Slavic Genealogy: Begin by getting to know these two people

One of the great challenges of studying Slavic genealogy is the basic fact Slavic immigrants and their communities are some of the least studied of all such groups. With this being the case it requires genealogists and family historians to seek out the rare (and the very rare) books on the subject of Slavic emigration and immigration.

Slavic Genealogy
Emily Greene Balch. Undergraduate photo, courtesy of Archives of Bryn Mawr College.

 It is a sad dichotomy that the sizable and highly significant Slavic diaspora is accompanied by this lack of study. The reasons for this paucity of research and documentation are open to debate and remain unanswered questions. However, we should not allow this to deter us in our quest to understand, document, and research for what many of us are our much beloved Slavic roots and branches of our family trees.

 As a citizen of the United States, naturally my work has focused on Slavic immigration to the U.S. and I have found two lesser known authors who offer us excellent materials on the subject of Slavic immigration to the United States. These authors, although from far differing realms, held a common love for Slavic peoples. One was a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate while the other was a Reverend with the Presbyterian Church. These important authors on Slavic emigration and immigration are Emily Greene Balch and Kenneth Dexter Miller.

 As a genealogical historian, Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961) captured my admiration on the very first page of the Preface of her notable book Our Slavic Fellow Citizens (New York: Wm, F. Fell Co, 1910) where she writes:

 Acquaintance with any immigrant people in America only is not enough…To understand the immigrant we should know him in the conditions which have shaped him, and which he has shaped, in his own village and among his own people; we should study the culture of which he is a living part, but which he is for the most part powerless to transport with him to his new home. He must, however, be known also as he develops in America in an environment curiously and intricately blended of old and new elements.

 Personally, this is why I consistently focus on combining genealogy and history in my work and to date no one I have studied has stated this interweaving any better than Ms. Balch.

 Author/Reverend Miller (1887-1968) in his book Peasant Pioneers: An Interpretation of the Slavic Peoples in the United States (New York: Council of Women for Home Missions and Missionary Education Movement, 1925) writes this as his very first sentence in the Introduction:

 The preparation of this study book on the Slavic peoples in the United States has given the author genuine joy and satisfaction.

Kenneth Dexter Miller
Kenneth Dexter Miller from the cover of his book Uncle From America Minneapolis Immigration History Research Center, 2010. Author’s photo.

 This ‘joy and satisfaction’ is evident throughout each of Miller’s works, but is on full display in Peasant Pioneers. One of my favorite features of this book is Appendix I titled “Concerning Slavic Nationalities”. In this appendix Miller offers us a much needed snapshot of many of the Slavic nationalities in the United States at the time, listing (in this order) Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Lusatian Serbs, Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and Bulgarians. Miller provides Population, Government, Religion, Principal Cities (Ed: in homeland), Number in the United States, and Chief Centers by States and Cities. An additional table in Appendix I provides “The Slavic Populations at a Glance”, which gives the overall population of each of the above 10 groups as well as a figure for their number in the United States at the time. Appendix IV offers “Distribution of Slavs in the United States” listing the Slavic population by State based on the 1920 United States Census.

 Slavic genealogy and the Slavic diaspora are fascinating topics. I hope you enjoyed this article enough to want to read more about it here on Meet the Slavs. Please let us know with a comment.

About the author

Scott Phillips

Scott Phillips is the owner and Chief Research Officer for Onward To Our Past® Genealogy Services. Scott is a Genealogical Historian specializing in immigrant ancestry, especially from Bohemia (Czech Republic), Cornwall, Devon, and Kent in the United Kingdom, Italy, and the United States. Scott is a regular genealogy contributor for the HuffingtonPost.com, FindMyPast.co.uk, GenealogyBank.com, and numerous other publications.