Slovak and Carpatho-Rusyn Genealogical Research
Our Sastin Search
I was able to compile a little bit, as St. Cyril and Methodius cemetery in Schenectady, NY, contained the graves of my mother and father and most of my dad's family. Dates were difficult as the tombstones only had years of birth/death .. or simply death. My dad's older sister (still living at 95!) was a source of lots of little bits and pieces of info, but nothing spectacular.... in fact, she didn't even know the maiden names of her grandmothers (my great-grandmothers). I persisted, and discovered some interesting things from my youth...such as ... the guy who used to try to kill/maim/injure us pimboys at the church bowling alleys was married to my second cousin!!!!! Heck, I didn't know that she was my cousin until 1995!
Adding to my frustration was the fact that my mother, a first-generation Polish-American, was 7th of 16 kids! Thank God, however, her youngest sister had kept the family 'records' of dates/places/etc. for the family, so I had my mom's and my generations complete .... the problem was : How to find out ANYTHING about the previous generations in the OLD COUNTRY!
I started my search of my Slovak heritage by visiting the CGSI library in St. Paul, Minnesota, while there for a convention in 1992. The telephone directories listed three entries for Havlicek in Sastin-Straze .. the ancestral village... so I started out in 1994, by writing very simple letters (in English, not knowing Slovak) to all three of those addresses, hoping to receive something in return... hoping? .. praying was more like it!
Eventually, I received ONE reply .. IN SLOVAK .. and NOT from any of those to whom I had written! It was from the daughter of Anton who is also the granddaughter of Elizabetha ... who informed me that Anton and Elizabetha had both died in early fall of 1994 ! My efforts to translate Slovak with only the Trnka dictionary were time consuming, but I cried when I read her last line "Come to my house first, later we will find your ancestors!"
With this letter in my hot hand, I proceeded to fly to Prague, get my rental car there (a whole book could be written about the two taxi rides to get the car!), and set off to drive to Straze. When I arrived, I found that the English-speaking friend of my second cousin (another book!) was nowhere to be found, as the senior class at the Gymnazium was gone ... graduated !
I took the opportunity to try to communicate with people around the basilica .. and found an Austrian who spoke some English and Slovak. He inquired for me about my family, and discovered an elderly gentleman sitting in the back seat of a car in the parking lot. He asked the gentleman if he knew anyone in the Havlicek family .. and the elderly man asked if I had a picture .. I pulled out the 50th wedding anniversary pic of my grandparents (taken in Schenectady, NY), and showed it to him. His reply nearly floored me !! He said "They live up on the hill over there!" Amazing, as my grandparents had died in the 1950's.. and had NEVER returned to Slovakia after leaving in the early 1900's !
A yound man .. about 14 or 15 told me to follow him, and he rode off on his bike, with me trying to keep up in the car... (narrow streets and repairs - communist calamities - another book!). He drove up to a lovely little two-story home in town... pointed at it and said "Havlicek Dom!" I parked the car .. got out.. and was greeted by a handsome young man about 25 years old .. it was my cousin Anton, son of the Anton to whom I had written! He welcomed me into the house (offering slippers for my big feet!), and sat me down in the living room! I had NO ability to speak Slovak...he spoke NO English ... the Trnka dictionary was our BIBLE!
After struggling successfully with the family language problem (remember . I speak NO Slovak .. they speak NO English), I was able to understand that they wished for me to stay in their home while in that village! How wonderfully kind of them ... me, a complete stranger .. with the same surname!
Later that first afternoon, I drove back to the Basilica of the Seven Sorrows (in Sastin) to discover that Vlado, the English-speaking 18-year old, was there... looking for me! Through his intervention, I was able to get the priest at the Basilica to allow me to photocopy many many of the pages of the 'Death Record' of the Basilica, though the only book there was from 1901 - 1945. I copied EVERY page that had ANY reference to EITHER of my family names ... Havlicek (grandfather) and Mihalik (grandmother). One of the first entries I located was ... with tears streaming down my cheeks .. the record of the death of my father's oldest sister, who passed away at age 13 months .. 4 years before my dad was born!
I continued copying page after page ... over 60 pages in all.. and discovered some interesting information ... first... my great grandmother Havlicek ... was born Alzbeta Durdovic .... and the Hungarians had recorded her death as Elizabetha Gyorgyovics ... TWO NEW SURNAMES for me!
In addition, the most peculiar coincidence ... my other great grandmother, my grandmother Maria Mihalik's mother, was named Rozalia HAVLICEK ! ... MY GRANDPARENTS WERE COUSINS! (I later discovered they were second cousins!) As I sometimes say ... THE PLOT THICKENS! Later that day, I went out and took photos around the towns .. houses, churches, cemeteries.. everything!
After photographing every tombstone with 'Havlicek' and 'Mihalik' on them (in BOTH the Sastin and Straze cemeteries), I proceeded to drive to the other villages surrounding Sastin-Straze .. looking for more of the 'family' in cemeteries in Kuklov, Kuty, etc...
Still, I wondered if any or all of these people were in ANY way related to me!
After enjoying the company of my 'cousins' for four days and three nights, Anton, in his charming way... told me that we were going somewhere... He piled in the rental car .. and I began to drive through town, following his hand signal directions. As we made our way north and then east, he said "STOP" in good English.. and I did ... in front of a small house on the east of the town square. Alighting, he went to the door and knocked.. the charming, tiny woman came to the gate with him... and, with hand signals again, he asked me to take their photograph.
I obliged, and he returned the favor, taking my pic with her. (I learned shortly thereafter, that she is his Godmother!).. As we were there, a gentleman across the street yelled something to Anton in Slovak...Anton smiled and waved back. We got back in the car .. and I drove about 100 more yards east .. and stopped in front of a very very old home.. Anton said ... proudly "Don ... DOM JEDEN!" He was telling me that this is HOUSE number ONE in the town.. It is owned and lived in by his grandmother! Pictures again, as we went around it and in it.. (His grandmother was in Brataslava with his aunt).. Goosebumps struck me as I realized that this was an historic building ... hand-hewn beams holding up the ceiling... and walls about 1 meter (roughly 39 inches) thick!
As we left this historic home ... he motioned for me to drive to the house from where the gentleman had yelled to him earlier. We went up to the house... and were welcomed warmly by Frantisek Havlicek ! Another 'cousin'! As we made our way into the cozy living room area, Frantisek, who had studied English for ONE year in school about 20 years previously, brought out his very well worn English/Slovak dictionary, and proceeded to 'talk' with me about my family... To my astonishment, he produced a piece of cardboard approximately 18 inches by 24 inches (from a packing crate, I think) ... and on it .. HIS PEDIGREE .. back FIVE generations... all neatly done in black, red, and green ink! He pointed to his name on it ... his daughter.. and back up the chart to the top .. where it said "rodu Havlicek .. pritiel Kutor okolo 1800 a kupit som c 89 vo vrbiu !" (can't read it well from the photographs I took!)
Frantisek then asked me what my Great Grandfather's name was .. I said "Imrich" ... he shook his head and walked away ... as I started to take photographs of this priceless piece of his work. He returned and said "Don, your great grandfather's name is Stefan ???" I said 'NO, Imrich'... and he said "sorry, Don, No Imrich on here!'... as I continued ... he again returned and this time asked if the name was Rudolf ... I repeated what I had said .. and he again said .. 'no Imrich' ... he was holding the upper left hand corner of the chart as I took photos... and I asked him to move his hand .... when, behold !!!!! THERE WAS IMRICH !! and directly below IMRICH ... it said "Stefan - do USA" I was stunned .. that Stefan might be my grandfather's brother! Well ... my eyes raised above Stefan to Imrich ... and then up to Imrich's father ... and I got the most serious case of chills ... it said "PAVOL" and below that .... (*Krepelak* - maly) THAT WAS THE NAME MY AUNT HAD GIVEN ME THREE YEARS BEFORE .... her grandfather was known as "Krepelak" ... (TINY or SHORTY) ....
That was the connection ... just that one word ... As you can well imagine .. the next hour was filled with hugs.. tears.. more hugs... and the happiness I had gone to find in Slovakia! I can't tell you how pleased I was ... to have found my family there... and to know that ONE of them ... was interested in the family genealogy . and that's all it took ... ONE !
I maintain contact with Frantisek and his lovely wife, Maria. They are both school teachers (hmmmm is that a connection ?? teacher/genealogist?)
The rest of the story ... the Polish side .. is not as full of information, but I did find names/dates/ etc. in two small villages in Galicia, southern Poland ...
Thanks for letting me share my good fortune with you ... I promise, if I can help anyone else ... let me know ... The list of names that appear on ALL the pages of the Death Record that I photocopied are located at: http://www.iarelative.com/sastin.htm
Look and see if any of the names you are researching appear there.. if so, I'll try to help you by giving you EVERY reference to those names I have ... (put it on a spreadsheet here, and sorted that information FIVE different ways !) Should anyone desire to know how I finally 'connected' to these wonderful people! (Hint - it was ONE WORD that my aunt had told me in 1992 about her grandfather ... my great-grandfather... that one word was the unique connection I found .. and the reason I will return in 1999!)
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