Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Over the river and through the woods

I have spent years researching my husband's ancestors and my maternal ancestors.  It's not that I don't love my father.  He's truly one of the most wonderful men ever created and must owe something of his stellar character to his ancestors.  It's just that his parents emigrated to this country in the early 20th century from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Since they left wars and political strife have raged across their Carpatho-Rusyn mountain villages, borders changed countless times, and contact was lost with most of his family.  Even the alphabets used for official documents changed.  Assuming I could name the languages my grandparents spoke (another too complicated issue), I cannot read or write any of the official languages used.  So after poring over the Ellis Island records, gathering what could be gathered from family here and - in a post-Cold War miracle - from the family there,  I pretty much gave up and focused on research on this side of the pond.

And then Family Search posted the Greek Catholic Church records from my grandmother's ancestral villages on-line (thanks to Lee Drew at FamHist for prompting me to check!).  I had ordered the films before. Twice.  But sitting in the library poring over almost 500 pages of 19th c. church records in three languages and two alphabets was not productive.  I would work for a couple hours and names (almost always Maria, Georgy or some version of Janos) would start swimming before my eyes.  This time I could work at home, on my own computer.  When the names started swimming I could take the dogs for a walk or go to bed.

And so I plugged away, armed with Tylenol and wine, eventually making sense of the handwriting and records.  My great-grandmother's name Szidor, relatively uncommon in this neck of the woods, turned out to be about as common as Smith or Jones up in those mountains.  In one of my most brilliant moments, I remembered I had my grandmother's birth certificate written in cyrillic letters which helped me identify her parents' names and the name of her village in the cyrillic records.  It was like looking for pieces in a jigsaw puzzle focusing on the right shapes and sizes.  My grandfather, blessings be on his soul, had written down her parents' birth dates.  With all that help and about 40 hours of viewing and reviewing, I found her parent's baptismal records naming their parents and a marriage record for one set of great-great grandparents.  Mind boggling.

I'm still decoding some of the information, haven't figured out all the godparents, etc.  But I've learned so much.  My great-grandfather Ivan Pereksta was something of a mystery.  We knew nothing of his family.  But now we know he was the youngest of three children, that his father died shortly before he was born, and that he lived with and next door to other families with the same surname.  And surely it will be possible to discover more about the newly found Janos/Ivan and Maria Szidor - their village's version of John and Mary Smith.

So thank you Family Search for reconnecting me with my Carpathian roots. Thank you grandfather.  And thank you Daddy.


  1. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of Back to the Homeplace

  2. Welcome to the tribe!

    Check us out at


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