“A novel is a progress toward an event, after which nothing will ever be the same again.” A turning point reverses the previous world, and gives you a whole new identity. It burns up your past in a conflagration of everything you’ve ever known. To go on, you must forget who you were. That’s a turning point. No way back.A Turning Point in my life came late 2010 when I chose to end my marriage right after I started my business. It wasn’t until mid-2012 I was able to move out and start a new life. Another Turning Point. Since that time, many Turning Points have been presented. Difficult and painful choices were made. Life has gone up and down, as it usually does. People came and went, including family. I also began walking a path of spirituality to help me deal with all that had happened in my marriage and life. Organized religion wasn’t doing it for me. I began listening more to my intuition and reading about all those beings (angels, masters, relatives, guides, etc.) who exist to help us on our soul’s journey. I read about the meaning of dreams, reincarnation, and past lives. As I shifted, dealt with some of my baggage, forgave myself and others of things, and let go, my awareness grew as did my soul. There was less fear about living. My heart began to feel lighter, and slowly, more open. Then, two souls appeared soon after I moved out that helped move me forward, love me unconditionally, and brought others into the picture to help shape my life and especially my career. These souls were my great grandfather Joseph Kokoska and my cousin James Privoznik. If you’ve heard my talk “Finishing the Story” or read my book “Stories of the Lost” you might know a little about Joseph but more about his brother Michael who was killed in WWI. James was killed in WWII and still sleeps in Luxembourg Cemetery. I talk about him all the time on my blog, in my books, and social media. Joseph seems to have been with me a long time but I was more aware of his presence after I moved out. James showed up late summer 2012, after four people contacted me about him over a weekend. I had not researched his service beyond getting his Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF.) Many people in the genealogy world say, if a person or document appears – pay attention! Four people in a few days – yes I was paying attention. I started his research but never expected to write his story or cross Europe in his footsteps in April-May 2015. Nor did I expect to visit him again on my October 2015 trip. James’ research pushed me into the world of World War II soldier research in ways I never expected. Now, back to the point…..A turning point reverses the previous world, and gives you a whole new identity. It burns up your past in a conflagration of everything you’ve ever known. To go on, you must forget who you were. That’s a turning point. No way back. The same can be said for World War II research. We have a starting point which could be a story, a soldier, a photograph, an artifact, or an event. When we choose to take the journey of that research, we travel a bumpy, twisty, often obstacle ridden road. Along that road we meet many people who enrich our experience and help us continue to move forward. We gather clues as we travel and uncover secrets buried deep in the recesses of the past. Exploring these secrets and revealing them, can cause a turning point for many. The journey we take as we research our soldier can take us to unexpected places where we have to confront our own issues, insecurities, fears, wishes and dreams. We can travel literally and figuratively across oceans and continents, across farm fields, rolling hills, and through magical forests, as we uncover the story and reveal the truth and lessons which exist. Traveling across a continent can open new doors to experiences, people, places, and things. It can also dredge up the past and things hidden, of which we may not have been aware. It can bring pain, fear, and love to the surface. Pain and fear we may not understand. Love which leaves us confused. The journey across land can take us deep within ourselves. Each person we meet along our journey can impact us in big and small ways. For me, the most important people are those that stand with us at a crossroads. Crossroads lead to Turning Points. On my first trip to Europe, I stood at a crossroads in a sacred place full of love, strength, fear, bloodshed, and power. A crossroads where two hearts in this life, joined after they had been separated many times in the past. In that moment they joined the past with the present. The fear with love. Desire with hope. The impossible with the possible. Laughter, harmony, peace, joy, and love all mingled together at those crossroads. In that moment it was time to make a choice – return to the past or live in the present. Heal the pain and create a new future, or remain stuck standing between two worlds across time and space. All of this was orchestrated by someone long gone but never forgotten. Someone who knew both their hearts. Someone who knew how to heal her as she had healed him. There was still much to be done and this was only the first step. At that crossroads no wrong step could be taken. Each path led to greater love, hope, peace, and healing for her and many others. Her heart and soul knew this man standing before her was a key to unlocking something dark and hidden deep inside her, even if her head did not yet know. A connection made. Confusion reigned as sparks flew in bright colors around them. A heart that understood how deeply she felt and appreciated that about her. A heart who had and would take care of her through good and bad. A heart that brought her home to a land where she could make a difference in her life and others. The journey they took together was not easy and they parted at another crossroads because it is what their souls had agreed. Some people greet us for part of our travels, while others stay. Those who stay often have different roles along the route. They provide laughter, a release. Love, acceptance, support, strength. They bring a challenge or darkness to be fought with love and forgiveness. They teach and provide clues for us to piece together the vast puzzle of our soul’s journey. Those Turning Points and the crossroads at which I stood earlier this year, led to the journey I would take in October to Europe, alone. That trip was destined to be taken without anyone but myself. Was it scary at first? Yes. Did I have things to prove to myself? Absolutely. And, there were new people to meet, experiences to be had, challenges to be overcome, forgiveness to be given, love shared, lessons learned, things to release, and inspiration spread. As it turns out on this trip, there were new crossroads in which past and present merged. Crossroads which led to new Turning Points. Over the past three years, I realize I was put on this earth to do several things. Two main things are to be a war storyteller and healer, with no holds barred. I hope the posts about my trip bring something to your awareness. Make you question things you’ve held close. Release what no longer serves you. Opens your heart and soul. And maybe most importantly, encourages you to write your stories and those of your family. These posts are only the beginning of what I’m offering the world through my work. Stay tuned………
April 13, 2015 I made my first trip to Europe. Three weeks, six countries, and I saw five minutes of a lot of things. It was the most incredible trip I had ever taken. An experience for which I will be forever grateful. Changed my life, my perspective, and my work. That trip also took me on a spiritual journey unlike any other and opened my heart and soul up more than it had been. The soldiers who were already communicating with me, were now doing so at a higher level. It was a little crazy, unnerving at times, and amazingly cool. The writing I did during and after that trip allowed me to heal things within myself but also others through my books and programs.
Before I left Amsterdam on 6 May, the universe already had plans to bring me back in October. Having never traveled solo overseas, this idea was both scary and exciting. A good friend had been telling me for a year to travel alone, but it wasn’t time yet. I wasn’t ready until October 2015. Too many other things had to be let go of and healed or written before I could go.
On 13 October 2015, I boarded a plane in Chicago and flew back to Amsterdam, alone. Sitting on the plane, I knew the next three weeks would change my life in unexpected ways, bringing blessings, sadness, joy, inspiration, incredible experiences, relaxation, new opportunities, many new friends, an opportunity for balance, and the opportunity to release things which no longer served me. The trip also provided another major spiritual shift in my life. I invite you to travel with me in my soldier’s footsteps.
13-14 October 2015
Planning a European trip has its challenges from booking the flight, car rental, places to stay, and what you want to do. Add a layer of lecturing four times and another layer of scheduling time to meet a lot of Facebook friends who do WWII research, while I was there. I went with the flow, which a year ago I would not have done. My schedule changed daily the last two weeks before I departed, often between 3 and 4 a.m. as my friends in Europe would message me to confirm or arrange something. I even finalized details of my final speaking engagement right before I boarded the plane! While some people (and the me a year ago) might not have done well with this ‘go with the flow’ attitude, it absolutely worked for me.
I departed Chicago after 6 p.m. and arrived in Amsterdam by 9:30 a.m. their time (2:30 a.m. our time.) Made my way through customs and headed across the city-like Schiphol Airport to the car rental area. It all went smoothly. Soon I was on my way to my first destination, about 3.5 hours away, BASTOGNE!
As I drove south though the Netherlands into Belgium, it snowed! Not much, just enough to cover the trees and look beautiful and magical. Driving after being up, technically at 2:30 a.m. is not so fun, but there are nice gas/restaurant station areas along the highway in the Netherlands. These are excellent places to stop for coffee and a yummy lunch. Stopping half-way to Bastogne as the snow fell was a good idea. I counted my many blessings over that lunch and pinched myself a lot because I couldn’t believe I was actually in Europe by myself!
When I arrived in Bastogne, I checked into the Hotel Melba. This is where everyone said to stay. I’m glad I listened to their advice. The staff was wonderful and helpful, room was comfortable, with a view from the back of old homes and a field with donkeys. They could be heard at all times of the day.
I spent part of two days in Bastogne in May, so had an idea of where things were. Since it was late afternoon, to stay awake, I took a walk down to the tank and main street. First stop, with my journal in hand, was the Boulangerie Courtois for a coffee and piece of something decadent. I stayed in the bakery about an hour, again counting my blessings and pinching myself, while writing and enjoying my dessert.
When the dessert was gone I walked back to the hotel by way of the 101st Airborne Museum – Le Mess – probably my favorite place in Bastogne. I did not go inside because they had just closed. My visit was planned for Friday. Instead, I returned to my room to catch up on email and prepare for the next day when I would meet Tom Scholtes and Doug Mitchell and see the Sauer River Crossing sites and visit my cousin James Privoznik in Luxembourg Cemetery.
Hotel Melba has a restaurant and I went down before dinner to enjoy a Jupiler beer at the bar while listening to a conversation by an American family. Dinner was a fantastic steak with loads of vegetables. I enjoyed it immensely while again, listening to the conversations of those around me. The American family was seated at the table next to me and I heard about their visit to areas around Bastogne. Now, I used to be quiet and not interrupt total strangers conversations, but we all grow and change.
I heard the son say they would skip the museum in Bastogne the next day and at that point I had to interrupt and ask, which museum. He replied Le Mess. At that point I inserted myself into the conversation and told them they absolutely could not miss Le mess. That led to a longer conversation about why we were both in Europe, what I did for work, and them assuring me they would visit the museum. At that point, I finished my coffee and went upstairs to bed.
The son and I are now Facebook friends and we followed the others trips and had interesting conversations. You never know who you will meet when you travel. Or how it will change your plans and experiences.
At the end of my first very long travel day I was completely content. Look what I had done! Traveling solo! Who knew what the rest of the three weeks would bring. I was sure as I drifted to sleep, thanking the Gods and Angels for the amazing day, the trip would change my life and in some way, the lives of all those I would meet or encounter, including my army of soldiers, sailors, and Marines, who are always with me.
© 2015 Jennifer Holik
I was chosen to give two World War II talks at the 2016 Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) conference in Springfield, IL.
Want to start your World War II research today? Pick up a copy of my Stories from the World War II Battlefield books which cover all branches of the military.
Friday, September 2, 3:30 p.m.
Session F-340 The Day That Lived in Infamy. Navigating World War II Military Records
All the records did not burn! Learn the basics of how to begin researching your World War II military ancestors. We will explore numerous military records, books, photographs, and family stories.
Saturday, September 3, 3:30 p.m.
Session F-440 Stories of the Lost
A continuation of “Finishing the Story,” we will explore the records available to tell the stories of those who died in service. We will also discuss those who took care of our Soldier Dead, the Graves Registration Service men. Learn about their job and the reasons it took so long to have our soldiers repatriated and what happened to the personal effects during the course of recovery and repatriation.
Hope to see you there!
© 2015 Jennifer Holik
I spend a lot of time at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago conducting research for clients and myself. I also refer a lot of people there for assistance with their World War II research. I love the atmosphere at the library, the many shelves of books, the archival records, and the rare books. Plus, the staff is top notch and really know their stuff. I spend a lot of time talking to Paul Grasmehr, the Reference Coordinator, about my research and always learn so much.
Why, if the library does not have any military personnel records, would I refer people there, or any other military research institution?
There are many reasons, but a few important ones are:
- They have books which provide historical context on battles and what soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines endured.
- There are rare books you cannot find elsewhere with incredible information.
- There is an archive with original documents. This archive may not have information on your soldier but will provide context in many cases.
- The library has photographs and maps. These add interesting details to a story you can write about your soldier and help you understand the records. Photos and maps also add a visual component to stories which keep more people engaged.
- And, did I mention the staff is incredible?
Before asking any research institution for assistance, especially institutions with smaller staff, there are several things to consider.
- Staff is often limited to a few people who do multiple jobs. Do not expect an immediate answer to your inquiry.
- Inquiries may take longer to receive an answer because the staff member is conducting some preliminary research on your behalf before they respond.
- When you receive a response, read through it several times. Often the response will contain websites and books to look into.
- Responses may contain questions for you to answer about what was found or needs to be clarified.
- In-depth research is not always possible and the institution may suggest you hire a researcher.
- The more information you can give the staff member, the easier it can be to assist with your request.
- Use a Family Group Sheet created by the Pritzker Military Museum and Library for their requests.
- Do not overload your initial request with document copies. Instead, list the documents you have scanned that you could send if they wish to see them.
- Read the institution’s research request guidelines. Some repositories allow up to three requests per person until the request has been completed.
- Research is not always free and photocopies are almost always not free. Make sure you read that part of the guidelines so you know what you are getting into before you make a request.
- If you are looking for specific resources, use the institution’s card catalog to create a list to include with your request.
- Consider making a visit to the institution to conduct research yourself. Many repositories will pull materials prior to your arrival if you request.
Are you ready to take your World War II research to the next level? If so, start contacting repositories which have records and resources beyond personnel files.
If you need a researcher to do more in-depth work or help you research from start to finish, please contact me. I am currently taking new clients.
© 2015 Jennifer Holik
Today I am flying home from three weeks in Europe. I spent my time touring, walking, meditating, writing, meeting many new friends I knew from Facebook, and connecting with many people on the topic of STORIES.
A few story themes emerged often and I’m thinking about what to do with these, besides include them in Volume 3 of my Stories from the World War II Battlefield books. Volume 3 is on organizing your materials and writing the story. The book will be released early 2016.
One meeting in particular stuck with me. I spent Sunday, 1 November with the Friends of the Timberwolves in the Netherlands. I met a small group of the Friends at their museum in Achtmaal. Within this group was a young man about the same age as my oldest son. I have not met anyone in the WWII world who was so young and interested in the stories.
The young man told me why he was interested in the 104th Infantry Division, the Timberwolves. He said since the age of 4 or 5, he would go with his father (also a member of the group) to events, on walks, and to the museum. He enjoyed hearing the stories and meeting the veterans and their families. This young man is also a musician and at Henri-Chapelle and Margraten this year on 3 May, he blew TAPS for a few veterans to honor their buddies who were killed in the war.
After spending the day with this group and this young man, I told him and his parents, I thought he should write a book. Explain his experiences as a young person involved in this world of war, re-enactment, preservation of history, and the passing of knowledge. What does it mean to him to be a part of this? What can his experience do to shape that of other young men and women who are interested both in Europe and the U.S.? I hope he someday writes a book from his perspective.
Our veterans are dying by the hundreds every day and we owe it to them and all those who came after, to preserve their stories. They fought and often died, to give us the freedoms we enjoy today.
Will you write your stories? The stories of your family during the war? Have you already written them? Please share your experiences in the comments.
© 2015 Jennifer Holik
I will be presenting World War II Programs in two locations for Veterans Day programming this November.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015, 7:00 p.m.
A continuation of “Finishing the Story,” we will explore the records available to tell the stories of those who died in service. We will also discuss those who took care of our Soldier Dead, the Graves Registration Service men. Learn about their job and the reasons it took so long to have our soldiers repatriated and what happened to the personal effects during the course of recovery and repatriation. This event will be held at the Schaumburg Township District Library.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015, 7:00 p.m.
Finishing the Story
Tracing the life of a World War I or II soldier can be challenging. Many researchers are unaware of the many records and resources available outside of the usual genealogical record sources. Explore the lives, service, and deaths of three soldiers, through the usual genealogical records and learn about numerous military resources available. Through a brief reading from her new book Stories of the Lost, Jennifer will demonstrate how to write the stories of your Soldier. This event will be held at the Orland Park Library.