With the historical foundation established for the small villages of Hajtovka and Udol that make up the parish of St. Dimitry’s Greek Catholic Church, it is time to examine the daily lives of the people who lived there in the 1800s.
It was previously mentioned that lives of these hardy people hadn’t changed much through the centuries. Life in the 1400s wasn’t much different than life in 1800.
However, there would be drastic changes in the parish by the turn of the 20th century.
Let’s look at economic, social and religious factors. From this, it will clearly be seen that all three influences were the causes, so to speak, of the lack of upward mobility for the villagers.
There is only one governmental census for this area of Slovakia; it was ordered by the Hungarian government and enumerated every person in each household in 1869.
The parish had quite a few rudimentary houses. Homes were made with wooden logs and were usually one single room, but there were a handful of houses that were two rooms and even two stories. In the case of a two story house, the animals were housed on the ground floor to keep them warm and safe.
Only the males had occupations listed and almost every single male of working age – and that means 14 or older -worked outside the home doing physical manual labor. Males worked for the noble, cutting trees, caring for livestock, planting, digging ditches, repairing buildings and doing anything else on the estate that needed to be done.
Zsellers, of which my family were included, were men whose family “occupied” a small home that included a small piece of land for personal farming.
However, a zseller was required to pay rent to the noble and to pay taxes to the church, leaving his family struggling to stay fed and clothed.
Less fortunate men had no land of their own to work.
Note, though, that no one owned their own real estate. The land all belonged to the noble family.
Everyone of working age toiled six days a week. Sunday and church holy days provided respite from work and the opportunity to socialize with friends and family.
It’s unlikely that the villagers ever had much hard money. Until later in the 19th century, a barter system of goods and services was likely used.
Aside from friends and family from nearby villages, there wouldn’t have been many outside visitors to St. Dimitry’s parish with the exception of Romani, or travelers, passing through.
The church registers include occasional entries through the years mostly recording the baptisms of Romani children and some burials. There were two or three notations of “zingarus” in the marriage records, but the wanderers, as they were called, didn’t often marry in Udol.
Women worked in the home, preparing food, weaving cloth, helped care for livestock and often helped husbands in the fields. There was a village midwife who helped women give birth. Her social status would have been higher than that of other females, due to her “medical” skills.
Many babies were born to these families, but, sadly, the infant and childhood mortality rate was so high that few infants survived childhood.
The family of Peter Csanda & Catherine Ratvan is not my direct line but is representative of village families. They were the parents of eight children, but look closely at the details.
- Veronica Anna, born 8 November, bp 13 November 1870; married Anthony David, 24, son of John & Helen Fengya of Ujak 96, 11 February 1890
- Maria, born 20 April, bp 4 May 1873; died 13 July, buried 15 July 1874, aged 1 year
- Peter, born 5 January, bp 16 January 1876; died 1 December, buried 3 December 1878, aged 2 years
- John, born 8 July, bp 13 July 1879; died 5 April, buried 7 April 1880, aged ¾ year
- Michael, born 1 September, bp 11 September 1881; died 12 September, buried 14 September 1881, aged 2 weeks
- Nicholas, born 11 June, bp 24 June 1883; died 7 August, buried 8 August 1884, aged 1 year
- Anna, born 10 August, bp 30 August 1885
- Michael, born 5 December, bp 11 December 1892
Five of their eight children died before they were two years old. I can’t imagine the dread along with excitement they felt each time Catherine was expecting, knowing that most children died young.
Eldest child Veronica married Anthony David and they emigrated, like so many other villagers, to Passaic, New Jersey. Youngest daughter Anna left the village in 1899. Her destination was the home of her brother-in-law, Tony David; in the 1900 census, she is enumerated as a mill hand in Passaic. It appears that Peter and Catherine’s youngest son, Michael, also left for America at some point although I haven’t found him in immigration records.
The villagers socio-economic status, or lack thereof, went hand in hand with the lack of education in the region. A young boy who showed promise to the priest might be fortunate enough to be sent to school to become a priest. No such opportunity existed for girls.
For the most part, aside from the priest and the cantor, the entire parish was illiterate. Schooling wasn’t an option for anyone until the 1890s when a basic education up to perhaps 4th grade was mandated.
Religion, therefore, was the center of everyone’s life. Sunday not only provided a chance to worship in church, but allowed young men to court young ladies and elder men and women to visit.
Hajtovka’s dwellers had to walk the mile or so over to Ujak to go to church, as there was no church building in their own village until 1872, when the Church of the Holy Mother was erected.
Given the high mortality rate, it is quite amazing that from the beginning of St. Dimitry’s church register in November 1827 until 1907, the parish was served by only three priests. Rev. Damian Csopjak arrived sometime before November 1827 and remained until he died in 1847. Rev. Anthony Bernatyak then served the parish from 1847 until he passed away in the spring of 1868. For several months, priests from neighboring villages served the parish until the arrival of Rev. George Andrejkovits in March 1869. He had the longest tenure, as he was the parish priest until his own death in 1907. Nana would have attended his Divine Liturgy celebrations at St. Dimitry’s as a young girl.
Baptisms and marriages were times of celebration. Until the late 1800s, it was the custom to marry in late fall, usually November, or after Christmas in January or February. it was also common for multiple couples to marry on the same day. Wedding feasts might go gone for two or three days.
Deaths, too, allowed family and friends to mourn the deceased. Burial took place after a 2 day wake with a procession following the casket on its last journey to the cemetery.
Although two villages of people attended the one church in Ujak, each village had its own cemetery. It would have been quite a job transporting a casket by hand from Hajtovka over a mile away to the Ujak church cemetery.
In a typical year, there were perhaps 40 burials recorded.
However, epidemics made regular appearances. Diphtheria, typhoid fever, cholera and dysentery killed many adults and children. Children were also susceptible to whooping cough, measles and chickenpox, diseases for which we have all been vaccinated.
From August through October 1831, it was cholera. Between October and December 1836, cholera made a second appearance. The summer of 1843 brought chickenpox. In 1848, there was an outbreak of dysentery, followed in 1858 by whooping cough.
In the spring of 1864, the village suffered through both cholera and whooping cough.
The summer of 1873 brought back cholera with 80 people dead, followed by a typhoid outbreak in the summer of 1874.
Scarlet fever took the lives of many children from November 1878 through March 1879. Then diphtheria appeared immediately after in April 1879.
1880 brought a four month return of diphtheria, lasting into March 1881, when typhoid fever arrived.
In 1890, there was a triple whammy against the children with many cases of measles, diphtheria and whooping cough.
Life went on, as it had for centuries in St. Dimitry’s parish. The approach of the 20th century brought huge changes to the village way of life.
That change was brought on by the Industrial Revolution – not in Slovakia, but in America. After hundreds of years with no real change in the daily life of St. Dimitry’s, life far away finally gave the villagers a choice to control their own destinies.
In the final post of this series, we will look at the effect that factory and mining life had on Hajtovka and Ujak as the villagers headed into the 1900s.