Luka Misov Peyovich (1891-1963)
A memorial to my Serbian grandfather from Montenegro. I hope to find lost family connections. Comments from family and friends are especially welcome.
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Introduction - First Musings
18 July 2009 | Maryland, USA
I really never knew my maternal grandfather. He died when I was only 14 months old. All I've ever known is what I've heard from my mother over the years.
He was born and raised in Montenegro, which for a while was part of Yugoslavia, before that country disintegrated in the 1990s. He was Serbian, and I remember asking my mother when I was a young teenager why he wasn't "Montenegrin" since that's where he was born and raised. Her answer was, "The Montenegrins are the true Serbs." I never understood what that meant until I recently began reading some history about the area.
It all goes back to the area's subjugation to the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires between the 1300s and early 1900s. Montenegro, home to many Serbs, managed to maintain more independence from the warring empires than Serbia did. That independence included cultural and religious practices. So Serbs elsewhere in the Balkans tended to regard the Serbs in Montenegro as retaining a truer Serbian identity than they could.
It's all very complex, and I don't claim to really understand much about this side of my heritage. Although my mother was born in Belgrade, she wasn't even two years old when the family came to the United States. So although my siblings and I are first generation American on that side, we were brought up as Americans, not "Serbian-Americans."
But while I've been researching my family history on my father's side for more than 10 years, I've recently been drawn to my mother's side. I hope to find out more about her ancestors, even though I don't speak or read any of the languages involved. Maybe my maternal grandparents are reaching out from the other side and giving me a nudge. My mother's never told me much about her father, but I'm hoping she'll continue to tell me things I haven't heard before like she did at Easter earlier this year. That provided the final inspiration I needed to start work on a novel....
28 August 1912 | New York, NY
Luka arrived in the United States with four of his siblings at the Port of New York on 28 August 1912. They had left Trieste on 6 August 1912 aboard the Carpathia. It was just 4 months earlier that the ship had rescued the survivors of the Titanic.
The five siblings were heading to Chicago, Illinois, where their brother "Chris" was already living. I think the original form of his name would have been Krcun or Kristijan.
Luka was 19, his sister Jonica was 20, brother Dušan was 14, brother Miloš was 11, and sister Marija was 9, according to the ages recorded on the passenger list. At some point in time, Jonica reportedly went back to Montenegro. The others stayed in the United States. Dušan (known as Daniel in the United States) also returned to Yugoslavia at some point - my mother thinks it was the early 1960s. He was living there when he died in 1972.
I try to imagine what it was like for five young siblings to make such a trip on their own. From what I understand, their mother had died sometime before, and their father remained in Montenegro. At least they had each other and a brother who was already in the country whom they were going to meet. So many immigrants to the United States didn't even have that. It must have been a leap of faith and taken a lot of courage to make such a trip, even if you did know some people who had already done it.
Early Years in America
1910s-1920 | USA
I'm not sure exactly how my grandfather spent his first years in the United States. Having arrived in August 1912, he would have been 20 years old, not the 19 recorded on the Carpathia's passenger list.
The first stop would have been Chicago, which is where his older brother Kris was living. But I next pick him up for sure when he registered for the draft for World War I. On 5 June 1917, he was living in Granite City, Madison County, Illinois. He was working as an interpreter for the Commonwealth Steel Company. The handwriting on the registration card isn't clear, but I checked the 1917 St. Louis City Directory, and there was a company by that name. He had declared for American citizenship at that time.
Luka did serve overseas with the American army. He had shipped out on 27 May 1918 for France and served as a Private First Class in Company A of the 303rd Field Signal Battalion. He took part in offensives in St. Michel and Meuse-Argonne and arrived back in the United States on 13 May 1919.
His return to the United States took him to St. Louis, Missouri, where in January 1920 he applied for a United States passport as an American citizen to return to Europe. He received the passport in February. His passport application gave an address in St. Louis, but he wasn't listed at that location in the 1920 federal census. However, he was listed in the 1920-1921 Detroit City Directory - maybe he'd already moved there by the time the census taker got to his old residence in St. Louis. Or maybe he was just missed in the census. But in the Detroit City directory he was listed at 4306 (1304) Coplin Ave. According to the information in the directory, he was working as a toolmaker (page 1862). That is the same address given for his brother Kris in the 1920 census.
A Temporary Return to Europe
1920s | Europe
At some point in 1920, Luka Peyovich returned to Europe. He was now an American citizen and traveling on an American passport. His passport application indicated he was going to travel to England, Denmark, France, Italy, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later to become Yugoslavia). He was working as an importer and exporter at the time.
I don't know whether or not he visited all of these countries. But he did certainly go to Belgrade where he met my grandmother, Aneta Stamulis. I've never heard how they actually met, but it could have been at the Bank of France, where Aneta was working as a translator. I've heard no stories from family as to when they met and how long they dated before they married around 1922. I also don't know how he was employed during this period. He may have continued to do importing and exporting. He obtained a limited service passport from the American Consulate in Belgrade for the return trip to the United States, and it listed his occupation as "agent."
Luka and Aneta remained in Belgrade for several years, and their three eldest children were born there, including my mother. But on 17 June 1929, the family arrived in New York aboard the SS Roma. The family had left from Genoa, Italy, ten days before. Economic conditions in Europe were already deteriorating, but just four months after the family arrived in the United States, the Great Depression would hit there as well.
Luka's Return to the US
1930s | Midwest, USA
Luka and his family arrived in the United States just four months before the Great Depression hit the United States. The family made its way to Detroit, Michigan, where some of Luka's family was living at the time.
The Detroit City Directory for 1929-1930 listed the family on Saint Aubins Avenue, and Luka was a 'manager,' although the directory doesn't indicate for what type of business. His younger brothers Daniel (Dushan) and Michael (Milos) were living with him.
By the time the 1930 federal census was taken on 1 April 1930, Luka and his family had moved down to Gary, Indiana. There, he was enumerated as a head of household on Monroe Street. He was working as an insurance agent. My mother remembers that he didn't stay in this position long because the insurance company, despite taking money from immigrants for premiums, wouldn't pay any claims for them. Understandably, this didn't set well with him.
According to my mother, the family made a move to St. Louis, Missouri, before settling in Chicago, Illinois, in the 1940s. It was in Chicago that she and her siblings finished grade school and high school. The 1940 census lists the family living on Escanaba Street in Chicago. "Louis" Peyovich was a reporter and working as a writer on a WPA project.
Luka's Life Works
1930s-1963 | USA
After returning to the United States, Luka held a variety of jobs to support the family. It was difficult, especially during the Depression, but somehow the family got by. My grandmother would willingly have taken a job herself to bring in more money, but my grandfather was very traditional. He wouldn't hear of his wife working outside the home, no matter how much the family could have used the money. Luka had worked as an importer and exporter during his first stay in the country, but on his permanent return he worked as a manager and insurance agent.
Like many families in the United States during the Depression, the family moved from place to place, trying to make a living. After spending a very short time in Detroit, where they were listed in the 1929-1930 city directory, the family moved to Gary, Indiana, then St. Louis, Missouri, and then very quickly to Chicago, Illinois.
But Luka's real passions were writing and politics. He wrote a number of books on the Serbian experience in the United States and immigration. My mother recently told me that some of his writing was for the WPA -- something I had never known before. He also wrote poetry and short stories and a play. And he was a writer and editor for various Serbian-American newspapers and magazines.
When it came to politics, Luka was staunchly anti-Communist and hoped for the restoration of the Yugoslav monarchy after the war. I can just imagine why some of his publications are in the Russian archives. During World War II, and after, Luka worked to bring displaced Europeans to the United States, and he was the Executive Secretary of the Serbian National Defense Council of America. He spoke before President Truman's Commission on Immigration and Naturalization, and he met the President at the White House on 14 April 1952.
He was highly outspoken in his views on Communism, and when Tito seized power in Yugoslavia and turned it into a communist state, Luka must have realized at some point that he would never be able to return home again. If King Petar II Karageorgevich (Karadjordjevic) had been able to return to the throne, things might have been very different for my grandfather.
Cultural and Generational Differences
1950s | Illinois
One of the stories my mother told me about my grandfather brings home the cultural, social and generational differences that comprise this so-called "melting pot" that is the United States.
My parents bought their first house in the early 1950s, a small two-bedroom home in a town about 60 miles from Chicago that was probably built in the 1930s or 1940s. The backyard of the house wasn't particularly big or small for the time. This town was too far from the city to be considered a true suburb at the time, but the post-war trend towards suburbanization was in full swing as GIs returned home, got married and started to raise families. My parents fell into that mode.
Of course, my parents soon invited their own parents to see the new home. While my father had grown up on a farm, my mother had spent her entire life in cities, living in apartment buildings. Neither my father's parents nor hers had ever owned a home. My paternal grandparents were tenant farmers, and my maternal grandparents came from a part of the world where few people owned land and many city dwellers rented their homes. Land for them was a difficult-to-obtain commodity.
So when Luka and Aneta made their first visit to their daughter's new home, my grandfather must have thought this was a wasted use of valuable property. He apparently looked around and soon asked, "Why do you need so much land in the back? You should build a house there and rent it out."
I don't think my mother was ever really able to explain this part of "the American Dream" to her father.
Final Resting Place
4 December 1963 | Libertyville, IL
Luka is buried in the St Sava Serbian Orthodox Cemetery in Libertyville, Illinois. I remember visiting the grave every Memorial Day weekend with my parents when I was little. After we finished weeding and placing fresh flowers there, we would stop in the church so my mother could light a candle for her father. There were usually very few people around.
Then one year (1971), the church and cemetery were filled with people. I was only 8 years old, but it made an impression on me. I didn't really understand what was different, but I've always remembered that we filed through the church to see a grave. I can't remember if it struck me as odd that someone was buried in the church. But these days, I think I know why that year was different. The exiled Yugoslav king, Petar II, had died in November 1970, and he was buried in the church at St Sava. That Memorial Day was the first one following his death, and many Serbs and Serbian-Americans must have come to pay their respects. King Petar is the only monarch buried on American soil. (UPDATE: 23 January 2013—the remains of King Petar have been returned to Serbia at the request of his son, Aleksandar).
But through the years, I've always remembered the church had plain white walls. So when I went to visit my grandparents' grave in 2009 for the first time since 1981, I couldn't believe my eyes. Every inch of the interior of the church was painted in stunning frescos. I returned in 2010 and one of the young seminarians was in the church that day. He said the frescos were done in 2008 by a Serbian artist from Belgrade. The uploaded photos for this story were taken by a friend of mine who is an incredible photographer. I wish I had half her skills with a camera. Even with her eye for great images, she had a hard time knowing where to begin.
I think my grandparents would be happy with the change.