Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 9 – Saying Farewell

We said farewell to Stevo at the Kosice airport–he was the best guide. We then took a cab to Hotel Bankov. We paused for a moment outside to take this picture of our luggage and all of the extra items (gifts from our relatives) we had to squeeze in.

After just a few hours of sleep, we had to rise at 3:00 to get a cab to the airport for our 5:00 a.m. flight to Prague.

We had a long layover and enjoyed some time relaxing in the priority lounge thanks to Andy’s generosity.

We then boarded the plane for the long flight back to JFK airport. The plane was full so we were not able to spread out to sleep. Ginny and I spent time watching two movies and looking at photographs from the trip on our laptops. When we touched down, I was happy and relieved to be back in the USA, but carried with me so many fond memories of the time spent in my ancestral homeland. I’m looking forward to going back again!

This ends my “Sojourn in Slovakia” series. Thanks for coming along with me as I recounted my journey!

Photos by Lisa A. Alzo, June 9, 2010

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

All Rights Reserved

100 Years of Gratitude

On October 29, 1910, 16-year-old* Janós Alsio from “Also-Kocsen”, Hungary, arrived at Ellis Island in New York on board the ship the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria. He had $25 in his pocket and was headed to McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania.

The search for work eventually took Janós to Duquesne, Pennsylvania, where he secured a job as a Millwright in the Bar Mill of the Carnegie steel plant. While staying at a boarding house owned by Mary Ceyba, he met Mary’s sister, Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Fencsak, who came to Duquesne in 1914 from Poša, a village about a mile from Janós’ hometown. The two were married in Saints Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church in January of 1915.

Passenger record screen shot from 10/31/10 (*record indicates age at arrival as “17”–Janos Alzo date of birth 01 Jan 1894: Source: Civil Birth registration certificate, Kucin, Slovakia – copy in personal files of Lisa Alzo)

List or Manifest of Passengers to the United States. Manifest source:, accessed 10/31/10

Janos was the first of my four grandparents to immigrate to the United States, but the last one I researched.

On Saturday, October 30, 2010, I gave a presentation at the quarterly meeting of the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International chronicling my grandfather’s journey to the United States, and my own personal genealogical journey. My grandfather died 2-1/2 years before I was born, so genealogy has provided me with an opportunity to learn more about him. My talk was based on an article I wrote for the summer issue of Slovo: Publication of the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library. During Part 2 of my talk, I included a live Skype feed of my cousin, Renata, who lives in Europe and she talked about how we connected (Renata’s grandfather and my grandfather were brothers who never met. Andrej was born 20 years after Janos), and our visit together this summer in Slovakia. She told the audience how she believed that it was more than coincidence that we found each other–that our ancestors somehow played a role in our connection). The audience enjoyed seeing a live demonstration of how modern technology to connect and stay in touch with family around the world.

I concluded my talk by telling the audience my reason for doing genealogy, which I some up in one simple word: “gratitude.” I owe everything I have become to Janós, and my other grandparents—if they had not had the courage to get on those boats, I would not have the opportunities I enjoy today.

To Janós and Elizabeth, and Janós and Verona, I simply say: Ďakujem!

Click here for a link to a PDF file of my article.

Copyright 2010, LIsa A. Alzo
All rights reserved

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 8 (Part 2)

We drove to Košice and before we had to return the rental car we went in search of Andy’s Rabatin relatives. It took us a bit, but we finally found the street and the house. Just as everyone else we had met, they were so welcoming, serving us sandwiches and pastries, and drinks.

We had a lovely visit. Ginny and I were so thrilled that Andy was finally getting his “WDYTYA moment,” even if it was on the final day. He said that based on some misinformation he received from a researcher before his last visit to Slovakia, he wasn’t going to follow up with them. And, he wasn’t even sure he would get a chance to meet with them, but it all worked out. It just proves that it really isn’t too late, and that you should never take information at face value. It pays to investigate every lead.

It was getting a bit late and we needed to return our rental car and then catch a cab to the hotel and do our final packing. If only we had more time.
to be continued…

Photos by Lisa A. Alzo, June 9, 2010

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

All Rights Reserved

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 8 (Part 1)

I woke up early on Thursday – our final full day in Slovakia. I had to finish packing and we wanted to clean up a bit around the house. I was sure wishing we had another week or at least a few more days.

Our host, Stevo, came to meet us and then we went to Presov. There was a street fair going on with all types of vendors–food, clothing, jewelry, and more. We bought a few souvenirs and took some photographs. Andy snapped this picture of one of the “babas” near her booth.

Photo by Andy Rabatin

We then drove to the home of Alzbeta and Cyril-they were having a lunch for us. Alzbeta gave us some lovely gifts–lace doilies she made and some candy. The lunch was delicious–sandwiches, some berries (said to be medicinal) and pastries.

Photos by Lisa A. Alzo

Cyril brought out some homemade Slivovitz (it sure had a kick but it sure was smooth going down). We then left to visit Marta and Pavel to say “farewell” – they showered us with so many gifts! After hugs, and some tears, we then left with Stevo to head to Kosice where we would stay that evening in preparation for our departure.

to be continued…

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

All Rights Reserved

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 7 (Part 2)

After the cemetery exploration, we went back to the house for a quick lunch and then it was time to leave to drive back to Presov.

I said farewell to my gracious hosts–Emelia and Ján. I was sad to be leaving so soon, but grateful to them for such a lovely visit.

In Presov, I met up with Ginny and Andy again and listened as they told about their adventures exploring some other towns in Slovakia and the Presov archives.

It was an emotional time saying my goodbyes with Renata and Robert. I had only spent two days with them, but felt like I had known them all of my life. We promised to keep in touch and I knew that it was more than just words.

Later that evening, we went to dinner with Marta, Martin, Stevo and met up with researcher Michal Razus.

Time to enjoy some more wonderful Slovak foods. I had a fried cheese platter with parsley potatoes and a type of cole slaw. Again, a delicious meal.

I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of Andy’s dish–pirohy sprinkled with poppyseed and dusted with powdered sugar.

It was a great end to the day. We headed back to Peklany to pack for our pending departure. On Thursday we would be driving to Kosice to return the rental car and stay the night in a hotel near the airport so that we could be at the airport before 5 AM on Friday.

Photos by Lisa A. Alzo, June 9, 2010

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

All Rights Reserved

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 7 (Part 1)

After spending two wonderful days visiting with living relatives, it was time on Wednesday to spend some time with the dearly departed ones. We were up early and after a light breakfast made our way to two cemeteries. The first was in Nizny Hrabovec.

Robert, Renata, and I walked up and down looking at all the stones for various surnames: Alzo, Masztilyak, and more.

Then we went in search of more gravestones in the Poša cemetery. I took plenty of photographs. Now I have to match the stones to the burial records I have from previous research.

The sun was so hot that day. I didn’t realize how hot until later on when I saw the glowing red sunburn on the back of my neck. A small price to pay for being able to walk in the cemetery where so many ancestors have been laid to rest.

The time was going by so quickly. We had to drive to Presov so that I could meet back up with GInny and Andy. We were going to have a light lunch and look at some family photographs before our departure. I did not want to leave. Oh, how I wish I had an extra day!

to be continued…

Photos by Lisa A. Alzo, June 8, 2010

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

All Rights Reserved

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 6 (Part 2)

After the lovely afternoon luncheon, we next went in search of Fencsaks and Leskos–my paternal grandmother’s lines. Robert, Renata, and Helena (Helen) drove to Possa–another of my ancestral villages.

We stopped at several homes where Helen asked some of the people she knew if they remembered the Fencsak or Lesko families. We met a Mr. Nadzam (shown at left, below) who wanted to go with us on our little adventure. and took us to one of the houses where we might find someone to talk to about the families. Mr. Nadzam said that he never dreamed when he woke up that morning that he would have such a “special visitor'” all the way from America. He also said “Mountains don’t move, but people can.”

We were invited in to one home of a gentleman with connections to these families. He had some documents from the U.S. and let us take some photographs of them so that I could further trace the connection. It seems I found a potential distant cousin.

While there was no genealogy “slam dunk,” I at least took away a few more pieces to the family puzzle. Again, I wondered if I had made this trip too late? Would I have had more success finding family 15 years ago? Maybe…maybe not. I truly believe if you are willing to take risks in the search for your roots, eventually some of them will pay off. So, you have to keep on knocking on those doors.

to be continued…

Photos by Lisa A. Alzo, June 8, 2010

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

All Rights Reserved

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 6 (Part 1)

I was awakened the next morning by the rooster. His cock a doodle-do-ing sounded like he was quite close by. It was hot and humid and I was quickly reminded about how spoiled I am having central air conditioning in my own home.

After a light breakfast of some homemade bread and butter with coffee (I could barely eat another bite after enjoying all the wonderful food from the day before) we were set to leave to pick up another Alzo cousin (Helen) and then head on to a restaurant (Cafe Restaurant Junior) in Vranov where Renata had made lunch reservations. The restaurant was lovely and we had our own private room for lunch–the table looked like it was set for a very fancy party.

Renata’s sister joined us. Everyone said that if my hair was longer we could be twins!

Then, it was time to eat again! We ordered off the menu. I had a shot of pear vodka and a delicious combination of haluski, pirohy and potato pancakes. Then for dessert, palacinka.

We spent the entire afternoon discussing family connections, looking at photographs and just enjoying the visit.

Photos by Lisa A. Alzo, June 8, 2010

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

All Rights Reserved

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 5 (Part 8)

After the big cemetery visit and walking tour around town, it was time to go back to the house. Before we entered the kitchen we took our shoes off and turned them upside down.

Renata’s mother was hard at work–cooking again! This time, for dinner, we enjoyed Holupky (stuffed cabbage) and potatoes.

Photo by Lisa A. Alzo

More wine, and more nut and poppyseed rolls! Everything was so delicious! We enjoyed more time talking about the Alzo family in America and the Alzo families in Slovakia–making connections, sharing stories. Renata’s father reminded me so much of my own father. They were first cousins and shared the same first name (Jan, John), as well as the Alzo smile and sense of humor. Jan agreed to take a DNA test the next day (I brought a kit with me). I had hoped Jan would agree to do the test because my father had taken one a few years before he died. Up until now there have not been any matches in the database. But, after spending the day with Jan, I knew he did not have to take the test to prove we were blood relatives. Still, I was glad I brought the kit along.

After a very long, but fulfilling day, it was time to call it a night. As I was about to shut my eyes and go to sleep, I was thinking how surreal it was to be sleeping in a bed in the house on the land where my grandfather once slept. I felt so grateful to my grandfather–for having the courage to leave his home and family and start a new life in America.

Ján Alzo

Andrej Alzo

I thought about how he left his parents, his home and the village. Renata told me that my great-grandmother was so heartbroken when he left that she wanted to have another baby. It was not long after that Renata’s grandfather, Andrej, was born. But these two brothers never met face to face. They only knew of each other from photographs and letters sent across the ocean. I just kept thinking: “how sad.”

I was looking forward to the next day–we would be having a family luncheon and I would be meeting more Alzo relatives!

to be continued…

Photos owned by Lisa A. Alzo

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

All Rights Reserved

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 5 (Part 7)

The most amazing part of Day 5 was seeing the house my grandfather grew up in, and to walk on the very same soil where he once walked.

It’s difficult to put into words what it meant to me to stay in a house that was on my family’s land.

Renata’s father had built a new house across from the old homestead and this is where I spent two nights. The old house, while still standing, is not structurally fit for anyone to live in it. The family uses it for storage now. The dirt floor, the paint, and a few things inside are all original. Wow…going back to the late 1890s…so much history in such a small space!

While taking the tour of the homestead, I collected some soil, and I also learned more about my Alzo ancestors. Janos Alzso Czigas – (now written “Cigas” but read “Chigash”) was apparently my great grandfather’s name/nickname. I learned from my cousin Jan (translated via Renata) that my great-grandfather was working at the manor house in Kucin, (which is still there, about 10min walk from the Alzo house). It is a very old, but very basic house (nothing like the castles in other places). Renata put it very nicely, “…but compared to one-roomed people’s houses/accommodation at that time, it must have felt ‘rich’.” My great-grandfather was working there as a servant with horses and a cab, and in Hungarian, the name for that post was apparently “cigas.”

My grandfather died before I was born, and just being in the place where he played as a boy, worked, and spent time with family helped me to feel close to him. And so, thankful to him too–for having the courage to leave it all behind–his family, the home, the land, the village for the unknown world of a steeltown in Western Pennsylvania.

to be continued…

Photos by Lisa A. Alzo, June 7, 2010

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

All Rights Reserved