As I continue telling the stories of my female ancestors, Maria Repka begins those of my 2X great grandmothers.
Maria Repka’s life story is less complete than those of my Rusyn great grandmothers because the church records become more sparse as we move back in time.
Therefore, we will begin with the marriage of Maria Repka to John Kucharik (alias John Tomko) on 11 August 1849, living in the village of Szengeto, which today is the neighborhood of Severna, part of the town of Vysna Sebastova, Slovakia.
Varallya, today called Podhradik (the village indicated by the far right arrow) is only 6 miles from Presov, on the left (no arrow), so these villages were very walkable in the 19th century.
Maria’s story begins with her marriage for a reason. There is no indication that Maria was born in Szengeto and she married in the village Greek Catholic church.
Instead, we have two Maria Repkas, most likely cousins, both born in Varallya, who need to be discussed first.
The priest recorded John’s age as 26 and Maria was 20 years old, placing her birth about 1829. Both were recorded as “GC” or Greek Catholic, as opposed to “RC,” Roman Catholic or “LR,” Latin rite, which also meant Roman Catholic.
This distinction is important because I have found a handful of errors that priests made when recording religious affiliations, but tons of mistakes when priests recorded ages at marriage and at death.
There is only one Maria Repka appearing in baptismal records in the area in 1829. She is Maria Repka, daughter of Stephen Repka and Helena Gulyas, baptized 8 January 1829 as Roman Catholic. However, her age is an exact match to young bride Maria.
There is a second Maria Repka, as I mentioned, baptized 1 February 1825, the daughter of Michael Repka and Maria Illyas, who were Greek Catholic.
Looking at the evidence, it seems much more likely that my Maria Repka was actually 24 when she married.
Additional support is given through the other life records left by Maria – as the mother of children baptized in Okruzna, the 1869 census and her burial record, all of which identify her as Greek Catholic. The census also reports her birth year as 1825!
This is a rather lengthy introduction to Maria’s life story, but it’s a great lesson in paying attention to clues when trying to separate people of the same name!
The introduction has hit upon the religious life in Maria’s neighborhood. Okruzna, like the villages nearby, had a mix of both roman and Greek Catholics residents who lived side by side and often intermarried.
John and Maria (Repka) Kucharik’s son, Stephen, my great grandfather, would marry a Roman Catholic whose own parents were of a mixed Roman and Greek Catholic union.
Aside from perhaps a familial preference to remain Roman- or Greek-Catholic, there was no stigma attached to blended marriages.
So, now that we have the two Marias sorted out, what of “my” Maria?
Maria Repka was the daughter of Michael Repka and Maria Illyas. Okruzna church records basically begin about 1820, so dates of her parents’ baptisms and marriage have not survived. Michael was 45 years old when he died in 1836, so born about 1797.
Michael also used the alias “Prokop,” which wasn’t unusual at the time. Family records were mostly recorded as Repka up ntil 1830 and then a mix of Repka and Prokop from then on. His son Joseph was baptized as Prokop and both Michael and Maria were called Prokop at their respective burials in 1836 and 1840.
Two links connecting Michael to both names are (1) his wife’s name is Maria Illyas and (2) the family had the same two sponsors – Andrew Karahuta, GC, and Maria Miner, RC for two of their children, one of whom was Joseph Prokop/Repka.
Michael and Maria likely married about 1818 or 1819, just before the surviving church books begin.
Children of Michael Repka and Maria Illyas:
1. Maria, baptized 8 November 1820; buried 22 July 1821, aged 1 year
2. Anna, baptized 27 September 1823; married Michael Onufrej, 11 November 1839
3. Maria, baptized 1 February 1825; died 12 January 1896, Okruzna, Slovakia; married John Kucharik alias Tomko, 11 August 1849, Okruzna, Slovakia
4. Michael, baptized 30 March 1827; buried 9 June 1839, aged 12 and called the orphan of Michael Prokop
5. Joseph, baptized 17 March 1830; buried 27 June 1830
6. Barbara, baptized 29 December 1831; buried 17 August 1833
7. John, baptized 31 January 1835; buried 19 August 1835
8. John, baptized 18 January 1837, with the note that he was a posthumous baby, e.g., born after his father’s death; buried 8 April 1838, aged 1 year, 2 months
As a young girl, Maria would have been aware of life events, as the core of each village was its church and holy celebrations. The economic situation was bleak, with almost everyone quite poor, and death was a regular event.
Maria lost one sister, the first Maria, and two brothers, Michael and Joseph, when they were still babies, all by 1830.
When just six years old, Maria was lucky to survive a devastating cholera epidemic in the summer of 1831. Cholera wasn’t picky when it chose its victims – young and old were all susceptible. A village that typically buried a handful of people through the summer months was suddenly burying fifty.
Maria likely lost several friends and extended family members during those fateful few months.
Sadly, Maria lost more siblings after the epidemic. Her sister Barbara died in 1833, aged just 2 years and her brother John died aged 7 months in 1835.
The next tragedy to occur was the death of Maria’s father, Michael, who died of fever and was buried on 10 August 1836. He was only 45 years old and Maria’s mother was pregnant with John, who didn’t live long enough to have a second birthday. Her youngest brother was only one year and a few months old.
Added to the loss of her father was the death of her mother Maria, buried 25 February 1840, aged 48 years. Her burial record notes that she died of a stroke.
Therefore, by the time Maria was 15 years old, she had buried both parents and six of her seven siblings. Maria and her sister Anna were all that was left of the family.
They likely lived with extended family members and worked as servants to earn their keep until they were old enough to marry.
On top of losing her parents, life in the Presov region was difficult through the 1840s. The church records changed from Latin to Hungarian in 1844, indicating a change of governmental control. Austria and Hungary were butting heads, too, which led to the Russian army moving through the area.
1848 was an important year which brought an actual change to peasant lives. Not only did Hungary gain political control of the area, but serfdom was finally abolished.
It’s hard to believe that there were Europeans working as serfs as the United States approached the Civil War years, but that is exactly what happened.
By the 1850s, poverty was still widespread and there were few, if any, schools in Rusyn villages. However, modern life amenities were finally slowing creeping in. A man with trade skills and some opportunity might now be able to buy a small piece of land for his own.
Maria Repka married John Kucharik on 11 August 1849 in Okruzna, so she probably lived in the village of her birth or very close by, even after her parents died.
John and Maria were the parents of eight children, although the names of their children reflect the extremely high infant mortality rate with three sons named John and two daughters named Maria.
All their children were born in Okruzna and died there, unless noted otherwise.
Children of John Kucharik alias Tomko and Maria Repka:
1. John, baptized 22 October 1849; buried 17 April 1850
2. Anna, born c1854
3. Stephen, born 17 February 1855; died 4 June 1933, Wallington, Bergen, New Jersey; married Maria Kacsenyak, 28 August 1877, Vsyna Sebastova, Slovakia
4. John, born c1857; buried 20 October 1858
5. Michael, baptized 18 June 1859; married Susanna Magnus, 25 September 1882, Nizna Sebastova, Slovakia. She was Roman Catholic.
6. Maria, baptized 13 October 1861; died soon
7. Maria, born c1864; died after 1869
8. John, baptized 16 May 1865; died after 1869
She lost her parents at a young age and buried at least three of her children when they were barely toddlers.
In addition to those losses, she “lost” son Stephen when the family left forever in the 1880s and settled first in Pennsylvania and then New Jersey.
I have a DNA match to daughter Anna, who also left Slovakia for good, but the match is through a distant cousin, who has no further information.
Since I don’t know what happened to her two youngest children, Maria and John, they might have died young, married and remained in Okruzna or possibly also left for America.
Maria (Repka) Kucharik alias Tomko died about 28 January and was buried on 30 January 1896 in Okruzna, Slovakia.
Maria had to have been a strong lady to live in Okruzna in the 19th century. She had firsthand experience with poverty, illiteracy and death, living a life that was virtually unchanged in quality compared to that of her ancestors. Modern times hadn’t yet reached the village.