Useful Research Reminders

Sometimes, it takes a village to solve a genealogy mystery.  Thanks to all for sharing their ideas regarding identifying my mystery man, Anton “Tony” Kos, who is buried next to my great grandfather Josip “Joseph” Kos in Gary, Indiana.  An extra special thanks to research librarian Marilyn in Lake County, Indiana, who went above and beyond my request for Tony’s obit. 

Since the rainy season has officially begun in Florida this morning, I’m planning on spending the weekend further researching Tony and Joseph’s relationship, if any.

Here’s some great ideas that genealogists recommended:

  • People did not always stay in one place for long.  That’s especially true for laborers who went wherever work was available.  Joseph arrived in New York, traveled to Detroit, Michigan where he got a job with the railroads, relocated to Pennsylvania and followed the lines to California and then back to Chicago, Illinois where he lived in Pullman housing with his wife and children he sent for years later.  When the work ended in digging ditches, he moved to Gary, Indiana to work for U.S. Steel.  My Tony could be anywhere in the US at any time.
  • Linda reminded me that immigration was not a one way route – people came and went across the pond.  My grandparents ended up married because they crossed paths in Chicago.  Grandpa Ivan “John” Kos was a second cousin to Joseph Kos.  John emigrated with his brother, Stephen.  Stephen had a wife and child remaining in Austria-Hungary and had come previously to work but returned to the old country.  When money became tight again, he opted to return and brought John with him.  When  the railroad job ended in California, Stephen decided to return to Austria-Hungary while John took work in Chicago.  This means that Tony may have moved back and forth, too.
  • Marilyn pointed out that people often relocated together.  I know that’s a duh but rechecking immigration lists might be helpful in determining other’s with the same surname or surnames of related families I’ve previously identified.  For example, when Joseph emigrated he came with a Franjs and Embro.  Embro went with Joseph to Detroit while Franjs went to Pennsylvania.  I’m not sure who Embro and Franjs were in relation to Joseph other than they were listed together and all came from Austria-Hungary in January 1910.  Tracing Franjs and Embro may be beneficial in determining Joseph and Tony’s relationship.
  • City Directory dates are not the date the data was accumulated.  Back in the day, the information for a City Directory was compiled by workers going door to door across the city.  Then it was published, perhaps the following year.  So the 1918 City Directory most likely had entries that were from 1917.  Since there is no way to know the exact date when a particular entry was recorded, there’s no way to be certain in years between censuses when a family actually resided at the listed residence. 
  • Sometimes the answer is not where you think so I may just need to broaden the search back to the old country.  Unfortunately, Familysearch.org does not have the Roman Catholic parish records for the village by people came from so I may need to contact a genealogist in Croatia to shed light on the family.  

Next week, I’ll be on the road so there will be no blog post.  Happy Hunting!

Using back door techniques to solve a genealogy mystery

I’ve been researching a mystery man, Anton “Tony” Kos, who was buried in 1934 next to my great grandfather, Joseph Koss, in Oak Hill Cemetery in Gary, Indiana.  You can see from the above pic I took in December 2001 how close the stones are compared to the next stone to the right.  Looks to me like the plot was one.

I never got a straight answer regarding how Tony and Joseph are related, if at all.  I’d love to find out if they were related, which I strongly think is possible, and why my mother and grandmother refused to verify that.

Here’s what I know…I used to accompany my mom and grandma to the family cemetery around Memorial Day to tend to the graves.  We’d always go to the old part of the cemetery first, to clip the grass around the gravestone of my great grandfather, Joseph Kos[s] who died in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic.  When I was old enough to read, I noticed that next to his grave was an Anton Kos.  I knew the family name was originally spelled with one “s” but I had never heard of Anton so I asked how he was related and never got an answer.  I recall my mother just looking at my grandmother and my grandmother looking down and continuing to tidy up her father’s grave.  So, as only a small child will do, I asked again.  I never got a straight answer.  I tried several other times over the years and got various answers; that Kos is a very common Croatian name like Smith is in Great Britain.  That didn’t tell me if Tony was related.  It also didn’t explain why I never saw another grave in the cemetery with the original spelling of the surname.  When I asked about that, I got, “I don’t know why.” as a response. (There actually is another Kos, John, who died in 1934 buried in the cemetery but as a child, I had never seen that grave.)

I tentatively placed Anton as a sibling of my great grandfather Joseph.  Joseph was born in 1875 and Anton, in 1879.  I had called the cemetery in 2012 to ask who purchased Anton’s plot and was told that no one did because the cemetery records don’t have an Anton Kos.  I told the clerk I knew where he was buried, immediately south of my great grandfather.  They insisted no one was buried there.  Looking at the records, I understand what happened.  Anton is listed as Tony in cemetery records, even though Anton is chiseled on his tombstone.  Tony was what was recorded on his death certificate and the cemetery must have listed him under that name. My great grandfather’s tombstone has his Americanized name, Joseph Kos and not his birth name, Josip Kos so there was another possible clue that my family was involved.  These folks Americanized as soon as they arrived in 1910.

As an adult, I can see another family trait that gives credence to a relationship; my family plans for their deaths.  I could see that they would have purchased two plots when my great grandfather died in 1919 expecting that his wife would be buried next to him.  But she lived on until 1966.  I’m thinking when a family member who was in need of the plot died, the family buried him instead.  My family always helped out a relative in need, be it sending care packages back across the pond, fronting them money or taking them into their home for awhile.  My grandparents had purchased a larger plot in the newer section of the cemetery that was the intended burial site for them and my great grandmother.  It is also where I buried my mother’s cremains.  

After we tidied the old section (but we never touched Anton’s stone, which is interesting), we’d move to the new section to trim the grass around the Koss stone.  No one was yet buried there but my forward thinking grandparents had enough sense to purchase the stone while they were still employed.  (And thanks, mom, for taking care of your end of life stuff prior to your death.  Hope our kids appreciate we did the same – yes, you can already find me on Find-A-Grave.)

So getting no where with the cemetery, I decided to try to research Anton Anthony Tony to find a connection. 

From Ancestry.com, you can see his death certificate below:

No help with his parents info but it does say he was born in “Yugo Slavia” just like Joseph Koss.  He also died of lung issues, just like Joseph.  Joseph’s whole family had lung issues, hmm.  Not a smoking gun but certainly gives one pause to consider a relationship as they all died young. He also was a laborer in a steel mill, though not the same one where Joseph worked. Granted, most immigrants at the time were laborers and steel mills offered good wages.

I have never been able to find Tony in any census – having checked 1920-1940 under Anton, Anthony and Tony Kos, Koss and Ross (as my own people have been enumerated as). 

There is another mystery – who was Steve Sesta who provided the death certificate info?  I’ve never heard of him.

The death certificate gives me a clue to look at the address where Tony was living when he died, 35 East 39th Street, Gary, Indiana.

So here’s a tip – I want to use the 1940 census to find who was living at Tony’s address.  It could take quite some time using Ancestry.com because I would need to click on every enumeration area and Gary was a large city so there are many.  To save time, I used the National Archives site (just Google 1940 U.S. Federal Census enumeration map and you’ll be taken directly to it or use my link). 

Since I grew up in the city, I know the layout of the street and avenue names, which saved me time.  If you are researching an area you aren’t familiar with, simply use Google earth to get a better idea.  In my case, I knew that streets ran north and south, avenues ran east and west.  Street names west of Broadway used the president’s names in order (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, no repeat of Adams, etc.) and east of Broadway used states’ names, in no particular order.  So, I was looking for 39th Street and could eliminate all of the western side of Broadway simply by identifying if the first page of the census had a presidents name or not.

After going through 3 enumeration areas, I found the address:

The address was divided into two housing units, front and rear.  Steve, who had provided the death certificate info, lived in the rear.  That means Tony was living in the front but he wasn’t there in 1940.  It also explains why there is no parent information for Tony, neighbor Steve did not know that information.  (I know, you’re thinking I should check property records to see who owned the residence but the problem is most of Gary’s records were “lost” according to the Lake County, Indiana property appraiser’s office.  I suspect they’re somewhere in Gary and just weren’t turned over to the county when the law changed but I don’t live anywhere close to be able to hunt around for them so that’s a dead end for me.)

The death certificate did state Tony had worked for 1 year as a laborer for Illinois Steel.  He may have only arrived in the area in 1942, during World War II. 

I checked immigration records but there are many Anton Kos’ who emigrated from Austria-Hungary/Yugoslavia so I’m unable to pinpoint one of them as my mystery man.

I know, from a recent DNA match with another relative, that during World War II, my Cvetkovic relatives were displaced to another part of what is now Croatia, due to mayhem in the area where the family originally resided in Velika Gorica.  It certainly is possible that Tony had left the area because of the war and came to the U.S. to a place where family already resided. 

Tony was survived by a wife, Anna, who was born in 1878.  Perhaps she remarried as she is not listed in cemetery records by the last name Kos or Koss or like Tony, she wasn’t entered in the cemetery database correctly.  Unfortunately, only 30% of the cemetery is listed on Find-A-Grave.  There’s nothing on Billion Graves either. 

Somehow, I have a maiden name for her as Smolkovic but I have no idea where I got that info.  I also have a marriage date, but no place, and two children residing in Rhode Island.  That info was obtained years ago before I carefully sourced (shame on me!). This is an area I need to further research.

I checked City Directories and there is only one Anthony in Gary but he was married to a Mary living on Filmore Street in Gary in 1918.  He never appears in any other directory.  My Kos line doesn’t arrive in Gary until 1919 so I suspect he wasn’t the my Tony.  There is no Tony or Anton ever in any City Directory for Gary. I got his obituary thanks to the Ask-A-Librarian link on the Lake County library site but it provides basically no information other than he had died after a long illness, which disputes the information on the death certificate.  Or, maybe not.  Perhaps he suffered from lung problems for years but the incident that caused his death had been short.  

There is no one in my family much older than me left who would know – definitely no one who was alive in 1943 that would remember.  Decided I’d try the cemetery again since it’s recently been sold and maybe the new owners have done an inventory of grave sites. Sent an email on Sunday and haven’t gotten a response so will follow up with a phone call this week.  

If that falls through, I’m going to attempt to check Baptism records for Velika Gorica to see if I can link Anton to Joseph’s parents.  Unfortunately, they aren’t on Familysearch.org so I’ll have to email a genealogist in Croatia to do some digging.  

Connecting Tony and Joseph would be awesome but I’ll most likely never get the story of why he was not discussed since dead men tell no tales! 

Solving Broken Connections by Connecting With the Living

Happy Memorial Weekend! Although I won’t be spending time caring for family members’ graves this weekend because no family member is buried close to where I currently reside, I have memories as a child of going to the grave sites of long dead relatives at this time of year.  Grandma Koss would keep a small gardening kit in her car trunk so whenever she passed the cemetery during the warmer months of the year, she could tend to the graves.  It contained gardening gloves, small grass clippers, a bakery paper bag to put weeds in, and a small spade to help dig up flowers and replant.

Last weekend I was reminded of a genealogical family mystery.  My great grandfather, Josip “Joseph” Kos[s] died in 1919 in the Spanish flu epidemic. He was buried in the old part of Oak Hill Cemetery in Gary, Indiana.  His gravestone, in Croatian, was next to a Tony Kos.  I asked how we were related to Tony and I never got an answer.

Out of the blue last week, I received an email to my Ancestry account from a possible relative whose father had been orphaned in Pennsylvania in the 1930’s.  Since both his parents died when he was young, the family has no stories.  His father’s place of birth was in the same general area in Croatia that my Kos’ were from.  I had placed him in my tree years ago in the hopes of locating a living relative who might have some knowledge.  We’re awaiting DNA results to see if we match.

We all have genealogy mysteries but the most vexing are those that are fairly recent.  I don’t know about you, but I tend to jump to a dramatic conclusion – must have been an out of wedlock birth, an against the then norms of society situation or a major disagreement that makes the information remain secret.  Never dawned on me it could have been as simple as two early deaths of parents that had moved from the area and family lost touch with the remaining children.

Hopefully, I’ll soon have an answer to how the mysterious Tony was related to me and why the Pennsylvania branch of the family was disconnected.  Now if I could just discover someone who knows how the Massachusetts branch lost touch I’d hit the trifecta.

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.

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.