My paternal grandparents, George Kucharik and Julia Scerbak, were first generation Americans; their families came from Slovakia. They were long time parishioners at St. Michael’s Byzantine Catholic Church on First Street in Passaic, New Jersey.
Julia and George were married at St. Michael’s and both their funerals were held in the church, which sat across from the Dundee Canal in Passaic. After several decades, the steeples were deemed unsafe and the church was renovated. If you visited the cathedral today, it would look like this:
Julia, or Helena as she was baptized, was born on 17 Aug 1893 in Passaic, NJ and baptized the same day at St. Michael’s. I am lucky enough to have her original baptismal certificate:
George’s family didn’t move to New Jersey until the late 1890’s, having first settled in 1883 near Mahanoy City in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. George was born in the town of Delano on 24 May 1893 and baptized at St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Mahanoy City. The design is amazingly similar to that of St. Michael’s.
I never knew my grandfather because he died of tuberculosis at the young age of 42 years.
My grandmother didn’t like her in-laws and after George died, she had little contact with them. As I began the search for my Slovak roots, Julia could tell me many details about her family and life in the villages of Udol and Ujak, in the foothills of the Tatras Mountains, not far from Presov in today’s Slovakia.
Other than George’s family was also Slovak, she knew nothing about their Slovak town of origin or even when they first came to the United States. I actually knew more than she did because the 1900 census told me they arrived in 1883.
Recently, I wrote about strategies to break down brick walls. Step #1 was to review the documents and information already at hand. Now, I have to admit that I didn’t have this document when I first started the hunt – I found it among my grandmother’s papers after she passed away – but it held the Kucharik key to their Slovakia home. It was George’s original baptismal certificate:
This certificate was actually written on 17 October 1906. I am not sure why they had to return to Pennsylvania to obtain it – perhaps George needed it to attend school. The official church baptismal certificate had been changed slightly, although both are written in Latin. In both cases, the child’s name, parents’ names and sponsors’ names are on the certificate. However, George’s certificate includes information not recorded by the priest on Helena’s (Julia’s) certificate, which is the “place of origin” of the parents.
Look at George’s certificate where the names of his parents, Stefan Kucharik and Maria Kacsenyak are recorded.
Stephanus Kucharik origene et(?) Sebos? Coru(?): Jaros?, Hungaria, et uxor eius? Maria Kacsenyak. Gr. Cath.
Translated: Stefan Kucharik origen is (I think) . . . . Hungary and his wife Maria Kacsenyak, Greek Catholic.
This was back in the day of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but wherever this was it was most likely in current day Slovakia. I got nowhere looking for place names that looked anything like these, BUT I was fortunate that I was already booked for a trip to Salt Lake City. I can’t say enough great things about the FamilySearch Library in general, but the workers on the international floor for Eastern Europe and Scandinavia are nothing short of spectacular.
I photocopied George’s baptismal certificate and my first library stop was at the help desk for Eastern Europe. The lady who helped me was actually from Slovakia. She took one look at the information and said it was the town of (sounds like) “Shebesh” in Saros County. After checking a gazeteer for name changes, she said the names back then were Also Sebes and Felso Sebes, but today is the town of Vysna Sebastova, not far from Presov. She also handed me a computer printout of the film numbers for the Catholic records in that area.
As I read through the films, I found the marriage record of Stefan Kucharik and Maria Kacsenyak and was able to trace the family backwards from there.
Although Julia had no idea where the Kuchariks were from, their home village was less than forty miles away from hers.
In this case, Step #1 broke open the brick wall!