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Last week I got inspired by a patron who had found some Mexican records from around the year 1800 and started to review an old loose end on my own family tree.

Although most of my ancestors are Polish or Ukrainian, there is one Austrian soldier who was stationed in Galicia and married one of my great great grandmothers. Isn’t it always the odd one who captures our attention? Anyway I began looking through some old information and realized that there were still some films left to order that might give an indication of my ancestor Joseph’s history.

After filling out the LDS form, I rechecked some information about the possible geographic location of his surname in Austria.  I came upon the region containing the town of Gmünd in Lower Austria. As I Googled the town, I came across the most amazing story! According to a web page posted by the Austrian Philatelic Society, Gmünd was the site of a World War I refugee camp. “In September of 1914, Gmünd was designated as the site of a refugee camp for Ruthenian (Ukrainian) evacuees from the eastern Austrian crownlands.” This camp at one point contained over 30,000 people, some of whom came by rail, while others traveled many miles on foot. Although most of the refugees were Ukrainians, there were also Slovenians, Italians, and Croats.

The vastness of this camp amazes me. There were houses, a fire station, bakeries, religious facilities, schools and much more. There were choirs and operatic performances. Occasionally there were ethnic conflicts, but overall life at the camp seems to have been not at all harsh.

Please visit this site for the wealth of information there and also for the images, which are many and wondrous. I cannot help but share just one via this post, which is a group of women of a singing group dressed in folk costumes. When I think of my Joseph leaving Austria for Galicia and  a century later of all those refugees leaving Galicia for Austria, I have renewed respect for the human survival instinct and sadness for all those who could not survive. Thank you to the authors of this article, Ingert Kuzych, Roman Dubyniak and Peter Cybaniak!

I do not know yet if Joseph really did come from here, but I feel a closeness to it already. Now to see if the microfilms will contain any more clues!

A ladies singing group