Genealogy: Coming To America, The Taraczkozy Tale

Last year I found a document in the tons of family artifacts Ma had in her cedar chest.  I had passed over it a million times but this time was different, I was researching my ancestry on the various genealogy websites and this document could (and did) help shore up some date-mysteries I had.

I decided to type the document up as Aunt Margit wrote it, so that I could apply it to my blog as a footnote for how my great grandparents made their way to this country from Hungary.  There might be some typos or grammar snafu moments, please overlook.  I will eventually go back to reread but for now I wanted to post it so I could add it to my Personal History items.

This immigrant tale is a source of pride for me.

I hope you enjoy.

 

Dream Fulfilled –

An Account of Events Experienced

By An Immigrant Family

 

Submitted in Fulfillment of the Requirement for Local History Writing

 

By: Margit Bragg

June 11, 1976,

Beckley

West Virginia

PREFACE

Time passes minute by minute, hour by hour, and the minutes extend into months and years. As each minute passes, it becomes history – – the history of a country, a people, a lifetime. The recorded history of our country is replete with accounts of heroism and historic events about how it was born and grew to a great nation. I have experienced history in my lifetime – – not the heroics as we know them from books but the history of an immigrant family who held fast to a dream of freedom without oppression. This is an account of events related to me by my mother as she experienced them in her long trek from the “old country” to the new world. Much of the account conveys an amusing sadness, if that is possible, of a tiny slip of a woman, (my mother was just barely four feet tall) who braved the unknown with two children to follow her husband to America, the promised land. My parents were Hungarian in national origin. Because they were convinced that the existing circumstances in Hungary were oppressive and devoid of freedom for the future, they dared to believe that they could improve their lot in America – – a dream built on rumors and hearsay. When my mother related these experiences to me, I was struck by the intrinsic pathos of what she must have felt during those early years, and, while we shared in the laughter when she recalled some of the events, we also exchanged an unverbalized sense if relief that she had, indeed, gathered her skirts and her children and traveled to America despite the hardships and misgivings she suffered.

I want to share these accounts with my children in the hope that they too will feel a sense of history.

Much of this account is simply word-of-mouth verbalization of some of the experiences which my mother shared with me. Whenever possible I have used family documents to place the events in time. I also talked at length with my oldest brother, Bela, who made the long journey from Hungary to America with my mother. Although he does not remember any of the events of the journey to America because of his tender age at the time, he remembers well the hardships encountered in life in the coal camps of the early 1900’s.

The book, ­After the Civil War, by John S Blay, was helpful in placing the events recounted here according to the time in the history of the United States. I was able to obtain various material concerning the early history of Beckley and Raleigh County from the Raleigh County Public Library.

This account revolves around my father, my mother, and the two oldest brothers of my family as listed below:

  1. Father: Balint (William), “Bill”, “Uncle Bill” Taraczkozy. Born – April 11, 1872; Gecse, Hungary.
  2. Mother: Erszebet (Elizabeth) Taraczkozy, nee Marosi. Born – February 14, 1880; Beregmegy, Beregszasz, Hungary.
  3. Brother: Bela (Baler) Taraczkozy. Born – December 27, 1900; Beregsasz, Hungary.
  4. Brother: Stephen Taraczkozy. Born – August 20, 1902; Budapest, Hungary.

 

PURSUIT OF A DREAM

In the year 1899, when my parents were married, the United States was riding out the turn of the century with William McKinley as president.

Times were booming as McKinley led the nation and the United States went on the gold standard. As the country prospered, the United States entered the world of foreign affairs in earnest. A war with Spain which lasted less than three months enriched the U.S.A. with new territory: Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippine Islands. In the same decade Hawaii was annexed. America was emerging as a world power. A new industrial society was being created, and with it came a change in the 19th century pattern of life.

Strong backs were needed to turn the wheels of the emerging industries and to implement the making of dynasties in America – – to this end the doors of the country were thrown open to most immigrants.

Beckley, West Virginia was hardly more than a crossroads at the time.

Beckley began in 1838 by an Act of the General Assembly of Virginia at the instance of the founder, a land grant, General Alfred Beckley, twelve years before it became a county seat.

At the turn of the century Beckley was proud possessor of a brick court house structure and a stone jail on the corner of Heber and Price Streets. The first step toward the building of a city came with the bridging of New River at Prince and the construction of Piney branch of the C.&O. railway to Raleigh. The job was finished in 1901. This was the year of the birth of Balint’s and Elizabeth’s first child – – the thought of immigration at that time was hardly more than a whispered hope.

Apparently, from documents included in this paper, Elizabeth Marosi and Balint Taraczkozy were married on November 4, 1899, in Beregszasz, Hungary. A child, Bela, was born to them on December, 1900, as documented in the included Baptismal Paper. Another son, Stephen, was born on August 20, 1902, in Budapest. Soon after the birth of the second child, Balint left Hungary to come to America.

According to my mother, all military age males in Hungary were required to register for military duty and were issued a passbook (copy of this document included). Such male adults were required to present their passbooks for official stamping at regular intervals or when traveling from one area to another. The dates on Balint’s passbook, some of which I could not decipher, are as follows:

Beregszasa, October 4, 1900; Beregszasz, February 21, 1901; 3 entries not decipherable; September 14, 1901; 3 entries not decipherable; Budapest, November 5, 1902; Budapest, May 18, 1903.

Military age adult males were subject to be called to active military duty at any time and therefore were required to have their passbooks available on their person at all times. The laws governing this consideration were stringent and no one was permitted to circumvent the law. In addition, such males were required to be engaged in useful employment, serving an apprenticeship, attending schools of higher learning, or engaged in a practicing profession. Balint was serving as apprenticeship as a shoemaker in Budapest. His military requirement was eminent but Balint was already making dreams out of the rumors he had heard about the great new country of America, where the streets were literally “paved with gold,” and opportunities abounded. Early in the year of 1904, with the help of an only brother who also lived in Budapest, he was able to get together enough money for passage to America. It would be two years before he could save enough money to send for his wife and two sons.

According to Bela, my oldest brother, my father came to the United States and at first located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he obtained work in the locomotive factory. His primary concern in those days was to find work so that he could earn enough money to send for his family, but it soon became clear that the wages he earned would fall far short of this goal. Additionally, life in the city during the early 1900’s was hardly the fulfillment of a dream. His fellow workers were of many nationalities – – a melting pot of European immigrants. Much of the daily conversation among the workers consisted of rumors: talk of better times, better work, riches to be made – – small fabric for fulfillment of a dream, but any bit of information was worth exploring. There were friends who spoke of the coalfields. It was through such friends that he first learned of Dorchester, Virginia. Balint traveled to Dorchester where he obtained work in the coal mines.

Life in the coalfields was hardly the realization of his dream but there was ample work to be had. The work was hard and the workday began before daylight and extended to long after dark. Even through the streets were not paved with gold, he was able to save enough money to send for his family.

Balint sent his wife enough money for passage to America, enough for third class passage for her and the children. Elizabeth knew no English and had never traveled outside her native Hungary, but it never occurred to her to question the decision of going to the United States of America. She gathered her skirts and her children and left Hungary with few regrets, never to return, for, despite the many hardships she endured, she grew to love her adopted country in the years to come and she cherished her new nationality. In fact, she valued her right to vote with a fierce pride once she became a citizen of this country and never missed the opportunity to vote until she became too feeble to leave her home. (She died at age 87 and up to the age of 84 years I never knew of her to miss her opportunity to vote in any election.)

 

THE LONG JOURNEY

Elizabeth’s overland trip to Triest was uneventful. Once in the seaport town, all travelers who had booked passage for sea travel were required to be inspected by customs officers. The officers were thorough. Anyone boarding the ship for New York was thoroughly searched and all monies had to be declared. Elizabeth was unworldly but not entirely witless – – she managed to pin some currency to her underclothing. Amid the confusion of boarding ship, the money she had declared was not returned to her. What a fool she had been to give up her money! But who would take the time to interpret her wild gesturing. Since she could not vocalize her complaint except in her own tongue, there was no fear of exposure. We often wondered how many defenseless immigrants suffered the same fate. However, armed with her deep religious faith and the knowledge that each day brought her closer to her reunion with Balint, she stumbled aboard the waiting vessel with her children in tow.

The ship she boarded was not a luxury liner but she felt no fear; her mind was preoccupied with concern for managing the children in such a potentially dangerous environment. Her land-locked country had provided her with no experience to cope with the never-ending motion of the vessel and she anticipated hectic days ahead. Fortunately, she would not have to cope with motion sickness, but children would be children, and she must be prepared for many contingencies. She removed the long apron which no housewife was without in those days and carefully ripped the material on each side from hem to waistband. After securing it around her waist, she leased first one child and then the other to the torn strips. Necessity motivated the solution and thus she was able to keep her sons within reach most of the time.

Many nationalities were represented among the passengers and communication was carried on as much by gesture as the spoken word. Because they shared the same fate, they were also eager to share their meager accommodations and provisions. Those who had been clever enough to circumvent the greedy customs officers with tidbits of food or money exchanged these commodities freely with each other. Fellow passengers often entertained the children or helped with their care. Once they were under sail, almost a festive atmosphere prevailed. The uncertainty of the future cemented the feelings of goodwill toward each other, and those who suffered seasickness were tended by all.

After what seemed endless days of sea travel, one of the passengers sighted what he thought was the Statue of Liberty. There was excitement and commotion among the immigrants and my mother felt immense relief when she heard the news. She felt that the worst of her journey was over. She tried vainly to see the outline of the figure of the statue amid the boisterous hilarity of the passengers but she was too tiny to even steal a glimpse over the shoulders of the people massed around the rail of the ship. Finally, she lifted her son Bela to her shoulders so that he could at least describe to her what he saw. She made no effort to hide the wellspring of tears that coursed down her cheeks.

Once Elizabeth set foot on the shores of the great country which her husband had described with such enthusiasm in letters, it seemed that all her problems were resolved. She had no way of knowing the penalties yet to be exacted before she reached her destination.

Nothing from Elizabeth’s past experience could have prepared her for Ellis Island. The melee of immigrants were like swarming beehives. Here and there happy tears mingled with boisterous laughter when waiting relatives claimed their kin. She was deeply touched by the happiness and excitement that radiated from one or another familiar face. Occasionally she caught herself waving goodbye but checked the gesture in midair when she realized that it went unnoted. For once her sons were mute, wide-eyed in their absorption of the panorama before them. At that moment she felt lonely and abandoned, but, she reasoned, though it had been weeks since she had received Balint’s last letter, he had been explicit in his instructions. She shooed her children toward a bench along one wall, and, once seated, she opened her satchel and removed cheese and biscuits which she had set aside from their last meal. She divided the food equally between the boys and they ate hungrily.

By early afternoon only a handful of people remained in the waiting area. A uniformed man stood behind a railed off area and glanced questioningly in her direction from time to time. In a loud voice he falteringly called out names from time to time. As he did so, one after another of those who remained walked hesitantly to the rail and, after much gesturing and tittering exchanges of broken phrases, would leave through the large doors. Soon only Elizabeth and her children remained in the huge room. The man rose from his desk again and began his recitation anew – Ta…Ta…Ta..roosky. Elizabeth’s heart skipped a beat as she suddenly realized that he was attempting to say her name. She jumped to her feet and pertly walked to the rail. The attendant showed her a yellow slip of paper. She was to learn later that this was a telegram. She quickly scanned the printing and to her relief was able to read the words – – it was a message from Balint. Reassured by his instructions, she pointed out the name of the hamlet to which she must go to the attendant. He smiled and motioned her to follow him. Quickly she grasped the hands of the children and gathered her few belongings. The man led them to a track and pointed to a waiting train. She thanked him profusely as best she could and boarded the train.

Once again they were surrounded by unfamiliar faces. Once seated she remembered that her children had eaten little that day and, as if in answer to her thoughts, a porter strode up the aisle with a basket of food over each arm. She was thankful for Balint’s foresight in having sent her U.S. currency. It would be a source of laughter in later years when she related the incident and explained that the change she received amounted to pennies. It was the last of her money.

But something more ominous now concerned Elizabeth, Bela ate little and his face was flushed. His fussiness attracted the attention of nearby passengers. Several kindly women offered to help with the child but backed off in horror when they saw his mottled splotches on his skin. Puzzlement clouded Elizabeth’s face for she was not familiar with the symptoms of measles. She quieted the child as best she could. After hours of discomfort and distress with the sick boy, the train pulled into the station at Bluefield, Wet Virginia, where by motions and gestures she was made to understand that she was to leave the train. Once in the station, Elizabeth dampened a handkerchief with water from a fountain in the waiting room and patted the sick child’s face; people continued to avoid coming near them but she was too preoccupied with her problems to notice. Presently, a black man walked toward her. Here was another wonder of this new country; she was not familiar with such dark-skinned people and was filled with apprehension as he walked in her direction. She had never encountered black people in her native country though she was reminded of the dark-skinned gypsies, called “tzgans”, who were always in evidence during feast days and festivals. Throughout her life she had heard many strange tales about hose strange nomadic people. As the man approached she felt panic, but frustration and fatigue had begun to take their toll. She stiffened her shoulders for whatever was about to come. To her wonder the man addressed her by name in broken Hungarian. He asked if she was the wife of “Bill” Taraczkozy. “Bill” was not a word she was familiar with but “Taraczkozy” she knew well. She nodded hesitantly and he went on to explain that Bill had asked him to see to his family as he was not able to meet the train himself. The man explained further that he was a brakeman on the train which they were to board for Norton, Virginia. He assured her that she would see her husband soon. While she was overjoyed to learn this, her relief was overshadowed by concern for the child. After looking at the boy, the man allayed her misgivings and explained that his discomfort would be short-lived. Elizabeth would learn to recognize such symptoms in the succeeding years.

While I am not certain about the exact date of my mother’s journey to this country, it would appear from dates available in the family documents that it was in the year 1905.

Theodore Roosevelt was president of the U.S. at that time, having been elevated to the Presidency upon the assassination of McKinley. Roosevelt coined the phrase “Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far,” and it became one of his trademarks. His was an era of reform and “trust busting” actions against the more notorious big corporations. As a result of his forceful actions in various areas he enhanced and expanded the power of the Chief Executive. The Panama Canal was started during his tenure.

Beckley, West Virginia was showing signs of becoming more than a crossroads.

By 1904 the “iron horse” had extended its tracks to Mabscott, later extended to Surveyor and Lester, with plans to continue on into Wyoming County. W.Va. was a strapping new baby with statehood and a new constitution in which Beckley was designated as the county seat. The railroads penetration of the immediate Beckley area brought a period of relatively rapid progress to the city.

It would take twelve long years of nomadic shifting from one coal camp to another and seven children later before the Taraczkozy family would settle in the city of Beckley.

The long journey had ended and the family was reunited at last. It never occurred to Elizabeth that she should question the wisdom of having come to this new country with all its baffling ways, for she shared Balint’s dream of a better life for her family and she must learn the ways of this country.

In the confines of her own home she felt relatively secure for Hungarian was spoken within the family. In the camp there were other “gringos”, some of Hungarian origin and others of Slavic nationality. Most of the Slavic-speaking people shared her native language as she did theirs so that communication in “Hunkie Town” was no problem. But because her husband worked long hours, the gargantuan responsibilities of keeping house began immediately and this, of course, included shopping at the “Company Store”. She assumed her housekeeping duties masterfully but shopping was a chore she did not relish. The children adapted rapidly and were soon speaking like natives but she had to grapple with the new language in bits and pieces. It was her children who helped her to master enough words and phrases so that she could handle her routine affairs.

There were few comforts mixed with endless toil in coal camp living but Balint and Elizabeth cherished their newfound freedom and they held fast to their dream of better things to come.

Accommodating the family’s needs was a shared activity in those days and included the children as well as the adults. Despite their tender age, the boys were taught to assume the responsibility of various chores. Water was supplied by a pump at a central location in the camp’s row of houses. Bela and Stephen were relegated the responsibility of carrying water from the pump to the house in pails. In those days the flimsy-built coal camp houses were heated by grated fireplaces and a coal stove in the kitchen. Wood and coal were plentiful and cheap and the sons soon developed a routine for supplying the never-ending need for fuel. The days began at 4:00 a.m. when the fires had to be started. Other sons would follow, and, indeed Elizabeth was soon with child.

Balint became restive despite his newfound freedom for, surely, he reasoned, such animal labor was not the fruition of his dreams. He must pursue another course. Perhaps another try in the city – – this time the family traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he obtained work in a hat factory. After a period of six months, he and his wife decided balefully that even coal camp life provided more latitude than tenement dwelling in the city. They hurriedly made plans to return to the coal fields where Elizabeth could have their third child with the help of a midwife. They arrived in Osego with little time to spare.

Balint was a man who loved life. He never questioned his ability to provide for his family but the feeling that there had to be another way haunted his thoughts. He was young and strong as a bull but he wondered how his tiny wife could withstand such hardships. Large families were a virtue in this new country. Indeed, as his sons grew older they were a great help in lightening the burden on Elizabeth, but he could see no future in animal dedication to such an existence. Nowhere on the horizon could he see fulfillment of any part of his dream. Another child was soon on its way, as would be the case every two years for the next fourteen to fifteen years. They ultimately had eleven children. He and his wife were to learn that this flamboyantly growing nation would exact a heavy payment from its new people.

They soon learned that certain benefits were afforded the family if the “misses” housed boarders. Elizabeth accepted this new responsibility stoically. Before she could consider the needs of her own family, she must tender the needs of the boarders, rising at 4:30 a.m. to “pack the buckets” as well as that of her husband. Fortunately, Bela has assumed the responsibility of building the early-morning fire in the coal stove while Stephen washed the “buckets” of the men who worked the night shift. This afforded her a half-hour’s respite though she seldom slept for she felt pangs of guilt that her children should shoulder this responsibility.

Elizabeth frequently spent a few moments of this time reflecting on her new way of life. She was always positive in her thoughts and purposely remembered only those things for which she must be thankful to God. It was true that their table was amply supplied for she was an excellent cook. Baking bread daily was routine fare. She soon became known throughout the camp for the sweetness of her fat loaves of bread, and, in fact, had been allocated one of the coke ovens for her personal use. Even the “Company Store” was happy to accept her delicious loaves of bread for resale and she was delighted to exchange these for other commodities from the store. Life was hard but it could be worse. Even though there was precious little time to discuss all these matters with Balint, they had agreed that they would work together in their struggles for a better life.

During the succeeding decade Balint continued to pursue his dream of a better life. He never lacked for work because he had a way with the foreign elements and the men worked will under his steerage as a timberman. Because some dreams die hard, he responded to almost any rumor or persuasion and shifted from one coal camp to another. Both Bela and Stephen were approaching manhood and were an immense help to the family. Bela finally went to work with his father at an incredibly early age because he preferred it to school. Elizabeth cried herself to sleep many a night following his decision to work with his father but was helpless in the face of his adamant decision.

The family moved from one camp to another – – Emboden, Switchback, back to Osago, Jinkin Jones, McAlpin and Tams. Balint began to hear good reports about the little town of Beckley where everyone who could spare a few dollars would go for Saturday shopping. He himself had visited the town and was impressed by the activity there.

Woodrow Wilson was president of the U.S. at the time.

During his administration the 8-hour work day had been enacted as well as the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act along with other “progressive legislation.” His tenure included liberal measures and was carried under the slogan of “the New Freedom.” He favored equal rights for women. His foreign policy supported attempts to negotiate anti-war agreements.

Balint felt stirrings of fear for he well remembered what happened in his own country when the sabers began to rattle, however, he was not to become a citizen of the United States until he became a resident of Beckley. For this reason he was not called upon for military service. Woodrow Wilson was reelected to the presidency in 1916 under the slogan “He kept us out of war,” but despite his acclaimed efforts at neutrality, Wilson took America into the world conflict with public opinion behind him. Congress declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

The economy of the U.S. was booming under a war time build up. In Raleigh County and surrounding areas “coal was king” as it is today. The World War did not greatly touch Beckley. True, there were volunteers and a few draftees but the lack of extensive transportation throughout the massive Appalachian chain served to isolate the little hamlet from the outside world. In the 219 months from the beginning of America’s participation in the war, Beckley did not get the play nor feel the impact that came to older, more advanced communities. Beckley was still a sleepy little town going about its own particular business.

Balint visited the little town at every opportunity he could spare. He became more and more convinced that he could build a future for his family in the town. He became friendly with a fellow Hungarian who owned and ran a shoe repair business located on the old Willis’ property. (The building still stand in Beckley on McCreery St.) Andrew Midway, his friend, had more work than he could comfortably handle; he convinced Balint that they could share the work and build a partnership. Balint quit his job at Tams and left Bela in charge of the family for his son was now a strapping 17 and a man by the standards of the day.

Balint agreed to work with Andrew Midway in his smaill shop but the partnership never developed. In time Balint felt exceedingly comfortable in the environment of the pleasant little town. He was surprised to learn that the price of a parcel of land was nominal and buyers were eagerly sought. In those days the there was an easy friendliness among inhabitants of the town and the town banker encouraged him to purchase property. Balint bought property in Beckley on Neville Street at the site of the present President Hotel, one of the two main thoroughfares in Beckley. This done, he bought a house for his family and Elizabeth moved to Beckley with her eight children. Two children were born to the couple after they came to Beckley, Louis, who died during the great flu epidemic and myself.

Balint lived out the rest of his life in Beckley until he dies on December 16, 1941 at the age of 69, just nine days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Elizabeth lived to the ripe age of 84, when she went to live with a daughter in Charleston, West Virginia. She dies at the age of 87 and her body was returned to Beckley where it rests beside that of her husband at Sunset Cemetery.

 

FOOTNOTES – PURSUIT OF A DREAM

  1. John S Blay, After the Civil War; pp 238-239
  2. Charles Hodel, Brief History of Beckley WV p3
  3. Ibid, p7
  4. Family document: Marriage Certificate
  5. Baptismal Certificate
  6. Military passbook; Balint Taraczkozy
  7. Ibid

FOOTNOTES – THE LONG JOURNEY

  1. Family document
  2. Reader’s Digest Almanac and Yearbook; 1975, p308
  3. Hodel, op cit; pp 7-8
  4. Reader’s Digest Almanac and Yearbook; 1975, p311
  5. Ibid; p311
  6. Hodel, op cit, pp 12-13
  7. Family picture – the first year in Beckley, West Virginia, Raleigh County, U.S.A.

 

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