Monday, November 21, 2011

Kazimir Blaskovic

We know little of my Croatian Grandfather Kazimir (also Kaiser, Kasimer) Blaskovic (Blascovic, Blaskovich).  We have precious few pictures.  Some show him partially cut off the picture.  Others show him under the shadow of a hat which makes seeing features of his dark skinned face difficult to impossible to discern. The only clear picture is the photo which accompanies his application for citizenship. The man sort of floats in mystery.

He was born in Sunger (also Sungar) Austria, March 4, 1874.  According to writings in the file, Kazimir's parents were Peter Bloskovich (also Petar Blaskovic) and Catherine Kruzich (also Katarina Kruzic).  He married Dragica (also Dora) Budiselic (also Budiselich) May 1904.  According to his declaration to become a citizen of the United States, he entered the United States for permanent residence at New York, NY on the vessel SS St. Paul.

Ship's manifest records give the following information for Kazimir:  Croatian in ethnicity, Austrian nationality, Sunger (permanent residence), "non-immigrant alien" (meaning previous residence in USA: Connelsville, MO 1905-1908), 34 years old, "workman", could read and write, nearest relative (Petar Blaskovic), paid passage himself, $100 in his pocket, described as joining brother "Stif", 5'9" tall, brown hair and blue eyes, birthplace: Sunger, Croatia.  The St. Paul left Cherbourg, Manche, France, and arrived at Ellis Island, October 24,1908.

Kazimir's obituary written in English states he died at age 72.  This obituary is assumed to have been written for a Kirksville paper.  His residence at that time was 1111 East 9th, Des Moines, Iowa. He is buried in Highland Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Des Moines.  His obituary notes that he came to the United States in 1900, later returning to Sungar where he married Miss Dora Budiselich. Parish records from St. Phillip Apost. in Mrkopalj (now: Croatia) give their marriage date as June 7, 1905.

According to his obituary, they came to the United States in May, 1908 and lived at Albia, Iowa until 1916.  Daughter Mary's birth certificate lists her birth in 1910 as Novinger Missouri and her place of baptism was Milan Missouri.  Daughter Anna's obituary lists her birth in 1913 in Albia, Iowa.  Son Joe's Certificate of Discharge from the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1936 lists his birth in 1915 in Albia, Iowa. (Family story has it that they were born in Fraker, Iowa, a coal mining town in the central part of Bluff Creek Township of Monroe County. Its post office was Fraker from 1907 to 1915. Source: 11/26/11) Son Jack's birth certificate lists Kirksville Missouri as place of birth in 1918.

Kazimir died in 1946.  He was survived by his wife, two daughters, Mary and Anna of Des Moines, one son Jack of Kirksville, one brother Steve (also Stif) Bloskovich (also Blaskovic, Bloscovich) of Madrid, Iowa.  Son Joe had gone missing in the 1930s, a subject of great family pain and life long seeking. Two sons had died in infancy.  The 1st died shortly after their arrival in the US and is buried somewhere in southern Iowa.  Dad said longingly in the latter years that he had a little brother buried up in Iowa. The last born (Tonay) was told to be buried in an unmarked plot among the children of the Philip and Anna Bubany family in the Highland Cemetery in Kirksville. When I was growing up, my Father and Mother never failed to put flowers on that grave.

One other obituary is in the files.  This obituary is written in Croatian and is assumed to be for one of the many Croatian newspapers in the US at the time.  His date of death is listed as May 15.
"The deceased spent many years in Kirksville and there belonged o the section Hrvatska [Croatian] Brotherhood.  He joined us P.L. last year on the 23rd of January, 1945.  He slipped on the ice at the time he was still in Kirksville and he hurt his leg.  So since that time, he was getting worse.  His two daughters lived here for many years and owned a restaurant.  They brought their parents to them so they can give them a special hand.  The deceased worked for many years in coal mines and was one of honest and hard worker of the old Gorski region.  He was born 73 years ago in a village Sunger, of Mrkopalj, Gorski Kotar, Croatia." [Gorski Kotar means "small mountains".]  ... "One of his sons Joe disappeared 12 years ago." [Translation was done by a Nun at an orphanage in Zagreb when Melanie and I were there in 2002.]
Kazimir's work life in the United States as a coal miner was a typical choice, a harsh and dangerous reality of immigrants of the time.  On August 3, 1923, he received his Certificate of Competency as a Coal Miner from the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals State Miner's Examining Board.

A letter from Philip Mihalovich (who represented Croatian miners) dated February 21, 1949, documents Kazimir's coal mining experience, with the intention of finding financial support for his widow.  This is an excellent review of his experience.  Without it, we would have little idea of his work.  The following information comes from this letter.

Kazimir joined the United Mine Workers Union in 1902 and was an active member until about 1939. Over his life, he worked in different places and states (Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa). He worked in the following mines:  Connelsville, MO, mine number 4 or 1; Novinger, MO, mine number 50; White City, Iowa, mine number 6; Fraker, Iowa, no mine number listed; Albia Iowa, Croatian Coal Company Mine; Des Moines, Iowa, Moyle Block Shuller Coal Company; Kirksville, Missouri, mine number 3; Springfield, Illinois, no mine number listed; Kirksville, Missouri, mine number 3; Madrid, Iowa, mine number 6 and Carny Coal Company.

"Kazer" Blaskovich was listed on the pay roll of 854 coal mine employees (1924-1966) for the Billy  Creek Mine Company which is in the Novinger area. Billy Creek was the last shaft mine in operation in Adair County.  It closed January 14, 1966.  (Source: November 25, 2011) An article in the Chariton Collector, a magazine which featured local stories and lore, discussed the Billy Creek Mine. This article speaks to the seriousness of the mining occupation and the balance with humor and camaraderie of miners. [Cenedella, David. (Spring 1983) Billy Creek Coall Mine. (]

Kazimir was a Timberman for about 15 years.
"a. In bituminous coal mining, a head timberman is a foreman who supervises workers installing timbers in a mine to support the roof and walls of haulageways, passageways, and the shaft. Also called timber boss; timber foreman. b. A miner skilled in notching, erecting, and securing timbers set in mine workings. The craft of the timberman is gradually becoming extinct with the advent of power tools and steel as a support."  [from Webster's On Line:  November 23, 2011]
I have often heard my Father refer to his Dad being a "Timberman".  While I am no expert in mining, I can assume from the description above that a Timberman was a very serious occupation requiring considerable skill, responsibility and trust.  The Timberman's work was to make the mines safe for his fellow Miners (and himself). This was no small responsibility.

Mr. Mihalovich's letter goes on:  After that, his activity and his health declined.  "Most of the time was absent memory and no good for any of the hard labor."  (This date of separation came when he was about 65 years old.) A draft document in the file lists members of the United Mine Workers who testified that they knew "Brother Kazimir" and that he was an active member of their Union. 

Frank D. Wilson, President and Secretary Treasurer of the United Mine Workers of America (Albia, Iowa) wrote back on February 18, 1948, noting that "we can find no record in this office of death benefits having been paid on Kazimer Blaskovich." ... "We are indeed sorry we are unable to help you in this respect as we did not know Mr. Blaskovich personally and have no knowledge where he last worked and to which local union he last belonged."

Richard purchased the carbon lamps in the photo above at auction.  These lamps with the flames in front were typically worn by Coal Miners of the period that Kazimir represents. 

A video of the Novinger area reports that women made beds so that they would be ready for a miner who had been injured. I cannot even imagine what that would have been like, for the miner and his family, both of whom knew he might not return as he left the house for his work day.  I do not even want to think about it. 

I can surely see that my Grandfather likely did not have the full range of choices in his new homeland, which was then typical of immigrants.  He could not go back. He did the best he knew how to do.  A secure job with a secure income had to be extremely important to stabilize the present and future of his family.
(1)Regretfully, I am unable to use the appropriate diacritical marks on Croatian spellings.  My miniscule knowledge of the language allows me to know that something significant is missing.  I suppose I could comment that the "language eradication program" begun when he arrived is surely now mostly complete.  
(2)Please also note that there is inconsistency in some of the records, which with the passage of time and the communication between immigrants and English speaking recorders is not surprising.
(3)Sometimes I will post a writing that I am continuing to "tweak".  Usually, entry is complete within 2 weeks of the 1st posting, if anything is ever complete. This surely is one of them.  More information is popping out of the file.  If you have special interest in this entry, you may wish to note the "last edit" at the end.  That will tell if  some change is still being made and when that most recent change was complete.
Last edit:  November 26, 2011

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