Diversity in the Family Tree and Its Importance Today


Last month I took part in an activity at a workshop in New York City on Cultural Competence that’s been haunting me ever since. The presenter, Vivian V. Lee, Ed.D. from Johns Hopkins University provided an adapted handout from M. Loden & J. Rosner’s book, Workforce America (McGraw-Hill, 1991) that opened my eyes to my family’s core values in ways that I had never experienced before.
The worksheet consisted of a Diversity Wheel – a circle within a circle that listed 12 category descriptions of an individual, such as your level of education, geographic location and gender. Participants were asked to identify and record a word that described their personal category descriptions. For myself, it would be master’s degrees, USA, female.

Next, participants were asked to record the complete opposite of their personal description. So mine would be no degrees earned, anywhere but North America, male, etc. A few minutes was provided to reflect on the recorded responses by thinking about:

how would the opposite from yourself identity be perceived and treated by society and by the individual
how different would your present life be compared to that of the opposite individual
how would you adapt in society as the opposite individual
I was shocked to discover that my polar opposite in most categories would be my maternal grandfather, Ivan “John” Kos[s] and great grandfather, Josef Kos[s]. Although they both had the same surname, these men were distant relatives. Josef was my grandmother’s father and John was her husband of an arranged marriage. So, my grandmother’s maiden name was the same as her married name (now that’s convenient!). But back to the exercise…

Both John and Josef emigrated separately from then Austria-Hungary, now Croatia, to the U.S. for reasons that so many emigrants continue to come – economic opportunity, freedom, a new start. Manual laborers with little to no education, limited English and no citizenship rights, these men, along with others like them, were the backbone of the United States’ economy for generations as continue to be so today. I never met Josef who died young; he caught the flu and passed away in 1919. Of John, I never heard one complaint from him about his status in society. Even after residing here for over 60 years, though, he knew he continued to be identified by a slur – I heard a shopkeeper once call him a D.P., aka a displaced person. Although he took a citizenship oath, would never be fully accepted and remained subject to distrust by those who fate allowed to be born here. Although I’ve become the opposite of my grandparents, I know they would have been very proud of my children and my role in society. They would not begrudge that I am not treated as they had been.

I reaped the fruits of Josef and John’s difficult lives. If you take a moment to think about your own roots, you most likely have an immigrant story in your family. It may have been as long ago as 1600 or just in the last decade. Your ancestors may have come of their own volition or not. It matters not when or how they arrived. What matters is that the hardship they endured afforded you comfort and security that was lacking from their point of origin. Perhaps it’s due to my childhood interactions with and knowledge of my grandparents’ life experiences that make me thankful for their risk in immigrating and I will always have a place in my heart for those who are so courageous that they would begin again in a new land.

Lighting the Path to a New Life


I’ve just returned from attending an awesome conference in New York City. I love New York, no matter what season I visit! Usually I think about my husband’s lines that were residents there during the New Netherland years but not this time.
Perhaps due to the current political climate and the fact that one of my colleagues couldn’t travel with us as she was taking her U.S. citizenship exam, I instead thought about a family emigration story on my maternal side.
My great grandmother, Anna Grdenic Kos, arrived in the U.S. with two of her surviving children, my grandmother, Mary, and my Great Uncle Joseph, on 16 July 1913[1].
Anna’s husband, Joseph Sr., had come earlier, on 10 January 1910, to establish himself in America[2]. He was employed by the Pullman Company in Chicago after leaving the military life as a cavalry officer behind him in what was then Austria-Hungary.
Anna was raised as a country girl; a farmer’s daughter who was shy and thoughtful. Anna never spoke about the boat passage; all that I know about the trip was from the recollection of daughter Mary who, as a pre-teen, felt it was her duty to entertain the other passengers with her operatic voice. Personally, having been raised in a household with both Anna and Mary, I also believe the underlying reason was that Mary hoped for fame and fortune in the new world and when she received praise and cash for her songs, she, like many immigrants, seized an opportunity.
Joseph Sr. had traveled from Chicago to meet his family upon their arrival. Knowing the trip was long, he arranged for an overnight stay in a hotel in New York City prior to the family departure via train to their final destination, a Pullman owned apartment in Chicago.
I’d love to know exactly where the family slept on their one night stay in New York City. I do know it had a wonderful bathtub that Mary appreciated.
Anna and the children had never been in such a great city and although Mary was disappointed the streets truly weren’t paved with gold, Anna fell in love with the array of merchandise in store windows. So last Sunday, as I walked down 34th Street and window shopped, I tried to imagine the shock and awe Anna and Mary experienced as they took in the wonderful sights. Having just learned that her new apartment came with electricity, Anna fell in love with a lamp she saw in a storefront. Joseph Sr. informed Anna that the delicate lamp would not survive the long journey ahead. Disappointed, Anna swore one day she would own one. A few weeks later, Joseph purchased the lamp at Marshall Fields in Chicago. The treasured lamp still remains in the family:

I’ve always wondered the name of the store where Anna first spotted the lamp. Mary could only recall that the shop had clothes that she was much more interested in than a lamp. My guess is it was either Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s.
The family and the lamp continued to stay in Pullman housing in Chicago until the spring of 1919. The photo below was taken shortly before they moved to Gary, Indiana; Mary had wed and her husband, John, along with her father, Joseph, had found new jobs at U.S. Steel.

A neighbor, Joseph Jr., Mary with her oldest child, Dorothy, Dorothy’s Godmother

The lamp survived that relocation and several others. It’s light has shown over 5 generations of owners and hopefully will continue for many generations to come.
When I see the Statue of Liberty’s lamp I am reminded of my family’s journey and the story of our very own lamp. Each time I turn on the light I think of the words of Martin Luther King, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” It is a message appropriate for today and well worth remembering. That little light of mine connects me to my ancestor’s past – the good, the bad, the ugly – and gives me hope and strength for whatever the future might hold.
This Little Light of Mine

[1]New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957, “Mara Kos,” 16 July 1913; digital image, Ancestry (http: Ancestry.com: accessed 10 February 2017), citing NARA microfilm T715_2130.
[2] New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957, “Josip Kos,” 17 January 1910; digital image, Ancestry (http: Ancestry.com: accessed 10 February 2017), citing NARA microfilm T715_1400.
[3] Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love, Cleveland, Ohio: Collins, 1977) 47.

Obtaining US Ancestors Immigration Documentation – What You Need to Know

In May, I requested an index search request for $20.00 from the USCIS website.  I’ve always meant to do so but never got around to it.  I had read a blog on Judy Russell’s Legal Genealogist site that mentioned the price may be going up dramatically so I decided the time was now and quickly followed through with the request.

You must complete and index search request ($20.00) if you don’t know the Case ID number.  A Case ID number is needed to request Alien Registration Forms (AR-2) and Naturalization Certificates (C-File) which are an additional $20.00-35.00. I was requesting two index searches, one for each of my maternal grandparents.

In August, I received a letter in the US mail that provided me with a Case ID number for my grandmother.  The letter referred me to the Department of Homeland Security website so that I could obtain the AR-2 and C-File.  I tried to follow the directions but I was unable to gain access.  Frustrated, I decided to try from different computers as I wasn’t sure if cookie settings were the problem.  After making a number of attempts from my home’s laptop, desktop, Kindle, phone and my work computer I came to the conclusion it wasn’t me.

The only way to contact the agency is via email.  I was livid when I received a response stating they would respond by December.  Seriously?!

A survey popped up and I took the time to complete it;  I mentioned the poor customer service access, the long delay between the letter’s date (July 8) and receiving it (date stamped August 18), lack of a functional website and that my initial request was for two searches and I only had one returned. I also sent an email to the agency on August 22 because their phones don’t work.  Here’s the response:

“It is our goal to complete all requests within 90 days of receipt. 

Nevertheless, due to an increased volume of requests we are now answering:

  • Index Search Requests (Form G-1041) received in MARCH 2016.
  • Record Requests (Form G-1041A) received in FEBRUARY 2016. Please note that pending record requests submitted prior that date are waiting for files or privacy screenings.”

Clearly the response isn’t even accurate as I didn’t even request the documents until May and had half of my request returned in August.

The following day I received this email response:

“Your payment has been submitted to Pay.gov and the details are below. If you have any questions or you wish to cancel this payment, please contact the USCIS Genealogy Program at (866) 259-2349.”

I called the number but never could reach anyone.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from James Igoe on October 3rd that attached my grandmother’s C-File.  I responded with a thank you and then asked for an update on where my grandfather’s file was.  Here’s the response I received on October 3rd:

“It is our goal to complete all requests within 90 days of receipt. 

Nevertheless, due to an increased volume of requests we are now answering:

  • Index Search Requests (Form G-1041) received in MARCH 2016.
  • Record Requests (Form G-1041A) received in FEBRUARY 2016. Please note that pending record requests submitted prior that date are waiting for files or privacy screenings.”

Sound familiar?!  Between August 22nd and October 3rd the agency had made NO progress with their backlog.

My advice, if you need to request records, is to do so with out delay cause it’s going to be a long, long time before you receive them.

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!