Old obituaries yield new clues about my grandparents’ families

In the space of a year, I have made a lot of progress researching my mother’s side of the family. I have traced the ancestry of my maternal grandfather Harry Agin back to my fourth great-grandfather James Agin (1759-1836), a farmer from central New Jersey who fought as a teenager in the Revolutionary War. And I can trace the lineage of my maternal grandmother Anna Sabol all the way back to my fourth great-grandfather Michal Sabol (1775-1833), a tailor from the village of Trebejov, Slovakia.

But I still know frustratingly little about my mother’s aunts, uncles and grandparents – people who may have still been living when I was born.

From census records, I know that Harry Agin was the third of eight surviving children of Jacob Sylvester Agin and Mathilde (Tillie) Miller. Jacob was born and raised in New Jersey while Tillie came to America with her mother at a young age. The couple had two other offspring who died before 1900 and were not enumerated in any census.

The census records also show that Anna Sabol was the second of six surviving children of Andrej (Andrew) Sabol and Maria (Mary) Daniel, both Slovak immigrants. The Sabols had three other children who died young. They were noted in census but not recorded by name.

But after much searching, I still don’t know how long my four great-grandparents lived (apart from Mary Sabol who lived until the late 1960s) or where they are buried. And the lives of my grandparents’ siblings have been, for the most part, shrouded in mystery.

My sister Cathy and I visited the New Jersey state archive in Trenton to search for vital records, but this was less helpful than I had hoped. While we did manage to find a birth certificate for Harry Agin, we couldn’t find one for any of his brothers and sisters. None of the Sabol children had publicly available birth certificates either. There were no death certificates for the children noted in the census forms. And there was no marriage certificate on file for Jacob Agin and Tillie Miller, although I did locate one for Andrew Sabol and Mary Daniel.

The trip did yield these few clues about Harry’s siblings:

  • Ada Agin married James Cronen, a chauffeur from Manhattan, in 1920. The marriage record shows that the couple was married by Rev. J. A. Dewald. A Google research revealed that he was pastor for many years at the Emanuel Lutheran Church in New Brunswick. (Was this the family church?) It appears that James Cronen died in 1964 but I don’t know how long Ada lived.
  • Jacob Agin Jr. married Myrtle Goddard some time after the 1930 census, but the marriage was short lived. A death record shows that Myrtle died in February 1937, at the age of 26, from a heart ailment coupled with a blood infection. She was buried at Van Liew Cemetery in North Brunswick, where my grandparents were also buried. (Could the graves of Jacob and Tillie Agin be there too?) Again, I don’t know became of Jacob afterwards.
  • Vivian Agin, the youngest child in the family, died tragically of pneumonia in October 1916. She was only three years and four months old.

We also found a death certificate for my grandmother’s older brother, Andrew Sabol Jr. He died of tuberculosis in March 1943 at the age of 43. leaving behind a wife named Mary and two sons, John and Richard. He was buried at the New Cemetery in Somerville, N.J. (Were my great-grandparents buried there too?)

I know from experience that newspaper obituaries are a great source of information. After searching online without much luck, I decided to make a quick trip down to my mother’s home town of New Brunswick, where the public library has back issues of local newspapers on microfilm.

It took only a few minutes to locate my grandfather’s obituary in the July 5, 1970 edition of The Home News. It revealed that three of his seven siblings were still alive and living in New Jersey: William Egan (why the different last name?) of Chadwick Beach, Mildred Zielinski of East Brunswick and a Mrs. Henry Baxter, who turns out to be Lillian, of Seaside Park. We can infer that Ada and Mary, along with Vivian mentioned above, were already deceased.

I quickly tracked down William Egan and Mildred Zielinski on the Social Security Death Index, which provides a date of death. With this information in hand, I was able to locate their obituaries too.

I found out that William Egan died of a heart attack in December 1977 while wintering in Marathon, Florida. He was 69 years old. (I remember attending his wake with my parents and grandmother, although I have no memory of ever meeting him while he was alive.) William owned the Egan Monument Co. in New Brunswick from 1951 until his retirement in 1963. He served in the Navy in World War II and later married Mary Kocsis. It appears that the couple did not have any children.

Mildred Zielinski died in June 1998 at the age of 86. She married a man named Stanley Zielinski and together they operated a small business in East Brunswick. After Stanley died in 1980, Mildred worked as a school crossing guard for a while. She spent the last six years of her life at the Roosevelt Care Center in Edison. Again, there is no mention of any surviving children.

I wasn’t able to find Lillian Baxter’s obituary, although the Find A Grave website lists a Lillian E. Baxter (1914-1984) buried at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery in Toms River, New Jersey – not far from Seaside Park. The year of birth is consistent with the census record so I’m guessing this is her. There is also a Joseph H. Baxter (1914-1999) buried there. Was this Henry?

Finally, I also found my grandmother’s obituary in the Sept. 11, 1988 edition of The Home News Tribune. It reveals that she had two siblings still living: Hermina Sabol of Beverly Hills, California (I wrote about meeting her in an earlier post) and Steve Sabol, who was still living in the family’s home town of Raritan, New Jersey. So it may be fair to conclude that Elizabeth and Ruth Sabol were already dead.

I could not find Hermina Sabol in the Social Security Death Index. But there were seven people named Steve or Stephen Sabol born in either 1917 or 1918. Perhaps one of these is my great uncle.

All in all, a fruitful day’s work. But there are still many unanswered questions. My next step will be to see if there are any church records available. I have already been in contact with the Sabols’ family church in Raritan. And I was able to take a peek at the Emanuel Lutheran Church, which was a block away from the library in downtown New Brunswick. The church was founded in 1873 to serve the city’s German speaking population, so I’m optimistic about my chances of finding something there.

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8 Responses to Old obituaries yield new clues about my grandparents’ families

  1. Jacqueline Bolton says:

    I believe we are related. My great grandfather was Samuel Davis Agin. My grandfather’s name was Charles Augustus Agin. He married Emma Elizabeth Eddy. Two of their children were Irene Elizabeth Agin Guyer who is the grandmother of Gerry Wood who corresponded with you early last year. The other daughter was Hermina Loretta (or Lauretta as indicated on her confirmation certificate) Agin Knowski. Hermina was my mother. Coincidentally, she was born in 1912, the same year as your Aunt Hermina. They, of course, are not related. I was very surprised to learn there was another Hermina – albeit not directly in my line, but yours. I also have visited Princeton cemetery, and I could have sworn I saw a flat plaque with the name “Agin” on it right inside the front gate to the left. On a subsequent trip, I could find no evidence of this plaque. Very disconcerting. I also got some information from Mr. Sutphin. I know that Samuel Davis Agin’s daughter, Daisy May Jackson, and her husband, William H. Jackson, are buried in the same plot. Daisy was buried Nov. 9, 1959, and William was buried June 26, 1944. I, too, was very disappointed to discover there was no tombstone. I believe I have a photo of Charles Augustus Agin in his later years. If it is not him, it may be his father. The picture is a formal one taken by Princeton Studios, Princeton, NJ, 223 East State Street, Trenton (strange address, I know, but that is exactly how it is indicated in gold leaf on the photo) and has Charles holding a bowler hat. It is the bowler hat that is throwing me as I’m not sure if Charles would have had one or if it would belong to Davis. The picture is of an elderly man. I know that Charles died at age 58 and this gentleman looks a little older – or perhaps people back then just seemed to age quicker. I was given this picture by Paul Guyer, my uncle. He was married to Irene, my mother’s sister. Paul told me he believed this picture to be of my grandfather Charles, but he seemed to be a little unsure. He was in his 90s back in the early 1990s when he gave it to me. I am very interested in your blogs and would very much like to get copies of James Agin’s Revolutionary War documents. Unfortunately, I am not very well-versed in logging onto the National Archives. Every time I attempt to do so, I get a million (or so it seems) different items not related to my search. I would be willing to pay you for your copies. I am trying to put together as in-depth a history as I can for my grandchildren before I leave this world – hopefully not for some time. Actually, anything you have on the Agin, Wyckoff, Voorhees family from Samuel Davis Agin and back I would be willing to pay to receive this information. As far as my grandfather goes, Charles Augustus Agin was born February 1872, died October 3, 1990, was buried in Princeton Cemetery, no stone for him either. It was said that one of his daughters, Hazel, found him wandering the streets of Trenton drunk and sleeping in doorways. Being the youngest of the youngest, I was, unfortunately, not privy to the earlier lives of my grandparents. My maternal grandmother passed away when I was just 3 years old in 1953. She was 79 at the time. An Charles passed two decades before my birth. So you can see I’m at a real disadvantage even though my lineage is one less of a “great” than yours. I have recently sent away for both Charles Augustus Agin and his father, Samuel Davis Agin’s, death certificates. Hopefully, they will give me greater information than I now have. I apologize for the lengthyness of my response. Hope to hear from you soon.

    Jacki Bolton

    • johnkowal says:

      Jacki, it is wonderful to hear from you. When I started this blog, I was hoping to find people like you who can fill in some pieces of the puzzle. I’m particularly eager to see the photo!
      I know about Charles Augustus Agin. I actually have a copy of his death certificate. My sister and I went in person to the NJ archives in Trenton and it was easy to scroll through microfilms and make copies of whatever we needed. I also have some newspaper articles relating to him (or his namesake son) covering various run-ins with the police. (Sounds consistent with the story you tell about Charles being drunk in Trenton. I’m afraid that drinking is a family curse.) I can dig them up and send them to you.
      Regarding Samuel Davis Agin, I am convinced there is a lot more to discover. Surely there are photos of him somewhere (you might even have one). I know that he died while living with Daisy and her family, so I have had the theory that the photos and other effects stayed in the family of William and Daisy Jackson. I knew that the Jacksons moved to Virginia (see the 1930 census). But I did not know that they came back to NJ and were buried in Princeton Cemetery. I wonder where their descendants are. Next time I get to New Brunswick, I will check for their obituaries in the microfilms.
      I have lots I can share with you. I would be happy to share the files I got from the archives. I also have a family tree on ancestry.com that is pretty extensive and fairly accurate.
      It would probably be easier to connect via e-mail. Please write to me at johnkowal@mac.com.

  2. johnkowal says:

    Jacki, I looked through my records and I actually have a number of newspaper articles that help tell the story of your grandfather Charles Augustus Agin. Please drop me a line so I can tell you more. My e-mail address is johnkowal@mac.com.

    • Manny says:

      My name is Manny Oliveira and I am the grandson of Lillian and Joseph H Baxter. I not much on typing however I am egar to know more about my grandmothers side of the family since it seems as though i dont have much in the way of memories. Even though they practically raised me all i can remember is my Aunt Mildred. Once my Nana (Lillian) died in 1984 of Lung cancer we moved to Florida taking my Pops (Henry) along to live with us. I was only 13. I have alot of pics and perhaps relevant information if you are still following this blog. I will save the rest for your response.


      • johnkowal says:

        Thank you for writing. Your grandmother Lillian and my grandfather Harry were sister and brother. He also named his daughter (my mother) Lillian.
        I would definitely love to talk – and to see any photos you have. I have been piecing together the story of my grandfather’s family. There were eight children. Harry was the third and Lillian was next to last (she would be the youngest living child after the last child died at a very young age).
        I know very little about your grandmother, apart from a mention in old obituaries. I talked with my Aunt Nancy not that long ago. She was married to my mother’s brother Harry Jr. She remembered some of the Agin children, including Mildred, but did not remember Lillian.
        I will write you at the e-mail address connected with your post. Looking forward to connecting!
        John Kowal

  3. Pingback: Talking family history with Aunt Nancy | John Kowal's Family History Blog

  4. Barbara Agins says:

    Jacob Agin is buried in the cemetery of the Mt. Airy Presbyterian Church in Mt. Airy, Hunterdon Co. NJ. I have photos of the tombstone.

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