Tag Archives: Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel

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.

Factory Beginnings & Quasquicentennial of Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, Passaic NJ

I would like to thank Mark S. Auerbach, City Historian of Passaic, NJ for the time he has spent detailing stories of early Passaic and for the images which he has so kindly given me permission to include in my posts about early Passaic and St. Michael’s Church.

The story of the founding of St. Michael’s Church in Passaic, New Jersey will be the subject of the next few posts and is written in memory of my grandmother, Julia Scerbak Sabo, my “Nana,” who was born on 17 August 1893 in Passaic. She was a devout Catholic and lifelong parishioner of the Church of St. Michael the Archangel, which today is the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, Byzantine Catholic Rite, located at 96 First Street, Passaic, NJ.

What is a “quasquicentennial”? It is the 125th anniversary of an event. St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church was founded in 1890 in Passaic so this year is its Quasquicentennial Anniversary.

In order to tell the story of St. Michael’s, a little bit of the history of Passaic, New Jersey needs to be told first. Passaic was originally called Acquackanock back in 1679 when the Dutch settled the area, so its history is lengthy. However, Passaic didn’t become a city until 1873 and didn’t really begin to grow until the 1880’s. The 1880 census shows a population of about 6,500 people, but that was about to change.

The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century continued to influence American life in the 19th century. Factories were springing up all through the northeast after the Civil War and Passaic was no exception. You see, Passaic had two items that interested businesses that operated factories. First, the Passaic River flows along the eastern border of the city.

With the addition of the Passaic Dundee Canal, completed in the early 1860’s, flowing water, needed by factories, was readily available. (There will be more about the Dundee Canal in a later post.)

Dundee_Canal_1997Wikimedia Commons
Portion of Dundee Canal in Recent Times
Source: Wikipedia Commons

Train service had also been established in Passaic prior to the Civil War and the main track ran through downtown Passaic near the areas where factories were being built. Therefore, goods could be produced in Passaic and then easily shipped to their destinations. The Erie Railroad ran the trains through the city until well into the 20th century. (More on the Passaic trains in a later post, too.)

What was life like for the mill workers? One thing is for certain, it didn’t change much over the period of forty years or so. While there were cotton and wool mills in Passaic in the 1860’s, they didn’t really thrive. In 1887, Botany Worsted Mills came to town. (Worsted fabrics are fabrics in which the fibers have been combed so they all run in the same direction, producing a finer fabric.) Botany Mills was a big company and it needed a lot of mill hands.

Botany Worsted Mills, Passaic, N. J.(PMC) - 1900
Botany Worsted Mills
From the American Textile History Museum collection
 in Lowell, Massachusetts

Other mills soon popped up along the Passaic River and the Dundee Canal. These photos of workers in the mending department of  Gera Mills include Minnie Wnuk Tarris, grandmother of Margaret Tarris Bauer of www.pysankybasics.com, who kindly gave permission to share these with you.

Minnie WnukTarrisGeraMillsMendingDept1939
Minnie Wnuk Tarris at her desk in Gera Mills

gereamills1Mending Department of Gera Mills, Supervised by Minnie

My grandmother, Julia, is second from the right, standing, in this picture below taken at one of the mills. It may have been Botany since they hired “Hungarians,” which at the time included many ethnic groups that were part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. My grandmother was Slovak.

Factory Where Julia WorkedPassaic Mill Hands

Julius Forstmann opened his mill in the early 1900’s and became another large factory employer.

Although his factory is long gone, Julius Forstmann’s name is still recognized in Passaic, as his former mansion was razed and the land  became the site for the new Julius Forstmann Public Library on the corner of Passaic and Gregory Avenues. Although involved with the design of the new library, Mr. Forstmann passed away before the building was completed and the new library opened in 1941.

An aside – Passaic, with its immigrants forging new lives, had many families with little money. I grew up loving books and became a teacher, likely in part due to the fabulous children’s section of the Forstmann Library, where I could read to my heart’s content. Of 290,000 books in the collection, in the 1950’s, 152,000+ were children’s books. Mr. Forstmann, a very wealthy man, gave an invaluable resource back to the city.

Day-to-day life was hard in the mills, but it still held more hope for the future than the workers’ European homes and the dire poverty most had left behind. They were still poor in America, but better off than before.

A typical work day was eleven to twelve hours long. Fifty-five and sixty hour weeks were common for the time period. There were no paid sick or vacation days and if you didn’t show up for work, you were easily replaced. By the 1920’s, about 16, 000, mostly immigrants, worked in the Passaic mills. Men typically earned $1000-1200 per year, but a basic standard of living for the time necessitated an income of about $1400 per year.

Ventilation was poor in the factories and since workers often came to the job when sick, tuberculosis was a common affliction. Most couldn’t afford any kind of medical care so home remedies were the order of the day. The young girl on the left in this photo is Maria Scerbak Tidik with her future husband Stephen Tidik. Maria, or Mary as she was called in America, was my grandmother’s younger sister. She emigrated to Passaic with her husband and two young children in the mid-1920’s, but quickly caught tuberculosis and died at the age of 26 in 1926.

Safety measures were almost non-existent; management had all the rights and made all the decisions. It was pretty much “my way or the highway” when a mill hand had a difference of opinion with the boss.

Sunday, however,  was the day of rest. By 1890, many of these new mill workers were from two small, neighboring villages in today’s Slovakia, called Ujak (today, Udol) and Hajtovka. These villagers formed the nucleus of those who founded St. Michael’s in 1890.

Next post – the life left behind in Udol.



George Kucharik and Julia Scerbak – Another Brick Wall

My paternal grandparents, George Kucharik and Julia Scerbak,  were first generation Americans; their families came from Slovakia. They were long time parishioners at St. Michael’s Byzantine Catholic Church on First Street in Passaic, New Jersey.

Julia and George were married at St. Michael’s and both their funerals were held in the church, which sat across from the Dundee Canal in Passaic. After several decades, the steeples were deemed unsafe and the church was renovated. If you visited the cathedral today, it would look like this:

StMichaelTodayCathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, Passaic, NJ

Julia, or Helena as she was baptized, was born on 17 Aug 1893 in Passaic, NJ and baptized the same day at St. Michael’s. I am lucky enough to have her original baptismal certificate:

George’s family didn’t move to New Jersey until the late 1890’s, having first settled in 1883  near Mahanoy City in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. George was born in the town of Delano on 24 May 1893 and baptized at St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Mahanoy City. The design is amazingly similar to that of St. Michael’s.

I never knew my grandfather because he died of tuberculosis at the young age of 42 years.

My grandmother didn’t like her in-laws and after George died, she had little contact with them. As I began the search for my Slovak roots, Julia could tell me many details about her family and life in the villages of Udol and Ujak, in the foothills of the Tatras Mountains, not far from Presov in today’s Slovakia.

Other than George’s family was also Slovak, she knew nothing about their Slovak town of origin or even when they first came to the United States. I actually knew more than she did because the 1900 census told me they arrived in 1883.

Recently, I wrote about strategies to break down brick walls. Step #1 was to review the documents and information already at hand. Now, I have to admit that I didn’t have this document when I first started the hunt – I found it among my grandmother’s papers after she passed away – but it held the Kucharik key to their Slovakia home. It was George’s original baptismal certificate:

GeorgeSaboBaptCertPennBaptismal Certificate of George Kucharik

This certificate was actually written on 17 October 1906. I am not sure why they had to return to Pennsylvania to obtain it – perhaps George needed it to attend school.  The official church baptismal certificate had been changed slightly, although both are written in Latin. In both cases, the child’s name, parents’ names and sponsors’ names are on the certificate. However, George’s certificate includes information not recorded by the priest on Helena’s (Julia’s) certificate, which is the “place of origin” of the parents.

Look at George’s certificate where the names of his parents, Stefan Kucharik and Maria Kacsenyak are recorded.

CroppedWhat Does It Say???

Stephanus Kucharik origene et(?) Sebos? Coru(?): Jaros?, Hungaria, et uxor eius? Maria Kacsenyak. Gr. Cath.

Translated: Stefan Kucharik origen is (I think) . . . . Hungary and his wife Maria Kacsenyak, Greek Catholic.

This was back in the day of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but wherever this was it was most likely in current day Slovakia. I got nowhere looking for place names that looked anything like these, BUT I was fortunate that I was already booked for a trip to Salt Lake City. I can’t say enough great things about the FamilySearch Library in general, but the workers on the international floor for Eastern Europe and Scandinavia are nothing short of spectacular.

I photocopied George’s baptismal certificate and my first library stop was at the help desk for Eastern Europe. The lady who helped me was actually from Slovakia. She took one look at the information and said it was the town of (sounds like) “Shebesh” in Saros County. After checking a gazeteer for name changes, she said the names back then were Also Sebes and Felso Sebes, but today is the town of Vysna Sebastova, not far from Presov. She also handed me a computer printout of the film numbers for the Catholic records in that area.

As I read through the films, I found the marriage record of Stefan Kucharik and Maria Kacsenyak and was able to trace the family backwards from there.

Although Julia had no idea where the Kuchariks were from, their home village was less than forty miles away from hers.

In this case, Step #1 broke open the brick wall!