Sunday, December 6, 2009

Coming Home

I have a copy of Baba's passenger immigration record, found at  Searching there for names of Eastern European immigrants is not easy for two reasons: first, those vowel-deficient names could be spelled umpteen different ways and second, because the handwriting is difficult to read, the indexing is not perfect (I know this first-hand as I worked as an indexer).  If Baba had not told me that she entered the US as Suzanna Csarney, I might not have found her on the list, but would have searched for her under every spelling of Maczko and variations of Csornej.  Either click on the following link or copy and paste it to see the passenger immigration record (line 20) showing Baba.  The second page of her record can be found by clicking "previous."  Use the magnifer.  Her traveling companions are on lines 19 and 21.

You will see that both Baba and her sister-in-law, Mary Szemjan, were heading for Mary's brother Mike's house in Pittsburgh; Baba told me he lived over in the Oakland section of the city as per the Ellis Island record (but another time said he lived south of Pittsburgh).  They were not met by him at the train station.  The two women had little money and spoke no English.  They eventually found a Slovak-speaking man with a wagon who was willing, for a $5 charge, to transport them and their luggage to where Mike boarded.

The girls knew the address of the house but when the driver knocked on the door the man who answered claimed never to have heard the name Szemjan. The driver went all over that part of town looking for the right house, not finding it until asking a schoolboy heading home for the day, who then directed them back to the first house they had approached. There was no language barrier on this street as nearly every resident was an immigrant from Eastern Europe come to work the coal mines. The man who without explanation led them astray in the first place was a Szemjan, a cousin of Mike Szemjan!

The immigrant girls had brought little luggage with them so Mike gave Baba $15 for clothing which her brother repaid when he arrived three days later to take her home.  Home for Michael Csornej-Maczko and now Baba was a tiny coal hamlet called Snowden, located in the hills west of the great steel city of Clairton.  He worked in the mines while his wife, Mary Gnorik, did what many women did: she ran a boarding house for miners who were either single, or in America without their families.  The extra income was essential to the poor immigrants who lived on the edge, subject to mine closures, evictions, and the heavy-handed management of the mine owners.

Boarding house work was as tough as mine work in some ways.  Women were up at 4 a.m. to begin food preparation--breakfast and lunch pails for all the men; then they did loads of laundry for the group and also her own family, plus daily patching of miner's work clothes, then cleaning, which in a filthy mining settlement never ended.  Shopping for food, preparing dinner, cleaning up, then doing other odd tasks might take until late into evening.  Even children chipped in to lighten the load where they could, if they were not already working as slate pickers in the coal breakers.

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