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I hope you enjoy this newsletter issue. I already have 3 top-notch stories in waiting in the wings for our 1989 issues. John Dremel, Jr., Marilyn O'Korn-Owen, and Doris V. Cummins, have all submitted information-packed stories about their personal search. My function as editor should be quite simple for the next several newsletters.
We are looking for several typists to put our translation of Trunk in shape for a printer. If you can volunteer some time, this is a nice project that does not require an ability to translate from Slovenian. We also need someone to compile an every name index once it is fully typed.
Father David Stalzer has sent another request for church histories and anniversary bulletins to most parishes with Slovenian founding fathers. We have received histories from St Joseph's in Leadville, Colorado, and Holy Family Church in Kansas City, Kansas. I also received a copy of the Golden Jubilee Booklet for St. Joseph's Church in Forest City, PA, from Josephine Terchek, one of our members.
by Carol Malatesta
John Magai, (also spelled Magaj and Maggai), was born May 14, 1843 (according to a pension report) in a town now called Semic (See-Mitch). It is a Slovenian region of Yugoslavia formerly called Laibach, Austria, under Maria Theresa (Hapsburg). It is also identified as Akram (Akrain? Akran?), Croatia on John's marriage certificate. John was blond, blue-eyed, 5'6", and of fair complexion. He spoke Slovenian according to Ruth Magai Pravetz' record; it is also likely that he spoke German and perhaps Hungarian. The family name is apparently Hungarian in origin, derived from "Magyar". John originally studied to be a priest, and in fact, entered the monastery at the age of nine.
In the summer of 1987 (following a conference trip to Pecs, Hungary) I went to Semic, Yugoslavia, to check out Ruth Pravetz's notes that John had come from this region. Semic is a small, moderate-sized village nestled in the rolling hills of the Dinaric range of northern Yugoslavia. The entire region is composed of rolling grasslands and forest with tiny villages and farm out-croppings. Semic itself is provincial and dominated by the white and yellow stucco Catholic church. Some cars were to be seen, but otherwise, it had a turn-of-the-century look to it, with houses lining the streets back-to-back with barn areas, you could see an occasional brown chicken running in an out between the narrow alley-ways. The houses were not all in good repair, but flower-boxes and gardens were in abundance and gave the village a light, sunny feeling.
In Zagreb, I met a Yugoslavian art historian, (a friend of a friend) who orientated me and got me an audience with the priest in Semic, Janko Stampar. On arrival in Semic, I was met by the priest who got out the old church records and took me through them. Since I did not speak Slovenian and he did not speak English, we communicated in a broken but serviceable German.
From the parish records (including a certain kind of census record) I was able to substantiate that John's father was almost certainly Joseph J. Magaj who lived at house #5 in Podreber, a hamlet of Semic. Joseph was born 1/20/1811, died 10/11/1891. He married Ana Plut, born 10/21/1820, died 11/25/1891. (Graces's records as well as John's death certificate had similarly indicated that John's parents were Joseph Maggai and Ana. There were two recorded births in the records of Semic, those of a son Jakob, born 7/18/1851, and a daughter, Katrina, born 8/1/1861.
Though there is no record of John's presence in the Maggai/Plut family as per the Semic census records, the gap in years between when the parents were probably married, around 1840, and the first recorded birth in 1851, provides ample space for an earlier birth. John was probably at the monastery when the census was taken. It might have been the custom as in some other places, to enumerate individuals only in situ; in addition, there was sometimes a "tax advantage" for families not to acknowledge all of the members of the family.
There was another Magaj family in the area, Janez (John in Slovenian) Magaj, but he was born 8/26/1884, and married Marya Hlupar; this John was possibly a nephew of Joseph of Podreber and a cousin of our John. The Semic records indicate that the Magaj name in Semic (Laibach, Austria) goes back to the 1600's.
John immigrated to the United States well before the first great wave of Slovenians came to America (1880 to 1914). Slovenia had not been an independent state during the modern era. (See Therstrom, s. [Ed.], Harvard University Press, 1980 for a history of the region.) The territory inhabited by the Slovenes came into the possession of the Hapsburgs by the 15th century where it remained until the collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918. The Hapsburgs did not permit the formation of a single geopolitical unit known as Slovenia but distributed the Slovene regions of the monarchy among several provinces. Carniola (where Semic is situated) was the central Slovene province, and provided the large majority of Slovene immigrants to the United States. The religious background of 95 percent of the Slovenes was and is at least nominally Roman Catholic. The first coherent Slovene migration to the U.S. was that of the Catholic priests who came in the 19th century to serve as missionaries to the Indian tribes of northern Michigan, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Up until the early 1880's the total number of Slovene immigrants probably did not exceed 1,000. Economic factors were the primary reasons behind the larger Slovene migrations. Landholding patterns in Slovenia prior to 1915 were characterized by small family farms, some with as little as two or three acres of arable land; few had more than 25 acres. Families were large, and the rural overpopulation that resulted in the 19th century could not be absorbed by the still limited industrial development of the region.
The heaviest influx of Slovenes to the U.S. began in the 1880's; Cleveland became the most significant center of Slovene settlement in the United States. One wonders why and how John Magai left, why he left before the major migration, and why he settled on the East coast rather than in the Midwest. In any case, he left before military service. Interestingly, even though there was a reluctance to issue exit permits to young males who had not yet fulfilled their obligations for military service, the Hapsburg authorities made no effort to prevent or limit emigration from Slovene lands. Perhaps John originally left to be a missionary, as those priests before him, but then changed his mind once he got to the U.S.
Stories remembered or recorded by his offspring and grandchildren included more romantic possibilities as to why he left Yugoslavia. Beth Magai, one of his daughters, told Grace Magai McGlew, that there were two versions. One had it that he had killed the son of a highly placed official in a duel and had to flee the country. The other had it that he had done something untoward at the monastery and was asked to leave. Ruth Magai Pravetz' record (taken down when she was a child) indicates John left Yugoslavia to avoid being conscripted in the service.
In any case, he immigrated to the United States in 1861, at the age of 21, and apparently almost immediately entered the service. He enlisted in the New York Cavalry for three years.
The New York archives show a Johannes Magai enlisting on January 23, 1864. He selected the 5th cavalry to serve in. He was "presented by" John Johnson, who also presented John Brauner and Henry Semon on the same day for the same regiment. John Magai's discharge papers show that he served in Company E fifth regiment (The Ira Harris Brigade), until the close of the war (May 4, 1865), and was discharged with his company at Winchester, Virginia. In the Civil War pension records, John indicates that he enlisted on coming to this country and that his former occupation had been that of "college student". (Monastery education in Slovenia was in fact a type of college education at the time.) Later, he married Anna Elsie Gutberlet and finally settled in New Jersey.
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