Seventy Years of Searching
By Don F Sole, Kansas, USA
This article was originally published in the December 2001 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
I am 78 years of age and I have been searching for information about my ancestors since childhood. My mother died when I was only 7 months old and I was put into foster care. Almost nothing was known about her except that her maiden name was Pohancney (or just to complicate matters, Pohancena for a woman) and that she supposedly came from Bohemia.
The origins of my father, Frederick Sole, were somewhat easier, his father, David Sole having been born in Guilden Morden, Cambridgeshire, England.
My ‘Members Interests’ entry in the Cambridgeshire Family History Society Journal brought a response from Fred Sole who had recently begun to research his ancestors. Our joint efforts took my Sole line back to a marriage in Bedfordshire during 1605 where it reposes at present. It would have been nice to be able to say that we discovered ourselves to be related, but if so, it remains undiscovered. Needless to say, I joined the Sole Society when it was formed and Fred and I have been good friends since that time.
Unfortunately, all this was not able to help with the search for my mother’s family history.
After retirement in 1984 I was able to pursue this full- time. For several years I scoured ship passenger lists of immigrants, birth, baptism, marriage and death certificates and many other records without success. All trails went cold and the situation looked hopeless, until...
The ‘Bohemia’ origin was assumed from a census place of birth entry. When the entry was re-checked it was realised that the original had been mis-transcribed, the original being ‘Slovakia’. Loins were ‘girded up’, the search re-commenced and my wife Lou and I joined the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International.
Following a suggestion in that society’s newsletter I wrote to the mayor and to the St. John’s church of Tvrdosin, Slovakia to see if their records could be of help and some time later an innocent looking envelope appeared in our mailbox amidst the usual junk deposited by our mailman.
It was from the mayor of Tvrdosin and it began “We have found out that your relatives live in our town. They are your mother’s half-sisters. We have visited Maria Krupova nee Pohancena, who was born on 23 May, 1905 in the USA. Her father is Jan Pohancey, born in Dolni Stefanov and buried in Medvedzie, which is part of the town of Tvrdosin. Mother is Maria, the second wife of your Grandfather”
The letter revealed that the Pohanceny family moved back to Slovakia from Cleveland, Ohio in 1910 which is why I could not locate them in the states.
Soon after we received a letter from my ‘new’ cousin Magda Trstenska saying it was a very nice surprise for them to have received a message from the local Town Hall about finding information about our family tree. Magda said “I would like to inform you that my mother Maria Krupova, maiden name Pohancena, born on 23 May 1905, Cleveland Ohio, is a half sister of your mother Jozephina. Also there is another half sister Anna Medvecka, nee Pohancena”.
Magda had also found a translator who had been handling the correspondence so we would be able to use an interpreter during any visit.
Fortunately we had just renewed our passports – they were due to get used very soon!
Checking with our travel agent and our son Eric and his wife Tanta who live in Barcelona, Spain, and are familiar with travel in Europe, we found they could arrange vacation time to accompany us on a visit to our newly found relatives.
Meeting in Vienna at the end of July 2000 we drove in a rental car to the Austrian - Slovak border on a Monday morning where we were met by three cousins and a translator who escorted us to Tvrdosin, (this is pronounced like ‘tradition’ but with the first i made to sound like an o - well, it’s fairly close!)
The older of my mother’s half sisters, Maria, is 95 years of age and as sharp as a razor blade. She lives with her daughter, our cousin Magda, Magda’s husband Martin, their daughter Elena and her husband Kosto and five children, who reside on the second floor of the home.
The younger half sister Anna, at 85 yeas of age, had fallen into a state of semi-coma a few days earlier and we were rushed over to meet her. It was a very emotional moment when she opened her eyes and squeezed my hand. She died that night and we attended the funeral two days later.
It was a very emotional day and we were grateful to have at least met Anna before she passed away. Divine providence guided us there in time to pay our respects.
Visiting the home of my grandfather Jan Pohanceny, and my mother Jozefina and her sister Margita prior to their going to Cleveland Ohio, left a skin-tingling sensation after all these years; six years later Jan, his second wife Maria (my step-grandmother) and their daughter Maria (my step-aunt) returned to Slovakia. No one seems to know why my mother Jozefina and her sister Margita decided to stay in Cleveland.
We really felt at home with our newly found family who helped us to discover some of the most beautiful parts of the world tucked away in the Tatra Mountains, and we met with the mayor of the town and were interviewed by the local newspaper reporter, another cousin whose mother was Anna.
Our five days in Slovakia have left us with indelible memories to last a lifetime. However, if memory fails us we have a very large photo album crammed with evidence plus a video cassette for backup.
In the mayor’s office at Tvrdosin, from the left: Mayor Ivan Sasko, Don F Sole, Cousin Magda Trstenska, Don’s wife Lou Sole, Tanta Soubriet Sole and her husband Eric G Sole (Don’s son), and Jozef Medve
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