Eastern Slovakia
Slovak and Carpatho-Rusyn Genealogical Research


By David Kuchta

Since most of our grandparents or parents didn't talk too much about the country they left behind, many questions are left unanswered. One of those questions is how did our ancestors get to Western Germany or Holland to obtain passage to America.

In the publication, "Nase rodina," it mentions how the first Slovak immigrants came to South Bethlehem from villages along the main road connecting Presov and Bardejov in Saris County.

Eight young men from Slovakia left their villages and walked twenty miles to the city of Kosice and then rode a train to Bremen, and sailed twenty-eight days to Philadelphia.

A twenty-eight day trip was more then twice as long as normal traveling. This sounds like they might have had bad weather and possibly had to travel around a storm or if the ship wasn't converted to steam engines and had sails they may have become becalmed with no wind to move the ship.

In those days, travel by rail seems to be the way of immigrants traveling across Slovakia and Germany.

When they booked passage to sail across the sea, most of the poor traveled in what was known as steerage. This was the not the best of conditions.

During the mid 1800s many of the immigrants coming to America were Irish.

Because of the bad potato famine and religious persecution, many of the Irish emigrated to America.

Many of the Irish ended up in the Anthracite Coal fields of Pa. At this time the mines were being worked with many Welsh, English, Italian and German workers. When the Irish arrived they weren't welcomed with open arms. Many of the other ethnic groups that were doing the labor jobs felt that these people were going to give them competition for their jobs.

The Irish that came for the labor jobs were mostly poor Irishmen. In time, because of their drinking, some of them got to be thought of as troublemakers and drunks.

I would imagine that much of the drinking was brought on by stress and having to compete with other ethnic groups over minimal jobs.

In some towns the Irish weren't welcomed and were very discriminated upon. Many had to build homes out of old mine lumber and sheet iron that was lying around the mine collieries. Some of these homes were nothing more then shacks. Hence: They got the name of "Shanty Irish."

Because of the prejudice the Irish banned together into associations that eventually led to Mine Unions. It wasn't until the Slavs from East Europe arrived and in the late 1800s, and backed the striking Irish when they went on strike, did the Mine Unions gain power.

When the early Slavs arrived, much of the labor work that the Irish did was given to the new Slav arrivals. Because the Slavs were dressed different, looked different and talked different they were the ones that got discriminated upon the most in this time period.

To those who don't know the word Slav, it is a word used for Slovaks, Czechs, Polish, Rusyns, Serbs and a few other small nationalities that lived in Eastern Europe.

Most of the Irish mine workers at this time, got better jobs and many got to be miners. But the Slavs that started working around the mines were known to be thrifty and most set money aside to buy or build their own homes. Because they wanted to assimilate with the so-called "natives" (second generation of English, Welsh, German and Irish) that lived and worked in the coal regions, they moved up the ladder of opportunity very fast.

Most Slovaks, Polish, Rusyn or Czechs wanted their children to learn and speak English. They themselves learned the English language and spoke their native tongue mostly at home or at social clubs or fraternal organizations that they belonged to. They knew that for them to be accepted they had to forsake their ways of their homelands.

In plain English, they had to get Americanized. This worked, because in a very short period they were accepted in most of the mining towns. Of course, there were a lot of prejudices for many years. They had to break the stigma of being called, dumb"Hunkies." In Lansford where I was born and lived half of my lifetime, I had heard other ethnic people calling SlovaksHunks. This word was prevalent up to the mid 1900s. In other parts of the state, the word Hunk was a derogatory name for Hungarians. In my hometown of Lansford, there were very few Hungarians.

I know for a fact that most of the old time Slavs wouldn't talk about their country that they came from, because many were sons of poor peasants or were farm labors who only made 15 to 30 cents a day. Many had no job at all and worked on neighboring farms just for food. These early immigrants were from the poorest of families. Most didn't know any kind of crafts nor have any formal education.

The Slavs or other immigrants that knew carpentry, brick or stone masons or knew some type of crafts were always hired at salaries above those of laborers. In time, many of these craftsmen started their own business and got to be prominent businessmen in many of the mining communities.

No one in those days bragged about coming from the old country. Most weren't allowed in the social clubs or fraternities of other ethnic groups. In many of the mining areas, the early migrants started to move into neighborhoods of their own ethnic background.

Even mine bosses in time, started to move into areas where other bosses lived. A lot of this had to do with the strikes. When any strike got a little hostile or out of hand, the homes of the bosses were stoned or had paint or other damage done to it. This way, the companies coal and iron cops could patrol and protect the homes from the strikers.

The big coal barons or superintendents of many of the mine companies had their own areas to live. These homes were larger and better built, and were built away from the collieries. Many were located on sides or tops of hills, overlooking the collieries.

A big help for the early Slav migrants was the United Mine Workers Union, helping to teach the non English speaking people proper safety procedures and other mining skills. With them learning the English language they too advanced to certified miners and made decent wages for themselves.

At this point, assimilation had to be the biggest factor for the early Slavs, getting ahead in society.

E-mail David Kuchta - humblebe@ptd.net

For more information on this subject:

The Life of the Immigrant Miner

The Hungarian Immigration Law of 1903

The 1910 book, Our Slavic Fellow Citizens

Old Homes of New Americans published in 1913.

Racial Problems in Hungary Published in 1908

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