DNA Evidence at Ellis Island

About the middle of August, Ancestry.com contacted my husband informing him that he had a new DNA match who was his second or third cousin. I was very excited to look into it. This new match is my husband’s second-best match. The two of them share 204 centimorgans (cM) across 3 DNA segments. There were several shared matches between them, and based on them, I was confident that the DNA they shared was from his mother’s side of the family. The surname on the match was Kovacs (Equivalent to Smith in English), and I was hopeful that there would be a connection to one of the known or probable siblings of my husband’s grandfather, Frank Kovach.

I immediately looked at the match’s pedigree. The names of the living were not given, but it appears that the match was the grandchild of a Mr. Kovacs and Betty Baker who were married on 26 February 1960 in Trumbull, Ohio. Mr. Kovacs was the son of William Ray Kovacs Sr and Barbara Bernice Jennings who were married 13 April 1937 in Pomeroy, Washington.  That marriage record indicated that William Sr’s parents were Samuel Kovacs and Elizabeth Jenney. I didn’t find any other records for Samuel, but I did find several for Sandor Kovacs and Elizabeth Jeney. Perhaps, the clerk had mistakenly written Samuel instead of Sandor on that marriage record. The 1940 Census shows a William R Kovacs, his wife, Barbara, and their two children living in Trumbull County, Ohio. That’s where Sandor eventually settled.

Samuel or Sandor.  I was hoping to see John, Stephen, or Julia. I was feeling a little disappointed that I wasn’t seeing the connection I had hoped for. I looked at this DNA match’s ethnicity tab on Ancestry.com. My husband is 98% Eastern Europe and 2% Baltic States. This match was only 4% Eastern Europe, 0% Baltic States, and 96% other places. Doubt crept in. How could these two possibly be 2nd or 3rd cousins? That just seemed too close with so little shared ethnicity.

After I got over my initial disappointment, I looked at my husband’s grandfather’s 1938 petition for naturalization. It stated that he, Frank Kovach, was born in Szürthe, Czechoslovakia (previously Hungary, but currently part of Ukraine) and that he immigrated to the United States on 16 June 1902. I was able to find this page of the 16 June 1902 New York arrival manifest for the ship Vaderland when he arrived at Ellis Island.  I had not seen this manifest before, and it gave me some wonderful information:

  • Ferencz Kovach is the fourth name from the bottom of the manifest. (Ferencz is the Hungarian equivalent of Frank.)
  • The ship, Vaderland, set sail from Antwerp, Belgium on 7 June 1902. It was nine days later when Ferencz got to Ellis Island. (The ship probably arrived at New York sooner than nine days, but each ship had to wait its turn in the harbor for its passengers to be processed.)
  • When he arrived at Ellis Island, Ferencz was a 19-year-old single male in good health, yet he had only one dollar in his pocket. He told officials that his occupation was a laborer. He came here to work!
  • There were a few other Hungarians listed on this same page of the manifest, but Ferencz was the only one from Szürte. Still, he had at least a few people he could speak to in Hungarian on the voyage.
  • It was his first trip to the United States. His brother, Alexander Kovacs, paid for his passage. Ferencz was going to McKeesport, Pennsylvania where his brother lived at 817 Jerome Street. Alexander is the English equivalent of the Hungarian given name Sándor! That meant that Sandor Kovacs was Ferencz’s big brother, AND he was the one who helped him get to America! It also means that the third great grandfather of my husband’s DNA match was indeed named Sandor and not Samuel.

Here is a descendant chart showing how my husband is connected to this DNA match. I would have expected the DNA match to have 12.5% Eastern European ethnicity, so 4% is remarkably low. Ancestry.com says there is only a 2% chance that two people sharing their amount of DNA would only be 2nd cousins, twice removed. We each get 50% of our DNA from both parents, but the 50% we get isn’t necessarily evenly distributed from every previous generation!

Now I wanted to know all I could about this Alexander/Sandor Kovacs! I found out that Sandor and his wife welcomed a new baby boy into their family just a few months earlier. They named him Chas, and he was born on 23 November 1901. Sandor was a miner at the time, a very dangerous occupation. Note that Chas’s birth was not registered until 6 January 1902.  That may be why his birth year was mistakenly listed as 1902 on his birth certificate. His birth certificate lists his father’s birthplace as Szürte and his mother’s birthplace as Gönc. I was so happy to see those birthplaces!

When Ferencz arrived at Ellis Island, he must have been very excited to see his brother, his wife, Elizabeth, and their 6 1/2-month-old baby boy.

I constructed a table of the household of Sandor Kovacs from 1910, 1930, and the 1940 Censuses.  The dates of birth were found in other records that are included at the bottom of this post.

The April 1910 Census had Alexander Kovacs employed as a helper in the steelworks industry and living at 917 Chestnut Street in Duquesne, Allegheny, Pennsylvania. The census indicated that he immigrated to the United States in 1895 and was now a naturalized citizen. It also includes his brother-in-law, John Jeney, who was an engineer in the Steelworks industry.

That census record led me to the manifest showing Sándor Kovács at Hamburg on 21 August 1895 as he traveled to Amerca. His is the sixth surname from the bottom on the right side of the manifest. Szürte is in Ung county, the previous residence listed for him on the manifest.

The 1910 census record stated that AlexanderJr was born in Hungary in 1905. What was that all about? I found 1905 civil registration records from Gönc, Hungary for this family!

In the margin of the right side is the civil registration of their marriage, we learn that Kovács Sándor and Jenei Erzsébet were married in the Reformed Hungarian Church in Pittsburgh on 6 November 1900 and that Jenei Erzsébet had been born 11 July 1878 in Gönc.  I wondered if I could get a copy of the marriage record from the church in Pittsburgh. Then it occurred to me that it might be in the Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake City.  It was! I went to the library the first day I could after work and found it! Click on it to see it better.

Indeed, in Pittsburgh on 6 November 1900, 28-year-old Kovács Sándor, the son of the late Kovács Péter and Péntek Mária wed 22-year-old Jeney Erzsébet, the daughter of Jeney János and Laczkó Mária. He was born in Szürte and she was born in Göncz. I did not know before I saw this record that Sandor and Ferencz’s father, Péter, had died before Ferencz left Szürte to go to America.

I would have preferred to have the entire page from the anyakönyv, but the projector at the library didn’t focus very well when I tried to get the entire page, and I could only get a blurred copy of the full page below.

Thus, DNA led me to Ellis Island where I found my husband’s wonderful great uncle. I am beyond thrilled! I can tell that he was a very kind man because he paid for his little brother’s passage to America and he allowed his grown children to live with him in 1940 as the country was getting over the Great Depression.

Here are the family records that I found for this family:

Károly Kovács (AKA Carl, Chas, Charles) born 23 November 1901 in West Virginia. The record indicates that both Sándor and Erzsébet were living in Gönc in 1905 when this civil registration occurred.

Sándor Kovács (AKA Alex, Alexander) born 3 January 1905 in Gönc, Hungary. 

1930 Census

1940 Census Page 1 includes his daughter Helen Haught and her husband Terrance Haught.

1940 Census Page 2 includes granddaughter Helen Haught and his daughter, Mary Kovacs Collins, who lived next door with her husband and three children. (See Grave Stone and Obituary for Mary Kovacs Collins born 18 Jun 1908 and died 18 Jul 1987).

8 Jan 1953 Death record of Sandor Kovacs from his Find A Grave Memorial.

Edna Kovacs Staub born 19 Feb 1911, married Wayne Staub 11 Jan 1930

Alex Kovacs married Mary Ann Rusky 20 Dec 1948 in Mt Clemens, Macomb, Michigan

19 Oct 1995 Warren, Trumbull, Ohio Death Record for James Kovacs who was born on 29 Nov 1909

4 Sept 2004 death index of Helen Kovacs Waldron who was born 24 Mar 1912, daughter of Kovacs and Jenei

21 Mar 2000 Death of William R. Kovacs Sr who was born 29 June 1914

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