Do you have ancestors who immigrated to the United States or Canada during the fairly recent past? That is, during the 19th and 20th centuries? Were they part of an ethnic group that followed the same migratory pattern in the hope of a better life than they had in the “old country”?
If your answer to that question is “yes,” as mine is, you may well be missing a gold mine of information if you haven’t ever looked online for websites that might focus on the people and daily life in the city where your ancestors settled.
My paternal grandparents, George and Julia Kucharik, aka Sabo, were both born in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, respectively, but were children of immigrants from what today is Slovakia.
The Kucharik family, who adopted the Hungarian surname of Sabo, were from a village east of Presov, Slovakia, today called Vysna Sebastova. My Nana’s family was from Udol, Slovakia, about 40 miles northwest of Vysna Sebastova. Both families eventually settled in Passaic, New Jersey.
Being a city of factories and mills, Passaic attracted a large number of European workers, including literally hundreds from Nana’s tiny village of Udol.
A number of years ago, I was web surfing and came across a fabulous website which has its focus on immigrants from Udol, Hajtovka and the other villages nearby who are part of the Carpatho-Rusyn people of Eastern Europe. Some of these immigrants came and stayed permanently, others migrated back and forth across the ocean and a few came for a while, but then went back home. Regardless, they contributed to a rich cultural heritage found in the city of Passaic and other U.S. cities.
The website is The Carpathian Connection, created and maintained by Steve Osifchin and Joy Kovalycsik. The home page is simple:
Screen Shot of Home Page
However, hidden in its simplicity is a wealth of information about Carpatho-Rusyns who settled in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. At the top, next to the HOME button, is “Our People,” which has links to Carpatho-Rusyn Heritage, Our Churches, Carpatho-Rusyn Villages and Prominent Persons of Rusyn Ancestry. To the right of “Our People” is “The Homeland” with links to Folklore and Customs, The Slovak Republic, Slovak Villages and Cities & Towns of Slovakia. The button on the far right, “Destination America,” links to information about immigrants who settled in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Clicking on the link to New Jersey brings up articles and information about Passaic and Garfield, first homes to many of these immigrants.
Links to Garfield and Passaic
The Passaic section includes images of old family photos contributed by readers. I have shared some of my own collection here.
Passaic Historic Photos
There is information about life as a mill worker, Carpatho-Rusyn wedding traditions and some family stories. For any Carpatho-Rusyn descendant, this website is a gold mine! Kudos and many, many thanks to Steve and Joy for devoting 18 years of love and care to this website.
If you have Danish ancestors who settled in Iowa, a good starting point is the Museum of Danish America in Elkhorn. Were your ancestors Italians who settled in Providence, Rhode Island? Take a look at the Italian American Historical Society. Maybe they were Chinese immigrants who entered through San Francisco. Visit the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco, California.
Yes, I realize that my suggestions link for historical societies and museums. There are not that many ethnic websites created by individuals like Steve and Joy and The Carpathian Connection, but there are a slew of local historical organizations. An online search for them is well worth the time if you discover one that changes your ancestor from a name on a piece of paper to a living person with a vibrant culture and heritage.
The best part about these locality-based websites and societies is that the chances are good that information about your own family might be there. How cool would it be to find a century old photograph of your grandmother as a bridesmaid in a wedding party?
This photo happened to be in my personal collection and I gave the original to Steve Osifchin, but Biss, Chunda, Soroka, Fengya and Sedlak descendants would be thrilled to find this picture. My Nana, Julia Scerbak, is on the far right. This wedding took place on 6 September 1913, almost exactly two years before Nana married. John Biss, the groom, arrived in New York in December 1910, just one month after my grandmother had returned to spend the rest of her life in Passaic.
Why wait? You might find there is a treasure like this waiting for you.