Do you have an ancestor who emigrated from another country yet left no story about the why and how? Leaving a home and traveling to a new place, learning a new language and culture – these are significant events in our family story that can strengthen us in our own challenges.
How do you discover the story of an ancestor? The Research Like a Pro process will not only help you organize a research project to break down a brick wall, it can give you the tools needed to research and write your ancestor’s narrative.
Nancy Gilbride Casey is an active member of the private Research Like a Pro Facebook group (anyone who has purchased the book, e-Course or Study Group is eligible to be added). Using the RLP process she has worked through many projects. When she posted her latest project in the Facebook group about discovering the emigration story of her great grandmother, I asked if she would share it with our readers.
Enjoy this peek into the RLP process.
Identifying Reasons for Emigration Using the Research Like a Pro Process
By Nancy Gilbride Casey
Researching my great grandmother Vjekoslava Baltorinic was a different sort of project. I luckily had plenty of documents, but I didn’t have the story behind them. She emigrated from Croatia in 1905, and settled in Pennsylvania, where she soon married and raised a family with her miner husband Frank Kozlina. Divorce, geographic distance and language barriers prevented her story from being passed down through my family. Could the Research Like a Pro process help find out her possible reasons to emigrate?
Although it was not a typical search for records, the RLP process proved effective in pursuing my question:
The objective of this project is to further identify reasons for emigration of Vjekoslava Baltorinic, later known as Louise Kozlina. She was born on 14 Aug 1882 in Sveta Jana, Zagreb, Croatia, to Petar Baltorinic and Bara Celinscak. She immigrated to the United States in 1905, joining her sister Zorica (Zora) and her brother-in-law Jacob Vukic, in Lemont Furnace, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. She married Frank Kozlina on 19 June 1906 in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, where they raised eight children. She died in 1974 at the age of 92, in Uniontown, Fayette, Pennsylvania, and is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in North Union, Fayette, Pennsylvania.
Here’s how I did it.
Creating a timeline is one of my favorite steps in the RLP process. Reviewing documents already found, and ordering the events of an ancestor’s life is a tremendously helpful place to begin. In this case, I reviewed vital records I had already obtained, such as Vjekoslava’s birth/baptism, marriage, and naturalization documents. I gathered newspaper clippings; reviewed emails received while researching her in the past; recalled family “stories” related by my mother and aunt; and reread translation and historical info received from inquiries on Facebook groups (Fayette County Genealogical Society, Croatian Heritage and Genealogy, etc.).
Once completed, a timeline is a wonderful way to spot new connections and gaps in information. For example, although I had previously discovered Vjekoslava’s baptismal record in a church register, I had not noticed the town she was born in, as it was lurking, half-visible, in the middle crease—the book was not lying flat when microfilmed.(1) Although previous notes had placed her in Sv. Jana, her birthplace was actually Srednjak; the church where she was baptized was Gorica Svetojanska (Sv. Jana or St. Anne), a half-hour’s walk away from Srednjak.
The timeline gave me a grasp of her geographic locations throughout her life, which were key to focusing my research. It also provided important affiliations, such as church and civic groups she belonged to, and activities she took part in—other vantage points from which to view her life.
Based on the evidence in hand, I theorized that like most immigrants, Vjekoslava came to America for better opportunities. But what specific circumstances in her homeland pushed her away and to Pennsylvania?
There were two main localities in Vjekoslava’s life – the rural area surrounding Gorica Svetojanska, Croatia, and Lemont Furnace, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. With my goal of finding the reasons why she may have left Croatia when she did, and why she was pulled to southwestern Pennsylvania, I decided to delve into the history of both these areas at the turn of the 20th century.
As I was not looking for vital documents or record collections per se, I focused on resources which discussed geography, immigration and local history on both sides of the Atlantic. Therefore the Locality Guide for this project was shorter and contained entries for both Croatia—where Vjekoslava originated—and those where she settled: Lemont Furnace and nearby Uniontown, both located in Fayette County, Pennsylvania.
Using Google, I quickly identified several resources which would become key to illuminating Vjekoslava’s story:
– The book, From Central Europe to America: 1880-1914, perfectly fit the time period and location, and was available online. (2) Here I gathered possible reasons for immigrants to leave the Austro-Hungarian Empire of which Croatia was a part, as well as their probable destinations, all of which seemed highly likely to reflect Vjekoslava’s situation as I knew it. She was part of a chain migration of family members, leaving poverty and poor prospects behind in Croatia, and moving to a place of burgeoning employment in the coalfields of southwestern Pennsylvania—probably to marry a miner newly-employed in the area.
– Wikipedia’s article “Croatian Americans” gave cultural information which neatly dovetailed into gleaned from From Central Europe to America. (3)
– The Fayette County (Pennsylvania) Historical Society’s website offered great information on the developing coal and coke industries in southwestern Pennsylvania, and introduced me to the “patch town,” a term given to towns built at the portals to the mines – just like Lemont Furnace. (4)
Several other web-pages, books, articles and wikis also were identified as possibly holding the key to my research question. My locality guide evolved over the course of the project as I found more resources.
PRIORITIZED RESEARCH PLAN
I prioritized identified sources primarily on the depth of information they might provide, and then on ease of access. Several items were readily available online and these got top priority. They gave me a broad base overview on both the push and the pull to emigrate.
– From Central Europe to America: 1880-1914, available on ISSUU
– The “Croatian Americans” web-page on Wikipedia
– The Fayette County Historical Society web-page on Coal Industries
Two other sources—a Fayette County history, and a book on St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic church where Vjekoslava attended—were not able to be obtained due to inter-library loan restrictions.
My research phase consisted of lots of reading and note-taking utilizing the RLP research log. Creating citations—once a dreaded chore—have become more familiar and easier to accomplish. I don’t want to leave a citation space on the template empty for long! Combining my timeline and research log into one Google Sheets workbook works well for me, as I am often needing to copy citations and notes from one to the other. Of course, the research phase was chock full of new discoveries and generated new resources to check out. These were added to the Future Research section.
Writing is another favorite aspect of the RLP process. While a proper research report is one type of writing where a researcher’s thought process, analysis and findings are documented, creating a narrative which family members can understand can also be a writing focus.
I learned so much on this project, it resulted in not only a research report, but two posts on my blog Leaves on the Tree, and periodic posts about fun finds on Facebook (with cousins tagged).
I find all types of writing useful as a researcher, as the audience and approach can be quite different.
The research report is the formal approach to documenting the research process; the audience might be a client, a genealogical society, or publication. In my case, it is the place to document my process, analysis and conclusion. Good organization, clean, lean writing, and source citations are a must.
I shared this most recent research report on the RLP Facebook page, and got great feedback on adding photos and graphics; cleaning up my citations; and general thoughts on the validity of my conclusion. I implemented the suggestions, resulting in the report, “Vjekoslava Baltorinic Immigration Project.” I highly recommend getting the feedback of other RLPers—we all learn from one another.
In a blog post, one can flesh out the story, add personal thoughts, and use more informal language. The audience might typically be family members, fellow family historians, family history writers, or even Facebook groups. I often share my blog posts with Facebook genealogy groups whose members may have helped me with translation or cultural questions. They have often been my genealogical “boots on the ground” in a locality far away. Or they might benefit from what I’ve learned about a locality.
I shared both posts, “So Far Away: What Drew Vjekoslava to America,” and “Settling in America: From Vjekoslava to Louise” on the Fayette County Genealogy page, the Croatian Heritage and Genealogy page, and on the Facebook pages of a writing challenge and a local writing group. I had several hundred hits on the posts, but the greatest reward was the readers who chimed in with their own immigrant stories and recollections!
Blog posts can also include additional info, such as links to other resources, which can help educate your readers. I included a link to a wonderful lecture on coal mining in Western Pennsylvania, found on YouTube, in one post.
Quick Facebook posts on fun discoveries can also get the attention of family members who might not otherwise read a whole blog post. From Central Europe to America included a Cunard Line advertisement for the Slavonia, the ship on which Vjekoslava sailed to America. It was easily shared with a quick post on Facebook.
This project was extremely fruitful, as the RLP process gave me a framework to “go deep” on the topic. I came away with so much material, that I still have more to write about.
I discovered differences in coal mining in western Pennsylvania (bituminous) and eastern Pennsylvania (anthracite). As I have ancestors who were miners in both regions, I plan to write a piece comparing and contrasting the two types of mining, as well as the differences and similarities of the surrounding communities.
I discovered an imaginary Croatian folk hero called “Joe Magerac,” whose story came from eastern European immigrants working in Pittsburgh area steel mills, and was the subject of tales, songs, and more. It would be fun to share that tale, which my ancestors likely knew of and perhaps even shared.
I am still searching for information on the church my ancestor attended, as it was surely pivotal in tethering her to the community.
Research Like a Pro has positively changed the way I conduct genealogy research. What was once merely a hobby has evolved into a serious pursuit fueled by discovery, surprises, and a deeper understanding of the life and times of my ancestors. The more I utilize the RLP method, the more confident I have become. I know that my research is organized, thorough, analytical, and documented. And that makes it a joy to share.
Timeline and Research Log: Timeline and Research Log
Locality Guide: CROATIA & FAYETTE COUNTY (PA) LOCALITY GUIDE
Research Report: RESEARCH REPORT – Vjekoslava Baltorinic Immigration Project
(1) “Croatia, Church Books, 1516-1994,” database with images, FamilySearch (http://bit.ly/34DxKJ1 : accessed 22 Dec 2019), Roman Catholic (Rimokatolička crkva) > Gorica Svetojanska > Births (Rođeni) 1858-1897 > image 347 of 605; baptism of Vjekoslava Baltorinic, 14 Aug 1882; citing Arhiva Hrvatske u Zagrebu (Croatia State Archives), Zagreb.
(2) Ervin Dubrovic’, From Central Europe to America, 1880-1914, Rijeka – New York: City Museum of Rijeka; image copy, ISSUU (https://issuu.com/rijekamgr/docs/merika_katalog : accessed Jan 2020).
(3) Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org : accessed 6 Feb 2020), “Croatian Americans,” rev. 02:29, 28 January 2020, (UTC).
(4) Fayette County Historical Society (https://www.fayettehistoricalsociety.org/history/hid6.html : accessed 10 Feb 2020), “History of the County.”
Nancy Gilbride Casey is a proud Ohio native, a wife and mom, and graduate of Cleveland State University. She is a member of the Denton County Genealogical Society (TX), the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Genealogy Society, and a founding member of GenPen, the family history writing group of the Denton County Genealogy Society. She researches and writes about her family’s ancestors from Ireland, Germany, Slovakia, Croatia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Texas—and pretty much everywhere in between. Read more on her blog Leaves on the Tree. Reach her at email@example.com.
I love this! One of the things I personally struggle with is relating the “real person” stories of an ancestor with the world in which they lived. Although I often think to myself that I should learn more about the history surrounding a particular persons life, it never occurred to me to start a project just to fill in those details! This is an exciting new concept and I can’t wait to get started!
This is one of my favorite types of projects – filling in the blanks of an ancestor’s life. Enjoy the process!