Maybe you’re Rusyn?

Another January 7th Orthodox Christmas has recently passed.  When I was a little girl my Mom would take me over to see “Baba”.  This was my Great Grandmother.  We would visit her often during the holidays.  She was always sitting in a recliner in front of the television.  She wore a babushka and several layers of afghans draped over her, even though the heat was on and often it felt at least 80 degrees in there.  She watched wrestling.  Yes…wrestling.  She would see me come through the door and she would smile at me.  My Mom would push me towards her, “Go say hello to Baba”.  I would then apprehensively walk over to her and she would say, “You Jema’s girl?”.  (My Mom’s name is Jamie so she would call her “Jema”).  I would nod yes.  “I’m like”, she’d say.  She spoke in a very gruff and gravelly voice.  She spoke broken English and couldn’t read or write.

Me with Baba, Easter 1980

Me with Baba, Easter 1980

One year she gave me a doll for Christmas.  That is really all that I remember about her.  She passed away not long after my 9th birthday.  I never met her husband, my Great Grandfather, who was affectionately known as “Gedo” (Grandfather).  As children, we always incorrectly pronounced it “Gee-tle” (like “Bee-tle”).  He died before I was born. My Grandma Julia, Baba and Gedo’s daughter, died when I was 7.



"Jema" with Rusyn Easter Basket

“Jema” with Rusyn Easter Basket

Mom often told me that we were “Russian” or “Ukranian”.  She said Baba told her that we were Russian.  I never thought any differently about it.  She told me of child hood Christmas feasts with 12 different dishes and hay under the table.  And Mom made a special Easter basket every year for Orthodox Easter and would take it to the church late at night to be blessed.  It would have lots of goodies in it, like special homemade cheese called Hrutka, Pascha bread, special dyed Easter eggs (Pysanky) that my Mom would make patterns on with wax, horseradish root, butter with a candle and myrtle leaves, pierogies, ham, and kielbasa.  When I got older and into genealogy, I wanted to know more about this branch of my family.  My Dad’s side of the family were Scotch-Irish and English who had been in America for hundreds of years.  But who were these Russian people on my Mom’s side?  I did some digging.  It turns out that Baba wasn’t saying that we were “Russian” after all.  She was saying that we are “Rusyn”! More specifically, Lemko Rusyn.


Paul and Anna Smerekanicz Zaperach

Paul and Anna Smerekanicz Zaperach

Anna Smerekanicz (better known as “Baba”) traveled for several weeks, a young woman alone, across the sea.  She arrived in New York from her departure port of Hamburg on June 13th, 1914.  The ship manifest says she was 17 years old with a birth year of about 1897.  Records here show that she was born in 1895.  So we will put her age at 17-19 years of age.  She was sponsored to come to America by an aunt, a sister of her mother’s, who was close in age to her and had sent her money to come over.   She at first settled in Moundsville, West Virginia and got a job in a factory for minimal money painting china.  It is there through a co-worker, his sister,  that she met Paul Zaperacz (better known as “Gedo”).  Baba was from a village in the Carpathian Mountains (in what is now modern day Poland) called Swiatkowa Wielka.  Gedo, similarly, was from the village of Swierzowa.  They are approximately 25 miles apart from one another, yet these two met in Moundsville, West Virginia.  They married and had 11 children.  In the 1930s, they moved to Monaca, Pennsylvania (Center Township).  The family now spells the surname like it is pronounced – Zaperach.


So who are the “Rusyns”?

Flag of Carpathian Ruthenia

Flag of Carpathian Ruthenia

Carpatho-Rusyns (“Carpatho” is derived from their villages which are in the Carpathian Mountains) are also known by various names such as Ruthenians, Rusnaks, Lemko Rusyns or Lemkos, or simply Rusyns/Rusins.  They are a nationality or ethnic group and their homeland is known as Carpathian Rus’.  It is located where the borders of Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland meet.  Usually Rusyns belong to the Byzantine/Greek Catholic or Orthodox Christian churches.   Rusyns speak a language called Rusyn which of course also has within it various dialects.  Most Carpatho-Rusyns emigrated to the United States from 1870 until World War I.  At that time their homeland was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Often times, when finding immigration information or ship manifests, you may see Rusyns listed under many terms for Ethnicity.  I have seen Ruthenian, Austrian, Hungarian, Polish, amongst others.  Because they are a people without a country or a state, they have had a hard time being recognized as a distinct group so many Rusyns were forced to assimilate or choose a country or ethnicity.  Many chose Ukranian, Slovak, or Russian.  It wasn’t until the 1970s that Rusyns started returning to the original Rusyn identity and the idea that Carpatho-Rusyns are not Russian, Slovak, nor Ukranian, but a distinct nationality.

By 1900, the Monongahela Valley towns in Pittsburgh had one of the largest Carpatho-Rusyn settlements in America.  By 1920, nearly 80 percent of all Carpatho-Rusyns lived in only three states: Pennsylvania (54 percent), New York (13 percent), and New Jersey (12 percent).  Many settled particularly in coal mining regions around Scranton and Wilkes-Barre in eastern Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh and its suburbs in western Pennsylvania, and in areas such as Cleveland and Youngstown Ohio.  Western Pennsylvania now has about 60,000 descendants of Carpathian immigrants.  From about 1925 to 1975, the children of Rusyn American immigrants born in the United States started rejecting the old world heritage of their parents and tried to integrate fully into American life.  However, since about 1975, many descendants of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants have wanted to know what their grandparents knew about their heritage.  The things that their parents tried to forget in their desire to assimilate to the American way of life.   Many now, like me, are wanting to learn about their Carpatho-Rusyn ancestry, heritage, and culture.

With the help of  family donations, I submitted my Great Grandparents, Paul and Anna Smerkanicz Zaperacz to the Wall of Honor at Ellis Island

With the help of family donations, I submitted my Great Grandparents, Paul and Anna Smerekanicz Zaperacz to the Wall of Honor at Ellis Island

Finding information on your Rusyn family prior to their arrival in America can seem to be a daunting task but it can be done.  Some records from various villages are now available online through Ancestry and Family Search but others are not.  In my case, the villages of Swiatkowa Wielka and Swierzowa were not online.  Fortunately, my research led me to a cousin residing in the area who had gone back to the villages in recent years.  Her tour guide there was also available to hire for research in the archives.  I was able to hire her to find out more information about my Rusyn families in Poland.  I now have these branches back to the early 1700s.  Never did I think I would be able to obtain any information on these branches, let alone back that far.  We also have a very good resource here in the Pittsburgh area for Carpatho-Rusyns – The Carpatho-Rusyn Society in Munhall, PA.  They are a wealth of information and even have homeland group tours at various times.

In doing genealogy, I often meet people from the area who tell me that they are Ukranian or Russian, as I once thought I was.  And I always say to them… “Are you sure?  Maybe you’re Rusyn?!”


Of Further Interest:

“The Carpatho-Rusyns of Poland – The Lemkos” by John J. Righetti, April 17, 2013

“A People Without a Country: The Carpatho-Rusyns” by Dr. Michele Parvensky

St. Nicholas Chapel, courtesy the GCU's Website

St. Nicholas Chapel, courtesy the GCU’s Website

St. Nicholas Chapel, located in Beaver, PA.  The 1992 chapel was designed to evoke the wooden churches of the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe, the area is now Slovakia. The chapel was named a parish in 1995.

Carpatho-Rusyn Society, Munhall, PA

Gloria Dran’s Genealogy Page – Includes photos, village names, surname of Carpatho-Rusyn Villages and more

A Dictionary of Lemko Surnames



“Immigrant traditions stay alive in the Mon Valley” by Anne Cloonan, Pittsburgh Post Gazette , March 24, 2011

“Carpatho-rusyn Americans” by Paul Robert Magosci


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A road by any other name wouldn’t be as sweet

Recently I read an article in the local newspaper about how some local towns got their names.  I always find these sort of articles very interesting.  It reminded me of a related subject….the names of local roads and streets.  Roads and streets can sometimes provide a great genealogical story.

Every day we drive around from here to there never thinking about the names of the roads we drive on.  I will never forget the first time after I had been doing genealogy, driving down the road on I-376 East towards Pittsburgh from Monaca and seeing the exit for McClaren Road.  It suddenly dawned on me….I know the surname McClaren and why it’s called McClaren Road!  I have never looked at the McClaren Road Exit sign the same again.  Ever after that I am always “on alert” of street and road names while driving.  It is somehow comforting even at times to be on my way to a local place or event and see the street names during the journey and to know why they are the names they are.  I see them and know I am home.

Suddenly it dawned on me....I know why it's called McClaren Road!

Suddenly it dawned on me….I know why it’s called McClaren Road!

I came across the surname McLaren while doing research on my Revolutionary War Patriot Thomas Thornburg.  At one time, Thomas Thornburg owned approximately 1,000 acres in the Moon/Findlay/Robinson Township area of Pittsburgh.  Today there is a small town called Thornburg near Crafton.  This town was developed by a descendant of Thomas Thornburg who took 100 acres of  his inherited property from Thomas’ initial 1,000 and made the town of Thornburg.  But back to McLaren.  The McLarens were a family from Moon/Findlay/Robinson Township and one of the many local families that intermarried with the Thornburg family.  The furthest I have gotten back is to Hugh McLaren who was born about 1767 in Ireland and died in 1825 in Findlay, Allegheny, Pennsylvania.  He is buried at the Clinton U.P. Cemetery.  The surname is also sometimes written as M’Larn, McLarn, McClaren, or McClarren.  He was a farmer in what now is Moon Township, Allegheny, Pennsylvania.  He married Jane “Jennie” Harper, daughter of John Harper and had several children including William McLaren born about 1814 who married Dinah Thornburg, daughter of Samuel Thornburg, granddaughter of Thomas Thornburg.  McClaren Road is named after Hugh McLaren and is on what once was McLaren’s farm and property.

Many roads are named for families who once lived there and owned property. A few local to me that come to mind…. Creese Street (Hopewell, Beaver County), Biskup Lane (Center Twp. Beaver County – Previously Davis Lane),  McCracken Drive (Center Twp. Beaver County)….many, many others.

Sometimes roads are named for places or landmarks near or on the road.  In Center Township, Beaver County, two roads’ names that locals may not think about are Chapel Road and Center Grange Road.

This sign and the cemetery is all that remains of McGuire Chapel

This sign and the cemetery is all that remains of McGuire Chapel

Chapel Road is named for McGuire Chapel, a Methodist Episcopal Church.  Unfortunately, all that remains is a cemetery on the side of the road.  The chapel was located just a short distance from the intersection of what is now Chapel Road and Center Grange Road.  It was named for Reverend Latshaw McGuire. Before the chapel was built, Rev. McGuire and others were holding services in the Davis School House (a local one room schoolhouse).  In the Autumn of 1857, they began to erect the new church, McGuire Chapel.  Corban Prophater made a donation to the church of two acres of his grove and gave a deed for the same to the board of trustees.  The church edifice was completed early in 1859.   Quite a number of members of the McGuire Chapel lived in Phillipsburg (now Monaca) and while they considered it a light task to walk three miles to church, it was too far to take their children.  So they organized a Sunday School in Phillipsburg, a school building was secured, and Daniel Carey was elected Superintendent.  This organization was the seed sown that grew up into the Methodist Episcopal Church in Phillipsburg in 1866.   At the annual conference held in March, 1866, McGuire Chapel was dropped from the Circuit and attached to Phillipsburg.  The church being unattended fell into disrepair and the furnishings were disposed of and the building torn down.

Some people I have talked with in the community have no idea that the white building at the end of Center Grange Road near Brodhead Road is “The Grange” (currently being used as a church).

Photo Courtesy:

Photo Courtesy:

Many don’t even know what the Grange is!  The Grange is a farmers’ association that was organized in 1867.  The Grange sponsors social activities, community service, and political lobbying.  The first meeting of the Center Grange was held in January 1921.  Minutes of the first meeting showed that 51 persons joined and selected the name “Center Grange”.   Henry Hartenbach was elected first master and S.J. Preece was named overseer.  Mr. Hartenbach donated property for the grange hall in October 1921.  The grange bought the former Grammille Dairy Barn for $275 and tore it down for lumber that was used in construction of the grange hall.  Members later contributed $244 to finance construction.  Volunteer workers labored on Mondays and Thursdays each week and on holidays until completion of the hall July 4, 1922.  A picnic and square dance celebrated the occasion.  Later a juvenile room was added that was later used for a kitchen and dining area until completion of a basement and kitchen.  Center Grange community services and activities have included assisting the state welfare office in aiding needy families during the depression, cooperating with the Beaver County Tuberculosis Association in conducting free x-ray clinics, and assisting many other township and county organizations in other campaigns and civic-betterment projects.  The Grange young people belonged to the Grange Youth Club and attended Youth Camp each year at Raccoon State Park.  In 1957, approximately 185 people attended a traveling program depicting a history of Center Grange.  Community fairs were once held at Center Grange and even members of the Faith Lutheran Church held their meetings in the Grange for several years before their new church on Center Grange Road was completed.

Other road names in Center Township, Beaver County that are named for places or landmarks….Stone Quarry Road, Mine Drive (there used to be a coal mine about 1/2 mile at the end of it!), Elkhorn Road (Elkhorn Run), Moffett Run Road, and many others.

There are so many roads in every community around the world that tell a story.  They can provide us with a history of the area, the people who once lived there, and places that existed that may not even still be there today.  This post is just a sampling of a local few but I hope that the next time you are out and about, you might notice the name of a road or street….and ask yourself….What’s in a name?




My personal Thornburg genealogy

“All About Center Township” by Mrs. Mildred Dyke, Community Service Chairman, 1958  Center Grange No. 1870

“Pastor Doug Dragan and City Reach Central Valley” by Andrew Selby, March 19, 2015,

Find a Grave listing for McGuire Cemetery, , McGuire Cemetery Sign Photo Courtesy M. Nail






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I’m a lover of genealogy and history….but didn’t expect to learn this sort of history

As a lover of genealogy, I also feel it makes sense that I am a also a lover of history.  However, there are some history questions I never thought I’d be asking in my genealogy research like….When did blood pressure medication as it is today come into existence?

One of the many documents when doing genealogy that one tends to get familiar with are Death Certificates.  Obviously, throughout the world’s history, there have been many causes of death that range anywhere from “old age” to Plague and epidemics.  But lately I have taken interest in a condition that today we may think of as just regular health maintenance….I’m talking about Hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure).

Today, many people manage High Blood Pressure daily with medication but it wasn’t always so.  While working on a recent project, after obtaining death certificates, I came across a man dying at the age of 34 in 1914 from “renal failure” and then subsequently his daughter dying at the age of 57 in 1966 from “Cardiac arrest due to coronary heart disease and Athrosclerosis, generalized”.  As well as “History of carotid surgery and Hypertensive Cardiovascular renal disease” amongst other issues.  I’m not a physician…So what does this all mean?

Um....I'm not a doctor...what does this all mean?

Um….I’m not a doctor…what does this all mean?

One of the important things someone might want to find out when researching their family is the family’s health history.  How did my Mother, Father, and Grandparents pass away?  And how will that affect me or my children.  So my question in regards to the project above was: The Father died of “renal failure” in 1914….I know that means “kidney failure” but is that hereditary?    In trying to find my answers I had to find out about the history of Hypertension and blood pressure medications.  Thankfully the internet is a wealth of information.

In 1928, the term “malignant hypertension” was created by physicians from the Mayo Clinic to describe a syndrome of very high blood pressure, severe retinopathy and adequate kidney function which usually resulted in death within a year from strokes, heart failure or kidney failure. There were prominent people with severe hypertension in the 1920s and 1930s – so it was a condition that was recognized. But although people recognized that malignant or severe hypertension wasn’t good, they didn’t know for certain of the risks of a more elevated blood pressure nor the benefits of treatment.

Before the effective use of drugs for treatment, there were a few treatment possibilities but all with numerous side effects – including blood letting with the use of leeches. The first chemical for hypertension, sodium thiocyanate, was used in 1900 but had many side effects and was unpopular.  Several other chemical treatments were developed after World War II.  There was a major breakthrough with the discovery of the first easily-tolerated oral medication. The first was chlorothiazide which became available in 1958.   Soon more drugs became available to treat hypertension and beta blockers were developed in the early 1960s.   The results of studies prompted public health campaigns to increase public awareness of hypertension and promoted the measurement and treatment of high blood pressure. These measures appear to have contributed at least in part to the observed 50% fall in stroke and ischemic heart disease between 1972 and 1994.

Now let’s get back to my recent genealogy project.  In 1914, even if high blood pressure was diagnosed, there wouldn’t have been any medications available to treat it effectively.  That probably resulted in the man dying from “renal failure” at the age of 34.  Obviously, renal failure isn’t hereditary but high blood pressure is.  The American Heart Association lists these risk factors for high blood pressure:  Family History, advanced age, gender-related risk patterns, lack of physical activity, poor diet (especially one that contains too much salt), overweight and obesity, and drinking too much alcohol.  Possible contributing factors include stress, smoking and second-hand smoke, and sleep apnea.  With the high blood pressure in her family history, it makes sense that the daughter might possibly have the same issues as her Father.  Unfortunately even at that time in 1966, the medications still were not at the availability and use that they are today.

As you can see, finding out one’s family’s health history can be an important discovery that gives someone possible health conditions to watch out for.  Thankfully we live in a time when breakthroughs in medicine have enabled us to live longer and healthier lives than our ancestors.  And although high blood pressure may run in the family, we have the ability to take medication that our ancestors did not have in the hopes of sparing ourselves from the unfortunate possible health risks or even death caused by Hypertension.  Who would’ve thought initially when doing genealogy research and thinking of family history that it would also include the history of various illnesses and medicine?

Many times I often think it would be nice to live in other time periods….like during the Victorian time period or the roaring 1920’s.  But this is one of the times when in thinking of the history of medicine and a family history of Hypertension…I think I’m pretty happy to be right here in 2015 and beyond.



Keith NM, Wagener HP, Kernohan JW (1928). “The syndrome of malignant hypertension”. Arch. Intern. Med. 41 (2): 141–188. doi:10.1001/archinte.1928.00130140003001

Dustan HP, Roccella EJ, Garrison HH (September 1996). “Controlling hypertension. A research success story”. Arch. Intern. Med. 156 (17): 1926–35. doi:10.1001/archinte.156.17.1926

The American Heart Association


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Hello world!

This is my blog about my journey doing Genealogy and Family History Research! I look forward to meeting new people and learning about their family and finding their family stories.  Let the  journey begin!

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