Monday, August 20, 2012

Sojourn in Slovakia: The Sequel. Day 9: One Answer, A Dozen More Questions

Saturday, June 23, 2012

I heard the phone ring at 2:00 a.m. - my wake-up call -- but I was already awake.  I was anxious about the trip.  I took a quick shower and got dressed, made sure I had all of my belongings and headed down to the hotel lobby to wait for my cab driver, Erik. He showed up right on time and drove me to the Kosice airport.  There were a few people there already but no gates were opened yet.  FInally someone came to the Czech Air desk and I was able to check in for my flight to Prague.  Then, it was time to go through security and finally board the plane.  The flight was quick and we landed a bit early in Prague.  I went through Passport Control and then prepared for my six hour layover (I was supposed to be on a later flight but about a week before my trip I got a notice saying the 9:15 flight was cancelled and that I was moved to the earlier flight).  It was going to be a long day.

I spent the time reading, doing some work and checking my e-mail using the 1-hour free wireless.  I bought some lunch at one of the restaurants.  Then it was time to check in at the Delta desk and finally go through security again.  Finally, I boarded the plane to New York and was on my way home!  The flight was long, but at least the person sitting next to me was quiet and slept almost the whole way back.  I watched a couple of movies, read, tried to sleep a bit, and spent a lot of time thinking about my experiences during this second visit to Slovakia.  I was SO HAPPY when the plane touched down in New York.  I cleared customs and was really glad to see my husband who was waiting for me.


Figlyar family from Osturňa--my grandfather, Jan, front, center
Overall, my trip was personally fulfilling.  I enjoyed spending time with my Alzo family and meeting new cousins.  I was glad to have the opportunity to visit the monastery in Michalovce to learn about my famous cousin, happy to meet up with my hosts from 2010, and was thrilled to finally go to Osturňa, and especially to meet my cousins in Podolínec.  As usual, the food was fabulous, and I had the opportunity to research in the archives. I really packed in a lot of activities in eight days.  But, with family history research you always end up wanting more--for every answer you get, there are at least a dozen more questions.  And boy, do I have questions!  I still have to track down several records including evidence of when and where my great-grandfather died, and some other details about some of my ancestors on Dad's side.  I have several leads to follow.  And, I won't give up my search.  The answers are out there.  I just have to keep looking. 

Just as with my trip in 2010, I came home with mixed feelings.  I had successes and failures with my research attempts.  Again, I couldn't help but feel that had I gone to Osturňa 10 or 15 years ago, I may have found more living relatives who could have helped me learn more about my family.  But, as they say "it is what it is."  I was grateful for those folks I did get to meet and the information I was able to find.  I was also very lucky to have an expert researcher to assist me.  I would not have been half as successful without the assistance of Michal Razus (Slovak-Ancestry.com).  Having him to help me navigate the archives, drive me to the villages, and communicate with the priests and clerks made all the difference.  If anyone is planning a research trip to their ancestral villages, it is definitely worth every penny to hire a qualified researcher who knows the area, archival system, and language.

Recently, a friend asked me if I will go back to Slovakia again.  I told her maybe someday.  It is a lovely country and there is still so much more I could see.  But, it may be awhile before I return for another visit.  I achieved my goal of visiting all four of my ancestral villages.  I have come full circle.  Mission accomplished.

Photo owned by Lisa A. Alzo
Copyright 2012, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sojourn in Slovakia: The Sequel. Day 8: Part III: A Final Farewell

Friday, June 22, 2012

We arrived in Kosice about 2:00 p.m. My guide dropped me off at the Doubletree Hotel.  I spent some time reorganizing my suitcase for the trip home, took a quick shower and then went out to meet my cousins Renata and Robert for in town for an early supper.  We ate at a nice cafe with outdoor seating.  Then we walked around a bit, enjoyed a folk dance performance, and went to see St. Elizabeth's Cathedral--a beautiful building. 

St. Elizabeth's Catedral on Main Street, Kosice, Slovakia
Soon it was time to say farewell to my cousins.  I was very sad because it was so lovely to spend time with them.  

I went back to my hotel and finished my packing  I was being picked up at my hotel at 3 a.m. by the same cab driver who met us on the first day so that I could be at the airport in time for my 5:00 a.m. flight from Kosice to Prague.  The trip was coming to and end.
My little koala bear (traveling companion) hoping for Sladké Sny!
Hoping for Sladké Sny (Sweet Dreams), I turned out the lights and went to sleep.


Photos by Lisa A. Alzo
Copyright 2012, LIsa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sojourn in Slovakia: The Sequel. Day 8: Part II. At Last: Cousin Connections in Podolínec

Friday, June 22, 2012

We arrived in Podolínec and went straight to the records office to see if we could find any records for my great-grandparents, or for my grandfather's sister.  I knew her married name  (from a receipt for money my grandfather sent to her in Podolínec from America in 1927).




Records Office in Podolínec, Slovakia

Michal told them who we were looking for and the dates (it sure was helpful to have someone who could communicate with the clerks with me!).  After a few minutes of looking through the record books, we had success.  My grandfather's sister's (Katarina's) marriage record (1919) to Michal Hotary (a widower who had children), and also my great-grandmother's death certificate (she died in 1927).  

But still no record of my great-grandfather's death (still a mystery).  The clerk asked if we could come back at noon for the certificate copies--she would prepare them for us.  The other office clerk was helping us look for registrations of burials in the cemetery and when she heard one of the names we were searching for, she said she knew the family and could take us to meet someone.  We walked across the street and down the road a bit to a row of houses and knocked on the door.  A woman answered, and when  Michal told her who I was and why I was there she told us to wait a few minutes.  She came back out with a handwritten family tree that included my grandmother's sister!  She worked on it with her cousin and said she could introduce me.  We walked a short distance and the cousin was there to greet us.   


My grandfather's sister on the family tree from Podolínec
I had a lovely visit and thanks to my Flip-Pal scanner I was able to scan many old photographs they had, while Michal translated the information for me.  V. and Z. took us to the cemetery and showed us where their fathers are buried and told us that my grandfather's sister is buried in the Czech Republic (she also had children from a previous marriage).  They also showed me the house where my grandmother's sister lived with Mr. Hotary.  (We took a photograph together in front of the house but to respect my cousins' privacy I am not sharing these publicly).  But,  I felt like I'd won the family history lottery.  Talk about "Who Do You Think You Are?" moments.  I finally had one--on the last day of my visit!  We said we would keep in touch and V. and I have followed up via e-mail.

Soon it was time to go back to see the clerk to pick up the records and then drive back to Kosice where I would be staying the night before my departure back to the U.S.

Photos by Lisa A. Alzo
Copyright 2012, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved




Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sojourn in Slovakia: The Sequel. Day 8: Part I: Farewell Osturňa!

Friday, June 22, 2012

During the night I listened to the rain hitting the windows.  In the morning, I could hear the bells dinging as the sheep along the hillside moved about outside my window, as well as an occasional "Baaa!"  Ah...Osturňa.  I'm not likely to have an experience like this again any time soon.


Osturňa sheep grazing in the fields
We had our final breakfast, then said "farewell" to our wonderful hosts.  As we drove along the narrow road that leads out of Osturňa, I felt sad to be leaving this wonderful "snapshot of my past." 


Osturňa's lush green land
Part of me was disappointed that I could not make any family connections, and that I did not get all of the information I had hoped to find, but another part of me was satisfied.  I had done it.  I finally made it to all four of my ancestral villages.  The four different locations in Slovakia that have shaped me.  I walked in all four of my grandparents' footsteps, and that felt pretty awesome.  We still had one more stop to make in my quest to learn what happened to those ancestors who at one time--about 100 years earlier--decided to leave Osturňa, perhaps traveling along the very same road heading to Podolinec.

Photos by Lisa A. Alzo
Copyright 2012, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 7: Part II. Poland and Pirohy!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I can sum up the highlights of this day in two words:  Poland and Pirohy!  I realize it may sound strange that my post is entitled "Sojourn in Slovakia," but I'm talking about Poland.  I will explain.


We drove through the village and it was interesting to see the houses.  Osturňa is a monument reserve of folk architecture.  Unfortunately, there was no way of knowing which houses my ancestors lived in since I learned that the houses there had gone through a renumbering every 50 years.  This was quite different from my experience in Kucin, where I could actually step into the old family homestead and know that my grandfather had lived right on that spot.  Still, as we drove along I couldn't help thinking of my grandfather and wondering how he managed to get from this place all the way to Duquesne, Pennsylvania!  (So thankful you did, Grandpap!).  In 1960, Osturňa had 1,335 citizens; in 2010 (according to a booklet from the Mayor's office) that number was significantly lower at 344.

Osturňa house
Osturňa is also the longest municipality in Slovakia on the border with Poland.  We drove up a steep hill  (or was it a mountain?  I don't know but it was a very narrow road).  I admit now, I was a bit nervous, but we were in a van,and Michal was a good driver.  After about 10 minutes, Thom told us we were in Poland!  We drove into the village of Lapsanka.  

Sign for Lapsanka, Poland
We stopped briefly to take a few photographs, but it started to rain.  The clouds blocked our view of the mountain range.  

Shrine in Lapsanka
View from Lapsanka
On the way back down, I spotted a very old man walking across the fields in the distance.  I wondered who he was, and where was he going? I bet he had some stories to tell!  I thought it was pretty cool to be able to cross into Poland even if it was just for 10 minutes!  I was happy when our van made it safely back down to Osturňa.  After stopping for awhile at Thom's place (he is restoring his family's home), we headed back to the Penzion.

Dinner that night was Pirohy!  Filled with potato and served with sour cream and bacon on top!  Wow!  I was in heaven.  

Fabulous pirohy!
Our hosts treated us so well.  After dinner I went to my room to pack since we were leaving the next day.  I could hear the rain on the windows and it was so much cooler there in the mountains, which made it comfortable to sleep!  While trying to drift off, I thought about what I had seen and learned over the past two days.  But I still had so many questions!


Photos by Lisa A. Alzo
Copyright, 2012, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved


Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Sojourn in Slovakia: The Sequel. Day 7: Part I: Where Have They All Gone?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Morning arrived.  Here I was waking up in 
Osturňa!  The crowing of a fine rooster served as my alarm clock.  I could hear our hosts downstairs in the kitchen preparing our breakfast.  I showered, dressed and checked my e-mail (so happy I could even get wi-fi service!).  We enjoyed our meal (again, cold cuts, cheese, fresh bread, cucumbers, coffee, juice).  

After breakfast we went back to the Mayor's office.  The office staff tried to help us find some burials but there were no Figlar families listed.  There were plenty of unknown graves, and some could possibly be where my ancestors are buried.  Another disappointment was learning that there were no families currently in the village for me to talk with--I learned that the one family lives in Poprad now, and it was unlikely I would have the chance to meet them. 


Cemetery with many unmarked graves
We decided to take a short ride to the state registry office in Spisske Hanusovce  to see if the records office had any additional information.  We found the register of my grandfather's birth, and a death record for my great-grandfather's brother, but no other records I was hoping to locate.  They permitted me to digitally photograph the two records in the book for my personal reference, but I am not able to post those here.  Soon, it was time to go back for lunch.  We had lentil soup made by Peter's mother (I hadn't eaten this type of soup in over 15 years--tasted just like my grandmother and my mother used to make!), and then pork cutlet, potatoes, and red cabbage.  Lunch is the big meal of the day.  It was so filling.


Rusyn Lentil soup
Lunch: Pork cutlet, potatoes, red cabbage, coleslaw, tomatoes = delicious!
We went back to the priest's house and his wife gave us the key to the church so we could go inside and have a look around and take photographs (where else could you be trusted to do that???)  St. Michael's was a gorgeous church.  I knew about the restoration and renovations and participated in a fund drive from America to help raise money for the cause.  Again, I was overcome with emotion to stand in the church where one of my grandfathers had been baptized.  Just like the church in Kucin, St. Michael's had an angel statue that bows its head when you put in a coin.  

St. Michael's altar
Special angel:  Put in a coin and the head will bow
After our visit to the church, we called Thom who was going to meet us and give us a tour around the village.

Photos by Lisa A. Alzo
Copyright 2012, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 06, 2012

Sojourn in Slovakia: The Sequel. Day 6: Part IV: Searching for Osturňa Ancestors

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


We walked down to the end of town that held the Mayor's office, church, and cemetery.  We rang the doorbell of the Mayor's office but there was no answer.  Michal called the phone number.  We learned that the Mayor was not in town but that we could visit the office the next day.  We went to the priest's residence and did not get an answer there either, but did reach the priest by phone.  He was in another town, but said he would be back in the evening and we could come back then to look at the church books.  We walked over to the church and cemetery and looked around.  The cemetery was on a bit of a slope.  We quickly scanned the graves we could see in what appeared the older part of the cemetery but did not see any names of my ancestors.  It was very hot and getting close to dinner time so we decided to head back to the penzion.

St. Michael the Archangel, Osturna, Slovakia

Cemetery

We got a chance to relax a bit, check e-mail, etc. before dinner.  Once my friend Thom arrived to join us, we enjoyed a delicious meal.  

Beef, gravy, and dumplings
After dinner we drove back down to the church house and Pan Fara Toth (the village priest)   welcomed us.  He had the church books out on his dining room table and let us look through them.  I was looking for specific ancestors and events.  I already had information about births, marriages, and deaths for many of my ancestors thanks to microfilm from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, and from those who went on the previous trips, so I did not need to look for any of those during this visit.  I found some records for my Figlar and Gazdik families, but there were others whose names were not in the books.  I knew that the family had moved before my grandfather came to America so we would have another village to visit.  

We thanked the priest and headed back to the Penzion.  I offered the priest a donation for the church.  It had been a long day, so I decided to turn in.  


Photos by Lisa A. Alzo
Copyright 2012, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Sojourn in Slovakia: The Sequel. Day 6: Part III. Exploring Osturňa

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


We drove up to the Penzion and went inside to meet our host Peter Mudrak.  The building was lovely both inside and out.  Peter had previously lived in the U.S. for 10 years (in Chicago) and his English was very good.  He welcomed us and offered us something to drink.


Penzion, Osturna, Slovakia
There was the bar/restaurant area downstairs and the sleeping rooms were upstairs.  They had wi-fi!  My room was quite large - with three beds and a table and chairs.  I had a room close to one of the bathrooms.


My guide/translator, Michal Razus (left) and owner Peter Mudrak (right)
Fireplace inside the Penzion
My sleeping room
After dropping off our bags into the rooms (we were the only guests there), we decided to walk down to the church and cemetery to see what interesting things we could find out about my Osturňa ancestors.  




Photos by Lisa Alzo
Copyright 2012, Lisa A. Alzo
All rights reserved







Thursday, August 02, 2012

Sojourn in Slovakia: The Sequel. Day 6: Part II. Finally, Osturňa!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


During the drive to Osturňa, I got to see some pretty spectacular views of Slovakia's countryside, especially the magnificent Tatra mountains. My guide took the route that enabled me to see a number of places, including the historic town of  Levoča, that sits in the center of the Spiš region of north-east Slovakia bordering on Poland.  The roads began to narrow the closer we got to Osturňa, and we were winding our way along hills and valleys, passing through many villages along the way.  I was so excited to see the sign welcoming me to the place where my grandfather was born.  I had finally made it. We stopped so I could take a picture by the sign.
  
Lisa Alzo in front of Osturňa, Slovakia sign.
Road to Osturňa.
For me this was a BIG deal because I had previously missed two opportunities (one in 1996 and the other a few years later) to visit Osturňa with a group of others who descended from inhabitants of this Carpatho-Rusyn village.  


View of Osturňa with St. Michael's church in the background.
I couldn't go on those trips because I was serving as primary caregiver for my parents who had battled their share of illnesses.  After seeing so many photographs and hearing all of the wonderful stories about the "Osturňa Odyssey," I vowed that one day I too would get to have the experience.  Today was that day!


As I understand it, Osturňa is one of the few places in Slovakia that has preserved the historic wooden architecture of its homes.  We passed many of these homes on our way to the Penzion (Pension) where I would be staying.  My friend, Thom Kolton, made the arrangements, and I was looking forward to seeing him.


Photos by Lisa Alzo
Copyright, 2012, Lisa A. Alzo
All rights reserved