What does Eastern European descent mean? In this post, learn the definition, which countries are included, and whether Eastern European is an ethnicity.
Many millions of people living outside of Eastern Europe are of Eastern European descent. However, many of these people do not know that they have a connection to this region.
While I was growing up, I had a vague idea that my mother’s family had some Eastern European heritage, but I didn’t know much about it. At the time, I had no idea that my father had a connection to this region, too.
Once I began to explore my family tree a bit, I realized that I am of Eastern European descent. This inspired me to learn about the region, including the languages, cultures, and food, where my ancestors were from.
What is considered Eastern European Descent?
Anyone who is descended from ancestors from the general Eastern European region is of Eastern European descent. Generally, we understand this region to extend from eastern Germany to Russia, and from countries bordering the Baltic Sea south to those bordering Greece.
It should be noted that there is some overlap between regions described as Eastern Europe and Central Europe. For this purposes of this article, we are discussing ethnicity, which does not always neatly fall into modern geographic borders.
Some of the countries listed are located in Central Europe from a geographical or political perspective, but are Eastern European from the view of culture, language, and ethnic origins.
Which countries are considered Eastern European?
Generally speaking, Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, and Montenegro, are considered Eastern European countries.
People with ancestry in Germany, Austria, Greece, and even Italy, might find that they also have ancestors from Eastern Europe.
Is Eastern European an ethnicity?
Eastern European is what is called a panethnicity, which describes a group of ethnicities with common origins. The region of Eastern Europe consists of people belonging to dozens of ethnic groups, including Poles, Slovaks, European Jewish, Bosniaks, Romani, Croats, Serbs, among many others.
In other words, Eastern European is a word used to describe a multi-ethnic, larger group of people who have different ethnicities, yet identify as having linguistic, cultural, or genetic connections.
Through the research that I have done about my family tree, I have learned that my ancestors were primarily of Western Slavic origin, and were born in the countries of Slovakia and Poland. In addition, I discovered ancestors who were Ashkenazi Jewish and ethnic Germans from Poland.
What ethnicity is Eastern European?
Each person must learn about their own unique family history to learn about their Eastern European ancestors’ ethnic groups, history, cultural traditions, and language. Because the history of Eastern Europe is so complicated, there is no one easy answer.
How to find out if you have Eastern European heritage?
If you are interested in learning whether you have Eastern European ancestry, there are some easy steps you can take. If you follow these instructions, you will be well on your way to discovering whether you are of Eastern European descent, and exactly where in the region your ancestors lived.
This is the path that I took from knowing almost nothing about my Eastern European heritage to discovering names of towns in Slovakia and Poland where my ancestors lived. Even though it might seem overwhelming at first, if I can do it, so can you!
Talk to your family members
The first step to discovering more about your ancestors is talking to family members who are older than you. This might include your grandparents, aunts and uncles, older cousins, or older siblings.
If you are very lucky, you might even be able to talk to your great-grandparents, their siblings, or siblings of your grandparents. The idea is that by talking to these older relatives, you can document a bit of your family history and get an idea about where to start your research.
The conversations that you have with your relatives don’t have to be formal, lengthy, or complicated. Just ask basic questions about what they know about your family’s origins, and if they know any names, dates, or locations.
Oh, and be sure to take notes. This is a mistake that I made at first, and I didn’t remember everything that we discussed.
Start a small family tree
Once you have learned a few details about your parents and grandparents, it is a good idea to create a small family tree online where you can keep track of what you learn. I enjoy making family trees on Ancestry, since it is simple and free for building trees.
Definitely check out my book if you are interested in learning about how to build a family tree. The more you learn about doing family tree research, the faster you will discover your Eastern European ancestors:
Find your Eastern European immigrant ancestors
At some point, you will discover that your ancestors were born somewhere else. We want to figure out exactly where in Eastern Europe they were from, of course, but this can often be the most difficult step.
Borders in Eastern and Central Europe have done a great deal of shifting over the past couple of hundred years. This can lead to a bit of confusion when we are trying to determine the ethnic group or nationality of our ancestors.
For example, my Polish ancestors were reported as German or Russian on old census records. To make matters more confusing, my Slovak ancestors were reported as Hungarian or Russian, depending on which document you look at.
During the 19th-20th centuries, a large part of Eastern and Central Europe belonged to the Astro-Hungarian Empire. In addition, Poland was divided up at multiple points in the 18th and 19th centuries between various ruling powers in what are called the Partitons of Poland.
This means that in order to discover exactly where our ancestor was born and where it would be considered today, we often need to read a bit of history about the region.
Is there a test for Eastern European DNA?
Yes, there are good DNA tests that can help you explore your family history and learn about a possible connection to Eastern Europe. For example, Ancestry DNA, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA are quality DNA tests with accurate results.
These DNA tests will be able to provide you with an ethnicity estimate, which is a snapshot of which regions of the world most closely match the DNA that you inherited from your ancestors. In addition, you also get DNA matches, which can help you find close and distant cousins who can provide more insight into your family tree.
I hope that you have been inspired by reading this article to learn more about your ancestors, whether you have Eastern European heritage or roots in another part of the world. Family history research is fascinating!
If you have any questions about something that you have read in this post, or if you would like to share a story about your own connection to Eastern Europe, I would love to hear from you in the discussion below.
Thanks for reading!
Friday 15th of July 2022
Excellent introductory article -- Thanx! However, one of your highlighted topics said: "Astro-Hungarian Empire." In the same paragraph you wrote: Partitons of Poland. It would be great if you could edit these mistakes. Thank you.