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, 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.

The first was attended by about 40 people. Because of the large volume of information I wanted to present on the topic, I didn’t get finished before the end of the session. Fortunately, it was the last session slot of the day so I was able to continue a bit longer. One of the communities the audience requested I cover was Pine Hill (or Goodtown), Somerset County, which was nice because I had added that part to the presentation after I gave it the first time back in Sept. 2015 in Johnstown.

Pine Hill (Goodtown)

The Pine Hill Coal Company opened mines in the area of Pine Hill, near Berlin in southern Somerset County, around 1900, attracting Slavic, Italian, German, and other immigrants to the area. Most of the immigrants who arrived to work in the mines established a village called Goodtown, in a valley below the mainly farmland area of Pine Hill.

Primary villages/village clusters of origin of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants in Pine Hill (Goodtown)

Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants mainly from Lisko County were living there by 1905. They came mainly from the villages Zatvarnycja, Stuposjanŷ, Strubovyska, Protisne, Smil’nyk, Volosate, Caryn’ske, Žuravyn, Dvernyk, Smerek, Uherci, Ljutovyska, Hil’ske, Kal’nycja, and Bybka, but others were from villages just on the other side of the border with then-Hungary:  Ljuta, Lubnja, Velykŷj Bereznŷj, and Kostryno, Už County, and Zvala and Stružnica, Zemplyn County.

After years of occasional service by Rusyn Greek Catholic priests from Windber, Conemaugh, and Jenners, the community managed to obtain a permanent priest, the Russian Orthodox Father John Komar, and incorporated an Orthodox parish, building a church named for Saints Peter and Paul in 1917.

Saints Peter & Paul Church, built 1917.
Church cornerstone in Russian and English: Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of Saints Peter and Paul, 1917

The settlement decreased substantially after the Great Depression, when some coal operations closed down and many residents left the area.

What remains today of the village of Goodtown. Today the population has dwindled to under 25 persons occupying original mining houses that have been sold individually to families and modernized.
For many years, Saints Peter & Paul parish managed to support a pastor, until following the Second World War and the exodus of young men and women to more urban environments, the parish was coupled with St. Mary’s in Central City.

The church is in nearly pristine condition from its earliest years, with a unique ikonostas covered with red and white lights, and icons and paintings that evoke the European Rusyn churches of the founders.

Royal doors of the ikonostas, with folk art-style angels in the arch around them.

Ss. Peter & Paul Cemetery in Pine Hill is on a hill above Goodtown, surrounded by farmland.
Cemetery cross inscription in Russian and English.

A few of the stones have the immigrant’s village of birth written on them.
Grave of Mychajlo Prystaš, 1880-1918.

Mychajlo Prystaš was born in Ljutovyska (Lisko County).

Grave of Lesko Popovyč, died 1917, age 44.

Lesko Popovyč was born in Zatvarnycja (Lisko County).

Grave of Ivan [?]ynskij Djak [second surname, or was he the cantor (djak)?], 1888-1918.

Ivan was born in Ljutovyska (Lisko County).

Grave of Iryna Dnystrjanska, died 1921, age 29.

Iryna Dnystrjanska was born in Boberka (or Bybka), Lisko County.

Unfortunately I have *no* historical photos of the Carpatho-Rusyn community of Pine Hill / Goodtown. If you do, or know of any that exist somewhere, please get in touch with me (

Since around 1905 there were also a few Rusyn families, from various villages of Šaryš, Zemplyn, and Lisko Counties living in nearby Berlin. It’s not clear, however, if they participated in the life of the Rusyn community in Goodtown, however, as there were comparatively few of them.

A Village-Based Reframing of the Historical Narrative of Carpatho-Rusyns in the United States

I was expecting only a small audience for the second presentation, as the topic seems to me a bit esoteric. I was surprised to have close to 70 people in the audience! This one I really enjoyed giving, as I was able to show some of the worst, weirdest, and best examples through the years of Carpatho-Rusyn communities describing themselves in print. Here are a few of them.

The questions from the audience in both presentations were very good – there is nothing more satisfying than having a dialogue, rather than just giving a lecture, with people who are plugged in and thoughtful about your topic. And I had some good discussions after both presentations as well.

That said, I will probably take a break from speaking, having done 5 presentations this year. I need to make some real progress preparing my book and doing actual writing as I continue with other things like building my databases of settlements and fraternal lodges, and try to round up what other old photos are out there in parish archives and such. I have a lot of new blog posts in various stages of readiness as well, so watch for those in the near future.

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

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