If you’re a celebrity you may be highlighted on a TV special. If you’re not, you’re on your own.
I’m writing today to explain my recent 1000 mile journey to the coal regions of Pennsylvania. After my recent blogs from Europe (Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest…) continuing to travel to Wilkes-Barre, Carbondale, Forest City, PA seems rather anticlimactic.
I’ve done the “hard” work. I’ve found the records in the “old country,” traced back several generations and found relatives still living in the ancestral villages, descendants of those siblings who didn’t immigrate to the USA. There had been no contact between the families in over 70 years.
This trip wasn’t about the logistics of genealogy. I’m pretty good at that now. Now I want to know more about who these people were, their history, and why some left everything they knew to travel to an unknown future and some did not.
Kings College in Wilkes-Barre was hosting a “Rusyn” Conference. That’s my heritage – a group that most people don’t even know exists. Because they never had a nation of their own, they were identified as Russians or Polish or Slovak or Czech or Ukrainian. They populated the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe, an unfortunate location. It was situated at the intersection of major trade routes and many wanted to control it – militarily of course.
My connection with my heritage came through my weekend and summer visits to my grandmother in Forest City, PA. Born and raised in Brooklyn, my parents sent me back to their hometown as often as possible. There I attended church with my grandma (Baba, we called her). If you know the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church, those are the Rusyns.
I don’t have many early pictures of family. Coal miners didn’t have money for that, but some occasions were special. This is my mother’s First Communion Class in 1929.
Mom is the shortest little girl. I wondered who the others were.
After the conference we drove one hour north to Forest City. Rusyns worked in the mines and steel mills so the coal regions of PA were a destination.
Carbondale was the “big” town about 6 miles away
St John’s Byzantine Catholic Church is still there in Forest City. Five Roman Catholic parishes have now merged into one. There is no longer a need for separate Polish, Lithuanian, Slovenian, Slovak and Irish churches. The grandchildren of the immigrants don’t even remember their native language. Still those persistent Rusyns are hanging on. Maybe that's where I get my stubborn "stick-to-it-iveness."
After Sunday mass as we stood on the steps where the original photo was taken, several people helped me identify those in the picture. A few even remembered my mom and grandparents. My parents were married here in 1943.
I have another connection to those steps. In 1999 I stood there as a spectator during the Steamtown Marathon and watched my DD#2 run by.
Forest City is exactly 26.2 miles from the finish line in Scranton, PA and the start is at the Forest City High School about ˝ mile from the church. I wonder what Grandma would have thought of that.