Over 100 years ago my great-grandmother Jelisava left her village in Croatia to join her husband in America. She never returned, but 95 years later her descendants traveled to her village and discovered her niece Katica (called “Mima,” for grandmother). Mima spoke no English but through the patient translations of her grandson Tonci we were able to learn more about Jelisava, her husband Anton, and their family and form a delightful bond with her. She knew the stories of things that had happened before she was born. She knew the Croatian songs that my mother had heard as a child. She made us Turkish coffee and gave us pure, cold water from the well in the back with the date '1863' carved into it. We had never known of her existence, but she had a photo in her house from the early 1950s of my mother and her siblings.
[A dear one, B, has called the story of how our families were reunited “a mythic tale if there ever was one”. Another dear one, K, describes “that day in Sveti Vid, when the sky literally opened up and God must have been blowing us all up the dirt road in Tonci's car, to the vine-covered patio, where a multi-generational bloodline met and the air became pregnant with memories and meaning. To me, that moment was both a treasured flashback of our ancestry and a testament to the imperishable love of family, even when the relationships are only through passed down stories and photographs.”]
We were beautified by her delight in finding us, by her love for us and her family, by her continued prayers for us. She died on Sept. 26th with her beloved grandson by her bedside. We shall miss her lovely presence.“He 'adorned and beautified it by his presence,' the prayer book says — did it just by being there, presumably, just by being who he was, the way anybody we love very much and who loves us very much can more or less do it too.”
~ Frederic Buechner writiing about Jesus at the Marriage of Cana
2 posts categorized "Finding Jelisava"
Mima on her porch covered with grapevines and overlooking the Adriatic Sea / She wrote: I recall all of you so many times and wish to see you all again along with the rest of the family. It is my duty to thank you all for those lovely memories with the pictures which remind me of you, so I can see you all and say to God, “Please let me see you all again.” / Sv. Vid, Croatia / May 2005
On a Sunday afternoon my cousin Tonći took my mother and me to see the local parish priest, Father Petar Kosić. We wanted to see the church records from St. Michael’s (Sv. Miholjica) Church in Sveti Vid, Croatia where my great-grandparents were married in 1904. He found their entry in the old, oversized book . . . it recorded the marriage of Antun Radić and . . . Jelisava?
My great-grandmother was called Liža (the “i” is pronounced as a long “e” and the “ž” is pronounced like the “g” in the French word “gendarme”). We thought her full name was Elizabeth or Eliza and had never heard the name Jelisava (the “J” is pronounced “Y” as in “yet”). Sometime during her long life — she lived to the age of 92 — she had lost her passport and any identifying papers. So, what was her name? A little researched solved the mystery: Jelisava is the south Slavic form of Ersebet or Elisabeth. Elise, Elisa, and Liža are diminutives of Jelisava. (Diminutive names can express smallness, familiarity, or affection.) Elizabeth is the Anglicized spelling of the name.
How wonderful to learn something new about my family history and my beloved great-grandmother. I am named after her and as my father pointed out, “lisa” sits right in the middle of Jelisava.