Udol & The Life They Left Behind – Quasquicentennial of St. Michael’s Church

Thank you to Joy Kovalycsik for permission to share her Udol postcard and to Steven Osifchin and Joy Kovalycsik for creating the Carpathian Connection website.

To recap yesterday’s post, Passaic had become a thriving factory town by 1890, with immigrants flocking in from Europe. Many of the immigrants were from two small, neighboring villages in today’s Slovakia – Ujak, which today is known as Udol, and Hajtovka – which sit in the foothills of the Tatras Mountains by the Poprad River.

Ujak (now Udol), Slovakia

For those interested in the Carpatho-Rusyn people and their immigration to New Jersey and other U.S. states, Steve Osifchin and Joy Kovalycsik host The Carpathian Connection, which is a great resource for anyone with Rusyn roots. The Udol postcard is courtesy of  Joy Kovalycsik.

Each village basically only has one main road passing through it.

The original St. Dmitry Church was a wooden structure which burned down in the mid 1800’s. The stone church was built in 1866 and served both Hajtovka and Udol for many years.

St. Dmitry’s Church, Google Earth Street View

A unifying force in their daily lives was the church. The villagers, down to almost the last person, were Catholics belonging to the Greek Catholic rite. It was in the church that babies were baptized, couples were married and from where everyone was buried. The parish priest was likely one of the only educated people in the village.

What prompted so many men and women in these two small villages, where their ancestors had lived for hundreds of years, to leave their home and make the trip to Passaic to begin new lives?

For centuries, the Rusyn people had no homeland of their own. This area of Europe has proven to be somewhat politically unstable in terms of borders and rulers. For the most part, in more modern times, it had been under the rule of Hungary and the Magyar people had all the rights.

Although the Rusyns have a rich cultural tradition in terms of dress, folk music, religion and ethnic rites, living under the rule of others meant no opportunity to improve one’s life situation. Residents in Udol and Hajtovka had little access to education. Although living in the somewhat isolated mountainous area meant a bit less interference from governmental authorities, it did nothing to improve their daily lives.

People in these villages were poor peasant farmers, accountable to the much wealthier landowners. Udol and Hajtovka were farming villages, but the soil wasn’t the best and they also had to “tithe” part of their harvests to the landowners.

The mortality rate at this time was quite high, particularly among young children and about every twenty years or so a typhus or diphtheria epidemic would decimate families.

By the 1870’s, Magyar interference was increasing even to the point of exerting more influence over more isolated places like Udol.

Back in Passaic, about 1880, George B. Waterhouse came up with an idea for staffing the new mills, which desperately needed many more low paid hands to make them successful. He believed that untrained, raw European immigrants would solve this worker shortage.

While Slovaks in the villages were making pennies per day for back breaking hours and work with only small returns for their efforts, factory workers in Passaic were making $2.00 for their hours in the mills.

The answer as to why the exodus from Udol and Hajtovka to Passaic began was – money.

And so the long trip began. First, the villagers had to get to Hamburg or some other port. That alone must have been an adventure since Hamburg was 650 miles away. Then they boarded the ship for the crossing. My grandmother sailed on the SS Batavia, in steerage, in November 1910:

SS Batavia

When the first Slovak immigrants arrived, Ellis Island was not yet open, nor was the Statue of Liberty in her place. Instead, they entered Castle Garden and hoped to be processed through and allowed to enter the country.

Passaic, their hope for the future,  was now only fifteen miles away.

Image sources: National Park Service and cenaprintscom.blogspot.com

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