Who Are the Carpatho-Rusyns? What You Can Learn from My Research

I think this post was meant to be! Totally by coincidence, the next open slot in my queue is 27 November and today marks the 82nd anniversary of the death of George Kucharik aka Sabo, my paternal grandfather, whom I never knew, as he died 16 years before I was born.

My paternal family gave to me my 50% ancestry from the Carpatho-Rusyns. Honestly, I had never heard this term from Nana, even after I began researching the family history in 1980.

Nana always and forever called herself Slovak, but in reality, there were several huge clues pointing towards the Carpatho-Rusyns. First, my grandfather’s family was from villages slightly to the east of Presov, Slovakia, while Nana’s family hailed from villages just to the northwest of Presov.

Presov is one of the areas in which large numbers of Carpatho-Rusyns settled – largely by the 6th century!

The second clue pointing to their ancestry is the fact that they were both staunch Greek Catholics, aka Byzantine Catholics, a religion common to the Carpatho-Rusyns. In fact, Nana’s villages didn’t even have a Roman Catholic church nearby.

As I continued researching the family tree, I became more aware of the term Carpatho-Rusyn, but not much historical information could be found about them. Even after the internet explosion, the little that was found online didn’t go into much detail about this ethnic minority.

Back in April, I wrote about the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups and raved about the nine detailed pages of information about my ethnic ancestors.

That began my quest to uncover even more historical details about my Rusyn ancestors.

The footnotes in the Harvard book were a fabulous start to locating scholarly works. Adding in searches on WorldCat and then Amazon and eBay helped me locate (and buy, I have to add) a treasure trove of a library all about the Carpatho-Rusyns.

My first purchase was Proceedings of the Conference on Carpatho-Ruthenian Immigration, 8 June 1974.

This book, a transcription of a conference, opened my eyes to the difficulties in documenting the history of such a small minority group that has somewhat assimilated and un-assimilated with so many other ethnic communities throughout history.

Next, the Byzantine Rite Rusins in Carpatho-Ruthenia and America by Walter Warzeski, shed light on the establishment and growth of the Greek Catholic church in both Europe and the United States.

Those were followed by several other treasures:

Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture
Edited by Paul Robert Magocsi and Ivan Pop

Carpathian Rus’ A Historical Atlas
by Paul Robert Magocsi

The People from Nowhere
by Paul Robert Magocsi

The Rusyns of Hungary
by Maria Mayer

and a great map and gazetteer showing the 1400 villages in today’s Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine where Carpatho-Rusyns settled.

by Paul Robert Magocsi

My grandparents’ ancestral villages are all on this map!

Who Are the Carpatho-Rusyns?

I’m still on quite a steep learning curve, but the Carpatho-Rusyns are a Slavic people who have never had a unified homeland to call their own.

Even though they are a small minority group, Rusyns have been divided into two sub-groups, the “western” Rusyns, who are called the Lemkos and Rusnaks, living in the southern area of Poland and along the northeastern border of Slovakia along with the Dolyniane/Lowlanders, Verkhovyntsi/Highlanders and Hutsuls, who are identified as the “eastern” Rusyns, mostly found in Ukraine and a bit of Romania.

These peoples speak several dialects of the Rusyn language, with Polish, Hungarian and Slovak words creeping into each. My Nana apparently spoke the Slovak version of the Rusyn language.

When did the Carpatho-Rusyns settle in the area? Well, they were already there in the time of Attila the Hun in the 5th century A.D.! (too bad the local church records only go back to the early 1800s – what a story they could tell!)

Settling where they did, the Rusyns were battered from all sides, pretty much throughout history, given all the empires and wars that have taken place in central Europe.

How did thousands of Carpatho-Rusyns end up settling in the United States? They came purely for economic opportunities that were not available in the homelands. The first immigrants arrived in the late 1880s followed by a peak in the early 1900s. By 1924, the United States had closed the immigration doors, which slowed arrivals to a trickle.

I will be writing more about my Carpatho-Rusyn ancestors in the future, but my goal today was to focus our researcher eyes on the mountains of books and journals available to us that cover the cultural, historical and political backgrounds that influenced our ancestors’ lives.

It doesn’t matter whether you are of Native American, Italian, Greek, Eskimo or English descent. Take the time to seek out scholarly works that examine the historical lives and ethnic backgrounds of your ancestors. You will have a much stronger understanding of their lives and times.

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