Where Am I From?
Filling in the Blanks of my Past
Before starting this project, if you had asked me where my family was from I would have told you that my maternal roots are in Scotland and England, and my paternal roots are in Germany. But I would be wrong about my paternal roots. Upon further research, it turns out that my father's side, while German-speaking, are actually from Yugoslavia.
I am going to focus on the roots that spread from Yugoslavia to Saskatchewan, Canada to Mono, Ontario.
|The light-coloured part of the map is the former Yugoslavia, where my great-grandfather immigrated from. Today Yugoslavia doesn’t exist as a singular country, rather it is now several independent nations. (Blair).|
While my great-grandfather’s immigration record shows that his nationality was Yugoslavian, there are family rumours that, to be specific, my paternal family may be from Serbia or even Austria (Kloet). It was just assumed that because my great-grandfather spoke German that he was from Germany. Interestingly, before 1950, two-thirds of German-speakers who immigrated to Canada didn’t come from Germany-proper, but rather other countries surrounding Germany (Bassler). This makes sense with regards to my family immigration, as according to the immigration record below, my great-grandfather immigrated in 1929.
|This is a screenshot of my great-grandfather’s immigration record. His nationality was “Ju”, which was a short-form code for Yugoslavia. ("Immigration Records (1925-1935)--Mathias Guldner").|
No one in my family has a specific reason as to why my great-grandfather left Yugoslavia, but according to an email from my cousin, many German-speakers went to Saskatchewan because they already knew people there (Kloet). This was the case for my great-grandfather. In doing some research, it appears that in the same year my great-grandfather left Yugoslavia, King Alexander I's dictatorship took a new turn and outlawed certain parties, including the party that represented the interests of German-speakers. In Saskatchewan, he married my great-grandmother, Barbara Stork. My great-grandmother’s parents were the recipients of a Land Grant of Western Canada, which entitled my great-great-grandfather, Michael Stork, to land for farming. In the early 1950s, my great-grandparents, who had bought the land earlier, sold it and moved to Ontario to the farm where both my father and I were born and raised (Kloet).
|Above is a screenshot of my great-grandfather's land grand in Southeastern Saskatchewan. (Land Grants of Western)|
Based on the fact that my great-grandfather’s immigration record states that he was Yugoslavian, I am going to go on the theory that my paternal family has roots in Serbia. Despite the troubles that Serbia has faced in the past, including a genocide in the 1990s, I feel confident that if I was a teenager today in Serbia my life would be decent as a German-speaking minority.
According to the 2002 Serbian census, there are 3901 German-speakers in Serbia, which is dramatic decrease from the roughly 500 000 previous to World War II (OSCE 14). After World War II, many German-speakers left Yugoslavia, as during the war, Germany occupied the nation. Even before the end of the war, the Yugoslav government was forcing German-speakers out of the country. German-speakers in Yugoslavia faced revenge for the atrocities the Nazis committed during the war. They faced death, suffered persecution, experienced personal and economic losses, and were held in labour camps (Prauser and Rees 53-54). There are long-held family rumours that my great-grandfather’s brother, Frank, had some tattoo that identified him as a supporter of the Nazis during World War II, and at the end of the war, he cut it out of his skin before immigrating to Ontario. Clearly, in the years after World War II, my life in Serbia would have been challenging. But in 2016, this is no longer the case.
Youth unemployment in Serbia is high compared to Canada (49% vs. 13%), according to the CIA World Factbook. Youth unemployment includes people aged 15-24, so many Canadian youth would still be attending secondary or post-secondary education. Even if Serbia had similar post-secondary opportunities as Canada, there are a lot of young people who are jobless. Unemployment affects people economically, as well as mentally, emotionally, and socially.
Furthermore, with regards to education in Serbia, youth can expect to attend school to age 14, whereas in Ontario, youth are expected to be in school until age 18. Interestingly, Serbia spends 10% of its GDP on education, whereas Canada spend half that (“Serbia”). Both Serbia and Canada have a high literacy rate at 99%. (“Serbia”). Literacy is a key component of building a quality life, as it allows people access to jobs and an avenue to standing up for their rights.
Serbia has a well-developed health care system, as evidenced by its life expectancy rate of 75%; the availability of contraceptives, which are used by 60% of the population in relationships; and, finally, the fact that the nation spends 10% of its GDP on healthcare (“Serbia”). Additionally, Serbia places importance on sanitation: 99% of people have access to clean water and 96% have access to appropriate sanitation facilities.
With regards to rights and freedoms in Serbia, the government “encourages a spirit of tolerance and intercultural dialogue and takes effective measures to promote mutual respect, understanding and cooperation among all people living on its territory, regardless of their ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity” (“Government of the Republic”). Additionally, as a result of years of ethnic turmoil, Serbia prohibits the forced assimilation of minority ethnic groups. The country also recognizes and protects the language and scripts of ethnic minorities, even in official use. This means that my German-speaking family would be afforded the same rights as ethnic Serbs.
I believe that the overall quality of my life in Serbia would be relatively comparable to my life in Canada. I am thankful that my ancestors were brave to make the trek overseas to start better lives for themselves as they left a Serbia that was in turmoil.