After 25 years of searching, Lethbridge woman found her cousins in Transylvania
When she was 8 years old she made a promise to her grandmother
As Valerie Lörinczy was leaving for her daughter Shelby's graduation in 2019, she received an email from Transylvania that brought her to tears.
"I think we might be cousins," it read.
When she was eight, the Lethbridge resident promised her grandmother she would find her family and visit home. After her grandparents passed away, she dedicated herself to keeping that promise.
It took her 25 years of searching, which she calls her "labour of love."
In the early 1920s, Piroska Fazakas, 19, ran away from Transylvania to Canada to escape from being married against her will. She met her future husband, Denes Lörinczy, in Montreal.
The two immigrants came from Hungarian villages that were only 11 kilometres apart, but had never met before both moving to Canada. They eventually fell in love in their new country.
"I adored my grandmother, she was my hero," said Valerie, now 65.
She says she remembers sitting in the back of the house with Piroska, who often wore an apron and a scarf and told stories about Transylvania.
"I told her I was gonna go there one day. She said, 'you promise?' I said 'I promise.'"
The only information Valerie remembers being mentioned was the last names and the villages in which Piroska and Denes were born.
"I didn't even know how to spell them. You don't think about that stuff when you're eight years old," Valerie said.
She found village names through the cemetery. But a major challenge unfolded as she was trying to map the villages. Some names had changed since Transylvania was taken over by Romania.
After hitting some brick walls, Valerie located every person in the village with her grandmother's maiden name on Facebook, and started messaging. Finally, she received a response.
"I cried! I was so excited, I was dancing in my kitchen, I was jumping up and down. I said to Shelby, 'I did it! I found them … after all these years."
In 2019, after a flight and a 3½-hour drive with her two daughters, Shelby and Jayme, she finally reached the small village to meet her European family for the first time.
The Kanyadi family was standing along the road in Nagygalambfalva, waving at every car that passed hoping it was their Canadian cousins.
"The first thing they said to us is 'welcome home, we have been waiting for you,' and everybody, of course, is crying."
The family has reunited with over 100 family members in the villages now. Valerie has also traced her family history to the 1500s.
Finding culture and home
Shelby says growing up in Canada and being told you are Hungarian left her with a void. Even though some traditions are carried on, much of the culture encompassed by language, food and traditions gets lost.
"Having pieces but not the whole puzzle leaves a hole for you. Being able to go back to where your family came from, it gives you a completely different sense of self," she said.
Returning from their first trip to Romania, Valerie and Shelby felt homesick in their country of birth, Canada.
"I was born and raised Canadian. Now I also know this other side of me, and it's beautiful to be able to bring that into my life and create my culture and what it means to be Hungarian-Canadian," Shelby said.
Valerie reunited with her traditional family values and childhood rituals.
"So much made sense to me and my girls, once I saw what it was like there, so much from my childhood made sense and still does to this day. Every time you go, you learn more and more about the family and about the traditions. 'Oh! This is why they did that, it makes sense to me now.' And that was part of feeling like we were home."
Valerie says finding home was the best thing that ever happened to her. She said it is important for people to find their roots and to pass on that knowledge to their children.
"We are all branches of the same tree."
The families have decided to visit each other every year.
Valerie is still looking for more leads to find her paternal ancestors. Her grandfather was a single child. That has made it hard to trace other members. But after discovering his village and birthplace, she is optimistic.