Family HIstory

The Old Country: Salt Of The Earth

  • August 11, 2018


Here’s a word association experiment — or narrowing the scope a bit we might call it an Ukrainian Haiku since it encapsulates a few uniquely Ukrainian terms however decidedly non-traditional in structure:

Salt >> Chumak >> Galicia >> Ruthenian >> Ukrainian >> Salt of The Earth.

Now there is an expression that was once popular among the precariat in the Detroit area where I grew up: “back to the salt mines” which, since Detroit was built over a large glacial deposit of salt, was a local way of saying “time to get your ass back to work”, associating one’s job with the hard work of mining salt. Of course those salt mines are closed now and those job are gone, along with millions of others sacrificed on the altar of neoliberal capitalism.

Chumak (чумак).

Situated on the wall above my desk is a framed print of a photo taken by the great Czech photographer Jaroslav Poncar dated 1987 that was gifted to me by Marcia Anderson during our trek to SoluKhumbu in 1996. It is a landscape depicting a caravan of salt traders wending their way on foot through the harsh mountain terrain of Tibet, herding a train of Tibetan ponies as their draft animals: The Salt Men Of Tibet [see photo].

Chumaks, whom we might metaphorically label the “Salt Men of Galicia”, were legendary merchant tradesmen dating from at least the 12th Century that plied the salt trading routes from the Baltic to the Black seas with their oxen-drawn carts, later immortalized in verse by Taras Schevchenko and in song by Taras Petrynenko and DakhaBrakha. The Chumak are no longer practicing their trade either.

Galicia (Halychyna – Галичина).

“Galicia” is a latinized form of “Halychyna” which depicted a region whose name is derived from Halych, a town that was once the capitol of the 13th Century kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia which then straddled the present-day borders of Eastern Poland and Western Ukraine; its heart lying within the modern Oblasts of western Ukraine: Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk where the town of Halych is located. A region then renowned for its salt deposits and the legendary Chumak that made it famous, Halychyna is in fact a place name derived from the Greek word “άλας” – “alas” – which means “salt”.

When thinking of Ukraine (Україна) — and here let’s pause to parse and interpret the etymology of “Україна”: (“У” pronounced “yoo” meaning “on the edge”; “not a part of”; or “beyond”; and “країна” pronounced “kra-ee-na” meaning “country”; the implication of both conjoined signifying a “borderland” or the “frontier”) — the area has always been a place name associated with Eastern Slavs whom historically neither had a country nor even a place to call their own and who inhabited areas that were disputed by outside feudal powers for centuries, consequently the term “Ruthenians” became closely associated with Ukraine’s inhabitants but over time had often been interchanged with the label “Ukrainian”.

Ruthenian (русинський).

Traditionally the expression “Ruthenian” (Rus or Rusyn), an Eleventh Century name for the inhabitants of Halychyna, referred to Eastern Slavs who were associated with the Greek Orthodox Church. Over time, Ruthenian came to be applied only to those Rusyns living in the Trans-Carpathian region of Halychyna as other Slav inhabitants instead preferred calling themselves “Ukrainian” partially as a means of distancing themselves culturally from what they associated “Ruthenian” to be — an Hapsburg Empire ethnic and economic class distinction or even a pejorative, like Малая Русь [Little Russian] or possibly similar to being called “nigger” or a “cracker” in the United States.

Ukrainian (український).

In naming themselves, their culture and language “Ukrainian”, these “Ruthenians” perpetrated a cultural revolution in the face of feudal oppression; a defiant scream for self-determination; and a repudiation of the Gilded Age empires of the Romanovs, the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans, and subsequently the Soviets that still reverberates into the present-day war with Russia and the neoliberal-dominated global economy, overtures to the E.U. notwithstanding. Ukrainians are justifiably Russophobes and continue to be wary of outsiders because even after more than seven centuries of continuous conflict against all of the above, especially the Rus, they are still fighting to preserve what little they do have.

Salt of The Earth (сіль землі).

Ukraine is still enduring enormous economic pressure from outside sources that include Russia, the E.U., the U.S., and most recently China. My guide and interpreter Diana Borysenko got us comps to attend a cultural exchange event in Lviv featuring Chinese & Ukrainian performers entitled “Enchanting Silk Road” that served as a vehicle for economic representatives from China who were in Lviv socially as part of a “getting to know China” marketing program aimed at establishing economic ties to showcase Chinese culture in glowing terms. You can watch it and more in our recent video “The Old Country – Galicia”. Prior to that event, on my way inbound on the plane from Munich, I’d had a chat with a fellow passenger who was a U.S. soldier returning to a unit based in Ukraine whose assignment was to “advise” the Ukrainian constabulary on potential military operations and programs that might help facilitate Ukraine’s entry into the E.U. Conclusion? China sends a theatrical troupe while the U.S. sends in military troops.

Grain Field - Zolotnyky

To visit this self-professed “borderland” you quickly understand why for millennia it has been, and why it is now currently being, fought over and manipulated economically; it is the land itself; an ocean of golden grain — kilometer after kilometer — juxtaposed against an azure sky that is mirrored in the national flag. You have to see it to believe it. You can even glimpse a view of the Ukrainian flag in situ from the twin villages our paternal grandparents hailed from in Pidhaitsi region.

Like oppressed peoples everywhere, Ukrainians are the Salt of The Earth – historically mined for their energies, controlled by their passions, then subsequently abandoned when fully exploited – whose strengths are the very vulnerabilities that have been taken advantage of in the Past. But the Past is not the Future and it is my hope that The Salt of The Earth will determine what that Future will be.


Since we have neither a crystal ball nor a time machine to help predict the Future, we’ll be looking into the Past — nearly 200 years — into the dusty (they really are) Greek and Roman rite church archives specific to the towns that John (Ivan) Babiy and Anna Chuda were born in. These archives contain copies of hand-written birth, death & marriage records, inscribed in ornate long-hand penmanship — in Latin — using church-dictated page formats specific to the type of record that over time have exhibited relatively consistent terminology and minimal content, all bound together in large folios sorted by location and year.

For instance as here, a birth record will contain the dates (year, month, day) of birth and baptism of a child; the house number of the parents; its given name; its sex; notations as to whether it is “catholic”, “legitimate” or “illegitimate”; below that the name of the mid-wife; below that the name of the priest who baptized the child. In the next column to the right will be information pertaining to the child’s parentage; the father’s given and surname; the father’s parentage including the given and surname/maiden name of both of his parents; followed by the same documentation for the mother. In the next column to the right will be a hand-written notation for the parents’ occupation. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries this was most often that of “agricolae” — farmers. The last column will contain the names of the godparents.

A wedding record will have the year, month and day of the event; a column for the groom’s name, parentage and sometimes grand parentage; columns for religion, age, number of marriages; columns containing similar information for the bride; a column for witnesses; one for occupation and lastly notations and an affidavit signed by the officiating prelate or priest.

And finally, a death record normally will have a column for the relevant date of death and internment; the name of the deceased and either its parentage or spouse’s names; columns for religion and sex; a column for the age of the deceased; and lastly a column for the symptoms of death [mortuonata – stillborn; tussis – coughing; convulsio – convulsions; angina – heart]; senectus – senility].

We should also comment that the bulk of the entries recorded in these death records were for infants and young children, highlighting the relatively high mortality rates of that era for that age group in these rural locations where the population was predominately made up of farmers whom had limited access to and resources for proper health care.

Search Criteria.

When we first began our quest for archival records on the Babijs and Chudas in the Summer of 2017– the focus had been solely on finding records that might reveal who our immediate ancestors might be given that geographically, our paternal grandparents had been from two small towns adjacent to each other in what was now Ternopil Oblast in Western Ukraine, and whose timelines had started in the last decade of the 19th Century, albeit complicated by the fact that all of this, including a vist to each of the towns in question, had to happen in one day given my travel arrangements. So quickly determining where the relevant archives were currently being held became the salient issue other than actually getting in a car and driving 300 kilometers roundtrip. Thank “The Grid” my guide Diana Borysenko just made it happen.

Our search criteria back in 2017 included the names of the towns we were to visit: Burkaniv (Borkanow in Polish); Zolotnyky (Zlotniki); and the regional admin center Pidhaitsi (Podhajce); plus ancestral given and surnames that we already knew from existing immigration and marriage records: John (Ivan) Babij and his parents – Panteleimon (Pantelis) Babij & Maria Palychata; Anna Chuda and her parents – Paul Chuda & Xenia or Kseniya “Lenka” Lemiszka.

Ultimately the 2017 search led us to the Ternopil Oblast State Archives housed in a building attached to the 18th Century Baroque-styled Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception where, given the above criteria, the late Deputy Director  Oksana Romanivna Savchyn unearthed the birth record of Grandfather Ivan (John), penned longhand in Latin, which provided us with more ancestral criteria: the names of one set of our paternal great-grandparents – Maria Palychata’s parents Onesimi Palychata and Apollonia Koslowska.

However we were unable at that time to find additional records regarding the Chuda/Lemiszka lineage in those archives given our time restraints, the above search criteria for specific towns, and the physical extent of the archive holdings. Hence the need (among others) for our return visit to Ternopil in 2018 – plus we had both another name to add to the criteria list – “Koslowska” plus another archive to visit — in Lviv.

That we found anything at all given my itinerary, still amazes me but the fact that we did ultimately speaks volumes about the talents of my guide/translator/driver Diana Borysenko.

Ternopil & Lviv Archives – 2018.

When you go to an archive — and this is specific although not exclusive to the one in Ternopil — typically the process is relatively straightforward. You login at the door, go up the stairs to a space with desks along each side, approach the attendant and give her a listing – the location and dates – of what you would like to search for. After a few minutes, the folios containing the records you specified are delivered and you can begin your search. This is not to say that potentially there could be a more efficient way of accessing archives like reserving folios online, then appearing, having an agent appear instead, or have archival staff to conduct a search, but that is not how things are done (so far) in Ukraine.

As a case in point, the procedure for requesting an archive search in the Lviv Oblast Archives entails a completely different scenario — one that is a throwback to the Soviet-era bureaucracy in which you have to login at the guard desk; stow your computer and camera (officially); enter the office where you are given a sheet of blank paper and a form letter (in Ukrainian) which you must copy and personalize for your particular search criteria; then come back the next working day to see if your request has been processed, keeping in mind that the archive closes on church holidays, national holidays, and Fridays. Needless to say, Diana with her characteristic persuasiveness somehow managed to squeeze us in on the very same afternoon of the day we first arrived at the archive. And, as usual Diana did all of the work.

There was one other crucial issue with the Lviv Oblast Archives….it only had records from the two towns (Burkaniv & Zolotnyky) that dated from between 1849 to 1865 – just 16 years. The big question was. What happened to the rest? Might we have to broaden our search pattern to other localities? Needless to say those questions would have to wait until our next visit in 2019.

As an aside, I should say something about the physical procedures one must go through when perusing archival documents. The folios are organized by location, chronologically by year, and then by type (marriages, births, deaths). So when you open one up for a given place and year (or range of years) you must visually browse down each page entry by entry – which have been recorded in ornate hard-to-decipher longhand script, in ascending order – earliest first – latest last – by month and day – quite literally a log book of points in time.

This means on a single page you might view entries in chronological order, that contain all sorts of references to not only other principals and their relatives, but also to unrelated individuals who had performed services essential to the event being recorded; witnesses, midwives, and priests; as well as to possible ancestors whom you’re actually searching for. So hypothetically you might find a record that depicts the baptism of a Babiy – whose mother was a Palychata – whose mother was a Lemiszka – whose husband was a Koslowska – with the godfather having been a Chuda and a midwife who was a Babiy.

So “the plan” given the time restrictions for our search was if you see any of the target names in an entry – take a picture and we’ll sort it out later. Well, later has become now so here we go so grab your tablet and start taking notes.

In Two Thousand Eighteen our archive access time was limited — again — primarily because my travel plans this time included not only tickets to the Leopolis JazzFest held in Lviv (meaning we had to be there in order to attend) but also by the fact that June 30th is Ukraine’s “Constitution Day” — a national holiday — meaning most of the governmental offices including the archives were closed an extra day in addition to the usual Fridays, meaning we had to boogie over to Ternopil at the first opportunity and press the pedal to the metal in order to get back for Charles Lloyd & The Marvels who were due onstage at 7 PM. Fortunately Diana, who is great at a lot of things, is great at that too!

Chuda (Худа) and Lemiszka (Лемісзка).

Since previously we had found nothing about Anna Chuda’s lineage — including her birth record — we had some serious misgivings that any existed at all, given the history of Ukraine; first during the Interwar Period 1917-1939 which included the rise of National Socialism in Germany; the onset of the Communist revolution that created the Soviet Union – the latter of which effectively outlawed religion and religious practices; the rise of fascism in Europe culminating in the outbreak of WW II that locally resulted in the deportations of Jews and Poles either to gulags in the East or concentration camps in the West; a period that lasted to some degree until Ukrainian independence in 1991. So we feared the worst which was that we’d find nothing.

Family oral history had it that Anna’s mother Kseniya (Ксенія) or “Lenka” or Xenia (Greek) Lemiszka had arranged to ship her off to a cousin in New York City because of then socio-political uprisings in the area between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and various factions aligned either with independence or the burgeoning Russian revolution, amplified by the fact that her husband Paul had died leaving Xenia with six children and a small farm to run (so one less mouth to feed).

Because we had done a brief search for Anna’s birth record from both Zolotnyky & Burkaniv the year before, focusing on 1894 & 1895 as probable target years given her stated age (18) on immigration documents gleaned from Ellis Island and had found nothing, in 2018 we elected to first search the vital records of both Burkaniv & Zolotnyky for evidence of both her father’s (Paul Chuda) death, marriage, or birth and for that of a sibling Michael (my middle namesake), concentrating in and around the time frame of her emigration to the U.S. in Summer of 1913 then moving backwards in time. Alas, here was no evidence of a Paul Chuda either dying, being born, or getting married at all given that criteria. Neither were there any references – no matter how obscure to a Kseniya or Xenia Lemiszka. However the Lviv Oblast Archives did have a marriage record between an Andreas Lemiszka (18) – son of Procopii Lemiszka and Sophia Babiy – and an Anna Pomsta (16) on 4 November 1849. Yes. They got married young in those days.

There were some records containing data on a Michael Chuda; a birth in late 1895 – just not to Xenia and Paul; another in early 1913 who lived only 1 day; and another decedent in late 1891 whom had lived only 3 months. There are however many links (eight) to an Anna Chuda — possibly because like Maria, “Anna” is a popular given name in Galicia, and still is today. We also found numerous instances of other tantalizing but opaque references to possibly-related Chudas, Babiys, Palychatas, and a even few Lemiszkas. But…there is one such link that on a second glance proved no to be so opaque.

Fittingly it is to an Anna Chuda, but we had to do some external digging to make our case. Back in late 2006, we could say in the “Pre FB” era — Pre FaceBook — brother Dave pinged me about having found Gramma Anna Chuda’s immigration records on the Ellis Island website. I quickly browsed to their website and did a search for “Anna Chuda” and was rewarded with a listing of eight Anna Chudas each of whom had emigrated through Ellis Island from Eastern Europe or elsewhere in the early decades of the 20th Century. So which one was Gramma Anna? Well, we knew she was from Zolotnyky (Zlotniki in Polish) or a nearby town and the results showed there were only two Annas that had come from that particular place; one in January and a second in July – both in 1913 – both officially 18 years old — arriving 6 months apart. Coincidence?

I immediately downloaded the ship’s manifests for each and the rest is history. You are looking at the results right now. Yup. started right then and there and the credit (or the blame) goes to Brother David Babij. Next time you’re in Memphis, hit him up for some ribs and pulled pork from Central BBQ. To die for.

But I digress….what did those manifests say about these two young immigrant Annas? Well, “July” Anna’s manifest documented her arrival by way of Bremerhaven on the S.S. Koenig Albert on July 19, 1913; her mother’s name was listed on the manifest as “Lenka Chuda”; plus….Aunt Estelle has her mom’s actual steamship ticket in German that had been time-stamped 12 July 1913. Booyah! (How do you say that in Ukrainian?)

Then who was “January” Anna? Her 1913 ship’s manifest documented her father’s name as “Filip”. After a little more digging, Diana discovered her birth record – dated 27 August 1893 – also born in Zolotnyky, listing her father as Philippius Chuda, her mother as Maria Hokora, her maternal grandparents as Marci Hokara and Magdalenae Meluzyna, all of which indicates that Philippius was the very same “Filip” of the Ellis Island link and thus kin to the dear departed and (so far) inscrutable Paul Chuda.

To bad there were no indications on her birth/baptismal record as to Philippius’s parentage, either of which just means more work for us when we return for our next visit.

So January Anna is Gramma Anna’s cousin – whose married name was “Popenik” — and whom the family knew as “Aunt” Anna. Another little tidbit, her godfather is listed as a Joannes (John) Chuda — perhaps a sibling or or a cousin or even a parent of either Philippius or Paul or both? [Photo credits: Elsie Babij, “Aunt” Anna Chuda Popenik, and Anna Chuda Babij]

Again, “Plan C” was to re-visit both archives again in 2019 to continue our research, and indeed “Fast Forwarding” a year would bring us – with brothers Dan and Dave in tow – back to Lviv and once again into the capable hands of our guide Diana Borysenko only to find out that the Ternopil Archives were closed until August 1st pending re-location. Not to be deterred by the mere suspension of public access to the archives, Diana went to work contacting the Archive Director for help and relaying the information we had originally given her regarding our Chuda/Lemiszka ancestors plus offering a modest remuneration for any actual archival documentation that could be un-earthed. It was not until the very last days of our visit, that we started to receive results beginning with the baptismal record of our grandmother Anna Chuda! [See image below.]

[To view the above records [and more] for the Chuda Archives click  Chuda Archives Gallery  or navigate to the Ukraine Gallery from the Galleries page in the Main Menu choose “Galicia Archives” then choose “Chuda Archives”. To return, just click your browser’s back button.]

Babiy (Бабій).

The Ternopil Oblast Archives turned out to be more revealing for the Babiy clan, having in 2017 provided in the birth record of Ivan (John) a listing of his parents – Panteleimon Babij and Maria Palychata – plus the names of Maria’s parents – Onesimus & Apollonia Koslowska – in one fell swoop. And in 2018, it divulged even more, a literal cornucopia of ancestral links some incomplete, pointing tantalizingly backwards in Time, others presenting a puzzle, with a connection seeming to fold back into itself like an M.C. Escher graphic. So where to start?

We already had the birth record of Grampa Ivan that lists one set of his Grandparents. We also know from Aunt Estelle Spearman that he had a sister. However we neither knew whether she was older or younger nor did we know her name. So that is what our initial focus was on, however these archives were chock full of Babiy minutiae so Diana wound up just shooting pictures of everything. As it turns out Ivan had two sisters; one being an “Anna” born on 21 December 1895 to Maria and Panteleimon and whose birth record also lists her paternal grandparents (one set of our “Greats”) as Ignatius Babij born on 22 December 1825 and Magdalenae Kurys; and the second being an un-named stillborn female who passed on 18 May 1890. Could there be more?

You bet. It turns out that our newfound “greats” Ignatius and Magdalenae had five children that we found evidence of: four sons including Panteleimon all probably born around the 1860’s; Procopius who also had sons Paulus (Paul) born 4 July 1892 and Stephanius (Stephan) born 30 August 1894; Basilius (Basil) who had a son Vladimirius (Vladimir) born 15 November 1894; and Petris (Peter) who had sons Emilianius born 7 August 1893 and Jacobius (Jacob) born 16 October 1894; plus a daughter Catharina who passed away 10 October 1863 having lived only five months — but whose birth record, discovered by Diana in the Lviv Oblast Archves, has served to push the Babiy lineage back yet another generation to either the end of the 18th or beginning of the 19th Centuries, revealing the parents of Ignatius to be Thomas Babiy and Anastasia Baczynska. Double Booyah!

Now there is way, way more that we already have; truncated Babiy lineages for kin that were contemporaries of Thomas, Ignatius and Panteleimon — enough to feed both idle speculation and a followup blog to this one — plus a lot more to find out on our next visit to The Old Country. In the meantime, stay tuned right now because we’ve still got a little more ground to cover in this one.

You can view the Babiy Archive Gallery and see for yourself. Just click on the link to view. To return click your browser’s back button.

Palychata (Падихата).

The Palychata clan is quite prevalent in Zolotnyky even today, if the tombstones in the local cemetery are any indication. There are even a few in the Burkaniv necropolis across the Strypa as well. While visiting the cemetery in Zolotnyky, Diana was able to interview a Maria Palychata (her maiden name) who had recently buried her husband – so she was still grieving. Maria kindly offered to let us contact her father, now in his eighties, to see if he could make any connection to her namesake who was married to Panteleimon Babiy, however after Diana spoke with him he was unable to give us any help. Quite literally he was in the same or at least similar situation that I was in – we were both missing at least a generation’s worth of family history.

You can view the Palychata Archive Gallery by clicking on this link. To bounce back to this page click your browser’s back button.


Some positive news, augmented by of all things a visit to the cemeteries of Zolotnyky and Burkaniv — which you can also view in our videos:  The Old Country – Galicia and The Old Country – Echoes In Time, buried in those consecrated grounds or interspersed among overgrown unmarked graves and both abandoned or brand new monuments, there does exist ample evidence of a history of the lives of simple farmers; men, women, and children; Babiys, Chudas, Lemiszkas, and Palychatas. They’re there, The Salt of The Earth.

There is a lot to see here, so be sure you’ve stocked up on plenty of popcorn and your favorite beverages (although I recommend espresso or chai tea latte and chocolate bon bons). But if you’re really hungry for more, come join Diana and I in Lviv in Summer 2021 – thanks to COVID. There’ll also be plenty of borsch soups and varenyky (pirogies) to go around.

For now you can view the cemetery photo galleries of the Burkaniv and Zolotnyky cemeteries by clicking on the links provided.

Plus thanks to Diana, you won’t want to miss the photo galleries of our excursions to Chernivtsi in Bukovina; the Kamianets-Podilskyi and Khotin Castles in Podolia; and the Olesko and Pidhirtsi Castles in Lviv Oblast. You’ll get to see how the 1% lived in the 14th through 19th centuries.

We also have photo galleries from our visits to Dolyna & Kolomyya, Lviv, and Ternopil that you won’t want to miss.

And remember, you can read the complete saga of our 2017 trip to Ukraine published earlier in our blogs “The Old Country — Ternopil Oblast“, “The Old Country — Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast“, and “The Old Country — Lviv Oblast“; add to those our post from 2018’s visit: “The Old Country — In Nomine Patris” in which we trace our extended family first and surnames, parse them and speculate on possible extended family connections; and our from our most recent [2019] visit to Galicia “The Old Country — Between The Forceps And The Stone” in which we expound upon our mortality, the social media driven pandemic of alternative realities, and the joys of air travel then expand upon finding more ancestral links in the archives and meeting actual living relatives – something for everyone to wrap their heads around and wag their tongues about. Just follow the appropriate links.

Also be sure to watch our latest videos “live” and in color on our travels to The Old Country: the Psyanka Masterclasses featuring Folk Art Master Halyna Syrotyuk & our glorious guide Diana Borysenko, Yours Truly plus most recently Two DB’s – brothers Dan And Dave. Add to that two travelogues documenting our tours of Galicia: The Old Country – Galicia, and just released “The Old Country – Echoes In Time“. Of course, don’t forget to share the links with your friends.

And if all of this doesn’t whet your whistle for a visit to our ancestral homeland, check out Diana Borysenko‘s website for links to all of the tours, masterclasses, activities, and ancestral heritage services she provides.

Dedicated in memory of Oksana Romanivna Savchyn, Deputy Director of Ternopil State Archives, Ukraine.

© Kazkar Babiy ™  MMXVIII.

Revised 10 July 2019 from a previous posting.

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