Category Archives: Kacsenyak

Maternal Branches in My Family Tree – Maria Kacsenyak (1859-1926)

This year, I ‘ve decided to begin a new project featuring the women in my family tree, beginning with my great grandmothers.

So often, their stories are lost or are just seen through the lives and accomplishments of the men in the family and historical context is often ignored. Four factors influenced the lives of everyone, regardless of when or where they lived – political, social/cultural, economic and religious events impacted lives, whether in small or big ways.

This series will talk about the lives of my female ancestors on both sides of the family tree, as perhaps seen through their eyes, although the posts won’t be written in first person with some commentary about historical context.

Today, Maria Kacsenyak, one of my paternal great grandmothers,  will open this ongoing series.

Life in the Presov region of what is now eastern Slovakia has always been difficult. The majority of people were peasants, working hard just to survive in an area where land was generally poor for crops, political change was frequent as the area was frequently in the cross hairs of opposing armies and there was no opportunity for education, unless a promising young boy was selected to study for the priesthood.

This is a small geographical area with the longest distance, from Ruska Nova Ves (bottom red arrow) to Okruzna (red arrow on far right) only about 11 miles.

The population was overwhelmingly Catholic. However, while the area is considered part of the Rusyn community and, therefore, Greek Catholic (today called Byzantine Catholic), there were a number of Roman Catholic churches in the area, most likely to be attended by ethnic Slovaks, rather than Rusyns.

However, while that statement is generally true, there were no church objections to parishioners intermarrying, which happened frequently.

What was also true is that they were economically poor with no opportunities to better themselves. Most men were small farmers, shepherds, perhaps carpenters or millers, if they were lucky.

Their daily lives – births, marriages, deaths and holiday celebrations – centered completely around their church.

In reality, life for these peasant families wasn’t much different in 1859 compared to 1825, 1775 or even 1700. Modern conveniences like electricity didn’t arrive until the 1960s!

There were no doctors nearby. Long time home remedies provided the only medicine, along with prayers when illness or injury were severe.

After a hard day of mostly physical labor, the men would get together to enjoy drinks and alcoholism was a rampant problem in many families.

What was life like for Maria Kacsenyak?

Maria Kacsenyak was born and baptized Roman Catholic on 14 August 1859 in the village of Nizna Sebastova (at the top of the map) which today is in the Presov region of Slovakia.

She was the eldest of nine children – two boys and seven girls – born to Michael Kacsenyak and Anna Haluska.

As was common, her parents had a mixed (Catholic) marriage. Although Maria’s father was Roman Catholic, her mother was Greek Catholic. Looking back to her grandparents, John Kacsenyak was Roman Catholic, his wife Anna Fucsik was Green Catholic. Andreas Haluska was Greek Catholic, while his wife, Maria Hovance, was Roman Catholic.

Therefore, with such a blended religious background, Maria was likely very comfortable worshiping in both the Roman and Greek Catholic village churches.

In spite of the seemingly large family and many siblings, Maria suffered much heartbreak as at least four of her siblings died as very young children and I can only account for one other sibling having children – her sister, Barbara, born 1864, who had a child out of wedlock in 1894. Infant Anna died at the age of 7 months in 1863, another Anna died at the age of 4 years, 1 month in 1870, brother John was buried at the age of 2 months in 1868 and sister Elizabeth lived only one day in 1875.

The mortality rate for everyone was extremely high so, unfortunately, childhood deaths were very common.

As a young girl, Maria would have lived the same daily life that females had for hundreds of years, helping around the home and outdoors where needed.

By the age of 6 or 7, she would have been expected to help care for younger children, help her mother prepare meals and feed the animals, if the family was lucky enough to own any.

There was no opportunity for an education, as there were no schools in the villages in those days. No one except the village priest was literate.

Politically, Maria, her family and friends, probably didn’t notice any change, but in late 1867, the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy was established allowing Magyars (Hungarians) to pass their own laws and interact with those living in the Hungrian Kingdom as they wished.

The only person who would have implemented a change would have been the parish priest, as records could no longer be recorded in Latin. Overnight in early 1868, the church book entries changed to Cyrillic script. This was because, under the new laws, everyone in the kingdom was considered Magyar and ethnic minorities were to be assimilated.

Growing up, Maria likely had no idea she would ever travel more than a very few miles beyond Nizna Sebastova. She also had no idea that the United States and the Industrial Revolution would affect so many of her friends’ and family’s lives.

Maria’s adult life began with some scandal, as she became pregnant out of wedlock in November 1876 when she was 17 years old.

This would have brought shame to not only her, but to her family. Whether Maria was allowed to remain in her family home during the pregnancy and birth is unknown. It’s possible she might have been sent to live with grandparents in Ruska Nova Ves.

Stephen Kucharik, later her husband, appears to have been the father of her first child as infant John Kucharik was baptized in the nearby village of Okruzna on 25 August 1877. His parents were called Stephen Kucharik and Maria Kacsenyak and his birth was entered as legitimate.

This is important and indicates that Stephen and Maria, and perhaps her family, were involved in some subterfuge.

Local culture dictated that the bride should marry in her church, but children born to the couple would be baptized in the groom’s church. That isn’t what happened here. Stephen Kucharik was, indeed, from Okruzna, but the couple must have told the priest that they married elsewhere and he didn’t demand a certificate form the other church.

That is because, in spite of that baptismal record indicating that baby John was legitimate and born to a married couple, the marriage entry for Stephen and Maria is found three days later on 28 August 1877 in Vysna Sebastova, not in Maria’s home village of Nizna Sebastova. The priest in Okruzna was unaware that the couple was not married when newborn John was presented for baptism.

In that time period and place, a young girl who became pregnant before marriage would have been somewhat of a social outcast and Maria was only a few months past her 17th birthday when it happened.

Whether there was family pressure to marry, I have no knowledge. However, I can say with certainty that, after studying the church records of my paternal grandmother’s village, I only remember one instance in which a young unmarried mother married the child’s father.

I would hope that Stephen and Maria had a happy life together in the early years because, by all accounts, he was a difficult man with whom to live.

There was a pause in child bearing for several years unless Maria suffered a miscarriage, as her second known child, Maria,  was born 3 1/2 years after her brother,  on 1 January 1881, also in Okruzna, where the young family was living.

There was a second pause in child bearing years after Maria’s birth as Stephen Kucharik reported in the 1900 U.S. census that he first went to America in 1880, with Maria, son John and daughter Maria following in 1883.

Emigration dates in the U.S. census are notoriously inaccurate and 1883 is a bit too early for Maria and the children to have left because another daughter, Anna, was born and baptized on 4 February 1885 in the village.

The Kuchariks were just one of hundreds of Rusyn families who emigrated to the United States for a better life and greater economic opportunities. Knowing what I do about Stephen’s personality, I doubt that he gave Maria much say in the matter and I never asked Nana or her sister-in-law Mary if they knew how Maria felt about moving across the ocean.

Maria must have been sad leaving her home, her parents and friends, because, as far as I have been able to determine, the Kuchariks never returned to Europe after their emigration. Therefore, the day she left her home was the last day she ever saw her mother, her father and her siblings.

The family first lived in Delano, Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, in a coal mining area of the state.  Stephen may well have first worked in the mines, but eventually got a job working for the railroad taking tickets.

Delano was, and is, a small town. In 1900, the population was 1278; today, there are fewer than 300 residents.

Baby Anna died sometime before 18 April 1889 when another daughter, also named Anna, was born in Delano. Her birth was followed by two more children, my grandfather George in 1893 and Stephen in 1897.

The family worshiped at St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church in Mahanoy City, founded in 1890 by Rusyns and still active today. John Z. Smith, organizer and co-founder of the Greek Catholic Union, was a parishioner.

Between 1897 and 1900, Maria, Stephen and their children – John, Maria, Anna, George and Stephen – moved to Passaic, New Jersey, another city with a high concentration of Rusyns.

Alcoholism was a serious issue back in the village and drinking problems often continued after families left for America.

I mentioned that Stephen was a difficult man, as I heard that both from my grandmother and the wife of Stephen and Maria’s youngest son.

Stephen was a bit of an intimidating looking man. This is the only photo I have and it might be the only time his picture was taken.

He not only became an alcoholic, but Stephen made the newspapers seven times between 1908 and 1916, having been fined for drunk and disorderly conduct and, in 1924, he fell out of a second story of the building at 77 Hope Avenue, in which he was living. He refused hospital attention and said he wasn’t hurt!

77 Hope Avenue (green & pink building)

Maria didn’t have an easy life with Stephen. I am fortunate to have several photos of her, all taken in her later years.

I think the photo on the left might have even been taken at the door of their home on Hope Avenue.

My grandmother didn’t know much about her in-laws life in Europe, but she said Maria was a cook for the “emperor.” The Kuchariks didn’t live anywhere near Franz-Joseph, but I think perhaps she worked for one of the local noble families. She was called a servant in the baptismal record of her first child.

My grandmother adored my grandfather, but didn’t care much for the rest of his family except for Maria. Nana said Maria was a very kind person. She died long before I was born, but I think Maria has a kind face and she looks happy in these photos in spite of the hard life she led.

Maria left only a small paper trail of her life, pretty much the “hatched, matched and dispatched” records, several U.S. census records and one city directory listing in Pennsylvania.

Somewhat surprising to me is that Maria/Mary was never working outside the home in any of the three censuses – 1900, 1910 and 1920 – in which she appeared. The family wasn’t very well off financially and many of the immigrant women also worked in the Passaic mills to make ends meet. Perhaps Maria was one of the women who offered child care for others in her home.

Maria died on 5 March 1926 in Passaic at the relatively young age of 66 years.

I am a little surprised that Nana didn’t have a funeral card for her mother-in-law, as she saved her prayer cards. There was no death notice reported in the newspaper and I suspect that Maria had a simple funeral Mass said and was then buried at St. Peter Greek Catholic Cemetery in Garfield, Bergen, New Jersey.

One last note – aliases were common among Rusyn families. The Kuchariks were also known as the Tomko family and, after Stephen and Maria emigrated to America, they used the Kucharik surname and then added Sabo to the mix.

By 1920, they exclusively used Sabo as their surname.

Children of Maria and Stephen:

1. John, born 25 August 1877
2. Maria, born 1 January 1881
3. Anna, born 4 February 1885
4. Anna, born 18 April 1889
5. George, born 24 May 1893
6. Stephen, born 18 February 1897
7. Child, born and died before 1900 census

What became of Maria’s children? Her son John died between the 1900-1910 censuses and apparently was unmarried. Maria, who went by Mary in America, married twice and had 6 children. Daughter Anna born in 1889 married, but never had children. George had one son, my father, also George, and Stephen married and had a son and daughter, but no grandchildren. Therefore, Mary and George are the only children with living descendants today.

I wish I had had the opportunity to meet my great grandmother, but almost three decades separated our lifetimes.












Kacsenyak Family of Slovakia and the U.S.


On the surface, this doesn’t appear to be a very difficult surname to research. Kacsenyak is the maiden name of one of my maternal great grandmothers, Maria Kacsenyak, who married Stephen Kucharik on 28 August 1877 in Vysna Sebastova, Slovakia, which is in the Presov district in the eastern half of the country.

The surname itself is rather uncommon, which normally should be a blessing. However, it can be spelled a myriad of ways – Csenyak, Kosenyak, Kaczeniak, Ksenyak, Kacsenik – which can be challenging to find in records.

To add to the difficulty, not very many people with this surname emigrated to the United States and no other close family relations of my Maria appear to ever have reached U.S. shores.

Today, in Slovakia, the name appears in both the Presov and Kosice districts, which are perhaps 40 miles apart in distance, with Kosice being directly south of Presov.

The final drawback in researching this family is that local church records only begin in the early 1800s. Given that my Maria was born in 1859, that doesn’t leave many years with surviving records beforehand.

The earliest Kacsenyak for whom I have any details is John Kacsenyak, so I consider him the family patriarch of this branch of my tree. John was born about 1798, likely in or near Vysna Sebastova, Presov, Slovakia. He was reportedly 26 years old when he married Anna Fucsik on 8 December 1824 in the Greek Catholic church in Okruzna. The church record noted that John and Anna both lived in Szengeto, which today is part of Vysna Sebastova. Anna was born about 1800, the daughter of John Fucsik. The marriage record doesn’t name the father of the groom.

Slovakia had a mix of Greek Catholics and Roman Catholics, who made up the bulk of the population in the 1800s. However, Catholic was Catholic and the two groups intermarried frequently. The tradition was that the couple married in the bride’s church, but the children were baptized in the husband’s church.

John Kacsenyak was Roman Catholic, while Anna Fucsik was Greek Catholic. Therefore, they married in the Greek Catholic church, but all future entries regarding the family – baptisms and burials – are found in the Roman Catholic church, which was nearby in Nizna Sebastova.

While working on this family, I also discovered that John Kacsenyak used an alias, but for what reason, I have no idea. His surname wasn’t common, but several records for his children record him as John Petro. Maybe Kacsenyak was too much of a mouthful.  However, it is clear from the combination of family records that the two surnames relate to a single person.

John and Anna had a large family, but a number of children died very young.


  1. Anna, baptized 27 September 1825; buried 28 September 1825.
  2. Anna, baptized 29 October 1826; buried 3 August 1832.
  3. Maria, baptized 14 January 1830; buried 5 September 1831.
  4. John, baptized 18 October 1832; buried 13 February 1837.
  5. Michael, born September 1834; died after 1881 and probably after 1900, as no burial record has been found for him through 1899, when the burial records end; married Anna Haluska.
  6. John, baptized 29 April 1837; married Barbara Desatnik.
  7. Barbara, baptized 17 September 1839; married Stephen Kvasny, 1864.
  8. Andreas, baptized 16 January 1842; married Anna Merhel(y), 1864
  9. Anna, baptized 28 August 1844; buried 12 December 1844.
  10. Anna, baptized 16 December 1845; buried 31 December 1845.

The Kacsenyak family is another sad example of the infant mortality rate in Slovakia. Of ten children, only Michael, John, Barbara and Andreas lived to adulthood and married.

John Kacsenyak aka Petro was buried on 21 December 1849. No death or burial record has been found for wife Anna, but son Michael was listed as an orphan when he married on 28 September 1858. Burial records for Nizna Sebastova from 1853-1858 are missing. She likely died in that time span and no second marriage record has been found for her.

Second Generation:

  1. Michael Kacsenyak, baptized 21 September 1834, Vysna Sebastova, Slovakia;  married Anna Haluska, 28 September 1858 in Ruska Nova Ves. Michael was Roman Catholic, while Anna was Greek Catholic. Both were alive for the 1869 census and no burial record has been found for either through 1899, the last year the church registers are available.

They had nine children:

  1. Maria, born June 1859, Vysna Sebastova, Slovakia; died 5 March 1926, Passaic, Passaic, New Jersey; married Stefan Kucharik, 28 August 1877, Vysna Sebastova, Slovakia.
  2. Anna, born 1861; buried 17 September 1863, Vysna Sebastova, Slovakia.
  3. Barbara, baptized 22 February 1864; Nizna Sebastova, Slovakia; died after 1869 census.
  4. Anna, baptized 12 June 1865, Nizna Sebastova, Slovakia; died before 1869 census.
  5. John, baptized 28 August 1868, Nizna Sebastova, Slovakia; died before 1869 census.
  6. Anna, baptized 29 July 1870, Nizna Sebastova, Slovakia; nuo further record.
  7. Erzebet (Elizabeth), born and died 16 January 1875, Vysna Sebastova, Slovakia.
  8. Maria (name might be entered incorrectly since first child Maria was still living), baptized 3 February 1879, Vysna Sebastova, Slovakia; no further record
  9. John, baptized 23 July 1881, Vysna Sebastova, Slovakia; no further record

2. John Kacsenyak was the second surviving child of John and Anna (Fucsik) Kacsenyak, baptized 29 April 1837, Vysna Sebastova, Slovakia. He married Barbara Deszatnik, 2 June 1862, Ruska Nova Ves, Slovakia. She was born about 1836. No further record on her has been found.

They had five children, all born in Ruska Nova Ves, Presov, Slovakia:

  1. Maria, baptized 10 December 1863; buried 2 October 1866
  2. Anna, baptized 8 June 1866; buried 8 July 1873
  3. John, baptized 2 March 1869; died after 1869 census and possibly emigrated to the U.S.
  4. Dorothy, baptized 4 May 1871; no further record
  5. George, baptized 21 April 1874; no further record

3. Barbara Kacsenyak was the only surviving daughter of John and Anna (Fucsik) Kacsenyak, baptized 17 September 1839, Vysna Sebastova, Slovakia. She married Stephen Kvasni, 30 June 1864, Nizna Sebastova, Slovakia. He was born c1839.

They had seven known children:

  1. Anna, baptized 6 January 1865, Nizna Sebastova, Slovakia; buried 15 February 1865
  2. John, baptized 6 January 1866; died after 1869 census
  3. Anna, baptized 26 May 1868, Nizna Sebastova, Slovakia; buried 1 December 1868.
  4. Stephen, baptized 12 August 1870, Nizna Sebastova, Slovakia; died soon.
  5. Stephen, baptized 1 December 1872, Nizna Sebastova, Slovakia; no further record.
  6. Michael, baptized 19 September 1874, Radacov, Presov, Slovakia; buried May 1887.
  7. Maria, baptized 20 March 1880, Nizna Sebastova, Slovakia; no further record.

4. Andreas Kacsenyak, the youngest surviving child of John and Anna (Fucsik) Kacsenyak was baptized 16 January 1842, Vysna Sebastova, Slovakia and married Anna Merhely, on 30 June 1864 in a double wedding with his sister. She was born about 1844. Andreas, his wife and Michael all lived with brother Michael Kacsenyak and his family, along with sister Barbara Kvasni, her husband and son at the time of the 1869 census.

They had two known children:

  1. Michael, born c1869 and in the 1869 census.
  2. John, born 24 February 1873, Nizna Sebastova, Slovakia; no further record.

As most of these village church records end about 1900, I am limited by a lack of records into the modern era, just as I am trying to move further back into the 1700s.

Right now, the only Kacsenyak that I can prove is part of this small family is my great grandmother, Maria Kacsenyak Kucharik. The Ellis Island site only lists four Kacsenyaks, all arriving between 1900 and 1913. However, two – Dorothy, aged 30 and Anna, aged 2, arriving in 1905 show Ujfalu as their home. Ruska Nova Ves had a village by that name in the 1800s so they might be part of the family. they were headed to the Yonkers, New York to Dorothy’s husband, Stephen.

If you see anyone here that you think might be your family, please leave a comment. I’d love to find some cousins in this branch of the family, as I don’t know of a single relative right now.

A “Nice” Person – Maria Kacsenyak Kucharik

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.

Maria Kacsenyak Kucharik

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.

Stefan’s Railroad Watch

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, c1910

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.