In earlier posts, I have written about how hard it has been to learn very much about the lives of my four great-grandparents on my mother’s side – the New Jersey side – of the family.
I know that my mother’s paternal grandparents were Jacob Sylvester Agin and Mathilde (Tillie) Miller. Jacob came from an old American family that goes back to colonial times; Tillie was a German immigrant. Her maternal grandparents were Andrej (Andrew) Sabol and Maria (Mary) Daniel, both Slovak immigrants who settled in the Slovak Lutheran community in Raritan.
But with the exception of Mary Sabol, who died when I was seven years old, I was not able to trace the lives of these ancestors beyond the 1930 census. And I could not determine when any of the others died.
So I started obsessing about cemeteries. I figured that if I could find their graves – with a year of death – I could then track down a death certificate or obituary that could fill in some of the gaps.
After scouring the New Jersey archives, I found a death certificate for Andrew Sabol Jr. – my grandmother’s older brother – who died of tuberculosis in 1943. The record indicated he was laid to rest in the New Cemetery in Somerville, N.J. So I contacted the cemetery and asked if Andrew and Mary Sabol were buried there too. The cemetery confirmed that a Mary Sabol buried there in June 1968. That had to be my great-grandmother!
Finally, last week, I paid a visit to the New Cemetery. A very helpful staff member pointed me in the right direction. (He said Mary Sabol was buried “right in the middle of the Raritan Slovak section.”) When I arrived at the spot, I was surrounded with grave markers bearing the family names of ancestors on the Slovak branch of my family tree going back many generations: Sabol, Daniel, Filak, Macko, Tkacik, Kollar and Hovan. Judging by the dates of birth etched on those headstones, I knew this was the cohort of immigrants who left their small villages in the 1880s and 1890s for a better life in America. How many of them might be related to me?
And it didn’t take long to find the graves of my great-grandparents, partly hidden under the low hanging branches of a giant beech tree. The grave marker was large but simply decorated. It was on the plain side compared to other, more elaborate tombstones in the vicinity. It was also strangely placed, at a right angle to another grave marker and not in the usual neat row.
On one side, facing the tree, are the graves of my great-grandfather and his namesake son. You have to stoop under the branches to get a close look. The inscription reveals that Andrew Jr. lived from 1900-1943 and that Andrew Sr. lived from 1872-1938. So now I finally know that my great-grandfather died in 1938!
Mary Sabol is memorialized on the opposite side, facing away from the tree – and away from her husband. This seems odd. I would assume that the spot taken by Andrew Jr. was originally intended for Mary. And it’s easy to imagine, when Andrew Jr. died so soon after his father, that the family might have been too poor to afford another burial plot. But why was Mary buried on the opposite side?
It’s also interesting to note that Andrew Jr.’s wife Mary is not buried here. Perhaps she remarried.
Wandering around among the other Raritan Slovaks buried in that corner of the cemetery, I made a few other discoveries which resolved a few other unsolved mysteries.
What became of John Hovan, Mary’s half brother who also came to America?
I wrote in an earlier post about my great-grandmother’s half brother, Jan (John) Hovan, who emigrated to the United States a few years before she did. In the 1920 census, John lived with the family. The record shows he was 47 years old and a widower. But while I easily found a birth record, showing he was born in 1873, I could not find any other trace of his life here in the States. But then I came across this headstone which is very likely to be him.
If it is, then John remarried in the early 1920s and died in 1927. And his second wife Barbara lived until 1953.
Were there any other family members who emigrated to America?
I have also wondered if there were other family members who emigrated to America. My great-grandmother was the only child of Andrej Daniel and Barbara Mačka Hovan – but they each had numerous children by their first marriages. Barbara had six children, including Jan (John) Hovan. Andrej had nine children and I learned through this blog that at least one of them, Andrej (Andrew) Daniel Jr., came to the United States and settled in Garfield, N.J.
At the cemetery, I came across a headstone for a Michael Daniel who lived from 1874-1911. Also buried there is an infant son who died in 1903 but no wife (it’s fair to guess that she remarried). From church records from Slovakia, I see that Andrej Daniel and his first wife Anna Filak had a son named Michal who was born October 4, 1874. So it seems like a positive match.
What became of the other Andrew Sabol, my great-grandfather’s cousin?
In an earlier post, I wrote about “the other Andrew Sabol” who lived in the same town, was born around the same time and served as a witness to my great-grandparents’ marriage. It turns out there were lots of Andrew Sabols living in New Jersey at the time. But I established, after some sleuthing, that he was my great-grandfather’s cousin.
I found his grave marker there too, so I now know that he died in 1964. His wife Elizabeth died in 1939.
Finally, I photographed a number of other grave markers with familiar last names. I will try to connect them to the church records to see if I’m related to any of the others.