The Rebar Family (Clearfield County, Pennsylvania)


My mother's and father's ancestors lived very close to one another in the tiny country of Slovakia, but they did not know each other there, and their backgrounds were very, very different. The Rebar name was originally spelled Ribár, presumably having some connection with fishing (rybár is the Slovak word for 'fisherman'), although the family were all farmers. My mother's ancestors were ore miners from the mountainous region just to the west of the area where my father's ancestors tilled the soil. Oddly enough, it was mining and not farming that ultimately brought my mother and father together in the United States. (See the 1996 reunion for the complete Oravetz story.)

Present-day Slovakia is a very mountainous country. In Eastern Slovakia, near the city of Kosice, the arable land is limited to the valley floor that begins some miles north of the city and gradually widens out as it nears the Hungarian border. The principal stream in the valley is the Hornád; near Nizná Mysl'a the Torysa and the Olsava join the Hornád, which continues on into Hungary. The land is agriculturally rich; hot summer temperatures are ideal for growing grains, and vegetables grow well and abundantly on seemingly every square inch of privately-owned land. Working in these fields was the only life that the Rebars had known for centuries. They belonged to the class of farmers known as 'cotters' (Hungarian: zsellér, often seen in church records in its Latin form, inquilinus).

View of the valley from Nizna Mysla View of the Valley from Nizná Mysl'a Roman Catholic church

The Ribárs probably did not migrate to this area 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 (spelled Herpach in the earliest records), 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.

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. Andrej Rebar and his wife, Katalin 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.

For reasons still unclear to me, Andrej Ribár's family who were the first 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 white 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 Andrej Ribár, descendant of a very long line of poor farmers, ended up in Ramey, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, in the Spring of 1892? 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. He had married Katalin Kozák in Nizna Mysla, Slovakia, in October 1891, in the beautiful Catholic Church that overlooks the valley south of Kosice. Katalin's half-brother, George Kozák, had been living in America since 1889, and he was eager 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 Andrej said his good-byes to his new bride and boarded the train in Kosice with George's wife and children. Andrej would not see Katalin 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 in America before sending for his bride.

Andrej's early years in America are somewhat a mystery. In all liklihood 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. They began their family immediately, eventually having seven children. During these years the family name underwent numerous permutations before eventually becoming Rebar. There are records which give the spelling as Ribar, Rybar, and even Reeber (which is on my father's birth record at the courthouse). Oddly enough, even though the spelling in every case in the Nizna Mysla Roman Catholic parish records for the 19th century is Ribár, the only variant of the name I was able to find in Slovak telephone books in 1995 was Rybar!

Andrej's ancestors had worked the fields as farm laborers for centuries, and Andrej was not well-disposed to working in the coal mines. His health also began to deteriorate from the cold and damp in the mines, and he developed tuberculosis. On August 1, 1907, Andrej purchased a 128-acre farm for $520.00 cash and a promise to pay another $520.00 within three years. The seller retained mineral rights to all the coal underlying the farm except for the five acres the farmhouse and buildings were situated on. The deed was written such that the seller could not be held liable for any destruction to the land or water resulting from the mining of the coal there, including any damage from deposit of the coal waste on the property. I have only seen the property twice in my life; it appears to be nice, flat bottom land, but my father said that it kept the family in virtual poverty the entire time they lived there, which was only about 12 years.

Both Andrej and Katalin died in 1921, he from pulmonary tuberculosis and complications from miner's asthma, she from acute nephritis. Katalin died in August, and upon her death, Andrej went to went to live with his daughter, Anna, taking his two youngest children, George and Catherine, with him. On the evening of November 14th, a Monday, he bid good-night to his daughter and went to sleep on the couch, taking young George with him. During the early morning hours of November 15th, Andrej passed away quietly in his sleep.

Last Updated: April 28, 2010