Grandma’s mother has been a major mystery. According to grandma, she was born in New Jersey but kicked out of the house by her step father when she was 13, around 1908. She rarely spoke of her family, and grandma knew next to nothing. When their mother died in 1950, grandma and her sister Dot got curious and managed to find their mother’s half-sister, Anna Barna, in East Paterson, New Jersey. Anna Barna told them that their grandmother was Russian (Rusyn). She also told them that they their grandmother Julia had died just a year before, and their uncle Mike had died not long before. The only other clue I had to grandma’s mother’s past was a photo found in her purse when she died of a football player that grandma knew was a cousin. On the back was the name Uzick.
I’ve spent countless hours looking for Anna Barna and any trace of the Uzicks of New Jersey to no avail. The other night, entirely by accident, I found Anna Barna in the 1930 census. How was I certain it was the right Anna Barna? She and her husband and baby were living in the same house - 59 Lester Street in Wallington, New Jersey, as Julia and Mike Uzick. So grandma’s mother’s step-father’s name was Michael Uzick and her brother Mike was using the Uzick name.
After that, I found Anna Barna and her family in the 1940 census. They had three kids this time and were living at 57 Lester Street. The house at 59 Lester Street didn’t appear in the census forms - either the house was gone or the census taker had missed it. The Uzicks could not be found in the 1940 census - either they were all dead, weren’t counted or were using a different name. No death records for any of them could be found.
Then I started working backward. The 1920 census shows Micheal, Julia, Mike and Anna Uzick again at 59 Lester Street in Wallington. I found Mike’s World War I draft card - he signed it just about two months before the war ended, so it doesn’t look like he ended up serving. In the 1910 census, the surname is spelled Yuzik, and the family is living at 34 Aspen Street in Passaic.
Grandma’s mother, later known as Marion Smith, was still with her family and called Mary Yuzik. Although she had attended school since 1 September 1909, she was also working as a folder in a mill, most likely in the textile industry. This description of the conditions fabric mill workers like young Mary faced does not paint an image of a happy childhood:
“A typical day for unskilled workers meant 12 hours standing at a machine doing boring, repetitive work, with only a 20-minute break for lunch. Conditions at various mills were described as ‘filthy, dingy, damp, and dank, and just short of inhumane.’ Workers were paid little more than a dollar a day during their first few years at the mills. Sexual harassment laws did not exist, and some bosses were sleazy characters; others were just downright mean.”
And then I found the 1900 census, which shows Mary and Michael, their mother Julia and their father, who would die before the 1910 census. The family’s surname was Gulyas and so grandma’s mother’s original name, before she decided she was Marion Smith, was Mary Gulyas.
Both of her parents are listed as Austrian and their native language as “Slavish” – in early 20th century census forms, Slavic languages were often lumped together into the rubric “Slavish;” most often, it refers to Rusyn (Ruthenian). So Mary Gulyas was the daughter of Rusyn immigrants from northeastern Hungary who came to Passaic, New Jersey, her father in 1883 and her mother in 1891. Most likey they were from either Saros or Zemplen County in old Hungary.
According to her application for a marriage license from 1920, we know that Marion’s first husband died when she was 17. She left New Jersey and went first to Altoona, and then to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, to work as a housekeeper. The 1920 census shows a Mary Smith as a servant in the home of an English family, the Slaters. She was so desperate to cut ties to her family in New Jersey that she put their names on her application for a marriage license as “John Smith” and “Julia Jones.” According to Anna Barna, Julia never gave up trying to convince Marion to come home and often wrote letters and called, but Marion stuck to her guns and refused to return.
Sadly, Marion’s later life was not much better than her childhood. After her drunken abusive husband died in 1943, she had to put her two youngest children (including grandma) into an orphange because she could not afford to keep them. She died six days after her 55th birthday in March 1950 from complications related to diabetes.