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Letters from my Grandmother

By M Davies   /     Feb 21, 2018  /     Into the Void, Rusyn  /     0 Comment

Christmas time every year just seems to get increasingly more stressful for me. The shopping, the decorating, the cooking and baking, endless parties and writing Christmas cards. Everyone expects so much with what little time there is between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. No matter how hard I try to plan I always end up last minute shopping or wrapping or decorating, etc.

While I was home over Christmas break, I ended up being added to a NEPA Star Trek fan club on Facebook. Like most Facebook groups, I usually get added without my permission. Nothing against Star Trek or its fanbase, I just never really got into it. HOWEVER, back when I was working at the big red telephone company (around 2002), I found enjoyment in reading blogs and writing my own. I was always out looking for new content. My friend Jeff (who I’ve blogged about before) kept harassing me to read Wil Wheaton’s blog. Wil played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I really couldn’t care about that, but what I did find fascinating about him was his blog. At the time, he was in some kind of heated feud with William Shatner. I don’t know why, but I found this feud highly entertaining. I guess it’s because I always found William Shatner to be a little pretentious. I bought a copy of Wil’s first book and I even paid for an autographed copy of his Star Trek photo. Getting back to the story, a few years ago, I scanned the photograph and put it on my Facebook page.

It’s signed “Wil Wheaton’s Biggest Fan (that’s never seen Star Trek)” Since I was added to this Facebook group (again, without my consent) I decided to share this with the group since it’s really the only thing I could possibly have to contribute to the conversation. It got a few likes or comments. Whatever.

I told that story to tell you another one. One of the sleepless nights before Christmas, after being added to this group (WITHOUT MY CONSENT, PLEASE FIX YOUR WEIRD POLICIES FACEBOOK) I decided to go looking for the actual autograph in my various filing cabinets and boxes in my basement. It sparked my memory that maybe I should do something to protect it so it doesn’t loose its color or get ripped. I couldn’t find it anywhere…but I did find a curious envelope with my name written on it. Not being able to remember where it was located, I put it aside and continued to look for that damned Wil Wheaton autograph. Spoiler alert: I didn’t find it, and still haven’t.

After wrapping all of the Christmas gifts after midnight on Christmas Eve, my suspicion got the best of me, and I went to find the envelope to see what the hell was in it. To my complete astonishment and after I read letter after letter, I realized these were letters my grandmother from years and years ago. Probably 20+ years if not more. It was Christmas Eve and I found the best present ever that’s probably been hidden for years. Some of this stuff was just what I needed to see and hear at the right time.

As some of you guys know, I’ve been trying to trace my families ancestry which has been proving downright impossible due to the variations in last name spelling. My grandmother single-handedly confirmed on the right track from beyond the grave. If you don’t mind indulging me for a minute, I figured I would share some of these letters with you. My hopes are that maybe, just maybe one of my long lost relatives will come across this blog post and something will ring a bell with them as well.

First…the letters. My grandmother was always sending us money and telling us “to be good.” She wanted my brother to be mayor and me to have a safe trip to Norway. The year on this letter is from 1995. I’m putting these in the order I think they were written, although I cannot tell because she didn’t properly date all of them.

I’m putting these ones next…I don’t know what the dress was for? But I know that if she signed both her and my Grandfather’s name that it must have been sometime in 1995 before he passed.


I feel like this one was right before my trip to Norway, because I remember wearing a vest there, IT WAS REALLY COOL LOOKING AT THE TIME, SHUT UP.

Something about a library book. I have no idea what book it was, but now I’m really interested to know.

Next up, a series of more undated letters with more money. Talks of behaving and clothes shopping. None of these have my grandfather’s name signed to them, so I’m assuming they were after he passed, but I could be wrong.


And now, the crown jewel. The ancestry information:


As you can see there are some family trees, and then a written out biography for my grandfather. It says: “My Grandfather Russell Hryvnak was born 9/23/19 in the Hanover Section of Nanticoke. He was educated in Public School. Went to Church in St. Peter & Pauls Church in Plymouth. Went in to CCC Camp in 1936. Stayed there 1 year. Went back to graduate from Hanover Twp. High School. Went to work in the Buttonwood Collery of the Glen Alden Coal Company as a brakeman on the motor. Went into the Army March 15, 1945 and was discharged May 28, 1945. Worked for the Ridon Glass Company 38 years. Retired and did odd jobs.”

While I knew some of these details, I did not know them all. This paints a broader picture and gives me clues where the case otherwise has gone cold. The lineage was mostly stuff I had, but there are some new leads as well that I’m following up on. The biggest haul from these documents was that Dmytro was my great Grandfather’s brother. I always had assumed that was the case, but didn’t have any concrete facts. I have shared this with a few of my relatives overseas to see if these names ring a bell. By the way, if you have a smart phone, I highly recommend the Google translate app if you have to translate something to or from another language. It works VERY well.

So what’s next? I don’t know, but as some of these pages are yellowing with age, I wanted to make sure I found a way of preserving them, even if it’s only online in a scanned file. My recommendation would be if you have aging loved ones to sit down with them and have them tell you their stories of what they remember from their pasts. It a lovely thing to know the history of where your family came from. You never know what kind of amazing things you may learn from them.

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Khrystos Voskres! Voistynu Voskres!

By M Davies   /     Apr 24, 2011  /     Family, Rusyn  /     3 Comments

And now a bit about my heritage. . .


The title of the blog post literally translates to “He has risen.  Indeed he has risen.”  This is a traditional greeting during the Easter/Christmas season for Ukranian/Russian Orthodox Catholics like myself.  I am a non-practicing one of … those.  My paternal grandfather was big into attending church and being a normal practicing catholic.  After my parents made the move from Wilkes-Barre to the Poconos, we didn’t go to church as much (if ever).  The fact of the matter is, there aren’t many church’s that are Ukrainian.  I can think of two – the one to which I attended CCD – which after doing a Google search is “SS Peter and Paul” on North River Street in W-Barre.  The one that my family “practiced” in was SS Peter and Paul in Plymouth.


I have been desperately trying to seek out more information about my paternal grandfather’s family since the early 2000’s.  I’ve hit numerous road blocks.  The biggest one being that none of his family spell their last name the same way.  Imagine my surprise to find out each of his siblings have taken on a different variation of the spelling.  My grandfather spelled it “Hryvnak”, his two brothers spell it “Hrevnack”, his eldest brother spelled it “Revnack”, and obviously his sisters took the name of their respective husbands.  By the way, the “Revnack” variation of it, would be how you’d actually pronounce it in real life.  The H is silent.  The Y takes on an “eh” sound, and nak.  Rev-nack. 


Now all that having been said, here’s where it REALLY gets tricky.  The graves of my great-grandparents have a completely different spelling of the last name.  I was able to trace them back as coming through Ellis Island, but before that I have no information.  My great-grandmother’s name is Maria Yurchak Hrywniak.  She came from Certizne, Czechoslovakia.  My great-grandfather’s name was Alec Hrywniak and was from Sonak, Austria.  “Hrywniak”.  Where did the W disappear to?  When/where did the V and I appear?


So again, I started searching like madman and find this page:

Specifically this:

Rusyns have typical Slavic first names like Michael (Michal or Michajlo), John (Jan or Ivan, nicknames Vaňo or Janko), Marija (Marja, Marka, Marička), Helen (Olena or Helena) and Anna (Hanna, Hanka, Haňa) or Anastasia. But several first names are peculiar to Rusyns (and extremely rare among Slovaks): for males, Vasil (Vasko), Dimitrij (Mitro), and Demjan (i.e., Damian); for females, Paraskeva (Paraska, Pajza, usually anglicized to Pearl), Hafia, and Tekla.

Rusyn surnames vary widely, many ending in “skyj”, but some other common endings are “čak”, “čik”, “jak” “ňak” or “nyak”, “ko” or especially “nko” and “sko”, “iin” and “ovič”.


My Grandfather and his siblings have some of the names of the above:  Girls:  Anna, Helen, Mary, Julie.  Boys:  John, Alec, Peter, Russell (was my grandfather).  I think that is all of them, but I may be missing some.


So great, I know I’m a Rusyn with several different spellings of last names, the names of my great-grandparents, and my grandfather’s siblings.  That doesn’t explain much to me.  I need more info.  God, I am nosey!


I found a person on Facebook with my same last name, a “Roman Hryvnak”, and I decided to add him to my friend list and message him about what he knows.  This is what I got:  “I’m not sure how much you know about your heritage, but there are few things that I can tell you for sure. Hryvnak (or Hrywniak for that matter) is somewhat popular last name in western Ukraine where I was born and lived for most of my life. It originated as a cossack’s nickname. It is hard to say if we are related since many people in Ukraine have that last name. I do know that on my grandfather’s side of the family someone moved to the states a while ago.”


Roman further sent me this picture:


The last name that is on that sign the most is Hryvnak written in Ukrainian :) I took this picture in a village where my family came from. It’s called Danyl’che (Ukraine).  This is a memorial sign where the men fought for their independence against the Russian and German forces in WW2.


So there you have it.  That’s what I know.  Which isn’t too much.  I keep this website up with my maiden last name as a tribute to my grandfather and his family’s struggles to come to America.  My hopes is that someone will be searching Google, looking for the same information that I am and come across my site and we can do an information exchange.  Any information anyone can provide would be of great value.


Have a blessed Easter everyone!  I dedicate this one to my Pop.

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