52 Documents in 52 Weeks #22: Gone to America

FAN (Family, Associates, Neighbors) clubs are an important tool used in fleshing details in the life stories of our ancestors. Sometimes, FAN clubs help determine who a family member might be. Other times. FAN clubs point the way to new destinations chosen by lost branches of the family tree.

FAN clubs are becoming more of a common tool, I think, used to track family members once they settled in the United States. I’m referring here to the waves of immigrants that emigrated to America from c1880 to 1920.

There still seem to be a few myths that many believe about these immigrants. One is the Ellis Island myth that the family name was changed upon arrival in New York, but that is another story.

Another misconception is that the immigrants who settled here were so poor that once they arrived, they never returned again to Europe. That might have been true of some families, but certainly not of all.

My great grandparents arrived in Passaic about 1891. They married there in 1892 and their first three children were born in New Jersey. About 1896 or 1897, my great grandmother, according to Nana, decided that the air wasn’t healthy in Passaic (she might have been on to something there considering all the factories) so my great grandfather decided to take the family home to Slovakia.

I’m just using Slovakia as an example, but this story could just as easily be about Italian, English, German or any other families.

If you know the village or town of origin, try browsing the records of other families for clues about your own ancestors.

I know that, historically, the most active time period for immigration from the little villages of Udol and Hajtovka was from 1890-1910. For a long time, I believed that my great grandparents were unusual for moving to America and then returning to spend the rest of their lives back in Udol. My grandmother, born here, returned as a teenager in 1910, never again to see her mother, who didn’t pass away until 1967.

A look at the Udol baptismal records gives a clear picture of the number of families that lived in the U.S. for some period of time and then returned to Europe. It’s very possible that at some point after the time period covered in the following few pages, they went back to America for good, as Nana did.

Maria Scerbak, #6
Source: FamilySearch

The above image is from Udol’s baptismal records in 1899. Nana’s sister, Maria, is the sixth child in the list. Notice that there is a comment column on the right. Many of the short notations with a date signify the death of that child – sometimes many years in the future and sometimes not long after birth.

Maria’s line, though, has quite a bit of text in that last box. She lived to adulthood and there is no date in the box.

“In Amerika”

This is a notation that her parents were married in America so she is a child of a legitimate marriage. The pages for the 1890-1910 time period covered in this register are filled with notations about the parents marrying in America. They obviously returned back home to the village if their child is being baptized in Udol.

Who were friends and neighbors of my Scerbak family in Passaic? Other families from Udol or elsewhere in Slovakia. Most, but not all of those who left Udol went to Passaic. Look what else has been placed inside the church register:

St. Francis of Assisi Church
Mildred, Sullivan Co., PA

A returning family made sure to have their priest provide a letter stating that their three children were all baptized in Pennsylvania. I know many Slovaks went to the area around Pittsburgh, some went to Schuylkill County and a few other places, but I would never have thought of Sullivan County, a rural area, as being a destination spot for an Udol family. It is evident by the church name – St. Francis of Assisi, that they attended a Roman Catholic church in Pennsylvania (likely because there was no Greek Catholic church nearby). As Udol was 100% Greek Catholic, it is even more surprising that this family ended up in Sullivan County. St. Francis is still an active parish today.

A search of records from 1900-1910 might shed light on other Slovaks who lived nearby them. This could be a major clue for someone whose relatives disappeared from the village records, but didn’t appear with the rest of the family in New Jersey. Something drew them not to New Jersey, but to this quiet area of Pennsylvania.

If you have located your ancestor’s European home, but have not browsed through its records, take the time to do so. You will learn much about the life events and comings and goings of its people.

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