Discovering Our Family History

Discovering Our Family History

While working on our bucket list my fiancée remembered that she had written a letter to her future self as part of a sophomore project in high school.  The idea was to open and read it years later to see how well you predicted the person you would become.  The project also involved documenting your family tree, gathering old photos, and interviewing your grandparents.  As we started talking about what she had learned about her ancestors it reignited an interest to learn more about my family history.  I created a family tree at some point in junior high or high school but had since lost track of it and the genealogy bug.

On October 1st I decided to sign up for a 14-day trial on and quickly found the hunt for new information addicting.  There are millions of census, birth, death, marriage, newspaper, and other records available and searching for data about your specific relatives is extremely time consuming.  Hours have to be spent trying to decipher hand writing and poor quality scans of documents that date back to the 19th and 20th centuries.  It might sound tedious but finding a scrap of evidence that links to one of my ancestors is exciting.

I was also struck by the sense of connection I felt to all these members of my extended family—even those that had passed long before I was born.  Over the weeks I also had an opportunity to talk to and exchange emails with my parents, aunts, uncles, and first/second cousins.  I feel grateful that this research enabled me to make a connection to relatives that I had not spoken to in years and some that I had never known about.


After a few days of research I was able to confirm that my paternal great grandparents, Paul and Mary Hinek, did originate from Croatia.  This matched the stories I had heard growing up.  Initially it seemed like they might be from Hungary and Austria, but I quickly learned that the shifting boarders at this time resulted in Hungary, Austria, and Yugoslavia all being used on official documents between 1900-1950.

Pavo Hinek was born in Borova, Virovitica-Podravina, Croatia on January 1, 1860.  His first name was anglicized to Paul after immigrating to the United States in 1904.  Marija Hinek (née Wencl) was born in Nova Bukovica, Virovitica-Podravina, Croatia on October 31, 1867.  Her first name was anglicized to Mary, and she immigrated to the United States in 1905 with the four children that had been born in Croatia: Mary, Ethel, Paul, and Veronica.  My paternal grandfather, Frank, and his younger sister Teresa were born after the family had settled in Wisconsin.

The photo below was taken some time between 1910-1915 given the ages of the children. Front Row (left to right): Veronica, Paul (Sr.), Frank, Theresa, Mary, and Paul (Jr.) Back Row (left to right): Mary, Ethel

Hinek family in the early 1900s
Paul and Mary Hinek along with their six children

Fernández Vargas

My paternal great grandparents were born in Costa Rica.  I’m not sure exactly where they were born yet, but their names were Julio Angel Fernández Cordero and Elvira Vargas Quiros.  Julio was born on April 12, 1885 and Elvira on March 13, 1897.  My grandmother, Maria Cristina Fernández Vargas, was born January 22, 1918 and still lives in Costa Rica as of the date this post was published.


I’ve had a hard time finding facts on this lineage.  Based on what I’ve been told by relatives my maternal great grandparents were John Norval and Mary Flood from England.  My grandfather, Archibald Owen Norval, was born September, 10 1925 in Edmonton, England and first moved to North America in the mid 1940s.


Clarence Miller Hursh and Claire Winnifred Griffey were born in Pennsylvania on October 11, 1882 and August 26, 1891, respectively.  My maternal grandmother, Mary Margaret Hursh, was born in Pennsylvania as well on May 10, 1922.

Falbaum, Hamel, Adams, Gardiner

My fiancée already had a lot of information on her family history.  Some of the lines have been traced back as far as the 1600s.  I found more records and corrected a few errors that will help immensely with future research.  In a future post we’ll share more about this side of the family since this one is already getting quite long.

Future Family History Research

Given my experience over the past three weeks it has become clear that this is a project that could consume as much time as you are willing to dedicate.  In a sense it wouldn’t be any fun if all of the information was readily available as I find the discoveries a major motivating factor.  However, this certainly isn’t something everyone has an interest in.  I feel a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for current and future generations.  I wish I had known more about my family history growing up especially the interesting stories that make us unique.  This blog will attempt record what we learn researching and discovering our family history.  If we share an ancestor we would love to hear from you and will openly share what we have learned.

2 thoughts on “Discovering Our Family History

  1. Hey Frank,

    I’m enjoying your blog, you’ve made some interesting discoveries. Much of the stuff about the Hineks is news to me. I figured the name was Slavic, but it’s good to know with more specificity. I look forward to hearing any more stories you might dig up about both sides. Genealogy has always been an interest of mine, but I never took the time to start digging. Thank you for your efforts!


    1. Hey Jonathan,

      Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words. I just started seriously researching family history a few months ago but already have a much better understanding. Fortunately, a few of our ancestors took the time to hold on to family heirlooms and letters, so I have a lot more to share in the coming months.

      I’m not sure how much you’ve heard about the adventure our grandfather embarked on back in the 1940s, but I have some interesting stories that I’m working on publishing soon.

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