Ron Cieslak aided by Dorothy Kupcho Kosmowski have completed the Herculean task of transcribing over 37,500+ entries in the Parish Registers (Matrika) of the Byzantine (Greek) Catholic Church in Jakubany, Slovakia to computer-searchable databases. Available to all, the databases which covers the period 1772-2004, are currently available online at:
The entries in these Church Registers are ostensibly but a record of births, marriages, and deaths that have occurred in the village. But in fact they are much more in that they also reflect, albeit perhaps obliquely, facts and curiosities about village life.
For example: the entries themselves are for the most part recorded in Latin, the church’s official language – that is except beginning in the 1850’s when the Austrian-Hungarian Empire began an attempt at ethnic cleansing (Magyarization). As a result of an 1851 law, Magyar (ethnic Hungarian) became the official language for all records. Later the entries were made in Russian or Ukrainian script. Clearly ramifications of the changing political alliances within the region are reflected in the church records.
Likewise some of the entries in the Observationes column of the Death Registry (which usually record the cause of death) provide a poignant insight. (All given here and below are in translation.) Vanyo Hnasz, age 68, died on 28 Apr 1819 of (cause) “Miserable and desperate”; or the 10 children, the oldest being one year of age, who died in a “whooping cough” epidemic over a two-week period in 1821; or the 106 who died in a calamitous epidemic in 1847/8 of “Hunger/Starvation”; or that of 12 year old Petrus Bjelovoczky who, on 15 July 1903, died while "push(ing) cow across water - fell and drowned”; or the gratuitous remarks about the propensity towards drink included in the entries of those few individuals who "... fell in the well and drowned".
Other entries are revealing: Maria Marchevka-Kopak who at age 37 was “murdered” on 11 Aug 1819; or Stephanus Kundlya, age 10, who was “murdered” on 22 Aug 1852; or 10½ year old Simeonis Marchevka who died on 3 Sep 1856 of “murder”;; or Anna Katrenics, age 35 and a widow who died of cholera on 22 Aug 1873 and “left behind 2 orphan - both parents murdered”. Seemingly human nature is such that violence periodically reached even into a small and, at the time, remote village.
But individual entries aside, the registries can also be view in toto as a collection of numbers – and numbers can be subject to analysis which can lead to other interesting insights into village life. The statistical approach allows many questions to be asked and answered but in the following I develop only three whose answers I found, at least on first viewing, quite startling – those concerning emigration, infant mortality rate, and epidemics.
To delve into these and related questions will require census data for the village from the 19th through the mid-20th century. Regrettably such collected data prior to 1869 is not available. However this difficulty can be circumvented by calculations using the information contained in the Church's Matrika to estimate the village's population over the period 1800 to 1869.
The result is displayed in the bar graph above. The yearly village population obtained from available government records are represented as black bars. Red bars represent the data estimated by analytical techniques (see below) from Matrika data.
On first viewing, the estimates of the population for the interval 1840 - 1860 (red bars) may seem too low for one might expect a roughly linear growth in the village's population linking the years 1830 to 1869. But such is not the case, for during the interval 1838-1850, Jakubany experienced two epidemics during which 36% and then 48% of its population perished – a fact necessarily reflected in the village's population over these years.
Additional demographic information can be coaxed from the marriage and birth/baptism records in the Matrika. Over the interval from 1800-1890 the Jakubany Marriage Register lists 2545 entries and the Birth Registry 12783 entries of whom 2958 died before reaching the age of one. Hence, over this 118 year period, the rough estimate of the number of surviving children per family is four and hence the average family size as six. Since the village population in 1800 is estimated to have been 339, seemingly there were 56 or so families resident in the village at that time. Presumably these 56 arose from the nucleus that raised the first village church (dedicated to SS Kozmos & Damian and built in 1772) and from whose records the earliest data for these calculations is derived.
[Technical note about the calculation – with the government-reported population peak of 2773 in 1880 as a starting point, the algebraic difference between the number of village births and the number of village deaths is subtracted from 2773 to yield the data point for the preceding year, i.e. 1879. The procedure is then repeated with the 1879 data as a starting point and continued back year-by-year to 1800. However before beginning the algebraic manipulations, a "smoothing" of the data is required to correct for the aberrations in the death data due to epidemics. (A six-year moving average was used.) Also note an implicit assumption in this calculation: that it is only by birth and death that individuals enter or leave the village population. Population changes due to emigration or immigration from/to the village are discounted. A survey of sets of family surnames in the Birth/Marriage/Death records indicates population "stability" at least before 1890 when a major emigration began. Hence this assumption is deemed valid.]
Over the period 1869 through 1910, the population of the Greater Hungarian Empire increased from 15.5 million to 20.9 million, a factor of ~33%. The increase would have been much larger – by 2.04 million �� had not this number of individuals emigrated to the United States during the same period. (The emigration statistic was culled from the records of European embarkation ports.)
However this emigration was not uniformly distributed throughout the Empire. Rather five counties – Abaùj-Torna, Szepes, Saros, Ung, and Zemplen – were the principal losers, each with at least 2% of their populations emigrating over the period 1880-1914. At the time, Jakubany was in Szepes County.
Seemingly the loss for Jakubany in particular was much greater for the census bar chart indicates a sharp decline in the village's population over the thirty year interval from 1890 to 1920. At the end of this period there were some 1000 or so fewer people residing in the village - a 37% decrease in its population. The village was not to approach its earlier peak population level for some 50 years (until 1940). Was this decrease primarily due to emigration? Seemingly yes, but then who emigrated and why?
These questions are considered below but first it is necessary to develop information on two other aspects of village life that have enormous bearing on the village's population – the Infant Mortality Rate and Epidemics.
Infant Mortality Rate – Village Health
Infant mortality is formally defined as the number of infant deaths (one year of age or younger) per 1000 live births. However in the present work it is preferable to discuss this rate in terms of a percentage. The conversion is easily made – simply move the decimal point in the formal definition one place to the left to convert to a percentage. For example, a rate quoted as 21.9 deaths per 1000 live births corresponds to a rate of 2.19% when stated as a percentage.
When I first ran a calculation of the infant mortality rate, I could not believe certain of the intermediate results. I recompiled all of the data and recalculated ... with the same astounding result – 50.4% of the children born in Jakubany between the years 1772 and 1890 would die before reaching ten years of age! ... one out of every two! Further, over the same 118 year period, of the 13306 children who were born, 2958 died (~22 %) before reaching the age of one. The results of the complete calculation are shown above as a graph.
It is generally held by health organizations that infant mortality rate is a sensitive indicator of a region's health. Studies have shown that in centuries past, the mortality rate in rural areas such as Jakubany fluctuated strongly with climatic conditions, epidemics, and war. The effect of epidemics and war are clearly visible in the plot shown above. The reason usually cited for the correlation with the weather is its effect on the harvest and hence the quality of the population's nutrition.
Note that in the course of a pair of epidemics, in 1847-50 and in 1869-73, fully 90+ percent of the infants did not survive their first year – entire generations were nearly decimated. The sorrow felt in the village must have been wide-ranging and near overwhelming. [The 80% mortality rate in 1790 ( indicated by a "?" on the graph) is discounted as a likely statistical artifact caused by the small number of births/deaths in the sample.]
Another particularly striking feature in the mortality graph above is its precipitous decline beginning ca. 1900. Note that the number of births (dotted trend line on the mortality chart) exhibits a parallel declining behavior. And both the mortality rate and the number of births parallel the 37% decline in the village's population between 1890 and 1920 seen in the census bar graph. If these declines - infant death, infant birth, and village population – were all due to young adults emigrating to the United States before beginning their families, the precipitous decline in the Jakubany mortality rate is readily understood. The entries in the birth/death records in Jakubany would then decrease and those in the United States correspondingly increase.
A second sharp decline in the mortality rate is seen beginning in the 1950's dropping to the 1-2% level where it remains to the present day. Clearly the quality of health care in the village had dramatically improved. It was about this time that the hospital in Stara Lubovna (6 km north of Jakubany) was completed. Rather than at home, birth in a hospital with professional medical personnel in attendance would be expected to greatly lower the infant mortality rate.
Prior to about 1900 and aside from birth defects, premature birth, and low birth weight, the principal cause of infant mortality worldwide before the age of one, is thought to be due to infections in some general sense. What were some of the common causes of death among the Jakubany children? A partial answer is given in the sidebar at right.
In viewing this 19th century mortality data it is well to recall the state of medical knowledge in that century. For example, although it seems incredulous today, it was not until the mid-1850's that medical science "discovered" that simply washing ones hands before tending to a newborn greatly increased the infant's chance of survival. Further, it was not until the last few decades of the 19th century, that the germ theory of disease had come into general acceptance and the concomitant advances in epidemiology began in earnest.
Given this perspective the 40% range for the Jakubany infant mortality rate from 1810-1875 and less than 2% after 1950 is not grossly unlike the rate world-wide over the same period. For example, in 1900 the US rate was reported to be 16.5% which fell to about 0.7% in 2000. In Slovakia in 2003 the rate was 0.85%.
Finally consider those who survived to an age of ten years. How many more years of life could they expect? This is a question of Average Life Expectancy, the rigorous calculation of which is somewhat lengthy. The quality of the Jakubany data does not warrant such an effort for the largest part of the age-at-death data is simply rounded to the nearest multiple of ten. See graph next.
Notice the peaks at each decade marker … 30, 40, 50 … This is certainly an artifact for death does not peak at ages in multiples of 10. Presumably without the deceased available to report their correct age, many of the next of kin simply provided the church scribe with a “rounded” number for entry.
In lieu of the unwarranted rigorous calculation, a weighted-average approximation is provided: those who had survived to the age of ten had an "average life expectancy" of approximately 51 years. For comparison, worldwide the average life expectance in 1900 was 30 years and in 2000 was 63 years of age.
Incidentally through 2004, there were seven people who attained an age greater than 100 years, the oldest surviving for 107 years.
Epidemics - A Fact of Village Life
Over the centuries, epidemics have been a periodic scourge throughout the world. Jakubany was not spared. Indeed, prior to 1890, epidemics were a sad and a major fact of village life. The pre-1900 entries in the Observationes column in the church's Death Registry lists almost every epidemic malady known at the time except malaria.
An abbreviated summary of the entries is given in chart form at left. There are five or so major peaks in the plot of the number of deaths versus year, some labeled with the predominant causes of death as listed in the Parish Register for the years.
The most severe affliction to the village occurred in 1847-50 when the second stage of a major cholera pandemic was spreading throughout Europe. The pandemic had begun in India in 1826 and spread in three stages: 1829-1831, 1849-1859, and 1863-1879. It reached Greater Hungary in 1831 and Jakubany five years later. In the first stage and in Austria-Hungary alone, over 100,000 deaths were officially recorded, a number considered a factor of two or three too low by some authorities. Epidemiologists rank this cholera scourge as the worst epidemic/pandemic of the 19th century.
Cholera is listed in the Death Registry as among the major causes of death during Jakubany's first (1827-1842) and third (1869-1873) epidemic outbreaks but surprisingly is listed much less frequently in its second epidemic (1847-50) which was the village’s most severe. It was during these years that the second round of the cholera pandemic was decimating parts of Europe.
Of the 921 deaths in Jakubany during its 1847-1849 epidemic, typhoid fever or simply "fever" are listed as the cause of death for 278 individuals (30%) with cholera listed for 132 (13%). The 921 deaths constitute about 47% of the village's population at that time. With the village almost half decimated one can speculate that perhaps the crops in the field were not planted or harvested, the live stock not tended, etc., thereby accounting for the 106 deaths (12%) recorded as due to "Hunger/Starvation" during that period.
As concerns the two remaining peaks in the epidemic graph, 1795-1800 and 1814, the Observationes column in the Registry list no cause of death for any entry during these periods. Localized epidemics of smallpox and cholera were prevalent throughout Europe during these years with a major typhus outbreak in nearby Russia in 1814.
In the post-1890 era in Jakubany, major epidemics seemingly were a thing of the past as evidenced by the absence of any major peaks in the post-1890 years on the chart above. Curiously, the next major world-wide scourge, during the years 1917-1920, seemingly bypassed Jakubany. This was the "Spanish Flu" pandemic which is held to be the worst epidemic of the 20th century just past.
EMIGRATION II – OVERPOPULATION
A 1946 study conducted by Geographical Institute, Faculty of Natural Sciences of Bratislava University in Slovakia cites Jakubany’s land area as 16,300 acres with agriculture "… of a low standard … (due to) … bad soil and rough climate …" (but also chiefly due to ) "… bad farming of the fields." This study also notes that only 24.4% of the land area was suitable for agriculture.
In 1800 the ca. 4100 tillable acres available, if apportioned among an estimated population at the time of 339 people, corresponds to an allotment of about 12 acres per person. In 1890, because of the village’s eight-fold population increase, the equivalent allotment was about 1.5 acres per person.
Would the 12 acres/person, presumably adequate to support a Jakubany resident in 1800, be sufficient when reduced by a factor of eight in 1890? It seem unlikely, for in 1946, with a population of only 80% that of 1890, the Bratislava University study also notes that the village's harvest was only 2/3's sufficient in meeting the cereal food requirements of the village.
If not in 1890, then certainly within a decade or so, an overpopulation problem would have arisen. If population growth was not checked, a village dependent solely on subsistence agriculture and livestock care and breeding could not sustain itself. The effect of the pair of major epidemics in the village from 1835 through 1850 seemingly only delayed for a time any reckoning with the problem.
Certainly the evidence suggests that by 1890 something "had to give" ... and seemingly it did. Over the next three decades the village's population decreased by 1000 (37%) for in 1890 the emigration from the village began en mass. It continued for the next twenty-five years, to be brought to a halt by the outbreak of World War I in 1914 complemented by the restrictive US immigration laws enacted in the early 1920’s.
Did those who emigrated intend to remain away permanently? Seemingly not all, for several years ago the Port of Hamburg (Germany) reviewed their departure and arrival records for the years 1850-1934 and concluded that one third of all immigrants to the US eventually returned to their homeland, never to return again to the US. The US Immigration Service, using a different scheme of calculation, arrived at a slightly higher estimate (35%).
It is thought that these returnees, after accumulating some savings while working in the US, returned to their motherland, perhaps intending to purchase land, but certainly intending to remain henceforth in the comfortable surroundings of family and friends with familiar language and customs. [My maternal grandparents chose this course ... but then quickly reversed direction and returned to the US ... see below.]
A problem of overpopulation such as this might have been resolved by expanding the agricultural base to include manufacturing-exporting thereby providing additional employment opportunities. Indeed, from the mid-1850's on, such was the underlying trend throughout northwestern Europe as the Industrial Revolution began its general transformation of society. But in Jakubany at that time, the required capital, technical expertise, and infrastructure to permit such an expansion was undoubtedly lacking.
Emigration III - Who Emigrated?
There can be little doubt that it was predominately the young people that were emigrating. Septuagenarians were not likely to undertake the ardors of an ocean-crossing on a cramped passenger liner. By 1890 if not earlier, the future as viewed particularly by the young likely appeared bleak and circumscribed. And as a group the young took to emigration in earnest. The move was primarily to the United States but other northern European countries were also chosen destinations.
With the ready availability of the online Ellis Island Arrival Records (for 1892-1924), it is a straight-forward, albeit lengthy, exercise to accumulate from these records a sufficiently large sample to document this conclusion for any given family.
In the instance of my direct-line ancestors (Rusinak/Kupcha), the results of such a compilation follows: by the early 1900's, of the 29 individuals of the 15 fourth-generation Jakubany families that had immigrated to the US, 26 of the 29 (90%) were under the age of 22 and 20 (70%) were teenagers or younger. The oldest (and earliest arrival) was 39 when he arrived in the US in 1894.
The last departure of my direct-line family from the village was in 1921. With the passing of all in the earlier generations in the village coupled with the emigration of the entire fourth generation, the year 1921 also marks the end of my family line in Jakubany. (The line traces back to three brothers constituting the first generation and whose records are listed in the 1790's in the Jakubany Matrika.)
The Ellis Island Records often also include an entry listing the final US destination of the immigrant. Reviewing these entries provided yet another observation concerning my family's social diaspora: at least initially, members of the three family branches (i.e. of the three brothers) understandably chose to settle close to others of their branch in areas where employment was readily available – in the coal-mining regions of either northeastern or western Pennsylvania or the steel-fabricating centers of Indiana. However over the four decades after arrival in the US, most moved on to other employment and to other states. The final resting places of the fourth generation are now marked by headstones in cemeteries in Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
It is likely that Jakubany, along with many other cities, towns, and villages in the Austria-Hungary of the past, suffered long-term consequences from the massive 1870-1920 Hungarian emigration of their young. For it is the young who provide the entrepreneurial spirit, resourcefulness, vitality, and diligence necessary to continually improve and enrich the quality of life for all of the population.
Emigration IV – War & Military Service
Without question the matter of survival coupled with a prospect of a bleak future was the predominant cause for emigration. Yet I suspect that another reason, not commonly discussed, was at least an auxiliary consideration – dread of war and, for males, the concomitant required military service. For females, conscription of their husband for military service meant disruption in family support and family life.
Documentary evidence of my suspicion is meager. I present only anecdotal evidence collected during conversations with relatives while compiling my family's history. But, after conversation with other doing genealogical research on their own families, my suspicion has only been strengthened.
Consider that in the late 19th century all physically-fit males in the Austro-Hungarian Empire were subject to military conscription – usually two years of active service in the Landswehr (Hungarian conscripted militia) followed by 10 years in the reserves. Conditions in the Landswehr in the 19th century were reportedly so harsh that service therein was described by one author as “… a sentence of death … wives simply gave up hope of ever seeing their drafted husbands again.”
My maternal grandfather was one of the drafted husbands. In 1903, after six years of his working in the coal mines of Western Pennsylvania during which my grandmother carefully saved a part of his earnings, my grandparents (Rusinak/Kupcha) and their first child returned to Jakubany, bought some land, and settled down to raise a family.
But within fifteen months after their return to Jakubany, my grandfather was struck by misfortune – he was conscripted in the village's military lottery for service in the Landswehr. Entered on his service record (of which I have a complete copy) is a 1906 notation that he had served his required time on active duty and was transferred to the reserves for ten years of additional standby service.
Would he "standby" in Jakubany? Not a chance. For within three months (!) of his discharge, my grandfather had returned to the US – never to return to Jakubany. In his haste to leave he had left his wife and two children in Jakubany. An 1906 Ellis Island Arrival Record documents his abruptly arranged travel. He was headed to a western Pennsylvania coal mine near Baggaley, PA. My grandmother remained in Jakubany to dispose of their newly acquired land. The family reunited in Pennsylvania two years later.
[Sidelight: My grandfather became a naturalized citizen of the US in 1921, curiously the same year that the efficient Czech military bureaucracy formally discharged him from the Landswehr as being "overage". In contrast, Slovakia's bureaucratic procedures were seemingly slow – legal transfer of my grandparent's land in Jakubany was not completed until 1976 – 30 years or so after my grandparent's passing. (I also have complete records of the land transaction and its intermediate steps.)]
Another anecdote also on my maternal side: the wife of one of my relatives related that her father-in-law’s disdain of military service was so intense that he abruptly cancelled his imminent marriage and left Jakubany in 1897 for the USA “… via the rear door while the recruiters were coming in the front door.” (His betrothed later joined him and they were married in Indiana.)
Family members of the three other of my maternal-side relatives relate similar tales concerning military service.
On the paternal side of my family (Muha/Mulesza) I personally recall occasions on which my grandfather recited details of his service in the Hussars (Hungarian Light Cavalry). His comment that “… they treated the horses better than the men … (and that it was) ... no good over there, always fighting" made a lasting impression on me ... I was a young boy at the time. My grandfather recalled that border clashes were a common event making activation of the reserves a frequent occurrence and thereby disrupting village and family life. He and his wife (with child – my father) arrived in the US in 1903 and 1905 respectively. They never returned to Hungary, not even for a short visit.
Finally it is well documented that in the late 1890's evasion of military service by emigration was considered to be a growing problem. Indeed, by 1903 the military manpower situation in Hungary had become acute and Hungary added a requirement that any male seeking to leave the country had to produce a copy of his Landswehr discharge papers for inspection. At Hungary's insistence, the German Federal State cooperated by requiring this same proof to be presented at the German Ports of Embarkations prior to boarding any of their ships.
In retrospect, although it seems clear as concerns my ancestors, I am left to wonder to what extent military service was a determinant in the decision of others to emigrate.
Military Requirements Within The Austro-Hungarian Empire by Joe Strana
www.tccweb.org/odds&ends.htm [Downloaded: 24 Aug 01]
Medical Knowledge – 19th Century
Bratislava University Study – Jakubany
Climate and Georesources – Jakubany
Hamburg (Germany) Port of Embarkation: