Thursday, July 8, 2010
A Little Family History, part II
Yesterday I shared some background information on the Armenian side of my family. Actually really I just shared general information about Armenia, not family-specific information. One of the reasons why I shared limited family history is that I don't know very much about my relatives and ancestors. There are several factors that contribute to this: distance, communication barriers, elderly relatives, and a hesitancy to talk about the genocide. The biggest reason for the lack of communication is family issues, though. My mother has never been good about keeping in contact with her family, and I think somewhere along the line there were some fights, arguments, disagreements...the kind of silly things that keep families apart. So while I actually have cousins my age on my mother's side of the family, I've only met them once or twice. Years and years have passed since I saw most of my relatives. Since I was just a kid the last time I saw them, resuming communication has been a challenge: I don't have their phone numbers, email addresses, etc., and actually I realized that half the time I don't even have their surnames. Needless to say this kind of situation makes it really hard to research your family history! But for some reason last weekend I decided to see if I could hunt down information on my great-grandparents entry into the United States. I was trying to search Ellis Island records when I realized that I didn't know my great-grandmother's maiden name. I tried searching for my great-grandfather instead, but I couldn't remember his first name. He "Americanized" his name after living in the states for a few years, and I did not know the Armenian version. I ended up attempting a series of search engine searches, hoping to find obituaries or census records that listed birth names. I did find a few records, which were unhelpful, but several pages into one search I saw a result with a few of the first names I'd searched for highlighted. It looked like a genocide history, so I clicked on it. I read it with interest - it was the story of how two family, the writers parents' families, escaped the genocide and came to the United States. As I read, I started to recognize little portions of the story..."Wait, her family were bakers? My family had a bakery, too" or "Rebecca - that's my great-grandmother's name". I started to suspect that the history was about my own family, yet I could not identify the writer. It was written by someone named Ann, and it was from the perspective of my grandmother or a great aunt. But I knew I didn't have a great-aunt named Ann. Finally I Googled the author's name to find the main page of her website, since the link I clicked didn't have a link back to the main site. When I opened the page the first thing I saw was a list of my cousins' names in an acknowledgment section! As I read the website I discovered that this website is owned by my great-aunt, whom we referred to by a nickname. It turns out that when she began writing and publishing her work she adopted the nom de plume of Ann, since it was much easier to pronounce than her given name or her nickname.
I read my family history in fascination, and skimmed some of my aunt's work as well. What a find!
Things I learned about my family that I never knew:
- Both my great-grandparents were artists and enjoyed oil painting. I am now persuaded that artistic talent is genetic: every one of the kids in my family could draw before they could talk.
- My Aunt Anahid ("Ann") is an author. When we were little I remember visiting their farm in Connecticut and being amazed that my cousins had ponies that their grandmother kept for them. I recall a beautiful grape arbor and being served lamb chops and garden beets while classical music played. But I didn't know that Aunt Anahid was an author, and no one ever told me.
- My aunt and her husband are active, political Armenians...they're the ones who want restitution from Turkey!
- My great-grandmother's side of the family left the Armenian Apostolic Church and became Lutherans (this is extremely unusual for Armenians and was more remarkable in the early 1900's when it occurred), yet I recall my mother and grandmother both attended the Armenian church growing up.
- My great-grandparents were both well-educated, artistic, politically active, and intelligent, yet my great-grandfather came from a life of poverty (my great-grandmother, on the other hand, was very wealthy as a child and spent much of her adulthood bemoaning the fact that she now had to work! I remember when I was a little kid and we were all visiting my grandma and I was making the bed. Great-grandma was shocked and told my mother to hire servants so we wouldn't have to do the "hard work"!).
You can read my family's brief history here, and you can read more of Aunt Anahid's writings here.
I'm so excited to finally have a link to my family, and a little more information about them. Now that I have an email address for my great-aunt, I'd love to write to her. But I'm afraid it will rock the family boat. Still...she's probably near 80 or older and I don't want to regret keeping silent later. Plus, my hubby pointed out that I shouldn't perpetuate this non-communication that seems to be the hallmark of my family!
Image from here. It's not a relative but I'd like to imagine that's what my great-great-grandmothers looked like. Actually that link also takes you to a hysterical article which states: "ARMENIAN WOMAN. A good illustration of the Armenian type. The head-dress is that usually found in the Caucasus. The Armenian women, as a rule, are fine looking, with intelligent faces and womanly bearing. This is especially noticeable in the case of old women. Among the oriental races, as a rule, the old women are not handsome, but the reverse is true of the Armenian women." Yes! I'm going to be a hot old-lady! Notice also that the writer refers to Armenians as oriental.