Meg Ryan’s Rusyn Roots

Big Screen Po-Nashomu

Megan Smolenyak
6 min readOct 30, 2023

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Credit: David Shankbone (Creative Commons License)

If I mention the movie When Harry Met Sally and your brain whispers “I’ll have what she’s having,” I’ve got good news for you. Meg Ryan, longtime rom-com queen thanks to her unforgettable performances in this and other favorites such as Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, is back with What Happens Later, a film she co-wrote, directed, and stars in. While in countdown mode, I couldn’t resist peeking into her past by exploring her ancestry because, well, that’s what I do.

When she embarked on her acting career, Meg adopted her maternal grandmother’s maiden name of Ryan, but her birth name of Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra hints more broadly of her heritage. Ultimately, I ascertained that she is 31.25% Irish, 25% Rusyn (from present-day Poland), 25% Polish (from present-day Lithuania), 12.5% German, and 6.25% English. As a fellow Irish-Rusyn American, this delighted me because there are so few of us, so I wrote about her Irish roots and am turning now to her Rusyn portion.

For those who may not be familiar with the word “Rusyn” (and no, I don’t mean Russian), we’re a Slavic people mostly found in the Carpathian Mountains, which is why we’re sometimes referred to as Carpatho-Rusyn. To further complicate matters, “Ruthenian” was once a more common term. Often overlooked, our favorite claim to fame is that Andy Warhol was one of us, but I hope you’ll take a few minutes to learn more by visiting the Carpatho-Rusyn Society.

This website provides a useful list of clues that you might be Rusyn (you’d be surprised how many are, but don’t know), but speaking as a genealogist, the two indicators I always seek are family documents that use words such as Ruthenian, Rusyn, Galician, and Austro-Hungarian, and ancestors associated with Greek Catholic churches, cemeteries, and organizations — particularly those in the old country before the family came to America.

It didn’t take long to trip across one of these giveaways. Following the path of the surname she was born with, I looked for Ryan’s Hyra grandfather in the 1920 census, and found him in Yonkers, New York with his parents and siblings. His father was recorded as coming from Galicia, and in the column for language, “Russian” is crossed out and replaced with “Ruthenian O.L.” The O.L. code stands for…

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Megan Smolenyak

Genealogical adventurer & storyteller who loves solving mysteries! You may not know me, but chances are you’ve seen my work. (www.MeganSmolenyak.com)