Monday, February 14, 2011

Remembering My Great Grandfather - Valentin Kocevar

Today is St. Valentine's Day.  It is also the anniversary of my great grandfather's birth back in 1874.  When I was a child, my grandmother told us that we were Yugoslavian on her side and later when Yugoslavia "fell apart" she mentioned that our ancestors were the Slovenians.  I thought on the anniversary of my great grandfather's birth I would share his story as told through the paper trail.

Valentin Kocevar
(14 Feb 1874 - 16 Mar 1955)

My great grandfather was born on February 14, 1874 in Smartno ob Dreti, Nazarje, Slovenia, Austria.  His parents were Francis Kocevar and Jenie Prisel (they are listed as his parents on his marriage license).  We know he had at least one brother as one of his nephews came to the America, but we do not know anything about his siblings.  In fact we know very little about his life in Austria ~ my great aunt told me recently that she thought her father served in the Austrian military before coming to America, but we don't have any information at this point to confirm her recollection.  His last residence was Sentjost, Slovenia, Austria.

My great grandfather came to the United States on October 4, 1903.  Valentin traveled aboard the S.S. La Touraine, sailing from Harve, France on September 26, 1903 and arriving in New York on October 4, 1903. How he got from Austria to France is still a mystery.

SS La Touraine

The Ship's Manifest shows at line 22 ~ Valentin Kocevar - 29, male, single, farmer, able to read and write, Slovene, last residence St. Josta [Sentjost], traveling to Black Diamond [Washington], contact ~ a friend Johan Dobnik, Box 612, Black Diamond. 

Manifest for SS La Touraine

On the trip over Valentin met Rudolph Zagradisnik, a fellow Slovene, who also traveled to Black Diamond.  My understanding is that they took trains across country.  Rudolph later introduced him to his future wife (and Rudolph's sister).  The story goes that Rudolph suggested that his sister Antonia (who remained in Austria) would make a good wife for Valentin (Rudolph was a bit of a matchmaker).  Rudolph and Valentin made arrangements for her to come to the United States. 

Antonia Zagradisnik arrived in the United States on June 28, 1907, traveled via train across the county, and arrived in Washington in July 1907.  After a one month courtship and on August 31, 1907, Valentin and Antonia were married at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church in Seattle, Washington.

Valentin Kocevar & Antonia Zagradisnik
Their Wedding Day

The Marriage Certificate has not only their marriage information but also their signatures.  The Marriage Return on file in King County, Washington lists Valentin Kocevar's parents as Francis Kocevar and Jenie Prisel and Antonia Zagradisnik's parents as Anthony Zagradisnik and Annie Pevec.  Their ages are off on the Return but it also appears that document was not filled in by the couple ~ the rest of the information clearly shows this Return is for the correct couple.

The 1910 Federal census found Valentin and Antonia in Sherwood, King County, Washington.  They had been married three years and had two children ~ Mary Kocevar (18 months) and my grandmother Antonia Kocevar (2 months).  Valentin was employed in the the coal mines in the Ravensdale area and he rented his home.

1910 US Census ~

Mary & Antonia Kocevar
I love this picture of my grandmother on the chair!

In 1914 Valentin became a U.S. citizen as evidenced by his Petition and Order of Naturalization filed in the State of Washington.

The paper trail led me to his World War I military registration card dated September 12, 1918 and filled out in Seattle, King County, Washington.  He listed his birth date as February 13, 1874 and stated that he was a naturalized citizen.  He continued to be employed as a coal miner in Taylor, King County, Washington.  His physical description was "tall, medium build, with brown eyes an black hair."

World War I Draft Registration Card ~

The 1920 Federal census found Valentin and Antonia on their farm in Hobart, King County, Washington.  By this time they had been married thirteen years and had an additional  five children for a total of seven children ~ Mary (age 11), Antonia (age 9), Anne Margaret (age 8), Aloysius Valentine (age 7), Joseph (age 5), Christina (age 3) and Edward (11 months).  My great grandfather saved his money and in 1915 purchased  land for a farm and paid off his mortgage in record time.  Over time, my great grandparents built their home,  barn, and other outbuildings..  In addition to working his farm with Antonia, Valentin continued to be employed as a coal miner.  My grandmother told us that he started early in the morning with farm chores, had breakfast and then walked to mines, worked all day, and then walked home.  Antonia worked the farm and took care of the children.

1920 US Census ~

My great grandparents were married for 21 years until Antonia's death in 1928.

Valentin & Antonia on their 20th Wedding Anniversary
this photo was taken at their farm

The following year their son Aloysius died at the age of 16 while a patient at Medicine Lake in Spokane, Washington.  Louis, as he was known, had been placed there the previous year due to complications associated with epilepsy.  His death was heartbreaking to his father and siblings and continued to be a source of sadness to my grandmother throughout her life.  

The 1930 Federal census found my great grandfather and 4 of his children on their farm in Hobart, King County, Washington where he continued to be employed as a coal miner.

1930 US Census ~

My great grandfather died on March 16 1955 at the age of 81.  His obituary stated in part:
  • Mr. Kochevar, who was 81 years old, was born in Yugoslavia and came to this county in 1903.  He was employed in mines in Black Diamond, Ravensdale and Taylor before acquiring a farm 40 years ago.  His wife, Antonia, died in 1928.  Two sons and four daughters as well as 12 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter survived him.

    Valentin Kocevar 

While the paper trail is just a small part of my great grandfather's story, it provides a wealth of information I otherwise would not have not known.  His military registration contained a physical description (at the age of 44) as well as his signature; his certificate of citizenship included witness names and information regarding his background; the censuses contained the names and ages of family members, home addresses and farm schedule information from when he lived in Sherwood and Hobart, King County, Washington; his marriage certificate and citizenship paperwork contained the names and addresses of witnesses to his marriage and his character; and his obituary provided information about his funeral and burial.

My grandmother and great aunt were able to tell me stories and give me a better picture of Valentin.  He took a child with him whenever he went to Seattle to purchase staples, including coffee, pasta and olive oil.  When I asked why, my great aunt told me - "... well I never thought about it, but pa probably took me because he didn't speak American very well."  She also mentioned that my great grandparents spoke Slovenian at home whenever they did not want the children to know what they were talking about (a habit she and her husband also employed with their own family!).  She showed me my great grandmother's china pattern and my great grandfather's coffee mug ~ I was born after my great grandfather died but apparently we had something in common ~ a love of lots of strong coffee!

Antonia's china pattern

Valentin's coffee mug which held 24 ounces ~ he soaked biscotti in it - yum! 

My great grandparents purposefully settled in an area with a significant Slovenian community and kept up their ethnic and religious traditions.  On a recent visit to Maple Valley, I visited the cemetery where Valentin and Antonia are buried     

and walked the property that was the farm he purchased and worked throughout his life (which until recently remained in the family).

Valentin & Antonia's Farm

So today, on the anniversary of his birth a heartfelt thanks (Hvala lepa) to my great grandfather Valentin Kocevar, who had the drive and determination to travel via ship and train across Europe and the USA to start a new life in Washington and to make a better life for his descendants.     



  1. A wonderful job telling your Great Grandfathers story.He would be proud! Thank you for sharing.

  2. What a great story! I found you doing a search for Slovenia on Geniablogger and there are so few mentions on an individual's research. All 4 of my grandparents were from Slovenia, so when I have the time I seek out others who have similar ancestry. Thanks for putting this out there. BTW, the other connection to your stories is I am from Minnesota.

  3. I'm thrilled to have found you and read about your Slovenian ancestry, Tessa! My great-grandparents came from what is today northwestern Croatian. They lived very near to the Slovenian border in the villages of Legrad and Donja Dubrava. You and I also share Irish heritage. We may be cousins!


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