Zdynia, Poland

Konrad Fusiak
my great-grandfather

My paternal cousin has been doing a lot of research on our Ukrainian roots and has shared some of her discoveries with me. Our grandparents spoke Ukrainian and emigrated from there in 1909 and 1910, but it seems our grandmother’s parents were originally from elsewhere. I’ve always considered myself half Ukrainian and identifying 41% “Eastern Europe & Russia” on my DNA test seems to bear that out.

But Ukraine wasn’t showing up looking closer under that broad Eastern Europe grouping. Instead, my DNA was indicating “Poland, Slovakia, Hungary & Romania.” And then my aunt’s DNA was matched with another family from Poland! (Apparently the DNA was too diluted for my cousin and me to show up as DNA matches with these distant cousins of our great-grandfather, Konrad Fusiak.) Here’s the tentative line, yet to be proven with documents:

Piotr Fusiak (b. 1760 in Lug, Małopolskie, Poland)
Gregorius Fusiak (b. 1798 in Lug, Małopolskie, Poland)
Gabriel Fusiak (b. 1827 in Zdynia, Małopolskie, Poland)
Konrad Fusiak (b. 1855 in Zdynia, Małopolskie, Poland)
Katerina/Katherine Fusiak (my grandmother, b. 1887 in Luzok Horishni, Lviv Oblast, Ukraine)

Orthodox church in Zdynia by Tomasz Bienias

The province of Małopolskie is also known as Lesser Poland, a historical region. Zdynia is a tiny village, population 220. I can’t seem to locate Lug. (Perhaps it is Ług in Podlaskie?) From what I can tell from a cursory search there were several ethnic groups living in southern Poland. When my grandmother Katherine came to this country in 1910 she identified as a Ruthenian on the passenger ship manifest. Another aunt told me that Katherine’s mother, Ludmila Karaseck, was born in Prague and came to Ukraine to work in the salt mines. Wonder how she met Konrad from Poland? So many questions!!!

So, I’ve ordered a book, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999 by Timothy Snyder, who “traces the emergence of Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian*, and Belarusian nationhood over four centuries.” I hope I can make some sense of the history of the region and gain some insight into my eastern European ancestry.

*Lithuania is a Baltic nation and in December 2019 I had 3% Baltic DNA. In September 2020 my son had 3% Baltic DNA and I didn’t show any. It seemed to be replaced with 3% Balkans. I suspect a mistake was made somewhere along the line. It will be interesting to see what shows up the next time they do an update/adjustment! See: ethnicity estimates.

Augusta Jean & Jon Stephen

Augusta Jean Chomiak (1913-1986)
Jon Stephen Chomiak (1909-1919)
c. 1914

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you may remember a picture of my Ukrainian grandmother and three of her eight children. (Katherine’s Children)

This picture is special because it is the only picture I have of Jon, who came to America with his mother when he was only 5 months old. He was born in Ukraine on 19 September 1909 and arrived on the SS Finland at Ellis Island in New York City on 4 March 1910. Sadly, he died at home of appendicitis when he was only 9 years old. His family was living in Buffalo, New York at the time.

At the time this picture was taken his older sister Mary was still living in Ukraine with their grandparents. The youngest four children (Lillian, Olga, Theodore, Ludmila) had not been born yet. There is a mystery child mostly unaccounted for, a boy named August or Augustine. No one seems to know anything about him except that he died as a toddler after ingesting something stored under the kitchen sink. I can find no birth or death records for this child, but it seems he was younger than Jon and older than Augusta Jean. It seems likely to me that Augusta was named after her brother who had probably died shortly before she was born.

Oddly enough, when one of my aunts filled out a family group sheet for me she gave August’s birth date as the same date as Augusta’s, leading me to consider that perhaps they were twins, however no one else in the family thinks this is likely. But it does seem likely that August was born in 1911 because Jon was born in 1909 and Augusta was born in 1913 and at that time most siblings were born about two years apart. And Lillian was born in 1915.

Anyhow, my Aunt Lil remembered that Jon was buried in “Father Baker’s Cemetery” in Lackawanna, New York. On a 2002 summer trip to western New York, we found the cemetery, which is now known as Holy Cross Cemetery, but we were disappointed to find no record of his burial in the office and no death certificate in the city hall. (Years later I discovered the family was actually living in nearby Buffalo, according to 1920 census records.) The kind people at the cemetery said that there were many graves not yet recorded in their database.

Aunt Lil remembered Jon fondly as a very loving big brother who bought his little sisters Jean (she went by her middle name) and Lil candy whenever he could. He was an altar boy at the church, and helped the family out by collecting coal from the railroad tracks, which we also located. We discovered quite a bit about Father Baker (1842-1936), and learned that the church where Jon must have served was replaced by the Basilica of Our Lady of Victory (consecrated 26 May 1926), which we toured.

Aunt Lil was four years old when her beloved big brother died and she spoke of him often through the years. Aunt Jean was six years old when Jon died. The middle name given to her only son is Jon. Lil and Jean were seven and nine years old when their baby brother, my father, came along. According to him they teased him relentlessly. 🙂

Today is Jon’s birthday and also the 7th anniversary of my father’s death. A bit of synchronicity that I would stumble across this picture today when I was looking for something else.

ethnicity estimates ~ 9.16.20

Barbara’s latest ethnicity estimate from Ancestry DNA

Eastern Europe & Russia 41%
England & Northwestern Europe 26%
Scotland 12%
Germanic Europe 9%
Wales 7%
The Balkans 3%
Norway 2%

Tim’s latest ethnicity estimate from Ancestry DNA

England & Northwestern Europe 71%
Ireland 13%
Scotland 6%
Wales 6%
Sweden 2%
Norway 2%

It’s only been 9 months since our last DNA ethnicity results have been updated! See last ones here.

As you may know, we’re constantly evolving the technology and methods behind AncestryDNA®. Using a combination of scientific expertise, the world’s largest online consumer DNA database, and millions of family trees linked with DNA results, we’re releasing our most precise DNA update yet.
~ AncestryDNA email

Of course I find it terribly exciting to make note of all the fine-tuning that has been done. Ireland and Scotland got separated and I wound up with no Irish, but with 12% Scottish ancestry. Baltic and Italian heritage disappeared, but Norwegian held steady at 2%, and new are Wales (7%, separated out from the old England, Wales and Northwestern Europe grouping) and the Balkans (3%). Eastern Europe & Russia percentage stayed about the same, but the map extended much farther east. In the years to come perhaps there will be more fine-tuning of my Ukrainian roots, as I have so little to go on for my father’s ancestry.

Wales got separated out for Tim, too, at 6%, and he’s still plenty of English, Scottish, Irish and Northwestern Europe. New for him is Sweden at 2%. He maintained his 2% from Norway.

And now, to see how it plays out for one of our children:

Nate’s latest ethnicity estimate from Ancestry DNA

Germanic Europe 26%
England & Northwestern Europe 20%
Eastern Europe & Russia 18%
Scotland 12%
Ireland 6%
Sweden 5%
Wales 4%
Norway 4%
Baltics 3%
France 2%

If we try to add up the percenatges, they don’t add up. 🙂 Nate has more Germanic Europe than we could possibly have given him! (Thank goodness he turned up as our son, though, on the DNA test – phew!) And the Baltic which disappeared from my estimate showed up on his at 3%. And where on earth did France come from??? (Although, on my first DNA test estimate 2% Iberian Peninsula showed for me. And one of my ancestors was said to be a French Huguenot.) Yes, these are definitely estimates, subject to further change, but the gist of it does seem to follow the paper trail. 🙂

It’s important to remember, too, that even though we give half of our genes to each child, each child gets a different mix of half our genes. Tim’s brother doesn’t show any of Norway or Ireland, but has a lot more of Scotland than Tim does. (Maybe someday I will get my sister on board with getting a test!)

Until next time!

ethnicity estimates

Barbara’s latest ethnicity estimate from Ancestry DNA

Eastern Europe & Russia 43%
England, Wales & Northwestern Europe 28%
Germanic Europe 20%
Ireland & Scotland 3%
Baltics 3%
Norway 2%
Italy 1%

We recently added more ethnicity populations and communities. Based on this update, you might see changes to your results.
~ Ancestry.com

Tim’s latest ethnicity estimate from Ancestry DNA

England, Wales & Northwestern Europe 71%
Ireland & Scotland 21%
Germanic Europe 6%
Norway 2%

The last time we examined our DNA results was in 2014, about 5 years ago. (penetrating the past) We both have some interesting changes in our results!

For me, the Italian connection all but disappeared, which seems about right because I could never find one on the paper trail. Norway shows up solidly in about the right amount for my 3rd-great-grandfather, and Ireland as well, for his wife, my 3rd-great-grandmother. My father’s Slavic (Ukrainian) origins gained a larger percentage in my DNA. I’m intrigued with a new category, 3% Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania).

Interestingly, Tim also seems to be 2% Norway. But he’s a whopping 92% England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Northwestern Europe. And this analysis turns up absolutley no European Jewish ancestry, in spite of having a Jewish maternal grandfather. Still a mystery.

So, on Christmas Eve, we were sitting around our table working on a jigsaw puzzle and listening to holiday music with my sister and brother-in-law. I had made the shuffling playlist for my iPod years ago and had included tunes from many traditions. When the Dreidel Song came on my sister asked Tim if his family had celebrated Hanukkah when he was a child. The answer was no, although his stepgrandmother often brought Jewish foods to the house during the holidays. And then, much to my astonishment, he mentioned that his maternal grandfather had converted to Judaism. What!?!

This definitely would explain the lack of European Jewish ancestry for Tim!

It never ceases to amaze me how memories are stirred up in the oddest ways. And how a non-genealogical question lead to a spontaneous answer containing an important clue, which led to the solving of a genetic conundrum.

It will be fun to see any future changes in our DNA analyses as the scientists fine-tune the estimates as their population samples continue to grow.

Katherine’s Children

Katherine Fusiak (1887-1943) and three of her eight children: Augusta Jean Chomiak (1913-1986), Theodore William Chomiak (1922-2013), and Lillian Elizabeth Chomiak (1915-2016).

It’s simply amazing what comes into the light when cousins start exploring family history, too. Several weeks ago I shared a picture one of my maternal cousins discovered and today I’m sharing a portrait found by one of my paternal cousins.

The woman is my grandmother, Katherine, who died long before I was born. I’ve always been curious about her because she is the one grandparent I never knew.

Катерина Фюшяк (Kateryna Fusiak ~ my Aunt Lil showed me how to write her name in Ukrainian) was born on 19 November 1887 in Luzok Horishni, Ukraine, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She died on 22 October 1943 at New London, Connecticut.

Katherine’s parents were land-owning farmers. When her husband William, the son of peasants, left for America, she was pregnant with her second child and they already had a small daughter, Mary. According to my aunt Mary, who grew up with her grandparents in Ukraine, Katherine’s father, Konrad, who did not approve of his daughter’s marriage, was furious about not hearing from William, and with great resentment sold a cow to buy passage to America for Katherine and her new nursing baby boy, Jon. At the tender age of 22, on 19 February 1910, Katherine and 5-month-old baby Jon sailed to America on the SS Finland from Antwerp, arriving in New York City on 4 March 1910. She had no ticket, but was in possession of $19 which she used to pay passage for herself and her son. She was 4’11” tall with a fair complexion. She was identified as a “Ruthenian” on the passenger arrival record, a term used to refer to a group of Ukrainians living in Ruthenia and eastern Czechoslovakia.

Mary stayed behind with her grandparents and so Katherine did not see her firstborn daughter again until Mary was 18, when she finally joined her family in America after World War I. By then, Katherine and William were living on a farm in Montville, Connecticut.

Katherine was a devoted mother who admonished her eight children to stick together no matter what, as she believed that family was all they would have in this difficult world. Her grandchildren called her “Baba.” Katherine died of a strangulated hernia at the age of 55. She lies buried with her husband in Comstock Cemetery in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Three of her children did not survive into adulthood. Jon Stephen died when he was 9 years old, of appendicitis. Augustine was about two when he got into some pills or something that poisoned him. Olga, a toddler, met her death by scalding when she pulled a pot of boiling water off the stove, a horrific accident that my aunt Lil was old enough to remember first hand.

In the portrait above, daughter Mary is missing because she was still living in Ukraine. Jon had already died. My Aunt Jean is on the left, my father is the little boy, and my Aunt Lil is on the right. My Aunt Em was not born yet.

Katherine had a very hard life as a farmer’s wife who made it through the Great Depression living off the land. Her husband was a harsh, bitter man, who regretted leaving Ukraine and apparently hated this country. I admire her courage and fortitude.

My father always spoke of his mother with great fondness and missed her dearly. Even during his last illness he asked for her. He had enlisted in the army during World War II on 4 February 1943. Sadly, only eight months later, on 22 October 1943, his mother died. Only 22 years old, he came home on leave for her funeral and then returned to duty. I am struck with a little synchronicity here because Katherine was 22 when she saw her mother for the last time, and my father was 22 when he saw his own mother for the last time.

My father often credited his mother with raising him to respect women and appreciate their strengths. As an example, he often told the story of her ability to drive a hard bargain. A butcher came down from Norwich to the farm in Montville three times trying to buy a calf for less than the price Katherine wanted to sell it for! But she got her original asking price, impressing her son, and the sale was finally made!

white flowers of the night

mykolapymonenko-ukrainian-night-1905
“Ukrainian Night” by Mykola Pymonenko

But here there was not a sound, and the air was scented with the white flowers of the night. It was a night so beautiful that your soul seemed hardly able to bear the prison of the body.
~ W. Somerset Maugham
(The Moon & Sixpence)

Night, the beloved. Night, when words fade and things come alive. When the destructive analysis of day is done, and all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again. When man reassembles his fragmentary self and grows with the calm of a tree.
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
(Flight to Arras)

Konrad Fusiak & Ludmila Karasek

This is the story of my Ukrainian great-grandparents, most of it given to me by their granddaughter, my aunt Mary, during a lengthy interview on 21 July 1999. (I’ve been adding data here and there as documents turn up on Ancestry.com.) Aunt Mary was the oldest child of my grandparents, William & Katherine, but she grew up in Ukraine with her grandparents, Konrad & Ludmila. When Mary was 2 years old her mother sailed to America without her to join her father here. Mary didn’t see her parents again until she was 18 years old when her parents could finally send for her.

Konrad Fusiak (1864-1926)

Konrad Fusiak, probably son of Gabriel and Euphosina (Dziuta) Fusiak, was probably born 29 September 1855 in Zdynia, Małopolskie, Poland, and died about 1927 in Ukraine. He married (as his first wife), Ludmila Karasek, who was born in Prague, Bohemia, which is now Czech Republic, and died in 1917 in the Ukraine, daughter of Joseph and Anna (Cermak) Karasek.

Konrad died at the age of 72, according to his granddaughter. He was a land owning farmer and a deacon in the Orthodox Church. Ludmila came from Prague to Ukraine with her parents to work in the salt mines at Starasol (or Stara Ceyl?). Konrad and Ludmila raised their granddaughter Mary when their daughter Katherine left for America. Ludmila died of double pneumonia. Apparently after Ludmila’s death, Konrad married (as his second wife) (—) Blenday. Mary remembers this step-grandmother as being very kind and protective of her, since Konrad was apparently a man harsh in his ways.

Left to right: Konrad & Ludmila (Karaseck) Fusiak, Ludmila is holding her baby granddaughter Mary Chomiak, daughters Anna and Augusta, and in front, sons Nicholas and Julian.

These pictures were taken in Ukraine, and brought to America by my aunt Mary. Konrad & Ludmila were the parents of eight children, five of them emigrated to America. Order uncertain:

1. Katherine Fusiak (my grandmother), born 19 November 1887 in Luzok Horishni (Galicia) Austro-Hungarian Empire [now Ukraine], died 22 October 1943 in New London (New London) Connecticut. She married 16 February 1907, William Chomiak, who was born 2 February 1882 in Drohobych or Nahvevitchi (Galicia) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a village now known as Ivano-Frankovsk in Ukraine, and died 7 November 1965 in Willimantic (Windham) Connecticut, son of Fedor and Anastazia (—) Chomiak. Katherine & William were the parents of eight children.

2. Mary Fusiak, born about 1891, lived in Stariy Sambir (or Sambor) and married a Polish railroad worker (perhaps surnamed Nyedv) at Mazurka.

3. Anna Fusiak, born about 1892, arrived in America 23 January 1911, settled in New Jersey and married 21 February 1914, a boarding house operator, Michael Prytuliak/Palmer. She died on 11 December 1963 in East Newark (Hudson) New Jersey. Anna & Michael were the parents of six children.

4. Andrew Fusiak, born 13 December 1896, arrived in America 3 July 1913, and died in November 1940. He attended school in Sambor, married Christina Wolanski (born 6 August 1909, arrived in America 21 October 1929) and settled in New Jersey. He was a butcher. Andrew & Christina were the parents of four children.

5. Augusta “Gussie” Fusiak, born about 1897 in Luzok Vizniy (Galicia), died at age 39 in Harrison (Hudson) New Jersey. She married a butcher, Jacob Wasyliw, who was born in Lviv (Galicia). Gussie & Jacob were the parents of three sons.

6. Julian Fusiak, born 6 August 1898 and died 22 June 1976 in Irvington (Essex) New Jersey. He didn’t like school (in Sambor) and ran away from home often. He married Božena Lowda, who was born 24 April 1902 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire [now Czech Republic] and died 26 October 1986 in Irvington. Julian served in the Austrian army immediately after World War II. He is thought to have collaborated with the Nazis to free Ukraine from Russia. He emigrated from Ukraine on 27 July 1949, age 50. In America, he worked as a storekeeper. Julian & Božena were the parents of four children.

7. Nicholas Fusiak went to school in Sambor, and served in the Austrian army. Nicholas was studying to be a teacher in the Soviet Union. At some point he went to Czechoslovakia. He is thought to have been killed by Stalin when he returned to Ukraine.

8. Steve Fusiak also went to school in Sambor and served in the Austrian army. He apparently had a child, but died young of tuberculosis.

Last Revised:  6 January 2021

summer solstice

"Ukrainian Landscape" by Efim Volkov
“Ukrainian Landscape” by Efim Volkov

There came a Day – at Summer’s full –
Entirely for me –
I thought that such – were for the Saints –
Where Resurrections – be –

The Sun – as common – went abroad –
The Flowers – accustomed – blew –
As if no Soul the Solstice passed –
That maketh all things new.

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #325)

East Village in Manhattan

1.28.12 ~ New York, New York
lobby of The Ukrainian Museum ~ 1.28.12 ~ New York, New York

Saturday we took a day trip to New York to visit Larisa & Dima, to see their new digs in Manhattan, an apartment on the top floor of a six-story walk-up. We huffed and we puffed and we made it all the way to the top with just a few pauses to catch our breath! After some refreshments and a tour of their sunlight-filled rooms – a marked advantage to being so far up – we went back down the stairs and then it was a hop, skip and a jump to the subway station, where we purchased our passes and spent the rest of the day zipping around the city.

1.28.12 ~ New York, New York
art by Borys Kosarev ~ 1.28.12 ~ New York, New York

Our night-owl daughter Larisa has wanted to live in ‘The City That Never Sleeps’ for as long as any of us can remember. As we followed her and Dima here, there, and everywhere, we got the wonderful feeling that she was born to live in New York and is thrilled to be living her dream at last. She certainly worked hard to get there and is making a difference in the lives of others as a social worker.

1.28.12 ~ New York, New York
Larisa taking in a collection of dolls in traditional Ukrainian costumes. Larisa is a common Ukrainian name – Auntie used to make dolls like these. The top shelf is a Nativity scene. ~ 1.28.12 ~ New York, New York

We spent a good chunk of time in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. Since my ancestry is half Ukrainian we visited The Ukrainian Museum. We saw the current exhibition, Borys Kosarev: Modernist Kharkiv, 1915-1931. Kosarev (1897-1994) was a Modernist artist who managed somehow to survive Stalin’s intellectual purges in the 1930s in Ukraine. Outside we found a street named after Taras Shevchenko, a famous Ukrainian poet, artist, illustrator and humanist. I posted one of his poems on my blog several months ago: “My Friendly Epistle

1.28.12 ~ New York, New York
1.28.12 ~ New York, New York

In the neighborhood we also found the sublime St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church…

1.28.12 ~ New York, New York
1.28.12 ~ New York, New York

1.28.12 ~ New York, New York
1.28.12 ~ New York, New York

1.28.12 ~ New York, New York
1.28.12 ~ New York, New York

1.28.12 ~ New York, New York
1.28.12 ~ New York, New York

The church is across the street from McSorley’s Old Ale House, New York City’s oldest continuously operated saloon, where the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Woody Guthrie and John Lennon have found refreshment and inspiration. The floor is covered with sawdust and the beer was good, Tim reports. (Being gluten-free I could not partake…) Established in 1854, women were not allowed to enter McSorley’s until 1970!

1.28.12 ~ New York, New York
1.28.12 ~ New York, New York

On a side note, several months ago I updated my iPod and suddenly was no longer able to shuffle individual songs on my playlists. Even Tim couldn’t figure out how to do it, and so he suggested that perhaps one of the younger folks could solve the mystery. I handed the iPod to Dima and in a few seconds he handed it back with the problem resolved! Thanks, Dima!! Our trip home was very merry as we sang along with a more varied selection of tunes. It was a great way to end a great day!

photos by Timothy Rodgers