NOTE: This article is about a database based on death benefit claims of the Russian Brotherhood Organization (RBO) that was created by the Balch Institute and maintained today by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. While the Balch Institute had put that database online (it wasn’t as complete then as it is today), it was taken down after the Balch folded and their collections were acquired by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. It’s available to researchers onsite at HSP in Philadelphia. Thus this article would primarily help those visiting HSP, but we are posting it here as it provides insight into the history, membership, and original extent of the RBO. We hold out hope that one day the database will be posted online again.
An excellent resource for researching our Rusyn ancestors who settled in the United States has recently been made available on the World Wide Web by the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. What is the RBO, and who might benefit from the information in the database?
The Russian Brotherhood Organization
The RBO is a fraternal insurance society whose national headquarters is in Philadelphia, Pa. Like other Rusyn societies like the Greek Catholic Union, Orthodox Society of America (formerly UROBA and Liberty), United Societies of the U.S.A., and the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society, their first function is to sell insurance – at the time of their founding, such insurance was of great benefit to the families of immigrant miners and factory/millworkers who were the frequent victims of industrial accidents resulting in their death or disability. The local lodges in various community centers of Rusyn settlement also provided an important social and cultural role, providing a means for Rusyn immigrants to gather with their fellow villagers and countrymen in the new world, and resulting in a stronger cultural identity (of various orientations) through the dissemination of Rusyn immigrant newspapers and other periodicals and the performance of Rusyn-language plays and music, song and dance.
Today these fraternals have almost exclusively retained only their insurance function, or have replaced their Rusyn cultural activities with typically-American pastimes. But their records are an unparalleled wealth of genealogical information for Rusyn Americans.
This explanation of the RBO’s background is excerpted from Handbook for Lodge Secretaries and Organizers of the Russian Brotherhood Organization of U.S.A., Philadelphia: Pravda Press, 1937.
Over fifty years have elapsed since the time when the first Russian emigrants from Galicia and Uhorskaya Rus have landed on the shores of America. There are no records available to prove the exact date of their landing, but from conversation with some of the first settlers, we gather that this happened in 1882. The fact that the first Russian church was built in Shenandoah in 1884 practically proves the correctness of that date.With that as our starting point, what else do we know about the RBO’s membership? Specifically, it was founded in response to the Magyarone-dominated Greek Catholic Union and the Ukrainophile Russian/Rusyn National Association (f. 1894 in Shamokin, Pa., now the Ukrainian National Association). The RBO was both Greek Catholic and Orthodox in membership -- one of the only such "ecumenical" Rusyn fraternals. Eventually, instead of a patriotic-Rusyn orientation it took on more and more a Russian orientation and unofficially, Orthodox affiliation. Yet today there are still RBO lodges in Greek Catholic churches, even in "Ukrainian" parishes like Simpson, Pa. and Ansonia, Connecticut. Most of the early lodges were at Subcarpathian (vs. Galician)-dominated Greek Catholic churches in Pennsylvania, e.g., Mahanoy City and Hazleton. Most majority-Lemko Greek Catholic parishes had RBO lodges, and were quite strong in places like Shenandoah, Mt. Carmel, Marion Heights [Keiser], Plymouth, Olyphant, etc. A strong but not overwhelming majority of the RBO membership was Rusyns from the Lemko Region. One also finds a number of Roman Catholic Poles and Slovaks among the members, although surely they didn't consider themselves "Russian" in any way.
From 1882 the tide of Russian emigration began to swell gradually increasing up to the beginning of the World War.
The first immigrants settled in the Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania. We find the earliest settlements springing up in the coal towns of Schuylkill, Luzerne, Carbon and Lackawanna counties. A little later we find other emigrants of our nationality settling in the western part of Pennsylvania and in the states of Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Michigan and West Virginia. …
The chief causes of emigration of the Russians of Galicia and Uhorskaya Rus was poverty, and religious and political oppression to which they were subjected by the tyrants of the Old World. …
The Russian Brotherhood Organization or the R.B.O., as it is called for short, was organized in the mining town of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 1900. It was organized by a group of pioneers who were dissatisfied with the work of renegades and traitors of the Russian cause in the other Russian fraternal orders. The founders of the R.B.O. were true Russians who loved their nationality and wished to free it from exploitation by Ukrainian radicals and priests of pro-Magyar leanings.
The RBO Death Claims Database
With funding from the Russian Brotherhood Organization, the Balch Institute created a database from the insurance death claims filed between 1900 and
Searching the RBO Death Claims Database
Area of Origin contains the names of the districts. Examples of names used in this field include Nowy Sacz, Lesko, Sanok, Saris, Suwalky, Maramaros, Gorlice, and Zemplen.
Province/Region refers to the larger geographic region. Examples of terms used in this field include Galicia, Uhorshina [meaning Hungary], Poland, U.S.A., Russia, Austria, Hungary, Austro-Hungary, Bukovina, Germany, Serbia, and Czechoslovakia.
A search may yield information in these: Last Name, First Name, Sex, Marital Status, Lodge City, Lodge State, Year of Birth, Region of Origin, Village, District, Occupation, Date Joined Russian Brotherhood, Medical Condition, Date of Death, Cause of Death.
Information that was not supplied or is illegible will have an "i" [indistinguishable] or "ng" [not given] recorded in the field.
Because of the irregular nature of the information in the Area of Origin and Province/Region fields, we wouldn’t recommend trying to search on those fields. Because of the large number of variant spellings of first and last names, you will also probably have difficulty finding persons by that method.
Key to the Best Searches: Lodge City
Your best bet for online searching is to search on Lodge City. As an exclusive guide for C-RS members’ benefit, we present the list of locales, sorted by state, of the lodge cities in this database. You must enter them exactly as printed here for the online search to give you the correct data. Remember, right now the database includes death claims which were filed through the year
|Beaver Meadows||Marion Heights|
|Braddock||[McKeesport - see comments]|
|Butler||Morea Colliery [near Mahanoy City]|
|Cassandra [near Portage]||New Salem|
|Catasauqua||Newboro [New Salem]|
|Eleanor [near Punxsutawney]||Rhone [Nanticoke]|
|Hauto||Sunny Side [near Monongahela]|
|Hazleton||Trenton [near Mahanoy City]|
|Irvona||Tyler [near DuBois]|
Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.