Category Archives: St. Michael’s Church

Sabo Gravestone Design and Final Product

Have I mentioned before that my family and Dave’s were savers? Yep, I think I have. Among the boxes and drawers of photos and papers that my Nana, Julia Scerbak Sabo, kept were the original design for what became the family headstone at St. Michael’s Cemetery in South Hackensack, Bergen County, New Jersey.

SaboJuliaGravestoneSketch_Page_1 SaboJuliaGravestoneSketch_Page_2
Headstone Design with “Sazbo” Misspelled

My grandfather, George Kucharik, aka George Sabo, died in 1936 in the midst of the Great Depression. My grandparents not only saved papers, they saved money and Nana was able to have a beautiful gravestone designed.

I found the original sketch in her papers. It was too large to scan in one image at home so Dave scanned it in four sections and then pieced them together. That is why there is a space down the middle of the drawing.

She also kept the deed to the plot at St. Michael’s Cemetery:

Deed to Grave at St. Michael’s Cemetery

I am actually a bit shocked because my grandfather’s gravesite cost $200, which was a small fortune during the Depression.

How did the gravestone turn out?

Gravestone, c1937

It is a beautiful headstone and is unique, at least in St. Michael’s Cemetery. Our surname spelling was corrected and I am surprised that the cross was not added to the stone, as Nana was very religious. The 1937 picture was taken soon after it was placed on my grandfather’s grave. The little girl is Nana’s niece, the daughter of her brother, Pete.

Through the years, Nana went regularly to the cemetery to not only visit my grandfather’s grave site, but to visit the graves of other family and friends. She actually knew most of the people who had been buried there since the cemetery didn’t open until the early 1920s.

The gravestone in the left forefront below that only has “AK” and “71” is the headstone of her brother, Peter Scerbak, who died in 1971.

Dave had Nana stand next to the Sabo headstone when we visited in 1981. Notice that she has her gardening gloves on. She was 88 years old and still pulling weeds at the cemetery!

Nana at St. Michael’s Cemetery

Nana died four years later, in May 1985, and was finally reunited with the love of her life, my grandfather, George.

Help Needed! Slovak Family from Passaic, NJ c1910

Its’ been a while since I shared a mystery photo and I really need some help with this one.

Julia Scerbak, far right

Nana, aka Julia Scerbak, returned permanently to the United States in November 1910. She was 17 years old at the time. Julia is the young lady on the right and I think she looks like she is probably still in her teens so I would date this photo to sometime between 1910-1912.

Other than that, I don’t recognize any of the other females. Given, the span of years among the three children, this appears to be a woman with her daughters. Could this have perhaps been the First Communion of the little girl on the right? She is dressed in white and has a big white bow in the back of her hair.

Given that Nana lived in the First Ward of Passaic and only spoke Slovak when she first came back here, I am positive that these people are Slovak and most likely attended St. Michael’s Church on First Street. Today, it is the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel.

It’s possible that these people were simply friends with Nana, but so many of the parishioners at St. Michael’s were from Ujak/Udol and many were related either by blood or by marriage. Therefore, the woman could be a cousin of Nana’s or possibly even an aunt.

If you have Passaic Slovak family, please take a close look at these people. Leave a comment if you think you might recognize them.

Thank you!

An Heirloom & A Brick Wall That Wasn’t

I’ve been pondering for the last couple of weeks. I needed to make a choice of my favorite heirloom or of one I wish I had. I don’t know of any lost heirlooms. I guess they were lost before anyone in modern times knew of them. I do have a number of items that have been passed down through my family and I’ve already written about some of them, like Nammie’s rocking chair.

However, I chose a piece of paper as one of the most special heirlooms that I have. To understand why I chose a piece of paper, you need to know a bit of the back story. Nana was still with us back in 1979 when I first caught the genealogy bug. One of the first documents I tried to obtain was a marriage certificate for her and my grandfather, George, who I never knew. George died of tuberculosis when my father was only ten years old.

My grandparents were parishioners of St. Michael’s Church, today Cathedral of St. Michael, in Passaic, New Jersey. I wrote both to St. Michael’s and to the state of New Jersey requesting a copy of the record of their marriage, which took place at St. Michael’s on 6 September 1915. The first reply came from the state – no record of the marriage. Okay, now my grandmother was very religious and I could see her possibly thinking that the state record was an added expense and just the church wedding would do. However, Nana assured me that George went to City Hall to obtain a license. Hmmm. A couple of days later, the reply came from St. Michael’s Church – NO RECORD of the marriage! Not possible. Something was very wrong. I queried Nana again about the date, but her mind was as sharp as a tack. I was sure they married on the date she gave me so why couldn’t a record be found by either the church or the state????

I asked Nana about all this again. How was it possible that no record of the marriage of George Sabo and Julia Scerbak could be found? Out of her mouth popped, “That is because the family name was Kucharik!” What???? My great grandfather changed his name when he arrived in America, but he didn’t Americanize it, he dropped the Slovak name “Kucharik’ (Cook) for the Hungarian name “Sabo” (tailor).

Armed with this new knowledge, my second requests for marriage records and then census hunts yielded baptismal, marriage and death documents from both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Then came a thirty year brick wall, or so I thought.

What would the outcome of my searching been had Nana already passed away? She didn’t care much for her inlaws, except for her mother-in-law, who died a month after my father’s birth. After 1936, when George died, she had little contact with them.

I was able to quickly jump the pond back to Ujak (now Udol) and Hajtovka, Slovakia, the villages from whence the Scerbaks came. Nana said she had no idea where the Kuchariks were from, except that they also spoke Slovak. Vital records gave mother-in-law Mary’s maiden name as “Estok.” Dead end. Home village in Europe? “Gajdos.” Another dead end as a query for records in Gajdos, Russia came back negative. No record of the family.

Nana died in May 1985. She was a hoarder, not in the sense of filling the house from top to bottom with junk, but she hoarded old receipts, photos, documents, letters, that has proved to be a treasure trove through the years. Among the boxes of hoarded mementos, I found my treasured heirloom:

St. Mary’s Church, Mahanoy City, PA

This is the original baptismal certificate issued when my grandfather, George Kucharik, was baptized at St. Mary’s Church in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.

I often wondered how I would have ever found my grandfather’s family in ANY records, whether they were in New Jersey, Pennsylvania or back in the home village in Slovakia. I didn’t find this paper until after Nana had passed away.

Even with this document, I couldn’t find their home village until 2011, which provided the title for this post – An Heirloom & the Brick Wall That Really Wasn’t. Kucharik family research was at a dead end from 1985 until 2011 and became one of my major brick walls.

Take a look at the parents’ section of this certificate:

Stephanus Kucharik
origene et Sebes loku:
Jaros, Hungaria et
uxor eius Maria Ka
csenyak Gr Cath

Stephen Kucharik
origin (is) Sebes (location?):
Jaros, Hungary and
his wife Maria
Kacsenyak Greek Catholic

Remember, in the 1980’s, there was no internet and gazetteers showing old names of villages in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire were not exactly easy to find. I did wander over to the Family History Center in Los Angeles, but had no luck finding these places.

This is a major reminder to all, regardless of how long one has been researching, to go back and take a second, third or even fourth look at the information that has already been discovered.

This most definitely was a brick wall that only existed because (1) I misread one letter years ago and (2) I needed both a detailed gazetteer and someone who could read this document correctly.

This one piece of paper was the key to unlocking my grandfather’s family history. I had planned a trip to Salt Lake City early in 2011 to work on another long-time brick wall, that of my Danish great grandmother. I decided to bring along the baptismal certificate and to ask for help at the Eastern European help desk in the Family History Library. As luck would have it, one of the volunteers spoke Slovak, knew much of the Slovak history, took one look at the certificate and the non-brick wall totally crumbled.

Yes, Stephen Kucharik’s ancestral village was “Sebes” (pronounced like “Sheb-ess”), but the area was divided into “Also Sebes” and “Felso Sebes,” so my early attempts at finding the villages didn’t include looking under the letters “A” or “F.” Sebes was not found under “S.” Secondly, today, the town is known as Vysna Sebastova and I certainly wasn’t checking the “V” listings, either. Lastly, remember I mentioned that I misread one letter on the baptismal certificate? Well, “Jaros” wasn’t “Jaros” at all, it was “SAROS.” Saros was the Hungarian county name for that area of Slovakia, which, by the way, included my grandmother’s ancestral home. It turns out that the Kuchariks were living only about forty miles away from the Scerbaks in the 1800’s.

I have often thought about how my Kucharik research would have progressed if Nana hadn’t told me about the surname change or if she had died before I ever had a chance to answer that question. That is why my grandfather’s baptismal certificate is one of my most valued heirlooms. Even without Nana’s help, this 122 year old piece of paper would have eventually allowed me to trace the Kucharik and Kacsenyak families from Passaic back to Mahanoy City and then to their ancestral home.