Ancestry DNA, and some family history

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

As of late I’ve been using Ancestry.com to put together a family tree - and wow, this sounds like I’m sponsoring the damn website - and to discover more about my relatives and forebears. Here’s what I know so far: My nationality is a mixture of Slovak, Austrian, Circassian, likely Italian, and possibly Hungarian.

It gets a little confusing, because countries in the area my family is from have changed hands several times. First you had the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, then you had Czechoslovakia, parts of which were annexed to Hungary, Poland, and Nazi Germany at various points, and then of course that country split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1993. For example, my great grandfather, Nicholas Lazorchak, was born in 1891 in Starina, Hungary - but that land is now part of Slovakia. Confusing indeed!

I know that my grandparents come from a village in what is now Slovakia, called Bačkov, near Košice. I’ve done my research, and that place has existed since at least 1245 (!), a few years after the royal Braničevský hrad castle (Branicky castle) was built (it lay just northwest of the village). The castle was partially destroyed sometime around the year 1317, during a battle that took place there when Zemplín oligarchs revolted against Hungarian king Karol Roberta (I think I’ve got this right, but my Hungarian history is rather spotty). Sounds like something out of Game of Thrones. Only I could come from a place this epic. On a not so epic note, the castle was apparently fully destroyed during World War II, when the Nazis invaded Bačkov and virtually exterminated the Jewish population there - although there are survivors. I’m told that my own grandfather’s brother was made to carry dead bodies and do other work for the Nazis, under threat of death. Once again, Bačkov became the site of a large battle, part of the Eastern Front conflict between the Axis powers and the Soviets, called the Battle of Lúke near Žarnovčík. The German troops were defeated here and forced to retreat further west.

Bačkov has just over 600 inhabitants, but I probably have some distant relatives who are living there to this day. It would be really interesting to go there someday, not just to see the castle ruins, but also to check out the nature. There’s supposed to be good hiking right near the village, and I’m not surprised. Bačkov is adjacent to the Slanské Hills, a mountain range that is part of the Inner West Carpathians. There are natural mineral springs there, a mixture of forests and meadows, and natural resources including gold and silver (but I’m glad no one has decided to tamper with this land in order to mine for it).
Branicky castle
So after doing this research and linking together some distant relatives, I decided that it was worth ordering an Ancestry DNA kit, which I have just done tonight, so it should arrive in a few weeks. I’m really interested in knowing more about my ancestors, and who knows? I might be related to someone of historical importance. After all, I’ve read that the name of my family’s village was taken from Stephen Bocskai, the Prince of Transylvania (yes, really) during 1605, and whose nephew was named Sigismund Bathory (yes, Bathory - if I discover I’m related to someone with the name “Bathory,” my kvlt status will truly be complete!). Whether it was named specifically after Stephen Bocskai or not, the village definitely belonged to the Bocskai family at some point during the 17th century, according to Bačkov’s official website.

Michael Stroka
I also have reason to believe I’m related to Michal Murin, a new media artist in Bratislava, Slovakia who I think could be linked with Susana Murin, my great great grandmother. Oh, and I’ve always known that I’m related to a Hollywood actor - Michael Stroka, who played a character on the vampire soap opera Dark Shadows. Like me, he was born in Passaic, New Jersey and grew up in the nearby town of Garfield, though he later moved to Los Angeles when he started his acting career, marrying an actress named Karen Jensen. He’s a distant cousin of mine.

I won’t know much more about my ancestry until I get the kit, send my DNA sample in, and then wait about a month until I get the results back. At which point I’ll probably make another blog post with whatever information I’ve discovered. It’s pretty interesting, though, and I’m rather proud of my Central/Eastern European heritage and the history around it. More info coming soon.

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