Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The American Story of Immigration

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The American Story of Immigration

Article excerpt

I'm sitting on the front porch of George Danko's Regent Square home, looking at photocopies of old documents as a neighbor's power mower punctuates the point he's making.

The point is his family has come a long way in three generations. His grandfather, also named George, came over at 26 from a Slovak farming village in the summer of 1922, leaving a wife and infant child behind, but promising to send money home.

The Czechoslovakian passport he's showing me indicates the man was supposed to return that autumn. The visit was to see a "sister- in-law," at least in the version he told some bureaucrat over there, but this guy never went back.

Immigrants, then and now, have found creative ways to reach American shores. Once here, they generally found their worries had only begun. This Slovak immigrant would ultimately lose his right leg below the knee in an accident mining coal in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania around Scranton, and it took him 15 years to get his wife and son across the ocean to join him.

Yet, it's a couple of mundane numbers -- the immigrant miner's height and weight -- that has our focus.

His namesake and grandson, Mr. Danko, is a fit 63, but sitting comfortably in a pair of shorts with a stack of papers, he looks more like a retired grade school teacher with an Ivy League doctorate in American Civilization (which he is) than any coal miner.

But according to the Pennsylvania miner's license from 1926, when his grandfather was 30, he stood 5 feet, 6 inches and weighed 142 pounds. That's just an inch and a half shorter and two pounds lighter than his adult grandson.

"This is me in the mines," Mr. Danko said of his ancestral body double. "I can't imagine what he went through."

He's not jut honoring that legacy by researching his family history, he also has been steeping himself in the larger European and American story of the time and getting help from people who know the Slovak terrain more intimately.

Sister Michaela is a member of Sisters of the Divine Redeemer in Elizabeth Township. She became a nun secretly when the communists ruled Czechoslovakia. He was led to her by a Pittsburgh priest and she kindly helped Mr. …

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