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, May 6, 2017

Annual Memorial Day Week Research Trip – The Big Photo Hunt!

In just a few short weeks it will again be the Memorial Day holiday, a time I've dedicated for many years to field work in northeastern Pennsylvania -- the oldest and one of the largest historical settlement areas of Carpatho-Rusyns in the United States. (See my post about my research last year during this holiday week.)

Even though this year I will concentrate my research time, nearly a week's worth, on the same area, my emphasis will be a little different. Feeling the pressure of my quickly-approaching self-imposed deadline to complete and publish this book, I'm now trying to gather as many final artifacts as possible over the next few months, especially old photographs.

Yes, I'll be doing a fair amount of photography, as usual, perhaps even gaining access to a handful of parishes' metrical records I have yet to work with, and visiting libraries, archives, and courthouses. But more than anything I hope to learn who might have those wonderful historical photographs from the life of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant communities in the region.

Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant funeral, Mayfield, 1920s/1930s.
The funeral aspect of the photo was obscured when it was used as the cover photo for the parish centennial journal; if I can locate the original photo I would like to use it in its complete state in my book.
I'm going to describe my trip plans and show some examples of the kinds of photos I'm hoping to find (and scan), and demonstrate why it's so important that I be able to find the actual photos.

For sure, most of the kinds of photos I'm including here would be kept in the archives of various Carpatho-Rusyn-founded churches, and I absolutely intend to inquire with their pastors before my trip as much as I can to get an idea of what they may have and to see if I would be permitted to visit to scan them. I'm hoping that some parishes which published anniversary books in the past few years have already done that and would be willing to share the digital files. But if not, I know there are a few parishes where these photos definitely are, and I will try my best to get permission to scan them (and eventually reprint them in my book).

But that limited number of photos, to the extent parishes still have any, don't tell the whole story. This is where I need your help. If you know of and can connect me with anybody who would have historical photos from the Carpatho-Rusyn (or Ukrainian, or Russian...) community in these places, including any of the photos I am including in this post, please let me know how I can contact them. My e-mail is

Saturday, May 27:

Day 1 I will actually spend not in the northeast, but in central Pennsylvania, mainly in Clearfield County. As I will go into detail about in an upcoming post, this area has some of the oldest Rusyn immigrant communities in the state, but the available history of these communities is generally very basic and historical photos seem to be few and far between. Those photos that have appeared in anniversary books are generally not usable because of the poor quality of print or they are just too small in the book.

Places I plan to visit that day or would want to learn of anyone with such photos from there:
  • Dixonville, Indiana Co.
  • Bakerton, Cambria Co.
  • Smithmill (Janesville)
  • Madera
  • Ramey
  • Osceola Mills
  • Philipsburg
  • Hawk Run
The Ukrainian Orthodox parish in Dixonville, St. John's, recently published a centennial book with a fair number of old photos I had not seen before, but I would want to scan them to capture as much detail as possible of such interesting scenes as this. At the very least I hope to get a copy of that book.

From several anniversary booklets of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Dixonville
Another Ukrainian Orthodox priest in the area is pastor of parishes in Smithmill/Janesville and Bakerton/Elmora. I hope to make contact with him in the hopes he would have some old photos for those two communities I've got few or no photos for.

Also in that vicinity are the Ukrainian Greek Catholic parish in Ramey, St. Mary's Annunciation, founded 1893 – of which I do have a few photographs of interest, though scanned from books only – and the Russian Orthodox (OCA) parish in Madera. The only old photo I have from the Rusyn community around this church is this mislabeled postcard. While St. Mary's Orthodox Church in Madera was always a smaller community, surely there are interesting old photos from this community that built their church back in 1909.

The saga continues with the Orthodox parishes in Osceola Mills, founded 1890, in Philipsburg, founded 1894, and the Byzantine Catholic parish in Hawk Run, founded 1904. Where are all the old photos? The Philipsburg parish has put some interesting ones in past anniversary books, but the reproduction quality was not very good, and they are so small! I hope some of these will turn up somewhere, not to mention from those other two parishes, of which I have next to nothing.
They're so small! And without dates or descriptions... :-(

Sunday, May 28:

After a quick visit to my mom's on Sunday, I will head north. My destinations will include a few notable communities that are rather distant from one another.

  • Lopez
  • Berwick
  • Nanticoke
  • Plymouth
  • Glen Lyon, Alden Station, Kingston, Edwardsville
Lopez, in picturesque Sullivan County ("the Endless Mountains"), seems remote and isolated from other Carpatho-Rusyn settlements, but for a time it was a center for a number of much smaller scattered settlements, most of which had some connection to the lumber industry. Out of its once two Rusyn churches only one remains.  The older of them, Ss. Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church, never published a book with old photos, and I have really only one such photo suitable for my book, through the graciousness of friends who belonged to that parish. The other church, St. Vladimir's Russian Orthodox (OCA), has published a substantial amount of excellent old photos in its 75th anniversary book, and they are overall of decent size and clarity. Nevertheless, I am hoping they might still have originals on hand.

The current pastor of St. Vladimir's lives about an hour away from the church, so I am hoping with advance notice he may be able to meet with me or that someone else from the parish could share with me whatever might be on hand. Here are some of the better ones from that 75th anniversary book that I would love to do original scans of if possible. The parish gets extra credit for identifying so many of the people in the photos, and the date.
It should be noted that this play, "Och, ne ljuby dvoch," was also performed in Ruthenian and Ukrainian Greek Catholic parishes, especially those which had many members from Galicia -- as the play was part of the corpus of latter-19th-century Galician Rusyn/Ukrainian popular literature that made its way to the United States.
Another community and parish I hope to visit that day is Holy Annunciation Russian Orthodox Church (OCA) in Berwick. This parish is particularly notable because it was among the first of the Subcarpathian Rusyn-dominated Orthodox parishes in the Russian Orthodox Metropolia to resist cultural Russification: for many decades they kept the traditional Rusyn congregational liturgical plainchant (prostopinije) and many other Rusyn traditions. Like St. Vladimir's in Lopez, they have done an exceptional job publishing historical photos in their anniversary books. Their 2009 centennial book even improved on earlier ones by identifying the people in the oldest of the photos, I hope to be able to find originals there for scanning, but in the meantime, please enjoy this selection.

Wonderful photo; unfortunately here it's too small!
Wonderful detail – so many names!
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic parishes in Plymouth and Nanticoke (Hanover Section) are served by the same pastor at this time, but the older of the two, Ss. Peter & Paul in Plymouth, has evidently published very little in the way of historical photos. One that I happened to come upon in the time before I had a portable scanner I've been trying to find for scanning pretty much ever since, and have mentioned it in this blog several times:
  • a photo (from the 1910s?) of the church choir holding a sign that said РУССКІЙ ХОРЪ [Rusyn/Russian Choir]. I saw it in the rectory of Holy Transfiguration Ukrainian G.C. Church in Nanticoke around 1999-2000.
The Nanticoke parish, Holy Transfiguration, has published many good photos through the years, but I don't know if there are any in the archives of the parish itself. I hope to engage the pastor about that as well. As for the other Rusyn parish in Hanover Section, St. John's, where some of my immigrant relatives were members, I am not acquainted with the current pastor, but I hope to make email contact soon to inquire about this. About two years ago I asked the parish president and he didn't seem to know of any photos in particular or where they might be.

While Glen Lyon, Alden Station, Kingston, and Edwardsville are not specifically on my targeted list for photo-finding on this trip, I will always welcome any leads on old photos from these communities.

Monday through Wednesday, May 29-31:

Memorial Day is the main day of the long-running pilgrimage to St. Tikhon's Monastery in South Canaan, where I will spend the morning and early afternoon, but later that day and for two days afterward I will be based in/around Scranton.

  • Old Forge
  • Jermyn
  • Mayfield
  • Simpson
St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Church (OCA) in Old Forge is one of the oldest Rusyn parishes in the region, founded 1891, and they have done an admirable job through the years publishing old photos in their anniversary books. Still, I am hoping to find and scan originals of some of the more detailed and more interesting of the photos – including some of the following.

In Jermyn, nestled between Archbald (few Rusyns) and Mayfield (mostly Rusyns), is the St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Church (OCA), a community almost evenly mixed between Lemko Rusyns from Nowy Sącz, Jaslo, Krosno, and Sanok Counties, and Subcarpathian Rusyns from northern Šaryš and Zemplyn Counties. They have also done a pretty good job through the years publishing historical photos in their anniversary booklets, but they didn't always turn out so clear in the books. Here I seem to recall that in the church hall they display many old photos in glass cases, so I hope to get permission to scan them and any others that might turn up. The longtime pastor was welcoming enough years ago when I requested permission to do research with the metrical records, so I hope his disposition will still be that way for this.
A magnificent photo from an anniversary book of St. Michael's in Jermyn that needs to be scanned to reprint it with the detail it deserves.
St. John the Baptist Church in Mayfield was founded the same year as the Old Forge parish, and it followed much of the same historical path: both began as Greek Catholic parishes that, through the influence of St. Alexis Toth and other clergy and community leaders, transitioned to Orthodoxy.

Its first few decades are well documented in photographs, and the parish's 1991 centennial book especially shows just how well. Unfortunately, the reproductions of the photos in that book are difficult to effectively scan, due both to the textured paper it was printed on and because of the tight binding. Here are some of the older and more interesting ones. Kudos here as well to the parishioners who were able to identity so many of the individuals in many of those precious images.

The town of Simpson, aka Fell Township, just outside of Carbondale, more or less crowns the "new Lemkovyna" that starts in Olyphant and goes north through Jermyn and Mayfield. These towns had probably the highest percentage of residents of Lemko Rusyn heritage of anywhere in Pennsylvania except perhaps Carnegie in Allegheny County or Conemaugh in Cambria County. Simpson, with two churches of Rusyn origin (actually now three), is a fascinating historical study, but unfortunately only one of the two original churches has extensive photo documentation of that history – St. Basil's Russian Orthodox Church.

St. Basil's Church's 75h anniversary book (1979) had some fantastic photos, many of which had the individuals identified as well. I suspect the church may still have some of them, but I have yet to inquire about it. It may be the case, as elsewhere, that after the book was published the photos were returned to people who loaned them out, and finding the originals today may be a hopeless quest.
So many names, and from so long ago! These photos are real treasures.
These photos are great, especially the one on the right! (How many Lemko wedding plays were performed in Russian Orthodox parishes where the actors wore actual Lemko Rusyn folk dress?!) But they appear so small in the 75th anniversary book, and as with the book from Mayfield, the paper texture makes it even tougher to get a clear scan. Not to mention the resulting moiré patterns...
I learned recently that the Y.M.R.A. (Young Men's Russian Association, maybe?) Club was Simpson's local branch of the Federated Russian Orthodox Clubs (FROC).
I don't know if some of these photos might still be in the possession of St. Basil's parish (or its parallel parish in the OCA), but I plan to do whatever I can to find out, from asking the parish priest to asking around wherever else I go during this trip.

As for the equally historic Ss. Peter & Paul Greek Catholic Church of Simpson, I am still searching for that needle in a haystack of historical photos. Perhaps a reader knows where that might be.

The remainder of my week will be spent mostly in New Jersey, where I will be speaking at a genealogy conference at St. Mary's Byzantine Catholic Church in Hillsborough on Saturday, June 3. In the few days before, I hope to gather some additional data and materials to enhance my presentation, which will cover the history of Carpatho-Rusyn immigration to New Jersey. If this sounds of interest, please register – there's still time!

For more about my quest for photos statewide, see these previous posts: And please, to repeat my appeal -- if you can recommend anybody who would have historical photos from the Carpatho-Rusyn (or Ukrainian, or Russian...) communities in these places in Pennsylvania, please let me know how I can contact them. My e-mail is Thank you!

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


  1. Rich, I have been researching my Greshko family line for years and have some photos you might be interested in. My grandfather and his parents and siblings lived in Simpson (Fell), PA and Forest City, PA and worshipped at St. Basil's.

    1. That's really great, Kris. Thanks for getting in touch. Please write to me at .

  2. I am a member of the Madera parish. We have some old charters and a few photos and other documents hanging on the wall in our basement/Hall. Not much but it is something. I used to live near Osceola Mills and they probably do have some photos. I know a few people who go there. Osceola Mills borough also has a historical society that may have photographs.

    1. Hi! I'm sorry I didn't see your comment come in sooner. Thanks for writing -- I'm very interested to see these items. I will try to visit in the spring, but in the meantime I'd be interested to hear more. Please feel free to write to me at And please give my regards to Father David! (he granted me research access to the records in Madera and Irvona some years ago)


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