A good portion of my research time last year was spent gathering information on my Carpatho-Rusyn heritage. Alas, church records only remain back to the early 1800s, so it wasn’t possible to add any ancestors to the tree.
You’ve never heard of Carpatho-Rusyns? Well, even though it is 50% of my heritage, I had never heard the term either until I moved to California in 1979. The first person I met, who is still a friend today, had a Slovak surname and she was interested in her family history.
That friend told me that her family was Carpatho-Rusyn, but I had never heard the term before. Nana always said the family was Slovak.
It turned out that my new friend’s ancestral village was only a stone’s throw from that of my Nana AND, more incredibly, her father was baptized in New York by the same priest who married my grandparents in Passaic, New Jersey.
I asked Nana how that came to be. She said the priest was transferred from Passaic to Brooklyn just before she and my grandfather married. They asked Father Irenaeus Janitczky if he would do them the honor of returning to St. Michael’s Church to marry them on 6 September 1915, which he did.
Small world, isn’t it? It gets even smaller. I met up with some GeneaBlogger Tribe friends at the SCGS Jamboree in June in California. One of them is also of Carpatho-Rusyn background, but the husband of another is not only Rusyn, his ancestors are from Ujak. I almost fell off my chair when I heard that because that is were Nana was from. Today it is called Udol and it’s a small village.
I had one more surprise last year. Several of the ladies in the genealogy group that I teach have Polish ancestors. At our December holiday luncheon, we each shared one great find of 2018. I shared a book on Carpatho-Rusyn history and had to explain the swath of land in Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and Romania where the villages were located.
One of the ladies of Polish descent said her grandparents were from villages in the little tip at the bottom of Poland – which, as the crow flies is directly north of Nana’s villages. She learned that day that she, like me, is 50% Carpatho-Rusyn and both of her ancestral villages are included on the list of historical Rusyn villages.
I guess there are many more of us Rusyns (for short) around than I realized!
Now that you know the short version of my Carpatho-Rusyn ancestry, I’m going to give a very, very short history of this ethnic group and then list a bibliography of resources to get you started if you are a member of this interesting ethnic minority.
The Eastern European Home of Carpatho-Rusyns
First, I’ve already mentioned that Carpatho-Rusyns lived in villages and towns on both the north and south sides of the Carpathian and Tatras Mountains.
Rusyn villages are spread over a wide area from eastern Slovakia through southern Poland into western Ukraine and touches just a portion of northern Romania and a bit of Croatia.
There are 1,022 villages that have been identified as part of the Carpatho-Rusyn culture in the 20th century. If you know the names of your family’s towns and wonder if you, too, are Rusyn, check the list to see if your ancestral home is on it.
St. Michael’s Church Rusyn Pageant, Undated
My Personal Photo
History of the Carpatho-Rusyn People
Rusyns are a Slavic people and the earliest settlers are believed to have been farming in the areas of today’s Rusyn villages by the 6th century.
Further, Rusyns have never had a homeland with one central government to call their own. They have forever existed side-by-side with invading tribes and armies or as part of various empires and politically formed entities like Czechoslovakia. Given the area of eastern and central Europe in which they lived, they have faced centuries of warfare, governmental changes and hard times.
Throughout this series, I will be sharing more details about Rusyn history, religious beliefs, culture and social customs.
If you are of Carpatho-Rusyn descent and would like to read more about your heritage, there are some excellent books available.
1. With Their Backs to the Mountains, Paul Robert Magocsi, Central European University Press, Budapest- New York, 2015. This is the premier book written about Rusyn history in terms of details and depth of information. Dr. Magocsi is a professor at the University of Toronto and has published many books and articles about Carpatho-Ruthenia and its peoples. I’d highly recommend purchasing this as a reference book. ($40.00+ on Amazon)
2. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, Stephan Thernstrom, Editor, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 1980. This book has nine pages (200-209) dedicated to statistical information about Rusyns who settled in the United States. There are also numerous footnotes identifying scholarly works for further reference. An added benefit is that information on the collateral ethnic group to which your family belongs (Polish, Romanian, Ukrainian or Slovak) can be found in this book, too. (There are copies on eBay now for under $6.00.)
3. Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture, Revised and Expanded Edition, Paul Robert Magocsi and Ivan Pop, University of Toronto Press, 2005. ($76.00+)
4. Carpathian Rus’ A Historical Atlas, Paul Robert Magocsi, Governing Council of the University of Toronto, 2017. ($37.00+)
5. The People from Nowhere, Paul Robert Magocsi, V. Padiak Publishers, Uzhhorod, Ukraine, 2006. ($24.50 from CRRC – see below)
6. The Rusyns of Hungary, Maria Mayer, East European Monographs, Columbia University Press, New York, 1997. (($24.50 from CRRC)
7. The Rusyns of Slovakia, Paul Robert Magocsi, 1994 (($50.00)
8. Our People, Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants in North America, Paul Robert Magocsi, 2006 ($24.50 from CRRC)
9. Lemko Studies: A Handbook, B. Horbal, 2010 ($42.00 from CRRC)
10. The Rusyn-Ukrainians of Czechoslovakia, Paul Robert Mabocsi, 1993 ($14.00)
Several of the books on this list included prices from CRRC, which is the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center, P.O. Box 35, Grand Isle, Vermont 05458-0035. They have a fairly extensive catalog of books about Carpatho-Ruthenia and ship quickly. Ask for a publications list – sometimes their prices are way better than online. (For example, The Lemko Studies handbook by Horbal online is $1495.50 !!!)
Next month, Carpatho-Rusyn religious customs will be discussed in some detail.