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Post Geo-Sleuthing in Galicia (from Edward Mears)
Created by John Eipper on 05/16/20 4:48 AM

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Geo-Sleuthing in Galicia (from Edward Mears) (John Eipper, USA, 05/16/20 4:48 am)

Edward Mears writes:

Apologies for this long post, but it is worth the ride! Hope you are well.

In response to my father Pat's post of 29 April, I've spent the past week trying to pin down my great-grandmother's birth location from among the three possibilities that my father mentioned: Husiatyn, Horodnica/Horodnytsya and Budzanow.

As my father had mentioned, we had previously discovered English language sources, including ship manifests, marriage certificates and birth records, which varyingly indicated each of these three villages in Galicia as my great-grandmother's birthplace. Unable to reconcile these conflicting sources, the only other available resource we had to go on was the three photos that my father posted from my grandmother's trip to Galicia in 1936. I understand that my grandmother (who has since passed) had told my father that she had visited her mother's (my great-grandmother's) family in Galicia while on this trip and that these photos were very likely taken in the village where the family lived, and perhaps could even be relatives (the two photos of the nun and the horse and buggy) or the family's ancestral home (the photo of the house). Unless I was to solicit a translator to help me navigate birth records in Poland/ Ukraine, the pictures seemed like the most obvious starting point.

The two pictures of individuals (the nun and the horse and buggy team) unfortunately did not provide much context. Both shots were taken at close range against simple backgrounds (foliage in the case of the nun and the corner of a thatched roof for the horse and buggy). The most promising photo was the third photo in my father's post, which depicted a rectangular-shaped dwelling positioned along a dirt-road thoroughfare dotted with pedestrians trailing away from the photographer. On the right-hand side of the dwelling there appears to be a field or farmland that stretches for some ways before running up against a tree line and what appears to be the sloping base of a small hill. Several other buildings can be made out behind the primary building in frame, and the road along which these additional buildings are situated eventually veers towards the left at the picture's horizon. The dwelling itself appears to be situated on the corner of a ninety-degree intersection and is slightly elevated above the road. The roof of the dwelling has one chimney and on the "short" ends of the building, the roof protrudes over the structure and is tapered at an angle.

These clues were enough for me to produce a very crude hand-drawn map of the area portrayed in the picture. Using this map, I began to pore over satellite imagery for the three villages. Unfortunately, there was no "street-view" imagery for any of these villages, so I was limited only to publicly available satellite imagery. I found that Microsoft Bing had the highest resolution for these areas and used it almost exclusively. I started with and spent most of my time looking at satellite imagery of Husiatyn, as this was the only village that had a train station and I understood that my grandmother had taken a train to visit my great-grandmother's ancestral village. I began by looking for right angle intersections, which seemed fairly uncommon in this area based on a scan of the satellite imagery, as most roads wound along with the flow of the nearby river. While I was able to find a few intersections that showed promise, most did not have any of the other features in my map (the row of buildings behind the main dwelling or the proximity to a field/farmland). Further, most roofs in the buildings in Husiatyn were square shaped and there were very few, if any, buildings that had tapered roofs like the dwelling in the picture. Giving up on Husiatyn, I then moved on to scan the satellite imagery in Horodnica/Horodnytsya and Budzanow. These villages had even fewer right-angle intersections, though I did note that Horodnica/Horodnytsya had quite a number of buildings with the tapered style of roof seen in my picture. Nevertheless, I was not able to find any promising leads in these two villages either. At this point, after having spent close to ten hours looking at satellite imagery, I was ready to throw in the towel. Very likely, the roads in these villages had changed since 1936 and the dwelling in the photo was probably destroyed or modified such that it would be unidentifiable using modern satellite imagery. Further, I was unsure of the orientation of the photo, making it difficult to examine all potential angles from the satellite imagery. For a moment, I thought this mystery is likely lost to time.

Before giving up completely, however, I decided to crowdsource some additional help by submitting requests for assistance on the Internet discussion website reddit.com. For those unfamiliar, reddit is a news and discussion platform consisting of thousands of themed "sub-reddits" where users can post links and other content, which is voted and commented on by other users. It has become a significant phenomenon over the past ten years or so and is firmly entrenched in the modern Internet zeitgeist. I was aware of one subreddit on the site where users can submit photos and seek assistance from geo-sleuths to pinpoint locations in the photos. The vast majority of the "solved" photo submissions on this subreddit contained far more context than was available in my photo of the dwelling, however I thought it was at least worth a shot. I prepared a summary describing the photo and the circumstances behind it (including the three possible locations) and submitted it to the r/whereisthis subreddit along with identical submissions to two subreddits that focused on Ukraine.

I started to receive a few responses the next day, primarily in the Ukraine subreddits. While most of the users who commented were unable to pinpoint the location, they provided several contextual clues that may help my search. First, one observant redditor took notice of the striped pole sitting right in front of the dwelling, commenting that this looked very much like a post commonly seen at border crossings at the time. They also provided a link to a Ukrainian article that contained a picture from the era of a similar border crossing post (link here:  https://focus.ua/beautiful/380815 ), explaining that the Zbruch river which abuts Husiatyn functioned as the border between the Soviet Union and the Second Polish Republic during the time that my grandmother was visiting (1936). This clue seemed to cement Husiatyn as the likely location, as Budzanow was located much further from the border and Horodnica/Horodnytsya was not positioned very close to the Zbruch river. Several redditors suggested that I contact local Catholic churches in the area to see if I can obtain my great-grandmothers' birth records or reach out to larger churches, museums and historical societies in Lviv, which may be able to offer further clues. Another redditor provided some conjecture as to why my great-grandmother may have left Galicia in 1905 for America on her own (we understood this was very uncommon for a young, single woman to make this voyage on her own). Several of the suspected reasons could be due to famines that were ravaging the area at the time, as well as the treatment of Poles by the majority Ukrainians and their Austrian overlords. There were also many anti-Jewish pogroms at the time, though these were more common on the Russian side of the border and likely would not have had much effect on my great-grandmother's family who were Catholic. Finally, the redditor keenly pointed out that around this time Russia was engaged in the Russo-Japanese war, which was extremely unpopular in Russia and especially so amongst the Polish community in both Galicia and Russia which watched Russian Poles being shipped off to die in the war. As a result, there very likely was a sense of hopelessness amongst the ethnic Poles in the area which could have contributed to my great-grandmother's flight to the "promise" of America.

While these responses were enlightening and provided critical context around my great-grandmother's move to America, they unfortunately did not help much in the search for the location of the photo and/or my great-grandmother's birthplace. It was at this point that I finally received my first response from reddit user u/ylph on the r/whereisthis subreddit, which I have extracted below:

It could be this house in Horodnytsya which is in the Husiatyn Raion (district)


If you look at the shadows in your photo, the sun appears high in the sky (suggesting time close to noon) on the right, suggesting the road we are looking down is roughly east-west, looking east, and the house is on the south side of the road.


The house I linked to matches the orientation (the road is not exactly east-west, but close enough to still be consistent with the shadows in your photo, depending on date and time of day obviously), has a similar unusual angle to the road it is on, and in ground level 3D view in Google Earth the background features and terrain also seem to match well, the road goes downhill as well.

It is hard to say definitively--the roof has similar features, but I can't confirm it is 100% exact match.  I have found 7 different aerial shots of the house--there is a part that extends a little on the left (north) side, but the roof shape above it looks different than the photo.  But it's hard to tell for sure. In some of the photos it looks like you can see a chimney shadow in the same place as in your photo as well.

It also looks like the road splits at the end like in your photo, and there are some buildings right in line of the road oriented at the same angle too.


I checked the link and sure enough this was by far the most promising lead--see the photo of the satellite imagery of this location attached (Satellite Imagery of Dwelling in Horodnica.jpeg). I had either missed this completely in my initial scan of Horodnica/Horodnytsya or had overlooked it due to the fact that the intersection is more of a rounded turn than a ninety-degree angle that I had been focusing on. The redditor had also been able to discern the orientation of the building based on the shadows seen in the picture. Unfortunately, the limitations of the satellite imagery made it difficult to confirm this location to 100% certainty (the position of the chimney did not appear correct and the background buildings did not quite line up with what was contained in my hand-drawn map). We needed to find a street-level view of the intersection, however there was no publicly available street-level photography of this area. Instead, I began by looking through all of the photos for Horodnica/Horodnytsya posted on Google images and other image banks using the GPS coordinates but could not find anything close to the intersection. Further, the same redditor also sought out dash-cam footage on YouTube which contained geo-locations close to our suspected dwelling but was unable to find any footage that passed on the same road as the intersection.

Within a few hours of this, however, another redditor, u/Kulchick, posted on the Ukraine subreddit that he was a native of Horodnica and after sharing the photo with his mother who still lived there, she was 100% certain that it was the "old club" in the town where all cultural life, events and dances were held when she was a child (1950s-60s) until the club was relocated to a larger building in 1973. The redditor's mother thought that the striped post was likely a road maker and let us know that the building does still exist. As a coup-de-grace, she then offered to go take a picture of the house, which she forwarded to us. It was unmistakably the same exact house from my grandmother's photo, except for the new siding. It contained the exact same configuration of doors and windows, complete with the tapered roof and a second-story balcony. The same dirt road existed alongside the long side of the dwelling, which veered off to the left at the horizon. There was a strip of forest to the left, and the slope of the local mountain "Bohut" was visible. This was it!

I could not believe it. In a matter of days, with nothing to go on but a nondescript photo of a house in Galicia from 1936, we had managed to precisely pinpoint the location of the dwelling and even get a current picture of it. I am still astounded that we had actually pulled this off (and I was most grateful to the redditors who did much of the heavy lifting). It truly is a testament to the power of collaboration and the enormous potential of the internet and technology. I've attached a photo comparing the photo taken by my grandmother in 1936 and the one taken by u/Kulchick's mother in 2020 (Horodnica House Compare.png), as well as a photo comparing my hand-drawn map to the actual map footage of the real intersection first spotted by redditor u/ylph (Horodnica Map Compare.png). More photos of the dwelling taken by u/Kulchick's mother can be found at this link: https://imgur.com/gallery/4BoYI8b .

While this solves a big part of the mystery--that the photo was taken in Horodnica/Horodnytsya which is likely the ancestral village of my great-grandmother.  Much remains to be learned about my great-grandmother's family in Horodnica/Horodnytsya. The next steps would likely be to reach out to the Catholic churches and historical societies in the area to see if we can obtain her birth records.

JE comments:  Eddie, your work on this is amazing, even more so given the specific challenges of the location, with shifting national borders (one village--three countries) and a cataclysmic war.  You've also demonstrated the power of the Internet community to solve riddles of this sort.  The buildings (second image) are undeniably the same.  Splendid research, and you're right--this post has been worth the ride!

Satellite Image of Dwelling in Horodnica


Horodnica House Compare


Horodnica Map Compare



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  • Geo-Sleuthing in Galicia: Church Archives (Edward Jajko, USA 05/17/20 4:07 AM)
    What a pleasant surprise to find that Edward Mears and I are, how to say, landsmener.

    My late father was born a subject of Kaiser Franz Josef I in Brzozów, to the west of Mears's Husiatyń/Horodnica. My paternal grandparents had eight sons and one daughter. The latter died in her late teens or early adult years. One son died while still a boy. Of the seven sons who survived, five came to the US. Two immigrated before WWI and joined the thousands of Polish-Americans and Polish immigrants who enlisted in the AEF, serving in France. Those were my two oldest uncles, Stanisław and Józef. The next two in order of birth, Jan and Kazimierz, were conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian Galician force, fighting for the other side. My Father, Władysław, fifth in order of birth, served in the Austro-Hungarian, then the Polish, then the Ukrainian armies. Jan, Kazimierz, and my father immigrated in the 1920s. The remaining two sons, Wojciech and Michał, remained with their parents. I met and stayed with my uncle Wojciech in 1967 and maintain contact with his surviving daughter, who still lives in Brzozów, and even more so with her oldest daughter, Elżbieta, who was literally a babe at the breast when I last saw her in the summer of 1967 but is now herself a mother of two, a high school teacher, and a writer of ravishingly beautiful Polish emails. I have other relatives in Brzozów as well but have no contact with them.


    I have done a lot of web searching for information about my late mother's tiny family, which comes from a bit further east and north. Thanks to the criminal Partitions, my Mother was born a Russian subject. The tiny chapel in which she was christened still exists and is used, but whatever records and documents that may have survived two wars, German and Soviet invasions and occupations, etc., are held in the offices of the local RC diocese, which is Tarnogród.


    To get back to E. Mears, Wikipedia--and I can't recall under what entry--has a reference to a source in a bibliography:


    Andrzej Betlej


    Kościół parafialny p.w. Matki Boskiej Królowej Karmelu w Horodnicy. Red. J.K. Ostrowski. Kraków, 2009.


    This title tells us that there was, if not is, a Roman Catholic parish in Horodnica, Matka Boska Królowa Karmelu, i.e., the parish of Mother of God Queen of Carmel.


    But I am unable to find this parish or any reference to Horodnica in the somewhat clunky website of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Lviv. This is at



    http://lwowskabazylika.org.ua




    True to the history and nature of the area, the address information for this place is in a mixture of languages, in this case a Ukrainian usage and Anglicizations:


    Lviv Metropolitan Basilica Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

    Square Katedralna 1

    79008 Lviv


    The website of this cathedral is in Polish, although some of its elements can be accessed in English. It is most likely that whatever records Eddie is looking for are held in the offices of the archdiocese (unless his background is Greek Catholic, which is a whole different ball game).


    But a good place to start is by an email to parafia@lwowskabazylika.org.ua


    (I might add that, on the off chance that this church is actually a Carmelite monastery, I looked it up on the website of the order but could not find it.)


    The only church still functioning and in a town that has been mentioned above is:


    Parafia Sw. Antoniego Padwy

    Ul. Suchodolski 5L

    Husiatyn


    (I would try to confirm that address, which I have tried to read from my terrible handwriting.)


    The pastor is Ks. Proboszcz Michal Bagiński.

    There is a website and an email address:

    Husiatyn.ofm.org.ua


    And


    Husiatyn@ofm.org.ua


    As these addresses indicate, this is a Franciscan parish, possibly run by a branch of the order found in Poland, the Bernardines.


    Given the dates of E. Mears's Polish or Ukrainian forebears, and the flexibility of the borders in Galicia--to me, L'viv has always been the Polish city Lwów--it is possible that the records he seeks may be held in Poland rather than in Ukraine. Or in the vast archival vaults of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, well worth exploring.


    JE comments:  The combined research prowess of WAISers Jajko and Mears is formidable!  My mind is still blown away that Eddie Mears managed to pinpoint a solitary building from his grandmother's 84-year-old, unlabeled photograph.  Let's run the images again (below).  The next time we have a geo-mystery, I will summon the Edwards, although I could never afford the per-hour rate of Mr Mears, JD.


    Galicia (Spain) and Galicia (Eastern Europe) belong to an elite group of places with the same name but nothing else in common.  The two Georgias are the only other example I can think of.  Are there others?  Regions named after another with or without "New" (York, Guadalajara, Scotia) don't count.

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    • Reconstructing a 1936 Journey through Galicia (Patrick Mears, -Germany 05/17/20 10:33 AM)
      I would like to thank Edward Jajko for taking time to pass on these fascinating snippets of his family history and related, useful information for further research on our part. It is an unusual coincidence (dare I say, "WAIS Effect") that our families have some ethnic connections.

      I would also like to pass on some related information to Ed and other interested WAISers concerning this part of Galicia. First, the Franciscan church in Husyatin mentioned by Ed is probably still in the process of being repaired and there have been a number of video posts on YouTube detailing the progress of this work. Here is a link to one of them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nE0jM9OkVds . Also worth mentioning is a book from 2012 entitled Galician Trails: The Forgotten Story of One Family, authored by Andrew Zalewski. https://www.amazon.com/Galician-Trails-Forgotten-Story-Family/dp/098558940X . I have ordered this book via the Internet and am anxiously awaiting its arrival.


      When son Eddie and I plunged into this project about a month or so ago, my travel journalist wife, Cornelia, picked up the scent of our progress and suggested that we all make the same pilgrimage as my mother did back in 1936, beginning perhaps at the life-sized, bronze statue of The Good Soldier Svejk in Sanok, Poland (https://www.poland.travel/en/museum/statue-of-the-good-soldier-schweik ), and ending up in Horodnica. Of course, Cornelia has an idea of a resulting travel article or two in mind.


      JE comments:  We visited Sanok back in 2014--a beautiful small city.  When you go, Pat, don't miss the "Skansen" outdoor museum and the gallery of the excellent 20th-century painter Zdzislaw Beksinski, a leading figure of "dystopian surrealism."


      And you cannot miss Svejk in all his glory downtown, doing what he does best:  shirking.  Here he is joined by Aldona and sis-in-law Justyna.

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