A Note to Slovakia Researchers

From Rich Custer

I was perusing the Searching in Slovakia lists (as I do almost every day) and I have to say that I'm continually amazed by the number of individuals who are researching Rusyn ancestors.

From time to time Greg Gressa and I have contacted some of these people through e-mail to mention that they are researching Rusyn villages, etc., and inviting them to look at the Carpatho-Rusyn Knowledge Base and post their surnames to it as well. I don't know how many people have actually looked at C-RKB, but the number who have put their surnames up is EXTREMELY low.

This leads me to believe that these people do not consider themselves/their ancestors from these places to be Rusyns (there are many reasons why that may be, including that in some villages nobody speaks Rusyn there anymore, and if these folks have visited, there may have been nothing out of the ordinary why their relatives wouldn't be "Slovaks" except perhaps that there is a Greek Catholic or Orthodox church in the village). Having spent a great deal of effort in the last 7-8 years of my admittedly short life trying to educate fellow Rusyn-Americans about their heritage, I find this situation to be quite distressing.

I would like to increase awareness that in eastern Slovakia live tens of thousands of people whose language and culture are Rusyn, which is not just "some kind of Slovak."

In considering the Slovak-World postings and the postings on your "Searching" list, I was starting to believe that most Americans of Rusyn descent must consider themselves Slovak. But then I had another thought. You know, most of these people are doing genealogy. In the course of their research, they discover that some of their ancestors came from a village which is now in Slovakia. These people probably have no contact whatsoever with a Rusyn church, nor with anyone in their family who might have any recollection of being called/speaking "Russian" or "Rusnak" or "Ruthenian" and certainly not "Rusyn." Thus, these folks would naturally assume that since their ancestors were from Slovakia, they were Slovaks! (About the ones whose villages are in Ukraine or Poland, I can't imagine what leads them to first assume Slovak heritage...)

I'll admit that I would like very much if we could get new Carpatho-Rusyn Society members once these folks understand what Rusyns are... our membership in western Pennsylvania has peaked; we aren't gaining new members around here at all. That's fine, but if C-RS stops growing, our future activities will have to be more or less limited. I'm rather worried about the upcoming membership renewals; it'll be interesting to see how many people drop out at this point. Some people are absolutely delighted with their memberships & the newsletter; other people seem to be lukewarm or just content to have a "subscription" to a newsletter. We don't get enough feedback about what people want -- aside from last year's survey -- so we're trying a bunch of different things to see what works. The language instruction seems to be the top thing, but right now we really don't have a qualified teacher. I am familiar enough with the language (& Slovak & Ukrainian) that I intend to start an elementary Rusyn language teaching series in the newsletter as soon as I can, but I don't know if that will be enough for some people.

I'll close by saying that the above concerns about American Rusyns knowing that they're Rusyn stems largely from the fact that (in Slovakia especially) our numbers are dropping fast. Of course, there are still at least 100,000 people in Slovakia of Rusyn descent, but the number who still identify as Rusyn in some way is absolutely less than 50,000. Unless something turns around soon, in 10 years there will be almost nothing left in Slovakia. Every Rusyn American who becomes a Slovak American contributes to that destruction. Our Rusyn American activities are surely an inspiration for Rusyns in Slovakia, but is that enough? How many Rusyn Americans who visit their relatives in Slovakia bother to say anything at all about "Rusyn"? Probably less than 5% in my estimation. Have you been to Porac or Koterbach? Does anyone there still consider themselves Rusyn? I'm sure they still speak it (at least the older folks) but what happens when they pass? If even 1 in 10 Rusyn Americans who visited Rusyn relatives in Slovakia were to make "a big deal" about Rusyn this, Rusyn that, I'm sure the cumulative effect of that would not be insignificant.

I have a really moving poem written in Rusyn (Porac dialect) by a Jan Vrabel' from Porac which I'm going to run in _NRT_ as soon as I can. It touches on some of the above things... I'm sure you'll love it.

Z Bohom,

Rich Custer, email: custer@psuhmed.rcf.hmc.psu.edu

Back to Genealogical Research in Slovakia