Croatian GrbCroatian Genealogy Newsletter

Issue No. 29, 2020


In This Issue

Croatians during the First World War and in the Boer or South African War. Plus a look at a Greek Catholic parish in Croatia. The people behind the the scenes in genealogy is explored with an interview with a Croatian expert, Sanja Frigan Ciuha.

1. Croats in the Anglo-Boer War

2. Neretvans in the Great War

3. Greek Catholic's from Vrlika

4. An interview with Sanja Frigan Ciuha

Map of Croatia Locations mentioned in this issue


Previous Issues

Issue by Number

Subject and Location Index


Genealogy Books

Within Croatia

Outside of Croatia

Genealogy Primer

Croats in the Anglo-Boer War: South Africa 1899-1902

a book review by Grant Karcich

Cover-Boer War

A recently released book depicts the early history of Croat immigration to South Africa and in the process provides insight into aspects of migration from Croatia. Zvonimir Navala's new book Croats in the Anglo-Boer War: South Africa 1899-1902 is the best volume on Croats in South Africa for its research on Croats in that country since T.A. Mursalo's In Search of a Better Life: a story of Croatian Settlers in Southern Africa was released in 1981. By describing the Croats in South Africa over one hundred years ago, Navala has provided a better understanding into the forces that caused Croats to immigrate from Europe to seek a future in Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Canada, and the United States.

Today Croatian authorities estimate that in South Africa there are between 1,500 and 2,000 Croats, who speak Croatian and who are aware of the national and declare themselves Croats. However, the estimate for those with Croatian descendants is about 8,000 individuals in South Africa. Many Croats were deported from South Africa during and immediately following the Boer War, so that much of Croat population came there after the War.

Nalava's book becomes enlightening as he describes who these Croats were, what they were doing in South Africa, and what happened to them during the War and afterwards. It was gold and diamonds that brought Croats to South Africa after 1880. Croats have been coming to South Africa at least since Franjo Drago came in 1754. As Zvonimir Navala writes in his new book:

             "Frano Drago of Herceg Novi first sailed around the south of the African continent in 1754 on his way to Batavia, a Dutch colony in the East Indies, the present-day Jakarta. After the voyage, he transferred to another ship, which was shipwrecked near Cape Town in 1757. Drago survived, along with 58 other crew members, and remained in the south of Africa. He got married in Cape Town, fathered eight children and died at the ripe old age of 85."

Other Croats followed to produce a small population in South Africa. The Dutch colony in South Africa was taken over by the British in 1806 which initiated a conflict that was to span almost a century. The Dutch or Boer's as they called themselves, did not want to live under the British, so they chose to move away from the colony at Cape Town. Some moved to Natal in the west, but that territory too was taken over by the British. The Boers also settled in the interior and formed two republics, but by 1899 those territories were in conflict with the British. The war became a struggle between a David, the Boers, and Goliath, the British. The British used the resources of their Empire to bring in troops and supplies from overseas, while the Boers had only local resources. Many of the Croats who lived and worked in the Boer Republics chose to fight on the Boer side during the Boer War which lasted over two and half years from October 1899 to May 1902.

During the war, 55,000 horses were transported by the British from Rijeka to South Africa for the war effort, though some of the Croats that accompanied them apparently fought on the Boer side. The war took a toll on Croats, some who fought and died in battle, while others were imprisoned by the British. Eight Croats were deported from South Africa for conspiring to assassinate the chief military commander, Lord Roberts. Another twelve were imprisoned in prisoner-of-war camps set up by the British in India, Ceylon, Saint Helena, and Portugal for Boer soldiers. Navala describes the exploits of several Croats who participated in the Boer War. Jan Jerolim Bragević and Ivo Marulić were held in a Portuguese prison but managed to escape. Bragević went to live in the United States where he had a brother, and later moved to Australia, where in 1914 he was imprisoned again, this time as an "enemy subject" or Austrian at the start of World War One.

Baricevic Family
         Marko Baričević and family in front of the "Railway Restaurent" in Pietersburg in 1899 (Courtesy of Z. Navala)

There was Franjo Baroc from Barci near Crikvenica, Croatia who was at the siege of Mafeking and the battle of Magersfontein, where he was wounded, captured by the British and deported to a POW camp in India. Baroc was later decorated in 1920 for his services during the war by the South African state. Stjepan Dobrić an Ivan Stepanić from Rijeka, Croatia fought as volunteers on the Boer side but ended up interned on the island of Saint Helena, as had Napoleon Bonaparte also a century earlier. Dobrić died on the island but Stepanić left for England and the United States. In the battle of Spioenkop, Ivan Busanić and C.H. Jaković participated with the Boers. Jaković was killed in the engagement and his name is engraved on a monument recording the Boer dead. At the same engagement Ulderik Franić from Vrgorac, Croatia died of his wounds.

From the islands south of Rijeka came Giovanni Cella from Cres and Giovanni Marc Bussanich from Veli Lošinj. Cella had served in the Italian cavalry before immigrating to South Africa in 1898. He fought for the Boers in several battles including the one at Driefontein. He was killed in action on the Modder River on April 10, 1900 and today a plaque honours his service. Bussanich had come to South Africa as a child brought by his mother to join their father. Bussanich was later granted citizenship in the Transvaal Republic. He fought in the Pretoria Commando unit but was captured by the British and imprisoned in Ceylon, modern-day Siri Lanka. Navala displays a letter addressed to Bussanich in the POW camp in his book.

         Envelope of a letter addressed to Croat POW M.J. Bussanich in Ceylon. The postal stamp originated from Lussin Grande-Veli Lošinj. Note the letter sent to Busanic in Ceylon (today known as Sir Lanka) is sealed with a red paper marked "OPENED UNDER MARTIAL LAW"(Courtesy of Z. Navala)

Navala began his research on Croats during the Boer War in 2016. He travelled all over South Africa to visit war sites and talk to local historians. At times he entered remote areas where precautions were required. In his words, "in one occasion I had to go to Steynsdorp, place on the border of South Africa and small kingdom of Swaziland (eSwatini today) where some Croatian gold diggers worked around 1880. Place is remote and dangerous. Some friends suggested to me to take an armed escort. I paid a security company for it and there were one man in full war gear with me."

Navala promoted his book before it was published. He gave interviews in Croatia and South Africa. In May of 2019, he spoke at the Creski Anal conference on the island of Cres, Croatia. Navala had his Croatian text translated into English and sent to Dr. Pretorius, a South African authority on the Boer War, for proof reading on fact checking. Fransjohan Pretorius teaches history at the University of Pretoria, South Africa and has written or edited eight books on the Anglo-Boer War. Talks with a Croatian publisher on publishing a Croatian version did not materialize. Navala self-published the English version.

Author: Zvonimir Navala
Title: Croats in the Anglo-Boer War: South Africa 1899-1902

  • Published by Zvonimir Navala, Sonoma, California, USA, 2020
  • Translated from the Croatian by Janko Pukanić, Zagreb, Croatia
  • Edited by Dr. Tian Schutte, Nelspruit, South Africa
  • Cover and interior design by Steven W. Booth, Castaic, California, USA
  • Printed by Publishers Graphics, Earth City, Missouri, USA
  • ISBN: 978-8-578-71817-0

Croats in the Anglo-Boer War can be purchased at Genius Academic Press. It retails for $24 US, slightly more in Canada.

Source: Kroate se rol in Anglo-Boereoorlog in boek belig

Zvonimir Navala was born in Croatia in 1946 where he completed his postgraduate degree. In the early 1990s, he immigrated to South Africa with his family where he remained for a quarter century. He spends summers in Porec where he has an apartment. Zvonimir is currently living in California and is already working on his newest project the Americans in the Anglo-Boer War to be called Americans on the Diamond and Gold Fields of South Africa and in the South African War 1899-1902. In 2021 he plans to produce a Croatian language version of his recent book on Croatians during the Boer War with the help of the Croatian Heritage Foundation.

Read another book review on Croatians in the Anglo-Boer War.

Hear Zvonimir Navala speak in Croatian about Croatians in South Africa during the Boer War.

I remember back in 2017 when Zvonimir Navala contacted me to say he was writing a book about Croats in the Boer War, such an esoteric topic. The only person I knew who had served in the Boer War was George Laidlaw and being Canadian born, he fought for the British in Canada's first foreign war. As a young man in his twenties he had served in Saskatchewan at the Battle of Batoche during the North-West Rebellion of 1885. So he was approaching his 40's when he served with Lord Strathcona’s Horse in South Africa. I wonder if he encountered the Croats in South Africa that Zvonimir writes about? After returning home from the Boer War, Laidlaw received the honorary rank of Lieut.–Colonel in the British army affectionately called the “Colonel” by some of his neighbours. I though getting a perspective from the Boer side would be a novel approach and so I am thrilled to see that Zvonimir succeeded in completing his research. And yes he has written an esoteric book, but that is all the more reason to read it.

Neretvans in the Great War

by Gordan Gledec
On Wednesday, January 15, 2020, in the Croatian State Archives in Zagreb in the "Catalogs" hall, a promotion of the book "Neretvans in the Great War: Testimonies of the participants of the First World War from the Neretva Valley" was held.

The book was published at the end of November by the Matica Hrvatska Branch in Metković. The authors are Ivan Volarević, Ivo Mišur and Ivan Vekić, all three from Metković. In 2018, the trio of the same name set up an exhibition about the Neretvans in the First World War. During the preparation, oral testimonies of the descendants of soldiers from the Neretva were collected. In order not to forget this valuable oral treasure, they decided to print the book.

The representative was Ivo Mišur, Master of Mechanical Engineering. He works as an inspector in the supervision of factory production throughout Europe and the world. He is the author of several scientific and popular articles on history.

The book presents personal belongings of Neretva soldiers, photographs, postcards, letters and part of the military equipment they brought from the battlefield and which their families have preserved as a souvenir. Testimonies of several soldiers were read during the promotion.

In Metković, there is a monument with the names of the victims of fascist terror in the City Park. There is a plaque with a list of those shot after the 2nd st. war on St. Ivan. There is also a monument to the fallen Croatian war veterans on the waterfront, but there is no memorial to the victims of the First World War. The main reason for this is the new state union in which Croatia found itself in 1918, the State and then the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which later grew into Yugoslavia. The main word in the new creation was Serbia, which was not interested in paying tribute and erecting a monument to the soldiers of Austro-Hungary who attacked and defeated it in 1914. In order to correct this injustice, this monograph was published.

The author Mišur emphasized the following:

When we talk about the dead on these lists we always talk about the soldiers, and we forget that they were someone’s sons, brothers, fiancés, friends and behind each of them a hundred years ago there was a void. Gibonni in one poem about sleeping sailors at the bottom of the sea says: These are just kids far from home. And this little girl, who sleeps underground on distant battlefields, should be honored and not allowed to fall into oblivion.

After the author Ivo Mišur presented the book in a half-hour presentation, an interesting discussion developed among the visitors. All visitors received their copy of the book.

The promotion of the book will be held in Metković on February 8, and in the spring it is planned to erect a memorial plaque in honor of the Neretvans who died in this terrible war.

Neretvans in the Great War book cover
Author(s): Ivan Volarević, Ivo Mišur and Ivan Vekić
Title: Neretvani u Velikom ratu : svjedočanstva o sudionicima Prvog svjetskog rata s područja doline Neretve

  • English title: Neretvans in the Great War: testimonies about the participants of the First World War from the area of ​​the Neretva valley
  • Publisher: Metković: Matica hrvatska, Ogranak, 2019
  • ISBN: 9789537141318
Source This article is translated from the Croatian orginial found in

Gordan Gledec has been researching genealogy since 1999. He mainly researches the surnames of his ancestors: Pogledc (Poljanica Bistrička, Zagreb) and Hitrec (Martinci, Zlatar, Zlatar-Bistrica). He has over 2400 individuals in his family bush. He is employed as a professor at the Department of Applied Computing at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, University of Zagreb.

The Greek Catholics of Vrlika

from 8.7.2020.
The book Grkokatolička Vrlika(Greek Catholics Vrlika) has been published. The author is Ivo Mišur, who has been researching the history of Dalmatian Greek Catholics for several years. The book follows the history of the parish of the Holy Trinity in Vrlika, which was founded in 1834 when several hundred Orthodox from Vrlika and the surrounding area joined the Catholic Church. The parish was part of the Dalmatian Vicariate of the Diocese of Križevci. The church of the same name was built in 1843 and consecrated in 1844.

The Greek Catholics of Vrlika were a religious minority in a place with a majority Roman Catholic population and a significant Orthodox population. In specific circumstances, they survived for over a hundred years. Pastors came from northern Croatia. The most famous was Don Ilija Malić. The book reveals the Greek Catholic roots of the famous writer Milan Begović and his lost poem written in honor of the Bishop of Križevci. There were Greek Catholics in Vrlika until the middle of the 20th century. After that, the church gradually fell into disrepair. In the great earthquake that hit Vrlika in 1970, it was significantly damaged, and it was destroyed by dynamite in February 1971.

The book is written in a scientific style with careful citation of references. The backbone of the text consists of the texts of two original scientific articles that were published several years ago, supplemented by new sources and photographs.

Greek Catholic in Vrlika book cover
Author: Ivo Mišur
Title: Grkokatolička Vrlika
Publisher: Zagreb: Ispis, 2020
ISBN: 9789535969921

Source This article is translated from the Croatian orginial found in

Ivo Mišur graduated from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture in Zagreb in 2012. Since then he has been working in the profession, and since 2015 he has been an inspector in the supervision of factories and factory production. In his free time, he researches family, homeland and minority history. mentions that the Greek Catholic Church of Croatia and Serbia (Grkokatolička crkva u Hrvatskoj i Srbiji... is a particular (sui iuris) Eastern Catholic Church which is in full union with the Catholic Church. It consists of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Križevci, covering Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Ruski Krstur, covering Serbia.

Until 2001, the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Križevci had full jurisdiction over all Eastern Catholics of the Byzantine Rite throughout the entire territory of former Yugoslavia, including all of its successor states: Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and North Macedonia. During that time, it mostly gathered its faithful among the Croats in central and eastern Croatia, among the Pannonian Rusyns or Ukrainians in eastern Croatia, northern Bosnia and northern Serbia and among Macedonians in North Macedonia.

The Eparchy of Križevci reported for the year 2010 a total of 21,509 faithful (in Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina).

Notes: Vrlika is approximately 50 kilometres north of Split and close to the Bosnian border. Križevci is a town northeast of Zagreb. The liturgy of the Greek Catholic Church of Croatia uses the Slavonic form of the Byzantine Rite, in the Old Church Slavonic language and the Cyrillic alphabet. In previously centuries, the Roman Catholic churches in Istria and Dalmatia used the Byzantine Rite, using the Old Church Slavonic language in the Glagolitic alphabet. The use of the Glagolitic is no longer used in Croatian churches.

Tracing Croatian family roots back in the old land: an interview with Sanja Frigan Ciuha

by croatiaweek August 28, 2019

With such a huge diaspora, more and more people of Croatian origin around the world are becoming interested in trying to trace their family history back in the ‘old land’. With Croatia having such a rich and vast history, a lot of people who are looking at discovering their family history do not know how or where to start.

We spoke to Croatian genealogist Sanja Frigan Ciuha, who helps people trace their family roots in Croatia through her genealogy service Croatian Roots, to give us an insight in to what can be a very rewarding field.

Born in Zagreb, Sanja graduated from the University of Zagreb with degrees in history and the Russian language. She soon became a teacher, teaching history in a high school in Zagreb. After initially doing genealogical research as a hobby, tracing her own family tree down to the year 1699, she started working as a professional genealogist, researching family trees of hundreds of customers of Croatian origin spread out all over the world (USA, Canada, Australia and South America). She is also one of the founders of the Croatian genealogical society “Pavao Ritter Vitezović“.

Sanja Frigan Ciuha
Sanja Frigan Ciuha (

Hello Sanja, can you tell us how you got into genealogy?

Good day. My brother went to live in the United States back in 1988. It was from him that I got the idea to trace our Frigan family tree. That was back in 1994. We did not meet either of our grandfathers, I barely remember one grandmother, and our parents never told us about our family history. So I started exploring our family first, and it was of benefit to me as a history teacher. At my brother’s initiative, there was even an advertisement about me in the Zajedničar newspaper. So people started to find out about me. And so, I’ve been dealing with genealogy for 25 years.

Can you tell us a bit about services you offer people who are interested in tracing their roots?

It is well known that Croatia has had major migration waves throughout history (especially at the turn of the 20th century and after the Second World War). The descendants of the then emigrants are interested in exploring their genealogy tree and linking it to possible relatives in the old homeland.

I offer these people research on birth, marriage and death registers, I write letters to people with their surnames to find living relatives, sometimes visit local archives in case there are no sources in Zagreb, search for original birth certificates or certified birth copies of their ancestors from local archives or birth registry offices, sometimes I drive them to their hometown.

What is involved in researching a family history?

My research is very narrow and focused on searching the registry books page by page. When I come across important information, then I take a photo of it and send it to clients.

In genealogy, one can still explore military books, cadastral maps, search travel documents, lists of church tithes. However, my time is very limited because I work full time in a high school in Zagreb. Therefore, I do not extend my research to these areas.

How far back can you usually trace?

In order to go as far as possible in the past, the main prerequisite is that there are registers. If the books exist, then you reach the first half of the 18th century, sometimes it goes into the 17th century. Aggravating circumstances can be things like unreadable manuscripts, damaged books, in some coastal places Glagolitic script was used which I am not able to read.

When did Croatian surnames originate and what is the connection with the ending ‘ić’? The registers began to be kept from the 16th century in response to the Catholic Church’s reformation, it was necessary to enumerate the population from which the Church tithes were collected. They are our main and rich source of Croatian surnames.

Some surnames are associated with matrons (female names Kate, Mare, Bare), so the surnames Katić, Barić, Marić were created, then with patrons (male names Jure, Šime, Bartol, Lovro) so the surnames like Jurić, Šimić, Bartolić or Lovrić were created.

The ending “ić” has the function of emphasising that it is “the little one of Jure” or “the son of Bartol”, etc. A lot of surnames were connected with people’s professions – Kovač (blacksmith), Kuhar (cook), Stolar (carpenter), whilst some surnames indicated that in the past the child was abandoned eg Nahod, some surnames reflected physical characteristics such Čosić, Debeljak, Žutić etc. There are also very funny surnames that exist like Salata (salad) and Kupus (cabbage).

The Church is an important source for information (Photo: Francisco Anzola/CC)

Do you have any interesting stories from your work tracing family roots and finding ancestors? Of course, I researched the last name Peteh from Žminj (Istria) a long time ago. Peteh is a rooster, a cock. And all was well and then somewhere in the 20s they lost track, Until I realised that Italians, during the fascist rule in Istria, had completely changed their last name to Gallo, which was rooster in Italian.

It was quite interesting when no one answered my letters that I sent to individual addresses after researching the surname Pavelić. Then I went to Mirogoj and to one grave, which I knew belonged to this family, put a letter in a plastic envelope in the hope that someone would find it. It wasn’t long, a lady from that family answered. And the consequence is that Barb from America met a large number of her family here in Zagreb. It was an honour to spend the day with them.

What advice would you give someone wanting to know more about their family roots in Croatia? I think they should first collect all the possible information about their family (about place, age). The more data you have, the more likely you are to succeed. It is also useful to use Ellis Island because it is through this port that many people come to America. There is also an online version of Family Search books today, so people can research their genealogy themselves, then sites like My Heritage and Ancestry, etc. Although, some of these sites also contain incorrect or approximate information.

How do most people get in contact with you?

Most often through my site However, I also gained a large number of clients through Mr. Robert Jerin, who brings Croatian-born Americans to Croatia every year. Well, this is the second time this year. He is the creator of the Facebook page Croatian Heritage and Genealogy where people exchange experiences, ask for advice, write Croatian recipes etc.

SourceThis article appeared in

Some time ago, when this newsletter was starting up, I received an email from Sanja's brother who was living in New York City. He wanted to know if his sister could supplement her income by doing professional genealogy work. I met with him and explained some of the work involved and told him it was certainly possible, since much of Croatian research needs to be done at local sources and his sister was close to key archival institutions. A summer of so later, I met with Sanja in Zagreb and encouraged her desire to become a genealogist. I am glad she continues to provide her service in this area.