Geneablogy: An occasional Journal about our experiences exploring our heritage

Monday, August 28, 2000

Well, you would think by postings here that things have been quiet lately, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I just spent a week in Michigan and a couple of days in Pennsylvania doing research. I had hoped to keep the site updated while I was away, but there was so much stuff to do that I didn't have time. And now I've got a ton of stuff to post that's going to take quite a while to digest and put into a form that can be posted here.

So let's start with the beginning (more-or-less). I had a radio thing to go to in the Columbus, Ohio area, so I left home on Wednesday evening, August 9. Columbus is a ten-hour drive, so I figured I would drive until I got tired, find a hotel room, and finish the drive to Ohio the following day. Well, when I woke up on Thursday morning, I found myself in Bedford, Pennsylvania, a 25 mile drive up I-99 from Altoona, the city where my great-grandparents were married and my grandfather born. Columbus was only going to be about a five hour drive, so I took the opportunity to go to Altoona (something I had actually planned to do on the way back from the trip).

First thing to do in Altoona was find the church where Great-Grandpa and Busia Horbal got married. The records said they had been married at Sts. Peter & Paul R.C. Church, but I couldn't find such a thing in current-day phone directories. But in the Altoona city directories from the 1910s and 1920s, they gave the address of the residence attached to the church as 1906 19th St. When I got there, I found that the church's name had been changed to the Our Lady of Fatima Chapel. The sign on the church said "Formerly Sts. Peter &Paul", and the cornerstone of the church said "Sts. Peter & Paul Polish Catholic Church". It also said that the church had been built in 1911, so it was brand new when Great-Grandpa and Busia got married in 1913. I took pictures of the church, which was pretty small, and of the cornerstone, but I haven't gotten them developed yet. I'll post them when I do. The church wasn't open, so I couldn't go in, but it looked like a nice church. I also took some pictures of the neighborhood, figuring they must have lived relatively close by. I also found the nearby Ukrainian Catholic Church on 20th St and took some pictures of it. Its cornerstone said it had been built in 1920. That may have something to do with why they got married in the Roman Catholic Church rather than the Greek (Ukrainian) Catholic Church. The neighborhood is on the edge of town, as you can see on the map; Altoona doesn't stretch much further than this.

After that, I went to the Altoona Public Library, figuring that would probably be a good source of information, newspapers, and the like. I found a very helpful (but somewhat sad) librarian there who informed me that the library was somewhat starved for funds, and therefore didn't even have a complete set of microfilmed copies of Altoona's own newspapers. She did tell me, however, that the Blair County Genealogical Society had a well-stocked library in nearby Hollidaysburg, the result of a generous bequest from a wealthy patron. She even gave me a map and drew the directions there, and also told me that they happened to be open that day. I felt bad that Altoona's own library had apparently been neglected, but grateful to the librarian for pointing me toward this other source.

So I drove down to Hollidaysburg and found the society's library. One of the volunteers came over to help me when she found it was my first time there. I started by asking if they had the Soundex index for the 1910 Census on microfilm, because my great-grandfather had supposedly come to the area around 1909-10, but she apparently misunderstood me and started looking at a book index of the 1850 Census. Okay, let's try another tack. I mentioned that my great-grandparents were married at Sts. Peter & Paul Church in Altoona. "Oh, we have their records," came the reply. You could have knocked me over with a feather. She brought me over a book that had their records from 1916-1925 or thereabouts. Wrong years, but worth a look anyway. There were baptismal records for a number of Horbals in that book. All were children of a Michael Horbal and Catherine Stec. I made copies of the four records in that book. The librarian was bringing me city directories, despite the fact that I had told her that no Horbals appeared in the Altoona city directories until 1923 for whatever reason (and then it was Michael Horbal, as my great-grandparents were long gone by then).

I went over to the pile of records on the shelf to see if there were any earlier records for Sts. Peter & Paul, and sure enough, I came across a book for 1911-1915, their earliest years. I found a record of Józef and Wiktorja's marriage, and of the baptism of my grandfather and his brother Ray. Best of all, all of the records gave Józef's place of birth as Stara Bircza, Galicia! Finally, readable proof of where he came from. "Stara" means "old", so Great-Grandpa was from Old Bircza, which is right next to the current town of Bircza. Lipa, where Busia was from, is of course, quite close.

The marriage record gives incorrect birthdates for both Józef and Wiktorja. He was made two years older, and she was made two years younger. The record also gives the names of their parents, Paulus Horbal and Justina Wozna for Józef and Joseph Mazur and Catharina Podgórska for Wiktorja. (The records, being from a Catholic church, are in Latin.) The witnesses were Joannes (John) Baran and Michel (Michelle?) Franiec.

Grandpa's baptism record gives his name as Teophilus Horbal of Aleghina Fornas, Altoona, Pa (there's that pesky Latin again). He was born on 14 April 1914 and baptised on 19 April 1914. His Godparents were Michael Mielnik and Anna Walezewska (the name Mielnik shows up again later). Uncle Ray's baptism record gives his name as Roman Vladislaus Horbal of South Altoona, Pa. He was born on 16 September 1915 and baptised on 26 September 1915. His Godparents were Michael Mielnik and Opolonia Heyn. There's also a note here in the space below his name about his marriage. It says that he was married to Margarita Veronica Roth on November 24, 1945 at Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church in Detroit. That would be Aunt Pat! What is it about this family that causes people to use names other than the ones they were given at birth? Both of the baptism records give the birthplaces of the parents, Bircza and Lipa.

The aforementioned baptism records of the children of Michael Horbal were very interesting, too. There were four children in the records:

The Godfather of all of these children was Joannes (John) Mielnik (there's that name again!). John's Godmother was Anna Bednarczyk; Frances' was Rozalia (Rose?) Mielnik; and Edward and Michael's was Anna Mielnik (maybe formerly Anna Bednarczyk?). Their father, Michael Horbal, is listed as being from Stara Bircza, Galicia, Poland or sometimes just Bircza, and their mother, Catharina (Katarzyna?) Stec is listed as being from Lipa, Galicia, Poland, the same town as Wiktoria (Mazur) Horbal.

After finding those records, I looked through the card catalog they had in the library. These served as an index to big binders of newspaper obituaries. I found an obituary from December, 1969, for Catherine Horbal, formerly of Hollidaysburg and the widow of Michael Horbal. It gives her birthdate as 1 June 1895 and says she married Michael in New York City in 1912. Michael died in 1948. Survivors included six children. Frances' name was now Dugan, and she and her sister, Genevieve Gava, both lived in Matawan, New Jersey, a few short miles from where I write this. Edward lived in Colonial Heights, Virginia. Michael and another brother, Robert, are listed as living in Woodridge, New Jersey. And a final brother, Peter, is shown as resident in Elizabeth, New Jersey. No mention of John, so presumably he died before 1969.

That was quite a bit of information for two short hours, but I had to hit the road so I could go to Columbus. But that half-hour up the road and half-hour back was well worth the detour!

When I got to Detroit, one of the people I wanted to see was my mom's cousin Paul, who sent me a bunch of documents earlier this year that had been so helpful. I wanted to show him what I had come up with as a result (mainly Józef's naturalization applications) and the stuff I had found in Altoona. I spent a very pleasant evening with Paul and his wife Eileen, along with my Uncle Vince and Aunt Nancy, who I stayed with in Michigan and who came along to Paul and Eileen's. Paul had contacted me back in April, I think, asking if I had any information about Józef, as he had gotten a letter from an Emil Horbal in Poland asking for information. Actually, Emil's letter, as I realized well after leaving Altoona, had asked for information about Józef and Michal Horbal. When I remembered that, I realized that the records I had found of Michal's family in Altoona were almost certainly of relatives.

Well, it turned out that Paul had gotten a second letter from Emil just a week earlier. I got copies of the two letters from Paul. In the first one, he says he's looking for information about Józef Horbal, son of Pawel (Paul) and his wife, maiden name Stec, and Michal Horbal, son of Pawel, and his wife, maiden name Mazur. He had the spouses backward (Mazur being Wiktorja's maiden name, and Stec being Katarzyna's maiden name), but otherwise the information checks out. In the second letter, he charmingly (and mistakenly) addresses Paul as his "brother-in-law" and gives his Uncle Michal's old address as "Sylvan Hills, Box 77, Holidaysburg, Penna". That matches the few instances of Horbals appearing in the Altoona/Hollidaysburg city directories. It turns out that Michal and Józef had a brother who stayed behind in Poland, Jakub, and that Emil, who is 65, is Jakub's son. That makes him my grandfather's first cousin, my cousin Paul's first cousin once removed, and my first cousin twice removed. Emil even invited Paul to come to Poland.

I brought my laptop computer and scanner so I could show Paul the scans of some of the documents I had found, and had made him copies of the documents I found in Hollidaysburg. I scanned a number of documents that he had sent me photocopies of, including Busia's birth certificate, Great-Grandpa's naturalization certificate, and their wedding certificate. So now I've got much better copies. And interesting, by scanning at high resolution and zooming in, plus with the benefit of a look at the actual church and particularly its headstone, I was able to decipher the unknown letters after "R.C." on their wedding certificate as "Pol", short for "Polish".

R.C. Pol. Church

The best story that Paul told about his grandparents was about pierogies. He really really liked Busia's pierogies. So he was always asking her to teach him how to make them. Not that he really wanted to make them, mind you, but if Busia was going to teach Paul how to make pierogies, she would, of course, have to actually make some, which Paul looked forward to eating. He never learned how to make pierogies, but had a lot of good meals.

A week or so later, on my way back to New Jersey, I decided to stop again in Altoona and spend a couple of hours at the library in Hollidaysburg. (Unfortunately, I got into an accident on the way there in the tiny town of Phillipsburg, but nobody was hurt, so it wasn't the end of the world. I wasn't happy about the damage to my brand new Toyota Camry, but it seemed to be all cosmetic. A semi backed into me at low speed in a left turn lane and ripped up my bumper and grill, knocked one of my headlights cockeyed, and dented my hood. All on a car that was seven weeks old.... At least the investigating State Trooper said that his report would say that the accident was the semi driver's fault....) After that minor and unhappy delay, I went back to the library. I looked through some later city directories that the NYC Public Library won't have on microfilm. The 1936 directory lists Michl Horbal working as a watchman with a home in Sylvan Hills with his wife Cath, as well as John P Horbal, resident in Sylvan Hills, and Francis A Horbal, resident with one Martin A Greer. Then they disappeard from the directories again until the 1948-49 directory, when Genevieve D. Horbal shows up as a stenographer for Westfall Co, resident at RD 2 Box 77 in Hollidaysburg.

Another item I found was a cemetery listing for New St. Mary's Cemetery in Hollidaysburg. Given that Catherine's obit listed her as a former member of St. Mary's, I figured that was a good place to look for them, and it was. They misspelled the name as "Horbol", but it gives listings for four Horbals:

It said they were all buried in section A, and there was a map of the cemetery. It mentioned that the cemetery bordered on Green Lawn Cemetery.

The last thing I did was another trawl through the obituaries catalog for Mazurs and Woznys. The index includes a section that indexes by maiden name, and it was there that I found Rose (Mazur) Melnick. All the other Mazurs seemed to be Jewish, but Rose was Catholic. More than that, she was born in Wies Lipa, Poland. The obituary says that she was the daughter of John and Katherine Mazur. Now, Wiktorja's parents were Józef and Katarzyna Mazur. So if the father's name was wrong in the obit, Rose could possibly have been Wiktorja's sister. At the very least, she might have been a cousin. And the name Melnick? One of the obits (there are two) gives the original spelling of the name as "Melnyk". Knowing that vowels in that area of the world often have accents, it's not much of a stretch to see "Melnyk" and "Mielnik" as the same name. Perhaps one was the Polish spelling and the other the Ukrainian? Note also that one Rozalia (Rose?) Mielnik was listed as the Godmother for Frances Horbal, the daughter of Michael Horbal. And the plot thickens....

The following morning, before driving back to New Jersey, I decided to have a go at finding New St. Mary's Cemetery. Hollidaysburg is a pretty small town, after all. I found the church. The presiding pastor or whatever at St. Mary's was named on their sign as Father John Palko. He just happens to be listed in Rose's obituary as her grandson. I think a letter to the good Father might be in order. I drove around town, found Old St. Mary's, drove a little further, and found Green Lawn Cemetery out by the edge of town. This was the cemetery that bordered on New St. Mary's, but where was not immediately apparent. Then I noticed a cemetery on a hill behind Green Lawn. There was no road to it from where I was, but now I knew roughly where to look. I drove around a bit more and eventually found myself at the corner of N. Juniata and Cemetery Lane. I thought that was a pretty good indicator.

The list at the library had said the Horbals were buried in section A, so I walked all of section A with no luck. Fortunately, there were three cemetery employees doing some surveying for some reason. After I had walked the entire section, one of them asked me if I was looking for someone in particular. I told him, and he pointed me toward the Horbals' graves, in section B. Go figure. Sure enough, all four of them were buried next to each other. I think the date given for Edward in the book was wrong. I took pictures, but again, haven't gotten them developed yet. The Horbals were nestled in between two other people of another surname. I don't remember what the name was, but it was the same one on either side of them. I'll know what that is when I get the pictures developed.

And so I'm left with a better picture of the Horbal family, but I don't know how or why they all lost touch. Emil knew Michal's address, but apparently not Józef's, which I guess would fit with the fact that Józef didn't talk much about the old country.

Józef and Wiktorja Horbal



City Directories

Posted at 12:09:37 AM