Stories which have been passed on to us

Life in Josefalva around 1900 by Magdelena Stricker Koenig


Magdelena Stricker Koenig was the aunt of Irene Orlaska who contributed this story. Magdelena lived in Glen Ulin, North Dakota and Chicago after she moved to the US.

Irene is the oldest of three daughters born to Peter Stricker and Lena Riley. I like to say that when I make a stew it is Irish unless I put in paprika then it is Hungarian goulash.
I was born in Dickinson and we moved to Milwaukee when I was an infant. I lived in that city until my husband was transferred to Ohio. I am a retired neo-natal nurse and was discharged from the Army Nurse Corps after WWII.

I have many hobbies which keep me busy. I play piano keyboard, organ, and am an amateur watercolor painter. I grow many flowers in my perennial garden and am an avid bridge player, belonging to 4 different clubs.

My greatest passion is Genealogy which I have actively pursued not only my Paternal family but my Maternal one as well. We have 2 children, 5 grandchildren and a 4 month old great grandchild. I am guilty of spoiling them with gifts.

I shunned the computer until last year when hubby decided he was tired of doing MY MAIL. So now I am an addict . I am the self appointed family historian and have a 3x5 card file on anyone remotely related to me.
Irene Orlaska


In 1967 Magdelena Stricker Koenig was interviewed by her son and she described her life in Josefalva before coming to US. She was 15 at the time she left there and had always possessed a remarkable memory so the answers to her question can be considered accurate. She has since expired though her words linger on.

The village of Josefalva was located east of Rekash on the road to Logasch. At that time it was Hungarian and its citizens were a branch of the original settlers from Elisenheim and Setschen. Their culture was German as was their language and were mostly farmers. They were of the Catholic religion in contrast to neighboring villages which were Romanian Orthodox or Muslim. Their schools were Catholic and administered by the Hungarian government.

Their homes were made of brick and were whitewashed as were the tree bases. A yard with trees and garden surrounded the house, and chickens, ducks and geese were penned there as were hogs. The bricks were mostly hand made of straw, dirt and water which was mixed by the feet, then put into molds, dried and stacked. The doors, roofs and frame were of wood cut from nearby forests. Each householder had a plot of land outside the village where he planted wheat and corn. The straw for the bricks was obtained from the wheat. Hired workers would walk horses over the cut wheat and the children would bundle and stack the wheat. The fine shaff was used for fodder and animal feed. Some straw was also used for mattresses and pillows.

The center of the village housed the church and school. There were stores like butcher, jewelry, general, and grocery and people from neighboring villages came to shop there. The church bells would ring often, regulating the lives of the villagers. Bells from neighboring villages could also be heard. Doblevitch was the closest and was a Romanian village. The train also ran through that village. Smaller villages like Ictar and Budenz also shopped in Josefalva, and they were Romanian also. There was grass growing between the villages with a path and no road. The Romania women wore their money as jewelry and their dress was also different. There were also Gypsy camps set up in the villages outskirts and were watched closely as they were often accused of stealing the geese. The Bega River which ran close by was used for washing clothes, watering and washing livestock. It was but a short walk from Josefalva to the banks of the river.

Magdalena's father was a stone mason and brick layer and traveled around building houses for others. Their home was large enough to have a spare room that was rented out for added money. Her mother and 5 siblings did the farm work. Their flour was milled by hired help as was the pressing of grapes into wine. Every one lived in the town proper and had land outside of town for growing crops which were wheat and corn. Fruit trees, i.e., apples, plums, cherries, peaches and apricots were planted around the yard and there was a house garden, and pens for rabbits, chickens and ducks. They had no citrus trees. Oranges could be purchased in Temesvar and therefore were presented as gifts at birthdays and Christmas. They also grew nuts as walnuts, and almonds. Every morning the geese were herded out of town to a pasture and brought back again in the evening. Every goose knew its own yard and would go there as they came into town. Geese could respond to their owner’s voice so a stolen goose could often be identified and returned by calling to it. This family had no cows or horses, as diary products could be bought by itinerant peddlers or in the store. Their meat sources were also raised such as hogs, lambs. Their beef and veal was purchased in the butcher shops. Since the butcher was the only one with refrigeration, and meat was needed for goulash, schnitzel, soups and steak, it was often bought right after church on Sunday and the shop would remain open for that purpose. Furniture was often home made and there were no springs, so no easy chairs or mattress springs. Heavy tick was used and stuffed with corn husks as was the cushions for hardwood chairs. The goose and chicken feathers were also used. There were no bed bugs, but lice was something that had to be dealt with frequently. A large tripod was in the open fireplace to cook upon and more than one pot could be placed there. They made sausages which were smoked in the huge chimney of the stove. Bacon and pork was also butchered and smoked in that manner. My father who lived in the city had a smoke house in the backyard and during the depression, he butchered and smoked his own meat so I know by experience how that was done.

People had their own form of entertainment. Holidays were celebrated i.e. Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, name days and First Communions, Name Days and Baptisms. The Autumn Kirwei was looked forward to every year. There was always dances and music and the accordion player was popular. Singing groups had been formed and there was card playing, and just plain talking and gossiping. The centrally located hall was used for most occasions and dances were held usually on Saturday or Sunday after church. All were welcome including children. Women watched their daughters closely as the boys would approach and ask the girl to dance. Polkas and waltzes were the dances of choice. There was no food served at any party in the hall. People just went home to eat, and returned to resume what activity they had been doing. They may have also had to feed chickens, milk cows or slop hogs at this time also. Kerosene lamps light the hall and wood stoves provided the heat. Christmas was the biggest occasion and there usually purchased dolls for the girls, and wooden animal and horses for the boys. Candy, cookies, pretzels were given also. A tree was usually purchased and decorated with strings of popcorn, nuts or candies. The lights were also purchased and sometimes candles were used. There was no mention of Santa or St. Nick coming down chimneys to bring the gifts. Children were given gifts, usually small coins, from their God parents. They even received oranges, figs and dates as gifts. At Easter they colored eggs and roast lamb might be seen on the table. Candy and cookies were also part of the festivities. Church festivals were occasions to dress in colorful costumes and there was always dancing.

In spite of the many diverse cultures, there weren’t too many fights among the people, especially with the Romanians. There was a village near by called Doblevitch which was a Romanian community. They had an open market and there were also families who came down from the mountains and traded also. They came in covered wagons and traded wheat and corn for apples, prunes. They ate more corn meal and heated their homes with brick stoves, heated with straw. They also raised pumpkins and the seeds were turned into oil which was used for cooking.

Since Lena (family name) was young she did not recall too much about weddings preparations. She didn't remember ever wearing one of the beautiful skirts that girls wore, nor any of the Tract that was also a custom. Perhaps they were too poor, or there were no weddings held in her family. Her maternal grandparents Jacob and Barbara Bohn Reiner lived nearby, as did uncles, brothers of her mother. They all went to North Dakota before she and her family made the trip. Lena did not seem to sew or do any of the beautiful lace that woman did at that time. There didn't seem to be much time for those things as household chores, gardening etc occupied most of her duties. If she played and had fun, she did not mention it. In 1908 her father died leaving her mother and 5 siblings alone. In a few months one uncle already in North Dakota sent passage money for them and they went to the USA. The trip over was harrowing as not one of them knew any English and the youngest sibling was but 11 months old. They traveled from Fiume (Rijecka) to New York, aboard a Cunard ship, making it to New York in over 20 days. After going through Ellis Island, they boarded a train for the village where their family was waiting. What joy they must have felt when they got off the train and were greeted by their loving family whom they had not seen for several years. It was just after the New Year and a new life was starting also. In 1912, Magdalena wed Nicholas Koenig who lived in Glen Ulin. They were related to the Koenigs, being 2nd cousins. In 1933 Nick Koenig died and she was a widow until her death in Chicago.

I am pleased with the response to these tales of one immigrant girl whose son thought enough of his heritage to interview his mother and capture forever on tape, her story. I am pleased to think I bear the same pioneer traits as they.

 




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