Thursday, November 4, 2010

Running into my roots.....

And back to the blogging world.........

Continuing eastward on I-80 we kept seeing RV after RV.  Only thing is, they were all heading in the opposite direction.....west.  S saw it as a commentary on our mistaken notion of heading east.  In other words:  What are we thinking?!?  Seriously though, along the entire drive east, almost every RV was NOT going where we were.....kind of makes you think, but not too much.  We didn't change our plans of course, we had a mission in mind.  Things to do and more importantly, people to see.  Important people.

Since I am chief navigator, I was examining the map and, lo and behold, I spotted the city my grandmother was born and raised in!  Not only that, we'd be passing right through it, not even a detour was going to be necessary!

Crossing the border into Illinois on a beautiful fall day -


we quickly found the signs to Rock Island.  A town I've heard about my entire life and never ever would have thought I'd actually visit.  I mean, what are the odds I'd end up on the border of Illinois and Iowa some day?! Not very high I can tell you.


I was super excited at this find!  My hope was to locate the house my Grandma G grew up in and snap a few pictures in front of it.  Our experience ended up being oh so much richer though.

I began with a couple of phone calls to my aunt, uncle and cousin to hopefully get an address.  No luck.  My clever aunt did however suggest that we try the local library to check their city directories, if they had them.  One phone call later I verified that indeed the records did exist and we were free to come and look anything up on microfiche.  I of course know what microfiche is, but haven't really used it since college. And even then, I think I needed it once and that was it.  This was not only going to be a cool personal history lesson for us all, but it would also end up being a lesson in historic methods of storage and research.

So here we are parked behind the library.  Quite a feat given the size of the parking lot.  And given the age of the building, quite a juxtaposition.


The front of this historic library.  I wish I can remember how old it actually is.


Once inside we were directed to these drawers to choose a year and its corresponding film.  Since my great grandparents lived there for many many years, I randomly chose 1925.


And the search began -



The 'rolling' of the film was the most exciting part of it for the boys of course.  But to give credit where it's due, they all got a kick out of seeing their great great grandfather's name on the screen once we finally found it and loved the drawers full of film.  Guess everyone takes from it what speaks to them :-).


Hard to see, I know.  In my excitement I kept snapping away not really checking to see that the pictures were coming out clearly.....Hopefully you can see the number 1606 kind of in the middle of the page, that's the line we were looking for!  There, on that line, is my great grandfather's name, Adolph Kalina.  Following his name is his profession - a furrier (this listing was under 'professional pages'), both his business and home address, and his wife's name, in parentheses.


Mission accomplished, we hit the roads of Rock Island, RV and all, in search of the addresses.

Our first stop was the shop in old downtown, now a pretty sad location with lots of empty storefronts. Happily, Grandpa Kalina's store was occupied and seemed well taken care of.


Moving on, we headed for the house.  After driving along some pretty narrow roads in the old part of town, obviously, we found 21st street.  Following the numbers down the road though they just didn't make sense!It almost seemed like the street numbers were changed at some point.  Confused, we stopped at what we thought might have been the location of the house, now a daycare center, and rang the doorbell hoping for some clarification.

Two young men answered the door.  The first did not know of any number change.  The second confirmed that indeed they were changed a while back due to re-zoning and that the house next door has been there for over 100 years.  He went on to describe it and it matched the descriptions I heard all of my life to a T!  It used to have two chicken coops, a tennis court, a very large plot of land (obviously) and a large vegetable garden.

Still a bit confused but getting excited now, we headed over to examine the house more closely, but not too close of course, since it did belong to someone after all.  At the recommendation of my Mom, I called my Grandma.  Duh!!  Why I didn't think of that I don't know.  Gramma couldn't believe her ears when I told her where we were.  Imagine the shock and surprise!  I asked her to describe her house to us to be sure we were indeed in front of THE one.  I asked her questions about it too.  We all came to the conclusion that it was IT.

As it happens, my brother was there visiting with her at that very minute and he was able to show her pictures of us in front of her house that I had just uploaded to Facebook.  Ahh!  All the wonderful ways to be able to use technology!

As we posed in front of the house for photos


The first young man from the daycare next door came running over.  He told us he had grown up in the house and that his parents still live there!  After we came by he picked up the phone and called his Mom asking her about the former residents.  She told him he should show us THE NAMES GRAFFITIED ON THE BACK WALL.  She thought they were theirs!!!

What??  Names on a wall?????  Never heard about this one!  Nor had any of my relatives apparently.  Racing around to the back, the young man in the lead, he let us into what is now an enclosed porch and showed us THE wall.

Names indeed!!  WOW!!


There were the names of my great uncles and aunt scrawled on what was then the outside wall and dated 1925 and 1931! No where could we find my grandmother's name, she was too young in 1925, not sure why she didn't partake in 1931 though.  The name of Charles K is the most prominent and appears several times.  The other names are harder to make out in this photo.  Other families who inhabited the house added their names to the wall too, a nice tradition was started by my ancestors I think :-).

I can't tell you how amazingly cool it was to see those familiar names on that house.  Being there and seeing the house my grandma grew up in, a sight I never thought I'd see with my own two eyes, was remarkable enough.  But discovering those names?  Well, that just took all the cakes in the world right there!

The young man accompanying us was tickled to make the connection as well.  He had of course always seen those names but never knew who they belonged to.  We had now closed a circle for him and his family.

My grandmother always told me stories about her life growing up in that house.  Her father's garden, the chickens, how she learned to play tennis there and took that love of tennis with her when she moved away, married and had her own children.  My father being the first of three.

Like I said at the beginning of the post, a simple stop, turned into a rich and rewarding experience.  You never do know what's gonna happen do you?


  1. wow - it was amazing following this as it happened by phone - and just as amazing to read about now.

  2. My father was Paul Kossoff, my grandmother was Yetta Kalina possible Adolph Kalina's Sister. My fathers was in business with him in 1920 at the 1606 2nd Av address. I believe Adolph sponsored him to come to this country from Russia. I would love to know how we are connected please email me