Podklanec is a village on the northern, Slovenian, side of the river Kolpa, which forms part of the border with the Republic of Croatia. The geography in Podklanec for the mostpart is forested. The main settlement of Podklanec is as the name of the village suggests “under the hill” Before the age of modern agriculture, the most usable land was either at the top of the hill or at the land abutted to the Kolpa. Of great importance has been the river on which the village was first settled. Offering an abundance of fish and a source of power for early grain mills, the Kolpa and its floodplain may be what drew the first inhabitants to this area.
The name Podklanec is the current toponym for the village. In historical documents, its name has always been recorded as this. The village is informally subdivided into two divisions, Dolnje and Gornje; Lower and Upper. Much like other villages across the region, the name itself infers its actual or geographical location. Podklanec breaks down to pod, under and klanec, hill, which is where the main settlement actually exists.
Podklanec falls within the region of Slovenia known as Bela krajina (White Carniola in English, Weisskrain in German), thus named to distinguish it from the remainder of the historical Austrian Duchy of Carniola (Herzogthum Krain) to the north. Prior to inclusion into the duchy, this area was under the control of the Kingdom of Croatia, which had already been absorbed into the Kingdom of Hungary. Counts from Carinthia and Carniola to the north, setting their sights southward to the sparsely populated primeval forests of Bela Krajina, conducted successful military campaigns in the 12th century. The first villagers, likely arrived sometime afterward in a wave of intensive colonization. Larger towns such as Metlika, Črnomelj and Vinica were likely first settled and inhabited by slavs from Carniola and Carinthia and by ethnic German peasants and members of aristocratic families. This is attested to by early land registers that name peasants and landowners with typically Central and Alpine Slavic surnames such as Novak, Žalec and Zajec, and Germanic surnames such as Wolff, Schukle (Žugelj) and Wachsendorff. It was at this time that the border came to its final resting place along the river Kolpa.
The region enjoyed nearly 200 years of peace until the arrival of the Turks at the beginning of the 15th century. The following 200 years saw massive movements of population in and near the Habsburg Military Frontier. Many small villages in Bela Krajina such as Zilje and Preloka were at least partially depopulated, their inhabitants fleeing north, away from pillaging Turks. This period also saw an influx of refugees and military deserters from the Military Frontier who settled along the banks of the Kolpa in and around these depopulated villages. Land registers of the time now list surnames more South Slavic in nature such as Malešič, Vitkovič and Štefanič. The majority of these immigrants came from the Lika region of Croatia and were of various ethnicity (Croat, Serb, Vlach), religion (orthodox, catholic) and language (mainly a form of what would today be called the Čakavian-Ikavian dialect of Croatian, still spoken in the Lika region).
The population of Podklanec, which today numbers near 100 individuals, has always worked predominantly, until very recently, in agriculture. Today we use acres or hectares to measure area of arable of land but in the past, units called Hübe were used in this region (and in most of Austrian and German dominated Europe). A Hübe measured anywhere from 8 to 20 hectares, and was assumed to be the area of land necessary to produce enough crops for one family to survive. In our survey of historical documents, it is interesting to note that the past inhabitants of Podklanec as well as neighbouring villages very rarely had one full Hübe to their name. It was common for a family (or household) to own (or to be entitled to farm) 1/2, 1/3, 1/4 or even less of one Hübe. As a result, the history of Podklanec has always been set in a background of what we would today consider poverty. With the expansion of industry in the New World in the mid 1800s, the poverty of rural life drove young men to seek their fortunes in North America. And so again we see a mass exodus of individuals (and also entire families) to places like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in search of work.
It is our hope that this website is useful and interesting, then, to people on both sides of the Atlantic: those whose ancestors stayed in Podklanec and those who felt they had to leave just to survive.