Tag Archives: Hajtovka

History of St. Dimitry’s Parish, Udol/Hajtovka, Part 4: Industrial Revolution & Village Emigration

The people of Ujak and Hajtovka, Slovakia had lived the same daily lives for hundreds of years, from the Rusyn settlement in the late 1500s until 1880.

Governmental and political changes did little to affect the lives of economically poor and uneducated people who struggled to survive. They were sometimes hungry, cold and without any means to better themselves.

In spite of the difficulties that life presented to them, the Rusyns were a hardy group and St. Dimitry’s parish reached its peak population with 400 in Hajtovka and 800 in Ujak by 1880. Even the never ending epidemics couldn’t wipe them out.

Unbeknownst to anyone, the time period from the 1880s to 1920 would bring about more drastic changes to the villagers’ way of life than any other historical event.

For the first time in history, a few opportunities for a better future were presenting themselves. The economic stranglehold that the nobility had on the peasants was diminishing. Men became able to work for themselves. Land ownership was even a possibility although money was still scarce. Daily wages for a 14 hour day in the village equaled pennies on the dollar.

The meteoric growth of businesses in the Western world hadn’t yet made their way to Eastern Europe. That quickly changed as agents for European and American businesses sought out workers willing to emigrate and work for low wages in their new homeland.

The definition of “low” pay was seen very differently in the eyes of the villagers. By U.S. standards, factory workers worked long hours for little pay. However, what an American factory worker earned in an hour equaled Rusyn wages for that 14 hour work day.

Colonial emigration to America meant that men and/or their families left Europe for life across the pond. Young single girls generally didn’t set out on a long difficult voyage alone in that time period.

The Rusyn emigration to America was different. At first, it was the young men who headed across the Atlantic to find out if what they had heard about opportunities was really true. They likely had no expectation of returning home to friends and family, but would send word about their new lives.

Word received back at home was positive – men easily got work, often for the same company with factory shifts set up so that people speaking the same language would be working together. Money began flowing back home to their families. That, in turn, encouraged not only young men, but unmarried young women to head for the United States.

Passaic, New Jersey was a popular landing point for most residents of Ujak and Hajtovka who emigrated. The effect of the decrease in population can be seen in St. Dimitry’s church books with notation after notation made by the priest – “Emigrated” or “Amerika.”

Some residents who emigrated decided, for whatever reason, to return home. In those cases, the priest often wrote in the Observations column of the parish register – “Married in Amerika. Proof of marriage not shown.” In those cases, the priest actually left the legitimate/illegitimate status of a baby being baptized in Ujak empty because the couple failed to bring back a certificate from (usually) St. Michael’s Church in Passaic confirming the date of marriage.

My own family is a good example of what this emigration did to village families.

My 2X great grandparents, John Scerbak (1836-1916) and Maria Patorai (1839-1912) were the parents of eight children, of whom only three survived to adulthood and married:

1. John, born 18 July 1862
2. Michael, born 17 February 1868
3. Anna, born 11 June 1870

John married Catherine Dzuriczki in the late 1880s and they are one of the couples with the priest’s entry of married in America, but proof lacking.

John and Catherine returned home to Ujak before the birth of daughter Maria in August 1894. However, by September 1899, they were living in New Jersey, where they spent the rest of their lives.

Michael, my great grandfather, is found on a passenger list in 1890, arriving in New York. My great grandmother, Anna Murczko, also left Ujak sometime before October 1892, when she and Michael married at St. Michael’s in Passaic.

Michael and Anna lived in Passaic for about five years before they moved permanently back to Ujak. However, in future years, three of their five surviving children emigrated to America and never returned to the village.

The youngest of John and Maria (Patorai) Scerbak’s children, and their only daughter, married Michael Zavaczki and lived out their lives in Ujak. The village child mortality rate affected this family is a big way. Three of their four children died as toddlers. Their youngest child, Joseph, also lived in Ujak, where he died in 1999.

My great grandmother’s family faced much the same fate. Anna (Murcko) Scerbak was the daughter of John Murcko (1831-1917) and Maria Szova (1845-1925). They were the parents of six children of whom four lived to adulthood.

Anna was the eldest. Daughter Susanna left for America and married John Kovalycsik at St. Michael’s in 1894. They lived out their lives in New Jersey.

Son John married Maria Fedus and emigrated to the U.S.

John and Maria (Szova)’s youngest, Helen, married Stephen Pristas and settled in New Jersey.

It is estimated that from the 1880s until 1920, 75,000 Rusyns emigrated to the United States. Most lived in small villages like my family.

I’ve read that houses in Ujak (renamed Udol in 1948 after the Communist takeover) and Hajtovka didn’t even have electricity until the 1960s!

A quick review of the village population through the years clearly illustrates the decline:

1869 – 313
1890 – 281
1921 – 196
1970 – 160
2021 – 91

Ujak (now Udol)
1869 – 718
1890 – 685
1921 – 524
1970 – 574
2021- 303

The United States closed its borders to most immigration by 1921. Hajtovka’s inhabitants decreased from 313 to 196, while Ujak’s decreased from 718 to 524.

I recognize so many of the surnames found in St. Dimitry’s records – somewhat Americanized in spelling – because I wrote out the addresses on Nana’s Christmas cards. Pristas, Chanda, Biss, Fedus, Kovalycsik, Murcko, Sedlak, Hrinya, Mikulik and the list goes on.

I even recognize some of the names of my classmates, who as I was growing up, I had no idea were from Nana’s villages – like Warholak and Arendacs.

The same families who made the villages what they are also left an imprint on Passaic.

By the 1960s, even while under Communist rule, the decline continued as young people left to find work in nearby cities.

My grandmother’s youngest brother, who, by the way, she never met as he was born after she returned to America in 1910, lived out his life in the village, married and had six children.

The family still has a house in Udol, but it is for weekend getaways, not a permanent home.

Life goes on in St. Dimitry’s parish. It is drastically different than life in the 1800s, but it is still there.

A trip to Slovakia is on my bucket list. I want to walk in their footsteps! Maybe when this pandemic ends. 🙂




History of St. Dimitry’s Parish, Udol/Hajtovka, Part 3: Daily Life in the 1800s

With the historical foundation established for the small villages of Hajtovka and Udol that make up the parish of St. Dimitry’s Greek Catholic Church, it is time to examine the daily lives of the people who lived there in the 1800s.

It was previously mentioned that lives of these hardy people hadn’t changed much through the centuries. Life in the 1400s wasn’t much different than life in 1800.

However, there would be drastic changes in the parish by the turn of the 20th century.

Let’s look at economic, social and religious factors. From this, it will clearly be seen that all three influences were the causes, so to speak, of the lack of upward mobility for the villagers.

There is only one governmental census for this area of Slovakia; it was ordered by the Hungarian government and enumerated every person in each household in 1869.

The parish had quite a few rudimentary houses. Homes were made with wooden logs and were usually one single room, but there were a handful of houses that were two rooms and even two stories. In the case of a two story house, the animals were housed on the ground floor to keep them warm and safe.

Only the males had occupations listed and almost every single male of working age – and that means 14 or older -worked outside the home doing physical manual labor. Males worked for the noble, cutting trees, caring for livestock, planting, digging ditches, repairing buildings and doing anything else on the estate that needed to be done.

Zsellers, of which my family were included, were men whose family “occupied” a small home that included a small piece of land for personal farming.

However, a zseller was required to pay rent to the noble and to pay taxes to the church, leaving his family struggling to stay fed and clothed.

Less fortunate men had no land of their own to work.

Note, though, that no one owned their own real estate. The land all belonged to the noble family.

Everyone of working age toiled six days a week. Sunday and church holy days provided respite from work and the opportunity to socialize with friends and family.

It’s unlikely that the villagers ever had much hard money. Until later in the 19th century, a barter system of goods and services was likely used.

Aside from friends and family from nearby villages, there wouldn’t have been many outside visitors to St. Dimitry’s parish with the exception of Romani, or travelers, passing through.

The church registers include occasional entries through the years mostly recording the baptisms of Romani children and some burials. There were two or three notations of “zingarus” in the marriage records, but the wanderers, as they were called, didn’t often marry in Udol.

Women worked in the home, preparing food, weaving cloth, helped care for livestock and often helped husbands in the fields. There was a village midwife who helped women give birth. Her social status would have been higher than that of other females, due to her “medical” skills.

Many babies were born to these families, but, sadly, the infant and childhood mortality rate was so high that few infants survived childhood.

The family of Peter Csanda & Catherine Ratvan is not my direct line but is representative of village families. They were the parents of eight children, but look closely at the details.


  1. Veronica Anna, born 8 November, bp 13 November 1870; married Anthony David, 24, son of John & Helen Fengya of Ujak 96, 11 February 1890
  2. Maria, born 20 April, bp 4 May 1873; died 13 July, buried 15 July 1874, aged 1 year
  3. Peter, born 5 January, bp 16 January 1876; died 1 December, buried 3 December 1878, aged 2 years
  4. John, born 8 July, bp 13 July 1879; died 5 April, buried 7 April 1880, aged ¾ year
  5. Michael, born 1 September, bp 11 September 1881; died 12 September, buried 14 September 1881, aged 2 weeks
  6. Nicholas, born 11 June, bp 24 June 1883; died 7 August, buried 8 August 1884, aged 1 year
  7. Anna, born 10 August, bp 30 August 1885
  8. Michael, born 5 December, bp 11 December 1892

Five of their eight children died before they were two years old. I can’t imagine the dread along with excitement they felt each time Catherine was expecting, knowing that most children died young.

Eldest child Veronica married Anthony David and they emigrated, like so many other villagers, to Passaic, New Jersey. Youngest daughter Anna left the village in 1899. Her destination was the home of her brother-in-law, Tony David; in the 1900 census, she is enumerated as a mill hand in Passaic. It appears that Peter and Catherine’s youngest son, Michael, also left for America at some point although I haven’t found him in immigration records.

The villagers socio-economic status, or lack thereof, went hand in hand with the lack of education in the region. A young boy who showed promise to the priest might be fortunate enough to be sent to school to become a priest. No such opportunity existed for girls.

For the most part, aside from the priest and the cantor, the entire parish was illiterate. Schooling wasn’t an option for anyone until the 1890s when a basic education up to perhaps 4th grade was mandated.

Religion, therefore, was the center of everyone’s life. Sunday not only provided a chance to worship in church, but allowed young men to court young ladies and elder men and women to visit.

Hajtovka’s dwellers had to walk the mile or so over to Ujak to go to church, as there was no church building in their own village until 1872, when the Church of the Holy Mother was erected.

Given the high mortality rate, it is quite amazing that from the beginning of St. Dimitry’s church register in November 1827 until 1907, the parish was served by only three priests. Rev. Damian Csopjak arrived sometime before November 1827 and remained until he died in 1847. Rev. Anthony Bernatyak then served the parish from 1847 until he passed away in the spring of 1868. For several months, priests from neighboring villages served the parish until the arrival of Rev. George Andrejkovits in March 1869. He had the longest tenure, as he was the parish priest until his own death in 1907. Nana would have attended his Divine Liturgy celebrations at St. Dimitry’s as a young girl.

Baptisms and marriages were times of celebration. Until the late 1800s, it was the custom to marry in late fall, usually November, or after Christmas in January or February. it was also common for multiple couples to marry on the same day. Wedding feasts might go gone for two or three days.

Deaths, too, allowed family and friends to mourn the deceased. Burial took place after a 2 day wake with a procession following the casket on its last journey to the cemetery.

Although two villages of people attended the one church in Ujak, each village had its own cemetery. It would have been quite a job transporting a casket by hand from Hajtovka over a mile away to the Ujak church cemetery.

In a typical year, there were perhaps 40 burials recorded.

However, epidemics made regular appearances. Diphtheria, typhoid fever, cholera and dysentery killed many adults and children. Children were also susceptible to whooping cough, measles and chickenpox, diseases for which we have all been vaccinated.

From August through October 1831, it was cholera. Between October and December 1836, cholera made a second appearance.  The summer of 1843 brought chickenpox. In 1848, there was an outbreak of dysentery, followed in 1858 by whooping cough.

In the spring of 1864, the village suffered through both cholera and whooping cough.

The summer of 1873 brought back cholera with 80 people dead, followed by a typhoid outbreak in the summer of 1874.

Scarlet fever took the lives of many children from November 1878 through March 1879. Then diphtheria appeared immediately after in April 1879.

1880 brought a four month return of diphtheria, lasting into March 1881, when typhoid fever arrived.

In 1890, there was a triple whammy against the children with many cases of measles, diphtheria and whooping cough.

Life went on, as it had for centuries in St. Dimitry’s parish. The approach of the 20th century brought huge changes to the village way of life.

That change was brought on by the Industrial Revolution – not in Slovakia, but in America. After hundreds of years with no real change in the daily life of St. Dimitry’s, life far away finally gave the villagers a choice to control their own destinies.

In the final post of this series, we will look at the effect that factory and mining life had on Hajtovka and Ujak as the villagers headed into the 1900s.










History of St. Dimitry’s Parish, Udol/Hajtovka, Part 2: Turn of the 19th Century

Yesterday, we took a look at the establishment of the villages of Ujak (now Udol) and Hajtovka, two Rusyn villages in eastern Slovakia, which are nestled in the foothills of the Tatras Mountains.

These settlers were peasant farmers – serfs working under the local noble family. Sadly, their lives had changed very little from the 1300s right up to the turn of the 19th century.

Although the end of the 1800s brought a steady decline in population, as the 19th century began, St. Dimitry’s Church grew in membership with increased population in both Ujak and Hajtovka.

St. Dimitry’s church books begin in November 1827. However, there is another way to at least get a glimpse of a handful of the families who were living there in the second half of the 18th century.

If you’ve read my earlier posts on methodology in my one-place study, you already know that it’s important to look for church records in nearby villages.

In this case, Plavnica’s St. James Roman Catholic Church was a surprising resource for a multitude of Hajtovka’s and a few of Ujak’s records.

While the village church is Roman Catholic, records include both Roman and Greek Catholics and even quite a few Lutherans living nearby who married or had children baptized in the Catholic church.

These records also indicate that, although people didn’t stray too far from their own villages – remember, travel would have been by foot for peasants – they did interact much more frequently than I would have thought in the 1700s.

Plavnica is noted with the red pin in the center of the above map. The yellow arrows indicate villages named in Plavnica’s records and this map doesn’t even include Hajtovka, which sits one mile west of Udol, which is just northeast of Plavnica.

The best part is that St. James’s records begin in the mid 1600s!

However, place names aren’t mentioned much until the mid 1700s. There probably weren’t enough people living in the area before then for village names to be important in the records.

The first mention I found in Plavnica of villagers from Ujak and Hajtovka might well be a direct ancestor of mine, as there was only one known Scerbak family living in Ujak and was that of my Nana – Julia Scerbak:

18 November 1759 – Peter Serbak (Scerbak) of Ujak married Susanna Csaputta, daughter of Jacob Csaputta of Plavnica

This entry is important for two reasons. First, in my own family, it places a Scerbak living in Ujak more than 60 years before St. Dimitry’s surviving records.

Secondly, it indicates that, in spite of the 1755 fire that burned Ujak, there were inhabitants living there full time four years later. If Ujak was abandoned after the fire, it wasn’t that way for long.

These records also gave up more of the lost history of St. Dimitry’s parish.

Father Damian Csopak was the Ujak village priest for quite a few years and his is the first priest’s name entered in 1827 in St. Dimitry’s church register.

However, St. James’s records identify an earlier Ujak priest who baptized, married or buried some of Plavnica’s Roman Catholics in the late 1700s – Father Joseph Kamensky.

Whether another priest served St. Dimitry’s parishioners in the first quarter of the 19th century is not known to me, but if Father Kamensky was fairly young in the 1790s, he might have been the only priest there before Father Csopjak arrived.

Along with the parish priest and church cantor (man who led the songs), another well-respected and important man in a village was the miller, as he ground the wheat.

The Nyemecz family appears in St. Dimitry’s records in the early to mid-1800s. BUT – the family lived in Hajtovka long before 1827 according to St. James’s marriage records.

On 26 October 1768, Judith Nemecz, daughter of miller Michael Nemecz of Hajtovka, married Simeon Mikulik of Ujak

On 13 November 1774, Maria Nemecz, daughter of Michael, miller of Hajtovka, married Paul Dulin of Orlo

Not only was the Nyemecz family Roman Catholic, but at least two Michael Nyemeczs and probably three Michaels worked as Hajtovka’s village miller.

St. James’s records mentioned quite a few Murczkos from Hajtovka. Nana’s father was Michael Scerbak and her mother was Anna Murcko.

I’ve learned from the various church records that Nana’s direct family line were 100% Greek Catholic and lived in Hajtovka. However, there was also a contingent of Roman Catholic Murczkos who lived in Hajtovka at the same time.

Given the small geographic area, the two groups were likely distantly related.

Besides the Murczkos, there were several other Hajtovka surnames that I recognized in the 1700s who were prevalent well into the 1800s, like the Tengi family and the Arendacs family.

The Tengis were almost exclusively Roman Catholic; the Arendacs mimicked the Murczkos, with many families split between the Roman and Greek Catholic faiths.

St. James’s records reinforced two other facts which I learned during my recent project.

1. Although Hajtovka was half the size of Ujak, there was a much more diverse mix of Greek and Roman Catholics living there.

2. The dozen or so villages mentioned in St. James’s records prove that villagers had much interaction with people from other nearby villages, including non-Catholics (mainly Lutherans) and non-eastern Slavic people, such as Germans, Hungarians and even a few Polish settlers who crossed the mountains and headed south.

In the next post, we’ll look at the daily lives of the children and grandchildren who would be the first to leave the villages in the late 1800s for the opportunity to have better lives.

What were the factors that brought the emigrants to the decision to leave all that they and their ancestors had known?