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Encouragement to go

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Here's a story that will hopefully encourage others to visit the homeland. If you have a similar story to tell, please e-mail us.

Ted Vukelich traveled to his ancestral village in November of 2002. He was the first to return since his great grandfather left in 1903. Here are some questions we asked him about his trip.

First, please give us a short history of your family, who was the emigrant, his relation to you, when did he leave, how old was he when he left, which generation are you, etc. Just so people know the basic story.

Todor Vukelic', born around 1886, immigrated to the US in 1903. His family came from the Ogulin-Dreznika areas. He immigrated through Ellis Island, and moved to Pittsburgh. He had many children, one of whom is my grandfather. I am considered third generation American. He, like most of them, came to America with less than $10 in his pocket. He married in the US and the rest, as they say, is history.

I understand you are in your mid-twenties. How did you come to the decision to go now, at this time in your life?

Not a very exciting answer, but a truthful one. I and many of my family members have always wanted to go back, but had very little information to go on. I recently relocated to Europe from the US, and began more detailed research on your website and other sources. Because of the low cost of the travel as opposed to the US, it made going now much easier on the wallet.

How did you travel? Any problems or suggestions about traveling to Croatia?

I flew from London to Zagreb and encountered no issues. Once there, I rented a car for my travels around Croatia. Traveling in Croatia is very easy, with ample signage and helpful people along the way.

After your arrival, how did you first make contact with your family? I take it the whole thing was a surprise to them. Is this so?

Not exactly. A colleague of mine put me in touch with someone in Zagreb who knew of a Vukelic' in Zagreb. This gentleman was kind enough to introduce me to him, and translate for us. This Vukelic' was from the same town as us, and knew of a few Vukelic's still there. This was the connection. He made some calls, and let these people know I was coming the following day. Once that call was made, the excitement began. Family drove from Belgrade, Slovenia, and other places in expectation of my arrival!

Describe the first contact?

Well, this is a tough one. Joy, excitement, tears. Hard to describe. Both sides (myself and locals) were estatic. We came to learn that both sides waited generations for this day!!

Did you remember to take gifts?

I kinda failed in that department. But before I left I slipped some personal items to those family members I felt connected with -- the kind of things you cannot buy. I should have brought things though. Live and learn.

Did you find a translator from among the family members?

Yes. I found two people. Both were under 25. I found that many of the really young people could comprehend broken English. No one over 30 in the small village I was in knew English.

People should not let this be a barrier in a decision to go to Croatia. We were able to do is use hand signals, common words, and other forms of communication to learn about one another.

How many different families did you eventually meet who were directly related to you?

Todor's brother stayed in Dreznika, and the people I met were mostly his descendants. There were others who may have been as closely related, but unfortunately I had only so much time with them.

You said you stayed overnight in their house. Describe this experience?

Let's just say I did not sleep too much for several reasons. One was that I was much too excited. Adrenaline ran high, making it hard to sleep. The second reason is because it was very cold. I am not sure if the house had heat or not, but the main doors were not what most westerners may be used to. It was cold, but adequate. And I felt very safe.

How was the food?

PERFECT!! The breads were incredible, the soups good, and the meat wonderful. On my first day, I went to a restaurant with my friend and we ate together. It was different for me as you didn't order separate plates. You decided on common foods, and they brought out a large tray of it for everyone to share. Being that I live alone, there are often not big meals on my table. This was never a problem in Croatia. It was perfect!!

What did you learn of your family history that you did not previously know?

I learned the connection between the people there (the brother who stayed) and in America.

Did you notice any family resemblances?

Have a look at this photo and tell me if there is a resemblance. The very first thing that happened when we first made eye contact was each of us pointing to the other's nose. Our family has a distinctive nose, and we looked very much alike.

Describe the most emotional moment (if it's not too private).

When my grandfather in America spoke on the telephone for the fist time with the people in Dreznika. Tears everywhere. My grandfather was born in the States but his first language was Croatian.

Did you find the house your great grandfather was born in?

YES!! Pictures and all!

Did these people have a difficult time during the recent war?

Yes. Many houses in their small village had been bombed out, and family members were lost.

How are they faring now?

Guess it depends on how you look at life. I think they are fine. Had cars, plenty of food, and a roof over their heads. To me that's plenty, to some not enough because the food isn't caviar and the car isn't a "designer" name. I think the quality of life was good.

When are you going back?

March or April of 2003 for sure.

Do you think any of your family from America will visit someday?

Absolutely. We are already talking about this!! My gradnfather is very old, and repeatedly has said he wants to go back. I hope this will occur.

What surprised you the most during the trip?

How developed Croatia is. I expected to see run-down cities, not a growing metropolis.

Any tips for others who are thinking about doing the same thing?

Don't hesitate. There are a million reasons and excuses not to go, but get past them. The rewards will far, far exceed any costs you have had to incur. Do not be scared of the country. It is safe, fun, and easy to navigate. DO IT!!