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The Immigrants: Our Family's First Generation in America

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1: The Immigrants: Our Family's First Generation in America

2: Dedicated to Stephan and Xsenia, still teenagers when they left home and family to emigrate to America. They came with no English, little money, and few contacts, and built lives for themselves and their children. They surely could not have known the great gift that they were giving their descendants. Susan Randich, August 2012 | Previous page: the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, on which both Xsenia and Stella traveled to the United States

4: Xsenia (Stella) Maluta was born in Wyszatyci, Przemysl, Galicia, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her birthdate in U.S. Census records is listed as February 4, 1897. Her father was a tailor and her mother also sewed. Xsenia was the eighth of ten children born to her parents. One child died after falling in a well. The family lived in a semi-rural area with geese and ducks, and Xsenia told a story about an aggressive goose that chased her because of her red kerchief when she was a child. Xsenia did not have formal schooling and never learned to read or write. She enjoyed sewing and made many patchwork quilts. | Xsensia's parents and sister in the Ukraine

5: Family lore has it that Xsenia emigrated because her large family was unable to offer a dowry and she was unlikely to find opportunities to get marriage offers otherwise. Moreover, it may not have been possible for people of the Maluta's social class to own land in Galicia, and America promised such rights. Ellis Island records show that several other young woman of the same age and from the same area were also on board the ship, so Xsenia probably traveled with girls from her village. She talked of getting lice on board on the journey to North America. Xsenia arrived in the United States on September 27, 1913, and officially changed her name to Stella. Ellis Island passenger records list her age as eighteen, making her two years older than indicated in census records. It is possible that she misrepresented her young age of sixteen in order to get past immigration officials. She likely lived in a boarding house when she first arrived. Family stories talk of earlier immigrants boarding newer arrivals, several to a bed, with the families’ own children sleeping across the foot of the bed. | Xsenia Maluta

6: Stephan Yurczak was born on December 24, 1894 in Bolestrasyczi, Przemsyl, Galicia. He attended school until roughly third grade and could read and write in Ukrainian. Little more is known of his life in Europe. It was common for young people to make a seasonal trip to Germany as paid farm laborers, and Stephan probably took part in these travels. Many of the young men in his generation emigrated to avoid being drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army. Stephan emigrated in 1913, arriving in the United States on September 4th. He was processed through Ellis Island before moving on to settle in Chicago. It is interesting to note that Stephan’s Ellis Island papers list him as being twenty-five years old, six years older than his birthdate as reported in other documents. Possibly misrepresentation of his age had to do with his draft status. Stephan became a U.S. citizen in 1919. His brother, John Urczak, also emigrated, but the brothers were apparently estranged, and John used an alternative transliteration of the family name. Stephan's sister Rosalia (Rose) also came to the United States and remained close to Stephan. She married Nicholas Huminiak. Some records indicate that Stephan, who went by Steve in the United States, married Stella Maluta in 1917 (no month or day provided), although their first child, Mary, was born that same year. It is notable that Stella and Stephan arrived in the United States within one month of one another, so possibly they met in a boarding house. The family story is that Stella had been in love with another man who left her, and that she married Stephan on the rebound.

7: Back Row: unknown, unknown, John Nesypor (Stephan's 1st cousin), Theodore Lezak (Stella's 1st cousin) holding his son, John Urczak (Stephan's brother) holding son Joe, Nick Huminiak (Rose's husband); 2nd Rpw: Mike Geniorski (paternal cousin), Rosie Lezak holding baby Olga, Mrs. John Urczak holding infant, Rose Huminiak, pregnant with Stephanie, Jack Kawalchuk (Sophie's husband), unknown, unknown; Front Row: Polly Gensiorski, Sophie Kawalchuk, Stella, Steve, unknown, unknown. Seated in front of Steve is Joe Huminiak, son of Rose and Nick Huminiak.

8: Steve and Stella had two children, Mary and Jerry. The 1920 Census lists Stephan as married with one child, Mary, who was then two years of age. He was working as a laborer in the Chicago Union Stockyards, and he and Stella rented an apartment at 4854 South Seeley. Both spouses worked, Stella cleaning offices at night. Stephan is listed as a laborer in a roofing factory, and later as a laborer at Wilson and Company, the meat-packing firm. Ownership of real estate, not possible for them in Europe, was an important goal, and over the years they were able to purchase several pieces of property. By the time of the 1930 Census, Stephan and Stella owned a home on Troy, as well as a radio. Later they bought a multifamily dwelling at 5537 South Talman. A third piece of property was Richmond Avenue. | Stella and Stephan with Mary and Stella's sister, Sophie

9: Both Mary and Jerry tell of an incident that occurred one day while Mary was in school, but when Jerry was not yet old enough to attend. Working at night, Stella slept during the day and, in those days before daycare, locked Jerry in the house with her. However, he would often escape the house through the window and go exploring. One day he was playing on the railroad tracks, and a security guard or police officer chased him home. | Jerry got back into the apartment through the window and hid under the bed. The policeman rang the doorbell, woke Stella, and reported Jerry’s “crime." Stella told the officer to arrest Jerry, hoping that he would overhear her and be frightened enough to stay indoors in the future. Jerry never said whether the experience actually changed his ways. | Mary | Stella, Mary, and Jerry

10: Stella, Steve, Jerry, and Mary Mary's First Communion, 1928 | Mary, Jerry, and Stella, about 1939. Mary may have been engaged when this picture was taken

11: Stella’s brother, Stephan Maluta, was the first in the family to immigrate to North America, and he settled in Alberta, Canada. | Stella brought her younger sister, Sophie, to the United States in 1920. She married Jack Kawalczuk, and they had one child, Olga. Jack raised canaries in the basement of their home. Sophie was said to be an excellent seamstress. She also enjoyed creating pysanky, Ukrainian Easter eggs. The two sisters remained close their entire lives. | Sophie and Stella at Pat's wedding, 1963

12: Joe and Mary | Mary at Lezak wedding | Joe, Mary and Pat at Jerry's wedding

13: Mary and Joe's wedding January 11, 1939

14: Jerry and Jean's Wedding September 23, 1944

16: The first generation in 1942, at the Baptism of first grandchild, Pat. This picture was taken in the backyard of the Yurczak home on Talman. (L to R) Jack Kawalchuk, Rose Huminiak, Sophie Kawalchuk, Pearl Rand, Stella Yurczak, Steve Yurczak, Nick Huminiak

17: Steve, Sophie. Stella, and Jack in the kitchen on Talman Avenue in 1956 | Jerry, Stella, and Steve at the house on Talman | Pearl and Stella at grandson Jon's Baptism in 1959 | Jerry, Stella, and Steve

18: Stella was a devoted and loving mother who may never have adjusted to her separation from her homeland. She suffered a major depressive episode after her daughter Mary married, and she struggled with depression for the remainder of her life. She died on March 3, 1981. Steve was a quiet, kind, and gentle man who enjoyed his garden, watching TV, and reading the Ukrainian language newspaper. He died on January 16, 1978.

19: The first generation instilled a love for Ukrainian culture, food, and craft in their children, and through them their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Mary sang in a Ukrainian choir and danced in a Ukrainian troupe that performed at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933-34. Stella also taught the family the craft of making pysanky, Ukrainian Easter eggs. | Ukrainian Choir, late '30's. Mary is in the front row, 3rd from the right | Mary in her Ukrainian dance costume | Easter pysanky amd paska, 2012

20: Some Historical and Geographic Notes | Galicia refers to an ancient kingdom as well as a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today this area would correspond to southeastern Poland and Western Ukraine. It was originally a Ukrainian (Eastern Slavic) principality in the 12th through 14th centuries, but the region was frequently invaded and fought over. At the time our ancestors were living in Galicia, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was administered by Poland. | Przemysl (variant spelling Peremyshl, pronounced “Per a mee’ shl”) is currently a city in southeastern Poland. The term Przemysl also refers to a former province of Poland, as well as to a diocese of the Orthodox Church. It is an ancient city, founded in the 8th century, and has a desirable geographic location, lying on the navigable San River in an area connecting mountainous and lowland regions, with easy communication and fertile soil. This area has been variously held by Poland, Austro-Hungary, and Russia, and was invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union during WWII. In the very early 20th century, the area’s population was a mixture of Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians. Beginning in the 1880s, a mass emigration of the Galician peasantry occurred, caused by the backward economic conditions in Galicia, where rural poverty was widespread. Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews all participated in this mass movement of countryfolk and villagers, which grew steadily more intense until the outbreak of WWI in 1914. The war put a temporary halt to the emigration which never again reached the same proportions. Following WWII, due to the Nazi Holocaust and the post-war expulsion of the Ukrainians, the city’s population became overwhelmingly Polish.

21: The first wave of Ukrainian immigration to Chicago occurred in 1885-1914. These initial immigrants did not refer to themselves as Ukrainian, but as Rusyn, Ruthenian, or even Austrian. As Ukrainians in Europe began to solidify as an ethnic group and seek independence in the early 20th century, Ukrainian societies also sprung up in the United States, and the immigrants here also began to develop a Ukrainian ethnic identity. | The ethnic group we now know as the Ukrainian people were historically geographically divided between Poland and Russia. Russia used the term Ukrainian, which literally means “on the borderland”, to refer to this ethnic group, although Russia did not formally accept Ukrainians as a unique and separate ethnic group until the early 20th century. The Poles, and subsequently the Austro-Hungarian Empire, referred to this group as Rusyn or Ruthenian in order to keep Polish Ukrainians from recognizing their common ties with the Ukrainians living across the border in the Russian Empire. Additionally, the Austrian Empire often played the Poles and the Ukrainians/Ruthenians against one another in order to maintain control in the region. | This 1936 cartoon, reprinted from Ukrainians of Chicagoland, expresses the identity issues of Ukrainian immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century | Old town of Przemysl

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  • By: Susan R.
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  • Title: The Immigrants: Our Family's First Generation in America
  • pictures and stories of Yurczak and Rand grandparents
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  • Published: over 5 years ago