Chicago Family History is moving  


Hello! I have moved my blog to a Wordpress site Chicago Family History. You can now view it here. I'll be moving posts over as time permits but all new postings will be there.

I'm working on a post for my Family History Research Tips blog by using a paper I wrote for my Chicago Women's History grad class 11 years ago. I adapted the paper to become a presentation with handouts for the Chicago Genealogy Society shortly thereafter. I thought this paper would be a great addition to my blog about researching women and their stories.

As I begin to retype the paper I realize a lot of the information I provided on my family such as dates and places of events in their lives is not exactly the same information I have today. What a difference 11 years can make on a person's life story as we locate new records and solve mysteries we could not in the past.

I had to laugh a little at the "errors" in this paper but also felt great pride in all that I have accomplished in my research since that time. I guess this is a good reminder for me to go back through any old articles and stories I have written and see how many "errors" exist.

Last week, Melissa from Pawprints Guiding Me To the Past, posted a comment on one of my posts on my blog. After taking a look at her blog I discovered she lives “right down the road” from me. Small world isn’t it?

If you haven’t seen her blog, check it out. Her latest entries include a three part story about her great grandfather Eugene Gardos who had a very interesting past. Melissa describes how she connected with another family member through and the two were able to share stories, fascinating information, and find answers to some of their questions. Check it out when you have time!

Melissa follows an interesting blog called Italian Surname DatabaseUpon first look, I am hoping this blog will be very helpful with my husband’s Italian side. 

Last month I drove from Chicago, IL to Rolla, MO to spend the weekend with my best friend. I made a stop in Springfield, IL on my way down to pick up some death certificates at the Illinois State Archives and some newspaper articles at the Abraham Lincoln Library. It was a successful two hour stop on my drive down.

First let me say, I only visit the Illinois State Archives once or twice a year when I get together with my best friend. I arrive in Springfield by 8 a.m. so I can be at the Archives when they open. There has never been anyone else there to research but me. Kind of nice and super quiet. I am able to get in and out in about an hour and come home with several new death certificates. The staff is very helpful and I really enjoy going there.

After my death certificate search, I headed to the Abe Lincoln Library to look at newspaper microfilm. I'm writing a book about my cousin Robert Brouk, who was a Flying Tiger in 1941-1942. I needed to get some articles from the Herald-American newspaper. Again, I was the only person in the newspaper room. The woman working there was very kind and helpful and I had no issues with the machines. I found what I needed and was in and out within an hour.

If you have Illinois research to conduct do check out the State Archives and Lincoln Library. There are so many resources available there and they seem to be very underused.

When someone passes from our life, their Wake or Visitation and Funeral, do not need to be completely sad. I believe when someone passes, their life should be celebrated and remembered. One way I have helped do this in the last 11 years is to create scrapbooks for the Wake.

When my grandmother, Rose Kokoska Tregler, died in 2002, my aunt and I quickly put together a scrapbook of photos of her life to have at the Wake. It was a very emotional task, but also healing. The album included photos of Rose as a baby, high school graduate, married woman, family woman, elderly woman. Photos of her children and grandchildren and special moments. And of course, grandma's album wouldn't have been complete without copies of some of her recipes, written by her. Dumplings and Sauerkraut. YUM! The end of the album included pages for mourners to write a memory about Rose. After the funeral we made copies of the album and now I have one, my aunt has one, and my cousin has one. Something beautiful to pass down to our children.

In 2003, almost a year after Rose died, my husband's Nana, Frances Murabito Fratto, died. We had just returned from a vacation the day she passed and my mother in-law wanted a board made of photos of her. No scrapbook was created, but a beautiful board of photos of her life. At the Wake, all the Italian cousins came to pay their respects. There were tears and laughter and children running around among the adults which livened the mood. There were so many family members I had never met because I had only been in the family four years, that we took a lot of family photos that day. Never fail to bring your camera to a Wake or Funeral. You might capture moments or photos of family members you might never see again.

I continue to scrapbook and make albums for my children. When my uncle, Richard Holik, passed away in 2007, I brought five of our large scrapbooks to his Wake. Family members we had not seen in years stopped to pay their respects and spent a lot of time looking through the scrapbooks. The Wake had some tears, but a lot more smiles and laughter, as memories were shared about my uncle and the family.Of course the coffee and kolacky we had while sharing stories helped too. I know our Czech families spent many hours drinking coffee and eating Czech bakery at the kitchen table through the years while reminiscing. I think it is the little things that help us heal when someone we love passes away.

We must remember that as someone passes from our life, we can use their past history to create current history in a scrapbook. A valuable item to pass down through the generations.

Do you have relatives buried overseas in an American Military Cemetery? If you do, this is a website you will want to check out. It is the American Battle Monuments Commission. Through their website you can search World War I, World War II, Korean and other burial listings in a database. If you find a relative, the information will state their name, Rank, Serial Number, Date of Death and Cemetery. If you click GO next to their name it will take you to the cemetery page where the relative is buried.

I sent an email to the ABMC asking for a photo of my cousin, James Privoznik’s grave. He died January 11, 1945 in Luxembourg. Family story said he wanted to be buried where he fell. He is buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery. The ABMC said if I provided my snail mail address, they would mail a photo of his grave. It took a while, but I received it and was shocked. The ABMC sent me two poster size photographs of the cemetery and in the top left corner, a 4x6 photo attached of James’ grave. You can also ask for a photograph to be emailed, which is what I ended up doing after not receiving the photograph in the mail after a couple months.

The main page has links and videos on current projects and information you should know. It also contains links to their Cemeteries, Memorials, Services Available, Commemorative Events and more.

This is a beautiful website that honors our fallen service men and women. Please take some time to explore it and remember those who served our country.

I was a child born in the early 1970's. I lived the first five years of my life in Downers Grove, a suburb of Chicago, until my parents decided a move to the country would be good for the family and we moved to southwest Missouri. My parents were born in Chicago and as their families gradually moved into the burbs, became Cicero, Berwyn, Stickney area residents. The neighborhood of the Bohemians. 22nd Street. The Czech Bakeries, Butchers, stores. They lived in a time when grandma and grandpa lived across the alley. When children were allowed to play in the street and the parents didn't need to worry about them. A time when the families would get together often for meals, music, laughter. A time when the grandmas were always baking yummy kolacky, houska, and other goodies for the family. Where dumplings, roast pork and sauerkraut were common meals in the Czech house. No, I didn't live in this neighborhood as a child, but I was fortunate enough to experience some of it because my grandmother's lived in this neighborhood. And, I had my parents, aunts, and uncles, to tell me lots of stories about growing up in the neighborhood.

Neighborhood is about Cicero, Berwyn, Stickney in the 1940's to the late 1980's. In Blei's book you will read about the old 22nd Street/Cermak Road. You will read about games the children used to play; learn about the Sokol; the Houby Hunt; and playing the horses. You will meet people like Shorty the Locksmith; Doc Cermak; and the Polka King: Frankie Yankovic. If you lived in this neighborhood or visited often enough, you just might recognize many of the people, places and things, Blei describes in his book.

My favorite childhood memories of Cicero are from our visits back home. We would visit Chicago two or three times a year after we moved to Missouri. My grandma Libbie and Uncle Rich lived in Cicero on 61st Avenue, just off Cermak Road. Before we got to my grandma's house, we would pick up bakery so the adults could sit around the kitchen table, drink their coffee and talk while the kids explored the big bungalow. My siblings and I had great times in the attic and basement of that house. Many times, my grandma or uncle would play the organ, and as we grew older, we would bring our instruments along and play for them. The Brouk and Holik sides of the family have musical genes and most everyone played an instrument.

I moved back to the Chicago area in 1999 and lived in Riverside for a year. One of the first things I did upon my return was to go to Home Run Inn Pizza on 31st for my favorite sausage and mushroom pizza, and of course, bring bakery home from Vesecky's. Salty horns, rye bread, and kolacky. Delicious. Just thinking about the bakery now, I can almost taste it. If you read Neighborhood by Norbert Blei and the chapter called The Bakery, you will be able to smell and taste the bakery as you read. I smiled and felt so full of life and fortunate to be living where I was, as I read that chapter, sitting outside the library in Riverside, eating my kolacky the first week I was back. Happy times.

Many of the places Blei describes in his book are long gone, but the memories remain for those who lived there and those who were fortunate enough to visit and experience the Czech Neighborhood. If you want a taste of what this neighborhood was like between the 1940's and 1980's, please read Neighborhood


Surnames I am researching  

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The following is a list of my Chicago Ancestors broken out by country of origin.


La Mantia/LaMantia/Mantia


As I continue to not only look backwards and record the history of my ancestors, I also try to stay in the present time and record my family's history as it is happening.  This is a photo of my husband, an almost eight year Testicular Cancer Survivor walking the Survivor Lap at our local Relay For Life in June 11, with one of our twins.

Brian began his battle with cancer September 2002 when our oldest child was just a year and a half old. He fought through two surgeries and chemo and began recovery mid-January 2003. In 2004 we began the long, emotional, horrible process of IVF to try to give our son a sibling. After a lot of heartache, we finally conceived twins just before Christmas 2004. Brian had another surgery to remove a spot on his lung in April 2005 and in August our twins were born.

While this is the very brief story of Brian's cancer and our IVF experience, the entire thing is documented in scrapbooks complete with photos of Brian going through cancer, going bald, recovering, his story as a survivor written out in the book, mine as a caregiver written out in the book, ultrasounds of babies we conceived during IVF that we later lost, the entire story I wrote going through it, and finally our twins.

Life isn't always pretty, happy, and clean. It gets nasty, messy, and very emotional. I think it is important to not only document those happy times in life, but also the ones that really test us. These are the stories that give our life more color and will illustrate for our descendants the kind of person we were and the life we lived.

I just stumbled upon a mind boggler and I'm hoping someone can help me understand what is going on here. I was on looking at my tree and pulled up Rose La Mantia Murabito. She had a hint for a historical record. The record is a Naturalization document index card. Stamped on the card it says REPATRIATED.

Here is the puzzling thing, Rose was born in Chicago on March 3, 1892. I have a copy of her birth certificate. Yet in 1939 she was repatriated and granted citizenship. She wasn't born in Italy. Her father became a U.S. citizen in 1899 and applied for a passport in 1906. Why was she repatriated? What caused her to lose her U.S. citizenship?

If you have run across this in your research and can shed some light on this, I would appreciate it.

Madness Monday - A search complete!  

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This morning, thanks to a distant cousin, I have found the departure and arrival ship logs for my Hammer family! Vaclav Hammer (Hamer), wife Rosalie, and several children.  They departed Hamburg, Germany 31 March 1880 aboard the ship Lessing. They arrived in New York on 16 April 1880.

My cousin located the Hamburg list and this morning I did a page by page search of the Lessing list for New York showed them arriving in April. I was thankful the ship log was only 11 pages long. On the family name was transcribed Hamers so a search by Hammer did not show them.

If you did not know this, on you are able to search a ship's passenger list page by page if you know the ship and date it arrived. Even if you only have a ship, month and year, you can still scroll through each date to see if the ship name pops up. In 1880 it took over two weeks to cross in that ship so think about approximately how long it would have taken to cross if you know a departure date and start searching there.

A Madness Monday issue solved thanks to my cousin and!

I was thinking about my Treasure Chest Thursday post and realized since I am away visiting family, I have no photos to post of something old. Today I will post something new. This photo was taken in St. Thomas, USVI. 

About the same time I started my family history research, about 14 years ago, I also became a serious scrapbooker. At that time I had no children, just my old photos to put in albums. After I had my first son I documented his whole life in photos, stories, single words scattered on a page, his artwork and school work. When I had my twins four years later, I now had this task of documenting their lives as well. What I did for one, I had to do for all of them. Lots of work!  Now we come to the present day where my oldest is nine and a half and my twins are just about to turn five and I have more scrapbooks than I can count. But you know what, it is all worth it to see the look on their faces when they look at their history.

Not only do I record their history in these albums, but I create special albums documenting special trips, like the Disney Cruise we took Christmas of 2007 with my side of the family. We visited St. Thomas and spent a wonderful day at Coral World and the beach. We snorkeled, saw iguanas and colorful fish, played in the sand and just wore ourselves out having fun. My best memory from that day was the drive back to the ship and me sitting in the back of the van with two sleeping two year old twins on me. They had so much fun.

I think it is important not only to record our ancestor's history, but our own "new" history. Someday our "new" history will become the "old" history for our descendants. Wouldn't it be nice to leave them a wonderful "page turner" to read that really illustrated our lives and who we were?

How are you documenting your current history? Do you scrapbook? Do you keep a journal or diary? Do you put pen to paper and send letters that someone is saving for you?

If you have not seen my other blog, Family History Research Tips, I encourage you to check it out. I posted this on that blog this morning. I hope you find it helpful.

Sunday I wrote about my Excel spreadsheet that helps me locate family members by street address. The spreadsheet is gorgeous and almost totally filled in for each person, but it took me several hours over a few days to locate some of those addresses. If you have come across the issue of "I can't find my Chicago ancestor but I am pretty sure they stayed in the same house or area of the city, now what?" Here are a few resources to aid your search, which helped me immensely. First you need to roll up your sleeves, grab a pen and paper, cup of coffee, and get your data ready.

I know I spelled their name correctly but I cannot find them on Census in 1910. What can I do? I think it depends on how you are searching. Are you looking at Census records online through or some other database? If you are, have you checked different spellings of the name? Have you changed the first letter of the name in case the transcriptionist saw it differently than you? My Dorothy Zajicek became Pajek in once census because the transcriptionist saw the Z as a P. If you are looking via Soundex on microfilm and cannot locate the name, it is possible it was misspelled on the Census so the Soundex may not help you. I had this issue in 1930 with my Holik. The Census taker wrote HAlik, not HOlik. Changes the Soundex Code. I was finally able to find it through only after my grandmother and uncle had died and could no longer answer the questions that arose after I found this Census record.

I have a street address for my ancestors in 1900 but I cannot find them on Census in 1910. What can I do? If you are fairly certain your ancestor remained in the same house but you are unable to locate them by their name in a search or Soundex, there are a few resources to consult.

First, you can search the Chicago Street Address (re-numbering) Change 1909. This is a PDF file and shows the old street number by street name and the new number. In 1909 most city of Chicago street names changed. There was another change in 1911 for downtown addresses. Rand McNally has a great 1910 Map online as an additional resource.

Second, once you have checked for the changed address, you can consult a Ward Map. There is a fantastic website called A Look at Cook, which has Census Ward Maps. Because the Wards changed slightly each census, it is helpful to use MapQuest or GoogleMaps to locate where the revised address is in the city today. That will give you an area in which to start searching the Ward Maps. When you find the Ward Map you believe is correct, you next must look at the Enumeration District. Sometimes a street is a boundary street between ED's so you might have to search both.

When you have your ED for the Ward, you should look page by page of that section of the Census record. Find the street name on which your ancestors lived and search the names. Some Census Wards are many pages long and it may take forever. Others are shorter and will not take as long. If you are viewing the Wards through, you can sort the census by State, Ward, Enumeration District. I have not tried this on microfilm yet so if you have suggestions to make it easiser for those researchers, please post your comments.

I have tried these suggestions and still cannot locate my ancestor. Now what? I have found in my research, are a few possiblities. One, my ancestor was not added to the Census for reasons unknown. Two, they were not living where I thought they were for that Census year. If this could be the case, I would start searching their children's Census records. I have found after a spouse dies, particularly the husband, many women in my family moved in with their children, or a child and his or her family moved in with the woman and they are listed before her on the Census. Three, did they die before the Census was taken? At the top of each Census page, the enumerator listed the date. And fourth, the name is so misspelled that it may take many hours of Ward searching to locate them.

I hope these suggestions, based on my personal research experience have helped you. Please post your own experiences. I'm sure you have run across issues I have not.

Tombstone Tuesday - Frank and Bernice Urban  

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The grave of Frank and Bernice (nee Kaminsky) Urban
St. Casimir's Cemetery

Madness Monday - Missing Children  

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We have all dealt with this issue of “missing children” in the families we trace. “Missing children” could be described in several scenarios. One scenario I have seen is seeing a 1900 Census record that shows my Majdalena Kokoska being the mother of 10 children, with nine living. Another scenario is hearing a family story that X family had five kids named A, B, C, and ?? and ??. The person telling the story knew there were five kids but had no idea the names of two of them. I have a burial plot sheet that lists a few children buried with my family that are not known to me. And the last names do not match any I have in my database. Were the names misspelled? Are the records incorrect and they are not actually buried in this plot? Are they friends of the family? What scenarios have you run into? I will give you an example of one of mine.

One of my direct lines is Kokoska. Joseph and Majdalena came to the United States in 1880. Majdalena was pregnant with my great grandfather, Joseph, when they arrived. A few weeks later they married in Chicago. I discovered in the 1900 Census that Majdalena was the mother of 10 children with nine living. I had no idea who this missing child was. The family did not buy their burial plot at Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago until 1919 after one of their sons died in France in WWI. When that son died Joseph and Majdalena were hoping to have his remains sent home. For 14 years I had no idea who this child was or how to find it.

Thanks to FamilySearch and the Chicago Birth Certificates listed online, I did a search for Kokoska with Joseph and Majdalena as parents this past fall. Up popped Emilie Kokoska with corroborating information for the parents. My missing child!

Emilie was born in June of 1894. She died before 1900. I have no idea when. I have no idea where she is buried. No idea what happened to her. Maybe she has a death record somewhere and I have not located it yet. I would hope since the family had a birth record filled out and submitted, they would have done the same for her death. For now I continue to search for Emilie’s death certificate and burial place. This may be a mystery I never solve, but that doesn’t mean I will stop searching for an answer!


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I have found one thing extremely helpful for both my sanity and research during the last 14 years and that thing is a street address. Recording a street address for everyone in my tree has helped me at times to prove the person with the misspelled name on X document is my person; or helped me to search records, especially census, where I cannot find them using regular searching techniques.

Where do I find all of these addresses? Census records; birth, marriage and death records; voter registrations; Naturalization documents; Passport Applications; military records; the newspaper.

The newspaper has been a wonderful source of information to prove or disprove someone is actually the person I am looking for. In the Chicago area in the 1940’s in particular, where I have been researching, the newspaper articles typically include a street address with the name of the person they mention in the article. This is a terrific resource especially between Census years if you are trying to track a family.

My record keeping for addresses in my Family Tree Maker database is held in a field called RESIDENCE and for description I put SEE NOTES. Of course I have multiple fields of RESIDENCE that list CENSUS information. But this entry is specific to record multiple addresses.

I list the year of the record, the type of record, and the address. If an address is smudged or difficult to decipher, I put a question mark next to it with a note. This list of addresses is for my great, great grandfather Joseph Kokoska.

1882 - Birth of Frank - 412 W. 17th Street, Chicago, Cook, IL

1884 - Birth of Emilie- 84 Clayton Street, Chicago, Cook, IL

1886 - Birth of Charles - 691 May St, Chicago, Cook, IL

1891 - City Directory - lab 988 Van Horn St., Chicago, Cook Co., IL

1892 10/7 –Naturalized - 988 Van Horn St, Chicago, IL

1892 10/25 - voter reg - 832 W. 18th St, Chicago, IL

1900 - Census & city directory - 988 W. 18th Place, Chicago, IL

1910 – Census - 2122 W. 18th Place, Chicago, IL

In 1909 Chicago converted street names and numbers. The family lived in the same house, just converted address.

1930 - Census - 2122 W. 18th Place, Chicago, IL

Owned home for $3,000.

1943 – Died - 2122 W. 18th Pl, Chicago, IL

Another way I keep track of the family and their movements, including their children, is to create an Excel file of addresses. Below is one example of a file I created for my Kokoska family.

I initially created this after making a similar layout on some of those large white sticky pages used in meetings. While the paper was nice to make notes and write down questions, I needed a nicer way to visually see all my information. The reason I started this file is because I had some trouble locating several 1920 Census records and needed to search by Chicago Ward based on address. Mapping this out in Excel helped me to visually understand the family movements and help keep me focused on what I was doing, and sometimes locate another family member in the process.

The Excel file also raised other questions such as why were so many of Majdalena and Joseph Kokoska’s grandchildren born in their home, when it appears the parents of those grandchildren lived elsewhere? Was it a Bohemian custom for the girls to come home to give birth so their mothers and the midwives could deliver the child? Did they just happen to be visiting when they went into labor? I need to delve into Bohemian birthing customs for the turn of the century to have that question answered.

The file also shows how close, both in proximity and relationship, families were at the turn of the century and a few decades after. By plotting on a Chicago street map, all these addresses for my Kokoska family, I would find that they lived within a few blocks of each other or “across the alley”. Children grew up visiting their grandparents daily and fully experiencing that relationship, unlike today when so many families are spread out by cities, states and even other countries. The file shows a totally different lifestyle then than we experience today.

The last big thing the file shows, especially when plotted out on a map is the movement from the city to the suburbs. Visually on the Excel sheet you can see this both by address and date. Compare this data with data from that time period about Bohemian enclaves and you will see a similar pattern by date. The group began moving out of the city as they became more affluent. If I had the data to map out to present day I would see another mass “migration” from the close suburbs of Chicago to the far suburbs of Chicago by the 1970’s.

Recording one simple detail, a street address, can prove to be so useful, the more one researches. That simple detail can also lead to more questions. But isn’t that the fun of genealogy? The detective work one must do?

Today is our local American Cancer Society's Relay For Life so my life has been nothing but nuts all week. My husband, an eight year cancer survivor, and I, with another woman, are the Event Co-Chairs. I also run our Online stuff, so needless to say, the week of Relay is always filled with problems, lots of phone calls and emails. I apologize this Follow Friday is short but I did at least want to get something posted about this wonderful collection of blogs before the next email comes in and my attention is diverted once again. 

Last week I ran across a very interesting blog by Dr. Bill.  It is called Dr. Bill Tells Ancestor Stories. Browsing his blog more, I find he is the author of a few other blogs, including one called Dr. Bill's Book Bazaar, which is a companion to one of his publishing sites. I also discovered he lives in a part of Missouri near my family, which I will be visiting this next week. Small world!

Dr. Bill's Book Bazaar has many book reviews posted, book giveaways, publishing tips and links to many other great blogs. I really encourage you to check out not only his two blogs posted above, but all of them as time permits. You will not be disappointed in the content.

Have a lovely day! I will, as we "Kick Cancer off the Island" and Relay For Life tonight!

Treasure Chest Thursday - World War II Memorabilia  

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My grandfather, Joseph Holik, was a Seaman 1st class in the U.S. Naval Armed Guard during World War II. I have a copy of the U.S. Navy Handbook given to the men during Basic Training. This books is filled with all the information a Sailor needs to be successful, survive, and do his job to the best of his ability. The book is old and falling apart but very treasured. It is a part of my grandfather, who I never know, that I can hold on to.

Another treasured item I have was not given to the family during the War, but several years later when my grandfather died. The American Flag that draped his casket. His flag rests in a flag box surrounded by his medals.

I am honored to be the family's keeper of these precious links to his life.

The school year has just ended and as I clear out old papers the kids don't need (and I don't need to save), I remember a project my son had to do for his 3rd Grade Literacy Enrichment class. The class read a book called Fair Weather by Richard Peck and do a lot of writing for the project. The story is about a farm family with two children, a boy and girl, who receive tickets to visit their aunt in Chicago. The best part is they get to visit the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 when they visit! My son loved the book so much and because it was a topic I love, I read it too. Now he is in love with the World's Columbian Exposition too. Fair Weather is a Juvenile book with a good story and quick read if you want something different than your usual book genres.

So today I pose this question. If you could go back in time, to visit any time period of one of your ancestors history, where would you go and why?

My answer, without even blinking an eye, is the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. I am fascinated by the Fair. The enormity of the it, the wonder, all the new technology, food, people, sights, and smells. I often wonder what it would have been like to visit the Fair.

My great grandmother, Bessie Zajicek, was a visitor and I have a small souvenir medallion she got from her visit. She was 10 years old when she visited, and I wonder what she saw. Her father was a Tailor, but I'm not sure if he was wealthy enough to take the family multiple days or if they only went for one day. By all accounts, the Fair was so large you could not see everything in just one day. How did they choose what to see?

When I first think about how amazing it would be to travel to the Fair, I picture myself as I am today with the knowledge and experiences I have gained to this point in my life.  Would I only see the Fair through the eyes of a historian or family history researcher? Would I look upon the Fair with eyes that take in everything so I can add more depth and beauty to the family stories I write? This however might not be the only time travel option.

Two other options occur to me. The first is to travel back and be a child of immigrant Bohemian parents. Would I only have seen what they allowed me to see? Would I have had an opinion about what we saw? The second is to travel back as an immigrant Bohemian parent. This options allows me to choose what to see. I think all three have their benefits and if I had the ability to experience all three options, I would.

If I traveled back as myself, I would be looking at the Fair, the exhibits, the people, through modern eyes. These eyes would likely see the people and exhibits with less shock and awe than my ancestors did. The world is so "small" today that all we have to do is turn on the computer and we can learn about anything.  We are exposed to new people, faiths, ideas, places, and things daily. Seeing a belly dancer, or any other Ethnic group of people other than my own at the Fair would not phase me. The technology as it was presented in 1893 would be antiquated, yet interesting to see. Tasting the foods that were new like ice cream and gum would not excite me at all. The beauty of the Great White City would excite me. I wonder if it was really as blinding white as the books claim. Was it really as beautiful at night all lit up as people say?

If I were to travel back in time as a Bohemian child, the sight of a belly dancer or people of other colors and faiths might really shock me, if I were even allowed to see it. At that time I would have lived in an area of the city made up of mostly Bohemian families. I likely would have lived with my grandparents if they had come to America, or very close by. In short, I would have lived a more sheltered life than I live now. Would I have tasted ice cream for the first time at the Fair? Would it be a great and delicious experience? Would I have been dragged from exhibit to exhibit looking only at what my parents wanted to see? Would we have only gone on Czech Day and been among our own people celebrating our ethnicity?

If I were to travel back as an immigrant Bohemian parent, still assimilating to this county, I hope I would have an attitude of helping my American born children experience all the new things they could. Helping them to be American and not take after their parents with our old country ways. I hope I would not feel embarrassment at seeing new things, people, shows, listening to new music like Scott Joplin's Ragtime music. But would I have felt that way, as a Bohemian immigrant?

Unfortunately there is no way to know what the experience would have been like. My great grandmother left no written record of her experience at the Fair. The only oral history she passed down, to my knowledge, was that she was there. Since I cannot travel back in time, I will continue to read the books about the Fair and keep imagining what it might have been like.

You have my answer, so I ask you again, where would you go? I would love to know so please feel free to comment below.



I just read a marvelous article on a blog called "Personal Past". The article is called Not How-to but Why-do?  This article deals with a couple of big questions.  Why do we research? How do we research based on why we research?

Why do I research? I research because I had to do a project near the end of college when finishing my History degree on my family tree. Included in this project was a paper on researching women in the family and the roles they held through the generations. When the project and paper were finished I was hooked. From that point on I wanted to research to tell the stories of my ancestors.

Researching family history is similar to being a detective. You find pieces of a puzzle and you have to figure out how to put it together and how to find the missing pieces.  Putting pieces together gives me a sense of accomplishment when I finally solve a mystery.

I also strive to tell the stories of the people in my family who were doing great things when their life was cut short. Many of these people served in our armed forces and should be honored and remembered.

I love to find connections between my ancestors and my life. What things did they do that I do? What things did they do that I cannot fathom doing? What things did they do I wish I could do?

I want to know the whole truth and story. I dig into every source I can to find the truth, especially when the person whose story I want to know has passed away and cannot give me any answers.

One of my dreams it to be an author and write my family history and some of my ancestor's full stories. My research is currently giving me that opportunity.

And finally, I think a major reason I research is to quench my thirst for knowledge on historical topics.

How does this affect how I research? I first try to find all the documents I can proving the existence of the person, their relationship to others in the family, and their life. I then delve into the history of the time period in which the person lived. This gives my person a fuller, more interesting story.

Why do you research?

Last fall when I began digging into my great great uncle's military story, I had very little to go on. These are the steps I took to find information to write his story.

1. I looked at the information I had from birth, census, World War I Draft Registration Card, cemetery records. This is what I had: Michael Kokoska b. 9/28/1891 in Chicago and d. 6/27/1918 in Alsace, France. Buried in Bohemian National Cemetery 5/29/1921. His military information: Army Co. L 127th infantry, 32nd Division. Why did it take three years to bury him there? During both World Wars, men and women who died overseas were buried overseas. The families, after the wars, had the option to leave the remains buried overseas or brought home. There is a book that describes this process called Soldier dead: how we recover, identify, bury, and honor our military fallen By Michael Sledge. 

2. I learned about a World War II death file called the IDPF, Individual Deceased Personnel File. Through some online research I discovered World War I had a similar record called a Burial File. The IDPF was a slightly expanded version of the Burial File. has a great article about Burial files here:

3. I wrote a letter to the National Archives requesting his file. This is the letter I sent, modified.

Military Textual Reference Branch (NWCTM)
National Archives
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
December 28, 2009

Dear Staff:
Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, I hereby make a request for the "Burial File" for my below listed family member who died or was killed-in-action while serving in the military during World War I.

Name: Michael Kokoska
Branch of Military: Army
Military Service Number: Unknown
Division: 32nd Division 127th Infantry Co. L.
Date of Birth: September 28, 1891 in Chicago, IL
Date of Death: June 27, 1918 near Alsace, France
Burial site in U.S.A.: Bohemian National Cemetery, Chicago, IL
Buried: May 29, 1921
Relationship to deceased: Great Grand Niece.
Please be advised that I will be responsible for any costs incurred for photocopies over the allowed limit of free photocopies.
Very truly yours,

The Burial File contained a statement about Michael's death; dental records; burial records from France; disinterment records from France; handwritten correspondence from his father, Joseph, to the government asking and pleading for their son's remains to be returned; records from the Quartermaster regarding Michael's remains arriving in the United States; information on the undertaker and where the remains were to be taken and buried. This file is a gold mine of information.

4. When I received the burial file it contained Michael's Army Serial Number. Using this number I was able to send the Standard Form 180 obtained from the National Archives website here: I mailed the form to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis hoping to obtain his Army records. Unfortunately there was a massive fire at the facility in 1973 and over 80% of the Army records burned. I had no luck getting his records. It was worth a try though.

5. My next step in locating some other service records was to search the Illinois State Archives. I discovered they had World War I Bonus Applications and Payment records. Majdalena and Joseph Kokoska, Michael's parents were able to fill out forms to receive monies after Michael's death in France. When I received these records I was happily surprised to find a handwritten affidavit from my great great grandfather, Jan Zajicek, vouching for Majdalena and Joseph as the parents of Michael. There was another affidavit signed by someone I did not recognize. The application also contained Majdalena's signature, something I had never seen. She and Joseph were Bohemian Immigrants in 1880 and she could barely write her own name.

6. Upon further research I discovered some states have "Statement of Service Cards" for World War I. These records, if they exist, are held with the Adjutant General for the State. There is an interesting article about these cards here: The state of Illinois does not have these records. I confirmed this with both the Illinois State Archives and the Chicago Branch of the National Archives.

7. Knowing the Division Michael was in, I have been able to obtain and read several Unit History books about the 32nd Division. While these books did not specifically mention Michael, except in the death lists, they did give great background information on the history, movement during the war and homecoming of the Division. There is a set of books called "The Order of Battle", see my Bibliography page for more information on these books. There are five for World War I. They contain all the movements of each unit in the War. I was able to trace where Michael's Division, down to his company, moved through the time period he was in France.

8. I also searched major Chicago newspapers for information. I was able to locate a couple of articles and photos of Michael, one which included the names of three of his brothers and which Army units they were serving in, stateside.

All of this information put together has given me a great start to writing his story as part of my family history. I hope the steps I followed aid you in your search.

Follow Friday - Wikipedia  

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When doing family history research, or research for my book, I sometimes consult and online encyclopedia,  Wikipedia. If you have not visited this site, or run across it in any of your Google, Yahoo, etc. searches, it is a great site for background information on a topic you know little or nothing about.

I recently used it to search for information on the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics As I have been researching and writing my book on Robert Brouk, this area of the Air Force came up and I needed a little background knowledge on it so I could proceed. The site gave me what I needed, to have an idea of what the school was used for, how long it existed, when it was founded, and other useful information. Those facts led me to search other areas which have enhanced my knowledge base and my book. Check it out when you have time.


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