Tracing the life story of my great-grandfather Andrej (Andrew) Sabol has been a painstaking effort. But now I can write the final chapter.
I first found Andrew (he used his English name after he emigrated) on ancestry.com, in U.S. census records for 1900, 1910 and 1920. According to those records, Andrew was a Slovak immigrant who worked as a railroad laborer or “trackman.” He lived in the town of Raritan, New Jersey with his wife Maria (Mary) Daniel and their children.
I then came across a marriage record in the New Jersey state archives. The marriage record noted that Andrew and Mary came from Hungary (as in the Hungarian portion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), but there was no home town given. But I learned that they were married in the First Slovak Evangelical Lutheran Church in Raritan, now St. Paul’s, which turned out to be a critical clue.
When I checked out the church’s website, I learned that the church’s founding members came from a cluster of villages in eastern Slovakia, including Kysak, Trebejov and Obisovce. A search of the Family History Library catalog revealed they had records from an Evangelical Lutheran church in Obisovce dating from 1787-1896. I searched those records and found the birth records for Andrej, Maria and their entire family trees.
So, with a fair amount of effort, I was finally able to write this brief biography of Andrew Sabol. He was born on May 5, 1872 in the small village of Trebejov, about 20 km north of Kosice, Slovakia. His parents were Jan Sabol and Elisa Filak. Andrew was the second of five children. He had an older brother Jan who died at five years old (the death record is missing), and three younger siblings: Alzbeta (born two days before Jan died), a second Jan and Michal.
Andrew’s parents owned a small plot of land, designated as Trebejov 11, which they farmed to survive. The Sabols lived with another family, the Czibuljaks, who were distant relations.
Andrew probably emigrated to America in 1891, when he was 19 years old. There is a record showing an “Andr. Sabol” from Saros, Hungary (the correct province) arriving in New York on the S.S. Normandie on September 21, 1891. The doesn’t provide much information. It just tells us Andrew was a worker, 17 years old and headed for New York.
Even if this is not the correct record, we can be sure Andrew arrived in Raritan in the early 1890s, where other friends and neighbors were recreating their village life on this side of the Atlantic.
On October 23, 1896, Andrew and Mary married at the First Slovak Evangelical Lutheran Church. Mary was from the village of Kysak, just down the road from Trebejov. Andrew was 24 years old. Mary was 16. The couple raised six children and tragically lost three. My grandmother Anna Sabol was second of the six surviving children.
The Sabol family only barely got by. They always rented their home, moving from place to place. For a time, Mary helped make ends meet by running a boarding house for factory workers. And I know my grandmother had to leave school after the sixth grade to work to support the family.
I have only a few clues about what Andrew was like as a person. My grandmother often told me that her father looked “just like General Pershing.” My aunt Nancy recalled my grandmother’s memory of her father coming home dirty and exhausted, falling dead asleep after the evening meal.
For the longest time, that’s where the story ended. The trail ran cold after the 1930 census. Then, when the 1940 census was released two years ago, I learned that Mary was a widow, living with two of her children in a house next door to the rectory. I had the sense that they might be recipients of the church’s charity.
When I located Andrew and Mary’s grave, I finally learned that Andrew died in 1938. But how? There was no death record in the New Jersey state archives, so I was at another dead end.
My breakthrough came by accident. I was helping a friend find some New York City vital records through an index, searchable online thanks to the volunteer efforts of Italian and German genealogical societies. So I searched for Andrew Sabol and found a death record from 1938. The age seemed right so I went down to Chambers Street to take a look and… eureka!
Andrew Sabol died on Sunday, September 4, 1938 at Memorial Hospital in Manhattan. The hospital, now known as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, was located at 2 West 106th Street. It appears that Andrew was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus eight months earlier. On August 14, about three weeks before his death, he was admitted to the hospital. The next day, he had a feeding tube (gastrostomy) inserted.
There was probably nothing they could do during those final three weeks. The record reflects that the cause of death was “carcinoma of esophagus & metastasis” plus “generalized peritonitis” (inflammation of the abdominal wall).
I wonder how a family of such limited means was able to afford three weeks of hospital care. Did they have insurance? Was this charity? Andrew was the primary breadwinner for the family. Did he have a pension? Was he eligible for the federal railroad workers’ pension program established in the 1930s? I assume this was financially devastating for the family.
So now I have closure on Andrew Sabol. I’m sorry he met such a difficult end.