Thursday, May 12, 2016


And they called it puppy love..."

by Orysia Paszczak Tracz

The summer camp season has ended. As I sent my older children off to camp, I reminisced about my teenage summers. I belonged to SUM (Ukrainian Youth Association), and the beautiful camp in Ellenville, N.Y. was my summer home. At first I was a just a camper, but later, at a still early age, became a counselor. The summer I graduated from eighth grade was also the summer my mother finally cut off my long braids. Sure, it was convenient to have braids, but at 13 I wanted a change. After all, I was a teenager now and even a counselor at camp! With my new straight-as-a-board shoulder length hair, I turned over a new leaf. It was hard work being a counselor. And I was responsible for a roomful of lovable but mischievous 7- and 8-year-old boys. But there was also time for fun. The counselors and older staff got together in the evenings for stories and songs. Many of the people had beautiful voices, and the Ukrainian harmonies of the folk songs were out of this world. One of the counselors was a handsome "older" man around 18. For a 13-year-old. that's pretty old. He was tall, tan, had a gorgeous smile, and was a marvelous dancer. I, and the rest of the younger female counselors, had a crush on him. Every Saturday evening there was a dance for the older campers and counselors. While the Ukrainian tangoes and waltzes played over the PA system, we either danced with the other girls, or waited for the young men to ask us to dance. There were usually fewer boys, so it was a big deal if you did dance with a boy.

For one of these Saturday dances. I planned to do something about my crush on Slavko, the"older man.” He was going yo notice me, because I was going to make myself especially pretty. From home, I had brought my mother's home permanent curlers. On a Thursday I asked my good friend Marusia to set my hair with these small plastic curlers. I remember instructing her to be sure to set the hair tight, because my hair was long and thick. I forgot that it was also fine. To ensure that it set well, I wore those curlers from late Thursday until early Saturday evening, a scarf tied back on my head. Do you want to guess what happened next? The curl was so tight we could barely get the curlers out of the hair! I say we, because every girl available was helping to free me from my beauty trap. After the curlers were finally removed, I had the first Afro on a Caucasian person, around five or six years before Afros became "in." Not only could we not get a comb or brush through it, my fingers couldn't get through it. Heartbreak! It's already getting dark, the dance is about to begin, and I'm in a panic about the frizzy mound atop my head. I'm supposed to dance with Slavko tonight!

I did go, with another scarf tied around my puffy head. I was so embarrassed I could die! My friends didn't help much, because to them this whole thing was a riot. Barely holding back tears of laughter, Marusia even reminded me how I had instructed her to make the curls, real tight, "so that it would hold." Slavko did dance with me once, if I remember correctly. He didn't even ask why there was a scarf on my head in the middle of summer, at a dance yet. If he knew I had a crush on him, he never let on. Thirty some years later. I can smile now as I recall this one-sided puppy-love affair, and my Ukrainian Afro. But at the time, it was no laughing matter.

The Ukrainian Weekly.  No. 39, Sunday, September 27, 1987

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


There is so much interest in genealogy today -- you want to find your roots even though you've been so far removed from your Ukrainian relatives for so long.  Here are two articles about starting the search.  (originals published in The Ukrainian Weekly)

I'll be leading my 16th (or so) tour to Ukraine in July (please see    --- still a bit of time to register!  Go for it!


YOU WILL FIND THEM IF YOU GO – Finding Relatives in Ukraine

Getting the Place Name Right

Orysia Paszczak Tracz

Five minutes sometimes…. ok, a half-hour at most…. that is the time needed once you arrive in your ancestral village to find someone from your family.   If there are no living relatives, someone in the selo (village) will know where the family lived, and show you where their house is or was.  Of course, you need to know the name of your village and the povit (county or district).   Knowing the oblast' (province) would help.  Why is the selo name not enough?   Just like in any other country in the world, there are a few settlements with the exact same name – just how many Plainfields, Middletowns, and Baysides are there in the U.S.A.?

So before we get down to finding the people, let me first tell you where to go…

If you or your family have been in contact with the family in Ukraine, or in the Ukrainian lands now within Poland, or Slovakia, you are fortunate, because you have at least one letter from them, with the family name, the village, the povit, and the oblast'.   You're ready to go!

If your ancestors came to one of the Canadian prairie provinces, or to Pennsylvania, New York or North Dakota a century ago, and your family lost contact, don't pack your bags just yet.  On the other hand, don't lose hope.   Usually, there is some family memory, some stories from the family or from friends, photos, documents such as baptismal certificates, the ship card, or some other identification.  

But often there isn't.  From the photos, maybe you can tell what part of Ukraine they lived in – the clothing will help, sort of.  Depending on the formality of the occasion, they may have worn their own traditional regional costume, and then it is easier to at least narrow down the region. Or, they could have gotten all gussied up for the portrait and wore the almost non-descript urban clothing of that time, leaving no hint as to place of origin.

The various Ukrainian genealogical societies in Canada and the US are most informative and helpful, especially to the seekers who have very little, if any, information on their family, and no knowledge of Ukrainian.      ( Toronto)           (Ottawa)      (East European Genealogical Society, based in Winnipeg , but with members around the world)

You need to be observant and careful, because some websites are strictly commercial and may or may not have reputable people running them.   Some may be like the ones in the mail or online ready to sell you the family crest for "Smith".   A trusted friend or community member may sift through some of this advice that should be taken with a bushel of salt.   Then there is one Ukrainian genealogy discussion group which, while informative, seems to have been taken over by a person who tries to convince everyone from any part of Ukraine that their ancestors were "rusyn," even if they were from Lviv or Volyn. 

But let's get back to the selo, the one you need to visit.  You remember your baba talking about Kuty, her village of so long ago.   She may have been a Hutsulka, from the Carpathian Mountains, and her Kuty may have been the famous village everyone thinks of when they hear that place name.   But, a big but – rather than that selo, maybe she was from one of the three Kuty in Lviv Oblast, or the two Kuty in the Ternopil province?   Oh, she was from Volytsia?   One of the eleven in the Lviv region, or the three in Ternopil?   Dibrova (grove)?  How about five each in Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivske provinces. The common place names are as prolific throughout Ukraine as forest mushrooms after a rain, but even the more esoteric ones can give you trouble.   There are four Khatky ["little houses"] in the Lviv province, and only one in Ternopil, and two Tulyholovy ["heads cuddling together"] in the Lviv oblast.  

Two Kapustyntsi ("cabbage things"), six Zalissia (beyond the woods or forest) , two Shepit (whisper), a whole stack of Sloboda (large village) and Slobidka (hamlet), four Dobriany and two Dobrovliany, and Boyany, Boyanets', Boyanychi, Boyanivka and Boyanchuk…

Oy, gotta stop, I'm having too much fun!  Next time, we'll start looking for family once we get to the right selo.


YOU WILL FIND THEM IF YOU GO – Finding Relatives in Ukraine

It Helps If They Look Just Like You!

Orysia Paszczak Tracz

We've established which selo, povit, and oblast' is "your" ancestral
place.  Now we arrive in the village.

In the last article, I should have mentioned that one way of finding
family is writing to the sil'rada in the village – the Sil's'ka Rada
(village council), addressing to village, povit, oblast', Ukraine.
Try to have the letter written in Ukrainian, a neighbor or friend can
help but, if not, write in English – someone there will know the
language.  Ask very general questions about the family – give names,
years, but not much more.  Let them reply to you with information.
This avoids "finding" relatives you never knew (or actually had).  You
don't want relatives coming out of every stodola.

Before you set out to the selo, you need to arrange for a driver – and
interpreter, if you need.  The driver should be someone who knows his
way – not only around roads, but around people.  This is important,
because the way you ask questions is crucial to finding out anything
and anyone.  Prepare ahead of time – ask people who have traveled, who
have family there, and who know people they can trust.  And agree upon
the fee for the trip in advance (don't forget a nice tip, if

During my tours, in helping people find and communicate with
relatives, I have had to run interference.  Some folks had pushy,
intrusive very distant relatives that would not go away, others had
people they weren't even sure of.  As the "glorious leader" of the
group, I was the stranger who could say "no."   I often go to the selo
with people from my group.  It is a truly satisfying, blessed

Now to find your folks.  We arrive in the selo, the right one – we
hope.  Our driver either goes straight to the sil'rada, or stops the
car as an elderly person walks towards the car.  "Slava Isusu
Khrystu….. dobryi ranok, Vam, babusiu…"   [Praise be to Jesus… good
morning to you, grandmother]   You must know the correct ritual
respectful greeting.  Then you ask about this and that family.
Usually it turns out there are a few families in the village with the
same surname.  Then you go into specifics.  If you know the first
names of the ones who emigrated, and when, that helps.  If not, you
ask if anyone had left for Canada or America so many years ago.   "Oh,
those Romaniuky, of course!  Go down this way…. Wait, I'll go with
you…."  And off you go to the house at that end of the selo.

Last August, Nadia [names have been changed] from Vancouver wanted to
meet her father's family in a village near Radekhiv.  He had supported
his brother's family for many years, helping put the children through
medical school.  We arrived in the selo on a Sunday, mid-day, during a
village council election.  The officials were all there.  We asked for
the "Ivakhiv" family.  The head of the council thinks a bit, says that
there are three Ivakhiv families in the selo – but – you should go to
the one on this-and-this road, because, turning to Nadia, "you look
just like them."  Sure enough, she did!

Another time, in Stari Kuty, in the Carpathian Mountains, Olia wanted
to find her grandmother's family.  At the sil'rada, no one recognized
the old names.  Then Olia took out the old photographs from her baba,
and – of course – everyone there recognized the "Stakhiv" family.
Someone from the rada goes on the bus with us, and we all drive
through the selo to the Stakhiv house.  Olia's distant cousin is quite
shaken, because a few days ago he had dreamt about something like

Joe from Edmonton was looking for his uncle's family near Brody.
Approaching an old man on the village road, the guide asks about "Osyp
Senkiw."  No, don't know anyone like that.  "He's blind in one eye and
has one leg."  "Oh, that Osyp!  Of course!"

When we went to the village of Uvysla, Halia found her great uncle's
face looking up at her from a book on the sil'rada display table – he
was a hero of UPA in this very patriotic village.  The elderly lady
who wrote the history of the village was called, and told us all about
Halia's family.  She showed us where the church bells had been buried
to prevent their melting down by the Germans.  She also showed us the
burials mounds of the many village resistance fighters executed by the

One time, a person in my group just wanted to see her grandparents'
village.  No one would be left, since the whole extended family had
left for Canada a century ago.  We stopped at a light in Rohatyn, and
our guide opened the door to ask directions to Soroky.  A young man
thought he was getting a ride and entered.  After a confused
conversation, it turned out he was trying to get to Soroky!  Well, we
had our guide, which was good, since this village was quite remote.
Donna did not find any actual relatives, but half the village had the
same surname as her relatives – few related to each other.  The selo
was so old, with so many extended clans, that these were separate
families.  The cemetery was full of "Saranchuks."  We all had a good
time anyway.

Near Terebovlia, in Zubiv on a rainy day (of course), we approach the
old man walking down the now muddy road.  No, he can't tell us about
the Yurkiw family, because he's "new" in the selo, one of the many
exiled by the Poles in the Akcija Wiszla deportation in the late
1940s.  He takes us to one house, where the people know others from
that particular extended family.  This gentleman does ask if we know
the Potichny family, because he was taught by a Potichny in Pavlokoma,
the village where the Ukrainian population was murdered by the Poles
after the war.  As we were walking down the road, I looked back, and
there was a kerchiefed head looking out from every gate as far back as
I could see.

Some people going to Ukraine don't have any relatives left there.
They are happy just to see the selo, to go to the church and cemetery,
and walk around the streets.  "I just wanted to see the place, to be
there."  Even though these are people of a few generations in North
America, they instinctively take a small clump of soil from their
village to treasure.  In the twelve years I have led the tour, I had
only one person who went all the way to Ukraine who was not interested
in seeing her ancestor's village.  And we were only about a half-hour
away.  I still cannot figure that out.

Once you find your family, if you had not been in contact before, you
may wish to revisit them.  Be prepared for a celebration, a hostyna
that will last for a long time.  And don't think that the first entrée
served is the only one of the meal.  The food keeps coming and coming.
 Be sure you bring your own gifts of drink, flowers, family photos,
and envelopes with dollars (or – Euros?).  You will certainly be
loaded down with gifts for you and the family back home.

So, if you are motivated, do the genealogical searches but, at the
same time, if you know the place, just go and find them.  The family
will be waiting.  They remember and will be waiting for you.