Our second day in Slovakia was an eye opener for me. First another cousin, Joe and his daughter met us and wanted to show us some of the places where their family had lived and spend some time with us. We walked through Sabinov and saw where two of my dad's aunts had lived and also visited another cemetery. Joe told us Slovakia really suffered during WWII. First the Germans devastated their country and then the Russians came through on the second wave of the war. He told the story of his mother, my great aunt Emma, running through the streets in 1944 with her 2 year old son (Joe) in her arms to try and find shelter as the Germans and Russians were shooting at each other right on the street where they lived. It's amazing to hear these stories of what my relatives had to endure. Joe also showed us the German helmet he found a few years ago while mushroom hunting in the forest, it had washed down after a storm. You can see the bullet hole that must have killed the soldier and he said part of the skull was still in the helmet when he found it.
Joe and Emma gave us a book about Sabinov and it's in English!
Afterwards, Jozef took us to the station to buy our train ticket to Bratislava, where our friends from Vienna would be meeting us and taking us back to Austria for 3 days. Then he said, "I have a surprise for you. We are going to the records office in Presov to see your grandmother's birth certificate"! Wow, this was going to be fun.
When we arrived at the records office the clerk brought out the book with the people born in 1900, but my grandmother was added into the book in 1914. In the side line it was written she had been born in 1900. There was no explanation. Maybe a clerical error, since she was one of 11 children (one died shortly after birth). But here's the surprising part; my grandmother as we knew her, was called Margaret but in the records her name is Ilona! She had a sister named Margita!
Remember when I said my grandmother was a mail order bride? My grandfather was a widower with 4 young children, ages 9 years to 10 months when his first wife died. The story goes he sent to the old country for a wife and my grandmother's sister was to come. But, in the end she got scared and changed her mind, so my grandmother came in her place. So are you getting where this is leading? I am wondering if since all the paper work was already made for Margita if she came in her place as Margita! I don't think I will ever know the truth but it makes for an interesting story, doesn't it?
My grandmother's birth certificate was never found in the records office, but we saw one of her sister's birth certificates and it said my great-grandfather had been born in Croatia, which I never knew and that his wife was born in the village of Dubovica, just above Orkucany. All new information for me. I also found out the years the great-parents were born.
This birth certificate was written in Hungarian (Slovakia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in this era). It was so funny as the clerk read the Hungarian, he was translating to Slovak for Jozef, who was translating to English for us! The clerk made a few calls and told us they would have my grandmother's birth certificate in Sabinov, so we headed back to that records office. But, no birth certificate, just a record that the birth was recorded in 1914.
But I did get to see great-grandpa's signature!
But I did get to see great-grandpa's signature!
After a few hours cool down period at the hotel we went to another cousin's home, Vincent and Betty. They had expected us for a 20 minute visit at around 4 and we arrived at 7! Soon the Slivovica was poured and we were told we must drink 2 shots before we could go on with the meal. Meal? I thought we were just stopping by! Then we were offered bread and salt, a sign of hospitality! Betty started bringing out plate after plate of food. All, cool summer foods, just like I remember my aunts in Pennsylvania serving.
We went across the street to Jozef's parents house where we knew we had to say goodbye, but we kept putting it off. After talking for a while we had more hugs, kisses and tears and they gave us gifts too. A bottle of Slivovica, some crocheted doilies and a tea towel hanger for my kitchen. All very special gifts I will treasure.
The next morning Jozef took us to the train station. It's a good thing he was with us because we would have never made it on the train with our luggage and the tracks not properly marked.
I am so proud and happy to have met these people. They have helped to give me a sense of where my faith and family values come from. My family's humble beginnings have given me a rich appreciation for all that they have endured and for the love they have shared with me.
A few last photos of our visit. That is one of my cousin's garden plots. They grow their potatoes for the entire year. I am so envious of their garden and the space they have.The church pews were made by my cousin, Jozef, Sr. and the squeeze box was his father's.