Personal Journey: A family reunion 114 years in the making

Market Square, Bratislava, Slovakia. The writer's returning; he has more cousins.
Market Square, Bratislava, Slovakia. The writer's returning; he has more cousins. (ED BARDZIK JR.)
Posted: May 25, 2014

When my wife and I planned an April trip to Vienna, we were simply going to one of our favorite cities to hear a young soprano friend, Meagan Miller, in Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos at the Vienna Statsoper. We also planned a one-day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia, because of its proximity. We had no idea at the time how momentous the trip would be.

My maternal grandparents, Maria and Michael Bohinik, emigrated from Slovakia to Upper Darby in 1900, leaving a son and daughter behind, to be sent for later. Eight more children were born here, World War I intervened, the Depression followed, then World War II, followed by communism. The Slovakia Bohiniks and the U.S. Bohinicks never saw each other, and all contact ceased after 1950. As the oldest U.S. Bohinick, I've made many attempts to trace my mother's family, to no avail. I was never even quite certain if we were Slovak or Czech. In 2006, my sons and I visited the small village in southeastern Poland that is the ancestral home of everyone in the world with Dad's last name, but I despaired of ever doing the same with Mom's side.

Three weeks before we were to leave for Vienna, I was stunned when a cousin told me his son had contacted someone in Slovakia, via Facebook, who might be a direct relative. In e-mails, I discovered that Marian Bohinik is my first cousin once removed, and is in possession of the last letter ever written by my grandparents to the children they had left behind. He has been the designated "keeper" of the letter because he speaks some English. I was beyond happy.

On April 16, my wife and I, with a Viennese friend, took a hydrofoil to Bratislava, and Marian drove about 125 miles south from north-central Slovakia with his daughter, Jajus, and sister, Anna. We met in Bratislava's market square - the first family contact in over 114 years. He and his family have been wondering about their American counterparts for generations. We couldn't believe our good fortune in getting together.

There was a language gap, but Marian's English is more than passable and our Viennese friend helped by using some German. Nuances were difficult, but no matter. Some things are beyond words! We exchanged smiles, hugs, gifts, stories, and photos over coffee and then a meal. Four hours flew by. No one in the Slovak family had ever seen a picture of my grandparents, their progenitors. It was overwhelming.

I will be going to Slovakia for a visit soon. Marian has two great-aunts, age 88 and 86, who are my first cousins. I can't imagine what it will be like to meet and talk to them and walk around the village, Divina Luky, that my grandparents left so long ago.

Meagan sang beautifully, we enjoyed Vienna as always, and somewhere, Maria and Michael Bohinik are smiling. A dream trip come true.

Ed Bardzik Jr. writes from West Chester.

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