Color Coding by Religion: Figuring Out My Rusyn Heritage

Sometimes a picture is worth 1,000 words. In this case, the picture is a pedigree chart.

My paternal family tree is Carpatho-Ruysn in terms of ethnicity. The Rusyn people have never had a country of their own. Instead, for centuries, they’ve lived along the north and south sides of the Carpathian Mountains in areas that today are part of Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Romania.

Rusyns are easily identified in church records because they historically have been members of the Greek Catholic (today’s Byzantine Catholic) Church, as opposed to Roman Catholics, who are more often ethnic Slovak or Polish in the area of eastern Slovakia where my ancestors lived.

Ancestry gives me an DNA estimate of  44% Eastern Europe & Russia, while MyHeritage’s estimate is 23% Balkan and Baltic heritage and places me in this genetic group:

Absolutely correct, because this is the area – Presov region – where my Rusyn ancestors all lived.

How much Rusyn ancestry do I really have? Well, it’s definitely close to half because most of my paternal ancestors were all Greek Catholics.

However, mixed Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic marriages were frequent and socially acceptable. They were certainly acceptable to priests of both faiths.

One of my great grandmothers, Maria Kacsenyak, was Roman Catholic. Does that mean that 1/4 of my paternal family tree is ethnic Slovak? Not exactly.

Take a look at my color coded (Green = Greek Catholic, Red = Roman Catholic) pedigree chart:

Maria Kacsenyak (pronounced like Kachenyak), my great grandmother was not the first in her Roman Catholic father’s family to marry a Greek Catholic.

In fact, she was just the most recent ancestor to intermarry. Her father was Roman Catholic, but her mother Anna Haluska, Greek Catholic AND both of her grandparents had mixed Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic marriages. That dilutes down the possible ethnic Slovak percentage quite a bit.

I’ll never be able to fine tune the Rusyn estimate any further because the church records begin in the early 1800s. My knowledge of the ancestors in this branch of the family tree is complete because of that limitation.

Only 4 of my 31 Rusyn ancestors were Roman Catholic, which is roughly 1/8 or 12%. Looking at it from the other direction, 88% of my paternal ancestors were Rusyn.

I’d say Ancestry’s estimate of 44% is a bit low, but way closer to accurate than 23%.

FamilyTree DNA is the most accurate. It estimates 44% West Slavic plus 4% Magyar (Hungarian) for a total of 48%.

I’ve previously color-coded ancestors by place of birth, but this is my first attempt at color coding by religion. I won’t even attempt to do the same to my maternal tree. None of those ancestors was as religious as my paternal side.

Church attendance in the 19th and 20th century was more by social custom. Which churches did they attend? Well, Congregational, Lutheran and Anglican. While all are Protestant, that is still quite a mix when I’ve only covered back to my 2X great grandparents!

In reality, though, the religions do align closely with the ethnic and historical backgrounds of my ancestors. Congregational Church members descended from my New England colonial lines, the Lutheran Church is represented by my Danish and Swedish ancestors while the Anglican Church is tied into my Loyalist ancestors who fled to Canada in 1783.

Have you tried sorting your ancestors by religion?


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