Carpatho-Rusyns are one of the major ethnic groups of Pennsylvania. From the time they settled the state’s small towns and cities in the late 1870s until the present time, Carpatho-Rusyns have left an indelible mark on the state, and their story should be told. This blog is about a project that will do just that. Read more

Saturday, December 9, 2017

ASEEES Convention 2017: Sha-mokin' in Chicago!

The 2017 Annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) was held in Chicago, Ill., from November 9-12, 2017. The Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center sponsored a roundtable discussion, “Transgressing Identity: Choosing (Not) to Be Carpatho-Rusyn,” on Nov. 9.

When one of the scheduled panelists, Janet MacGaffey, was not able to attend, chairman Nick Kupensky (a faculty member at Bowdoin College) invited me to participate with him in the discussion of the aspects of the roundtable theme found in MacGaffey's book. Unfortunately I too was ultimately unable to attend the convention, but I prepared detailed historical and demographic information to accompany his portion of the roundtable discussion.

Other than Nick Kupensky, the roundtable participants were:
  • Agnieszka Halemba (University of Warsaw)
  • Kristina Cantin (University of Tennessee – Knoxville)
  • Sarah Latanyshyn (University of California – Santa Barbara)


Kupensky posed this question to the panel, which is acutely relevant to my work chronicling the history of “the Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania:”
What is the role of the scholar when working on individuals or groups who (1) were but are no longer Rusyn, or (2) could potentially be Rusyn but have never identified as such?

Saturday, October 28, 2017

CGSI Conference 2017 Report

The 16th Genealogical and Cultural Conference of the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International (CGSI) concluded on Saturday night, Oct. 21. It was a fantastic event that really showcased Carpatho-Rusyn history and culture.

In addition to at least 10 other speaker sessions devoted to or related to Carpatho-Rusyns, the event included:
  • A Carpatho-Rusyn history bus tour of Pittsburgh;
  • A Rusyn reception sponsored by the Carpatho-Rusyn Society with food by extraordinary Rusyn chef John Righetti;
  • A Carpatho-Rusyn Society sales table;
  • Several Rusyn items available at the silent auction;
  • A closing performance of Carpatho-Rusyn songs and dances by the Slavjane Folk Ensemble (along with the Pittsburgh Area Slovak ensemble).
I too had a table in the vendor room, although I was just promoting my blog and upcoming book and offering free copies of various articles I’ve written related to Carpatho-Rusyn history and genealogy.

As I wrote in my last post, I made two presentations:
  • From the Carpathians to the Alleghenies: Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrants in the Greater Johnstown, Pennsylvania Area
  • A Village-Based Reframing of the Historical Narrative of Carpatho-Rusyns in the United States.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

CGSI Genealogical and Cultural Conference 2017: A Preview

One of the first books published for the Rusyn American
community, in 1897, included 8 profiles
of large active Rusyn immigrant communities.
Of those, only this profile of the Rusyn community
of Mayfield, Pa., mentioned villages of origin:
Kunkova, Losja, Peregrymka, Stavyša, Virchomlja,
Svjatkova, and Došnycja. One other history
(of Olyphant, Pa.) mentioned the main counties of origin
of the immigrants. From Pershiĭ rusko-amerykanskiĭ kalendarʹ
(Mt. Carmel, Pa.: Svoboda, 1897)
In just a short week from now, the 16th Genealogical and Cultural Conference of the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International (CGSI) will be held, October 17-21, in Pittsburgh, Pa.

As part of an extensive program of talks on genealogy, history, and cultural topics, I will present two lectures:
  1. From the Carpathians to the Alleghenies: Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrants in the Greater Johnstown, Pennsylvania Area (Friday, 3:30-4:45 p.m.);
  2. A Village-Based Reframing of the Historical Narrative of Carpatho-Rusyns in the United States (Saturday, 12:30-1:45 p.m.).

The first presentation will be very similar to one I gave in Johnstown, Pa., in the Fall of 2015 (though a bit expanded). The second will drawn on my contribution to a discussion I participated in at the ASEEES Convention last November, but a somewhat more in-depth.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Author Presents "The Pennsylvania Rusyn Experience" Sept. 16 in Philadelphia

Carpatho-Rusyn Society

The Pennsylvania Rusyn Experience
(aka "Uncovering & Publishing the History of Penna.’s Carpatho-Rusyns")

Presented by Rich Custer

Philadelphia City Institute
1905 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA
(19th & Locust on W. Rittenhouse Square)

Saturday, September 16, 2017, at 1:30 PM
Social Hour: 1:00 PM

Enjoy a unique Saturday afternoon as Rich Custer will discuss the preparation of a history, in words and in pictures, of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant communities in the state of Pennsylvania. Through the collection and research of chain migration data, parish histories, church and civil records, immigrant newspapers, photographs, oral histories, and memoirs, Rich has amassed a collection of source material that he is assembling into the most comprehensive look at the history of Carpatho-Rusyn communities anywhere in the world.
Congregation of Holy Ghost Rusyn Greek Catholic Church, West Passyunk Ave., South Philadelphia, 1894.

Ad for a Rusyn social club in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia,
from the 1960 almanac of the Lemko Association.
He will specially address the history of Carpatho-Rusyns in the Delaware Valley, in places like Philadelphia, Chester, Mont Clare / Phoenixville / Bridgeport, as well as Trenton, Roebling, and Camden in New Jersey.

Admission is free and open to the public. Rusyn literature will be available for sale. A social hour is scheduled for 1:00 pm when viewers may enjoy freshly brewed coffee along with cookies or cake. For further information please call 609-882-4872 or email:

Though registration is not required, you can register as an attendee online for this event by clicking on ; logon with your email address and fill out the registration form.

Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Ode to Summer Memories: Russkij Den' - A Day for Rusins, Russians, Carpatho-Russians, and Ukrainians

Irina Kopko of Braddock won 2nd prize for modeling traditional
Rusyn folk dress at Russkij Den' at Kennywood Park, 1933
Summertime for Carpatho-Rusyn Americans, immigrants and their descendants, if they were fortunate to live in an area of heavy Rusyn concentration, meant a favorite tradition originally known as Русскій День (Russkij Den').

As Paul R. Magocsi, prolific historian of Carpatho-Rusyns, has written,
[A tradition] that was begun and is still maintained among Carpatho-Rusyns in the United States is a celebration known as Rusyn Day (Rus’kyj Den’), held during the summer months and often at amusement parks. Rusyn Days have been geared to both people of Carpatho-Rusyn background as well as to the larger American public. Traditionally, the annual event includes speeches by Carpatho-Rusyn religious and secular leaders (joined sometimes by local politicians) as well as performances by folk choirs and dance groups.

The oldest Rusyn Day celebration has been held since 1921 at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh. From the 1920s until the 1950s, several towns in the northeast had annual Rusyn days, among the largest being those at Luna Park in Cleveland and at Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio.
(Our People: Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants in North America)
As the religious/national factions within the Rusyn community developed stronger national identities, Russkij Den' took on new names and new emphases. In English they may have been called Rusin Day, Russian Day, Carpatho-Russian Day, Ukrainian Day, or even Greek Catholic Day.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

“Dido was a member of the Spolok”: Figuring Out Fraternals

Membership ribbon of St. Nicholas
Brotherhood of Shenandoah,
founded 1885
Fraternal benefit societies, or more generally, fraternal organizations, were usually the first community institution established in the Rusyn immigrant settlements, in most cases preceding even a church. These were built on the model of similar organizations in the homeland and the United States, in part as a replacement for the American insurance that was not usually available to Slavic immigrants, and out of a need for an organization to rally the immigrants on an ethnic basis. (Some Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants joined existing American fraternals, especially the Woodmen of the World, whose distinctive tree stump-shaped headstones can be seen in various older Rusyn cemeteries in this country.)

The “brotherhoods” (later also sisterhoods) or burial societies would pay benefits to the surviving family members of miners killed or seriously injured in the all-too-frequent mine accidents. The first, the St. Nicholas Brotherhood, was founded in Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, in 1885. Within two years there were a total of seven, and they had come together as the Union of Rusyn Societies. However, that Union dissolved in 1889, and some of these brotherhoods affiliated themselves with the fraternal benefit societies that had already been established by Slovak immigrants, particularly the Roman Catholic “First Catholic Slovak Union,” popularly called “Jednota.” Recognizing the danger of assimilation posed by membership in Slovak Roman Catholic societies, a group of six Greek Catholic priests, all of Subcarpathian Rusyn origin from Hungary, along with fourteen Greek Catholic parish brotherhoods, met in Wilkes-Barre in February 1892 to establish the Union of Greek Catholic Russian Brotherhoods (Sojedynenije Greko-Kafolyčeskych Russkych Bratstv), later known simply as the Greek Catholic Union.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Memorial Day Week Research Trip: Followup Report

Having recently completed one of my periodic lengthy research trips, one that like most of them was many weeks in the making, I'd like to share some of the results and highlights.

Ss. Peter & Paul Church, Mt. Union
I began the trip on a late May Saturday morning heading to central Pennsylvania, but having gotten a late start I skipped what was to be my first stop, the Broad Top Coal Miners Museum in Robertsdale, Huntingdon County, and went directly to Mount Union. There I was finally able to see and photograph the interior of Ss. Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Church, founded in 1916 with the support of Tsar Nicholas of Russia, but evidently not with Carpatho-Rusyns among the founders. Father Christos Patitsas, the current pastor, was gracious in his welcome and explanation of the colorful yet troubled history of the parish in the last few decades and how it came to its current home as part of the Genuine Orthodox Church of America. [Here's an interesting video about the parish history.] The cornerstone is in both Russian and Romanian, and most of the parishioners seem to have been either Romanian, Ukrainian, or Macedonian. But Mount Union and this church have some interesting intersections with Rusyn history in Wood (aka Woodvale) and Ramey, so it's going in the book. Soon I hope to visit the miners museum in Robertsdale to see what they might have about Rusyn immigrants in that area, especially Wood and St. Michael's Orthodox Church there. (I do wish they had responded to my email inquiry about such things. I guess I'll just have to show up in person.)

I then hurried west to Boswell, Somerset County. I had just gotten word that Saints Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church there would be having its final Divine Liturgy the next day and then would close. It was founded by Carpatho-Rusyns in 1913 and survived the death of the local mining industry and then a fire in 1998. Despite being able to restore the church interior after the fire, for years the parish hung on with only a handful of members, and the church building had deteriorated to a precarious condition. After the last registered member of the parish had passed away last year, and without any funds to repair and insure the structure, there was no choice but to close the church.