Fearless Females Challenge: March 12 – Working Girl

The following post continues the month long Fearless Females Challenge by Lisa Alzo, author of The Accidental Genealogist blog, which is focused on “celebrating and honoring ‘fearless females’ in our family trees” to mark National Women’s History Month, which is the month of March, with a post responding to unique prompts for each day of the month.

Prompt for March 12 — Working girl: Did your mother or grandmother work outside the home? What did she do? Describe her occupation.

In addition to raising their children, both my paternal and maternal grandmothers worked outside the home. My paternal grandmother, Margaret Ann (Lapham) Kernan (1936-2004), worked as a bookkeeper and notary republic for many years, particularly after her children began their own lives. After she and my grandfather moved to Arizona, my grandmother went to work as a bookkeeper for a Southwestern artist named Jack Black. My maternal grandmother, Alberta (Sebok) Hamilton (LIVING), held several careers throughout her working life, including a bookkeeper, secretary, and grocery checker.

Alberta (Sebok) Hamilton with some of her Coworkers in Chinatown in the 1950s or 1960s
Alberta (Sebok) Hamilton (far right) with some of her Coworkers in Chinatown in the 1950s or 1960s

In addition to my grandmothers, I know that some of my great grandmothers worked outside the home, even if for brief periods of time. My paternal great grandmother, Alice Lucretia (Wellin-Lapham) Graber (1916-1985), was employed as a welder for the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation during the 1940s. Following the death of her daughter, Marla (1952-2007), Alice’s welder identification card was found.

Front (top) and Back (bottom) of Alice (Wellin-Lapham) Graber's Welder ID Card, 1944
Front (top) and Back (bottom) of Alice (Wellin-Lapham) Graber’s Welder ID Card, 1944

My step-great grandmother, Pauline Katherine (Rains-Rowlands) Kernan (1913-1997), worked in the late 1940s and early 1950s for a furniture upholstery company, which is where she met my great grandfather, Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979). My maternal great grandmother, Irene Vera (Balla) Sebok (1913-2006), worked as a chambermaid at the historic Arrowhead Springs Hotel, a popular resort that many Hollywood celebrities of the time frequented. My great grandmother met several, including Dorothy Lamour.

Historic Arrowhead Springs Hotel

Fearless Females Challenge: March 10 – Religion

The following post continues the month long Fearless Females Challenge by Lisa Alzo, author of The Accidental Genealogist blog, which is focused on “celebrating and honoring ‘fearless females’ in our family trees” to mark National Women’s History Month, which is the month of March, with a post responding to unique prompts for each day of the month.

Prompt for March 10 — What role did religion play in your family? How did your female ancestors practice their faith? If they did not, why didn’t they? Did you have any female ancestors who served their churches in some capacity?

Religion has often played a very large role in the lives of my ancestors. Several branches in my family tree faced persecution and left their native homelands because of their religion, which of course included female ancestors. Early ancestors in my Lapham branch were Quakers, as were early ancestors in my Worthington (which married into my Hamilton branch). Early ancestors in my Stearns branch (which married into my Kernan branch) were Puritans. Early ancestors in my Agee branch were Huguenots. Also, early ancestors in my Graber branch were Mennonites.

The role of religion in my more recent ancestors (include my female ancestors) had varying degrees of importance. My paternal grandmother, Margaret Ann (Lapham) Kernan (1936-2004), was a devout Catholic. My maternal grandmother, Alberta (Sebok) Hamilton (LIVING), was raised in Protestant churches, particularly the Pentecostal Church. As for my great grandparents, I am less certain what role played in their lives. From what I have uncovered on this topic, it appears that religion didn’t play a major role. This, of course, is not to say that they didn’t believe in God or attend any religious services.

My paternal great grandmother, Maxine Elizabeth (Davis-Kernan) Smith (1912-1992), appears to have been raised in a Baptist home, but her first husband, Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979), was raised in a Catholic home. It is unclear, however, if Maxine (or Delmar) ever really participated in either of these. The same is true of my paternal step-great grandmother, Pauline Katherine (Rains-Rowlands) Kernan (1913-1997), who was Delmar’s second wife. My other paternal great grandmother, Alice Lucretia (Wellin-Lapham) Graber (1916-1985), was raised, it seems, in a Baptist home, but married her second husband, Willard Pershing Graber (1918-1989), in a Methodist church. Her first husband, Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955), was raised a Seventh-Day Adventist, though it is unclear if Alice (or Theodore) ever participated in this church.

My maternal great grandmother, Goldia “Goldie” Mae (Worthington) Hamilton (1912-2006), and her husband, Harry Carl Hamilton (1891-1960), do not appear to have been involved in any particular church, though they were (according to oral history) Methodists. My other maternal great grandmother, Irene Vera (Balla) Sebok (1913-2006), grew up in a Protestant home that attended Baptist, Presbyterian, and Pentecostal churches. Her husband, Albert Sebok (1903-1968), grew up in the Hungarian Reformed Church, but appears to have attended Pentecostal church when they went to church. Later in her life, she briefly consulted with members of the Christian Science church, but never converted or attended their services.

As for serving their church in some capacity, the closest any of my female ancestors comes is the involvement of my 2nd great grandmother Anna Margaret (Leishman) Lapham (1875-1951), who often went by Annie or Margaret, in the Seventh-Day Adventist church. Even at a young age, faith was important to her. As a biographical sketch in a funeral booklet states, “at the age of 14 years, she was converted and joined the United Presbyterian Church,” like her parents. However, “about four years later, she overheard a strange man make the remark that ‘You can’t find between the two lids of the Bible that the Sabbath has ever been changed.’ That deeply impressed her as she had been taught that it was changed when Christ rose. So she went to her Mother and asked where to find it in the Bible, and her Mother said, ‘I don’t know, but it’s in there somewhere.’ She said, ‘Well, I’m going to find it.’ She had a reference Bible with a brief concordance. She started her search, which lasted for months. She didn’t know there was such a thing as a Seventh Day Adventist Church, or any one who kept the seventh day. Her folks didn’t hinder her, neither did they help her. She studied it out alone with God’s help. Not that she wanted to keep the seventh day, but she wanted to know where the Bible said it has been changed, but finally decided that whoever made the change, it wasn’t God. And in order to be a Christian, she must obey God. So she told her folks that she couldn’t help what they did, but she was going to keep the Sabbath; she didn’t know the that she would ever have any one to keep it with her; she started keeping it alone, but when her folks saw how very much in earnest she was, they decided to keep it with her. One day her Father met the man in a store that made the remark, and found that he was a Sabbath keeper, and had a wife and five children and there was a woman and two children in town. So they all got together and organized a Sabbath School. That was indeed a happy day for [Annie], and she was always glad for the experience of studying it out for herself, and always thanked God for revealing it to her.”

Margaret Lapham
Margaret Lapham

Anna Margaret was an active member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church for most of her life, in Nebraska, Oregon, and Idaho. Some of her involvement included reciting or other ways sharing her Christian poems. A number of the poems in her Courage and Comfort (a collection of ninety poems she wrote in the 1940s), were published in “Gems of Faith” by the evangelist R.H. Nightingale, in “Quiet Hour Echoes” by the evangelist J.L. Tucker 1943, or in “Gleaner,” which appear to have been church newsletters or magazines. Some of these poems were also recited or broadcast by evangelists J.L. Tucker and R.H. Nightingale many times at church gatherings or over the radio.

The following is a page from Anna Margaret’s Courage and Comfort featuring a poem called “By Faith” that is noted to have “broadcasted by Evangelist J. L. Tucker.”

"By Faith," a Poem from Courage and Comfort by Anna Margaret (Leishman) Lapham
“By Faith,” a Poem from Courage and Comfort by Anna Margaret (Leishman) Lapham

100 Years Ago Today

On March 2, 1913, one hundred years ago today, Irene Vera (Balla) Sebok (1913-2006), my maternal great grandmother, was born in Le Roy, Genesee Co., New York the daughter and fifth child of Hungarian émigrés, Alexander Balla (1886-1950) and Julia Molnar (1885-1962).

The Balla Family Bible shows a birth entry for Irene, with her name shown in its Hungarin form as “Balla Irenke.” This record also shows her godparents, the names of which appear to be “Rimar, Istvan” and “Balog, Juliska.”

Balla Family Bible: Birth Record for Irene (Balla) Sebok
Balla Family Bible: Birth Record for Irene Balla

Interestingly, “Bufolo, Ny” is written in blue ink presumably as the birth location. This note was incorrectly added many years later (after 1962) by Irene’s older sister, Ima Helen (Balla) Creech (1911-1998). The family did briefly live in Buffalo, New York, but not at the time of Irene’s birth. The family also lived in Brooklyn and Rochester before relocating to Texas by February 1915. Irene grew up in Texas before relocating to California, where she married Albert Sebok (1903-1968).

Irene (Balla) Sebok at 80 years old
Irene (Balla) Sebok at 80 years old

110 Years Ago Today

On February 26, 1903, one hundred and ten years ago today, Albert Sebok (1903-1968), my maternal great grandfather, was born in Székelyzsombor, Udvarhely, Kingdom of Hungary, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Jimbor, Romania), the son of Frank Sebok (1875-1951) and Roza Peto (1871-1937).

In 1905, when Albert was two years old, he and his mother joined his father in America, settling first in the East Chicago and Gary areas of Indiana, where Albert grew up. The family relocated to California in the 1920s.

Frank Sebok with his son Albert
Frank Sebok with his son Albert

It is interesting to note that the earliest record I have showing the birth of Albert Sebok is his 1919 baptismal certificate at the Hungarian Reformed Church in East Chicago, Lake Co., Indiana. This hand written certificate states that he was born in Székelyzsombor, Hungary, but on February 27, 1903 instead of February 26 like all other records for Albert. Having no official birth record, due to the general inaccessibility of records in Hungary, it is unclear which birthdate is correct.

Albert Sebok's Baptismal Certificate
Albert Sebok’s Baptismal Certificate

63 Years Ago Today

On February 15, 1950, sixty-three years ago today, Alexander (Sandor) “Alex” Balla (1886-1950), my 2nd great grandfather, died in Beaumont, Jefferson Co., Texas. According to his death certificate, Alexander died from “pyelonephrosis” (or disease of the pelvis of the kidney), which was due to “obstructive prostatitis”, which was due to “secondary anemia.”

Alexander Balla Death Certificate
Alexander Balla Death Certificate

Alexander was buried on February 17, 1950 in Old Hardin Cemetery in Kountze, Hardin Co., Texas.

Alexander & Julia Balla Headstone in Old Hardin Cemetery
Alexander & Julia Balla Headstone in Old Hardin Cemetery

Alexander was born in 1886 the son of István Balla (1858-1930) and Eszter Szabó (1857-1925) in Eszény, Szabolcs County, Kingdom of Hungary, Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is now in modern day Ukraine. After immigrating to the United States, he married Julia Molnar (1885-1962) in 1907 in New York. Alexander and Julia had ten children, one of which was Irene Vera Balla (1913-2006), who married Albert Sebok (1903-1968) in 1935 in California.

110 Years Ago Today

On November 15, 1902, 110 years ago today, Júlia (Molnár) Balla (1885-1962), my 2nd great grandmother, arrived in New York to begin a new life in America. At the age of 17, Julia left Eszény, Hungary, where she was born and raised, for Hamburg, Germany where she boarded the S.S. Pretoria, departing on October 31, 1902.

A photograph of the S.S. Pretoria

The ship manifest for the S.S. Pretoria states that Julia was coming to New York to join her sister, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Molnar. Julia appears on a Record of Detained Alien Passengers from the S.S. Pretoria. She was detained, according to this record, because she was waiting for her sister to pick her up, which took place at 4:25 pm, the time at which Julia was discharged.

A page from the ship manifest for the S.S. Pretoria showing Julia Molnar, who is found on line 13.
S.S. Pretoria Record of Detained Alien Passenger showing Julia Molnar, who is found on line 30 (last entry).

These details from the ship manifest are consistent with family oral history, which states that Julia did come to New York to be with her sister, because her sister found her a job. Lizzie was living in New York and working as a chef in the household of a fairly well-off family. Because Lizzie was such a good employee, they asked her if she had any relatives that could take the position of maid in their home. She told them about her sister Julia, and they paid for her to come to America. The following painted photograph of Julia (left) and Lizzie (right) shows them wearing the uniforms they wore while working for this family.

Julia (left) and her sister Lizzie (right) in their Uniforms

Nearly five years after her arrival, Julia married Alexander Balla (1886-1950), with whom she had ten children, the first five of which were born in New York and the remaining were born in Sabine and Jasper counties in Texas.

Family History Through the Alphabet – Z is for Zsombor

This week’s Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge features the letter Z. A noteworthy Z I have run across while researching my ancestry is Zsombor.

Zsombor is the original name of a village located in the historic European region of Transylvania, and is the village of my Sebok branch’s ancestral origins. Throughout its history, which stretches back to the 14th century or earlier, the village has gone by a few different names, all of which are variations of Zsombor. When the village was inhabited by Saxons, it was known as Szászzsombor (or Saxon Zsombor). When Saxons left around the time of the plague (or after it), leaving the Lutheran faith that dominates the area still today in addition to some interesting architecture, the village became predominately inhabited by a group of Hungarians known as Székely, who spread into the village from neighboring areas that are collectively referred to in history as Székelyföld (or Székely Land). From about the early 16th century until the borders of Europe changed after the World War II, the village was known as Székelyzsombor. After the borders were redrawn, Székelyzsombor fell outside of Hungary, and became a part of Romania; and again the village’s name was changed, this time to Jimbor, the Romanian equivalent of Zsombor. In addition to these historic names, Zsombor is also known by the German equivalent name of Sommerburg.

Map Showing the Village name of Zsombor
Sign Showing Some of the Different Names for the Village

Regardless of its name throughout history, Zsombor has always been a fairly small village. In the late 19th century, the village had about 1,500 inhabitants. Today, the village is much smaller, with a total population of about 483 in 2002. Of its current inhabitants, the majority identify themselves as Hungarian, with smaller numbers identifying themselves as either Romanian or Gypsy. Historically, and even to the present day, the people of Zsombor have primarily been occupied with raising livestock and harvesting grains.

A local man with his cattle in modern Jimbor (Zsombor)

Despite having such a small population in the village and many buildings and homes that are currently abandoned, the village has a number of different architectural and cultural interests. There are three major churches in the village: a Lutheran Church that dates back to the Middle Ages, which has been restored and rebuilt following a fire in the late 18th century; a Roman Catholic Church that dates back to the 14th century, which was added on to and restored in the 18th century; and an Orthodox Church that was built in 1905. Another architectural feature of the village is the small medieval castle that sits atop a hill overlooking the village. Although the castle is in a state of disrepair, a significant amount of the castle still stands. In addition to these buildings, the village has an untouched, old world street scenery from the 19th century. Although parts of the village are old with many abandoned buildings that are in a state of disrepair, much work has been done in the past decade to restore the village. High school students involved in an international cultural reconstruction camp have been working year after year in the village to restore various areas.

A Modern View of the Village of Jimbor (Zsombor) Showing its Scenic Beauty
The Medieval Castle that Overlooks the Village

Apart from the historic architecture and the old world feel and look of the village, the Hungarian Székely culture can be seen throughout. The shapes and colors of the homes, the characteristic “Székely Gates” with their Asian influence that are still found as the main entrance to homes, and the characteristic decorative designs on homes and other items all keep the Székely heritage alive. Additionally, the people of the village dress in traditional costumes to celebrate annual festivals.

An Older Home with the traditional Székely Gate
Some Hungarians in modern Jimbor (Zsombor) Wearing Traditional Costumes

Two generations of my Sebok branch were born in Zsombor, or Székelyzsombor as it was known when they lived there: my great grandfather, Albert Sebok (1903-1968) and his parents, Frank Sebok (1875-1951) and Roza Mari Peto (1871-1937), my 2nd great grandparents. According to oral tradition, Frank was employed as a cobbler in Székelyzsombor before immigrating to the United States. The following photos of Frank Sebok with his son Albert, and Roza (Peto) Sebok with her son Albert and daughter Emma were taken in Indiana, where the family lived after arriving in 1905.

Frank Sebok with his son Albert
Roza (Peto) Sebok with her son, Albert, and daughter, Emma.

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137 Years Ago Today

On November 2, 1875, one hundred and thirty-seven years ago today, Frank Sebok (1875-1951), my 2nd great grandfather, was born in Székelyzsombor, Udvarhely, Kingdom of Hungary, Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is now Jimbor, Harghita, Centru, Romania.

Frank Sebok with his son Albert

Holiday Family History: Halloween & My Great Grandmother Irene

Although I have only a few holiday family history stories for Halloween, one in particular stands out, which involves my maternal great grandmother, Irene Vera (Balla) Sebok (1913-2006).

When my great grandmother was a young girl, between ten and thirteen years old, she and her family lived in Texas. In the weeks prior to Halloween, the one room country school she attended decided to hold a Halloween dance, for which students were encouraged to dress up. Growing up in a rural area and being one of eight children born to Hungarian émigrés, there was no access to or money for party dresses or Halloween costumes. Being a resourceful and creative young girl who liked to sew and make things, she was able to get enough purple, black, and orange crepe paper to make herself a Halloween costume dress. She was very proud of the dress because it looked like a real Halloween paper dress and didn’t really cost here anything to make it.

Despite the fact that it was October and clouds were in the sky, she did not leave the house with a coat, because she didn’t want to flatten down the dress she had worked so hard on. While walking to the dance, it began to rain; and by the time she reached the dance, she was soaked and her homemade paper dress was ruined, with the purple, black, and orange dye in the crepe paper running all together and all over her legs and arms. Her older brother, Alex, was already at the dance. Seeing her soaked and looking like an absolute mess, he gave her his coat to wear and immediately took her home. According to my great grandmother, neither of them were very pleased to leave the dance, and her brother even threatened to whip her. Of course, he didn’t and the whole event was something the two laughed about in later years, particularly my great grandmother.

Irene as a Young Girl (She is not wearing the dress she made–sadly, no photo exists of her wearing it.)

In recalling this story from her childhood, my great grandmother never mentioned where she received her inspiration or if she had heard that others made these kinds of costume dresses. Growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s my exposure to crepe paper was mainly party decorations, while costumes for Halloween were made from fabric or plastic. I have since learned that crepe paper dresses and costumes were widely used in the 1920’s and can still be found today. Martha Stewart even has a video on “How to Make Crepe Paper Costumes” on her website. An interesting article, entitled “Have a Crepey Halloween,” about Halloween and crepe paper costumes can be found on Jonathan Walford’s Blog, A Fashion History Perspective. The Kansas Historical Society’s Kansapedia website also features an article about Halloween that talks about crepe paper costumes.


I always enjoyed this story as a child, and hope that you do as well. Do you have any Halloween related stories in your family history? Have a Happy Halloween!

Family History Through the Alphabet – W is for Weddings and Wedding Anniversaries

This week’s Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge features the letter W.  Noteworthy W’s I have run across while researching my ancestry are weddings and wedding anniversaries.

W is for Weddings:

Weddings are an important and joyous event in anyone’s life, and no less so for the generations that came before us. Although I have records for marriages throughout my ancestry, I have few photographic, oral, or written accounts of the weddings that took place. The following are some of the ones that I have uncovered in the course of researching my ancestry.

My paternal grandparents, William Kernan (LIVING) and Margaret Ann Lapham (1936-2004), were married on June 28, 1952 in Portland, Multnomah Co., Oregon. The wedding took place at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, and the service was conducted by Rev. Patrick J. Dooley. The service was reported in The Milwaukie Review, a local paper in Oregon. The following newspaper clippings provide some details, such as a description of my grandmother’s wedding dress, the names of those who attended and the roles they played during the service, in addition to the only surviving photos from their wedding.


My paternal great grandmother, Alice Lucretia (Wellin) Lapham (1916-1985), married Willard Pershing Graber (1918-1988), her second husband, on December 13, 1947 in Portland, Multnomah Co., Oregon. Although I have few details of their wedding, I do know, from their wedding book that contains their certificate of marriage, that they were married in a Methodist church, and the services was officiated by Rev. Henry E. DuVall. The witnesses were Willard’s brother, Noel Graber, and Alice’s aunt, Althea (Agee) Morgan. Apart from these facts, I have some nice photographs from their wedding.


Perhaps the oldest image I have run across for a wedding in my ancestry is for that of my 9th great grandparents, John Bigelow (or Biglo) (1617-1703) and Mary Warren (1624-1691). John and Mary were married by a Mr. Nowell on August 30, 1642 in Watertown, Middlesex Co., Massachusetts. The following painting is said to be of John and Mary dancing at their wedding party (unverified by me).

Although I have no photographs for their wedding, I have an oral family history account regarding the wedding of my 2nd great grandparents, Alexander Balla (1886-1950) and Julia Molnar (1885-1962). According to this account, Alexander and Julia, who were from the same village in Hungary (Eszény) immigrated to the United States separately, with Julia coming to the United States first (1902), as she was offered a job working in the same household as her sister, Elizabeth, in Manhattan, New York. This family, whose name has unfortunately been lost to time, was fairly well off financially—they could afford to have a personal cook (Elizabeth) and at least one maid (Julia). Julia and Alexander were eventually reunited at a Hungarian Church social, which sparked a relationship that resulted in a marriage proposal in 1907. When the family Julia had been working for since her arrival in 1902 learned of this, they offered to pay for the wedding because they had grown very fond of her over the years. Alexander and Julia’s wedding took place on September 9, 1907, at which Julia is said to have been given away by the head of the household she worked in.


W is for Wedding Anniversaries:

Related to weddings are, of course, wedding anniversaries, milestones of which are often important events in the lives of our ancestors, as well for us today.

My 2nd great grandparents, Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977) and Lois Beatrice Agee (1897-1983), were married on December 2, 1914 in Vancouver, Clark Co., Washington. On December 2, 1964, Wilhelm and Lois celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, for which they had a family gathering and open house. This milestone in their marriage is recorded in the newspaper clipping below. By the time their marriage vow of “until death do us part” was realized in 1977, Wilhelm and Lois were married for nearly sixty-three years.

Kit Carson Graber (1875-1962) and Iva Mae McKeehan (1879-1950), the parents of Willard Pershing Graber (1918-1988), the second husband of my great grandmother Alice Lucretia (Wellin) Lapham (1916-1985), were married on February 27, 1893 in Mount Pleasant, Henry Co., Iowa. By the time their marriage parted in death in 1950, Kit and Iva were married for nearly fifty-seven years. The photograph below was taken on the occasion of their fifty-fourth wedding anniversary.


The following is a table of some of those in my ancestry that celebrated the milestone of making it to their 50th wedding anniversary:

Husband Wife Years
Wilhelm Percy Wellin Louis Beatrice Agee 1914-1977
Isaac Agee Cordelia Thornton 1831-1893
Kit Carson Graber Iva Mae McKeehan 1893-1950
Thomas McLaughlin Margaret Wilson 1833-1891
William Phylitis Davis Mary Magdelene Williams 1906-1960
Jesse Beeney Mary An Wys 1803-1857
Jacob Worthington Elmina Couch 1865-1920
Boyd Ferguson Seely Rebecca Allen 1857-1909
William Kernan (LIVING) Margaret Ann Lapham 1952-2004

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