Friday, February 28, 2014

Weddings in Ukraine 100 years ago: The Rychlyj Family Story

A wedding in Western Ukraine about 1918.

Weddings in the village of Bila, just outside of the city of Ternopil’, Ukraine, were as important 100 years ago as they are in the United States today.  Since the villagers rarely traveled far from their home, and didn’t have television, radio, movies, or sports to watch or participate in, events such as weddings and baptisms and religious holidays were major 

The village of Bila is just east of the city of Ternopil'

Groom coming to the Bride's home with a "Tree of Life" and a group of musicians, 

A Ukrainian wedding in the old country had traditions that were followed very carefully.  A couple wasn’t considered truly married until all the required customs were performed. Although the wedding was a religious event, many of the customs came from older folk beliefs, some of which had pre-Christan roots.

My great aunt, Katherine “Kashka” Pylatiuk, witnessed many weddings in the village of Bila, and tells about them in her autobiography.  I am going to add information about Ukrainian weddings with Katherine’s first hand story.

Although many weddings in traditional cultures were arranged, young women in Ukraine had more say in the choice of a spouse than most. I have read that the Ukrainian woman chooses her own spouse—she has the last word in making the marriage decision.  It was also possible for a woman to propose to a man.  When a man wanted to propose to a woman, he sent several friends to propose a match to the woman’s parents. The daughter was present in the house, standing in a certain place. If she accepted, she would give them embroidered linens, called rushnyky, which they would put over their shoulders like a scarf.  If she refused, she would hand them a pumpkin.  An saying developed from this custom: “to give someone a pumpkin” came to mean “to refuse to do something”.

Sunday was the day when most weddings took place.  Several events took place on the days leading up to the wedding.  On Friday, the wedding bread, the “korovay” was baked.  This was special bread, made with wheat flour and eggs, with three layers, with elaborate decorations made of bread dough. 
Ukrainian wedding bread, this one has only two layers.

When she was 13, Katherine served as a bridesmaid for a neighbor.  On Saturday, the day before the wedding, she went to the bride’s house and helped make wedding crowns from the periwinkle vine, which would be used in the wedding ceremony.  The bride’s hair was braided with flowers and ribbons.  Then the bride and the bridesmaids went to the houses in the village and invited friends and family to come to the wedding.  

In this painting by Fedir Krychevsky, "The Bride", the bridesmaids help the bride dress for her wedding

On Sunday, the bridegroom went to the bride’s house, and then the wedding party proceeded to the church.  As he left his house, the groom’s mother blessed him and threw either grain or coins over him.  Sometimes the bride and groom rode to the church in a wagon, in some areas they rode on horseback, and in other areas they walked.  The whole family, the guests and the musicians followed the couple.  The priest met the couple at the door of the church, and the wedding ceremony began there. The bride and groom walked down the aisle together.  An older male friend served as the “starets”, and a female relative served as the “staretsina” and each held an icon during the ceremony. There were asked to do this  because they would provide good and examples and advice for the newly married couple.  The best man and the maid of honor held the periwinkle crowns over the bride and groom’s heads during most of the ceremony.  Other members of the wedding party held candles. During the ceremony, the couples’ hands were tied together with a rushnyk, (embroidered towel), and the priest led them around a small altar three times.  
Wedding bread on an embroidered rushnyk and periwinkle wedding crowns
Painting by Nickolai Pimonenko, 1908. "Wedding in Ukraine"

After the ceremony, the wedding party and guests went to the bride’s home for a celebration.  My great-grandfather, Slyvester Rychlyj, was a musician, playing either the cymbaly (hammered dulcimer) or the violin, and played often for village weddings.  The band was made up of a bass, a cymbaly and a violin.  Their payment for playing at the wedding was the bottom layer of the wedding bread, which Sylvester and his family considered a real treat.
Man playing the cymbaly, the instrument my great-grandfather played at weddings in Ukraine

The dancing at the wedding celebrations was mostly circle dances.
Food and drink were served, “vareneky” (pirogi), bread and borscht (beet soup) with meat, if the family could afford it. There was plenty of beer, in fact, when she was 11, Katherine participated in her uncle’s wedding by serving beer, before this she could only watch the festivities.   
As gifts were presented to the couple, each guest sang a song that was “just right” for the couple, these songs were often teasing or bawdy. My grandmother, Pauline Rychlyj, told me about some of these songs, and from what she said, there were often bawdy. Katherine told about her Uncle Oleksa’s wedding, where her mother sang a song for her brother-in-law that was not very flattering.  The bridal couple was upset, but she didn’t stop singing since the guests loved her song. As each gift was presented, the presenter was given a piece of the wedding bread. 
Music and dancing continued for most of the night. Unlike today when people dance as couples, most of the dancing was circle dancing. My grandmother mentioned that she was always surprised by how loud a three-piece band could play.  Near the end of the celebration, the bride’s hair was unbraided, and in some areas of Ukraine, cut short.  In the village of Bila, a wooden hoop was put on the bride’s head, and her hair was covered with a kerchief, the sign of a married woman. 

A Ukrainian woman covered her hair with a kerchief after she was married

Since most people in the village lived in one or two room houses, you may wonder how the couple could spent their wedding night in private, since were no hotels in the village, and  no one could afford to go to a hotel in Ternopil’.   Every house in the village had a storeroom for foodstuffs, this room was cleared out and decorated, a bed brought in and icons were hung over the bed.

After the newly married pair retired to the “kormora” (nuptial chamber/ storeroom), the rest of the guests continued to celebrate into the early hours of the morning. 

To the wedding guests, Monday morning arrived too soon.   It was a work-day, and nobody could ever miss work.

Katherine Rychlyj and Oleksa Pylatiuk on their wedding day in Minneapolis MN, 1923. Their wedding took place on a Sunday, according to Ukrainian tradition.

SOURCES:  Katherine (Kashka), Autobiography by Katherine Pylatiuk Lymar as told to her daughter, Julie in 1988. Copyright 1988.

Tetyana Poshyvalo, "Rituals and Traditions of the Ukrainian Wedding", WUMag,

"Wedding Traditions in Ukraine, Wedding Day Phase".

Friday, February 21, 2014

Working in Ukraine, 100 Years Ago: The Rychlyj Family Story

There are a lot of reasons that people left Ukraine, one of the most important was work.  People worked very hard in Eastern Europe. Many were subsistence farmers, growing what they needed to live, and having very little left to sell.  They were always working. Everybody in the family, including children, worked: doing farm work, housework, or working outside the home for cash wages. There was very little to show for all their work, they were poor, and there was no opportunity to get ahead. It isn’t surprising that so many men decided to take a chance and leave their home and family and try America.  They knew that they would have to work hard there, but at the end of the week, they were paid in cash.  They could work, save, and eventually return to their homeland and provide a better life for the family.  Or they could work in America, save money and bring their family to America.  My great grandfather made the second choice.

My ancestors lived in a small village, Bila, just outside the city of Ternopil’.  It was in Eastern Galicia, part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire.  They were small farmers, the farms were small because the land was divided between sons at the death of the father, by the end of the 19th century, most farms were only a few acres.  

A village in Ukraine about 1910.

My family, like most of the people in the village grew grain, wheat, rye, oats and barley.  They also grew hemp, which provided cooking oil and a source of fiber for linen.  Every family had a vegetable garden where they grew corn and potatoes and seasonal green vegetables.  They had one cow, which provided milk, chickens for eggs and ducks. 

A vegetable garden outside a village in Ukraine, 1910.
A typical village house in Ukraine.

Their work was determined by the seasons.  The grain was cut and dried in the summer and threshed in the winter.  Potatoes were planted in the spring and harvested in the fall.  Hemp was cut in the fall, and prepared in the fall and winter.

Cutting hemp.  this picture was taken in Russia about  1910.

Nothing stopped work.  Nobody took the day off after a celebration like a wedding or a sad event like a funeral.  Being tired was not an excuse skip work.  The punishment for refusing to work was a beating.  The work was hard, physical labor.  People worked barefoot, summer and winter, since shoes and boots were too expensive to use for work.  My great aunt, Katherine Pylatiuk tells of cutting her finger while working in the field, it was serious enough for a trip to the doctor.   Her family was poor, there was no cash to pay for the doctor’s services, so Katherine had to work in the doctor’s fields in order to pay his bill. She had to go to work immediately, even though her finger was raw and sore, and work until the debt was repaid. 

The grain was bundled and stacked four bundles high, with a smaller fifth bundle on top.

Painting by Evhen Leschenko, from the National Museum of Ukraine

Children worked along with the adults.  When she was seven years old, Katherine swept the floors, made the bed, washed the dishes, chased flies, weeded the garden, hilled up potatoes, watched the younger children, as well as bringing water back to the house from the community well.  She carried the water using a “koromyslo”, a long pole with a pail on each end.  The pole went behind the head and balanced on each shoulder.  This method is still used to carry things in China today.  Another chore was to take the grain to the mill to be ground into flour.  Katherine carried about  a half a bushel of grain in a sack, walked three miles to the mill in Ternopil’, waited for it to be ground and brought back the flour to the house.  

Water is carried in China today in the same way it was carried in Ukraine 100 years ago.

Older family members worked outside the home in order to earn cash.  The money they earned was turned over to their parents, because everybody had to contribute to the families’ welfare.  Even though life revolved around work, there was still time for fun, but that is a story for another time.

Sources:  The Produkin-Gorski Collection.  Library of Congress  (all photos except the last)

        (carrying water in China)

                  Lawryk, Julia, Katheryna (Kashka), Autobiography by Katherine Pylatiuk                         Lymar, as told to her Daughter Julie in 1988. copyright 1988

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Big Breakthough in the Monkovski Family Tree.

Genealogy research can be very tedious.  A lot of time is spent going through lists of people who lived long ago, trying to find your ancestor. The search can be complicated by inaccurate records, unfamiliar spellings of names, and a lot of dead ends.

This week I had none of those problems.  I put aside writing about the Monkovski family, thinking that the information I had was all there was available at this time.  Well, I was wrong.  Jose Gutstein of the Szczuczyn Web site, came through again. 

Jose has been helping an Israeli family with their family tree, and he discovered that that family had the same picture of the Chiam Pesach Monkovski family I had (without the crack down the middle.)  He supplied me with information identifying some of the people in the picture.  I heard from family stories that some Monkovski relatives immigrated to Israel, but that was all I knew.

My picture of Chiam Pesach Monkovski's family with the crack.

The Israeli Family's picture of the Monkovskis

It turns out that one of Chiam Pesach’s sons, Yoseph, did immigrate to Israel, but first immigrated to Cuba in 1929.   Two of his daughters are still living in the Tel Aviv area. Then I found out that some members of the Monkovski family immigrated to Argentina, and about 10 years ago, visited the Israeli branch.

Now there is another mystery.  The family in Israel has this family picture, and nobody has any idea who they were.  One of my husband's cousins sent me this postcard that was in some of her father’s things.  Is she the girl with the white beads in the back row?  Perhaps the message on the back, written in Yiddish will provide the answer.

Is the girl in the center of the top row in the picture to the right?
This picture belongs to the  family in Israel.  Nobody knows who they are.

Message on the back of the picture above. Wasosz, 1929.  To my sister, from Abraham.

So, don’t give up.  Occasionally those lists can get results, but it helps to know someone who has the resources to trace family roots in Europe.  I found Jose searching the net for information about Szczuczyn.   I e-mailed him and eventually found more than I ever expected.  Sometimes researching the places you ancestors lived can give you results you never expected.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Living in Ukraine 100 Years Ago: The Rychlyj Family's Story

Just outside the city of Ternopil’ is the village of Bila.  It was a farming village, about 3 km walk to the center of the city.  Most of the people of this village made their living from farming, but since their plots were small, many of them have to work at other jobs to help make ends meet.

Ukrainian newspapers had advertisements for jobs in America.  They promised plenty of land, enough food and drink for everybody.  There were jobs in the coalmines of Pennsylvania, and in the steel mills in Ohio and in factories in New England.  There were ads for farms in North Dakota, showing palm trees and lots of land.  Life was hard in Galicia, a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, the whole family worked very hard and made very little. Why not go to America, work, for a few years and them come back to Bila, and live like a rich man? So in 1907, Sylvester Rychlyj decided to leave his wife and seven children and go to Tower City, Pennsylvania to work.  He traveled with another man from his village, Wasyl Boyko.  When he got there, he found work as a farm laborer.  It didn’t take him long to realize that life was better in America, and he decided that instead of returning to Bila, he would work to earn enough money to bring his wife and family to live in the United States.

So, what was he leaving behind? What was it like to live in a farming village in Galicia?  Why did so many people leave, and never return?  This is the story of my great-grandparents, Sylvester Rychlyj and Marya Bryniak Rychlyj, who were born in Bila.  It was told by my great aunt, Katherine Rychly Pylatuik, to her daughter Julia Lawryk, in 1988.

When Sylvester married Marya Bryniak in 1895, they moved into a one- room house with his parents and brothers and sisters.  It took him ten years to save enough money to buy a house for his family.  The house was built of wood covered with clay, with a straw roof.  It was old, and painted white like the other houses in the village.  The location was good, only a block away from the well. There was a “pryspa” around the outside of the house, a sloping ledge, in order to carry rainwater away. Sometimes the pryspa was used as a bench, but it really wasn’t comfortable.  In front of the house were some fir trees and an ash tree.  In back of the house were raspberry bushes and cherry trees.  Around the house was a wooden fence.  All the houses had numbers, from 1 to 350, and mail was delivered directly to the house.
Man sitting on a "prypsa"
Ukrainian house in Eastern Ukraine.
Inside the house, there was one room,  painted white with the same material used on the exterior, which served as a living room, dining room, kitchen and bedroom.  In one corner, there was a stove and bread oven, made from bricks. Pots and pans were stored in the stove. There was a storage room next to the kitchen area. In another corner was a table with benches along the wall.  The table was a large wooden box, the top could be lifted and inside was a storage area, where clean clothes and linens were kept.  Just before he left for America, Sylvester built a small table and benches for the children.  There was one bed, which had a mattress filled with straw, that was changed every month.  On top of the mattress there was a sheet and a feather quilt.  Colorful embroidered pillows were laid on top of the quilt. On the walls next to the bed were hung with mats made of woven plant material to keep out the damp. 
The thatched roof sagged in places, it was so low that a child could touch it easily.  The wooden rafters were used to hang braided strings of onions and garlic as well as dried corn and dill.  Dirty clothes were thrown on the rafters until they were washed.  The floor of the house was hard packed dirt.  There was no bathroom or outhouse, everyone just went outside.
Painting of the interior of a Ukrainian house in Eastern Ukraine.  The bread oven is next to the stove. 
So, where did the seven children sleep?  Marya slept in the bed, along with the youngest child.  If a child was sick, he or she slept with Marya.  Two children, usually the younger ones slept on the stove. The older ones slept on the benches.  During World I, soldiers from the various invading armies were billeted in village houses.  As many as five soldiers slept on the floor. along with the family of nine people.
The Rychlyj family was poor, they had one cow, chickens, ducks and a dog.  They bought next to nothing—scarves for the girls, shoes and boots, and some items of clothing that could not be made at home.  They grew the food they ate, including the grain used for bread.  They rarely ate meat—and when they did it was chicken or fish.  Meat and white bread were special foods, eaten only on holidays. They bought salt, soap matches, naptha, and baking powder at a village store. Most of the village stores were owned by Jews.  There were two butcher shops that owned by Ukrainians, but the Rychlyj’s rarely bought meat, and when did they did, they went to Ternopil’, where things were cheaper. My grandmother told me that the first time she ate beef was in the United States.  There was a “root cellar”, an underground food storage area, outside the house, which Sylvester built it shortly before he left for America.  The walls were covered with stones, there were stone steps and a door that locked.  Theft of food, and other things, was a problem in the village.  Once before Easter, the family’s holiday foods were stolen.  Someone cut a hole in the wall of the house, and took the food.  This happened while the family was inside the house, sleeping.  The thieves must have been very careful, because nobody woke up, and the theft wasn’t discovered until morning.
Kitchen in a house in Eastern Ukraine. 
The family owned a Bible, written in Ukrainian, church prayer books, which were written Church Slavonic, school books in both Ukrainian and Polish (both languages were taught in the village school).  The children also had a few school supplies, which they kept in small wooden boxes.  Their toys were homemade, the girls had cornhusk dolls, and balls made from cow hair. The family also owned a sled for wintertime fun.  They had playing cards, which provided wintertime entertainment for the family.
Photograph of a house interior in Eastern Ukraine.
Life in the village was hard, but many of the other residents of the village were relatives, so visiting family was a favorite pastime of my great-grandmother.  Her mother and brother lives nearby and there were many cousins and other family close as well.  My grandmother left Bila   in June of 1914, just before World War I began.  After that, village life was never the same.

A note about the photographs:  The only photographs I have found of houses in Ukraine around the turn of the last century are of places in Eastern Ukraine, which was part of Russia at that time.
Sources: Kateryna (Kashka): Autobiography by Katherine Pylatuik Lymar, as told to her Daughter, Julie in 1988. By Julia Pylatuik Lawryk, copyright 1988.

Picture sources: Ukrainian Arts, ed. Anne Mitz, New York, 1955.
L’Arte Rustique En Russie, Edition Du “Studio”, Paris, 1912.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Genealogy of Marya Bryniak Rychlyj

Marya and Sylvester Rychly in May 1924

Marya Bryniak, one of my great grandmothers was born about 1872 in Bila, Ternopil'.  She was a courageous woman who worked her entire life to provide for her family.  She raised eight children on her own, protected them during World War I, all the time suffering from asthma.

Bila is a village just outside the city wall of Ternopil', at that time a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Ternopil', located west of the Russian border, was a old city in Galicia,  a part of The Kingdom of Poland until the first partition of Poland in 1772, when it became Austrian Crown-land.

Marya was the eldest child and only daughter of  Fedko (Theodore) Bryniak and Varvara (Barbara) Steciuk, also spelled Stechiw. She had three brothers, Kasian, Panko and Timko.  Marya, Kasian  and Panko immigrated to the United States, I don't know about Timko.

At the age of 22, in 1894, Marya married Sylvester Rychlyj.  There were questions raised about this match, since the The Rychly family was very poor, and Marya's family was wealthy and educated by village standards.  But Marya was already 22, and considered old,  so she accepted Sylvester's proposal, believing that he would be a good husband and father.  She was right about that, Sylvester was a hard worker, and brought his family to the United States, helped them to get established here, and was a leader in the Ukrainian community in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

After their marriage, Marya and Sylvester moved into a one room windowless house in Bila with his family, which was customary at that time.  The house was crowded with Sylvester's parents, brothers and sisters and small children. After 10 years and the birth of four children, Sylvester bought a house for his family. It had one room house with a thatched roof and the family lived there for about 10 years.  Four more children were born to Marya and Sylvester in this house.

This house in Ukraine about 1910, is similar to the house that Sylvester and Marya lived in, except that their house was much smaller.

Sylvester and Maria were the parents of eight children; Anna (1897-2001), Paranka (Pauline) (1898-1997), John (1902-1982), Stephan (1903-date unknown), Katherine (1904-1995), Helen (1906-1996), Ksenia (1908-1991) and Onofrey (1911-1975), five daughters and three sons.  John and Stephan stayed in Europe, but all the other children immigrated to the United States. John immigrated to the US in the 1920's.

When Sylvester immigrated to the United States in 1908, Marya became a single mother, raising  eight children on her own.  She was fortunate that she had family nearby to help her out, but she was ultimately responsible. Although Sylvester sent money to Marya in Bila,  she had to work.  Her daughters helped with childcare and housework, but when they were old enough, they started to work outside the home to supplement the family income. Stephan was a shoemaker in addition to farming.  All the children worked on the family's farm lots, where they raised wheat, rye and hemp. They also maintained a vegetable garden.  They had a cow, chickens and ducks.   They rarely bought any food, because they raised almost everything they needed themselves.  All of this work took a toll on Marya's health.  She suffered from asthma, and other respiratory problems.

Marya cut the hemp with a wooden knife, after it had soaked in a lake for seven weeks.

Harvesting grain in Ukraine. 
In 1908, she had a slow recovery after the birth of her seventh child, Ksenia.  She contracted pneumonia which was aggravated by her asthma.  Things were so bad that Sylvester returned to
Bila from the United States.  By the time he arrived, she was feeling better, and he returned to Pennsylvania in 1910. She did not see him again until 1923.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Marya's life changed.  Her two oldest daughters were in the United States, but she still had young children to care for.  The city of Ternopil' changed hands 7 times during the war, and various armies came through, taking food and animals from families and living in their homes.  There were as many as five soldiers living in the house with Marya and the children.  There was no news from the United States, or money, until they war ended in 1918.

After the war, communications opened up and the Rychlyj family finally heard from their family in the United States.  It took several years to bring the remaining family over; Katherine and Helen came in 1922, and Marya, Ksenia and Onufrey came in 1923.  By this time, Marya's health was poor and she lived for only 18 months after she arrived.  She died on April 12, 1925 and is buried in St Mary's Cemetery, Minneapolis, MN.
I am very lucky to have a wonderful oral history from my great Katherine Pylatuik Lymar, which was written by my cousin Julia Lawryk.  There is so much information packed into this memoir, that it will take me several blog posts  to tell the story of my family in Bila, Ternopil', Ukraine.

Marya and Slyvester's children and spouses and a grand-daughter, Anoka Minnesota 1960's.

 The information for this post came from Kateryna (Kashka), an Autobiography by Katherine Pylatuik Lymar as told to her Daughter, Julie in 1988, by Julia Pylatuik Lawryk. Minneapolis, Minnesota, Copyright 1988.