Category Archives: Scerbak

Uncle Peter, Born in Passaic and Naturalized in Passaic, But Why?

Peter Scerbak was my Nana’s brother. I knew him slightly, as he occasionally came by our house to visit. I have a handful of photos of him, most of which were taken before I was born.

Nana with my infant father and brother Peter

Here is one more of Pete, as he was called:

Nana, Dad and Pete

From their clothing, it looks like these pictures were taken on the same day. My dad was born in February 1926, so the pictures were probably taken that summer. I do recognize our front yard on Summer Street in Passaic as the location.

Pete was born on 25 December 1896 in Passaic, so he was a citizen by birth. However, Pete’s wife, Maria Sedlak, was born in Europe in the village of Udol and they married there.

Passaic County, New Jersey is one of the few county court websites that I’ve ever come across that has digitized naturalization records which are both free to access and download.

I decided to poke around the website, searching various Slovak names that I knew were related to the Scerbak family. I was really surprised when this appeared:

As far as I was aware, there was only one Peter Scerbak in Passaic and that was Nana’s brother.

There is a bit of a back story here, but I was still puzzled. My grandmother, Pete and an infant baby brother who died at the age of 8 months were all born in Passaic. As I mentioned, Pete (three years younger than Nana) was born in 1896.

About 1897 or 1898, the family moved back to Slovakia. I knew that many years ago. However, that didn’t explain the naturalization petition under Pete’s name. Nana was recognized as a U.S. citizen when she returned to America in 1910.

Pete emigrated in the 1920s soon after he and Mary married. Their four children were all born in Passaic.

Pete’s petition packet consists of only four pages:

Reading through the pages, there was no question that this was “my” Pete Scerbak and it clearly states that he was born in Passaic.

There is no explanation as to why he was applying for citizenship, but he had apparently lost citizen status at some point before he returned to Passaic.

The answer can be found in a photo that my grandmother received in the mail, most likely along with a letter from her father or perhaps from Pete himself:

Peter Scerbak, on the left

Remember, Pete was born in 1896. When World War I erupted in 1914, he was the perfect age to be drafted and he was. Pete served in the army, but not in the U.S. army. He served in the army of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, which was the enemy in the eyes of the U.S.

That’s why he lost his American citizenship. From what I have read, young men in the peasant villages weren’t really given any choice about being conscripted into the armed forces and I have no idea how long Pete was in the army or whether he took part in any battles.

Many researchers are under the impression that, once a family emigrated, they never again saw their homeland and that is true in many instances.

However, by the turn of the 20th century, many emigrants remained in the U.S. for a while, returned home to Europe and came back to America once again.

In fact, the residents of Udol made multiple trips across the ocean for decades, spending part of their lives in the village and sometimes years in Passaic and the surrounding towns.

If you discover a family member who was born in the United States, but became a naturalized citizen, ask yourself why that happened. If the ancestor is a male, did they serve in the military in an action against the United States? You’ll have your answer.


Cousin Steve and the Luminescent TV Screen

My immediate family is quite small, although my Nana used to talk about “all” of my cousins. Today, I know that these cousins were once or twice removed-type cousins, but we were indeed related.

One of these cousins, who I actually knew, was Steve. He was one of the cousins living in California when I was growing up in Passaic, New Jersey. However, Steve had lived in Passaic when he was a young boy and eventually got a job working for DuMont Laboratories, which in turn owned one of the first television stations in the United States, DuMont Television.

Cousin Steve

DuMont originally broadcast right from Passaic, but in the late 1940s moved to New York City. It was Channel 5 and a major station right along with Channel 4 (NBC) and Channel 2 (CBS). DuMont was where Jackie Gleason became a household name. The Arthur Murray Dance show, Captain Video and Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour were also DuMont shows. It didn’t fare well against the competition, however, and shut down operations in 1956. I am just old enough to remember Channel 5 and DuMont TV.

One of the family stories I had heard growing up was that Steve had “invented” some type of improved television tube – those things that we all dreaded burning out so the picture disappeared.

I can’t say my interest in how televisions worked has ever been very great, but I am very curious about how much of this story is true. Google now has images of many U.S. patent records, so I searched for Steve in that database.

What I discovered is that the family story is really true. On 6 July 1945, right at the close of World War II, Steve and another man working for DuMont Laboratories in Passaic, filed for a patent. It was published on 19 October 1948 and involved an improved method of creating luminescent screens. Apparently this material was also used in the old-time TV tubes:

This invention relates to improvements in depositing luminescent material on a solid surface to form a luminescent screen and to the method of forming such screens. In carrying out the invention, particles of luminescent material are settled through a colloidal medium such as silicic acid in a solution containing an ionizable salt so that it is an electrolyte. . . . . Also, the time necessary to settle a luminescent screen in either a blown-face blank or a flat-face blank of the cathode-ray tube variety is decreased. . . . .

The patent entry is quite long and, to be honest, it is way too technical and a bit boring to read through, so I won’t post the rest of it here.

I researched many types of records through the years to prove or disprove family details. This is the first time, though, that I have used U.S. patent records.



MyHeritage Newly Indexed Ellis Island Records and My Great Discovery!

Recently, Legacy Family Tree Webinars hosted a presentation by Mike Mansfield, titled Find Your Immigrant Ancestors AND Their Relatives in the New York Passenger Arrival Records. This webinar gave a glimpse into the newly indexed records for New York which have been added to the MyHeritage database collection.

This webinar is well worth watching if you have ancestors who passed through Ellis Island. It’s in the free library so even if you aren’t a subscriber (you should be, it’s fabulous!), you will have access to it.

My paternal great grandparents all came through Castle Garden and, later, through Ellis Island. I was lucky enough to have my grandmother to ask questions back when I first began this genealogical journey.

I was very curious about the Slovak side of my family. My grandmother, Julia Scerbak Sabo, was born in Passaic, New Jersey in 1893. Her parents had also married in Passaic a couple of years earlier. However, her family story was a bit different than that of most immigrants. When Nana was four or five years old, the family returned to Ujak, their ancestral village. Nana returned to the United States in 1910 when she was seventeen years old, traveling with her cousin, Susanna Szurgent, who was all of eighteen years old.

I asked Nana if she ever saw her parents again, as her father and mother, Michael Scerbak and Anna Murcko, both died in Ujak (today known as Udol.) She said she never saw her mother again, although they talked on the telephone a handful of times. However, she said she saw her father at least twice more before he died in 1932 because he returned to Passaic for short times.

Now, Nana was always spot on about any questions I put to her about her family and life in Slovakia. I had no reason to doubt that Michael Scerbak returned to the United States for those visits, likely a combination of earning some money and visiting with friends and relatives who settled in the Passaic-Garfield area.

Michael was no where to be found in the 1910, 1920 or 1930 censuses, nor could I find him in the 1915 New Jersey state census and I had resigned myself to the fact that his visits happened between census years and I wouldn’t ever find evidence of when he was here.

That is, I wouldn’t find any evidence until MyHeritage indexed those passenger records. During the webinar, I decided to try out the search capabilities and entered both Scerbak and Scserbak. Up came a hit for a Mike Scserbak in 1912. What really caught my eye was the notation that the passenger, not Mike, was going to stay with his brother-in-law, Mike Scserbak in Garfield, New Jersey. The passenger was Janko Murcko. Janko is a nickname for John, like Johnny. Janko was from Hajtovka, which is a tiny village about a mile from Udol and he was born about 1880.

Source: MyHeritage Ellis Island Passenger Lists

Janko Murcko is person #4 on the top left side of the list.

I mentioned my great grandmother earlier in this post – she was Anna MURCKO and she had a brother, John, born in 1879. The Murckos were from Hajtovka.

Udol is a very small village that had never had more than perhaps 800 people living there. There is only one Michael Scerbak who married a Murcko and had a brother-in-law named John at that time and that is my great grandfather.

I finally had my proof that Nana saw her father at least once after she left Slovakia for good. Now I wonder if her dad ever met my grandfather-to-be, George Kucharik aka Sabo. That’s a question that I don’t think will ever be answered!

If that wasn’t great enough, a second entry popped up that I believe is also my Michael Scerbak. I knew my great grandparents were in Passaic by October 1892, when they married at St. Michael’s Church in Passaic, New Jersey. However, I had no idea when either Michael or wife Anna first arrived.

Source: MyHeritage Ellis Island Collection

On Line 6 of the second page above, there is a 20 year old “Michaly Serbak.” My Michael was born in 1868 and there aren’t many men of the same name running around in that time period. I think this is my Michael, which means he was in the United States, probably for the first time since he was alone and aged 20, by 1888. I haven’t yet found Anna’s arrival, but it still might appear. Murcko is spelled many ways since it sounds like “Muchko.”

There is a second part to this story, unrelated to the Ellis Island records. I asked Nana if her father had any siblings. She said he had two sisters, but no brothers. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Michael had a brother, John, who was about six years older. John married, had a family AND left Slovakia for the Passaic-Garfield area. In fact, he died in 1938 in Garfield.

Nana had been right about so many answers. Why had she not said that she had an uncle who lived in New Jersey? Could she really not have known John’s whereabouts? The 1915 New Jersey state census can answer that question. John Scerbak was living at 98 Grand Street, Garfield, New Jersey. Nana, who married in September 1915, was still single at the time the 1915 census was taken and was living with cousins at 60 Grand Street, Garfield. Those two houses are a total of 443 apart and that particular neighborhood was very popular with folks from Ujak and Hajtovka, as it was less than one mile from St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church in Passaic, where they all worshipped.

Well, they all worshipped there except for one John Scerbak, who broke with tradition and attended SS. Peter and Paul’s Russian Orthodox Church! My grandmother loved St. Michael’s and she had a long standing hatred of Russia for taking over Slovakia and turning it Communist.

Nana isn’t here to question more closely, but I think she denied that she had an uncle because John Scerbak chose to leave the parish of St. Michael’s!

If you have family who passed through Ellis Island, I strongly recommend that you watch this webinar, which is in the free library at Legacy Family Tree. I’ve disliked the Ellis Island website ever since they introduced their “new improved” (I think they ruined the site) experience. MyHeritage has made a terrific contribution with the New York passengers collection and not only remedied the Ellis Island faults (like images that jump all over the place when you try to read them), but have made the collection vastly more usable by including names of those close relatives/friends back in Europe and those with whom they were going to live in the United States.