It took almost an hour to reach the remote village and when we arrived, our first stop was the local church. Typically important records dealing with birth, marriages, and death were kept by the church, plus I have an old photograph of someone who I believe to be my grandfather that was taken in front of the church, so I was really hoping to find some clues there. I felt like the guys from CSI because I treated the place like a crime scene.
LOL! Anna spoke with the female priest who gave us a tour of the church. Then we went back to her office and she pulled out this really old book and handed it to me. JACKPOT!!!! It had EVERYTHING! It was a complete record of everyone who was born, married, or died in the town dating all the way back to 1786! Then as we were leaving the church I noticed a large granite monument dedicated to all the men from the village who died in WWI. And there were two Babinecs listed on it! And if that wasn't enough as I was taking pictures of the monument this really old guy came out and started talking with Anna. Turns out he's a Babinec! My father's Cousin or an Uncle I think? Pretty cool!
From there we headed over to the town administration building (city hall) to see if they had any official records. The lady we spoke with was really nice and she showed me on a map where the house was that my father grew up in. She knew it without having to look it up which I found interesting. What I was really looking for were old newspaper articles that might show news about distant family members or events, but these Slovakian villages are so small everybody knows what everybody else is doing, so they didn't need newspapers.
Our next stop was the cemetery. Keep in mind that from what I understand, other than my immediate family in the U.S., all my other relatives are here in Buchovec
. The cemetery is divided into two parts, an old and new section. The new section is well kept up, but the old section looks like something out of a horror movie. Seriously! And guess which section I needed to visit. I found my Grandmother's grave so I paid my respects to her. I met her once on my last visit, but we never spoke because she didn't know English. Her gravesite was toward the front so it was relatively easy to reach, but I was looking for distant relatives as well, so that meant venturing deep into the overgrowth to see what I could find. So there I was, alone in the really spooky cemetery. Grass and weeds 2 feet high with tombstones overturned. I just know I was walking on graves but I couldn't tell! Every step I took I kept saying "Sorry, sorry" just in case I was disturbing souls at rest. I think they understood. There were hundreds of poorly marked graves everywhere and I started to think I would never find anything. But then I took a few more steps, turned my head and looked through the weeds, and found what I was looking for. Almost as if I was being guided there. It was a tombstone with the writing all worn off, but as I looked closer I could just barely make out the name Pavel Babinec. Was this my relative that died in WWI? I've got a lot more research to do before I know anything for sure, but it sure looks like it.
Next was a visit to the home Anna's family used to own and the place where my brother, my father, and I stayed for 6 weeks when we visited in 1980
. That place I remembered well. It was so isolated and boring back then, and from what I could see not much has changed. A lot of family history took place there including funerals. Anna introduced me to the guy who owns it now, who just so happens to also be a relative, but this time from my Mother's side of the family. We even kinda look alike! He showed us around, and I took lots of photos. I was trying to recreate the same angles as the old photos I had to see the difference, so I set up my laptop and used it to view the old pictures to get the framing right. Then he invited us inside for coffee. He left the room and came back with an old photo album, opened it up, and started pulling out old photos of my Mother and Grandmother that I had never seen! He didn't speak English either so I couldn't ask him anything, but it was unbelievable!
Our last stop was a huge monument dedicated to the memory of the Slovak patriot, politician, scientist and general of the French Army – Milan Rastislav Štefánik, whose body, after his tragic death in a plane crash, was buried there. From all the photos taken there by past family members it seems like the place to go. It's high up on a hill with great views of the countryside.
When I get back I've got a lot more research to do but learning more about my family heritage was definitely one of the big highlights of my trip.
One of my main objectives on this trip was to visit Buchovec, the Slovakian village where my father grew up, and find out as much information about my family's history as I could. My cousin Anna and her family are building a new house in a nearby village so they knew where to take me and what to see. My brother and I were there 30 years ago when we were kids, but I hardly remember anything about it. I only had one full day so I had to make the most of it.