"Through The Eyes of My Grandfather:

A Journey Home"


When you are young, you rarely have interest in "where you came from".  This is a sad thing, as when you are young, you usually have many elders around you who have so much information about your ancestors and heritage to share with you.  It is usually not until we are much older and have lost family members, such as our grandparents, that we have a yearning to learn more about who we are, our family and our roots.  By this time, however, it becomes difficult to learn this information as those who "lived" it are now gone. I was fortunate enough to begin searching for some of these answers while my paternal grandfather was still alive and able to share with us.  It is here that the story of our family's long journey "home" begins...


Both of my paternal grandparents were of Windish roots.  This much we all knew growing up.  But, none of the elders of the family really said much more than that.  My grandfather always tried to explain that the "Windish Region" was this small, triangular land area that was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which later was divided into Austria, Slovenia and Hungary.  As young children, it is hard to grasp this concept.  So whenever we were asked what our nationality was, we never quite knew what to say: were we Austrian? Hungarian? Slovenian? Windish?  My grandparents never really said much more so we never really probed further.  Due to the way we spelled our surname, everyone assumed we were "German". As a child, you just believe they are right.  But as I grew, I came to learn from my grandfather that were indeed not German at all.


I also knew that my grandfather had 2 nephews and a sister-in-law living in the village of St.Martin a.d. Raab, Austria which he communicated by letter and phone often.  But, it wasn't until university that I had taken some German courses on my own so that I would be able to also start communicating with our family in Austria. My grandfather never taught any of his children or grandchildren the German or Windish languages.  Another unfortunate aspect.


It was in the early 1990's that I began writing to my father's cousins in Austria and getting to know them.   Finally, there was a connection.  In 1997, we (my father, 2 of his brothers and I) decided we wanted to take a trip over to St.Martin to meet with the family there and also to take my grandfather if he would go.  He was in his early to mid-80's at the time and had not been back to Europe since he was almost 21.  So it had been around 69 years since he had been "back home".


My grandfather was actually born here in Pittsburgh along with a younger sister.  Their father was a butcher.  Around 1913,one of the grandparents back in Martinje (Austro-Hungary: I will abbreviate this as "A-H" from here on out) was going blind, so my great-grandparents decided to take my grandfather and his sister back over there so that the grandparents could see my grandfather and his sister.  Neither of my great-grandparents were American citizens.  They were both still citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  This meant that my great-grandfather was still listed on the army draft board there.  While visiting in A-H, WWI broke out and my great-grandfather was drafted into the army.  My grandfather and his sister, along with their mother, lived between the 2 grandparents homes, one being in Martinje, the other in Rönök.  My great-grandfather was gone for quite a long period of time.  During this time, my grandfather's sister passed away very young.


By the time he was done serving in the army, several years had passed.  My great-grandfather then decided to just remain in Austro-Hungary with my grandfather and the family.  Eventually, my great-grandparents and my grandfather had moved to St.Martin a.d. Raab and had another son.  Being that my grandfather was a USA citizen, he either had to return to America before turning 21 or he'd lose his citizenship.  Unfortunately, neither his parents nor his little brother were citizens.  So he had to make that difficult decision and leave his family behind and return to America.  Of course, he returned to Pittsburgh where he was born and also had a few cousins here who helped him get settled, get a job, etc.  But once he came back to Pittsburgh around 1928, he never returned back to his parents or the land he grew up in and called home.


He tried to maintain communication via letters, phone calls, sending care packages back to his parents and family, but he told us stories of never knowing if they ever were received.  He said that during WWII and other times, he believed the mail was looted and his family never received them.  Communication became difficult.  They also lost touch with much of the family that remained in what became Slovenia and Hungary.  His parents and brother died in St.Martin, although, he was never able to say good-bye to them or visit their grave sites.  This is the reason we wanted to take my grandfather back "home" to visit.  And also, we could then see his homeland and where he grew up "through his eyes".  And what an amazing adventure it was.  It is truly a trip I will never forget and will pass on down through the generations.  It was very special because my grandfather was with us.


It was only a 10-day trip, so we had to "cram" a lot of visiting into that short time. Unfortunately at that time, I also was not as knowledgeable in genealogy as I am now.  I wish I were as I could have done so much more research then.  Here we are, 10 years later, and I have not yet been able to return to do additional research.


Our trip began in St.Martin a.d.Raab, Austria.  We stayed there with my grandfather's sister-in-law and 2 nephews.  It was such an amazing site, and tearful, to see my grandfather's face as he finally was able to see, face-to-face for the 1st time, his sister-in-law and his 2 nephews.  I can only imagine how that must have felt.  It truly brought tears to all of our eyes.  He never spoke much German or Windish at home, but he spoke fluently and seemed as if he had never left that country.  While there, we were also able to visit the Trianon Monument.  It is an incredibly interesting place to visit.  At that time, the road to the monument from the Austrian side was not paved.  WE parked at the bottom of a hill and walked up a dirt/rocky path through the woods to get to the monument.  It is a triangular momument that sits between the borders of Austria, Hungary and Slovenia.  My grandfather showed us the paths through the woods they used to walk to go between the different villages when he was young and they were all part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is a really neat place to see!


During our journey, we were also able to visit the areas of Felsõszölnök, St.Gotthard and Rönök, Hungary as well as Martinje, Slovenia.  Again, due to my lack of knowledge at that time, we did not pre-arrange with village priests to visit the churches and review archives. In fact, due to the times we visited the different villages, most of the churches were closed and all we could do was peek inside the door to see.  We also visited the cemeteries in each of the villages.  However, we quickly learned that our surnames we were searching for (Szukics/Sukic/Bajzek/Horváth/Csuk/Schultz) were all VERY common names in these areas (like "Jones" and "Smith" in the USA).  So as we went through the cemeteries, it was very difficult to tell WHO was actually part of our family tree.


Another amazing part of our story is this: as mentioned earlier, due to wars and other events in the region, communication became very difficult for my grandfather and all his family in that area and communication was actually lost with many family members all together.  My grandfather had many cousins who were born after 1928 and lived in Slovenia and Hungary.  Due to loss of communication, he never knew some of these relatives even existed....UNTIL we arrived over there. It was so amazing.  We were in Martinje driving along the small road and noticed a little bistro with our family name.  Of course, we stopped.  Having no idea who was inside.....we entered asking for information.  Unfortunately, they only spoke Windish and we only spoke German and English.  But, in the midst of it all, thankfully, the granddaughter of the bistro owner lived there also and she spoke English AND German! YEAH!  Once we told her who my grandfather was, her grandmother's face just lit up.  Here, it turns out that the woman who owned the Bistro was my grandfather's 1st Cousin!  What a reunion that was as well.  We all sat down and talked and talked and then they took us to the cemetery in Martinje and showed us which graves were part of our family tree.  They then also took us down the road to an old, abandoned house!  Brush was overgrowing the house, there was an old buckboard in the barn and we even saw the outhouse.  Immediately upon seeing the house, my grandfather began to get tears in his eyes.  He knew immediately what this house was.  It was the house belonging to his grandparents.  The first home he saw upon arriving in Martinje in 1913!  He told us the story of his arrival and how he was only about 5 years old.  He mentioned how, of course, there was no electricity in that region at the time (although he had been used to it in America) and it was very, very dark.  He remembered being afraid and not wanting to go inside the home and that his grandparents had to "bribe" him with candy to go inside.  There was a small "loft" on the second story of the house.  That was where he slept.  He mentioned having to climb a ladder to get up there.  The land laws are much different in that region than here in the USA.  The home and land remain in the family until someday it is sold.  It turns out, this home and land had been in our family for generation after generation.  Again, something that usually doesn't happen here in USA.


It was such an awe-inspiring feeling to know that we were walking upon the very ground that so many generations of our family had walked upon.  And to be standing there, as part of history, where my own grandfather once walked as a child and grew up.  Words just can't even begin to describe that feeling.  Even as I sit here writing, 10 years later, those feelings still well up in my heart and mind.


We explored every inch of this land.  Despite that condition of the house, you were still able to go in and explore.  It was very dark, and no one had flashlights, but we could still see quite a bit.  But the funny thing is, it wasn't until we were home and developed our photos that we noticed that there were still dishes on the kitchen stove!!  The house had not been lived in since around the late 1970's-early 1980's at that point.


After Martinje, we journeyed to the village of Felsõszölnök,Hungary.  My grandfather and his family attended the catholic church in the village there when he was very young.  The only part of the church open at that time was a guest house/old priest house across the street which had some old relics from the church.  Behind the church, there was also a little bridge leading up into the woods.  My grandfather told us of how his uncle and cousins had a house up there and they used to walk the bridge quite a bit.  The streets in Martinje and Felsõszolnok were very narrow and we even saw cows/cattle crossing the street in Felsõszolnok.  Quite a site!


While driving on the road from Felsõszölnök to St.Gotthard, we happened to come across an elderly farmer and his wife out tending to their field.  My cousins stopped the car to talk with them.  Apparently, they knew them quite well, but we weren't sure how.  We all got out of the car to talk.  My cousins explained to Peter (the farmer) and his wife who we were.  Peter's face lit up this time.....here, it turned out that Peter was also a 1st cousin on my grandfather!!!  AMAZING!! It seemed that everywhere we went, we were finding relatives of my grandfather's that he never even knew.  Again, my great-grandfather was one of 8 or 9 children, some of whom remained in A-H after my grandfather's return to America.


We were also able to visit the village of Rönök, Hungary.  This was the village of my grandfather's mother (Schultz).  We were able to go and visit St.Imre's Catholic Church (again, we could not go inside).  My grandfather told us that this was where his little sister was buried so young after having Scarlet Fever.  He also told us of the little schoolhouse that was here when he was a boy that he would attend.  He told us of the long walk he had to make to come to school, "up through the woods".  He also told us of the "language difficulties" while growing up.  He told us how he had to know German, Hungarian and Windish as a child due to the language variations of the region.  It was also while attending school here as a child that the teachers made him change how he spelled his last name. They made him change the spelling of his surname to be more "germanized".  Unfortunately, the cemetery at St.Imre's was not in very good shape, and it was very difficult to find anything.  So we were not able to find the grave site for his sister.


Even after returning here to USA after our visit, we had other 1st cousins of my grandfather get in touch with us.  They were located in such places as Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and Uruguay, South America!  They were told of our visit over there by their brothers, sisters, etc, and they contacted us.  And the list continues to grow.  All from one visit!


The villages in this area remain virtually unchanged (according to my grandfather) from when he grew up there as a young man.  He told us stories of the wars, occupations by various military forces, some of the awful things that happened in that area during those times.....but mostly, he told us stories about family togetherness, love and appreciation for the little things they had in life.  He explained how hard times were and how little people really had, but that they never took things for granted.  Children took care of their parents, grandparents, etc.  Young adults and children left their family and the only home they ever knew with barely any money or possessions in their pockets for other faraway lands in hopes of better future and a brighter tomorrow.  Even after leaving their villages, many for America, they still continued to send money home to their families to help them.  To think of how difficult it must have been for these young people to leave their customs, language, all they ever knew for a place with strangers and not knowing when or if they'd see their loved ones again...I can't even imagine what that would be like.  In today's day and age of computers and cell phones, we are able to keep in touch with everyone in the blink of an eye.  Life was hard then, but in many ways, it also seemed much better too.


Visiting these different villages was such an awesome journey, not only because of the people we met and places we saw, but even more special because we were able to see them through the eyes of my grandfather!  We were able to see where he grew up, the graves of my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents, my great-uncle and more.  The Windish region is a very beautiful place.  It is filled with trees and small villages, very beautiful churches and the nicest people I ever did meet. Everywhere we went, people took us in with smiles and open arms.  That doesn't happen everywhere you go.  My only hope is that I am able to return again someday soon to visit again with family and to do more extensive research.


With the help of Tibor and Joel, I have found out more detailed information on my family history from church records they were able to delve into and help translate for me.  Without their help, I would still be in the same place I was 10 years ago with my research. But with their help, I have now been able to take my "direct line" back to the early 1800's.


A "trip" is something you take for a short time to "relax" but a "journey", well, as I found out in 1997, a journey is amazing travel through time that occurs maybe once in a lifetime if we are lucky.  I was grateful enough to have been able to take that journey with my grandfather and my own father!  A journey to a far away land we had only heard stories about, a land where food, drink and music are in abundance....where people still sit around a dinner table and talk and laugh for hours and hours....a land where trees and countryside still dominate the undeveloped land.....a land where people are friendly, kind and hospitable......a land where people still appreciate the simple things in life such as family and relaxation.... a land I still like to call "home"!!!


--D. S.