Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Thursday, April 14, 2016

My Ancestors: Kristina Bednar Kostohryz

Kristina Kostohryz, seated

(Since immigration seems to be all the rage in the news today, I have decided to honor a few of my immigrant ancestors.  First in a series.)

Kristina Bednar Kostohryz was my 2nd great-grandmother. She was born on February 25, 1865 in Klouzovice, Bohemia. The midwife was Anna Stork from Chejnow, certified. She was baptized by Fr. Soukkup, chaplain. The godparents were Vaclav Holesovsky, a merchant, and his sister, Josefa Holessowka.

Her father, Jacob Bednar, was a tailor. He was born on July 07, 1802 in Klouzovice, Tabor, Bohemia, and died on September 07, 1870 in Chejnow, Bohemia when Kristina was only five-years-old. Her mother was Jacob's second wife, Terezie Kratoska, the daughter of a farmer.  She was born in February 01, 1830 in Kozmice, Tabor, Bohemia, and died on June 03, 1897 in Chynow, Bohemia of old age. Kristina was their only child together. In a sense, Kristina was a bit of an anomaly. Terezie gave birth to her at the age of thirty-five. It was very rare for a woman at that time to give birth to a first child at that age.

I have often wondered why my ancestors left their homes and traveled to America. I think the answer is relatively clear in Kristina's case. The year 1891 seemed to be a pivotal one in her life. On June 30, 1891 she married Jan Nepom Kostohryz in Chynow, Bohemia. On August 19. 1891 she and her husband arrived in Baltimore, Maryland aboard the SS Stuttgart which sailed out of Bremen, Germany. Then, on October 18, 1891, she gave birth to her first child, Maria Theresa Kostohryz, who later died of cholera on July 24, 1892. Was her emigration to America designed to disguise the fact that she was obviously pregnant before she was married? That certainly seems plausible.

The Kostohryz home in Bernartice.  Seems nice.
In Bohemia, Kristina worked for a German countess who gave her fine letter of recommendation that she brought with her. In America, she worked a series of menial jobs, i.e., maid, washerwoman, while raising her family. Sometimes, during harvests, she and her entire family who travel out to then rural Westminster, Maryland, to pick crops. She had eight children. One boy. Seven girls. Only three of the children lived to adulthood. The others were killed by diseases which, due to the wonders of modern medicine, no longer prey on American children. One can only imagine the emotions she felt as she buried five children.  Every time I hear some one going out about the evils of vaccinations, I picture Kristina and Jan standing over the graves of five of their children.

One of Kristina's Bohemian documents.
By all reports, Kristina was tiny woman. No taller than five foot. She and her family lived in a small row house at 905 Duncan Alley. When they originally bought the house, it had neither electricity or indoor plumbing. That entire block of homes has recently been demolished by the city to control urban blight.  I wish I had taken a picture of the building before they tore it down.  Sadly, however, Duncan Alley is very narrow and seemed to be overpopulated with drug dealers.  I never got the feeling they would appreciate me parking out front and taking pictures.

 Kristina would often get lost while walking around Baltimore. Whenever she did, she would try to find Johns Hopkins Hospital because she knew how to get home from there. She never learned to speak English. She retained a European-style manner of dress throughout her life. She wore long skirts and blouses with the sleeves rolled up. She kept her hair in a bun and usually had it covered in a babushka.  Her grandchildren remembered her being very kind.

Later in life, she kept the house of a politician and furniture store owner named Klecka who lived on the 800 block of Covington. Aside from her housekeeping duties, during Prohibition she also provided her home brew to the family. After the death of her husband, she took boarders into her home Duncan Alley.

Kristina, right, with my great-grandmother
Kostohryz Rosenberger.
Kristina died of pneumonia on January 02, 1933 in Baltimore, Maryland. She was laid out in the home of her daughter, and my great-grandmother, Mary Anna Kostorhryz Rosenberger at 2207 E. Biddle Street. She was buried alongside her husband Jan at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery.

My 95-year-old grandmother Rita is probably the last person alive who actually remembers Kristina.  When my grandmother finally goes to her reward, which hopefully won't be for another five-or-ten-years, Kristina will pass forever from living memory.  Her presence in this world will be reduced to a few fading photos, some lines scribbled on various church and governmental documents and some bones in a box under a fine but rarely visited tombstone.  And, of course, her DNA.  Her blood lingers still in my veins.  She undoubtedly had a genetic influence on me, but that is invisible to the naked eye -- mixed up in jumble of genes from all of those who came before me back to the dawn of time.

That said, I have still learned from my 2nd-great-grandmother Kristina.  When I think of her, I see a woman who experienced all of the joys and passions as well as fears and sorrows that I have.  And they probably seemed as fresh and unique to her as they do to me. All things seem new with each suceeding generation, but the human experience remains stubbornly the same regardless of our technology.   I also admire her bravery:  Her willingness to leave Bohemia for a strange land where they spoke a strange language she never learned.  I doubt I could have done that.  I've never lived more than a few blocks away where I was raised.   However, the biggest lesson Kristina taught me concerns sorrow.

Every morning before I go to work, I have the opportunity to play with my little granddaughter Mara.  She is such a delight.  I couldn't imagine losing Mara, yet Kristina lost five of her little children around Mara's age.  It must have been unbearable for her.

People wisely say that life's pleasures are fleeting.  What is said less frequently is that life's sorrows are fleeting, too.  Somehow, Kristina moved beyond her sorrow with a kindness that still brings a smile to the lips of her 95-year-old granddaughter Rita whenever she talks about her Baba.

I'm glad I took the time to learn about my great-great-grandmother Kristina.

You are not forgotten.


Grave of Jan & Kristina Kostohryz

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

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