Tag Archives: Anna Murcko

Photographic Family History – Scerbaks of Udol, Slovakia and Passaic, NJ

Michael Scerbak and Anna Murcko were born in the small village of Ujak, Slovakia, which today is called Udol. It sits along the mountain ridge dividing southern Poland from Slovakia and, as the crow flies, is southeast  of Krakow. The Scerbak and Murcko families were peasant farmers and I doubt they had any photos taken of themselves in the 1800’s.

The 1890 census would be very useful in helping to tell the story of this family, as Michael, born 17 February 1868, and Anna, born 23 May 1872, arrived in the United States sometime before 22 October 1892, when they married at St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church in Passaic, New Jersey.

Michael Scerbak Wedding
Newlyweds Michael and Anna Scerbak

Their “wedding photo” is interesting as it is a tintype that has been colorized and their heads have been superimposed on the bodies.

I believe they probably arrived sometime between 1890, as Anna would have been 18 years old. She had no apparent relatives already in Passaic and it isn’t likely that she would have emigrated alone when she was under eighteen.

After their wedding, Michael and Anna settled into a tenement apartment in Passaic and started their family. However, about 1897 or 1898, the family left Passaic and moved back home to the village. I asked my grandmother why they left and she said her mother said the air was bad and she wanted to go home. Michael complied and back to Europe they went.

Michael died on 16 March 1932 in Udol. Anna survived him by many years, dying on 28 June 1967, also in Udol.

Michael and Anna had six known children and my grandmother said her mother lost a baby that wasn’t named. She didn’t know if it was a boy or girl; it sounded like a miscarriage rather than an infant who died soon.

1. Helena Anna (aka Julia), born 17 August 1893 in Passaic, NJ. She died 29 May 1985 in South Hackensack, Bergen Co., NJ. Julia married George Kucharik, whose family named was changed to Sabo in the 1920’s. George was born 24 May 1893 in Delano, Schuylkill Co., PA. He died 27 November 1936 in Passaic. They had one son, George.

Although her family never returned as a unit to live in the United States, Julia and two of her siblings – brother Peter and sister Mary –  did migrate back to the Passaic area. Here is a photo of her for some special occasion sometime before she married. John Biss is to the left of Julia in the back row and her cousin, Susannah Szurgent, is two people to the right of her in the back row.

BissOsifichinPhoto3
Julia Scerbak, X to the left of center, 1910-1915

Here is George and Julia Sabo’s wedding party:

George & Julia Wedding Party
6 September 1915, Passaic, NJ

2. Michael, born 30 January 1895, Passaic; died 13 October 1895, Passaic, NJ. There are no known photos of baby Michael.

3. Peter, born 25 December 1896, Passaic. He died 9 April 1971 in Clifton, NJ. As you can see, Pete was born on Christmas Day, but what isn’t as obvious is that the day he died – 9 April 1971, was Good Friday. Pete married Mary Sedlak on 10 June 1918 in Passaic, which was her 18th birthday. Mary was born on 10 June 1900 in Slovakia and died 8 December 1982 in Clifton, NJ. They had five children: George, who died at the age of 2 1/2 in 1926, Emily Mary, Peter Edward, Julia Olga and George Jack Scerbak.

George & Pete at Butcher Shop
Peter Scerbak, 2nd from right, in the early 1930’s

4. Maria, born 5 June 1899, Udol, Slovakia. Mary died of tuberculosis on 8 May 1926, a month short of her 26th birthday. She married Stephen Tidik on 2 September 1917 in Udol, Slovakia. Stephen was born 18 August 1896 in Udol and died 11 July 1938 in New Jersey. Stephen and Mary had two sons, Stephen and Nicholas.

Mary Tidik
Maria Scerbak, left, with future husband, Stephen Tidik

5. Michael, born on 7 June 1906 in Udol, Slovakia. Michael died on 6 March 1957 somewhere in the USSR. He married Maria Hrinya about 1930. She was born 19 September 1909 in Udol and died after 14 February 2002. Michael and Maria had three children: Maria, Helena and Anna. Michael never came to the United States and Julia never returned to Slovakia after her 1910 return here so Michael was just four years old the last time she saw him. Here is a photo of Michael with wife, Maria, and his little brother, Stefan, taken in Udol about 1923:

MichaelScerbakWifeBrotherStefan
Michael & Stefan Scerbak with Maria Hrinya Scerbak

6. Stefan, born 28 October 1917 in Udol. He died on 28 April 1996, also in Udol. He married Helena Murcko about 1948 in Udol. She was born 22 July 1929 and died 7 May 2010, both in Udol. Stefan and Helena had six children: Maria, Helena, Anna, Luba, Stefan and Darina.

Julia returned to the United States in November 1910 – seven years before her youngest brother was born. They corresponded via letters and very occasionally spoke on the phone, but Julia and Stefan never met. I can’t imagine my life overlapping with a sibling’s – by 68 years – and never meeting in person. Such were the days for families separated by the Iron Curtain.

Michael Scerbak, 1895-1895

Lately, I have been reading a lot of parish records and, although I have seen many infant deaths recorded in the years that I have spent doing family history, I am still surprised and saddened at the high mortality rate through the years. Thankfully, in the modern world, the death rate among infants has dropped significantly.

Today, I want to tell the short life story of little Michael Scerbak, the younger brother and second born child of Michael Scerbak and Anna Murcko, who migrated from Udol in today’s Slovakia to Passaic, New Jersey.

When I first started asking my grandmother about her family, I asked about her brothers and sisters. I knew her brother, Peter, and I also knew she had a sister, Mary, who had died of tuberculosis in the 1920’s. I also knew that I had “cousins” in Slovakia, but I didn’t know many details.

Besides my grandmother Julia’s brother, Peter and sister, Mary, I learned that she had several other siblings. She had a brother, Michael, born about 1906 and who died in “Russia” in the 1950’s. The cousins that I knew of in Slovakia were children of her brother, Stefan, who she never met.  You see, Julia was born in Passaic in 1893, but the family returned to the village of Udol about 1898. In 1910, when my grandmother was seventeen years old, she left the village for the last time and returned to Passaic to live.  Her youngest brother, Stefan, wasn’t born until 1917 and he never came to the United States. They corresponded by letter and occasionally spoke on the telephone, but they never met in person, but that is a different story.

I asked Nana if she had any other siblings. She said her mother had given birth to one child, who she said was stillborn. I haven’t found any record of that child yet, but it was likely born in Udol.

Nana said she had one other sibling, a brother Michael, who was born after her in Passaic. She said she remembered when he died, but I am not sure she really did, as she was only two years old when it happened. She most likely has early memories of people remembering baby Michael.

Julia was born on 17 August 1893 in Passaic. Her brother, Peter, was born on 25 December 1896, also in Passaic. That left a large enough gap where another child could have been born. When I wrote to St. Michael’s Church in Passaic asking if there were any records for a baby Scerbak born in 1894 or 1895 to Michael and Anna, back came the reply:

Michael Scerbak, son of Michael Scerbak and Anna Murcko, was baptized on 30 Jan 1895 at St. Michael’s Church. It was customary for babies to be baptized within a couple of days of birth, so Michael was likely born about the 27th or 28th.

There was also a burial record:

Michael Scerbak, son of Michael Scerbak and Anna Murcko, was buried on 13 October 1895, also from St. Michael’s Church.

Infant Michael was not quite nine months old when he died. My grandmother said he was taking a nap and didn’t wake up. If her information is accurate, it sounds something like today’s crib death. However, immigrant families in Passaic at the time didn’t have much access to medical care. It is also certainly possible that Michael became ill and died. There are no New Jersey state records detailing his birth or his death.

I learned a bit more about baby Michael recently. Ancestry has the 1895 state census of New Jersey in its database. I searched for the Scerbak family and found one Mickael Scserbak and family living in Ward 1 in Passaic, which is the area around St. Michael’s.

MichaelScerbakFamily1895NJCensus
Scserbak Family, 1895, Passaic, NJ
Ancestry.com Database

This census page is somewhat faded and a bit difficult to read. However, eight lines down on the left page is Mickael Scscerbak, Annie, Julia and baby Michael.

This particular census was taken between 15 May and 1 July 1895. The Scerbak family was living among a neighborhood of friends and relatives, including Michael’s brother John, who is enumerated on Line 15, living in the same multi-family household. I recognize other names – Spirko, Knapp, Timcsak and Murcsko – on the same page. They were all from Udol.

Sometime during the summer of 1895, Michael Scerbak, my great grandfather, took a trip back to the village. My grandmother said he crossed the ocean several times. I found him on a ship’s manifest returning to America.

I can only imagine how excited he was, landing in New York after a two week or so voyage, and only fifteen miles from seeing his wife and children again. However, there is one detail that this manifest page doesn’t show – the arrival date in New York, which was 24 October 1895.

When Michael arrived in Passaic, he arrived to the news that his infant son had died and been buried just eleven days before. A happy arrival home became a very sad day for him.

 

Helena Anna Scerbak, aka Julia Sabo

I told the story of my grandfather, George Kucharik, aka George R. Sabo, the other day, on the 78th anniversary of his death. Today, I would like to tell you about my Nana, Julia Scerbak Sabo. Like George, Julia had a bit of a name change. She was born in Passaic, New Jersey on 17 August 1893, the first child of Michael Scerbak and Anna Murcko, Slovak immigrants from the tiny village of Udol (then called Ujak) in today’s Slovakia. The village sits in the Tatras Mountains. I explain to people that if you were a bird and flew southeast from Krakow, Poland over the Tatras, you would be in Udol.

Like so many others in the neighborhood around First Street, Michael and Anna worked in the factories. Julia was baptized at St. Michael’s Church and given the name “Helena Anna.”  Now, it doesn’t take much to figure out that “Helena” would like be “Helen” in an anglicized version. However, my grandmother told me that girls named “Helena” were called Julia here in America. She did have an aunt named “Helena,” born in Udol and called Julia in America. Maybe it was a family thing, I don’t know, but I never understood how “Helena” turned into “Julia.”

The Scerbaks lived in Passaic until about 1897 or 1898 when they returned to Udol. I asked Nana why they went back. She said her mother said the air in Passaic wasn’t very good for her and she wanted to go home. Anna was a smart lady – all the fumes from the (unregulated) factories produced a lot of very unhealthy smog and toxins.

As far as I know, Anna never returned to the United States. Michael did make at least one trip and, from conversations I remember with Julia, he likely visited here at least a couple of times.

Julia returned to the United States in November 1910, just missing the census. She was seventeen and traveled with a cousin and some other people making the trip from Udol to Passaic.

I have no photos of her as a child. I doubt Michael and Anna had the money for that in Passaic and I don’t think there were many photographers running around Udol in 1900. They likely wouldn’t have had money for photographers there, either. The earliest photos I have of her are when she was twenty when she was in the wedding of John Biss and Helen Osifchin on 6 September 1913 at St. Michael’s Church in Passaic.

BissOsifichinPhoto3
Julia, marked with “x” on left in back

I originally thought that Julia was the young lady with the “x” marked out in the back on the right. Nana said that was her cousin, Susanna Patorai.

Julia married George Kucharik/Sabo – exactly two years after the Biss-Osifichin wedding – on 6 September 1915, also at St. Michael’s Church.

George & Julia Wedding Party
George and Julia with Their Wedding Party

My father, George, born on 9 February 1926 in Passaic, was George and Julia’s only child. My grandmother never mentioned whether she had lost any children and I never thought to ask back then. Nana did say that George was born at home and he weighed over nine lbs. at birth! Julia was a small woman, about 5′ 2″ and slender. Giving birth to a nine pound baby at home was not an easy task.

Julia took care of George and helped out at the meat market throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s. My grandfather died in 1936, but I believe my grandmother continued to help out at the store. The Central Market not only made it through the Depression, but did well. It also prospered during World War II, but, ironically, it didn’t survive the post-war economic boom in the 1950’s.

As far as I know, Julia never worked outside the home except at Central Market. After George died, she did rent out a back room in our two-family house at 49 Summer Street to make some extra money.

Julia was an talented gardener; she loved flowers. There were always plants in bloom in the spring while summer brought all the garden tomatoes.

When the 1940 census was released, I was excited to find her and my father. Nicholas Tidik, son of her deceased sister, Mary was also living in the household. I was surprised to see her age: 35! (Remember, she was born in 1893 and corrected store clerks when they gave her the wrong change when she was 90.) I guess she didn’t see the need to tell the census taker how old she really was!

Sabo1940Census
Sabos are three families up from bottom

Julia was an active member of St. Michael’s Church, belonging to the Rosary Society. She had a wide circle of friends, whom I now recognize as fellow immigrants from Udol.  She and her brother, Peter Scerbak, took part in church plays.

She raised my father as a single parent and made sure he got a good education. This photo of Julia and son George is from around the time he graduated from high school:

George & Julia in Front of House
Julia and My Father, c1945

Nana was very religious. Although she always attended St. Michael’s, she often visited other Catholic churches around Passaic. I can remember being taken with her on these walks, stopping in at St. Nicholas, Holy Trinity, St. Anthony, St. Mary, Holy Rosary, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. . . .we always walked to these churches and they were spread out around the city.

St. Michael’s Church celebrated its 90th anniversary in 1980. Remember how Julia didn’t like the census taker knowing how old she really was? Well, the pastor of St. Michael’s called and asked us to bring Julia to their banquet dinner at the church celebration. She was to be introduced as the oldest living member who was baptized at St. Michael’s. We took her to the banquet and she was introduced. Nana was 87 and was not happy that everyone knew it! She liked it even less when she saw this in the Eastern Catholic Life newspaper:

Cathederal Parishioners Honored (Julia Sabo)
Julia at St. Michael’s Celebration

She lived a long, healthy life. I don’t ever remember her going to the doctor’s except for once when she was in her 80’s and had the flu. Actually, I think the doctor made a house call.

Julia's Obituary
Herald News Obituary, 31 May 1985

Julia died in her sleep on 24 May 1985. She had been baptized at St. Michael’s, married there and her funeral was held there, too. She was buried next to husband George, whom she outlived by 49 years. On her other side was my father, who predeceased her by 8 weeks, passing away from lung cancer.

I’m very grateful for all the years I had growing up with Nana as she always lived with us. I am also very grateful that she broke down our family history brick wall. If she had passed away before I started researching, I likely would never have learned that our family name wasn’t Sabo, it was Kucharik!