Category Archives: Hajtovka

My Rusyn Ancestors & Their Villages: Hajtovka, Slovakia

I’ve decided to do a mini-series about the villages from which my Rusyn ancestors came, followed by family sketches of the earliest known ancestors and their descendants.

I have many distant Rusyn cousins here in America because our common ancestors left today’s Slovakia and made their way to New jersey, New York, Connecticut, Ohio and Pennsylvania to improve their lives.

Some stayed permanently and became citizens, some came, but quickly returned home and many made multiple trips across the ocean to earn money and provide for their impoverished families, who had little hope for comfortable lives.

It’s hard to imagine what their lives must have been like. First, until the 1890s, there was virtually no opportunity for any kind of schooling. Even at the turn of the 20th century, the opportunity to receive a 4th grade education was all that was offered.

Most of my ancestors lived just as their ancestors had before them – as peasant farmers working poor land, living in small homes inhabited by many people and with very high mortality rates for all.

A lack of medical care meant infant mortality was high – I’ve seen vital records for women who gave birth to 8 children, but only two survived childhood.

Every few years, cholera, typhus and diphtheria came to visit, leaving a hundred dead behind them. This was in a village of 750 people.

If one was healthy enough to survive childhood and the epidemics, there were many less serious maladies and accidents to claim more lives.

The 1869 census of one of my ancestral homes showed only two people in their 70s and not many more in their 60s.

It’s no wonder that so many decided to come to America.

My paternal grandmother’s villages will be the first two covered in this series of four.

Hajtovka and Ujak (today called Udol) , less than one mile apart and heavily Greek Catholic (today called Byzantine Catholic) were home to all of her family at least back to the early 1800s, when the church registers begin.

Village #1 is Hajtovka, home to two of my ancestral lines – the Szova and Murcko families.

Hajtovka is and always has been a very small village, nestled in the foothills of the Tatras Mountains near the Poprad River in eastern Slovakia.

As I mentioned, it has historically been Greek Catholic, with just a handful of Roman Catholic brides and grooms who lived in villages just west of Hajtovka.

Latitude & longitude:
49.260 degrees North
20.7730 degrees East

It is in the Stara Lubovna District of the Presov Region in northern Slovakia.

Although there is little in the way of written history, Hajtovka (pronounced High-Toe-Key) is an ancient village, first documented in 1427, when it was called Ayathuagasa. By 1773, it was known as Hajtuvka and Hajtuska. .

The length of the village is one small road and today’s population is but 72 people. It covers about one square mile. At its biggest, in the 1869 census, there were 313 souls. The population has declined steadily since then as residents leave for better lives in the cities.

Hajtovka, courtesy of Google Maps

Hajtovka has always had close ties with Ujak (Udol) because the two villages share the parish church of St. Dimitry.

The parish priest enumerated the following households in Hajtovka in 1853:

  1. Mola Hajtufken (Hajtovka millstone)
  2. Misko Liscsinszki
  3. Petro Liscsinszki
  4. ”             ” Senior
  5. Andrej Szova
  6. Janko Lesuf
  7. Misko Lesuf
  8. Misko Murczko
  9. Gmitro Szova
  10. Misko Fedus
  11. Josef Arendacs
  12. Misko Szova
  13. Janko Liscsinszki
  14. Janko Arendacs
  15. Vacant
  16. Misko Mucha
  17. Janko Fedus
  18. Misko Arendacs
  19. ”            ” Junior
  20. Janko Fabian
  21. Misko Murczko
  22. Misko Zavaczki
  23. Andrej Zavaczki
  24. (Pusrto)Nyemecz
  25. Suska Nyemecz
  26. Justo Knapik
  27. Vacant
  28. Misko Tengi
  29. Josef Sedlyar
  30. Jurko Murczko
  31. Janko Kravecz
  32. Janko Muhanin
  33. Maria Szova
  34. Janko Arendacs
  35. Janko Knapik
  36. Misko Huszar
  37. Vaszko Hanicsin
  38. Janko Szadlok
  39. Kacsmar Hajtufski

From these households, Liscinski, Murcko, Szova, Tengi and Sedlak are found in my own family tree while Arendacs, Fedus and Fabian are names I recognize growing up in Passaic, New Jersey.

Sadly, given today’s resident population, there may well come a day in the not too distant future when Hajtovka becomes an abandoned village.

Next up is the Szova family and descendants of Hajtovka, Slovakia.






History of St. Dimitry’s Parish, Udol/Hajtovka, Part 4: Industrial Revolution & Village Emigration

The people of Ujak and Hajtovka, Slovakia had lived the same daily lives for hundreds of years, from the Rusyn settlement in the late 1500s until 1880.

Governmental and political changes did little to affect the lives of economically poor and uneducated people who struggled to survive. They were sometimes hungry, cold and without any means to better themselves.

In spite of the difficulties that life presented to them, the Rusyns were a hardy group and St. Dimitry’s parish reached its peak population with 400 in Hajtovka and 800 in Ujak by 1880. Even the never ending epidemics couldn’t wipe them out.

Unbeknownst to anyone, the time period from the 1880s to 1920 would bring about more drastic changes to the villagers’ way of life than any other historical event.

For the first time in history, a few opportunities for a better future were presenting themselves. The economic stranglehold that the nobility had on the peasants was diminishing. Men became able to work for themselves. Land ownership was even a possibility although money was still scarce. Daily wages for a 14 hour day in the village equaled pennies on the dollar.

The meteoric growth of businesses in the Western world hadn’t yet made their way to Eastern Europe. That quickly changed as agents for European and American businesses sought out workers willing to emigrate and work for low wages in their new homeland.

The definition of “low” pay was seen very differently in the eyes of the villagers. By U.S. standards, factory workers worked long hours for little pay. However, what an American factory worker earned in an hour equaled Rusyn wages for that 14 hour work day.

Colonial emigration to America meant that men and/or their families left Europe for life across the pond. Young single girls generally didn’t set out on a long difficult voyage alone in that time period.

The Rusyn emigration to America was different. At first, it was the young men who headed across the Atlantic to find out if what they had heard about opportunities was really true. They likely had no expectation of returning home to friends and family, but would send word about their new lives.

Word received back at home was positive – men easily got work, often for the same company with factory shifts set up so that people speaking the same language would be working together. Money began flowing back home to their families. That, in turn, encouraged not only young men, but unmarried young women to head for the United States.

Passaic, New Jersey was a popular landing point for most residents of Ujak and Hajtovka who emigrated. The effect of the decrease in population can be seen in St. Dimitry’s church books with notation after notation made by the priest – “Emigrated” or “Amerika.”

Some residents who emigrated decided, for whatever reason, to return home. In those cases, the priest often wrote in the Observations column of the parish register – “Married in Amerika. Proof of marriage not shown.” In those cases, the priest actually left the legitimate/illegitimate status of a baby being baptized in Ujak empty because the couple failed to bring back a certificate from (usually) St. Michael’s Church in Passaic confirming the date of marriage.

My own family is a good example of what this emigration did to village families.

My 2X great grandparents, John Scerbak (1836-1916) and Maria Patorai (1839-1912) were the parents of eight children, of whom only three survived to adulthood and married:

1. John, born 18 July 1862
2. Michael, born 17 February 1868
3. Anna, born 11 June 1870

John married Catherine Dzuriczki in the late 1880s and they are one of the couples with the priest’s entry of married in America, but proof lacking.

John and Catherine returned home to Ujak before the birth of daughter Maria in August 1894. However, by September 1899, they were living in New Jersey, where they spent the rest of their lives.

Michael, my great grandfather, is found on a passenger list in 1890, arriving in New York. My great grandmother, Anna Murczko, also left Ujak sometime before October 1892, when she and Michael married at St. Michael’s in Passaic.

Michael and Anna lived in Passaic for about five years before they moved permanently back to Ujak. However, in future years, three of their five surviving children emigrated to America and never returned to the village.

The youngest of John and Maria (Patorai) Scerbak’s children, and their only daughter, married Michael Zavaczki and lived out their lives in Ujak. The village child mortality rate affected this family is a big way. Three of their four children died as toddlers. Their youngest child, Joseph, also lived in Ujak, where he died in 1999.

My great grandmother’s family faced much the same fate. Anna (Murcko) Scerbak was the daughter of John Murcko (1831-1917) and Maria Szova (1845-1925). They were the parents of six children of whom four lived to adulthood.

Anna was the eldest. Daughter Susanna left for America and married John Kovalycsik at St. Michael’s in 1894. They lived out their lives in New Jersey.

Son John married Maria Fedus and emigrated to the U.S.

John and Maria (Szova)’s youngest, Helen, married Stephen Pristas and settled in New Jersey.

It is estimated that from the 1880s until 1920, 75,000 Rusyns emigrated to the United States. Most lived in small villages like my family.

I’ve read that houses in Ujak (renamed Udol in 1948 after the Communist takeover) and Hajtovka didn’t even have electricity until the 1960s!

A quick review of the village population through the years clearly illustrates the decline:

1869 – 313
1890 – 281
1921 – 196
1970 – 160
2021 – 91

Ujak (now Udol)
1869 – 718
1890 – 685
1921 – 524
1970 – 574
2021- 303

The United States closed its borders to most immigration by 1921. Hajtovka’s inhabitants decreased from 313 to 196, while Ujak’s decreased from 718 to 524.

I recognize so many of the surnames found in St. Dimitry’s records – somewhat Americanized in spelling – because I wrote out the addresses on Nana’s Christmas cards. Pristas, Chanda, Biss, Fedus, Kovalycsik, Murcko, Sedlak, Hrinya, Mikulik and the list goes on.

I even recognize some of the names of my classmates, who as I was growing up, I had no idea were from Nana’s villages – like Warholak and Arendacs.

The same families who made the villages what they are also left an imprint on Passaic.

By the 1960s, even while under Communist rule, the decline continued as young people left to find work in nearby cities.

My grandmother’s youngest brother, who, by the way, she never met as he was born after she returned to America in 1910, lived out his life in the village, married and had six children.

The family still has a house in Udol, but it is for weekend getaways, not a permanent home.

Life goes on in St. Dimitry’s parish. It is drastically different than life in the 1800s, but it is still there.

A trip to Slovakia is on my bucket list. I want to walk in their footsteps! Maybe when this pandemic ends. 🙂




History of St. Dimitry’s Parish, Udol/Hajtovka, Part 2: Turn of the 19th Century

Yesterday, we took a look at the establishment of the villages of Ujak (now Udol) and Hajtovka, two Rusyn villages in eastern Slovakia, which are nestled in the foothills of the Tatras Mountains.

These settlers were peasant farmers – serfs working under the local noble family. Sadly, their lives had changed very little from the 1300s right up to the turn of the 19th century.

Although the end of the 1800s brought a steady decline in population, as the 19th century began, St. Dimitry’s Church grew in membership with increased population in both Ujak and Hajtovka.

St. Dimitry’s church books begin in November 1827. However, there is another way to at least get a glimpse of a handful of the families who were living there in the second half of the 18th century.

If you’ve read my earlier posts on methodology in my one-place study, you already know that it’s important to look for church records in nearby villages.

In this case, Plavnica’s St. James Roman Catholic Church was a surprising resource for a multitude of Hajtovka’s and a few of Ujak’s records.

While the village church is Roman Catholic, records include both Roman and Greek Catholics and even quite a few Lutherans living nearby who married or had children baptized in the Catholic church.

These records also indicate that, although people didn’t stray too far from their own villages – remember, travel would have been by foot for peasants – they did interact much more frequently than I would have thought in the 1700s.

Plavnica is noted with the red pin in the center of the above map. The yellow arrows indicate villages named in Plavnica’s records and this map doesn’t even include Hajtovka, which sits one mile west of Udol, which is just northeast of Plavnica.

The best part is that St. James’s records begin in the mid 1600s!

However, place names aren’t mentioned much until the mid 1700s. There probably weren’t enough people living in the area before then for village names to be important in the records.

The first mention I found in Plavnica of villagers from Ujak and Hajtovka might well be a direct ancestor of mine, as there was only one known Scerbak family living in Ujak and was that of my Nana – Julia Scerbak:

18 November 1759 – Peter Serbak (Scerbak) of Ujak married Susanna Csaputta, daughter of Jacob Csaputta of Plavnica

This entry is important for two reasons. First, in my own family, it places a Scerbak living in Ujak more than 60 years before St. Dimitry’s surviving records.

Secondly, it indicates that, in spite of the 1755 fire that burned Ujak, there were inhabitants living there full time four years later. If Ujak was abandoned after the fire, it wasn’t that way for long.

These records also gave up more of the lost history of St. Dimitry’s parish.

Father Damian Csopak was the Ujak village priest for quite a few years and his is the first priest’s name entered in 1827 in St. Dimitry’s church register.

However, St. James’s records identify an earlier Ujak priest who baptized, married or buried some of Plavnica’s Roman Catholics in the late 1700s – Father Joseph Kamensky.

Whether another priest served St. Dimitry’s parishioners in the first quarter of the 19th century is not known to me, but if Father Kamensky was fairly young in the 1790s, he might have been the only priest there before Father Csopjak arrived.

Along with the parish priest and church cantor (man who led the songs), another well-respected and important man in a village was the miller, as he ground the wheat.

The Nyemecz family appears in St. Dimitry’s records in the early to mid-1800s. BUT – the family lived in Hajtovka long before 1827 according to St. James’s marriage records.

On 26 October 1768, Judith Nemecz, daughter of miller Michael Nemecz of Hajtovka, married Simeon Mikulik of Ujak

On 13 November 1774, Maria Nemecz, daughter of Michael, miller of Hajtovka, married Paul Dulin of Orlo

Not only was the Nyemecz family Roman Catholic, but at least two Michael Nyemeczs and probably three Michaels worked as Hajtovka’s village miller.

St. James’s records mentioned quite a few Murczkos from Hajtovka. Nana’s father was Michael Scerbak and her mother was Anna Murcko.

I’ve learned from the various church records that Nana’s direct family line were 100% Greek Catholic and lived in Hajtovka. However, there was also a contingent of Roman Catholic Murczkos who lived in Hajtovka at the same time.

Given the small geographic area, the two groups were likely distantly related.

Besides the Murczkos, there were several other Hajtovka surnames that I recognized in the 1700s who were prevalent well into the 1800s, like the Tengi family and the Arendacs family.

The Tengis were almost exclusively Roman Catholic; the Arendacs mimicked the Murczkos, with many families split between the Roman and Greek Catholic faiths.

St. James’s records reinforced two other facts which I learned during my recent project.

1. Although Hajtovka was half the size of Ujak, there was a much more diverse mix of Greek and Roman Catholics living there.

2. The dozen or so villages mentioned in St. James’s records prove that villagers had much interaction with people from other nearby villages, including non-Catholics (mainly Lutherans) and non-eastern Slavic people, such as Germans, Hungarians and even a few Polish settlers who crossed the mountains and headed south.

In the next post, we’ll look at the daily lives of the children and grandchildren who would be the first to leave the villages in the late 1800s for the opportunity to have better lives.

What were the factors that brought the emigrants to the decision to leave all that they and their ancestors had known?