It’s simply amazing what comes into the light when cousins start exploring family history, too. Several weeks ago I shared a picture one of my maternal cousins discovered and today I’m sharing a portrait found by one of my paternal cousins.
The woman is my grandmother, Katherine, who died long before I was born. I’ve always been curious about her because she is the one grandparent I never knew.
Катерина Фюшяк (Kateryna Fusiak ~ my Aunt Lil showed me how to write her name in Ukrainian) was born on 19 November 1887 in Luzhek Verkhniy, Ukraine, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She died on 22 October 1943 at New London, Connecticut.
Katherine’s parents were land-owning farmers. When her husband William, the son of peasants, left for America, she was pregnant with her second child and they already had a small daughter, Mary. According to my aunt Mary, who grew up with her grandparents in Ukraine, Katherine’s father, Konrad, who did not approve of his daughter’s marriage, was furious about not hearing from William, and with great resentment sold a cow to buy passage to America for Katherine and her new nursing baby boy, Jon. At the tender age of 22, on 19 February 1910, Katherine and 5-month-old baby Jon sailed to America on the SS Finland from Antwerp, arriving in New York City on 4 March 1910. She had no ticket, but was in possession of $19 which she used to pay passage for herself and her son. She was 4’11” tall with a fair complexion. She was identified as a “Ruthenian” on the passenger arrival record, a term used to refer to a group of Ukrainians living in Ruthenia and eastern Czechoslovakia.
Mary stayed behind with her grandparents and so Katherine did not see her firstborn daughter again until Mary was 18, when she finally joined her family in America after World War I. By then, Katherine and William were living on a farm in Montville, Connecticut.
Katherine was a devoted mother who admonished her eight children to stick together no matter what, as she believed that family was all they would have in this difficult world. Her grandchildren called her “Baba.” Katherine died of a strangulated hernia at the age of 55. She lies buried with her husband in Comstock Cemetery in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Three of her children did not survive into adulthood. Jon Stephen died when he was 9 years old, of appendicitis. Augustine was about two when he got into some pills or something that poisoned him. Olga, a toddler, met her death by scalding when she pulled a pot of boiling water off the stove, a horrific accident that my aunt Lil was old enough to remember first hand.
In the portrait above, daughter Mary is missing because she was still living in Ukraine. Jon had already died. My Aunt Jean is on the left, my father is the little boy, and my Aunt Lil is on the right. My Aunt Em was not born yet.
Katherine had a very hard life as a farmer’s wife who made it through the Great Depression living off the land. Her husband was a harsh, bitter man, who regretted leaving Ukraine and apparently hated this country. I admire her courage and fortitude.
My father always spoke of his mother with great fondness and missed her dearly. Even during his last illness he asked for her. He had enlisted in the army during World War II on 4 February 1943. Sadly, only eight months later, on 22 October 1943, his mother died. Only 22 years old, he came home on leave for her funeral and then returned to duty. I am struck with a little synchronicity here because Katherine was 22 when she saw her mother for the last time, and my father was 22 when he saw his own mother for the last time.
My father often credited his mother with raising him to respect women and appreciate their strengths. As an example, he often told the story of her ability to drive a hard bargain. A butcher came down from Norwich to the farm in Montville three times trying to buy a calf for less than the price Katherine wanted to sell it for! But she got her original asking price, impressing her son, and the sale was finally made!
Last Revised: 24 February 2022