This story has always fascinated me. The possibility of having some Jewish ancestry is very intriguing. All of the many branches of my family tree that I have researched thus far have consisted of practicing Catholics like myself.
|The Catholic cemetery in Legrad, Croatia where many of my ancestors are buried|
I hoped that the fact that he had played an important role within his town might make this ancestor easier to find, and that some day I might find some clues to his Jewish origins.
Fast forward to last night. I had requested an inter-library loan of an elusive history book about the little town of Legrad, Croatia (hometown of my great-grandmother's family, from whom the above family story originated). Written in 1971 by Dragutin Feletar, this book is written entirely in Croatian and it is not easy to find a copy in North America. One library kindly offered to loan their copy to me through my library for a small fee. I gladly paid it and picked up the book several weeks ago, but hadn't had time to do much besides flip through the pages.
Knowing its due date was looming, I finally sat down with the book last night. I don't speak or read Croatian, and here I was with a treasure of a book (with no subject index) and no good way to make sense out of it's almost 200 pages besides good old Google Translate - so there I went.
I decided for no good reason to start by translating a few photograph captions, starting with one in the center of the book. I wrote down the translation and the page number, and turned the page to the next photo.
As I did, something caught my eye on page 134. Listed within the text above the photo was a familiar surname: Bence (my great-grandmother's maiden name) and the date 1858. Bence is not a common name, even within this little village, so I knew immediately that this was good news. What was the meaning of this list of names and dates? I turned back to the previous page and translated the beginning of the paragraph:
"Na kraju šetnje kroz prebogatu legradsku povijest valja još navesti (barem približno, koliko to dopušta postojeća I pristupačna povijesna dokumentacija I literatura) I popis predsjednika (kapetana, povjerenika, načelnika) općine Legrad od 1545, do danas. Najprije evo popisa legradskih predsjednika (kapetana) od 1545. do 1912. godine: ...Bence (1858), Boldizar Gacic (1861)…"This was a list of the mayors of the village of Legrad beginning in the year 1545. Here was my long-hoped-for Jewish-orphan-turned-mayor!
Though all others were listed by both first and last name, he was listed only by surname. Unfortunately, the book has no further details about his role in that position or proof of his early beginnings (that kind of find would be too good to be true!). Yet, finding confirmation that my Bence ancestor actually held the mayoral post is a great success, particularly when I'm researching in a foreign language and living such a distance from his home village.
I've got lots more work to do to further investigate my family's possible Jewish heritage, but I was thrilled to find this little piece of information validating a portion of what was previously an unproven family legend.