By Michael Buryk
1852 Austrian Map of Siemuszowa, Galicia
Dobra, Sanok, Lesko, Krosno, Nowy Sacz. These are all places that I had never seen until the last few years, but they captured my imagination a long time ago. My paternal grandparents, Mike Gburyk and Julia Czerepaniak, were born and married in the small village of Siemuszowa just north of Sanok in southeast Poland. They came to America shortly before World War I and eventually settled in Coal Country in Eastern Pennsylvania near Minersville in the 1920’s.
Mike’s death from injuries sustained in a coal mine accident in 1924 and Julia’s reluctance to share much with her children about their past in Sanok region left me with a real hunger to find out more about our family history. Unlike doing genealogical research in English for other U.S. national/ethnic groups like the Poles, Germans, Italians or the Irish, the path of Lemko and Ukrainian genealogy is definitely not well trodden. But the sources do exist both in the U.S. and in Poland and Ukraine and the effort is well worth it.
My work began informally in the 1970’s with questioning close relatives about what they knew of our family past and started in earnest in the early 1990’s with regular trips to the Family History Centers of the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) in New Jersey. My success fully bloomed with the availability of the Internet in the late 1990’s, which has proven to be an invaluable resource for anyone intent on filling out the branches on their family tree and understanding the circumstances of their lives in Eastern Europe.
First: Know Your Lemko And Ukrainian History
So where do you start? If you are of Lemko or Ukrainian descent and don’t know anything about their complex history in southeast Poland, or you want to pass on your heritage to your children and grandchildren who were born in the U.S., your first stop should be a trip to the public library to get a good book or two that can fill in the details. You should know right up front that historically there have been competing claims to the land of Lemkivshchyna. Both the Poles and the Russians have struggled over it. The Ukrainians consider it the western-most part of their own ethnographic territory. It was within Galicia in Austria and later part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The locals at various times have called themselves Rusyns, Lemkos, Rusnaks, Carpatho-Rusyns and Ukrainians. The early 20th century Ellis Island immigration records refer to arrivals from this region as “Ruthenians”, which is what they and many others who lived in the province of Galicia in Austria-Hungary were called. Lemkos have been coming to the U.S. as early as the 1870’s and they have left their mark on many of the old industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest as well as in the coal patches of Pennsylvania and the mining towns of Minnesota. Today their descendants can be found throughout the U.S.
Several good sources for historical detail on Lemkivshchyna include: “God’s Playground: A History of Poland, Volume I,” by Norman Davies; “The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999,” by Timothy Snyder; “The Lemkos of Poland,” edited by Paul Best and Jaroslaw Moklak; and, “Ukraine: A History,” by Orest Subtelny. “Scattered: The Forced Relocation of Poland’s Ukrainians after World War II” by Diana Howansky Reilly offers an excellent overview of what happened to Lemko Ukrainians in southeast Poland immediately before and after Akcja Wisla in 1947.
On the Internet, clicking around in http://www.lemko.org, reveals a wealth of information not only about Lemko history, religion, politics and culture, and points to various sources for further genealogical digging. For information on the various waves of Ukrainian immigration in the U.S. including the Lemkos, you should read “The Ukrainian Americans: Roots and Aspirations,” by Myron Kuropas.
Where to Begin Your Search?
The most important initial source for tracing your own family history is your close relatives. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles can each have a piece or two of your genealogy puzzle. It is useful to do personal interviews with each of them and then enter the information in a computer genealogy software program like Family Tree Maker. This enables you to develop a permanent record of all your digging stored in one single database on your computer. And, don’t forget to periodically save your family files onto a backup hard drive or a thumb drive just in case you have an internal hard drive failure at some point!
Going through official family records is also very important. Birth, death and marriage records as well as applications for citizenship, deeds, mortgages and military records all contain important facts about family history. If possible, scan these documents and store them on your computer and backup hard drive for easy reference.
It is important to collect birth, marriage, death and burial records for your close relatives. These can be found through the churches they attended. Keep in mind that religious conflicts within the Ukrainian and Lemko communities in the U.S. in the 20th century might require that you search in Greek Catholic, Ukrainian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic parishes just to name a few possibilities. You should contact these parishes directly, but keep in mind that most records are not digitized so the process of finding records for specific individuals might take some time as well as a monetary donation.
Immigration and naturalization records are also a very good source of information since they might contain the name of the village for your Lemko or Ukrainian ancestor. Ancestry.com has extensive information online and is a good place to start. https://www.ancestry.com/ Ancestry.com is a paid service and has various subscription plans. For a free service, try FamilySearch.com (offered by The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, or LDS) (https://www.familysearch.org/). And, if you know your ancestors arrived in the U.S. at Ellis Island, don’t forget to search the Ellis Island site. https://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/passenger
Another source for U.S. Federal immigration and naturalization records of deceased immigrants is the USCIS Genealogy Program. You can submit a request (for a fee) to them directly. https://www.uscis.gov/genealogy
How Far Back Can You Go?
Despite the ravages of World War II and the tragedy of Akcja Wisla in 1947 which violently tore most Lemkos away from their ancestral homeland in southeast Poland, a wealth of records still exist that document the history of individual families at least back to the 18th century. In 1993, Ivan Krasovsky published a book (in Ukrainian), “Surnames of Galician Lemkos in the 18th Century” that lists the names of Lemko families appearing in the first Austrian Census (Cadastre) of 1785-1788 taken after the partition of Poland when Galicia was transferred to Austria. The introduction to this key work (in English) can be found on here.
A dictionary (in English, Polish and Ukrainian) listing all Lemko names covered in Krasovsky’s book with their corresponding village names appears here.
Alternatively, if you already know the current Polish name for the village of the ancestor whom you are researching, you can go here.
http://www.carpatho-rusyn.org/new (“Lemko Village Resource Guide”)
This interactive, alphabetic list of Lemko village names can be searched to yield a list of all the Lemko family names (of those who owned land) in your ancestral village at the end of the 18th century. Click on the reference number link to the left of your village on this page and you will find the names of the families listed in the Josephine (i.e., during the reign of Emperor Joseph II) Austrian Census as well as facts about the number of Greek Catholics living there in the 19th and 20th centuries.
If your relative is not listed on this site, it is still possible that they lived in your ancestral village in 1785. A digital copy of the Austrian Josephine Cadastre for your village, or the later Franciscan Cadastre (1819-20) (this cadastre was not done for all villages) can be obtained directly from the Central State Archives in Lviv, Ukraine for a fee. The process can take several months. Alternatively, you can hire a researcher in Lviv to obtain these documents more easily and quickly.
It is definitely worth the effort since you will get a copy of an original historical document that details both the individual family and economic history of your village in the 18th century. Here is the contact information for the Lviv Archive.
Working with the Polish Archives
Despite the widespread destruction and chaos of World War II, the Polish archives are remarkably intact and accessible. You can search individual villages here in the database of the Polish State Archives.
This will help you know whether your records are in Sanok, Przemysl or elsewhere. Once you know this, then e-mail the appropriate archive directly in English. Contact information They will let you know how much your search will cost. Contact information for the Przemysl archive is here.
The Przemysl archive can be an important first step since copies of many of the Greek-Catholic metryky books that document the births, marriages and deaths in Lemko villages are now stored there as well as deportation records for Akcja Wisla. The archives in Sanok can also be another important source for your search.
The cost of researching these parish registers greatly depends on how much information about your particular ancestor you can provide.
If you are very adventurous, you can search digitized civil and other records that the Polish State Archives has available online. This is an ongoing, huge effort so you should check back from time-to-time to see if more records have been added for your ancestral village. http://www.przemysl.ap.gov.pl/skany/
In the first drop-down menu (“Nr zespołu:”) type 142 and then hit the “Szukaj” (Search) button below. On the results page for the “Archiwum Greckokatolickiego Biskupstwa w Przemyślu” (archive of the Greek Catholic Bishop in Przemysl)
scroll down about half way and you’ll begin to see metryky (civil) records listed for villages in the Lemko region. The villages are not in alphabetical order so you’ll need to scroll through the whole list. If you find your village, click on it and then begin to search the records. There is no index available so you need to review each record. Usually, birth records appear first and are followed by marriage and death records. You can download records of interest to your computer for free. Records for the Lemko region are usually written in Roman script (not Cyrillic) with headings in Latin.
It should be noted that there are other “fonds” with records that can be pulled from the drop-down menu (“Nr zespołu:”). For example, Zespół 126 (Archiwum Geodezyjne) has Austrian maps for villages in the Lemko region from the 1850’s.
Various records are available as well in other fonds.
The Polish Archives system is also digitizing all its records. http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/ You should search both this site and
http://www.przemysl.ap.gov.pl/skany/ for records for your particular village.
Metryky Records Available in the LDS
It should be noted that the LDS Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints) has actually microfilmed some of the Greek-Catholic Lemko metryky books in whole or in part. And now most of the microfilmed records have been digitized. Records contained in the LDS archives do not go back farther than 1784 (which is when Austria decreed that churches in Galicia must keep and maintain civil records) and, in many cases, only go back to the early 1800’s and are no more current than 1860 or 1870. You should enter your specific village(s) here to find out what is available through the LDS.
If you are lucky enough to have your village parish register already in the LDS archives, you can visit your local LDS Family History Center to view the digital records. The location of these reading rooms throughout the world is available here. https://familysearch.org/locations/centerlocator You can also set up a free FamilySearch account to view online those records that are not restricted for use only in Family History Centers. A message will appear when you retrieve search results to let you know if your records are restricted to viewing at a center.
Since 2014, the Ukrainian family history group Nashi Predky (Our Ancestors) has produced genealogy conferences at the Ukrainian Historical and Education Center of New Jersey. You can find information about its Fall 2017 conference here. https://www.ukrhec.org/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=40
Nashi Predky has a very active group on Facebook with almost 2,000 participants interested in Ukrainian and Lemko genealogy. https://www.facebook.com/groups/NashiPredky/ On Facebook there is also a Lemko discussion group covering a variety of topics of interest unrelated to genealogy. https://www.facebook.com/groups/926754220717643/ And, there is also the Facebook group, the Lemko Project. https://www.facebook.com/lemkoproject/ Finally, there is a Facebook group for
Lemko Ancestry & DNA. https://www.facebook.com/groups/LemkoAncestryandDNA/
Locating Relatives Lost during World War II
The ethnic cleansing that took place in southeast Poland during and after World War II determined that most Lemkos could no longer live in their ancestral homeland. As a result of Akcja Wisla and the so-called “voluntary” deportations of Lemkos that took place before it, you might not know where the descendants of your family live today. Lemkos and Ukrainians went East into Ukraine and North and West in Poland and were resettled forcibly in various places near Olsztyn, Szczecin, Gorzow Wielkopolski, etc. If you have any information at all about a lost relative (date of birth, married name, last place of residence, etc.) and would like to try to reconnect, please refer to the web site of The International Tracing Service and the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) located here.
For your relatives who might have gone East into Ukraine during the years 1944-1946, you can do some initial searching yourself. You can look for their names in the “Knyha Pamiati Lemkivshchyny 1944-1946” (“Memory Book of Lemkivshchyna 1944-1946”) by Yaroslava Halyk, published (in Ukrainian) in Lviv in 2015-2016 in three volumes. The OOL Lemko Research Foundation has the books available for sale, or you can do a search for a specific surname and translate the information for a fee. https://lemko-ool.com/?page_id=851&lang=en
Creating A Family Tree
Once you document your ancestors and compile the available information on a computer program such as Family Tree Maker, you can then print out a very detailed family tree in a professional way. Try to limit the size of these documents to two foot by two foot or a maximum of three foot by three foot in size so that they are still easily portable and printable. It does take some editing to get your family tree in good shape for printing, but it is well worth the time spent.
Professional desktop printing services like those at Fedex print services or Staples will produce a good copy from an electronic file for about $6-$8, or slightly more if you want it laminated and depending on the size. The end result of your efforts is a beautiful document that shows in a visual way the history of your family.
Document Storage and Distribution
Even if you don’t print out a family tree, you can compile important documents, your family tree and perhaps a short narrative about your family history in a PDF and store this in an online Google Drive for an efficient and inexpensive way to distribute the fruits of your genealogical digging. Also, you might want to consider setting up a small family Web site yourself both as a way of disseminating your information globally and to develop contact with distant relatives with whom there has been no contact for many years. Another possibility is self-publishing services to produce a hard copy book. Self-publishing services are now available that will take your MS Word and PDF files and produce a book in hard or soft cover. Use Google search to locate such services near you.
The Fruits of Your Labor
Documenting the history of your Lemko or Ukrainian family in Poland takes a lot of time and patience and you might hit a few dead ends along the way. Persevere and you will be amazed at how much information exists on our your ancestors. And today, with the help of the Internet and other organizations like the archives in Poland and Ukraine, the LDS and the ICRC, it is easier than ever to achieve success. If you need specific help along the way to get around a dead end, please feel free to contact me at: Michael.Buryk@verizon.net. Happy digging!
Mike Buryk is a Ukrainian-American writer whose research focuses on Lemko and Ukrainian genealogy and the history of Ukrainians in the United States. He is a founding member of Nashi Predky, the Ukrainian genealogy group. You can listen to his podcast “Krynytsya” (the Well) featuring interviews and stories about Ukrainians worldwide here. https://soundcloud.com/krynytsya His own family web site is: http://www.buryk.com/our_patch/ And finally, a special thanks to Justin Houser for reviewing this article before its publication.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Michael J. Buryk. All Rights Reserved