Sunday, May 23, 2010


Things are beginning to fall into place for our summer travel plans. We made our flight reservations some time ago and told several interested parties of our plans. They are now making their travel reservations and giving us some idea when they will be in Leran.

John and Eileen, friends here in Montrose are arriving in Carcassonne on September 9th and staying a week or so. Ursula and Didi, old friends from Montana arrive around October 1st. The time between the departure of J&E and the arrival of U&D is reserved for Nancy's cousin Bruce and his partner. And therein lies an interesting story.

Several years back Nancy begin to do some research on her family history. This was based mainly on the idea that her paternal grandmother was born in Ireland. Ireland was granting citizenship to grandchildren of its citizens even if they had never set foot there. If Nancy could get Irish citizenship, she would also be an EU citizen. This provides the great advantage of having the privilege to live freely throughout any of the EU countries, even permanently, without a visa. I could only hope that it would then be easier for me, and I would find the path to obtaining a visa much less traumatic.

So, Nancy dove into with a vengeance, but could not find her grandmother's birthplace in Ireland. She began to question that her grandmother was actually born on the old sod, as was the family rumour. She has since found out that, alas, the dear old woman was born in Chicago. It burst the bubble that was her dream of Irish citizenship and her chance to get European citizenship the easy way. But that was many years ago, and Nancy continued to wonder about her ancestors.

More recently, after becoming immersed in the PBS TV programs about celebrities searching for their 'roots', Nancy resumed her search, this time delving into the maternal grandparents side. However, all she knew about them were their first names. The only concrete knowledge at hand were the names of her mom's siblings. Several weeks ago, through correspondence with her brother Jim and cousin Cynthia, she began to piece together a few little snippets of information. Jim had unearthed the grandmother's death certificate and mother's birth and baptismal certificates, all sporting variations on the spelling of the family name. 1910, 1920, 1930 Census records recorded the family surname spelled another three different ways. The country of origin was variously listed as Austria, then Hungary, and again Austria. The response for mother tongue had been crossed out and written above was what looked like "Slo". Could that mean Slovak? All Nancy could remember was her mother saying she was Russian, or was it Ukrainian? The Austrian and Hungarian responses didn't fit with her mother's "Russian" roots. Nancy began to believe her family was running from the law.

The Austria, Hungary, Austria information was puzzling. Where were her grandparents from? Why don't we pay more attention when we are younger? Both Jim and Cynthia remembered a village somewhere in the Old World that had been mentioned, but only produced a phonetic spelling---something akin to 'Hostabisca Vandege'. The location remained a mystery. Trustworthy Google rendered nothing. But, the boundaries of Austria and/or Hungary today are nowhere near where they were around 1900, when her grandparents emigrated. Empires came and went, new governments sprung up and fizzled, and international boundaries shifted like sand.

Coincidentally, both Jim and Cynthia mentioned that yet another cousin, Bruce, had once visited this mysterious village where the maternal grandparents had been born with Nancy's Uncle Mick, but neither knew little more. And they only knew that Bruce lived somewhere around Atlanta. If Bruce held the key to finding the home village, now Bruce had to be found. Bruce has one of the other six spellings of the family name (which was not the same as her mother's), and Nancy was pretty sure he hadn't changed it.

Google to the rescue, but this time it produced a connection to someone with her cousin's name who was partners in a business in the Slovak Republic. Remember 'Slo'? So, Nancy penned off one of those inviting emails beginning "If you are the same Bruce K. who lived down the street from me on Wicker Avenue, then this is your cousin writing....." Who could resist?

Well, folks, the rest as they say, is history....literally. The contacted Bruce is the cousin, he has been the 'village' in question---not once, but many times. He is partners with a distant cousin in a business in Bratislavia (the capital of the Slovak Republic).

To make an already long story a little bit shorter, the village is in present day Slovak Republic, once part of the Austrian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then part of Czechoslovakia. There were a few other landlords before and in between. From 1863 - 1902 it was called Hosztovica, and from 1907 - 1913 the Hungarians re-named it Vendegi (pretty close to the phonetic Hostabisca Vandege, no?). By 1920, after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was given its present name Hostovice. The village hadn't moved but the international borders certainly had. Nancy's maternal grandparents were Carpatho-Rusyn, or Ruthenian, an ethnicity, not a nationality; a people without a country. Cousin Bruce confirmed that his father Mick always identified himself as a "Ruthenian---not a Russian." Somewhere along the line someone had mixed up Rusyn and Russian.

In the late 1800's, upwards of 900,000 Ruthenians emigrated to the US, primarily to Pennsylvania and eastern seaboard states, lured by the steel companies. Unknowingly, they were 'imported' to be strike breakers. Ironic, to leave a country for a better life only to end up being treated once again as a second-class citizen. Nancy's grandparents' first child, Anne, was born in Pennsylvania in 1906. That area of Pennsylvania was also home to the Pullman-Standard Co., manufacturer of railroad cars, who then opened up a big plant in Hammond Indiana. That's where the family shows up in the 1910 Census, and by 1920 the Census lists their street as "Company Housing" for Pullman-Standard.

Nancy and Bruce continued to correspond, and the result is Bruce and his partner are planning a visit to Leran. We have a standing invitation to visit Hostovice to meet Nancy's 'people'. It may happen this September. Amazing.


Linda said...

I'm sorry you weren't in Leran this spring when I was visiting Barcelona. I would have come up for a quick visit. But no, you were visiting Montana, where you would have been welcome to visit your old cabin if only I hadn't been in Spain.

I have met Dee Dee, but not Ursula. I am constantly running into people who know and admire one or the other or both of them.

The geneology story is, indeed, amazing. I hope you get to visit Hostovice.

Today there are two inches of new snow here at the cabin and it has been snowing off and on all day. And here I thought spring might finally come yesterday when the sun was out and all the snow melted.

Anonymous said...

I understand about the multiple spellings of Eastern European names. When we were going through my mother's things in Jaunary we found several different versions of "Sostik", which is how my mother and her 4 siblings had spelled their names as children.

Supposedly their original Russian (or Ukranian) name was shortened when her father went through Ellis Island. There were about 5 different spellings of the last name on birth certificates for the kids and the death certificate for their mother. It does make it a little difficult to track down the ancestors!

My maternal grandfather was an illiterate 16 year old peasant who left Russia when there was still a Tsar because he didn't want to be drafted into WW1. He never told any of his family where exactly he came from village-wise so we don't know.

My personal theory is that he robbed or killed someone for the money to get across Europe and sail to America. He was acknowledged by his own children to be a complete "SOB", so I've always assumed he was hiding a "criminal past" in the old country!

So much was destroyed in Russia/Ukraine during the 2 world wars and the revolution and civil I don't really expect to get any answers!

Let me know if you find out anything would be know how I love the "history stuff"!

By the way...I am Irish! I found my original (pre-adoption) birth certificate among other things when I was going through my mothers birth-mother was a Fogerty and my birth-father was a Ford (English/Irish?). My mother aways told me I was entitled to celebrate St. Patricks Day and I always have! Maybe I'm entitled to Irish citizenship!

I have to run! Take care.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating! I have wanted to do Grandma Cunningham's family, the Southgates. She always said she was related to Richard Warren, who signed the Declaration of Independence or some other important document that allows the women in our family to join the DAR, not that I would. We don't know much about her side of the family, I think she said there was some German, but not those round headed Germans! Let me know if you have an inclination to do a little digging Doug. We could start with Helen Southgate, born in Chicago? Ironically, she died in Chicago as Helen Southgate Cunningham Bergh.

Peggy said...

I started filling out things on until I had to ante up and join the thing. I think we should do this. There is a way to "share" the membership by using the same password and we could log on to fill in information, etc. We better get going before Uncle Jim dies and we don't have any trail there. I need to get Leslie going on this. Right up her alley and it will keep her out of trouble! Kidding...