Tag Archives: Family Businesses

Do You Have a Businessman/woman in the FamilyTree?

Do you have any ancestors who owned their own businesses? There are three found in the Stufflebean and Sabo family trees. One isn’t too surprising, but two, I think, are a bit more unusual, given the family circumstances.

All three of these businesses were in existence during the first half of the twentieth century and each provided goods for sale to the public.

The first is the Stufflebean General Store, which opened for business in Noble, Oklahoma in 1907, the same year in which Oklahoma became a state. Dave’s great grandfather, John Henry Stufflebean, was the owner and proprietor of the general mercantile store and his employees were mostly his seven sons, as they reached an age to be able to contribute labor.

EarlStufflebean at Store
Earl Stufflebean, right

John Henry was in the right place at the right time to get started in business in Oklahoma, at the dawn of statehood when new residents were flocking in to settle there. He was quite successful, as his obituary in 1936 mentioned that the store continued to that day.

Because John Henry died before the 1940 census, I have no idea what level of education he had, but I suspect it was less than 4 years in high school and perhaps he didn’t go past even the 8th grade. His father died during the Civil War and he and his siblings were left on their own for a while when their mother was unable to care for them. I actually found his fifteen year old sister as the head of their household in 1870!

However, a man starting a business and having sons old enough to help out in the store isn’t particularly surprising.

The other two family businesses surprised me a bit. In 1920, my great grandfather, Charles Adams, worked in a factory. At the same time, my great grandmother, Annie Maude Stuart Adams, opened a fine goods store for the ladies of Calais, Maine. Annie died five months after the 1940 census was taken, but she was enumerated and reported that she finished the 8th grade.

Her store opened sometime in the 1920’s and continued on into the early 1930’s. I don’t know whether the Depression caused her to close her store or if it was her ill health. She still lived in Calais in 1935, but by the 1940 census, she had gone to New Jersey to live with my grandparents’ family. Husband Charles had died in January 1922 and I don’t think he ever worked in her store.

This is the only picture I have of Annie’s store, but she had quite a stock of hats, gloves and other accessories for the well dressed modern woman.

During my one visit to Calais in the early 1980’s, I met a woman on the street who said she remembered her mother taking her into “Mrs. Adams’s store.” This lady, whose name I’ve forgotten if I ever knew it, said that she loved looking in the display cases at all the pretty things. However, my favorite part of this photo is the sign, clearly hung over the mirror that lets the customer know right up front: Please do not ask for credit. Annie was a cash-only kind of person, I guess.

She was a successful business woman with only an 8th grade education in an era where few women worked outside the home.

The last family business was, to me, the most remarkable. My paternal grandparents, George and Julia Sabo, were both born in New Jersey, although Julia’s family returned to Europe to live when she was about five years old. She migrated back to the United States in 1910 at the age of 17, so although a U.S. citizen, she was in a very real sense an immigrant.

I have a school certificate for George, showing that he finished the 8th grade, but I don’t know if he had any high school education or not. Julia reported in the 1940 census that she had completed the 6th grade. As her village had only a few hundred residents in it in what today is Slovakia, I am not surprised that she left school after the sixth grade. That was likely all that was available to any child.

In the 1920’s, near the start of the Depression, George and Julia, along with Julia’s brother Peter and friend Andrew Lengyel, opened the Central Market Company, which was a butcher shop.

The butcher shop did very well by all accounts. Not only were they able to provide deliveries using their own truck:

Central Market CompanyDeliveryCar
George Sabo, standing right

but a family friend, Anna Stanchak, said my grandmother helped save the Stanchak family financially during the Depression when she hired Anna as her maid. I only found this out at Nana’s funeral when I asked Anna how she came to be friends with my grandmother when there clearly was a big difference in their ages.

My grandmother didn’t work behind the counter, but, amazingly, she kept the books for the business! She also knew her cuts of meat as I remember being in the grocery store with her and she would be telling the clerks whether or not the meat was a good cut or not.

So, three children of Slovak immigrants – my grandfather, my grandmother and my grandmother’s brother – each of whom had way less than a high school education and had their first jobs working in the Passaic mills, opened and OWNED a butcher shop that thrived during the Depression and the bookkeeper Nana, who finished sixth grade. The butcher shop finally filed for bankruptcy in 1951, fifteen years after the death of my grandfather.

My only regret about these entreprenurial ancestors is that I didn’t live in a time where I could have visited these family stores myself.