So I didn’t last too long in last year’s 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge! Part of the problem for me was finding an ancestor to fit the prompt. So I’m finally back to posting, but I think I’ll stick to free-form — at least for now.
So DNA. DNA-based research has been my focus for a while now. Of course I am still looking at records, but I am using DNA matches to help focus on where to look for records. That’s exactly how I was able to break through the brick wall of my husband’s Stibrik ancestors.
Andrew Stibrik was my husband’s great-grandfather on his dad’s maternal side. He was born in 1881 in Hungary (in an area that is now part of Slovakia) and immigrated to the United States in July of 1912 through Ellis Island. His destination was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the home of his brother-in-law Joseph Blasko. His actual connection to Joseph was that they were married to sisters. Joseph was married to Julia Kuzma who was already living in Pittsburgh with her husband and children. Andrew was married to Julia’s younger sister Anna.
So although he was already married and the father of three, Andrew came to the United States on his own in 1912 in order to establish himself. In early 1914, just months before World War I broke out in Europe, Anna and the children joined Andrew in Pittsburgh. (I am in awe that Anna made this journey on her own with three children under the age of 5!) Once in Pittsburgh, Andrew and Anna had three more children. As it would turn out, they spent the rest of their lives in Pittsburgh. Andrew died there in 1940 from injuries he received when he was hit by a car while walking home from work. Anna lived nearly thirty more years, dying 1967.
The challenge has been to find information on the Stibrik family in Slovakia. Andrew’s naturalization papers give his place of birth as Bardejov. Bardejov is a city in the northeastern part of present-day Slovakia, near the Polish border. Interestingly, his wife Anna (nee Kuzma) was from the town of Čaňa. That is in the southeastern part of Slovakia near the Hungarian border. It is nearly directly south of Bardejov. Records for the three oldest children show that they were also born in Čaňa, indicating that either as a child or young adult Andrew moved roughly 100 kilometers (over 60 miles) south from Bardejov to Čaňa.
The only other known information about Andrew was that his Pennsylvania death certificate gave his parents names as Andrew Stibrik and Mary E. (maiden name blank). Oh — and the family was associated with the Catholic Church. They were definitely Catholics!
My main (pretty much only) resource for Slovak research was the Slovak Church records on familysearch.org. In searching this collection I was able to find information on the Kuzma family, but nothing on Andrew Stibrik. Nothing on anyone with the surname of Stibrik. And this is where I was stuck for several years. Did he change his last name? Is Stibrik a phonetic spelling? If so, what would be the original spelling? Or was Stibrik an ethnic variation – with the original spelled differently?
Then several descendants DNA tested and suddenly some new leads emerged. The initial breakthrough was discovering a DNA match who didn’t seem to fit with the other Slovak sides of the family (Tomkos, Kuzmas, etc) – a predicted 4th cousin from Ohio sharing a decent amount of DNA. So I did a little research on the match’s family. I found roots in the Bardejov area. I found an obit stating the funeral of the match’s ancestor was officiated by a Lutheran minister? What? Lutheran? Okay, maybe someone converted after immigration. I checked out the shared matches. I researched some more. I found a pattern of matches tracing back to Bardejov — and they were Lutherans (or at least their descendants who lived in the US were Lutherans.) I was stunned! Could the Stibriks (or one of their allied families) have been Lutheran??
The first step was to find Slovak Lutheran church records. I went back to the familysearch website and dug deeper. And guess what. The Slovak Church record collection includes non-Catholic churches. But in the case of the Lutheran records for Bardejov, they were unindexed. They were online for browsing — but no index for searching. So I browsed, page by page. And I found Andrew Stibrik! He was baptized in the Evangelic (Lutheran) Church at Bardejov, his parents being Andras Stibrik Sr. (a protestant) and Mary E. Szabol (a Catholic)!!
To make a long story a little shorter, the paternal ancestors of Andrew Stibrik were deeply entrenched in the Lutheran Church in the Bardejov area. I was able to find birth, marriage and (some) death records to document back to Andrew’s four paternal great-grandparents (Adam Stibrik, Maria Krukar, Adam Benka and Maria Chovanecz). They were born in the late 1700s to very early 1800s. In the process, I was able to determine the exact connection to some, but not all, of the DNA matches that sparked the initial research into the Lutheran records.
Finally, I should mention that shortly after Andrew’s 1881 Lutheran baptism, his father Andrew Sr. apparently converted to Catholicism. Though I have absolutely no proof, I cannot help but wonder if his conversion was a contributing factor in the family relocating that 100 kilometers.
And that’s pretty much my story of how DNA helped me to break through this brick wall. Essentially, it prompted me to look in a place (Lutheran church records) where I would have never considered looking. In the process I also learned that even though a collection on familysearch has an extensive index, it does not necessarily mean all the records are indexed. And so here is my research tip. Check the familysearch catalog. Maybe the records you need are online and can be browsed. Or maybe they are still only available on microfilm. (Unfortunately this is the case for some of the Slovak Church records that I need for other branches of the family.)
Happy searching! And if we are related on this or any other line, feel free to contact me!