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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Press Coverage of October 2015 Presentation in Pittston, Pa.

"The steady morning rain on Saturday, October 3rd did not stop those wishing to learn about their ancestry from attending a very special program hosted by St. Michael’s Byzantine Catholic Church, 205 N. Main Street, Pittston. In fact, quite a few participants made the journey from neighboring states in spite of the weather, including from New Jersey, Maryland, New York, and even Florida. Many came from other parts of Pennsylvania for the program that was held 9 am to 3 pm in the church hall.

Entitled “Celebrating the Present/Understanding the Past”, three speakers were featured. They were sponsored by the Eastern PA Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society: Rich Custer, Dr. Michele Parvensky, and Dr. Peter Yasenchak. All three captivated those in attendance with their expertise of Carpatho-Rusyn history. But they also entertained with their lively presentations."

The Eastern Catholic Life newspaper of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic included a detailed writeup of the program, including some information about yours truly's presentation. (The presentation will be published in online form on this blog in the near future.)

Click to display the complete article.
Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Johnstown Slavic Festival Presentation: “From the Carpathians to the Alleghenies: Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrants in the Greater Johnstown Area”

The first Johnstown Simply Slavic Festival was held Saturday, September 19, 2015 at the Heritage Discovery Center in Johnstown, Pa. The Carpatho-Rusyn Society provided a Rusyn genealogy/culture display and sales table.

The festival included a speaker program as follows:
  • Connie Martin: Genealogical Research in Slavic Countries;
  • Dr. Michael Kopanic: The History of Slovakia;
  • Susan Kalcik: Kroje Slovenska: Folk Dress and Slovak Identity in the Old and New Worlds;
  • Bob Rychlik: Demonstration of the Fujara Flute;
  • Bob Dvorchak: Mike and Annie: A Family History;
  • Steve Purich: My Experience as a Serbian Immigrant to Johnstown;
  • Richard Custer: From the Carpathians to the Alleghenies: Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrants in the Greater Johnstown Area.
My presentation was primarily visual, numbering over 180 slides used to tell the story of the development of Carpatho-Rusyn community institutions in the area of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, including northern Cambria County, Somerset County, and parts of Indiana County. Here I present a synopsis of the presentation, and of necessity only a selection of the slides, briefly annotated for the online viewer's aid in following the presentation without my original verbal explanation.

Carpatho-Rusyns first settled the Johnstown area in 1887 and began to establish their own churches and other institutions. Other Rusyn immigrant centers quickly developed: Barnesboro, Patton, Windber, South Fork, Conemaugh, Portage, and beyond, with thousands of Rusyn immigrants making this area their home, and making up a strong part of the workforce of the local steel mills and coal mines.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Kubek Project & the first West End Walking Tour of Mahanoy City

A new website is the home of The Emil Kubek Project, "a scholarly resource dedicated to researching and publishing the history of the Slavic and Eastern European communities in Pennsylvania’s Coal Region. ...The project is named in honor of Father Emil Kubek (1857-1940), a resident of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, who was an amateur agronomist, accomplished lexicographer, beloved priest, and prolific writer of journalism, poetry, short stories, and the first Carpatho-Rusyn novel... As a prominent cultural and spiritual leader of the Carpatho-Rusyn community in Mahanoy City, Father Kubek exemplified the qualities of a humanist in every sense of the word. As such, the Emil Kubek Project embodies the spirit of its namesake by providing insight into the art, economics, history, literature, and religion of the Coal Region’s Slavic and Eastern European immigrant communities and their enduring legacy today."

The Kubek Project invites the public to join them on November 22, 2015 for the first ever West End Walking Tour of Mahanoy City:

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

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Independent" Rusyn Cemeteries

On a seasonal theme... (Happy Halloween!)
Rusyn cemeteries provide some of the most lasting and informative evidence of the characteristics and personalities of a given Rusyn immigrant settlement. In Pennsylvania, the large majority of Rusyn churches have their own cemeteries. In urban areas like Philadelphia, Erie, and Johnstown, large Catholic or nonsectarian cemeteries serve alongside or instead of parish cemeteries as the final resting place of many Rusyn immigrants. And parish histories typically describe the establishment of a cemetery, or at least the year the land was purchased.

However, there is a third category of Rusyn cemetery whose history can be difficult to document. These are "independent" cemeteries founded by Rusyn immigrants and/or their children, usually in rural areas not directly served by a Rusyn church, but not exclusively so.

(this section updated 10/20/15)
I'm aware of at least 7 independent Rusyn (/Russian/Ukrainian) cemeteries that exist apart from any church, in Pennsylvania:
  1. Ss. Peter & Paul Cemetery in Duryea, Luzerne Co.
    (chartered as St. Peters Russian Greek Catholic Cemetery Association of Duryea in 1914)
  2. Ss. Peter & Paul Eastern Greek Catholic Cemetery in Freeland, Luzerne Co.
    (chartered as St. Peter & St. Paul Eastern Greek Catholic Cemetery of Freeland in 1935)
  3. St. Nicholas Russian Greek Catholic Cemetery in Nicholson (Starkville), Wyoming Co.
  4. St. Mary's Russian Orthodox Cemetery in Pittsfield, Warren Co. (mainly Ukrainians are buried there, though)
  5. Carpathian Russian Greek Orthodox Cemetery in Pleasant Mount, Susquehanna Co.
  6. St. Mary's Russian Cemetery in Thompson, Susquehanna Co.
  7. Saints Cyril & Methodius Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery of the Postupack Families Association in Weatherly, Carbon Co.
Also in Edwardsville (Luzerne Co.) and Catasauqua (Lehigh Co.), there were de facto Russian Orthodox parish cemeteries actually owned by fraternal lodges, not the parish, that were eventually sold to the local parish. When ownership was transferred, the name of the Edwardsville cemetery (located in Pringle) was actually changed -- from St. Nicholas (the name of the society that owned it) to St. John the Baptist (the name of the parish).

Monday, October 12, 2015

Despite dwindling attendance, area Ukrainian Catholic churches vibrant (news story)

Despite dwindling attendance, area Ukrainian Catholic churches vibrant
By Paul Golias, Correspondent
Citizens Voice (Wilkes-Barre, PA), October 5, 2015

At 8 a.m. every Sunday, Mickey Kmietowicz of Glen Lyon unlocks the doors to St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, nestled at the base of a mountain at the entrance of the Glen Lyon section of Newport Township.

Parishioners begin to trickle in and soon the pastor, the Rev. John Seniw, arrives following a drive from Berwick where he also serves as pastor of SS. Cyril and Methodius Ukrainian Catholic Church.

By 8:30, Kmietowicz has lighted the candles and some 45 parishioners celebrate the Divine Liturgy. A choir of four people sings a cappella. As per Ukrainian tradition, there is no organ.

Within minutes of the service ending, the collection is tallied in the church hall. The pastor meets briefly with a few parishioners. By 10, the church is closed and it will remain closed until the following Sunday, barring a church event or a funeral.

This is life in a small Eastern rite parish. These churches remain viable and even vibrant with diminished numbers because the faithful refuse to quit.

“The church has been our whole life. As we grew up, it was all based on that,” Kmietowicz said.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Author Receives Seton Shields Genealogy Grant to Support Research

Renowned professional genealogist Megan Smolenyak administers a grant program, the Seton Shields Genealogy Grant. I am thrilled to say that I am one of the grantees for Q3 2015:
Rich Custer has invested a couple of decades traveling around gaining access to Rusyn records that would otherwise vanish, so he’s an amazing gift to the Carpatho-Rusyn community. The grant will assist with costs associated with a week-long research trip to archives in eastern Pennsylvania and northeastern New Jersey. Rich’s aim is to provide detailed accounts of the development of all Carpatho-Rusyn (and related) immigrant communities in Pennsylvania, based substantially on primary sources, and to describe the patterns of chain migration in each place (and by extension, within the state and in other Rusyn communities in the U.S.), thus aiding genealogists to trace the movement of their families and relatives or fellow villagers.
I hope to make this research trip in November, if all the pieces fall into place. The trip will include 1-to-2-day-long visits to these institutions:
  • Eparchy of Passaic Heritage Institute (Woodland Park, NJ)
  • Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center of New Jersey (Somerset, NJ)
  • St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Library (South Canaan, PA)
  • Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
Many thanks to Megan Smolenyak and the Seton Shields Genealogy Grant program for helping to make this possible! Folks undertaking all kinds of genealogy-related work can apply for this grant at Megan's website.

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

Friday, September 25, 2015

Author to speak in Pittston, Pa. on Saturday, October 3, 2015

On Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, I will be on the speaking program when the Carpatho-Rusyn Society's Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter holds a day-long seminar at St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church in Pittston, Pa.

“Celebrating Our Past, Understanding Our Future” will run from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church, 205 N. Main St., Pittston. It’s free, but advance registration is requested.

Presentations will be as follows:
  • 9 a.m.: Michele Parvensky, "Staryj Kraj – the Old Country;"
  • 10:45 a.m.: Rich Custer, "The Greater Pittston Area and St. Michael’s Byzantine Catholic Church: A Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrant Hub of the Wyoming Valley;"
  • 1:30 p.m.: Peter Yasenchak, "The Richness of our Coal Fields and the Ancestors who Toiled in Them."
A light lunch and a tour of St. Michael’s is available. Register by phone at 570-654-4564 or online at Include the word “register” in the message or subject line. List your name, the number of people who will attend and a contact phone number.

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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

St. Michael’s Church of Shenandoah: Founded by Ukrainian Immigrants?

In recent weeks, news has circulated among certain ethnic and religious communities that the original church building of St. Michael’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, is in the process of being torn down. In efforts on the part of the Ukrainian community to save the building, it has also been proposed to turn it into a Ukrainian museum. St. Michael’s, identified on that original building as the “First Greek Catholic Church in America,” has also been referred to as:
  • the first building of the organized Ukrainian diaspora in the U.S.A.;
  • the very first building the Ukrainian immigrants built in America;
  • the first building of the Ukrainian immigration on U.S soil;
  • the first Ukrainian Church in the Americas;
  • where the organized Ukrainian American community began;
  • where the first Ukrainian brotherhood in the U.S.A., St. Nicholas of Shenandoah, was established;
  • the church, which was located in the town known as the cradle of organized Ukrainian American community life.
The first building that served as St. Michael’s Church in Shenandoah. Still standing (as of this writing), a sign identifies it as the “First Greek Catholic Church in America.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Author to Speak at Johnstown, Pa., Slavic Festival, Sep. 19, 2015

Yours truly will be a speaker at the upcoming first-ever Johnstown Slavic Festival in Johnstown, Pa., on Saturday, September 19, 2015.

Johnstown Slavic Festival
Heritage Discovery Center
201 6th Avenue
Johnstown, PA

There is no admission charge.

I will be speaking inside the Heritage Discovery Center from 7:30-8:30 p.m.:

From the Carpathians to the Alleghenies:
Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrants in the Greater Johnstown Area

Carpatho-Rusyns first settled the Johnstown area in 1887 and began to establish their own churches and other institutions. Other Rusyn immigrant centers quickly developed: Barnesboro, Patton, Windber, South Fork, Portage, and beyond, with thousands of Rusyn immigrants making this area their home, and making up a significant part of the workforce of the local steel mills and coal mines.

Descendants of these Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants are still found in this region in large numbers, their numerous churches are included among historic landmarks, and they retain a strong love for their roots here and in the Rusyn homeland.

The presentation will cover their early settlement in the region, their places of origin in the European homeland, and the development of their churches and fraternal and cultural institutions here.

full list of speakers

The Carpatho-Rusyn Society will sponsor a Carpatho-Rusyn culture/genealogy/sales table. All are welcome!

UPDATE: My presentation was adapted to this blog format and is available here.

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"After the Boom" (Shenandoah, Pa., and St. Michael’s Church)

A woman walks past an abandoned school
in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania.
After the Boom
Eastern Christians cling to their faith as time runs out on the former coal towns of Pennsylvania, reports Jacqueline Ruyak with photographs by Cody Christopulos
CNEWA World, March-April 2004

(Reprinted/excerpted with permission from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. NOTE: This article described the social conditions prevailing in several Eastern Christian parishes, all founded by Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants, of northeastern Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region. With the recent campaign to save the structure that was the first Greek Catholic Church in the U.S., in Shenandoah, we felt it useful to present the portion dealing with Shenandoah.)

...Some 40 miles southwest of Kingston and Edwardsville lies the town of Shenandoah, which is situated along the Mammoth coal vein. Called the “most magnificent coal bed in the world,” this vein produced over two-thirds of the anthracite mined. Shenandoah was founded in 1866, four years after the first colliery opened, bringing in settlers, eating houses, saloons and more.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Fate of the Shenandoah Mother Church: Update

We posted a few days ago about the coming demolition of the building that was the original Greek Catholic church in the U.S., of the parish of St. Michael the Archangel in Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, Pa., which belongs to the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

After this news became public, some Ukrainian Americans started a petition drive to save the building and "convert the church into a Ukrainian museum."

As I wrote at the end of my blog post, the day before this petition was launched:
This is very sad. In a better world, the original church would have been restored and perhaps turned into a museum.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ukrainian church in Shenandoah faces demolition (news story)

Ukrainian church in Shenandoah faces demolition
By John E. Usalis
Republican Herald (Pottsville, PA), August 15, 2015

SHENANDOAH — The first church used by Ukrainian Byzantine Catholics in the United States will soon be no more, but its loss will help secure the future of its successor church in the borough.
The original St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church is in the process of being demolished Friday on West Centre Street, Shenandoah.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Chronology of Carpatho-Rusyn Churches in the U.S., 1884-1900

While working on an article about Lemko Rusyn businessmen (& a businesswoman) in Shamokin, Northumberland County (forthcoming), it became clear that I often have to keep piecing together a list of all of the Carpatho-Rusyn churches founded in the U.S. and in what year they were founded.

To definitively establish a year of founding can be a challenge due to varying circumstances in the history of each parish. I have tried to use the date generally accepted both by the parish and in primary sources of the time to say that this parish/church was unquestionably in existence at some point that year. Generally this would either be the granting of a civil charter to the parish, the existence of a permanent place of worship, and/or the assignment of a priest (or a visiting priest making regular visits for services and sacraments).

Occasionally the date I use conflicts with the date used by the parish. For example, Shamokin's Transfiguration Church has celebrated its anniversaries based on 1884, when Father Ivan Voljans'kyj began to visit the Shamokin/Excelsior area occasionally. However, a church was not built until 1889 (the date I am using here); the parish was chartered only in 1892.

For my own reference and for your interest, here's that list, from the first in 1884 through 1900. The list is always open to correction and improvement.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Press Coverage: Byzantine Catholic World, July 5, 2015

To hopefully get the word out beyond the usual online channels (and the Carpatho-Rusyn Society's New Rusyn Times, which I edit), I've been submitting articles on my book & blog to some print publications.

The first one to appear is in the Byzantine Catholic World, the newspaper of the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.

While there's no new ground here for those who have already been reading the blog, here it is for your interest. My article begins on page 11.

(Note: I do not endorse the remainder of the content of that issue. It's a Catholic publication; 'nuff said.)

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

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Carpatho-Rusyn Immigration Studies: The View from 1974

I pulled this book off my shelf the other day and sat down to read it again.

Conference on Carpatho-Ruthenian Immigration, Stephen Reynolds, and Richard Renoff. Proceedings of the Conference On Carpatho-Ruthenian Immigration, 8 June 1974. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1975.

At the conference, held at Harvard University, 15 scholars met to lay the groundwork for methodical study of Carpatho-Rusyns in the U.S.: to establish guidelines for terminology, research procedures, and geographical boundaries of the ethnic group; to exchange bibliographic and documentary data; and to discuss basic project-related research problems.

They proposed and described a wide-reaching research project, some aspects of which have been essentially completed, and others that unfortunately have not come to fruition.

The discussion covered a wide variety of topics relevant to the Rusyn immigration, such as:
  • Carpatho-Ruthenian Publications in the United States;
  • Anthology of Documents;
  • The Language of Carpatho-Ruthenian Publications;
  • Geographic Settlement Patterns;
  • Carpatho-Ruthenian Religious Music (which, while eminently worthy of study, seems as described here to be out of place in the study of Rusyn immigration).
I'm not sure how much reading this text years ago influenced the concept for my book, but I see some echoes of it particularly in the "settlement patterns" discussion. While I hope that my work will be a major contribution toward what was envisioned 41 years ago, a lot of the other issues raised are still waiting to be addressed in depth by specialists in the field. Lots of worthwhile angles remain to pursue!

Here's the portion most relevant to my work.

Friday, July 3, 2015

“Lost” Settlements: Betula, McKean County

(Part of the series “Lost” Carpatho-Rusyn Settlements)

Betula, now considered a "ghost town," "started about 1910 when the barrel factory moved in. In Betula's prime, 1915-1921, there was 3000-4000 people." (capsule history and photo here)

Pictured here is the family of Pavel Panc'o (Paul Pancio); he came from Tŷl'ova, Krosno County, to the U.S., to Pittsburgh, in 1905, where he joined Lodge 102 of the Russian Brotherhood Organization (RBO). From Pittsburgh he moved to Betula in north central Pennsylvania, where assisted by his brother Teodor they organized Lodge 146 of the RBO. Pavel served as the lodge secretary/treasurer.

In 1922 there was a dearth of work in Betula, and the Pancios moved to Olean, New York, and transferred RBO Lodge 146 also to Olean.

In Jan. 1933, with the assistance of his brother John, Pavel organized a youth branch, Lodge 52 of the RBO Youth Division.

In 1993 a family member published this history, which I have yet to read. Perhaps it will shed some more light on how this family came to live in Betula, if only for a short time.

Bell, George E, The Pancios from Galicia: The Pancio family history, 1993

In the records of Holy Trinity Greek Catholic Church in Sykesville, Jefferson Co., are several baptisms in 1912 of Rusyn children born in Betula, of the Pancio, Dadio, and Kaszczak families. Most likely there were other Rusyn families there. What happened to them?

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Coal Region Ghost Towns (news story)

While my book will concentrate on the history of Carpatho-Rusyn communities during the immigrant era, to tell the whole story the post-immigrant years cannot be overlooked. For many Pennsylvania towns with major Carpatho-Rusyn populations, economic and demographic changes have drastically changed the face of what were once dynamic environments. Every one of the most-vacant towns listed here had a major Rusyn community, except Ashland.

(original article here at WNEP-16)

August 10, 2011, by Dave Bohman

An Action 16 investigation finds some communities in our region are fast becoming virtual ghost towns.

The proof comes from the 2010 U.S. Census which found in three area communities more than 25 percent of the homes and businesses sit vacant.

The three communities are in the heart of the coal region. All experienced population and employment losses in recent years that left hundreds of vacant houses and storefronts.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Worth 1,000 Words – Times 1,000

My eventual book will be, as I’ve said, “heavily illustrated,” primarily with photographs. These will be photos I’ve taken – of churches, cemeteries and Rusyn immigrant gravestones, social clubs, various events – but also historical photos showing the life of the community when it was largely immigrant-based.
Congregation of St. Stephen Greek Catholic Church, Leisenring, Fayette Co., ca. 1898

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Development of ethnonational identity among Rusyn immigrants

The Influence of Clergy and Fraternal Organizations on the Development of Ethnonational Identity Among Rusyn Immigrants to Pennsylvania (excerpts)

Richard D. Custer

(from Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Neighbors: Essays in Honor of Paul Robert Magocsi. Edited by Bogdan Horbal, Patricia A. Krafcik, and Elaine Rusinko. Fairfax, VA: Eastern Christian Publications, 2006, pp. 43-106)

A dense concentration of the earliest Rusyn settlements in the United States is found in northeastern Pennsylvania. As Interstate 81 winds its way north through the heart of the anthracite coal-mining region past such communities as Minersville, Mount Carmel, Frackville, Shenandoah, Mahanoy City, McAdoo, Nanticoke, and Wilkes-Barre, distinctive onion-domed churches dot the landscape. East of Scranton, Pennsylvania Route 6 leads past another succession of towns noted in Rusyn-, “Russian-”, and Ukrainian-American history: Olyphant, Jessup, Jermyn, and Mayfield. Exiting at Carbondale and heading a mile north on Route 171, one will reach Simpson, a town of few distinctive structures save two remarkably similar white churches topped with onion domes and three-bar crosses. If the curious traveler investigates the churches in the area, he might notice a cornerstone naming the church as “Russian” or “Ruthenian,” perhaps “Greek Catholic,” perhaps “Orthodox,” while the church sign declares the parish’s ecclesiastical affiliation as Ukrainian Catholic or perhaps even Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. In the parish cemeteries, one might find Church Slavonic, Russian, and Ukrainian carvings on gravestones alongside Slovak- or Hungarian-language stones bearing the very same surnames. The variety of cultural markers might lead one to expect that any one of these parishes must have represented a wide variety of differing cultures, languages, and nationalities. Asking church members about their ethnic background might seem to confirm that suspicion.
Original cemetery cross in Shenandoah: “Here rest Rusyns
of the Greek Catholic faith who have died from the years 1885 to 1889…”

Historical marker identifying the Shenandoah church
as founded by Ukrainian immigrants.

However, further investigation reveals that in every one of these communities, the families are originally from the same small geographical area of Europe and perhaps from the very same village as the families in another onion-domed church community in the same town. How can this be, if one church is “Ukrainian” and the other “Russian”? In this paper I will demonstrate that the ethnonational orientation of the clergy leaders and the fraternal organizations that were most popular in the community were the most influential determinants of the prevailing ethnonational identity of the residents. In fact, they were as important as – or perhaps even more important than – religious affiliation or denomination.

"Life in an Early Coal-mining Community" (Wolf Run, Ohio)

This article by Vladimir Wilchatzky of Wolf Run, Ohio, while not about Pennsylvania per se, touches on the role played by Rusyn communities in Pennsylvania. And beyond that, it is a fine example of how Rusyn immigrant community history can be made interesting by a person with deep interest in and knowledge of the topic. That's something I want to live up to.
Mr. Wilchatzky's parents were from Florynka, Grybiv County, in western Lemkovyna, and settled first in Shamokin, Northumberland County, Pa. They eventually moved to Wolf Run, as did a number of other families from Shamokin and elsewhere in Pennsylvania.

(Originally published in Pravda / The Truth, the newspaper of the Russian Brotherhood Organization, in 1991.)

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Russian Brotherhood Organization: An Important Resource for Rusyn Genealogy

First published in the New Rusyn Times, May/June 1999, pp. 13-15.

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.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Emigration from Prykra to America in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Príkra, Slovakia (Прикра -- Prykra) in the Svidník district
(From Michal Blicha, Richard Custer, and Vladislav Grešlík, Príkra, Prešov, Slovakia: Akcent Print, 2006.)

Large-scale emigration of Rusyns from villages in the Carpathians to the United States began in the 1870s and reached its peak in the years immediately preceding World War I. In 1884 Rusyns established their first Greek Catholic church in the town of Shenandoah in the hard-coal mining region of northeastern Pennsylvania, which served other communities until they established their own Greek Catholic, and later Orthodox, churches. It was also in the 1880s and 1890s that Rusyns established their own fraternal organizations and newspapers.

Immigrants sailing to the United States on an Atlantic Ocean passenger steamship, around 1906. (Photo: Edwin Levick, courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Our immigrants first lived in Pennsylvania towns where coal mining was the main occupation and life was difficult. These are immigrant homes along the “street of rocks” in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, in 1891.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Almanacs in Carpatho-Rusyn History and Culture

Another article I wrote for the 10th anniversary almanac of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society, the Rusyn-American Almanac of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society 2004-2005, was the introduction, which also served as a survey of almanacs published throughout Carpatho-Rusyn history in the European homeland and the U.S.

Since various Rusyn immigrant-founded organizations' almanacs are an essential source in writing the history of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants in Pennsylvania, I am happy to reproduce the article here. (Click each page to view it larger-size.)

“Porač Comes to America”

In 2004 I led a project to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society, observed that year. The Rusyn-American Almanac of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society 2004-2005 appeared in 2005, a 200+ page treasure-trove of articles on Rusyn culture and history.

One of two articles I wrote myself specially for this publication was “Porač Comes to America,” a background and overview of emigration to the United States from the Carpatho-Rusyn-inhabited village of Porač, Spiš County. With several areas of Pennsylvania being the destination for immigrants from Porač, I'm happy to reproduce the article here. (Click each page to view it larger-size.)

Saturday, January 31, 2015

NEPA: The Keystone of Carpatho-Rusyn American History (3): Fraternals, Newspapers, Businesses

The presentation concludes with a look at these Rusyn milestones achieved in northeastern Pennsylvania.

[Arrived here first? Jump back to the beginning of the presentation]

Carpatho-Rusyn “Firsts” (continued)
  • Fraternal Organizations
  • Newspapers
  • Businesses
Carpatho-Rusyn “Firsts”: Fraternal Organizations

Greek Catholic Union of Russian Brotherhoods (GCU), founded 1892 in Wilkes-Barre
First Convention, Scranton, 1893
GCU Uhro-Rusyn Sts. Peter & Paul Lodge, Kingston

NEPA: The Keystone of Carpatho-Rusyn American History (2): Churches, Schools, etc.

The presentation continues with a look at these Rusyn milestones achieved in northeastern Pennsylvania.

[Arrived here first? Jump back to the beginning of the presentation]

Carpatho-Rusyn “Firsts”
  • Churches
  • Schools
  • Choirs
  • Bands
  • Monastery
  • Cemeteries
Carpatho-Rusyn “Firsts”: Churches

Shenandoah (1884);
the first Greek Catholic priest in the U.S. serving Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants, the Galician Ukrainian Father Ivan Voljans'kyj (at left) who helped establish the Shenandoah parish and most of the other parishes over the next four years
Freeland (1886)

Genealogy Conference Presentation: “Northeastern Pennsylvania: The Keystone of Carpatho-Rusyn American History”

The Carpatho-Rusyn Society Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter's first Rusyn Genealogy Conference was held Saturday, June 22, 2013 at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Speakers were the following:
  • John Righetti (Sewickley, PA), “Who are the Rusyns? Early History to the Last Tumultuous 150 Years”
  • Tom Peters (Somerville, NJ), “From No Man’s Land to the Promised Land: The Carpatho-Rusyn Experience”
  • Rich Custer (Washington, DC), “Northeastern Pennsylvania: The Keystone of Carpatho-Rusyn American History”
  • Michele Parvensky (Nazareth, PA) “Research Your Rusyn Ancestry in Eastern and Western PA, Slovakia and Transcarpathia”
  • George Napuda (Pennsville, NJ) “One Man’s Personal Research Journey”

My presentation was primarily visual, numbering over 180 slides used to tell the story of the early development of Carpatho-Rusyn community institutions in northeastern Pennsylvania. Here I present a synopsis of the presentation, and of necessity only a selection of the slides, briefly annotated for the online viewer's aid in following the presentation without my original verbal explanation.

Northeastern Pennsylvania: The Keystone of Carpatho-Rusyn American History

Northeastern Pennsylvania was the site of most of the oldest Rusyn immigrant settlements in the U.S., and as such, it was also the site of most of the Rusyn “firsts:” the first churches, choirs, bands, schools, cemeteries, newspapers, fraternal organizations, and some of the first Rusyn immigrant-owned businesses. The presentation traced the geographic expansion of the number of organized immigrant Rusyn communities in the first 20 years. It included a slideshow of dozens of rarely-seen photographs and advertisements giving a glimpse at early Rusyn immigrant life and community leaders in northeastern Pennsylvania.