A Little Bit of Genealogical Luck

Photo by Lori Samuelson

As the year closes, I’d like to reflect on some luck I had this past year. I was able to find the school enumeration records for my husband’s grandmother by getting a tip after writing a journal article. I hired a genealogist in Croatia who knew someone I could hire as a driver who just happened to have had a Ph.D. in archaeology and just happened to have done her dissertation on the area my ancestors once lived. Another lucky strike was writing to a small library in Ohio to ask if they had a list of Masons from the 1820s and getting a response they did not but they had in their vertical drawer notes from an unknown researcher that provided the source for a lost deed that hadn’t been filed until years after it was made and hadn’t been included in the index.

Those were all wonderful unexpected finds but I think the best luck came when I went cemetery hunting.

The photo above is just one of many that I took this past summer as I traveled across Ohio and Indiana searching for ancestor’s graves, then cleaning and photographing them. The one showing in the right corner is for my husband’s second great grandfather and his second wife, Maria Erickson.

Notice where the car is parked? I had no idea where in the cemetery the stone we were looking for was located. I only had a map for one cemetery, Graceland in Valparaiso, Indiana, but the sections weren’t marked in the cemetery so the map was useless. Somehow, my ancestor GPS was fully on as except for Graceland, hubbie and I found every grave in record time. I just drove in and something told me to STOP!!!! So we did.

Usually cemetery hunting is a spring-summer-early fall activity but two weeks ago one of my adult kids and I went to Chicago. The weather was frightful – sleeting, windy, and bitterly cold. We had wanted to go to the Field Museum but they had closed the parking lot close by, there was no street parking left and I didn’t want to pay for the parking garage down the street so we decided to go to the cemetery.

I realize that is a tad weird to those who aren’t interested in family history but this worked for us. I’ve written about Drusilla Williams DeWolf Thompson before and I’ve shared the also lucky find of the picture below in an attic in Dayton, Ohio where Dru never once set foot:

Dru is the woman with her head on her hand under the tree. Husband Thomas is impersonating Abe Lincoln. Daughter Mary is to his right, that’s my husband’s great grandmother.

You would think this stone on a bleak December day would be easy to find but it wasn’t. We had a map, too. We could see it was close to the cemetery office so we decided to just park there and inquire where to find it. The sweet office clerk donned his jacket and said it wasn’t far and he was right. It was just a few yards from the office. I wouldn’t have discovered it, though, without his help as the limestone is now barely readable. The trees are gone, as is the fence. The stone is off kilter as the base has eroded. It’s missing the top. It’s also filthy:

Photo by Lori Samuelson Dec 2023

You can see that other stones surrounding it are also gone.

The cemetery does not allow families to clean stones so I’ve consulted with a company who will go out next spring and take a look.

I had always wanted to visit these folks as their story fascinates me – arriving in Chicago by wagon in the 1840s, surviving the fire, and watching Chicago grow into a metropolis. If only they had left their memoirs!

As a new year peaks around the corner I can’t wait for more exciting finds. Hope your holidays are delightful and that you continue to follow my fabulous genealogical adventures next year. I’m planning to take another AI course through the National Genealogical Society and two more heritage trips. Lady Luck is who I’m hoping to accompany me. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Creepy October – Music on My Mind

This is the last in my annual genealogy coincidence series. It was July 18, my maternal grandmother’s 123rd birthday. My family and I decided to go to the DeKalb County Fairgrounds to enjoy an evening concert given by the 38th Infantry Division Band from Indianapolis. One of my family members who attended is an Indiana Medical Guard.

I was a tad late in arriving as one of my book clubs happened to have been meeting immediately before the concert. Two of our local book clubs are held off-site from the library; one is at a microbrewery and the other at a vineyard. I typically don’t drink alcohol when I attend but driving through the vineyard to get to the group meeting site, I decided, in honor of my grandmother’s family vineyard that I had visited in Croatia earlier in the year and her birthday, I’d get a chardonnay.

After the book discussion ended I hurried on to the fairgrounds. The National Anthem was playing as I located my family. Hubby had brought me a sub sandwich and I devoured it while the brass quintet and then the big band played. Our outdoor theatre hosts many events throughout the summer and always has snacks to purchase with donations going to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. Hubby wanted popcorn so he left us to get some. He arrived back as the big band began playing Back Home Again In Indiana, a fitting number as our family had relocated back to where our pioneer ancestors had settled in the 1820s and 30s.

The conductor mentioned that the solo performer would be SSG Ewigleben. I almost fell out of my chair! My favorite teacher was my kindergarten teacher, Bethel Ewigleben Mattingly. We remained connected until her death. She sometimes would call me when long distance was still a thing and leave a voice message on my answering machine to call her back. She’d always say she hoped I was being a good girl. My husband kidded me for years about those messages. I somehow knew she wasn’t going to leave many more voice messages in the future and luckily, I saved the last message. It’s still wonderful to hear her voice.

I have no idea if the Staff Sergeant is related to my kindergarten teacher but it did make me tear up to hear a song so appropriate to my family situation soloed by someone with the same unique name as my first and most favorite teacher in Indiana.

But of course, the way my coincidences roll, that wasn’t the end of it. The big band took a break while the concert band could set up. During the intermission, the first song they played was Almost Heaven, West Virginia. My family member who is in the Guard had done residency in Morgantown and our Duers had lived nearby when the area was still called Virginia. Weird!

Music often helps remind us of memorable past events, though on that beautiful summer night as the fireflies twinkled in the cool breeze, my thoughts turned instead to those departed family members, some of whom I never met. Without their choices, I likely wouldn’t have led the life I lead. I’m forever indebted to them and glad that they had once decided to make Indiana their home.

Creepy October – A Website Connection

Courtesy of Adobestock.com

I had just returned from traveling to Croatia in April when I received the email below:

Hello,

My name is [  ]. I am a Family History consultant. For a few years I have been trying to find the parentage of Joseph Emory DeLong 1814, married to Caroline Patterson about 1844 in Portage, Livingston New York. Joseph had a son named John, before Caroline, with Meritheue.

Could I ask, have you heard of any of these names? Joseph was a Blacksmith, as were his sons with Caroline. John died in the civil war. his mother’s name is unusual but I have not found anything.

I came across this website and to a shot in the dark to enquire.

Definitely, this was a shot in the dark and I was initially confused. The email came to my website email address and not through one of my online tree messages. I hadn’t recalled writing about anyone named DeLong on my blog and the subject of the email, “I have a question about someone in Nunda.” was even more intriguing because I knew where Nunda was located, having written a report last year for a client. That wasn’t anywhere on my website, either. I thought maybe the client had given my email to the writer but no, the message said it was from my website.

I went to the website and looked for a blog I had written about the DeLong family. Nada. I had written about the Long family but they were from Indiana. The name nagged at me so I went back to the research report I had done in 2022 for the Nunda location but no DeLongs were there.

Where had I heard that name? I’m good at remembering surnames from years of researching and I knew something about this name but I couldn’t place what it was. I turned to my Ancestry.com personal tree and discovered that I did, indeed, have a DeLong in my tree. I hadn’t researched her, however, as she had married into my husband’s Harbaugh family. Here’s where it gets weird…

Born in Ohio, she relocated with her parents to the small rural Indiana county where I now live, as did her soon-to-be husband who I had extensively researched because he was part of a surname study I had done in the early 2000s. I didn’t recall he had lived in my current county. They married in the courthouse less than 5 minutes from where I live. Gave me the eebie jeebies!

How did this individual take such a wild shot at emailing me about a name that I didn’t have on my blog and I was able to connect the unique surname to someone in my personal family tree that just happened to live in the community I just moved to? The frequency of that surname in the U.S. is 1:13,755. I have no idea why the writer connected to me but her shot in the dark had a great aim.

Creepy October – The Castle Connection

Fountain on bottom middle. Photo by Lori Samuelson

Last week I wrote about the painting that resembled my mom in our first hotel room in Croatia. My grandmother also chose to haunt us on that trip!

We had signed up for a Gate 1 tour that began in Zagreb, Croatia and took us also to Slovenia and Monte Negro. My grandmother had visited Croatia with her singing group in the summer of 1960 and brought back the picture above of a castle. As a child, she told me the story of our family defending a castle but made it clear the castle in the wood cutout picture was not the same one. I had no idea where she bought the picture but a clue in the bottom corner said Bled.

On our third day, we arrived in Bled and sure enough, there was a castle that closely resembled the picture I inherited from my grandmother. We toured it and learned it had been built in 900 AD. We shared a glass of wine with a monk on the top floor, visited the museum with artifacts from over the centuries, and shopped in an adorable beehive-themed room that had a live beehive in the middle.

I remarked to my husband that my grandmother must have also visited this site as in the gift shop were wooden angels that resembled the type of wood used in the castle picture we have. I inquired if they had available larger wooden pictures but they no longer do.

We returned to our hotel, which had the exact same view as the one from the picture I had and I remarked to my husband it was uncanny. The only thing missing from the woodcut was a large fountain that had been in front of the lake that our hotel faced. I mentioned this to a hotel employee who told me the fountain is still there, across the street from the hotel, behind a fence. Hubby and I went on an adventure to find it. Sure enough, obscured by overgrowth, water trickled from this ancient fountain:

Photo by Lori Samuelson

I then learned that our hotel, built in 1980, had replaced a hotel that had been on the same site. Likely, we were staying on the same land that my grandmother had stayed in 1960! Nothing like following in the footsteps of your ancestors, even when they were just on vacation.

And because it’s October – here’s a night picture of the castle:

Creepy October Begins – Mom’s Return!

It’s Creepy October and of course, I’ve had several weird, unexplained happenings as I researched my family this past year. One of the creepiest was on April 13 when my husband and I checked into the Zagreb Croatia Sheraton and were assigned a room with the painting shown on the left. Our flight from Munich had been delayed by over 5 hours and we were exhausted when we finally made it to our hotel room. I had wanted to spend the afternoon researching at the Croatian State Archive but unfortunately, with the flight delay, that wasn’t an option. As I unzipped the suitcases to take a quick shower before we went out to explore Zagreb, my husband said,“Lor, you got to see this.” I looked up and he was pointing at the picture. I immediately noticed the resemblance to my mother. It was her birthday eve, too. It was one of those pictures whose eyes seemed to follow you wherever you went in the room. Although those Halloween pictures creep me out this one didn’t. It was comforting to think of my mom, whose parents were both from the nearby village of Dubranec from where we were staying. Pic on the right is of my mother from her communion at St. Marks Roman Catholic Church in Gary, Lake, Indiana..

Her hair darkened as she aged and she always wore it short. Her brown eyes seemed to get bigger and brighter, too. Her long face, slim nose, and lips that never smiled broadly reminded me of the painting. The white attire also caused my brain to make a connection. Of course, I had to take a picture of the picture and share it with all of you!

A Foreshadowing of Creepy October

Courtesy of SoundCloud

Fall is just around the corner and I’ll be posting my October blogs about the weird, unexplainable happenings that occurred while I researched over the past year soon. I typically write them down as they happen and save them to present in October. I’ve got my four done so what happened to me this week is too good to wait for a whole ‘nother year so here goes. . .

On Thursday I attended a local genealogy club event at a library. We were supposed to be researching early residents of the town for a timeline poster the library was making. This was a continuation of what we had begun the previous month.

It was pouring and cold. Yes, I know most places are under a heat dome but we were not. It was in the 60s and I don’t do cold. I considered not going but I had promised to be there so I donned my raincoat and drove off through flooded streets.

Luckily, there were two parking spaces available close to the library door. I took one and a male patron took the other. I sat for a moment debating if I should just pull my hood up or wrestle with the umbrella. It was lightning so I opted to just make a run for it as it wasn’t more than a few steps. The man chose the umbrella and was struggling to get it open without getting soaked.

I stood in the vestibule shaking off my raincoat when he approached but he was carrying items in one hand and the umbrella was in the other so he couldn’t open the door. I noticed and held it open. After some pleasantries, we went on our separate ways.

I happened to be the first to arrive so I was talking with one of the librarians about the project. She said if anyone came who needed genealogical help we’d do that first. I love helping people with their brick walls so this sounded great to me!

Moments later a woman came in with a question; how accurate are death records? She had found some inconsistencies. We talked about, how family members are often distraught by the loss of a loved one, and provide incorrect or incomplete records. I gave an example of my Maria Duer Kuhn who was born in Ohio but her son had stated she was born in Germany on her death certificate. Nope, that would be his dad. Dad had been active in the immigrant community so Maria had an obituary in both the English and local German newspapers. Her son was just confused at the time of her death.

Next, the umbrella man arrived; those papers he had been carrying were death certificates for two of his Hull ancestors and he was stymied by the oldest which stated that the deceased had been born in Virginia. He could find no records in Virginia for this man.

I pointed out that the northwest territory had once been assigned to Virginia and that at the time of the man’s birth, the late 1700s, it was possible that the named location was somewhere else but under that jurisdiction. Seriously, once upon a time, in what is now Indiana, deeds were to be presented to Williamsburg, Virginia. Crazy, huh?!

I asked him if he had looked at online family trees for clues, warning him about unsourced or poorly sourced trees. He hadn’t. I brought up Ancestry but my personal version since the library edition that is available doesn’t give patrons the option to search public member trees.

I knew I had a few Hulls in my tree as my Revolutionary War patriot, John Duer’s sister married a Hull. I figured a lot of people would have the Hulls in their tree as it sounds to me like a common name.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at public trees and discovered my tree contained the information he needed.

Umm, yes, we were distant cousins. I then brought up FamilySearch.org so he could see the will which named parents and siblings. I’ve complained about that will for YEARS as my John’s will omit his deceased children and I wished that he had done the same as his brother-in-law – named everyone.

I then showed him I’d taken the Duers back to Merry Ole England and that he was eligible for several lineage societies. He had no idea and needed time to process this. Nothing like showing up in a downpour with two documents and leaving in the sunshine with hundreds more already nicely packaged for you.

But that’s not all. I decided to stop at another library on my way home to look at a book that the deceased author’s daughter had emailed me about that might be of help for a cemetery project I’m working on with a local high school. I went directly to the librarian and told him I didn’t have the name of the book but knew the author and publisher’s date. He found it for me in seconds. Yes, it had EXACTLY what I was looking for. Pleased, I put the book on the cart to be refiled. Then I stopped at the cemetery but no one was in the office. Sigh.

I didn’t check my email until I got home but I could hear it pinging. Sure enough, an email, related to what I had just accomplished.

It was sent by the author’s daughter while I was in the library. She had pulled out the copy she owned and sent me a list of former residents I could use in the cemetery tour. While reading the email I got a call from a friend and fellow member of our local genealogy society. A few minutes after I left the library she had arrived with the intent on looking at the same book as she had read in the newspaper that a barn was being moved from a neighboring county to our county to use for horses during the fair. The barn was coming from one of her great uncle’s farms. That family had lived in our county but relocated to a neighboring county in the 1800s. She remembered while reading the article she had intended to confirm a burial date on the now unreadable stone for this several times great aunt buried in our county.

When she arrived at the library she couldn’t find the book on the shelf so she went to the librarian and he told her Lori Samuelson had just used it. They went to the cart and there it was, right where I left it to be reshelved. See, they know me well in this library and I always return the items to the cart for reshelving as that is their policy.

Moral of the story – genealogical connections are integral and coincidences are icing on the cake. Were my Duer ancestors and the local deceased author giving us a nudge? Possibly though I can’t prove that. Sometimes we just need to appreciate the findings, however, they occurred.

Combining Genealogy With a High School Reunion

In late July, graduates of my husband’s now-closed high school held their 50th reunion. Only about 60 of the 352 graduates attended. Some didn’t care to attend, others probably didn’t have the time or funds to make the pilgrimage home. The remainder had no choice; about 18% of their classmates are deceased.

I heard a lot of stories about those missing members. A memorial had been created for them – a 1970-style school desk in the corner of the Pavilion, the same location where Senior Prom had been held. Upon the tabletop were listed the names, birth, and death dates of the individuals. The first died barely two months after graduating and the most recent, three months ago. There was an increase in deaths between 2020-2022. Was it aging or the pandemic?

This reunion made me aware of the folly of youth. At 17, when I danced the night away in that very same room, I hadn’t thought much of the prom’s theme – Stairway to Heaven. I hadn’t even remembered that was the theme until my husband’s close friend since kindergarten mentioned it. This was the same friend who had introduced me to what would become my husband. It was the same song that just happened to play on the radio when hubby and I were meeting at a city cemetery in Florida to select our grave sites. We’ve since sold those back to the city and are now in the process of deciding AGAIN where our final resting place will be.

So, being frugal (you can insert cheap in here, no worries on my part!) and time conscious, I decided we would visit cemeteries of deceased family members during our trip to our old hometown which is now a two-and-a-half-hour drive from our new city. I was thinking we might want to be interred there eventually and could save if we combined trips. We hadn’t visited some of the gravesites in over 20 years and in other cases, have never been. This seemed like a good time to check them out.

When I was thinking about the reunion I wasn’t thinking at all about those that weren’t going to be attending because they had passed away. I guess I was still thinking as we did at 17; aging and death would happen but not any time soon. In those days anyone over 30 was over the hill and we were far from that. Funny how fast time passes. Appropriate that we sometimes get a jolt of reality during a regular humdrum day.

I planned to visit seven cemeteries during this two-day trip which would include five hours plus of driving and four hours for the big party. I also wanted to drive by our old haunts, like our childhood homes, schools, friends’ homes, and places that held special memories – our first date, our favorite beach, and so on.

They say you can’t go home again. That’s not true; you can and you should. Does it look the same? Definitely not. Without the people you knew, like Mrs. Chellich who made the best grape jelly every summer, or Vera Shobach, who owned the corner store, the visit wouldn’t be the same as returning to an earlier part of your lifetime. Life goes on and it is worth the travel to your origin, to remember, reflect, and both laugh and cry.

Did I record any of the conversations that were held during the reunion? Nope. I was a guest. I heard apologies, regrets, and lots of memories of good times. I hope the attendees return home and someday write or record their memoirs.

Perhaps they’ll change their minds in ten years but it sure sounded like many had decided this would be their last reunion, which could explain the depths of some of the conversations that occurred. Well, at least at the table where we sat that I have labeled the Nerd Table, where we talked about philosophy and what colleges give seniors free classes online. The jocks seemed to still be interested in their past glory days and who got drafted for what major league team today. The ladies seemed to be comfortable with their old friends; most came alone, kicked off their shoes, and danced together as they once did. There was also the smoker group that convened outside. I guess some things never change!

This was the first high school reunion event I ever attended. None of my schools are in existence today. I left for Florida two weeks before my senior year in high school was going to begin in Indiana as my mom had been transferred. I graduated early by attending a school that no longer exists in St. Petersburg, Florida; it’s become a condo. My Indiana high school was leveled in 2014. It was tough to see that beautiful building gone.

Luckily, my husband’s former elementary school is now an art antique mall so we were able to visit. I took pics of him standing in the doorway of every one of his classrooms. On the main floor behind the cash register are three class photos hanging on the wall and he is in every picture. One of the vendors had attended the school a few years before my husband so they reminisced about the teachers, principal, and students. It was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the greater community who had experienced a shared past.

Friends – Associates – Neighbors enrich our family stories. Make the most out of your upcoming reunions to reach out and gain new perspectives on your past events.

Way Down Upon the White River…

Photo by Lori Samuelson

Earlier this month, hubby and I joined other Society of Indiana Pioneers (SIP) at an Intergenerational Day at Mounds Park, Anderson, Indiana.

We had never been to the park and after a short hike, the ranger explained research findings about the constructed mounds on the premises. We then trekked back to the nature center and had an informative hands-on wildlife experience with reptiles and amphibians. After a box lunch, pioneer activities were scheduled – butter churning, broom making, weaving, flint knapping, candle making, archery, and visiting a historic home. We also observed volunteers who were making a dugout canoe for a museum exhibit.

SIP’s program is helpful in getting a younger generation interested in history.

It wasn’t just the kids who were excited nor was intergenerational just for attendees. My husband’s Hoosier Pioneer was Jacob Troxell, born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on 2 October 1797. By 1810, he had emigrated with his parents to Bear Creek near Miamisburg, Montgomery, Ohio. There he married first Catherine Ranck/Raunk on 29 December 1819.

By 1822 Jacob, Catherine, and their first of eight children, Elizabeth “Betsy” moved to the then-new state of Indiana. They settled in Harrison Township, Fayette County, one mile north of Waterloo.

Jacob first farmed his property that was adjacent to the White River. The growing community had a need and he met it by erecting a saw and grist mill. Later he opened a dry goods business and became a County Commissioner.

After Catherine’s death, he married widow Mary Jane Carlton Port. The couple had one daughter.

Jacob died on 6 April 1885 in Fayette and is buried in Robinson Chapel Cemetery there.

Of my to-do plans is to visit where Jacob lived. Between speaking engagements, renovating our landscaping with native plants, and volunteering, it’s not likely we’ll get to visit this summer. The SIP program, however, enabled my husband to experience the White River for the first time. In this preserved park setting, it likely looks much as it did when his 3rd great-grandfather came in the 1820s. Wow, 200 years ago. Five generations ago. Now that’s really intergenerational!

Croatian Family Stories – An Update

Lori Samuelson and Dr. Nikolina Antonić  in front of Turopolje Manor

Today’s blog is the last in my Croatian series and it adds to the family stories I have previously written about. My maternal grandmother, Mary Koss, was a dramatic storyteller. As a child, I loved her tales of the old country. As I aged, I wondered about the content and began researching for facts. Boots on the ground enabled me to check out the truth in ways I could never do online.

The picture above is of a typical Croatian nobleman house from the beginning of the 19th century. This one was built in 1806. The family business was housed on the first floor with the family living on the second floor. The homes typically were furnished with artwork, porcelain collections, a stove for heating, and a piano. We always had a piano which my mother hated taking lessons, porcelain knickknacks, and art. I never thought of my family as owning those items in the old country as nothing was brought with them to the U.S. The families entertained often and a sign noted that guests of this home, constructed by Petar Modić, were the Kusević and Pogledić families. Those names were of interest to me as my grandparents had friends in the U.S. with those surnames and I knew they had been from nearby villages in Croatia. And yes, my grandparents entertained often. I had no idea, that all these families had been considered noblemen nor that the families had been acquainted for more than a hundred years before their emigration. I was also surprised to learn how much land those titled people, known as PL, owned. Dr. Antonić’s dissertation was on land deeds from the 1200s in the area so our next visit was to the castle my grandmother recalled our family protecting.

Castle Turopolje near Dubranec, Croatia

Due to earthquake damage, we couldn’t get up close to Castle Turopolje. I was astounded to discover how close the site was to my ancestor’s villages. Running downhill from their homes through the woods would not have taken more than ten minutes. Like in my grandmother’s story, the castle had a moat which you can see is now weed-filled. This castle is a replica, built in the 1900s, of the one that stood in the same location where my relatives defended against the Turks. You can read my blog about the original event here.

Another surprise was the discovery that not only my Kos line but my Grdenić line was also titled PL. How I missed that information as a kid is beyond me! Unfortunately, the volume with the Kos information was missing from the Croatian National Archive and I’m awaiting a copy from another organization.

On the Road to Dubranec

My grandmother’s paternal side, the Kos family, originated in Dubranec. You can see the forest area where they were granted privilege by the king to hunt for their bravery in defending the castle. Just around the bend, the village of 99 homes begins.

Mary Koss’ Birthplace in Dubranec, Croatia. Photo by Google Maps

I’m using a Google Maps photo of my maternal side’s ancestral home, built before 1861 as noted in that census. For privacy reasons, I am not showing a current photo as the house has had some changes. I had no family pictures of it and in my mind, I had always thought it would have been a wooden structure, much like Turopolje Manor. I have no idea when the stucco was added over the original wood but many homes began that custom by the mid-1800s. The residences to the right and left had been bricked. My grandmother had her home in Gary, Indiana bricked during the Depression; perhaps she did that because the neighbors had done so in Croatia. All three homes, along with a parking lot and a medical facility, were once the Kos family farm. The family-owned much more land and as the family grew over the years, lots became subdivided to include more dwellings. This I discovered at the Croatian State Archives. My family always had a kitchen garden when I was growing up so I wasn’t surprised to see that there was space for one. My grandmother had mentioned a garden, too. The building is no longer in the family. It had been turned into a tavern but the owner recently died so we could not go inside to visit. There are no Kos’ left in Dubranec according to the neighbor on the left side and Mr. Hrvoj, a distant cousin of mine, who happened to walk down the street.

Up the Road to Jerebić, Croatia

Around several more turns up the mountain, we found ourselves in my maternal great-grandmother’s ancestral home, the Grdenić’s. The village is small and consists of a few farms. It looks as I thought a village from the 1800s would:

Anna Grdenić’s Ancestral Home, Jerebic, Croatia

There are no Grdenić’s left in Jerebic according to the farmer who came out to see who was visiting. It is a working farm with roosters walking freely. Although the house now has electricity, running water, and plumbing, it did not when my great-grandmother lived there. The well is no longer used but I can imagine my two times great grandmother drawing water from it:

Lori Samuelson in Front of the Grdenić Family Well

My grandmother’s middle name was Violet and I was surprised to see all the wild violets that grew around the house.

Records in the archive stated that the family was known for their fine vineyard. I should have known the family grew grapes as I have blogged about their winemaking during Prohibition yet I never thought about that custom coming with them to the new country. I have the family recipes and one of my kids still follows them. Sometimes the hints are right in front of us yet we fail to recognize them. My husband and I laughed when we heard about the vineyards as we have always had a grape arbor and we had just planted grapes a few days before we left for Croatia.

Next, we went back down the mountain to Dubranec to visit Our Lady of the Snows Roman Catholic Church which is a 5-minute walk from my Kos’ family home:

The Earthquake Damaged Church of Our Lady of the Snows, Dubranec, Croatia

The church was badly damaged in the 2020 earthquake and is off-limits. The priest lives in the village but we were unable to locate him. Here is my original family legend about Our Lady of the Snows.

I was hoping to find gravestones for the missing vital information that former leader Josip Tito had destroyed but unfortunately, the cemetery only contains newer graves. Dr. Antonić explained that the Croatian custom is to pay annually for the grave upkeep and if payment is not made, after some time, the remains are removed and stored in a combined gravesite. I couldn’t find that location and will have to contact the parish priest for more details.

Our Lady of the Snows Roman Catholic Church Cemetery, Dubranec, Croatia

The former article mentioned a mysterious pilgrimage site that was identified by genealogist Lidija Sambunjak. We were on our way to Marija Bistrica:

Marija Bistrica

My great-grandmother Anna Grdenić Koss, according to my Great Aunt Barbara, went on a pilgrimage to this site. I had a postcard that was written to my mother when my Aunt Anne Marie and Aunt Barbara visited Croatia in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the name of the site wasn’t written on the postcard. I blogged about solving the mystery recently. I believe Anna made the pilgrimage after losing her first two children at birth. I have records for one of the two, one may have been a miscarriage. I suspect Anna was praying for a child to survive and that occurred after the pilgrimage with my grandmother, Mary. Anna would go on to have three more children, Joseph and Barbara, who survived to adulthood, and Dorothea, who I can find no record of that died as a child. The distance to this church from the villages is an hour by car over steep mountain roads. I know that my female ancestors were strong women but this journey would not have been easy. We did see pilgrims hiking to the church and it reminded me that once, long ago, Anna was one of them. Like most of Croatia due to the earthquake, the church is under construction but we were able to go inside.

Boots on the ground research enabled me to walk in my ancestor’s footsteps. It was an emotional journey that added richness to the family stories that were told to me as a child. I am fortunate to have connected with such knowledgeable women in Croatia who helped me gain insight into my family’s history. This was a trip of a lifetime that I will carry with me forever.

Cemetery Caper

Photo courtesy of David Cole

Back in November, I visited a local cemetery to pay my respects to my husband’s Great Half Uncle, William O. Johnson. When we arrived we couldn’t get into the mausoleum as the door was locked. There was no sign on the door that provided the hours it was open.

There was no cemetery office and we were the only ones in the cemetery so we went home, disappointed. I immediately went online to Findagrave.com to discover how I could connect with a cemetery trustee.

What I found was a transcription from Dorothy A. Ditmars History of DeKalb County Cemeteries (1924) that states “…The present manager of this cemetery is Mr. L. Gengler, an attornery (sic) of Garrett, Indiana).”

The next paragraph transcribes a “printed page (source unknown)” that John Martin Smith had in his private files that stated, “Lots are mowed by Oliver Maurer, who has been employed as caretaker since 1954.”

I looked for another site that contained more recent info and found that every other site had copied the same information. Luckily, a newspaper article appeared in the Garrett Clipper on 23 June 2020 about a new Columbarium that was being installed in the cemetery close to the mausoleum. The article mentioned contacting the nearby Roman Catholic Church for information on purchasing lots and niches.

I emailed the church office and a week and a half later hadn’t gotten a response. I thought they might be busy as it was nearing Christmas. I decided to go to my local genealogy library to research some street names in the city and while there, mentioned I couldn’t get into the mausoleum. The librarian was working on a county cemetery project and had just finished with the cemetery I was interested in minutes before I entered. She handed me the book of copies of lot purchases. I found several for the family I was interested in, the Blairs, but none of the Johnsons, which were the ones I needed. Then it hit me, the records for the mausoleum were missing from the book.

I know this sounds unbelievable but for my long-time readers, you know weird things happen to me whenever I do boots-on-the-ground research – a woman came into the library asking for a book of newspaper articles from 25 years ago. While the librarian retrieved it, the woman and I spoke and she just happened to be the reporter who had written the story in 2020. She encouraged me to call the church office and not rely on waiting for a response from their email system. She also gave me the answers to my street names questions that I hadn’t been able to find on maps in the library.

I called the parish office as soon as I got home and was told that the clerical staff would check with the priest and call me back. The next day I got a returned phone call but no answers. The church runs the cemetery but not the mausoleum. They don’t know who is responsible for that. They have no key and didn’t know it was locked. They were going to check with the caretaker, Dave, for further info.

I asked if there were mixed burials in the mausoleum; by mixed I mean people of various faiths as the original intent when the cemetery was laid out in 1897 was to have a section for Roman Catholics and a section for “others.” Having spent so many years in the South I was used to the separation in cemeteries by race but hadn’t come across much by religious affiliation. I was told that the church doesn’t have the mausoleum records, and no one knows where they are or how many spaces are unsold there. The clerical person said she knew families buried in the mausoleum who were of differing faiths.

Not surprisingly, the church has yet to call me back to tell me what the caretaker said about how we could access the mausoleum. On Valentine’s, I went to a genealogy lecture locally and was speaking with a woman who said she knew who had the mausoleum books but had no idea how one accessed entry into it. She said she’d get back to me. Still waiting, sigh!

Genealogy is such a study of patience but also one of perseverance. At the last DeKalb County Genealogy Society meeting I asked if anyone knew where the records might be housed. No one did but one of the members happens to be the caretaker for a nearby cemetery’s mausoleum. The key he has happens to open the mausoleum I’m seeking to enter. We’re planning to get together soon so my husband and I can pay our respects.

I still intend to hunt down those missing records and that’s on my agenda for May.

I will be taking a break from blogging for the next two weeks while my husband and I go on a genealogical adventure. I’ll surprise you with the details when I write again on April 29th.