I am 50% Carpatho-Rusyn and proud of my heritage. Rusyns, for short, have never had a homeland to call their own. For centuries, they have lived in a wide swath of Eastern Europe that includes southern Poland (those Rusyns call themselves Lemkos), northern Slovakia, part of Ukraine, a piece of Hungary, and even a small portion of Romania, Serbia and Croatia. They are a Slavic people.
We are a small, but mighty, family and Carpatho-Rusyns are everywhere! Andy Warhol and actress Sandra Dee (the original Gidget – I love that movie!) are probably two of the most famous people of Rusyn heritage.
When I moved to California in 1978, the very first person I met was a young lady who coincidentally shared my Rusyn heritage to the extent that the same priest who married my grandparents baptized her father!
However, even in the genealogy blogging world, there are Rusyns. Lisa Alzo is a fellow Rusyn and I have to admit that I almost fell off my chair a few years ago at a blogger get together at the SCGS Jamboree in Burbank. I met Jenny Hawran, who said her husband was a Carpatho-Rusyn whose family came from Udol, Slovakia – the very same tiny Udol which was home to my Nana’s family!
Before the internet age, it was difficult to find the word “Carpatho-Rusyn” in print. In fact, I had never heard Nana use the term during her lifetime (she passed away in 1985).
By the way, Rusyn is NOT the same as Russian!
If you have ancestral families who lived in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, you may also have Carpatho-Rusyn roots. I haven’t been able to find a public domain map of the area, but if you do a search for an online map, several options will come up.
A quick method to determine whether you might have Rusyn roots is by knowing which religion your family practiced.
If they were Roman Catholic and lived in the villages along the Tatras and Carpathians, it is possible that somewhere along the line, the intermarried with Rusyns. I have Rusyn ancestors who married Roman Catholics from the next village.
The biggest tip off? If they were Greek Catholic (not from Greece!) or Eastern Catholic, today called Byzantine Catholic, it is very, very likely that you have Carpatho-Rusyn ancestry. Rusyns have been Byzantine Catholics for centuries!
How do you get started with genealogical research?
As with any genealogy research, begin with what you know. Document your parents, grandparents and great grandparents in America, as far as you are able.
Rusyns from Europe arrived in America mostly from the mid-1880s until about 1920. Three favorite destinations were New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, where they worked in the mines and factories.
If you don’t know the name of your ancestral town in Europe, be aware that the American parish priest often (not always) recorded the home village of the parents in the baptismal records of the first born generation in America. It is well worth the time to contact local Greek Catholic churches to inquire about baptismal and marriage records.
The single best source for European Rusyn church records is FamilySearch. The church registers for many parishes have been digitized and SOME (not all) of the baptisms have been indexed. Therefore, if you perhaps know the names of, say, your grandfather’s parents, you can try searching to see what hits come up. If there are multiple persons of the same name, born or married about the same time, you can view the church registers yourself to try to determine if you have found an ancestral home.
However, many of the same given names are used over and over. Babies had to be given the names of saints, so the choices were quite limited – and it’s best if you can establish the home village from U.S. church records, family lore or, possibly, passenger lists, if they came through Ellis Island.
Passenger lists are not an option if your ancestors arrrived, like mine did, before Ellis Island opened and instead landed at Castle Garden. The Castle Garden lists are gone.
One further suggestion to identify the European home of your family – Rusyns often settled entire neighborhoods and came from the same small geographic area. If you have identified your family’s parish church, research the history and origins of that parish.
The Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Passaic, my grandmother’s parish, was founded by Carpatho-Rusyns from Udol, in today’s Slovakia. That is exactly the village where my great grandfather was born.
There are many resources available now for both learning about Carpatho-Rusyn history and culture and connecting with others.
Here are a few (not all) of the Facebook groups to get you started:
Looking for books about Carpatho-Rusyn life?
The Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center in Vermont, a non-profit organization, is easily the largest American repository of books for sale about all things Rusyn.
Their publication list is lengthy, with topics ranging from general histories and pictorial images to Rusyn language books (even down to individual dialects), reference books, Rusyns in America/Europe, poetry and prose, grammars and dictionaries and fiction. They even have a large map identifying all known Rusyn villages!
The C-RCC is an excellent site to visit, whether you are a beginning, intermediate or advanced Rusyn researcher.
Most, but not all, of the books are in English.
A WARNING! There are Rusyn books available on Amazon and a couple of other websites. However, check the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center FIRST and compare prices. The C-RRC is often much cheaper because (1) they are the publishers/sellers of books in new condition and (2) second hand sellers think a relatively rare book is much more valuable than it is. I once found a listing for a Rusyn language book (published by the C-RRC) from a second hand seller listed for several HUNDRED dollars. However, a quick scan of the C-RRC offerings showed the book in stock for $15!
Last year, the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center sponsored six summer seminars on Carpatho-Rusyn culture. They are available to view for free on YouTube:
Episode 1: Paul Robert Magocsi on the politician Gregory Zhatkovych
Episode 2: Nick Kupensky on the novelist Emil Kubek
Episode 3: Elaine Rusinko on the artists Andy Warhol and Julia Warhola
Episode 4: Pat Krafcik on Carpatho-Rusyn folktales
Episode 5: Maria Silvestri, Mike & Ifetayo Bolds and Bethany Sromoski on growing up Rusyn
Episode 6: Bogdan Horbal on Lemko communities in Europe and America
The Carpathian Connection – focus on Rusyns who settled in Passaic, New Jersey
Carpatho-Rusyn Genealogy Website(hasn’t been updated for years, but still some good links and information)
It isn’t often that I can say my list of resources is quite comprehensive, but, even today, there are only so many places to find information about Carpatho-Rusyn heritage.