By Kaylee Lindenmuth
SHENANDOAH - Ahead of Lithuania's centennial in 2018, the Eastern European republic is sending a team of researchers to Schuylkill County.
Their project, entitled "Destination - America", sets out to create an online, interactive map of Lithuanian heritage sites in the U.S.
Set to arrive on Wednesday, September 27, project leader Augustinas Žemaitis noted in a press release "the Anthracite Region has an exceptional Lithuanian heritage. In fact, the first Lithuanian-language novel in the entire world has been published in Shenandoah."
Žemaitis also noted that the world's first Lithuanian brass band was formed in nearby Mahanoy City, and added that the region featured nearly 40 Lithuanian churches and cemeteries.
Žemaitis, who has searched for Lithuanian heritage sites across the globe for five years, hopes that the project will make information on sites such as those in Schuylkill County more widespread and accessible.
"Currently, very little information is available online about many of the sites, making it nearly impossible for Lithuanians or Lithuanian-Americans who visit New York or Philadelphia to also come to Schuylkill (County) on an independent heritage-searching trip. We plan to change this," Žemaitis said.
"While the existence of minority heritage in the USA may surprise nobody, the prevalence of Lithuanian heritage in Coal Region is surprising due to the fact that Lithuania itself is a country of merely 3 million inhabitants," a press release noted.
According to U.S. Census data from the year 2000, the last census to include a question regarding ancestry, 5% of Schuylkill County residents reported having Lithuanian origins, the highest percentage of any county in the country.