Sunday, June 10, 2012

Research Orthodox Church in America (OCA)

Written by Mark Stokoe and the Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky  (online)
One More Stone to Turn - OCA Records
When Orthodox is mentioned a few associations are immediately made: Jewish Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, maybe even the Albanian. But the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) website quotes authors Mark Stokoe and the Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky about its history: "Orthodox Christian in North America have been largely overlooked and ignored. With few exceptions, their historical experiences remain unrecorded, their documents untranslated, their personalities, institutions and activities unknown. ” 

As genealogists and family researchers, we should be familiar with the OCA - its history and records. How else do we turn every stone and scour every possible clue to our ancestors? Admittedly, this only occurred to me in talking to a neighbor who is a member of the OCA. 

Brief History - Russia to Alaska 1794 
A History and Introduction of the Orthodox Church in America is provided on the website. But I’ll mention a few genealogical highlights:
  1. The Alaskan Mission: It appears that in 1794 eight Orthodox missionaries from Russia arrived in Kodiak, Alaska. (We know that was North America not the United States of America.)
  2. Immigration and Conversion (1870-1920)  First Orthodox Church in US was established in New Orleans, 1864. Comprised of our Greek, Slavs and Arab ancestors. If you are looking for your Serbian, Russian or Greek ancestor in the 1860’s, you may also wish to research the OCA San Francisco records, Holy Trinity Cathedral and other largely populated immigrant areas (i.e. New York, Chicago).
  3. Institutions of the Immigrant Church. The church was organized under the Russian Orthodox Church diocese by the early 1900’s (all ethnic groups)
Vital Genealogy Impact
By 1917 the Orthodox mission in North America would include more than 350 parishes and chapels, its own seminary, bank, women’s college, monasteries, orphanages, schools, publications, and fraternal societies. Immigration and Conversion 
The impact of wars and politics on religion, immigrants and migratory paths must be considered. So, as you research your ancestors, be sure to take into account the 1917 Russian Revolution. This conflict clearly impacted the church and its affiliations to the Russian Diocese. Also, be sure to understand the impact of the purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867. This too changed gravely reshaped the established Orthodox Alaskan community. For an in depth historical overview visit: A History and Introduction of the OCA.  

Finding Records
“With few exceptions, their historical experiences remain unrecorded, their documents untranslated, their personalities, institutions, and activities unknown." Orthodox Christians in North America (1794-1994)
The Archives and headquarters of the OCA is located in New York (see below). OCA includes 700 parishes, 2 million members, of the USA, Canada and Mexico. (As researchers we know the value in narrowing our search)

To my surprise the website touts “individuals and groups are always welcome to visit the OCA Archives to familiarize themselves with the collections or to conduct research on a particular topic."
The OCA Archivist: Alexis Liberovsky,
Archivist / Director 
PO Box 675 
Syosset, NY 11791
Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

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