Of my four grandparents, my maternal grandmother Anna Sabol Agin was the only one I ever got to know as an adult. Anna was born on September 13, 1904 in Raritan, New Jersey and she lived her whole life in Somerset and Middlesex Counties. She died on September 8, 1988.
Anna’s parents, Andrew and Mary Sabol, came to this country from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 1880s. They were ethnic Slovaks – but I only learned that for sure when I started this genealogy project two months ago. My grandmother would say her parents were of Slavic (or as she liked to say “Slavish”) background, but I never knew if that meant Slovak, Slovenian, Croatian, Serb or whatever. I have actually been to Slovakia a few times. Too bad I didn’t know I was visiting one of my motherlands. Time for another trip perhaps!
Anna was one of six Sabol children named in census records. She was second in line following her older brother Andrew G. Sabol Jr. who was born in 1900. Her younger siblings were Elizabeth (born 1910), Hermina (1912), Stephan (1918) and Ruth (1921). But it seems there were another three Sabol children who did not survive childhood. The 1900 census shows that the Sabols had one child who was no longer living and the 1910 census indicates there were three children in total who were no longer living. So it would seem that the Sabols’ firstborn child died before Andrew Jr. was born in 1900 while two other siblings were born after 1900 and but were no longer living in 1910.
That’s a lot of sadness for one family to bear. I wonder if my grandmother was old enough to know these three other Sabol children. I’d like to know what their names were and how they died. This is something I plan to research when Cathy and I visit the New Jersey Department of Records.
Cathy and I were lucky enough to meet one of Anna’s sisters, our great aunt Hermina, in 1980. Here’s a photo of the two sisters. I wonder if Hermina is still alive. She would be about 99 years old.
My grandmother loved to tell stories about growing up in Raritan – and she was not too modest to remind you that she was known as “the prettiest girl in Raritan” back in the day. She would wistfully remember all the “good times,” but there were obviously hard times too.
Anna had to leave school after the sixth grade to help support her family. From the 1910 census (when Anna was six years old), it appears that her mother was running a boarding house in Bridgewater, New Jersey and the family was sharing their home with ten boarders – all of whom spoke Polish and worked at a foundry. Their home was rented, not owned, so perhaps Mary Sabol was a live-in housekeeper or manager and the family all lived there. I wonder if Anna had to help out at the boarding house to help support her family.
By the 1920 census, Anna (now sixteen years old) was still living at home with her parents in Raritan. While her mother was no longer working and there were no more boarders in the house (probably it’s a different house), Anna had a job as a housekeeper with a “private family” (it’s hard to make out but that what it looks like). I wonder who that family was.
[Incidentally, it was particularly challenging to track down the Sabol family in the census records. First of all, there was another couple named Andrew and Mary Sabol in the area with remarkably similar birth dates. It took forever to untangle them. And then there was the spelling of the family name. In 1900 they were the Sabal family. In 1910 they were the Sabo family – transcribed in the search engine as Sales – and in 1920 they were correctly recorded as Sabol but the search engine gave the name Isabel! You really need a combination of patience and stubbornness when it comes to this research.]
Anna married my grandfather Harry Agin some time around 1924, give or take a year. I hope to track down a marriage certificate and get the exact date. They had three children: Matilda (born 1925), my mother Lillian (1928) and Harry (1931). I also remember my grandmother telling me she had another child who died at birth. As I remember it, she said the baby was born and died at home. She held on to the baby and wept, refusing to let it out of her hands. The fact that it pained her so deeply all those decades later left a deep impression on me.
The 1930 census tells us that the young family was living in New Brunswick, New Jersey in a rented apartment or house that cost $22.00 per month. My grandfather listed his employment as a plumber (although he indicated he did not work the week the census was taken, not surprising given the depressed economic climate then). My grandmother was listed as a housewife.
One thing that must have weighed heavily on them in 1930 was the prospect of raising a deaf daughter – my mother Lillian – who was two years old by then. My grandparents were ultimately able to send her to the New Jersey School for the Deaf in Trenton and they maintained an extremely close and loving relationship with my mother. But for a young couple with few advantages, I’ll bet they had to fight hard to make sure their daughter had a fair start in life. I really admire them for that.
I could reminisce about my grandmother Anna for hours on end. Few people that met her ever forgot her. She was a spunky, feisty, affectionate, sentimental, sometime scary. She definitely knew how to run a tight ship. I loved her very much and, looking back, I see how she was such an important force in my life.
I’ll write more about Anna Sabol Agin in future posts. For now, here are a few more photos.