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Tom Peters: Researching Carpatho-Rusyns

By Tom Peters

© copyright 1996 by Thomas A. Peters, C.G.R.S.; all rights reserved

Have you ever been asked the question: "What is your ethnic background?" Most of us, I am sure, have been asked this question many times, particularly by fellow genealogists. We all have the ready answers: "I'm German; I'm Irish; I'm English;" ad infinitum. Yet, there are about one million descendants of an ethnically distinct people from the Carpathian Mountains region of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire who have a confused or non-existent sense of ethnic identity.

These descendants of late l9th and early 20th century immigrants know that they are of Slavic ancestry but are unsure to which specific ethnic group they belong to. This is understandable when you examine the origins of the Carpatho-Rusyns. They came from a specific geographic area with defined ethno-linguistic boundaries in the northeast region of Austria-Hungary. This area encompassed the western part of Galicia and the old Hungarian counties of: Saros; Zemplen; Szepes; Abauj; Ung; Ugocsa; Bereg and Maramaros. This area is now occupied by the countries of Poland; Slovakia; Ukraine and Romania.

These immigrants originated in a small area of a very large empire. They did not come from a specific country. Furthermore, they were members of the Greek (Byzantine) Catholic Church (also called Uniate) and the Russian Orthodox Church, both of which were totally unfamiliar to native born Americans. Their clergy were not required to be celibate. It was indeed a difficult thing for Americans to comprehend.

Even the Roman Catholic bishops in the United States, in some cases, refused to believe that Catholic priests could be married! As you might imagine, this caused many an unpleasant incident when Eastern rite Catholic priests came to America and presented themselves to the local Roman Catholic bishop. In some cases, communications between the two sides were strained to the point that Roman Catholic bishops refused to recognize Uniate priests. These priests often were insulted and angry because they were refused permission to exercise their religious rites and defected with their congregations to Orthodoxy. This conversion required no change in their religious rituals.

Confusion extended to secular life as well and it was no small wonder then that the Rusyns did not know how to respond to their American friends and neighbors to the question: "What is your ethnic identity?" Some of the immigrants responded that they were Austrian or Hungarian because they came from Austria-Hungary. Some said that they were Slovaks because they came from a village that was later included within Czechoslovakia. Some said that they were Ukrainian. These persons of Ukrainian national orientation came primarily from Eastern Galicia where ethnic Ukrainians were numerous and very nationalistic. Some countered that they were Russian because they were members of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Orthodox priests reinforced this identity. This was a very confusing situation to say the least!

The immigrants within their own ethnic community called themselves: Rusyn; Rusnak; Ruthene; Ruthenian; Carpatho-Russian; Carpatho-Ruthenian; Carpatho-Ukrainian and Lemko. These terms have a religious connotation signifying membership in either the Greek Catholic or Russian Orthodox Church. Some of the immigrants and their progeny called themselves "Slavish" which has no meaning at all and is a slang term. The Rusyns have a phrase in their language in which they refer to themselves as the "Po Nasomu" People. This meant to them: people like us who speak our language. This was often a response to the question: "Who are you." Such an answer leads one to the conclusion that a nationalistic identity problem did exist (and still does) for this East Slavic group of people.

The purpose of this lecture is to define the elements that characterize the ethnic identity of the Rusyns and then to cite and illustrate the U.S. record sources that will lead to the identity of the specific ancestral village in the European homeland where the immigrant originated. With this knowledge of the ancestral village ascertained, the primary sources for continuing genealogical research in primary European records will be discussed.

This is especially relevant at this juncture in time, due to the breakup of the former Soviet Bloc into independent countries. Record sources are beginning to emerge as a result of recent microfilming in the East European countries of Slovakia, Ukraine and Poland. Third, fourth and even fifth generation descendants of these neglected immigrants are reaching out for their cultural and ethnic identity!

Useful References:

  • The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants In Urban America by John Bodnar, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, l985.
  • The Other Catholics, Selected and Introduced by Keith P. Dyrud, Michael Novak and Rudolph J. Vecoli, Arno Press, A New York Times Co., New York, l978.
  • Byzantine Rite Rusins In Carpatho-Ruthenia And America by Walter C. Warzeski, Byzantine Seminary Press, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania l52l4, l97l.
  • Our People: Carpatho-Rusyns And Their Descendants In North America by Paul Robert Magocsi, Multicultural History Society of Ontario, Toronto, 3rd Rev. Ed., l994.
  • The Carpatho-Rusyn Americans by Paul Robert Magocsi, Chelsea House Publishers, New York, l989.
  • American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese of U.S.A. Silver Anniversary l938-l963, Johnstown, PA, l963.
  • History of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America by Basil M. Bensin, New York, l94l.
  • Byzantine Slavonic Rite Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh Silver Jubilee l924-l949, McKeesport, PA: Prosvita, l949.
  • "Ukrainians and Ruthenians" In Joseph S. Roucek and Bernard Eisenberg, eds. 
  • America's Ethnic Politics by Walter Dushnyk, Westport, Conn. and London, England: Greenwood Press, l982.
  • "Immigrants From Eastern Europe: The Carpatho Rusyn Community of Proctor, Vermont" in Vermont History, XLII, l, Montpelier, VT, l974.
  • "The Establishment of the Ruthenian Church in the United States, l884-l907" in Pennsylvania History, XLII, 2, Bloomsburg, PA, l975.
  • "The Establishment of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese in l938: A Major Carpatho-Russian Return to Orthodoxy" by Jaroslav Roman in St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, XX, 3, Crestwood/Tuckahoe, NY, l976.
  • The Rusyns by Alexander Bonkalo, translated by Ervin Bonkalo, East European Monographs, Distributed by Columbia University Press, New York, l990. Originally published in Hungarian under the title: A Rutenek and was published by Franklin-Tarsulat, Budapest, l940.
  • Proceedings of the Conference on Carpatho-Ruthenian Immigration, transcribed, edited and annotated by Richard Renoff and Stephen Reynolds, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, l974.
  • The Quest For The Rusyn Soul: The Politics of Religion and Culture in Eastern Europe and in America, l890-World War I by Keith P. Dyrud, The Balch Institute Press, London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, l992.
  • The History of the Church in Carpathian Rus' by Athanasius B. Pekar, OSBM, East European Monographs, No. CCCXXII, Columbia University Press, NY, 1992.
  • The Rusyns of Slovakia, An Historical Survey, by Paul Robert Magocsi, East European Monographs, Columbia University Press, NY, 1993.
  • The Persistence of Regional Cultures, Rusyns and Ukrainians in their Carpathian Homeland and Abroad, Paul Robert Magocsi, editor, East European Monographs, Columbia University Press, NY, 1993.
  • The Official Catholic Directory Anno Domini l99l, published annually by P.J. Kennedy & Sons, Wilmette, IL 6009l.
  • National Directory of Churches, Synagogues, and Other Houses of Worship, First Edition

    • Volume l, Northeastern States: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont by J. Gordon Melton, John Krol, Editor, Gale Research Inc., Detroit, MI, l994. 
    • Volume 2 covers: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

  • Newsletters:
    • Carpatho-Rusyn American, A Forum on Carpatho-Rusyn Ethnic Heritage, The Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center, Inc., Carpatho-Rusyn American, P.O. Box 192, Fairfax, VA 22030-0192, US$l2.00 per year.
    • The New Rusyn Times, A Cultural-Organizational Publication of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society, Carpatho-Rusyn Society, 125 Westland Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15217, US$20.00 per year.
    • Trembita, Published by Rusin Association, 1115 Pineview Lane North, Plymouth, MN 55441-4655, US$12.00 per year.
    • Nase Rodina, Newsletter of the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, P.O. Box 16225, St. Paul, MN 55116-0225, US$15.00 per year. Primary focus on Czech and Slovak heritage. An occasional article on Rusyns. Queries column includes people researching Carpatho-Rusyn ancestry.
    Cyrillic Translations: Alice Weeks, 44-20 Ketcham St, #1A, Elmhurst, NY 11373.

    A detailed map of Uhro-Rus' by Andrew Perejda (1979) is available from:

    The Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center
    P.O. Box 131-B
    Orwell, Vermont 05760. 
    2 sheets: US$7.75. Contains index of place names on reverse side of the maps.
    Detailed maps (1:200,000) are available for the area of Carpatho-Rus:

    • Lemko Area Covered by: Tarnow, Przemysl and Turka Maps
    • Sub-Carpathian Rus Covered by: Leutschau (Levoca), Kaschau (Kosice), Uzgorod (Uzhorod); Mukaceve (Mukacevo) and Sathmar (Satu Mare).

    Carpatho-Rusyn Books For Sale:
    Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center
    P. O. Box l3l-B
    Orwell, Vermont 05760.

    Thomas A. Peters, Certified Genealogical Record Specialist (C.G.R.S.)
    59 Tracy Avenue
    Totowa, New Jersey 075l2-204l
    Telephone:; (201) 790-5053



    Once the ancestral village is known, your local LDS Family History Library should be consulted to see if the Greek Catholic registers for the village have been microfilmed. Most if not all of the Rusyn villages in Slovakia should be available on microfilm sometime in 1995. Some Lemko villages in Galicia are represented in the catalogue as well.

    Microfilming in Kiev, L'viv and other Ukrainian archives is continuing. Many thousands of church registers are known to have been preserved in the various Ukrainian state archives. Many of these are for localities in Transcarpathia and Lemko villages in the former province of Galicia.

    For listings of LDS Family History Libraries, call 1 (800) 537-5950. They will send listings for your area of the country free of charge. Ask them to send you their Family History Publications List. Their research outlines for the U.S. in general and each state in particular are very useful in listing sources of genealogical information available as well as a listing of archives, historical societies, and governmental agencies that can be visited for further information.


    Information concerning LEMKO RUSYNS and their church records, can be obtained from:

    Archiwum Panstwowe w Rzeszowie
    ul. Boznicza 4
    35-959 Rzeszow, POLAND

    If you are requesting extensive genealogical research, set a monetary limit not to be exceeded.

    Information concerning RUSYNS from the former SPIS CO., SLOVAKIA, can be obtained by contacting:

    Statny Oblastny Archiv v Levoca
    Mierove nam 7
    054 01 Levoca

    State how much research you wish performed. Set a monetary limit. No deposit is required.

    Information concerning RUSYNS from the former counties of SARIS; ZEMPLIN and UNG (part) can be obtained from:

    Statny Oblastny Archiv v Presove
    Nizna Sebastova, Slanska 33
    080 06 Presov

    Set monetary limits.

    Information concerning RUSYNS from the former counties of: UNG (part); UGOCSA; BEREG; AND MARAMAROS, now in the Transcarpathian Oblast of the Ukraine would probably be best obtained by contacting:

    Russian-American Genealogical Archive Service
    P.O. Box 236
    Glen Echo, Maryland 20812

    Enclose an SASE for the necessary forms that must be filled out. A search for a single certificate is $22.00 (non-refundable if not found). A US$50.00 deposit for more detailed research is necessary (non-refundable). If positive, an additional fee of US$70.00 will be needed to continue the search. Finding aids are incomplete; therefore, searches can be expensive.

    Research can be performed by U.S. citizens that personally visit Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine. Familiarity with Latin, Hungarian, Polish and Cyrillic will be necessary to be successful. Familiarity with the old script (handwriting) is a must.