Category Archives: Carpatho-Rusyn

The Quest for the Rusyn Soul by Keith Dyrud – A Rusyn History

Today’s post isn’t a traditional book review, but a combination of a book discussion and my observations about Rusyn history.

First, a bit about the history. Carpatho-Rusyns are a small ethnic minority who have lived along both the northern and southern foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe for centuries.

Rusyns have never had a single united homeland, for a variety of reasons – economic, geographical, political, cultural, religious and educational. In short, for just about every societal factor that one can imagine.

In my opinion, geography was probably the first big stumbling block, given that even today, clusters of Rusyns live in southern Poland (who call themselves Lemkos), northeastern Slovakia, Ukraine, Croatia and Romanian.

Those are a lot of miles to cover if trying to unite one people.

Politics was probably the second biggest factor in the non-unification of the Rusyn people.

Governing bodies in the region changed frequently with some more and some less willing to allow ethnic autonomy. Those in power used religion to encourage support of opposing governments, although Rusyns have leaned towards the Eastern Slavic churches for centuries. Cultural influences also played a part in Rusyn divisions.

If that wasn’t enough baggage to shake off, economic conditions (many were peasant farmers or worked a trade) and education, or the lack thereof, thwarted the occasional efforts of Rusyn leaders to connect and unite.

The Rusyn migration to America for a better life could have led to the demise of the Rusyn identity, but, thankfully, it did not.

I watched and waited for Keith Dyrud’s book to pop up online for sale at a reasonable price; I jumped at the chance to purchase it for $64.00 – as opposed to the other sellers asking $900+!!!

The full title of Dyrud’s book, first published in 1992 by the Balch Institute Press in Philadelphia, is The Quest for the Rusyn Soul: The Politics of Religion and Culture in Eastern Europe and in America, 1890-World War 1.

That sounds like kind of dry reading for most, doesn’t it? Well, it was an eye-catcher for me because my paternal grandparents, both Rusyn, were born in 1893 in America and their families had arrived less than ten years before their births.

Many Rusyns, like my grandmother’s extended family, first came to America with no intention of remaining forever. They made multiple trips across the ocean throughout their lives. The plan was to earn a lot more money in the U.S. than back in the village, save it and return home to live much more comfortably.

Others, like my grandfather’s family, might have come with the intention of returning to Europe, but never did. They settled in America for the rest of their lives.

Did they keep in touch with news back in the villages? Did they take political stands here in the United States? The ansewr to both questions is YES.

I’ve wondered, off and on, about some of the curiosities in my family history:

Why did my great grandfather changed the family surname from Kucharik to Sabo between 1910 and 1920?

Why did Nana never tell me that my great grandfather’s brother, John (Nana’s uncle) lived just a town away in Garfield, New Jersey? She not only didn’t tell me, she said her father only had sisters – NO brothers. That was absolutely not true and her uncle didn’t pass away until 1938 when Nana was 45 years old!

Why did Nana’s brother, Peter, born in New Jersey in 1895, apply to become an American citizen when he was in this 30s?

These questions can all be answered by reading Dyrud’s book.


Introduction: The Rusyns
1. The Development of National Awareness Among the Rusyns in the Austrian empire
2. Russian Interests in the Rusyns in the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1900 to World War I
3. The Influence of the Russian Orthodox Church on the Cultural Consciousness of the Rusyns in America
4. Hungarian Cultural and Nationalistic Activity with the Greek Catholic Church in America, 1900-1907
5. Conflicts in the Establishment of the Greek Catholic Church in America
Epilogue: The Fruits of Propaganda and Rivalry
Essay on Sources

Mr. Dyrud does a meticulous job both setting the scene for 1890 events and in detailing all the forces that influenced Rusyn behaviors and their religious and political allegiances.

How does all this affect my own family?

Two of the main political forces on Rusyns during the existence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were the Ukrainians/Russians and the Hungarians.

My grandfather’s family arrived in the United states in the 1880s and remained for the rest of their lives. I know of NO visits back to Europe, so my (illiterate) great grandparents would probably have learned of social and political unrest from friends and neighbors here.

The fact that my great grandfather changed the family surname from the Slovak Kucharik to the Hungarian Sabo between 1910-1920 might well reflect his support of the Hungarian side of Rusyn politics.

On the other hand, Nana and her brother, both born in New Jersey, returned with their parents to Udol, Slovakia about 1897. Both were too young to remember life in New Jersey.

However, Nana returned for good to New Jersey in 1910 and Peter returned about 1920.

By this time, political sides had been drawn among the Rusyn communities in Europe and in America. Nana was extremely religious and would have grown up hearing parents, grandparents and other family members discussing both Hungarian and Russian intrusions into daily life.

Rusyns were almost 100% Greek Catholic, today called Byzantine Catholic because ‘Greek’ referred to an alignment with the Eastern Orthodox churches, not specifically to Greece.

As for Nana never admitting her father had a brother, I believe there is a simple explanation. Her uncle, John Scerbak, left St. Michael’s Church in Passaic and joined the newly formed RUSSIAN Orthodox Church.

My grandmother always had an intense dislike of Russia and leaving the Greek Catholic Church would have probably been enough of a reason for her to cut her uncle out of her circle of family and friends.

The dispute among St. Michael’s parishioners was reportedly so intense that John might have reacted in the very same way, cutting Nana and other relatives out of his own life.

It takes a solid foundation of knowledge about political, cultural, social and religious issues affecting our ancestors to get a good handle on their daily lives.

For Rusyns, Keith Dyrud’s book provides that insight. It is well worth the $64.00 that I spent.





Simeon Pyzh’s 1938 Short History of Carpathian Rus’: Book Review

There isn’t much published on the history of the Carpatho-Rusyn residents who dwell along the Carpathian Mountains in today’s Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Romania.

There is even less available when the histories published in the Rusyn language are eliminated.

In 2016, the Lemko Association/Carpathian Institute reprinted the 1938 work of Simeon Pyzh, Short History of Carpathian Rus’, which contains both the original Rusyn text and one translated into English.

Remember that this book was written over 80 years ago – pre-World War II – which provides perspective for his thoughts. Political boundaries have changed and it’s necessary for the reader to have a grasp of the Austro-Hungarian empire, its makeup and its boundaries and to understand the influence on the Rusyns from people to the east – Ukrainians and Russians.


Simeon Pyzh: A Lemko Patriot
Notes to the History

A Short History of Carpathian Ru’

The Carpathians: The Ancient Nest of the Slavic Peoples
Slavic States Before the Arrival of the Magyars in Europe
The Carpathian Slavs Are Annexed to Rus’
The Russian Population Beyond the Carpathians
Village Uprisings
The Position and Role of the Clergy
The Russian Population West of the San River
Popular Revolts Against the Polish Nobles
Carpathian Rus’ After the Imperialistic War: Our “Self-Determination”
The Unifying Work of the Lemkos
Subcarpathian Rus’
Why the Czechoslovak Government Did Not Grant Autonomy to Subcarpatian Rus’
Presov Rus’ (Hungarian Lemkovyna)
Galician Lemkovyna in Bondage to the Polish Pans
The Lemko Association

The Carpathian Institute

Korotka Istoriya Karpatsoi Rusi (Original 1938 Text)

This history was a very interesting read to me for several reasons.

I have read several histories of the Carpatho-Rusyn people. Their origins are not fully known, except that they were Slavic people. Many claim that Rusyns were from Ukraine.

Pyzh makes the case that Rusyns were always in the area and it was their ancestral homeland, not Ukraine or anywhere else. I found that one statement to be fascinating.

The reasons he stated for the Rusyn people struggling through history were also right on the mark. Due to centuries of serfdom and poverty, coupled with no opportunity for education or economic improvement, there were no leaders to unite the people. The geographical restrictions caused by the mountainous region added to difficulties in bringing about any life changes.

The powers-that-be, regardless of who ruled at the moment, had no interest in helping Rusyns, because the serfs provided labor, food and taxes.

Pyzh pointed out that even the lowly clergy had some social standing, which provided benefits for their own families. Thus, those closest to the common people – the priests – did nothing to elevate anyone else’s social, economic or educational statuses either.

His final point is that the official language of the Rusyns shouldn’t be Ukrainian or Russian or even Church Slavonic (a variation of the Rusyn language with Latin and other slavic influences), but that it should be the daily spoken language of the Rusyn people.

I learned a lot from Simeon Puzh’s book. The Carpathian Rus’ people have pretty much been ignored by history and Mr. Puzh has done an excellent job setting future goals, some of which are only now being adopted by the people.

Simeon Puzh’s 1938 sort History of Carpathian Rus’, reprinted in 2016 in both English and Rusyn, can be ordered online for $20.00 from the Lemko Association/Carpathian Institute.







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?