Ukrainian/East European genealogy

Interview with John Pihach

Doris: John tell us about your background?

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John: I was born in Yorkton, received a B.Sc. degree in physics from the University of British Columbia, travelled the world, studied Studio Fine Arts at the Vancouver Community College, published two books.

Doris: How did you get interested in genealogy?

John: Growing up, I heard lots of stories from my dad about his ancestral village. When I eventually visited the place I got curious about the earlier generations that had lived there.

Doris: How far back were you able to go?

John: To the mid-1700s. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my most distant Pihach ancestor was also named John.

Doris: It must have been very thrilling talking to people in your dad’s ancestral village. Plus, exploring the history of your ancestors several hundred years ago. What really excited you about all this?

John: Looking at primary documents is one of my pleasures. Unlike seeing information on microfilms or online, seeing original records made me feel contemporary with the parish priest from a couple hundred years ago who touched that page when he recorded the birth, marriage and death data of an ancestor. That is, it transported me back to that era.

Doris: That’s very interesting. What else attracts your attention to these historical ancestral records?

John: I discovered resources allowing me to learn much more than just names and dates. Archival materials include information about occupations, size of land properties, taxes, types of crops grown, cadastral maps, and other types of records which made possible the reconstruction of the nature and history of the ancestral community.

Doris: What are cadastral maps?

John: Cadastral maps are extremely detailed maps that show every building and land plot. In addition, they reveal the names of the owners of these buildings and the locations of their fields.

Doris: You’ve done lots of travelling. Can you elaborate?

John: I’ve spent many years travelling in Asia and Europe. My first journey lasted a year. One time I back-packed overland around the world. In addition, I visited Eastern European countries 11 times, much of that involved conducting research in the archives of Ukraine, Poland, and Vienna.

Doris: To do research in many countries must mean that you can speak and understand a number of languages?

John: I have a smattering of several languages. Most of the church records were in Latin. Because of their columnar format, knowing a few dozen words is sufficient to decipher the information.

Doris: Tell me about the genealogy book that you wrote?

John: When I first began this research, there were no genealogical guides to direct me. After years of futile waiting for one, and after acquiring considerable experience, I decided to write a genealogy guide for Ukrainians. The focus is on research beyond your Canadian antecedents. Ukrainian Genealogy describes methods of research, overseas resources, record interpretation and other genealogical information.

Doris: Can you tell us about some of your genealogy work and publications?

John: For eight years, I was the library chairperson for the East European Genealogical Society. Also, I had interviewed the head of the archival system in Ukraine and had that interview published as an article in the East European Genealogical Society. The Ukrainian State Archives felt that it would be useful to place this interview on their website as it answers “frequently asked questions” of people.

Besides Ukrainian Genealogy, I’ve published a dozen articles in Galician research and made presentations in Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Chicago.

Doris: Thanks for the interview.

Mr. John Pihach is one of three speakers who will be presenting at the Yorkton Genealogical Society Conference on September 28, 2019. It will be held in the “Events Room” of the Painted Hand Casino in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. For additional information go to the website: or contact Doris Maben at (306)782-4531.

Submitted by Doris Maben, Yorkton Genealogical Society

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