March 9, 2019
Human history is a story of migration, and Slovenes are no exception.
In the last century and a half many Slovenes emigrated to various New Worlds, especially North America, with the diaspora finding new homes far from the land of their birth. As such, over time and with each generation their hometowns became more and more distant, until their descendants lost touch with their roots.
As such, tor many who would like to reconnect with their family origins and explore their roots a little, or a lot, of help is often needed. And this is where Urban Gulič Tomšič comes in.
Urban, what exactly do you do?
I am an ancestry guide, sometimes I also call myself an ancestry detective as my job involves a lot of investigative work.
Say I was a USA citizen who had just discovered I had some Slovenian roots and would like to learn more. How could you help me?
My help would almost certainly begin with an exchange of emails. You would need to give me all the information you’ve got so that I can have some grounds on what or who we are looking for. I advise clients about the time they might need in Slovenia, locations to stay and visit, and information to help them travel hassle free to Slovenia. However, my actual services begin with data-gathering and investigation, be it on my own or together with my clients.
We begin with gathering the information in your country, in the example of someone in the US one of the resources is Ellis Island records of immigrants, and then proceed with our work in Slovenia. In many cases the names of towns and villages are in German and also in various fonts, such as Gothic script. It happens as well that five or more villages of the same name emerge while looking for a person’s place of origin. I clarify all this and prepare the grounds for our common investigation.
The next step is to go and visit the related archives. I sometimes do this task on my own in case my clients don’t have enough time for a long enough visit.
Equipped with this data we then go on our trip around Slovenia. We visit local parishes and check their archives as well, old cemeteries, we knock on people doors and pieces of information start to come together.
Most of the times we meet living relatives, find old houses or their ruins, even neighbours in possession of old photos and oral history.
Photo: Ancestry Slovenia
How come you decided to do this?
My friend and a fellow tour guide Barbara once called me to help with ancestry guiding, because one of hers colleagues got sick. I took the tour and got immediately hooked. I enjoyed the company of my clients but also the research, it made me feel like Sherlock Holmes. I also felt very happy when we found what we were looking for. I wanted to do more of this so I launched my own Slovenian Genealogy website.
Where do your clients mostly come from?
Most of my clients come from the USA, mainly Cleveland and Chicago, as well as California, but I get people from everywhere Slovenians moved long enough ago for their descendants to have lost touch with the old country.
Which part of Slovenia do your clients mostly originate from, is there a region that stands out in this respect?
Many people emigrated from the areas of Posavje and Dolenjska (Lower Carniola), as the living conditions at the end of 19th century were really bad in these areas. In general the majority of my research is conducted in the eastern part of Slovenia.
My clients are mostly descendants of this first wave of emigration (roughly between the years 1880 and 1920), which was predominantly economic in nature. Those who emigrated for political reasons following the end of WWII mostly haven’t lost a touch yet, as this wasn’t that long ago.
As a tour guide, what are the places you would recommend to visit in Slovenia besides the usual destinations of Bled, Ljubljana Castle and Postojna Cave?
Basically in Slovenia whether you head in one direction or another you can stumble upon a place of beauty: Soča Valley, the lovely city of Piran on the coast, the wine region of Goriška brda, Lake Bohinj, Velika Planina, the Mercury mine of Idrija and Škocjan Caves, to name just a few.
Urban, thank you for talking to us.
For more information please visit Ancestry Slovenia.