| || THE SIMKOVICH FAMILY HISTORY |
The Simkovich family currently traces itself back to Peter Simkovich, who was born in 1830, in the village of Mokra, Uzh County, in the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe. The people of the Carpathians refer to themselves as Dolishniany (Lowlanders) or Verkhovintsy (Highlanders), depending on their respective village location. The Simkovich clan were Highlanders. Regarding the family name, the -ovich ending of a Slavic name means 'son of' or 'family of'. In the 11th century, this mountainous area was a largely uninhabited 'No-Man's Land' border between the kingdoms of Kievan Rus and Hungary.1 The family village of Mokra was first recorded at the end of the 12th Century, and means 'wet' in Rusyn, a reference to it’s valley location. In 1814 it had 186 residents and by 1915 had 405 residents, 96% of which were Carpatho-Russians/Rusyns.2
Mokra, Ukraine today
In 1854, the aforementioned Peter and his wife had a son, Ivan. Forty years later, Ivan and his wife had a son, Aleksander, who was born on 13 February, 1894 in Mokra. Aleksander Simkovich grew up at a time of decreasing land availability, an increasing population and an extremely bad economy. So at the age of 18, Aleksander left home for America. After traveling to Hamburg, Germany, he emigrated from Europe on the ship Amerika, arriving at Ellis Island, New York on 7 July, 1912. There his legal name became Alexander, but he was always known as Alek. Obtaining his first work in the coal mines of West Virginia, Alek finally settled in the small southwestern Pennsylvania mining town of Jacob's Creek. Here he worked initially as a night watchman, then for the railroad, and finally in the coal mines. Later, one of his sisters, Maria, also emigrated and settled in Jacobs Creek.
Alek Simkovich, age 21, 1915
In 1923, Alek Simkovich married Barbara Turis, whose parents, Mikhailo Turis (Turis meaning someone from the Turja River region) and Elena Holovich had emigrated from the village of Turja Pasika, only five kilometers from Alek's birthplace. Turja Pasika was first recorded in 1552. In 1814 its population was 656, and by 1915 was 1,635, 96% of which were Carpatho-Russians/Rusyns.
Alexander and Barbara Simkovich wedding, 1923
Notably, Barbara's parents were married in May, 1903 in Leisenring, PA by the then Greek Catholic priest Alexander Dzubay, who later became a controversial figure in American Carpatho-Russian history in 1916 as a Bishop for the Russian Orthodox Church, under which he headed the ‘Carpatho-Russian Sub-Diocese of Pittsburgh’.
Bishop Alexander Dzubay
Alek both read and wrote in Carpatho-Russian, and it is recalled that he read the Carpatho-Russian newspaper every week. He also learned to read and write in English. Alek was also a strong and hard worker. Jealous miners nicknamed him 'steam shovel', and once physically attacked him for making them look bad by working too fast. (Back home, Alek's brother Dimitri was the strongest man in the village, being the only man who could lift the village church bell unassisted.)
Unfortunately, tragedy struck. First, in 1932 both of Alek's parents, whom he had not seen in 20 years, died within three months of each other. Then in 1933, Alek was gravely injured in a coal mining accident while driving coal cars with a team of mules, in which he and the mules were crushed by another train of heavy, loaded coal cars. While the accident did not kill him, a subsequent botched surgery at a Pittsburgh hospital resulted in his untimely death in 1934 at the age of 40. His widow Barbara, a mother of five, received $500 from the mine as full compensation. With Alek's death, World War II and the Soviet takeover of the region, communication with the Old Country ended.
Alek Simkovich in 1932
"Dollars always came from America, from your grandfather Aleksander, who sent them to his father Ivan. Ivan, together with his other son Dimitri bought land and livestock with these dollars. In 1949 we were branded as kulaks, or rich peasants by the Communists. The land and all the livestock was collectivized (taken away) by the Soviets, and they didn't even say thank you..." -Maria, Transcarpathian great-niece of Aleksander Simkovich
Meanwhile, back in Mokra, where the family property and farm animals had been confiscated by the Soviets, a newly established kolkhoz (collectivized farm) was built. A long, massive barn was constructed at the edge of the little mountain village, where villagers were forced to work on their own former land, 'employed' by the Communist government. And a few Simkovich family members were deported to Siberia as punishment.
Former Mokra Kolkhoz
THE SIMKOVICH FAMILY TODAY
"We are so happy to learn we have relatives we knew nothing about until now. For all these years we could not communicate..." –Mikhail, Uzhgorod, nephew of Aleksander Simkovich
With the political change of 'glasnost' in the late 80's, in 1986 two American Simkovichs, a university professor and his son, made their way back to the ancestral village, and, in the presence of the then required Soviet 'tour guide' agents, re-established contact with the Transcarpathian Simkovichs. How this occurred is interesting: the Americans and their guides arrived by car in Mokra, and stopped the first woman they saw to ask for information. The woman turned out to be a Simkovich and a first cousin of the American professor! Other American Simkovichs have since visited, and the Old World and New World families are once more connected.
Today, Aleksander Simkovich's name is officially recorded on 'The American Immigrant Wall of Honor' at Ellis Island. As a testament to his sacrifice, all five of his children went on to receive advanced education and have fully benefited from his efforts to achieve the American Dream. In the USA, he and his sister Maria's descendants now live in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Alabama, Colorado, Nevada and California. American Simkovich bloodlines now include mixtures of English, German, Dutch, Scottish, French, Greek, Croatian, Irish, Polish, Italian, Hungarian, Swedish and even Native American Indian. In Europe, some Simkovichs have moved from the ancestral village of Mokra to the regional capital of Uzhgorod, and have intermarried with local Great Russians, Ukrainians and Germans. While most Simkovichs still live in Transcarpathia, a few have relocated to central Russia, to Odessa in the south of Ukraine, to Donetsk in the far east of Ukraine, to Lvov/Lviv in the northwest of Ukraine, and to Germany.
Ellis Island Wall of Honor Certificate
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1 Paul Magosci, Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture / (Toronto: 2002), p. 178
2 Carpatho-Russian Echoes / (Ft. Lauderdale: February, 1984)