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Genealogy - help understanding Russia/Galicia/Ruthenian/Ukraine

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by barbk, Jun 22, 2010.

  1. barbk

    barbk Well-Known Member

    I'm working on my Russian grandfather's genealogy, and getting confused.

    His father (Michael) immigrated around 1897-1903 depending on which US census data should be believed. In the 1920 census, he lists himself as Russian, and his parents as Russian. In the 1930 census, where it asks the "country in which the birthplace is now situated" -- and for Michael and his parents, the answer is now Poland. The likely ship immigration records record him with a surname that looks like the Polish transliteration of his last name, and many of the fellow passengers have ethnicities listed as Austria,Polish (listed that way) or Austria, Ruthenian, or Galicy (which I think is another form of Galicia.) Never see the Polish version of the name used after that.

    His wife (Maria) immigrated 1900-1903. In the 1920 census she's also listed as Russian with Russian parents. In 1930, she is listed as coming from Galicia, and her parents the same.

    In yet another document they are listed as Ruthenian.

    In everything listed, the language they spoke is Russian.
    Kids were baptized in the "Russian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church of America" and for religion the priest has written in Russian Orthodox. (I guess he could have written in Greek-Catholic instead -- I was kind of surprised to see option on a church baptism record.)

    1. From what I've read, The Council of Vienna gave back some territory that had been held by Russia +/or Ukraine to Poland. Is there a way to narrow down which part of this territory he came from based on his answers?
    2. I am confused about the Galicia part vs. the Ruthenian part -- any suggestions as to how to interpret this?
    3. What geographic or ethnic distinction would you draw between his background and hers? Does it seem likely that they came from the same village or area?
    4. Any significance to them attending a Russian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church vs. a Russian Orthodox church in NY?

    Thanks for any assistance.
  2. Civic

    Civic New Member

    When you're dealing with eastern and central Europe, it's important to distinguish between nationality and ethnicity. Both the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires were sprawling, multi-ethnic countries. Not everyone living in Tsarist Russia was an ethnic Russian. Some were ethnic Ukrainians while others were ethnic Latvians, etc. The same was true of the people who lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Some were Austrians while others were Czechs, Hungarians, Serbs, etc. Some ethnic groups, like the Ukrainians, lived in both countries.

    Galicia and Ruthenia are both regions in Eastern Europe. Galicia stretches across SE Poland near the Slovak border and SW Ukraine. Ruthenia is the tiny wedge of land in Ukraine that borders Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. The national borders in this region have changed a great deal throughtout history.

    Ruthenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Between WWI and WWII, it was part of Czechoslovakia. After World War II, it became part of the Soviet Union. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Ruthenia has been part of an independent Ukraine. This region is often referred to as Carpathian Ruthenia or Transcarpathia due to its location in the Carpathian Mountains.

    As for Galicia...most of it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. The remainder was part of the Russian Empire during this period. Between 1918-1940, it was part of Poland. During World War II, the Soviet Army occupied eastern Galicia and never left. Eastern Galicia, like Ruthenia, became part of the Soviet Union after World War II.

    As to your great-grandparents ethnicity...the record lists them as Russian speakers but the fact they were Greek Catholics makes me suspect they were either Ukrainian or Ruthenians. Ruthenian is the term for ethnic Ukrainians who lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire or its successor countries. They may also be called Ruthenes and Rusyns. Some Ruthenians consider themselves to be a distinct ethnic group separate from Ukrainians.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2010
  3. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

    Quite true. My family left Poland when their part of Poland was "part" of another country - maybe Austria, from what my grandfather used to say. Doesn't make them any less Polish.

    That whole area was torn up, rearranged, erased, incorporated into other states...
  4. nerdycool

    nerdycool Well-Known Member

    Ah, this is something I came across recently, too. Except mine doesn't sounds as confusing now that I've read yours. Sorry. Mine came from Poland, but on the Canadian censuses I've found, it lists them as coming from Galicia in one, and Austria in another. But it's the same place.

    I wish I could find their shipping records though. My great grandfather changed his surname upon arrival, and no one knows what it was. Add to that, they came through Canadian ports, and from what I've found, not all their records are online yet.
  5. Cyn

    Cyn Well-Known Member

    We've been trying to trace my father's side of the family. We'd always heard they were Polish, but it turns out, once we did some digging, that they weren't actually Polish, they were Lithuanian (part of the area that was annexed, re-annexed, etc. in the time period before, during, and after WWII.

    The way we learned was that the village they lived in, once thought to be one from Poland, was actually one in Lithuania of the same name. The entire Jewish village was rounded up, taken into the woods, and executed, and then buried in a mass grave. The Polish village of the same name was rounded up and taken to Auschwitz and exterminated at Birkenau :( . The last communication we had from our family there was a cryptic letter saying that the family would soon be joining an Uncle, who we knew was already dead.
  6. barbk

    barbk Well-Known Member

    Are you sure they came through Canadian ports? Some of my Irish relatives who ended up in Canada landed in NY.

    You probably already know this, but there is an incredibly wonderful meta-search site (free) www.stevemorse.org with bucketloads of useful info on names. At the top of the website is a link "About this Website and How to Use It" that gives a lot of help on name searches and ideas for how to approach it. He has one-step searching for Canadian passenger lists that was a lot more effective than the searching I'd been doing in Ancestry, HeritageQuest, Footnote and WorldVitalRecords. (And all I can say is thank goodness for public libraries.)

    My biggest challenge on the Canadian side is trying to keep straight on Upper Canada, Lower Canada, Canada East, and districts that also change as do the counties. I'd really like a google map that I can point to a location and say "there" -- now tell me what geographic census reference includes "there" is in each of the (all-too-few) Canadian censuses.

    Did they become naturalized? Since settlers from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales didn't have to go through naturalization, that might make the finding aid lists a lot shorter if you have some decent information on where the application might have been filed. I know it sounds like a grind, but I found my grandfather's naturalization record on the very last page of D's for the index for Westchester County New York. Who knows why on that one document (and so far only one document) he used Dy as the start of his name -- but I just wouldn't have found it without scanning them all. It probably took about an hour, but it was worth it.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2010
  7. barbk

    barbk Well-Known Member

    Oh Cyn, that's awful. I'm so very sorry. Hard to imagine an entire village gone.

    If you're trying to trace more of your father's side, the stevemorse.org site may be even more valuable to you -- he has a lot searches that help people looking for Jewish and Holocaust era immigrants and emigrants.

    (Though I've been very surprised at how some of the ethnic-specific material turns out to be very useful -- I found some hard to find Irish marriage records from NY on a search site run by the Italian Genealogical Group that happens to have indexed brides in NYC. Who knew?)
    nerdycool and (deleted member) like this.
  8. barbk

    barbk Well-Known Member

    Civic -- Thank you very much -- that helps a lot. I was getting very confused. (Somehow I managed to go all this time with no memory of ever hearing "Ruthenia" or "Galicia", or at least not Galicia referring to anything up by Poland -- only the one down in what is now Spain, which seemed like a mighty unlikely origin.