World Academy of Carpatho-Rusyn Culture

HOME ORGANIZATION PUBLICATIONS EVENTS AWARDS THE RUSYNS DIRECTORY CONTACT



Readers interested in learning more about Carpatho-Rusyn genealogy and in contacting this section’s author, Thomas Peters, are invited to email Colin Rose.

Genealogy - the study of the origins and descent of families. Genealogy is the written history of the descent of a person or family from an earlier ancestor, which links each successive generation using documented facts. Genealogical research among Carpatho-Rusyns is at times practiced in Europe, but it is limited to scholars who are interested in knowing the family history of a particular individual of some historical prominence. It is in the United States and Canada where immigrants, and in particular their descendants, are anxious to learn about their origins, that the practice of genealogy has attracted widespread interest.

Two events were pivotal in promoting an interest in genealogy among the descendants of Rusyns in North America. The first was the television mini-series based upon the epic novel, Roots: Saga of an American Family, by Alex Haley (1976). The enormously popular television broadcasts encouraged persons of every possible ethnic origin to discover their place in history. The second pivotal event was the fall of *Communism in central and eastern Europe in the early 1990s. This development made it possible for Americans and Canadians to visit their ancestral homeland (basically off-limits since the onset of Communist rule after World War II), in order to find relatives and reestablish familial connections.

There is a wide body of genealogical sources in the United States and the European homeland. Within the first category are the exceedingly important Rusyn-American church records that contain baptism, marriage, and burial information about individual Rusyn immigrants and their families. These records are found in the *Greek (Byzantine Ruthenian) Catholic and Ukrainian Catholic churches and in the various Orthodox Church jurisdictions, particularly in the *American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese and the *Russian Orthodox Church in North America among others. They document the immigrant's ancestral village of origin as well as his or her date of birth, baptism, marriage, and death. Individual families may also have important sources of genealogical information, such as naturalization papers, military records, Bible records, United States and foreign passports, family photographs, birth certificates from the homeland, and newspaper obituaries. One source in a class by itself is the family burial plot, often with genealogical information from the grave marker or from interment records maintained by the cemetery.

vUnited States Government resources include decennial federal censuses, military records, naturalization records, passenger arrival manifests, and civil vital records of birth, marriage, and death. Many of these can be accessed using the resources of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS-the Mormons). The Mormon Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah is the largest genealogical resource in the world and is accessible to the general public. The collection contains over 2.2 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records from all over the world and some 300,000 books on genealogy and related topics. The records can be accessed at the library in Salt Lake City or at one of the church's many LDS Family History Centers located throughout the world. The library's *Internet website (www.familysearch.org) provides information on holdings, databases and locations of the various LDS Family History Centers. The Mormon Family History Library holdings of American, Canadian, Hungarian, Polish, and Ukrainian records are of the utmost importance to Carpatho-Rusyn genealogical research on persons of Carpatho-Rusyn origin.

In the European homeland, the primary genealogical source are Greek Catholic parish records (matriky) generated within the ancestral village of birth or a larger nearby village of a given individual. Parish registers originating on the northern side of the *Carpathian Mountains (the *Lemko Region) usually begin in 1784. On the southern slopes of the mountains in the former Hungarian Kingdom (*Subcarpathian Rus' and the *Presov Region) most registers begin about 1800, although some may date as early as 1735 (Lukov). Access to Greek Catholic parish records for the Lemko Region are held for the most part in the branch of the Polish State Archive/Archiwum Panstwowe in Przemysl, Poland. Other branches of the Polish State archival system may also hold Greek Catholic registers, which are indicated on the system's website (http://baza.archiwa.gov.pl/sezam). The Mormon Family History Library holds microfilm of a small portion of the Greek Catholic parish records held by the Polish State Archive in Przemysl. The Greek Catholic parish records for the Presov Region are held by the State Archive in Slovakia/Statny slovensky archiv. They have been microfilmed for the Mormon Family History Library and can be easily accessed via that institution's LDS Family History Centers. The original records are housed in the regional branches of the State Archive located in the eastern Slovak cities of Presov, Levo…a, and Kosice. Parish records for Subcarpathian Rus' (present-day Transcarpathian oblast in Ukraine) are located in local civil registry offices and various regional archives, but are not yet available for public perusal.

Census records are another good source of information. For example, the 1869 census of Hungary enumerates entire households with the following information: house number, surname, given name and status of the individual within the household, sex, year of birth, religion, marital status, occupation, birthplace, status as native or foreigner, literacy, and other remarks by the enumerator. The earlier Hungarian land census of 1828 lists the heads of households with their status (farmers, citizens, tenants, subtenants, etc.), grain production, vineyards, ownership of large and small farm animals, forest lands, and occasional notes by the enumerator. The 1828 census is especially important for those whose ancestry lies in Subcarpathian Rus', since it can be used to determine whether a particular surname is found within a given locale. Both the 1869 and 1828 Hungarian censuses are available on microfilm at the Mormon Family History Library and at regional LDS Family History Centers.

The closing decade of the twentieth century witnessed a marked interest in genealogy among second-, third- and fourth-generation Americans and Canadians of Carpatho-Rusyn descent. Such interest manifests itself in many ways: the desire of an individual to locate his or her ancestral village on a modern map; relating stories about growing up in a poor immigrant household; and discussions regarding the various Byzantine-rite church rituals and holydays that were often totally foreign to their American neighbors. This knowledge now induces pride in one's newly discovered (or rediscovered) Carpatho-Rusyn identity.

Others pursue their lineage as far back as written records will allow. Some will locate all the descendants of a Rusyn immigrant ancestor in the North America and organize family reunions for extended families on a regular basis. There are even reunions of descendants of particular Rusyn villages. Such events were unheard of twenty years ago, before the rise of interest in genealogy.

Genealogy for descendants of Carpatho-Rusyns becomes particularly meaningful because it allows them to carve out an identifiable place in the context of present-day multicultural North America. As a minority people who were often forced to assume ethnic identities at odds with their own choice, Carpatho-Rusyns use genealogy to reinforce a distinct ethnic identity and cultural heritage. All these factors have fostered in the last quarter of the twentieth century the reestablishment of Carpatho-Rusyn cultural and historical societies in North America, which have helped re-awaken an ethnic pride that had been lying dormant since the immigrant generation came to America. It is an axiom of genealogy that you understand yourself only by studying those who came before you. Genealogical studies do indeed foster pride in the Rusyn heritage, which in turn assures the continued existence of Carpatho-Rusyns as a distinct people.

Further reading: John-Paul Himka and Frances A. Swyripa, Sources for Researching Ukrainian Family History, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Research Report No. 6 (Edmonton, 1984); Daniel M. Schlyter, Czechoslovakia: A Handbook of Czechoslovak Genealogical Research (Orem, Utah, 1985); John-Paul Himka, Galicia and Bukovina: A Research Handbook about Western Ukraine, Late 19th-20th Centuries (Edmonton, 1990); Brian J. Lenius Genealogical Gazetter of Galicia, 2nd ed. (Anola, Manitoba, 1994); Thomas A. Peters, "How To Find Your Roots," Carpatho-Rusyn American, XVIII, 2, (Fairfax, Va., 1995), pp. 4-6.; Richard D. Custer, "Rusyn Testaments Etched in Granite: The Genealogical Treasure of Rusyn Immigrant Gravestones," The New Rusyn Times, IX, 3 (Pittsburgh, 2002), pp. 1, 6-9; Joe Palmo, "Great-Great-Great-Grandpap Was a Serf: Researching Your Rusyn Ancestors Through Urbarial Census Records," The New Rusyn Times, IX, 4 (Pittsburgh, 2002), pp. 1, 8-9, 13-14; Bill Tarkulich, "Fact Versus Perception: Confidently Drawing Conclusions From Ancestral Records," The New Rusyn Times, IX, 5 (Pittsburgh, 2002), pp. 1, 8-10; Bill Tarkulich, "Searching for Surnames (Last Names) and Village Names," The New Rusyn Times, X, 3 (Pittsburgh, 2003), pp. 1, 8-11.

Thomas A. Peters

 Copyright © 2013