Monday, November 25, 2013

New Life for Old Cemeteries in the Lemko Region of Poland

Siemuszowa old cemetery 2009

The old cemetery in Siemuszowa
 It was very late in the afternoon when we arrived at the old cemetery in Siemuszowa.  The sun was beginning to cast long shadows all around the lush green hills surrounding the small, quiet village.  It was not my first time in Poland, but it was my first visit to my ancestral home. My cousin Volodya Cherepanyak and his 85-year-old Aunt Katarzyna Tymczak-Czerepaniak maneuvered slowly and carefully through the thick grass that was growing taller by the day.  I set off on my own in a slightly different direction to capture images of as many headstones as I could with my digital camera. 

This cemetery looked nothing like the one in Llewellyn, Pennsylvania, near Minersville where my Baba Julia and Gigi Mike were buried.  There the headstones were crowded together and the gravesites showed traces of regular visits by family to care for them.  Here at the old cemetery in Siemuszowa there were few personal touches like flowers or candles and the headstones were randomly spaced with a lot of room in between.  Probably other headstones crumbled long ago to leave these open spaces.

Down the hill, right next to the old wooden (formerly) Greek Catholic Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord was the new cemetery, which was well kept and full of fresh flowers and burning memorial candles.  This church is now a Polish Catholic parish and its deceased members are buried nearby.  Along with them were interred a few of the former Ukrainian residents. 

A year before my visit here, I became very excited in the Spring of 2008 when I saw this notice posted by Viktoria Pryadko in a PDF on the internet. 

“Hello, dear friends!

I am looking for volunteers for my two work camps: in Holuczkow and Siemuszowa.  They are starting very soon, but I don’t have enough people willing to go there… Could you spread the information about them among your friends, people that you know?... Or, of course, you can go for these work camps yourself … Work camps take place in the Polish mountains, in a very picturesque area, and concern renovating old cemeteries (with the help of professional stone-workers). The detailed description of the work camps is below.”  

I followed up with brief correspondence to the e-mail address listed, but did not find out much.  The person to whom I was writing spoke limited English and my Polish was non-existent then.  But, I looked forward to seeing the results of this restoration effort.  A few years back, I had seen some photos of the old cemetery taken by my cousin Maria Czerepaniak-Walczak on a visit there.  It looked impassable and completely overgrown with wild vegetation and many unpruned trees. 

So when I finally arrived at the old cemetery late on a Saturday afternoon in May 2009, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the grounds were walkable and many of the headstones were easy to read, although many were still indecipherable, with the stone inscriptions fatigued from many years of exposure to the elements.  The oldest remaining headstones showed inscriptions from the early part of the 20th century for village residents who were born as far back as 1836.  And I did find a few of my own family:  Czerepaniak; Hlib; Szwajlyk; Charowsky.  But there were no Gburyk headstones to be found.  I was later told that my great-great-grandmother, Maria Gburyk, was buried with Rozalia Hlib, who was her daughter Katarzyna’s mother-in-law.  But, no evidence of my great grandfather Andrej was to be found anywhere.  I did later determine that the headstone of a Tekla Buryk was actually that of the wife of my great-great-uncle Joseph Gburyk. 

Tekla Buryk (Gburyk) headstone in Siemuszowa cemetery 
I made a mental note then to dig up information about whoever was responsible for bringing the old cemetery in Siemuszowa back to life.  And so this spring 2011 I tried my usual Internet research tactics to uncover a trail that would lead back to the restorers.  Completely by chance, I found an e-mail address for the Viktoria Pryadko who had posted the original PDF about restoration work camps in Siemuszowa. Viktoria, a Ukrainian Lemko, was one of the key volunteers in 2008 who helped to organize the other volunteers for the work camps. After some correspondence back and forth, she pointed me to Ewa Bryla (Bryła), the founder of the Minority Association of Carpathian Heritage (SDMK is its abbreviation in Polish) based in Zagorze (Zagórze), Poland. 

Dr. Ewa Bryla and her preservation work
 In the past, there were some 1,500 Lemko cemeteries in the hills, mountains and valleys of southeastern Poland.  The ravages of Akcja Wisla in 1947 completely destroyed some, while others were left to slowly fade and eventually resemble the countryside from which they were first carved.  Without the local original parishioners and their descendants to maintain the grounds and repair the crumbling headstones and ironwork, many of the old cemeteries became like the one in Siemuszowa:  scattered ruins of a deliberately forgotten past.

Dr. Ewa Bryla, a Ukrainian Lemko, is a professor at the Krakow University of Technology Institute of Economics, Philosophy and Sociology where she works full time.  But, she maintains a residence in Zagorze near Sanok.  Her mother, a member of the Bindas family, was from the small hamlet of Laski (Łaski) near Tyrawa Woloska (Tyrawa Wołoska ) not far from Siemuszowa.  Her father was from the village of Wolica near Bukowsko, which is south of Sanok. 

Ewa became interested in finding her roots in the Tyrawa valley area. She began by contacting Walter Maksimovich the founder and owner of the web site.  Walter knew a man from Tyrawa Woloska, Walter Zelwak. Walter Zelwak was interested in doing something about the ruined conditioned of the Greek Catholic cemetery in his own town.  At first Ewa wasn’t sure she could undertake such a project, but eventually decided to get involved.  During the summer of 2004, she used her vacation time and joined with some of her family and Walter’s relatives in an effort to clean up this cemetery.

As she was cutting through the thick brush, Ewa became upset by the conditions she witnessed.  Why were the Greek Catholic cemeteries allowed to fall into such a state of decay?  She knew then that she wanted to preserve these cemeteries and it would take more than a couple of local volunteers and a few extra zloty to do this.

The next year she formed SDMK as a non-profit in Poland.  Szymon Modrzejewski, a stonemason who was also very active in efforts to restore Lemko cemeteries as early as 1986 and had formed the Magurycz Association in 2008, became involved in the early preservation work. He also offered advice on how to obtain outside funding.  During the summer of 2005, SDMK began its formal work in the Tyrawa Woloska gmina (local community).  Assisting this effort were several organizations, local authorities and volunteers.  Also involved was Ewa’s older brother Peter – a mechanic, builder, handyman and a self-taught mason.

In 2007 after receiving some additional funding, four cemeteries were restored in the Tyrawa Woloska area including the Greek Catholic and Jewish ones, a well as the Greek Catholic cemeteries in Krecow and Rozpucie. In 2008, restoration work took place in the cemeteries of Siemuszowa, Holuczkow (Hołuczków) and Rakowa. In 2009, there was also renovation of historic and forgotten graves near the church of St. Nicholas in Tyrawa Woloska and the local Roman Catholic parish cemetery.

Further renovations also took place in parallel in the foothills of Bukowsko (Pogorze Bukowskie) region south of Sanok - the village of Plonna (Płonna) in the municipality of Bukowsko, and in the Bieszczady Mountains the village of Polyana in the municipality of Czarna. In Plonna were renovated three cemeteries:  near the old Greek Catholic church parish and the old Roman Catholic church square. In addition to repairing the Plonna Greek Catholic cemetery, renovation of the destroyed stone church was started, in which the Communists had located storage for the nearby PGR state farm.

Plonna cemetery Joan Klim restored headstone
In 2010 SDMK worked on cemeteries in the vicinity of the community Tyrawa Woloska in the villages of Stankowa and Paszowa. In the meantime, other renovations took place in the cemeteries of the villages Paniszczow and Izby near Uscie Gorlice and Wola Sokolowa. Also individual graves were restored in the villages of Dewiatyr and Nowe Selo in the county Lubaczow near the South Roztocze landscape park.

In 2011, SDMK turned its efforts to Bukowsko and the villages of Karlikow, Przybyszow (Przybyszów) and to Zagorz, where the headquarters of the Association was established. While restoring cemeteries, SDMK also conducted workshops on the history of the area and its multicultural past, which had evolved there over many hundreds of years before the tragedy of Akcja Wisla.
Karlikow cemetery before restoration
Karlikow cemetery during restoration
Another activity of the association is taking inventory of ruined churches in cooperation with students at the Faculty of Architecture University of Technology in Krakow. As of today, the churches were inventoried in 20 villages - from the Lower Beskid Moutains, the Slonne (Słonne) Mountains and near the Bieszczady Mountains in the vicinity of Roztocze.

And what has been the reaction of the local inhabitants and the authorities to her various restoration and inventory projects?  Ewa says the authorities responded favorably and granted permission for her group to set up the work camps.  Their cooperation was crucial since the land of many of the old cemeteries actually belongs to the gmina (local community).  The villagers, who were naturally reluctant at first and cool to outsiders coming into their communities and uncovering and preserving some very painful memories, eventually became neutral and ultimately friendly. 

And what’s next?
 So where does SDMK go from here?  Dr. Bryla points out that funding for her efforts is very much on a project-by-project basis.  Her past sponsors have included the Foundation Bieszczadzka, the Stefan Batory Foundation, the Polish-American Freedom Foundation and various churches and private individuals, but she is always searching for new sources of funding. Unfortunately, money to rescue old Ukrainian (e.g. Lemko, Boyko) cemeteries or for other minorities in Poland is not easy to find.

For 2012-2013, the group is considering a restoration project for the old Greek Catholic cemetery in Tyrawa Solna ( (the village next to Siemuszowa), which dates back some 200 years.  The newer cemetery is well maintained and sits next to St. John the Baptist church (now used by a Roman Catholic parish which allows a Ukrainian Orthodox service to take place once a month to accommodate the local community).  Restoration of the old cemetery would include clearing some brush and tree overgrowth as well as stone and ironwork.  Ewa’s brother Peter now is in charge of all restoration activity.  She is just beginning to secure funding for this project and welcomes any donations and new sponsors.

If you would like to learn more about SDMK and their very important work of preserving cemeteries in the Lemko region of Poland, you can find out more here.

Dr. Bryla can be reached directly at:  Stowarzyszenie Dziedzictwo Mniejszosci Karpackich, ul. Filtrowa 19, 38-540 Zagórz , tel. 013 46 22 670,

Mike Buryk is an Ukrainian-American writer whose research focuses on Lemko and Ukrainian genealogy and the history of Ukrainians in the United States. You can contact him at:  His web site is:  He wants to extend his special thanks to Ewa Bryla for being interviewed for this article,  to Ewa Charowska for assisting with the Polish translation and to Volodya Cherepanyak for his technical assistance during the phone interview.  This article was first published in The Ukrainian Weekly in 2012.

Copyright (c) 2012-2013 by Michael J. Buryk. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

UkrHEC Ukrainian Genealogy Conference

Ukrainian Genealogy Conference

Saturday, March 22, 2014

135 Davidson Avenue, Somerset, NJ
732-356-0132 |

Additional details will be available in January.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Digging into Lemko and Ukrainian Family History in Poland

1852 Austrian map for 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 definitely 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 part of Galicia in Austria and later located in 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 U.S. 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. On the Internet, clicking around in, offers 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 PC 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 a PC. And, don't forget to periodically back up your family file onto an external hard drive or a thumb disk 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 into a PC and store them on a CD-ROM for the reference of future generations as well as for easy distribution to the rest of your family.

Civil records book Siemuszowa 1777-1784

How Far Back Can You Go?
Despite the ravages of World War II and the tragedy of Operation Vistula (Akcja Wisla) (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 the 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. ("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 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 copy (on microfilm) of the Austrian Josephine Cadastre for your village can be obtained directly from the Central State Archives in Lviv, Ukraine. The process can take several months (when I obtained my copy in the late 1990’s it cost about $US50).  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.

1785 Austrian Cadastre for Siemuszowa
Working with the Polish Archives and the LDS
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 data base of the Polish State Archives.

This will help you know whether your records are in Sanok or Przemysl.  Once you know this, then e-mail the appropriate archive directly in English.  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.  

It should be noted that the LDS Church has actually microfilmed some of these Greek-Catholic Lemko metryky books in whole or in part. Records contained in them do not go back farther than 1750 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 on microfilm, you can obtain a copy on loan for a very small fee ($7 for a one-month rental) from the main LDS archive in Salt Lake City to read at your local LDS Family History Center. The location of these reading rooms throughout the world is available here:

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 Operation Vistula (Akcja Wisla) (1947) 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 were sent East into Ukraine and North and West in Poland and forcibly resettled in various places near Olzstyn, 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.

Creating A Family Tree
Once you document your ancestors and compile the available information on a PC 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-Kinko’s 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.

Even if you don't print out a family tree, you can put important documents, your family tree and perhaps a short narrative about your family history on CD-ROM.
CD-ROM is a very 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 for you in hard or soft cover. Consult your local phone directory for 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:  Happy digging!

Copyright (c) 2013 by Michael J. Buryk. All Rights Reserved