The house of Kocun: the Stagecoach Makers

by Jenne M. (guest blogger)


During her later years, my grandmother did compile a family history of sorts, but I no longer have access to it and no idea where it has gone. I remember some details, though: some of her ancestors – a grandmother, I believe – were Russian or Polish, with a long name beginning with a Z. This likely accounts for my dabbling of Russian genes, although I don’t know whether this line stems from the house of Kocun or Swentko.

In truth, I could chase down little in terms of documentation for any of my mother’s maternal line. Luckily, I did ask my grandmother while she was alive.

Her father Nicholas – the first of his line in the records I have been able to find – was born in 1895 in the town of Stara Lubovna – Old Lubovna – in what is now Slovakia, nine miles south from the current Polish border in the Tatras Mountains. Like many such towns, it was juggled back and forth between empires and languages: Hungarian, Polish, Czech. The very name Kocun – pronounced “kotsun” – bears witness to the polyglot nature of the community, as well as the family’s original trade: it was the Slovak version of a Hungarian word for “stagecoach-maker.”

Nicholas came to the United States in 1911 at the age of 16 and married Victoria Swentko when he was 33. He worked for American Smelting and Refining in Perth Amboy, according to his World War II draft card; I can find no evidence that he fought in World War I. He was an iron worker at American Smelting and Refining. Family pictures show him to be a fair-haired man of thin build, Slavic in appearance – and likely with some Polish or Russian ancestry. He died at the age of 77 from colon cancer. No records remain as to his own parents or siblings, but he must have had the latter, since the name still exists in central New Jersey. There are references to a Steven Kocun that could have been his brother – and explained his son’s name – and a Charles, from whom the New Jersey Kocuns seem to be descended. There are John and Joseph Kocuns as well, who could have been cousins or brothers.

SS Patricia
Photo: Courtesy Norway-Heritage 

His parents may have been Jozef Kocun (1865 – 1922) and Mary Kocun (1869 – 1943); their age would be correct. All of the Kocuns are buried in the same cemetery: Holy Trinity in Perth Amboy. They were likely relatives at the least. Josef emigrated from Tzeniskowica – listed as Russia, but likely in Poland judging from the name, and the fact that Jozef was described as Polish in origin – in 1909 on the ship Patricia. No Russian or Polish town with that name exists today, and the passengers were all from Russia/Poland and Hungary/Austria.

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