Saturday, February 18, 2012


Helen Nagy Estep as a young woman.
On the morning of February 8, 2012, a strong heart stopped beating.  Helen Nagy Estep, born in a coal camp in Logan County, West Virginia, died at the Greenbrier Valley Medical Center in Fairlea, West Virginia, having lived the past 70 years in Quinwood.

Helen was a first-generation American.  Her parents were both born in Hungary and immigrated to the United States shortly after the turn of the 20th century. According to her birth record, Helen was born at 7:30 a.m. on 15 July 1924 in the coal camp of Micco, West Virginia, which is less than a mile south of Switzer and about two miles north of Omar. Her parents were listed as William Nagy, a miner, and  Mary Quitko, age 41.

Mary Nemeth, half-sister of Helen Nagy,
and Andy Nagy (about 1918).
There are many obstacles in conducting research in Hungarian records.  The obvious one is the language.  I've scurried to find someone to translate not only records in Hungarian, but also records in Slovak.  Even when the language is finally translated, my keyboard does not allow writing in the true alphabet used in original records, so anyone reading geographic place names must understand that the missing diacritical marks do make a difference in the meaning of names.  Another disadvantage is that Hungarians seem to use only about six given names:  Andy, Alex, Johnny, Joe, Steve, and Mary.  All Hungarians do not have the same name, but sometimes it seems so.

Bill Nagy and Mary Kvitko Nemeth were married in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 26 July 1913, at the First Hungarian Reformed Church at 221 Johnston Avenue.  Bill's Hungarian given name was Balint, and he was born on 25 December 1874 in Komoro, county of Szatmar, in Hungary.  His church affiliation was Reformed.  The bride was Maria Kvitko, who was born in Dobsina, county of Gomor.  Her religion was Lutheran.  On a later census record Balint stated that his first marriage was at age 35.  The math is off a little, as it often is in census records, but this was the first marriage for Balint.  At the age of 19, Maria had been married to Joseph Nemeth and had three children from that marriage (Mary, Joseph, Jr., and Johnny), but Joseph Nemeth died on 25 October 1911 from nephritis.  According to a letter from Jean Plassard, daughter of Mary Nemeth Engelbrecht, dated March 17, 1998, Mary Nemeth took in boarders after the death of Joseph, and that is how she met Balint Nagy.

The parents of Balint Nagy were Istvan (Steve) Nagy and Szusanna Morics.  Istvan was born in Komoro, Hungary, in 1848, and Szusanna was born in Csetfalva, Hungary, in 1853.  They were married 24 June 1873.  By using dates on various records associated with Mary Kvitko Nemeth Nagy, her birth date is calculated to be sometime between 1881 and 1885.  Jean Plassard related that her mother told her that Mary Nagy was of German derivation and that Mary went to teach German to children in Hungary.  During World War I, people were forbidden to speak German, and in West Virginia Mary Nagy had only person to whom she could speak in German.  She tried to teach her daughter, Mary Nemeth, the German language, but it was difficult due to the war.  A search of Dobsina birth registers in 1994 found that one Maria Quitko, born 7 June 1883, died when she was 11 years old.  There was no Maria Quitko in the Roman Catholic birth registers.  In the Lutheran birth register (Mary listed her church affiliation on her marriage record in 1913 as Lutheran), there is a Maria born 7 June 1883 to Jan Quitko, a miner, and Zofia Kirschner.  Kirschner is a German name.  Based on the religious affiliation and the German mother, it's my opinion that this Maria Quitko is the same woman who was the mother of Helen Nagy.  Mary was christened in the Lutheran church on 14 June 1883; her godparents were Juraj Quitko and Zuzana Toth, nee Palczmann.

The first son of Mary and Balint, William (Wilchie), was born in Pennsylvania in 1914.  Jean Plassard writes that Joseph Nemeth, Jr., the first son of Mary and Joseph Nemeth, died during the flu epidemic in 1918 at the age of 11, and his body was sent to Pennsylvania for burial.  His death record shows that he died 15 November 1918 at Micco, WV (, indicating that the family had moved to Logan County before 1918.  Their second child, Andy, was born in Logan County on 18 March 1918.

The baby Helen Nagy.
A third boy, Louis, was born in 1920, and Helen was born in 1924.  Mary Nagy's last child was born on 26 November 1927, Joe Nagy.  This was a time of crises in the coal fields of southern West Virginia, and Logan County was at the center of the action.  The Battle of Blair Mountain occurred in 1921, and Logan County was home to the notorious sheriff, Don Chafin.  Helen told that when she was a little girl sometimes all of the men in the camp got in the back of a truck and went off somewhere, but as a child she was unaware of the labor conflict.  The language spoken at home was Hungarian.  Helen didn't speak English until she started attending school.  Helen said that her mother kept a pot of soup on the stove at all times in addition to whatever she had cooked for the children because Bill usually preferred to have a bowl of soup.

The Nagy household operated under the efficient hands of Mary Nagy.  One of Helen's jobs was to clean the kitchen table and chairs and to scrub the coal cook stove each week.  After school, Helen ironed clothes for the wealthier women in the coal camp.  As a young woman, it wasn't long before Helen caught the eye of  a coal miner from Fayette County who was working in the local mine and rooming at a boarding house.  She was walking home from church when James Franklin Estep saw her and started talking to her.  Jim Estep tells that when they were young, he and Helen were quite good dancers.  They were married 21 November 1941, which was the day before Thanksgiving.  When they went to the court house to get the marriage license, Bill Nagy went with them because Helen was only 17 years old.  James borrowed a car, and they went to the preacher's house (J. G. McNeely), who was also conveniently the county clerk.  After the wedding, James asked the preacher how much he owed.  Rev. McNeely said that most people gave him $2, so James gave him $5.  James drove Helen to Fayette County where they spent their first days as a married couple with James' parents.

In 1942 Jim and Helen Nagy Estep moved to Greenbrier County where Jim worked in the mines.  At first they lived in an apartment over the company store in Quinwood, and then for a while the family lived in a house in Marfrance.  Their first child, Patricia, was born in 1942, and by the time they had purchased a house in the old company town of Crichton, their children included Rebecca, James Larry, and Gary.  Thomas was born after they moved to Crichton.
Larry Estep, Balint (Bill) Nagy,
and Helen Nagy Estep at Bill's
home in Logan County.

Mary Nagy died 4 August 1958 in a hospital in Huntington in Cabell County.  Bill (Balint) Nagy continued to live in Logan County, but on 6 July 1963 he was killed when a drunk driver struck him while he was walking  along Route 119 near Switzer.  He was 88 years old.

In 1966 Helen's family was completed when her last child, Christine Elizabeth, was born.  Many meals of cabbage rolls and chicken paprikas were set out on the kitchen table in Crichton;; kifli were prepared at Christmas.  Once I asked her what the secret was for making good biscuits; she said you had to have a biscuit pan that was at least 25 years old.  The years rolled along with the addition of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  The family mourned at funerals and celebrated weddings, and before you knew it, Jim and Helen Nagy Estep had been married 70 years.

Helen ruled over her head-strong kids and taught them to be good people.  She made sure they went to school and that their clothes were spiffy clean.  Jim always had a good lunch packed for his shift in the mines.  Life in a coal camp can be rough, but she loved her family and made a life worthwhile by caring for them.

Children of Joseph Nemeth and Mary Kvitko
Mary Nemeth
19 Oct. 1903 (PA)
Walter Engelbrecht

Joseph Nemeth, Jr.
1907 (PA)

Johnny Nemeth
20 Mar. 1910 (PA)
Opal Wolfe, 28 January 1934
4 May 1989 (OH)
Children of Balint (Bill) Nagy and Mary Kvitko
William (Wilchie) Nagy
1914 (PA)
Gladys Kelley, 24 Dec. 1934
13 May 1966 (WV)
Andy Nagy
18 Mar. 1918 (WV)
Shirley Maynard, 16 Mar. 1946
July 1983 (WV)
Louie Nagy
1920 (WV)
31 July 1997 (WV)
Helen Nagy
15 July 1924 (WV)
James F. Estep, 21 Nov. 1941
8 Feb. 2012 (WV)
Joe Nagy
13 Mar. 1929 (WV)

3 July 1996 (WV)
Louis Nagy, third child of Balint (Bill)
and Mary Nagy.
Joe Nagy, youngest child of
Balint (Bill) and Mary Nagy.

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