Tag Archives: Carpatho-Rusyn

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?


The Rusyns of Slovakia by Paul Magocsi: Book Review

I’ve recently added one more book to my now good-sized reference shelf on Carpatho-Rusyn history and culture.

Dr. Paul Magocsi is a recognized authority on Carpathian Ruthenians and is also a prolific author with many books to his credit.

The Rusyns of Slovakia; An Historical Survey, by Dr. Magocsi, has been out of print for several years, but reasonably priced copies (around $30) can be found online.

This book is a translation of the original Rusyn language version and was published by Columbia University Press, New York as part of its East European Monographs series. It is copyrighted by the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center, which I believe is planning to reprint the book.

Rusyns settled along both side of the Carpathian Mountains, in today’s Romania, Ukraine, Poland and Slovakia.

As my Rusyn family lived in Slovakia, I was very interested in reading this book.


I. The Ethnogeographic Setting
II. Early History
III. The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
IV. The Habsburg Restoration and Reform Era
V. The National Awakening of 1848
VI. Cultural and National Decline, 1868-1914
VII. World War I and the Revolutionary Years, 1918-1919
VIII. The Interwar Years
IX. The Decade of International Crisis, 1938-1948
X. Life Under Communism, 1948-1989
XI. The Revolution of 1989

As you can tell from the Contents, this compact 185-page book covers centuries of Rusyn life in what is now Slovakia. The sad thing is that life remained much the same for the people for hundreds of years.

Rusyns lived in poverty with no chance of an education. Wars and epidemics contributed to the already short life span expectations. My grandmother’s village didn’t even have electricity until the 1960s!

Even if your Rusyn ancestors lived in one of the other countries I’ve mentioned, their lives were equally difficult.

Professor Magocsi has done an excellent job providing a clear picture of both peasant life and the efforts of a few leading men of the time to build a national Rusyn spirit and pride.

For much of the time, those efforts were pushed aside by clerics seeking to retain their places in the Greek Catholic or Orthodox churches.

Rusyn history sadly has been full of strife.

As you might have noticed from my past book reviews, I tend to like non-fiction and scholarly historical works. I learned a LOT about my ancestors’ lives and times. I also realize that although my grandmother never mentioned being Rusyn, she and her family, both in the village and here in America would have been very aware of the political goings on covered in chapters 6-11. That pretty well covers modern Rusyn history as my great grandfather was born in 1868 and my grandmother passed away in 1985.

If you have Rusyn roots in today’s Slovakia, this is a book you’ll surely want to add to your own home library.



Andy Warhol’s Religious & Ethnic Roots: The Carpatho-Rusyn Influence on His Art by Raymond M. Herbenick: Book Review

I just realized that although Genea-Santa granted my Christmas wish last year and left my “most wanted” book under the tree last year, I’ve never shared it with my readers.

Andy Warhol died in 1987 and, while living, never said much about his ethnic and cultural roots. It wasn’t until after his death that researchers looked more closely at his family tree and ancestral origins and realized that he was of Carpatho-Rusyn ancestry..

For those who are interested in Warhol’s art, which went beyond the Campbell Soup label, and factors that influenced his works or for those who want to learn more about America’s most famous Carpatho-Rusyn citizen, Raymond Herbenick’s book will provide an excellent overview.

This isn’t one of those glossy coffee table books with lots of color images. It’s a scholarly work, well referenced, that examines the Rusyn cultural and social factors that made Andy Warhol who he was.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements
Essay One – Andy Warhol’s Carpatho-Rusyn Roots: Ethnographic Studies
Essay Two – Andy Warhol’s Carpatho-Rusyn Art Roots: Biographical Studies
Essay Three – Andy Warhol’s Carpatho-Rusyn Roots: Autobiographical Studies
Essay Four – Andy Warhol’s Carpatho-Rusyn Art Roots: Aesthetic Studies

The text of the book is 116 pages; the incredibly detailed index is 26 pages longer than the book at 142 pages!

I found the essay format an easy way to follow the author’s train of thought and compartmentalize all the information in my own mind. the author examined everything from Rusyn religious icons to Warhol’s mother’s New York city church of worship (St. Yary’s Byzantine Catholic Church at 246 E. 15th Street in Manhattan) to the Pittsburgh neighborhood in which Warhol grew up (the Warhol Museum)to many earlier scholarly works done by others that looked closely at his life and art.

Because of its cost, this book isn’t for everyone, but library collections make it accessible to all to read.

It’s an oldie, but goodie, first published in 1997 by the Edwin Mellen Press in New York. It’s still available on their website for a hefty $199.95. Other online copies are listed for double that price! I guess Santa was lucky when he found my book for little more than half that price.

If you are interested in reading the book, my first suggestion would be to check WorldCat for a library close to you that has it. Then, if interested in buying a copy, be patient and check often online for a reasonably priced copy (under $150, which is still steep).

Although Andy Warhol didn’t verbally point to his Rusyn heritage, there is no doubt that it directly affected his artistic works. There were a couple of comments in particular that I think describe Andy Warhol very well.

First, there is Andrew Warhola, the Carpatho-Ruysn American, who is the least known, then there is Andy Warhol, the celebrity artist, who is the most publicly known and, finally, there is Andy Warhol, the artist known by art critics.

The key here is in the statement “most PUBLICLY known,” because Warhol went to great lengths to maintain a very private life. He didn’t really want anyone to know about his deep belief in Greek Catholicism, his ethinicity or about his daily life in general.

Second, his art contains multiple references to Rusyn folk art, as seen in psyanky (decorated Easter eggs) and to religious images found in Greek Catholic churches.

I am very pleased that Genea-Santa found my book when he did and it sits proudly in my ever-growing Rusyn reference book collection.