This abbreviated version of my connection to Tovste will
be expanded at some point, when time permits.
I’m not exactly sure when I became seriously interested in
Tovste for the first time, but it must have been during the
time I was living in Germany, in the 1990s. While I was growing
up, in Canada, my father used to point out the ancestral village
in our large National Geographic atlas. If my recollection
serves me correctly, the particular edition that my parents
owned indicated the village with its original spelling of
Tluste (since revised, incorrectly, to Tolstoye).
My father dabbled a little in his family’s genealogy, the
starting point being a photocopy of the birth certificate
of his uncle (i.e. his father’s older brother) from 1895.
Uncle Mike, with whom my father was close, had written to
the authorities in 1922 to obtain the birth certificate, after
having emigrated to Canada from Tluste as a young boy of about
10. The only family member with knowledge of languages, he
had the heavy responsibility of helping his illiterate, Ukrainian-speaking
parents settle in the new country.
The birth certificate from the Greek Catholic church was
revealing in a number of ways. It showed that the family had
lived at House no. 122 in Tluste, and that the family name
should actually have been spelt “Chajko” (as it
appeared, in Latin, in the church records at the time). Instead,
as the story goes, the Canadian immigration officer transliterated
the name as he heard it, resulting in “Hykle”. I will resist
the temptation here to digress and tell some of the stories
about my lifelong experiences with that adulterated version
(and many other misspellings) of my family’s name.
Still, my father had not traced the family lineage very far
back and he had only limited contact with our relatives in
Canada. The extended family was scattered widely across Canada
and they kept pretty much to themselves. Above all, I don’t
think he ever really contemplated visiting the village in
which his own father was born. For most of his life, Ukraine
had been part of the Soviet Union, under communist rule, and
it would have taken quite an effort to organise a trip there.
As it happened, I had been living and working in Germany
since 1991. It struck me that it would be a shame not to take
advantage of my situation to arrange for my parents to visit
the village while I was living in such close proximity. Around
1997, I was fortunate to have met a Ukrainian officer working
in the Ministry of Environment who helped us to secure visas
on the pretence of making a study tour of some national parks
in the western part of the country.
In June 1998, we travelled from Germany to Kyiv, and had
a wonderful tour of the capital. Our departure for the onward
journey to Chernivtsi, by train, was unforgettable. We were
running a little late for the train. So, on the way to the
railway station our driver pulled over and affixed a flashing
light to the top of the official car, turned on a siren, and
proceeded to manoeuvre through traffic (and red lights) at
breakneck speed, getting us to the station with time to spare.
Judging from the lumps in their throats, my parents were very
In any case, we reached Chernivtsi after a 17-hour overnight
train journey and eventually made our way to Tovste, in the
company of our interpreter Zoya, who has been a dear friend
of mine ever since that first trip. We reached the village
with great expectations, our mission being to track down the
location of House no. 122. We seemed to have struck it lucky
when, shortly after arriving in the town, and scanning the
house numbers very carefully, we chanced upon a ‘122’ number
sign. Of course, it didn’t dawn on any of us that, in the
intervening 90 years or so, the numbering system could have
changed (and did - at least a couple of times, as it turned
Anyway, a girl living at that particular house said that
there were no Chajko’s living there, but that she knew a family
with that name on the other side of town. Indeed, as we were
to learn later during our brief stay, the head of the family
was related to my father through their respective grandfathers,
who were brothers.
Alas, during that trip we were unable to locate the real
House no. 122, but I caught a serious case of the genealogy
bug, which has never left me. I was determined to learn more
about my family’s humble origins and, somewhat later, about
the village they lived in.
On a subsequent visit to an archive in Ternopil, I was able
to peruse a priceless map of the village, dating from 1858,
showing very clearly the plot of land (actually three elongated
strips) that had been in my family’s possession throughout
the 19th century, bearing the number 122. Not long afterward,
I located the actual plot, which had an abandoned house of
relatively recent construction standing on it.
It turned out that the house, which had not been occupied
for about 15 years or so, belonged to an elderly woman who
had been married to a Chajko, since deceased. Further research
revealed that what remained of the plot of land – it had been
subdivided and sold off over the years – had been in the family
for nearly 200 years.
By this point, I was truly committed to developing the family
history and I made annual pilgrimages to Ukraine to discover
everything I could. The biggest breakthrough came in Zalishchyky,
whose registry office contained the original vital records
of births, deaths and marriages dating from the 1800s. I spent
hours and hours, day after day, pouring over the old volumes,
piecing together the puzzle bit by bit.
It did not take long to locate the record of my grandfather’s
birth (he was one year older than everyone thought), as well
as those of his siblings. It turned out that before emigrating
to Canada in the early 1900s, my great-grandfather had several
children from a previous marriage, all of whom had died at
a young age, along with his first wife, presumably through
On my very first trip, with my parents, I had the good fortune
to have been introduced to the director of the village museum,
Mr Jaroslav Pawlyk, a visionary man who knew more about the
village than anyone else. Despite our language barrier, he
and his wife, Stephania, have been like a second set of parents
to me over the years.
On every trip, I pressed Jaroslav for every detail of information
about the history of the town. I soon discovered that there
was a much deeper story to tell about Tovste, than simply
my own family’s connection to it. That story, communicated
through this website, is the culmination of my many years
of painstaking research.
* * * * *
While the research aspect of my visits began to overshadow
my genealogy work, my personal connection to the town came
into focus again around 2002-2003. It was not until I had
been visiting the town for many years that the thought occurred
to me that I might actually consider purchasing the family
plot, in order to maintain the 200-year unbroken connection
to the Chajko family name.
At one point, I had interviewed an elderly woman from the
village, Anna Chajko, who had once lived in the house that
stood on the Chajko plot. During the interview, which was
conducted in the house itself, I never seriously considered
asking if she would be interested in selling it. A few years
later I discovered that her son, Roman, had inherited the
land and the ‘modern’ two-room house (i.e. of circa 1970's
construction) that stood on it.
The small house had not been occupied for over 15 years,
since the death of his paternal grandmother, and was reaching
the point of needing major attention. Roman’s only connection
to Tovste was that his mother still lived in what was formerly
known as Tluste Wies. Apart from that, he had no particular
interest in the plot and was eager to sell it.
After a long period of back-and-forth, underpinned by an
inordinate amount of bureaucratic red tape – material for
a story in itself – the transaction for the sale of the house
was finally concluded in 2005. I became the proud, first-time
homeowner of a dwelling that had an uninterrupted association
with my family extending back two centuries.
Story to be continued, as time permits…