My great grandparents, Michael Scerbak and Anna Murcko, were born in Udol and Ujak, neighboring villages in the foothills of the Tatras Mountains in Slovakia, not too many miles from Presov.
Udol and Ujak were very small – about 750 inhabitants at the time – but hundreds of them left Europe and made the long sea voyage to New York, finally settling across the river in Passaic, New Jersey. The first immigrants from Ujak arrived in the mid- to late 1880’s and went to the Passaic area because of the factories that sprang up during the Industrial Revolution. Michael was born in 1868 and Anna in 1872, so I don’t think either left the village for America before about 1890 when they were young adults.
Michael and Anna married on 22 October 1892 at St. Michael’s Greek-Catholic Church in Passaic.
Here are the only two photos I have of the event. The first is of Michael and it is on a very small (about one inch diameter) lapel pin. If there was a matching photo of Anna, it was lost long ago.
The second photo is a tintype photo, which were not in vogue in the 1890’s. Take a close look at it:
The tintype of Michael and Anna is a painted image and their heads have been “photoshopped” onto the bodies in the image. Michael’s arms appear too long in proportion to his head size, his hands also appear too large, and, as far as I know, he wasn’t a smoker. Also, his hair is stylized and doesn’t match his wedding photo – he had no curl on his forehead. Anna’s veil isn’t actually sitting on her head; her head is superimposed on top of the bridal outfit. Neither has any neck showing.
Although it is not evident looking at the image on line, when I look at the original tintype in a certain light, I can see that the heads were added to this background image.
I wonder how common it was at that time to have this kind of memento created?
After their wedding, Michael and Anna settled in Passaic. They had several children born here – my grandmother, Julia, in 1893 and son Michael, born in January 1895 but who died in October of that year. My grandmother said the family lore was that he was napping and he died in his crib – something like crib death, I guess. Another son, Peter, was born on Christmas Day in 1896. I always thought it quite ironic that he was born on Christmas and died on Good Friday in 1971. Sometime after Peter’s birth, but before June 1899 when daughter Maria was born in Udol, the family decided to return to Europe. My grandmother said it was her mother that wanted to return. She said the air in Passaic wasn’t healthy, which was probably quite true since it was a factory city. After Maria, my grandmother said her parents lost a baby at birth and their sixth child, Michael, was born in Udol in 1906. There was an eleven year gap until their 7th and last child, Stefan, was born in Udol in 1917.
As it happened, this family was divided by an ocean and then by politics. My grandmother returned to Passaic in 1910 and never returned to Slovakia. Brother Peter and sister Maria followed a few years later. Their father, Michael, made a couple of trips back to New Jersey before he passed away in 1932 in Udol. Anna never returned to the United States even though she lived to be 95 years old.
From 1910 until 1967, my grandmother never saw her mother again. About 1966, some of the parishioners at St. Michael’s Church were planning a charter tour back to the homeland village. My grandmother had actually decided to sign up for the trip and she was going to take me with her! However, a short time later, she said the trip had been cancelled; Anna passed away on 28 June 1967. After that, came the Prague Summer of 1968 and the invasion. Julia never had any other interest in returning to Slovakia. Besides missing out on the chance to see her mother again, she never met her baby brother, Stefan, which I always thought very sad. He lived behind the Iron Curtain.