The only great-grandparent I ever met was my mother’s grandmother, Mary Sabol. According to census records, Mary was born in 1879 somewhere in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, probably in what is now Slovakia. She came to the U.S. in 1894 or 1895 when she was still a teenager. By 1896, she married my great-grandfather Andrew Sabol, who also emigrated from Austria. Together, they had at least nine children, including my grandmother Anna Sabol Agin. Three of their children died in early childhood. Mary outlived her husband and lived until the late 1960s.
Sadly, the only memory I have of Mary Sabol is viewing her in her coffin at her wake. I must have been seven or eight years old.
I have pieced together what I know about Mary’s life, but there is still much more to learn. Where was she born? How did she make the journey to America? When and where did she get married? And when did she die?
To go deeper into her story, I have been looking for two key pieces of information – her maiden name and her place of birth. My sister Cathy and I are planning a research trip to the New Jersey State Archives which should yield the two key documents that can shed more light on her life – a marriage certificate and a death certificate.
In the meantime, I have been using other strategies to locate this information. An obvious place to start was my grandmother’s birth certificate. New Jersey makes it easy to obtain birth certificates by mail for people born before 1901. Alas, my grandmother was born in 1904.
Another good place to find a maiden name and place of birth is naturalization records. You can find some naturalization records on ancestry.com. Or, for a $20 fee, you can ask the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to search their files for records relating to your ancestor. (That’s how I obtained the Alien Registration Form filed by my grandmother Katarzyna Bosakowska in 1940, a document that provided key details of her immigration story after much fruitless searching.) Their records generally cover immigrants who arrived after 1892 and/or were naturalized after September 1906.
Unfortunately, there are no naturalization records for Mary Sabol. Her husband became a naturalized citizen in 1900 and, as was customary at the time, my grandmother automatically became a citizen through the marriage. Married women were only required to apply for citizenship in their own names in 1922.
Finally, I realized I could order a copy of my grandmother’s original Social Security application which, among other things, would note her mother’s maiden name. It came in the mail this week.
So it turns out that Mary Sabol’s maiden name was… Sabol.
From the Social Security record, it seems that someone wondered if this was a mistake. He or she made the notation “same name” to clarify that there was no error.
So what is the explanation for this? Could my great-grandparents have been related? Or did they both just happen to have the same last name? Both seem plausible.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Andrew and Mary came from the same small village in Slovakia. Most of the Bosakowskis who emigrated to America married people from the same ancestral town of Zalozce or a village within walking distance. (My grandmother Katarzyna was a rare exception.) And there is other evidence to suggest that the community of Slovak Lutherans settling in Raritan, New Jersey in the 1880s and 1890s had close ties going back to a handful of villages in what is now eastern Slovakia.
In a small rural village in central Europe 130 years ago, there might only be a small number of families who intermarried over many decades. So it’s certainly conceivable that Andrew and Mary were distant cousins.
Either way, the Sabol surname appears to be fairly common in the eastern part of Slovakia, particularly around the cities of Košice and Prešov. It is most likely a Slovak version of the Hungarian name Szabo, which means tailor, although some say the name derives from the word sobol, which translates as sable (as in sable fur coats).
These will be interesting questions for future research.