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Rusyns in southern Illinois

  • 20 March 2021 1:19 AM
    Reply # 10216275 on 10196093

    Hi Charlie,

    Both of my mother's parents are buried in the churchyard of St Marys Russian Orthodox church in Royalton IL.

    Her father migrated to the U.S. in 1907 from the village of Felso Karaslo in Austria-Hungary, a place now called Hreblja in western Ukraine. His name on the passenger list of the Slavonia was Vaszily Bilak, his nationality was given as 'Hungary' but his Race or People was 'Ruthenian'. He later anglicised his name to Charles Belik but I've seen lots of variation on the spelling of the surname. Young Vaszily/Charles was on his way to join his father, who arrived 2 years earlier, and I understand Charles had a brother, Nick, who also emigrated.

    According to family stories, they came to the U.S. for a couple of reasons: for better working conditions and to escape the draft. They were farm laborers and (again according to family stories) were not treated well on the estate where they were employed, and decided to try their luck elsewhere. In the U.S. they took jobs in the coal mines, first in Pennsylvania, later in Oklahoma, before Charles and Nick came to southern Illinois, to Royalton. In Royalton Charles met Marta Molnar Popovich, a young widow, and married her in 1919. My mother was born later that year. Marta was also from Felso Karaslo and came to the U.S. in 1911 with her older sister Anna; they joined their brother Janos in St Louis MO. Anna also married a coal miner and she also lived in Royalton.

    As to why Rusyn families went to southern Illinois, I've recently read a history of Williamson County (Bloody Williamson by Paul M. Angle) which mentioned that coal mines were being opened in Franklin County just north of Williamson during the period our families came into the area. They were following the jobs, most certainly. It was dirty and dangerous work but as migrants who probably didn't have much English, they had to take what they could get.

    Hope this helps your research.


  • 14 March 2021 4:16 PM
    Message # 10196093


    At some point around 1915 my family moved from Pittsburgh to Dowell, IL and continued working in mines in that area. 

    Until 1989 there was a Russian Orthodox church in Dowell, and one is active to this day in Royalton, IL.  Most of my family who lived in that area is buried in the Russian cemetery in Royalton.  However I think the origin of these churches may be Rusyn and I've found some clues to possibly support this.

    This article refers to the founders as "Carpatho-Russian" however the references are to Ruysn roots, and specifically call out their language as a "dialect of Ukranian"


    This is an article about one of the many now-gone churches in the region.  There is a photo caption referring to an inscription in "Rusyn/Ruthenian"


    Lastly, I found this reference to Carpatho-Ruysn clergy in Royalton.  The priest listed is the one who said the funeral service for my great-grandmother in 1938.


    Are others researching roots in southern IL?  I'm still trying to determine how and why Rusyn families moved there.



    Last modified: 14 March 2021 4:19 PM | Anonymous member
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