Talking family history with Aunt Nancy

A couple months back, I got reacquainted with my Aunt Nancy Agin, who was married for many years to my mother’s younger brother Harry. After their separation, I only saw her a few times. I can’t remember the last time we got together.

The occasion for our reunion was a ceremony honoring my Civil War ancestor Samuel Davis Agin. Nancy attended with her son, my cousin Harry. Afterwards, my sisters and I sat down with Nancy and Harry over brunch.

My Aunt Nancy at the dedication ceremony honoring Samuel Davis Agin, September 2012.

My Aunt Nancy at the dedication ceremony honoring Samuel Davis Agin, September 2012.

I told Nancy all about my little family history research project and she was surprised at how much I had learned. Back in the 1950s, she had done a little research herself with the aid of a genealogist. He came back with a story that the Agin family was French, descending from the noble Agincourts (complete with coat of arms). I told her it probably wasn’t true. While we can only trace the Agin family back six generations to my fourth great-grandfather James Agin (1759-1836), a Revolutionary War veteran, DNA research by other Agin family members points to Irish origins.

I had a lot of questions for my aunt. And over the course of a couple of hours she helped me solve a few mysteries and gave me tantalizing new clues about my mother’s side of the family – the family lines of my grandfather Harry Agin Sr. and grandmother Anna Sabol.

Mary and Tillie Miller

I have written a number of posts about my German great-great-grandmother Mary Miller and her daughter Tillie. I know they came from Germany, possibly from the city of Koblenz, sometime in the 1880s after Mary’s first husband died.

Mary married two additional times after coming to the U.S. First she married the abusive George Hendrick (or was it Gus Hendrock?), whom she later left. Then she tied the knot with the “famous woman hater” William Vannote, a marriage that became fodder for the tabloids in 1903.

Tillie married my great-grandfather Jacob Sylvester Agin sometime around 1893. I have found Jacob and Tillie Agin to be particularly hard to trace. There was no marriage record in the New Jersey state archives and no trace of them in the records after the mid-1920s. I believe, from circumstantial evidence, that Jacob died before 1930. He stopped appearing in the New Brunswick directory after 1926 and he is not listed as a survivor in the 1930 obituary of his brother Charles Augustus Agin. But I couldn’t even guess as to Tillie’s fate – until now.

Nancy gave me an important new clue about Tillie. After Jacob died, she married a man named John Miller. And she lived until the 1950s at least. Nancy recalled that Tillie paid a visit shortly after the birth of Nancy’s daughter Jane, who was born in 1955.

I recognized the name John Miller right away. In the 1920 census, there was a boarder by the same name living in the Agin household in New Brunswick, N.J. He worked as a boot maker at a rubber plant. Could this be the same John Miller? According to the census record, he was 20 years younger than Tillie so it would be pretty surprising.

1920 census record for the family of my great-grandparents Jacob and Tillie Agin. There is a John Miller listed as a boarder in that same household. Did he later marry Tillie?

1920 census record for the family of my great-grandparents Jacob and Tillie Agin. There is a John Miller listed as a boarder in that same household. Did he later marry Tillie? Click to enlarge.

Nancy also told me that while my grandmother had only good things to say about Mary Miller Vannote, who died a year after my grandparents married, she absolutely hated her mother-in-law Tillie!

Harry Agin’s brothers and sisters

My grandfather was the third of eight children to live past infancy. (Census records indicate that Jacob and Tillie Agin had one other child who died before 1900.) I never heard much about them, except I do remember going to the funeral of my grandfather’s younger brother William. In an earlier post, I wrote about finding the obituaries of several members of the Agin family which provided some valuable information.

Nancy and Harry had vivid memories of my grandfather’s brothers and sisters. They were for the most part very close, living in the same area and getting together frequently for family picnics and dinners.

Jacob Sylvester Agin Family ChartAda Agin, the oldest (born 1894), married James Cronin in 1920. They lived until the 1960s at least. They had two daughters, Hellen and Maybelle. Hellen married Matthew (Matty) Miller. She drowned in a bathtub, presumably an alcohol-related death.

Jacob Agin Jr., the second in line (born 1897), went by the name James (or Jim). He worked for many years at the water department in Franklin Township. He married Myrtle Goddard who died of blood poisoning at the age of 26. The couple had five children: a son named Jimmy and two sets of twins, Ricky and Ronnie and Stevie and Susie. Jacob Jr./James died in 1961 or 1962.

Mary Agin, the fourth child (born 1904), never married. Considered to be the prettiest of the Agin girls, she worked for years as a secretary and lived with her Aunt Grace Agin. Mary had a serious car accident that left her with a serious concussion. She never totally recovered and died while still in her 40s.

William Agin, the fifth of eight (born 1908), was a bit of a social climber. He changed his name to Egan to distance himself from his humble roots (and possibly suggest a connection to a respected and politically influential local family). He and his wife Mary Koscis owned a business making grave memorials.

Mildred Agin, the sixth (born 1911), was the plainest of the three Agin girls (Ada ranked in the middle). She married a man named Stanley Zielinski and the couple never had children.

Nancy didn’t know anything about the two youngest Agin girls. Lillian (born 1914), as I noted in an earlier post, married a man named Henry Baxter. I think the Baxters lived in Tom’s River, N.J. And the youngest, Vivian (born 1916), died of influenza at the age of four.

Reviewing old photographs, Nancy identified Ada and Mary in a picture taken at a beach outing.

1930s Jersey Shore 05 close up

Photo from a family outing to the Jersey Shore in the mid-1930s. The woman standing, rear left, is my grandmother Anna Sabol Agin. The two women, seated front, are most likely Mary Agin and Ada Agin Cronen. Click to enlarge.

And she identified Mildred Agin Zielinski in this photo, also from the Jersey Shore.

Photo probably taken on the Jersey Shore, late 1940s or early 1950s. From left to right: Lillian Agin, Mildred Agin Zielinski, Harry Agin, Anna Sabol Agin.

Photo probably taken on the Jersey Shore, late 1940s or early 1950s. From left to right: Lillian Agin, Mildred Agin Zielinski, Harry Agin, Anna Sabol Agin.

Anna Sabol’s brothers and sisters

My grandmother Anna Sabol was the second of six children who lived to adulthood. (Census records tell us there were three additional children who died in infancy.) While Andrew Jr., the oldest (born 1900), died of tuberculosis in 1943 before she came along, Nancy remembered the other four.

Andrew Sabol Family Chart

Elizabeth (Lizzie) Sabol, the family’s third child (born 1910), got married and two daughters. They lived on Main Street in the family’s hometown of Raritan, N.J.

Hermina Sabol, the fourth child (born 1912), moved to Beverly Hills, Calif. Nancy could not remember whether she ever married.

Stephan (Steve) Sabol, the fifth child (born 1918), also stayed in Raritan and remained close to my grandmother throughout his life. He was the only one to survive her when she passed away in 1988.

Finally, the youngest child Ruth Sabol (born 1921) never married and lived with her mother her entire life. Nancy identified Ruth in a photo with my grandmother Anna Sabol and great-grandmother Mary Sabol.

Family photo taken in 1955. From right to left: Ruth Sabol, Mary Sabol and Anna Sabol Agin.

Family photo taken in 1955. From right to left: Ruth Sabol, Mary Sabol and Anna Sabol Agin.

Nancy also had lots of stories about my mother and my grandparents. But I’ll have to save those for future posts.

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3 Responses to Talking family history with Aunt Nancy

  1. I just came across your blog and it is truly wonderful. I began researching both my family history as well as my husband’s. Both my husband and I were born and raised in NJ. I lived in Somerville for many years and my husband grew up near Flemington. My in-laws are pretty tight-lipped about family history so I knew I was on my own. My husband, Tom, knew three of his grandparents but never met his paternal grandfather as he died in 1943 at 42 yrs old. During my searches I came across a photo from St. Paul’s Lutheran church dated 1915 and found my husband’s grandfather – John Chontofalsky (1900-1943). Here’s what I know – John’s parents are George Chontofalsky and Barbara Kraly Chontofalsky. I knew that Barbara was George’s second wife and stepmother to his son – George Sabol Chontofalsky Jr (1892 – unknown). I found an obituary for George’s first wife dated Feb 3 1894 so his marriage to Barbara Kraly in NY must have been shortly after. There are two things I’m still searching for (at least for now). The first is the death date of George Sabol Chontofalsky Jr. The second is the name of George Sr.’s first wife. I’m curious if wife #1 maiden name was Sabol since that is the George Jr’s middle name. Since your family is tied to Raritan, NJ, St. Paul’s, and you know so much about the Sabol family I wonder if you have any insight? Your help is truly appreciated and when I have more time I will read through your blog in its entirety. Thank you!
    PS: The family tree I created is public on Ancestry.com

    • johnkowal says:

      Hope, thank you for your kind words. It is very possible that the Chontofalsky and Kraly families came from one of the villages near Obisovce, Slovakia. The Slovak Lutheran community in Raritan, NJ, centered around St. Paul’s Lutheran Church (originally the First Slovak Lutheran Church, mostly came from there.
      Many of the Evangelical Lutheran church records from Obisovce from the 1800s are viewable online at the Family Search website. I write about this in my blog. I have pored over those records looking for my ancestors and have found a lot there. It can be tough going because the records are in Hungarian or Latin, but it’s not too hard to get the hang of it. One thing to be aware of is that there are a relatively small number of first names and family names so there could be three or four people born around the same time with the same name.
      I know that I saw the name Csontofalsky (spelled in Hungarian style) and Kraly in the records, for what it’s worth. The key for you is to figure out the name of the immigrants from the old country. If George Sabol Chontofalsky was born here, do you have his parents’ names? I looked on ancestry and found a GS Chontofalsky born in Pennsylvania in 1892. There were some Slovaks who went there too, to work in the coal mines I think. If so, you can try to get his Pennsylvania birth certificate to get the parents’ names.
      You should also investigate the vital records for New York and New Jersey. The Italian Genealogical Group (google it) has a searchable index of marriages from the turn of the 20th century. If you find what you’re looking for, you can order by mail or go down to the New York City archive and search for yourself. For New Jersey marriages and deaths, you can go to the state archives in Trenton and browse through marriage or death certificates by year until you find what you need. A marriage certificate would be very helpful as it will give the names of the bride’s and groom’s parents, allowing you to trace them back through the Obisovce records.
      I don’t have a definite lead on the Sabol connection. It was a common name in Slovakia (the name means “tailor”). My great-grandfather was Andrej Sabol (born 1872). I know he had a cousin by that same name (born 1873) who moved to Raritan as well. I don’t know of other Sabols who came over.
      I’m happy to offer whatever help I can. Please don’t hesitate to ask. You can reach me at johnkowal@mac.com.
      John

  2. Pingback: The family plot | John Kowal's Family History Blog

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