More Slovak diaspora: how the Yakel family girls blended into western Pennsylvania

One more on the topic of online genealogy, since I’ve spent a lot of the weekend on it.

If you remember, I posted a picture of Arana Yakel the other day. She was my great-grandmother, and she was cut down by the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, which was especially lethal to young pregnant women with strong immune systems. The virus killed by sending the immune system into overdrive. As it was in overdrive, the system attacked the body as well as the virus. Science didn’t know this at the time. Now they do.

She was a mother of three, with a fourth on the way, but did not live to see her 21st birthday, or even much of her 20’s.

Her three brothers and two sisters survived her. Their names were Illona Yakel and Gezella Yakel. Illona Yakel inevitably became Helen Zambanini, and Gezella Yakel came to be Grace Chemotti.

A woman in California who is my second cousin, once removed, was kind enough to map out the Yakel-Chemotti line. I was surprised to see the name Yakel spelled the way the family did it, so I know the work is right!

While searching the Zambaninis, though, I found an obit for my grandfather’s first cousin were the writer gets the maiden name for Helen as “Yoko” (like Yoko Ono I suppose), not Yakel! And I’m thinking: man! How can so many different people get a simple name wrong! I mean, there were three Yakel boys in the 1910’s. Two went on to have kids, so there are plenty of Yakels. And that would have been just Pennsylvania Yakels. Yakels settled everywhere.

Unless Helen’s nickname was Yoko, that’s just a big mistake–and in an obit! I saw Roots a long time ago (1977), but I remember the original one having a scene where the daughter crosses out “Toby” and puts Kunta Kinte’s real name.

You see mistakes enough times, and you start to think, man, people just don’t care what your name is, if you are everyday people. “Yeah, yeah. Yoko, Yakel . . . ”

It also makes me wonder that a lot of people are running around with surnames like Chemotti and Zambanini, and they don’t know that they are Yakels like me, too . . .

Having lived in Japan for over five years, I know that foreign names (like mine transcribed into Japanese) sound awkward and people might have a hard time getting it right. But, man! Y-A-K-E-L. Five letters. That might not be how they spelled it in the Old country, but that’s how it became in the New one. Not Yockell. Not Yoko.