Nicholas Wartella was born in the Lemko Region in the village of Plonna (See Map), Province of Sanok, Galicia in the Empire of Austria-Hungary, on the northern side of the Carpathian Mountains which is presently located in Southeastern Poland on Dec.18, 1869 (Birth Record) to John and Mary Krzyzanowski Worotyla. John was a farmer who owned land and lived with his wife Mary in house #90. Nicholas had five siblings: Daniel, the first born in 1852, Anna who later married Theodorus Zbalishen (Zbalyszyn) was born in 1855, Katherine who was born in 1858, Michael, born in 1865, who was the professor asked Bobbie Wartella (my grandmother) if her son Michael (my dad) could study Physics in Europe at the University of Kharkiv in the Ukraine under his tutelage.—-and Maksym who was born in 1865 (Click Each Sibling’s Name for their Birth Record). Nicholas was the youngest of John and Mary’s children and all were probably baptized in the Plonna Byzantine Greek Catholic Church which was the nearest and only church in the village. Because they lived under Polish rule and the state church was the Roman Catholic Church, they were coerced into being Greek Catholic.
Today, there is little left of the church and cemetery. There was a plaque dedicated in 2007 with the Worotyla name, #9 in Cyrillic. You can see a 1787 Austrian List of Surnames of Plonna, Worotyla is #8 on the list, and also you can view a recent thirty picture gallery of Plonna.
I do not have any factual knowledge of Nicholas’ at this time but I am reasonably certain that he was conscripted as a teenager into the Franz-Joseph army for three years. Usually, armed military men would come to a village, ask everyone in the village to assemble at the church and ask all adult males between the ages of 15 and 45 to step forward and give their names. Three days later they would be taken for cursory physical exams and those that passed (almost everyone) were conscripted. During Nicholas’ military stint he visited Vienna and later said it was the most beautiful city in the world. He probably encountered touches of dysentery, cholera, trench fever, trench foot, influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Many soldiers at the time died from disease rather than battle wounds. I think these diseases later on helped shorten Nicholas’ life.
When he came home to Plonna from the military, he saw that nothing had changed. He realized that a life of drudgery, toil, oppression, coercion and poverty would be his unless he found a way out. At that time, my grandfather, Nicholas Wartella lived in five countries….all in the same house.
Coming To America
There were men coming to his village who represented the coal companies and needed miners to dig coal in Pennsylvania. “America is where all your dreams can come true” they were told. They would pay them well and live in company houses, eat cheaply enough that you can save money. You can build a home on land you own or send your savings back to Europe. We will even advance you money to buy your passage and train transportation. Nicholas was recruited to work in the mines. He probably walked the 15 miles to Sanok and boarded a train to Germany. He sailed from Bremen or Hamburg to Ellis Island around 1894 and then traveled by train to Wilkes-Barre. He was in his mid-twenties at the time.
Coal company miners were initially recruited earlier from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. But only after a few short years of work in the mines, they would leave for less labor intensive jobs because they could speak and could read English, and therefore easily assimilate into other parts of the country. The coal companies began to look for men who could not speak or read English so they would have more control over their miners. Most all miners from Eastern Europe were not educated; they usually could not read or write any language and did not speak English; most could not count. Eastern Europeans (Slavs) were
small in stature due to poor nutrition over the years. They could more work with ease in the low ceiling caves of the mines eleven hours a day, six days a week. Also, they had to pay back the coal company what they owed for passage to the US, they paid for room and board in company housing, they bought food and dry goods in company stores, they stayed
on coal company property, and for many,,,,they did this for the rest of their working lives…. The word “Slav” translated from Latin, means slave…. A perfect miner, as far as the coal companies were concerned.
Nicholas began working as a miner for the Kingston Coal Company in the Wyoming Valley/Wilkes-Barre area of Northeastern Pennsylvania. For reasons unknown his last name on company records were listed as Michael Julik or Julick. He was literate in Polish and could read the Latin alphabet but not Cyrillic. In January of 1895, he joined the Russian Brotherhood. See Brotherhood Ribbons One and Two and Medal. He married Mary Senko on May 15, 1898 in the St. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Plymouth, Pennsylvania.
They lived in a rented house at 24 Center Street, Kingston where Stephen their first child was born in 1899. Around this time, Fr. Alexis Toth was a Greek Catholic priest from present-day Slovakia who came to serve Greek Catholics in the US in
the late 19th Century. He met with opposition from the Latin Catholic bishops, one of whom (Bishop John Ireland) told him he wasn’t a priest because he had been married (Fr. Toth’s wife had died). He refused to allow Fr. Toth to minister to the Greek Catholics and told any other Latin Catholics to have nothing to do with Fr. Toth. Obviously, such a bias hurt Fr. Toth
(and the Greek Catholics he had been sent to serve) and eventually he sought help with the Russian bishop in San Francisco, who later accepted Fr. Toth and his parish into Orthodoxy… Over the coming years, Fr. Toth inspired over 20,000 Greek Catholics to join the Russian Orthodox Church. He told his parishioners “The teaching of the Christian Orthodox Church is the teaching of your forefathers, your fathers; this is your Faith, through which all of us will come to salvation. Hold to it! Amen.”
Nicholas and Mary joined the Russian Orthodox Church and all their children were baptized in the Wilkes-Barre or Edwardsville churches. The Church encouraged these new converts (from Greek Catholic to Russian Orthodox) to say they were Russian because this was the Church’s way of assimilating and keeping them within the Russian Church. This could be why my parents would say we were “Russian.” Even though the Lemko dialect had many similar words,…it was not Russian,,,, nor was it Polish, Slovak or Ukrainian, yet those languages had many similar words as in the Lemko dialect. Their food was similar to Polish food but not the same as Russian food and our family did not possess a Russian surname. Our surname was similar to Polish/Slavic/Ukrainian surnames.
There is another side to entering the Russian Orthodox Church. Nicholas and Mary did not convert from the Greek Catholic Church but they returned to the church that their ancestors attended… the Russian Orthodox Church. The history of Galicia in the 19th century plays a significant role. Tsarist Russia ruled from 1809 to 1815 who then ceded it to Austria. Under weakened Austrian rule Russian soldiers returned and occupied Galicia in 1849. The soldiers called the local peasantry their “Western Russian Brothers”. They encouraged attendance in the Greek Catholic Church who used the Cyrillic and Julian calandar and their priests could marry as did Russia and the Orthodox Church. There were numerous uprisings by Poles, Rusyns and Ukrainians attempting to control Galicia between the late 1840s to the early 1870’s.All attempts were suppressed. In 1873, Galicia became an autonomous province of Austria-Hungary with three unofficial languages Polish, Russian and Ukrainian. Then Vienna shifted power to the Polish landowners. The Ruthenians (Rusyns and Ukrainians) and the Russophiles (Moscovites) were highly dissatisfied and looked to Russia for salvation which never came. Galicia remained under Polish rule with the majority speaking two or three languages (primarily Russian or Ukrainian and using Polish only when necessary), attending the Greek Catholic Church rather than the Polish Roman Catholic Church, using the Cyrillic rather than the Latin alphabet and following the Julian rather than the Gregorian calendar.
In the 1880’s mass emigration occurred from Galicia to the US, Brazil and Canada due in part from overall dissatisfaction and greater opportunity in other countries. This could be why my parents would say we were “Russian.” Even though the Lemko dialect had many similar words,…it was not Russian,,,, nor was it Polish, Slovak or Ukrainian, yet those languages had many similar words as in the Lemko dialect. Their food was similar to Polish food but not the same as Russian food and our family did not possess a Russian surname. Our surname was similar to Polish/Slavic/Ukrainian surnames.
The 1900 Census records a Nick Rutela, living on Green St (Center St. may have been changed to Green St.???) Edwardsville with his wife Meary and year old son Steve. Nicholas 29 years old was born in April 1871, was married 2 years, had one child and came in1890 from and was born in Austria-Hungary. He lived in the US ten years and was an alien. His occupation was a coal mine laborer and was not employed three months during the year when the census was taken in June. He did not attend school nor could he read or write English. He rented his home…. The census taker recorded in English what was heard.” Wartella” was written as “Rutela.” The census notes that he was born in April 1871-The birth record (See Above) indicates Dec, 18,1869.
The census taker did the math not Nicholas and put down that he was 29 years old. The census said he came to the US in 1890 about ten years ago. When the census taker asked Nicholas, “How long was he in this country?” Nicholas said,” About ten years.” The census taker did the math and put down 1890, even though he came in 1894, six years ago (See Coming To America). Due note, he stated that all were from Austria-Hungary.
There were also nine boarders living in the same home from which Nicholas collected rent. It did not take an enterprising Nicholas long to figure out that he and Mary could accumulate substantial savings by speaking in their native language (Lemko dialect) and providing: room and board and easy assimilation into the coal mines of Pennsylvania to their native countrymen from Austria-Hungary…. This was the beginning of the realization that he could completely break free from working in the coal mines and establish an independent profitable business of his own.
By 1901 they moved to a rented house at 100 Hillside Ave. in Edwardsville and two more sons were born, Michael (my dad) in 1901 and Metro in 1903.
On Aug. 7,1903 Nicholas petitioned for admission to citizenship #1959 and was granted it on Sept.8, 1903. Page1 of the petition states his name Mikolay Worotyla,#1. residing in Ross Hill, Edwardsville, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. #2.It said he was born on Dec. 1, 1870 in Plonna, Sanok District of the Empire of Austria-Hungary. He was over 21 years of age and was 32 at this time. #3.
He arrived in the US at NY,NY on Dec. 10, 1887 and was a subject of the Empire of Austria-Hungary under the age of 18 and has not since acquired citizenship under any other foreign government. #4.& #5. He had no hereditary or nobility titles and has not been refused application of citizenship to the US. Note that Nicholas was a little off from his birth date which is
understandable but his arrival date had been changed because if you were under 18 when you arrived in the US, you were considered not a citizen from where you came. Consequently, the date was changed from 1894 to 1887, for reasons of acquiring easy citizenship as a juvenile into the US rather than petitioning citizenship as an adult which could be a long and arduous process. Above are documents in which he joined the Russian Brotherhood in 1895 and in the 1900 census he said he came to this country in 1890.
Page 2 of the petition said #6. He was in the US at age 18 and had good moral character. #7. That he wanted to be a citizen of the US and renounces any allegiance to Franz Josef I, Empire of Austria. #8.That he does not believe in any assalting or killing of any officials of the US and has not violated any provisions of the 1903 Act to Regulate the Immigration of Aliens. Sworn on Aug. 6, 1903. Page 3.
The witness swears that Nicholas has arrived in the US at 18 years of age and is a man of good moral character. Nicholas renounces all allegiance from Franz Josef I, Empire of Austria. Citizenship was granted by the court.
In 1904 John Repa (see newspaper ad) loaned Nicholas money to buy the property at 73 Armstrong St. Edwardsville where Nicholas (1905) and John (1908) were born. The house had pigs and chickens and a barn for two cows.
The 1910 Census states that Micheal Vartilla, the head of the household, living at 73 Murry St.(Murry St. may have been changed to Armstrong St.???) Edwardsville is 38 years old, married 12 years (1898) and immigrated from Austria-Russian in 1890. According to the census, he was not naturalized, could speak Russian (Lemko dialect), was a laborer working in the coal mines. He was not working on April 15th and he could not read or write English. He owned six homes that were free of mortgages.
Do note they said they came from Austria-Russian.
The Wartella family went to St. John The Baptist Russian Orthodox Church in Edwardsville when built in 1910-1911.
Their first daughter Anne was born in 1911 and their second daughter Julia was born in 1913 at 73 Armstrong St. Nicholas by this time was ill with pulmonary disease, primarily black lung from years of mining coal.
In 1919 he bought a home at 217 Jackson St. and opened a grocery store at this property. Also, he purchased a vacant lot at 215 Jackson St. He had the foresight to own a business freeing up his sons from working in the coal mines. Initially, Stephen and Michael were old enough to work at the store focusing on the mining company’s “company store” as their primary competitor.
The !920 Census states that at 73 Armstrong St. the household head was Nicholas Wortilla who owned his home mortgage free. He was 50 years old and immigrated to the US in 1889 became a naturalized citizen in 1903 and was able to read and write. Nicholas was born in Galicia, POA (Protectorate Of Austria??) and his mother tongue was Ruthinian (Russian was crossed out). Both his mother and father were born in Galicia, Austria and both spoke Ruthinian where Russian was originally written and again crossed out. He was employed as a car oiler and was a coal mine foreman.
In 1924 before his son Steven’s wedding a house was built at 215 Jackson St. The family moved from Armstrong St.
to Jackson St. Also, the store at 217 Jackson moved to 215 Jackson St. and it began to expand: In addition to groceries, meat and produce, there was fresh baked bread from their bakery behind the store, dry goods primarily clothing and shoes were for
sale and freshly killed chickens were available from the chicken coop out back. The store began to prosper. Store Picture of Nicholas Wartella and his sons. Julia Wartella Seman talks about her father: “I was young when my father died and have many
memories of him. He worked in the mines and my sister Anne and I would wait at the top of the hill when it was pay day, as my dad would have a bag of candy for us to share. I would get the bag of candy, as I was the
youngest of the family.”
“My father had asthma (black lung disease) and he coughed from morning until night, with no let up at all. I would get
up during the night and give him a glass of water. That was my job to see he had his water. I would sit and talk to him. I could see he was glad for me that I would do this for him. The rest of the family was asleep and I had my bedroom next to my dad. He would say to me ‘you are the only one I could count on.’ He told me that under the rug was some change and a few dollars, ‘take it and put it under the your rug in your bedroom. Put it under the rug on the side where your head is’…and that’s what I did.”
Nicholas Wartella said ” You can take a man’s wallet but you can not take from him of what is up here (pointing to his head).” He died on March 4th, 1926.