A HUNGARIAN BUTCHER. A SURREAL CONNECTION. A DISQUIETING DISCOVERY.

TRAGEDY STRIKES!

July 21, 1909 was not a dull news day. The Wright Brothers had made another milestone in aviation history.1 The U.S. Congress acted on President Taft’s call for changes to U.S. tariff policy.2 Devastating winds and heavy rain associated with a strong hurricane along the Gulf of Mexico made landfall at Galveston, Texas, killing ten people and causing extensive property damage.3 For residents of Lorain County, though, it had been, relatively-speaking, a calm day; it was warm, cloudy and slightly breezy with just a trace of rain reported.4 The Szantay Family of the city of Lorain, Ohio, on the other hand, could not have known that a “storm” of a different kind would drastically change their family’s life overnight.

SANDOR “ALEXANDER” SZANTAY

Sandor “Alexander” Szantay was a grocer and a butcher.5 Born in Hungary, northeast of Budapest, Alexander had achieved the American dream. His sudden death at 44 years of age altered that dream for his wife and children. The apex of my research adventure into his life was determining Alexander’s cause of death. Here’s how this serendipitous discovery unfolded.

I learned about my connection with Alexander through an unexpected DNA match. We are distantly connected (going back several centuries) via a DNA test that measured exclusively my paternal line via a Y-DNA test.6 In the genealogical community, I am known for my passion for and specialization in Prussian-German Genealogy. My Wendt ancestors lived in what was the Kingdom of Prussia in a region which is now northeast Germany. It was with this particular ancestral background in mind that I submitted a saliva swab sample to Family Tree DNA.

MY DISTANT HUNGARIAN ROOTS

How is it that a DNA test links me with a Hungarian man, but I do not have more recent Hungarian roots? It is important to distinguish between autosomal DNA tests and Y-DNA tests. Autosomal DNA tests approximate a given person’s ethnic make-up from both the paternal and maternal side, and the period of time that it covers goes back about only four or five generations. Y-DNA tests, on the other hand, trace only the paternal line-with an associated surname-and for a much longer period of time.

In my case, a paternal-focused, Y-DNA test indicated that my line originated out of northern Eurasia and Siberia, where inhabitants were Uralic speakers. The Hungarian language is a part of the Uralic language family. My paternal line, consequently, predates my Prussian-German roots and my Wendt surname. It was not until centuries later that some of the descendants from this paternal line migrated west into Hungary and into Prussia.7

A quick online search indicated that Alexander lived and is buried less than a 30 minute-drive from my house. The serendipity continued! He or I could have ended up in different parts of Ohio — or anywhere in the world. It is purely coincidental that our very distant DNA connection and our common physical association with Lorain County aligned together as it did.

FOLLOWING THE DNA TRAIL TO THE CEMETERY

After discovering Alexander’s proximity to my home, I visited his burial place. His gravestone is unique in that it lists (in Hungarian, of course), his original name, date of birth, and date of death; moreover, it also lists his exact village and county of origin in Hungary.8 Talk about hitting the genealogical jackpot!

Gravestone of Sandor “Alexander” Szantay

This story, however, does not culminate with the rich cemetery information. Further online research led to his death certificate, which indicated that he died due to “violence while wrestling,” having fractured the C6 cervical vertebra of the spine (see image  with enlarged “cause of death” section).9 His death certificate does not provide any additional clues about  the exact circumstances.

Death certificate of Sandor “Alexander” Szantay

However, an inscription next to Alexander’s gravestone exemplifies poignantly the extent to which the family mourned over his death.10 Translated, it reads: “Foreign land closed my grave by accident hurting my dearests who cry on my death.”

Inscription that expresses the family's loss!

My distant connection with Alexander Szantay is remarkable for many reasons. The surprise connection to him opened an intriguing window into my Pre-Prussian origins on my paternal line. The Y-DNA connection is thrilling in and of itself. Adding the unexpected geographic commonality of Lorain County, the genealogically-rich gravestone and the intriguing cause of death on the death certificate offer an extraordinarily rich and riveting Ohio ancestral connection.

  1. “Wright Flights Near to Record,” The Plain Dealer, 22 July 1909, p. 8; image copy, GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 15 December 2018).
  2. “The President to the Rescue,” The Plain Dealer, 22 July 1909, p. 4; image copy, GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 15 December 2018).
  3. “Ten Lives Lost as Wall Saves City,” The Plain Dealer, 22 July 1909, p. 4; image copy, GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 15 December 2018).
  4. “The Daily Weather,” The Plain Dealer, 22 July 1909, p. 2; image copy, GenealogyBank. com (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 15 December 2018).
  5. Lorain County, Ohio, death certificate no. 36332, 258, “Alex Szantay,” 21 July 1909; image, State of Ohio Bureau of Vital Statistics Certificate of Death (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 December 2018).
  6. Family Tree DNA. “Y-DNA Ancestral Origins.” Database. Family Tree DNA. http://www.familytreedna.com : 2018.
  7. Family Tree DNA. “Y-DNA Ancestral Origins.” Database. Family Tree DNA. http://www.familytreedna.com : 2018.
  8. Elmwood Cemetery (Lorain, Lorain County, Ohio), Sandor Szantay marker, center section; personally read, 2018.
  9. Lorain County, Ohio, death certificate no. 36332, 258, “Alex Szantay,” 21 July 1921; image, State of Ohio Bureau of Vital Statistics Certificate of Death (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 December 2018).
  10. Elmwood Cemetery (Lorain, Lorain County, Ohio), Szantay marker, center section; personally read, 2018.

This article also appeared in the Summer 2019 publication of the Ohio Genealogy News.

Stephen Wendt holds a Master in Library and Information Science from Kent State University. He is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). He is also a member of the Ohio Genealogical Society and the Ohio Chapter of PAL-AM. He is the founder of Tree Tidings Genealogy. Many of his clients have Prussian-German roots. Stephen lectures regularly on Prussian Genealogy.

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