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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

History Comes Full Circle: Homeland–Pennsylvania–Homeland

Many Carpatho-Rusyn villages in the European homeland have historical monographs covering the origins, life, and culture of the village and its people. Many of them are extremely well done, and some of them include what from my perspective is essential to telling the whole story – the life of the village natives in emigration. I've been able to make a significant contribution to that in the monograph on one village dear to my heart. And now I can say I've played a small part in helping with another.

Petro Trochanovskij's recently-published Book of Bilcareva (Книга Білцаревы), about Bilcareva/Binczarowa, old Grybów County in the Lemko Region of Austrian Galicia, present-day Poland, is hands-down the best Carpatho-Rusyn village history that has ever been published. The contents – almost entirely in Lemko Rusyn – are extremely detailed and comprehensive, and the book is beautiful to look at and compelling to read.

The contents of this magnificent book include:
  • Village history: topographical maps with the native names of hills and sections; the earliest metrical records; a list of residents in the 1770s-1780s; and much more.
  • Life of the village (before WWII) in images: people, life and death, the church, chapels/wayside crosses, etc.
  • Life of Bilcareva natives in emigration, especially the United States.
  • Life of Bilcareva villagers in exile in Poland, return visits to Bilcareva, creation of a memorial cross, and the compilation of the book.
  • Culture of Bilcareva and the life and works of notable Bilcareva natives throughout history and their artistry – music, poetry, woodcuts, woodwork, etc.
This book stands out from most village histories in the amount of attention given to the village natives' "diaspora" experience. As with the book about my Rusyn grandmother's native village, I played a part in this one.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Labor Day Weekend 2018: Into the Heart of the Coal & Coke Region

Every Labor Day weekend since 1988, one could find me among the pilgrims at the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help at Mount Saint Macrina in Uniontown, Fayette County. This year was not really any different. Except that I usually tack on a few extra days for fieldwork in that area of the state, whereas this year I only did fieldwork on Friday and Monday. Still, some of that activity is worth sharing here.

I arrived in the area mid-afternoon on Friday in order to make my long-awaited first visit to the Coal & Coke Heritage Center at the Penn State University Fayette Campus near Uniontown (and Leisenring, a pivotal place in the history of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants in that region). Greeted by the archivist, Amanda Peters, I had about 90 minutes to peruse the attractive and informative museum as well as some of the center's archives and library.

The place of immigrants in the local communities that supplied the workforce for coal & coke was appropriately highlighted.
And fortunately Carpatho-Rusyns are acknowledged, as they were one of the primary ethnic groups in the region.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Late Spring Research Trip to Central & Northeastern PA

Memorial Day weekend and the days following will usually find me doing research around northeastern Pennsylvania. I combine it with spending Memorial Day at the long-running pilgrimage at St. Tikhon's Monastery in South Canaan. This year was no different.

My trip started in central Pa., with visits to the Broad Top Area Coal Miners Museum in Robertsdale, Huntingdon County, and Madera, Clearfield County and Philipsburg, Centre County. The Robertsdale museum had a few items of interest related to the mining industry and immigrant communities in Woodvale (now called Wood) and Robertsdale, where many Carpatho-Rusyns settled in the early 20th century.

Replica "coal mine" in the museum basement

Friday, May 25, 2018

Overview of April 2018 Research Trip to the Pittsburgh Area

Working full-time, my study and writing about Carpatho-Rusyn immigration has been limited to being a hobby, albeit one that I have spent much time on in these many years. Only a few times a year do I have the opportunity to devote a few days full time to fieldwork. Fortunately, I can see that only a few more of these research trips will be necessary before I can be satisfied that the information I've gathered is thorough enough (if never quite "complete"). These occasional research trips take many days to plan and do not always go accordingly. My first such trip of 2018 took place in April, and I'm glad to share the highlights — and glimpses of what I collected — with you.

In case you didn't know, I have started posting about my project on Facebook at this page: The Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania. I already posted about this research trip there; this is an adapted consolidated version of several Facebook posts.

(Posted "live" on April 21, the first day of the trip)

This research trip is starting out exceptionally well. Thanks to two of my clerical contacts in Somerset & Cambria Counties, I got access to valuable records and made some joyful finds today:

Early minutes of the St. Mary's Holy Assumption Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in Central City;
St. Mary's Holy Assumption Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, Central City, Somerset County: First parish meeting minutes, 1917.

Some of the old Carpatho-Rusyn prayerbooks in the kliros of St. Mary's in Central City used by the cantors of days gone by...

St. Mary's Church, Central City: "Izbornik" book of divine services used by cantors, published in Užhorod, 1925.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Author to Deliver the 8th Annual St. Alexis (Toth) Lecture on May 6 in Minneapolis

I'm honored to announce that I will be this year's speaker for the 8th Annual St Alexis (Toth) Lecture in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The lecture, "The Becherov Factor: How One Village’s Natives Led the Carpatho-Rusyn American Return to Orthodoxy," will explore the integral presence of natives of Becherov (in Rusyn: Becheriv), in present-day northeastern Slovakia, throughout the history and life of St. Mary's Cathedral in Minneapolis, and in the return to Orthodoxy in other places like Catasauqua, Sheppton, St. Clair, McKeesport, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It will also look at the influence of two Orthodox priests born in Becherov, Fr. Gregory Varhol and Fr. Peter Kohanik, in numerous Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant communities in their return to Orthodoxy.

The event is sponsored by St Mary's Orthodox Cathedral. It will take place on Sunday, May 6, 2018, at 7:15 p.m. at St. Mary's Parish Center, 1701 5th Street NE, Minneapolis, Minnesota. All are welcome to attend.

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

Monday, January 8, 2018

We're not Russian or Greek, but on Christmas we could be both!

I'm still enthralled by the things I'm finding on Some of the articles really give a feel for the life of our communities in decades gone by. Whether in cities or towns large or small, a keystone of our people's identity at least until the 1950s, and one that united them in some sense regardless of how their community may have splintered, seemed to be "the people who celebrated 'Greek Christmas' (or 'Russian Christmas')"—according to the Julian Calendar in use at the time by most churches of Carpatho-Rusyn origin, whether Greek Catholic, Orthodox, Ukrainian, Russian, Carpatho-Russian, Ruthenian, or Rusin—as the January 7 Christmas observance was typically called.

Check out some of the news coverage of the time.

(I encourage you to click on any article of interest to read the entire piece, especially since I truncated some of the longer ones to save space on this page.)

When did the term start to be used? Here are some of the earliest articles I found.



Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sad Transitions to Close 2017

Through the many years of doing what I've been doing, I've met numerous individuals along the way who have particularly affected me and my work. Two of those individuals recently departed this life.

Courtesy of Carpatho-Rusyn Society
John Schweich was known to many of the people I've been in touch with to do research, and not just in Pennsylvania. In fact, he was generally better known than I. For decades, John devoted much of his free time to collecting and assembling the largest collection in the world (no need to verify this; there is just no question!) of anniversary books published by American Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox churches of Carpatho-Rusyn, Ukrainian, and Russian background, which also includes books from Catholic and Orthodox parishes of other Slavic and Eastern European backgrounds.

He was not of Carpatho-Rusyn background; in fact, he had no Slavic or East European heritage at all. So whence this strong interest of his? In his own words:
I grew up in Frackville, a coal mining town in Northeastern Pennsylvania in the midst of some of the oldest Carpatho-Rusyn settlements (St. Clair, Minersville, Shenandoah, Mahanoy City) in North America. The local Rusyns had all of the fine qualities that are their trademarks, i.e. a fierce sense of loyalty to family and spirituality, a world class work ethic, a supreme ability to adapt to changing environments, that unparalleled cuisine, etc.

Ethnic self-awareness, however, was not one of them. Queries about their ethnicity produced responses like: "Slavonic," "Slavish," "Rooshin," "Greek," "Our People," "Austrian," "Hungarian," "Uhorsky," "Uhorshchane," "Rusnaks," "Ruthenian," "Carpo-Rus," "Carpatho-Russian," "Russian," "Buyzzantyne, (a pharmaceutical perhaps?)" etc. Never once did I hear the term "Rusyn." The people I queried about the terms "Greek" and "Byzantine," seemed to be more than clueless about the land of Homer or the history of Constantinople. The language used by those Carpatho-Russians was not Russian. Since I was studying Russian at Penn State at the time, it seemed closer to Ukrainian, although, strangely, the locals did not seem to appreciate hearing that.

To sort out the confusion and because Magocsi's works had not yet appeared, I consulted a few available books, which turned out to be the largely unhelpful works of polemicists. It began to occur to me there may be a "lost tribe" of Slavs that the mainstream scholars had failed or were otherwise unmoved to catalogue.

The solution seemed to be to collect all of the written histories available produced by a largely anonymous corps of parishioner chroniclers, which dealt not only with specific Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox parishes, but, ultimately, with the local Rusyn community itself.

Both of us Penn Staters and both of us longtime residents of the metropolitan D.C. area, we saw in each other "fellow travelers" who shared an appreciation for something known to few others, and not nearly as appreciated, that being these anniversary books and the history they encapsulated. We traded duplicate books and kept each other up to date on any new finds. And of course he graciously granted me access to photocopy or scan pages from the rarest items in his collection.

John's love for the Carpatho-Rusyn heritage extended to his serving for many years as president of the National Capital Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society in metropolitan Washington, D.C., and as a trustee of the national Carpatho-Rusyn Society. After a long illness, John died on November 27. He ensured that his treasure, this unsurpassed collection, will be cared for by the Carpatho-Rusyn Society. Certainly my work on the Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania will be all the better thanks to John's initiative, openness, and generosity.
Having conducted oral history interviews with a number of Carpatho-Rusyn Americans, many of whom were already elderly at the time, it's only to be expected that some might depart for the next life not too long thereafter. Sadly, another one of my interviewees recently passed away.

Justine "Jessie" Laychock went to her eternal rest on December 6. She was born in 1923 on top of the mountain overlooking Williamstown, Dauphin County, to George and Anna Suhar Molenich, Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants from Čertež and Ljachovci, Už County. She knew hard work, watching her father come home from the mines black with coal dust. Her mother did most everything else; raising the family, baking the daily bread and tending to the garden. She learned the importance of God, family and country from them, and this guided her throughout her life.

She was raised in the Holy Spirit Greek Catholic Church, Williamstown, where her father was the cantor. Three days after graduating high school in 1941, she left Williamstown with her best friend and $20 in her pocket, and went to Edison, N.J., to find employment. Jessie worked as a secretary for Bakelite during World War II and Roosevelt Hospital.

In 1951, Jessie married John Laychock, moving to Primrose, near Minersville, Schuylkill County, to raise a family. She would live there for the next 66 years. After raising a family, Jessie worked for Kings Department Store and Giant Food. She was a longtime member of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the home parish of her husband who was of Lemko Rusyn ancestry. Among her children is my friend Rich Laychock, a dedicated longtime national officer of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society.
(adapted from her obituary)

The oral history interview Justine granted me in May 2014 is exceptionally valuable because so little has been written about the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant community in Williamstown. But through her willingness to talk to me about her childhood, her family, and her family's Rusyn friends and neighbors there, I trust the past life of that community will be illuminated for others to learn about.

May God grant to His servants John and Justine blessed repose and eternal memory – Вѣчная имъ память!

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