Lately, I’ve been looking into the Lorditches and it was very confusing. Their immigration record says they were from Bohemia (therefore, Czech or German) and later censuses and other documents say German, Hungarian, Slovak, Croatian and/or Serbian. I had suspected they were Slovenes who considered themselves German, so I started poking around the Digitalna knjižnica Slovenije (Digital Library of Slovenia) and hit the jackpot.
It looks like I’m a descendant of the first Slovene immigrant in Johnstown, Pennsylvania!
Along the hills and valleys in Pennsylvania
Ivan Molek, Prosveta, 21 October 1941, page 3.
Pennsylvania, although not all of it, falls among the first 13 states that formed the American republic. Independence was proclaimed in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania. This means that Pennsylvania wasn’t born yesterday.
The settlement of Slovenes in Pennsylvania also didn’t start yesterday. Some Slovene communities here are already old, among them the one in Johnstown.
I had the good fortune during a visit to Johnstown to visit one of the oldest Slovenes there, who arrived in 1874 as a child of just six months, with his father and mother. This is Mike Lordich. His father died 40 years ago, but his mother just died a mere three years ago at the age of 92.
It’s strange that Lorditch is little known among the Johnstown countrymen. It’s his own fault, because he never mixed enough among our people. His wife is not a Slovene, and his sons and daughters know little or nothing about the ethnicity of their father. My friend Andrej had heard about him, but didn’t know where he lived until the day of my visit, when we went looking for him.
Mike Lordich lives in the old part of town, in a very old and shabby house not far from the headquarters of the Adrija Society. He is 69 years old and still works in a factory. This in any case is a sign that his father did not leave him any wealth, neither did he find any himself. Andrej asked him if he knew where in the old country he was born, but he couldn’t say; he didn’t remember anything, even what his father and mother had told him. He did say that his uncle Miha was the first Slovene in Johnstown, and he had settled here ten years before Mike and his parents came, so in 1864, which was during the American Civil War.
This means that the first Slovene arrived in Johnstown at the same time as the first Slovene immigrants arrived in Broackway, Minnesota and Calumet, Michigan, which are the two oldest Slovene communities in America.
I must say that Mike Lordich made a good impression on us; he was very friendly with his - as was his elderly wife - and tried to give us the information we wanted. He promised to ask around about where he came from and to look for some photographs of his younger years. The man told us about how things were at the time of the great flood in Johnstown in 1889. The family at that time was living in the same old neighborhood and the water pushed over the house and carried it a block or two down the street with the family still on the second floor in deathly fear of drowning at any second. They were rescued.
We didn’t have to wait for Lordich to ask around about himself. When we and Vidrih that same evening spoke about him at a social club in Moxham, the matter was explained by one of our countrymen from Dragatuš in Bela Krajina. He told us that Lordich had his name wrong. His proper name was Lovretič and he was born in the village of Golek near Dragatuš not far from Črnomelj in Bela Krajina.
So the case is solved. I had never heard of any Lordič, but Lovretič is a good Slovene name. And this is how we solved the mystery without the old man who is today the oldest Slovene in Johnstown, Pa.
The immigration record bears out the change of the name. A man named M. Lauretitsch, his wife Margareth and children Therese and Michael, arrived at Castle Garden in New York on 21 July 1873. The names and dates all match the Lorditch clan, but the name threw me. But Lauretitsch is the German spelling of Lovretič, so this is definitely them, even if it isn’t clear how they got from Lauretitsch/Lovretič to Lorditch…
Castle Clinton is a circular sandstone fort in Battery Park in lower Manhattan. Today, it is where the tourists buy the tickets for the ferry over to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, but from 1855 to 1890, it was Castle Garden, the processing center for over eight million immigrants. It was replaced by Ellis Island as of 2 January 1892.
The Miha Lorditch referred to in the article as the first Slovene immigrant in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, is actually George Lorditch. Michael Lorditch’s father was called Michael (Miha is Slovene for Mike) but his uncle George was the one who came at the time of the civil war. Michael Lordich Sr.’s obituary notes that George had been in Johnstown “since the Rebellion.”
George’s house still stands in Johnstown’s Cambria City neighborhood, and is featured on a local walking tour. The National Park Service also described the house in the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1988.