In June 2023, I was approached by two of my distant cousins - one Australian born and one Croatian born. The first one still lives in South Australia, and the other has moved to Dublin, Ireland. The initial reaching out to me was initiated by the Australian cousin.
The reason for contacting me was our GEDMatch matching. GEDMatch (especially GEDMatch Pro) is one of the DNA platforms that is primarily dedicated to the investigation of the DNA related 'crimes', including identity theft, but not only.
In addition, my Australian cousin discovered that I manage profiles for the Drutskoy-Sokolinsky brothers on GENI, and thought I can be connected to them as he believed that his Y-DNA (a part of it) was linked to Russian nobility. On the basis of this - his Y-DNA part - he was even accepted into the Russian Nobility Y-DNA group on FTDNA site.
As it turned out, both of my cousins were also investigating mysteries linked to their ancestry and background.
As my Australian cousin was more active in communicating with me I was naturally drawn into his story and a mystery he tried to solve. This made my Croatian cousin a sort of silent observer as he was less active in our email exchange.
The mystery that bothered my Australian cousin was linked to his father who never shared much of his background with his son. What was known to my cousin was his father's name and surname, the later belonging to a big family from a small mountain village in North Bosnia. According to my cousin, his father had 7 sisters and brothers none of whom, by the way, bothered to come to his funeral in Australia.
Of his father's passage to Australia, my cousin only knew that in1956, he left North Bosnia and managed to cross the border to Austria, where he was interned at Ebelsberg, Linz, the Hungarian speaking camp for displaced people. In July 1957, at the age of 21, my cousin's father with a newly issued passport immigrated to Australia. As was discovered later, his immigration documents had many inconsistencies which could only account for his covering up his 'tracks'. His escape from North Bosnia he explained by the following remark: 'They found out who my family was...' Who were 'they' and who was his 'family' remained a mystery, for he never elaborated on his own remark.
In 2001, my cousin's father died. To the surprise of his Australian family, the service at his funeral was performed by a Franciscan monk whose presence, as it turned out, was pre-arranged by my cousin's father.
After his father's death, my cousin was left with 'crumbs' of information, most of which was disinformation, and snippets of memories shared with him by his father. These snippets included his memory of living as a child in a castle with his aunt and uncle, of having a 19th century ancestor who travelled by a private train, and of being educated at home. In addition, my cousin's father spoke, among other languages, Hungarian and Russian.
In his ancestry research, my cousin came across a Croatian 4th cousin who shared a Family Tree with him. Based on the surname of the North Bosnian family with whom his father lived as a boy, my cousin singled out a link - the same surname spotted in the Family Tree of his 4th cousin. He linked these surnames and was convinced this was his father's line. Yet, the line did not explain the snippets of memories shared with him by his father.
Having the above information and memories at hand, my Australian born cousin teamed up with his Croatian born cousin to solve the mystery. However, despite their efforts, in two years they have not had much progress.
Since I love mysteries and detective stories, I have decided to give it a go.
Unlike my cousins, I have approached the mystery assuming that nothing was known about my cousin's father except his name. For, sometimes, too much information can stand on the way of finding out the truth. In addition, I have decided to use a tool that my cousin somewhat disregarded - his own ethnic maps and ethnic breakdowns supplied by a variety of DNA platforms.
The advantage I had was my education. I'm a linguist and a philologist, so I pay attention to names and meaning of the words, communication, and verbal and written expressions.
Personal names, especially the ones given to children by their parents carry a lot of meaning and information. It is, as they say, a very personal affair. Given names can reflect the story of children's birth, their character, and even tell about the child's parents, ancestry, cultural and national background. All in one word.
Having studied the name of my cousin's father, I noticed that from linguistic and etymological points of view it did not make sense. It looked and sounded as if it had been pieced together. The name consisted of three parts - the first part sounded British, the second one - Italian/Spanish, and the third part, his surname, - Croatian/Serbian. This was a very unusual combination for a boy who grew up in a small mountain village in North Bosnia.
I started with the first name, and soon found out from my cousin that his father took it as he wished to have an English sounding name to be used in his Australian business. So, it was his personal choice and was not part of his original name given at birth. I crossed it out. Then I turned to his third name. Since it was a surname and not a given at birth name I had decided to exclude it from the investigation for surnames can be easily adopted, changed, or even invented. Due to this, they can be misleading.
My cousin's father's Italian/Spanish sounding 'second' first name was the most probable original name given to him at birth. I checked the etymology of the name and discovered that indeed it was an Italian name. Its meaning is 'hard, tough, steadfast enduring' in a positive sense, but can also mean 'unfeeling, harsh, and oppressive'.
Giving such a name to a boy can indicate several things. On the one hand, it can symbolise a long lasting and enduring affair that had resulted in a birth of a child. Regardless the circumstances of the relationship, it withstands time and the link is hard to break. On the other hand, the name can describe a love affair the result of which was an unwanted difficult, pregnancy that was oppressive for the mother of the child. In either case, strong feelings are involved, leaving a deep, long lasting mark on both partners.
The Italian origin of the name pointed at the cultural background of my cousin's father. Either one or both of his parents must have been from Italy or somehow connected to the country. In order to check my theory I turned to studying my cousin's ethnic maps and ethnicities inherited from his parents.
As a rule, each person inherits approximately 50% of their ethnic mix from their father and 50% from their mother. The exact percentage breakdown can vary from person to person. My Australian born cousin had done some research on his mother's ancestry and knew pretty well his mother's ethnic components. Due to this, it was easy to separate her half of the ethnic inheritance - Irish/British, French, and African. The rest of the the ethnic components Balkans, Baltics, Italian Peninsula, and Eastern Europe & Russia - would fall into his father's ethnic ancestry.
The percentage breakdown of my cousin's father's ethnic components revealed that one of his grandparents (25%) on his father's side was of Hungarian, or rather Transylvanian background. This meant that the other grandparent was of Italian, Baltics, and Eastern European & Russian ethnic background. The finding automatically riled out the North Bosnian family whose surname my cousin's father adopted, for the family's ancestors of seven or so generations were all from the same mountainous area and not of the international background. This meant that my cousin's father grew up in a foster family where he had been placed at certain age. To try to figure out the reason for that, I turned to the 'crumbs' of the information that my cousin's father shared with him in regards to his passage to Australia. For, they held a clue to the events that had unfolded prior to his escape to Australia.