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

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.

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.