Augusta Jean & Jon Stephen

Augusta Jean Chomiak (1913-1986)
Jon Stephen Chomiak (1909-1919)
c. 1914

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you may remember a picture of my Ukrainian grandmother and three of her eight children. (Katherine’s Children)

This picture is special because it is the only picture I have of Jon, who came to America with his mother when he was only 5 months old. He was born in Ukraine on 19 September 1909 and arrived on the SS Finland at Ellis Island in New York City on 4 March 1910. Sadly, he died at home of appendicitis when he was only 9 years old. His family was living in Buffalo, New York at the time.

At the time this picture was taken his older sister Mary was still living in Ukraine with their grandparents. The youngest four children (Lillian, Olga, Theodore, Ludmila) had not been born yet. There is a mystery child mostly unaccounted for, a boy named August or Augustine. No one seems to know anything about him except that he died as a toddler after ingesting something stored under the kitchen sink. I can find no birth or death records for this child, but it seems he was younger than Jon and older than Augusta Jean. It seems likely to me that Augusta was named after her brother who had probably died shortly before she was born.

Oddly enough, when one of my aunts filled out a family group sheet for me she gave August’s birth date as the same date as Augusta’s, leading me to consider that perhaps they were twins, however no one else in the family thinks this is likely. But it does seem likely that August was born in 1911 because Jon was born in 1909 and Augusta was born in 1913 and at that time most siblings were born about two years apart. And Lillian was born in 1915.

Anyhow, my Aunt Lil remembered that Jon was buried in “Father Baker’s Cemetery” in Lackawanna, New York. On a 2002 summer trip to western New York, we found the cemetery, which is now known as Holy Cross Cemetery, but we were disappointed to find no record of his burial in the office and no death certificate in the city hall. (Years later I discovered the family was actually living in nearby Buffalo, according to 1920 census records.) The kind people at the cemetery said that there were many graves not yet recorded in their database.

Aunt Lil remembered Jon fondly as a very loving big brother who bought his little sisters Jean (she went by her middle name) and Lil candy whenever he could. He was an altar boy at the church, and helped the family out by collecting coal from the railroad tracks, which we also located. We discovered quite a bit about Father Baker (1842-1936), and learned that the church where Jon must have served was replaced by the Basilica of Our Lady of Victory (consecrated 26 May 1926), which we toured.

Aunt Lil was four years old when her beloved big brother died and she spoke of him often through the years. Aunt Jean was six years old when Jon died. The middle name given to her only son is Jon. Lil and Jean were seven and nine years old when their baby brother, my father, came along. According to him they teased him relentlessly. 🙂

Today is Jon’s birthday and also the 7th anniversary of my father’s death. A bit of synchronicity that I would stumble across this picture today when I was looking for something else.

8 thoughts on “Augusta Jean & Jon Stephen”

  1. There just seems to be so many deaths when you read reports like these from long ago. Perhaps we modern-day folks have simply forgotten that our ancestors lived more intimately with death than we do now with our modern health. Until recently, that is, in our country….

    1. Our ancestors did live much more intimately with death, I like how you put that. When Tim’s brother was with us to live out his final days, near the end, another brother and my sister-in-law came to help us for the last few weeks. I remember we kept encouraging each other, saying, our ancestors used to do this all the time. It breaks my heart to think of all those dying of COVID-19 in hospitals with no family tending to them and simply being with them…

  2. Sorry for the painful reminder of your father’s death Barbara. You asked me in another comment if I had cousins and I mentioned my high school friend Carol who did my “tree” on Ancestry. Carol sent me a printout of what she learned. I knew about my great-grandparents Andrew and Catherine Klein and that my grandmother had 8 siblings and all but one died from heart disease. What I didn’t know until I saw that printout was this:

    “[BABY] Klein was born on 17 Dec 1919 in Guelph Twp., Wellington Co., Ontario, Canada.
    She died on 17 Dec 1919 in Guelph Twp., Wellington Co., Ontario, Canada.”

    My grandmother never mentioned this baby girl that died the same day it was born – was it stillborn, or suffered another malady? My mother may not have known about it either. But the Klein children were all old enough to be aware of this baby. I found that interesting.

    1. Thank you, Linda. Heart disease does seem to have a genetic component. My husband’s grandmother died of a heart attack at age 54 and sure enough, when he was 54 he had a heart attack, too, but survived. They flew him by medical helicopter to a big teaching hospital and he had quadruple bypass surgery. That was in 2007. Since then, two of his five brothers had heart attacks in their 50s as well. One died of cancer. We’re holding our breath to see if the youngest two will follow along the same trajectory.

      That is interesting about the newborn who died on the day of her birth. It would be interesting to locate the death certificate to see what they recorded as the cause of death.

      There are a lot of things people didn’t talk about back then, for so many reasons. So many secrets. They often didn’t children the truth, and explained away unpleasant situations. (Like the divorce of my 2nd-great-grandparents. My 2nd-great-grandfather told my great-grandfather that his mother had died. But she was alive and living in the poorhouse in the same town.) That’s why I tell people that if they’re not sure they can handle knowing whatever they might discover, they shouldn’t start looking.

      1. Well Barbara – your husband was lucky to survive and to have had such quick medical care at a big teaching hospital where they are up to date on surgical procedures and have state-of-the-art facilities. That would be like our University of Michigan Hospital which is recognized as a teaching hospital. Children’s Mott Hospital here in Michigan just surgically separated conjoined twins in August and the info was just released to the press recently as they went home. That was the first procedure like that in Michigan.

        My grandmother had heart problems for years and it slowed her down and then she had a massive heart attack at home while sleeping and died in the ambulance enroute to the hospital. One of her brothers died at age 18 of a leaky heart valve. The rest, except one sister who died of ovarian cancer, lost their lives to heart attacks. It would be interesting to know what the baby died of. I don’t recall the entire story but my great grandmother was married, her husband died and she was a widow not long after they married and then she married her brother-in-law. So, maybe the first husband was the one with the heart problems and passed it along to the children. My mom took Nitro for an irregular heartbeat. I feel fine.

        I agree with you on tracing your ancestors – after they had the DNA testing kits that you could buy, I figured it was just a matter of time before people would discover things that might be best left alone.

        1. He was very lucky. In another time in history I’d have been a fairly young widow for the past thirteen years. That’s exciting to have successfully separated conjoined twins! The hospital Tim went to was Yale New Haven Hospital. It’s an hour drive from us to the west. For my cancer surgery I went to a teaching hospital an hour drive to the east in Providence, Rhode Island, Women & Infants Hospital. And then to Yale New Haven for my radiation treatments. Cities overwhelm me so that added to the stress of those health crises. But that’s where you have to go to get the best doctors and care.

          So you are very familiar with heart attacks. I find genetics so fascinating. 🙂 I’m so glad the heart disease gene seems to have skipped over you! Life is precious, even when it proves difficult. ♡

          1. Yes, that is true – modern medicine is a wonder and you and Tim were blessed. I would not want to seek medical attention in a large city hospital either but the smaller hospitals are no help for serious conditions – you need the best place.

            My boss had prostate cancer and had been monitoring his PSA level for several years as his brother had prostate cancer and surgery about ten years ago. Last year the doctor said it was time for surgery, but my boss polled many of his friends, colleagues, all whom had had prostate problems and had either surgery or radiation (none had both) and they could not convince him why surgery would be preferable to traditional radiation. He researched more and decided to go to the Cleveland Clinic for radiation seeds to be implanted last November. Unbelievably, it was a procedure that took just a few hours and once out of surgery/recovery, he was able to travel home to Michigan (Detroit area) the same day. As of now, the procedure was a success, no “seeds” have migrated, but stayed where they were supposed to. He was glad he opted for this procedure.

            C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is part of the U of M Specialty hospitals in Ann Arbor. The girls shared a liver, but all other organs were in each baby and they were just joined from the bellybutton to the chest area. They stayed in hospital for three weeks and are now home. Very exciting.

            I have had the treadmill test and a 24-hour heart monitor when I turned 40 years old but that was 24 years ago. I have no heart palpitations like my mom or grandmother did and I walk as much as I can all year around. I really should do some exercises and use my bike in the Winter when I can’t walk due to ice/snow, as I am too sedentary during the day for work and then in the evenings I’m on social media and blogging. That is not a good thing. I gave up red meat about five years ago. I will hope a generation has been skipped too. I remember my grandmother’s heart beat so loud that the doctor advised her to have a small glass of sherry just before bed – she said she would lie down and could hear her heart pounding and it kept her awake.

          2. Best wishes to your boss! I hope his treatment will prove successful. These decisions are always difficult to make so I’m glad he wound up pleased with the choice he made.

            I’m also happy to hear you are taking good care of your health. Walking is such good medicine. We switched to grass-fed beef and bison for our red meat, even though they cost more. We look at it as an investment in our health. And we have fish a lot! Sadly I can no longer eat all my favorite vegetables because of my gut and a low-fiber, low-fodmap diet, but I do the best I can with green beans, spinach, tomatoes, peeled carrots and potatoes.

            That’s something about your grandmother hearing her heart beating. No wonder she couldn’t sleep! Our bodies are mysterious wonders…

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