Stories of the Pennsylvania Kozak

Origin of Orosz-Kozak Name

In the Nizna Mysla parish records, the pastor wrote, "The father of Jan Kozak, Juraj [=Georgius/George] married Maria Orosz and moved into her house and lived there. For that reason, his family nickname is Orosz." According to Dr. Duncan Gardiner, certified genealogist, such a remark in a parish register is very unusual. Dr. Gardiner also explained that the use of a family nickname as a second surname was done in villages to uniquely identify an extended family which had a relatively common name. I have seen the last name written as both Orosz Kozak and Kozak Orosz, possibly depending on whether the writer was adhering to Hungarian or Slovak conventions. I believe the Hungarians would list it as Orosz Kozak, the Slovaks as Kozak Orosz, but that is speculation.

Village Life in Eastern Slovakia

The Kozáks probably did not migrate to Eastern Slovakia until the 1700s, but future research could prove me wrong about that. What is known about the population of the area is this: after the defeat of the Turks in the late 1600s, the land that they had occupied for 150 years was given back to the landowners, who colonized it with large numbers of artisans and peasants from all over Europe, especially Germans, Serbs, Croatians, and Slovaks. In the first group to arrive in the Nizná Mysl'a area to take advantage of the offers of land were the Germans, who acquired the better parcels of land, and who belonged to the uppermost class of farmers. Technically, only this class of farmer was called 'farmer' (Hungarian telkés, Latin colonus). To this class belonged the Herpáks, who were German ancestors of the Herpaks and Prusaks in our family. Any farmer who was not a telkés was, by definition, a zsellér. Andrej Ribár, my grandfather, was a zsellér, and therefore had a later arrival to the area. What little land a zsellér owned was of a lower quality than the land belonging to a telkés. Based on the information above, the Kozáks started out as zsellér, but were elevated to the telkés class through marriage.

Land in Slovakia was passed down to successive generations and was divided into smaller and smaller plots, until by the year 1900, half the landowners in Hungary, of which Slovakia was a part, were scratching out a living from plots too small to meet basic needs. In spite of frequent outbreaks of cholera, smallpox, dyptheria, and typhus, a high infant mortality, and a very high death rate from tuberculosis, the population still remained too high for the ability of the land to sustain it. In the 1880s, Valen and Maria (Kozak) Valko, followed a year or two later by George and Anna Maria (Barnic) Kozak, emigrated to the United States, like thousands of other Slovak families, for purely economic reasons. The rich coal fields that lay under Pennsylvania simply offered more of an opportunity to get ahead.

Emigration of Kozaks to Pennsylvania

For reasons still unclear to me, Valen and Maria Valko, the first of my ancestors to arrive in the United States, chose Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, as their destination. Clearfield County was settled in the early 1800s by farmers and loggers, and legend has it that it got its name from the cleared fields that were already there when the first European settlers arrived. In the latter part of the 19th century, as the virgin timber was all but gone, victim to the logger's saw, the industrial revolution was already in high gear in the nearby cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and the furnaces needed high-grade coal and coke to produce the steel. The problem lay in a chronic shortage of manpower in the rural areas that produced the coal, so the big coal companies and the steamship lines found a perfect marriage -- the steamship companies made their sweeps through Europe, already overcrowded and disease-ridden, offering passage to the New World and jobs; the passage was paid for by the coal barons and America's newest immigrants were able to pay for the tickets with their labor in a very short time, and even save money to send for their loved ones. Many of the newcomers never intended to stay, and they made frequent trips back home, finally using their new-found wealth to buy property in the Old Country. Many more, however, opted to stay in the United States, where the opportunities for personal growth were not restricted by the centuries of feudal rules and regulations that had kept most of these people as the poorest of the poor.

How did George Kozak, descendant of a very long line of poor farmers, end up in Ramey, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, in 1889? He had no experience in the coal mines, but he knew a good deal when he saw one, and in this deal he saw his one chance to own more than a sliver of land. According to the 1900 census records (done in June 1900), George arrived USA in 1889 and was already naturalized when the census taker made his entries. Three years later (1892), he was joined by his wife, Annie, and their son, Andrew. Annie told her daughter, Bertha Margaret, that she also brought a daughter, Zella, with her, and that Zella died shortly after their arrival. George and Annie had married in Nizná Mysl'a, Slovakia, in about 1881, in the beautiful Catholic Church that overlooks the valley south of Kosice. Since George had been living in America since 1889, and he was eager by 1892 for his wife, Anna Maria (Barnic), and two children to join him. But it was not wise for a woman to travel alone with small children, and so she and the children accompanied probably by Andrej Ribar. Andrej and Katalin Kozak, George's half-sister, had been married in October 1891, and they would not see each other again for four years. We do not know why she did not travel with him, but it's likely that they lacked the money for another ticket, or Andrej simply wanted to get established before sending for his bride. Andrej's early years in America are somewhat a mystery. In all likelihood he stayed with George and Anna in Ramey while he saved the money to send for Katalin. It was not until 1896 that Katalin was finally able to join Andrej in America, and they settled into a small-town routine in Ramey.

Migration of Kozaks from Clearfield County

/draft/ There were two other Kozaks who came to Clearfield County: John and George, both sons of Ján (=John) Kozak, who remained in Slovakia. Ján was a full brother of George, and half-brother of Katalin. George and Annie (Barnic) Kozak opted to remain in Ramey, Clearfield County, but Valen and Maria (Kozak) decided to move to Barnesboro, Cambria County, as did John Kozak and his wife Amelia (Kapusta), and the younger George Kozak and his wife Annie (unmarried name unknown). I'm pretty sure that Valen and Maria owned three houses on Railroad Street in North Barnesboro, and two of these were rented to John and George and their families.

This page was last updated on May 1, 2010