Months ago, when I was perusing U.S. census records for my great-grandparents Andrew and Mary Sabol, I came across a relative named John Hovan. In the 1920 census, he was living in the Sabol household in Raritan, New Jersey. He was 47 years old and a widower. He was identified as Andrew’s “brother-in-law.”
I wasn’t sure what the family connection was. Was he married to Andrew’s sister? Or to Mary’s?
But Lutheran church records from Obišovce, Slovakia, available through the Family History Library, reveal that he was neither. He was Mary’s half-brother, the child of Barbara Mačka and her first husband Michal Hovan.
Michal died in 1878 leaving Barbara with three children to support. Within months, she married Andrej Daniel (my great-great-grandfather) and my great-grandmother was born a year after that. I wrote about this in a recent post.
According to the census record, John was born in 1873. That means he lost his father as young boy. It also means he left for America when he was only 17. Presumably, he was following in the tracks of other Slovak Lutherans from his hometown of Kysak who were recreating their village life in Raritan, New Jersey.
My great-grandfather Andrew Sabol left about the same time John did. Mary followed a few years later. She told the census taker she came over in 1894 although I suspect it was actually 1895.
Either way, she made her way to America when she was a teenage girl. And by 1896, when she married my great-grandfather, she was still only 16 years old.
How could a teenage girl manage to make such a long and arduous trip? How could she pay for it? I had two hypotheses. Either she traveled with an older relative (so far there’s no evidence of that) or she was sent over in an arranged marriage. But maybe John was the connection. Perhaps he paid her way and took her in.
I hope to learn more about John Hovan. A quick search on Ancestry hasn’t revealed much but that hasn’t stopped me before.