Bukovinans trace roots, meet distant relatives
By ADELE SHAVER
Hays Daily News
Posted with permission of the Hays Daily News, Hays, KS
May 13, 2002
Descendants of German immigrants spent the past four days researching their roots, but they also celebrated their heritage. “‘With four hours of 15 mile-per-hour dancing, you can have several beers and need not worry about calories,” Darrell Seibel told those attending the second annual meeting of the Bukovina Society of the Americas Saturday about that evening’s polka dance.
Planners of the four-day meeting at the Holiday Inn Holidome, 3603 Vine, expected more than 350 people from all over the United States, Canada and Germany to attend the Saturday night banquet and dance.
The so-called Bukovina Germans first emigrated from the Bavarian region of Germany in the late 1700s to Bukovina, a province then in the old Austrian Empire and now, part of the Soviet Union and Romania.
At the end of the 1890, they then left for America and settled primarily in Ellis, Rooks and Trego counties.
Descendants now are scattered worldwide. “People back home have been making fun of the fact that I’m going to Kansas,” said John Aust Losee, a 29-year-old Schenectady, N.Y., Department of Transportation worker who came with his mother to trace his roots and meet his relatives.
Losee has traced his Bukovina German great-grandfather Jacob Ast as having come to Ellis in 1886 from Illischestie, in what is now Romania.
Losee got the notion to find out about his mother’s family at a dinner party more than two years ago when the conversation turned to genealogy.
He had been tracing his father’s family, but didn’t know much about his mother’s. She knew of “a couple of aunts” but the family hadn’t kept in touch.
“Grandfather didn’t tell many stories,” Losee said, except that “great-grandmother made great strudel.”
Losee called the telephone information for all the Austs in Chehalis, Wash., where the aunts had lived and was told there were too many, so he ordered a $6 phone book and wrote letters to them all.
It was through responses to his letters that Losee first heard of the existence of the Bukovina Society of the Americas.
“We immediately joined,” Losee said. He has continued to persue his research on his own, too.
“I took a five-week course at night school” on genealogy, he said, and “dragged my mother along.”
Losee has turned up lots of places to look and questions to ask.
“I knew cemeteries and death notices were a good place to start. Census records are very valuable.
“In two years, I’ve managed to trace my family back to 1609 in southern Germany.
“You have to do a lot of writing, to people, town halls, libraries, newspapers. I’ve even written to Germany and gotten things back on my family.”
Coming to the Bukovina meeting has been productive, too.
“I’ve found so many relatives it isn’t funny,” said Losee.
The meeting ends today with an ecumenical worship service at 10 a.m. A third annual meeting will be planned for about the same time next year in Ellis County.
Carl Buehler, a visitor from Saskatchewan, Canada, who traces his family through both Bukovina and Volga German ancestors, said the two groups had “almost a common history, except for specific things they both kept that died slowly.”
The Volga Germans emigrated from various parts of Germany to the Volga region of Russia, also in the late 1700, then left for North and South America. Many also settled in Ellis County and the surrounding area.
Buehler said the Volga Germans came to America first and were a little more austere. The Bukovinas didn’t “keep the barriers” between themselves and other groups.
Losee said he and his mother arrived a day early for the meeting and planned to stay a couple of days after it is over to “soak up the culture of the area.”
“You can kid all you want, but I love Kansas.” he said.