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 20, 2014

Genealogy Conference Presentation: "Uncovering and Publishing the History of Pennsylvania’s Carpatho-Rusyns"

The Carpatho-Rusyn Society Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter's second annual Rusyn Genealogy Conference: From Eastern Europe to America's Coal Regions was held Saturday, November 1, 2014 at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Speakers included:
  • Jim Kaminski (President of C-RS),
  • Tom Peters (genealogist),
  • Rich Custer (historian),
  • Dr. Peter Yasenchak (Director of research at the Historical Society of Schuylkill County), and
  • Jerry Jumba (Carpatho-Rusyn music, dance and culture specialist).
Yours truly gave a presentation, "Uncovering and Publishing the History of Pennsylvania’s Carpatho-Rusyns." I'm pleased to share information about the presentation, my handout for conference participants, and some of the slides.

Synopsis:
This presentation 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, the author 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.

Special focus will be given to the influence the pioneer Rusyn immigrant settlements in the anthracite region had on the development of Carpatho-Rusyn religious and cultural institutions statewide and nationwide, and the audience will hear powerful first-person accounts of the earliest days of Rusyn community life in the coal mining towns of the region.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

“No Such Thing as Greek Catholic Slovaks:” The GCU's Polemic

In my post "The Question of Slovaks and Magyars/Hungarians in the Story of Rusyn Pennsylvania" I included a passage from the 1902 almanac of the Greek Catholic Union of Russian Brotherhoods (today known simply as GCU). This passage, in the Eastern Slovak dialect of the "Slavonian" version of the almanac, presents arguments of history, and basic logic, against the existence in the then-Hungarian Kingdom (Austria-Hungary) of so-called "Greek Catholic Slovaks." For further interest, here is the entire portion of the article that deals with this topic, in the original language and in English translation. (Note: where the original text used an adjectival form of Rusyn with two s's, e.g., russky, one could translate it as Russian, Rusyn, or perhaps Ruthenian. However, since the forms rusky and rus'kyj -- the latter of which should only be translated as Rusyn or Ruthenian -- were not used at the time by the Greek Catholic Union, nor by most other Rusyn organizations in the U.S., and the text speaks about Rusini (Rusyns) and not Rossijane/Russkie (Russians) we have translated russky here as Rusyn. Furthermore, in this text itself, the author translated "lingua ruthenica" as jazyk russky. Also, the term slovacky applied to language here is translated as Slovak, while slovensky is rendered as Slavonic.)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Question of Slovaks and Magyars/Hungarians in the Story of Rusyn Pennsylvania

In describing my book, I state that it will be a comprehensive history of all the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant communities in Pennsylvania. Even though Carpatho-Rusyns – eastern Slavs from a defined territory, as discussed in an earlier post – had various names to describe themselves, or felt themselves part of neighboring peoples rather than a distinct Carpatho-Rusyn group, identifying them is straightforward enough… that is, until we reach the edges of the territory where they were clearly the dominant group.

At some edges, there are Slovaks, or people who spoke an eastern dialect of Slovak, yet were Greek Catholics (some who would later become Orthodox) and were generally integrated in one community with their East Slav, Rusyn-speaking, neighbors and fellow parishioners.

It is no secret that there are some communities in Pennsylvania and other states where the majority of a “Ruthenian” Greek Catholic parish originated in a today Eastern Slovak-speaking village or district (for example, the large number of settlers to Trenton and Roebling, N.J. from Trebišov, Zemplyn County). There is evidence that some of these people considered themselves Rusyns/Rusnaks, others “Slovjaks” (a more or less distinct group from Slovaks), or just Slovaks of the Greek Catholic faith. However, when considering the geographical origin of Russian Orthodox parishes’ members, very few from Slovak-speaking villages transitioned to Orthodoxy in this setting. It was only during the 1930s establishment of new Carpatho-Russian Orthodox parishes that a large number of people from these districts became Orthodox. Nevertheless, at a Slovak folk festival in Pittsburgh some years ago I overheard this exchange between two elderly ladies:
“Mary, I thought you were Carpatho-Russian.”
“No, Helen, I’m Slovak. Just my religion is Carpatho-Russian!”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Heart and Soul of the History: Memoirs and Oral Histories

One of the few accounts of the departure of a young Carpatho-Rusyn about to embark for America is this short, but emotionally-wrought story:
I was still a young lad – not even ten years of age – when in 1878, word got out in my part of Lemkovyna that Pavel Fyljak* of the town of Luh, of the parish Ždŷnja in the county of Gorlyci had returned from the army and was preparing to leave for a distant land beyond the sea, America ... When the priest announced in church that Pavel Fyljak, the son of Seman Fyljak, is preparing for America and that a Divine Liturgy will be celebrated on his behalf, a large group of people came to the church. On that day I didn't go to school because I wanted to see how a man prepared for America. A large group of people had gathered at the home of Seman Fyljak. A buffet was served at the home. The father rose to speak. He recited the Our Father and then blessed his son ... The people spoke about how Pavel Fyljak had learned about America from his Czech friends in the army.

[Denys Holod, “Spomyny staroho imigranta” as recorded by Omelian Reviuk, Jubilee Book of the Ukrainian National Association, ed. Luka Myshuha (Jersey City: Svoboda Press, 1936), p. 255.]
*Given in the above source as “Chyljak” but the proper surname of this family in Luh is Fyljak.

Similar sentiments are found in this account of another early immigrant’s departure:
It will be over 50 years now since our Lemkos began to leave Lemkovyna for America. It was a great occasion when they were escorting the first Lemko, Mychal Durkot of the village of Hančova, on his first steps into the distant world. He was accompanied by a huge procession. The entire community came to say farewell, not only his mother and father, but his wife and children too. And everyone wept such tears that a stranger who didn't know what was taking place might have thought that someone was being led to the gallows or some equally horrible fate. But he was respected by the community and that is why he received such a grand farewell.

[Damian Merena, “Pro Pershykh Lemkiv v Amerytsi,” Golden Jubilee Almanac of the Ukrainian National Association, ed. Luka Myshuha (Jersey City: Ukrainian National Association, 1944), p. 250.]

In the course of my research, I have met so many wonderful individuals – storytellers, collectors, those with photographic memories, and pillars of the community – and beyond all the facts, names, dates, and narrative, it is their emotions and memories that provide the real human story of Carpatho-Rusyn immigration and Americanization. I’m blessed that some of these individuals have lent their voices and memories through oral history interviews to provide a direct experience of this history.  In addition, I have collected what I believe is virtually every memoir written and published by Rusyn immigrants and their descendants about the earliest days of Rusyns in America.  I want to make this aspect a central feature of as many community history entries in the book as possible, to be titled “Through their Eyes.”

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Author to Speak at Rusyn Genealogy Conference, Nov. 1, 2014

SECOND ANNUAL RUSYN GENEALOGY CONFERENCE:
FROM EASTERN EUROPE TO AMERICA'S COAL REGIONS.

Saturday, November 1, 2014
King's College Campus Center
Wilkes-Barre, PA
9am-4pm. Cost $35.00 breakfast buffet & lunch

Speakers include:
  • Jim Kaminski (President of C-RS),
  • Tom Peters (genealogist),
  • Rich Custer (historian),
  • Dr. Peter Yasenchak (Director of research at the Historical Society of Schuylkill County), and
  • Jerry Jumba (Carpatho-Rusyn music, dance and culture specialist).

Bring documents for interpretation.
Merchandise available for sale and a basket raffle.

RSVP by Oct. 26 to Sharon Jarrow (shangp@rcn.com or call 610-759-2628)
Sponsored by the Eastern PA Chapter of the Carpatho- Rusyn Society.
http://www.c-rs.org/National/2nd%20Rusyn%20Conference%202014%20RSVP.pdf
-------------
My presentation at this conference:

Uncovering and Publishing the History of Pennsylvania’s Carpatho-Rusyns

This presentation 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, the author 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.

Special focus will be given to the influence the pioneer Rusyn immigrant settlements in the anthracite region had on the development of Carpatho-Rusyn religious and cultural institutions statewide and nationwide, and the audience will hear powerful first-person accounts of the earliest days of Rusyn community life in the coal mining towns of the region.

Additional details and some of the presentation slides are now available.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Settlements, Organized Communities, Patches, Neighborhoods

From all four corners to the center of the state, to the major cities and all points in between, there are few regions of Pennsylvania where Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants did not find a home.

As mentioned previously, the book’s contents will include an appendix, “List of Settlements” (town, county) with cross-reference to the main entry. While it’s still a work in progress, the list of settlements numbers well over 600. See some examples here of how it looks.

This raises the question about terms that I’ve been using in this blog that I’d like to clarify. What do I consider a “settlement” and what is an “organized community?”

For purposes of this blog and the eventual book:

A settlement is a place (incorporated or otherwise) where Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants resided, regardless of their numbers. It is extremely unlikely, though possible, that only a single Rusyn immigrant or family lived in such a place, and it’s also somewhat unlikely that I would be able to learn of such a place where only one individual or one family was living. For the most part, the settlements are revealed in church records, where the place of a child’s birth or the place of residence of individuals being married or buried is noted. Generally, these locations are noted in some detail, down to the “patch” or village that may or may not be near the town where the church is. Some of these places—especially “patches”—no longer exist as inhabited places, and require reference to an old coal mine map or an excellent site like the Virtual Museum of Coal Mining in Western Pennsylvania.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Transplanting the Village

A significant element of my research has been to study the patterns of chain migration, by which many Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants from the same European village all settled in the same place (or several key places) in Pennsylvania.

The information I’ve gathered will be a key feature of my book. I intend for each entry to include at least one map showing the villages and village clusters from where the community’s immigrant members emigrated, and this will be described in additional detail in the narrative. The perspective gained by analyzing the places of origin of the community’s and their local Rusyn churches’ immigrant members provides something that is almost always ignored in histories published previously. There are communities, or maybe one parish of several, that were composed almost entirely of immigrants from two or three, or even a single village! Among studies of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants, this information has never been documented in a comprehensive way.

My sources for this information have been:
  • naturalization documents
  • ship manifests (from Ellis Island & other ports of entry)
  • cemetery tombstones
  • fraternal organization records
  • parish metrical records

Friday, July 4, 2014

What happened to these things? Please help me find them!

Through the course of 20+ years of visits to churches and homes, I've seen a lot of fascinating items that would be of great value in the book I plan to publish. Unfortunately, I saw many of these things before I had a laptop with a scanner. Once I had such equipment, it was much easier to collect and preserve these materials, by doing it electronically. Unfortunately, when I went back to where I saw some of those things, they had disappeared. Other items, like certain photographs, were published in a book but at a small size or with poor quality. If I could find the original, I could reprint it at much higher quality.

I'm hoping some readers may know where to look for them, and can track them down for me, or that they might even have the item in their own possession.

Some of the items I'm seeking are the following:
  • Leisenring: 25th anniversary booklet of St. Stephen's Greek Catholic Church. I want to scan the photographs in the book.
  • Mayfield: many of the photos that appeared in the 100th anniversary book (1991) of St. John's Russian Orthodox Church, which unfortunately were printed on textured paper that makes them difficult to scan, such as this one:

    Also of special interest from Mayfield is the funeral photograph that appeared on the cover of the 1991 centennial book.
  • Newtown/Bobto(w)n: photos of the former St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church. 
  • Plymouth: Ss. Peter & Paul Greek Catholic Church - photograph (1910s?) of the church choir holding a sign that said РУССКІЙ ХОРЪ. I came across it in the rectory of Holy Transfiguration Ukrainian G.C. Church in Nanticoke around 1999-2000, but seems to have disappeared. I want to scan the photo.
  • Saint Clair: photograph of the dramatic club of St. Mary's Russian Orthodox Church. I want to scan the photo. I have a photocopy but the quality is not suitable for reproducing in a book.
  • Sheppton: 50th anniversary booklet of St. Mary's Greek Catholic Church. I want to scan the photographs in the book. (I found a copy in the office of Ss. Peter & Paul Church in Beaver Meadows; it has since gone missing.)
  • Simpson: photographs that had been hanging in the hall of Ss. Peter & Paul Greek Catholic Church. I want to scan them. Some of them were reproduced in the 100th anniversary book (2004).
  • Simpson: photographs that appeared in the 75th anniversary book (1979) of St. Basil’s Russian Orthodox Church. (I have the book; I'm looking for originals.) I want to scan the photos, especially this one:
    "Old Country Wedding" by members of St. Basil's R.O. Church,
    Simpson, ca. 1941. The cast is wearing Lemko Rusyn costumes,
    unlike in many other "Russian" parishes where they adopted
    ethnic Russian-style folk costumes for such productions.
  • Taylor: 50th anniversary booklet of St. Mary's Greek Catholic Church. I want to scan the photographs in the book. (I found a copy in the office of St. Nicholas Church in Old Forge; it has since gone missing.)
If you have knowledge of any of these items' whereabouts, please contact me in the comments or better yet at rusynsofpa@gmail.com.

As I locate some of these materials, or identify others that I need to find, I will update and re-publish this post.

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

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Photos imagined and...real?

In a recent post, I wrote about a lot of things -- mainly photographs -- that I saw once upon a time that have since gone missing before I had the chance to scan them. There's a whole other realm of photos that may have never existed. But that won't stop me from searching for them. If you know of any of these images, please let me know at rusynsofpa (at) gmail (dot) com. Many thanks in advance!
  • Aliquippa: photographs (exterior & interior) of the original Ss. Peter & Paul (Ukrainian) Greek Catholic Church (replaced by a new church built in the 1960s).
  • Barnesboro: photographs (exterior & interior) of the original St. John the Baptist Greek Catholic Church which burned down in 1924.
  • Colver: photographs (exterior & interior) of the original Holy Ascension Russian Orthodox Church which burned down in the 1920s.
  • Minersville: interior photograph of the original St. George Greek Catholic Church.
  • Old Forge: interior photograph of the original St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Church with a full view of the icon screen.
  • To be continued...
Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Table of Contents-to-be

Here’s my first experiment in crowdsourcing the content. Feel free to offer your opinion/reaction/suggestions in the comments.

I foresee the book to be organized as follows.
-------------------
Table of Contents
Dedication & Acknowledgements
Notes (on transliteration, spelling of proper names, spelling of village names)
Introduction (essay)

History by region:
Lower Anthracite Region
Upper Anthracite Region
Southeastern PA
Lehigh Valley
Central PA
Altoona-Johnstown Region
Pittsburgh Region
Monongahela River Valley / Southwestern PA
Westmoreland Region
Allegheny-Kiski Valley
Northwestern PA
Appendixes
List of Settlements (town, county) with cross-reference to main entry
Lodge listings by organization (sorted numeric / by location)
Chain Migration by village
Glossary
Bibliography
Index (of proper names? – localities will be indexed in the Appendix: List of Settlements)
-------------------
Within each region (I may call these the “chapters”), there will be entries for each main community.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Launching now!

Even though a blog shows the most recent posts at the top, since we're starting with a bunch of posts already published, you should probably read the Welcome & Intro post first, then go on to the others. So to avoid confusion about what this is, please start here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrants, Carpathian Rus’, Identity

Perspective on the identity question

Carpathian Rus’, 2004. Used with permission.
The author identifies himself, and the immigrants in the scope of this study, as Carpatho-Rusyns. That is, Carpatho-Rusyns are a distinct East Slavic people whose homeland has been a defined territory known as Carpathian Rus’ or Carpatho-Rus’, which is found in the present-day countries of Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and Romania. [maps: Carpathian Rus’ in the 19th Century | Carpathian Rus’ in 2004] The Rusyns of former Yugoslavia—present-day Serbia and Croatia, the historic Bačka and Srem regions—are also included in this study. (The question of Greek Catholic Slovaks and Hungarians, and their inclusion in this study, will be dealt with in a separate post.)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Research Sources

While the sources of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant history are many, the most significant holdings are concentrated in just a few institutions. Some other institutions have much smaller but no less important collections. The archives and major libraries I have visited in the course of this project include the following:
(A number of valuable materials in these institutions are classified not as Carpatho-Rusyn or Ruthenian, but Ukrainian or Russian.)

I am indebted to the staff and curators of these institutions and to those who collected and deposited the materials over many decades, and who welcomed me in some cases as many as on seven different occasions.

Additional valuable sources include the following.
  • Naturalization documents:
    • County courthouses (Cambria, Carbon, Clearfield, Indiana, Luzerne, Northumberland, Schuylkill)
    • Ancestry.com, Fold3.com
  • Census records - Ancestry.com, Fold3.com, etc.
  • Immigration records (ship manifests) - EllisIsland.org
  • Incorporations/charters of churches, ethnic clubs, and fraternal lodges - mainly in county courthouses
pyrohŷ-making in Jessup, mid-1900s
Many pastors of the various parishes have been very helpful in allowing me to go through parish archives of photographs and books, and of course granting me access to metrical records (which I will write about in a separate post).

And I am grateful to those individuals who made their own substantial – and unique – holdings of relevant materials available to me:
  • Joel Brady
  • David Felix
  • +Joseph Krawczeniuk
  • Paul R. Magocsi
  • John Schweich
  • Anthony X. Sutherland
  • John Uram
  • and others.
Thanks is due to many other folks who have helped me through the years by hosting me in their homes, donating or loaning materials, contributing research, and in innumerable other ways.

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

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Welcome & Introduction

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 19th century until the present time, Carpatho-Rusyns have left an indelible mark on the state with their “onion-domed” churches, rich cultural traditions, and devotion to their roots.
Rusyn church, Jermyn, Lackawanna County, Pa.
Carpatho-Rusyns began to settle in the anthracite coal mining districts of northeastern Pennsylvania in the late 1870s. Small towns and burgeoning cities like Shenandoah, Freeland, Shamokin, Mount Carmel, Mahanoy City, McAdoo, Centralia, Nesquehoning, Lansford, Hazleton, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, and Olyphant were among the first places these immigrants first found work and made their homes. There they built churches, established fraternal insurance societies and social clubs, founded small businesses, met their spouses, raised children, and buried their deceased.