Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Please join us between Thanksgiving and New Year's when our authors present original holiday short stories. We hope they will add to the season's festivities! 11/28 Annette Dashofy, 12/3 E. B. Davis, 12/8 KM Rockwood, 12/13 Korina Moss, 12/18 Tammy Euliano, 12/23 Warren Bull, 12/28 Paula Gail Benson Have a wonderful holiday! -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Descendant of Immigrants

I’m a descendant of immigrants. Of course that’s not unusual. The only ones in our country, who do not have immigrants in their ancestry, are those who are one hundred percent Native American. They came over from Asia many years ago before anyone else, so they are natural citizens.  

My mother’s side is a mixture of Welsh, Scotch Irish and English. My sister and her husband couldn’t trace them back any further than New England. because the name Jones was a very common Welsh name, Grandpa Jones ancestry was only traced a couple of generations past not far from where we grew up. It was pretty much the same with my Grandma Jones with her English, Scotch-Irish background. 

However we had better luck with my Grandpa Steven Hovanic, He is the one I want to write about. He came over from Slovakia in 1901 with his mother when he was eight years old. It was after his father died, and his already much older brothers were already here. The actual country is a little bit iffy because there were so many changes between Poland, Slovakia and even Austria in those days. Also, the 1920 census that said Poland could have been written down wrong. If my great-grandmother spoke with an accent, and the census takers didn’t understand, they could have written it down wrong. However, my sister and her husband did go to Slovakia and found the cemetery with his family members’ tombstones.

They settled in a little coal mining town in Crabtree, Pennsylvania, and eventually my grandfather married Anna Radesky. Her family lived in Warren, Ohio, so I don’t know how they met. They lived in the Patch, a group of homes owned by the mines for those who worked for the mines. I don’t know what his original mining job was, but he eventually became the superintendent of the mining stables caring for the ponies that pulled the carts full of coal.  Some mines used mules, but from what I’d been told the mine he worked for used ponies.

Each section of the Patch had different nationalities on each street. There were the Italians, the Irish, the Polish or Slovak, African Americans and so forth. From what my father told me they mostly got along although they pretty much stayed with their own group because of the language differences, and maybe because of the different churches they went to.

 Grandma canned the vegetables she raised in her garden and did a lot of baking for her large family. The town had a general store owned by the mine, and the workers or their wives were to do all their shopping there. What they bought was recorded in a ledger, and the amount was taken out of the miner’s pay. My grandmother thought the prices of food and other items in the mining store was too high, so she started taking a bus to the next town to do her shopping. When the fact that she wasn’t buying much at the company store came out, Grandpa was called in and told if they didn’t shop at the company store, he’d be fired. So grandma stopped that.
My grandparents had thirteen children, but twins, who were premature, died soon after birth. The rest were all healthy and survived. The second daughter got a job as a postmistress when she was
in her teens, and she changed the Hovanec name to Hovanic. Most of the many Hovanecs in the
country still has the ‘ec’ ending, but Aunt Margaret thought the ‘ic’ ending sounded better. The company homes were mostly duplexes and because of the size of the family, they had the larger side of the one they lived in. There was room for a big vegetable garden in the back yard as well as a shared outhouse for the two families.

 Grandpa Hovanic was a magician, who entertained with his tricks sometimes when events were put on for entertainment in the patch. I remember the few times I saw him in his later years, when he came back for brief visits, and the magic tricks he did to amuse my children. He also had a weird sense of humor. One Christmas when one of his sons wanted a pony in the worse way, he left some horse droppings near the Christmas tree, and said Christmas morning that since his son didn’t leave a rope for Santa to tie the pony, he must have gotten away. An aunt who has now passed on told me a lot of stories about what they did and played as children.
Many mines used mule but Grandpa's used ponies.

The depression years were hard years for everyone, and I imagine it was just as bad in the mining town my grandparents lived in. One day the mining superintendent called my grandfather in and wanted him to cut back on the feed for the ponies they were using. My grandfather objected, and the superintendent insisted. So Grandpa threw down his keys and quit then and there. Of course, that meant they had to leave their home, too. At that time I think he had about nine children. They packed up everything and headed for Ohio. Grandpa had a strong sense of what was morally right and wrong and passed those strong values on to his children.

Grandma Anna Hovanic had two unmarried brothers and an unmarried sister. I’m not sure if her parents were still alive then, though. They lent them the money to buy a small farm north of Warren, Ohio, where Grandpa and Grandma settled in with their large family. He sent his three older sons including my father out to find a job. When they didn’t find one right away, he went out and got a job right away in a factory, and then got jobs for his sons in that factory, too.
These are my chickens and never butchered.

In addition to a large garden, Grandpa Hovanic and his family raised chickens. When they were large enough he butchered them and with a wagon and horse, he went to Packard Park in Warren, Ohio where a farmers market was set up on weekends. He sold his cleaned chickens that were ready for sale. I heard that customers came to him first because he didn’t leave the neck and gizzard inside to make them weigh more since they were sold by the pound. He probably sold eggs, too, although with a large family maybe there weren’t enough to sell. I know my father once said he didn’t like chicken because that’s about the only meat they ate in those years.

Then World War II came. Three of his sons joined, but the youngest one was allowed out because his very young wife managed to get a Catholic Priest to get him out. Both of them were teenagers. The other two fought bravely, one parachuting into Normandy on D-Day, and the other fought in Northern Africa and Italy. His best friend was shot next to him. Both returned safely. If they suffered from PTSD no one knew because in those days I don’t think anyone talked about it. If they talked about it at all, I never heard anything about it. My father didn’t go because he had two children, and worked in a factory that made shells for the army. He was with the same business until he retired in his sixties, but by then he’d moved up to a position as purchasing agent.

I was five years old when my Grandma Hovanic died of a heart attack.  She was only in her fifties. The only thing I remember of that is my father picking me up to look at her in the casket in the parlor in front of the grand piano. It wasn’t unusual to have funerals in the home then. My aunt Catherine, the oldest child, quit her job to take care of the younger ones, the youngest was eleven year old Adrian, who is one of only two of the eleven children still alive.

Eventually, but I don’t know how many years later, Grandpa Hovanic started dating again. He and his new wife moved to Florida so we didn’t see much of him after that. The aunt who had quit her job to care for her younger siblings, now owned the house, and I don’t think she would approve of a new wife coming to live there. In fact, they never had an indoor bathroom even though her many brothers all wanted to put in one for her. My Uncle Adrian said he always thought it was because Pappy’s wife would never want to live in a place without a bathroom. So until Aunt Catherine died, there was only an outhouse and a pot with a lid in the basement. It never bothered any of the many nieces and nephews who came to visit every Christmas night along with their parents and for picnics in the summer.

One year after my parents had died, my sister Suzanne and I went to Crabtree, Pa. to visit. She had gone with our parents years before so she knew where the house my grandparents and family had lived. It was interesting. Also, we went to the cemetery and were able to find the tombstone for the twin baby boys.

Postscript: When my sister and her husband were doing research, they found out we had a second cousin, Evelyn A. Hovanec, who was a professor at Penn State, in Fayette Pennsylvania. It was within easy driving distance from where we lived. So when my sister and her husband flew in from Washington State, we went to meet her. She had helped with putting in a museum in the basement of one of the colleges building to honor the coal miners and their families. We went to meet her and to tour the museum. I bought her book Common Lives of Uncommon Strength., a book about the women of the coal and coke era of Southwestern Pennsylvania in the years between 1880 and 1970. It’s a fascinating book of first person stories from so many of these women along with pictures.  I used it for one of my short stories, “Death in the Patch.” She also co-wrote a book Patch Work Voices – The Culture and Lore of a Mining People with Dennis F. Brestensky and Albert N. Skomra which was also very interesting.

Do you have stories about the lives if your grandparents or older relatives?


Jim Jackson said...

The Jacksons came into the Boston area in the mid-1600s. Other branches on my father’s side date back to the Mayflower. My mother’s family arrived from the Alsace-Lorraine area while it was German controlled in the late 1800s and used the last name Vetter. During periods when the French controlled the region, their name was Vettier.

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

Like your family, Gloria, we didn't travel too far once we arrived. My first ancestor came to this county in the early 1600s was Swiss--named Kagey. They moved from Philadelphia to Virginia before the Civil War.

The Scot part of the family also arrived during the 1600s--Boyd. They stayed near Philadelphia, but some moved further west to Lancaster County. One of my ancestors was the Sheriff of Lancaster County during the Civil War. We also have a Civil War diary an ancestor kept. The government confiscated the diary until the 1920s, returning it to my grandfather, who passed it on to my father, and now my brother has it. We could never understand why they kept it for sixty years--the man was a boring complainer. The horses were bony and uncomfortable to ride. His work revolved around getting supplies across the Susquehanna River, back and forth, over and over--according to him. Nary one siting of some important commander. Never discussed troop movement--but we do know the food was lousy.

My mom's family didn't arrive until the late 1800s from Cornwall, England. My great-grandmother, Willoughby, although her maiden name was Edmounds, traveled to this country with her family. I use her "travel trunk" as a coffee table now.

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, my children through their father are traced back to the Mayflower through John Alden and Priscilla Mullen's second son Joseph. When I did a unit of those early settlers with my third grade class, I read an easy book Pilgrim Fathers or something like that, and I showed them my son John's name written in the inside cover. Later at a parent-teacher conference, one parent said to me "I understand your son came over on the Mayflower." We all laughed over that.

Elaine, actually traveling as far as Ohio in those days was rather far. I think it's fascinating that you have a Civil War diary, as well as the travel trunk. The diary would especially fascinate me. One of the women in my local writers group has something similar from one of her ancestors and she has written several books on the Civil War - beautifully written but not published. Have you ever thought of writing a historical mystery either book or short story using this ancestor?

Anonymous said...

Love the story about your grandpa and the Christmas pony droppings." Hilarious! Laura B.

Gloria Alden said...

Laura, he was a character. I'm only sorry he moved away while I was still pretty young so I didn't get to know him as well as I would have liked to. I often wonder if in some way he was the one who led my oldest son to becoming a magician.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

My favorite ancestor is my great-grandmother Pierra (pronounced Pie-era) Campbell, who raised five sons on a cattle ranch in San Saba County, Texas. A photograph reveals a tired, grim-faced woman. Pierra toted a 22 down to her vegetable patch, and pegged a few rattlesnakes in her day.

E. B. Davis said...

I don't think I could write historical, Gloria. I'm not a history buff although it interests me. Writing an authentic historical must be very hard--especially if it were based on my grouchy ancestor!

Warren Bull said...

I helped my father write his memoirs.

Grace Topping said...

Thank you for your charming recount of your family stories. The ones about coal mining brought back memories my grandfather told me. When he first came to America from Italy, he ended up working in a coal mine near Mount Savage, Maryland. He worked there with his best friend who had been engaged to my grandfather's sister in Italy. One weekend they were offered extra work. My grandfather hated the mines, so he turned it down. But his friend, who was saving to bring over my grandfather's sister went into work and was killed in a mine collapse. My grandfather had to send his sister the sad news and never stepped foot into the mines again. Instead, he moved to a railroad town without mines.

Gloria Alden said...

Margaret what an interesting great-grandmother you had. Thank you for sharing your story.

Elaine, I'm slowly writing an historical children's book that includes a ghost who watches each new family who settles into Hiram, Ohio, where I taught third grade and taught them a little bit about those who settled there.

Warren, that is wonderful. One of my sisters coaxed my dad into starting a memoir, and he worked on it for awhile, but then he started having dementia and became forgetful. Finally, he had a stroke that took away his ability to talk or walk. I'm glad you were able to help your father when you could.

Wow, what a story, Grace. So many people lost their lives in coal mines over the years. It hasn't been very long since there were strong rules put in place to protect the coal miners, but even that doesn't help the black lung so many got. Thanks for sharing.

Patg said...

We have a lot in common regarding our grandparents. Mine all came from the Ukraine, even though my mother thought she came from Romania. That had to do with the territory they were really from, Bokavinia, changing hands between the world wars.
I prefer the POV that the western hemisphere has no indigenous humans. We all came from Africa and from about 6 to 8 branches of homo sapiens. And it is human duty to get the heck out of the womb, we can't stay on Earth.
Your weird friend, Patg

KM Rockwood said...

When my daughter was in graduate school (she trained as an archeologist, and worked as one for years)she worked on a project at the Eckley Miner's Village, an outdoor museum in Pennsylvania. Eckley is coal patch town, and some of the residences were returned to the way they would have looked at various times in Eckley's history.

My daughter is descended from Pennsylvania coal miners on both sides--my Irish grandfather was a Molly Maguire who fled from criminal charges, changed his name and became a longshoreman at the New York docks. Her grandfather on her father's side was Polish coal miner.

Eckley is a fascinating place, if you ever get the chance to go visit it.

Gloria Alden said...

Pat, we do have that in common, but I imagine there are a lot of us who do, too. Actually you're right about the Western hemisphere having no indigenous humans until the first came over from Asia and maybe Africa if they worked their way up to where they could have crossed easier.

KM, that's fascinating. I've never heard of Eckley, and I'd like to visit it if I can find it on the map. Have you read Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy Series. Molly Murphy also came to New York City escaping from the law.