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© Douglas Hykle
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My Story

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 impressed.

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 didnt 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 out).

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 illness.

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 ...

Douglas Hykle
September 2006