified as certainly no records would exist that recorded these events.  I can confirm that my family loves dancing and are quite musically inclined.  The kolo is a Croatian folk dance.  “Many young men and women used this as an excuse for courting and teasing one another”1 so there most likely is some basis to the tale of a long ago grandma hiking up her dress at a gathering and gaining the eye of a suitor.

non
Grandma and Great Grandma Koss
mom
My Mom in a Blondie Pose

Here’s some pics of my own children – I just assumed it was normal to be this agile and flexible.

jon
Still LIkes Rock Climbing
h
Has Moved on to Yoga

I can also give a long list of family members – actually everyone from my great grandparents on down to the present generation, that have been affected with serious issues with their legs and feet – including amputations, freak accidents while white water rafting, motorcycling, snowboarding, bicycling and horseback riding, lots of broken ankles, legs and hips from falling down stairs, bunions, arthritis and ingrown toe nails. I suspect Blondie became crippled from arthritis as that seems to effect most of the female family members.

I shared this story with my doctor daughter who laughed and said we should all just get tested for Ehlers-Dandlos Syndrome.  I had never heard of it but after looking up the symptoms, I’d say we all have a genetic predisposition to one of the many types of the syndrome – symptoms include overly flexible joints which do allow us to be good dancers and nimble athletes.  Our skin is rather stretchy and fragile, too.  Although we don’t have all of the symptoms I suspect this is the basis for our leg mishaps, coupled with some recklessness because when we’re young we think we’re invincible and when we’re older we forget our age.

feet
6 Years Old

Yes, my daughter’s feet are backwards – when she was young she could turn them around and stand and it freaked teacher’s out.  In the pic she’s pliaing with her feet backwards because she was into ballet at this time. Daughter thought it was comfortable.

So now I know we aren’t a family of klutzes!  Next time I trip I’ll blame


  1. “Croatian Dances” Wikipedia.Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 05 July 2015.
  2.     “Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.” Symptoms. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 July 2015.

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.

Faulty Memories

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 28 Jun 2015.

I think it’s a miracle that there are any truths in family stories that are passed down considering how the passage of time and personal perceptions can lead to faulty memories.  I have just discovered two faulty memories in my own life.

If you are a Baby Boomer or older you may remember where you were the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that I was in Sr. Martina’s first grade classroom at St. Mark’s Catholic School.  It was morning, before our 10:00 AM recess, and my reading group was working away quietly doing our seat work while another group was sitting in a circle doing oral reading in the front of the room.  I recall the principal, Sr. Jerome,  opening the classroom door and sticking her head inside.  She looked distraught with an expression I had never seen her display before. I knew something was wrong and one of my classmates shouted out, “Sister” which caused our teacher to look up from the reading group and notice the principal.  Our teacher went to the door and a whispered exchange occurred.  The principal left and our teacher sat at her desk with her head hanging down.  We looked around at each other but no one dared speak.  Sr Martina then told the students in reading circle to return to their seats.  When they had, she explained that she had terrible news to tell us, someone had just shot the president.  She asked that we say a silent prayer for his recovery.

After a few minutes she called my reading group to the circle.  There were only 3 of us in our group as we had started school already reading – Laura Atzhorn, Dennis Barunica and me.  We had just sat down when the principal came on the overhead speaker telling us that parents would be arriving soon as school was being dismissed for the day.

I remember being very happy that school was being cancelled as I really didn’t like it very much but I was also confused as to why this was happening, I didn’t connect the shooting with school closure. Within minutes my mom arrived to pick me up.  I was so glad to see her I ran to the door to tell her that the president had been hurt.  I didn’t say a word once I saw the look on her face.  I could tell she had been crying.  My mom was not a crier so this startled me.  I got my coat and book bag from the cloak room and was quickly on my way home.  On the way I asked my mom why she had been crying.  She told me the president had been shot and was not expected to live.  When we arrived home my grandparents and great grandma were watching TV, which was unusual during the daytime. No one spoke.  I went to my room to change out of my uniform.

I would swear by this memory but the problem is, I wasn’t in first grade when President Kennedy was shot.  I was in 2nd grade.  My husband thought he was in 2nd grade and his memory would jive with mine since he is a year older than me.  So both of our memories are wrong.

How we discovered our faulty memories is because he remembers the teacher he had and how she had informed the class.  In looking at old photos, I discovered his 2nd grade teacher was really his 3rd grade teacher.  If he was in 3rd, then I had to be in 2nd grade.  Checking the year President Kennedy was shot confirms that I was in 2nd grade.  My 2nd grade teacher, though, was not Sr. Martina, it was Sr. Michelle.  Why would I confuse the two as one was very old and the other, very young?  The only thing I can think of is that Sr. Martina served as a substitute teacher the day the president was killed. Sr. Michelle was absent alot and we had Sr. Martina in her absence as Sr. Martina retired after my first grade year. No way I can confirm my explanation for my memory lapse, though. 

The time I thought the event occurred is also off.  My cousins and I would walk home together at noon for a 30 minute lunch period.  President Kennedy was shot at 12:30 PM in Dallas which would be the same time in northern Indiana, the Central Time Zone.  So this event did not occur before recess as I had thought but after I had returned to school after lunch. Now I’m not even sure that I was in reading group because reading was always in the morning.  Perhaps it was math, instead but I don’t ever recall going to the front of the room to work in math groups. 

It’s understandable that you may not remember an event correctly from when you were 7 years old but my next faulty memory is from my late teen years.  I would swear that my husband, then my boyfriend, barely missed being called up to serve in the Viet Nam War.  Turns out, that’s not right, either.

The last draft lottery was held in February 1972.  The draft ended in July 1973 but no lottery was held for men born after 1953. This means my husband never had a draft lottery number because the lottery was based on your birthdate and he was born after 1953.  Our faulty memories must be based on remembering the number that was assigned to his birthdate in 1972 even though it didn’t affect him. We have spent our entire adult lives thinking he was close to being called for service and that was never the case.  Wow, now I’m rethinking everything I think I remember!

Since these two memory lapses I decided to take a look at my family’s legends to see how accurate those stories are.  I’ll be sharing what I discover.

Planes, Trains, Automobiles & Barges, Oh My!Planes, Trains, Automobiles & Barges, Oh My!

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 26 Jun 2015.

As you read this I am somewhere along I-77 on my 2nd driving trip from West Virginia to Florida in the past 2 weeks.  The 18 hours, nearly 1000 miles, distance is my last planned journey between these destinations and I can’t express how grateful I am to be through with this move.

My 3x great grandfather, Jean “John” Leininger, from Endenhoffr, Mietesheim, West Bas Rhin, Alsace, France (but sometimes Germany!) emigrated with his family in 1827 on the Canaris, a ship leaving Le Havre, France with an arrival in New York City on 30 Jun 1827. “According to an old note, they went ‘by rail’ to Buffalo, New York.  From there they went by canal to Canton, or Stark Co., Ohio.” 1

The family’s choice of transportation was the quickest for the time period. Since the rails ended in Buffalo, canal travel was faster than overland by horse and wagon.  I think about my great grandmother, Marie Margueritte, with two small children on this journey.  No airport playrooms, electronic games, readily available food or bathroom facilities.  Makes me rethink complaining about the traffic slow down around Charlotte on my journey!

My husband’s 2x great grandmother, Drusilla Williams DeWolf Thompson relocated to Chicago from Troy, New York in the 1850’s.  We’ve never been able to identify the exact year she moved.  We know her son, John Calvin DeWolf. was born in Albany, New York in May 1851. First husband, Calvin DeWolf, died of consumption in May 1852 but there is not agreement on whether Calvin died in New York (from the family Bible written years after his death) or in Rock Island, Illinois (Illinois death information found online).  Grandma Dru (my nickname for her) remarried widower Thomas Coke Thompson in Chicago (per family Bible record) in 1857 so we know that Dru relocated to Illinois within a 5 year time period.  How did she get there?  Family legend says it was by covered wagon but I find no proof of that.  It is more likely that Dru traveled via the then modern convenience of railways.  By 1854, Orphan Trains were shipping children from New York to the Midwest as train travel became more commonplace.2   In 1850, Chicago was a city of 30,000 served by one rail line, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad.  By 1852, Chicago had 5 rail lines and by 1856, 10.3  The 1855 population in Chicago rose to 83500. 4

In 1851, the Hudson River Railroad connected Rensselaer with New York City.5

c.1855 Map of New York & Erie Rail Road and Its Connections6

In 1854, the cost of the fare from New York to Chicago was $26.00.7  In today’s dollars, the cost would be about $628.57!  The trip took about 42 hours, as the time from New York to St. Louis was 48 hours. It was not a restful experience, either.  Although sleeping cars were first included on the New York & Erie run in 1843, the heavy weight made them unfeasible so the concept was ended until George Pullman re-engineered the design in 1864. 

I definitely prefer a 3 hour plane ride or even an 18 hour car commute


Leininger, Robert LeRoy. First Annual Supplement to the Leininger Family History and Genealogy. Columbia City: Self Published, 1974. 36. Print.

“Orphans in Orphan Asylums New York.” Orphans in Orphan Asylums New York. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2015.

Harold M. Mayer & Richard C. Wade, Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), 35. 

Fourth Annual Review of the Commerce, Manufactures, and the Public and Private Improvements of Chicago, for the year 1855, with a full statement of her system of railroads: and a general synopsis of the business of the city, Copied from several articles published in the Daily Democratic Press (Chicago: Democratic Press Steam Printing House, 1856.), 49. [Hereinafter referred to as Annual Review for 1855.] 

5Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 14 June 2015. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Central_Railroad

“The Railway Conductor.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2015.

“Michigan Historical Collections.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2015.

Ibid

“Trains Across the Continent.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2015.

Dad’s Day

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 21 Jun 2015.

Happy Father’s Day!  Whenever I think of Father’s Day I think about my grandfather, Ivan “John” Koss.

Gramps and Me

I met my husband a year and a half after my Gramps had died.  That saddens me as I think they would have really liked knowing each other.  Both of them, I would rate, as exceptional dads. Selfless, compassionate, funny and responsible both shared a love of music, food and hard work.

My Gramps was extremely thrifty, perhaps because he was an immigrant who had weathered the Great Depression.  My first bike was a many time hand-me-down from my older cousins but he wanted to make it like new for me.  He spray painted it green, my then favorite color.

I was the 5th in the family to use this bike

My parents were divorced and we didn’t have a lot of money so when bikes evolved, Gramps updated the one above with a banana seat and cruise handlebars.  I thought I was so cool!

Gramps put up with my love of animals and never complained.  I can’t explain how strays always happened to find me: 

If we couldn’t locate the owner the animal had a very nice life in our home.  I’m not talking about just cats and dogs.  He let me keep a chicken, parakeet, frogs and a snake.  He even let the snake hibernate in the basement in an aquarium.  We let it go after the winter thaw.

Gramps was inventive.  The man loved tools and could fix anything. He took an old vacuum cleaner and turned it into a handheld model to use to clean the carpeting on the stairs.  I wish we still had it as it worked better than anything on the market today.  He let me mess around with his tools and play store.

During the months when the ice cream shop was open, Gramps would take me for a Black Cow – a root beer float, every Friday.  When I was really small he’d have to pick me up to put me on the stool and I remember how proud I was when I could climb up on my own.

Gramps had a wooden leg due to a steel mill accident.  I don’t know how he climbed a ladder to paint the eaves as the house was 2 stories!  He never let his handicap get in the way of dancing which he was quite good at.  Gramps was also nearly blind.  He had cataracts that were inoperable for some reason and yet, he never complained.

Each Father’s Day I bought the same gift for Gramps – a can of Skoal.  I always used my allowance to make the purchase at Dickenson’s Drug Store.  Gramps would say it was the best gift he ever got.

Gramps passed away 45 years ago but the lessons he taught me are with me still.

Dad’s and Grand Dad’s make a tremendous impression on youth.  Today, Dad’s get beat up in the media as the butt of jokes.  If you are lucky to have a wonderful father figure in your life make sure he’s appreciated or remembered-he deserves it!

Moving Day

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 18 Jun 2015.

My grandparents were able to blend their youthfully acquired Croatian culture with that of American (as in United States) society easily, or at least they made it seem easy.  I never thought much, while growing up, how difficult it had been for them to immigrate, as it must have been for all my other gateway ancestors, especially for those who did not speak English as a first language. I started thinking about these moves after recently helping my daughter relocate from West Virginia to Florida. For our daughter’s move, we rented a truck, hired 2 college kids to help load it, drove it 18 hours using gps and unloaded it with help from family. Not a fun drive but it was the cost effective.  Total time involved:  2 days.

Granted, as much as it is a pain to move today it’s certainly far easier than back in the day of our forefathers and mothers.

I wished I had asked my grandparents details about their move to the U.S.  Sadly, there is no living relative that would have that information as everyone in their generation and their children’s generation are all deceased.  I have several cousins and second cousins but I was the closest to my grandparents since I lived with them during my childhood and am the keeper of the family stories and records.  None of my cousins have any idea about the family’s migration.  All I know is that my grandmother emigrated with her younger brother, Joseph, and her mother, Anna, as her father, Joseph Sr. had come earlier to set up the household.  I would love to hear how the family traveled from a rural area outside of Zagreb, then in Austria-Hungary, to a port in Hamburg, Germany about 800 miles away. Sailing on the President Lincoln, the family arrived in New York where they were met by my great grandfather.  My grandmother had told me they stayed the night in a hotel in New York City but I have no idea its name or location.  The family went window shopping and my great grandmother fell in love with a lamp in a department store window.  My great grandfather told her it was too delicate to survive the trip but he would purchase one for her when they arrived in Chicago.  He kept his word and I have the lamp, it was passed from mother to daughter to grand daughter to great grand daughter and it will soon be given to 2nd great grand daughter. (Personally, I think it was first seen in Macy’s window as it was purchased from Marshall Fields which carried similar merchandise.  Makes me laugh thinking of my great grandma in her babushka being a Macy’s shopper in her youth!) Nothing from the Old Country, though, has been preserved so the only belongings brought over must have been clothing.  Being a family of pack rats, if any heirlooms had been transported they would have been cherished and displayed. Talk about a Fresh Start!

My husband’s family has been in the states for much longer than mine so it’s not surprising that there are no stories remembering his ancestors journeys.

His great grandfather, Anders Gustaf “Gust” Jonasson emigrated in 1882 from Byarum, Sweden with his wife Thilda “Anna Matilda” and 6 children.  The 8 of them packed all of their belongings into 3 trunks.  The largest is shown below:

The other 2 trunks, about the size of today’s carry on bag, are in my sister-in-laws possession.  The trunks were stored in my in-laws basement in Miller, Indiana until the late 1970’s.  I had grand plans to restore the large one (the white area is where I started to clean the rust) but I never finished.  It’s still on my to-do list.

Now on the one hand, moving with so little is not such a bad thing.  Not a lot of time was involved in packing, transporting and unpacking.  Leaving behind cherished possessions along with family and friends, however, is a difficult concept for me to wrap my head around.  I’m so glad I don’t have to make that kind of move!