Oct 19, 2023 | History

19th Century Time Travel Stories

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This post has to do with time travel which I think is one of the most exciting parts of genealogy research. If your ancestors come from western Ukraine, and Lviv province in particular, it may be a nice small insight into their lives in the 2nd half of the 19th century.

Before getting to the story, I will tell you a few words about the author and the book that this post is based on. I have discovered it recently. It’s titled “Galician-Ruthenian Anecdotes”. It was written by historian Volodymyr Hnatiuk (you can see his photo below) who traveled around the Galician villages and recorded the stories told by the local people in 1899. It was a dangerous job at that time.


Hnatiuk Volodymyr

According to Mr. Hnatiuk, the attitude of the majority of people he met on his way was hostile:

“A good man would not spend his time to ask about nonsense. Only a scoundrel would care to record such rubbish as stories and songs”. “What if he was sent by a landlord to sneak around and see if he can steal our land?!”. “If he came to our village, we would take sticks, give him a good beating and chase him away. Or just kill him for doing such nonsense. He’s probably a dirty philosopher who wants to prove that people living in the mountains are stupid”.    

I am very happy that people I meet when doing local genealogy research for our customers do not beat us with sticks anymore. Mr. Hnatiuk was a brave and smart man. To avoid being beaten, he used the help of the local priests. Being highly respected, they introduced him to the public and recommended the most reliable respondents. However, it happened that he still had to run away from the villages even after such introductions.  

Hryts Olishchak Terletskyi was one of the few who shared his stories with the historian eagerly. He was born in the village of Mshanets in Lviv province. This is the link to the village on the Google map and you can check it to compare how far from your ancestral village it is located.

The book includes the “anecdotes” – the stories told by Hryts and some other people. I can see that humor was quite different at that time. I will tell you a few of them in the further posts. The story below is the “autobiography” told by Hryts. It was recorded by Mr. Hnatiuk in March, 1899. Let me interpret part of it for you.

There were too many relatives living in the same house when I was twelve. It was impossible to stay anymore. We went to Podillia (see Podillia on the map . It’s a long way to walk). My father, mother, my brother, two sisters and I. The youngest child was less than 9 months old. We had only 1/8 of a gulden (check one of the previous posts to learn more about the money of that time). We sold our single sheep to get it.

The road was not smooth and easy but we got to Lashkivka (Wow, we have had two family research projects on Lashkivka in Chernivtsi province recently. Here is the link to the village on the map. It was a 300km walk for Hryts and his family!). We were hired by the local landlord.  He gave us a house and it was important for the small children. I and my father worked in the refinery. We were paid 50 kg of flour and two jars of salt monthly per person. They also paid with one сarbatina shoe a month. The second shoe was given the next month. We spent about a year working there.

After a year, we decided to walk home. We stopped overnight in a tavern. Father bought some horilka (spirits) and lost all the money we earned when he was paying for it. 35 guldens. However, the cook noticed it and she ran outside to give us that money back.

We plowed the land a little when we came home. I went to work as a servant. I worked till July. I do not quite remember which year it was – but people died a lot then (probably of cholera). My father was dying. I went to see him and the man I worked for did let me back. He was afraid that I would bring the illness. I went to work for another man whose son died of the same disease. He was of my age. I worked there for two years. Next, I went to work for an old man who married my aunt.

I returned to Bukovyna to work in the same refinery for nine months. It was the time to go to the army and I was allowed to sign up in Chernivtsi.

When we came to Chernivtsi military unit, we were taken to the kitchen. The cook said: the slobby recruits arrived. I took him by his hair and his ear and I smacked him on the stone floor. Two Jewish clerks came running. They took us to the room where they caned people. There are still places in Bukovyna where they do it but people just do not know their rights. (…) I was not a fool although I was only twenty and I told the Pole who came to cane us that that almighty Caesar forbade it. I told them that if they punished me, I would go to the hospital in Chernivtsi and tell the doctors what happened. So, I was not beaten. (…)

I spent only 13 months in the army because I lied that I had bad eyesight. However, I traveled around the Turkish lands and many other countries (…) When I arrived home, they told me to pay the military tax (…).

Is there any truth in this world? What can a peasant living in the village know? He’s as dumb as a stump. (…) His rights are never respected. (…) I know because I have been to the court. I was sued by the village mayor’s mother-in-law and there was no justice. He beat me in the court instead.

My life today is the same as the life of the pea plant growing near the road. Every passerby picks on me. I am like a poor apple tree that is not fenced. Like the one that is shaken by many children so much that the leaves fall down. However, it blooms every year and gives a better crop than the one that is nicely fenced in the orchard. It’s God’s will. He helps a poor man who is bullied to break through.

What do you think? I like it because such stories make the facts we find when doing genealogy research live. Although it looks like Hryts was a skilled liar, his story is evidence of the rural life in Galicia and Bukovyna that is gone. 

One of the facts I find interesting is that whole families used to walk that far to find work. No wonder those people had the courage to travel overseas. Even though they were afraid of “the huge fish that attacked the ships in the ocean”, as you can learn from the video included in the previous post.

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Andriy Dorosh