Copyright © 1996 by Thomas A. Peters, C.G.R.S. and used here with permission of the author.

Have you ever been asked the question: "What is your ethnic background?" Most of us have been asked this question many times, especially by fellow genealogists. We all have the ready answers: "I'm German; I'm English; I'm Irish; and on and on.

Yet, there are about one million descendants of an ethnically distinct people who came from the Carpathian Mountain region of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire who have a confused or non-existent sense of ethnic identity. These descendants of late 19th 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 and history of the Carpatho-Rusyns.

These people came from a specific geographic area with defined ethno-linguistic boundaries in the north east region of the former Austro-Hungarian empire. This area encompassed part of the then district of Galicia , the former old Hungarian counties of; Saros, Zemplen, Szepes, Abauj, Ung, Ugosca, Bereg and Maramos. These areas are now contained within the modern day boundaries of Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and a few villages in Romania and Hungary . 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 as per the custom. In some cases, communications between the two sides were strained to the point that Roman Catholic bishops refused to grant faculties to the Uniate priests. These priests were often insulted and angry because they were refused permission to exercise their religious rituals which were allowed by the Holy See and defected to Orthodoxy in many cases along with their congregation. 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 were subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Some said they were Slovaks because they came from a village that was later incorporated into Czechoslovakia. Some said they were Ukrainian. These persons of Ukrainian national orientation came primarily from the eastern reaches of Galicia, the area east of the San River, where ethnic Ukrainians were numerous and very nationalistic. This Ukrainian identity was reinforced by the clergy and was instituted by Metropolitan Josyf Sembratovych. Some countered that they were Russians 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 communities 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 offspring called themselves "Slavish" which is a slang term that they used meaning like "Slovak" - but not really! The Rusyns have a phrase in their language in which they refer to themselves as the "Po Nashomu" People. This in effect 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 article is to define the elements that characterize the ethnic identity of the Rusyns and then to cite and illustrate the U.S. record resources 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 microfilming operations in the Eastern European countries of: Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine. Second Third and Fourth and even Fifth generation descendants of these forgotten and neglected immigrants are reaching out for their cultural and ethnic identity.


The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants In Urban America by John Bodnar, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 1985

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, 1978

Byzantine Rite Rusins in Carpatho-Ruthenia and America by Walter C. Warzeski, Byzantine Seminary Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15214, 1971

Our People, Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants In North America by Paul Robert Magocsi, Multicultural History Society of Ontario, Toronto, 3rd rev. ed. 1994

The Carpatho-Rusyn Americans by Paul Robert Magocsi, Chelsea House Publishers, New York, 1989

American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese of USA Silver Anniversary 1938-1963, Johnstown, PA 1963

History of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America by Basil M Bensin, New York, 1941

Byzantine Slavonic Rite Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh Silver Jubilee 1924-1949, McKeesport, PA, Prosvita, 1949

"Immigrants From Eastern Europe: The Carpatho-Rusyn Community of Proctor, Vermont" in Vermont History, XLII, 1, Montpelier, VT, 1974

"The Establishment of the Ruthenian Church in the United States, 1884-1907" in Pennsylvania History, XLII,2, Bloomsburg, PA, 1975

"The Establishment of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese in 1938: A Major Carpatho-Russian Return to Orthodoxy" by Jaroslav Roman in St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, XX, 3, Crestwood / Tuckahoe, NY 1976

The Rusyns by Alexander Bonkalo, translated by Ervin Bonkalo, East European Monographs, Distributed by Columbia University Press, New York, 1990. Originally published in Hungarian under the title: A Rutenek and was published by Franklin-Tarsulat, Budapest, 1940

Istoriia mest i sil Ukrains'koi RSR: vdvadtsiaty shesty tomakh/ /holovna redaktsiina Kolegiia, by P.T. Tron'ko et al, Kiev: Instytut Istorii Akademii Nauk, URSR 1967-1972, 26 volumes. Volume 6 covers Zakarpatsk'a Oblast (Transcarpathia)

The Quest For The Rusyn Soul: The Politics of Religion and Culture in Eastern Europe and in America, 1890-World War I by Keith P. Dyrud, The Balch Institute Press, London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1992

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, by Paul Robert Magocsi, editor, East European Monographs, Columbia University Press, NY, 1993.

The Official Catholic Directory Anno Domini 1991, published annually by P.J. Kennedy & Sons, Wilmette, IL, 60091

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