By the time I started asking Nana about my grandfather’s family, there were few people still living who knew Maria Kacsenyak Kucharik, later known as Mary Sabo, as the family dropped the Slovak name “Kucharik” and took on the Hungarian surname of “Sabo.”
Maria appears in all the usual records – baptism, marriage, death and censuses – but I personally know little about her. My grandmother, who wasn’t fond of most of her in-laws, did say Maria was a “nice” and a “kind” person, but didn’t know much else about her except that she “was a cook for the Emperor Maximilian.” I doubt that was true, but it is possible that she worked as a cook for some local government official before the family emigrated to the United States.
I do know that, like many other Slovak immigrants, her life was not easy.
Maria was born and baptized on 14 August 1859 in what today is Vysna Sebastova, Slovakia.
She was the first born child of Michael Kacsenyak and Anna Haluska, who had married eleven months before on 28 September 1858 in the nearby town of Ruska Nova Ves.
Michael was a “zsellar,” or peasant – the same description given to almost every adult male in the village. Peasant farming was a hard way to make a living. Even those with trades didn’t fare much better.
Physical labor and a lack of money weren’t the only difficult parts about village life. Medical care was non-existent. Women often died giving birth and, even if they survived, the baby often didn’t. If one survived birth, another scourge came along on a semi-regular basis – epidemics. Every few years, diphtheria, pertussis or whooping cough, the flu and typhoid fever swept through the villages. The priest was kept very busy burying the dead for two or three months at a time.
If a person managed to survive to adulthood, the average lifespan wasn’t very long in the 1800’s. Death often came to those in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. There were a handful who lived into their 70’s and 80’s, but that was quite unusual.
I have read many pages of church register deaths and burials and am amazed at the high mortality rate back then.
The Kacsenyak family was typical of the other village families. Maria’s mother, Anna, eventually gave birth to a total of nine children. Maria, born in 1859, was followed by Anna in 1861, Barbara in 1864, Anna in 1865, John in 1868, Anna yet again in 1870, Erzebet in 1875, a second Maria in 1879 and another John in 1881. At least four of those children died very young – the first two Annas, the first John and Erzebet. My Maria married in 1877 and I wonder if because she was no longer in the household, her parents named a second surviving daughter Maria.
Maria was eighteen years and two months old when she married Stefan Kucharik. From comments made by both my grandmother and my grandfather’s surviving sister-in-law Mary Sabo, Stefan was at best a difficult man to be around.
Stefan and Maria had at least eight children born to them, as noted in the 1900 census in Passaic, New Jersey. Stefan apparently came first to America in 1880, with Maria and the children following a few years later. They reported on the census that they arrived in 1883, but it seems to have been closer to 1886, based on church records. Before they left the village, Stefan and Maria had at least three children – son John and daughters Mary and Anna. However, Anna died soon after birth in Vysna Sebastova. A second Anna was born in 1889, probably in Pennsylvania, followed by two more sons, George in 1893 and Stephen in 1897. Somewhere in that mix, two more children were lost. They also lost eldest son, John, sometime between 1900 and 1910.
In the 1900 census, Stefan and son John are enumerated as laborers, possibly in the local mills. Daughter Mary is a mill hand. Interestingly, Maria is not shown as being employed. That was very unusual for an immigrant family in that time period, but I am sure she wasn’t sitting at home relaxing. I think it is more likely that she perhaps cared for children and did cooking and cleaning for other neighborhood families, probably off the books.
The family originally settled in Delano and Mahanoy City, both in Pennsylvania. Stefan worked for the railroad, according to my grandmother, and I have the watch that he used on the job. It no longer works and I’ve been told it isn’t worth the cost to have it repaired.
Nana had no idea why the family moved from Pennsylvania to Passaic in the late 1890’s, but if it was for railroad work, Stefan didn’t remain there long.
In 1910, Maria still is enumerated with no job. At that time, she reported that she had given birth to nine children, four living so he had not only lost son John, but lost her last baby, too. Stefan worked at a bleachery, son George was a shipping clerk and Stephen was at school.
By 1920, the last census for which Maria was living, she was now called Mary, still with no job. Husband Stephen and son Stephen both worked in the bleachery. The other children were all out of the house and married.
This is the third picture I have of Maria. She was only 66 years old when she died. She appears to me to be much older than that in this last photo. In each of the photos, she has a kindly face.
Maria died in Passaic, New Jersey of lobar pneumonia on 5 March 1926, twenty-six years and two days before her great granddaughter was born.
Even though I have three photos of her and have placed her in a number of records, I know very little about Maria Kacsenyak Kucharik, aka Sabo, except that she was “nice” and “kind.” However, I wish that our lifespans had overlapped so that I would have had a chance to get to know her. Like Nana, I think I would have liked her, too.