Curse of the Dance

Originally published on 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.

Grandma and Great Grandma Koss
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.

Still LIkes Rock Climbing
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.

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 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.

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. 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 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 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.

“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.


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

Dad’s Day

Originally published on 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 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!

Flag Day -The Most Under Celebrated U.S. Holiday

Originally published on on 14 Jun 2015

My immigrant grandparents, John and Mary Koss, are the only people I have ever known that celebrated Flag Day.  As a child, I remember my Gramps assembling the flag kit and proudly placing it in our front yard, which faced Route 6 in Gary, Indiana, on every patriotic holiday.

The pic above is taken from an old 35mm film that my husband had converted to DVD.  I’m on the left in my tennis outfit.  I never did learn to play tennis well but I definitely kept the custom of celebrating Flag Day.

We’d cook hotdogs on a small portable grill, accompanied by my grandmother’s Croatian style potato salad (which is sort of like German potato salad using oil and vinegar instead of a mayonnaise base but it’s served hot).   My mom would bake a cake, frost it with white icing and decorate with blueberries and strawberries for the stripes and banana slices dipped in lemon for the stars.

I can’t decide why Flag Day is so under celebrated.  Maybe it’s because it falls right after school has ended and people are on vacation.  Or maybe because it’s sandwiched in between Memorial Day and Independence Day.  Perhaps it’s because Father’s Day is right around the corner.  My best guess is because Flag Day is not an official federal holiday.  Although Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Flag Day in 1916, Congress didn’t approve it until 1949. Seriously, it took 33 years to approve this holiday.

I am going to continue to celebrate the day and our symbol of freedom. Here’s a few links about our flag and the interesting genealogy of the people who are part of its history:

The Legend of Betsy Ross

The Star Spangle Banner and Mary Young Pickersgill 

Driver’s Old Glory

For my readers in countries other than the U.S. – I challenge you to proudly wave your country’s flag today and think about the values it represents.  Happy Flag Day! Needed Changes

Originally published on on

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

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

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

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

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

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

Familysearch has 4 citations:

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Violet Kos Koss
Dorothy Koss Leininger
Ivan “John” Kos Koss

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

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

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

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


Ancestry Site Changes – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Originally published on on 7 Jun 2015.

I mentioned briefly in my last blog about the changes to  There’s always an adaption period when there is a site revision but I’m really having difficulty with this “new and improved” version, more than with previous updates.

Back on February 19th, Ancestry announced on their blogsite that the site was in the process of beta testing improvements. noted that their design team had 3 underlying principles – Make it beautiful, usable, and delightful.  (IMHO, I don’t think they reached any of their principles.)

I didn’t sign up at the time to be a part of the members who could check out the changes.  Last week I received the following email:

“If you haven’t heard (or seen), we’ve made some huge changes to the Ancestry website. But the “New Ancestry” is much more than a new look. It’s new features that help you tell stories as remarkable as the people who lived them.
It’s the new LifeStory that turns the facts in your ancestor’s life into a narrative timeline, like a biography.
It’s Historical Insights that let you walk a mile (or two) in your ancestor’s shoes.
It’s a new media gallery that puts all your records and pictures in one place.
It’s a streamlined design that’s easier to use—on your desktop or mobile devices.
It’s your family story, reinvented.

Can the new Ancestry really do all that? See for yourself. All the research and information you have now will be on the new Ancestry.”

Let me be clear that I do appreciate THE EFFORT that went into the improvement.  A major revision is never easy. Here’s what I think they got right:  I love the Life Story view for several reasons.  I believe that it will hook many more individuals to genealogy who have difficulty with putting the bits and pieces of records all together to understand one of their ancestor’s lives.  I shared Life Story with my husband who supports my work but never caught the genealogy bug.  He said the inclusion of pictures and the narrative was “captivating.”  He especially liked the Historical Insights feature that adds local/national events to an ancestor’s timeline.  I can see this as a benefit in drawing in younger users, too, who may have learned about an event, like the Civil War, but have difficulty in how the event connects to a direct line relative.  The pictures and facts together are powerful.  Kudos to the genius’ who came up with this concept!

I also really like the Media Gallery that places all of my uploaded pictures and records side by side for easy viewing.  I wish they would further refine this feature to include a drop and drag so that I could move the pictures around and place them in chronological order as I’ve added as I’ve discovered and it makes me crazy that they aren’t in order.

Matching records to the timeline is also beneficial and if used correctly, may even give the site more validity as critics frequently express their frustration over unsourced or poorly sourced (citing a tree that originally cited a different tree).  I wish there was a way to fix all my poorly cited sources from my baby stage of genealogy.  For example, I sourced ALOT of my Leininger, Long and Harbaugh families from various family history texts.  I made the source name as “Text” and not the actual book’s name because several versions of Ancestry ago, citations weren’t as easy to add.  I would like a way to quickly change the word “Text” to the correct title.

So Ancestry got a lot right in the New Ancestry but here’s where I disagree with the design team meeting their principles…

  1. Usable

From my desktop computer I am often not able to access my tree at all using Internet Explorer and at times, not even with Chrome or Firefox:


From my Kindle, accessing from the web, I get this view but the links don’t work.  You can see all the links I tried as they are in a different color:


From my Kindle, accessing via the downloaded ap I do get my tree but it is not easy to maneuver.  Note that you can no longer click an arrow on the right margin to move the tree back further generations.  Now you must make several clicks to move to a previous generation (click on the person then click to view the tree again).

From my laptop, using Chrome or Firefox, I can use the site and get this view. See the arrows on the right that still allow me to move back generations quickly:

Clearly, the design team failed in making the site useable on different devices. Maybe they were rushed by the news that Ancestry is on the auction block.  I don’t know but I hope they get the Kindle site working as I love using my Kindle when I research away from home for the portability, lightness of the device and various features I can quickly access (photo, notes, internet, etc.)

  1.  Beautiful

Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I don’t think the site is beautiful at all. As seen above, the color scheme is drab. Although the above pic doesn’t clearly show the contrast, the bright pink and blue against the pastel pink and blue when there is no picture is not attractive.  Maybe the design team thought that would be a good way to alert the user that a picture is needed but it just looks out of place to me. And seriously, have we not moved beyond gender stereotyping of girls in pink and boys in blue?  With the current color scheme I’d rather see white and light gray.

  1. Delightful

Huh?  Delightful, according to Word’s Thesaurus, means pleasant, charming, lovely, wonderful, enjoyable, amusing, agreeable, enchanting, delicious.  None of these adjectives would I use to describe the revision. Maybe innovative as no one else has the Life Story and record matching features that are absolutely awesome.

I hope the tech team can quickly fix the glitches. I also hope that Ancestry can be expediently acquired by a group who cares about genealogy so that it can continue to operate, grow and provide the services that we’re paying for at a reasonable price

Poof Be Gone-How Quickly Records Can Disappear

Originally published on on 3 Jun 2015.

It’s officially Hurricane Season (June 1st-November 30th) and I’m predicting several storms.  My rationale for the prediction is from observation and experience.  May was hotter than usual and the summer rain pattern began early this year.  By rain pattern, I mean the afternoon thunderstorms that drench the Tampa Bay region between noon and four daily, followed by a gentle Gulf breeze and sunshine for the rest of the day.  The Gulf’s temperature is already hotter than in years when we didn’t have much hurricane activity, thus supporting my prediction.  My husband hates hearing my last reason for a bad season but I stand by this – our daughter is moving back to the area.  Every time she had signed up to take a medical school exam (MCAT, Step 1, Step 2, Step 3) there has been a hurricane – even when she had relocated to New Jersey.  I can’t explain why she hits the hurricane jackpot every time she has to take an exam but she has two more coming up – mid August and early October so I’m preparing for the worst!

About a month ago, Genealogy Ninja Thomas MacEntee sent an email about a new Kindle E-Book he had just released called Preserving Your Family’s Oral History and Stories. He proposed the question, “How Safe is Your Family History?”  and used the term “future proof” meaning making sure that your records will be available in the future.   When I read this I immediately got a smug feeling – my family records and photos are all digitized.  Most are public on Ancestry and privately held in Picassa.  I have given copies on DVDs to several relatives around the US.  The originals are kept in acid free sleeves in plastic storage bins on the highest shelf in the middle of my climate controlled home to insure against flood, wind, mold and water damage.

My smugness didn’t last long.  Soon after reading the email I got a call from both my sister-in-law and daughter.  Neither could find the DVD I had given them and they needed a picture. Turns out my son can’t find his copy, either.  Sure, I could give them all another copy but what would happen if they again lose it or it malfunctions and something happens to me?

The next week I was sitting in my favorite chair, blogging away on my old laptop.  A mosquito landed on my leg and I immediately slapped it.  Not only did I miss the mosquito I had shifted in the chair and knocked the thumb drive into the armrest.  I didn’t think much about it until several hours later when I tried to eject it.  The device could not be found.  I could find it – it was right in front of me sticking out of the laptop.  Unfortunately, my computer could no longer read it because somehow it had snapped a connection inside the drive.  I tried to remain calm thinking that I have most everything backed up to Dropbox except one file.  Surely, it must still be somewhere on my hard drive. Nope, I hadn’t saved it because my laptop is old and I don’t trust it.  I tried to go to recent documents but I guess I hadn’t opened it on the laptop recently so it wasn’t there.  The next day my husband found the Excel document in my temp files.  It wasn’t the most up-to-date version but it was much better than not having it all.

Okay, so DVDs get lost and thumb drives break, there are still clouds, right?!  Well, only when they work.  In mid-May a coworker asked to see a picture of the hydroponic garden that my son had built.  I open my (not so) smart phone and couldn’t access the picture.  Seems I had used up all my memory space somehow.  I went from camera to gallery but still couldn’t access it.  No worries, I thought, I have my photos sent to Picassa so I’ll just log on and find it.  That’s when I discovered that you can’t view your photo in Picassa if your phone doesn’t upload it which mine didn’t do.  Granted, this was not a major loss but it further lessened my smugness about my “future proofing” a tad more.

In the 3rd week of May I was visiting the Tampa Bay History Center to research Jose Marti’s visit to Tampa (see blog 14 May 2015  Marker Mistakes-Historical Plaque Inaccuracies) when I learned the center doesn’t have a printer or scanner for researchers’ use.  I didn’t bring my digital camera, I wasn’t going to trust my new thumb drive, I couldn’t use my phone so I thought I was absolutely brilliant by taking photos of the pages with my Kindle.  Well, I wasn’t so brilliant.

I got home late from work that night and was preparing for all day field trips with my students for the next two days so I didn’t take a look at the photos.  I assumed they were going to go directly to Picassa.  I know, I know, never assume in genealogy; someday I will get that lesson down.  Three days after I had taken the photos I was holding my Kindle, purse, clipboards, travel mug, beach towel, and while getting out of the car, the Kindle slipped out of it’s sleeve and hit the garage floor.  I noticed several hours later the Kindle screen was cracked.  I also learned that my photos hadn’t been sent to Picassa because I had signed on to my Kindle with a different email address that Picassa didn’t recognize.  I was able to keep rotating the device until I had the pics emailed from one address to another but it was a major pain in the neck after a long hot tiring day (and kudos to Amazon staff who were so nice about helping me save the photos AND sending me out a replacement Kindle 2 days later!) Well, by now I was no longer feeling secure about by ability to future proof my records.

To make me even further concerned, Eric Jelle, of Genedocs Templates on Facebook, posted this on Memorial Day Weekend:  ” I would also like to take a moment to inform/remind members that both my grandfather and his father (Grandpa Richard) had their discharge paperwork burned and lost forever in the horrible fire in 1973 in St Louis at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). Before I even knew the fire happened or its 16 – 18 million military service document destroying impact, I had inherited the member copies of both Rays and Richards service info and then made color copies and sent them to NPRC after learning they had nothing on file. Of course, I went the extra mile and included service portraits of each too! IF you have these documents or end up with them – please send copies to NARA/NPRC which has a new fireproof facility in St Louis so you can rest easy they likely will not be easily burned again.”  Fire!  Don’t even want to think about that.  I live in an area with lots of lightning which causes lots of fires. I got that nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach reading his post.

I don’t want to sound paranoid but I’ve had too many tech issues in the past month not to be worried.

I guess it’s a miracle we find any documents today given all the things that can cause destruction.  I’m hoping I’m wrong about the upcoming hurricane season and I’m hoping my work will be preserved.

The only solutions I can come up with is to make sure that our work is shared as much as possible and that both electronic and hard copies are made.  I am making a point of saving my Ancestry tree to Legacy monthly and a copy is kept on my hard drive and in Dropbox.  I have tried the Wiki Tree on but I have some concerns about relying on it.  First, its a Wiki and anyone can change what you input.  That could be a positive if someone is correcting an incorrect entry but it can also be disastrous if someone is deleting your correct information.  Second, maybe it’s me but I have a difficult time maneuvering on the site’s tree.  Third, I have a large tree and don’t have time to input or click and select from the site’s choices to build.  I spoke with a tech person when I was at the Family History Library in March and there is no option to upload a gedcom, old PAF or any other genealogical management program. So, is not a viable alternative for me.

And now there’s the Ancestry rumors circulating again.  I’m not overly concerned with their upcoming auction but one never knows what a new buyer will do.  I never thought PAF would go away or Rootsweb would not have continued to grow.

I do absolutely love Ancestry’s new format (though I hate the drab background colors) that permits turning your ancestor’s timeline into a story.  I’ve noticed some minor glitches but the edit feature allowed me to make corrections quickly and easily.  I’m thinking of taking the stories and printing a family book for an additional safeguard against losing data. A hard copy could even be donated to a library or historical society even further insuring your hard work isn’t lost.

My last fail safe method to preserving our family tree is to further motivate family members who have shown an interest in genealogy as I would like them to continue on with the work that I began when I can no longer do so.

I’d appreciate hearing any preservation ideas you may have!