Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups

I have a new favorite book, although it is definitely an oldie but goodie.Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups

This tome (and I never use that word, but I think it fits here) weighs a hefty five pounds and measures 8 3/4 x 11 1/4 x 2 inches, but it is a real treasure!

Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups was published way back in 1980, but its detailed statistics about every ethnic group one could imagine still stand because each group is presented through an historical overview.

I’ve always known that my Slovak ancestors – my entire paternal side of the family – were peasant farmers who came to America for a better economic future.

Slovaks are covered on pages 926-934 (!!!) under the categories of Origins, Migration and Settlement, Economic Life, Organization and Leadership, Family and Kinship, Health and Leisure, Culture and Customs, Religion and Education and Politics and Neighborhoods.

In the sections on Origins and Migration and Settlement, I at least quadrupled the knowledge I previously had about my Slovak ancestors and cultural ways as I read about the European migratory path of the early peoples and how their lives evolved through two or three generations who became Americans.

Next, I had an even bigger surprise. My grandparents were Byzantine Catholic, aka Greek Catholics, and were part of the Slovak sub-group (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way in case any Rusyns are reading my blog. Some are quite adamant that they aren’t Slovak!) known as Carpatho-Rusyns.

Pages 200-209 in this book are devoted exclusively to the Carpath-Rusyns! Nine entire pages of scholarly details about 50% of my ancestral lines!

For example, Origins told me that my early ancestors settled in the area of today’s Slovakia by the 6th century. The Carpatho-Rusyns were an Eastern Slavic people whose dialects are most closely related to the Ukrainian language. I knew my grandmother spoke “Slovak” and could understand Polish and Hungarian, but had no idea that her language was more strongly tied to Ukrainian.

I’ve never found any resource with this much information about them. There is even a map showing the areas overlapping Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine that Carpatho-Rusyns have called home, without ever having an autonomous homeland of their own.

Each ethnic group has it’s own mini-bibliography at the conclusion of its write up. The bibliography includes other scholarly efforts to document each groups existence through time and through its new live in the United States.

I’m loving the bibliographies, as I’ve located some of the resources listed in them. So far, they aren’t very cheap to buy, but on the other hand, there is so little written about the Carpatho-Rusyns, for example, that buying a handful of articles/books won’t be cost prohibitive.

In addition to all of the ethnic groups identified in the United States, there are sections covering topics such as Assimilation and Pluralism, Immigration: Settlement Patterns and Prejudice and Discrimination, along with quite a few others.

I’ve got some Danish and Dutch roots, too, and found eight and eleven pages, respectively, on each of those immigrant groups. The Irish are covered in 24 pages. Gypsies, Mormons as a religious migration, and Kalmyks (Mongolian Buddhists), American Indians and a few ethnic groups I’ve never heard of are also treated in Harvard’s work. I have to believe that, as of 1980 when the book was published, if there was an ethnic group, however small, that had migrated to America, a history for them will be found. The Kalmyks were a group of only 20–250 families who arrived in 1951!

Everyone’s favorite shopping site currently has used copies of the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups for about $40. The book isn’t cheap, but it is worth every penny.

If you have questions about the book, leave a comment.




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