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Researching Your Slovenian Ancestors by Branka Lapajne, Ph. D.
Bridging Our Worlds Conference SGS Meeting notes from September, 2001
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Home Cestniks Wagner-O'Neills Resources Bookstore
Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a country far, far away... my grandfather, Vincent Cestnik, spelled Chesnick in the 1920 Census, and Cstnik on his Naturalization papers, (born January 20, 1880), his brother John (born December 21, 1883), a half sister Gertrude (married John Zaman), Amelia, (who married Martin Verveja and had their name changed to Rager) and their father, John (in August, 1998, on John's death certificate it says his father was named Toney -- perhaps this would be Anton, but we have other records that say his father's name is Johann), born December 6, 1849 (a cobbler, and who's name is spelled Cesnick in the same 1920 Census on the same page, by the same census taker), came to this country from Slovenia (Yugoslavia). Another daughter, Maria, (married in Leoben, Styria Austria) never came to this country. We don't know any more about her at this time. My great grandfather John was married to Ana Petelinsek. She is not in the Census, so I thought she died in Yugoslavia. (But not any more.) I was told as a youngster that my family (at some point) migrated to Slovenia from Austria. I'm very certain, maybe! :-) that is incorrect. I've learned that Untersteiermark, Austria was the lower, southern (hence "Unter") part of Styria in the Austro-Hungarian Empire until WWI. I don't think they migrated. I think it may have been just a name change!!! In any case, we seem to have our roots near Ravne na Koroškem, (Here's another view of it. A place to practice your Slovenian!!!) although Vincent's naturalization papers say Trbovlej, Austria, John's papers say Trefail, Austria, (This may be a spelling error, because I can find Trbovlje on the Map of Slovenia.). I now proudly present Trbovlje.si. Some members of the family say Celje. (Here is a nice photo.) Now, just to add fuel to the fire, a friend of mine from the Slovenian Genealogy Society says that Trbovlje is Trifail in German (Austrian). He says it would have been Trifail before WWI and Trbovlje soon after!!! It's near the Austrian border, southwest of Dravograd, west of Maribor and northeast of Ljubljana. (Here is a photo). My bets are placed on Trbovlje!!! Hmmm. Now I think all the answers are correct. The first written records of Trbovlje date from 1220-1230 and mention the name of the town under the names of Prefeul, Prevuol, Trevol, Triuella and Trefeul. Trbovlje is derived from the last name. But perhaps, even more correctly, I am now certain, the area the Cestniks come from is Marija Reka.
My grandfather, Vincent Cestnik, landed at the port of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on or about March 24, 1903 on the vessel Kaiser Wilhelm. He left from Bremen, Germany on March 10th. (His brother John had come over about nine months earlier, arriving in Baltimore, Maryland, June 11, 1902, also having left eastern Europe from Bremen.) Vincent went to Cleveland, Ohio. After spending some time in Havre, MT, he eventually settled in Scotch Coulee, near Red Lodge, MT, where he worked as a coal miner. He met Elizabeth Mueller (born April 24, 1894). They got married. It wasn't quite that simple, of course. Vincent spoke Slovenian and my grandmother spoke German. And (...this is an important "AND," so pay attention), she was an indentured servant (a term I remember from my school days. Mrs. Cook would be proud!!!).
It seems that a Mrs. King, who ran the Southern Hotel (now a Real Estate office) in Red Lodge had learned from one of my grandmother's sisters that nineteen year old Elizabeth wanted to come to America from Kreuth Bleiburg, Austria. In 1913, Mrs. King paid for her ticket in exchange for work. My grandmother landed in New York, New York on January 14, 1914. She too, left from Bremen, Germany on the SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie. She probably spent some time at Ellis Island, New York, also known as Castle Garden. This was usually the first stop after new immigrants left their ships. They would be inspected for medical, mental and legal problems to determine whether they would be detained or given permission to enter the country.
Vincent had let it be known that he would marry any woman who would learn English, learn Slovenian and do his housework. (It's possible, I'm mistaken in this understanding, but that's how I remember what my parents have told me.) Elisa agreed and my grandfather bought up her remaining contract from Mrs. King. (It's sort of romantic, isn't it?) THEN, they got married. She was several years younger than my grandfather. I believe two sisters (Josie Truppie, Ann Gruenhagge) and her brother Paul Mueller, had come over to this country prior to my grandmother's arrival.
They had six children, five boys and one girl. William married Anne. Vincent married Cora. Henry married Donna. Edward married Martha; Louis (my father), married Frances Ellen and Betty Jean married Richard. As you might suspect, there are many grand children. Bill and Anne had Joanie and Billy. Vince and Cora had Margaret Jean and Marilyn. Hank and Donna had Hank, Tony and Deb. Louis and Frances had Mike, Terry and Suzy. Betty and Dick had Gregg, Jeanne Michelle and Kris. This generation has kids who also have kids. But this, as they say, is another story. (I'll think about that tomorrow!)
Back to my grandparents...They lived in Scotch Coulee near Red Lodge where they built a home.
The coulee was company owned and all the miners were allowed to build on the land. At one time,
according to my Uncle Hank, the area (including Washoe, Bearcreek and Scotch Coulee) had close
to 5,000 residents. My sister and I visited the homestead on August 31, 1996. The area seemed almost
deserted. You can still find where my family's house was, thanks to the efforts of Uncle Hank. He
has a wooden cross placed on the ground where the foundation was built. Cattle, roaming in the area,
have knocked it down and a barbed wire fence was put up. Uncle Hank has put up a flower wreath in
the fence so we can still find our roots. THANKS, Uncle Hank. We love you, and we appreciate
your efforts a lot! I'm not certain exactly when the family left the coulee and moved into Red Lodge,
but during the final few years, I learned that they started their own mine across the
road from where they lived. They dug out the coal (we could still see the mine), brought it back to
the house in a wheel barrow, and used it for fuel. Uncle Hank says that "...it's the best coal
in the country, because it's so hard!"
Every year, in August, Red Lodge hosts the Festival of Nations. It's
quite an event. It's gained international fame and has quite a history. Each of the town's nationalities hosts its own day with food, music and lore provided to the lucky onlookers.
I've never been to one, but I've been reading about it, from the web site. I think it's worth the
trip. I might find a little of my past in them thar hills.
The Cestniks were quite an athletic bunch. As part of our August, 1996 tour, we stopped at the Bear Creek Downs. It's a local spot in the area (maybe it's the only spot in Bearcreek). They hold Pig races on weekends. I picked up a tee shirt for a friend of mine who is into "pig stuff," but maybe I'll just keep it for myself...Anyway, they have old photographs on the walls. Tucked away in the back room, way back in the dark corner is a board with several pictures. It includes pictures of the basketball teams in the 1930s. Larry Aber (who, interestingly enough is married to my Mother's sister) was the coach. He's my uncle! But on the team were Henry Cestnik (Uncle Hank), Edward Cestnik (Uncle Eddie) and Louis Cestnik (MY DAD)! They weren't all on the same team, but my Uncle Hank and Uncle Eddie were. My Uncle Eddie was on the Undefeated 1934-35 Washoe basketball team. That was quite a treat. I was there with my sister Suzy, my cousin Phyllis, my Auntie Gladys and my Uncle Hank. Let me tell you, the bartender got quite a surprise when we came in: two kids of a player, a kid and wife of the coach, and a former player...all in one fell swoop! He was impressed, but not so much that he bought my Coke (whoops, it's Pepsi country down there).
My grandfather worked in the coal mines near Washoe. In 1936, he died in a mining accident at the Brophy Mine when a coal car somehow got loose. My grandfather pushed a fellow worker out of the way and was killed by the oncoming car. Ironically, his son, Vincent, was injured in a very similar type of accident, a few years later. As children, we were always told that Uncle Vince died in that mining accident. In 1984, at a family reunion in Red Lodge, my brother was talking with my father, while my sister was taping the conversation. Mike asked, "Is that the mine where Uncle Vince died?" My father replied, "Eventually." As it turned out, he was severely disabled in an accident when a huge boulder fell and crushed him. Afterwards he was unable to work -- and he died. My folks decided he died from the accident.
My parents got married on January 10, 1942 in down town Butte, MT. I think they were living in Missoula, MT prior to getting married. Mother taught school in Clinton, MT and Dad worked in a Texaco station, now converted into a bank on the corner of Madison Street and East Broadway. I think he worked for Neil Keim. Dad served in the Army in Europe from 1943 to 1945. He was a driver for a Colonel, I believe. He had some pretty interesting stories to tell, when he would talk, but he didn't talk too many times of his escapades. I remember that he played pinochle in the Army. He said that you were allowed to send home $100 money orders each week. Dad sent one home almost every week. He was good at cards. Growing up, we used to play frequently. I can remember Dad saying, "After the first card was played, I could usually make a pretty good guess as to what cards everyone held." You can show them to me and I don't remember! When Dad came home, as they went past the Statue of Liberty, the local girls came out to welcome the boys home. They were singing the song "Sentimental Journey". I guess it was an awesome thing. That was in November of 1945. When Dad came back to Montana, he went to meet Mother. She was teaching in Absorkee, Montana and playing in a local night spot on weekends. She was on break, when Dad walked in. They were playing "It's Been a Long, Long Time" on the jukebox. We saw the place where Mother lived while she was teaching school and Dad was in the service. It was a tiny log cabin with a small porch. Across the road was a neat little water wheel, just a spinning away in the stream. I don't know if it was there when Mother was there or not.
Mother was very musical, and good, I mean very good on the piano in her prime. She made a recording for all of us. She used a ghetto blaster, I think. Her emphysema was definitely winning the battle with her when she recorded it. It was made over a period of several years and recorded on several tapes. It is complete with her comments and witicisms (or, perhaps, more correctly, "Frances-isms"). She put all the songs together recording from one ghetto blaster to another. The songs mentioned above are on it. The quality is not very good, but here's a short sample of her playing a song. It's a real special tape. I wish you could hear all of it.
Dad managed the Thompson Yards Lumber Company in Forsyth, MT after he came home. In Forsyth, we had an old convertible. I remember, because I fell out of it one day. It did something to my neck and I had to go to a Chiropractor. The first visit wasn't too bad, because I didn't know what was going to happen. But the second visit.......I never want to go again! Mother and Dad built a drive-in theatre in Forsyth. I remember going there as a kid. I must have been about five years old. One night, I went to buy some candy. I didn't have enough money to buy it and the lady wouldn't give it to me. She didn't know that MY PARENTS were the owners. I left, dejected and unhappy.
From Forsyth, in 1954, we moved to Martin City, MT. My folks must have liked theaters; or maybe they didn't like partners. The drive-in theater in Forsyth was a partnership I recently learned. We bought the Royal Theatre in Martin City, Montana. Mother was a teacher. Dad drove a logging truck for F K & L (Foley, Kartheiser & Lindberg) Logging Company during the day. He ran the theater at night and on Fridays and Saturdays, Mom played her organ at the Club Rocco (one of the local night spots) in Hungry Horse, MT, and Dad would tend bar after the movies were over. About 1957 or 1958, we moved seven miles to Columbia Falls. Mother taught school, and Dad worked for Plum Creek Lumber Company for about 25 years, when he retired due to poor health caused from smoking. I remember them talking about cigarettes one day. "We smoke three packs a day. If we gave it up, think of the vacation we could take with that!" Well, they quit. But it wasn't a vacation at that point. Dad died from cancer on March 27, 1985. Mother died from emphysema on September 7, 1995. Both, were smoking related. Mother became famous for saying, "Don't smoke anything...but SALMON"!!! Actually, I think Mother died with my father, it just took her body ten years to catch up. I wish they had quit, when they talked about it in the 1950s! (If you read this, please learn a lesson from history. Smoking is harmful to your health. Cigarettes can kill you. Especially if you have a genetic weakness in your family. The Cestnik family does.)
I've been in correspondence with my cousin Bojan Cestnik from Slovenia. He sent me a nice letter, telling me some of his story and interesting facts about his life. I've included his letter for you to read. He works at the Jozef Stefan Institute and gives a link to that site. Recently, I was searching through the English version of the Slovenian phone book, Telekom Slovenije. I found 128 Cestniks listed. Wow! Talk about a gold mine. I sure wish I could afford to call some of them. But then, there is the language difference!
My page is working!!! I received correspondence from another Cestnik. Peter Cestnik, from Germany found me. :-) He wrote to me. You can view his letter to me. Actually, this is a letter he wrote to my cousin Bojan. (He wrote one to me, too! You can do all sorts of interesting things from my home page.) It gives some interesting facts about his life, family and where he lives.
My cousin Deb is really getting interested in our family history. She has found Cestniks that I have been unable to find. She's such a whiz. She's working on something for us to ponder. With enough of us working on the Cestnik Family history, we're bound to find some common ancestors. She gave my home page address to Richard Cestnick from Nova Scotia. He dropped by and left a note in my guestbook.
I've been experimenting with variations on the spelling of our name. I tried Cesnik, and I found Carlos E. S. Cesnik, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His relatives come from Slovenia and moved to Brazil. You can view an exchange of our letters where he writes of his relatives going back several generations. He's been very helpful. Ahem! That's a clue to you Cestnik/Cestnick/Chestnik/Cesnik/Cessnick's out there!!!
So now, the John Cestnik side of the family is getting into the picture!!! Today, I received a letter from my Father's cousin's daughter!!! I think
that makes her my second cousin, but you can check it out if you want. Her name is Irene (NO! not THAT Irene. I already asked her.) She's
Mary Horn's daughter. (Let me think for a minute...It seems I wrote my Uncle Eddie a letter asking him to give my e-mail address to his daughter. He passed my letter on to Frank and Ethel in Wyoming, and when Irene
read it a few weeks ago, she wrote to me. Confused? Hey, that was the plan!) Well, anyway, Irene wrote and says she has some more information on the family. Her Mother, Mary wants to write me some stories.
When she does, you can read them right here!!! :-)
I thought those little planes were little. Some of them had a wing span of over six feet. They had powered planes and
gliders. It was fun to watch the gliders. They mounted them on top of the Mother ship, appropriately name "Mother". She was
a low wing plane. When they strapped the glider on top of Mother, it in effect, became a bi-plane and afforded more lift. The Mother ship
would fly up, up, up at an amazing rate of speed. When they reached the correct altitude, the Mother ship would power down,
and they would press a switch which released the tied down glider (it was fastened with small bungie cords which unfastened on command. Quite
remarkable, so it was...). The glider shot upward and the Mother ship just seemed to drop out of the sky. I think Skip came up
with the idea. Wow, let me tell you, I was impressed!!!
Skip was telling me that they have planes that will fly over 200 miles per hour; in formations, even. Sometimes they get too close
together and touch wings. He says it turns into a puff of smoke. All that's left is the engine, which falls
out of the sky. Sandy was telling us that one day they lost three planes in a couple of minutes. Two of the planes collided head on and
the third person was distracted by the crash and flew his plane right into the ground! They told me there was going to be a combat meet in the
Missoula area in June. If that means what I think it means, that should be exciting. STEVE, give
me a call. I think I want to go.
My exploration of cyberspace has let me stumble on to this little gem. Even these guys are there. Of course, you recognize those famous white faces. (I was THERE in May, 2002!)
Hey! I've got two new daughters!!! Okay, not exactly! (They don't know it, but I
UNofficially adopted them!)
They brought me presents!!! :-) In August, 2000, while Montana was undergoing a siege by fire, I was blessed beyond my
wildest imagination. I had been contacted by two young ladies from Slovenia. They were coming to Montana and Wyoming and wanted to meet
some Slovenian people. They came and stayed for two nights. (I wish it could have been longer, but Montana has lots to offer.)
During their stay, we chatted with people "back home," rode (not rowed) a big boat across Flathead Lake, ate chicken at the Doublefront
in Missoula, "discovered" some new taste treats and exchanged ideas. Let me tell you, it was a great experience. I'm not terribly
exciting, so I'm sure I had most of the fun. If you ever read this, girls, I want to thank you for stopping by. I hope we
get a chance to meet again some day. You're always welcome, and I really meant the promise I made to you!!!
This is for you! :-)
Well, that's my Cestnik story for now. Thanks for listening. :-) Enjoy the links below.
Slovenian National Anthem (words by France Prešeren)
National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame
Slovenian Genealogy Web Ring
This Web Ring site is maintained by
Terry J. Cestnik
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