Introduction


    I am an American of Slovak descent. My search for my roots began with a handwritten copy of the only words written in my maternal grandparents' Bible: Joseph Oravetz rodil sa v Europe v Ceskoslovensku Opakey v Zupe Cily, Stolicy Abaujsky. Maria Oravetz rodila sa v Europe na Perecesu v stolicy Borsodskej. Loosely translated, the passage says that my grandfather, Joseph Oravetz, was born in Europe in the Czechoslovakian village of Opaka in Abov County, and my grandmother, Mary Oravetz, was born in Europe in the village of Pereces in Borsod County. At the time of their births, Slovakia was the northernmost portion of Hungary and was divided into Zupy (singular: Zupa), of which Abov and Borsod were two, the latter being in present-day Hungary. The counties were also referred to by the term Stolica. This information gave me the names of the villages and the counties, but to this day I do not know the significance of the word 'Cila' (in the phrase 'v Zupe Cily'), because there was no such county, but it may be something entirely different in the original passage, which I have not seen.

    I knew very little more than the above until I took a basic genealogy adult education class in the Autumn of 1983. In the class, I learned of various genealogy working aids from Everton Press in Utah that would help me with Eastern European genealogical research. A woman in the class was able to get me a map of Hungary from a bookstore in Washington, D.C., and at about the same time I purchased a map of Slovakia; neither map was very detailed because of communist paranoia about such matters, but they contained a wealth of information for my research. We also took a field trip to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where I learned of the treasures to be found in the ship records and in the census records.

    Thanks to the genealogy class, and its instructor, Connie Catania, I was able to get copies of several important documents: a copy of my maternal grandmother's ship record at the National Archives; the Declaration of Intention papers from the Cambria County courthouse in Pennsylvania for both my maternal grandparents; and copies of my paternal grandparents' death certificates from the Pennsylvania vital records archives. Knowing where to search is the key to success in genealogical research.

    A serendipitous event in about 1986 changed the course of my research. Even though I knew my maternal grandfather's place of birth, Opaka, I did not know precisely where it was. At the 1986 family reunion, Flo Oravec, Alex's wife, handed me a copy of Alex Oravec Sr.'s birth certificate, and said something like, "I don't know if this will help you any." Well, it was the nugget I was searching for. Alex Sr. was my grandfather's brother, and there in black and white was the place of birth: Opátka, Kosice Diocese, Kosice District. Subsequent research revealed that Opáka (with the accent mark on the first 'a') is the Hungarian name for the town of Opátka.

    Tracking down the precise location of Pereces (alternate spelling: Pereczes) in Borsod County, Hungary, turned out to be relatively easy, but it took some analysis to piece it together. The first clue was on Mary Lelak's ship record (remember, she and Joseph Oravetz were not yet married), which listed the nearest relative in the country of origin as her father, Matyas Lelak, in Diosgyor, Pereczes, Hungary. From a genealogical handbook on Hungary, I found out that Borsod County existed pre-1920 in northeast Hungary, and was incorporated into present-day Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County, of which Miskolc is the county seat. The real breakthrough came from the map of Hungary that my classmate had bought for me; it contains an enlargement of Miskolc that shows a suburb named Diósgyör, and nearby the village of Pereces. Spelling and diacritical differences aside, I knew I had the place. I also soon discovered that the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) had microfilmed Hungarian parish records in the 1960s, and I was able to make copies of the birth certificates of my grandmother and one of her sisters. I also discovered that an older sister died of scarlet fever at the age of three.

    From the Hungarian parish records, I also learned that my maternal great-grandparents were both born in Slovakia (Mátyás Lelák in Zakarovce (Hungarian: Zsakarócz), Spis County; and Jozefin/Jozéfa Mihalik in Smolní k (Hungarian: Szomolnok), Abov County). They somehow both ended up in Pereczes, a medium-sized mining town just to the west of Miskolc, Hungary. Judging from parish records, I would suspect there was a mass migration to this region of Hungary sometime in the mid- to late-19th century. When I went through the birth and death records for the Roman Catholic Parish of Diósgyör, I noticed that hundreds of the parishioners had immigrated from Abov County, and all the men were either ore miners or ironworkers.

    The answer to the final mystery, how I discovered where the Rebar ancestral village is located, will be forever lost in the mists of time. The sad fact is that I do not remember. The only thing I can recall is my father pointing to a spot on the map and explaining that there were two villages side-by-side with the same name, except that one was the upper town and one was the lower, or something like that. And somehow I also knew that Joseph Herpak, Dad's cousin, came from one of the villages, and the one he came from was the 'other' one. I have a copy of a document that says Herpak came from Felsö Mislye, and a copy of Maria Kozak's birth certificate that gives her birth place as Alsó Mislye. At the time, I did not know who Maria Kozak was, but I knew she was related (she was my dad's aunt, and also Joseph Herpak's). Somehow, some way, I found out that these town names are the Hungarian renditions of present-day Vysná Mysl'a and Nizná Mysl'a, respectively. Whether by luck or intuition, I finally could say with some certainty that the Rebars came from Nizná Mysl'a, and U.S. census records gave me fairly accurate dates of birth.

    By the end of 1991, I had reached a stone wall in my genealogical research, because any further information would have to come from Eastern Europe. However, for many reasons, it did not look likely that I would ever be able to travel there to conduct the research myself. One day, while leafing through Nase Rodina, the newsletter of the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, I learned that Dr. Duncan Gardiner, a certified genealogist from Ohio, was to embark on another of his research trips in the summer of 1992, and I wrote to him for help in getting critical documents. I did not know at the time exactly how helpful he would turn out to be.

    All that I was able to provide to Dr. Gardiner was the meager assortment of documents I had collected up to that time, and since nearly all of them were ship and census records, they were, by their very nature, subjective and often contradictory. The details were very skimpy, as nearly all of our important family documents had been lost, largely through indifference and neglect.

    Dr. Gardiner's findings exceeded my wildest expectations. He was able to trace three entire lines (Ribár, Kozák, and Oravec) back to the late 1700s. Since then, I have been able to do the same for the Mihalik, Majdik, and Lovasz families. All of these newly-found hundreds of relatives are very real to me, whereas only a few short years ago, their names were completely unknown to me.

    So, what did all this research get me in the end? First of all, a sense of continuity with the past. Until these people and places became known to me, that whole geographic area where they originated was just the 'Old Country,' and I couldn't accept the finality of that phrase. For future generations, there is now a real past that pre-dates 1890. But, most important of all, are the facts written below, from which all of my research can be reconstructed should all my papers get lost or thrown away.

    Here, then, is the distillation of my research:

    My paternal grandfather, Andrew Rebar, was born Andreas Ribár on July 6, 1866, in Nizná Mysl'a, Slovakia, and Katherine (Kozak) Rebar was born Katalin Kozák on January 26, 1872, in the same town. Very little anecdotal information exists on either of them, because they both died in 1921, and anyone who would have known them is long gone from this Earth. There is factual information, such as the fact that they married in November 1891 in Nizná Mysl'a, and Andrew emigrated to the United States very shortly after that, arriving early in 1892. He saved his money and sent for Katherine around 1896. Since I do not have specific dates that either arrived in this country, I have no ship records for either of them.

    My maternal grandfather, Joseph Oravetz, was born Jozsef Oravecz on January 7, 1881, in Opátka, Slovakia, a small town in the northwestern section of present-day Kosice-Vidiek County, about 15 miles northwest of Kosice itself. He left Opátka near the turn of the century and went to Pereces, a village outside Miskolc in Borsod County (present-day Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, Hungary), to work, probably staying with his brother, János Oravecz, and the latter's wife, Etel (Soltész). My maternal grandmother, Mary (Lelak) Oravetz, an ethnic Slovak, was born Mária Lelák on February 13, 1888, in Pereces, the same village where Joseph Oravetz went to work. At the time, there was no separate country of Slovakia, so neitherMary nor Joseph technically were not 'outside' their native country, just living in a different part of it. Evidently, they became engaged to be married while living in Pereces, but the decision was made to emigrate before the marriage took place. Joseph then emigrated to the United States in 1907, staying with his brother, Alex. He sent for Mary in late-1908. They married in March 1909 in Barnesboro, Pennsylvania.

James M. Rebar
Napoleon, Ohio USA
August 10, 2002

Last Updated: April 27, 2010