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
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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
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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
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,
The History of the Church in Carpathian Rus' by Athanasius B. Pekar,
OSBM, East European Monographs, No. CCCXXII, Columbia University Press,
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