Tag Archives: Michael Scerbak

MyHeritage Newly Indexed Ellis Island Records and My Great Discovery!

Recently, Legacy Family Tree Webinars hosted a presentation by Mike Mansfield, titled Find Your Immigrant Ancestors AND Their Relatives in the New York Passenger Arrival Records. This webinar gave a glimpse into the newly indexed records for New York which have been added to the MyHeritage database collection.

This webinar is well worth watching if you have ancestors who passed through Ellis Island. It’s in the free library so even if you aren’t a subscriber (you should be, it’s fabulous!), you will have access to it.

My paternal great grandparents all came through Castle Garden and, later, through Ellis Island. I was lucky enough to have my grandmother to ask questions back when I first began this genealogical journey.

I was very curious about the Slovak side of my family. My grandmother, Julia Scerbak Sabo, was born in Passaic, New Jersey in 1893. Her parents had also married in Passaic a couple of years earlier. However, her family story was a bit different than that of most immigrants. When Nana was four or five years old, the family returned to Ujak, their ancestral village. Nana returned to the United States in 1910 when she was seventeen years old, traveling with her cousin, Susanna Szurgent, who was all of eighteen years old.

I asked Nana if she ever saw her parents again, as her father and mother, Michael Scerbak and Anna Murcko, both died in Ujak (today known as Udol.) She said she never saw her mother again, although they talked on the telephone a handful of times. However, she said she saw her father at least twice more before he died in 1932 because he returned to Passaic for short times.

Now, Nana was always spot on about any questions I put to her about her family and life in Slovakia. I had no reason to doubt that Michael Scerbak returned to the United States for those visits, likely a combination of earning some money and visiting with friends and relatives who settled in the Passaic-Garfield area.

Michael was no where to be found in the 1910, 1920 or 1930 censuses, nor could I find him in the 1915 New Jersey state census and I had resigned myself to the fact that his visits happened between census years and I wouldn’t ever find evidence of when he was here.

That is, I wouldn’t find any evidence until MyHeritage indexed those passenger records. During the webinar, I decided to try out the search capabilities and entered both Scerbak and Scserbak. Up came a hit for a Mike Scserbak in 1912. What really caught my eye was the notation that the passenger, not Mike, was going to stay with his brother-in-law, Mike Scserbak in Garfield, New Jersey. The passenger was Janko Murcko. Janko is a nickname for John, like Johnny. Janko was from Hajtovka, which is a tiny village about a mile from Udol and he was born about 1880.

Source: MyHeritage Ellis Island Passenger Lists

Janko Murcko is person #4 on the top left side of the list.

I mentioned my great grandmother earlier in this post – she was Anna MURCKO and she had a brother, John, born in 1879. The Murckos were from Hajtovka.

Udol is a very small village that had never had more than perhaps 800 people living there. There is only one Michael Scerbak who married a Murcko and had a brother-in-law named John at that time and that is my great grandfather.

I finally had my proof that Nana saw her father at least once after she left Slovakia for good. Now I wonder if her dad ever met my grandfather-to-be, George Kucharik aka Sabo. That’s a question that I don’t think will ever be answered!

If that wasn’t great enough, a second entry popped up that I believe is also my Michael Scerbak. I knew my great grandparents were in Passaic by October 1892, when they married at St. Michael’s Church in Passaic, New Jersey. However, I had no idea when either Michael or wife Anna first arrived.

Source: MyHeritage Ellis Island Collection

On Line 6 of the second page above, there is a 20 year old “Michaly Serbak.” My Michael was born in 1868 and there aren’t many men of the same name running around in that time period. I think this is my Michael, which means he was in the United States, probably for the first time since he was alone and aged 20, by 1888. I haven’t yet found Anna’s arrival, but it still might appear. Murcko is spelled many ways since it sounds like “Muchko.”

There is a second part to this story, unrelated to the Ellis Island records. I asked Nana if her father had any siblings. She said he had two sisters, but no brothers. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Michael had a brother, John, who was about six years older. John married, had a family AND left Slovakia for the Passaic-Garfield area. In fact, he died in 1938 in Garfield.

Nana had been right about so many answers. Why had she not said that she had an uncle who lived in New Jersey? Could she really not have known John’s whereabouts? The 1915 New Jersey state census can answer that question. John Scerbak was living at 98 Grand Street, Garfield, New Jersey. Nana, who married in September 1915, was still single at the time the 1915 census was taken and was living with cousins at 60 Grand Street, Garfield. Those two houses are a total of 443 apart and that particular neighborhood was very popular with folks from Ujak and Hajtovka, as it was less than one mile from St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church in Passaic, where they all worshipped.

Well, they all worshipped there except for one John Scerbak, who broke with tradition and attended SS. Peter and Paul’s Russian Orthodox Church! My grandmother loved St. Michael’s and she had a long standing hatred of Russia for taking over Slovakia and turning it Communist.

Nana isn’t here to question more closely, but I think she denied that she had an uncle because John Scerbak chose to leave the parish of St. Michael’s!

If you have family who passed through Ellis Island, I strongly recommend that you watch this webinar, which is in the free library at Legacy Family Tree. I’ve disliked the Ellis Island website ever since they introduced their “new improved” (I think they ruined the site) experience. MyHeritage has made a terrific contribution with the New York passengers collection and not only remedied the Ellis Island faults (like images that jump all over the place when you try to read them), but have made the collection vastly more usable by including names of those close relatives/friends back in Europe and those with whom they were going to live in the United States.


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.

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:

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.

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.