A Century Old One-Way Ticket To The New World

     Traveling to even the remotest part of the world has now become almost routine to us.  These days when buying a ticket we immediately know our return date. It was very different when your ancestors bought their ticket to travel from Europe to the New World. It was a one way ticket, so no one asked them what date they would return.  In those days to pay for passage for themselves and their family to the Americas, they had to sell everything they possessed; the house, the inherited parcel of land, the livestock and some even had to sell spare clothing for emergency money. Even if someone asked them it wouldn't have been easy for them to give a return date. A question like that would most probably bring tears to their eyes and an answer that "Only God knows".  Those who saw them off often knew it was likely the last time they would ever see each other again. The distances, travel cost and logistics in those days were a formidable barrier to ever returning to their homelands.

With their emigration from this area they didn't just turn a new page in your family history; they built a whole new world for themselves.  It was an extremely difficult step to take because it wasn't just a change of place like we have become used to in our globalized world. For those traveling in a larger group of fellow villagers to rural areas of Canada it was easier to adapt to a new territory as they were able to continue many of the same cultural traditions, to name their new settlements after those villages they left behind, worship in the same churches with familiar patron saints and rituals, marry within their traditional community.  But at the same time their new settlements were not the same as those left behind.  They had to deal with new kinds of governments, strange cultural neighbors and to learn a new language. But they did their best to preserve as much as they could and pass it along to future generations.

For those emigrating on their own, especially to the industrial areas of the USA it was much more difficult. They really had to abandon everything they had become accustomed to including family ties, their language and many of their traditional skills.  By contrast, back here in the old homeland, even in the middle of the modern 20th century, life for the rural population of this area hasn’t changed much from the way things were when your ancestors left. Small villages with isolated households were scattered everywhere in Northern Bukovina. Someone living here some 500 years ago could easily adapt to the lifestyle of these 20th century households just as well the people living here in 1950s could easily slip into the culture of the 16th century.

I’m sure each of your ancestors from time to time used to revisit the places they left behind, even if it was only in their dreams, to reminisce about the meadows and the creeks they enjoyed in their childhood, to embrace their parents and brothers, to gossip over a glass of wine with their childhood friends and to walk in the places they used to walk.  In our times we are bombarded with so many experiences each day that it is difficult for anything to really impress us any more. In days gone by things were different. People generally lived in the same places their ancestors had settled generations ago. Few of them ever felt the need to visit places more than a few miles from their native village. All the memories were much stronger and more intimate and so was the feeling of missing everything that was familiar.

 So by coming here, in some way you have bought the return ticket your forebearers were not able to afford. Even if they returned to the area sometimes later in life they were left wondering what would become of the relatives still left behind and the area in fifty or a hundred years time. By coming here, you have the chance to see it with your own eyes and perhaps reconnect some of the links that broke because of time and distance, as well as major world events including two world wars and shifting political allegiances that greatly molded the flow of life in this area.

[1]The photo at the top of the page is an image from a Hamburg-Amerika Linie ticket from the turn of the century. This German steamship company used to be one of the main carriers that transported European immigrants to the Americas.



  The Latter Days Saints’ Church world-wide family research website. For many decades this church is supporting an ambitious project of making microfilm copies of all known birth, marriage and death books that were ever and wherever written. On their website you can order copies of these microfilms to your local LDS Family History Centre you just pay the shipping cost, visit them with an USB drive and upload the images to work on them at home. So you can lead a research of your own if you know the exact birth place and have a fairly good knowledge of Ukrainian and Romanian to decipher entries in the records. Besides a good knowledge of these languages you also have to be familiar with common local first and last names. The last but not the least these documents were compiled by locals, and the Romanian and Ukrainian scripts are based on local dialects of these languages, there might be some words familiar to someone from the area but not found in any dictionaries. Regardless of what is stated on different discussion boards it does really take some time to get used to these records, and for me it wasn't that easy at first. I started with my own family and native village, I knew all the common family names there so it was easier to get used to the handwriting, but with all experience I might come across some difficult to read entries and it takes some comparison and discussion with my colleagues to read them. Like in any human activity there are some difficulties to be expected it definitely isn't a point and click experience. The ink might be partially faded, pages stained, some archaic terms be used and there's always the risk to go on a wrong track, starting the research on the wrong person with the same first and last name like that of your ancestor. People had big families back then and there is really a lot of entries, it wasn't unusual for women to give birth to 10-12 children  so you are researching all of them and looking for their names in a stack of books, and that's not as fairly easy as it is claimed. But at the same time it's exciting so if you feel you should give it a try here's a step by step manual compiled by researchers from LDS which you might find useful while getting started with LDS copies. Everything else comes with experience.

More than that LDS volunteers have already digitized a part of their collection so you can try a direct search in their databases on this website. But unfortunately electronically available at this moment are mostly materials that were compiled initially in English; passengers’ lists, Staten Island’s documents, census information etc. If you haven’t yet tried this function I’d kindly recommend you do.You might discover a lot of interesting details and dates related to life and travel of your relatives. There is a question of time when they finish working on their enormous collection of metric books compiled in another languages. Digitalization of metrical books opens new perspectives in genealogical research and is the last ray of hope for many who don't have any information on forebears' birthplace and are willng to start a research but can't. It's difficult to estimate when they'll finish but making all these copies is already a miracle based on hard work, determination and decades spent by volunteers of this project. While the transcription, translation and publication of all the materials contained on LDS microfilms requires a much greater deal of time and energy. These electronic databases are more convenient for providing access to some less disputable materials like passengers lists, census data and so on. It does really take a lot of time and attention while working with historical records, like those regarding Bukovina written in Romanian and Ukrainian. The language they are compiled in is not the official Romanian or Ukrainian. At that point there wasn't yet a wide acknowledged written Romanian or Ukrainian standard. There were  dialects of these speken everywhere with spelling variations. This aspect doesn't matter too much when it comes to first and last names but when different insightful comments are encountered you need to understand local varieties of the languages. Any serious research implies collaboration of different specialists and discussion whenever something unusual comes in the way.  It's a research, and you either approach it as one or take some shortcuts here and there, sometimes you have to be critical about some entries, these were compiled and copied by people and it is human to err and you might need to turn some pages back and do some comparisons and recheck everything.  And if any shortcut will be taken these will be taken at the expense of quality.

Online message boards

     In your search for family roots and members you might not be alone, someone from your family might be trying to do the same so it's a great idea to pay attention to existing message boards on forums related to genealogy research in Ukraine and this area. Even if you won't meet any of your relatives there  you can at least exchange experiences, look for and leave testimonials and ask advice from professionals. 

   I'll name just few but some of the most important ones
   The genealogical discussion forum of the www.ukraine.com A website with an extremely simple interface without any belts and whistles backed up by experienced professionals ready to help you with some summary information about the village you are interested in and what records are available on LDS microfilms.

     The Ukrainian discussion forum of www.ancestry.com This  subcategory related to Ukraine is subdivided accordingly to actual Ukrainian regions (oblasts) of your interest.

Discussions related to Bukovina are here In comparison to the above mentioned www.ukraine.com this discussion forum is better organized, this subdivision in regions is extremely handy you don't have to read thousands of messages to look for those related to your area of interest, you look just at those regions that interest you. But don't underestimate www.ukraine.com there are extremely professional researchers giving valuable advice though some of them preferred that resource to http://boards.rootsweb.com and are to be found there only.


       Bukovina Society of Americas website, a must for anyone who is getting started with their family research related to Bukovina. This is one of the oldest pioneering websites on emigration from Bukovina with a lot of interesting and practical information. There is also contact information for those looking for professional expertise in your searching for family records. The site does have a somewhat stronger emphasis on German emigration from Bukovina, but other ethnic groups are covered as well.

   The stone cross/ Каменный крест in Russian. This movie is a real masterpiece. It is one of the best Ukrainian movies of the century and certainly among the best movies on Eastern European emigration to Americas of all times. A must see for anyone asking themselves the question of why did my ancestors immigrate to Canada in the first place. It is a brilliant reconstruction of life in a traditional rural setting in Eastern Europe at the turn of the century. The movie is based on a novel written by the Ukrainian writer Vasyl Stefanyk it "is a stirring account of an immigrant's departure from Stefanyk's native village, Rusiv. The man upon whom it is based died in 1911, in Hilliard, Alberta" [2]

       Pokutia, the Ukrainian name for the region where the movie takes place is historically important for anyone with a Ukrainian or Romanian heritage because it's a border area between Bukovina and Galicia. It is a territory populated mainly by Ukrainians nowadays but which underwent a strong Romanian influence in the Middle Ages. There were mutual assimilations, intermarriages, military campaigns and for a short time Pokutia belonged to the Principality of Moldavia. The costumes are traditionally Ukrainian, the poverty, the cruelty and the mentality is characteristic for the Eastern Europe of that period, the pain of departure is universal. There are few professional actors in this movie, but they are among the best Ukraine ever had. The rest of the people in the movie are the villagers who are just acting naturally the roles of themselves. The translated version is available on a limited edition DVD or you can watch it online at this link, but in Ukrainian only without any subtitles. Custom made English subtitles were available here

   If you have a copy of the movie but don’t find the subtitles let me know and I’ll e-mail a copy of the file to you. 


[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasyl_Stefanyk

   There are a number of other valuable resources and authors on emigration to Northern America. For Ukrainian emigration the list is quite extensive, however, for Romanian emigration the list is much more limited. A couple of excellent resources I’m aware of as follows;

    Where Money Grew on Trees: A History of the Romanian Pioneers of Lennard Manitoba  by John Goodes.

A well documented study on the way the Romanian community in this area evolved and how it adapted to the Canadian environment by molding their surroundings to resemble a mini-Bukovina in Canada. Most of the Romanian settlers in this community originated from Voloca a famous Romanian village in Northern Bukovina. People of this village are renowned for their inspired efforts to adapt traditional Romanian customs and garments to modern times. This is a great book and a must for anyone interested in Bukovinian/Romanian emigration to Canada. This and a few other interesting titles are available here

   In case you want to experience with your own eyes and touch with your own hands what traditional life for Romanians in Bukovina used to be like a hundred years ago but don’t have the time to visit Bukovina, you can visit  The St. Elijah Pioneer Museum in Canada.  It is called a museum but I rather think of it as "A Mini-Bukovina in Canada". It was developed by community members and descendents of the Romanian and Ukrainian immigrants from Bucovina (Bukovina) who settled in Manitoba at the turn of the 20th Century to create a community that later became know as Lennard, Manitoba. They have gone to great effort to preserve everything they could to showcase the lifestyle of those first emigrants and the evolution of their community on Canadian soil. Here you will find everything related to a traditional Romanian rural way of life from traditional food recipes to the way houses and churches were built. You can even taste some of the traditional Romanian foods, like mujdei for instance, but take my advice don't taste too much of it at a time!

You can also follow them on facebook

       Another great website and museum dedicated to Romanian immigration to Canada from another famous Romanian village in Chernivtsi region, Boian, nowadays in Novoselytsya raion.  Lots of pictures, information on different families and wealth of historical data.
        Romanian Pioneer Museum of Boian is a small, open-air museum in Alberta, Canada which preserves artifacts, documents and families histories of the first Romanian immigrants that came from Bucovina to Alberta between the years 1895 and 1915. There is a last name index with family pictures of the era so if you know that some of your ancestors came from Boian, Bukovina their website and facebook page are the first places to get started with. 

How can you get here ?

   There are many options for traveling to the region but your routing will likely be determined by whether you are arriving directly from the Ukraine or Europe. The main and easiest options are to travel to Chernivtsi, the Capital of the area historically known as Northern Bukovina.  A few options include:


You can fly to Chernivtsi CWC airport on a Carpatair flight, which is the only airline flying into Chernivtsi. This option is usually the most convenient, but is often of limited service in the winter as peak season is during summer and spring.  The up to date flight schedule is available on their website

Carpatair had been operating flights to Chernivtsi from Germany, Italy and Greece for several years with a stop over in Timisoara, Romania, but this summer (2013) they reduced service so that there was only a direct flight from Milan, (Bergamo airport) Italy. This is an excellent airline. I have flown with them on several occasions and recommend them whole heartedly. 

Train service to the region is also widely used.  The international Russian Railways train has for almost 70 years been linking the Bulgarian capital Sofia with Moscow. During the summer it passes through Chernivtsi each day, the train for Sofia stops here around 10 AM and the one bound for Moscow around 7 PM. During summer vacations it may have additional carriages for Varna, Burgas, Bulgaria, Constanta, Romania and Minsk, Byelorussia.   Another major stops are Kiyv, Ukraine and Bucharest, Romania. You can fly to either of these major cities and make a train connection for Chernivtsi. If traveling from Bucharest an option is to travel to Suceava in Northern Romania and taxi the remainder of the way to Chernivtsi.  This avoids the long delay at the border for Customs inspection and for the train wheels to be changed from the standard European gauge to the former Russian Empire gauge, which is narrower.  It’s an interesting process which takes about 4 hours there is a youtube video of the process Around minute 1:12 there is a glimpse of the Chernivtsi train station.

Some information on the train fares and schedule can be found here

If you are seriously considering travel to the Bukovinian region, drop me a line and I will be pleased to provide you with updated travel suggestions and to assist with making arrangements based on what information and experience I have.


     There is a significant amount of information about Bukovina geographical, historical and other facts available through the internet so there is not much point repeating any of that here but I thought it would be useful to share more practical information that is less available. Before arriving here, travelers often have certain expectations based on previous experiences of visiting other places. Some of your expectations may be met, however, its important to keep in mind this region is not on the beaten track and many establishments may not be use to catering to foreign travelers. Some considerations you should be aware of are outlined below.


 Corrupt Officials can be encounter while passing through the border or while traveling in the region. However, if your passport and visas are in order you shouldn't expect any special attention from them. There is some negative information about Ukraine in the internet or elsewhere, some of it like bad roads, officials that don’t speak English, outdated infrastructure is unfortunately true but most of it which is related to wide-spread corruption and crime is extremely exaggerated. Average Ukrainian cities are much safer than average American cities, even if people are getting lower wages they are still doing their jobs.


You will have to take into account that your relatives most likely will not speak any English. If they are, or have children, currently in high school they may have learned a limited amount of English but it will be at a fairly rudimentary level so communication could be difficult. Generally, considering the region is not widely traveled by foreigners, English is not widely spoken. In some hotels and restaurants, and certainly at the airport you may find a few persons that speak English but it may not be very fluent. The main languages of the region spoken at home are Romanian and Ukrainian, with Russian used for many official and commercial purposes. After all you are coming here to learn as much as you can about them and their lives. Don’t spoil your visit by leaving out a key ingredient!

Renting a car in the region can be problematic. They are available but probably not what you would expect by European standards. They often will not be the latest model and expensive. Getting around however is not a problem as public transportation is generally available and taxies are widely available and cheap by any, even Ukrainian standards with prices about 50-70 cents a kilometer including all tolls and taxes.


Some archival records related to the village of your ancestors might be missing. If there are enough archival records preserved for your village we might come in touch with as many of your relatives as possible, if we are not that lucky we still can visit the villages, the graveyards and other sights that your ancestors definitely knew about. We can also try to locate the place were your ancestors house used to be. If the family name is really common in the village it may be difficult to find living relatives without the records.


It happens from time to time that some records and books were not preserved for some areas, villages and years. Normally, these records would have been preserved in the local churches and by local authority offices. Unfortunately over the years with military conflicts, several changes of administration and a long communist period that saw the destruction of local churches and offices, many official documents were lost. What are available are copies of record books that were preserved in Chernivtsi before the war and records that had been collected from churches after the war. We don’t have all of them, but at the same time most villages are covered in some way. A good example of why some books are missing was in my own family story. In 1944, when the Russians were approaching Chernivtsi, my grandfather was commissioned by a local Romanian police officer to collect all the documents from the mayor’s office of his village and relocate them to Suceava in Romania, a 6 hour trip with his horse and cart. Suceava at that time was the administrative capital for his village and not occupied yet by the Russians so the papers had to be delivered there. On his way to Suceava the police officer realized they were already too late as the Russians were already ahead of them. So the police officer ordered my grandfather to unload the cart and burn all the documents. After he finished burning all of them my granddad was dismissed and advised to return home. After that he never saw that officer again.


If you plan to visit local graveyards in order to look for the tombstones of the relatives whose names the genealogical research has revealed, you may be disappointed, especially if you were unable to locate an older living relative in the area. If your relative passed away before the 1920s, the deceased was often laid to rest with a wooden cross without any inscriptions such as name and dates. No one in those days needed any as most of the population was illiterate. They just remembered the sequence in which their relatives were laid to rest and according to traditions at the time would regularly visit and care for the graves.


"Bukovinian hospitality". It used to be proverbial, but it now seems to have become more a legend. Years ago people used to have a lot of guests on holidays, to help strangers, and were extremely pleased to meet their relatives. The best of the food was served and the emotions were sincere. Since then, people have changed to some degree either due to economic instability or for other reasons and nowadays seem to be less hospitable. Chances are that 90% of your relatives will be more than pleased have you over and treat you accordingly. Unfortunately, there are also chances that 10 % may be less enthusiastic to hold a family reunion. These are usually people that have been affected by economic or family related issues. If you engage me to make your initial contact I will be in a better position to read the type of reception you can expect. Generally though, my experience has been that most people of the region are eager to meet their transatlantic relatives. I am often contacted by local residents knowing that I speak English and get in touch with people of Bukovina descent from abroad, asking me about how they can find and contact distant family members in Canada and USA. This is one of the reasons I decided to start an activity like this.


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