I have had the opportunity to browse through a century’s worth of vital records from my great-grandparents’ church in Obišovce, Slovakia (then known as Abos, Hungary).
At first, that meant setting up appointments to use a microfilm reader at the Family History Center on West 65th Street. But I recently noticed that these same records have been digitized and put up on the Family Search website. So I can now peruse these files – birth, death and marriage records from 1796-1895 – at leisure from my own computer.
Having all these records at my disposal has allowed me to make connections I would not otherwise have made. I realized, for example, that my great-grandfather lived through a devastating cholera outbreak when he was only an infant – part of a global cholera pandemic. He was lucky to survive.
From the records, I know that Andrej Sabol was born in the town of Trebejov (Terebö) on May 5, 1872. He was baptized a week later at the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Obišovce.
Andrej’s birth was recorded in a metrical book kept by the church in a format required under Austro-Hungarian law. These records were kept in Hungarian because Obišovce fell within the Hungarian portion of the empire.
The entry tells us a fair amount about Andrej:
- He was the sixteenth child born that year.
- He was legitimate (törvényes).
- His parents were Jan Sabol and Alzbeta Filak (Szabol János and Filyak Erzsébet), who were were inhabitants (lakosok) of Trebejov, residing at house number 11.
- His godparents were Jan Tamas and Juraj Galya, the wife of Maria Kollár.
- The baptism was performed by Rev. Frigyes Fizéli.
- He had an older brother named Jan who was born October 28, 1869.
But there’s something curious about this page. Of the thirteen children listed, five have the notation megyhalt in the next-to-last column, indicating that they died not long after they were born. And lots of other kids born that year died young.
So I took a look at death records around that time and saw that four people died of cholera around the end of 1872. A few more cases pop up in early 1873 and, by June of that year, a full-fledged epidemic broke out.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection that can kill within hours. According to the World Health Organization, the disease is spread by contaminated food or water. Over 100,000 still die annually from it.
In 1873, it turns out, there was a global cholera pandemic that even hit the United States. The disease was especially virulent in Hungary where it claimed 190,000 lives.
Three people living in my great-grandfather’s house were among the victims. On June 13, 1873, when my great-grandfather was thirteen months old. Alžbeta Czibulák (maiden name Liska), the 37 year old wife of Jan Czibulák, died of cholera. Her 4 year old daughter Alžbeta succumbed that same day. Two days later, on June 11, her 17 year old daughter Anna died too.
Over the next couple of months, dozens more would die of cholera in the small villages surrounding Obišovce. In my great-grandfather’s church, there were 90 deaths recorded in 1873 (compared with 33 the year before). Of these, 38 were attributed to cholera – a statistic carefully noted in the records. The victims included several other people in my ancestors’ families.