28 July 2011

Standing out in a Crowd

A couple of days ago, I found myself looking over my dad's side of the family shrub. It doesn't take that long; there's my dad, and his parents. That's all I know. Well, almost.

Investigating my mother's side of the family offers so much more in the way of immediate gratification, and me, I'm all about immediate gratification. The Catholic Church keeps such obsessive records, French-Canadian women kept their father's surnames, I can almost read the original documents – well, I bet I could almost read them, if it weren't for the obscure handwriting and archaic language on scanned images of 300-year-old documents. With all the information available on the Internet, you sit down to trace a family, and 15 minutes later you're back to the flood. It's almost too easy.

Scarecrow's family is pretty much the same, easy-wise. Not only did the Puritans keep pretty close track of who married who, and who was born to whom, but the documents are even in English. Kind of seems like cheating. They didn't seem to make much use of those records to avoid consanguinity, though. I found at least one marriage between first cousins, which I've been telling Scarecrow explains a lot. < snrk! >

My father's family is more of a challenge. His parents were among the eight bazillion people who immigrated to the US from Eastern Europe in the first decade of the 20th century.

Beyond not having much to go on, everything seems more foreign, somehow. Even when they're written in English characters, the names of people and places sound so… ethnic. It's farther away from here, both geographically and culturally, but it's more than that. I can imagine 17th-century Qu├ębec, but a village in Minsk in 1900 eludes me.

I know nothing about my grandmother before she turned up in Chicago at her wedding to my grandfather in 1913. In contrast to the embarrassing abundance of documentation for my mother's side of the family, she didn't know for sure when she was born. She told my dad the name of the town she was from, but she couldn't write it in English, and by the time he told me what he thought she said, it could've been anything. Same thing with her name, when you get right down to it. It could be spelled any number of ways which, taken together, become the local equivalent of 'Smith.' I don't know when she came to this country – only that my dad said she called my grandfather a greenhorn, because she was here before he was. OK, I give up. Maybe I'll take another run at it next Mother's Day.

With my grandfather, I have a little more to go on. Not much, but a little. From Ellis Island, my dad procured the passenger list from the SS Petersburg, which made the crossing from Libau to New York on 27 December 1906. There's a name on it he believes is my grandfather. I don't know why he thinks that. The name doesn't match, but, like a lot of people, for a lot of reasons, we know he changed it when he came to America. We don't know what it was before.

According to the passenger manifest, the person my father believes to be my grandfather was 23 in 1906. In 1913, his marriage certificate gives his age as 26. Seven years later, he's only three years older. I wish I knew how he did that.

Here's what else the passenger manifest to us about him:

Birthplace: Karpilovka (a town in what is now the Ukraine, pretty close to where my grandfather said he came from)
Occupation: joiner (cabinetmaker, which is what my grandfather was)
Height: 5'2"
Eyes: blue
Hair: blue

If this is really him, I have no idea how he got from New York in 1906 to Chicago in 1913, or how he met my grandmother, or why they wound up in Ohio.

Really. How hard can it be to track down a little guy with blue hair?


  1. Zoom, you're becoming quite the efficient stalker. Am curious about which sources you're using most of the time or your thoughts on different ones if you're so inclined.

    My mom has a bunch of old family photos in boxes in the garage. I took a photo preservation course at UW and told Mom all the things wrong with that. She let me know that I could remedy it anytime I was so inclined.

    So, am thinking when I move back and the dust settles, I might take on a family history project. Not sure where or how far I want to go with it. You know -- digitizing, research aka stalking, documenting. Will see.

    So, let's see...Scarescrow's puritan cousins married each other and at least one of your relatives has blue hair. Sounds like Tuffy is lucky that she came out ok!

  2. Oh, this is great! You know, my dad and great-aunt did two things... dad researched his family quite a ways back (I have the info in storage) but as he became ill, I know the more recent info (like current generation lol) got messed up. That's easy to fixed. He even acquired photos!

    My great-aunt on the other hand wrote a diary. I learned that her son had a grandson who committed suicide at the age of 15. I had no idea... and it was during the times of the VN War, etc... but she never gave a hint about anything negative. Every event was framed as to protect the family "in case her diary was read". I have no idea how I got ahold of it. It too, is in storage.

    Then I look at all our blogs and think man are we leaving a legacy...LOL. =)

  3. hahahaha. I wish I knew about about my long, lost relative's height. I thought one great uncle was VERY tall, untill I saw a pic of him next to MY grandmother, next to a dog, and wow, NEITHER was tall, In fact, my grammy was SHORT! Needed that dog in the pic.